Having given you some idea of the sort of view that Cordelia enjoyed when she was at home, and working on the principle that you will have been able to read about Kingsbridge and Dartmouth and the countryside around The Keep on other pages, I am going to devote this page to Dartington Hall.
Clearly it is an important place in this book and was to many of the characters in The Chadwick Trilogy but the main reason is that I want to acknowledge how important Dartington Hall has been to both Marcia and me. Anyway, it’s a beautiful and very unusual place and I hope you will enjoy what follows. So, let’s go through the main entrance into the Courtyard beyond.
You should never be surprised when you see something surprising at Dartington Hall. This rather splendid fellow was placed here to stand guard when Dartington hosted a series of events in honour of the Bengali polymath and writer: Rabindranath Tagore. The elephant and Marcia seem to be getting along quite happily together.
Meanwhile, facing you is The Great Hall where Marcia has spoken at the Ways With Words festival.
The wings on either side of the courtyard provide space for offices, meeting rooms and accommodation for those who wish to spend the night here.
The gate house is used by people running events here and that bench under the stairs is one of my favourite spots from which to watch the world go round.
Time to move on. We are now looking at the end of the Great Hall. The White Hart, technically a public house, is where Jolyon and his mother met. It is behind the hedge and those white umbrellas and I should add that if you go there expecting it to be as Marcia described you will be disappointed. The whole of the interior has been altered.
Another tiny piece of history. We are looking over the lawn with our backs to the White Hart. The tallest tree in this photograph became unsafe and, in the winter of 2014/15, was felled.
Walking along the path that leads from the White Hart to the gardens in the spring, the display of crocii is simply breathtaking.
Perhaps the time has come to tell you a bit about the background to Dartington Hall. Built in the late 1300’s, the hall is set in an estate of some 1,200 acres near to the village of Dartington. Indeed, it owns a number of properties in the village such as the cottages above. Then, in 1559, the hall was acquired by Sir Arthur Champernowne (he was Queen Elizabeth’s Vice Admiral of the West) and became the family home for the next 366 years.
By 1925 the hall was virtually derelict and it was purchased by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst (click here for more information and, for a charming account of Dorothy’s life by Peter Carrol, here), He was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore with whom he is seen above (which takes us back to the elephant and Marcia sharing thoughts on modern Dartington during the Tagore Festival).
The combination of Leonard’s various experiences: he read history and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge; was deemed unfit to serve in the army in 1914; spent the early war years working for the YMCA in India; served in the army 1918/19; entered Cornell University to study agriculture (and was forced to complete a four year course in two years being almost penniless); was elected President of Cornell College’s Cosmopolitan Club and found it to be in serious financial difficulties and, in seeking funds, met Dorothy Straight who was to become his wife (they married in 1925); met Nobel Laureate for literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore; became Tagore’s secretary and returned with him to India and set up for Tagore an Institute for Rural Reconstruction had a profound effect on his thinking.
Guided by his diverse experiences they used her great wealth and drive to reconstruct the buildings and to turn Dartington into a centre of excellence with a simple vision: to create a society that is sustainable, just and enriching. Enough: I am sure that if you want to know more you will follow the links I have given you. It is a wonderful story – and an ongoing story as Dartington Trust explores new ways of living up to its vision but now without the support of Dorothy’s money. Back to the gardens.
In part they are very formal. Here we are looking over the so called Tiltyard to the back of the Great Hall with the extremely well groomed Irish Yew trees known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ just this side of a formal bed created by Dorothy Elmhirst and called ‘The Sunny Border.
Almost bare during the winter, when it is usually completely replanted, as the season progresses so we see a celebration of the Dartington flower colours: yellow, blue and white.
I love the feverfew that clings to the wall.
This is known as the Tiltyard with the Twelve Apostles to the left. When this area was cleared out and reconstructed as well as it could be, it was thought that it must have been a tilt yard and so it was named. Further research indicated it was something far less romantic – a midden. By that time the name was so well known and in so much literature that to change it would have been difficult. Anyway, if you were this beautiful, which name would you choose?
Another view of the Tiltyard to highlight the old Scots Pine opposite the Apostles as this is now a piece of history. Sadly, and very unexpectedly, it crashed down.
Fortunately nobody was hurt and trees have a finite life and so there is little point in getting upset when one comes to the end.
Personally, I prefer it away from the Hall and its formal grounds into the areas where everything is a bit less regimented.
These areas are at their best in spring . . .
. . . or should I have said autumn?
Then, of course, there is the winter when the snowdrops . . .
. . . announce the coming of spring . . .
. . . and, before you know it, it is summer and the season for festivals including Ways With Words at which Marcia spoke for a few years. Now, as she puts it when gently declining any invitations to speak, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the books and they can speak for themselves.’ Well, it’s perfectly true – they do.