Category Archives: Margot’s Country Snippets

Preserving Autumn

Autumn is here, dear Reader.  My favourite of all the seasons.  I could wax lyrical about tumbling shades of orange, brown and russet reds, the earthy smell of bonfires, rotund little pumpkins swollen with the last drops of sunshine and the woolly embrace of cardigans and cosy tights.  Somehow I feel so much more at home with autumn.  Perhaps it’s being a redhead and being able to blend in with my surroundings or perhaps it’s simply because autumn gives me an excuse to slow down and appreciate the seasonal changes in the landscape?  Maybe both or neither.  Whatever it is, dear Reader, Keats’ marvellous daydreams of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ resonate with me and cling like little bits of everyday countryside magic.  It’s then that I remember to slow down, take it in and appreciate my lot, a lot more.

Things are beginning to take shape on the house front, although we’ve had our fair share of renovation sagas.  Dramas over the chimney, fireplaces being condemned, dodgy roof tiles, leaky guttering and don’t even get me started on the boiler situation.  Two months after work started, we are still without heating.  Oh and the kitchen isn’t a kitchen anymore either.  Let’s just say it’s rather minimalist, shall we?  Cooking on a camping stove does have some benefits though.  You get to feel like you’re on a camping holiday every day of the week, dear Reader.  Insert the crying emoji here.  Joking aside, it is surprising how much we have managed when it’s been too wet to venture outside to cook on the barbecue.  Those of you who remember the last time I was left with just a camping stove will be pleased to hear that menus have branched out since then.  A little nod of appreciation to the amazing Genevieve Taylor‘s How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More which has been my bible over the last few months.  I am so grateful for her fount of outdoor cookery knowledge.  Who knew you could cook a calzone or make bread on the barbecue?

Still now the house has chimney pots once more after decades without and work starts on the kitchen in a week or two, we are finally moving in the right direction.  The oak floor has been laid in the hallway and the plasterers have skimmed for the next phase.  My very brilliant electrician has had the patience of a saint especially as he isn’t being paid (he’s my Daddy) and I take my hat off to the kitchen cabinet makers who turned up for a last measure up and ended up redesigning the whole kitchen to fit in my new fridge!  I promise I’m not the renovation equivalent of Bridezilla – it’s just that this whole project managing thing is hard work and making decisions on the turn of a sixpence is starting to take its toll.  Each little step forward Jerry and I take, has been about trying to faithfully preserve the past whilst bringing the farmhouse back into the 21st century.  Replumbing, rewiring, rebuilding – there isn’t a ‘re’ we haven’t had to sort out.  So you’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader, if I sound a teensy weensy bit of a nightmare renovator but I simply can’t wait for the woodburners to go in and for the boiler to be fired up for the first time.  The house is in desperate need of drying out and we are definitely in need of something cosy on our little building site, rather than relying on vast quantities of wine and gin to warm us in the evenings when the girls are tucked up in bed with the oil filled radiators on.

With visions of cosiness in mind, I thought it was high time I was rescued from the drudgery of endless tea runs and placating of builders to try out a rather lovely bit of book post which landed on the mat – The Kilner Cookbook.

Kilner has long been synonymous with storing, pickling and preserving seasonal bounty.  Around since 1842, Kilner jars have adorned pantries, larders and kitchen cupboards in almost every household I’ll be bound, dear Reader.  Not just for bottling up pickles, chutneys, preserves and jams, Kilner’s classic clip top pressure sealed jars can be used to cook and store any kind of food or drink.  I’ll bet that you have at least one or two of these glorious jars lurking in your own kitchen, dear Reader.  Such is Kilner’s success.

Marking their 175th anniversary, I found Kilner’s new cookbook to be jam-packed (you’ll excuse the pun I’m sure dear Reader) with recipes to create, make and store so picking out one recipe to share with you was rather a difficult task.  Soups and bircher muesli, cordials and cocktails, layered salads and slaws – honestly, you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can put the humble Kilner to work, dear Reader.  However, misty autumn mornings require sunshine in the kitchen especially if you are cooking on a camping stove and nothing promises that more than a spot of homemade lemon curd.

