Bluebells, tulips and Easter eggs have arrived at Hartland Abbey!

Bluebells are already out
Tulip 'Burnt Sugar'
Beautiful tulip 'Antraciet'
Inquisitive Guinea Fowl by the front steps
Pike with his mother, Marjorie

It is only early April but things are really stirring in the valley at Hartland Abbey! The daffodils and narcissi have been better than we have ever seen but are almost over now except the deliciously scented ‘Geranium’, one of the latest of all. The tulips in the Walled Gardens and all the pots around are bursting into flower in the most glorious riot of colours. Just as, sadly, the narcissi are fading new life is erupting to put on a show of glittering, jewel-like beauty! They are so early I worry how long they will be with us in this glorious, summery weather. The camellias too are putting on a fantastic display with some huge heads on the later ones above the Fernery. We have cleared some ponticum so that they are easier to see. The azaleas and rhododendrons are all coming out in the Bog Garden; the Shrubbery hopefully will be a little later.

The bluebells have burst forth too and the valley is turning bright blue again. Violets, primroses and wild anemones accompany them and the gorse and blackthorn on the steep slopes above Blackpool Mill Cottage are a wonderful sight. It is such a great time of year to visit Hartland Abbey! Our visitors are telling us how beautiful the bluebells are looking now – just the right time for a wonderful Easter display.

Easter eggs are in the larder keeping cool, all ready for our Easter Egg Hunts on Easter Sunday and Monday! It is so difficult to know how many to order as we have no idea yet what the weather will be! But hopefully we have enough for all the children who so love the fun of Easter!

Kath and Jo will be cooking up some special Easter treats in the Tea Room. They are always look so tempting and are so delicious they are hard to resist!  Marjorie, our white peahen, and her son, Malcolm, love being around our visitors and are always grateful for crumbs under the outside tables. Malcolm is growing a tail of which he is immensely proud! But every time I try to photograph him when he is strutting his stuff he becomes very embarrassed and puts it down. So if anyone can get a good photo we would love to see it! Hopefully Marjorie will sit again this spring and perhaps produce more than one chick, and a girl would be very welcome!

Blackpool Mill Cottage and The Bear have both been spring cleaned, painted and in The Bear smart new lamps in the Sitting Room and the main bedroom look really good. There is a busy season ahead so it is so important that everything is spick and span now. We look forward to welcoming guests throughout the summer.

All the family will be with us for Easter so there is a lot of bedmaking and cooking going on! Our dear Scudamore granddaughters had the time of their life at Aintree yesterday when Lucinda Russell, partner of their paternal grandfather, Peter Scudamore, trained ‘One for Arthur’, winner of this year’s Grand National and they were lucky enough to be included at the prizegiving, a moment they will never forget!

Lets hope for some more beautiful weather and a good summer! Angela Stucley

Malcolm's first tail!
Alice in the bluebells
Beautiful wild anemones
Wild orchids
The Bear in Stoke
Blackpool Mill sitting room

Latest news from Hartland Abbey

Carol, Hartland Abbey housekeeper, with the Gold Award in 2016!
Alastair Gourlay, Producer, Clive Russell and Hugh Stucley
Blackpool Mill in 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place'
Producer with Adam Buxton
Putting up the weird tent on the Warren!
Outdoor Theatre on the lawn
Part of the huge set of Lady Hamilton china given to the Abbey
Double pink camellia in the Bog garden
The primroses will be out too!

A bad cold and horrid weather is a good moment to update the Hartland Abbey blog, well overdue after a busy 2016 which culminated in a proud moment for us when, in October, we won The North Devon Journal Gold Award for the best Country House and/or Garden in North Devon.

It was a hugely proud moment for us at the Award Ceremony at the Barnstaple Hotel. To us this award is a recognition of the hard work by our small team who do so much to look after the house and gardens, provide delicious refreshments, look after our visitors and do their best to give everyone the best possible experience. We are so grateful to all our staff and room stewards. Theresa, our administrator, puts every ounce of her energy into looking after the coach parties and individual visitors to make sure everyone, even the least mobile, have an enjoyable time.

