IT WAS falling dusk and time to go. But it was suddenly hard to leave this tiny brick and tile cottage.
On a dark and drizzly day the modest house exuded a power all of its own.
It was one of those places where you long for others not to linger. For them to move on and leave you to absorb its atmosphere, its richness and warmth.
Strange that, for Clouds Hill, the Dorset house once home to T E Lawrence, is perhaps the simplest dwelling you could imagine.
Inscribed over the door is a Greek phrase, a clue to how Lawrence himself saw the house where he was to have so few years.
He translated the words as “why worry” suggesting that though Clouds Hill was a retreat, it held nothing materially that would hold him there.
Yet for the outsider, it is a place that is hard to leave, so powerful is the imprint of the man himself.
Lawrence first rented the house in 1923. He needed somewhere to work on revising his book, Seven Pillars Of Wisdom.
The house was perfect. It was simple, relatively isolated and was a mere motorbike trip from Bovington Camp where he was stationed with the Tank Regiment.
In later years, he bought Clouds Hill, some feel with the intention of retiring there but he died after a road accident near the cottage.
The house was given to the National Trust and today it remains in their care, a monument to a man whose complex personality and close ties to the Middle East permeate every brick.
The heart of Lawrence’s house is his book room, dominated by a leather reading chair with sprung sheepskin cushions and a steel book rest which he designed and had tailored to fit his lean, angular shape.
The only sound, when I visited, was the hiss of a portable gas fire which sounded eerily like a man expressing his dismay at visitors peering at his books, his pictures and photographs.
But austere though they may initially seem, the tiny rooms are alive with powerful images of an extraordinary personality who once dominated politics and literature.
There are superb pastel drawings revealing the beauty of Arab faces and high in the eaves in the music room is a portrait of Lawrence as a young cadet painted by Henry Scott Tuke.
A lamp, provided by the house’s helpful National Trust steward, helps light all of those faces and offers a reminder that it really is time to go.
For Lawrence never had power installed in the house. There is nowhere to cook, there are no lights, no electricity and when dusk falls, it signals time for Clouds Hill to be left to the lingering presence of its long departed owner.
Though I last visited Dorset some years ago, the memory of Clouds Hill has never dimmed.
Its stillness and quiet, its ability to exude Lawrence’s sheer force of character came flooding back just a few weeks ago – at Barbara Hepworth’s studio in Cornwall.
Here too, such is the sense of the person who once lived there that you feel almost as if they have slipped out and will be back at any moment.
Hepworth moved to Cornwall with her husband, the painter Ben Nicholson and their children, at the start of the Second World War.
A decade later she bought Trewyn Studio in St Ives and lived there until her death in the mid 1970s.
Today, the studio and the garden she created as a permanent setting for her work remain, tucked away just a few streets up from the harbour.
Make your way through the simple, though cluttered, space where Hepworth worked and lived and you will find coats still hanging behind the door and cactus plants in terracotta pots standing against a whitewashed wall, ferns growing at its base. There’s a watering can waiting to be filled in the sink, a white wire chair with a single thin cushion and everywhere, the tools of Hepworth’s trade as a sculptor.
Drawings, paintings and fascinating archive material draw the eye, but it is out in the garden where the work of one of our most important artists really comes to life.
Here sculptures in bronze, stone and wood grow out of the very space in which Hepworth created them, surrounded by plants which mirror or offer a contrast in shape and texture.
Hepworth, like Lawrence, left a powerful legacy, not just in the work that she left behind but in the place where it was created.
Visit either or both places and be dazzled by the sheer power of personality.