The recipe in The Kilner Cookbook is simple enough even for the beginner cook and takes next to no time at all.  The only thing you have to watch is the heat under the bowl, otherwise you’ll end up with lemony scrambled egg rather than unctuous lemon curd.  Whisk away and you’ll witness the marvellous alchemy in the bowl as the curd thickens.  Mouthwatering zinginess – perfect for hot buttered toast, scones or crumpets, spooned over Greek yoghurt with hedgerow blackberries before the birds take them all, added to a lemon meringue pie or spread generously in the middle of a Victorian sponge.  The possibilities are endless and it will keep for up to 2 weeks in a Kilner jar in the fridge.

Whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, I set about perusing the book for other gems within its 100 recipes which aim to help us preserve more and reduce food waste.  Imagine my delight when I realised that Kilner have added a spiralizer jar, cocktail shaker, coffee grinder and a butter churner to their vast range too.  175 years on and this Yorkshire born brand with its patented vacuum seal system is still going strong, with plenty more innovative products to boot.  The thought of homemade butter whisked up in a jiffy has already sent me rushing out to add to my Kilner collection.  There’s even a whole host of suggestions for using Kilner jars to make snow globes, lanterns, terrariums and much more on the Kilner website.

With autumn mornings sorted with luscious lemon curd, it was time to turn my attentions to bottling up something for colder, darker evenings.  The garden awash with blackthorn trees doubling over with inky skinned sloes just begging to be picked, I couldn’t resist steeping them for a batch of sloe gin in my new measuring Kilner jar.  Now with some patience, that preserved little tipple will be rather a nice accompaniment reading my book on the sofa by the fire.  That’s once we have a fire, of course.  Well I’ve sorted the gin bit at least, dear Reader….

A big thank you to Ebury Publishing and The Happy Foodie for the lovely book post and Kilner jar.

Bee Happy

With whisps of autumn in the air and summer sun now a distant memory (oh the irony when we had a mostly wet August, dear Reader…..), I can’t help but miss the heady scent of our lavender.  After what felt like a lifetime of picking, we still didn’t quite manage to harvest the whole field before the rain set in for the rest of summer.  However, the hard work was worth it and early mornings picking are now a distant memory until the purple spires appear again next year.  I did get the chance to daydream about the field looking like we had stepped into Provence one last time though when the lovely new quarterly journal Creative Countryside asked me to write a little something on lavender and its folklore before I begin to pen all things autumnal.

From the spoils of our harvest, we’ve managed to keep a fair bit in the shed where it’s been left hung out to dry.  Its soothing powers will last a little longer in the form of the homemade lavender wreaths we sold to friends and family as well as lavender bags to hang in our moth-ridden cupboards.  There’s even a batch of my very bath salts to enjoy once hot baths are back on the agenda following the instalment of the new boiler, not forgetting the leftover flowers we’ve reserved for lavender tea.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m already planning a few other little lavender strings to my bow for next year.  Our first harvest from the field also got me thinking about getting started on a long held smallholding ambition of mine too, dear Reader.  Keeping bees.

One of the best things about walking through the field was listening to the hum of the huge numbers of bees that visited our garden daily.  Everything I read of late seems to point towards encouraging more bees into the garden – whether it’s planting bee borders or sowing wild flower meadows, installing nest boxes for solitary species of bees or rescuing thirsty and hungry bees with sugar syrup.  Since bees do so much for us, it only seems fair that we return the favour, dear Reader.  My father was an amateur beekeeper in his youth and Poppy and Primrose love hearing the stories he tells of how he used to take his friend’s bees for a holiday to the heather moorland on the roof rack of his car.  I think they were even stopped by the police, on one occasion, who quickly got back into their Panda when they realised the potentially angry cargo being transported.  Travelling bees aside, his beekeeping tales have always made me wish for my own hive and moving to our own little farmhouse has given us a great opportunity to expand our smallholding repertoire, dear Reader.

Enter Sara Ward from Hen Corner, all round lover of the good life, keeper of bees and hens, vegetable grower and urban farmer.  Sara and I have known each other through the powers of Twitter and Instagram since I began my blog properly in….gulp…2013 and after rather a lot of tweets, advice on hens, growing veg and a good deal of mutual blog post sharing, it has taken us nearly 4 years to meet in person!  So imagine my joy when Sara sent us an invitation to come to one of her Bees for Children courses in the summer.

