In Normandy 17.7.13 – at last an opportunity to visit Le Bois des Moutiers – an exquisite Lutyens/Jekyll collaboration of 1898, ‘unique in France’ according to our guide, the great great grandaughter of the original owner,  M. Guillaume Mallet.  The English ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement of  William Morris was Lutyens’ inspiration for this beautiful house, extended and re-built for M. Guillaume Mallet who commissioned house and garden and himself planned the parkland beyond the terrace at the rear of the house, with woodland extending down towards the sea beyond.  Lutyens sourced English materials, with simply crafted wood and ironwork, shipped across the English Channel.

The family connection of our (bilingual) guide made the visit very personal with her love for the house, the garden and her grandmother who had first opened the house to the public,  much apparent.  There is debate as to whether Miss Jekyll actually visited Le Bois des Moutiers?  It would be good to know more about this – if anyone has information please let me know.  Certainly, the ‘marriage’ between house and garden, as always with Lutyens’ work, is perfect with the house very much a part of the garden itself and the garden flowing seamlessly into the house – achieved through the harmonious flow of fluid lines of the brick and tilework which are Lutyens trademark.  I particularly admired the rounded openings in the walls made with the horizontal terracotta tiles, so-loved by Lutyens and used to such great effect also on the circular steps and archways at Great Dixter in East Sussex.  Although too late for the rhododendrons and azaleas in the woods – apart from the occasional late-flowering specimen – the White Garden, in particular, was sublime, made even more so by the strains of piano music wafting out from the Music Room window above as somebody played the beautiful Steinway (making a recording, we later learned).

‘Attendez, on tournait a droite…. Un parfum d’heliotrope.  Je compte sept marches.   Nous entendimes jouer du piano’ (Jean Cocteau in his poem ‘The Potomac’ written just before the First World War after a visit to Le Bois des Moutiers). The scent of the lilies was almost intoxicating at the height of the day, mingled with the white roses.

Down in the ‘Himalayan’ glades, the acid-loving blue hydrangeas – the ‘hortensias bleus’ of  Cocteau’s poem, were exquisite.  We rounded a corner and were dazzled by a towering cascade of Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’ billowing from the trees, allowing it to show off  its full summer glory.

Glimpses of the sea beyond inspired us to explore further down the lane later in the afternoon and led us to the small church high on the clifftops, dedicated to St Valery, with stained glass byRaoul Ubac and Georges Braque, who is buried in the churchyard.  A diversion from the path along the clifftops led us down to a wide sandy beach (mindful of warning signs about rockfalls and we also carefully checked tide times – the joy of mobile phones with internet access!) before deciding to continue our walk back towards Pourville along the golden sands (it is vital to check tide times first as I imagine one could become cut off by the tides).  A gentle stroll along the water’s edge to Pourville and then cocktails overlooking the beach while we waited for a coastal bus to take us back to Dieppe.

Slow, leisurely travel at its best.  A magical day suffused with light, artistry and scent – uplifting and unforgettable.  I pray that the Mallet family will be able to continue their admirable custodianship of this treasure and to share it with a very appreciative public.

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