Saturday, 3 May 2008

Saturday in Cheshire.

This leads out of an English cottage!

This one! It is quite incredible.

The Grange.

Parterring leading to the lake.

Some of the terraces.

Each building in the park changes your perceptions inside and takes you somewhere quite unepected. Like the shop in Mr. Benn.

See the cave at the end of the terrace, it takes you through tunnels into a secret garden. Well, secret ish, I suppose, it is on the map!

The presiding Bishop of ECUSA.

A small palazzo. I could live in one of these!

Our Lady in her May array.

The altar ready for Sundays High Mass.

Sweetenham Parish Church.

With the characteristic heraldic device of the Sweetenham Family over the door.

My own, somewhat more modest, garden.

Today saw a day free for a trip so I went to Biddulph Grange Gardens in Cheshire, the next county down from Manchester. The gardens here are famous for their architectural prowess rather than planting and are well worth a look. The house is still privately owned so there is no admittance, but the gardens are in the hands of the National Trust. They are set around a lake and terracing coming from the house, the vistas from the terracing and parterres are very pleasing but nothing which is not out of a Victorian Garden manual. Where it really excels is in revealing hidden surprises. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a Victorian man or a Victorian lady, if you will, sauntering around the gardens of your wealthy and well travelled friend, having heard some of his anecdotes about places he has visited but knowing that you will never go abroad yourself. Imagine then walking into a small house set in the gardens, expecting a tea house, but being confronted with a huge statue of a frog, carved into the wall, then turn around and walk down a suddenly and unexpectedly long hallway before emerging into an Egyptian garden, with Sphinx and pyramids. Then enter another house which become an Italian Palazzo in miniature, then becomes a rocky cave which winds around in darkness before coming out by a replica of the great wall of China, turning to see a Chinese bridge and terrace, then walking into a Japanese waterside tea hut and promenading around it, then that opens into a cave, which leads you, again through darkness, into a murky land with primeval plants. The whole effect must have been exhilarating and thoroughly magical. It still has the capacity to shock and delight at every turn.

Here are a few lines from May, by a favourite Czech poet, Karel Hynek Mácha, who died at the age of 26. His statue is in a park in Prague, where many people flock to seek his blessing on their relationships on the first of May. I really should not be encouraging this sort of behaviour of course, but most things do no harm and I am firmly convinced that May days, full of blossom and liberty to walk in the park are from God and point to God. Regent's Park in London is particularly wonderful at this time of year, even more so if you can find a liberal, Reform Jew friend to take you for lunch at the Oslo Court restaurant afterwards! It is a piece of old London, like Jack's Place in Battersea, which will at some point be gone forever, once there is no one left who cares not for food fads. Anyway, enjoy this snippet of the poem.

Late evening, on the first of May -

The twilit May - the time of love.

Meltingly called the turtle-dove,

Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.

Whispered of love the mosses trail,

The flowering tree as sweetly lied,

The rose's fragrant sigh replied

To love-songs of the nightingale.

In shadowy woods the burnished lake

Darkly complained a secret pain,

By circling shores embraced again;

And heaven's clear sun leaned down to take

A road astray in azure deeps,

Like burning tears the lover weeps.