‘Sunlight and twilight and firelight’

‘Short breaks in restored historic buildings.’ I love the Landmark Trust, the charity ‘giving new life to castles, forts, follies, towers and cottages.’ We spent most of our honeymoon at one of their Peppercombe places: a tiny thatched cottage, hidden in a wooded valley by the Devon coast.

A short break before Easter needed specific requirements: not far from London, accessible by public transport and affordable. It needed to cater for a recently-bereaved pensioner, a teen laden with AS revision notes (scowling at missing Game of Thrones); a zoo, decent pubs and some form of natural history museum for husband. I wanted somewhere to sit, write and get away from the non-stop drilling and sirens of Whitechapel.

Peake’s House, Colchester ticked every box, full of words like ‘atmosphereic’, ‘snug’ and ‘Elizabethan’. Such a gorgeous and imposing  exterior when you arrive: timbered and mullioned and transomed. (Ignore the next two paragraphs if you’re of a nervous disposition: read on for the true nature of the place.

‘It looks safe round here,’ Mum said. ‘So many policemen!’ I got her inside before she spotted the boiler-suited and masked scene of crimes officer. Murder, a copper told me. Earlier in the week and along the road, though.

My husband was delighted by the cellar, convinced he could call up something nasty from Cabin in the Woods by finding the right object somewhere in the house. Zombies at the very least. My money was on the Satanic jug next to the bed. I didn’t realise daughter was unaware of the cellar and scared her witless by mentioning it. Then I woke up to the sound of drilling …

Colchester has a beautiful castle in stunning grounds, full of forget-me-nots, squirrels and sunshine for us. It has the sweetest Natural History Museum, surrounded with lush growth in an old churchyard, and the requisite zoo. Gran and Grand-daughter were happy with finding the same shops as home. ‘They’ve got a BOOTS!’

We had a wonderful meal at the esteemed Stockwell Restaurant, purveyors of fine medieval fare, a few steps from our front door and they, most generous of restaurateurs, gave us two huge logs so we could have a fire on our last night.

And I was happy, relaxed and inspired. I sat and wrote in almost every spacious and beautiful room, finding the peace and quiet that I needed. If you don’t know the Landmark set-up, they spurn tv, radio etc in favour of well-stocked bookcases, local histories and fiction from authors linked to the area.

Each also has log books, filled in by visitors with lots of advice about which takeaway to use, the best places are to visit and any to avoid. There’s also a lot of info about the place you’re staying and how it was refurbished.

The title is from a book about a similar house to Peake’s. Please don’t pinch it: that’s my short story name for the Landmark writing contest. I want to win so I can go back to my shortlist of, ooh, at least ten other places: temples and lodges and towers …

‘If it welcome you when you enter its hall, if its rafter re-echo gaily as though they laughed with you, if peace come dropping slow in its bedrooms, if it seems just to have stopped speaking to you when you wake, if sunlight and twilight and firelight seem equally the best light of all for its panels, its corners, its great beam – then it is a seasoned house.’

From ‘The Paycockes of Coggeshall,’ Eileen Power, 1920.

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