I don,t know if any of you read Elizabeth Goudge's novels,
but they are books which,
whatever their setting,
carry with them the fragrance
of some distant sweetness and grace.
A little old-fashioned by today's standards perhaps,
they give voice to our inner longing
for another world,
taking us in,
and for a while helping us
to be inhabitants of that better place.
In all of Goudge's books place is very important,
and almost always the houses in which the action
of the novels occur become
every bit as important as
the living protagonists.
I have fallen in love with a good many of the houses
at the heart of Goudge's books,
but for many years I nursed the dream of a house
that seemed as magical as any of her creations,
but which I only half believed I truly remembered
as a real place;
though if it was, I knew where to look for it.
- or so I thought.
Indeed I did go and look where memory
told me it should be,
my dream house was not there.
Could my house after all have originated
in the pages of a book, and become
interwoven with real memories,
making it as insubstantial as a dream?
I remembered, quite rightly,
the details surrounding the dream house,
but like so much of childhood
when viewed through the increasing distance
of the kaleidoscope of time,
things had become hazy.
My memories of the holidays on an uncle's farm,
and our visits to the village where
I supposed the house to be,
were real enough.
Surely there had been a house called
"The Gentle Jane " as well?
In memory I could read the name of the house,
and feel the mellowed presence
which seemed to beckon me
to try and peep in the windows,
and dawdle round the doorway,
where fishing rods and baskets
were usually in evidence.
Was it invention to have seen it shut up and deserted too,
and to have felt
disappointment and indignation
that anybody could treat this lovely house
in such a way?
I knew I would never have left it had it been mine.
The chance to retrace my childhood steps never came,
and then during my father's final illness,
as I was driving down on one of my visits,
on a sudden impulse
I knew I just had to break my journey.
I needed just a few minutes buffer in my headlong dash
between the two worlds of adult home,
and childhood home.
Without thinking I turned the car
off the main route to Wales,
and followed the once familiar road from Ross,
then over the bridge with the rushing river,
church, and castle,
in the green valley of Skenfrith.
From there I made the steep climb through
the folded beauty of the hills to
My first surprise
as I came upon the beginnings of the village
was to see that here the castle and church
were on the opposite side of the road
from where I expected them to be.
How could I have got that so wrong, I wondered?
It was unlikely that both buildings got up
and tiptoed across the road just to confuse me.
I parked the car near the Angel
and crossed the road to where "my" house
should have been.
I prowled up and down the hill but nowhere
could I find even a house name similar to
"The Gentle Jane",
let alone the magical presence
of the house itself.
Defeated, and aware of the precious time
I had already taken out of my schedule
I drove out of the village towards
Cross Ash, Abergavenny,
and my old home.
Obviously I had muddled memories of even
the most basic layout of Grosmont.
How could I hope to winkle out details
of some idealized vision that wafted into my mind
from time to time?
Hardly one of life's priorities at the best of times.
I let "The Gentle Jane" go.
That is, until last week, when, for some reason
the gentle presence drifted into my mind again.
I reached down for my trusty laptop
to have just one more go at my search.
And this is what I found!
"Named after the daughter of one of its previous owners in the 1920's, Gentle Jane is a grade II listed building in the ancient Monmouthshire village of Grosmont on the border with England. It has a history of use as a milliner's, grocer's, butcher's and a baker's premises before being used as a fishing lodge and a private dwelling. In 2004 it was a film set for 'The Baker' staring Damian Lewis and featuring Michael Gambon before opening at a Tearoom and B&B".
If I'd had my thinking head on the day
I'd done my detour to Grosmont
the clue would have been in the fact that in memory
I'd reversed the castle and the church.
When I got out of the car
and crossed the road to look for
the house had actually been behind me,
- and I never thought to look!
Now I am looking forward to stepping inside
my enchanted house at last,
although the voice of caution tells me
"the magic will be gone,
never go back".
What do you think?
Whenever it happens that I visit
I'll let you know how I get on.
Who knows perhaps you will get there before me!
As my dad used to say,
"If I get there before you do I'll leave a chalk mark.
If you get there before me - rub it out"!
Be Blessed Where Ever You Go
Click on this link to see more of what the Gentle Jane looks like now:-