I find myself in Kirkharle Courtyard, in a lower lying section of the breathtakingly beautiful Northumbrian countryside. It’s a wintry December Saturday and the structures around are modernised farm buildings; many now enjoying a new lease of life as retail outlets; typically craft center focused.
It is but a few days before Christmas and the persistent rain is surely responsible for the mere trickle of customers. However, the rain that may be keeping people away makes my visit all the more fascinating. I’m here of course not just for the shopping, or indeed the very warming Kirkharle Coffee House, but also for my first look at a ‘new’ Brown designed landscape no less – a little extra water flowing through the landscape simply adds to the drama! Luckily, at this location at least; the excess water is tightly controlled, unlike many areas of the country just now.
Carved out of the landscape over the last few years, the lake follows the lines of an original Brown plan, as discovered in the recent past. The landscape, although in its infancy, already appears established with marginal planting and protected groups of trees and shrubs – a wildlife haven indeed. Modern day visitors have been very well catered for with smooth paths and numerous benches. However, I have to admit that due to the watery downfall which increased during the walk; even I scooted around at quite a lick!
There’s plenty of information to dig up in relation to the lake and landscaping project, but due to my remote location, I’m going to leave this for another occasion. Another aspect of Kirkharle however does qualify for a mention – the interpretation!
Interpretation is a topic of great interest to me, and I’m always keen, whatever the location to see how people choose to tell the stories attached to their places. Kirkharle, whilst a slither of its former self, has really embraced its famous son through information boards which break the key elements into bite sized engaging chunks.
Heritage lottery funding has helped of course, with the result on this occasion being a fascinating set of display boards arranged around the walls of the buildings. The panels offer a good amount of information relating to Brown, and particularly his connection with Kirkharle and the Loraine family.
Good quality images have been sourced including many of Brown landscape features to be found elsewhere, and combined with the well structured text make for great reading. If I had to search for an improvement, I would hint at the awkwardness at viewing a panel placed in a corridor, but, and I emphasise but; it’s always difficult to slot space consuming interpretation into rooms of their own, and most historic properties struggle for suitable space.
I think a workable balance has been found at Kirkharle, especially considering the retail and farming elements of the site. I’d summarise by saying how engaging the panels were, and would recommend that anyone considering the introduction of Brown interpretation to their site give these the once over! (I haven’t mentioned the more recently installed panels around the lake – these were first class!)
I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone, as the Brown connection at Kirkharle isn’t overly stated, but it is clearly there to be found – and done very well indeed. I’ll add some images to this post in due course, to give something of the flavour – no close up’s though, as those would be too telling!
Before leaving the site, a lovely chat was had with Jon at the Shepherds Walks centre. His knowledge of the local area is exemplary, which means some very useful tips were gleaned for another couple of Brown focused visits today. Naturally, a Cambo visit was already in line, but an unplanned trip up to Rothley Lakes followed, which are also Brown designed – this was worth the effort. More of these visits anon.
Overall, a fascinating if rather damp day was enjoyed, with a little more information about Brown absorbed along the way. If you find yourself near Kirkharle, I would definitely recommend a trip as there a so many ‘Brown’ points of interest within reach. For me, it was merely seeing once again the place that was for Brown home, the place where he grew up and learned about landscape. Northumbria is one vast working landscape, and a tough one at that. If Brown understood and learned to manage this like we know he did, then he could master any landscape – like we know he did!