My Special Place

Lauderdale-House-c-Max-Sycamore1

There are a few candidates for my special place, even if we confine ourselves to the literal and geographical.  The Braighe in winter when the long tailed ducks bob about in the Minch and take flight at sunset – a few spots in the Castle Grounds which I expect will have other champions.

Then there is England, Rusland Beeches in South Lakeland for one. And a little footbridge, buried in woodland that crosses the tiny River Ash in Hertfordshire and always feels to me as if you have stepped out of South East England to somewhere wilder.

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But to the surprise of nobody who comes to the writers group regularly, I am going to plump for Highgate, in North London. The reason is no mystery.  Absence notoriously makes the heart grow fonder and I lived for two decades in unlovely Archway, right at the foot of Highgate Hill. I worked there in three separate jobs. I got married there (in a magical hidden walled garden in a magical hidden smallholding).  I have found roosting tawny owls and nesting sparrowhawks in the depths of Highgate Cemetery, a few miles from Kings Cross.  I drank in Highgate Pubs which were, without exception, much better than the pubs of Archway (and not much more expensive).

All of these would be reason to pick it but there is a better one for a writers group piece. As I learned more about the history of Highgate I became aware that it was not just popular with poets – the place is a poetical phenomenon. However, Highgate is too big an area to qualify as my special place so I am going to narrow it down to the terrace of Lauderdale House, two thirds of the way up Highgate Hill.

The first poet (that I know of) to be associated with Highgate was Sir Francis Bacon, who died there in 1626, having caught a chill after experimenting with freezing chicken in the snow down Archway way (look, look it up if you don’t believe me). To be fair, Bacon was better known for other things, amongst them more or less inventing the scientific method, but he was a poet too, and he must have passed Lauderdale House on his last, ill fated journey up the hill. There are rumours of a ghostly chicken haunting Highgate. I don’t know about that. What I do know, and swear is true, is that when I worked in Highgate Cemetery and was conducting a bird survey a chicken walked down Swains Lane on the other side of Waterlow Park to the house, and clucked about around the cemetery entrance before heading down towards Parliament Hill.

Andrew Marvell is, however, mostly remembered as a poet. He had a cottage, since demolished, on Highgate Hill. The garden of the cottage is still accessible as part of Waterlow Park, now a grove  of  white barked trees.

800px-Andrew_Marvell_plaque_(23830069930)

‘Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence thy sister dear?
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men:
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow:
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.

The cottage was next to Lauderdale House, which is still there, and which is much older and more interesting than a casual glance might suggest. It is rumoured to have belonged, briefly, to Nell Gwyn, King Charles II’s mistress.  “Pretty, witty Nell” was a great friend of Aphra Benn, playwright spy and novelist, and the first woman known to have made a living from writing in English. I read somewhere that their riotous parties annoyed their neighbour, Andrew. Disturbing his fair quiet and delicious solitude, no doubt. I can’t swear that this is true but I do hope so.

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At the back there is a tiny café, more a kiosk really, with tables and seats on a terrace. This is part of Waterlow Park which is a small but very fine park  and the benches on the terrace have views over the lower park, its ornamental lakes, and Highgate Cemetery, which looks like forest from this vantage. Sir Sydney Waterlow was a Lord Mayor of London who gifted the park to the public to be a “garden for the gardenless,” and I lived for many years in a flat without a garden, ten minutes walk away. More times than I can remember I nipped up the hill to have a cappuccino in the sunshine and watch the world stroll by. It was a great solace in bad times and a relaxed place to meet up with a friend in better ones. I organised a 99nth birthday celebration on the adjacent terrace, for, Eve a lady who did not even have a garden at her sheltered housing.

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So I say thank you to Sir Sydney for gifting this garden to gardenless to me, to Eve, and who knows how many others?  And thanks to Andrew too for celebrating it in words, long before his own cottage and garden became part of my own special place.

The Garden

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose!

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence thy sister dear?
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men:
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow:
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name:
Little, alas! they know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passions’ heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race;
Apollo hunted Daphne so
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that ‘s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings,
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy Garden-state
While man there walk’d without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ’twere in one,
To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skilful gard’ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new!
Where, from above, the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run:
And, as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d, but with herbs and flowers!

