Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Lake District, Part One: Hill Top Farm

Visiting Hill Top Farm in the Lake District filled me with so much excitement and childhood nostalgia. I can't remember a time before the tales were a part of my life. I watched The World of Beatrix Potter over and over again as a child, my Mum having recorded as many episodes as possible on VHS. Remember doing that with your favourite TV shows?
I even, for a few seconds in the gift shop, contemplated buying them on DVD... but knowing how the story of VHS ended I am anticipating DVD to die a similar death soon. Luckily though I found them on youtube, HERE, if you're interested in a walk down memory lane. I realised when watching some of it that the opening and closing sequences were filmed in and around Hill Top. I don't know why that surprised me, but again, it adds to their charm. These will always be the best small screen adaptations of Beatrix's work. There is a magic to them that is lost in the modern computer animation versions.

Anyway, back to Hill Top. Beatrix's beloved farmhouse is in a tiny Cumbrian village called Near Sawrey, where the neighbours are sheep.

Her home is a time capsule to her inspiration, her curiosity, her brilliance. I'll admit, I had to suppress some tears on the doorstep. What a magical world she had inside her mind.

In each room is a little corner recognisable in her work. The staircase from Samuel Whiskers, a sideboard from the same tale. All over this part of the Lakes are the real life scenes immortalised in her little books. Her husband's solicitors offices in Hawkshead feature in The Pie and the Patty Pan. The garden path at Hill Top is drawn in The Tale of Tom Kitten. I think if I read back through all the tales now, I'd recognise so, so many of her real world inspirations.

This is what she called her entrance hall, a typical room in farmhouses in this district, a room that is more commonly referred to as the firehouse or houseplace by Lakeland farmers. It is obviously the heart of her home. Repeatedly featured in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Tale of the Roly Poly Pudding. 

It feels very untouched, much like she just walked out of the door.

Her love of nature is evident in all the curiosities and collections that the farmhouse holds. 

About a one mile hike up from Near Sawrey is Moss Eccles Tarn, a favourite fishing spot of Beatrix and her husband, Mr William Heelis. We had beautiful sunny weather when we walked up. Quiet, except for the sheep in the fields.

On the banks of the tarn heather is in bloom. Bright, iridescent blue dragonflies were flitting about. It was entirely impossible to capture them with the camera as they are so quick, just a flash of brilliant blue on the surface of the water.

It was so warm and sunny that I pulled off my wellies and socks to paddle.

On the same day we checked out other National Trust properties in the area. The Beatrix Potter Gallery in her husband's old offices at Hawkshead is rather lovely, and free for trust members. The Little Ice cream Shop around the corner is also worth a stop.

Wray Castle is very close by, but I think if you weren't a member of National Trust it wouldn't be value for money. It was actually built in victorian times as a retirement home for a couple with clearly too much money and time on their hands, and little sense. It is completely empty, so in essence it is just a house without any tangible history, charm or personality. The views are spectacular from the front entry though. On the afternoon we stopped by the skies were roaring with fighter jets and spitfires flying low over Lake Windermere for no conceivable reason.

Townend, on the other hand is a very pretty and rather interesting National Trust property at Troutbeck. It is a 17th century farmhouse with similarly old farm buildings and barns. Owned and occupied by the same family for about 5 or so generations it is very well preserved and contains much of their loved possessions. With 400 years of family history, there are some treasures in the house, including 45 books in the library that are the only remaining copies in the world.The kitchen is so beautiful and contains some spectacular hand carved furniture, made by one of the men who lived there.

I love an outbuilding, and the washing room at Townend is so pretty. Lace edged aprons hanging on an airing rack gives the place such atmosphere.

This is the view over the top of the centuries old barn, still used by the farm across the road.

Signs of summer are still surprisingly abundant in the Lakes. Hydrangeas are everywhere, in all the villages, the odd foxglove is still in bloom along the drystone walls too.

Beatrix Potter called the Troutbeck Valley her favourite in the Lake District. It is very pretty, traditional fell farming still very much the focus of the district. 

It is such a priceless legacy Beatrix created and left for the British public. With UNESCO World Heritage status just being given to the Lake District, hopefully these beautiful valleys, fells, lakes and farms will remain just as they are for always.

