Saturday 4th This must be the first day of a long-awaited spring. There is some warmth in the sun and lovely, almost Alpine air, and the birds all sound so much happier. Our pheasant friend, who wakes us every morning at about 5am ‘chooking’ under our bedroom window demanding his breakfast, is all puffed up and happy.
Two banty hens who hatched out only two chicks each in the freezing cold are much jollier today but keep muddling up their chicks, creating a hiatus!
They have all had a lucky escape as a badger chewed through the electric wire and dug under the chicken wire surrounding the henhouse last night but mercifully never got in. They are such brutal killers and to find chickens still alive in the morning with their legs and bottoms eaten off, is one of the most distressing and cruel sights you could see. Not many people understand the devastation they cause.
The early daffodils are still looking wonderful with the later ones still to flower! Nothing much has changed since Daffodil Day on 17th March. The first bluebells in the valley are appearing which bodes well for our Bluebell Days on 21st and 28th April. There will be lots of other lovely spring flowers out and the tulips are about to burst into bloom along with the camellias so if the bluebells are a bit late there will be plenty else to see! Entry to the walks and gardens on these days will be only £4 per adult with children free. It is always a popular time for local people and dogs to visit and often there are holiday visitors as well.
Our new Tea Room is proving very popular; Kath and Jo are producing mouthwateringly delicious food and lots of hot sustenance in the cold weather. They have decorated the tearoom to look so fresh and welcoming and have worked so hard. It makes us want to help them as much as we can so this week I am taking the plunge and ordering a cappuccino machine as so many of our visitors like to have different coffees. Kath and Jo have been collecting vintage china so people have the choice of modern fresh white cups or a lovely mixture of pretty ones to suit all tastes!
Preparations for the opening of our William Stukeley Exhibition are coming on albeit a bit later than we had wished but hopefully not as late as the opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which has reopened five years late! We plan to open in May. Finding and ordering all the images, obtaining permission from the Bodleian, Corpus Christi etc, researching manuscripts and books, designing the display, making and painting exhibition cases – all such a big learning curve. David Northmore , Sir H’s cousin and an Emeritus Professor of Science in America in real life, has produced some really clever, eccentric and exciting design, quite unlike anything I have ever seen! An academic, he has surprised us all (and probably himself) by his creativity. Philip Johns, in Hartland, has made some stunning scale models of Stonehenge and Avebury for us; we are so grateful to him as he is not very well. We wish him a full recovery. We are now so obsessed with our ancestor that I doubt we will ever end our research, it is so extraordinary! Reading Stukeley’s 1745 books on Stonehenge and Abury (Avebury) and Stuart Piggott’s Biography has become my night-time reading which I shall miss, especially when WS is becoming obsessed by Druids having been perfectly normal in the 1720s!
Our son in law, Tom Scudamore, had a good winner at Aintree on Friday on a lovely horse called Dynaste for the David Pipe team. He had a great Grand National ride on Major Malarkey for Nigel Twiston-Davies; he was never going to worry the judge but his bright yellow colours were easy to see nearer the back than the front and he had a wonderful ride on a true stayer finishing 11th. What a wonderful Grand National it was on a beautiful spring day with the horses loving that good going. Charlotte, his wife, is running in the London Marathon next week in aid of the Children’s Hospice, South West. It is a brilliant cause and she has raised a great sum to help them in their wonderful work.
Blackpool Mill has had a facelift with Mel tongue and grooving the kitchen and the shower. Please don’t worry, (all our regular guests), it is only to stop the paint flaking off the wall! Nothing has really changed!(our guests hate change)! It has made it so much cosier and warmer.
We have had a lovely Easter with nearly all the family. The Abbey was like living in a deep freeze and my mother, who is 91, braved it admirably! Good wartime training! We had lots of visitors who also braved the icy blast and children had a lovely time doing our Treasure Hunt with an Easter egg for each participant.
We have some lovely coach groups this week and John Hodges, our head steward, and I did a double act today – he providing all the Abbey history and me filling in with all the family anecdotes. Topically, we were reminiscing on the visit of Sir Dennis and Lady Thatcher to the Abbey in 2002. It was an enormous honour for us. They were so interested in the house and Lady T was especially fascinated by our Falklands display, of the photographs and diary entries of Sir H’s grandfather when he made a visit to the Falklands in 1909 with his dog, Madge! His diary had been published in the Economist at the time of the Falklands war in 1982; it contains many drawings and early photographs from 1909 of the country and buildings which were the same then as in 1982, very little had changed in nearly 80 years. We have many happy memories of that special day. I well remember when our children were small, we were in the grip of strikes and I had to heat their food and bottles on the open fire as there was no electricity or heating. Then Mrs. T was elected and we had her to thank for restoring essential services to our life and we were only too pleased to repay her in some small way.
