You take Ashton Court for granted. I went recently almost by accident, because it is the sort of place you can go by accident. Gifted to the people of Bristol in [long-ago year] by [posh but well-meaning folk] it has just always been there, on the edge of Bristol, special but not special.
It was always the bit of countryside that you could get to on the bus. You could get stoned and do things in the woods there and be very unlikely to get caught out by your mum’s friends (though ridiculously I once was, in all those many, many acres, fag in hand. I wont say who by because my mum reads this, and I believe to this day the friend kept it to herself, after giving me a stern talking to. Gawd bless her). I used to go to the deer park with my dad on Sunday visits. His friend briefly had an ice cream van there, one of those occurrences that is hugely impressive to a young brain, and so still always flits through my mind as I pass his spot. I’ve spent many a chilly birthday picnic there, convinced that it really SHOULD be warm enough for a picnic in early May (it never is). Anyway, it’s a place of many layers, and I view it through a haze of nostalgia. I don’t think a garden could make me more dewy-eyed if it had piped Van Morrison playing from every tree.
But I never really think of it as much of a garden. Council-maintained as it is, I guess any finesse of planting it may once have had has been lost over the years. But on this particular, almost accidental visit the winter light was low and clear, and it struck me what great bones the place has. In particular I have always loved the walls there, particularly the half-crumbled walls in the further flung corners of the estate. There’s no better wall than an Ashton Court wall.
I havent taken the kids for a long time though I can’t think why. Like I said, you take it for granted. But they wheeled about in all that space and gasped at the deer and didn’t complain that they hadn’t actually had any lunch other than a shared chocolate brownie, on account of us being uncharacteristically spontaneous. And of course, them being well-behaved and me being in that Van Morrison frame of mind already, I smiled at them indulgently, and wondered about the other layers that Ashton Court is going to accumulate.