Knole and Ightham Mote, Kent

30 05 2005

Today I have visited what is certainly my favourite manor house among those seen in all my travels across the country – Ightham Mote in Kent. Once within its quadrangle I was immediately transported to the early 14th century. The cobbled courtyard is a balanced scheme. It is closed on all four side by walls and sloping roofs held by strong old beams of oak. The moat that surrounds the house enhances the medieval ambience that pervades both inside and outside. Every stone and beam plays its designated part. One cannot help admiring the elegance in design, the comfort achieved and the balanced proportions displayed. The oak beams must have the credit for much of this endearing mood. They present the skeleton of the house, the bare elements of living that is yet quite comfortable. They are the guardians of the preserved soul of the house. While much of the castle at Sissinghurst has vanished save the tower and its wing, here at Ightham Mote there is little to imagine for there is much to be admired in original flavour. Some of the praise must go to the National Trust and its volunteers whose dedication to the preservation of heritage and history is unwavering. The gardens are plain in comparison to those at Sissinghurst but the blooms of wisterias and foxgloves were an attraction to both bees and men!

Earlier today I was at Knole, yet another great house (one must say a palace), first with an Archbishop of Canterbury, then with King Henry VIII and then passed on to the family of Sackvilles. The paintings on their own may take many long hours for a serious study but on the whole only a handful of them made an impression such as those displayed in the Great Hall. The pride of the place is often acknowledged as the collection of royal Stuart furniture. Other than being of vague historical interest they are little else and far less admirable. The upholstery is so faint and tattered that the designs can hardly be made out. The colours have faded beyond identification. If I had these in my house they would for sure cast a depressing mood to the entire house. The effect on visitors is clear. Very few stop at these pieces of worn-out furniture. If the common man fails to appreciate what true value can there be in them regardless of expert opinion? The same is to be said of the exquisite Indian carpets from the once rich princely states of the subcontinent. These carpets, now faded and their designs obliterated, have neither attraction nor awe that must have been their character in their early years.

There are some beautifully carved fireplaces, marble tabletops, plastered ceilings, silverware and china. Despite these items of worth, the overall effect was dull and dreary. The lighting was poor, necessarily to preserve the delicate items on display (most rooms have an instrument called the dosimeter that measures degradation due to exposure to light) but this enhances the dullness of the rooms. The brown oak panelling that covers the walls did not help either and so different from what our own generation prefers. The cold rain outside and the lack of heating inside didn’t warm the general feeling. Yet it was a worthwhile visit for the deer in the park were at peace, the sun followed quickly the departure of rain and the dripping oaks gleamed in the early afternoon light.

The walk from Knole to Ightham Mote and back along Greensand Way had one particular moment that is worth noting. A narrow path well-shaded by a row of pine trees on the right and some woods on the left was intimate and delightful. The neat row of pines catching the afternoon light perfectly balanced the shaded woods. Here too was the striking contrast between the art of man and the energy of nature. Surprisingly, the return path did not yield a similar feeling though nothing had changed – neither the lighting, nor the vegetation, nor the silent isolation. Is it that the balance of a picture is affected by the dominant eye of the observer? In other words, a mirror image is not as inviting as the original. Or is it the case where the human mind initiated to beauty from a certain angle fails to see the same from another? Is this a case where familiarity of a treasured thing clouds the mind in seeing new treasures? Or is it that moments of joy are elusive and rare, where one’s state of mind must be in harmony with the primitive elements of nature, the hour of the day or the stars that rule from above?


The Beauty of Sissinghurst, Kent

22 05 2005

Where there is a network of criss-crossing paths extra care is required in reading maps. This is even more important in places where new paths are formed, new roads are laid, or man and nature take turns in filling the land. The possibility of wandering off in unintended paths is high when all that one has is an old map. So it is not much of a surprise that I have wandered wastefully within Bedgebury Forest, sometimes in circles, without really walking towards my destination of Sissinghurst. Finally, I did manage to leave the forest and head east across farms and fields.

Walking in late spring or any part of summer is an altogether different experience. The grass grows to the level of one’s waist and no obvious paths lead the way. Walking half-submerged in a field of long thick grass is a delight in itself. If someone had seen me from the edge of this field they would witnessed a head and a cap moving across waving blades of grass. It must have been a comical sight. Then one walks under the shade of trees full with young green leaves. Then one walks in narrow gaps within fields of wheat waving their growing leaves to an afternoon sun. The river flows. The clouds move. The sun shines. The birds sing. The spiders weave. The bees hum. The leaves shake. The flowers bloom.

