There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Thursday, 5 March 2015

World Book Day and The Spirit of Place

"There's nothing wrong with reading a book 
you love over and over.  When you do the 
words get inside you, become a part of you,
in a way that words in book you've only 
read once can't."
~Gail Carson Levine

Stuart and I have travelled to just about every corner of Britain and Ireland that we possibly can--from John O'Groats and Orkney down to Lands End, and from the Norfolk Coast to the Cliffs of Mohar in Ireland. Because we're both readers, part of our travels usually includes visiting the homes of writers we love.

One of our favourite homes is
Sit in the window where Hardy
 did some of his earliest writing.
Thomas Hardy's cottage in Dorset, owned by the National Trust, which just reopened this week for the 2015 season. We're taking a much needed break to Dorset at the end of the month and are going to include another visit to Hardy's cottage--our fourth visit to be exact. That's the beauty of making frequent pilgrimages to author's homes, just like rereading a favourite book, you gain new insights into them, and their writing, with each visit.

Jane Austin's writing table.
We're also planning a stop in Chawton, in Hampshire, to say hello to Jane Austin on our way down to Dorset.  Even though it's a little bit out of the way between Oxford and Dorset, it's worth an extra 50 miles. They've made quite a few changes to her home since we last visited, and there's a wonderful, little pub just across from Jane's home for lunch before we head off to Hardy country.  I also plan on starting my Christmas shopping in the gift shop, for my Jane Austin loving daughter, sister, and friends.

Beatrix Potter's home, Hill Top Farm, is a place Stuart and I visit over and over again, and we were there just last March during our week long break in the Lake District.  I've been to Hill Top six or seven times, but every time my heart skips a beat and I'm flushed with excitement just walking up the pathway to the house.

Hill Top Farm, March 2014

The outside of Hill Top is simple and symmetrical and the inside is full of beautiful wooden floors, worn to a rich patina, simple yet elegant farmhouse furniture, and all of her treasures.  As I wander from room to room, I try my best to remember each small detail so I can carry it with me until the next time I visit.  I can see little things that inspired Beatrix or reflections of the characters--Mrs. Tiggywinkle's apron, a little mouse hole, a bed much like Tom Kitten's.  Best of all (for me at least), is the garden, full of rabbits, cabbages, garden forks, and watering cans.  Peter Rabbit come to life.

Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth's cottage in the Lake District, is also a frequent stop on our author's pilgrimages. It's tucked into the hillside above Grasmere, roses climbing the cottage walls, surrounded by the beautiful landscape that inspired him so.  "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher." -Wordsworth

Another favourite pilgrimage site is to Sissinghurst in Kent, especially standing in the doorway of Vita Sackville-West's study.  I love her books and I love her gardening, so standing and looking into her study gives a glimpse into this marvellously eccentric and creative woman.  And then there's her garden.  Well, there are just no words for me to describe it.  To stand in the beautiful and other-worldly canopy of her white garden, is about as close to heaven as I've ever come, so far in this life.

The White Garden, Sissinghurst

Sissinghurst Garden

Rudyard Kipling's home, Bateman's, is just south of Sissinghurst, and also in Kent. Kent is known as the 'garden of England', so it's a perfect place for a writer's inspiration and like Sissinghurst, Bateman's gardens are stunning and the height of a proper English garden.  It was during the month of October, the last time we toured Bateman's, and wandered through the garden.  The orchards were full of ripe apples and we were given bags to gather apples of our own, to eat right then or to take home.  What a thrill it was, to walk through Rudyard Kipling's orchard and eat his apples. 

Moving away from Kent and toward the west country, is Somerset and another favourite writer's cottage--Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge captured my imagination and love of poetry from the first moment I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, so our trip down to Somerset two years ago had to include his home in the village of Nether Stowey.  It's a tiny, little cottage, simple and sweet, with a colourful garden surrounding it. We sat and had a cup of tea in the equally tiny tearoom, while I reread parts of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan--transported far beyond the world of his simple cottage.

