Tag Archives: Country Living

You’ll have to call back – I’m in Narnia

I am beginning to believe that the farmhouse has been trapped in its own snow globe.  Never have I had a better excuse to settle in a chair by the fire, read books or play board games with the girls whilst eating endless homemade crumpets.  Is there anything more decadent than licking the dribbles of warm butter from a third toasted crumpet off one’s fingers I wonder?  Don’t answer that.  We can’t all live a high octane lifestyle, dear Reader.  Despite the gradual shift in temperature, everything is smothered in a thick blanket of snow as I write and although I am supposed to be head down at the writing desk today, I find myself clutching a mug of hot tea and staring out of the window at the fluffy white eiderdown covering the farmhouse garden.  I never thought I’d say it but….sadly school isn’t shut.  Jerry has managed to get to London too so I am home alone.  I was hoping for another snow day to be honest, dear Reader.  The last lot of snow ensured days of bombing about on the little tractor round the garden – girls and dogs whooping about like mad things.  I know the snow isn’t fun for everyone and there’s a lot to be said for all the amazing people who have kept everything running despite the so called Beast from the East making life awkward.  A massive shout out to so many farmers who were out with snow ploughs, rescuing stuck vehicles and those who are battling with their livestock in truly difficult conditions.  These are awful lambing conditions.  Just getting water to our hens and ducks has proven tricky when pipes are frozen solid and drinkers ice over in seconds and we haven’t had nearly as much snow as some parts of the country.  It’s not just farmers who deserve our praise either.  The Herculean efforts of doctors, nurses, carers and so many more vital people in the community who have braved the elements to get to work has been awe inspiring.  Our local Facebook groups have been awash with kind souls offering help, giving lifts and taking shopping to those in need.  As they say, not all superheros wear capes.

However, I can’t help but feel that the white stuff has brought a bit of wintry magic our way.  Lazy days are few and far between these days and our first winter at the farmhouse has been memorable because of the snow.  We’ve been living in our own little bubble.  I can’t remember the last time I threw myself into all day baking sessions with my girls, danced round the kitchen to Moana with a tutu on or snuggled up on the sofa under a blanket to watch a film together without something drawing me away from time spent with them.  Snow days have banished any feelings of guilt that I should be doing something else.  Instead of missing out, I have made it my mission to forget the other stuff for a while and focus on making snow blobbies (Poppy’s version of snowmen) and finding the perfect number of mini marshmallows for a mug of hot chocolate.  It’s eight if you’re interested, dear Reader.  With enough wood in the log shed to keep us going and plenty of provisions, the snow has given the four of us the perfect excuse to slow down and shut out all the calls on our time from the outside world.  That and the driveway was rather slippery even with a Land Rover so staying put seemed a far better option than going out when the first lot of snow hit our little corner of Hampshire.  Swathed in layers, we stepped out into our very own Narnia and time was lost.  I may even have eaten a box of Turkish delight, dear Reader.

So with Jerry and the girls back to their everyday routines today and my head full of words that desperately need to find their way onto the page before me, I am rather sad to bid farewell to what we hope will be winter’s last hurrah.  The sun is out and great clods of snow are already thudding down from the roof as it warms up.  By tomorrow, the snow will have disappeared as quickly as it came.  It will soon be time to welcome in spring, 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!

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!

Homesteader3

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.

seedball

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

Embracing it all

snowdrops

The first signs of spring

1st February marked St Brigid’s feast day (patron saint of cattle, chicken farmers and dairy maids to name a few) and the beginnings of early spring.  Time to leave winter behind and embrace the coming of a new season.  Rain gods – hope you are listening up there?  1st February was also a milestone for us: six months of living in the countryside, dear Reader.   Strange to think that it has been six months since we shut the door of our tiny railway worker’s cottage with a SW postcode and left the Big Smoke.  London seems a distant memory these days and it is difficult to imagine that we could live anywhere else now.  Visiting our dear friends Minty and Tree up in Oxfordshire made me realise how much time it can take to settle into the ways of village life.  Sometimes it can be very hard to get used to.  Minty is an out and outright townie and misses the wandering of high streets and the buzz of city life, whereas Tree seems quite at home.  Perhaps it is because the one at home has to work so much harder to fit in to a new way of life and establish new friends?  I almost envied Jerry’s commute in the beginning, so I can sympathise with the serious amount of energy required and having to summon up the effort to join in and find one’s niche in the local community.  Embracing it wholeheartedly is the thing, dear Reader and I can report that village life is never dull here with people always popping in to say hello.  I am still getting used to the fact that a knock at the door is usually followed by the visitor coming in and yelling up the stairs for me if I am not in the kitchen!

With shooting season over, our little corner of Hampshire is beginning to show signs of spring appearing – that St Brigid must definitely have something to do with that.  Pockets of snowdrops have appeared and villagers have insisted on us visiting nearby woodland to see the snowy white flowers appear in a patch planted up in a guerrilla gardening raid by one of the village elders some years ago.  Gardening is well and truly on the agenda for Jerry and I too and we have begun the mammoth task of transforming our own cottage garden.  Trees have been cut down, shrubs removed and now, the garden looks more like a building site than a tranquil plant haven.  Years of jungle growth had left the dear old cottage will little light coming through its windows and a garden that Primrose and Poppy couldn’t run around in.  So continue to dig we must.   I am not sure I have ever seen myself as filthy as when digging in the flowerbeds.   Jerry talked of hiring a rotivator…..but to be honest, dear Reader, can you imagine that machine in the hands of townies like Jerry and I?  Bet the village would turn out to see us getting it all wrong!  As it is, our neighbours have had to replace a dilapidated fence along our boundary because Monty has been hopping over to relieve himself on their lawn.  There can’t be a household in the village that hasn’t giggled at the chaos that has descended on the old cottage in the village in the last six months.

Phase 1 in operation: jungle demolition.

Phase 1 in operation: jungle demolition.

Marking our six months of rural living was a wonderful and long overdue visit from the fabulous Tom and Barbara with our darling godson.  There was wine, wine and more wine followed by talk of their smallholding and new business ventures.  I admire their spirit of adventure!  Tom and Barbara have well and truly embraced all things country with 4 hens, 2 pigs, a new business, 2 dogs, renovating a farmhouse and plans for so much more.  I’m not sure Jerry and I are ready for that much of the good life quite yet but I think that we are a long way from the townies that arrived all those months ago.  Barbara’s description of our village still has me in stitches, thinking of it even now: “It’s like Midsomer, without the murders!”  I suppose it is in some ways but then I always did like a bit of drama.

Despite all our calamities, we continue to welcome in our own version of country living here and have even been invited to join the Parish council!  The vicar triumphantly bellowing something about inviting the young people to give their tuppence worth.  I am not sure that the dear Reverend has any idea what he is letting himself in for….Margot….on the PARISH council….oh dear.  They’ll be asking me to become a church warden next…..now that would never sit with my gin soak reputation, would it dear Reader?!

Embracing it all

I’d say these wellies were pretty at home here.