My country memories: Julian Fellowes
Schooldays in the wilds of Yorkshire and time spent growing up in rural Sussex have given Julian Fellowes a love of the countryside and the dramas of village life
'I soon learned that the trick to being away at school was making myself welcome at one of the country houses nearby. I went to Ampleforth which is in a secluded valley between the village of the same name and Oswaldkirk in North Yorkshire, so it was quite cut off. In those rather more freewheeling days, pupils were allowed to go out for lunch. Some boys would charge off to Sledmere House or Castle Howard, but I used to visit a place called Brough Hall which was owned by a lovely family called Lawson, who I was introduced to by a friend. The building itself had been requisitioned during the war and rather biffed about by the army during that time. The Lawsons hadnt had the time to restore it and so it was a curious mixture of splendid state rooms, a Tudor hall, great drawing room and Adams staircase and, in the other direction, all broken baths and graffiti. I used to love going there and it was one of the key houses of my childhood. Its been converted into flats now, which is quite sad, although Im sure it was probably the most sensible thing.
'I found the surrounding countryside incredibly wild and exciting and think the towns of Thirsk, Ripon and Malton are very attractive. The county also has some spectacular ruins such as Fountains Abbey and the extraordinary abbey on the headland above Whitby no wonder Bram Stoker set part of 'Dracula' there, its so darkly romantic.
'North Yorkshire couldnt have been more of a contrast to the tame farming land of Sussex where I grew up. My family moved there when I was about ten years old and I had spent most of my life until then in London. We lived in a rectory-like house in rural East Sussex, in a small village called Chiddingly. It was a huge part of my life and I owned the house after my parents died. I used to ride a friends horse up and over the South Downs though the area wasnt a National Park in those days, it still felt quite remote. I could travel for miles with no fences blocking my path, just looking across at the wonderful scenery laid out before me.
'My parents, three older brothers, Nicholas, David and Rory, and I would go to Battle for picnics in the summer holidays. Early on, these were very much a 1950s affair of sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg and a couple of pieces of lettuce. Then when I was about 12 we went to Nigeria for a couple of years for my fathers work, and while there saw how other people picnicked, with the most delicious plates of food. After that ours improved exponentially, and when we returned to England it was as though wed entered a different era of picnicking. We filled an incredibly heavy cool box with plates of coronation chicken, salads and pâté. Collapsible chairs raised us ever so slightly off the ground, and we took rugs and wine it was all rather sophisticated, Edwardian even. It was good fun, too, to swim and play games on the beach, although, of course, I do remember the weather being quite grim on occasion.
'After I sold our Sussex family home in 1988 and lived in London for a few years, I got married. My wife Emma and I had a son and life changed again. By the time Peregrine was ten we were keen to move out of the city so he could spend the last few years of his childhood in the countryside. We thought it was important for him to learn how life works in rural areas. We chose Dorset and moved to West Stafford, where we like to take long strolls with the dogs. Our Border collie, Meg, loves a good walk, but our dachshund, Humbug, doesnt all she wants is to be carried by Emma, and preferably tucked up inside her jumper.
'Were very lucky in West Stafford, because although we dont have a shop, we have an active church, a beautiful village hall and a great pub called The Wise Man Inn; together these really are the cradle of the community. I think all villages are like 'Midsomer Murders' without the killing. There are always dramas going on, but thats village life. Anyone who thinks they can find a place thats eternally peaceful with everyone liking one another is living in a dream. All the same, I much prefer country to city life. In many ways, if someone said to me you never have to go to London again, I would be quite happy, although Im sure Id miss aspects of it eventually. When Im driving home to Dorset, heading along the A35, my heart always lifts.'
Julian Fellowes is an actor, novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter. He also sits in the House of Lords. The second series of 'Downton Abbey' returns to ITV1 this autumn. 'The World of Downton Abbey' by Jessica Fellowes (Collins, £20) is out now.