The River Dart at Totnes

If you have read some of my recent posts, you will know that our washing machine died and we had to buy a new one.   We chose a Whirlpool machine this time, quite an up-market model – we have been assured that it senses the load and adjusts the amount of water required to do the wash.  There are more programmes than I can shake a stick at, even one for Sport (let’s not mince words: I think this is a euphemism for Sweaty) and one for Baby Items.  Why not a cycle for “Old Codgers Clothes” (OK, that’s a euphemism for smelling of wee-wee) for we’re old codgers far longer than we are babies!  Sorry, I’m being frivolous, it’s a lovely machine but, sadly, not a thing of great beauty.  It is white when I wanted black, but the porthole door is black, as is the control panel.  So we’re halfway there.  My Bosch dishwasher, by comparison (and a fraction the price) is truly elegant.  They face each other across the kitchen.  Flying into the realms of fantasy they might even pull faces at each other when my back is turned.

But I digress …

I happened to mention to the gentleman who installed the washing machine that we had a Hotpoint tumble dryer.  I knew there had been problems with some Hotpoint machines catching alight and Hotpoint were working as hard and as fast as they could to modify the machines that had been sold.  “I phoned Hotpoint,” I explained to him, “and they said our machine wasn’t one of those affected.”  His response was that they had added to the list of affected machines and I should re-check online.  So I did. And our machine was one of the affected ones and it advised owners to unplug them and not use them until they had been modified.  Which was any time between now and forever.

Our decision then was to buy a new machine.  We’d had the old one at least ten years (I hasten to add without any problem) and so that was why we fetched up in Totnes this morning. With me so far?

Right.  Popped along to the shop from where we bought our washing machine only a week ago and bought a new top-of-the-range silly-price tumble dryer, again by Whirlpool.  It will arrive in a week’s time. So far this year we have bought:  a new computer (for me), a new dishwasher (Bosch), a new washing machine (Whirlpool), a new vacuum (Dyson rollerball), a new bed for grandson, and now a tumble dryer (Whirlpool).  Ouch!

The purchase having been made, we left the shop and walked the short distance to the River Dart, passing the rather attractive houses (above) which have been built in the last 20 years, and ending up at the Steam Packet Inn on the banks of the River Dart where we had had breakfast a couple of weekend’s ago. 

We only wanted coffee and perhaps a toasted tea cake, but they didn’t have tea cakes (well, it is an inn, not a café) and the very friendly proprietor suggested we had toast and marmalade.  When it came it was a feast – two lovely large slices of real bread, lightly toasted, marmalade and butter, and a cafetierre of coffee and hot milk. 

It is an attractive inn, and one we would not hesitate to visit again for coffee or a light lunch. Below is the view from our table, through the window.  The River Dart ‘splits’ here, the curved area is known as Vire Island  (for Totnes is ‘twinned’ with Vire in Normandy) although it’s not a proper island as it’s attached to Totnes upstream, on the right is the River Dart, and on the left, a little ‘cut’ beside which are old warehouses which have been renovated and made into apartments.

As we sat there we said that this year, unlike in previous years, we really must make an effort to have a steamer cruise down the River Dart to Dartmouth and back again.  The journey takes about 50 minutes to an hour and is really pleasant – along this lovely stretch of the River Dart you pass the summer home of the late Dame Agatha Christie at Greenway, and that is another National Trust house that we must visit this year. 

And as we mentioned that we must have a cruise to Dartmouth from Totnes, one of the lovely riverboats arrived, up from Dartmouth and turned around ready for the return journey, downstream.

However, we couldn’t sit and sip coffee all morning, much as we’d have liked to, so we made our way back to the car, popped into the supermarket for some flowers (my one weakness … yes, as well as books, scent, magazines …) and made our way home.  Having coffee and toast soothed us and softened the blow of yet another expensive purchase.  

Back again soon!

