Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On the Edge of the Wood

On a stormy day like today you can hear the wind roaring in the trees as soon as you step into the Ashdown woods. Although the eastern flank of the wood is protected from gales, if you cross the main avenue and head west towards the edge of the trees you enter a wilder place altogether. Here, as you follow the path around the edge of the 13th century park pale, you catch a view of the house lying to the south, looking deceptively peaceful in the sunshine.

Once you climb the stile, however, and head out
across the paddock towards Alfred's Castle Iron Age fort, the wind hits you with the strength to catch your breath and steal it away. Here the grass is grazed short by the Balleroy ponies. It's fortunate they are from Scottish Highland stock or they would be shivering out here on the exposed western flank of the hillside. Alfred's Castle might not be as huge or impressive as the forts at Uffington or Barbury or a dozen other places along the Ridgeway but this was a strategic point for the rulers that controlled this land, a vantage point giving the view south as well as northward to the old straight track. The sarsen stones of the ramparts - those that are left and are not buried beneath Ashdown House - peep through the rough grass. It's a place with an ancient feel to it that has never been worn away.

When I stand on the edge of Alfred's Castle I'm always reminded of the poem On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman, a different wood and a different county but a similar sensation of the past melding into the present. Alfred's Castle is a place where you can stand and dream - until the wind buffets you back towards the wood again and the trees close around you and offer shelter.

Do you have a favourite place where the past and present meet and where you go to stand and dream?


Tai said...

Such a marvelous description! And a beautiful thought! Places to dream are a gift! My current place is my dining room window from which I can look through my blue and yellow butterflies and flower on a white translucent curtain on to the backyard we have had only since last summer!
One old place was a koi pond at the local zoo. Another place was the balcony at a place called the American clubs where I dreamt and grew as a teen. Both places are gone now but I still see them when I close my eyes. And I have pictures to treasure.

Helena said...

I don't have one particular place, but I love to visit old houses with history, like Ashdown, and think about the people who have lived there. Ditto archaeological sites. Remembering those who built the places and spent part or all of their lives there is a very important part of my interest in and enjoyment of such places.

I do love the photographs of Ashdown. It looks like a fairytale house!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you for sharing your favourite places, Tai! It is wonderful to have such lovely memories and pictures of places that mean so much to us and give us the time and space to think and dream.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Helena, Ashdown is a very photogenic house, isn't it! Yes, like you, I love old places that have so much history spanning the centuries. Imagining the stories of the place and the people who lived there is fascinating.

Helena said...

I've just re-read this post and have noticed proper this: "The sarsen stones of the ramparts - those that are left and are not buried beneath Ashdown House...". Saracen stones are buried beneath Ashdown House? Please expand! (or link the post in which you have explained this.)

Thank you!

Nicola Cornick said...

Hi Helena! There is a record in the writings of the antiquarian John Aubrey that states that he was riding past Ashdown when the house was being built in the 1660s and he saw the workmen robbing the sarsens from the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort at Alfred's Castle to use as foundation stones for Ashdown House. Apparently he was very upset at this vandalism but of course in those days they were not so careful to conserve ancient sites (!) and it would have been a useful source of stone!

Helena said...

Good old John Aubrey! He is an invaluable source of information. I hope the sarsens brought good luck to the house.

Nicola Cornick said...

Aubrey is very useful, isn't he! Poor fellow though - he was almost weeping at the sight of the hill fort being dismantled! I like the idea of the sarsens bringing good luck to the "new" house and I love the sense of continuity it brings too.