The culmination of the day’s rewards, rewards as there must be for a long arduous walk across the country, lay in the gardens at Sissinghurst. The Long Walk at Polesden Lacey, delightful as it was, compares feebly against the well-deserved merits of walks within these gardens. For quiet reflection and a thoughtful stroll the Yew Walk presents a world of seclusion. In mood and purpose, this is not unlike the cloisters of ancient cathedrals or ambulatories in Buddhist monasteries. For a more inquisitive walk with senses responding to the chirp of birds, the smell of flowers or the sight of garden sculptures, the Lime Walk presents a pleasant invitation. For a greater sense of space, walks along the moat and the lakes will not disappoint. These offer an enjoyment of water plants and waders. Here we find ourselves closer to the wilderness of nature than elsewhere. Other gardens compete with one another in putting forth the best displays of their own individual specialised varieties. Plants climbing the walls, dangling from doorways and clinging to pillars grow naturally in such man-made settings as if they would fit nowhere else. There is a sense of order and formality so far as general garden layout and patterns that are part of the design. However, within such formality is nature’s unrestrained growth and display. Here we find the best of nature made most accessible and best presented for the enjoyment of man. Here is seen the lines of man balanced by the curves of nature in all her sweetness and profusion. Here is seen the hand of man but the gestures are those of nature. Here is seen an almost perfect balance of elements, a surprise at every turn, an interest at every corner and a delight in every bed. As such one cannot consciously follow any planned path but unconsciously yield to the mood and let it dictate one’s undetermined steps taken in leisure. The property too adds interest to the garden. The oast house with the characteristic sloping chimneys and wind-shifting cowls make it more picturesque. The tower gives fine views across the country and more importantly an excellent view of the garden from above. It is thus no surprise that over 2000 visitors have made their day at Sissinghurst today just as I have.

The day ended with a good walk from Sissinghurst to Staplehurst where I boarded the train back to Farnborough. The pleasures of walking across the countryside are many. This is easily felt in these months of spring in full bloom. Nearly thirty miles on foot across East Sussex and Kent and their winding border have been rewarding indeed. For some reason they call this unique area “The Weald”.

Two Castles and a Garden, East Sussex

21 05 2005

I begin my weekend travel notes pretty early on this Saturday morning. It is 9 am at Wadhurst and I have to wait an hour for the connecting bus. The day so far has turned out almost like a Thomas Hardy novel. You accept a certain state of things and unexpectedly you see something much better in offer. A ray of hope or even a glaring beam of hope presents all the promises of comfort and joy. However, at the last moment, it is snatched away at arm’s length and disappears as swiftly as it came. So it was that I planned to take the 0950 bus from Wadhurst to Bodiam. I arrived early enough to take the 0850 bus. I waited but at the bus stop. It was painful to watch the bus go right past me. One requires more than an average intelligence to use public transport. I should have read the bus timetable pasted at the bus stop more carefully. This listed only buses towards Turnbridge Wells and not Bodiam. I should have read deeper into the difference between “Wadhurst Station” and “Opposite Wadhurst Station”. The additional difficulty was that the bus stop across the road was well concealed in the surrounding wild growth of vegetation. As always, experience is the best teacher.

I continue these notes at the bus station at Hawkhurst where some technical problems with the bus door have resulted in some delay. Bodiam Castle, the first object of my visit, seems distant in both time and space.

Now I am at the end of a long day. The day has turned out rather pleasant. Bodiam Castle was pleasing but not impressive. Nothing can be more impressive than the fort at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Although the settings here are not as spectacular, the castle itself has been better preserved. Perhaps, too well preserved, that one fails to see it as a ruin. It is too neat and tidy. One can appreciate the stone walls rising within the surrounding moat. It is the crenellations that import images of battle and history. The round towers give stature and built. The views of the surrounding Rother valley on a idle sunny day were a delight to the eye. The views from within the spiral stairs through narrow inverted “keyholes” cannot be surpassed. It is the beauty of the world outside seen from within the security of the world inside. The castle walls are silent now but it once echoed household voices. It has been a defensive structure on the outside but really a homely abode on the inside.

