Latest news from Hartland Abbey

Carol, Hartland Abbey housekeeper, with the Gold Award
Alastair Gourlay, Producer, Clive Russell and Hugh Stucley
Producer with Adam Buxton
Putting up the weird tent on the Warren!

The combination of a bad cold and horrid weather is a good moment to update the Hartland Abbey blog, well overdue after a busy 2016 season 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 for everything they do. 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’ was instrumental in encouraging a huge number of people to visit the Abbey during the season and walk 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 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 all stayed at Hartland Quay; Blackpool Mill and Spekes valley were the locations.

This was followed by Blackpool Mill cottage being used again as a film location, but 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 a marvellously eccentric Channel 4 pilot production starring Adam Buxton chose The Warren, above the cliffs at Hartland Quay, to shoot something about 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! I am not sure if and when it comes out.

Our outdoor theatre productions last summer, 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 built up a reputation as a good ‘stage’ against the backdrop of the house (also a shelter from the worst weather!) with lots of 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, who have provided the barbecue 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 which she looked after really well. Hoping for a girl, of course it was a boy! They are inseparable and we pray they both survive our fox problem; foxes have eaten nearly all our other peafowl. Where there were 11, now only four survive.

The Library has had a facelift with new chair covers, making it look very smart! The old ones were on their last legs. 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. They will also mean that we will 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 when we open. On wet days particularly 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 falling into decay. This has made a wonderful, light exhibition space where visitors can enter from 11am as part of their garden ticket. Two displays, ‘The History of the Hartland Abbey Estate’ and ‘ Filming on the Hartland Abbey Estate since 1934’ are proving very popular and being under cover, are particularly well received on wet days!

Christmas was a lovely family time; a 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 as many visitors as possible in 2017 and just 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. Angela Stucley February 2017

Marks and Sparks film shoot with Rosie
Blackpool Mill in the M & S advert
A corner of the Film Exhibition
Marjorie and her son!

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.

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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

Spring arrives at Hartland Abbey on Mothering Sunday

 

With lovely weather forecast for tomorrow, Mothering Sunday coincides with Hartland Abbey opening its gates for the season.  Ironically the daffodils are far better now than they were when we opened for Daffodil Day a couple of weeks ago and the gardens really are looking beautiful.DSCN0140DSCN0130

The primroses are better than ever, confirmed by Monty Don last night on Gardeners World! Delicious smells have been wafting up from the Tea Room kitchen where Jo and Kath have been cooking up some delicious treats for Sunday. Their food has been so good and they received plenty of accolades in their first season last year! So many people and dogs came to Daffodil Day; thank you to everyone for coming even though it clouded over after a beautiful start to the day. It had been a nightmare getting the walks tidied up and safe after the storms but we all pulled together and with lots of bonfires we just managed to be reasonably tidy.

clematis armandii
clematis armandii
magnolia in lower garden
magnolia in lower garden

 

 

Nigel has filled the house with some stunning flowers and Carol has the house looking lovely. Thankfully she has been on a very well earned holiday for the last week but will be back in action with the hoover on Monday! She is also the shopkeeper, a job she shares with Liz Hodges. They have to wear many extra layers of clothes to keep warm in the basement but they are always smiling! We are so lucky with our wonderful room stewards and our ‘chaps’ in the Payhut who are so helpful to the visitors. It is always lovely to see them back in one piece after the winter; we so enjoy their company and care that all is well. Behind the scenes Peter and Karen Senior have been cataloguing the Library. It is immensely kind of them both. Karen was a librarian so we could not be in better hands; we are hugely grateful. Our thanks to Stephen Hobbs too who beavers away keeping the website going, though sadly he is retiring at the end of the season. Many visitors have been guided by him, his knowledge of local history is huge. He is also our voluntary archivist and very good at putting records onto modern technology! We are a bit behind with the filmshow as so much time was spent clearing trees and not making the space, but all will be well soon. We might have use the nursery temporarily provided no one minds the grandchildrens’ mess! Also we are making some new display cases to house the diaries and travel journals of Sir H’s ancestors and my great uncle’s letters from WWI.