The black sheep have arrived back at the Abbey today from the farm. Graham and Trevor, our farmhands, drive them down the link road in two trailers behind their tractors causing awful queues, I am sure! If only the link road had been a dual carriageway originally, this would never happen. It seems so unfair that South Devon has such a good road and we are stuck with a very inferior link to the outside world. The sheep, and their lambs, looked as though they had arrived in heaven with so much grass in the park. Now the donkeys and sheep create a lovely pastoral scene for our visitors. The sheep can’t lamb here as the foxes and badgers will eat the lambs when they are born. Hopefully they are old enough to escape now. Black Welsh Mountain lambs are so sweet with their long tails. Becky and her baby, Snowdrop are proving very popular with visitors; they love all the attention!
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We were very sad that we had to cancel Snowdrop Weekend but we decided soon after Christmas that the waterlogged ground would not dry out in time for cars to park on it. Luckily we were entirely vindicated as the ground is still completely saturated and everyone would have been stuck in the car park. Lets hope 2014 will be kinder to us and Snowdrop Days will return.
Since Christmas everyone has been flat out with our exciting new projects at the Abbey.
The new kitchen and Tea Room are beginning to look really good for the start of the season. Jo and Kath, both local Hartland girls, have taken on the lease of the Tea Room from the church ladies who retired in 2012 after 26 years! After stripping off centuries of paint, Leighton has repainted the walls and the room now looks really fresh. Kath and Jo have brought some very pretty tablecloth material, the new china has arrived, Lofty has attached a new electricity supply and soon masses of delicious food and drink will be provided for our visitors. The big question now is what sort of coffee machine to have…! Carol has been having a major springclean all winter. We hired the carpet cleaning machine to do the red carpet in the Alhambra passage; it was horrifying to see how filthy the water was but hardly surprising after many thousands of people had walked round the house last summer. Thanks to our fashionable blue overshoes it wasn’t worse! Apologies to those who don’t like wearing them but please think of Carol and what it would be like in your own home if 14,000 people walked round it, straight from the garden!
Nigel, Sam and Dave are hard at work to get the gardens looking smart for opening. Torrential rain all winter hasn’t helped, in fact it has brought down a lot of trees and branches and part of the garden wall. It has just made a lot more work. But morale is
very high and Nigel will produce a wonderful display come the spring. We are so lucky to have such a fantastic team.
Our next big project is staging the ‘William Stukeley – Saviour of Stonehenge’ exhibition; again poor old Leighton has been hard at work lining the walls in the ‘dungeon’ to make a good display space. When we decided to stage this I deluded myself into thinking it would be easy. Having got to know William Stukeley a lot better I realise how wrong I was. Trying to sort out what to display is the difficult bit; he is such an intriguing subject, friend of Sir Isaac Newton,a polymath into everything imaginable from saving Stonehenge and Avebury to dissecting a dead elephant in the centre of London with Sir Hans Sloane in 1720. My husband’s cousin who is a professor in America is being a wonderful help and support. David has created a fantastic, very original design for the display so it is all becoming a reality. We have to go to the Bodleian soon to get some images. Hopefully we will be able to open in May.
The Bear has been really spruced up and has now got WIFI and some smart new hanging cupboards since last season. It
is a really cosy cottage for a holiday. We are putting in lots more tongue and groove at Blackpool Mill as the walls are always crumbling, they are so old. Poor Leighton never stops painting them. The t and g should make it much warmer too and use less oil.
We have had terrible donkey sadness. Bluebell, who has enchanted us and our visitors, young and not-so, for so long suddenly became ill last week and was off her food. Our wonderful vet came and took blood samples which came back with the bad news that she had an incurable liver disease. She would never recover and to save her further sufferingshe was put to sleep immediately with her sister Nutmeg beside her. She is great friends with Qajar and Harold, our retired point-to-pointers, but she realises that racehorses are no substitute for her lost sisters. Donkeys must have company to be happy. But the good news is that today we have picked up the
nicest mother and daughter donkeys, Becky and Snowdrop II (as she arrived at snowdrop time!), from nearby who have settled in really well already and will soon be meeting our visitors when we open. It will be lovely for all the visiting children to have a baby donkey to pat. We are still terribly sad to lose Bluebell as she was 37 and very much part of the family.
We are all really looking forward to our new season. Daffodil Day is on Sunday 17th March and then the season starts properly on
24th March. Bluebell Days on 21st and 28th April. The Hartland Hartbreaker Charity Run on 5th May – it sounds awful – 17 miles of sheer hell but in aid of a wonderful cause, The Children’s Hospice and our own Parish Hall as well. So much to do before then. …Theresa has done some wonderful new interpretation notices for our displays so everything will look so much better in 2013.