The best visit of the day was to Scotney Castle and Garden visited at sunset at the end of a medium hike from Wadhurst. This was a hike that took me along the banks of Bewl Water which was being used for leisure-fishing. The clouds threatened rain and it did rain but only for a while. Rain in England is never hard or long, except in the mountains.

I do not know the names of flowers that were in bloom in the garden. I was told of azaleas, rhododendrons, wisterias and more but I would not be able to identify them if I saw them again. The garden was laid out as if created by nature herself. The quarry garden in particular was the focus. This provided lovely walking paths, fine views from the top and well-thought out points of balance. The splash of colour and the mix of scent were overwhelming by first impressions. It took a few walks by the paths to overcome such a impression. The round tower of the castle rising in the background of this abundance of vernal growth is a much photographed composition and justly deserved indeed. A few minutes of observed silence of sight, smell and sound are needed to appreciate this to the full. There is something magical in gardening in its laborious process, in its artistic challenge and the pleasing results. It is almost a spiritual activity; and is not Adam himself named the first gardener?

If the day had started with a lesson there was yet another one at the close. The campsite at which I had planned to pitch my tent no longer existed. The route was no longer a public right of way. I had brought an old map printed in 1998. One could get away with such an old map in less populated areas such as Scotland or Northumberland where changes are few and slow to happen; but not here in East Sussex. So a necessary detour towards another campsite at Stonecrouch had to be taken. The path passed the beautiful farm of Combwell Priory Farm with beautiful horses grazing on sloping expanses. Yet again the map failed me. I unwittingly entered some private land and was held at bay by a massive black Labrador. Other than the delay it wasn’t too bad. Barking dogs seldom bite. Certainly, dogs in this country are well-behaved even to intruders. If I had entered some private land in India I would be in a hospital by now, taking injections.

On the North Downs, Surrey

8 05 2005

Gomshall is a small village west of Dorking where I started the day. I am writing these notes at an English pub in Gomshall. The pub named “The Black Horse” strangely serves Thai food. I have an hour more for the next train to Farnborough.

The National Trail of The North Downs Way passes close to Dorking and today I have had the pleasure of walking a small part of this trail. From Dorking, it was an easy walk to the moderate heights of Box Hill. The weather was warm and splendid. The views were at their best but nothing compared to those of Brecon Beacons or Buttermere. Then I made my way west of Box Hill towards Polesden Lacey.

There are some who believe in love at first sight. There are others who reject it outright. The rest waver undecided between these two factions. The variance really is due to perspective and appreciation. The former is a sample of the observed; the latter reflects the state of mind of the observer. In both accounts I have stood to benefit. The reason I quote this is because on the way to Polesden Lacey I met a group of five school girls with heavy rucksacks strapped to their backs, breathless and exhausted. They were training for some outdoor fitness certification. Apparently they hated Polesden Lacey and didn’t recommend it to me.

A beautiful and relaxed walk across some open vineyards and shaded woods led to the gardens of Polesden Lacey whose first taste was of the Long Walk. Situated on the hill, bordered with trees and underplanted shrubs on one side and neatly clipped yew hedges on the other, this walk leading to the south front of the house was a delight. The colours of spring in manifold shades were seen on the slopes beyond the yew hedges. I don’t know if there is a shade of green named “Spring Green” but this is how I would describe the grass on this walk. It is a green that is youthful and fresh. It is a green touched by tender light, not burnt by the sun’s heat. It is a green that sips the sprinkling of rain, neither drenched nor drowned. It is a green in all the right proportions of light and shade, in itself and in harmony with other elements of an English garden.

The house glows in sun-baked yellow contrasted well by wooden shutters painted in azurite blue. The library and the study imbibe some of this colour and mood making them my favourite rooms of the house. Numerous paintings hang in their chosen places in the Picture Corridor which is a peculiar feature of the ground plan. More eccentric is the 3rd century sarcophagus lying in complete disharmony with the mood if there be any. The corridor comes to be due to the open courtyard it surrounds, a unique feature to English houses. Such enclosed courtyards, better designed and more functional, are common in Malaccan Peranakan houses or in old South Indian houses. The Italian marquetry chests (cassone) are truly remarkable, both functional and decorative. The most sumptuous room is the Saloon with gilded panelling and ceiling. With views across the South Terrace and the slopes towards Ranmore Common, it is a room designed to entertain visitors. Many dignitaries, princes and kings have been guests. A colour photograph of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar (1922) hangs in one of the rooms. The Billiard Room, the Smoking Room and the Gun Room are all something I have not seen in other houses so far.