Our thoughts are now turning to Easter and for the first year we are having an Easter Egg Hunt in the Bluebells on Easter Sunday and Monday for our visiting children. Theresa, our wonderful, creative, Administrator (normal seen running about from coach to coach) has been thinking up some ingenious clues, all rhyming, and we just hope for good weather. I am trying to decide how many Easter eggs to buy as we don’t want any disappointed children, equally we cannot possibly eat hundreds of left over eggs! I am locking them in the larder so no grandchildren can get them first! Theresa is also busily making some lovely old fashioned games and I have seen her knitting needles and brown wool all ready to make some surprises! The bluebells should be looking beautiful as Easter is so late. As well, we will then have our Bluebell Sunday on the 27thSONY DSC April when we will have the reduced entry as we do on all our spring flower days. The foxgloves should be coming out then and April is such a good time for the gardens here.

The walls round the Vegetable Garden are looking so smart thanks to a grant from the Higher Level Scheme. The coping on the top of the walls has been restored; it had fallen off in great chunks and a large buddleia  population had established itself and basically the walls were not going to last much longer without emergency help. They do look a bit barer than usual but with the Hartland climate, normality will soon be restored! About two weeks to go before the builders disappear along with a hideous blue container that doubles as a shelter (with electricity) and a store. It does not really enhance the 18thC gardens! Nigel looks rather envious as they get inside for their coffee; poor old chap only has rather a dark shed with intermittent electricity but a lovely woodburner to warm up by.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Alice

 

Alice cools off
Alice cools off

Nutkin and Alice 13

We have had a great

 

 

sadness; Alice my adored terrier and best friend for the past 15 years was staying with our daughter near Tiverton while we were away for the weekend. She decided she wanted to come home to the farm and just set off to travel 15 miles. Sadly, she never made it; she had not worked out how to cross the horrid North Devon Link Road. It was devastating, firstly for us all not knowing where she was and then finding out thanks to a kind man who had seen her lying by the road. She was on the direct line between us and our daughter’s house and would have made it save for the invention of the car. She was the most incredible character and I miss her dreadfully. She is buried in our garden which she spent most of her life digging up! Our visitors to the Abbey will probably have mixed emotions as many have seen her, always next to me while gardening, on a lead, as her teeth had a bit of a reputation! Other dogs were always greeted with the most awful growls but it was only Alice being fiercely protective. Life will never be the same without her.

We managed to fit in a week’s holiday in March on a lovely island, La Gomera, in the Canary Islands. No people(or canaries) but lots of wonderful walks and wildflowers. A lovely rest. We also had a day at Cheltenham races and were thrilled to see our son in law finish third on The Giant Bolster in the Gold Cup. He had a wonderful week with three Festival winners on Dynaste, Western Warhorse and Ballynagour, all for his boss, David Pipe and the supportive owners.

We have some incredible theatre to look forward to this summer. Richard Wolfenden-Brown, the-more-than-dynamic Director of the Plough IMG_1862Arts Centre in Torrington, has confirmed seven productions ranging from ‘The Tempest’ (lets hope the weather doesn’t match the description) to ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ for the children. We have also been given ‘Candleford’, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, ‘Robin Hood’, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’. We are even having a matinee and an evening performance of Candleford. There is literally something for everyone. We will again be having the delicious barbecue and plenty of liquid refreshment! We are really looking forward to an entertaining summer on the front lawn. All the details are on the Hartland Abbey website under ‘Events’.

Hartland Hartbreaker
Hartland Hartbreaker

Finally May 4th is when all the supremely fit of North Devon and further afield amass at Hartland Abbey for the second ‘Hartland Hartbreaker’ cross country run. Starting at the Abbey with a stampede, hundreds of men and women attack the steep hills of the North Devon Coastal Footpath for twenty something miles of agony in order to raise money for The Children’s Hospice South West.  It is a fantastic cause and we admire all these people raising money for the CHSW. Anyone who would like to donate to this wonderful charity can go to their website.

