There was a period in my life when I seriously considered a move to rural England. It was 2012 and I had been living in Sweden, my time there interrupted by the ending of the relationship that had been my reason for moving to a country with which I had no association, but with which I fell in love. With few options (or so I had believed) and freelance work to continue, I decided to leave wintery Malmö and the now ex-fiancé, who seemed to have entered a temporary state of bewilderment at his decision to un-fiancée me. I had close friends in England, and it was to the picturesque town of Holt, in Wiltshire, that I headed, seeking familiar company and a chance to take stock of what had taken place. With my mother’s enormous red suitcase and a cream Åhléns overnight bag containing all that I could extract from my Swedish life, I flew to London for a wild couple of days of more confusion, and then boarded a Wiltshire-bound train out of the grey and quite literally into greener pastures.
In Holt, I was met by the warm smiles and embraces of Richard and Gill – Richard being the father-in-law of my oldest friend, Dani (she of the Pear and Blueberry teacake … one day I shall create a blog family tree), and Gill, his lovely wife. Theirs was a home I had visited before, when Dani and Richard’s son, Rob, had married there a few years earlier. It was a quintessential English home in a quintessential English village, the perfect place for me to soften the raw edges of my sadness with the realisation that I had friends to welcome me and indulge me in conversations about the sod who had just dumped me.
I set up my little recovery camp at Richard and Gill’s, in what was to become a very special period in my life. I was nourished and cared for in this beautiful home filled with books and family photos and little nooks, and in between editing work was taken for coffees and walks in and around the village, or in the nearby town of Bradford-on-Avon. Just outside Holt was Great Chalfield Manor, a medieval estate that has become the filming location of many a period drama. I remember our soggy countryside walk there with great fondness. There was also a ladies’ shopping trip to Bath and art gallery ‘mooching’ in Gloucestershire (I’ve forever stolen this word from you, Richard). Also a night out at a jazz bar in Devizes, a day trip to Salisbury for tea and sandwiches with Richard’s family and yoga in the local hall, among the many other days of just being. I settled into life with Richard and Gill a little too well – I never wanted to leave. Apart from the care and company of two people whose rhythms seemed to align with mine, the homely feel I had in Holt was soothing in a way I had not experienced before, and it was pure loveliness.
On one remarkably sunny autumnal day, it was decided that we would visit Stourhead, a National Trust estate with substantial landscape gardens. (An aside: I believe the name is not pronounced ‘s-tower-head’, as though it is a type of beer on tap, but rather ‘staw-head’, as demonstrated in this vintage treasure. It strangely reminds me of that other Englishism I never cease to laugh at – ‘sinjin’ – the word uttered by Rowan Atkinson’s character in Four Weddings and a Funeral when he attempts to pronounce the name ‘St John’.) Stourhead was one of the locations of the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a film I have seen more times that I would like to admit, and that I will always watch for these three scenes alone: when Mr Darcy professes his love for Elizabeth in Stourhead’s Temple of Apollo, when Elizabeth stands in deep contemplation at Stanage Edge in Derbyshire (also in the BBC version), her dress billowing out in the wind, and when Darcy and Elizabeth meet in the wee hours to declare themselves to each other.
We didn’t visit the house that day, given we had this beautiful, clear day in which to enjoy the gardens. I vividly remember walking through a humble little gate and taking in my first view of the gardens once through, my breath catching at the gentle slope of red, gold and green-leafed trees leading down to the lake, the ornamental stone bridge adding to its dramatic beauty. Our meandering walk around the lake was one of those I will remember always. The colours and placement of the trees were highlighted by the late autumn sunshine, that soft English countryside haze adding a filter that rendered the gardens ethereal and dreamlike, where the lines between trees were blurred and the hills were nothing but an assortment of brilliant colour.
I don’t think I talked much on that walk, just walked within that otherworldly scene as Mary Poppins did in the animated landscape of Bert’s drawing, with sheer wonderment and a soundtrack playing in my mind only. It’s difficult to describe a place as magnificent as Stourhead without descending into a series of clichés, but I can say that its stillness and overwhelming beauty snapped my soul into a state of calm, where it had previously felt turbulent. My awe inspired a rush of ideas and a deeply satisfying feeling of coming back to myself, separate from the other with whom I had been, meeting once again with my own spirit. Such was the power of this place to heal, and I let the goodness of it all wash over me.
I spent a little while longer with Richard and Gill before packing up the suitcase and overnight bag to head back to London and commence onward travels to Paris and beyond. I had a new job waiting for me in Melbourne and a life there to begin, again. I had decided just after that day at Stourhead on the more practical option of returning home to stability, rather than continuing on with a freelance life in England and entering the complete unknown. This decision was to become one of those pivotal fork-in-the-road life moments, which I can only now see with hindsight. It is in these present days, exactly ten years later, that my innate restless spirit grows louder and more disruptive, and I feel an impending change of course is again near. The ‘hows’ are still as perplexing as ever, but there is greater consciousness (thank you yoga and maturation) and the desire to be bold. This little virtual visit to Stourhead has been beautifully affirming of where I was and where I am now – thank you for indulging me – and tomorrow who knows what radical decision might come forth.