Amanda Harlech’s Perfect Weekend (Financial Times How to Spend it)
Lady Harlech has been working closely with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel since 1997. She divides her time between a suite at the Ritz in Paris and her farmhouse in Shrawardine, Shropshire…
“The first joy of Saturday is walking out through the back door, across the grass, through the dew, opening up the greenhouse and picking something for breakfast; perhaps some strawberries. I love cooking with fruit: apples and raspberries and a couple of pears. Delicious. I might have that with porridge with my son, Jasset, and daughter, Tallulah. Jasset is a very good cook too and likes to make eggs and bacon. It’s so beautiful here. I have always looked for a view, wherever I have lived. The house is really nothing. It’s a little strip of a building but it sits in the circumference of the hills that divide England and Wales, with the River Severn at the bottom.
If I want a Turneresque romance of sky, mountain and sea I can find it just an hour towards the coast. I’m awake at 5.30am because of the birds screaming outside my window. I like to do a lot in the morning. I light a fire. I do yoga. It makes me feel present in my own body. It’s really good to take even a single minute to listen to what your body is telling you. I might reread something I’ve written, or play Bach on the piano that Karl gave me. Like anything, it requires practice. It’s a beautiful Steinway with legs designed by Karl. They connect up in a rectangle, which alters the sound.
There are wonderful shops to visit in the Shropshire countryside. I discovered Ashmans Antiques & Old Lace 20 years ago and was on first name terms with the owner, Diane, immediately. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave, a treasure trove of wonderful clothes. I’ve bought Imperial Russian outfits, linen nightshirts from the 18th century and a collection of 20s wedding dresses. Tallulah likes to shop there but prefers more dramatic pieces, with black lace and dark purple velvet. Close by is F.E Anderson & Son, where you can find the most amazing Irish Georgian antiques. I like jewellery and jewellers but I also like overalls, uniforms and dishcloths. Wherever I go I like to visit the local ironmongers. C.R Birch & Son has the best doormats, rat traps, floor mops and buckets. If you go to what I call a fashion homestore, the things are made of plastic and you get silly broom heads. I want things that have evolved over hundreds of years. It’s a bit like a Chanel suit – the perfectly evolved brush. I don’t want a cheap copy or imitation. Wilstone sells incredible firebowls; really beautiful hand-beaten bowls which you barbecue on, which I might do in the evening. There is a very good Indian restaurant, Enigma, but I like my own food too much and I’d like to have six to eight friends over for dinner. I might barbecue some lamb, stabbed with garlic and rosemary and thyme with a slosh of olive oil and black pepper. All it needs is some peas from the garden, new potatoes and mint. I have two wooden tables and some chairs in the garden and you can sit outside and look at the swallows and swifts and hills.
Karl has never been here but the invitation is always open. He would only come by private jet so that would mean finding an airport that has got a runway long enough for it to land. I would love him to come. I have all kinds of ideas: I’d put up a great big white marquee and have waitresses in white aprons serving Diet Coke. I’d get a horse to jump over the table. To shop for dinner I go to the Farmers Market in Shrewsbury, which is great. You can get fantastic fish, amazing rabbit, delicious eggs and ham, local asparagus and samphire. You can sample oysters with Guinness. I buy spelt bread from the Shrewsbury Bakehouse, which is delicious and very good for you, made from ancient Roman wheat. It’s great to see people passionate about bread, and they are at the Bakehouse.
Sunday starts with the church bells of St Mary’s ringing. I live right next door to the vicarage. It’s a very stripped down church, with a pale blue stained glass window and worn flagstones. I like hearing the bells in the morning. There were very violent battles between the Royalists and Roundheads in the fields next to me. Apparently there is an underground passage from my house to the ruins of Shrawardine Castle. A friend of mine told me he sensed the house had been full of men either discussing or playing music; full of ghosts, but happy. These borders are both haunting and haunted. I have a four year old Irish racehorse called Roy. It’s great to ride down to the river or up to Rodney’s Pillar – the 18th century monument to the victory of Admiral Rodney over the French in the West Indies – where they say on a clear day you can see Ireland. I want to take up falconry. The birds don’t frighten me at all. I think perhaps I’m a throwback to the 17th century and I have a romantic idea that I may die in my house and the boldest of the animals move in. I like the idea of a fox curling up on the sofa next to the piano. If it’s a hot day it’s lovely to swim in the Severn, or lie in the garden naked on a carpet reading a book. I do a bit of gardening. I get my plants from the Dingle Nurseries and Derwen Garden Centre. I go there for seeds, bulbs and trees. I have an orchard with quinces that I have planted from there. They were little whips when I bought them. If I am lucky I will see them grow a little bit taller than me. It’s putting something back: “create a library and plant a wood”. On Sunday evening the best thing to do is go to bed with a book. I love all sorts of books, they just have to be well written. 10pm is the time to go to bed because I like to make the most of the next day. Of course sometimes you can stay up dancing in the kitchen until two or three, but that doesn’t happen often. Although when it does, it’s great.”
ASHMANS ANTIQUES & OLD LACE, PARK LANE HOUSE, HIGH STREET, WELSHPOOL SY21 7JP (01938 554505). C.R BIRCH & SON, ROUSHILL, SHREWSBURY, SY1 1PQ (07074 272472). DERWEN GARDEN CENTRE AND FARM SHOP, GUILSFIELD, WELSHPOOL SY21 9PH (01938 553015). ENIGMA, SHOTATTON, RUYTON XI TOWNS, SHREWSBURY, SY4 1JH (01691 682666). F.E ANDERSON & SON, 5 HIGH STREET WELSHPOOL SY21 7JF (01938 553340). SHRAWARDINE ST MARY THE VIRGIN, 15 BROOKSIDE, BICTON, SHREWSBURY SY3 8EP (01743 851310). JACKIE JONES YOGA (BY APPOINTMENT 01743 367186). SHREWSBURY BAKEHOUSE, 7 CASTLE GATES, SHREWSBURY SY1 2AE (01743 248384). SHREWSBURY MARKET, THE MARKET HALL, CLAREMONT STREET, SHREWSBURY, SY1 1QG (01743 351067). WILSTONE, HEATHER BRAE, LEEBOTWOOD, SHROPSHIRE SY6 6LU (01694 751747)