The donkeys and black sheep with all their lambs will be back in the park next week. We can’t put the donkeys onto all the spring grass beforeIMG_1827 the sheep come back otherwise they will get laminitis which is agonising; however the sheep can’t come back until the lambs are a tiny bit older otherwise they are just feed for the foxes and badgers which is very distressing.

 

 

 

No Snowdrop Sundays but lots to look forward to..

With seemingly incessant rain falling, gales blowing, trees crashing, the stream flooding and high tides encroaching, the Abbey is besieged. Sadly, we have had to cancel our Snowdrop Sundays for the second year in succession which is a great shame; we have such a lovely display here which we always look forward to sharing with our visitors

Alice in the Snowdrops
Alice in the Snowdrops

and,usually, with lots of their four-legged friends! However with so many trees damaged in the storms which have either had to be cut down or made safe there are many impassable walks and paths. The car park is under water and the mud is horrible! Dave and Leighton spend nearly all their time clearing gutters and drains to keep the water flowing away from  the bedrooms and the basement, which houses the museum, dairy and exhibition.  It all takes up valuable winter time, reserved for important maintenance which will have to be shelved.

Hartland Quay is being battered on a daily basis by the 90 mile an hour gales but so far the damage isn’t too bad. Bits of the slipway wall have fallen off and a few slates here and there but considering the force of the battering it is standing up well to the elements, thankfully. What a difference a few months make when looking at the photographs of Bear Rock at Hartland Quay!

Bear Rock, Hartland Quay; summer 2013
Bear Rock, Hartland Quay; summer 2013
Huge waves over Bear Rock 5th Feb 2014
Huge waves over Bear Rock 5th Feb 2014
Lovely new curtains and windowseats at Hartland Quay.
Lovely new curtains and windowseats at Hartland Quay.

 Jill and Chris, the managers, are doing a fantastic job decorating the rooms. The lounge is so smart with its new curtains and lovely window seats all made by Sue Macdonald from Philham. She is a brilliant curtain maker and is also responsible for the lovely new curtains in some of the bedrooms at the Abbey. Sitting in the lounge window in the Quay Hotel, beside the fire, is the best place possible to watch the enormous seas crashing over the rocks in winter. 

The Walled Gardens have survived almost unscathed save the bottom greenhouse which has lost most of its roof. It was not in great shakes anyway but it is a job we were hoping would wait until next year when we could restore it properly. But in the meantime some sheets of perspex will have to

Leighton trying to mend the greenhouse in a force 10 gale
Leighton trying to mend the greenhouse in a force 10 gale

suffice until there is enough in the pot to do the job properly! It is a vital greenhouse which overwinters all the tender perennials and grows tomatoes in the summer and has been there for at least 100 years.  Thankfully, so far, we have had only two nights of light frost all winter so nothing has suffered from the cold.

In the Walled Garden the wintersweet (chimonanthus praecox) and the sweet box (sarcococca hookeriana) are flowering and when the air is still,

Wintersweet in the Walled Garden
Wintersweet in the Walled Garden

the heavenly scent fills the air. It is a lovely moment in January when I can pick the first sprigs of these treasures and bring them into the house. They are not the best lookers but my goodness they give such pleasure. Vita Sackville-West, in her wonderful Garden Book from the 1950s, extolled their virtues. The camellias are covered in flowers but it is almost impossible to appreciate their beauty in the lashing rain! All the snowdrops and crocuses are appearing fast and the daffodils are looking promising for our Daffodil Sunday on March 16th.

Hellebores are out in the garden now.
Hellebores are out in the garden now.

