Baby it’s cold outside

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Lights are going up, the radio is booming out the first of many festive repeats, the aroma of fir is in the air.  I’m resisting the urge to use the ‘C’ word, dear Reader.  I simply can’t even think about all things festive just yet.  With no news on the house front, deadlines, the end of term looming and Poppy’s birthday very firmly on the horizon (she wakes every morning with a countdown of days until the big 5), my mind rather resembles the inside of the Old Curiosity Shop at the moment.  Too much to do and so little time.

Everywhere I turn of late, we seem to be being encouraged to embrace a perfectly Danish feeling of ‘hygge’.  Well…who doesn’t love the idea of curling up in a chair with a good book in front of the fire, dear Reader?  However, I can’t help but wonder if, for me, it’s not so much the cosiness of woollen blankets and steaming mugs of hot chocolate that I need to be encouraged to find, but more a sense of remembering to take time to stop and simply enjoy things.  This will be our last Christmas in the cottage.  That is a strange prospect in itself when the future seems so uncertain.  I hate not having a plan!  Maybe it’s fate’s way of slowing me down, dear Reader.  Maybe it’s alright for life to be on hold?  With the button firmly on pause, once the rush to get ready for Christmas is over, maybe I will stop and appreciate all the things which are really important.

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Long walks drinking in the views, cooking together, roaring fires, good books, reading to my girls, giggly chats over a glass of red with a good friend, holding hands with Jerry and remembering to moan less and appreciate my lot a lot more – all the things which seem to be easily brushed aside in the full steam ahead of Christmas.  Simple pleasures, dear Reader.

I’d better focus otherwise I am in danger of seeping into Boden catalogue territory at this rate.  So now that the weather has finally taking a turn for the frostier and December is on its way, I’ll be trying to find some my own hygge both inside and out.  Once I’ve stopped furiously tidying for viewings, of course.  Amazing what you can shove in the dishwasher when you’re in hurry to hide things, dear Reader.

The following ‘cosy’ finds seem a very good place to start.

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Cold hands, warm heart.  The perfect warm mittens from Hygge and Fur will make sure that the only ice I encounter will be clinking in my G&T.  You can find all sorts to keep you warm this winter on Hygge and Fur‘s site which recently featured in House and Garden, including a rather lovely pom pom bobble hat I’ve got my eye on.

Walking the dogs this time of year always leaves me wondering if I’ve left my toes behind at home.  Enter The Warm Welly Co – a chance find on Twitter which has literally transformed frosty walks for me.  The Warm Welly Co produce neoprene-lined wellies for both adults and children that don’t cost the earth and will keep your feet warm and dry, even when you’re still chasing down a runaway spaniel after an hour in the woods.  FACT.  I love that this fab company was started really by accident by a family of farmers in Cumbria who needed warm wellies to keep the children’s toes warm and toasty during lambing.  Father Christmas will be delivering a couple of pairs for Poppy and Primrose this year too.

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Some of you will know that I’ve been working really hard on a slightly longer project which I hope to be able to share with you soon.  So alongside the obligatory large mug of tea on wintry mornings (and late evenings) at the writing desk, I’ve been donning these beautiful cashmere fingerless gloves (Fagin style) from Turtle Doves. Photo evidence below shows that I have loved them so much that I’ve already covered the label with a leaky pen incident…..literally I’ve slept in them since they arrived, dear Reader. One of the loveliest things about Kate Holbrook’s Shropshire based company, Turtle Doves is that their British design and manufacturing ethos focuses on using textile waste to create beautiful new handmade garments and accessories.  So ALL of their products are made from recycled cashmere and they collect cashmere from charity shops, textile merchants and even offer a ‘free gloves in exchange for your jumper’ service.   What’s not to love about that, dear Reader?  Gorgeous items galore on their site, all fit for under the Christmas tree.

