We spent the weekend in a sort of 19th Century Disneyland – staying in a gorgeous, completely bonkers, self-consciously rustic cottage by a placid (and artificial) pond, hidden in the greenest (it’s February for Christ’s sake!) valley I’ve ever seen surrounded on all sides by the sound of rushing, tumbling streams. The cottage is on a rugged estate in West Devon – turned into a fantasy alpine tableau by the then Duke of Bedford in 1810 (he insisted that a fire was kept burning in an empty cottage to contribute a properly rustic plume of smoke to the skyline – his descendants kept this up until 1940). The estate’s a landmark for the Picturesque Movement – a uniquely English antidote to the chilly French cult of neo-classicism that dominated the previous century.
This is my first proper exposure to the picturesque – a shambolic movement that never quite made it into the history books – and I find myself in unexpected patriotic sympathy with its messy artifice. This is the same unfashionable, cantancerous strand of English decorative culture that produced the folly – unmotivated, capricious, fantastic.
I’d tell you where Pond Cottage is, only I’d have to kill you in case you decided to go and stay there – it’s already hard enough to get a booking. Thanks to Simon for the tip, by the way.