On Friday we went in search of our Wild Words at the magnificent Sharpham House, two miles upstream from the town of Totnes, in Devon. The famous architect Robert Taylor designed the house and the great landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is thought to have landscaped the extensive grounds.
We moved fluidly between our base camp, a room where the log fire warmed our bones, and explorations of those grounds. We dodged the raindrops, and luxuriated in the moments when the sun peeped through the clouds.
We gazed down on what is, I believe, one of the most wonderful views in the country. The fields and wooded slopes fall effortlessly to the banks of the River Dart. We felt the slow passage of time in the way that, since the ice age, the river has pushed its way through the landscape. That river became the main artery for goods going to the thriving market town. Now it enjoys a lazy role as the ambassador of fleets of summer pleasure boats.
We tapped into the rich history of the inhabitants of the house, and found a wellspring of stories. There was the ‘mad hermit’ Willelmus in the 14th century. There were wealthy merchants, politicians, and due to its proximity to Plymouth and Dartmouth, naval heroes too. Captain Pownoll was a high seas adventurer who made his name in 1762 by capturing a Spanish treasure Galleon.
We explored our fears of the wild, and were inspired by it too. The cat dissecting the bird. The snake-like river. Exploring those qualities of ‘wild’ led us to think about how what we considered ‘natural’ had mostly been cultivated, planted, tamed, as well as exploited and abused, by the human hand. Except perhaps for that river…
Some hours after the workshop had ended, those wild words were still reverberating through me. A friend phoned, and told me that he’d found a dead peasant that had been hit by a car. ‘A road-kill bird will lie there by the side of the road all day, and no one will stop for it. What a waste’. He’d picked it up and cooked it. So we enjoyed peasant casserole that evening. A taste of the wild? Or just another victim of the human species? Both, I suppose.
Weekly Writing Prompt
What do you know about the inhabitants of the building that you are in at this moment? What are their stories? Write about one person who has lived there, or the procession of dwellers through time. If you don’t know the facts, use your imagination.