A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and Joanna took you on a virtual tour of some of their favourite places. We hope you enjoyed the ruins — from all around Britain — and the other inspirational locations they took you to.
Now, since we’re still in lockdown, Liz and Sophie are going to be your guides for a second instalment.
Ready? Your trip starts here…
Libertà’s Favourite Places #3 : Standen House & Garden (Liz)
At the first sniff of spring, the DD and I usually head off to our nearest National Trust property,
Standen House is a beautiful Arts and Crafts house, filled with William Morris wallpaper and fabrics and, because it was a family home, it has a real feeling of warmth.
Our favourite room, hands down, is the dining room (below).
Mostly, though, we just go for a walk around the garden.
Unfortunately, this year, just as we were thinking that we needed a blast of spring, the world went into lockdown so I’m having to relive earlier visits through my photographs.
We always walk up through the kitchen garden and pause to admire this incredibly ancient apple tree. Obviously it’s at its best when in bloom – somehow I’ve missed getting that in my camera – but even in winter it’s stunning.
We’re very nearly at the time of year when the wisteria is in full fig, too.
but there are hidden gems…
The quarry garden, one of my favourite corners, is just magical in the spring.
Sadly, we’ve missed out on the tulip festival this year,
but I still have this view across Sussex to cheer me.
To see more about the house and garden,
Libertà’s Favourite Places #4 : New College and Warden’s Garden, with Music (Sophie)
My offering is a bit of a fantasy. It is a secret garden – and so much more. I MAY be invited there, but only on one special night of the year. It has enchanted me from the very first time I went there.
Yes, it is real. But, like the village in Brigadoon, it is not always there, at least as far as most people are concerned. I visit it often in my imagination. And getting there is pure magic.
For it is a tour of the imagination that I offer you now. To one of my favourite places…
We are in Oxford on a July evening… the day’s dusty brightness softens… shadows lengthen…
We enter New College, past the Porter’s Lodge. To right and left there are student rooms, lecture rooms, shining lawns. But ahead of us are the old City walls. The college maintains them, as part of their original agreement with the City.
We pass through the strange, low-vaulted Monk’s Passage. It strikes a chill after the summer sun. You can imagine a duel here, even an ambush. Maybe a forbidden tryst, with both parties looking over their shoulders, straining their ears for the sound of pursuit.
Or maybe just scholars, running to lectures, unaware of the wistful eyes of ghosts, whom they will one day join…
And you are out into the sunlight again, turning right for the Chapel and the Cloisters. Were it raining, the music, which is the purpose of this evening, would be in the Chapel.
But this is MY daydream and I am sticking with the secret garden.
I should say here that these are cathedral-strength cloisters. They are set round a massive lawn, to one side of which is the largest and yet the most human tree I have seen anywhere.
It almost dwarfs the Cloisters. It also plays the part of the Whomping Willow and features in the Harry Potter Tour of Oxford.
And then comes music…
On recent opera evenings, the Cloisters are full of picnic tables. There are two rows of them, one on the garden side, one against the wall. They are provided by the college and covered in jolly red-checked tablecloths. People arrive with their own picnics (and wine) and sit at an allotted table. It’s friendly and efficient.
But I remember a simpler time, when the performance interval saw us star-scattered on the grass of The Warden’s Garden.
We sat on picnic rugs. Our comestibles came straight from basket to paper plate. While we drank from reinforced wine glasses that bounced on the daisies.
These days we filter in and out of the Garden twice in an orderly fashion. But I treasure the memory of Khayyam excesses and a sense of Platonic dialogues all about me.
The Garden has a proper summer house, from which the singers emerge on cue. The orchestra is at the opposite end of the performing space. Like the two wickets in a game of cricket, really.
The music is 18th century – early Mozart, obscure Haydn, Handel, some of their less durable contemporaries.
Often the birds join in. I remember one thrush very fondly, and the soprano whom he lovingly accompanied pretty much throughout. She was a trouper. Lovely voice and soubrette acting, too.
The Garden is all trees and lawn and shrubs, many of which smell heavenly as the evening darkens.
And as it does, you become aware of how special this garden is, squeezed in between All Souls to the west, New College’s old entrance and buildings to the east and the Queen’s College to the south east, surrounded by the abrupt windings of New College Lane.
As the evening closes in, the stand-alone lights illuminate the performers. The orchestra – with backdrop and tented roof against rain and bird droppings – and singers can sound almost ethereal.
But if you look up to the sky, where clouds are often scudding, you will see the rooftops. And realise what a place of secrecy and delight you have come to.
For just one night.
Keep safe and well, everyone
Joanna, Sophie, Sarah, Liz
Oh, Sophie! I am both entranced and envious!
I have been very lucky in this, I know, Liz.
Wonderful! I started reading this with the wind howling outside and buffeting the house, but by the time I finished you had both whisked me away to balmy spring/summer days full of peace and pleasure. Thank you!
Wonderful! So pleased, Sarah.
As usual, a super way to start Sunday morning. I’ve never been to Standen House, even while I was living in East Grinstead, but I was struck at how like Chartwell it looks. If ever life goes back to normal, I shall have to coerce a child to go with me, Liz. And New College – that was magical, Sophie. As I’ll never be invited to go there, I would like to go to Glyndebourne instead – just once
Glyndebourne has sadly cancelled its whole season this year but let us talk about a jaunty thither in 2021, Lesley.