Q: What is your favourite historical place in Britain?
A: Hawkstone Park Follies is a late 18th-century ‘sublime’ garden laid out by Shropshire squire Sir Richard Hill. A good walk, and striking: there’s a dramatic ‘Swiss’ bridge, for example. Dr Johnson wrote that it had ‘terrifick grandeur’.
Hill was known as a religiously serious man in parliament when that wasn’t common. There’s no obvious link between this and the garden, but that makes it more interesting. It suggests he had more than one side to his personality.
Q: What is your favourite historical place overseas?
A: An Italian friend took me to the ruined hill town of Castro almost 30 years ago: could have been like any other picturesque Italian hill town, but it was destroyed amid 17th-century fighting. Now the remains lie scattered among the trees. Very atmospheric.
Another friend talked to a journalist who wrote it up, and people came and took things from the site. So it’s not always a good idea to talk about places you like.
Q: Where would you most like to visit?
A: I like places with complex resonances: not always clear in advance where they will be. But I have hopes of Padua, where I’ll be staying in December, departing from there to drive around the Veneto, inland from Venice.
Venice was once a maritime empire, and Padua its university town. It attracted students from far and wide, including Greek students into the early 19th century. I’m hoping there might be material traces of this web of connections.