Even the beloved allotment wouldn’t quite satisfy this morning; there were just too many jobs vying for my attention. What I was in need of today was a healthy dose of escapism. I left behind a living room scattered with faded torn photos, spine-creased photo albums, Grandma’s boxes & baskets of sewing needles and embroidery threads, all of which I have become custodian of in the past few days, and ran away in search of solace. With the heap of tactile items littering the coffee table, I also dumped the somber thoughts of memorials and sacrifices and The Somme, the news reels about political upheaval and racism and bombings, and my ticking watch.
As soon as the golden hued hills embraced me, and Parham park rolled out like a picnic blanket inviting me to settle in the grass, and the clouds cleared a space for the gloriously warm sun to bathe all in light, I knew I had come to the place I most needed to be in that moment.
Here, within the encircling arms of the South Downs, in this low-lying piece of green-and-pleasant old England, forgetting the stresses of outside life is as simple as breathing. Time seems to drift with happy aimlessness. By the time I reached the end of the long winding drive, I seemed to have lost even the very thought that I had come here to not think about anything in particular; I was simply immersed in a scene of waving grasslands, shade-giving trees far older than myself, and butterflies that danced to a song I could not quite discern, suspended half a step to one side from the rest of the world.
Parking the car, changing my boots, and shouldering my camera, I gazed around at the parkland with its woodlands where the deer would be hiding from the noontide sun, it’s church nestled in the landscape, the cricket pitch lazing stretched out in view of the house. Parham House itself is still a family home; the soft-hued stones of the walls continue to collect their secret stories. They carry the essence of times past, of soldiers stationed for training, of heroine sneaking out under cover of darkness to meet their lovers beneath the old oak, of the master who waved his hand and gestured where the parkland rides should be planted so the prized deer could gather.
The long meadow grasses of the orchard had been cut and piled in mulch piles around the base of the fruit trees. This pleased the chickens that scratched and pecked into the damp layers. Sitting on a wooden bench beneath one of the apple trees I was pleased to note the fruit was steadily swelling amongst the summer fullness of the leaves. I flicked through photos on the back of my camera. Yellows and burnt oranges lounged in beds of dark purple. Hardy geraniums mingled with the froth of lady’s mantle. The dark crimson scabious-like flowers of Knautia thrust up to float between and above eryngium ‘thistle’ heads and more geraniums, surrounded by clouds of brown butterflies, hoverflies, bees and beetles. In the square box-edged borders ornamentals grew side-by-side with edibles; the coloured stems of chard matching the cosmos blooms, sweetcorn providing vertical structure. The long border along the wall of the garden was populated with wig-wams covered in climbing, sprawling, scented sweet peas.
As I opened the car door again to load my camera onto the passenger seat and prepare to head home, I glanced up at burble of swallow twitter. My eyes were caught by the house and its surroundings, and I was struck by a now familiar thought: there is a magic at Parham, as though, if you were to lie down it would be easy to drift asleep, entering the fae-world from which you might never leave.