The interest generated from BBC’s ‘The Night Manager’ resulted in a huge number of people visiting the Abbey and walking down to Blackpool Mill cottage where it was filmed. We were thrilled that it won three Golden Globe awards; we were certainly gripped by it!

Much to our surprise the autumn was also very busy with the media. Marks and Spencer chose the Hartland Abbey Estate to shoot their online autumn catalogue. The rusty hues of autumn in the stunning scenery provided a great backdrop for their very stylish clothes. Even Rosie, our terrier, managed to get herself into some pictures! The production team stayed at Hartland Quay; Blackpool Mill and Spekes valley were the locations.

Following this Blackpool Mill cottage was used again as a film location, this time for an online, short 45 minute film. The cottage had been painted in the summer and was looking particularly smart, that is until the film company, on purpose, ‘mucked it up’! Oh dear, we could have cried! Our beautiful cottage was surrounded by heaps of junk, the outside walls were covered in grime, and it looked disgusting, in and out, with some very good special effects from the art department! Having read the plot, ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’, produced by Alastair Gourlay of Park Drive Productions and starring Clive Russell of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame, promises to be a gripping production. They were a lovely production team and we wish them every success when the film comes out online. The cottage is almost back to normal..!

BBC’s ‘Escape to the Country’ was filmed with us in the autumn. A couple were looking to buy a house locally and they were brought to see a local attraction. Hopefully the photography will be good.

Prior to this an eccentric Channel 4 pilot production, starring Adam Buxton, chose The Warren, above Hartland Quay, to shoot something on camping in a new fangled tent that lies on top of your car! I watched for a bit only to see Adam and the crew becoming more and more confused as to how to put this thing up! It certainly wouldn’t have survived a stormy night!

Our outdoor theatre productions, in conjunction with The Plough Arts Centre, were a huge success with Hartland Abbey gaining the largest audiences in North Devon. And we stayed dry! We have gained a reputation as a good ‘stage’, against the backdrop of the house, (also a shelter from the worst weather!) with diverse productions suiting all ages and tastes. With our bar and barbecue, free entry to the beautiful grounds a couple of hours before the start, it makes a lovely, relaxing treat. This summer we have some really exciting productions coming to entertain us all, which you will find on our ‘Events’ page. Sadly Mr and Mrs Crackling, barbecuers for the last five years, have hung up their trotters and we are looking for new people to provide a really good barbecue. If you are interested please contact us.

We were very fortunate to be contacted by a local couple, Alan and Pauline Whittle, who wanted to donate their huge collection of ‘Lady Hamilton’ porcelain to us to display. This china has been much appreciated by our visitors and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

We had a lovely birth in the summer when Marjorie, our only, white, peahen, hatched a solitary egg. A tiny white chick emerged. Hoping for a girl, of course it was a boy! They are inseparable and we pray they survive our fox problem; foxes have eaten nearly all our other peafowl. Originally eleven, now only four survive.

The Library has had new chair covers, making it look very smart – the old ones were worn out!  Richard Johns and Leighton Jeffery, our maintenance team have worked so hard this year. The wall and the old, mediaeval roof in the Courtyard have been restored; the Piggery wall has had all the ivy removed and the walls capped with beach stones.  Fire doors have had to be put in in three places. This has saddened us as we feel that with an old house like Hartland Abbey anything modern looks totally out of place. But it will help to put our minds at rest as the fire at Clandon House completely gutted the house and everything was lost, something every historic house owner dreads. But we will now be able to open the downstair passage to visitors before the house itself opens, enabling visitors to see most of the exhibition areas from 11am. On wet days this could be a huge bonus.

In summer 2016 we opened two new exhibitions in the old Housekeeper’s Room, last used during the war and since fallen into decay. This has made a wonderful, light exhibition space, open from 11am as part of the garden ticket. Two displays, ‘The History of the Hartland Abbey Estate’ and ‘ Filming on the Hartland Abbey Estate since 1934’ are proving popular and well received on wet days! We were very fortunate to have been partially grant funded by the AONB in this project and we thank them for their generous support. I would particularly like to thank Gigha Klinkenborg and Dave Edgecombe of the AONB for their support and encouragement for our project.