Sara’s urban smallholding at Hen Corner is a marvel.  With 20 hens, 2 colonies of bees, a plentiful vegetable and fruit garden and micro-bakery producing bread for sale in her local community, Sara and her family make the good life look easy from their Victorian terrace in West London.  You really wouldn’t think sitting in Sara’s back garden that you were in London at all.  It’s a real testament to just how much you can achieve in a small urban outdoor space.

So whether you want to learn the art of wood carving, to make your own preserves, bake bread, keep hens or learn to charm bees, Sara runs a whole host of courses and workshops helping to encourage others to give smallholding life a go regardless of how large or small their plot is.  What I love most about her is her determination and commitment to encouraging the younger generation to think ‘big’ when it comes to urban farming and she spends a lot of her time as a regular feature in local school programmes.

Brilliantly hands-on, Sara’s Bees for Children course aims to get children up, close and personal with nature’s buzzy little friends.  Sara explains how the bees live and work, their importance when it comes to our own food, how honey is made and how to handle bees as well as how to spot the queen.

Fully kitted out in mini beekeeping suits and rubber gloves, Poppy and Primrose were encouraged to hold a frame and check it over with Sara’s help but if you don’t want to get that close, there are plenty of other bee activities to keep your children entertained as well as the all important honey taste testing.  Now who wouldn’t want the chance to scoff a load of award-winning honey, dear Reader?!

We all thoroughly enjoyed it and got to try some of Just Bees’ new deliciously infused spring water drinks too – all made with, yes you guessed it dear Reader, a drop of honey.  If you’re looking for a way to encourage bees in your garden, then the wonderful people at Just Bee Drinks have started a campaign to help save Britain’s bees with a free bee-friendly planting guide for your garden and free bee friendly wild flower seeds to sow – all you have to do is fill in a simple form online and they’ll send you all you need to claim your free seeds.  Quick, easy and so good for all those bees out there – they need more of us to do it, it would seem.  So get buzzy, dear Reader!

With bees on the brain all the way home, we are determined to get some of our own bees next year.  I’ve been looking into local beekeeping courses already so I can learn more of the nitty gritty I’ll need to start out on my own.  Do look Hen Corner up if you are looking for a fun day out with the children, dear Reader.  The girls loved it and I shall definitely be popping back to visit Sara again soon.  Hive fives all round I’d say….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting for Gruffalos

The summer holidays have started in earnest, dear Reader.  A constant stream of questions over breakfast of who, what, why and when, leaving me utterly exhausted before I’ve even had my first coffee of the day!  With a day spent with the builders not being high on the list of summer holiday fun for Poppy and Primrose, I thought it might be time to pull something out of the entertainment bag sharpish before my little crew resorted to mutiny.

“Gruffalos”, I said through mouthfuls of toast one morning.  I mean, who could pass up the chance to hunt for that illusive of creatures, the Gruffalo, dear Reader?  “There’s no such a thing as a Gruffalo”, came the reply.  No such thing as a Gruffalo?  If you’ve read Julia Donaldson’s infamous story, you’ll be sure to know where this is going…..  With a somewhat sceptical Poppy and Primrose bundled into the car, we set off to see if we could track one down.  Anything to beat the cabin fever of a few rainy summer holiday days.  As it turns out, we didn’t have to venture far, since hunting for Gruffalos is the very thing to do at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer.

Following a trail right past Mottisfont’s front door, we were undeterred in our search.  Would we spy a Gruffalo in the wood….?

No sign there but we see Fox skulking away into the undergrowth.  Onwards we marched climbing logs and following streams, till our search led us to the Giant’s garden.  Crawling under the washing line (you’ve never seen such big pants, dear Reader), sadly we found no Gruffalos hiding there either.

We even managed to blend in amongst the guests at Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay’s wedding to see if he was there,

before stopping to listen to Tiddler’s tallest tales in the ocean…..but………

still no Gruffalos.  Could the girls have been right after all?  I was starting to wonder.  With no trace of our purple prickled friend outside, we decided to try inside the house to see if we could hunt him down there.

I can report that sadly there were no actual sightings inside either.  Gosh he really is rather tricky to find.  However, we did find a Gruffalo or two upstairs amongst Mottisfont’s latest summer exhibition of Axel Scheffler’s best loved illustrations.  Colourful, comical and utterly captivating, this marvellous collection of Scheffler’s work features original artworks, sketches and works in progress from the modern classics which Scheffler collaborated on with the fabulously talented Julia Donaldson, Children’s Laureate from 2011-2013.

