Monthly Archives: March 2017

Today, we are virtually visiting a Victorian Gothic Revival house and woodland garden.  Indeed, I am spoilt for choice when it comes to telling you about Knightshayes Court. Should I start with the wealthy industrialist who had this country house built near Tiverton in Devon? Should I describe its dazzlingly ostentatious interior, part the work of architect and decorator, William Burges (1827-1881) and part of interior decorator John Dibblee Crace (1838-1919)? Or should I invite you join me in a stroll through the ‘Garden in the Wood’, much of that created in the middle of the 20th century by Lady Heathcoat Amory (at one time better known as champion golfer, Miss Joyce Wethered, four times winner of the Ladies Open in the 1920s)?

I shall waste no more time prevaricating. I shall tell you about all three.

When the first factory that produced machine-made lace burned down in Loughborough, owner Sir John Heathcoat Amory (1829-1914) decamped to Devon and there, in the town of Tiverton, set up a factory and built a mansion on a rise overlooking the Exe Valley. He hired Burges – described by historian Simon Jenkins as “an opium-addicted bachelor Gothicist who dressed in medieval costume” – to carry out the work.

Building began in 1869 and by 1874 the house was structurally complete.  It would appear that the exterior – Victorian Gothic made manifest with steeply gabled roofs, pointy windows, and stained glass – met with Sir John’s approval. However, it is said that Sir John “recoiled in horror” when presented with Burges’s plans for the interior. Burges wanted to create ‘medieval fairyland’ but while he was responsible for the Hall and the magnificent teak staircase (sadly, the Hall is but a pale shadow of Burges’s original concept, even though it is still grand by most standards) he was sacked and in his place Sir John commissioned John Dibblee Crace, of the Crace family of decorators, to complete the work. Sir John didn’t much care for Craces’s decoration either and most of both Burges’s and Crace’s work was covered up.

The National Trust acquired Knightshayes in 1972 and in 1983 embarked on an ambitious project to restore the ornate ceiling and reinstate the carved walnut bookshelves and fireplace in the Library. Not only the ceiling but also the walls, and these have been hung with heavy lincrusta wallpaper which has been given a brown wash to resemble Spanish leather before being hand-painted in gold brazing power.

In the Burges Room visitors can see the house as it might have looked had his plans for the house come to fruition. This bedroom, which had been painted a neutral cream and used as a staff bedroom, has been decorated by the National Trust – I won’t say restored it as it had never been decorated thus – in true flamboyant Burges style.

Decorated in shades buff, cream, red, and green, the upper walls are painted with birds perched on stylized branches, each of them identified in gothic script, and the fireplace, pillared and hooded, has received a similar treatment. The highly ornate, carved and decorated bed is the piece de resistance. Fascinating though it is, a room for rest it is not but, with the Library, it represents the style of the interior that Burges envisaged.  

Every English country house should have a billiard room, what!

Above, one of the spectacular ceiling designs in Knighshayes Court

However, it is the glorious gardens at Knightshayes which often give visitors the most pleasure. Their original designer was Edward Kemp (1871-1891), but by the 1930s the labour-intensive Victorian scheme was neither economically viable nor fashionable.

“In 1946 we began to plan the garden in earnest,” says Joyce, Lady Heathcote Amory (d.1997) in The Englishwoman’s Garden. “We began near the house, loosening the appearance of the stiff formal terraces with small shrubs, roses and plants. In the paved garden we replaced the roses with low carpeting plants. High yew topiary hedges surrounded this garden as well as the adjacent bowling green which was subsequently sacrificed to make way for a pool with a statue.” This is now one of my very favourite areas, where in summer dragonflies can be seen skittering across the lily pads.

Steps lead to the ‘garden in the wood’. Developed in the 1960s, there are a variety of bulbs, flowers and shrubs beneath towering forest trees, and it is certainly a garden for all seasons.

 

A delightful cedar house in a glade, containing some of the carved oak bosses designed by Burges for the house, was built in 1972 to mark the completion of this part of the garden …

And the view from the house, down across lawns (with deer sculptures) …

One of the areas I love best is the kitchen garden …

 

 Red hot pokers in autumn in the walled kitchen garden

 

National Trust gardeners and volunteers at work in the kitchen garden

In recent years the walled kitchen garden has been restored to its former glory, with much of the produce now being used in the stables’ restaurant. Indeed, there is something for everyone at Knightshayes, including lunch or a cream tea in the old stables!

If visiting Knightshayes Court, do check opening times on the National Trust website:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk

14 comments

After taking you on a virtual visit to Coleton Fishacre recently, I thought perhaps we might travel a few miles eastward along the Devon coast to a property close to the seaside town of Exmouth.

