“To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion…. all in one.” – J Ruskin
There are so many Preloved Properties across England, many steeped in history and situated in areas of natural beauty. Brantwood, the home of the legendary writer John Ruskin, overlooks the beautiful Coniston Water in Cumbria. Brantwood’s estate manager Sally Beamish, gives the Preloved community a snapshot of life at the house in Autumn 2015, and explains what a delight it is to look after such a beautiful and significant site.
Brantwood, former home of the great Victorian artist and writer, John Ruskin, sits amongst some of the finest scenery in England. From the property’s highest points, its medley of chimneys and roof valleys, the views don’t come much better. As the estate manager, I have been involved with caring for these roofs and views for over 27 years. Ruskin learnt to look at life from many different viewpoints, so it feels appropriate for me to begin this from his roof.
I love being up here; it’s generally very peaceful – no phones, no calls for help, no one to talk to but the wind. However, it can sometimes be an extreme sport to get here. When the snow falls, heavy and wet, it overspills the leaded roof valleys and melts into the rooms below – not great for the guest accommodation or for the museum itself. It is therefore essential to quickly get up into the attic and slide down a section of slates into the snowy slopes of the roof valley. Once there, it’s a case of where to push the snow without burying someone far below!
Looking outwards, I absorb the glories of late autumn colour – the reds, golds and bonfire oranges of this spectacular year. The trees have made a good harvest for themselves leaving us to enjoy the abundance of arboreal chemistry that remains in the falling leaves. I see Ruth picking russets in the orchard by the lake and Dave clearing drains in the garden woods, keeping the water power in the right places for when the winter rains come.
We get over 3m of rain a year here, so there’s a lot of potential for erosion on our steep mountain-site. I see also a family of energetic folk – the children running ahead exploring the estate’s bird trail. Ruskin’s conviction that we can learn all that we need to know by engaging the wisdom of Nature contains perpetual inspiration for what we offer at Brantwood today.
A hungry group of cyclists have just dismounted outside the Brantwood Cafe. This facility is now under the management of Simon the chef, who will flex his culinary muscles for us in the coming year, developing a fresh catering scene for us as the newly refurbished Coach-house facilities come into their own in the next few months. The smell of fresh scones and scrumptious savouries reaches me on the clear, sharp air. I think longingly of the possibility of sitting by the cafe log fire – and I can do it on any day of the week!
I’ll squeeze down off the roof now and come back inside the main building to check out the plans for our winter work. Brantwood is open throughout the year, so we have limited time to get the noise and mess of general winter maintenance done. Jenny, our Curator, is working on the collection of Ruskin books, cataloguing and organising them both for public display and for research use. There is a contemporary landscape exhibition being taken down from the Studio, the remaining paintings being eased down the winding stone steps into the artist’s car. I can hear John, our maintenance guru, down in the cellar, crafting a new handle for the bathroom door of the Eyrie letting flat. Peter is working on the ‘I-Rock’ – the unique rock lithophone that delivers the ‘voices’ and harmonies of the rocks of Cumbria to our ears with computer electronic wizardry. Later, he has some tree-work to do in the garden woods – the result of last night’s gales.
Maureen, fresh from ironing the big, cream, embroidered quilt that is such a challenge for one of her small size to handle, is busy ordering cleaning supplies and enjoying a well-earned cuppa. Steve is on the phone, helping someone to book tickets and a meal for our next winter Drawing Room concert on 28th November, whilst waiting to welcome his next museum & property shop visitors.
There’s a call from upstairs for a signature on an invoice from the Lyndas – our accounts team -and the murmur of voices from the Meeting Room where our Director, Howard is planning next year’s programme with The Friends of Brantwood. Helen sits on the floor in the middle of the office putting together signage for the concert. Rachel, our General Manager, is quietly at her ‘command-centre’ desk, getting to grips with the requirements of recruiting a new shop and group visitor coordinator.
Picking up my post, I head out into the glorious day. I have various trees to visit before returning to the outpost of my office in the Hoggis, a small stone-built barn with a wonderful view of the ‘living laboratory’ of our lakeside haymeadow. It’s time to face the computer screen and complete the write-up of 7 years of biodynamic research that has been carried out in this lively, flower-rich pasture.
Brantwood is a spot of incredible beauty, deep serenity and engaging, often challenging ideas. I love the scope of this place.