The team at Mottisfont are consummate pros when it comes to exhibitions and this one is no exception.  With something to delight all ages, the best thing of all is the care and attention taken to hang all the illustrations and sketches at a child’s eye level.  No fear of being told off for getting up close to all the exhibits, there’s plenty to interact with too – from a clearing in a wood made from cushions to deckchairs for resting awhile with a story.

We even found Stick Man before he disappeared up in smoke.

Since Gruffalo hunting is hungry work, it was soon time for lunch and perhaps a spot of pudding.  No Gruffalo crumble on the menu dear Reader so he must still be out there.  I’m wondering if we lost him whilst we made our way through the Climbing bog.

Exhausted and no Gruffalos sighted or captured on this occasion, we decided to call off the search with plans to mount a full scale mission another day.  With plenty more Gruffalo fun to be had at Mottisfont and time to enjoy the Axel Scheffler exhibition until 3rd September, we will most certainly be back.

You might like to check out the Gruffalo family fun on offer too, dear Reader. Mottisfont will be running a Gruffalo Sculpture day on 2nd August from 11am until 4pm where you can join in making a big Gruffalo or right at the end of the holidays, the Gruffalo Mural day on 29th and 30th August.

You know, I didn’t tell the girls, dear Reader, but I could swear I heard footsteps behind us as we made our way back to the car.  You don’t think…..  No it couldn’t have been, could it, dear Reader?

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?

A New Chapter

It’s Midsummer’s Eve and instead of saluting the sun’s last hurrah on the longest day, I’ve finally sat down to pen all my news to you at the kitchen table, dear Reader.  Except the kitchen table isn’t where it used to be.  To be honest, the kitchen isn’t the same kitchen I penned the last post from either.  You’ll have to bear with me, dear Reader.  I realise you haven’t heard from me in a little while.  It isn’t that I’ve dropped off the planet or heaven forbid, moved back to the Big Smoke.  No fear of that, I promise.  It’s just that everything on the writing front has had to take a bit of a back seat in the last few months as life required rather more input from me on the organisational front than I’d hoped for.  Let’s just say that there is a very long winded version of the whole saga that has been selling and buying a house but I thought you might enjoy the tale a whole lot more if I opted for a more succinct retelling. After all, it might take me all year to fill you in on the nitty gritty (really it was quite a rollercoaster ride) and I’m sure you’ve got better things to be doing like finding the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset with a large gin and a good book.  Trust me, dear Reader, it’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter.

So you will have gathered by now that we are no longer living in the cottage.  In fact, we bid farewell to our beloved old timbered friend a couple of weeks ago.  Saying goodbye to the village and house we’d come to love was no easy task especially as Poppy can only remember life in the country – memories of London are few and far between for her even when Primrose and I tell tales of Richmond Park and Monty the pup.  It has seen many firsts for her as well as for us and out of all of us, I feel she is the most at home amongst fields rather than bustling streets.  To be honest, we’ve all changed.  I hardly recognise the Margot that left London four years ago these days.  Country life has been the making of us.

With barely any time to reminisce on memories made in our first foray into country living, the cottage was sold and new owners were chomping at the bit to move in.  Cue the first problem dear Reader…..  Nowhere to move to.   We’d already ruled out a fair few houses and buying was fast looking like it wasn’t going to happen.  “Rent”, all our friends exclaimed.  However, the prospect of trying to find somewhere to rent with the more boisterous half of Noah’s ark (yes, you, spaniels) needing a roof over their heads was enough to send me hiding in the under stairs cupboard with a bottle of gin.  Why was finding somewhere to live proving so difficult you might ask, dear Reader?  You see the problem was that we’d already fallen in love, dear Reader.  Hook, line and sinker.