A LA RONDE

A La Ronde was the home of unmarried cousins Jane and Mary Parminter. The elder, Jane (born in 1747) was the daughter of a Barnstaple (N. Devon town) wine merchant. The younger, Mary, and 20 years Jane’s junior, was orphaned at 16.  Following the death of Jane’s father, in 1784 the two women set out on a Grand Tour of Europe, a tour which lasted the best part of ten years.  No fortnight in Ibiza for them!  They visited France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland (and possibly Spain and Portugal).

On their return they decided they would build a house for themselves and their various collections and souvenirs, and they chose a site close to the town of Exmouth which gave them sea views.

To say that A la Ronde is unconventional is an understatement.  It is said to have been inspired by the 6th century Byzantine basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, although A la Ronde is not round, but is a 16-sided cottage orne, 192 feet in circumference, with red-bordered diamond-shaped windows.

If the exterior is unusual …

The Entrance

then the interior is a delight …

The hall, the central octagon

Eight doors radiate around a central octagon, each leading to a reception room.  Benches in these doorways can flap down, providing extra seating when required (they were ahead of their time on space-saving ideas).

At the top of the octagon (35 feet from floor to ceiling) is a gothic fantasy, one of the most accomplished of its kind in Britain.  Here Mary and Jane encrusted the walls with shells, feathers, stones, mica, pottery, twigs, lichens, bones, mirror and quartz.

(As the safety rail around the gallery is quite low, and as the shells, etc, are very fragile, visitors are no longer permitted up there, but many years ago, long before it was in the hands of the National Trust, we were able to see it for ourselves.  Today there is a reflecting mirror in the hall so that you don’t need to crane your necks to look up.)

Other things to see in the labyrinth of wedge-shaped rooms – it’s rather like a doll’s house for grownups – include a cabinet of curiosities, shells, beadwork, cut-paper work, silhouettes, tables inlaid with marble, and engravings by Piranesi (1720-78, Italian architect and etcher.)  It is a place where summer appears not to have lasted for a season, but forever.

 

The entrance is actually on the first floor. When you step inside you think you are on the ground floor, but you go downstairs to what were the kitchens.  And from a twisty little staircase on the first floor you access the bedrooms with their dormer windows in what was once a thatched roof.

One of the bedrooms

Jane died in 1811 and her younger cousin in 1849. It was their intention that female descendants should inhabit the house and until it came into the hands of the National Trust in 1991 the only exception to their stipulation was when the Rev. Oswald Reichel, a relative by marriage, acquired the property in 1883. Reichel made fundamental changes – some have said not for the better – replacing the original thatch with a tiled roof and installing central heating, with its cumbersome piles, into rooms already having fireplaces.  It returned to female ownership when Reichel’s niece, Margaret Tudor, bought the house in 1924 and, in 1935, opened it to the public. 

If you visit East Devon, be sure to visit A La Ronde,  but first visit the National Trust’s website (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) and check opening times.

10 comments

Our washing machine died yesterday.  Fortunately, after it had completed a cycle containing the bed linen and towels.  It shook itself to death, the poor thing.   RIP Hotpoint. 

 

Hotpoint when new in 2009

I phoned our domestic appliance chappie and explained, similarly to when be installed a Bosch dishwasher for us in January, I would now like him to install a similar washing machine, preferably in black so that it would ‘go’ with the dishwasher. 

“I’m on holiday for the next fortnight …” he said.  So I had a little thunk and after thunking, I said, “Oh, that’s OK, we can manage until then, our son will help out, we can use his machine …” and then he said, “But my suppliers don’t do black machines …”

By now I got the distinct impression that he didn’t really want this job.  Maybe I’m doing him a disservice, but perhaps he would rather simply repair machines than install new ones, with all the humping and heaving required and so I said, “OK, don’t worry, I thought I’d ask you first but I’m afraid we will have to look elsewhere.”

With that we had a further thunk and because I didn’t want to go to the large electrical chain store beginning with “C”, which is OK at selling things but not quite so hot when it comes to after sales service.  Therefore, we drove the mile or so into our local town (in the centre of which is a pretty little park – see collage above –  surrounded by Victorian buildings which are now shops with flats above) to the shop where we had bought our old washing machine.  But we found the shutters were down and a notice saying they had ceased trading in January! Shows how often we go into our local town!

