Damp autumn day. The clouds are faded purple, chasing fitful streaks of gold across the late afternoon sky. The village has a calm silence: nobody about save the workmen in yellow waterproofs down by the humpbacked bridge over the old ford, closed for months now due to the flooding. The water swirls, thick and grey, level with the path beside the river, spilling out in a sky-reflecting pool. Flecks of orange, the leaves of the copper beech, sail like tiny boats on the smooth rippled surface, eddying out and mooring in the wet spikes of grass along the flooded edge. The narrow road, no wider than a man lying down, curves ahead: behind us, the clustered houses draped in soft grey wistaria and luminous red Virginia creeper, the flint spire of the old church. To our right the village pub, a low white building with black beams, bowed and curved with age, small windows glowing with friendly light. A figure in green wellies, the lady from the dressage stable nearby, emerges head bowed through the oak door, short grey hair ruffled by the wind: she nods and smiles, waves.
We walk on, rounding the curve of the road. The valley spreads out from the glistening swollen river which winds beneath the aqueduct, stretching glowing umber brick arches above our heads, spanning the sky. The land gently rises in swathes of sodden green fields, gold and copper trees, coppices of pine. The cattle who live by the aqueduct come to see who's looking, shaggy orange prehistoric beasts with great fluffy ears and horns like woolly mammoths, wading with unconcern towards me through the wet grass. I feed them sugar-lumps, and pat their silly fluffy heads. Up past the quiet cottages of flint and brick we go, past the old horses out to grass, listening to our feet squelching along, the only sound for miles but for the rushing river. The light is melting amber and I can almost taste the air: chestnuts and brambles and decaying leaves, the freshness of rain. Another bend in the road, up through a leafy culvert and out into the wide sky. And here is the castle.
It's not a real castle: that is further into the village, built of flint and mostly ruins. This is a Queen Anne manor house, with a high red brick wall around it and a fifteenth-century gatehouse in the wall, with two towers and a black, heavily carved oak set of arched gates, twenty feet high. They are open. Before the house lies a wide green sward of neatly trimmed grass and two immense, twisted old trees. On one side, the old flint chapel. On the other, the house, red bricks soft with age, white porticoed windows. All is silent and deserted but for the rooks, flying over the lake which stretches silver blending into damp black woods. In summer, there are kingfishers here and when the family open the place, in July, there are tourists. Now there is nothing but our quiet selves and the black waters, and a sense of time moving slowly at a gentle, measured pace.