Monday, 15 August 2011


Summer is moving fast and it's only a couple of weeks until we'll be back in University full time, making sure everything is in place for the arrival of the new students in mid-September. After the excitement and jet lag of Malawi, Hong Kong and Rutland I've been using the time to read and plan for the new semester, punctuating time at the desk with a few more localised jaunts.

August isn't a great month for theatre in London. The new stuff all premieres in Edinburgh and the established shows maximise their profits by charging top prices for the tourists who are persuaded that a trip to London isn't complete until you've forked out £60 to see Phantom of the Opera. It's a good time to take a break from the capital.

This weekend I headed west to Wiltshire and had a lovely couple of days mooching about Calne, Bath, Bradford upon Avon and today, again making use of the National Trust pass, down to Stourhead on the Dorset border.

Before he came to Ham House, Gary was property manager here, and has written the definitive guide to the house and its incredible landscaped gardens. He's been encouraging me to make a visit for a long while.

I wasn't disappointed. Inspired by the Italianate utopias of Poussin's paintings the land rolls over hills and bridges, weaving a path between lake shore and dense woodland. At every turn temples and towers framed from grottoes and glades. It's all rather breathtaking. A longer walk around the parameters of the estate offers a less delicacy, but wonderful views from the folly of Alfred's Tower and a gorgeous walk through Six Wells Valley to the medieval St Peter's Pump moved here from Bristol to mark the source of the Stour.

It began raining so I headed back, taking in a quick detour to East Knoyle, where Christopher Wren's father was rector at St Mary's church and where the architect was born in 1632. The family were staunch Royalists and Christopher Wren senior fell foul to the roundheads who not only removed him from his position during the Commonwealth, but also destroyed the ornate alabaster reliefs depicting old testament stories that he'd crafted in the knave. He died before the restoration and never lived to see St Paul's Cathedral built. A v-sign to puritanism if ever there was one!


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