Christmas was a lovely family time when we were all together without the worry of day to day work. The grandchildren are all growing so fast that we are being dwarfed already! My mother celebrated her 95th birthday very lately; she is an amazing person who still has vivid memories of her part she played as an officer in the WRNS in the War, in Harwich, Gibraltar, Algiers and Naples, for which she was decorated, as was my father for his part at El Alamein, now sadly dead for almost 25 years.

Bluebell and Snowdrop, the donkeys are wintering well at the farm with their old horse friend! They have a lovely shed, deep in straw, which they almost never go into, preferring to get thoroughly soaked instead! They also live with the black sheep, bantams and chickens in a beautiful part of Devon overlooking Dartmoor and Exmoor from their fields! Not a bad life….. Soon they will return to Hartland to entertain our visitors. We are hoping to find a husband for them very soon but we only want a small, beautiful chap so if you know one please let us know!

We look forward to welcoming our visitors in 2017 and hope we will have a proper summer this year. We hope to have a lovely new holiday let up and running later in the spring in the farmhouse at Affeton with the swimming pool and tennis court; all details will be posted on our website. We have got lots of exciting events coming up starting with Daffodil Sunday on 12th March. The daffodils are already appearing and the camellias are in full flower. We are trying to deadhead all the hydrangeas before Daffodil Sunday – a huge task with about 200 to do! Angela Stucley February 2017

Hopefully Tony will be back to welcome everybody!
Marks and Sparks film shoot with Rosie
M & S shooting at Spekes Waterfall, Hartland Abbey Estate
Blackpool Mill in the M & S advert
Escape to the Country cast and crew
A corner of the Film Exhibition
Guests at the opening of the Film Exhibition
Marjorie and her son!
Come to our Daffodil Sunday!
Beautiful hydrangeas in the shrubbery
Richard Johns mending the Courtyard wall in the autumn

After the gales, spring is coming

Ladies Walk after Storm Imogen
Ladies Walk after Storm Imogen

For the past few years now January and February have thrown terrible weather at Hartland. This winter has been one of incessant rain, making it very difficult to garden and making the walks and parking lawn into bogs! We used to be able to have Snowdrop Sunday around 6th February but again this year it would have been impossibly wet an made far worse by

Hydrangeas in happier times
Hydrangeas in happier times

the arrival of Storm Imogen on the Sunday. The waves at Hartland Quay were massive but thankfully the hotel emerged unscathed. Imogen hit us really hard on February 7th and 8th bringing down old oak trees, blocking the front drive and the Ladies Walk completely. We had lost a huge, old sycamore earlier in the winter in the Shrubbery which provided wonderful shade to the hydrangeas. It was particularly beautiful with a mass of harts tongue ferns growing from its huge, old branches. It is so sad; its loss has ruined a part of the garden and as ever, hugely expensive to get cut up and removed. But life has to go on…..

 

Mrs Maynards Room
Mrs Maynards Room

 

During the winter our new recruit to the team, Richard Johns, has created a brilliant new exhibition space in what was ‘Mrs Maynard’s Room’. During the war it was the housekeeper’s room which must have been hard for her as it was miles from the nearest bath and loo! We are planning a display in here on the history of the Hartland Abbey Estate together with a television film on the family. Next door will be our 2016 exhibition of ‘Filming on the Hartland Abbey Estate since 1950’

Dan Stevens at Hartland Abbey
Dan Stevens at Hartland Abbey

covering all the filming including ‘Water’ with Michael Caine, Billy Connolly and Leonard Rossiter, ‘An Element of Doubt’ with Nigel Havers and Gina McKee, ‘The Shout’ with Alan Bates and Julie Christie up until the recentfilms of ‘The Shell Seekers’, BBC’s Sense and Sensibility’ and BBC’s latest, and brilliant, ‘The Night Manager’ with Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman, filmed here in April 2015.

Sunday 28th February sees the second episode of ‘The Night Manager’ on BBC1 at 9pm in which Hartland village and Blackpool Mill cottage will feature. The first episode was so good that all

Tom Hiddleston filming The Night Manager
Tom Hiddleston filming The Night Manager

of us at Hartland Abbey are eagerly awaiting Sunday evening. After the exotic locations of Egypt and Zermatt, Blackpool Mill will bring us all firmly back to earth! It seems ages ago that the whole film unit moved in to the Abbey car park for the week

of filming.