No visit to London is complete without a visit to
Charles Dickens' home and museum................

..........and equally, no visit to Yorkshire is complete without saying hello to James Herriot, by visiting his home in Thirsk. There isn't a series of books that I've enjoyed more in my life, beginning with All Creatures Great and Small.  I read All Creatures during the summer of 1973, during a family holiday in British Columbia, Canada.  We were camping next to a beautiful and secluded lake, with our own dock and rowboat. I would put my book and a pillow in the boat, row out into the middle of the lake, and then put the oars up and lay in the bottom of the boat, drifting toward shore, reading each chapter, laughing and crying in turns. To visit Herriot's home felt like coming home.

The Kilns, February 2013
"I can't imagine a man really enjoying
a book and only reading it once."  -C.S. Lewis
And speaking of home, that leads to Oxford and my favourite of all, my beloved C.S. Lewis and his home The Kilns, in Headington.  I can't describe what C.S. Lewis means to me--it's a little like his trying to describe "Northernness" to his readers.  It's either in your heart or it's not.
For some unknown reason, I had never had a chance or taken an opportunity to visit The Kilns--it was almost such a revered place for me that it felt a bit like staring into the sun, it was too much to even think about.  It's only fitting then that it was the love of my life Stuart, who surprised me with a visit to The Kilns on Valentine's Day two years ago.  Stuart took the bull by the horns and secretly booked a private tour for us the afternoon of Valentine's Day.  We had the house to ourselves with our young guide, who was living in residence while he studied theology in Oxford, and I think I kept pinching myself as we slowly went room by room.  It was so special in fact that I'm going to save the rest of this story for another day, when I can do it, The Kilns, and Lewis justice.

Addison's Walk, Oxford, C.S. Lewis favourite walk.
From the moment I first stepped foot in Britain in 1994, right up to today, it's the poets and novelists and writers and shapers of the English language that speak to me the most, thrill me the most.  I'm continually in awe and continually grateful that I'm able to follow their garden paths, look out their windows, touch their writing desks, watch their skies, and walk their favourite walks.

There's something called the 'Spirit of Place' and the gift that each of these homes gives measures far beyond the material and concrete four walls of each home.  Dove Cottage, Hill Top, The Kilns and the rest, each give you the very spirit that runs through The Jungle Book and The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Edwardians, The Great Divorce and All Creatures Great & Small, Daffodils and Great Expectations, and it's a gift that each of these writers continues to bless us with long after they've left this world.

"Spirit of place!  It is for this we travel, to 
surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong 
and dominant angel, that place, seen once, 
abides entire in the memory with all it's 
own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name."
~Alice Meynell


  1. How blessed you are! And what an inspirational blog post~! I love all the authors you have mentioned, too, and read most of them, and like you, C. S. Lewis is my all time favorite! I have been reading, studying and teaching his work since 1978, when I was introduced to him and J. R.R.Tolkien in a postgraduate seminary class on Christian Imagination. Whenever I need grounding in the wild and fluctuating world we live in, I go to Lewis. I feel like he is an old friend! I'm also encouraged and blessed by his grasp of God's grace and living the Christian life. I know some of the people who were involved in renovating the Kilns a few decades ago.

    You have such an idyllic life, it seems. I know there is always a lot of work on the underside of that that only you and your husband see, but thank you for sharing and taking us to places we cannot go at the moment. Jane xo

    1. Thank you Jane. Yes, you're right, there's a lot of work and difficulty that people don't see (and it wouldn't be very interesting to read about); and no life is an idyll. But I'm glad you enjoy the things that I'm so grateful for that I share--the things that 'surprise me with joy'. I often wonder what C.S. would think about all of us who love him so--probably slightly embarrassed! I do hope too that one day you can see The Kilns and experience that for yourself. xxxooo