Saturday, 5 April 2014

Virginia Water (Colours)

I miss your sad Virginia whisper....


The ruins of Leptis Magna (North Africa) erected in 1826

Several years ago, in my yoof, I used to jog past the ruins of Leptis Magna, a Roman town near Tripoli, on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean, whose glory days came almost two thousand years ago. I would chug along, breathing the desert air, my sandals flapping against dry grains and my keffiyeh fluttering against my perspiring shoulders. The architraves and pediments looked down on me and the columns reared stiffly like mummified tendons, a stretch away from cramp.






But the soft moss, the tendrils of the trees, the pale humps of occasional fruits of boletus edulis under the oaks struck me away from the drought and luxury of colonial Africa. These stones were crafty imports, the gifts of foreign potentates, the very core of imperial romanticism...... I woke to find me strumbling (sic) around the paths of a royal park in leafy Berkshire, my inexpert footwork a hasty attempt to create some semblance of well-being, without jarring the gristle overmuch.....

It was one Colonel Hanmer Warrington who, in 1816, persuaded the Governor of Tripoli that a selection of columns and some sundry stones would make a fine present for the Prince Regent, who was later to become George IV.  I imagine perhaps that it would be difficult to know what to buy for a Prince Regent, and that a two thousand year old type of Lego might be just the ticket.

So it was that Commander W H Smythe was tasked with shipping 22 granite and 15 marble columns, 25 pedestals, 10 capitals and 10 bits of cornice, as well as 7 loose and 5 inscribed slabs and various fragments of sculpture, to the British Museum.  After a brief rest there, in a convoy of gun carriages, the stones were then, in 1826, rumbled out to Windsor Great Park, for a game of rebuild a Roman city...... In fact what you see now is not only Leptis Magna, but it is also part of the remains of Carlton House, as there wasn't really enough original masonry to create the desired effect. In addition, the concerns of Queen Victoria about 'ealth and safety' and the actions of teddy boys in the '50s (not to mention the heavy footfalls of joggers in later years) had caused cumulative severe damage..... so, in 2006, they started to put it all back together again.  And in 2009, having picked up all the original fragments, it was opened to the public.




This naturally fitted in with the overall project to turn a patch of featureless heathland into a royal park. William Augustus (Duke of Cumberland, and also Park Ranger) the second son of George II had initiated all this in the mid-18th century, when Thomas Sandby was the landscape architect (and also Deputy Park Ranger), head gardener or creative genius, as you wish.  This extension to Windsor Great Park was awash with ornamental bridges, follies, chinese fishing temples and a junk, turkish tents,  - or, at least, it was awash with all these when in 1768 it rained a little more than expected, the dam gave way, and one had to recommence......

So then they wheeled in Sir Jeffry Wyatville (aka Jeffery Wyattville) who had made his name extending Chatsworth, improving Windsor Castle and finishing Ashridge (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2012/08/ashridge-draft.html) wily shapeshifter that he was (buried in St George's Chapel no less, in 1840).  Must have been a heavy duty assignment this, what with Bonaparte safely interred, creating five-arched bridges over a slender lakelet, and stacking up some imperial columns - must have really taxed the cortex.....


Sir Jeffry Wyatville's Five Arched Bridge, 1826


So you're in the Rocky Mountains, the Adirondacks, the forests of New England, way way away, where savages play tricks with your sleep patterns and the sky is black by day. This is exotic, not like the Grindling Gibbons of your antechamber, but like the blood-trickling chill of a hunting expedition to Newfoundland.  The chakachakchak of a corvid jars the ears, and a rapid dudadudadudadud surprises from some pecker high in the dead trees. Compared with the dull formality, the sterile diplomacy, the vapid intimacy of the dinner tables and withdrawing rooms, this is raw nature at its wildest.  At least for Berkshire.....

I love it.....






So jog on, Chingachook.  Jog on Hiawatha.  It's wild enough for me.  History crunches underfoot as I trip the light fantastique.  On a regular weekday there aren't too many dogs to dodge, and the kids are all in school.  Leptis Magna notwithstanding this is landscape at its humane best.  Water bleeds into earth into trees into sky.  The occasional flash of a kingfisher shocks the rods at the extremities of the retina. Water fowl paradoxically (they are less colourful) tease cones.  Ears catch the shreds of birdsong, filtered by others and again by others.....

Then there is a brief downhill stretch of path, as the great/grand cascade falls ten metres, leasing the waters to the run off, while my joggling (sic) skirts round the now blocked off cave. Victoria Falls it ain't.  And Marilyn would hardly have been so impressive here pretending it was Niagara, but Augusto Pinochet lived nearby (at Wentworth) and he and Margaret Thatcher may well have picnicked here in their halcyon days....  How are the mighty waters fallen?  