With that we tried another shop, and as they couldn’t supply a washing machine in black, we drove to Totnes – about five miles from our town – to a very nice electrical shop and they had a black Hotpoint but they suggested that a better quality machine would be a Whirlpool.  Apparently Whirlpool bought out Hotpoint and Indesit and if you think of top, middle and low ranges, then Whirlpool would be top, Hotpoint middle, followed by Indesit.  There wasn’t a Whirlpool in black, but there was one in white but with a black door and black control panel. Indeed, it looked quite smart.  It has all the modern gizmos, it ‘weighs’ the laundry so that it ‘knows’ how much water to use, things like that. 

So, having parted with over £500 (and no, we didn’t Google it and see if we could get it cheaper online. We want a company that will bring it to us, install it and take away the old machine and this company will do that.)

We then went for coffee to lick our financial wounds …

and went in The Royal Seven Stars coffee lounge which is at the front right hand corner of this building.  The coffee was lovely but the female salesperson behind the counter was one of the most miserable we have had the unfortunate opportunity to encounter in a very long time.  Surly doesn’t even come close.

The place is pleasant, but few things to eat with coffee, no scones, no pastries apart from some tiny Danish pastries. and what we could call large biscuits but which she informed me were ‘cookies’.  “Cookies” are American, but I refrained from correcting her, she looked as if one word out of place and she’d throw the coffee at me.   And while the coffee was good we most certainly won’t be going in there again.  We can all have off days, but it appeared to me that this was this person’s natural persona.  I don’t expect all sales persons to be effusive, but just a smile costs nothing, nor does a please and thank you.

We returned home and the post had arrived. This cheered me …

 

A book about Rigby & Peller, bra-seller to HM The Queen and other famous people!

I then set to work, making soup, as quickly as I could because we’d been out rather a long time, fonkling around (I use this word that one of my Editors has devised, as it’s so descriptive) searching for a washing machine.

Today it was watercress, and absolutely delicious. This only takes 20 minutes to make from beginning to end, and is lovely with crusty mini baguettes, Brie and St Agur cheese.

 

So, folks, an expensive day.  You will now have to excuse me if I don’t post for a couple of days, I need a lie down in a darkened room to recover from all the excitement.

 

20 comments

Summerhouse at dusk

 

In the spring of 2010 and only months after my husband had had open heart surgery, he said that he would build me a summerhouse.  We had been to look at ready-made ones, or in the least flat-pack ones, in the various garden centres, and without exception they all looked rough and even when erected would require a lot of work doing to them, sanding the wood and painting.  Furthermore, they wouldn’t be insulated (which was important as we wanted to use the little building all year round, should we choose to do so.)

Of course, there are companies building spectacular summer houses but they come at a spectacular price, too.  It is, after all, a glorified garden shed and we didn’t wish to spend mega bucks on it, and therefore the decision was made that my husband would draw up a design on his computer, order the timber, and built it himself. 

Another reason he chose to build the little house himself was that space was limited. You could say it had to be built between a rock and a hard place, i.e. the immovable walnut tree to one side and the similarly immovable garden wall to the other.   Plus we didn’t wish to encroach on our already very small garden too much, or remove the large pittosporum, although having a summerhouse in this part of the garden would mean extending the little terrace on which we had our table and chairs.  Therefore the maximum size would be 6ft by 8ft.  We chose this spot, in the shade of the walnut tree because we knew that in any other part of our small garden, it would become too hot in summer without the shade of the tree. 

Here is a collage of the construction (with elder son helping for part of the work), starting in July 2010 and finishing in October 2010.  There was more work to do than I anticipated.  First (top left) clearing the site and extending the small terrace so we could still eat outside, then the basic construction, the insulation, installing the window (which husband made) and doors (which he bought but which weren’t of a good quality and within a couple of years they had warped and therefore he then made a pair of doors himself, which are still as good as new, so these doors here aren’t the ones that are currently on the summerhouse – for those, see photo at top of this post.)  He insulated the little building and put two layers of roofing felt on the top, and installed electricity so that we can have music in there, plus a small TV and a lamp.

I love this tiny house, and it was fun ‘moving in’.  At first we used our steamer chairs in there, but when we wanted them in the garden we had to carry them outside and then put two small garden chairs in the summerhouse in their place, not a very convenient arrangement.  And so, a few years ago I happened to see two chairs on sale in a local garden centre.  Usually, one has to buy complete sets of garden furniture and as we only wanted a couple of chairs we thought these would be ideal.

The rug is an old Persian one my late uncle gave us when we married in 1964 and for the first 21 years it was in our hall in our previous home.  It was an antique when he bought it in 1939, and then when we moved to our present home for a number of years it was in our sitting room. It’s now serving us well in the summerhouse, I love the old faded look which goes with the rather Colonial look of the chairs.

