This is always a manic time of year at the Abbey with so much to get ready for the coming season and consequently no time for self indulgence BUT I just can’t miss the Cheltenham Festival on the teli. Channel 4 is so brilliant with its coverage and this year we had four days of four hours, thus sixteen hours less time to dead head hydrangeas (positively the worst job) at the Abbey! This is my holiday which I look forward to every single year, much to my husband’s delight as it costs him nothing! My family have always been very keen on the racing and some of my first memories are with my nanny pushing my sister in the pram on the course at Royal Ascot while my parents spent the day with their friends in the Royal Enclosure! Our nanny was very keen on betting and was also very energetic pushing us from start to start to see the horses and jockeys; I am talking about the early 1950’s! We used to wave at The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh as they came through the Golden Gate in their carriage – very happy days.
Our son-in-law Tom Scudamore, who is married to our eldest daughter, is a jockey; he had lots of rides at Cheltenham this year which made my ‘holiday’ much less relaxing as I hide my eyes in the chair when he is riding as I am always so nervous for him. The first two days went well except for the disappointment of Grand Crus in the RSA Chase but all went much better on theThursday with a wonderful win on Salut Flo in the Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase. Much the most nerve wracking was his ride on The Giant Bolster for David Bridgewater in the Gold Cup. This horse, which was 50-1 with the bookies, has a history of not being the best of jumpers and last year put Tom on the sidelines for 5 months with a shoulder injury. With my head in the chair and ears blocked I emerged just before the last fence to see the unexpected sight of The Giant Bolster and Tom in front but unfortunately AP McCoy was looming large to spoil the party! A second in the Gold Cup was an incredible success for all concerned but to see horse and jockey in one piece is, to us, the most happy outcome. Then as if that wasn’t enough, Tom won the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday on the gutsy Master Overseer, an end to a wonderful week for him and David Pipe.
We had a great sadness last autumn when we lost Snowdrop, the oldest of our three donkeys. Bluebell and Nutmeg were very miserable without their sister and I think now we should look for a surrogate ‘sister’ for them. The donkeys are so sweet and such an attraction to so many of our visitors but we need to find a very friendly soul as, and I am crossing my fingers, up until now they have never bitten or kicked anyone! If anyone should know of a quiet donkey that needs a lovely home where she will be utterly spoiled then please contact us. The two donkeys will be coming back to Hartland from our farm where they overwinter along with lots of the black ewes and their lambs. We have to be careful not to bring the lambs back too soon as the small ones will be eaten by the huge fox and badger population which has sadly decimated our peacocks and guinea fowl this winter.
Thank you to everyone who came to our Daffodil Weekend. Saturday was quite quiet and peaceful but Mothering Sunday was so busy in the beautiful weather. Lots of families brought their mothers for a day out in the spring sunshine. The daffodils and narcissi have not behaved very well this spring with many of the later ones refusing to come out in time but there were still enough earlier varieties to make a show. We have found that many of our older, historic ones are blind this year but they did flower particularly well last spring. Some bluebells are already out with primroses, violets and wood anemones and lots of camellias but this coldish weather will keep everything going until we open for the season on April 1st.
The greatest selection of dogs appeared and the joy of these early days is that they can be let off the lead before the sheep come back; there were lots of exhausted dogs and owners and not a single dog fight!
Plenty of families joined in with the Treasure Hunt but the winners by a long way were the Whiteley family (left) from Westward Ho! It is quite a demanding task with the clues spread over a large area (it is designed to exhaust children) and quite a few don’t make it to the finish! Congratulations to Summer and Nalani Whiteley for their determined effort.
Now its back to dead-heading hydrangeas, sprucing up the holiday cottages for Easter, renewing the notices for opening and thinking of all the food that I am planning to cook for all the family coming for Easter – and buying Easter eggs for all the grandchildren, of course! Carol, my right hand, has spent all winter spring cleaning, painting the tea rooms, killing woodworm and hoovering up flies which love the Abbey in winter. No end of fly papers, sprays etc can even begin to make a difference and my husband says we mustn’t put smoke bombs in the roof as the fire alarm will go off. Oh dear, any ideas would be very welcome! We will be opening the gates and doors again on April Fool’s Day for the season, but it isn’t a joke! Our next wildflower event is Bluebell Week from 22nd – 29th April when the admission will be £4 again. Hope to see you then.