We have lots of exciting theatre productions coming up in the summer. So it is all go down at the Abbey in 2013….
Martin Dorey, the Campervan Man, is putting on some exciting Campervan holidays here, by the river. Here he is on his last visit to Hartland when he was making a film in 2010. Martin is great fun and his holidays will be fantastic .
This week I mustn’t forget to design our new leaflet, check proofs for our advertising, order the seeds, order all the new catering equipment for Kath and Jo, start deadheading at least 200 hydrangeas, help Alice write her blog, go to the Bodleian to research the exhibition and so it goes on! ‘Apparently’, according to the children, it keeps us young! We will see.
It is already mid-November and Christmas is approaching rapidly over the horizon. With our four children, their other halves, nine grandchildren, my mother and other friends staying and another influx on Boxing Day, now is the time I have to start cooking. With so many presents to buy and wrap up and masses of food to prepare I try to get organised early on so that I can actually enjoy Christmas! There is always the risk of getting flu just at the worst time as everyone is arriving; even a flu injection doesn’t seem to do the job properly! We buy our turkey from a near neighbour who produces the most delicious turkeys who have lived a very happy life. I normally provide good post-Christmas business to our local chiropractor, Frank Loftus, in South Molton as heaving a turkey which feeds 20 people in and out of the Aga normally does my back in! But it is a wonderful time all together with all the children and their children and ninety year old great-granny!
This autumn has been particularly busy for us at the Abbey with exciting things happening for next season. At the end of September we said goodbye sadly to Nancy Johns and all the wonderful ladies from St Nectan’s Church who had run the Abbey Tea Rooms for the past 26 years. Anno domini was catching up and there were just not enough younger volunteers to take it on. We also said goodbye to Mary Heard who had been our Administrator for nearly as long and has been such a support to us over that time. Just before we closed we held a lunch in aid of Elizabeth Finn which does such great work to help elderly people. Mark Poltimore, who is a cousin of my husband, came down to Hartland and gave a very amusing talk about being an expert on the Antiques Roadshow. He brought lots of slides and kept the audience enthralled with ‘behind the scenes’ stories. The Elizabeth Finn committee then gave everyone the most fantastic buffet lunch in the Dining Room, all cooked by themselves.
Every cloud has a silver lining as they say and out of the ether has appeared Kath Morrison and Jo Wade to take over the running of the cafe in the Old Kitchens. Kath has been helping us in the kiosk, welcoming visitors and stewarding in the past and has a history of catering. Her friend Jo has a shop in Bideford currently but will be starting a new career feeding all our visitors! It promises to carry on with the same ethos of good home baking with all the familiar homemade scones and cakes but will have exciting new additions like hot paninis and cappucino coffee from the coffee machine! We are moving forward…!
Leighton, our wonderful handyman for the past umpteen years, is busily redecorating the Tea Rooms and soon a new kitchen will be installed with ovens and all mod cons ready for its launch on Snowdrop Weekend!
Theresa Seligmann has taken over Mary’s job as Administrator and is attacking the job with huge enthusiasm and energy! She has lots of ideas to make everyone’s visit more exciting. We have started by revamping our website with the help of Stephen Hobbs our honourary archivist who is so good at all the technical stuff. We have still got a bit of tweaking to do until we are really happy with it but it is such an improvement on the last one. It should make it easier for potential visitors to see what we do.
We have so many exciting events for 2013 and we will keep posting the details when we have them. Our opening times for 2013 will be completely different from previous years; we will be open from Sunday to Thursday all season from March 24th – October 6th inclusive from 11.30 – 5pm and closed on Friday and Saturdays.
We start the season with Snowdrop Weekend on 9th and 10th February. It is always such an exciting time with the thousands of snowdrops appearing from the Walled Gardens to the sea. We open up other parts of the estate which are not normally open where the snowdrops grow so there is masses of room to explore and for children and dogs to run wild! We always encourage visitors to bring as many dogs as possible and the result is the most amazing array of all shapes, sizes and breeds. Some arrive in posh coats which are soon covered in mud as the pooches go berserk in all the space!
I always mean to hold a Dog Show at the same time but people might freeze to death at that time of year!
