The festival offers visitors the chance to hear from experts about the work involved in managing landscapes of all kinds, from country house estates to woodlands to farms, coasts and mountains.
The East of England region of the National Trust is hosting three of the seven weekends –testament to the complexity and beauty of the landscapes of this part of the country. On 5/6 October, visitors will be able to hear about how the Trust manages its land at Wimpole, one of the very few National Trust farms that is managed in hand. The following weekend offers a rare chance to take an in-depth look at Northey Island in Essex, a tidal island off the coast near Maldon which was among the earliest places where coastal realignment policies have started to be pursued in the face of rising sea levels.
The point of these events is that they speak to the many different facets of landscape. Landscape is simultaneously natural and human-made. All landscapes speak to the history and development of society, communities and economies, and carry different sorts of cultural significance as a consequence.
This point was emphasised most emphatically at the Sheringham uncovered weekend last weekend. Here, the focus was on trees and woods in the landscape, but it was impossible to ignore the huge cultural resonance that woodlands have. Humphry Repton, who laid out a plan for the creation of Sheringham Park in his Red Book of 1812, was very aware of this. He contrasted fast-growing pines with the ancient oaks of England, as a commentary on the way new money was crowding out the landed aristocracy in the early decades of the 19th century.
Repton’s plan for Sheringham incorporated many of the older features of the woody landscape there. At the same time, he was making a landscape for the future, for the young couple (the Upchers) whose patronage he had secured and in whom he vested his hopes for the future of the landscape and of society more generally.
Appropriately, therefore, our Uncovered weekend featured both a presentation on Repton’s designs (from Stephen Daniels and Lucy Veale of the University of Nottingham), as well as bringing the story up to date with nature conservationists from today’s Trust, talking about the challenges and threats facing our woodlands.
It was a very entertaining mix of talks, walks and activities, and all who came saw Sheringham in a new light. It was the perfect complement therefore to the exhibition about Repton’s design at Sheringham, now enjoying its second year and still looking great. (Thanks to the AHRC for their support.)
Although we walked the estate with a copy of the Red Book, this was of course a facsimile. The original, usually held at the V&A, is currently on show at the Sainsbury Centre, UEA, as part of the Masterpieces of East Anglian Art exhibition. It’s reminder of just how culturally significant Sheringham continues to be.