Friday 7 February 2014

All quiet on the Potomac, West London

Today the sun shone, and the sky was blue for just a little while. So Maxi and I dashed off to Gunnersbury Park, West London to make the best of it. It was dry, but even the snowdrops looked just a tad mud-spattered from all the rain. See what I mean:

Gunnersbury is one of my favourite places. It's big and majestic in its way, but with a faded splendour that hints at something amazing that used to be found here in its glory days.

Once upon a time this was where a branch of the de Rothschild family lived. Their magnificent old Palladian mansion stands over at the other side, near Pope's Lane.

It's all very grand up that end, but Maxi and I prefer the wilderness that is the Potomac Pond. That's right, you read correctly: we have our very own Potomac here in West London. Here it is:

Once upon a time our Potomac was a clay pit. It used to be called Cole's Hole, which you have to admit lacks a certain pizazz in the naming department. No one appears to know for certain why it came to be called the Potomac. There's a theory that it came to be named after a popular saying.  During the American Civil War, when there was a temporary cessation of hostilities, people in England would say "All quiet on the Potomac". And as our Potomac was always peaceful, it seemed as good a name as any.

Whatever the way of it, the clay pit became a boating pond. Someone introduced some carp, but no one ever remembered exactly how deep it was. There's a rumour that it's very, very deep and that down there in its murky depths lurks a giant carp: a monster of its kind... .

Once upon a time when Cole's Hole was still a clay pit, there was a kiln that used to stand on the edge of the abyss, because it was certainly a very deep clay pit. But a kiln was an ugly thing that didn't fit in well with the landscaping. And so it was given a make-over.

It became a folly, a wonderful, gothic folly, with a central staircase that led up to a glorious room with large glass windows that afforded the most splendid views across the Potomac and over the rolling parkland beyond.

You see it really was a great success. Jolly boating parties paused to take tea on its upper terrace. On rainy days ladies in crinolines sought sanctuary in the lovely room with the arched windows, and on lazy summer evenings chaps would sit out on top, smoke their tobacco, and put the world to rights. 

But now the tide has turned for the little tower. It sits alone and abandoned on the bank of the overgrown Potomac Pond. An air of neglect hangs over everything. No one ever goes there for tea any more. You're not allowed to go inside to admire the lovely views from the arched windows.  It's a bit of a tumble-down wreck if we tell the story straight, and unless we do something soon it's liable to be lost forever.  And that makes me sad. Even during a happy interlude when the clouds part and the sun shines down I feel sorry for the little tower. 

Bonny x

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