In March we have our annual Daffodil Day on Sunday 17th and then we reopen for the season on Sunday 24th March in time for Easter. The week of April 21st – 28th we will open every day for Bluebell Week which is such a beautiful time of year and hopefully a bit warmer by then. On Sunday 5th May, during the first bank holiday weekend, we hold a very exciting new event called The Hartland Hartbreaker which sounds hellish as it is a really gruelling cross-country race starting and finishing at the Abbey. Apparently it is about 15 miles long, up and down the steep coastal footpath, through the fields on the estate and through as much mud and water as possible, we are told! It is all in aid of some very good causes including the Children’s Hospice, South West. We will hope lots of people will come, not only to take part but to watch as well. More details will be posted on our website when we know what is happening. At all our events we hope to have Sam and Em Stone from Exmoor Kitchen with their delicious barbecue as well as the Tea Room producing some delicious drinks and eats and hot pasties. We will also be holding Outdoor Theatre events during the summer but we have not got any dates yet but I know ‘Treasure Island’ is in the offing in August. This will be very befitting to Hartland as years ago the film was made here.
For the whole 2013 season we are planning to stage an exhibition on William Stukeley who was a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, wrote on his famous apple experience, was instrumental in saving Stonehenge and Avebury from being ground up into road building materials and is a distant ancestor of my husband. He was an amazing man who seemed to have achieved more in his life than most people would in 10 lives. We have his portrait by Kneller looking down on us every day in the Little Dining Room so it is fun researching his life which ranged from being a druid, an antiquarian, an archaeologist to a vicar! We also hope to have scale models of Stonehenge and Avebury made by a local person. I was inspired by hearing two programmes about Sir William on BBC Radio 4 recently.
The donkeys are back at the farm in great luxury with lots to eat and plenty of shelter. Alice has taken up her winter living next to the Aga between forays to chase anything that moves. Nowadays most things escape as she has slowed down a bit! I have been wanting a cat for ages but knew that it wouldn’t survive with the dogs but I now feel much more confident as Alice is much lazier. Hopefully we will get a kitten soon as the mouse problem is awful. They seem to thrive on mouse poison and take the bait to have picnics in the beds while making holes in the blankets to make nests! It is very annoying (and expensive).
We have just had a couple of days in London attending the Historic Houses Association AGM. They are the most wonderful organisation for us house owners, helping us with our problems and giving us great inspiration. Being able to discuss house opening with other people in similar circumstances is enormously helpful. Most historic houses in private ownership are members. They run an excellent Friends Organisation which with an annual membership subscription allows free entry into all open HHA houses and many that are normally closed to the public.
The family have had busy summers and autumns. Our eldest daughter with her husband, Tom Scudamore the jockey, moved house into an old farmhouse which they painted themselves from top to toe. They are now ensconced well in time for Christmas. Tom had a successful weekend at Cheltenham with a couple of winners and a handful of seconds.
It has rained and blown so much lately that a huge chunk of the Walled Garden wall has fallen down, luckily not on top of anyone. Just what we did not want when we are so busy. Nigel and Sam are working so hard at the moment cutting down the borders and planting all the tulips for next spring. We are going with the same colours again which we love but next year I think we will be really radical and have a complete change!
We have differing shades of purple, yellow and red in the Rose Garden which look stunning, purples in the pots and bright red in the pots by the front door. Nigel has done a wonderful job in his first season and we had many compliments particularly on his stunning displays in the summerhouse.
With so much to do to get the exhibition and the tea rooms ready it may be a while before the next blog! A happy Christmas and New Year to all who have visited us in the past and we hope to see you back again soon.
September is beckoning and August seems to have disappeared before it has begun. So much has been going on down here in the valley. The Abbey has been full with visitors, friends and our growing family who come in search of the sun and sand. Sadly the former has been in short supply, but every cloud has a silver lining and this has been the year of the hydrangea! The Shrubbery has been a sea of blue with the Blue Wave lacecaps
and the inky blue of the mopheads but almost the prettiest are the white lacecaps with their beautiful blue eyes. Those of our visitors who have ventured over the Abbey river have been enjoying them enormously. The Walled Gardens are still looking stunning with the peppery-smelling purple phloxes in full bloom and helianthemums, penstemon, japanese anenomes, fuchsias and lots of autumn flowers coming into flower. Nigel has created a wonderful, rather Victorian, display in the summerhouse which has been a lovely refuge to garden visitors who are caught in the not infrequent downpours of late. The greenhouses are stunning with huge displays of geraniums and many beautiful tender and rare plants. At last the vegetables too are in full production; we have gone from famine to feast and will have plenty to sell to visitors.
Thank you to all our wonderful visitors who have written such kind and encouraging comments in our book. It means such a lot to the whole team here. Our room stewards, who have spent the last six months, mainly on their feet, explaining the finer details of each room to visitors, do such an amazing job and it is particularly nice to read such complimentary comments about them. Also what people seem to appreciate so much here is the fact that we are a real family home and not a ‘museum’ and we love to meet as many visitors as possible. The only family member who is no longer able to be on public view is Alice, our adored Jack Russell, who has sometimes let the side down in the past by a nip here and there. Sadly I can no longer risk an increased 18 month prison sentence so she will either be seen firmly on a lead or will be in her very comfy basket out of sight!