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I can’t take the credit for this next find but it is probably my favourite ‘hygge’ item this winter. Anyone who knows me well, knows that when I’m not writing (or chasing after small children and/or spaniels), I can usually be found reading.  My marvellous friend Florence introduced me to this one – Florence has an amazing knack for always being able to source the perfect gift.  Her site, Blue Bowl, is an utter treasure trove of present heaven, ideal if you’re in search of something for that ‘hard to buy for’ person on your Christmas list. (Florence recently shared new children’s subscription, Scoop with Primrose, a monthly magazine aimed at little book worms aged 8 and up which is SOOOOO much better than what the newsagent has to offer for this age group – needless to say it was right up Primrose’s street). Margot’s bookish find this winter?  Slightly Foxed, a beautifully put together literary quarterly publication which marries great writing from celebrated authors and passionate book lovers in equal measure.  Having recently devoured all five books in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet chronicles, I have been in dire need of new reading material and I love that Slightly Foxed’s issues reveal a whole host of titles, interesting and sometimes long forgotten just waiting to be discovered or reread in an age of pulp fiction.  This is the London Review of Books for fireside book worms – unadulterated bookish pleasure on every page and almost certain joy for those of us who love the gems to be found in the hallowed spaces of independent bookshops old and new and cosy libraries.  The specially commissioned covers on each issue are a delight in themselves.  A subscription to Slightly Foxed is definitely top of my Christmas list, dear Reader.  Thank you to Jennie for the bountiful bookish ‘hygge’ delivered by the postman – it is not often he gets a whoop!

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Their collection of Slightly Foxed Editions make wonderful gifts too – utterly unique.  Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s Terms and Conditions, recently reviewed in the hallowed pages of Country Life, had me in stitches.  A must for those who have experienced life as a boarder.

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Last but by no means least, the perfect accompaniment to simple pleasures.  Gin.  Of course, I’ll be needing something to sip as I read by the fire, dear Reader and I think I’ve stumbled upon just the thing.  Thank you to the lovely Jane Devonshire for introducing me to Andy from Hampshire’s Gorilla Spirits whose Silverback Gin with No9 Cardamon tonic is simply perfect for a large G&T. With a base of British wheat spirit and warm spices and notes of sweet orange, coriander, acacia blossom and lemongrass, it is a remarkably moreish number.  £1 from each bottle also goes towards supporting The Gorilla Organization which works at the very forefront of gorilla conservation in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.  I am hoping that Father Christmas remembers to leave a bottle of Silverback Gin under the tree this year.

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Now it’s over to you, dear Reader.  There’s a frost on the ground, a jingle of bells in the air and smoke wisps curling from the chimney pot.  What will your simple pleasures be this winter?

A little bit of news

autumn-2015Well autumn is in full swing and you are probably wondering if I have dropped off the edge of the planet as it’s been SOOOOOO long since I penned you a little note, dear Reader.  In truth, I have been plucking up the courage to write this one for some time and then with all that’s happened over the last month, I simply haven’t had a spare moment to tell you.

So let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?  Huff, Puff and Snuff made their final journey – a sad but happy day for all of us.

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I never cease to be amazed at how well Poppy and Primrose deal with abattoir day.  Far better than I do for a start.  I feel wonderfully relieved that my haphazard hobby farming over the last three years hasn’t resulted in them being put off meat for life.  Quite the opposite, dear Reader, they love being a part of it all, caring for the animals until D-day and knowing where the food on their plate comes from.  So thanks to Puff, roast pork on that first Sunday was truly delicious and made Primrose’s 8th birthday lunch all the more special.

Yes, dear Reader, our dear little Primrose turned 8 at the beginning of this month.  Where does the time go I wonder?  Anyone wanting to give a group of 7/8 year olds a fun birthday treat (as well as the inevitable sugar rush…..and believe me it was epic) should give Chocolate Craft in Alresford a ring.

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Vats of tempered chocolate and 8 children are seriously seriously entertaining when mixed together.  Best birthday party I’ve sorted out in years and the children all went home with a mountain of chocolate – much appreciated by their mums and dads!

Before all of that, there was Poppy’s first day at school.  Not a moment too soon as far as she was concerned.  Talk about wishing her life away!  Her school bag was packed the first day of the summer holidays.  Inevitably, the house is much quieter without both the girls during the day and the dogs wait patiently for their playmates to return home.  However, I am busying myself with rather a large project and I feel that although this is the end of an era, a new chapter is heading my way in more ways than one.

