I've held off posting about last week's reading group at Hotel Endsleigh just long enough for the SAS to clear out of the woods and for our airpsace to go quiet because anyone who reads the Daily Mail will know that Hotel Endsleigh was the venue chosen by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall as base camp for their three day visit last week.
We sort of had an inkling because suddenly our quiet lanes seemed to be riven with slow-moving vehicles crawling along in convoys, and if one more helicopter had swooped low over the house giving us the once over we might well have gone mad.It's not so much the airborne divisions but our four dogs who know their valley and feel they must defend it against all-comers.They definitely sniffed the legions of sniffer dogs in the air and kept up a fairly constant and very defensive 72 hour Tamar-wide barking rota which no amount of explaining to them seemed to halt.
Should we perchance have been blind to those rather overt clues there was back-up, every delivery person kept the entire valley nicely informed.
So we all discreetly went about our business and it was book group as usual a few days before the visit and the onset of impenetrable security cordons.
Departing from our themed read we had all read the same book this time, Mistress of the Arts by Rachel Trethewey.I've mentioned it here before I know but it tells the very relevant local account of the life of Georgina, Duchess of Bedford. Endsleigh was her baby (she had twelve others) and much of what is there today is a direct result of the 1810 collaboration between the architect Jeffry Wyatt and landscape gardener Humphry Repton with plenty of Georgina's vivacious personality shining through.
As I steered my carriage (Ford Fiesta) down the long twisting driveway it was easy to envisage Georgy and the Duke doing the same journey 200 years previously.The rhododendrons were in full flower, glorious shades of neon technicolour, the arboretum fantastic and suddenly through the trees you get a tantalizing glimpse of the Tamar far below.
Georgina was another of the 'it' girls of the day and no wonder I had been confused in the past, there were Georginas vying for the post of Duchess of Bedford around every corner.
Once I'd unravelled my Georginas it was time to get in a tangle about the Dukes because having fallen head over heels for Francis, the filthy rich 5th Duke of Bedford, Lady Georgina Gordon had to rapidly switch allegiance to the newly installed 6th Duke, John, when the 5th Duke succumbed to a fulminating bout of peritonitis. Add in Georgina the deceased wife of the 6th Duke...I do hope you're keeping up... it's no wonder confusion reigned.
Later in the book enter the dashingly good catch Edwin Landseer the artist, in this portrait cleverly keeping his painting hand warm.Georgina astutely kept him out of the marriage market by bewitching him with her charms.There seems little doubt that her last child was Landseer's.
This led to much speculation about what exactly may have occurred 200 years ago in the exact room we were sitting in.Landseer was a frequent visitor to Endsleigh and the Duke seems to have settled happily for a menage a trois.
Following the 6th Duke's death various members of the family had their revenge and Georgy was forbidden ever to visit Endsleigh again, having to make do with lesser quarters in Scotland.Her native country welcomed her back with open arms which I felt a bit relieved about, anyone who provides a ducal family with that many heirs deserves better care than the family gave her.
All in all a book that we all felt we had enjoyed for the local colour and relevance but perhaps for this occasion we could have managed without the complex political information. It's a difficult balance this combination of personal and public spheres and in this instance we all wanted much more of the personal, 1800's Hello magazine stuff. In the end we invented a whole load of completely outrageous but very entertaining copy for ourselves.