One Night in ‘The Clearing’ at Compton Verney

I have to admit that I had flirted with the idea of spending a week as caretaker in ‘The Clearing,’ the dome shaped building presently beside the lake at Compton Verney. In the end I let the chance pass, so when the opportunity presented itself once again, albeit for just one night – I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Here’s my recollection of one night in The Clearing at Compton Verney.

 

What is The Clearing..?

For those who haven’t yet discovered the clearing, the Compton Verney website describes the project in essence: ‘The Clearing has been commissioned as a new ‘eye-catcher’ in the Compton Verney landscape: a 21st century version of the follies that Capability Brown once built. Half ruined and half inhabited, half melancholy and half optimistic, the project aims to help people explore the future we’re leaving for our children. The Clearing is intended to bring people together to start a conversation about what we stand to lose in a world afflicted by climate change, but also what we might gain.’

My ‘care-taking’ duties were to last less than twenty four hours, and I knew as a result that my complete engagement would therefore be somewhat limited. Furthermore I was to enjoy the experience alongside my family, which would make the opportunity altogether more interesting! Even after consuming the information pack before arrival we were full of questions. How would the sleeping arrangements work in reality? Could we relax with the children being close to the water? How ‘hardy’ was the structure (bearing in mind the energy of my boys!) and what if anything could we contribute during our stay.

Moving in…

With excitement and a degree of anticipation therefore, we unloaded the car and made our way through the trees towards the clearing…

Well, I can say we needn’t have worried, the children were fine, if a little excited, the sleeping arrangements (with an added camp bed) worked perfectly well, and the geodesic dome structure and contents all survived the ordeal unscathed! The experience however wasn’t entirely as expected. I shall explain…

A playful evening…

Naturally it was easy to see the one night stay as a treat, especially with two excited boys in tow, and to this end (with a windy evening forecast) we packed a kite and thoroughly enjoyed the sunny evening out in the Old Town Meadow. Back at the clearing though, after a meal heated through on the wood burning stove we sat around the fire pit and toasted marshmallows – we had taken a fresh pack although some had been left by a previous caretaker – great minds think alike I thought…

The boys seemed thoroughly at home, although we were in a very different world to what they’re used to. Safety was paramount and as parents we couldn’t completely relax for obvious reasons, but, in our own way we settled into the clearing very comfortably and it wasn’t long before the boys looked appropriately feral. Rules that we otherwise held close were relaxed, whilst new ones were made.

They played, ran, explored, learned about fire and water, watched bats fly about the trees and observed the birdlife on the lake using binoculars. All in all they thoroughly enjoyed their evening. Teamwork seemed to become the order of the day, with lots of give and take.  Things that we usually take for granted in our daily lives were thought provokingly absent or in a much reduced or restricted form, and whilst it was a sanitised version of what this lifestyle on a permanent basis could be like; it gave great insight indeed.

Thought provoking…

Knowing that the old medieval town of Compton Murdak had existed just a short stroll away, it was interesting for me in particular to ‘camp’ in this way; it enabled me to experience the landscape and see it from a new perspective.

A few points that washed around my mind whilst watching the sun set behind the wooded ridge of the Roman Fosse way:

  • Water – the very thing that we all know to be essential was restricted in its potential, not by its availability but by our appetite for walking such long distances (in our eyes at least) to collect it. We are indeed lucky that it could be collected, in purified form from a tap at a nearby building. How challenging would it otherwise be to collect clean water?
  • A square meal – again, in the spirit of The Clearing project self sufficiency would be the ultimate aim; growing and harvesting your own or as part of a community I guess. Whilst the growing of produce at the clearing is underway it will be sometime before ingredients would be readily available to harvest right there. Some caretakers have foraged around the estate, but pondering the acquisition of food over a full season and in sufficient quantity to sustain a family was concerning – it would be a significant challenge indeed. Clearly farmed animals would offer much potential, and as for the medieval occupants of Compton Murdak, the lake and its fish offered much potential (locally caught fish isn’t on offer today though!)
  • Personal hygiene – how particular we have become as a species, and how this would play out in the context of The Clearing. Visitors will notice a shower feature, a very clever bag of water and shower head, suspended from a nearby tree. This is clearly a makeshift set up and could with time become more practical and private whilst retaining the stunning landscape views!
  • Firewood – with fire, either in the wood burner or in the fire pit being a necessity, the availability and cutting of wood came quickly to mind. Again, in the context of The Clearing, logs have been made readily available, and tools. But a need for a managed woodland coppice was clear along with availability of some basic tools.

A moment to cherish…

After an evening of thought I was early to rise with the sound of the dawn chorus. By five thirty I was sat on the decking with a mug of coffee and a full range of birds on the lake for company. Stage left saw the heron perched on a branch, awaiting his breakfast. Centre stage presented greylag geese, coots, great crested grebe and their young, even a cormorant flew by. Stage right brought two swans with necks intertwined in the classic heart shape; an exquisite show entirely – although we, at The Clearing may have been those on stage….

At ten in the morning, more excitement was in store for the family. The Clearing had been lined up as a stopping point on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire’s live show with Brody Swain called Gold and Treasure. I was all set with a one minute challenge for roving reporter Wedge – sowing some radish seeds into a recycled pot, for future caretakers of the clearing to enjoy. Well the interview went well, Wedge completed his challenge and the van disappeared off to its next venue. As you can imagine it was all very diverting!

Back on the decking we chatted to the many visitors making their way first to The Clearing, and our seven year old cut his teeth as a tour guide, explaining what it was like to live in the dome for an evening.

Conclusion…

A family one night stop over it might have been, but a very thought provoking one nonetheless. Given more time I couldn’t have stopped the urge to tend the garden in some way, quite possibly to tidy or start some new crops maybe, and certainly since returning to my home garden I’ve started to re-evaluate how I use my own humble plot. If you’re visiting, I urge you to drop in and chat to the current caretakers, and enquire as to what they’re making of the experience – it might be very different to mine!

Regards (& thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting The Clearing)

Gary

Head of Landscape & Gardens at Compton Verney

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