The spirit of the place


On a recent trip away, which involved some long distance driving, my son was entertaining himself by asking us all kinds of questions – favourite foods, drinks, breeds of dogs….. The list goes on, and yes, it was a very long trip!

But the question which, for me, was the hardest to answer, was my favourite famous building I had ever visited. I thought and thought as we drove down the motorway in the rain, and eventually volunteered maybe Sissinghurst Castle as my favourite.

I was met with protests. ‘That’s not even a building, it’s a garden!’, my son exclaimed. I pointed out that it is indeed a building and that we had climbed up to the top of its tower on our most recent visit – but I have to confess he had a point, as it is really for its garden that I love it so much.

I was asked to think up another answer, one which satisfied him and which I liked most for the actual building. He even suggested that my favourite should be the Sydney Opera House. Which is amazing, but not my favourite. After a few more rainy miles, I suggested Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris in Oxfordshire, but no-one could understand how that could compete with the opera house! 

A few days later, back at home, I thought that perhaps Canterbury Cathedral could be another favourite, and maybe would even meet with approval from my son as it is definitely a very famous building and it is that I love and not its grounds!  But it set me wondering why I had found a simple question so tricky to answer.

I think it’s because, for me, my favourite places would not be buildings at all. The places that stick in my memory the most tend to be places in nature instead – the Doone Valley, the Lakes, the Seven Sisters – and the buildings I did manage to come up with were more about their surroundings than their architecture. And when it comes to the buildings themselves, it’s more the feeling,  the spirit of the place, that is most important to me. I like churches that are cool and peaceful, homes which are filled with beautiful things. It doesn’t necessarily have to be grand or famous – I just have to feel a little bit at home.

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