A little house left for years tucked away down a farm track with 3.5 acres of knee high grass surrounding it.  A house which the girls and I passed every day on our drive to school, wondering who lived there and why no one wanted to buy it.  I can’t lie to you dear Reader.  When we finally decided to go and see it, it was love at first viewing.  The house had Jerry and I giggling like school children – the wood panelling, the leadlight windows, the beech trees, the original Edwardian taps.  I could go on.  It was like that magical moment when you know you just click with someone and you are rendered deaf and blind to the world around you.  In our case, it wasn’t someone, it was something.  The problem or should I say problems…?  We couldn’t afford it and it was a wreck……(and I do really mean that – the house had been shut up for nearly 5 years).  Oh and let’s not forget the final fly in the ointment, the vendor wouldn’t accept our meagre offer.  In the end after so much toing and froing with the agent, there was nothing to do but walk away.  So we did, despite some awful soul searching, gut wrenching conversations at 3am over nearly three months to see if somehow we could make it all work and trying everything in a desperate attempt to appeal to the vendor’s better nature.  I can’t tell you how much I cried.

However it seems that Fate had other plans.  Nearly four months after our final offer had been rejected, just at the point when we’d almost given up hope of finding anywhere to live, the house came back to us.  In fact, the timing could not have been better – that day we’d lost out on sealed bids on another wreck nearby (well you wouldn’t expect Jerry and I to be interested in anything habitable, would you?).  Utterly despondent when the agent rang, it took me a little while to realise she wasn’t joking!  The saying ‘When one door closes, another opens’ couldn’t have been more true for us. In this case, the door that opened was rather a pink one.  The rest, as they say, is history, dear Reader.

So that’s where Jerry, the girls and I find ourselves.  Sometimes you stumble upon mad things in life and sometimes there are the mad things that seem to gravitate towards you screaming “Do it, do it, do it”, dear Reader.  Well that certainly seems to have a habit of happening to Jerry and I…  Selling a perfectly lovely home to buy another isn’t particularly mad in itself, that is unless the house you are buying has no working kitchen, wet walls, leaky roof, dry rot, bathrooms unchanged from the Edwardian era, a condemned boiler, oil tank and gas hob. It’s amazing what you can easily gloss over when you fall in love, isn’t it dear Reader?

Jerry and I knew that the house needed a lot of work but we weren’t expecting a lack of running water for the first few days after we moved in.  I lived in fear of needing the loo!  We’re not even on mains water, dear Reader.  There’s a borehole and the water comes from the nearby farm. To add to the long list of things to fix, said water tested positive for E.Coli so it’s bottled only for the time being.  Never mind the fact that we’ve nothing but a camping stove and a gas barbecue to cook on.  Getting to sleep proved rather challenging on the first night too as visitors with hob nailed boots were jigging in the attic. Squirrels I prayed thought.  Only squirrels.  When the plumber arrived to fix the water tank the next morning, it turned out to be more of the other sort of rodents leaping about up there – you know, the ones with long tails, dear Reader.  Still, it seems that Poppy’s dreams of living in a caravan are coming true finally – it’s just that this caravan is not the shiny VW one she was imagining, it’s a large static one with brick and flint walls.

You’re probably thinking that we are entirely mad and you’d be right but bizarrely none of this seems to bother Jerry and I that much.  We have found home.  The girls are blissfully happy.  I watch them building dens in the new garden, making houses for faerie queens, climbing trees, taking turns in the wheelbarrow chariot and I feel so blessed that we have been able to make this happen for them.  It will take more than a lot of our blood (I’ve already been attacked by brambles just trying to free the windows that were stuck fast), sweat and tears to get the house working again and we’ll have to do much of it ourselves but it is all worth it when I see Poppy and Primrose enjoying their new surroundings.  As for the Monty and Dora, the cats and hens?  Well they have died and gone to heaven.  Not literally of course.  It’s all new to them too.  None of them have ever known such space from just outside the back door.

To be honest, I know it sounds awfully twee but we simply couldn’t be happier, dear Reader.  So you’ll have to forgive me for taking so long to pen this post but I’ve been waylaid by my new surroundings.  Each time we uncover something new from under thick layers of dust, peeling wallpaper or overgrown shrubbery, I feel the same way I felt when I walked into our new hallway for the first time and I just can’t stop pinching myself.  Lucky, just doesn’t even cover it.

So it’s time for a new chapter for Margot and Jerry.  Time to really turn our hands to the good life with all this lovely land we’ve now acquired.  I hope you’ll follow us as we attempt to graduate from haphazard bumpkins to full scale smallholders. Well, that’s the plan, at any rate, dear Reader….  Wish us luck!

