The Old Vicarage, Casterton, in Cumbria, England
(previous visits are described here (2016) and here (2017)
Lucky to spend time again at Casterton, with its tended garden magical in May sunlight. Its tall trees taking your gaze up to the blue of heaven, lifted by the sawing sound of rook song.
We visit the Meeting House at nearby Brigflatts. In the garden, the hum of bees and insects. Time is worn into the rose bushes, lilacs, and white button blossoms, worn so deep it lines the stone pathways. And who has cut a track through the deep grass, ending in a mown circle? And who scattered pheasant feathers on this cut walkway? And broke a pale green brown egg further down the path?
The Brigflatts Meeting House was built in 1675. Its wooden beams are weighed down with its history, you can almost see it pressing from the gallery onto the space below.
The poet Basil Bunting,who was born into a Quaker family, is
probably most well-known for his long autobiographical poem
Driving home to Casterton we pull off the road into the avenue leading to the house, shaded by fir and larch and holly.
I can’t believe we’re staying here, I say.
We are sitting in the garden. R shows us a painting from the book he bought, Chagall’s fiddler, with an unusual face. Rooks, he says, have conversations such as – this one feeds you, this one throws stones. Their problem solving abilities are those of a seven year old.
One perches on the topmost twig of the Scots pine, calls to the other on the top twig of a larch. What they says barks back and forth then slows down, till the ruffle of the air sounds almost like a lullaby.
The garden has a field of blue forget-me-nots, patches of orange, peach coloured azaleas and specks of yellow Welsh poppies, just beginning to unfold. The azaleas spread out like a candelabra, the better to receive the light. Everything bends towards the sun. Or floats out like the honeysuckle from the wall. Timber building in the distance, taps out irregularly, already it’s too hot to lift an arm and swing a hammer. This should be siesta hour, surrendered to the rooks who hop languidly from one larch top twig to another.
Somewhere else, cars drive on motorways, drivers open windows at the tail-backs at traffic lights, feel their pores swell and their goals diminish, scatter and melt in the heat. The temperature bursts green coverings over the damp and crushed red petals of the poppies. Heat unfolds the wrinkles on their scarlet skin, unfolds too, the crushed petals round our organ of time-perception, bursting threads that had it sewn up tight. What is its name, this time-measurer, time-trapper, this unfolded heart with black seeds or yellow pollen at its core?
The striking of the church clock missed a note. The clocks of dandelions listen for a breath of wind dropped maybe by the church chime – irregular and upbeat strokes of silence.
How lucky to be here, the beck waters laughing on their bed of stones, the bank shored up with new wood walls. The massive oak leans out across the water. How lucky to be here among the butterflies, far below the chatty rooks, closer to the birds bobbing on stones in the water that glitters in sunlight.