Some moments are lived in slow motion. I watched myself having one as I stepped off the train in Windermere onto the tidy platform, walk through the compact terminal, and out into the pickup area which backed onto a wall of dense forest. To my right was a large contemporary but quaint complex which reminded me of something one might see in Banff. I later learned this was the last large store I’d see for a week. Slowly dragging several suitcases, one containing a printer/scanner, I hoisted my knapsack holding computer, video camera, and other recording devices, hoping to settle it more comfortably into place. The effort was futile. Yet my elation at finally being in the Lake District of Cumbria was not dulled by excessive baggage, the exhaustion of missing a night’s sleep on the international flight, spending the last four hours on buses and trains, ever moving northward from one unknown terminal to another, or the possible disappointment of being surrounded in Banffesque-tourist-traps for the next week.
The pure joy of arrival was slowly inhaled and only broken by the taxi driver who fathered me through the last half hour of my trek, explaining, pointing, encouraging, even delighting with me on the fairytale scenes that surrounded us. (See Figure 1.) He left me at the movie set that was to be ours for six nights—Rydal Hall, a grand eighteenth century manor surrounded by formal gardens, cascading streams, and ambling paths through sheep pastures, the former home of Wordsworth’s landlord. (See Figure 2.)
Almost a full year earlier this dream had been dreamt. Charlotte Mason scholars from various international points could convene in the Lake District to probe the archives at The Armitt Museum in Ambleside, Cumbria, England which housed 85 boxes and many shelves more of Mason’s professional and personal items, all a century or more in age. Together these researchers could build a research agenda for the further study of Mason’s philosophy and its contemporary practice. The application for a grant, all 70 or so pages of it, was prepared for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. Three academic institutions, Redeemer University College of Ontario, Canada, Gardner-Webb University of North Carolina, USA, and Covenant College of Georgia, USA threw financial support behind the professors who made the application, and early in the spring of 2008 the news was shared that the SSHRC grant had been awarded. See Figure 4 for the team that spent the week of August 4-8, 2008 together, posing in front of The Armitt Museum, Ambleside, Cumbria.
I could hardly absorb the sights, pondered from afar for so long: Scale How—Charlotte Mason’s House of Education dating back to 1894 (see Figure 5), the Beehive—the site of Charlotte Mason’s practicing school (see Figure 6) and even the very roads Mason would travel on foot or in carriage each day for her four o’clock outing. Perhaps most nurturing was the single lane gravel path which led from Rydal Hall to Ambleside (see Figure 7), a banquet of sky, pasture, sheep and stream which we ambled and chatted along each day.
Our work each day consisted of probing the archives (see Figure 9), digitalizing selected documents (see Figure 10), leafing through Charlotte Mason’s personal book collection (see Figure 11 and 12), diving into old copies of L’umile Pianta (see Figure 13), and scanning discovered treasures (see Figure 14). Our evening meetings back at the Bishop’s Room of Rydal Hall were punctuated with comradeship and productivity, and were known to extend well past midnight.
A Sunday worship service in Mason’s St. Mary’s Parish church was more vibrant than expected, and a Wednesday afternoon visit to take a rubbing from Mason’s grave in the church yard was more celebratory than somber (Figure 15, 16 and 17).
From the first slow motion moment of the week to each successive one, I drank in the beauty that must have formed a great part of the inspiration of Mason’s thinking so positively about children and about the potential in humanity. With one dream fulfilled, the convening of Mason scholars from afar, the next ones beckon. If you care deeply for children and for education in our times, and are not afraid to probe where others have successfully gone before, you are invited to consider joining us for the next phase of the journey.