Tales from the Forest

I have to admit to having rather a soft spot for the New Forest.  Rugged heaths, ancient woodland, sea and countryside entwined, grazing cows who amble across the road and wild ponies walking amongst hues of gorse and heather.  Pure untamed romance – the countryside embodiment of Byron.  I’m always trying to persuade Jerry to move there.  So when Rachel from New Forest Escapes asked if I’d like to come and see some wonderfully unique properties she lets for short breaks and holidays, I jumped at the chance to explore.  Some invitations are just too good to turn down, dear Reader.

They say that location is everything and New Forest Escapes certainly know how to open the door to explore some of the New Forest’s best kept secrets. Handpicked and unique, their properties encompass so much from luxury coastal chic to vintage quirkiness – far more than your average rental or Air BnB.  Unusual requests?  Big birthday to organise?  Hen party? Want your dogs to join you for the weekend or fancy bringing your pony?  Honestly, it seems that there is nothing Rachel and her team can’t organise for your stay.  In fact, their properties are so marvellous, I wasn’t entirely keen on sharing them with you, dear Reader…..

With plenty to choose from, New Forest Escapes offer everything from bohemian style, a veritable Swallows and Amazons’ paradise, luxury weekend boltholes by the sea, a smugglers’ inn with its own private beach, countryside elegance to rival The Pig Hotel to a Tithe barn with an interior to die to for, complete with its own private jetty and many more lets for weekend retreats or staycations.  Now can you see why I didn’t want to share….?

Staying at the beautiful Ploughman’s Cottage which is a stone’s throw from the excellent East End Arms pub, owned by John Illsley, bass guitarist of Dire Straits, we lost the girls immediately to the stunning garden.  I very nearly lost Jerry to the pub too, if I’m honest.  I think he was hoping that Dire Straits might want to recruit an additional band member.

The dogs were in their element bombing round the garden and Poppy and Primrose were determined to leave home and move into the gypsy caravan.  Inside was all the comfort of home from home but oh so much better.  Books galore too.  All Jerry and I had to do was to find the corkscrew and decide what to do about supper, dear Reader.

Eventually when we managed to tear our gypsy girls away, we snuck down to have fish and chips on the beach at Pitts Deep (pictured below).  Lymington Pier station was a short hop away and a great place to get the train down from London to – Jerry said that the coastal route was brilliant with the last train stop ending feet away from the sea.

Pitts Deep Cottage offers a dose of pure coastal glamour. Sumptuous interiors, uninterrupted sea views and bags of charm, its past as an inn “Famous for Selling Good Brandy” tells tales of 18th century smugglers.  With Pitts Deep as our backdrop and the sea before us,  it was the most wonderful fish and chips we’ve ever had. We sat on our picnic rug on the sand, watching the waves with a cold glass of rose as the children made dens on the beach.

If magical adventures with your children are what you’re looking for, then I can’t think of a more perfect stay than Eat me Drink me Cottage.

Taking a trip down the rabbit hole in this Alice in Wonderland inspired hideaway, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage toys in this higgledy piggedly cottage – ideal for free range children and grown ups.  Eat me Drink me Cottage is the ultimate place for a bit of rewilding and is a beautiful reflection of its eclectic owners, Peter, a concert pianist and Victoria who runs vintage children’s clothing delight Elfie London who decamp here with their children when the cottage is free.  The dressing up box had Poppy and Primrose in raptures!  Unsurprisingly, Eat me Drink me won our hearts straight away and its magical location on the Pylewell estate (which hosts Curious Arts Festival in the summer), is just close enough to Tanners Lane Beach to organise expeditions to hunt for pirates or invite a few fairies back for tea in the meadow beyond the garden gate.  A top tip – do read Rachel’s marvellous blog before your stay.  We loved her wonderful ideas, handpicked offers and suggestions for adventures with the children during our stay including going on our very own Unicorn Trail .

Reluctantly leaving our weekend bolthole, we returned home feeling as though we’d completely switched off and recharged our batteries.  No need for phones or telly – time to play, relax and just….well…be.  Now if that’s not a reason to book a stay in one of New Forest Escapes‘ properties, I don’t know how else I could tempt you, dear Reader.  I’m already thinking about the next time I can enjoy this view again!  With a nice long gin and tonic of course.