During August we have had two brilliant theatre productions for children, The Twits and King Arthur. Both afternoons were dry and were fantastically well attended with 400 here for The Twits and slightly less for King Arthur. We are so thankful to The Plough Arts Centre for bringing the productions here and to Illyria and the Cambridge Touring Theatre for putting on such stunning
performances. Mr and Mrs Twit were truly disgusting! On Saturday September 1st we will be putting on a Heartbreak Theatre production of ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward which we are all looking forward to so much. We will be sad when the theatre season is over as it has been such fun; the front lawn has been a great stage. We will again be providing the barbecue and the Pimms and Wine Bar and so it is uneccesary to bring a picnic if you are feeling like a real night off. It really is such a lovely evening out.
Blackpool Mill cottage and The Bear have been full up during the summer with some lovely families. Thank you all for coming and we hope to see some of you back in the future. Next year is bound to be wall-to-wall sunshine! We have a few autumn weeks available in the cottages when it is lovely and quiet and normally beautiful weather! Everyone this summer has been very stoical when it has poured with rain and Hartland has been lucky with much less rain than inland. However we were pretty envious of London during the Olympics which
seemed to be almost totally dry.
Hartland village and the surrounding peninsula has so much to do for families nowadays in any weather; the Abbey with its gardens and walks are great fun for exploring, the village has great galleries, the Springfield pottery and no 39 pottery (where you can also learn to be a potter yourself), really good small shops, a good pub with good food,
Hartland Quay with rooms overlooking the Atlantic, masses of sand on the beach at low tide and a great Wreckers Retreat bar and Tea Room, two really good camp sites: Stoke Barton overlooking the sea and Hartland site in the village and masses of really first class B and Bs. St Nectan’s Church in Stoke has a most beautiful screen and ceiling decoration. The church is huge and is known as ‘The Cathedral of North Devon’ with its tall tower reputedly used by wreckers in days gone by to lure unsuspecting ships onto the jagged and deadly rocks at Hartland Quay. Docton Mill with its working mill and delicious refreshments has a really beautiful garden too. Last but not least some of the best beaches and surfing in the west country and Clovelly close by. Our children and grandchildren adore it here and never want to leave as there is so much to do. The Flower Festival in the church, the Craft Fair and Car Boot Sale this weekend have been enormous fun and there is another wonderful Farmer’s Market coming soon so never a dull moment! Both the holiday cottages will have many more books on their shelves thanks to the Car Boot Sale where there were nearly as many books on sale as in a large high street bookseller!
It is only a month now until we close at the end of September but there is still lots to look forward to in the gardens and ’Private Lives’ on Sept 1st should be great fun. We still have on show the small exhibition of John Bampfylde’s recollections and mementos from the 1936 Olympic Games in which he was a membert of the British Fencing Team. He was my husband’s uncle who was sadly killed in the same year in a steeplechase at Taunton.
Thank you to everyone who has visited and supported us this year. We hope to see many more of you before we close and the Abbey and all our wonderful staff have a well earned winter rest. But there is all the redecorating and gardening to do so it is only a momentary rest…..! Angela Stucley
Of course it is raining; it is Wimbledon. But unlike other years, we have arrived at the beginning of July and we have had no summer at all yet, with hardly any days to wear summer clothes. It is infinitely depressing to see the vegetables on a go-slow and the longed for Arran Pilot new potatoes succumbing to early blight, the courgettes refusing to budge, broad beans about a centimetre long and the slugs having a field day. It is just as bad on the farm. I have a very irritable husband, not surprisingly really; this must be the first time in 40 years of farming that we have actually made our silage in three days of incessant rain! Poor cows in the winter, their daily diet won’t be tasting too good but it is all they will have. There is no choice this year. But I feel most sad about the complete lack of apples and pears. I suppose this is inevitable as my husband gave me a wonderful apple press two Christmasses ago but we did have the luxury of a bumper crop last year. All the grandchildren turned their hand to applepressing which they loved and their reward for the very hard work of turning the stiff handle was to go home with old plastic milk bottles full of delicious fresh apple juice. It was a full-on battle with armies of wasps and the Waspeze was an essential back up! So now we wonder what the children (and the wasps) will do this autumn….
