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Posts Tagged ‘Glynllifon’


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When I was first trying to get a feel for the world in 1914, I returned to the beautiful Glynllifon Estate, near Caernarfon. I hadn’t been there for years, and it was just as I remembered it, green and magical. The grounds had been created as a miniature world in themselves. There are woodland walks past rushing streams, a secret cave, and even a hermit’s grotto. It was easy to imagine the Victorian and Edwardian inhabitants of the grand house rambling through this secret, fantasy version of a wilderness, lying beneath the shadow of the vast, and in those days, dangerous and inaccessible wilderness, of the mountains of Snowdonia.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was catching up with the first episode of ‘The Crimson Field’ this week, I was reminded of Glynllifon. It was this protected, settled world that those three new VAD recruits, like so many of the young women on the front line, had left behind when they set off to face the horrors of the Great War. Okay, maybe not always so grand as Glynllifon, but the with the same opulence and order that had probably changed very little since medieval times. The same protected confidence that the world could be managed through money, status and force of will. The same pre-Raphaelite, daring-do, heroic idealism that had sent their brothers into the trenches to save the world.

The slate amphitheatre

Of course, there were other women, too. Many of them older women of intelligence, energy and ambition, who- like their Victorian mothers – were not content to stay idle and look decorous at dinner parties. These were the women who, behind closed doors and under the safe guise of ‘charity’, had set up, staffed and ran hospitals for the poor – fighting the legacy of extreme poverty and disease among so many of the inhabitants of a rich nation, that was only generally recognised when so many men were found to be unfit to fight.

It was this experience that took many of these women out to use their skills and experience on the front line, including setting up and running their own field hospitals, often in the face of prejudice and non-cooperation. When women first set up an women’s ambulance corps, they were simply laughed at.

 

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I was thinking of all those women, as I returned to the entrance of the Glynllifon estate, and how their lives were changed forever. The grand house is not a museum piece, the nearest you come to it is ‘Yr Iard’, the yard, which houses some of the tools belonging to the vast army of workers who built, maintained and fed this opulence. Theirs is also a story of lives changed forever.

It was this photograph, taken at harvest time 1913, that had me stopping in my tracks.

 

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The last harvest of a world that, on the day the photograph was taken, must have seemed to have lasted forever, and would never end. The last harvest of a lost world. There were terrible injustices and inequalities in that world, and, as a woman, I have no hankering to live there – particularly as my ancestors would have been in the yard rather than the house, and my life would most probably have been one of daily physical drudgery and perilous childbearing, accompanied by the pain of watching many of my children die. But it was – and still is – haunting to look into the eyes of a lost world. And to know, as none of them could have ever foreseen in their darkest nightmares, the fields where the men would be by the time of the next harvest, and the courage and resilience those girls would need to do – as women always do – to pick up the pieces and forge a new world, one that would never be the same again.

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After all the excitement and whirlwind of promotion of Eden’s Garden, I’m now deep in the next book. (Hurrah!)

It was strange at first, having wrestled so long for Eden’s Garden to see the light of day to go back to the beginning again, with a first draft and new characters. Oh and that familiar lurking feeling that perhaps that first book was a fluke. And why is this one so dire, and will I ever be able to get there again? To which the answer is: First draft syndrome. First drafts are always rubbish. That’s what they are there for. The trouble is, by the time you get to the refined end of a book, you’ve totally forgotten (or is that blanked out?) just what garbage you started with.

So now I’ve settled down a bit and my characters have taken on lives of their own  – and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble I’m far too nice to have even considered for them – I’m trying to abandon the computer once a week to do a bit of practical research. Oh, okay: visit lovely gardens. Since gardens seem to appear in everything I write as me, and as my alter ego Heather Pardoe, it’s no secret that a garden appears in the next book. How or why is a secret. But you may be able to guess as my forays into the garden world progresses.

Last week, I took off with a friend to Glynllifon, a magnificent Regency Mansion surrounded by a stunningly beautiful 700 estate. The grounds are now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the richness of the wildlife and the rare and endangered species it contains. Walking through is a slightly surreal experience. The park has been carefully crafted as a wilderness playground. There are streams and rustic bridges and romantic ruins that clearly weren’t ever anything but a romantic ruin. There’s even a cave that looks suspiciously hand-crafted, and a pretty little hermitage that would send any self-respecting hermit heading for the hills.

The slate amphitheatre

Glynllifon is pretty and charming, but slightly odd, given that the real wilderness of Snowdonia is a few hours away by horse-drawn carriage. It’s wilderness tamed, with the real wilderness beating at the door.

I loved every minute of it, and I shall certainly be going back when the autumn colours are at their best, but the most poignant moment came at the end. We were looking around the exhibition showing some of the workers who kept the estate going, and there amongst the photographs was this one.

They are the agricultural workers, but they could also be the gardeners, the servants, the men from the villages nearby. It’s a glimpse into a lost world. A truly lost world, and a lost generation. Why? Because the date on the photograph is 1913.

It’s harvest time, so it’s summer. Within a year, how many of those men and boys would be facing horrors beyond imagination in the trenches of the First Word War? And the little girls facing the struggle, deprivation and uncertainty of life at home, with the fear of invasion and the telegram appearing at the door.

In the Work in Progress, some of my characters have just headed off to the front in The Great War. Young men and women, full of idealism and a sense of adventure, off to see the world and escape the path their rigid society had laid out for them. And, like the men in the photograph in Glynllifon, with no possible way of knowing what lies in front of them.

The peace and beauty and the safely-contained world of Glynllifon is one that will haunt me for a long time. And I hope that at least some of those young men made it back, however scarred, to pick up their lives again, and forge a new world.

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