We have grabbed the bull by the horns and are about to start capping the garden walls in the places where they are at their most precarious. Being such an important part of the Abbey desmenes and having been built in the 18thC we just cannot ignore their state. Over the years bits have fallen off and a good crop of buddleias has rooted high up. When the wind blows the buddleias rock and more stone dislodges! Work starts very shortly and will, hopefully, be finished by early April. We are hoping that the workmen will be

Nigel and wisteria
Nigel and wisteria

careful with all our precious plants in the borders. Nigel and Sam, the gardeners, have had an awful job lifting the wisteria tendrils off the top of the wall. Over 150 years old and the length of the wall, about 20 metres long, they now lie like snakes on the path. No one is sure how to get them up again as they are so heavy!

There is so much maintenance to be done in the winter and just not enough time and manpower to do it during the time we are closed to the public. For many years Leighton, on his own, has performed miracles but now anno domini is catching up and everything takes that much longer. Poor chap, every time he starts a vital job another tree comes crashing down or drains need clearing and then he has to get the chainsaw out again and that is at least a week of vital time gone.

Blackpool Mill and The Bear need maintenance too in the winter while they are empty. They are always full up with families over Christmas and the New Year and then they go quiet later in January and February. Having been full up for most of the year they both need a vital facelift. New bedding, duvets etc need to be bought and all the curtains

Blackpool Mill in better weather!
Blackpool Mill in better weather!

and chair covers washed and walls painted. We want all our guests to feel as though they are the first in the cottages, all through the year! Debbie and Anne, the housekeepers, are wonderful and do a great job between lets. It is not always easy for them if there has been an untidy family who leave late, but they work wonders. St Margaret’s Hospice shop in Dulverton has the best selection of puzzles and books of any charity shop and whenever I pass it I always call in to add to the cottage libraries! We think it is essential to have lots of good books for those wet days when guests want to curl up in front of the log-burning stoves or to lie in the incessant summer sun in North Devon! We still have the February half term weeks available and even if this extraordinarily wild weather continues the cottages are fully central heated and have lovely wood burners to curl up in front of after some really good stimulating walks along the coast. You will definitely get a reduction!It is time to redo the Abbey leaflet for 2014; always an exciting and worrying combination! Exciting to change the design but worrying in that it has to ‘sell’ the Abbey for the forthcoming season and we mustn’t forget to put in all the new events which are still not sorted out. My computer is so full of photographs which are less than well organised and trying to find that vital ‘magical’ image of the garden that someone took in July is not so easy!

Memories of roses last summer
Memories of roses last summer

There is lots to look forward to this year. Daffodil Day is not far off (16th March) which will be the first opportunity to see the lovely collection of our historic daffodils and there will be lots of primroses and violets as well as many

Narcissus 'Thalia'
Narcissus ‘Thalia’

early spring flowers in the gardens. It is a lovely time to visit before the opening season proper starts and is a great chance to come in at a reduced price which also admits visitors to the museum, William Stukeley Exhibition and the shop. The house is open too at a small extra charge. The Old Kitchens will be open again for the first time this year; after such a successful first season we are thrilled that Jo and Kath will be back in their pinnies again serving their delicious homemade lunches and cream teas. In addition there will be hot soup and hot pasties which always assures boiling hot weather! They did such a fantastic job last year and we are thrilled they want to continue. Passing the Tea Room always made us feel hungry at the sight of the scrumptious cakes!

We have exciting times ahead. We open for the season on 30th March when all the spring flowers should be looking lovely and then we have a fabulous  Easter Sunday and Monday of fun to look forward to. Being so late (20th and

Bluebells on the path to Blackpool Mill
Bluebells on the path to Blackpool Mill

21st April)  it is at our best bluebell time and so we will be combining Bluebell Days with an Easter Egg Hunt and some traditional children’s games. We will also be open on Good Friday too. The following weekend (27th April) there will be a Bluebell Sunday. These days are great fun for all ages and, very importantly, lots of doggies! Then on May 5th we will have a second running of the Hartland Hartbreaker, a gruelling cross-country run up and down the coast and around the Hartland Abbey Estate all in aid of

Hartland Hartbreaker
Hartland Hartbreaker

the wonderful Children’s Hospice South West. It is open to all but you need to be seriously tough and fit!

