One From the Archives: Harvesting the Delight of Parham

[One from the archives, originally posted Sunday, 27 September 2015]

Harvesting the delight of Parham
“Welcome to the true heart of England, and of Sussex.”
The voices of the land seemed to speak to me,
“Take your time, linger, let us ensnare you. Perhaps you’ll never leave.”
As a child, I read many a fairy story (perhaps too many), and arriving at Parham early on a stunning September morning, I could almost believe them. It was one of those perfect mornings, a precious morning, all light and fresh chill, pastels and gold. I have become accustomed to holding my breath as I make my slow way along the winding drive, awaiting and expecting the sense of enchantment that falls, as I take that final bend and the landscape unfolds below to gather me in.
On a September morning such as this, the Downs are silvered, defined by light and shadow, flowing and enveloping; a natural screen that hides all that doesn’t matter, allowing one to forget the rest of the world outside.
On a dew drenched lawn, between trees showing the first autumnal hints of copper and gold, a group of fallow deer graze, picking their way across the timeless vista. Veteran trees sigh under their history, dreaming stories of old, whilst a scattering of saplings, younger than my own score-and-three years, harvest the morning light. In the grasslands and under the trees, strange and varied fungi have appeared overnight.

The Harvest Fair has drawn a crowd. Cars glint in the sunshine as they line up on the green, each following my own slow progression of before, in a broken line down the drive. Visitors stroll from produce stand to produce stand, pausing to perch on straw-bales to watch displays in the arena, and they admire apples, cider, game cookery, plants, and farm animals, or they wander away into the walled gardens. They slow with every step as Parham’s spell works its magic.

Over the garden wall, gnarled and lichen-encrusted apple trees are heavy with fruit. A red admiral butterfly seeks the windfalls. The borders of the gardens are as rich as high summer, a tapestry of deep autumnal colours; fennel seed heads tower over swathes of sedum, a late-flowering clematis scrambles through the fading buddleia. The thick sweet scent of asters fills the air, followed by the hum of bees. That red admiral appears again, or another of his kind, to make the most of the nectar buffet the colourful flowers advertise.

By mid-afternoon the ephemeral, charmed light of the earlier hours has lifted, and the day has taken on a brighter, yellower light. The flowers are heavy with bees, visitors are warm and content, the parkland is quiet.  A robin twitters. I’d imagine that later, when the crowds have dispersed and long fingers of shadow push the last visitors out of the gates, the robin will replace the chatter of the people with his own song. Perhaps the notes will drift through a window left open in the house; I wonder who will listen. Undisturbed once again, the deer will warm their backs in the low evening sun, picking fallen acorns from the fungi-studded grass beneath the venerable oaks.

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