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

 

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I have saved the contents of this post as a PDF as that may be more convenient for some to read.

Click to access the-garden-rendered-for-pdf.pdf

 

Spencer Woodcock

 

 

8 thoughts on “My Special Place

  1. Very true Neil, but you know my excuse:

    “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” (Blaise Pascal)

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    • Fascinating, thanks, Rebecca. Hilary and I have ancestors from Nottingham and when I was doing family history I found out some things that I had not been aware of – for example that in the 19th century it had some of the worst slums (against stiff competition) because as the population rose rapidly it was unable to expand because the city was hemmed in by grazing pastures by the Trent, which brought an income that the aldermen were unwilling to forgo – the result being that the population got denser and denser until outbreaks of cholera forced them to relent.

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  2. Here is Rebecca’s piece in another format as some people might have problems reading it as a PDF

    18.05.20 My Special Place – Rebecca Mahony
    Glasshouse Street, Nottingham
    I lived in Nottingham for 18 years before moving to the Western Isles. I originally lived in Leicester moving to Nottingham, it’s bigger more glamourous cousin, when I left home to go to University at 18.
    Like many modern cities Nottingham has lots of fascinating layers of history once you scratch beneath the surface. It’s hard to pick a ‘favourite place’ when there are so many fascinating nooks and crannies to this city.
    One of the things I love about Nottingham is that although it attained city status in 1889 it still has the feel of a big Market Town. Everything in the city centre is easily accessible on foot, a bit like Inverness, and I used to really enjoy walking around Nottingham city centre.


    Victoria Centre Flats & shopping Centre – Front View

    My husband gave me a top tip to look up above the current ground floor hoardings and shop fronts in cities to enable for you to truly see the history of a city. This is very true of Nottingham which has somehow managed to retain its unique mishmash of architectural history through the ages all squashed and sandwiched together despite post WW2 town planners’ best efforts to modernise and ‘unify’ the look of the City Centre.


    Old T N Parr Pie Factory on Glasshouse Street (later became part of Pork Farms empire).

    One of my favourite place in Nottingham is Glasshouse Street, a very unassuming corridor of a street. It is dominated by a huge imposing 70’s tower block, 26 stories tall which houses Victoria Shopping Centre, Market and flats (all 464 of them).


    Victoria Centre-2020


    Under Construction-1970

    It is a short street and the Victoria Centre dominates the skyline shielding all the older mainly Victorian buildings. Which gives it a rather dark and dingy feel of an elongated Victorian back alley with a post-modern twist. It feels like a place where timelines are blurred and that you’re walking through past, present and future simultaneously. It feels a bit surreal like something out of a sci-fi film like Blade runner.





    It looks quite run-down but there are always pockets of ‘hope’ as one shop closes something else will spring up in its place like a phoenix from the ashes. When I was a student it housed a pub called the Owd Boot which I used to frequent and this has now been transformed into trendy student accommodation.



    It also feels like a very practical and busy street, it houses a big health centre, a busy pharmacy and the back entrance to the Victoria Centre Market, Shopping Centre and flats and for such a busy thoroughfare t’s a place that is surprisingly quiet and free of people. It’s not really a place to linger just a way of getting from A to B.

    Not an obvious beauty spot but a place I hold dear none the less for its ability to adapt, survive, and evolve.
    Since lockdown memories of this street have re-surfaced and my heart goes out to the residents of the Victoria Centre Flats and anyone else whose living in high rise flats during lockdown. I look forward to being able to take a walk down this fascinating street next time I’m in Nottingham

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  3. My Special Place
    One of my special places in my student days
    Was on the river Avon in Bath
    A group of us went together on a long rowing boat
    On nice sunny days
    The water glittering while we used the oars
    To move the boat and have a picnic
    On a river bank

    Later as a family we enjoyed spots in
    Wales, Derbyshire Northumberland
    And further north in Scotland

    When we came the two of us
    To live here on Lewis
    I made a seat down the bottom of the allotment
    It was really a pile of pallets but
    I enjoyed going down there and just sitting
    Looking at the sea and sky
    This was my Zen seat

    A sense of place

    A Walking Meditation
    We walk towards St Columba’s Church
    Along the great expanse of sand
    And rest upon the solitary rock *
    Beneath the roofless walls
    Grass growing along their tops
    Water lapping gently on the shore
    Then we walk up to the ruin church
    And learn that it is called
    Eaglais na h-Aoidhe – The Eye Church
    Built in late fourteenth century time

    And Catan in his cell lived here
    In sixth century time
    And also sat looking at the sea
    Praying, fasting I surmise
    We go back to shelter warm
    And take something from this place
    And know that we will come again,
    Walk in meditation once more.