Later, in summer we are having some wonderful outdoor theatre in conjunction with The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington. This will be the third year of working together and we are so thankful to Richard Wolfenden-Brown for bringing the performing arts to Hartland Abbey. It is really great fun. This summer we have The Tempest, George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Pirates of Penzance and Robin Hood to look forward to, and there might be more! All the details of all the events, admission prices etc are on our website and the Plough Arts

Outdoor theatre on the lawn 2013
Outdoor theatre on the lawn 2013

Centre website.

Last, and certainly not least, news on Timmy, the ginger kitten who many people met last year in the kiosk. We were so worried that the dogs would eat him up which they had almost succeeded in doing once, but with great care and a lot of threats to the dogs as to what would happen to them IF they ate him up, everyone is living very happily together now, thank goodness. Timmy now rules the roost and the dogs give me very old-fashioned looks as if to say ‘do we really have to have this thing in our house’ but Nellie, the puppy, and Tim have wonderful games together. During this horrible weather he is definitely not earning his keep, keeping the mouse population under control, and we have had to have a few words with him on this as cat food is very expensive and we do want to see a return! However he has taken no notice and spends all day and night curled up on the sofa while the mice run riot. Hopefully he will be in the kiosk to welcome evryone this year but not on the days that Mick mans the kiosk – he is not too keen on cats! Colin, however, loves them! Do come and visit us and have lots of fun. We so enjoy meeting our visitors and do all we can to make a happy day for everyone who visits Hartland Abbey.

Alice looking at Timmy sitting on her cushions
‘I don’t want to share my sofa with a cat’.
Timmy having a holiday from mousing.
Timmy having a holiday from mousing.

New arrivals at Hartland.

For the first time this year I find myself actually sitting in the Rose Garden, taking in the beauty in the late summer sun and admiring the result of all Nigel’s hard work. Sitting down is not something we do much in our family; a sense of guilt soon

Rose garden in late August
Rose garden in late August

rears its head as there is always something to be done. But today, with my amazing 91 year old mother, we are having Saturday afternoon in the peace of the Walled Gardens, perhaps sharing

that experience which our visitors have enjoyed all summer. Last year, with such awful weather,  there was never a day like this with the late summer scent of the buddleias and phloxes wafting through the air. It is the smell of hot summers of childhood, just before we went back to school for the autumn term. The sensation never leaves you. The phloxes, roses, honeysuckles and jasmines all combine to fill the air with a heavenly scent and beautiful colours so enjoyed also by this year’s hatch of fritillary butterflies. The purple artichoke flowers are heaven for the bees. The whole atmosphere is so comforting in this beautiful, warm, low sun.

My conscience has been stirred; the lavender needs cutting in the warm sun. Lots of lavender bags are guaranteed. But

A bright corner
A bright corner

Blue hydrangeas and heavenly eucryphia in the Shrubbery

what a fulfilling and peaceful task. Under the lavender the grape hyacinth are already appearing, a stark reminder that we have to endure winter before we see these little blue jewels appearing in spring! There is no noise here, just the buzzing of bees to keep me company. It seems such a far cry from some moaning Minnie who visited us in June and wrote rude things on the awful Trip Advisor about the temperature in our house! It was the coldest June on record and yet some people arrived in tea shirts and expected the Abbey to be at 80 degrees; if they had to foot the heating bill they would soon realise why we wear warm jerseys instead of ordering more oil! Anyway all those memories are a far cry from the wonderful summer that we are still enjoying.

The doors in the garden are so smart now. Leighton has done a wonderful job with a pot of green paint. Hopefully the walls will be mended this winter, then we will be really smart!

