I am blessed by living ~45 minutes from Stourhead and go there at irregular intervals throughout the year. It is a place to go with friends and visitors, and, as well as the gardens and house, there are extensive walks round about, both in the estate, and on the Downs. Yesterday was the latest trip. The autumn colours this year were all that the BBC's PM programme promised they would be, and the sun was shining after days and days of hodden grey skies.
We got there early when, I swear, the camera tripod legs outnumbered the human ones. And colour there was in abundance, and structure, and texture, and form, with even a katsura tree assailing the senses in its unique way. We went round the garden, and then walked up to King Alfred's Tower as the crowds began to build.
I always have mixed feeling at Stourhead: the contrast of its artifice, against stunning vistas and the realisation of a picturesque vision. However great you feel there, however much at temporary peace with the world, you are not at one with nature – unless it is nature at its most anthropomorphic.
Returning from the Tower, we found the garden paths full of other people, toddlers and buggies, and so we headed smartly for the exit and the pub as best we could, full of that sadly superior feeling that comes of getting up, and out, early. No time to stand and stare; just enough time, however, to catch snatches of what was being said as we passed. It was mostly quotidian: last night's TV, irritating parents, the latest Sainsbury's experience, Boden catalogues, and so on. We could have been anywhere. As we left, the commerce of the nation was held in check by queues on the main road as even more people tried to arrive.