There is an old tea trolley (painted in Farrow & Ball’s interior eggshell in the shade Hound Lemon, it was originally in our bed sitting room, but now we have found a replacement for it for the bed sitting room) to the right of the doors, and that we now use for a small TV. 

I asked husband to paint  wooden board for me to match the summerhouse (paint:  Farrow & Ball’s exterior eggshell in a shade called Vert de Terre, with exterior gloss in a shade called House White for the woodwork) so that, each year, I could use it to display a selection of postcards.  Here are some from various years’ displays since 2011.

We like to eat in the garden, and although overlooked by neighbouring houses , our table, chairs, and summerhouse is in a partially-secluded corner (this photo was taken before we bought the ‘new’ chairs.)

I love to go into the summerhouse even if it’s just for a cup of tea

When my husband retired (1998) he took up painting in watercolour. He’d never painted before, but he really enjoyed it – I wish he had continued with this but he now prefers to use his computer for learning 3D design in a program called Inventor. Please don’t ask me to describe this, it’s beyond even my powers of description.  However, he produced some bird paintings and I had them framed and they are now in the summerhouse – an appropriate place, seeing as it’s in the garden.  I think they are lovely, but then I’m just a little bit biased. 

The ‘snail’ on the shelf was a birthday present from a dear friend (who died in 2014) and ‘Brian’ now lives in the garden. 

On either side of the doors I have hung two framed watercolours. They were actually Christmas cards sent to my parents from my mother’s brother who, at that time, lived in Peru, and these are hand-painted by the people there.  They are as bright today as they were when they were painted more than 70 years ago, as my mother had kept them safely in a drawer, out of sunlight. I have ensured that the they are hung so that bright light will not ruin them.

This is the view from the centre pane of our kitchen window.  As you can see it’s not a large garden.  The cream-painted building on the other side of our garden wall is our neighbour’s double garage. 

And these are spring flowers on the steps of our garden, outside the study in which I am typing this post …

And here is the same area in high summer.

For our 50th wedding anniversary, younger son and his partner bought us this lovely bird clock for the summerhouse and outside we have an outdoor thermometer/clock, another present from friends.

Yesterday, I cleaned out the summerhouse in readiness for spring and summer.  It hadn’t become really dirty or untidy, but it’s nice just to remove all the furniture, sweep it out, give the floor a steam-clean and put everything back for another year.  It might be a tiny house, but we both love it.  Seven summers’ on from when it was built  it is still as good as new. 

10 comments

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and whether you are a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, or even if you don’t have children of your own – for I consider all women to be mothers in one way or another, as we are the nurturers, I hope you are having a lovely Mothering Sunday.  Here in the UK, the correct name for today is ‘Mothering Sunday’.  Mother’s Day is a special day in America.  But whatever you call it, here’s to mothers everywhere!

Above are what I was presented with today from our two sons, daughters’ in law, and little grandson (little grandson made the cup cakes with, I’ve no doubt, a little help from his mummy!)  What lovely things I have received: flowers, flower seeds, and a box of lovely greetings cards in a very pretty tin. 

It is a beautifully sunny day, too. I’m now off to make a cup of tea which husband and I will enjoy that with one of our grandson’s cup cakes!  How fortunate my husband and I are in having such a lovely, caring family. 

 

14 comments

Reader Eloise has mentioned that she has visited Coleton Fishacre, here in South Devon, and so I thought my post today would be on this lovely country house, now in the hands of the National Trust.

Husband and I haven’t visited here for a couple of years but we will certainly go there again as soon as we have two consecutive days of fine weather! 

So, go and make yourself a cup of tea and then read about Rupert and Dorothy and their dream house …

The café in the garden at Coleton Fishacre – a lovely place for lunch (and with outdoor seating, too, overlooking the garden.)

* * * * * *

Rupert and Dorothy first saw the stream-fed valley from their yacht whilst sailing between Brixham and Kingswear and decided that it would be the perfect place to build a home and lay out a garden …

But who were Rupert and Dorothy?  He was Rupert D’Oyly Carte, son of Richard D’Oyly Carte, the impresario behind the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, and she was Lady Dorothy, second daughter of the Earl of Cranbrook.  

To realize their dream of a country house by the sea they chose architect Oswald Milne, an assistant to Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of thus country’s most distinguished 20th century architects. It was Lutyens who designed the Cenotaph, in Whitehall; the design of the headstones for the war graves; and for New Delhi, as well as many glorious country houses. 

