Has your heart ever been captured by a view?
Has it swept you off your feet and stolen your breath, and instilled an insane desire to have it at any cost?
Around four thousand years ago, the ancient writings go, God stood one of his earliest recruits on Mount Nebo. You’re not getting there, God said to Moses with a rather sobering finality: but your descendants will people it.
On a clear day, from the top of Mount Nebo, you can see the whole of Israel stretched out before you. You can see Jerusalem, and the River Jordan’s valley and even the West Bank city of Jericho.
What a panorama: one for the bucket list.
For thousands of years, people have wanted to possess that view. The evidence lies in ruins discovered in 1933 of a church and monastery, right at Nebo’s summit. They were there when Egeria, the French pilgrim, wrote of her travels to the Holy Land between 381-384.
Someone had built a place to possess the view: but centuries later their feeble attempts did not stand the test of time.
On the Kentish borders, near the village of Westerham, there has for centuries been a building which claimed a view. Its name. Chartwell, comes from the word chart, old English for rough ground, and a well which lies north of the great red brick house. At 650 feet above sea level the view inspires devotion in all who see it.
It might explain why Winston Churchill did something extremely uncharacteristic in 1922, the year he lost his seat as an MP for Dundee.
He took one look at Chartwell and made arrangements to buy it, without consulting his beautiful wife Clementine.
She never really liked the house, it is said. And when you see it, you can understand why: a great Victorian monolith of a place. There has been a building there since the 16th century – Henry VIII stayed there when he was wooing Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle – but after Victorian renovations there is nothing subtle about Chartwell House.
So, on their arrival Clem transformed the place with her customary taste. The inside is a model of comfy,graceful hospitality, the fabrics subtle and sophisticated, the decor effortlessly pleasing to the eye in a thirties Miss Marple sort of way. The house was designed for comfort, and a walk round makes one feel instantly at home.
Churchill, though, loved the landscape.
And he did not leave its transformation to others. He dug ponds, built walls and laboured to produce a tract of land worthy of the view across the Weald.
The results are very him.
Peaceful, bold, sympathetic to the sense of place, the gardens grace the view and dress the house. Black swans paddle on the lake and you can go and sit in his favourite spot, where , after a hard day, Churchill would sit by his pond and feed his beloved fish.
Money worries were never far away, though. Perhaps Clem felt Winston had overstretched himself buying the stately pile: twice it was put up for sale before, in 1946, a consortium of the wealthy bought the place so that the couple could grow old and end their lives there.
And now, also according to that deal done in 1946, we can all enjoy that view. Chartwell was passed to the National Trust in 1966, one year after Churchill’s death.
The affable crowds pottered round the place, dogs on leads, and we and Macaulay joined them yesterday, to be utterly undone by that incredible view.