 

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I said I would try and find out to what purpose the Gamekeeper’s Cottage (photo above taken 2009) was being used now, since it’s recent renovation …

And so I contacted the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust and had a very swift response from them, an email arriving this morning in which I have been informed that “the cottage is now being offered as accommodation for the Trust’s Long Term Volunteers. These volunteers are on a 12 month placement with the Trust gaining experience in practical conservation.”

Some years ago, I read the following on a notice board outside the then derelict cottage:

The earliest record of the cottage is from 1567. It was used by the Warrener. His job was to tend a colony of rabbits kept on the hillside behind the cottage. A 2-mile long wall enclosed the rabbit warren and the animals supplied Cockington Court with fresh meat. Manscombe woods [behind the cottage today] did not exist and the landscape was very different: the hillside would have been covered in rough scrub and open grass areas.

The lakes and gardens were laid out by Rawlyn Mallock in the 1600s while the woods were planted in the 19th century. It was in the 19th century that the cottager earned its present name. Rabbits, which had naturalized in the wider countryside, were no longer a luxury item and the upper classes turned to a new exotic food – pheasant. Pheasant shooting became very popular among wealthy landowners and Cockington was one of the many estates which employed a gamekeeper to tend the valuable birds. Manscombe Woods was planted to provide cover for rearing the young birds.
Today pheasants live wild around Cockington and are rather more fortunate than their Victorian ancestors – shooting is no longer allowed.  In 1990 the cottage was burnt down by vandals and left a ruined shell.

I can remember the burnt out shell of the cottage being rebuilt  in the early 1990s, after which it was used for various purposes, but in the last decade it again fell into disrepair.  The latest renovation would appear to have changed the cottage quite radically, but nonetheless it is good to see the building still in use more than 450 years since it was built. 

 

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There was a lovely sunrise this morning.  I was up in time to see it, husband was still asleep, but when we had coffee about 8 am, I suggested we had breakfast in Le Bistrot Pierre this morning, as a treat.  We’d not been there for breakfast since last summer and so we headed off to Torquay sea front.

Le Bistrot Pierre is in the Abbey Sands building built a few years ago and replacing an old Torquay hotel which had fallen on hard times, was semi-derelict, and then set on fire by vandals.  The site was an eyesore for several years until Abbey Sands, like a Phoenix, rose from the ashes and is now one of the smartest (and award-winning) buildings in the Bay built in an Art Deco-like style.   It is mainly luxury apartments, but with eateries on the ground floor (Las Iguanas, which has Mexican food, a Costa coffee shop, and Visto Lounge, which is decked out in retro style) although Pierre’s occupies the end (the curved end, I mean) position in this building and is on both the ground and first floor.

 

The two photos immediately above I took from the staircase which rises to the first floor – the ground floor is mainly a bar/coffee shop area, with outdoor seating, too.

We went up to the first floor …

and chose a table for two close to the window which overlooked the balcony, although it was a little too chilly at 9.30 am to eat outside …

I took the above photo through the window, hence some reflections. 

Not the best photo I’ve had taken, my hair had flattened in the slight breeze.  In my navy blue ‘uniform’ as ever (with indigo denim jeans and my red flatties.  I live in long-sleeved Ts!

Breakfast was so-so, not as lovely as the lunch we had with our friends a fortnight ago … I had croquet monsieur and my husband had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.  The coffee, too, wasn’t the best we’ve had but it wasn’t expensive and I do think much depends on which chef is on duty.  If we go again we will have croissants and jam, I think.  We’ve enjoyed an ‘English breakfast’ here, but we find egg, bacon, etc, often too much for our small appetites.

We then had a stroll along the sea front as far as the Big Wheel which, for the 5th summer (I think) has been erected on the sea front.  Previously it was closer to the harbour, which I think was a nicer site, but now it’s been sandwiched between the theatre and the war memorial and looks a bit overpowering and, at the same time, squashed-in.  It just skims the trees and  when they are covered in leaves, I think the gondolas might brush against them … we shall see.

A couple of years ago, when the Big Wheel was sited closer to the harbour …

… we had a ride on it; it went around three full circuits.  Husband, who has flown many times and never batted an eyelid about cruising at 30,000 ft, said, “I’m not too sure about this …” as it reached it’s full height.  I was too busy with my camera to worry about it!

