Unguided exploration and red underwing moths

For us inspiration comes in many forms. It might be world acclaimed design practices or small community organisations. It might be a chance meeting with another like-minded professional or even the words of a primary school child. Whatever form it takes, our commitment is to leave ourselves open to find and admire the greatness in other people’s visions for landscape and the world around us. To be able to draw from that and to always yearn for more knowledge and understanding is the foundation of our work as landscape architects.

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of staying at Oldlands. A family-run estate that captured not only our imaginations but also our hearts. The team at Oldlands put nature at the centre of everything they do. There are many places that claim to do this but it is the simplicity of Oldlands’ approach that is the triumph. Wayfinding takes on a different life here; there are no boardwalks or enforced circulation routes, instead unguided exploration and adventure are encouraged. There is a subtle feeling that if you were to be guided, you might miss something and in doing so, miss some of the valuable experience too. You are left to discover intriguing corrugated sheets that lift to reveal a toad or slow worm. Compasses and treasure maps replace the modern art of geocaching and home grown produce is offered in the form of a captivating honesty shop. A shop in which I’ll confess unashamedly to being frozen like a wide-eyed child in a sweet shop.

Piqued immediately by the wonders on our doorstep, we willingly agreed to a nature walk by third generation custodian Sam Bosanquet. He comes from a long line of naturalists and ecologists and his enthusiasm for the natural world can only be quantified by seeing him put a sweep net over his face to (successfully and without harm) retrieve a parasitoid wasp from within it.  He showed us swan mussels and otter faeces, a cobra lily and most magnificent of all, a red underwing moth.


Sam spoke eloquently of the family’s desire to restore the land slowly and with integrity. His plan to turn many of the fields back to ecology rich wildflower meadows is, like most things here, a slow one. He collects seeds from flowers found on the estate and sews only these, remaining as true as it is possible to be to the local ecosystem. This endeavour is in partnership with the Gwent wildlife trust who have their head office onsite and who manage some of the land here.  In true Oldlands style, the inhabitants of the wildlife trust were also only too happy to engage in unhurried conversation about wildlife conservation, the wonders of the natural world and spaniel ownership whilst we hijacked their outdoor coffee breaks.

Some might say that the ethos at Oldlands is to leave the landscape alone but they wouldn’t quite be right. The landscape here is managed, changing and evolving. It is the ‘how’ that is different. The choices are considered, the pace is slow and the changes happen simply and with integrity. I have said it many times before that if we do not connect to the land, we have no incentive to protect it, we have little understanding of the impact of it on our health or wellbeing and no perception of all the wonders it possesses.

Many places give over slow living as their ethos but few truly achieve it. The team at Oldlands have done just that. Things are slower here, simpler and more mindful. It’s a difficult thing to describe but it’s like they put the world on pause and have created a space where you can truly appreciate each moment, each sight, sound and smell.  Oldlands encourages connection; to flora, fauna, food and to each other. The lessons it has taught me have lasted well beyond my few days there and have further changed and developed my understanding and interaction with the landscape and the natural world. This in turn will make both our practice and our designs richer and more considered.

Driving away, I’ll admit to a lump in my throat and I think the source of that was this; What Oldlands has is absolutely everything you need and what Oldlands makes you realise is that it turns out what you need isn’t very much at all. I thought I already knew that. I actually had absolutely no idea.





(Feature image courtesy of Oldlands)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Marked fields are required.