Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, July 10, 2017


NOT Sheffield Park and Gardens.
Back in the day I had a girlfriend who, on one occasion, insisted we visit a place in East Sussex called Sheffield Park and Gardens.  I went along and I didn’t complain, at least not too much, but at the time I could think of few things more boring or more staid or (god forbid) middle aged than going for a walk in a garden.
Well, if we’re lucky enough to survive, middle age has a way of happening to us whether we want it to or not.  And these days walking in a garden seems a great pleasure.  I accept that it remains bit staid but it’s seldom boring, and I suppose that’s because I’ve trained myself not to be bored.

I didn’t take any photographs of Sheffield Park at the time, but all the current images show this path and bridge, and I’ve just about convinced myself that I remember them.

More than that, I discover that Sheffield Park and Garden now has a section called Walk Wood, a piece of woodland acquired as a windbreak for the main garden, and at the moment it contains work by a local artist named Keith Pettit who, according to the website, “has created a collection of sculptures that form a new trail through the woodland.”

I’d like to see that, but I happen to find myself living some five and a half thousand miles away.  But now that I like gardens, I’ve been able to console myself by visiting at Lotusland, a 37 acre garden up the coast by Santa Barbara.  The last owner Ganna Walska (1887-1984) certainly made it what it is today though the overall estate was established in 1882 by Ralph Kinton Stevens who named it "Tanglewood" and turned it unto a lemon and palm and olive nursery. This, I gather, is how it looked in 1896:

The estate changed hands quite a few times until Madame Walska bought it in 1941 the intention of naming it Tibetland and using it as a retreat for Tibet monks.  Her then husband Theos Bernard who was a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and called himself “the first white lama.”

There are still signs of their plans:

And although there’s nothing resembling a “sculpture trail,” there are these things French “grotesques,” from a previous estate Madame Walska had outside of Paris before the war.  When the Nazis came, she fled, and her gardeners who remained buried the grotesques and madam’s Rolls Royce in a hole in the garden, where they remained until the end of hostilities when they were excavated and found to be intact.

         These days Lotusland owned by a trust and is open to the public, but you have to have reservations and unless you’re a member – which is a pricey business – you’re only allowed to walk in the garden as part of guided tour.

Our guide was excellent and the group was small and I knew what I was getting myself into, but even so it was still a bit constraining.  In a two hour walk you cover about a mile and a half, so there’s inevitably as much standing about as there is walking, which is not entirely what the psychogeographer ordered.

         Hard to imagine that Madame Walska was much of a walker, though she  did take a daily stroll around her garden, and I imagine came back with a list of improvements to give to the gardener.  One also imagines that a walk with Madame Walska would have been a rather theatrical affair.

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