Doing Heritage…

Today, being a nice day, I decided to go out and about and take some photographs.  After some pretty basic Wiltshire research I picked Stourhead, the National Trust property about 30 minutes from here.  I have plenty of work to do, but it was all blue skies and warm, here.  Outside my study window is a continuous stream of builders with various yellow vehicles.  So I gathered up some neuroanatomy reading and hightailed it out of here.

Today is Friday and I expected it to be quiet, and I guess it probably was.  There were lots and lots of retired couples and the occasional mum and small child.  Around the park I could see people scattered on the grass soaking up the last of the summer sun (actually also pretty much the first of the summer sun).  I started my very slow, photographic walk around part of the lake.

One of the worst things about chronic pain (aside from feeling it, obviously) is that you almost HAVE to relieve the frustration of it in some way.  And you need to do this every day or so or you start yelling and screaming at people who really don’t deserve it.  It was fairly inevitable therefore that after the four long days of induction week at work, poorly controlled pain (at the moment) and coming home to a building site every night, my fuse was pretty short.  What tipped me over the edge?  Read on…

My walk was very slow and I hadn’t gone that far before a group of people stormed past me as if the hounds of hell were on their tails.  Every now and then one of them stopped to take a photo on his phone and then ran to catch his group up.  What’s the point of that, I thought?  Why pay £50+ each (or £80 for a couple – don’t get me started) for National Trust membership, if you route march your way around with nary a chance to glimpse the start of the autumn colour change?  I heard one of them shout “Is that The View?” (seriously, you could hear the capital letters) pointing to a hazy glimpse of a building through the trees.  “Probably”, the lead one shouted back as he disappeared down the path.  Now, this exchange irritated me for some reason.  I found myself thinking that even if I could still walk that fast, I wouldn’t.  I would still meander purposelessly and just take photos. I would sit on every available bench/wall and simply look.   After all, the National Trust is a heritage institution; a way of preserving the past for future generations.  You are almost honour bound to breathe it in, smell the roses, read the information signs.  You should not, in all conscience,  be treating the place as a grand prix circuit.  Turner was here once – where would we be if he had just blasted his way through? Maybe I am being unreasonable.  It could be that they had an important thing to get to somewhere, but c’mon, at least take a look look at where you are running through! I was so mad I obviously didn’t say or do anything!

Further down that path, I was just leaving the Ice House (built around 1800, very deep) having been impressed with my camera’s attempt to suck up enough light for a reasonable photo, when I heard another group say “Shall we do the Ice House?”  Do the Ice House?  Do? What does that even mean? What are they going to do and how are they going to do it, I wondered?  Had I ‘done’ the Ice House now?  I don’t think I did.  I marvelled at it and I shivered a little in it.  I wondered how long it had took to dig the hole and make the bricks that lined it.  I thought about the convenience of my refrigerator and how dark it must have been for the servants, if asked to get ice cream during a late night party.  I didn’t ‘do’ the Ice House; I tried to experience it.  Surely that’s the point?  Or am I missing something?

A little further on, I was passed by a far more agreeable couple who had bought the tree identification leaflet (there are thousands of trees at Stourhead).  They were happily occupied with scouting out the little black identification numbers and then reading aloud about the tree from the leaflet.  This was much better because it was different.  You could only do the activity on this piece of land with that particular leaflet.   If the National Trust have decided that the history of trees is important enough to write the leaflet, then I will go back someday and try it out.  And so I smiled at them and felt my blood pressure go down a few notches.  I wasn’t so frustrated anymore because of late September sunshine, dragonflies and people ready to give me a seat on their bench kind of make it better.   I  have decided that this is my idea of a happy retirement; companionship, appreciating historical estates and finally learning to identify trees.



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