I chanced upon this delightful place, Wotton House, during October, while attending a conference about wood in the south of England. I heard a lot of stuff about "methane-producing rotting logs" lying around. We have a lot of rotting wood in the south east, in private woods, which could be harvested for fuel to keep people in rural areas warm. Clearing woods of many trees is good for wildlife. RSPB, the society for the protection of birds, were key contributors since woodlands which are less dense and lighter are more fertile, offering more insects to birds.
Wotton House with the Evelyn Library (photo from Wikipedia)
I was also bowled over by the venue, a large country house near Dorking, Surrey, Wotton House, and its good food which I thought would be lovely at Christmas. The price was excellent: £35 a head for hot and cold Christmas buffet (as much as one could eat).
I had no idea, until yesterday, that Wotton House was once the home of John Evelyn, the English 17th diarist, writer, tree expert and gardener. His descendants still own the house, now a hotel. The Queen in her Christmas message spoke about keeping a diary to create a "private space" for meditation on life during the year, taking time out from over activity. I did this all last year for the first time. Keeping a diary helps make sense of life's fragmentation and gives one a sense of balance. It is also useful for knowing exactly when things happened, such as when library books were taken out of the library, if you lose track!
John Evelyn was an English "diarist" like Samuel Pepys whose diary also covered The Great Fire of London in 1666. Evelyn started his diary around 1640 describing his Grand Tour, then offering insights into life under Charles 1st. It is beautifully written.
Evelyn was also a keen gardener and planted out the garden of Sayes Court in Deptford, London, part of which still exists as a run down, municipal garden. He created the garden at Wotton House which he inherited, when his brother died childless. The Italian garden was famous. Evelyn was also a keen supporter of the planting of trees for the building of ships of the Royal Navy, so it was quite appropriate that a conference about trees should take place there. Evelyn particularly loved fruit trees. He wrote about numerous subjects, including theology and had an enormous library, as a lover of books, a keen bibliophile. Below is a photo of the Evelyn library decorated for Christmas.
Here is the online Diary of John Evelyn which begins "I was born at Wotton...." His diary includes wonderful descriptions of Rome and Venice and crossing the Alps from Piedmont to Brig during the 1640s.