June started so happily with the Jubilee weekend and all the wonderful celebrations. Hartland really did the bunting in great style and the village looked very jolly. The flags are still flying despite horrendous gales since, and the village is looking very welcoming to all the summer visitors who come to this corner of England. We have had some amazing visitors this summer, who even on the worst of days, have brought smiles and good humour to the house and written lovely comments in our book. Thank you to everyone who has made the effort to come this far and I am so sorry if we have not always been there to meet you. Nigel and Sam in the garden have done everything possible to keep the gardens looking good; their job is the best in good weather but goodness it is hard work when the elements are against them. They bring fresh geraniums and house plants into the Abbey from the greenhouses every Monday to brighten up the house.
We had two lovely weddings on the Saturday and Monday of the Jubilee weekend, both ceremonies were held in the Summerhouse in the Walled Gardens. They were so lucky and had beautiful weather and the gardens looked stunning. They had an enormous Teepee on the lawn for the evening receptions and the smell of the hog roasts was tantalising!
June has been very busy in the house and Carol, our wonderful housekeeper, certainly had no need to go to the gym with all the bedmaking! Our annual party of German walkers and gardeners brought by Jenny Curtis-Beard arrived in mid-June with 20 staying in the house. They were charming and we all really enjoyed the dinners in the evening around the big table catching up what they had done in the day. They loved walking the coastal footpath which is always at its
best in May and June, and visiting the many lovely gardens in the area including Docton Mill, Clovelly Court and Castle Hill. Jenny is a fantastic person who runs her own walking company, mainly coming to southwest England but also to the Alps; she brings parties every year to stay in the house. We have also thoroughly enjoyed having parties of Americans and Australians to visit the Abbey and gardens and to have lunch with us. Sir H takes wonderful conducted tours of the house with plenty of naughtly stories of earlier ancestors!
We held our first outdoor theatre performance in the garden on June 17th. We were so lucky with the weather that evening and we had a good sized audience who really enjoyed the production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ performed by The Plough Arts Centre players. It was enormous fun and an excellent performance; the front lawn was a lovely setting for it. Sam and Em from Exmoor Kitchen put on a delicious barbecue and we had a Pimms and Wine Bar ably run by Paula from Hartland Quay. Putting up the new ‘Party Tent’ for the bar was quite a feat in itself but we were determined to succeed as our children had told us emphatically that ‘we’ would never manage to do it! Next Saturday 7th July the Miracle Theatre is putting on ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ on the lawn so we are crossing our fingers for a lovely evening but if it rains it will still be great fun and there won’t be any need for mosquito cream! There will be lots of time beforehand to have a drink and wander round the gardens. The barbecue will be delicious so there is no need to bring a picnic if you are feeling lazy!
Now July is here and all the grandchildren and their great grandmother are about to descend on us for their summer holidays. They adore staying at the Abbey and I do apologise in advance to any visitors who might find random toys lying about and the general untidiness that comes with exhuberant children and dogs! But it is a great joy to us and lots of the extended family and friends come too to make it a really happy time. I am afraid that it will be picnics on the beach huddled in mackintoshes, but luckily children are oblivious to the weather and freezing parents and only interested in making sandcastles. I will be doing my best to produce plenty of nourishment but it certainly won’t be Cordon Bleu!
Lets hope as soon as the children break up the sun will return! Angela Stucley
Last Saturday (7/7/2012), with headlines of nothing but flooding in South Devon and Dorset, here in North Devon we had almost uninterrupted sun! We were so nervous having heard the forecast but we were able to hold another fantastic evening of outdoor theatre. The Miracle Theatre Company, based in Redruth, put on a really fabulous performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ with a brilliant audience lapping up every word. Not a drop of rain fell! We were all able to relax, drink Pimms from the bar and eat our delicious barbecued food cooked by Em and Sam; it really was a quintessential English summer evening! My husband enjoyed it more than any other play he had seen. The acting was outstanding and if anyone has a chance to see them whilst they are touring the south west, do go, it is really worth it! We loved it. Lets hope they will come back next again year. Can’t wait! Many thanks to Richard Wolfenden-Brown of The Plough Arts Centre for bringing the Miracle Theatre Company here.
Our next performances are ’The Twits’ here on 1st August and ‘King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone’ on 14th August; the grandchildren are getting really excited. Then on 1st September ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward is coming, so it is all happening in the Abbey valley this summer. All the details are on our website.Thank you to everyone who has come here so far and lets hope for lots more fun.
Believe it or not the gardens are looking wonderful. The hydrangeas have adored the rain and looking at their best. There are really deep blues, sparkling whites and some blackcurrant and raspberry colours. The shrubbery looks rather like a jungle with all the lush foliage and makes a great place to explore for children. The Walled Gardens are looking really good with the hot border in the vegetable garden looking vibrant. The vegetables are still on a go-slow but we have more lettuces and artichokes than we can eat despite having them every day! Visitors have only to ask Nigel as he has plenty to sell! I refuse to buy vegetables and Nigel says that we won’t have to wait much longer now! The sun is promised soon, we are told.