NT Volunteers at Polesden Lacey for VE-Day

NT Volunteers at Polesden Lacey for VE-Day

It was a busy day at Polesden Lacey with celebrations for VE-Day (Victory over Europe), commemorating the surrender of the Nazis to Allied and Russian forces. The memories of war are not easily forgotten by those who survive. Most families have had a direct effect. Almost every village or town I visit has a memorial to honour the brave heroes of the two world wars. The younger generation may make light of it but the older generation, rich in stories and memories, must pass on the torch to their children. The future will witness its use – to burn bridges or to burn hatred. It all depends on the awareness created of both “yes” and “no” to war, the glories and the follies, the martyrs and the murderers. On this sunny afternoon when the band played, the children played and families picnicked on the lawns. I had the opportunity to meet a British flight navigator who had served in India for most of the Second World War. The Maharaja of Gwalior who stayed neutral during the war had donated three planes for British use. Chittagong had been the nearest outpost of the British and was used to evacuate people from parts of Burma threatened by Japanese invasion. In post-war months he had flown the Maharaja and his entourage all across India and in the process travelled more of the country that most Indians!

After taking a group photograph of the National Trust volunteers who helped in organising this event, I continued west across Ranmore Common. The setting sun played through spring’s new foliage. There was little wind this evening and none at all in the woods. I spotted a fox that quickly disappeared. A few minutes a later, a couple of deer were surprised by my sudden appearance. It is something romantic indeed to witness them dashing through the woods to my right, come clear onto my path some twenty meters ahead, spring downhill and disappear into their secret havens built by nature. It is comforting to know that here man and nature coexist beautifully. I have seen deer in parks, for instance at Dyrham Park and at Windsor, but seeing wild deer is a different experience. Seeing them in their native environment in the intimacy of a wood has made all the difference. What thrills the human heart is freedom of all creatures great and small. It is not without merit that this part of the country is given the status of AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

The British Library, London

7 05 2005

There is a place in London where tourists are seen reading books that are not necessarily tourist guides. The books they read are not windows to another subject of study. Rather, books in their own right take centre stage. The written word becomes the focus. The world of publication opens the pages of its history and shares its ancient secrets. The streams of ancient thoughts captured for posterity flow undiminished in vigour and meaning. The evolution of scripts across languages and continents becomes a fascination. Here they talk about the invention of the comma and the full-stop. Here we see the papyrus, the palmyra and the paper.

Such a place is the British Library, home to a great collection of books, manuscripts, maps and stamps. The collection spans a wide spectrum of subjects from all corners of the globe. In a world of today where printing and publishing is mechanised and less of an art, where books are churned out in great numbers in more or less same style, the books displayed here at the exhibition bear the stamp of individuality, dedication and devotion. Each of the illuminated manuscripts stands out, not old but fresh and new. Shall we admire the scribe’s steady hand or the artist’s unrivalled execution? Shall we admire the austere simplicity of some (Codex Sinaiticus) or the elaborate decoration of others (Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an)? Such creative perfection often echoes a divine touch, a deep-seated devotion of the scribe or the artist and their patrons. It is not surprising that most of these timeless masterpieces are on or about religion, be it the Bible, the Quran, the Gita or the Buddhist sutras. Martyrs have been made in the process and the immolation of William Tyndale in 1536 is an example. Tyndale translated the Bible to English at a time when Roman Christianity has fallen out with the English monarchy. Likewise, when printing started, the Gutenberg Bible of the 15th century was one of the first books to be published. Closer to our age are the manuscripts or first publications of Newton, William Harvey, Galileo, Da Vinci, Lewis Caroll, Handel, Mozart, John Lennon… in short, something to excite everyone. One of the four original drafts of Magna Carta seen at Salisbury many weeks ago can also be seen here. It appears that the Salisbury draft is more beautiful. Or is this only because I saw it first?

