Cragside, Northumberland

The more gardens I visit, the more I appreciate those which have been created with a huge dollop of personality.

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And probably few have as much personality behind them as the National Trust property, Cragside, just outside Rothbury in Northumberland.

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Once the home of Lord and Lady Armstrong, you can feel the passion for engineering (from both husband and wife) and also of the time (during the late 19th century) as you walk round.

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More than passion actually, you can almost feel the fizzing of excitement about anything new! Not surprising then that Cragside was one of the first houses in the country to have electricity.

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Tucked away, in the woods, is the ‘powerhouse’ belonging to the ‘Caretaker of the Light’.

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A telephone was installed between here and the butler’s pantry so that the house could be properly supplied with electricity as it was needed.

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But it wasn’t just ‘new gadgets’, the rhododendrons on show are one example of the Armstrong’s ‘craze’ for the it-plant of the time. Dahlias too were another passion.

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But it was the trees that got me.

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Funnily enough my visit resonated for me with the two excellent – but very different – books I’m reading right now. Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson (one of Peirene Press’s gems) and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Here are two paragraphs that I read again later and thought… YES. This is exactly how I felt.

From Mr Darwin’s Gardener: I have decided to research the electricity of plants, inspired by the writings of Gustav Theodor Fechner and Edward Solly. I will try to use electricity to grow plants. Perhaps the sharp tips of plants function like a lightning conductor and collect electricity from the atmosphere. Maybe these tips facilitate the exchange of charges between the air and the earth. If I could connect plants in metal containers to a static generator, they would grow well. I would use a mesh of metallic filaments located above them, and earthed with a pole in the ground. I do not have a generator though. 

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And this from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (do feel read aloud to yourself for just the pleasure of the words! I did, several times.):

Then I noticed white specks, some sort of pale petals, small, floating from under my feet on the creek’s surface, very slow and steady. So I blurred my eyes and gazed towards the brim of my hat and saw a new world. I saw the pale white circles roll up, roll up, like the world’s turning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time. Something broke and something opened. I filled up a new wineskin. I breathed an air like light; I saw a light like water. I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever; I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was flesh-flake, feather, bone. When I see this way I see truly. As Thoreau says, I return to my senses.

You may laugh, you see, but this is how I felt walking through the woodland at Cragside. As if I had been connected to electricity and returned to my senses. I don’t think I’ve ever looked properly at just how beautiful bark is before.

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Barking mad? Maybe … but it was one of the loveliest afternoons I’ve spent for a long time. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s obviously all about Fifty Shades of Green for me when it comes to having my senses tickled!

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