Never mind the seals, the most awe-inspiring find on our minibreak to Norfolk was a hollow tree. A sessile oak, to be precise, more than 500 years old. We had gone to Felbrigg Hall, now a National Trust property. As it was such a brilliant day - clear blue sky, windless and mild, more summer than start of November - it seemed a sin to spend even a minute indoors and we explored the estate instead.
Much to the joy of our children there were ever more fascinating trees: trees to climb, uprooted trees to climb, dead hollow trees to step inside, hollow trees that were still alive yet could be stepped into and climbed... But the crowning find was a tree which the four of us couldn't enclose with arms outstretched: A mighty oak, root bases bulging, and two small caves beneath them which looked a bit like the entrance to a foxes' den. Nothing suggested that this monster was hollow. But of course, the children immediately started exploring those "fox holes" and a few seconds later we heard squeals of delight from inside the tree.
They were adamant that we should come, too. My man gracefully declined so they directed their combined efforts towards me: "It really is a short passage only, and very wide - even wide enough for you, mummy!" Being somewhat of a tree hugger, I didn't need all that much persuading. I did briefly reflect on the ignominy of getting stuck and having to be pulled out again by the fire services, but luckily it didn't come to the worst.
Once inside, it was an experience unlike any I have had before. Mainly, I think because unlike with most hollow trees, you really were completely enclosed by the trunk, the only "window" being that above your head. Yet the space was wide enough to fit several people: we could have sat down and had a picnic in there! I couldn't help but think of two childhood reads - one being Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Tinderbox", the other some adventures of Pippi Longstocking, the world-famous character created by Astrid Lindgren.
What stories could this tree tell, if only it could talk? Did it ever shelter a fugitive, I wonder? Did children play in it when Felbrigg was in private hands? One thing is certain: it got to know Humphry Repton. The same Humphry Repton of "Red Book" fame who created nearby Sheringham Park which I wrote about in a June post. [As soon as I will have learned how to create anchor links with my webhost, I will provide them - until then: apologies for the clunky experience in this blog :-) ]
Anyway: before he began his career as a professional landscape designer, Repton was employed by Felbrigg's then-owner as a secretary. Though this isn't certain, he could have been involved in the planting of the park. The guide book states: "The park is certainly Reptonian in character, with its gracefully sculpted clumps and belts". Our magic hideaway, however, would have been a mature oak by then already. It's fun to imagine Repton might have climbed this tree on his days off!
Naturally, since I was there I also wanted to see Felbrigg Hall's walled garden. Walking around, I reflected on the slight differences between my attempts at taking pictures and those of a pro. I recently attended a truly interesting talk by Jason Ingram whose stunning and at times almost otherworldly photographs of gardens regularly grace the pages of Gardens Illustrated magazine. His main message had been that good photographs are all about the light and hence about good timing.
It made me realise again that I could not earn my pennies that way: Quite apart from the questionable artistic skills and near total lack of technical knowhow (the latter of which at least could be remedied with some true determination and effort, I think), I consider getting up early as a severe form of torture. I have no problem with working late into the night, but early starts? Not if I can possibly help it! So regularly to "be on location about an hour before sunrise"? Jason, you really don't need to watch your back...
family and garden photography don't match
How can one possibly take good pictures - even by amateur standards - with a family in tow?? Or rather: ahead of one, as they constantly grumble "Mum, you take aaaages! It's boooring! When are we going to get the ice cream you promised?" In fairness, they tend to entertain themselves quite well and more often than not my man will take a fast-paced tour of the grounds with the children and then wait at a playground, café or other spot until I trundle in. But still. It doesn't get you in the right mood and frame of mind if you constantly feel guilty or at least conscious of people waiting for you.
In Felbrigg I was told they'd wait for me at the car park while I could look at the walled garden. The car park! My man wanted to get back to London early and sure enough he was right - we paid the price afterwards by being stuck in traffic and needing double the time. But I ask you: what offer is that? I didn't dare more than a brisk walk around the place - enough though, to feel I should smack myself for not having "abandoned" my family earlier in the day and come here instead.
So here are some pics, taken whilst dashing around like a mad woman. Any half-decent image is purely down to that amazing light we had. Cheers!