There is something to be said about Indian texts and manuscripts which are not adequately represented at the exhibition. Perhaps, this is a good thing. Except for some important works such as the Babur-nama, a Persian illuminated manuscript of 1590 made for Emperor Akbar, there is nothing of the great ancient works that form the foundation of Indian civilisation. Either one has to be thankful that they are still in their country of origin or regret that they are lost forever. The more possible truth is that transmission of knowledge in India has been mainly an oral tradition. The assimilation of such knowledge has been based on pure faith and little controversy. The student neither questions the guru’s authority or his words thus transmitted. The benefit is that diverse interpretations are impossible. The purity and exactness are preserved. The loss is that such knowledge is not widespread. It is confined to the Brahmin priests. The larger mass remains ignorant. If memories fail, the text gets corrupted or lost forever. Only in recent times have we seen a sizeable body of published work, this naturally leading to personal interpretations of various natures and the schools of thoughts that develop from them.

In the evening I strolled at Green Park and St James’ Park. If one were to overhear the conversations in the parks one would hear French, Spanish, German, Hindi, Tamil – anything but English! Such is the attraction of London in spring and summer. The view of Whitehall across the winding lake framed by thickness of shade, vegetation and colourful blossoms is unexpected and pleasing to the eye. The avenues lined with shady trees spreading their branches wide evoke the forethought of our forefathers. What trees shall we plant for our children?

Walking in Brecon Beacons, Powys, Wales

2 05 2005

30 April

It’s been an early start to a long day. In all, I need to take four trains and then a bus from Abergavenny to Brecon, which I would reach shortly after noon if no delays occur. If delays do occur, it would take considerably longer, having missed all timely connections.

On the train from Reading to Bath Spa, I met a young Indian guy and promptly struck up a decent conversation. England is swarmed with professionals from the sub-continent and this man was a good representation of this new breed of conquerors who conquer not with the gun or the sword but with the might of education and expertise. This man has worked on projects in the US and now he has been posted to the UK for a year. Gone are those days of the British Raj. Gone are those days of brutal force and connivance. These are the days of patience, diligence and humility.

If history repeats itself it is not necessarily in the same form but in forms that separate the grain from the chaff, the diamond from the coal. By rightfully earning many blue-collared jobs in this world economy, Indians have proved the endurance of a civilisation founded upon ideals of goodness and intellectual thought. If such a civilisation had been in chains for 300 years, it was only to reform her internal fabric and not to conform to an external force. At her core is submissive domination where on the surface she may appear to be weak but internally she is strong. She may appear to lose but she knows that in the grand scheme of things she has won and doesn’t need to scream about it. The present resurgence in her once dormant spirit has not reached its zenith but everything depends on the path the children of India take.

I arrived at Brecon at half past noon. I didn’t spend much time in town but earlier I had walked in Abergavenny for an hour. It was a good place to stock up on food for the weekend. The Saturday Market was of some interest. I purchased some Argentinean pears and Chilean plums. The benefits of world trade are obvious to the end consumer. Of farmers, only the best will survive in this competitive world economy.

At Brecon, the afternoon sun was warm, the town lay quiet and lazy. The river Usk flowed at a leisurely pace and sparkled under the sun. I crossed a bridge across this river to begin an enjoyable walk which took me across many farmlands, farmhouses and barns. The notable peaks of the Brecon National Park towered in the background. All in all, it was a promising start to what was predicted to be a weekend of thunderstorm and rain.

An easy stroll to the peaks of Brecon Beacons

An easy stroll to the peaks of Brecon Beacons

By quarter past three I had pitched my tent. A short nap followed. Then I commenced my walk to the peak of Fan Y Big. The peak looked distant and formidable but the approach I took was by the gentler slopes. With good four hours of the day still left it was not an ambitious attempt by any means. By six I was at the peak having enjoyed an exhilarating climb to a view only adventurous mortals get to savour. The peak that had looked ominous and dark from the distance was then seen as not only conquerable but also pleasant. So it is with individuals, peoples and cultures. Every day that I spend in Britain brings me closer to the spirit and character of the land and her people.

The sun has set and the weather is turning worse. There is nothing better than a stormy night. The chances of a clear day for the morrow are high.

1 May

I slept reasonably well last night. It had not been cold despite the storm. I remember vaguely listening for the thunder after every flash of lightning that flooded the interior of my tent. I remember more clearly the howling sound of the wind from behind the mountains and its rushing down the valley, a sound vividly bringing to the mind the frenzy and madness of herds of wild beasts pursued by the devil himself. A few seconds later the tent would take the full blast of the wind and shake violently. I remember drops falling sharply on the tent canopy. Yet I managed a good sleep, for the night didn’t stay this way throughout.

