The Spirit of Holnicote


This summer I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time down in Exmoor where I have been coordinating a project which brings Bristol University and the National Trust together through an innovative and groundbreaking partnership. We have been investigating the ‘spirit of place’ of the Holnicote estate, a place of immense ecological variety and beautiful aesthetic appeal. Spirit of Place, or genius loci, refers to the unique, distinctive or cherished aspects of a place and is being used by the National Trust to aid future decisions regarding management of its land and properties. The project has involved surveys, archival research and conducting interviews with NT estate staff. Sadly, I am now coming to the end of the project and am working on a report summarising the findings. The project has encouraged me to reflect on how important local environments are for the people who live in them and how each shapes the other. It has also reminded me quite how much human ecology, ecological science, history and anthropology are connected. We will be presenting the project through the means of an installation at an event in Bristol in a few weeks time. As well as talking about Holnicote and our own spirit of place investigation we will be encouraging people to think about the place in which they live and to ponder what exactly it is that makes it unique. I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago suggesting, through the means of quoting W.H. Davies’ poem that ‘we have no time to stand and stare’. This, I think, is similar with spirit of place. We very rarely take the time to consider what it is that makes the places we love special and, perhaps most importantly, why this is? The spirit of place process enables this to take place. It has been a privilege to play a small part in experiencing people’s passion for the Holnicote estate this summer. I will certainly miss it and the people who live and work there.

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Alexander Pope, Epistle IV, to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington (1731)


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