Becky and Snowdrop
Becky and Snowdrop
A kind visitor sent this ball to Tim
A kind visitor sent this ball to Tim
Tim selling guidebooks
Tim selling guidebooks

2013 is proving good for new young blood at the Abbey. Firstly the arrival of the baby donkey, Snowdrop the Second, andnow Tim and Nellie have arrived, both deliciously marmalade coloured! Tim is a very beautiful ginger kitten who has many fans already, admiring him as he sits outside in the beautiful sunshine or latterly running the front hall and the payhut! Nellie is our Labrador puppy who is almost round with razor

Nellie
Nellie

sharp milk teeth. She is adorable but very naughty; her favourite amusement is chewing a squeaky plastic effigy of Boris Johnson with a shock of bright blond hair! Madge has been her nanny since she arrived with us and like all the best nannies has enormous patience.  Alice just looks grumpy and is put out by the influx of youth at the Abbey. The peacocks are very curious. Both Tim and Nellie love all the attention from our visitors and are extremely spoilt!

Hartland Quay looking beautiful
Hartland Quay looking beautiful

August has been frenetic at the Abbey with so many of the family staying. All nine grandchildren

The Climbing Tree
The Climbing Tree

adore it here with the beach on our doorstep. Having had a proper summer for the first time in about five years the sea is really warm and it has been picnics every day and no

Alice cools off
Alice cools off
Making the jungle camp
Making the jungle camp

macs! The Hartland Carnival at the beginning of August is always a big highlight of the holidays. That such a small community could put on such a brilliant show is extraordinary; the floats are enormous fun and the result of a lot of hard work. The children love it and we all have fish and chips and (for us) delicious local cider! Apparently, it is the best carnival west of Bridgewater! The streets of Hartland are filled with people and all the money collected goes to worthy local charities.

The ‘William Stukeley-Saviour of Stonehenge’ Exhibition has been popular with our visitors and many have asked for an accompanying book. Perhaps a good project for this winter but I think I need to hide for a month in order not to be disturbed! I will have to ask David Northmore if he is feeling energetic too! 

At the end of the month the local multi-national pharmaceutical firm, Activis, chose Hartland

Great Victorian Entertainment at the Actavis Day
Great Victorian Entertainment at the Actavis Day

Abbey as the venue for their employees and families day out. It was a great honour to be chosen and we were very fortunate to have wonderful weather for the thousand people who came. All the brilliant organisation had been done by Activis and resulted in a lot of fun for all ages. Hugely talented Victorian entertainers, Punch and Judy and acrobats were the flavour of the day along with traditional fairground rides providing a great atmosphere,  very fitting to the backdrop of the Abbey. Guests were able to enjoy the walks to the beach and the gardens and many people visited the house which was open for the afternoon. It was a very happy and relaxed day out thanks to Actavis’s very efficient organisation. 

We have had some wonderful theatre performances on the lawn, seven in all. We started in June with Lark Rise and have just finished with ‘Babe the Sheep Pig’ by Illyria travelling theatre

Ruchard with his mobile Plough Box Office
Richard with his mobile Plough Box Office

Babe The Sheep Pig on the lawn

company who performed ‘The Mikado’ with us the previous week. Both were fantastic productions which attracted big audiences. We are sad the season is over now but are so grateful to Richard Wolfenden-Brown and The Plough Arts Centre at Torrington for bringing the productions to Hartland Abbey. The bar, barbecue and children’s chocolate fountain have been very popular additions and have saved people having to bring picnics. Hopefully we will carry on the tradition next year.

On Friday 6th September, Simon Armitage, the poet, will be stopping off for the night at Hartland Abbey on his walk round the South West Coastal Footpath. This will culminate in a new book but whilst staying the night with us he will be giving a poetry reading in the Drawing Room There are a few tickets still available at a suggested donation of £6.50 for wine and cheese in the Dining Room which kicks off at 7pm. All details from hartlandpoetry@hotmail.co.uk Ring us at the Abbey for tickets. All this has been arranged by the indefatigable Alison Heimann at the AONB. Thanks to Alison for what promises to be a fascinating evening.