I have no time for heroes here.....



The Great Cascade (1789)

I don't really need a signpost, but hey?  It does no harm to be given direction.  Four and a half miles may seem nothing to you, buddy, but I never could run.  Once took a 50% cut in a school cross country event and still came last.....  The nearest I got to being an athlete was my foot.....






But, I love it.  Bone jarring, head banging, knee trembling.  I remember those days.  Leptis Magna.  Circus Maximus. Mini Minor.  How the classics infuse my arteries? 







And then I hit another clashing giant cultural import.  The Totem Pole.  I find relief in knowing that this 100 foot erection was brought here in 1958 to commemorate the centenary of the foundation of British Columbia as a Crown Colony (for a moment I feared it had been forgot!) A plaque tells us that it was carved from a single 600 year old log (trunk?) of western red cedar taken from the forests of Queen Charlotte Island, 500 miles north of Vancouver.  In July 1985 a delegation of Kwakiutls (the original carvers) came over to refresh the paintwork.  

By my calculations, they should be back soon.....



The Totem Pole (1958)

The images are striking, and go by esoteric names, such as Cedar Man (the one at the bottom) and Man with a Large Hat (the one at the top).  In between are eight carvings, including Halibut Man, Old Man and Beaver.....


If I wasn't in a hurry, I would try somehow to link the symbolism here with that of Leptis Magna. In reality I prefer the natural world. Two scaup (Aythya marila) attract me in Wick Pond behind the pole, but I must get on.








The crowds have thinned, like my hair, and I am torn between the longer way, round the lake, but flat, and the direct route, but up the hill.  Ribs vibrate as the aorta stretches, valves hiss and slurp as blood strives to force oxygen into areas that have been left alone for years.  I begin to hallucinate, as plain and simple silver birches surge with unreal colours, and the waters themselves gleam with scaly power.





My vision is blurred, but heightened, made more visual, in a strange, unsharp way.  Gaussian blur, the Orton effect - my optic nerves are all bojangled.  Whoever suggested, Leptis Minor or not, that jogging could be good for you?  I would make my bed of reeds, lie me down in still waters, try to stop the waves behind my eyeballs....







Any road I hit the Valley gardens.  Here, Sir Eric Savill spilled over from his (1932) Savill Gardens and created a magnificent collection of rhododendrons, camellia and azalea (and no, I am not sure of the difference either....)

The really clever thing is that some, such as camellias (named after the Jesuit botanist George Joseph Kamel, who lived and worked in the Philippines) flower in the winter and spring. Others, such as azaleas, a subgenera of the rhododendron, flower in the summer.  So there's always something blooming....





And then I understand that some rhododendrons are invasive species that have to be eradicated (and they have ripped out a lot of them not far away round Cow Pond).  But then?


The Valley Gardens

What do I know?  I used to think that I know what I like.  And I like what I know,  But in reality I am too fast for that.  I jog past a daffodil one day, and it's gone the next.  Just like that. A bunch of flowers disappeared into a fez and we are none the wiser for the sleight of nature's hand.  I love it.  But it is me that is neither here nor there.  We all pass by.  

Some mercifully quicker than others!





At this stage it is all a blur.  Like in Norfolk, Virginia, the roar of speeding nature, of the turning world, trips and splits my leg.  Hard knocks.  Bourne again, sweet virginia.  Supposedly the name Virginia Water comes around from the name of the stream here being synonymous with Elizabeth I, the virgin queen, after whom someone named Virginia in North America.  The tribute came home to roost, with the unbroken waters here between Ascot and Sunningdale.  





Dead flowers surround me in the morning, as I dead head my exercises.  Be bop a lu la goes my heart, weaving through the paths toward the two valleys,  twitching my leg to the cock pheasant that croaks a chorus to the roar of my twin exhausts, the grind of the gears, the spray of the mud.....




Until eventually I crash out in the King's Boat House, all ship shape, caulked and feathered.  The park falls quiet, holding its breath for an encore.  The waters slip and slap, finned and huffed, while the woods around push up their saprophytes.  





And then, most wonderfully, a robin sings.  This may be a royal park, all design and crown, but the little shapes of nature, and the larger drifts of time, allow us now to breathe a tiny speck of happy life, despite it all.....


















Doggone my soul, how I love them old songs


Oh, they were a comfort to me when I was alone 

The dancing stops, but the music she goes on 

Doggone my soul, how I love rock and roll, hey

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