Tag Archives: rural living

A Year to Remember

There’s always an ending and a beginning as the twinkly lights of Christmas are packed away once more.  Lists of things left undone, things achieved and dreams and hopes for the year to come.  Then January sets in and I’ve forgotten all about what it was I wanted to do, what I’m supposed to be doing and the things I should have done by now……including writing this message to you, dear Reader.  You know what they say though.  Better late than never.

2017 was a year of beginnings for us.  We met and fell in love with a farmhouse, decided to undertake the biggest project we’d ever tackled, turned a tired lavender field back into production and generally everyone we knew thought that we had finally lost all our marbles.  Move to a derelict farmhouse you say?  Why ever not?  Now our first Christmas here has been and gone, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the farmhouse was still rather more of a shell than a home.  No clean drinking water, no heating, no functioning plumbing….the list is endless.  There wasn’t much of a kitchen either as it had been stripped bare before building work could start.  The steel skeleton was still firmly in place around us and our view of fields also included a few builders’ bottoms.  Not forgetting a bloody great Bake Off tent in the back garden that served as our makeshift kitchen for three months when the mouldy old kitchen was removed and the oak flooring went down.  Disappointingly, it was minus a chirpy Mel and Sue or even Sandi and Noel and it was completely devoid of showstoppers.  Well of the baking kind at any rate.  I’ve never been on safari, dear Reader but I am pretty sure tents in the bush are distinctly more glamourous and less functional.

As the weather closed in and the list of disasters from crumbling chimneys to water pouring through the kitchen ceiling (not once but twice) grew, Jerry and I lost faith in our ability to tackle everything that the old girl needed to bring her back to life.  I can’t tell you the waves of tears wept and a long list of expletives grew as for the millionth time I forgot to shut the curtains before venturing to the loo and remembered that I was visible to all on the scaffolding.  Nothing seemed to be going right.  My poor Pa who is in charge of all our electrics almost had kittens at how unsafe the wiring was (and in some parts still is) in the house.  Then there was the time we had been using the open fire to keep warm whilst we were without any form of central heating and the lovely chap who came to check the chimneys told me that I had been effectively poisoning us all as smoke and fumes were being channelled into Primrose’s bedroom.  Every day became a diary entry of disasters.  Working from home has some serious disadvantages when renovating a house.  Each little detail becomes a mountain to climb so that by the time you reach decisions about door handles or paint colours or whether or not you need a Hobnob biscuit or a Jaffa cake to get through the next hour, you are beyond being given any form of choice.  None of these things are the end of the world but after months of effectively camping in your own home, there’s nothing like a deadline to force you towards getting things done.  What better deadline is there than hosting Christmas and Boxing Day, dear Reader?!

All good things come to those who wait, dear Reader.  There is drinking water coming from the tap once more, there is heating, there is an Everhot, the builders have moved out and we can finally say goodbye to the Bake Off tent in the garden.  Getting the kitchen finished has meant no more cooking on a camping stove (a massive thank you to Alresford Interiors for all their hard work, beautiful carpentry and coping with a complete redesign at the last minute – for all the little extras and more we couldn’t be more grateful) and life at the farmhouse is becoming more and more ordinary again.  Whilst upstairs, bedrooms and bathrooms remain wholly untouched, downstairs is beginning to look complete.  Distressed oak floors in the hallway, kitchen and boot room sit alongside the original parquet flooring everywhere else.  Arts and Crafts colours reign supreme as you might expect – olive walls in the dining room, library red in the study.  The only room that has escaped something darker is the kitchen and that’s because limewash was needed it for its light reflective qualities.

Thank you to Quirky Interiors for our beautiful bespoke brass splashback too – the pictures don’t do it justice.

We haven’t finished by any stretch of the imagination.  The kitchen walls are still a bit bare.  Bathrooms will have to wait so washing hair with the aid of Tupperware boxes remains de rigueur for 2018.  The hallway still has its 1968 Laura Ashley wallpaper and I can’t wait to rip off the carpet on the stairs but perhaps not just yet, Jerry tells me.  We’ve already had more than one disastrous afternoon where we lost a cat under the upstairs’ floorboards.  Window panes in our leaded light windows have been replaced and new guttering and replacement roof tiles have seen us finally dry inside the house.  A shiny new boiler now heats the house after almost a decade without heating and cosy woodburners have ensured that even on the coldest days of winter, our little farmhouse has stayed toasty and warm.  I’ve also realised that I am far more resourceful than I ever thought I was.  Being able to bake bread and make pizza in a gas barbecue is a skill I may one day need in an emergency.  I’m not sure what sort of emergency….but you never know, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry is breathing a sigh of relief that my Ebay and salvage yard addiction is having a little break too.

Our clutter is at home here.  It belongs.  The furniture fits and as I wander through each room switching on lamps in the early evening, I feel as though at long last that I belong too.  Something which makes me very happy indeed, dear Reader.  We needed this house as much as it needed us.

A lot of amazing things wouldn’t have been possible without the help of lovely friends and our amazing farming neighbours who have given up time to help with fencing and much more besides.  They have rescued me from drowning under the weight of many a practical catastrophe and made us feel extremely welcome.  There is no doubt in my mind that they think me completely mad almost every day of the week and that they may well regret inviting me into their WhatsApp group dear Reader, but I’m ever so glad that they live on the doorstep and hope they don’t mind too much when they get a distress call from the mad lady at the bottom of the lane.  I’m glad too that in my own small way, I’ve been able to help them with their some of their plans for the future too.  Their festive farmers’ market before Christmas was one of most marvellous things I’ve been involved in organising in a long time – a huge thank you to all the lovely producers, suppliers and farmers I called on to come and make the day so special.  I can’t wait to see what new ventures are afoot for all of us.

So what does 2018 hold for us you might ask, dear Reader?  Well I think that we may have already hit the ground running….  We’ve started to resurrect the old pond which silted up years ago.  It will be given a new lease of life with our latest arrivals at the farmhouse.  It’s amazing how quickly the monsoon weather of late has helped it fill up again and although it looks more like the Somme than idyllic wildlife pool now, we have hopes that it will soon be rather more picture perfect.  However, I digress.  The mention of new arrivals will not have escaped you.  Well, you know how things always seem to happen to us by accident, dear Reader.  I promise they really do.  I’ll prove it.

One minute I am talking to our local log man commenting on his lovely geese and the next, I am receiving texts not about our log delivery but about ducks that need rehoming.  To cut a long story short, we are now the proud owners of 2 Runner duck drakes (Ferdie and Francis) and 4 Khaki Campbell ladies (names still being debated).  See what did I tell you?  A complete accident.  We won’t even mention the fact that I may have discussed goslings as well but mercifully, it isn’t spring yet and Jerry has a little more time to get used to the idea of those.  To be honest, he really didn’t take a lot of convincing when it came to the ducks and they have proven to be the best farmhouse addition yet as far as we’re all concerned.  They are definitely Jerry’s favourite.  Walking wine bottles – what could be more apt for our household?  The four of us can be found pressed up against the kitchen window most mornings just watching their ridiculous duck antics.  The perfect antidote to anyone’s January blues I can assure you.  So with ducks on the pond, some news ideas involving the lavender field, the gentle baa of some sheep on the horizon, a kitchen garden to plant up and a finish line to cross at the writing desk, it would seem that 2018 is shaping up to be a busy one already.  Oh it’s a quacking start, one might say……  I just hope you’ll still enjoy following us on our country living journey.  I hate to say it, dear Reader, but it seems that these days Jerry and I are much more Tom and Barbara that we ever imagined we’d be.  A belated Happy New Year to you all.




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!


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.


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