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And then Dora turned one.  Still pretty half pint-sized for a spaniel but rather more grown up these days.  Sweet and mad in equal measure but always utterly adorable Isadora.  Even Monty has succumbed to her charms.

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However I digress dear Reader.  The bit of news I really wanted to share with you has been rather harder to pop into words than I thought.  Not least because it was not an easy decision for the four of us to make.

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After 3 years of living in our cosy cottage and settling into village life, we’ve decided that the time has come for pastures new and the house is on the market.  At this point in time, the future seems a little uncertain but rest assured dear Reader, we won’t be going too far.  In fact, we wouldn’t think of leaving the countryside we have come to know and love.  Dare I say it….we are looking for a farm perhaps?   Jerry is already resigned to the fact that his life from now on will feature rather more animals than he ever imagined when we married.  Poor chap.  I keep reminding him of all the bacon sandwiches he has enjoyed in that time…..

I hope you’ll wish us luck, keep all fingers and toes crossed and bear with me over the next few months as we search for a new home and try to find a new owner for our little cottage.  I’m already looking forward to setting up camp at a new Margot and Jerry HQ.  That’s if keeping the cottage as a ‘show home’ doesn’t kill me before then, dear Reader……

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Aye Aye at The Master Builders

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With the summer nearly over, Jerry and I sneaked in a weekend off before back to school and back to work chaos began and slipped away for a night on the Beaulieu River without the girls.  The summer holidays have been glorious and after a couple of weeks in France, we really didn’t want it to end, much less come back to reality.  So when a rare chance to snatch some last minute peace and quiet just the two of us came our way, overnight bags were packed and waiting by the door before you could say G and T time!  Our hosts for the evening?  The rather wonderfully quirky and nautical The Master Builders in Bucker’s Hard.  For anyone looking for somewhere in the New Forest to spend the weekend, we can heartily recommend it.

Set back from the river’s edge, The Master Builders has bags of nautique chic (think Rule Britannia) with rooms which start from £99 per room per night including a New Forest breakfast.  From Posh Classics in the Henry Adams Wing……..

img_3014to Chic and Luxury rooms in the main house (we stayed in one of the Quirky Luxury rooms), The Master Builders is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the New Forest.  Dogs are very welcome too and your hound can order to his heart’s content with the Dog Room Service menu, ensuring that his stay is as comfortable as yours.  The spaniels would have had a field day, dear Reader!

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Whether you intend to sip a riverside pint or large G&T, the new Yachtsman’s Bar & Garden is open daily from 11am and even offers the option of a take away menu from 5pm – a fantastic option if you are moored nearby.  Yachties take note.  Wonderfully relaxed, Jerry and I watched as fabulously gargantuan portions of classic pub grub with a few little Italian twists and plenty of local delights were served up.  The Ringwood ale battered haddock and chips and South Coast Seafood Sharing platter looked real winners – Jerry had to repeatedly tell me to stop staring as the table next to us tucked in.

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Seated in the Riverview Restaurant, I’m glad I hadn’t sneaked a chip from our neighbouring table as Chef Tom and his kitchen brigade produced the most marvellous three courses from start to finish.  The A la Carte menu is a treasure trove of lip smackingly gutsy flavours executed beautifully with a large emphasis on locally sourced produce and the best of the New Forest.  I must make particular mention of the rabbit loin and black pudding as well as the lamb rump with spiced cauliflower and pomegranate which was a delight and the apple millefeuille which Jerry had for pudding was light as a feather, palate cleansingly clean and fresh tasting.  We hadn’t been sure of what to expect.  To say that we were surprised would be an understatement.   Quite frankly, it was one of the loveliest meals we’ve had in an age and Jose, the restaurant manager could not have been more obliging, including letting me sneak into the kitchen to chat to Chef.

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The table of digestifs was more than a little inviting too, dear Reader!

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Waking up to the gentle sounds of the river below our window, I think you’ll agree, dear Reader that you would be hard pushed to open the curtains to a more peaceful view…..

img_3011No stay would be complete without a leisurely breakfast – we really couldn’t resist the rather spectacular New Forest breakfast which supports and champions New Forest Marque produce.