Looking out of my office window while tapping out this, I realise how very lucky we are to be living in this stunningly beautiful and peaceful part of England. As my husband said on ‘Countrywise’ a couple of years ago, that wherever we go we are always longing to come back to the beauty of Hartland! The sun is streaming down, the black Welsh Mountain sheep and the donkeys in the parkland are looking contented, there is a lovely wedding going on in the Walled Gardens,
the grandchildren have gone to the beach and everyone is happy. What a day for a wedding, with the temperature in the late 20′s and how different it could have been! How wonderful it is now the sun is shining and we are, at last, warm after all the struggles in the winter with the cold and damp, floods and leaking rooves! We wear so many clothes to keep warm as the house is so expensive to heat. Sometimes we feel the struggle is almost too much but days like this make one forget the downside and appreciate the beauty of it all.
The garden is looking beautiful as a result of all the earlier rain and the wildflowers in our woodland walks and on the cliffs are really spectacular. Our walk to Blackpool Mill is bright pink with the campions.
We always miss the bluebells once they are gone but now really is the best time of year for wildflowers; the foxgloves are coming out in all their glory too! It is said that the foxgloves at Hartland grow where the drops of blood from St Nectan fell as he was carrying his own head around the parish!
There certainly must have been a lot of blood if the foxgloves are anything to go by!We are all very excited at the thought of the Jubilee.
There is so much going on in the village that we are not doing anything special at the Abbey but we have got our Union Jack flying and lots of bunting in the Tearoom Courtyard to get everyone in the spirit! It will be a lovely time to visit the Abbey as everything should be looking its best. Nigel and Sam have been working so hard in the garden to get all the tender perennials and annuals planted out as well as the vegetables. It was so wet at Hartland that it was impossible to get on the ground. The indoor floral displays in the house should be looking lovely with all the geraniums coming into flower now; the Abbey is renowned for its beautiful pot plants grown by Nigel in the greenhouse and we receive many compliments from our visitors.
In fact it was so wet at the end of April that the tennis court lawn at the front of the house flooded. While I was photographing this ‘lake’ on the lawn I noticed something moving in the water; the sweetest little mole was desperately trying to save himself from drowning so I rescued him and took him to the other end of the park to safety. Ironically he was the little chap who had been annoying us by digging up the lawn for months!
Now I shall forgive them everything in the future; they really are the most adorable, soft creatures but with mighty, scratchy feet! When I put him on the ground he went straight down into the earth before I could even get the camera out!
There has been great excitement here as Nancy Johns, who has voluntarily run our Tea Room in aid of St Nectan’s Church for fifteen years, was invited to go to the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace this week. She is so modest that she had kept it very secret until almost the day she went. She has now returned to carry on baking the thousands of scones and cakes that our visitors so love. She and her daughter in law, Joyce, had the most wonderful time and the sun had shone at its best for them! I am sure she was representing all the wonderful Tea Ladies who have raised so much money for the church over the past 26 years through providing lunches and teas for the visitors. Very very sadly this is their last year as anno domini has caught up and they all feel it is time to retire. We will miss them hugely. We are now looking for someone who would like to take the Tea Rooms on for six months of the year as a franchise; it could be a wonderfully rewarding small business providing delicious home made lunches and cream teas to our visitors.
Our first ‘Summer Outdoor Theatre Season’ in conjunction with The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington will soon be upon us. We are looking forward to it so much and just hope that the weather will be kind. There is something so quintessentially English about watching outdoor performances, even if it means being wrapped in a rug! We have got lots to look forward to with performances of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ by Charles Dickens, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde, and ‘Private Lives’ by Noel Coward while, for children (and adults!),’ The Twits’ by Roald Dahl and ‘King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone’ should be very good fun. Jenny and Sam from Exmoor Kitchen will be doing delicious barbecue food, there will be a Pimms and Wine Bar and ice creams but do bring a picnic if you would prefer to. Rugs or chairs are essential. All the details are on our website www.hartlandabbey.com; tickets are obtainable from The Plough Arts Centre at Torrington or on the gate.
Sir H has made a fascinating display for visitors of his uncle’s olympic memorabilia; his uncle, The Hon. John Bampfylde was his mother’s brother who was sadly killed in a steeplechase fall at Taunton races in 1936, just after his return from fencing in the 1936 Olympics in Munich. He was a member of the British team and in the display is a letter to his mother vividly describing the extraordinary atmosphere when Hitler appeared in the stadium along with much more memorabilia. Hartland Abbey also has another Olympic connection in that one of the masters of Highgate Junior School which was evacuated here in 1939 had been in the British football team. A pamphlet instrucing team members how to get fit before the Games and what kit to take makes amusing reading in this day and age!