Our first event of the year is Mothering Sunday on 6th March which will be a great opportunity to

Rosie at The Summerhouse
Rosie at The Summerhouse

visit the Abbey and gardens at a reduced rate before the main season starts. There are lots of lovely flowers appearing in the gardens to herald the start of spring, thank goodness! Magnolias, tree rhododendrons, camellias, daffodils and narcissi, scillas, hellebores, wild primroses and even the first bluebell has been spotted a month early. The family Treasure Hunt is always fun and keeps everyone well exercised including the dogs. We then open for the season on Good Friday, with Easter Egg Hunts on Easter Sunday and Monday.

Stunning Apricot Tulips
Stunning Apricot Tulips

We then have lots more exciting events. Bluebell Sundays on 17th and 24th April are always fun with the carpets of blue leading to the sea and the rhododendrons in full swing. On May 1st we have the gruelling Hartland Hartbreaker Run in aid of the wonderful Children’s Hospice South West. May is also Tulip Time in the Abbey Walled Gardens with, hopefully, a stunning display of tulips in all colours. Then we go into the Outdoor Theatre Season in July in conjunction with the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington. This year we have some fabulous treats ahead: Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl, performed by Illyria; Gullivers Travels performed by The Pantaloons with a Family Arts Afternoon beforehand; Shakespeare in the form of Hamlet performed by

Hartland Abbey Outdoor Theatre
Hartland Abbey Outdoor Theatre

The Festival Players; Ratburger by David Walliams, performed by Heartbreak Productions; A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by Illyria and lastly, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, performed by Heartbreak. So, hopefully, something for everybody! We welcome back Mr Crackling (Trevor and Emma Shere) with their delicious barbecues and we will have our bar.

 

Hartland Quay
Hartland Quay

It was a huge shock and great sadness last summer when Chris and Jill Johns told us they were leaving Hartland Quay Hotel as Managers. They were the third generation of the Johns family to have run the Quay since 1963 when Chris’s grandfather took on the lease of the hotel. Hartland Quay Hotel is part of the Hartland Abbey Estate. Chris and Jill have done a wonderful job welcoming thousands of guests over the years and have worked extremely hard doing everything from shoreing up the cliff and mending the roof after storms to running a welcoming place to stay, eat and drink. They have been supported by their marvellous and loyal staff. We thank them for all they have done. They will be sorely missed but we are extremely lucky to have Donal and Sarah Stafford taking on as Managers. Donal and Sarah are local to Hartland and have great experience of the hotel trade. Sarah has set up her own successful business running The Old Bakery Coffee Shop in Hartland which will continue to provide welcome refreshment in the Square. We wish both them and Chris and Jill our very best wishes for their futures.

We are all busy preparing the house and gardens for what we hope will be a busy season with our fair share of good

Dave raking the drive
Dave raking the drive

weather. Leighton and Dave have been cutting the laurels back on the road to make sure there is plenty of room for the coaches to come in. There is still a lot of sprucing up to do before Mothering Sunday as it has been quite impossible to mow the lawns

Marjorie on the windowsill
Marjorie on the windowsill

up until now but Dave, Nigel and Sam have been working flat out in the gardens while Carol has been wielding the hoover and dusters with gusto! Theresa meanwhile prepares to welcome many coachloads of visitors throughout the summer who will no doubt be well fed and nourished by the wonderful team of Kath and Jo in the tearooms. No-one can resist their delicious cakes and cream teas…. Marjorie, the peahen, looks forward to any crumbs under the table! The donkeys, Becky and Snowdrop, are waiting for the blacksmith to do their feet before returning to Hartland from their overwintering at the farm.

We look forward to opening the gates on Sunday 6th and welcoming our visitors for 2016! We thank our wonderful hardworking team here for their support to us. We look forward to welcoming back all our part time house stewards and those who work so hard in the kiosk to welcome our visitors; we miss their company during the winter and are always so pleased to see them back along with new helpers to our close knit team.

Finally we hope our 2016 Hartland Abbey leaflet will be popular. In recognition of the huge support given to us by our Dutch visitors year on year we have designed it in the good orange of the national colour of Holland. We hope it will be easily discernible in the leaflet racks!

