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Granit Magazine Article

Updated: Jun 26, 2022

White hall with stairs and sunshine
Hall at No 19

I’d never heard of Granit Magazine when one of their journalists contacted me asking if they could write an article on what brought me to my house in north Bohemia. I took a look at the online version of the German publication and instinctively liked it. I actually don’t read German but one of my German speaking friends said it was very nice, the pictures and layout looked fantastic, so I thought I’d go with it! Now that I’m sitting here looking at this amazing article, I’m extremely happy I agreed.

I was initially sent a list of questions all of which I instantly liked but more interestingly found very though-provoking. Why did I come here, and why did I stay? What state was the house in when my family bought it? Where is the heart of the house? Tell us something about the garden...

Orange rose in garden with seat
Garden at No 19

Cream roses in garden
Garden at No 19

All of these questions somehow got me thinking not only about how I ended up living in a tiny Czech village, but how and when my journey really started, where does my vision for the house and garden come from, and where do I feel is my home?

House garden pond
No 19

Father and child on beach vintage
Me and My Father England 1970s

When I was a very small child I had an illustrated book of fairytales. I’d sit in bed at night looking at the pictures and dreaming about this magical world filled with gothic castles, timber framed houses, eastern silks and ceramics, balconies overlooking cityscapes of ancient towers. I remember one picture of a campfire in a forest clearing at the base of an ivy-covered stone tower. It was night and there were some men sleeping at the roots of a huge oak tree, their bodies, faces, and the tree‘s branches illuminated by the warm light of the fire. In the darkness at the far edges of the page were the shapes of the magical forest creatures watching as the men slept. There was something so captivating about that picture, I wanted to be there feeling the warmth of that fire, smelling the smoke and the cool woodland air… being so far away, but at the same time having the security of home.

Historic church hall
Beeston Church

Fairground fair sunset

I grew up in the center of England in a small town called Beeston, about six miles from Nottingham, yes! Robin Hood! In the 1970s and 80s it was a very nice place to grow up and I have fond memories of my time there. I had a little yellow BMX bike and cycled for miles alone or with friends exploring my little world. Even though we lived in a 1920s suburban neighborhood, there were areas of natural beauty everywhere, with woodlands and nature reserves that were perfect for a young child to play in.

Cedar trees tall tree garden
Cedars at Wollaton Hall

Historic house and garden in trees
Wollaton Hall

I’ve always had what I call ’creative phases’ where I have a fascination with something and I just can’t get enough of it. By the age of nine I’d developed a passion for houses and architecture which usually involved me spending my evenings designing and drawing house plans, and my spare days gathering inspiration. Close to our home was a road called Beeston Fields Drive which had some amazing turn of the century homes including a particularly beautiful and quirky thatched ‘witch’s’ cottage.

River and green trees
Attenborough Nature Reserve close to Beeston

Slightly further away was a picturesque village called Bramcote where I remember there being an abandoned red brick house in the woods with a beautiful central courtyard. There was a back window that we used to squeeze through to get in and explore. In the opposite direction on the way to Nottingham center was a historic village called Wollaton and more importantly, Wollaton Hall.

English Elizabethan stone country house
Wollaton Hall

Historic painting of face
Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Hall is an Elizabethan mansion built in 1580 - 1588 which since 1925 has been a natural history museum owned by the city of Nottingham. The gardens, grounds and house have always been free to enter which was truly a gift. Miles of woodlands, lakes, streams, parkland, and gardens provided whole days of exploring and adventure. The house itself is just magical. Surrounded by semi formal gardens of mature cedars, gravel paths, an original orangery, and stone staircases leading up to facades of stunning formality, Wollaton Hall is an amazingly beautiful place and Nottingham is lucky to have it… I was lucky to have it. This was my inspiration, a place I’ll always remember.

Historic stone house and courtyard
Haddon Hall

Stained glass window historic
Haddon Hall

As I got older I persuaded, tricked, and bribed my parents into taking me to other houses and gardens of interest many of which were situated close to home. Haddon Hall is one of my all time favorite houses, as is Hardwick Hall. These two are very different but both absolutely stunning. Haddon Hall (originates from the 11th century) is a house that’s evolved over the ages, becoming larger as the owners became more prosperous and times changed.

Country house and garden
Haddon Hall

Hardwick Hall (1590 - 1597) on the other hand, was the creation of one of the richest women of Elizabethan England, Bess of Hardwick, and was a radical, modern symbol of wealth and power. Not far from these two is Calke Abbey which again is just another spectacular house with an interior like nothing you’ve ever seen. If you’re ever in that part of the world, you must go and visit them all.

Historic stone country house
Hardwick Hall

Historic stone fireplace
Hardwick Hall

As a family, we almost always took our holidays in the north of England or north Scotland where there were endless houses, abbeys and castles ranging from lived in, to total ruins. Cottages built from stone clustering against huge hillsides of lush green grass. Drystone walls separating fields, dotted with sheep. Even the smell of the air, the taste of the mountain water was something so unique, so natural. These places are still in my head like I was there yesterday. When I was fourteen we stayed in a five floor Scottish castle on a twenty-acre island on Loch Awe. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The house was only partly restored and the upper floors hadn’t been touched since the 1930s. My brother and I would take a boat and row out to tiny islands where there were abandoned fortresses which were nothing more than stone walls, all overgrown with honeysuckle and strawberries. These were truly magical places, places I wanted to somehow recreate. The moment we got home from these holidays I’d go straight into the garden and style my shed like a ruined Scottish fortress, clip our hedges to resemble the ones I’d seen at Elvaston Castle, and plan a water and rock garden with the magic of the gardens at Newstead Abbey.

Historic bedroom with tapestry
Hardwick Hall

Historic door in garden
Haddon Hall

At nineteen I moved to Epsom in Surrey, to go to university. This was an amazing experience and a fascinating place as it was a truly idyllic part of England. There were ancient buildings very different in style to the ones I’d grown up with, beautiful original cottages, and whole areas of Arts and Crafts architecture with actual houses by Edwin Lutyens and gardens by Gertrude Jekyll. I’d spend many of my weekends walking through the woods, looking over garden walls and soaking in the Englishness of it all.

Young men in city street
Me and Friends in London 1990s

Cat on windowsill in city
Mario in Milan

My 20s were spent in central London, my 30s in Milan Italy. City life was very different and at that time, it was probably what I craved. Both these cities felt like home and I’d discovered the life I felt I’d been searching for. I met amazing people, made amazing friends, saw such beautiful places, absorbed the energy that surrounded me. I’m not sure I ever imagined leaving either of these cities. My desire for gardening was satisfied in London with a deep windowsill filled with plants, and in Milan I had windowsills and two balconies. It’s in this Italian apartment where I crossed paths with the tiny unwanted beige kitten that became one of the lives of my life: Uncle Mario, and we stayed together until his time came to leave at the age of 16. How I loved that fury boy. Life was fun, full of newness and inspiration, but it also lacked something I felt inside, something connected to my childhood, something magical and natural that came from my earliest dreams.

Cat with blue eyes