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Jerry was most put out when I made him wait until his breakfast had been snapped.  It was far too good not to warrant a picture, dear Reader!  I did let him eat it in the end…..

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From the décor to the food, the service to the location, it was a very enjoyable night away.  The Master Builders is a great little New Forest weekend bolthole – perfect for long walks and even longer G & Ts, delicious food for any occasion whether it’s three courses in the Riverview Restaurant or a hearty pub lunch with a difference and the well appointed rooms with a view offer up cosiness alongside a slice of riverside get aways.  A huge thank you to Claire and Clive for organising and hosting us.  Jerry and I can’t wait to come back!

 

A Tale of Beatrix Potter

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‘Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...’

There can’t be a soul alive who hasn’t heard the tale of a plucky little rabbit named Peter caught nibbling the vegetables in grumpy Mr MacGregor’s garden.  With plenty of cheeky bunnies, hardworking mice, ditsy ducks and laundry washing hedgehogs inhabiting the world of Beatrix Potter, it is not hard to see how her beloved tales and illustrations have worked their way into the very fabric of childhood.  Well certainly in our house at any rate, dear Reader.  With celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter in full swing, Poppy, Primrose and I popped down to the National Trust’s Mottisfont for a special afternoon of picnics, trails and open air theatre in honour of the lady herself.

FullSizeRenderExploring round every nook and cranny and even into the dusty corners of the Cellarium, the trail took us round and about the gardens exploring, solving riddles, singing songs and peeking behind tiny yellow doors.  I wonder if you can guess which of Beatrix Potter’s characters we found, dear Reader.

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Venture into the house and climb the stairs to the gallery for a treat too.  There you’ll find yet more Beatrix Potter treasures, with an exhibition of 30 original artworks alongside a selection of dolls and figurines, rarely seen outside of their permanent home in the Lake District due to light sensitivity.  This particular Beatrix Potter exhibition at Mottisfont is an unique opportunity to see a rather special collection of illustrations which are an utter delight to young and old and show much of Potter’s own playful and mischievous nature as well as her sense of childish fun.  We really loved finding out abut the stories behind the drawings, inspiration taken from Potter’s daily life and rural adventures at her Cumbrian home, Hill Top Farm.

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Lashing of cucumber sandwiches and picnic rugs all laid out, we sat down to enjoy an open air performance of Quantum Theatre’s production Once Upon a Time there were Four Little Rabbits.  Poppy and Primrose thoroughly enjoyed watching Peter Rabbit being chased round the garden by Mr MacGregor!  Bliss in the sunshine – honestly, dear Reader, you really couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect location.

IMG_2613With so much to see and do, sadly an afternoon just wasn’t long enough.  So, we will most certainly be back to revisit the gallery and take part in all the other fabulous activities and birthday celebrations planned as Mottisfont’s Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood exhibition will be running from now until 18th September.  Here’s a taster of what’s in store for the rest of the summer holidays.

Thursday 28th July – Beatrix Potter’s birthday

Mottisfont will be hosting a rather special picnic in her honour between 3 and 4:30pm (normal admission charges apply).  Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets, picnics and birthday buns to join in the celebrations on the lawn with storytelling and party games.  Perhaps a few cuddly Peter Rabbit toys might make an appearance too!

Beatrix Potter activity weekends
30th & 31st July, 13th & 14th and 27th & 28th August between 10am and 5pm –
Mottisfont will be running storytelling sessions and drop-in craft activities plus plenty more Beatrix Potter-themed fun.

Stopping for a delicious cream tea is pretty high up on our to-do list for our next visit to Mottisfont.  Exploring is hungry work!  I’m sure Peter would agree.  Don’t you think, dear Reader?

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Midsummer blooms

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The rose.  Silky velvet to the touch, passionate and pure, its elegant beauty a symbol of endurance and strength yet hopelessly transient. All that earthy worldliness and heady scent caught up in ribbon soft petals.  To me there is no other flower in the garden that offers as much pleasure to the senses nor epitomises an English garden more than the rose.  It’s the perfect bloom for Midsummer and one definitely worth celebrating as part of British Flowers Week.