Kate  x

Friday, 11 August 2017

Summer eggs

Like the weather, the presence of eggs at the farm gate has been unpredictable recently. 

In early summer it all started out strong, warm (almost hot) sunny days, light stretching long into the night and a near-constant supply of non-uniform, straight-from-the-hen eggs. The hedgerows were full of bramble flowers, buttercups, queen anne's lace, and for one glorious week, wild roses.

The eggs came in every pastel shade imaginable, blue being the colour I hoped to see when I peered into the cartons to choose which 1/2 dozen to pay for. 

There were times when I went days, or weeks without being able to purchase eggs. This most recent stretch without eggs at the farm gate was almost a month long...

But, after a three week stretch of consistently rainy days (where on more than one occasion, to our shame, the heating was put on), and just as the blackberries were beginning to turn...

...the eggs reappeared. 

This is yesterdays 1/2 dozen, dappled sunlight dancing on those pretty pastel hues. I was so happy the sun was back out that I ran half way up to the farm, never expecting I'd find eggs or blackberries. 

Maybe we'll get a second shot at some summer weather?

Kate  x

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The North Cotswolds

Although we technically live in the Cotswolds, there is much of the area that is not exactly on our immediate doorstep. We are located in the southern part, in the north-west corner of Wiltshire, relatively close to Bath. The Cotswolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is quite large- taking in parts of Somerset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. 
This past weekend we did a day trip to the north, stopping by Cotswold Lavender Farm, the nearby village of Snowshill (where some of Bridget Jones was filmed), Broadway, and Bourton-on-the-Water. 

It was warm and sunny, and being school holidays, quite busy in places. Still, it is nice to be able to do a day out to see these tourist hot spots rather than needing to take longer stretches off work and study, book accommodation and sort the logistics that go with all that. England is wonderful in that respect- lots of places aren't too far away. We feel particularly lucky being in the south west.

Cotswold Lavender was planted in 2000-2001, it is spectacular to see such a vast and pretty crop, and one that has been established in a relatively short amount of time. 

The farm is very close to Snowshill- about a mile and a half- which is quite an iconic Cotswold village. Film buffs will recognise it from one of the opening scenes in Bridget Jones when Bridget goes home to her parents for their 'annual turkey curry buffet'. It was covered in snow and transformed into a proper English Christmas backdrop for filming.

It looked very different this past weekend in high summer, buddleia in bloom, and the annual village fete about to begin.

The National Trust property Snowshill Manor is right in the middle of the village and a must visit in my opinion. Once presented to Catherine Parr by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries (it belonged to Winchcombe Abbey at the time), the house has had a varied history. A beautiful sixteenth century house, it is absolutely crammed with the impressive and eclectic collection of curiosities of its most noteworthy (twentieth century) owner, Charles Wade. The rooms are filled with wonderful and weird things: keys and locks, clocks, costumes, weaponry, bicycles and more, from all over the world and from all eras. Wade himself didn't live in the actual manor house, choosing to renovate and live with his wife in an outbuilding known as the priest house. This simple lodging consists of just two rooms and very basic accommodation. 

The collections inside the house, as fascinating as the 22,000 objects are, were not what I was interested in. I really loved the story of how Snowshill came to be Wade's home. Charles Wade was conscripted in WWI and served in northern France. Charles showed great care and attention decorating his accommodation ( he was an orderly room clerk) to imitate the comforts he was used to at home. The hessian from sandbags lined the walls, he coloured in and displayed tactical maps, his trunk was draped with a hand knitted blanket. He spent spare moments drawing and writing poetry. Whilst he was serving in the war he came across a copy of Country Life magazine which featured an advertisement for the sale of Snowshill Manor. Charles dreamed that one day, if he made it home from war, he would buy the property and transform it into his country home. And he did. 

We also wandered the high streets of nearby Broadway and Bourton-on-the-Water. It is obvious summer is in full swing at the moment. It was impossible to pass through a village over the weekend without seeing a strawberry fayre, a summer fete, or a harvest festival. Broadway and Bourton were no exception. And like most English village traditions, these were quite the sight.

Bourton-on-the-Water was in the middle of a rubber duck race when we strolled along the water. All for a good cause though. The money raised from bets for which duck would win went towards the Royal National Lifeboats Institution, responsible for saving lives at sea through their 24 hour search and rescue service. A worthy institution considering the wild seas that surround this island nation. 

