Of course, if we were being pedantic it shouldn’t be Sevenoaks any more. Apparently it’s been Oneoaks ever since the 1987 Hurricane.
Knole though is still Knole, and I’m sure always will be…
… despite the threat from flying golf balls..
I wasn’t sure, to be honest, what I would write about Knole, but after the third of several brisk walks there, I knew it had to be something about the land. Who owned it? What is the relationship it has to our psyche? How does it get so deep into our bones?
And then again how heavily do we walk over and on it? And after a day spent in the expansiveness of Knole Park, why do we even bother to kid ourselves we can cope without the countryside?
But amongst such openness, there’s also the feeling of being shut out.The openness of our Sunday walk can only be temporary.
Perhaps it is the long-term fascination I’ve had with the story of Vita Sackville-West, and how she never quite got over not inheriting her childhood home of Knole because of her gender, that made me think this way, but when, in my researches, I came across a story about how she had been given a small key to the grounds and only used it very rarely but kept it with her at all times, I knew straight away what I wanted to write about. And on one walk where we came across a white stag, I had a vivid picture of her walking through the grounds by moonlight.
Here’s my piece – it’s still draft, so don’t be surprised if you come back to find it changed!
TEN WAYS TO LEAVE PARADISE
1. Stiff backed, stiff legged, each step working against gravity, head turned forward, chin lifted.
2. Without a backwards glance, knowing to do so would be to display emotion, to let down the house and all it stands for.
3. To feel in your pocket the weight of a key, a small lead key barely bigger than your thumbnail.
4. To put your trust in the English way.
5. In hotel rooms, from Monte Carlo to Teheran, to secrete the key under your pillow, to wake with the brand of home on your cheek.
6. To build your own paradise, plant by plant, your fingers plunging deep into the soil, caressing the roots, a goddess. For your most prized design to be a ghost garden, a white shadow of all you miss.
7. To leave the earth sometimes for a tower, the work of hands for the mind, to escape into dreams of a woman becoming a man, to stride through those gates again, to have no need of that key nestling even now in your pocket, the weight of it keeping you grounded.
8. To look up at the moon one night and think that just a few miles away the same moon is looking down on a doe you haven’t seen before.
9. And surely what happens at moonlight isn’t real, so you can’t be judged. The time of lunatics, werewolves, transformations, and so, with the wolfhound that’s the grandson of the one you buried there, doesn’t a dog deserve to see the bones of its family too, you use your key to walk along the moonlight path, for your feet to recognize home, the heft of it.
10 To take that once used key with you to your grave. To never speak of it again, in the English way.
And I was delighted just last week to find this quote about Vita Sackville-West in a letter written by Virginia Woolf – ‘Why she writes is a puzzle to me. If I were she, I should merely stride with 11 elk hounds behind me, through my ancestral woods.’