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Under a canopy inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I found myself immersed in the beauty of British grown flowers with the air thick with the perfume of English roses from the Real Flower Company.  Transformed by the incredible floral design talent of Jay Archer, River Cottage Canteen in Winchester was barely recognisable – moss and roses tumbling from the ceiling, peonies, uplifting mint, lavender and joyous sweet peas, the room awash with the sweetness of Midsummer’s best blooms.  Not an oasis in sight.  It’s worth noting dear Reader, that should you wish to learn the art of creating such stunning floral displays, Jay also runs a Flower School .

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Christened with floral crowns, assembled guests were treated to a little of Puck’s mischief too with the imbibing of sumptuous floral-inspired cocktails brought to us by the charming Cabinet Rooms gents.  Aptly named ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, it proved the perfect tonic for any Midsummer’s eve.

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Enthused by all the flowery delights of British Flowers Week, I unearthed an old Rose Cordial recipe of mine from last year, made when the sun was blazing.  Keen to make the most of the roses here in our very own cottage garden, I shall be gathering up the leftover scented blooms which haven’t been blown or washed away in flaming June’s latest weather front to enjoy a little taste of my own midsummer when the sun decides to grace us with his presence again.  Bottom’s Up, dear Reader.

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Be More Margo

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“Come and judge the Best Dressed Margo and Barbara”, she said.  How could I resist such an honour, dear Reader?  Especially when the fabulous talent that is Viv Groskop was in town to preview her new Edinburgh show, Be More Margo.  I whooped at the invitation when the delightful Donna of Sulky Doll stylist fame tweeted me.  As you know well dear Reader, I never need an excuse to don a floral kaftan and spend an evening drinking Prosecco accessorised with obligatory maraschino cherry.

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In a sneaky charity preview of her new Edinburgh Festival show, the rather masterly writer (Sunday TimesThe Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (Weekend), the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Red, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, High Life and The Pool ), comedian, presenter and all-round amazingly talented woman, Viv Groskop, brings to life all that is brilliantly middle class about The Good Life’s Mrs Margo Leadbetter.  Wafting about in floral maxis and keeping up with the Jones (or should that be, the Goods?), Viv highlights the virtues of Margo as middle class role model.  I fear she may have hit the jackpot as the audience offered their best in tales akin to those shared on ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ from performing yoga in orchards to bringing Ayah from the Far East to nanny in the UK.  Who knew that Winchester could be as much of a spiritual home for Margo as her beloved Surbiton?!!  I’m not sure when I have laughed so much at the mere mention of quinoa.

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With my judging duties over, plenty of knicker-wetting laughter and lots of cash raised for the marvellous Kos Kindness – Winchester and Andover Collection run by the wonderful Roshi and her team, the evening was a huge success.  HUGE thanks to Sulky Doll for organising and inviting me, to Viv for putting up with my gushing over meeting her and to my fabulous friend Siobhan who told me she was simply going to throw on a kaftan when I asked her to come along and ended up greeting me in a floor-length silk number from India which totally trumped my chiffon flowers and turban!  If you are up in Edinburgh for the Fringe then DO get tickets for Viv’s show – if she’s half as funny as she was at her preview, I promise you’re in for a brilliant night out.  I intend to take her advice and channel more of my inner Margo.  If that’s possible, dear Reader.  Got to dash, I’m in the middle of arguing with the Ocado man.  He’s substituted a bottle of Prosecco for my Bolly……….

"After 3, let's repeat after Margo......Awful"

“After 3, let’s repeat after Margo……Awful”

(On a rather more serious note, Roshi and her team coordinate refugee donations at Kos Kindness.  The work they do sees that essential items are shipped to Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos for direct distribution to the refugees arriving there daily.  If you can help by donating items, time or a bit of cash, then please get in touch with Roshi at roshihudson@yahoo.co.uk This is such an important cause – what Roshi and her team do really does help those in desperate need).