Hugh and Angela Stucley February 2016

 

The First Cuckoo

Reading in the newspapers of the demise of the cuckoo in some parts of the country makes me realise how incredibly lucky we are here in the Abbey valley where things have not really changed over the centuries. We heard the first cuckoo this year on May 2nd; he may have been cuckooing earlier but that is when we heard him first. It brings real joy when friends return safely; the swallows to their same nests in the Abbey outbuildings and the cuckoo to the valley to join old friends like the woodpeckers who seem to be pecking away all year. We have a lovely greater spotted woodpecker visiting the bird table every day.

In the house and gardens nothing much changes either! Old friends return in the spring to be our wonderful house guides for the new season. Some we will not have seen all winter and it is lovely to catch up again. We are all that bit older! Some things have been in the house since it was built in the 12th century like the old documents which have been here since the Abbey was built and gifted by Lord Dynham almost 900 years ago. Up until this year the last piece of serious furniture to come into the house was the wonderful, segmented table by Jupe which my mother in law so cleverly bought in 1936 for £10 3s 6d and which so impressed His Excellency The Emperor Haile Sellasie when he stayed in the Abbey though he was much more interested in where my father in law kept his prisoners! Our kitchen has remained unchanged since the 1940s! I suppose we are regarded as some sort of freaks nowadays but this is how we like it and we see no reason to change for changes sake. We never throw anything away – an old envelope is always useful! However from the visitors point of view it is always fun to see changes. We have been incredibly fortunate this DSCN1415spring to have been given some wonderful furniture thanks to the generosity of some visitors to the house on the first day of the season. They decided that the Abbey was the perfect place for their beautiful 16thC sword chest and Waterloo chairs which had been in their family for ever. We are hugely grateful; they know who they are and we are forever grateful to them. Extraordinarily at much the same time an old friend of Christine Cobbold ( Stucley), who had happy memories of staying at the Abbey as a young girlDSCN1408 in the 1960s, was moving into a smaller house and has given us a beautiful Colefax and Fowler four-poster bed which was too big for their new home. It is a wonderful addition to no 3 bedroom and again we are hugely grateful. In one week these wonderful gifts have done so much to add to the visitor experience, the first furniture to come into the house for 80 years!

We have also had a very emotional homecoming of six photograph albums and diaries from my husband’s great uncle and cousins who spent a great deal of their lives at Hartland Abbey at the beginning of the 20th century. All are dead now but the books are an extraordinary and loving record of a devoted family in those years before and after the First World War. Major Humphrey St Leger Stucley was killed at the first battle of Ypres in October 1914 leaving a widow, Rosie, and two sons, Peter and Lewis. The younger, Lewis, died as a result of wounds at the Battle of Salerno in 1943. Peter became a journalist with the BBC and author; his broadcast on the Home Service just after the war entitled ‘A Devonshire Boyhood’ on his recollections of staying at Hartland Abbey with his great-aunt as a young boy are a beautifully written insight into life in a country house at that time. We intend to exhibit some of these albums and the recollections, in the Abbey in the near future. We have an enormous debt of gratitude to some wonderful people, Ken and Maureen Langford, who were asked to clear a friend’s house in Oxfordshire after she died; they recognised that these were cherished possessions of a family unknown to them. After thorough research Maureen Langford traced our family and reunited these priceless albums to the Stucley family. If it had not been for Mrs Langford they would surely have been taken to the tip and this important link in our family history would have been lost forever. Thank you so very much.

DSCN1438No sooner had the furniture arrived than the BBC arrived too! The peace of the valley evaporated as huge articulated lorries rolled in to be production offices, make up, hairdressing, catering and rooms for actors. Our car parkDSCN1489 was the base for the BBC 6 part serial ‘ The Night Manager’, adapted from the John Le Carre spy thriller, and filmed in Hartland and at Blackpool Mill Cottage. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman and will be shown on the BBC in 2016. It was a fantastic week. Everyone worked incredibly hard to get it all done before they pulled out en route to Morocco and Majorca having filmed in London and Switzerland before coming to Hartland Abbey. Our location manager, Steve Hart, was so professional and made it all work so well for everyone. The film crew were all wonderful. We can’t wait to see it on screen. The only hint I can give is that Blackpool Mill will look a lot less clean than it does when Anne gets it ready for our holiday visitors! No more hints….!

