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

Friday, 16 June 2017

June garden

Summer is almost here. There's no mistaking that wet grass scent or the slightly heavier humid air that so distinctly belongs to early summer mornings. The village gets busier as the summer crops inch closer to harvest. Just today I've watched a ride on mower, two oversized John Deere tractors, 2 or 3 smaller tractors, and some sort of intricate looking ploughing(?) contraption thunder past the cottage. For a teeny, tiny village hamlet, the roads are getting quite backed up with farm vehicles and the like.

Everywhere I look signs of summer are making themselves known. Sweet peas, barley, elderflowers, delphinium, and roses. There is so much colour and life.
In my garden I am clipping roses and larkspur. As well as eyeing-off the elderflower blossoms for cordial making. But back to the roses...

This powdery pink beauty is David Austin's The Ancient Mariner. Named after Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, it is a large and impressive rose in all senses of the word. A prolific repeat flowering rose, it can grow up to 5ft tall by 3ft wide. It has a lovely scent- like most DA roses- and its beauty is evident from bright pink bud through to faded fully reflexed blooms. This is a relatively new Austin rose, released in the last couple of years here in the UK, and only now becoming available in the US and Canada. She should flower abundantly until the first frost in November.

The slightly more apricot pink rose is another DA, The Queen of Sweden. She begins as a very peachy-apricot, almost orange bud, opening to that iconic cup shape associated with Austin roses with a faded apricot-blush hue. The mature blooms fade even further, just before they finish and shatter, to an almost pale tea-stained hue. I favour her scent and shape, and I think she has much better 'staying power' when clipped for a vase.

The larkspur has been so welcome for the bees. I've left these tall flowering spires well alone except for the two stems I cut for a little garden posy gift to take to a new friend. It paired so beautifully with the pink of the roses.

 Also left well alone as much as possible has been the robin nest in our garden wall. I have been watching our resident robin pair building and fussing over their nest for a few weeks now, and noticed in the last week Mrs Robin has been diligently sitting on eggs. Today she was flitting around the garden and beyond for an extended amount of time (feeding perhaps?), so I took the opportunity to peer into the nest to count the eggs. I think there are three, it is difficult to see all the way into her delicate and cosy nest because it is in quite a tight nook in the dry-stone wall. My phone camera could just about capture one little speckled egg. The sweetest thing I've seen this week I think.

Hopefully she can manage to hatch her entire clutch! The weather is certainly very nice for her. Seven new tiny ducklings have also appeared on the brook. I spotted them from a window last night, so I rushed outside to the brook, barefoot, to count them. 

Kate  x

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lacock village and abbey

Lacock is renowned for its quintessentially english village streets. It is a Cotswold tourist highlight, but the National Trust owned abbey is the real must see here in my opinion.

We wandered around the village on a drizzly Monday afternoon, so the streets were relatively quiet for June. It is easy to see how Lacock got its reputation as a village that seems to have paused in the 18th Century, the cars being the only indication of modern life.

Spot the dog!

There are a few different places to have lunch, a cream tea, or an ice cream. Of course, the National Trust tea rooms are always a nice place to get a cuppa, sandwich, or something sweet. 

In the abbey grounds there is so much to see. A walled garden, green house, rose garden, orchard, as well as the extensive park. Last week the early summer blooms were at their peak. Allium, delphinium, roses, etc. there was so much colour and life.

I love to see summer grass left to grow with wildflowers dotted through it. There is something so lovely about over grown lawn with a mowed pathway through it. This is the orchard, overlooking the church.

The abbey itself dates from the 13th Century, and for three centuries belonged to an Augustinian order of nuns before it was bought and transformed into a private home. The cloisters are one of the oldest parts of the building, and the monastic rooms attached to these stunning hallways are largely unchanged since the 13th Century.

The cloisters have been used for backdrops in Harry Potter films as well as the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice. They're beautiful and atmospheric, and so fascinating.

It is quite an imposing building, standing tall and rigid in the landscape. Handsome and grandiose from the outside, it is quite a layered patchwork of styles and eras. One half is even Tudor era, with a classic Tudor layout and inner quadrangle.

Climbing and rambling roses softened the gothic features and added a feminine touch to the abbey facade. The whole structure has a very masculine feel and energy even though it began its life as the spiritual home of nuns.

Inside, the abbey is showing its age. The rooms are grandiose and were once richly furnished. A lot of the contents are beginning to deteriorate, which is such a shame, but the National Trust are doing their utmost to preserve things as much as possible. 

The hand painted wallpaper in one of the rooms of the residential wing is illustrative of how the interior and furnishings of a 13th Century building are inevitably the victims of relentless damp, dust, light and temperature fluctuations. 

Lacock Abbey is famously the birthplace of photography. William Henry Fox Talbot created the oldest still surviving photographic negative in the abbey, his family home. Today visitors can stand at the window that his original negative captured in 1835. 

It is an incredibly diverse building with an equally diverse history to match.

Kate  x