Do you remember the film The Secret Garden? The 1993 version? It was my favourite thing to watch as a child. I received it on video one Christmas, and kept it at my Nanna’s house, convinced that if I took it home my brothers would end up breaking it. I don’t know what happened to that video tape. I hope it’s stacked away inside a cardboard box, snuggled up next to White Fang and Call Of The Wild – two other valuable films from my early years.
Much of The Secret Garden was shot in Fountains Hall and the grounds of Studley Royal Park, a World Heritage Site within short walking distance of Ripon, the third smallest city in England, and from where the majority of my family hail. The park’s most valuable feature is Fountains Abbey, one of England’s largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries. Founded in the 12th Century by a small group of monks, Fountains Abbey would grow to become one of the wealthiest and most influential Cistercian abbeys in Britain. That is until 1539 when Henry VIII commanded the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
As a child, my Dad would spend hours roaming Studley’s steep-sided valley, and pitching himself over fences to avoid paying the entrance fee to the Fountains Abbey. When my siblings and I were growing up, my Dad would often bring us to Studley (rarely Fountains because it was too expensive, and pitching four kids under ten over barbed wire fences wasn’t that simple). He would point out significant spots, like where he was once chased by an irritable stag after snapping its photograph and blocked up ‘hidden tunnels’ which, he claimed, were once used by the Abbey’s monks.
Bringing Sebastian to this most important of places felt somewhat necessary. Our family has explored the acres of parkland for over half a century, and I felt that Sebastian, as the latest addition to the Metcalfe clan, ought to experience this valuable part of our history for himself. I held the belief that it would, in a way, enable him to understand me – and my family – on a deeper level.
On our way into the park, I had my fingers tightly crossed that we would encounter at least one of the five hundred deer (Red, Fallow and Sika) which freely roam the park. The gods were on our side that day, and within moments of us crossing the cattle grid into the grounds, we lurched to a stop as there, standing mere meters from the side of the road was a doe and foal. I couldn’t have wished for a moment more perfect.
There was no visit to Fountains on this occasion – you need a full day there and we didn’t have that – but we did make our way through the valley. We passed by ancient trees, many of which are over three hundred years old, most standing, some fallen, their great roots exposed to the sun…a sun which had been shining for us since we’d first arrived in England.
It felt somewhat surreal, but gorgeously so, to be walking the familiar route as a thirty year old English woman with her Swedish partner. I remember the walk taking forever when I was small, sometimes we didn’t even make it to the end before our little legs were tired and we needed to turn back. But Sebastian and I were at the boundary of the park before we could work up a sweat. My Dad retold tales from when he was a lad, and it was all almost too much for my emotions to take.
Sebastian went on to meet my Nanna, and I was so proud that he was able to decipher her thick Yorkshire accent. Bringing Sebastian to where my family originate was the most beautiful way to round off our short but blissful trip to the motherland.