All this was happening at the same time as the Grand National meeting when I normally give myself three days holiday in front of the teli. As parents in law to a National Hunt jockey it is very difficult to watch without being consumed by nerves but Tom had a wonderful ride in the National on Soll, right up front keeping out of trouble, and finishing eighth. He had had a very good Cheltenham with three winners and a good Aintree winner too which takes off the pressure. The film truckies were all keen betting men who insisted on backing Tom in every race. They went home a lot poorer!

DSCN1610More down to earth, Spring has also been all about tulips. We have had a stunning display of new colours in the pots and borders which are just leaving us. The daffodils and bluebells were very beautiful this year but now the foxgloves are starting to herald early summer which also means weeds in profusion. My arms are stung and scratched DSCN1622after a bank holiday weekend of pulling nettles, docks and brambles! In the wilder parts of the woodland gardens they appear overnight but are not very welcome; there is only one thing to do…!

Thank you to everyone who visited us on our special wild flower days and at Easter for our Easter Egg hunts. Theresa’s wonderful clues kept everyone busy all afternoon with the reward of a big Easter Egg. We sailed quite close to the wind as we only had four left over; there would have been some very sad faces had we run out! It will be back next year with more challenging clues. There were 300+ runners for this years gruelling Hartland Hartbreaker Run, so brilliantly organised by Simon Haywood. As yet we have not heard the final amount raised for the Childrens Hospice South West. Already 2016 is booked for Sunday May 1st. Our thanks to Simon for his dedication to making this event such a huge success.

DSCN1684We have just had Christopher Drake, the very brilliant photographer, taking pictures to accompany an article by Janet Gleeson in the BBC magazine Homes and Antiques, for the August edition. It is a great honour to be included in the magazine and we look forward to seeing it in print. We first met Janet when she stayed at Hartland Abbey as part of the Antiques Roadshow team. She is a brilliant author and one of the best books I have ever read, The Arcanum, about the discovery of Meissen china, was written by her and is a must!

We have just had a group of twenty Germans staying in the house for five days of garden visiting and walking. We were very lucky to have had almost wall to wall sunshine and the coastal walks were looking at their best with all the wildflowers. Each year Jenny Curtis Beard, the founder of Curtis Beard Walks, brings a lovely party to stay and savour the glories of staying in an English country house with less than perfect plumbing! It was a very happy week followed by a wonderful group of DSCN1650the Directors of the Kremlin Museum who visited the Abbey as part of a tour of the Southwest of England. It was a great honour to have had a visit from such an erudite group of Russian people.

We have lots of outdoor theatre coming up soon. Starting with ‘The Magnificent Three’, a spaghetti Western by Miracle Theatre who we love, the season includes something for everyone including a Jazz evening with Digby Fairweather to get the Abbey shaking, a Family Arts Day with the Plough Theatre, the disgusting sounding ‘Mr Stink’ from David Walliams until ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen at the end of August. We have a wonderful Charity weekend of fun in aid of the North Devon Hospice and Cancer Research coming up at the end of June. All the details are on www.hartlandabbey.com under Events.

Our wonderful and gifted neighbour and former architect, Brian Percival, has designed our first Hartland Abbey mug for us. We are thrilled with the design and these china mugs are now adding a class act to the Abbey shop! They areDSCN1444 available in green and red and are flying off the shelves!

Thanks to our fantastic and small team of Theresa, our administrator, Carol, our housekeeper, and Nigel, Dave and Sam our gardeners, Leighton and Richard on maintenance and all our amazing house stewards when we are open, we have achieved a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2015, for the second year running. Thank you to all of you for putting on such a fabulous experience for our visitors.

DSCN1633

 

Finally, Marjorie, our rescue white peahen brought to us by the wonderful Diana Lewis of the North Devon Animal Ambulance, is so tame now. She sits on The Little Dining Room windowsill waiting for her toast in the morning. If you are visiting and see Marjorie, please don’t let any children or dogs chase her but do give her a little bit of your cake if you can bear to part with it! She is terribly smelly but absolutely adorable! We are praying she won’t be eaten by a fox or a badger as she is too tame really.

