Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Stourhead - the best of British

Although the appeal of going abroad is something that many people find irresistible, one of the biggest arguments against it is that we don’t realise the beauty to be found on our own doorstep.

In the midst of what has to be one of our sunniest summers for decades, it has been easier to get out and about and truly appreciate what we’ve got to offer. And when you take the time to look you suddenly realise why there are millions of people flying in to visit Britain while millions of us are flying out at the same time.

As an example, at the weekend I popped down the road to Stourhead. For those who know it I can almost guarantee you love it and for those who don’t, it is a wonderful stately home in Wiltshire with the most glorious and awe-inspiring gardens for you to lose yourself in for a few dreamy hours.

Stourhead is one of our most precious National Trust properties and it is a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us which we find easy to forget as we plough through our glossy holiday brochures under the often deluded concept that other countries have so much more to offer than “dear old Blighty”.
What makes Stourhead such a treat is that it has maintained its original and dazzling style while still feeling modern and alive. As all of us who live and work in Bath know, there’s a real tension in this city about trying to preserve what makes us truly unique and special while still developing in a way that reflects our changing needs. Stourhead seems to have got this balance perfect. Yes, there is a shop and a pub and retail units but they are all subtly and deliberately placed out of sight of the main attractions so when you first set eyes on the sweeping vista of the gardens, you just can’t help but be stunned into silence.

Stourhead truly represents the green and pleasant land of Jerusalem. And long may it continue to do so.
The comparison with Bath is also evident in the way Stourhead represents a sort of ideal for foreign visitors. I often wonder how people around the rest of the world see us and I can still recall with a smile the way a charming American I met viewed the UK as a big series of villages. Standing in a queue in Florida this gentleman heard my accent and asked if I knew the city of Sheffield. I said I lived about 80 miles from it at that time, and after a slight pause he said “really – well you must know the Jones’s then”.
I don’t know what other perceptions there are from our foreign cousins about this country although I suspect these days they think we have two royal families (the Windsors and the Beckhams), that we all worship at the altar of Simon Cowell and that it rains a lot here. But beyond that I bet many imagine lovely green gardens and delightful countryside. And they are right – we have both in abundance.

And if you still don’t believe me about how beautiful and green our country really can be then just pop to Stourhead this weekend.

It’s a living, breathing idyll.

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