It was lovely seeing Torquay from on high.  In the photo immediately above you will see the grassy area where the Big Wheel is now sited. 

It is now almost lunch time (we will only require a sandwich after that wholesome breakfast!) but, with clouds now appearing, I think we’ve had the best of the day.  If it stays fine we might do some gardening, but if not, simply have a quiet afternoon, reading the Sunday papers and watching the annual University Boat Race which takes place today on the River Thames, from Putney to Mortlake.

‘Bye for now!  Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday.

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We have just had a couple of fairly busy weeks.  Not busy as in work busy, but busy as in socializing.  Lunch with friends twice last week, a small afternoon ‘do’ to wish our doctor goodbye on his retirement, a friend for coffee this week and attendance at a memorial service and refreshments afterwards yesterday, and so we felt all-chatted-out.  Not that we haven’t enjoyed ourselves! Far from it, we’ve had a lovely two weeks, every occasion totally different but equally enjoyable. But today we just wanted each other’s company and a walk in the countryside. 

Cockington Country Park

For a large conurbation, such as Torbay, it might at first seem unlikely that there could be any countryside within the Borough’s boundary. But you would be wrong. Deep in a hidden valley right at the heart of Torbay, the village of Cockington is surrounded by tranquil countryside.  Miles of footpaths and horse-riding routes allow people to wander throughout the 460 acres of the Cockington Country Park, to explore old lanes and woodland ways, and to relax among flower-filled meadows. Well, flower-filled in summer, and all within only a mile or two of Torquay’s sea front.  Today we went only along by the watermeadows to the heart of the village and then a stroll to The Lakes, Cockington Court and the Rose Garden.  There are many other areas to explore and I will tell you about those another time.

After parking our car along the lane to the village, we began our walk close to what are known as “The Lakes” but which are two large ponds.  The Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust has been carrying out extensive work, restoring the paths, de-silting the lakes, repairing the cascades that flow from one lake to another, repairing the dams and stonework, and clearing ditches and channels. The lakes may have originally been built in the 12th century (and re-designed in the 19th century) by order of the Abbey of Torre, and were designed to provide trout and carp for the ecclesiastical community at Torre.

There are wonderful specimens of magnolia and rhododendron, one magnolia in particular, a very pale pink, looked magnificent …

A short distance from The Lakes is the old Gamekeeper’s cottage. In recent years this had fallen into a state of semi-dereliction but it has now been transformed almost beyond recognition.  I’m not sure to what purpose this building is now being put, but I intend to find out …

Before

After

From the Gamekeeper’s cottage we walked through the park towards Cockington Court, looking forward to a cup of coffee, for there is now a tearoom in the Court …

I took the above photo a couple of years ago, in May rather than in April, hence more leaves on the trees, but because the ground was very muddy this morning, I didn’t wish to trample over the grass to get a picture of Cockington Court, once home to the Cary and then the Mallock families of Torquay.  It was busy with others enjoying the spring sunshine, but we managed to find a table outside and ordered scones (cheese for myself, plain with cream and jam for my husband) and coffee …

Next to Cockington Court is the small church of St George & St Mary (c1069).  It is a favourite wedding venue, it being in such a lovely setting. 

From Cockington Court visitors may take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the drive to Cockington Court and back ,which is fun, especially for children.

At the rear of Cockington Court is the rose garden. Far too early today for June roses, but it was lovely to see the rose bushes had been pruned and given a thick mulch of horse manure (plenty available for the nearby stables!

From here we made our way back along the drive from the Court to the centre of Cockington Village …

 

where there are so many pretty cottages it’s difficult to choose which ones to show you, as they are all so idyllic in their valley setting.

Between the village and the seafront are lovely water meadows, a bit too squelchy to walk through today so we kept to the narrow lane which runs parallel to the meadows.  There are old gateways and old walls, nothing is too tidy in this part of Cockington which adds to its charm …

 

Then home for lunch. 

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. 

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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

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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.

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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.

 

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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. 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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