EventualIy… I pushed open the large Gloucestershire timber doors.
Crossed the stone flagged hall and ascended the dark stairs.
(memories of so many mansion house back stairs to National Trust meeting rooms)
I had been delayed…
The road north of Cirencester had been blocked. So I’d detoured to the west and then sacrificed myself to the satnav to become traumatised by narrow meandering routeways.
Grass in the middle of the tarmac is never a good sign.
Anyway I was here.. and entered the hall to find everyone still drinking coffee.
An arc of chairs and the balcony entrance full open to the countryside.. for appropriate air circulation.
We were at 17th century Lodge Park…. to talk.. landscape, nature and the Sherborne Estate.
We sat in our distanced chairs overlooked by the portraits of the Dutton family who had owned Sherborne from 1551. They acquired the title Lord Sherborne from 1784. In 1982 Charles Dutton bequeathed the estate to the NT.
The land had belonged to Winchcombe Abbey from Saxon times until the Dissolution….but this was 4,000 acres… just up the road from Chedworth Roman Villa… and beneath the fields… lay huge and ancient amounts of known and potential archaeology.
The meeting’s aim was to reset land management to improve nature. Discussions centred on park-like landscapes, creating wetlands, permanent pasture and planting many more trees.
The archaeologist’s role to identify areas where buried buildings, burials and settlements might lie so that woodlands can thrive around them but not on them.
There are stories of buried mosaics at Sherborne and developing tree roots would infiltrate the hidden designs..and disrupt them before discovery.
It was agreed to follow up the Sherborne LiDAR survey with geophysical survey, both magnetometry and earth resistance.. so that we could know the extent of sites indicated by aerial photographs.
After the Roman discoveries at Sherborne’s Woeful Lake and Stones Farm… who knows… there could quite easily be another Chedworth out there. A couple of sites are only known from aerial photographs. Agriculturally rich Gloucestershire heaves with Roman archaeology. It has always been a good place to farm.
At lunch, we stepped out onto the balcony… rangers, estate managers, ecologist and archaeologist.
This had been the grandstand 400 years ago and here Sir Ralph Dutton and his friends placed bets on the deer chased by hounds across the finishing line, marked out below them.
In 2021 the arable fields stretch far into the distance.. intensively productive farmland which has squeezed out biodiversity and cut into the stories of past lives..founded, ditched and pitted into the bedrock below the ploughsoil.
Lowland National Trust great estates like Sherborne, like Killerton and Kingston Lacy are fascinating for their historic landscape potential. The core mansion, park and garden.. each surrounded by its farmed estate empire, the latest in a palimpsest of great houses with their farmed estates… through the post-medieval enclosures, the medieval ridged and furrowed open fields.. and before them, remnants of the prehistoric and Roman ‘celtic’ field systems…..
but in 2021, a new rewilded vision for nature is building momentum which sets the clock back over 6000 years towards a pre-farmed landscape…to reach out and build back the lost flowers, birds and insects.
This will be a very gradual process, a long term considered vision but what will this balcony view be like a hundred years from now?