Not quite as inventive than Lutyens, Milne was, nonetheless, one of several architects who believed they were designing buildings for a new lifestyle: sophisticated yet informal. He also shared with his clients a taste for a combination of elements from both old and new schools of design, but always with the emphasis on comfort and while the exterior of Coleton Fishacre looks back to the Arts & Crafts Movement – with its walls of locally quarried Dartmouth shale, its metal casement windows with oak mullions, and its long catslide roof over the garden loggia – the interior is refreshingly modern: an English version of Art Deco.

Built between 1923 and 1926, the house consists of three arms of a Y, of unequal length, with all the main rooms facing south. Crossing a replica of the original circular doormat bearing the warning Cave Canem (beware of the dog) is like stepping forward seven feet and back seventy years. To the left, the flower room, with its deep sink and an abundance of vases …

and the phone for summoning the motorcar; to the right, a high water indicator in the form of a manually-operated clock, showing the state of the tide in Pudcombe Cove where the D’Oyly Cartes’ constructed a tidal sea-water bathing pool in concrete (although little of this remains today.)

Built primarily for entertaining – parties centred on the theme of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, hosts and guests dressing up appropriately – the saloon, shown below, is generously proportioned at almost twelve metres long. Three semi-circular steps lead down to the Indian gurgen wood floor upon which is a pale green carpet designed specially for the room by Marion Dorn (1896-1964), the leading freelance textile designer of the inter-war period. Over the Siena marble chimneypiece is a stepped Odeon-style mirror ) which echoes the design of the door surround.  In Rupert and Dorothy’s day, the austerity of these forms would have been relieved in accents of strong colour in Oriental- and Egyptian-style furnishings, lampooned in 1939 by writer/cartoonist, Osbert Lancaster as ‘Curzon Street Baroque.’

A postcard of the Saloon

The most ‘Curzon Street Baroque’ room of all, the dining room, with its blue scagliola dining table, gives onto a loggia…

from which the garden can be accessed; the library’s overmantel includes a wind dial inserted into a map painting by George Spencer Hoffman (1875-1950); however, the rather austere staff quarters, are simply furnished and are in stark contrast to the stylish family rooms. 

The sitting room with Art Deco-style furniture

Lady Dorothy’s bedroom (with reproductions of her original furniture and fabrics)

Both pictures are from postcards

However,  it is the 12-hectare (30-acre) garden which is the glory of Coleton Fishacre. Here you can lose yourself in tranquil glades or walk woodland paths from where there are enticing views of the sea.

 

This is one of my favourite areas, where there is a grassy slope and a wooden seat where we sometimes take a picnic.  Not all visitors to the property know of this area right at the top of this steeply sloping hillside garden.

As foundations for the house were being laid in 1925, the exposed and virtually bare sloping combe was planted with a sheltering belt of Monterey pine and holm oak so that today, the force of the salt wind is tempered and the climate is mild.  With their cultured background and artistic temperaments, the D’Olyly Cartes travelled widely and would return from their travels with exotic and semi-tender plants.

 

This lookout area, which would have provided a clearer sea view before the trees grew as tall as they are today, was constructed above the quarry from where the stone for the house was taken. 

Another favourite areas is the rill garden, a typical ‘Lutyens’-style feature, and here is an abundance of herbaceous plants in the summer.

 

The approach road to Paignton on our journey home from Coleton Fishacre, with Torbay in the distance

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of Coleton Fishacre.  I will take you to another of Devon’s lovely country houses another time.  Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

 

18 comments

It is only Wednesday afternoon and already it’s been a busy week. Well, busy for two retired people, that is! 

On Monday morning I had my hair appointment in Totnes.  I have been visiting this salon for the best part of ten years, since it opened.  It is situated in an area known as The Plains in Totnes and in summer (see collage, above) it is a very pretty place to be, with one or two cafes with tables and chairs outside.  The River Dart is close by, with yet another bistro/café beside the river (main photo, above – this is a small ‘cut’ off the main river.)  My hairdresser, the proprietor and her staff, are excellent stylists and colourists.  Not only that, they serve the most wonderful coffee!

After my appointment, although it had started as a fine morning, rain set in the for the rest of the day and so we went home (husband had driven over with me to the hairdresser’s and enjoyed his coffee while I was being attended to). 

I spent the rest of the day attending to housekeeping, just nice things such as refreshing the flower water, polishing some furniture, just general keeping-on-top-of-things. And my latest scent arrived while we were out, so that was something lovely to return home to …

Hermes’ Un Jardin sur le Nil.  

