In the run up to Christmas it’s natural to reflect on the year that has passed, and to start plans for the future. As many of you know, I’m leaving NAT at the end of January, so it’s been particularly poignant over recent weeks to visit sites for last inspections before handing them on to the next person. Apart from the practicalities of checking the condition of our monuments, and any potential health and safety issues, I always seek out a distinct aspect that makes each place special to me.
Walking back towards the fort from the riverbank at Burgh Castle I look for the illusion of the walls tumbling down the bank. At St Benet’s Abbey it’s the disorientating way the mill and gatehouse seem to move in the landscape as you walk around the perimeter of the site. At Middleton I enjoy the ceremonial climb up the timber steps to the top of the mound, where the wider landscape is revealed beyond the housing estate and the golf course. Seasonal changes transform sites from one visit to the next – the tired winter grass at Caistor illuminated by the bright yellow pointillism of cowslips in spring, or South Creake animated by a flock of lambs. There is the rare wall bedstraw to check at Binham Priory, and I will listen for cuckoos at Burnham Norton Friary, green woodpeckers at Tasburgh Earthworks, skylarks at most of our sites. If I’m lucky I’ll arrive at Fiddler’s Hill when one of the apple varieties is ripe, and at Filby Chapel when the plums are dropping.
This year has, of course, been a very difficult one as a result of Covid-19. We have seen an increase in visitors, as they seek out open spaces, fresh air, exercise and solace in nature. The ruined flint walls and earthworks at our sites bring a sense of the time-depth of human endeavour and the cycle of the seasons – a combination which can be both hopeful and thought-provoking. I hope as you walk at one of our sites this winter, you’ll notice the ‘particular’ that makes it special to you.
Images: Fieldfare at St Benet’s Abbey; the ‘tumbling’ fort at Burgh Castle