So many properties in the care of the Trust are treasured because the experience of visiting makes us feel good in a simple way, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured above)

Alexandra Shulman (pictured above), writes that many properties in the Trust’s care are treasured because they make us feel good.

I used to listen to relaxation tapes as part of my treatment for panic attacks. Imagine the soothing voice implying that you are going to a place where calm and happiness is your goal. 

For reasons I still can’t quite understand, the spot I visualised was a grassy bank in the gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire looking over the beautiful lake and temples. It was a place where I felt a sense of calm and simplicity that was unaffected by the world and my mind.

Stourhead is one the many National Trust properties that are prized for this type of escapism. A haven of tranquility and stunning beauty.

The other day at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, I met a curator for the National Trust who had been discussing ‘Britain’s hidden heritage’. 

I asked if the audience was tolerant of new interpretations for our national treasures in light of postcolonialism and the legacy from slavery. She replied that they had been, but were perhaps ambivalent about hearing it from National Trust.

This was not surprising. I’m no expert on the subject but suspect that many of us who love visiting National Trust properties do so in a similar way to sinking into a deep, reviving bath.

We like the familiarity and familiarity of the experience. The familiarity is comforting. We know what we’re going to get. We’ll be asked not to sit on the chairs, wonder why the four-posters are often so small, marvel at the upkeep of the gardens and – highly importantly – scour the gift shop for William Morris print notebooks, tea towels and perhaps a pretty tray. That’s the point.

We probably don’t visit to immerse ourselves in the thumping 115-page National Trust report which categorises Stourhead as one of the many properties funded by ‘a history relating to expansion and settlement into countries resulting in the displacement and injury of people or creation of unequal economic benefit’.

This is not to say that re-examining our cultural legacy is irrelevant, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be thinking about it while pottering around the Palladian follies of Stourhead.

Because of the simple fact that we can feel good when we visit properties in the Trust’s care, so many properties are treasured. The National Trust undoubtedly has a role to play in keeping us informed about its relationship to our colonial past, but I suggest it doesn’t give up yet on offering cream teas and souvenir tea towels.

Stourhead (pictured above) is one of the many National Trust properties that are treasured for this kind of escapism. A haven of quiet and splendid beauty

Stourhead (pictured below) is one the many National Trust properties that can be treasured for this type of escapism. A sanctuary of tranquility and stunning beauty

It’s time to get cosy with an Aga saga

As autumn approaches, National Trust properties aren’t the only place we look for a sense of security and familiarity. Cosiness, even. Negative evenings and dark skies must be overcome. The Scandi notion of hygge – made into retail nirvana with the bulk-buying of candles, twinkly fairy lights and sheepskins – may be a cliche but getting out the blankets, making hearty stews and lighting fires is a crucial part of dealing with the gloom of winter.

However, stylish modern interiors don’t exactly lend themselves to this snug ideal. All those kitchen extensions with plate glass leading on to dark gardens, the concrete and stone floors, those marble and Corian-topped islands… all are wonderful in the summer when flooded with light, but come winter? But not so much in winter.

Last week, in her TV review, my colleague Deborah Ross cleverly coined the term ‘kitchen island thrillers’ as a current TV genre. The vast and sparse kitchens of ITV’s murderous Hollington Drive and domestic abuse drama Angela Black are the backdrops to terror.

I speak as one who knows – having a beautiful, white-walled minimalist kitchen. With the clocks changing next weekend, I am craving an Aga, an antique pine table, and some curtained shutters. At least, though, I didn’t give in to a kitchen island.

Yoga practitioners lose their inner peace

In the fight against Covid, an unlikely pair has been formed. The alt-Right is now united with the yoga, and wellness fraternity. Traditional Left-leanings have always found yoga and other therapies more appealing than traditional ones. Many practitioners, however, display an aggressive streak more often seen in National Front pitbull owners and shaven-headed anti-vax conspirators. It’s not what you want, even if you’re trying to perfect your sun salutation.

Kate’s influencing a new generation

Putting on the style: The Duchess of Cambridge at BAFTA in London last week. It’s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders, says Alexandra Shulman

Putting on the style: The Duchess of Cambridge at BAFTA in London last week. It’s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders, says Alexandra Shulman

There was once a tale – no doubt apocryphal – about fashion designers placing a mannequin of Anna Wintour in their studios, complete with immaculate bob and dark glasses, so that they could make sure they designed clothes that would suit her personally.

This story came to mind as I was looking through magazines and catalogues the other day. I was struck by how many fashion companies have a Duchess of Cambridge showroom in mind when they put together a collection. She’s become a great model of her own style. 

Fashions can be popular in many different ways. Sometimes they are entirely new ideas. But more often, they are popular looks that are adopted by famous people and trickle into mainstream fashion.

It’s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders. Most likely not since Edwardians. I doubt the Duchess is one. But an influencer? That’s different. An influencer isn’t someone who has new ideas. They don’t rock the boat. They just show what’s out there in an attractive manner. Kate is the best at it.

My stolen card was an ideal gift to thieves

I lost my wallet on the street the other night. By the time I’d contacted my bank and other card providers, the person who had picked it up had already used it to make 12 purchases. 

The recent contactless spending limit rise to £100 made it their happy day. Thankfully, my bank is bearing the cost, but surely it’s senseless to make it so easy for someone to steal.