Tag Archives: slow living

Winter magic at Warborne

I know, I know, dear Reader.  It has been an age since my last post.  I promise it’s not because I’ve forgotten you, it’s just that we’ve hardly had a chance to draw breath since renovations started.  It has been so full-on over the last few months and it has felt at times as if it would never end and we’d wind up living without heating or running water and cooking on a camping stove forever.  There’ll be time for stories of derelict farmhouse chic soon enough but before the chaos of Christmas descends upon us, there was just a little time for some much needed recharging of batteries.

After a long and winding renovation road which isn’t over yet, the four of us needed to escape the farmhouse a couple of weeks ago.  I can’t lie, dear Reader, the building work has taken its toll on me and managing a building site, working full time and keeping two small people (as well as Jerry) on the straight and narrow has left me utterly exhausted.  Jerry and I knew it was going to be hard but the constant day-to-day dramas and trying to keep it all from falling apart (literally rather than metaphorically on some days) was far harder than we ever imagined.  Still, we both know that the little farmhouse is worth it, no matter how many times we think we’re recreating scenes from the 80s classic film, The Money Pit.

So when Fanny from Warborne Farm suggested a visit to her beautiful family run farm in the New Forest, it was too good an offer to refuse.  A weekend away from our own farmhouse was just what the doctor ordered and my goodness, Warborne Farm really didn’t disappoint.

Warborne Farm is a family-run 100 acre farm which boasts a selection of lovingly converted boutique barns, perfect for families, couples and those who need nothing but cosiness, long walks and a chance to while away the hours just pottering in the New Forest.

Arriving to a roaring fire in the woodburner, the Grain Loft became our home from home for the weekend.  It was time to sit back and enjoy the peace without the constant whirring and banging of builders.

We have stayed in some truly beautiful places but I have to say that the attention to detail when it comes to decor is second to none at Warborne.  This is farmhouse styling on a totally different level.  It is functional but beautiful, cosy and rustic yet chic.  I applaud all the little things which make a stay at Warborne Farm so special – sheep fleeces on the beds from the farm’s own flock, a light fitting made from the original pulley system used for hauling up hessian sacks of grain for storing, shutters handmade by Kate’s mum Ann, bedside tables carved from blocks of Douglas Fir from the New Forest and sills once part of an old sunken barge found emerging from the mudflats.  Modern, rustic and so homely.

However, I’m not sure the girls and I will ever get over being able to watch our ‘neighbours’ as darkness embraced the world outside and the fire’s glow lit the scene below.

With a viewing window in the sitting room floor, we were able to marvel at the farm’s Boer goats and their kids sleeping in the shed beneath us.  A little slice of farm magic.

After stories and hot chocolates, much chat about how goats go to sleep and whether we could adopt some for our smallholding, the girls reluctantly left ‘goat watch’ for bed.  What a bedroom it was too, dear Reader!  Stalls converted into a stunning 4 bed dorm with beds of hay mattresses made from ox-eye daisies, ladies bedstraw and other wild flowers from the farm meadows.

Bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘hitting the hay’, Poppy and Primrose couldn’t wait to hunker down for the night.  Strictly on the basis that they could wake at the crack of dawn the next morning to feed the goats of course…..

With a long soak in the bath, a glass of wine or two and a squashy bed to sink into, I went to bed dreaming of Heidi and her grandfather’s chalet in the Alps.  On waking from the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages, it felt like I was still there to be honest, dear Reader.

Getting to know the farm’s residents was firmly on the agenda when the girls surfaced for breakfast.  Alongside the goats in the shed below our sitting room, we discovered there were chicks cheeping away too.  A short wander from our barn led us to the orchard where friendly and rather dashing Swiss Valais sheep greeted us, portly Kune Kune pigs squeaked and grunted with delight at having visitors to scratch their bellies and armed with a basket, the girls collected eggs from the farm’s hens.  One of the most marvellous parts of a stay at Warborne is the chance to experience farmhouse life of your very own.  This is the sort of weekend that allows you to forget the outside world exists – simply switch off and free range.  Poppy and Primrose bounced on and off haybales in the barn to their hearts’ content.
We couldn’t get over the marvellous selection of vegetables in the farm’s burgeoning polytunnels, just waiting for guests to help themselves.  That’s not all, Warborne Farm has good eco credentials too.  The farm’s heating and hot water needs are run on renewable energy sources and the family take pride in the fact that the farm has been run along organic principles for the last three generations, ‘sustainably exploiting the natural resources’ available to them as they put it.  This is not only a luxury barn stay but one with a genuine conscience.

We stayed in the Grain Loft which sleeps 8 but there are plenty of other gorgeous converted barns to stay in at Warborne – all unique, all very private and luxurious.  I took a sneak peak at the enormous copper bath in the Hay Loft next door to us.  Thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Jerry found it very hard to prise me away from its shiny exterior – I think that the words ‘gin o’clock’ may have been applied as antidote, dear Reader.

Of course should you wish for a fix of the outside world, Lymington isn’t far from the farm’s doorstep.  Perfect for stocking up on supplies, taking a stroll on the sea wall or finding somewhere cosy to stop for a bite to eat or a swift half.  However, there’s so much of farm life to enjoy at Warborne, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away.

To be honest, it was almost too good to share with you, dear Reader – I’m already planning a return to Warborne for a little more digital detox to ward off the January blues and get some more words scribbled.  It’s the perfect place for a retreat.  The girls are still asking Jerry and I when we can get some goats and cut a hole in their bedroom floors to accommodate viewing windows and I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to come back to our own little farmhouse after such a wonderful weekend of slow living.

However return we did, with bucketfuls of ideas for our own project.  Hay mattresses, shutter designs, polytunnels…….oh and geese.  They are definitely on the list for our field in the spring, dear Reader.

Sshhh…….don’t tell anyone but should you wish to book a January escape to Warborne Farm, there’s currently 25% off on all January bookings.  Well worth it I’d say dear Reader.  Do follow @warbornefarm on Instagram for more details.

 

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….