Yesterday, Tuesday, we met friends for lunch in Le Bistrot Pierre (www.bistrotpierre.co.uk) in Torquay.  We really enjoy our meals in Pierre’s, it’s inexpensive but very good. Put it this way, we’ve not had an inferior meal there. OK, now and again they get an order slightly wrong, or someone’s order is forgotten, but they are swift to put things right, and the staff are always pleasant and welcoming. This counts for a lot in my book, and on the more recent occasions we have eaten there, everything has been absolutely fine.  I forgot to take photos of the food before we started noshing and, therefore, as I didn’t think you’d wish to see photos of half-eaten plates of food, I shall show you some of the interior, some taken yesterday, some on other occasions …

The photo immediately above was taken on another occasion.  But even so it would appear from the two other photos above that the place was deserted.  This was far from the case and had our friends not booked a table, we’d not have been able to get in, it was absolutely packed!  But as we finished our meal, we found that tables to our left and right had been cleared and re-laid, so it appears as if the restaurant is empty! 

As you can see from the photo above, there is a balcony where you can sit outside for meals in fine weather.  The main restaurant is on the first floor (the ground floor is mainly a bar area and for coffee).

And this photo (above), taken yesterday, shows the sea looking rather choppy and, indeed, how close Torre Abbey Sands are to this lovely Art Deco-style building (but only built in 2014) named Abbey Sands.  The headland in the far distance is Berry Head, just a few miles around the coast from Torquay. 

I’ve been reluctant to show pix of myself but I’ve bitten the bullet and here I am a year or so ago on the veranda at Le Bistrot Pierre, hair more than a bit ruffled by the sea breeze. 

Today, we have been to our doctor’s surgery.  It is a group practice with four general practitioners, a nurse practitioner, and many other ancillary staff.   Our GP, who started this practice in the early 1990s as a very young man in his early 30s, is retiring today, and this was his farewell event.  When we arrived, there was something like a royal ‘receiving line’, patients queueing to have a chat with him.  At 57, he seems almost too young to retire, but if he is able to, why not?  He has served the community well and now deserves some time with his wife, family, and several grandchildren.  Not only has he been our GP but also he was GP to my mother (who died in 2000), GP to our sons, and also to our daughter in law and grandson, so he’s cared for four generations of our family. 

When we returned home the sun was – momentarily – shining and I took a photo of a little bunch of daffodils in the study …

It isn’t always easy photographing flowers placed on a windowsill as there is reflected light and also as our study window faces a row of townhouses, it is difficult taking photographs without also including the neighbours’ cars in the photos.

In our bedroom, the tulips I bought over a week ago are now on the point now of collapse, but just before they do, they look so pretty, their petals like taffeta.

And to end this post, just a photo of the sunlight pouring into our hall through the front door on the rare occasion when the sun actually shone during these past few days …

I hope the sun has shone for you this week, and that you have been having as enjoyable time as we have been having.  And our social week is not yet over as on Friday we have been invited to lunch with another couple of friends in their home – “just home-made soup, crusty bread, and cake” they tell us … which is just our kind of lunch food! 

And finally, the view from our sitting room this afternoon …

And a kind offer …

French Soaps Offer

www.frenchsoaps.co.uk

When I started my blog I bought my website so that I was in total control of it and readers wouldn’t be pestered with pop-up adverts.  I do not advertise but when I have used something which I find good, I like to share that information but I must make it clear I am not paid to do so.  As I’ve mentioned French Soaps (www.frenchsoaps.co.uk) on my blog, from whom I’ve bought room sprays, pillow sprays and scent, the company has kindly offered a 10% discount to my readers who purchase items from the company.  To take up this offer, use the discount code MARGARET10

16 comments

 

I was up earlier than usual this morning as I was meeting my friend for coffee in our favourite local hotel.  It’s so nice to have this place in which to meet and it is popular with so many women who meet for coffee, lunch or tea, it’s almost like a club but without the subscription! 

The hotel used to be home to Washington Merritt Grant Singer (2nd son of Isaac Singer, Founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Com).  Washington was born in 1866 and died in 1934, but lived at what is now the Palace Hotel between 1887 and 1909.  His father, Isaac Singer, lived at the nearby Oldway Mansion (below, now empty, awaiting redevelopment.)  There is talk of it being made into an hotel but I don’t think a firm decision has been reached.

 

The Singer Lounge in the Palace Hotel where my friend and I met is extremely ornate (apart from the more ordinary chairs and coffee tables for guests’ use) and is a very pleasant room in which to meet and enjoy morning coffee or afternoon tea.

 

After we finished our coffee and chat, I drove off to a local supermarket and stocked up with flowers.  I had bought some a couple of days ago, just two bunches of what I then thought were ivory-coloured tulips as they were just in bud, but as they have opened out they are more pastel yellow, but still very elegant.  I also treated myself to a magazine.