Our thoughts are turning to jobs for the winter, of which there are always many. Carol is looking thrilled as I mentioned ‘doing up the loos’! ‘Not before time’ came the reply but we all know here that our wish list is very long and normally there is a drama like the roof leaking and then all has to go on the back burner again! As Leighton is the only person capable of ‘doing up the loos’ we just have to hope that the roof doesn’t leak, Blackpool Mill and The Bear stay in one piece and that the hundred and one other jobs can be put on hold. THEN we can have posh loos like the National Trust! Mind you that is the only thing we want like The NT, everything else they do is stereotypical NT and we are not at all stereotypical anything here!

Finally a huge thank you to all the wonderful people who have visited us this summer and written some really kind and touching remarks in our comments book. It is hugely appreciated as everyone who helps us in every way here gives their all.  We have entered two competitions in North Devon, for Best Visitor Attraction www.northdevon.com/daysout  for Best Tea Room www.northdevon.com/vote so if anyone feels like supporting us, we would be hugely grateful. Kath and Jo have worked so hard in their first year in the Tea Room and they have had some amazing compliments on their scrumptious food! Theresa, our new Administrator, has worked tirelessly to give everyone who visits the best possible time here, ferrying lots of less able people to the gardens and generally going far beyond the call of duty. She is marvellous. We are very lucky. Thank you Theresa!

Sir H and Roger Kettle having a cuppa
Sir H and Roger Kettle having a cuppa

Last but not least, this afternoon we had a lovely surprise. One of our old ‘boys’ from Highgate Junior School, who were here in the war, just walked in, having taken four trains and nearly as many buses to get here from Norfolk. Not bad for a sprightly mid-octogenarian! It was lovely to see Roger Kettle and we all had a lovely cup of tea in the evening sun. We miss our Highgate Reunions so much but please, if any of you read this, do be in touch. We have so many happy memories.

PS I can never get the photographs in the right place in my blog; I must get a lesson from the grandchildren…

Exhibition up and running, at last

Pelargonium in the passage
Pelargonium in the passage

The house is radiating beauty with the wonderful pot plants and displays by Nigel, our head gardener. He is superb at growing geraniums and pelargoniums and although summer has deserted us for a few days now, the house is looking

wonderful.  Thank you to all the visitors who came on Thursday and kept your sense of humour! We were not there but by all accounts the house was full to bursting as the rain poured down outside but everyone was amazing in the scrum! Kath and Jo did their best to keep everyone well fed and watered in the Tea Room.

IMG_1511The Walled Gardens are looking really beautiful. They are such a credit to Nigel, and Sam our part time gardener, and Dave who keeps the grass mown. The camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas are nearly over now in the woodland gardens but the crinodendron and embothrium  (Flame Tree) in the Bog Garden look stunning. I feel sad when spring leaves us but the Walled Gardens come into their own now.IMG_1509

At last the William Stukeley exhibition is up and running. We are thrilled to see all the months of research and design come to fruition in a stunning display thanks to David Northmore’s imaginative and creative thinking. It has been a real joint effort but the uniqueness is all his doing and we are so thankful to him.  We were thrilled that he and his wife Lenis flew from America to  be here at Hartland for the opening by Robin Makeig-Jones, Commercial Director of North Devon +, on June 7th. (Robin had been seen by millions on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, filmed at Hartland Abbey in 2011, with fairy china painted by his aunt, Daisy Makeig-Jones, for Wedgwood).  We are so grateful to Leader4 and the North Devon AONB for their part funding of our project.  We are also incredibly grateful to the wonderful people who volunteered to help with this project. You know who you are, thank you so much.

Part of the exhibition
Part of the exhibition

We have had some wonderful comments on the display. So many people will have read of William Stukeley when visiting Stonehenge and Avebury but few will know any more about the man who apart from so much else, was with Isaac Newton when he discovered gravity through the falling apple. Stukeley

Elephant dissection!
Elephant dissection!

was the first to write Newton’s memoirs, a facsimile of which is on display. Anyone interested in our great stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury should, we hope, find this enjoyable. The BBC has provided us with a really interesting radio programme on Stukeley from many years ago which provides a good background commentary.

