Of course the Writer in the Garden has no favourite gardens, but if she did Chilham Castle may come pretty high up the list. Even going through the gates felt like I might be entering a secret garden …
The Castle is privately owned by Stuart and Tessa Wheeler, and I was lucky enough to be taken around by Michael Peters, who has been researching and writing a fascinating history of the castle, including the vexing question as to whether there were really elephants at Chilham.
The trouble with walking around with someone like Michael was that there were SO MANY stories to think about, such as this wisteria which is supposedly a direct descendant of England’s first wisteria brought from China by a family friend of the then owners, a certain Captain Wellbank ..
And then there was the ‘fantasy’ cricket match between the Australian team and “Mr Wilsher’s Gentlemen”.
Treading the ‘Colonel’s Walk’ with Michael was one of the nicest walks I’ve been on for a long time even if it wasn’t clear enough for us to see over the fields to the Cathedral – a sight I’d love to have seen…
But I did get to see these playful wrestling cherubs!
What I ended up writing about though was one of the paths of trees that added to the pleasing symmetry of the grounds.
Here’s what Michael writes about it:
There were two major avenues of sweet chestnuts which fanned out from the castle, across Digges’s original 25 acre park, in the same direction as prehistoric tracks subsequently called the Pilgrims’ Way.
The eastern one known as the Chestnut Avenue points straight to the courtyard at the heart of the house, where it meets another axis running straight across the village square and into the churchyard where it glances the stump of the ancient yew tree. The symbolism behind this geometry is now a matter for speculation but the orientation of the house and the Chestnut Avenue (with its companion avenue to the west described below) do relate closely to celestial motions – perhaps an echo of the astronomical interests of Sir Dudley’s father and grandfather.
And here’s my poem:
And as the garden sleeps,
held safe by Colebrook’s wall,
the straight silvered arrow
of a fox stalks the terraces
negotiating by ancient impulse
dew embroidered footprints,
until a shift of the earth,
a tremor so slight everything stills,
Morning, the castle’s windows
open on a world righted back to itself,
sun rising and setting in a perfect line,
the promise of each day correct and waiting.
And the wall mentioned was one built around the grounds – with some controversy perhaps because he extended the park by a factor of ten! – by the 18th century owner, Robert Colebrook..