Today, I bought apricot roses  for the kitchen table, and dark wine-coloured alstromeria (photo at the top of this post) …

If you think we’ve gone overboard on oranges, they are for juicing.

When I returned home I found that the delivery man had called with some things I’d ordered – new indigo denim jeans, new indigo non-denim jeans, a long-sleeved white T, a long-sleeved black T, and some new cream-coloured lacy underwear.  All staples in my wardrobe, but refreshed, ready for summer.  Fortunately, everything fitted perfectly so nothing has to be returned, all are keepers.

I also took delivery of a jumper which I’d seen on someone’s Instagram page.  I don’t ‘do’ Instagram myself, but I like to look at some of them and this person had just bought a jumper and I thought it looked really pretty.  Now, I’m not one for ditsy prettiness.  I like elegance and I have not worn sequins since I was eight years old and my Aunt Nancy made me a gorgeous party dress in pale gold satin with layers or gold net over the top, a pretty satin sash and embroidery finished off with gold sequins.  I loved it!  But I was eight years old, what eight year old wouldn’t love something like that?  

Indeed,  I’ve always been a bit sniffy about women who dress (to my mind) like children in pastel pinks and blues, their garments embroidered or smothered with logos, and are then embellished with beads or sequins.  I mean, what man (apart from Liberace or Elvis)! would wear such things?  Would Mrs May or Mrs Merkel or Madame Lagard wear such things?  How, I have always thought, could women ever be taken seriously wearing SEQUINS, for heaven’s sake, and in the day time?

So, what have I bought? Only a  jumper with embroidered budgerigars and flowers on the front, and the flowers have been constructed … wait for it … from SEQUINS.

And I love it!

Ok, the sequins don’t look particularly shiny here, but I assure you, they absolutely GLITTER.  But it’s pretty and looks great with black jeans. I shall now seek out some pretty pink nail polish (I only wear various shades of red, or that deep pink that has a hint of brown in it.)  Next I will be wearing pink shoes!  Then I  will know I’m ready for the funny farm! (With apologies to anyone reading who loves anything pink and sparkly!)

As well as the clothes which have arrived today, the latest Jacqueline Winspear novel has arrived.  I must be mad – I love these novels about psychological Private Eye, Maisie Dobbs, but I have three still to read before I embark on the one that arrived today.   But I will have a Maisie read-a-thon in due course. 

These are the four latest Maisie Dobbs novels, I have three to read before I embark on the latest, In This Grave Hour

And finally, on what started as a sunny day but which has now turned chilly and windy, my dressing chest with some of the tulips I bought.   Soon, my latest scent will join this selection, Hermes’ Le Jardin sur le Nil.  Unfortunately, I love all Hermes’ fragrances.

What have you been doing this Friday? Working, shopping, housekeeping, or just putting your feet up and enjoying a quiet read?

Have a lovely weekend.

 

24 comments

 

Today I thought I’d return to a favourite subject of mine – scent.  I have loved scent since I was a child, being taken to one of our town’s department stores by my mother, and being introduced to the scents she loved, such as Guerlain’s Mitsouko and Lanvin’s Arpege. 

Over the years I acquired my own favourites – and yes, Mitsouko is still there, but Arpege is now, sadly, a shadow of its former self.  

My ‘taste’ in scent changes with the seasons, so that in the autumn I use Hermes’ Caleche , Hermes’ 24 Faubourg and Jour d’Hermes …  However, I was wearing 24 Faubourg in the summer of 2015 when we were in Stourhead Gardens in Wiltshire …

 

An elderly gentleman, one of the National Trust guides, came up to me and mentioned that as I passed by he smelt the lovely floral fragrance of my scent, and what was it?  as he’d like to buy some for his wife!  The last time I had my scent remarked upon was when I used to use Worth’s Je Reviens (and still a fragrance I love.)

As the days lengthen and thoughts turn to summer, so I change my scent accordingly …

 

Here you will see ‘O’ de Lancôme and several other floral scents:  Rose Exquise (by Plantes & Parfums) has a very light rose fragrance, as is Rose Regenerante by Panier de Sens.  (Both of these I bought from www.frenchsoaps.co.uk)

Roses in the rose garden at RHS Rosemoor, Torrington, North Devon, UK 

What surprises me is how different all the various rose scents I have, including  Acqua di Parma’s Rose and my rose room spray and pillow mist, actually smell! 