 

Land girl

You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been swotting up on the good life this month, dear Reader.  As most of you will know, when we first moved here in summer 2013, it marked the beginning of a new life for the four of us – turning our back on the urban sprawl and learning the ways of the countryside.  In fact it was the view above of one of the cottage’s neighbouring fields which convinced us to move.  For a couple of beginners like Jerry and I, the prospect of living the good life was more than a little daunting.  Yet here we are, nearly three years down the line and we’ve raised orphan lambs, adopted a Large Black called Cumberland and an elderly pony named Willow, taken on hens and now have a share in three little piglets, Huff, Puff and Snuff.  We never intended to grow such a menagerie – it just sort of happened.  I often wonder if our friends ever thought that we would turn out to be this animal mad when we left the Big Smoke.

I suppose you could say that it was all Country Living’s fault.  Almost as soon as we had moved in, I stumbled on a series the magazine had commissioned on Walnuts Farm and its owners Nick and Bella Ivins.  Charting life as a family run smallholding, it gave an insight into how the bucolic pastoral idyll we had always dreamed of could be achieved.  I say we, dear  Reader.  Anyone who knows us well will certainly agree that Jerry never pictured washing down a sheep’s backside in his idyllic rural scene.  Country Living’s series on Walnuts Farm shared Nick and Bella’s growing your own tips, how-tos for those brave enough to give livestock a go and many a delicious recipe using hedgerow fodder.  Nick and Bella painted a wonderful portrait of smallholder life and made it seem somehow achievable on a small scale for a pair of Londoners seriously lacking in green fingers.

Imagine my joy, dear Reader, when Nick and Bella announced that there was to be a book to follow the series.  The New Homesteader was an eagerly awaited parcel – thank you to Nick and Bella for the fabulous gift and for the invaluable tweets and replies on caring for lambs, pigs etc when we got a bit stuck.  I very nearly bit the postman’s hand off to rip open the jiffy bag and devour the contents!

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The book doesn’t disappoint.  It is a wonderfully put together tome of self-sufficiency and learning to live the good life.  Leaving the city behind and relocating to Walnuts Farm ten years ago, Nick and Bella have embraced becoming smallholders with their daughters Flora and Peggy, making it work for them and fit in with family life, rather than being slaves to the land.

Their book offers practical advice on a plethora of ‘good lifer’ topics (accompanied by Nick’s beautiful photography) from yoghurt and butter making… Homesteader to the benefits of planting wild flower meadows…

Homesteader2keeping pigs and hens, planning an orchard and getting started in the kitchen garden.  Nick and Bella’s aim with The New Homesteader is to inspire others to give modern homesteading a go whether it’s in the countryside, city or suburbs.  You might not be able to keep pigs in a courtyard garden in South West London but you can grow fruit and veg in pots or try your hand at making your own butter (not as difficult as you may think).  Honestly, dear Reader, even if you have no desire to up sticks for a rural living, I challenge you not to fall in love with the wonderful pictures and story which Nick and Bell tell in The New Homesteader.  It’s a rare treat and the perfect read for those who yearn for a slice of the good life.  The pictures of their delightful home will have you on Pinterest seeking to recreate their country chic in a jiffy!

Taking yet another leaf out of Nick and Bella’s book, Jerry and I have turned all land girl on our little plot (I’ve been channelling victory rolls and khaki cropped dungarees) this spring.  Jerry looks wonderful in a head scarf and pinny…..  He’ll kill me for telling such fibs.  With our veg patch sowings underway, we’ve planted our own wildflower meadow in a patch of long grass bordering the driveway and taken to some guerrilla sowing on our verges too.  We used seeds from a fab little company called Seedball  – thank you so much chaps for sending us a selection of your marvellous seed tins.  We’ve already ordered a few more tins!  The Seedball seeds couldn’t be easier to sow.  Each Seedball tin comes with seeds, compost and a little chilli to put off the birds all rolled in together so that the seeds have the best chance of growing.

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Growing your own wildflower patch is as simple as throwing the seedballs onto the area which you’d like the wildflowers to grow, watering a little and then waiting for them to pop up.  Perfect for the more erratic gardener like me…..  I can’t wait to try the Herb and Tea seed mixes.  Not blessed with acres of kitchen garden, I shall be popping those in a container near the kitchen window.  Now’s the perfect time to sow and you don’t need a huge garden to scatter a few seeds.  The bees will love you forever and you never know, it could be the start of your very own smallholding, dear Reader.

Charles acre