Among the many boxes of books now temporarily stored in the garage are hundreds of photograph albums. I plucked up courage to begin a search for the picture mentioned in The Tempest post of 14th June last year. Although I’m fairly sure I hit on the right container I was unable to find the photograph. During the late 80s and 90s Jessica, Sam, Louisa, and I shared a number of Lakeland holidays with Ali, Steve, and James. The missing photo was almost certainly taken during the holiday in one of Hugh Lowther‘s cottages in Watenlath. Never mind, I reminisced about those times and found some happy shots of our friends.
From the car park we were offered a choice of routes to the building. We could try the woodland walk or use the lane. We opted for the stony, steep, uphill, buttock-straining, path lined with sweet chestnut copses. The more gentle lane sufficed for our return.
I had forgotten my National Trust membership card. The very helpful young woman staffing the entrance made a phone call to check my credentials, so it didn’t cost me anything.
On walking up the garden path I noticed two elements that were to be explained on entry. The first was that the chimney was smoking. The second was a woman who looked as if she belonged in a period drama based on a Hardy novel.
The garden itself; although we were told that in Hardy’s day it would have been filled with the stock in trade of his master mason father; looked stunning, even so late in the year.
As suggested by the smoke, the house was heated by log fires alone. There was no artificial light. Candles lit the darker corners of the snug in which the National Trust representative invited us to sit and absorb the ambience.
The back staircase was truly scary. It was little more than a fixed step-ladder. The bedroom door at the top of it warned visitors to descend backwards, and to remember that there was a side step at the bottom.
The cottage itself was very cramped. Doorways were so low as to cause the custodian trepidation every time anyone over about 5′ 9″ entered the building. I was a bit of a nightmare. We learned that during Hardy’s childhood it had been much smaller. What we now see is the merging of his childhood home with the adjacent one of his grandmother’s.
The bench seat in the snug, unoccupied in the above photograph, was soon filled, as were all the other chairs in the room. In a window seat in the corner sat the woman who had just preceded us into the cottage. The custodian and bearer of the history.
She was Trish, an avid Hardy adherent, who stimulated conversation about the man as an author and as a human being. We discussed the relative merits of Hardy’s novels and his poetry. She was able to answer questions about his marriages; his personality; where he went to school; and to enlighten us about his father’s occupation, eventually taken on by his brother Henry who was eventually to build Max Gate to the author’s design. This most engaging woman with a beautiful voice and an intelligent, expressive, face had us all captivated.
On our return journey home, we realised, as we sniffed the woodsmoke that pervaded the air in the car, that it was not only the ambience of the snug that we had absorbed.
Given that Trish really was the teacher today, it was something of a role reversal when she gave Jackie an apple from the garden. My lady added it to the poky pork paprika that she provided for this evening’s meal. The food was delicious. I finished the Veluti which was equally palatable. Carte d’Or rum and raisin ice-cream was to follow.