By Christopher Boyle, Owner
At Kirklinton, there is a tower. It stands roofless and windowless, its floors gone. Jackdaws nest in its crevices and little carpets of grass grow along its shattered parapet.
But within the Tower rises a perfect spiral staircase. The walls are curved and unplastered; the stone blocks, neatly mortared and tooled by craftsmen long ago. Each tread – a single slab of stone - is undercut to make the ceiling of the steps below and piled with the precision of the ancients to make this an unshakable staircase in the heart of the ruin.
To climb this stair is to climb the tower of Sleeping Beauty. Dashing off on her sixteenth birthday, the beautiful princess is playing hide-and-seek with her happy guests. She finds a staircase in the castle that she had never seen before. Up and up she climbs, its spiral steps taking her further from the shouts below, hiding the place she has come from and the place she is going to.
Eventually, breathless, she reaches the top and a large oak door, which she opens. The room beyond is bare but for a three-legged stool and spinning wheel. It is a strange contraption that she has never seen before. She was not to know that her parents, the King and Queen, had ordered all such objects burnt on the day of her Christening.
She sits, with fascination, before the curious machine, with its wheel and its pedal, its skein of wool and its little, sharp needle. Fatally, she reaches forward and…
You know the rest. It has to be one of the most enduring stories of all time. A child-pleaser down the centuries. Mad, rich, absurd – improbable and wholly convincing; disturbing and satisfying all at the same time.
To climb the spiral staircase at Kirklinton is to leave the world below behind. It has no doorways off it. Its little windows are haphazardly placed, giving disorientated pocket-views of the outside you have left. Up and up it climbs, tight and enclosed. Then, bang! Where the door should have been, where the room once was, there is a dizzying void and you teeter, looking down four floors to the shattered flag-stones lying far below.
You are in the world of the jackdaws, of the wheeling swallows and housemartins; the neighbour to the horse-hair tuft of grass eking out an arid existence among the mortar and stones, 80 feet above the next patch of earth. The modern-day fairy tale princesses who climb this staircase are safe, at least, from the wicked godmother and her bodkin.
Soon, very soon, I hope, I will restore to future Sleeping Beauties, the door and the room. I have a spinning wheel, skein included, ready at another house, just awaiting its literary home. Who knows, in some few years hence a giddy girl may prick her finger and fall asleep for a 100 years (or, perhaps, this being the 21st Century, will sue me for personal injury). But in the meantime, I am reversing the fairy story.
In ‘Sleeping Beauty’ the roses encompassed the castle after she had pricked her finger. They rose up, as Norah Lindsay’s flowers are said to have done at Sutton Courtney, and gently embowered the sleeping Court. They protected it and perfumed its sleep as a 100 years rolled by.
In my re-writing, I am making the roses smother the castle before the princess has climbed that fatal tower. Ramblers, climbers, bush and shrub are all pressed into service. Against sunny walls and shady ones, trained straight up between the embrasures of windows, alongside bays, below projecting sills, woven through balustrades and peeping at empty windows.
Most have been in only two years. Already, with muck and well-dug soil, with the benign climate of Kirklinton and the warm stone of its ruined walls, these dripping beauties of scent and colour have scaled astonishing heights. The future promises such profusion, such a heady extravagance of blooms, tangled stems, dappled leaves and revengeful little thorns. I can hardly wait.
Someday, perhaps, a prince – the right prince – will come to cut through these lovely roses and tame the garden that I am conjuring out of neglect into wild fecundity. But that lies in the years ahead. Until then, I cast my ramblers up mature alder trees, and drape the hawthorns with scented climbers, surround the house with bowers and line the terraces with stately rows of virgin white.
A Maze is planned. Unlike the Tower, I hope to do it this year. At its centre will lie a fountain, but its paths will be lined not by hedges but by scented roses on a painted trelliage. Until the Tower is complete, and the spinning wheel in place, this Maze will be the place for hide-and-seek - with all the fun, but without out the fear, of the fairy tale oft told.