Seeking peace in nature: Back to Life with the National Trust and English Heritage

In these troubled times, it can be difficult to find peace.  One of the best ways of doing so is walking through woodlands or gardens, and so I’m delighted that Dunham Massey, Lyme Park, Quarry Bank Mill (Styal) and Tatton Park have reopened, and that Brodsworth Hall and Beeston Castle will be reopening this weekend.   “Something kindly, beautiful, peaceful and stable … evoked whenever the name of England was spoken.”  (Reay Tannahill, Passing Glory).  You have to book, they won’t let you into the gardens at Dunham and Lyme for some irritating reason, and there’s a disappointing lack of takeaway tea and scones;  but it’s a start.

Nature doesn’t care about coronavirus.  The flowers are still coming, the fruit and vegetables are still coming, the deer are still wandering around in the deer park at Dunham, and birds have been nesting in the woods at Lyme whilst there’ve been no humans around.  You can walk and walk, enjoy the timelessness of the woods and the beauty of the flowers, and forget about everything that’s happening for a little while.  Lockdown spring’s come and gone, and now we’re into the summer with no Wimbledon; but it’s still summer, and the natural world continues to turn, turn, turn.  It’s good to leave everything else behind for a few hours, and lose yourself in that.

I went to Dunham Massey on Saturday and Lyme Park on Sunday.  It was certainly different to all the previous visits I’ve made to either of them.  There were cones all along the roads outside, to stop people from parking there and walking in.  We really are in a difficult position at the moment.  People are bored and fed up and feeling trapped, and shops, cinemas, theatres etc still closed, and sport are only just getting going again.  We need somewhere to go.  But there are issues with overcrowding.  I’ve seen some very nasty sneery comments about this, and I suspect that most of them are coming from people who do not live in densely-populated urban areas where public parks are getting very crowded and many people do not have gardens.  It’s not easy.

And stupid local councils are not making things any easier by refusing to unlock public toilets, sealing up bins and closing car parks.  Having said which, there’s no excuse for people parking all over the place, dropping litter, and trying to break into places which are closed.  I’m missing the Lake District like mad but am staying away as I know the authorities there don’t want too many visitors, and it annoys the hell out of me when I see pictures of litter being dropped all over the place.  Could we all make more effort, please?  That also goes for the people ignoring the “one way only” signs at Hollingworth Lake.  People were even ignoring the signs asking visitors to go into the Lyme Park toilets one way and out the other.  Come on, folks.  I’m sure we can all follow an arrow.

Anyway, to get back to the cones, sites which have reopened are presently admitting people for pre-booked visits only.  It’s a bit of a hassle.  If you’re working, you’re restricted as to when you can go, so you have to be very efficient about booking.  Then you have to stress about making your timeslot – not so bad at the moment, but might be more difficult once traffic gets heavier again – and can’t change it if the Great British Weather does not smile on you.  It’s hardly ideal for the National Trust or English Heritage either: they’re expecting big losses this year, the actual houses won’t be opening for some time yet, and a lot of people have cancelled their memberships, so they urgently need more visitors, not fewer.  But nothing’s perfect at the moment, and we’ve got to go with it – and focus on the positives.  And these really are very big positives.  We’ve still got these places.  They’re still there.

I didn’t half need to get out at the weekend.  I know that many people have been furloughed from work, and that many others are still working but getting tremendous support from their employers.  I’m working from home but we’ve had no support whatsoever, just complaining, and, with my holiday having had to be cancelled, I really was feeling quite down and very trapped … and the National Trust picked me back up.

The familiarity helped, for one thing.  Does that sound strange?  I’ve been seeing an awful lot more of my own house and garden recently than I do usually, and of my local park, so looking for more “old familiar places” might seem odd, but they’re familiar in a different way: they’re places which I associate with comfort and relaxation, with getting out and about.  And with scones, but hopefully the tearooms will reopen before too long!

And they’re so big!  Lyme Park in particular.  I walked round parts of the woodland there which I’ve never been to before: I usually spend most of my time there in the gardens.  Climb over a stile and you’re out on the hills, the Peaks – all that Manchester Rambler feeling.  You can just wander and wander.  It’s all open.  You feel so free.  And it’s quite hard to feel free when you can’t go on holiday, you can’t go out to a café for a drink and a scone, and, unless you sit outside, you can’t even go round to a relative or friend’s house for tea.  But, in the deer park at Dunham, out amongst the trees, or in the hills and woodlands of the Lyme estate, you can.

And, next week, all being well, I’m looking forward to visiting Styal and Tatton, where, hooray, the gardens are open, and I’ll literally be able to stop and smell the roses!   This year, I haven’t been able to see the daffodils at Chirk Castle or Biddulph Grange, I haven’t been able to see the bluebells at Windermere or Erddig or Capesthorne Hall, and I haven’t been able to see the laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden.   OK, I’ve seen daffodils and bluebells at the local park, but I always go to visit particular places at particular times: anxious people don’t like having their routines interrupted, and I’m particularly fond of those places.  But we’re moving on now, and I’m going to have a few hours of getting away from the uncertainty (I do not cope well with being unable to plan ahead), from the doom and gloom on the news, from the nastiness – all that Spirit of the Blitz/communities pulling together stuff we were hearing about in April didn’t last very long, did it 😦 – and from feeling trapped, and being able to stop and smell the roses, just as I’ve already had a few hours of walking through fields (at Nostell Priory, the first National Trust property in the North of England to reopen) and woodlands.  And that is something for which I am extremely grateful.


To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran





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