 

 

 

 

Cocktail Hour

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  I have been somewhat off the boil in blog terms of late. The last month and a bit has had many ups and downs, mostly house related and I have been burying my head in a good bit of writing to try and create a more pleasing chapter for the four of us.  Enter cocktail hour.  At just the right time.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know, dear Reader, that cocktails have featured rather heavily since Christmas.  It’s all strictly medicinal, I can assure you.  One of the most wonderful presents I have ever received was from Jerry’s grandparents who gifted me a little vintage Gordon’s Gin cocktail book from circa 1950s.  Not only does it list my favourites – old fashioned Gimlets, a recipe for ‘Gin Fizz’ but it also has the hilariously named Television Special with orange squash (slightly yuck) and White Lady which embraces that back of the booze cupboard lurker, Cointreau.  The ultimate for me though has to be the glorious ‘Gin and it’ which with one sip, I am transported to the drawing room at Home Place (from Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant Cazalet Chronicles – I am totally obsessed with the books, dear Reader) where Edward or Hugh is preparing me a sharpener to sip in beaded evening dress, before dinner.  Best of all are the handwritten recipes in the back written by one of Jerry’s great-grandparents.  Truly the loveliest of gifts and I send G and G a huge kiss for thinking to pass it on to me, as I know they will be reading this.

With cocktail recipes well and truly tested at home, it was time to have a go at shaking up something new.  So it should come as no surprise to you, dear Reader, that I hotfooted my way to Winchester to enjoy an evening of cocktails as part of the fabulous Winchester Cocktail Week organised by the brilliant Cabinet Rooms.  A huge thanks to Gary and Marcus for the invitation – how could I refuse?!!  Also a special mention to my trusted chauffeur for the evening, my father in law, who drove across Hampshire to make sure that I didn’t have a Cinderella moment.

It has to be said that, a cocktail is really only as good as its ingredients.  So where best to start? Well, the ingredients of course and one of my favourite foragers, cooks and foodie wonders, Naked Jam.

Jen Williams is an artisan producer of award winning jams and conserves – her syrups, cordials and jams contain seasonal, local fruits or foraged ingredients with no artificial colours, flavourings, setting agents or preservatives.  Bottled beautiful bounty.  Jen is a fount of knowledge when it comes to the foraged flavours and it’s not for nothing that she’s been snapped up by Chewton Glen to run a unique course for The Kitchen, Chewton Glen’s new cookery school.

That evening, her gorgeous syrups and recipes included a cocktail with the autumnal mellowness of medlar syrup, a surprisingly drinkable chilli and balsamic number with vodka and the salty swirl of seaweed which produced a syrup that had depth, earthiness and just the right hint of the sea to add to the glass.  This was not cocktail making, dear Reader, this was sheer alcoholic alchemy. Jen knows just what will work and her lightness of touch in combining flavours needs to be tasted to be believed.  Inspired by her enthusiasm, I came away with some of her delicious velvety medlar syrup to recreate a little something at home.

It was a treat to meet the lovely Gin Monocle Company (an artisan mobile gin bar – gin on the move, what’s not to love?) who served up this rather unusual number – a Gin Fizzless – gin and ale together, rather a revelation that slipped down nicely and altogether too quickly.

The canapes created by Fiona Hill (Twitter – @realfoodnf) were to die for too.

My advice, dear Reader?  If you haven’t sampled the delights of Winchester Cocktail Week then you really ought to get it in the diary for next year.  With different venues all over the city, a veritable fountain of cocktails to be sipped and savoured, it’s a great week to explore Winchester’s emerging drinks’ scene.  Well done to the marvellous Cabinet Rooms‘ chaps!  Keep your eyes peeled for more events and insights into the city’s food and drink scene as they have also taken over the Art Café on Jewry Street in Winchester.  I can’t wait to see what they concoct next!

As for me, it’s Friday, dear Reader and very nearly time to get the cocktail shaker out……..  After all, it MUST be gin o’clock somewhere in the world.  I’ll draw the curtains and get the fire going, you pour the gin.  It would be rude not to join them, wouldn’t it dear Reader?!

Brief disclaimer – This does not constitute as encouragement of daytime drinking and Margot is in no way suggesting the reader has a few gins in the dark by his or herself before doing the school run.  Have them after you’ve picked up the children.