I've been drawing at the old Deer Shelter frequently over the past few weeks so, as Barbara fancied a different walk this afternoon, we decided to visit Bretton Park and I took the opportunity to show her the mysterious place that has so fascinated me.
'It's changed!' I exclaimed.
'What do you mean it's changed? How can you tell?'
'Well I was here almost 'til sunset yesterday and those branches weren't there.'
As we get closer we discover that there have been some overnight revellers. They've made a neat circle of stones for their bonfire by the right hand pillar and they've set tea-light candles on the ledges of the rock in the central chamber.
My feelings are very much those of Robinson Crusoe when he walks out one morning and finds the smouldering ashes of a campfire made by cannibals that have visited his island;
'What?! - they've been here; on MY island!' (this isn't quite the Defoe version but it's how I felt. Notice how soon I've adopted this shelter as my own domain!)
I don't know if it's because of the proximity of the college just 5 minutes walk away across the park but, to judge by the drinks cans left here, the shelter has long been a favourite spot for alfresco parties. I just wish they'd tidy up after themselves.
Someone has placed a cross-shaped fence pole bang in the middle of the central arch. Me, I prefer symbols - even if they've been concocted in a party atmosphere - to be more subtle and understated.
That's one of the main reasons why I would prefer not to have modern sculpture dotted around this 18th century landscape park. There's bags of symbolism in sky, tree, rock and grassy slope if you take the time to tune in to the spirit of the park itself.
To me what nature and the earth have to say goes deeper, much deeper, than the pleasant, but by comparison shallow - how could it be otherwise when seen against nature itself - work of some of our best-loved sculptors. To me the sculptures seem to provide artistic signposts to allegorical meaning. They scream, or, more subtly, suggest, 'look at me, I'll provide you with meaning!'
If a visitor could only manage without these crutches, these supports to artistic insight, I feel that they would have a deeper experience of the park. But they're there. People like them, so why am I complaining?
The sculptures, in my mind, detract from the deep philosophical message that our forebears left to us in this beautiful park. The English landscape garden is probably the greatest single contribution that this country has made to world culture. To give just one example look at the centre of Washington D.C.
The sculptures detract from its aesthetic by playing their own clamouring message over the top of its message; the communion with nature that I'd prefer to enjoy free from their dubious charms. There's nothing wrong with the sculpture - it's excellent, inspiring even. But it's aesthetically bad manners to impose it on the park which is in itself a work of art. Don't get me wrong, I not denigrating from the sculptures themselves when I say that I find them as unwelcome as background music often is - even the best of music can destroy a mood when used in the wrong context. I hope you can understand that, for me, that's the the effect these works of art - whatever their individual virtues - have on this special place.
The park is a work of art in its own right, not a blank canvas.
Today's title comes one of Prospero's speeches which I've used a couple of times before in this diary; Bonfire Smoke. It's a quote that seems appropriate to Bretton Park.