Standing by the statue of the 18th century landscape architect Capability Brown looking south, the land curves and falls away towards the south east, highlighted by lime and beech trees. Their leaves and trunks are lighter coloured, touched with hues of autumn whilst towards the west, the rich green grass parkland is bounded by darker trees, cedar for example, which cast more substantial, defined shadows as the sun sets each day.
Everything here is about the long view: farming and the park landscapes require a long view, building a business here involves taking the long view and every version of the house in the centre of all this was built brick by brick for the future and not just the next decade.
In 1771 Capability Brown only saw the trees he marked out on plans for here as saplings, even if some were twenty foot high. He created a vision, a dream and, with the 1st Earl of Carnarvon, planted it for future generations. The eighteenth century was a time of large change in the concept of landscape gardening. The formality of French and Italian gardeners was put to one side and English estates embraced a more naturalistic approach creating large parks which shaded lines of trees into farming land. Capability Brown’s philosophy and creations were followed by the romantic movement whose followers admired nature in a more raw and unchanged state untouched by human hand. Highclere however remained, and remains, more sculpted by man’s hand and thus perhaps reflects a tradition and a point in time.
Nevertheless, whichever direction you or I walk at Highclere, we are walking in other people’s footsteps. Some of the paths are ones we still follow today, some of the paths are barely discernible and others entirely abandoned as we no longer have a reason to go that way. Here is the remains of a medieval house and village, there an ancient road. Here is where a wall stood and there is a dovecote. Observing the detail highlighted by different seasons and researching the archives leads to understanding more and more about this small corner of England.
In an unstable world, our homes and the visible history at heritages such a Highclere give a sense of time and place, an anchor. Looking back does not keep us in the past, but can clarify the nature and structure of problems today. Apart from the Italianate gothic Castle that is now so well known, the heritage which seems to be just as important is that of longevity. With really only two owners at Highclere since 749AD : the Bishops of Winchester and Geordie’s family, it embodies the idea of stewardship – that Geordie and I are simply life time tenants of something rather larger.
To extend the analogy we are all tenants of this world. One British 17th century poet, George Herbert (distant relation), in his famous sonnet “Redemption”:
“Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
……to afford, a new small rented lease.
In this case negotiating with Heaven and after certain travels is offered redemption/ a new “lease”.
Our lease is of a time and place, with ever more interwoven relationships in terms of economics, dependence and transmission of all things both good and bad. I hope we will be allowed to continue to plant trees and create more winding garden paths for our successors to follow.