 

Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet is an old favourite – this can be used by both men and women – and forever it will remind me of the many lovely visits my husband and I had to Combe House Hotel near Honiton, Devon, which until 2015 was  owned by friends of ours, Ruth and Ken Hunt.   After almost 20 years at Combe they sold their hotel and moved to Australia, and Combe House, a Grade 1 Listed Elizabethan manor house, the centrepiece of the 3500 acre Combe Estate, is now The Pig At Combe, one of the group of Pig hotels.  Our friends chose Blenheim Bouquet as their ‘house’ scent, for the toiletries of the guests’ rooms, and I will forever associate this fragrance with beautiful Combe.

 

My latest purchase, and which triggered today’s post,  is Quelques Fleurs L’Original by Houbigant (right, above).

However, in their book Perfumes A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez (published 2008) they are somewhat scathing about Quelques Fleurs and say:

“One has to regard with some suspicion a perfume that claims to be the ‘original’ version, much as one does those who preface a statement with ‘I’ll be honest with you.’  It was a 1912 composition, and it is pretty clear that easily half of the materials in the current version did not exist in 1912. I would be prepared to forgive everything in the name of progress if the fragrance were remotely interesting.  But it is as dull as floral can be, an olfactory dumb blond that would work well only as an air freshener.” 

I don’t know what the perfumers at Houbigant would say to that but I find it delightfully floral and sophisticated.  I sometimes think that, as with wine, a lot of remarks are made simply for effect. 

In an article some years ago in The Lady, Kate Shapland says: “1912 was a vintage year for scent. Guerlain brought out L’Heure Bleue which, as the first ever oriental, was pronounced scent of the year; Houbigant’s refined Quelques Fleurs came into being; and Caron unveiled Narcisse Noir, a scent based on daffodils and became Gloria Swanson’s signature (she had it sprayed all over the set of Sunset Boulevard before every performance.)”  Sadly, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez haven’t many kind words for Narcisse Noir, either, but as I’ve never smelt this fragrance, I cannot comment .  But I can say that I have a passion for perfume!

 

12 comments

We have had a lovely day.  OK, the weather could’ve been better – it was dull but that didn’t darken our spirits and we  really enjoyed ourselves.

First of all we had a few errands to attend to in Torquay, and then we decided to visit the gardens of Dartington Hall which are just a few miles from the town of Totnes. 

However, as it was nearing lunch time we decided to stop en route and have a light lunch at the Steam Packet Inn which is situated close to the River Dart in Totnes.

It has been several years since we visited this old inn and today we went into the conservatory restaurant which overlooks the river.  Even on a dull day the river view is always pleasant. 

We chose ham hock, pea, and black pudding hash with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce (that is, for each of us) and a cup of Americano.  This was a ‘starter’ course but it was quite sufficient for ourselves for lunch, and it was delicious. 

After our lunch we drove the short distance to Dartington, parked our car and strolled around the gardens.  We were between the crocus going over and the magnolia not quite being in bloom, but nonetheless we saw many flowers including snakeshead fritillary, camellias, and hellebores.   Once the magnolias that border this flight of stone steps (below) are in bloom, we hope to visit again.

I cannot begin to tell you how lovely this flight of steps looks when all these trees are smothered in pink and white magnolia blooms.  For now you will just have to use your imagination!

Here (photo above) is the area known as the Tiltyard. It is reputed to have been the site of an ancient tiltyard (or tournament ground) created in the 14th century by John Holand, Duke of Exeter.  Knightly contests were very likely to have been held here, spectators assembling on the surrounding grass terraces. 

 And here is a small pavilion half-hidden in a woodland glade.

Here is Dartington Hall, from which the estate gets its name. It was in a state of ruination  until the American heiress, Dorothy Elmhirst and her husband Leonard, bought the estate in 1925.  When they arrived  the grounds were neglected and overgrown. The shrubberies were laid out in the Victorian manner and the tiltyard was a pattern of formal flower beds but they could see that underneath all this was what has been described as an “extraordinary dramatic landscape setting – a coombe [valley] with terraces flowing into a wider river valley, whose folds drifted away southwards to the sea.”  And so they set about not only the restoration of the hall, but also the gardens, and today they are a lovely place to visit, especially in spring and early summer. 

Around the grounds you will see various pieces of sculpture.  The bronze donkey is by Willi Soukop (1907-1995) and the reclining figure (known to all as the Fat Lady) is by Henry Moore.

After our stroll around the gardens, we visited the Cider Press Centre, an area of old buildings with some new additions, a lovely area of shops and cafes.  We were on the look-out for a suitable retirement gift for someone, and found just what we wanted in the Dartington Glass shop (and yes, it’s a lovely piece of Dartington crystal.)

We then made our way home, and enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate by the fireside while the England v. Scotland rugby match was on TV.  What a lovely day we have had. 

 

8 comments
12