Panorama of a vast landscape

Panorama of a vast landscape

I left the campsite at half past nine and returned ten hours later. I must have walked nearly thirty kilometres. The wonders of nature and man’s skilful shaping of her contours are too numerous and extraordinary to mention in words. The steep climb to Pen Y Fan and Corn Du was rewarding not just in the views at these summits but also in the approach via Cefn Cwm Llwch. A delightful walk atop the cliffs and open moorland followed. Next was a steep descent down the forested slopes of Coetgae Du. Walking through forests is always a magical experience. If mountain peaks give one a heightened sense of open space, forests have a character of their own that is often overlooked. Once within the comforting shades of a forest a new world unfolds. Harsh sunlight is filtered to mellowed softness. Buffeting winds are absorbed in a compliant dance. Delicate quietness pervades. Here is a feeling of intimacy and a sense of private space. Mountains are forgotten, so are the seas and the open skies. A forest seems to be complete on its own. The return path was just as lovely. It passed the peak of Fan Y Big and down Cefn Cyff, what was now a familiar path to me.

One could visit Wales just to be amused and entertained by the names. Each name means something. Take for example “Cwmcynwyn”, the farm where my tent was pitched. To pronounce this musical name is both a challenge and a delight. It means “valley of the first sheep”. “Pont” means bridge, the same as in French. “Dewi Sant” stands for St David. In some Indian languages “sant” means saint. A dedicated study of all ancient languages would perhaps point to a common origin.

The best part of the day was being invited to tea by the farmer, Mr. Stevens who does sheep-farming on these hills. It was a perfect way to rest after the long walk and to enjoy typical Welsh hospitality. Farm life has always appealed to him and his eldest son is just as keen to pursue this vocation. His father owns the adjacent farm of Bailea and his grandfather was a farmer too. While the day was warming in such pleasant company, his two sons returned with a gun and two dead rabbits. There was some light-hearted debate on what to do with them. This steered the conversation towards hunting tigers and elephants in India!

Farm life has its own set of problems and challenges. Still it is a privilege to be able to work so closely with nature, walk in her steps and breathe in her own playground. Such a life is regulated not by man but by nature. Such a life is moderated by the rhythms of nature whereby one needs to work only as hard as necessary and never too hard. It may be too idealistic to claim that such a life is devoid of stress but such a claim is not unrealistic.

I took leave of them as they were filling bottles with milk to feed some young lambs who were without mothers. As I leave, my thoughts take me back a few years to the coastal village of Balapitiya in Sri Lanka. There I had been treated to evening tea and sweets in a manner not different from what was experienced today. I begin to realise that we live in a world without strangers. The basic human qualities are the same everywhere. The secret of world peace does not lie in the hands of governments, politicians or treaties but in the hearts of common men and women. World peace needs the personal touch of every one of us. Such a personal touch can operate only on a small scale, not at world level. How can we then effectively transform it for the good of all mankind?

A dinner cooked on my portable gas stove was partaken in the company of other campers who had started a bonfire for the night. The early hours of the night were filled with talk of walking, camping, the imminent elections, the Iraq war and such topics that are shared with interest by at least two in the group. As for the rest, some feign interest, some yawn and some ignore.

2 May

Bank Holiday Monday. There has never been a less meaningful public holiday in my experience, neither in Singapore, nor in India. It is not the birthday of a martyr; a day of religious festivity; a day of national pride or a day of historical significance. It could have been any other day without making any difference.

Given this holiday, there was only one suitable bus for me to leave Brecon. This was in the morning, a bus leaving for Hereford. The walk back to Brecon from Cwmcynwyn Farm was more delightful than that on Saturday, being mostly downhill. For three days I have been enchanted by the playful antics and curiosity displayed by the little lambs. The ewes are forever on the watch. These timid creatures are easily affrighted but a mother will not hesitate to charge an intruder if she senses danger to her lambs. This happened yesterday when I suddenly and unwittingly crossed a stile such that two lambs found themselves backed to the fence, cut-off from the mother. Motherhood gives courage even to the timid and the weak. This is not to be confused with self-sacrifice which is the outcome of cowardice, not courage.

The long journey back to Farnborough was relieved only by the sceneries along the way, the most spectacular of which were the bright yellow fields of rape against clear blue skies matched by adjacent gentle slopes of green. These colours mingle in clear lines and curves that surprise as quickly as they change with the motion of the train.

After three days of glorious countryside and warm Welsh hospitality I say to the land and her people, “Diolch”.