Thursday, 14 September 2017

In the 18th Century

I like to come to Penrice Estate every month, it’s the perfect place to watch the countryside change. The ancient parklands have a Gilbert White feel to them, and often bring passages from ‘The Natural History of Selborne’ to mind. It’s the swallows feeding over lake that take me back today. White, and his correspondent Pennant, discussed in their letters whether swallows migrate, or spend winter hibernating at the bottom of ponds. There are just a few birds hunting over the lake this morning, most are already well on their way south, but with a little imagination it’s possible to realise how White might have thought, especially when the birds flying low over the water below vanish into darker corners of the lake-edge.

The 18th century house at Penrice stands out as one of the few buildings of real architectural merit on Gower. In clear northern light it looks magnificent, glowing in warm autumnal sun. In the park, few leaves have started to turn, although horse chestnuts near Kilvrough Manor were showing rustic brown leaves on the drive here. 

In the walled garden, apples hang heavy from bent branches, and pears have done well on the south facing walls. Pumpkins, some larger than footballs, runner beans, cabbages, lettuce, onions and much more are ready to pick, and a few late strawberries are poked at by a lone song thrush. In the lovingly restored lean-to greenhouse, tomatoes smelling like the real thing, and great bunches of grapes are set to harvest. It’s a time of plenty, and as I sit on an old bench outside, I realise I’m in a world that’s changed little in two centuries or more.

Inside the lovingly cared for orangery, I sit on an old wooden bench and I’m in the 18th century once more. Colourful exotic plants, many in pots, cover the floor. Almost ready-to-pick lemons, succulents, ferns and flowers I recognise from Asia, produce a delicate sweet-smelling scent, and save for the buzzing of a couple of bees there’s silence. It’s wonderful.

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