At the end of April Barbour clothing had a week-long photoshoot here for their 2013 spring catalogue.
They took over the whole house for the crew and managed to get some great shots in between the downpours. Sir H’s beloved Madge starred in one of the shots and looked very pleased with herself! They were a lovely crew and we hope the pictures will look really good for them.
We have already had lots of visitors this year. We so enjoy meeting as many of you as we can. Sadly we are not always around as so much time nowadays seems to be spent at our desks! But lets hope the sun keep shining, particularly for the Jubilee, and that lots of people will come on holiday in this beautiful corner of North Devon and visit us here at Hartland Abbey.
We are well into April now but each day it seems to get colder. The daffodils are on their last legs but the bluebells are well under way, looking spectacular. I feel quite sure that now it is cold that they will hang on for Bluebell Week which starts on Sunday. The most difficult decision is when to hold an event as each year is so different. This year everything is so early. In the winter Leighton and Dave did a sterling job reopening a long overgrown path leading from the Summerhouse to the Gazebo. It is such a treat to be able to walk to the beach and back by a different route, something that hasn’t been possible since 1914 when the gardeners left for the First World War never to return. In those days two people were fully employed keeping the lovely paths open but sadly nowadays funds don’t go that far! The primroses, violets and wood anemones are spectacular too and for the sharp-eyed the wild orchids are appearing.
Easter is a great family get-together at Hartland with all the family arriving, some for a week! With four children, their spouses and nine grandchildren, great granny, siblings, other cousins and masses of dogs the Abbey rapidly fills up and the total head count for the Easter Sunday lunch picnic was around 40! Everyone is wonderful and brings contributions to feeding the masses. After lunch the family Easter egg hunt is the highlight of the day ending in lots of happy and chocolatey faces! By Easter Monday we are always exhausted having been full time caterers and bottle washers but happy having been all together again.
During the Easter weekend a fox ate ALL our 12 chickens and our two adorable runner ducks. Some were at least five years old and were really sweet friends. Mary was a bantie cross hen and came in the kitchen all the time. I am devastated as not only did they produce the best eggs but were genuinely part of the family. To find your hens and ducks with their heads and legs eaten off is the most horrible sight imaginable. The fox had dig under the chicken run at night. Now we have to get some more but they won’t run into the kitchen and scratch in the garden as they won’t have an older hen to show them. It is eerily quiet and there is noone to give the scraps to, it is really miserable.
Joanna Mitchell, who has been our Head Gardener for the past twelve years, ‘retired’ on Good Friday. She has been marvellous for the garden and kept it immaculate for all this time having also helped us with the restoration. She will be sadly missed by not only all of us but by the many visitors who chatted to her over the years to glean advice! She was presented by Sir Hugh with a plate from the Springfield pottery in Hartland. Nigel Alford, who has helped Joanna part-time for the past twelve years, now takes on the formidable task but we have every confidence that the garden is in good hands. Nigel trained at Bicton College and has also worked for Clovelly and Downes during this period.
Sir H has put together an interesting display in the Abbey of memorabilia from the 1936 Olympics in Munich in which his uncle, The Hon John Bampfylde of the Royal Horse Guards, took part. He was a member of the British Fencing Team and a fascinating letter from him to his mother vividly describes the extraordinary atmosphere when Hitler appeared in the stadium. Another athlete, Dan Pettit – latterly Sir Dan Pettit, had ties to the Abbey; he was a master at Highgate Junior School when it was evacuated to the Abbey at the outbreak of war and was a member of the football team. A booklet which they were given at the time, explains how they should continue with gentle exercise before the Games, rather different from today’s training regimes!
The gardens are looking wonderful at the moment. The camellias and magnolias have flowered better than we have ever seen them before; lack of frost has prevented them going brown which has helped. The tulips in the Walled Gardens have started flowering and the azaleas are coming out. Spring is on the way….
Come and join us for a bluebell day and if you have a moment take time out in the Walled Gardens for a relax and, possibly, even a read in the sun! The walks to the beach, Summerhouse and Gazebo will be looking lovely and The Tea Room in aid of St Nectan’s Church will be open daily during the week of Sunday 22nd – Sunday 29th serving their usual light lunches and delicious cream teas. On Sunday 22nd and Sunday 29th Sam and Em will be doing their barbecue again with that deliciously tempting smell coming from their little tent! Bring lots of dogs and wellies if wet. The house will be open too on Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays. Do come!
We are now open regularly for the season. See www.hartlandabbey for all the details of opening times etc.