As I write the gardens and walks are looking so beautiful. Foxgloves have replaced bluebells in the walks as the season moves on, the rhododendrons and azaleas are flowering in the Shrubbery and Bog Garden and their scent is filling the warmer air as is the wisteria in the walled gardens. The tulips have faded to be replaced by a burst of herbaceous splendour! My job is to keep pulling up weeds…….DSCN1675

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DSCN1685

Hartland Abbey Daffodils herald start to season

It is only a few days now until we open for our 2015 season. The usual last minute panic ensues, as it does every year. Nothing goes to plan when we are closed and this winter has been no exception with two huge trees falling down in the last month which needed clearing, just as we had tidied the gardens and walks ready for opening! We had been hoping to open a small visitor centre full of information within the house but time has run out. It will be a good job in wet weather and hopefully it might be opened later this year in what was an old staff bedroom. We are also hoping to have a short(ish) film of the life of the naughty Sir Thomas Stucley, an 16th Century ancestor, which is being made by Sir Hugh’s cousin, Professor David Northmore. It promises to be very exciting and probably quite bloodthirsty seeing he was such an old devil! Carol has been dusting and polishing and hoovering up flies, Theresa taking lots of bookings and making wonderful new notices, Nigel, Sam and Dave trying to get the garden looking its best, Leighton mending everything and we have been beavering away in the background trying to create our new website and dealing with the ever increasing mountains of paperwork!

Leighton and Steve clearing fallen trees
Leighton and Steve clearing fallen trees

An enormous oak tree fell across the part of the Bog Garden where some of our loveliest camellias grow, smashing them to the ground. Whereas this will not do them any harm, as we get older we will miss them until they flower again in a few years time. Camellias rather relish being cut back but take a few years to flower again. This oak tree, probably 250 years old, was not rotten at all but just pulled over by its huge weight. However there is no shortage of camellias at Hartland Abbey and we have lots of photographs to remind us of their beauty.

The saddest of all has been the loss of the old Mulberry tree in the bottom of the Walled Gardens, just inside the yew topiary. For hundreds of years it had been producing delicious, juicy mulberries; the grandchildren called it the ‘Juice Tree’ on account of the squishy berries which they loved! Their faces were black by the time they had finished. It is always so sad losing any tree, let alone a loved one. We have immediately planted another mulberry which we hope will bear fruit in our lifetime!

Remains of the Mulberry Tree
Remains of the Mulberry Tree

This winter we have achieved some definite improvements to the visitor experience! The walls in the Tea Room were always damp, typical of an old building. Leighton has tongue and grooved the walls and it has immediately improved, not only the appearance, but the warmth! Kath and Jo provide such wonderful lunches and cream teas for everyone so it is nice to do something for them. They are planning delicious Easter treats!

The front drive was becoming very bumpy. Last year we resurfaced the back drive, this year we have had to fork out again, not something we were longing to do at all! Up until now it was the old stone carriage drive, put in about 250 years ago, but sadly now worn out from so many cars. However it was necessary for our visitors to arrive safely and happily. This is an example of a substantial hidden cost caused by the amount of traffic visiting the Abbey; in the old days there were few cars, and few carriages before that. However we are grateful for every visitor. Without you we would not be able to keep the old place going. Thank you!

Our 'new' drive
Our ‘new’ drive

The most important (and necessary) improvement is the new ladies’ loos! We have NEVER had hot water, something most of us come to expect in the 21st century! There was only one washbasin and the loo handles were forever breaking off! Thanks to Leighton and Dave we have modern flushers, two washbasins AND hot water! This should particularly help lessen the queues for coach parties, and theatre goers when 300 people need the loo in a 15 minute interval!

New loos!
New loos!

Lastly we have created our new website www.hartlandabbey.com , something that was necessary to be compatible with advances in new technology. We are very happy with it but it took weeks to achieve the end result. Hopefully it will be easy to glean the information you require. We are producing our first Hartland Abbey mugs which will be on sale very soon. The design was by our very good friend and architect Brian Percival whose wife, Wendy, writes very good and exciting novels, on sale at Hartland Quay!