    My writing 24 Dec 2011

    These days
    We walk up the path
    With wheelchair and helper friend
    And sit outside the old ruin walls
    And look out to the same sea
    On lovely sunny days

    My writing about July 2018

    Today we walked on a sunny but cold day
    My friend, his dog and I
    Looking towards the hills
    In the distance threatening clouds
    Looks like the rain is coming soon
    We just have time the cemetery to visit
    And go back home to the warm
    And rest and ponder on the day
    Here in the Western Isles

    My writing Sunday 26 January 2020

    Today we came on a hot summer’s day
    My friend and I
    And I sat on the memorial headstone bench
    And looked at the distant Harris hills
    And sat and pondered as I visited
    The grave of that husband mine
    And later we walked up into the ruin church
    Across the grass back up the old path
    Overlooking the beach
    The tide well out
    A single oyster catcher swirling
    In the sky above the sea
    A slight swishing of the shallow waves
    We walked back through the cemetery
    Back to the car and drove home

    My Special Place
    One of my special places in my student days
    Was on the river Avon in Bath
    A group of us went together on a long rowing boat
    On nice sunny days
    The water glittering while we used the oars
    To move the boat and have a picnic
    On a river bank

    Later as a family we enjoyed spots in
    Wales, Derbyshire Northumberland
    And further north in Scotland

    When we came the two of us
    To live here on Lewis
    I made a seat down the bottom of the allotment
    It was really a pile of pallets but
    I enjoyed going down there and just sitting
    Looking at the sea and sky
    This was my Zen seat

    A sense of place

    A Walking Meditation
    We walk towards St Columba’s Church
    Along the great expanse of sand
    And rest upon the solitary rock *
    Beneath the roofless walls
    Grass growing along their tops
    Water lapping gently on the shore
    Then we walk up to the ruin church
    And learn that it is called
    Eaglais na h-Aoidhe – The Eye Church
    Built in late fourteenth century time

    And Catan in his cell lived here
    In sixth century time
    And also sat looking at the sea
    Praying, fasting I surmise
    We go back to shelter warm
    And take something from this place
    And know that we will come again,
    Walk in meditation once more.

    My writing 24 Dec 2011

    These days
    We walk up the path
    With wheelchair and helper friend
    And sit outside the old ruin walls
    And look out to the same sea
    On lovely sunny days

    My writing about July 2018

    Today we walked on a sunny but cold day
    My friend, his dog and I
    Looking towards the hills
    In the distance threatening clouds
    Looks like the rain is coming soon
    We just have time the cemetery to visit
    And go back home to the warm
    And rest and ponder on the day
    Here in the Western Isles

    My writing Sunday 26 January 2020

    Today we came on a hot summer’s day
    My friend and I
    And I sat on the memorial headstone bench
    And looked at the distant Harris hills
    And sat and pondered as I visited
    The grave of that husband mine
    And later we walked up into the ruin church
    Across the grass back up the old path
    Overlooking the beach
    The tide well out
    A single oyster catcher swirling
    In the sky above the sea
    A slight swishing of the shallow waves
    We walked back through the cemetery
    Back to the car and drove home

    My Writing 13 June 2020

    Urszula

    Like

  4. Shore of Thought : The Old Slipway, Geshader, Uig.

    Sitting here on the old worn hewn rocks that make up the ancient slipway, feeling my feet floating up and down, gently buoyed on the edge of the incoming tide.. Clear water. Kind strong friendly Sun. Free to look out into Eternity. The World’s clamour is right now an unheard distant noise to me. Sea gurgles like a childhood memory become present and fact. All the World should be sand,sea, river, rock hill and forest. I am once again in Paradise. Breathing in and out, in and out with the life giving tide.
    The only obstacle to my enlightenment now is my uncertainty. Yet I am certain of this, the here and the now.

    Cathy Macleod.

    Liked by 1 person

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