Kate  x

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

All things summer

Summer is in full swing. Wimbledon is on the telly, the farm shop has a glut of British grown strawberries, and vivid gem-coloured hydrangeas are in bloom everywhere I look.

None quite so vivid as the V&A museum hydrangeas.

A great and vibrant hedge of blooms flanks the central courtyard at the moment. We were there over the weekend, soaking up some sunshine and enjoying the museum collections. It was a warm day, the courtyard water feature was filled with toddlers paddling and splashing about.

I love London. Every time we visit, I get swept up and along with the energy and buzz of the city. I adore the diversity and acceptance. I get such a sense of satisfaction from successfully navigating the tube system, criss crossing the city and popping out into daylight next to iconic and historical landmarks. I appreciate the long history of the city juxtaposed with the modern urban. I love an oversized hotel bed and a late night trip in a black cab. 

But I am always so grateful to get home again, park my car under the towering trees in the village and feel the breeze in my hair. 

Kate  x

Friday, 23 June 2017

A walk around the village on the summer solstice

It was a relatively hot summer solstice on Wednesday. As an Aussie, I can't in all honesty say 32 degrees is very hot, because memories of 40+ degree summer days are burnt (pun very much intended) into my memory. That horrific day a few January's ago, where I walked out of work and into a 45 degree day to catch a non air-conditioned train home, will stay in my memory forever... That was a stifling summer all over Australia. If you're a weather enthusiast, stats can be seen HERE.

Nevertheless, I'll jump on board the Brits-moaning-about-the-weather bandwagon and concede it was quite a warm, sunny spell for England. Still, I wasn't going to let the glorious, albeit sweaty, solstice sunshine keep me indoors. I slipped into a linen sun dress, grabbed my camera and took a late evening wander around the village to capture some photographic memories of my first summer solstice in Britain.

June has been all about roses in the village. In just about every direction you look, you will see a rose. Climber, rambler, shrub, David Austin, they're blooming and beautiful.

This vivid pink rose is such a vibrant burst of colour on an otherwise uniform honey-stone coloured canvas. That is the Norman church tower of St Andrew's, Castle Combe. Often when I'm outside in the garden, and the breeze is blowing in the right direction I can hear it chime out at 3 minutes past the hour. I'm not sure if it's late, or my clock is running fast. It is a lovely sound no matter, a constant reminder of this rural village idyll I've somehow found myself living amongst.

This farm building at Upper Castle Combe was bathed in the most golden light. It is currently dripping with summer roses. It seemed so apt that on the summer solstice, it was in full flush and aglow with golden hour light. A fertile and abundant representation of the summer season.

I was sticky by the end of my walk, but frankly it was so nice to be able to be outside in the late evening air in just a sun dress and sandals, even if it did mean a cool shower for the third time that day. 

I know the passing of the solstice signals a slow slide back towards shorter days, but there is still so much summer to enjoy. The brambles are just emerging in the hedgerows, apple trees are beginning to fruit, the trout in the brook are fattening, and the fields are abuzz with the predictable seasonal rhythm of farm machinery as it frenetically slashes, harvests, bales and ploughs the countryside before the inevitable rains return .

Kate  x

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Dyrham Park

We first went to Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire last November when we were in the area looking at the cottage we now live in. I remember thinking then that it would be a great estate to come back to when the weather was warmer. And it was. On our recent return visit we managed a long walk around the extensive parkland to see the fallow deer herd and soak in the views. We also spent a lot of time in the gardens full and bursting with summer border flowers. It is a grand and handsome estate worth seeing, if only for that sweeping vista of the house as you come down the driveway.

The views over the countryside are beautiful. The estate seems so well positioned. The parkland is high and exposed, seemingly commanding absolute authority over the surrounding farmland. Views are endless, stretching into Wales on a clear day. But the house itself is nestled comfortably down in a small sheltered valley. 

The gardens were brimming with all the best early summer border flowers- delphinium, foxgloves, lupins, roses...

I think it is an estate worth seeing in most seasons. I think we'll return for deer rutting season, and wander the parkland in the fluttering autumn leaves.

Kate  x