Last year was so busy that I never wrote a newsletter! So this is a quick catch up…

Rosie as a puppy
Rosie as a puppy

Very sadly Alice, our adored Jack Russell, was killed on the road. It was absolutely heartbreaking. But every cloud has a silver lining and now Rosie rules the roost. She is now a year old, doesn’t bite, is loved by us all but has got it in for our lovely new peahen, the peacocks, the guinea fowl, the cockerels and the black sheep! Trying to stop her chasing them is almost impossible as terriers are very selectively deaf!

The walls in the vegetable garden were in an awful state so this time last year we had a team in to repair them and they do look much better. Sadly there Timmy and Rosie are very much in love!wasn’t enough in the kitty to repair them all but at least it is a start and has stopped the worst falling down completely.

We had lots of events including the very popular and gruelling Hartland Hartbreaker Run which is being held again in May this year and a wonderful season of outdoor theatre and this year promises some very special performances from Mr. Stink and a Family Arts Day for children to some good Gilbert and Sullivan with ‘Iolanthe’, Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ and much more and an evening of Jazz with Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen and Tina May. All details are on our website www.hartlandabbey.com.

Start of the Hartland Hartbreaker May 2014
Start of the Hartland Hartbreaker May 2014
Beautiful evening of theatre
beautiful evening of theatre

The Willian Stukeley exhibition continues and is to become a permanent feature in the house as there is such a strong connection to this family. He was a fascinating character who achieved so much in his lifetime, long before modern technology and modern communications. His involvement in Stonehenge and Avebury is very topical considering how much time is spent visiting these ancient places, and their history, on the television.

We had our Daffodil Day on 15th March. It was a lovely day and thank you to everyone who came and the very special dogs!

Beautiful mimosa in the Bog Garden
Beautiful mimosa in the Bog Garden

Tulip Red Shine

The daffodils were very reluctant to appear on time but plenty of camellias and the most wonderful mimosas were flowering profusely. It does mean that the daffodils will be at their best at Easter as well as the magnolias and lots of beautiful spring flowers. The camellias are fantastic this year. We have two Bluebell Days at the end of April when the valley turns blue. It is a wonderful time with the wild orchids and foxgloves appearing too. This year we have new plantings of tulips in the Walled Gardens and pots which we hope will look stunning. Some are already in bud but later in April and May they should be spectacular.

The grandchildren are all growing fast. We just love it when we can all be together at times like Christmas and Easter. Our son in law, Tom Scudamore, who is a National Hunt jockey has had a very good season so far with two winners at the Cheltenham Festival but we are always mindful of the falls ahead in this most precarious of jobs. Our other son in law, Ran Morgan, who runs Knight Frank in Edinburgh has had a terrible fall in a cross country race and has broken his hand, his wrist, his ribs and his collar bone all in one go. And all in the name of fun….

We have a few available weeks in the holiday cottages. We will always do a reduction for couples as although they both sleep eight people, they are cosy and very good for two people.

Blackpool Mill looking inland
Blackpool Mill looking inland

We are very hopeful that the BBC is coming here to film part of a six part drama series for TV, and we have the possibility of a three day festival in summer. So there is plenty to keep us busy….

We are so grateful to our wonderful staff for all they do to keep the Abbey and gardens going. If you notice things are not perfect, please appreciate that with Leighton (just retiring after 50 years here), Dave, our groundsman, (almost retiring), Carol, our wonderful housekeeper

who cleans all the Abbey herself (almost retiring) and us (past retiring), we all do our best. Theresa is young(ish) but Nigel and Sam in the gardens are our only really young things!! Unlike the National Trust who have thousands on their staff nationally

Dave, Nigel and Twiggy!
Dave, Nigel and Twiggy!

and a lot of people running each property, we are a private, family house without the funds to employ lots of people. We appreciate hugely the many, many kind remarks written in our comments book by thousands of our visitors each year but are saddened when a very small minority write derogatory comments on Trip Advisor. We would really appreciate it if you were to come and tell us or our staff what is wrong so that we can hopefully put it right!

Thank you very much for reading this and hopefully it might persuade you to visit our beautiful corner of England in 2015! Hugh and Angela Stucley March 2015