Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

England and Chastleton

One of my favorite sayings is that England is the most beautiful country in the world, when the sun shines. I know, of course, that this is not literally true; I have not seen all the other countries and suspect, from the photographs I have seen, that the South Island of New Zealand, for instance, is far more beautiful than anything England could aspire to. It is a subjective judgement anyway and others will find all sorts of things to prefer in places beyond my experience.

Yet I still mean it when I make the statement, for I am speaking of a feeling, rather than attempting any genuine comparison with other places. There is something about England, when the sun is shining in high summer and one is free to walk in her fields and woods without worry or care, that inspires this deep contentment at being at one with such brief perfection.

Perhaps it is a part of being English and other nations find as much satisfaction in the moments of their own country's great beauty. But for me it is true - when the sun shines, there is no finer place to be than in England.

My first thought when considering that statement is the River Dart in Devon, the lush forests lining the banks of a slow-moving river, the heat shimmering in the air above the land, the clonk of the oars of a small rowing boat that inches forward on the stream, the sound barely heard in that deep and breathing silence, and all made bright and sharp with a sun released from its habitually cloudy home. But for a Midlander such as myself, this is a rare experience indeed and I am brought closer to my natural habitat as I recall the name "Chastleton".

Ah, Chastleton, that undiscovered jewel nestling in the wandering border between Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, there is a place that is England as it was meant to be, the Olde England of our imagination. That border is a place of tiny villages, small farms and many trees, a forgotten area that boasts no great cities. Just around the corner from the stone-built village is Chastleton House, surely the most interesting of all stately homes, forgotten and preserved in its 400 year old decline.

I could give you facts and figures or as easily point you to the National Trust or Wikipedia entries, but that would not convey its timeless quality. I say timeless but, in fact, the place is a time capsule, undisturbed since its completion in 1612. Enter Chastleton and the present fades away as we encounter the world as it was in Jacobean times.

Nothing has changed. The family that built and owned it throughout its history fell on hard times as soon as it was finished and could not afford the alterations and additions of other great houses. Everything is just as it was, the furnishings, the ornaments, the portraits, almost the very air we breathe. I cannot convey the sense it gives of transportation back in time but I can paint you a picture of an odd detail that says it all.

On the landing of one of the fusty and musty staircases (dust is everywhere in Chastleton, or was when I saw it - it has since been bought by the National Trust and, no doubt, they have cleaned it) there is a narrow window of leaded glass in regulation diamond patterns. The sill to that window is an ancient wooden slab, so old that it has dried and withered into a landscape of ridges and valleys. On that ledge, there stands an old pewter plate, tarnished, irregular and leaning back against the window.

The plate has been there for so long that it has sunk into the sill, the weight of centuries gradually forcing it between the ridges of the wood, as though it were being slowly swallowed. One might think that it has merely fallen into the hollow it occupies but that is not so; the wood has folded over as the plate made its way downwards and it now holds the plate secure. It cannot be moved, pewter and wood fused together in ancient bonding.

I know it sounds impossible; had I not seen it myself, I would not believe it. But, unless some crazed NT custodian has forced it from its seating, the plate is still there, perhaps even now working its way deeper into the grasp of its chosen supporter. It says more eloquently than I could the age and preservation of this rambling and homely house, it speaks of the centuries of fading grandeur that the family suffered, it portrays the very meaning of Chastleton.

Try to find the place, if you are ever in that area. You will have a good map if you do so, for that country is as sleepy and rooted in the past as is the house, the winding and confusing roads almost always leading one astray. But make the attempt on a sunny day in summer, for then you will know the truth in what I say: when the sun shines, England is the most beautiful country in the world.


Clive, Thought I'd come by for a visit to see if anything was new with you, and was delighted by your new post. What you say about the English countryside I believe is true. My grandparents came over from Scotland during the thirties, and I think that in part explains the odd infinity I've always felt toward England and Scotland. I have always longed for a visit, and once I've taken care of few priorities, a trip over will definitely be one of the first things I do.
Date Added: 29/05/2008

Gone Away
Naturally I am biased on this subject, Scott, but all of Britain is well worth seeing, even if you don't manage to catch it when it's not raining. I know you will enjoy it immensely. :)
Date Added: 29/05/2008

I tried before to reply here. It failed. So this is it, third time lucky. Chastleton is just up the road from me, about an hours drive and I have put it on the (mental) list of 'things to do. Mental lists are ideal, no one else can get to read them and make critical comments about the lack of progress.. I see that the National Trust has indeed taken over the site. This does not bode well for the pewter plate and the window sill. The NT are known (by me) to be Fascist in their approach to things. Dogged determination to have Everything as is was - Nothing less will do. Ths may work in some places but it destroys the 'personal' touch. I will let you know what I find there come summer. August body they (NT) may be, but they do have a tendency to lose the plot. A couple of years ago they purchased for the Nation the old house that John Lennon lived in. Why? To visit it would NOT give any indication of what JL means to people who know his music. Only one way to find that out, and that is to ..umm, listen. So pewter dishes to John Lennon in two easy stages. you know... I am well named! AFC
Date Added: 05/06/2008

Gone Away
All neatly tied together, Fractal! It would be a shame if the NT has changed too much of Chastleton House - it is so preserved in time, with hardly anything moved for hundreds of years. I suppose it's inevitable that it will have changed since I was there but, with a little luck, at least some of that sense of history will lurk in the corners for you. Here's crossing my fingers for you!
Date Added: 05/06/2008

It sounds wonderful, I want to see it someday. Thats on my to do list.
Date Added: 20/06/2008

The well-worn phrase goes that you can't go home again. Whether or not this is a good thing, I suppose, depends largely upon one's experience of home. I'm with Janus in that I one day hope to gaze upon these "Eurovistas" that time forgot for myself. So in that respect you have my thanks for making the idyllic understandable...and inviting!
Date Added: 29/06/2008

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