The outdoor theatre season here is already in full swing. We have been lucky to have had dry evenings, albeit cold! But Trevor and Emma with their Mr. Crackling’s barbecue have produced the most delicious home-made burgers and steaks to keep us well fed and warm. We have a wine and Pimms Bar too to make a real evening at the theatre. Many thanks to Richard Wolfenden-Brown of The Plough for bringing theatre to

Mr Crackling
Mr Crackling

Hartland Abbey for another season of entertaining evenings.

 Miracle Theatre’s performance of ‘Waiting for Godot’ last night was brilliantly acted, a really outstanding performance of this extraordinary play. I urge anyone who has the chance, to see it. Miracle Theatre are touring the West Country for the next couple of months -don’t miss them! You would be pushed to see such good acting in the West End.

Miracle Theatre 'Waiting for Godot'
Miracle Theatre ‘Waiting for Godot’

To start the season last weekend we had ‘Lark Rise’ performed by the Plough ‘in the round’. It was a great tale of country folk with a very powerful and emotional ending. Well done to the Plough for a good and

'Larkrise' by The Plough
‘Larkrise’ by The Plough

entertaining production.

Saturday 29th June at 5pm sees Heartbreak Theatre returning with a new performance, ‘Alice -an Extraordinary Adventure’. I am sure this will be enchanting family entertainment. We will  be having the barbecue, hot and cold drinks, cream teas and the bar for the parents! Then we will have to wait until August for four great evenings of theatre – Romeo and Juliet, Treasure Island, The Mikado and Babe the Sheep Pig. There is something for everyone!

We have a cancellation for Blackpool Mill from Friday 27th June for a week. It is a great time to be down there so please contact us if you would like the week at a last minute discount! We also have some weeks available in September at The Bear and Blackpool. It is normally such a beautiful time at Hartland with the huge spring tides and a warm sea to bathe in. All the details are on our website.

Thank you to everyone who has visited us and hopefully the weather will improve and we will all be able to enjoy a great summer at Hartland.

Wonderful wildflowers in the valley

pretty campions
pretty campions

Everything is so beautiful in the valley; the pink campions, the lingering bluebells, the emerging foxgloves, the wild orchids and the wild garlic are putting on the best display for years. God’s garden really is the best! Our paths leading to the beach look prettier than anything at the Chelsea Flower Show, and not a human hand has gone into the design! The sea pinks clinging to the cliff at Blackpool Mill are the brightest pink we have ever seen. The cold

wild Hartland garlic
wild Hartland garlic

winter and spring have conspired to hold everything back and then to put on this amazing show.

walled garden
walled garden

The walled gardens are looking stunning with the Red Shine tulips doing just what they say, shining against the clear blue sky. It is so peaceful in the gardens here, the silence only broken by the two peacocks shrieking across the valley to their wives who, they do not realise, have succumbed to the fox.  It is so sad. They are desperate for some new wives. Instead, they are displaying their full plumage to the guinea fowl who look very confused.

Today we have two weddings in the walled garden and what a day they have chosen. The first really warm day with not a cloud in the sky. I am so thrilled for the couples and we wish them well. After all the planning they were rewarded with the perfect wedding day. Rhododendrons and azaleas are emerging

Red Shine
Red Shine

in all the walks, just on time for the holiday weekend. How the visitors have deserved this fine weather; for once they have been rewarded! People are enjoying the beach without winter coats and I have even seen some shorts for the first time (except our dear postman who wears them all year)!

Only two weeks to go (June 9th) until the exhibition opening with at least six weeks work to do in that time! This has become a labour of love and my husband loves telling people that I am now married to an 18thC antiquary, so much time has been spent doing this. But never have I met such a lovable, eccentric, fascinating character as William Stukeley who enjoyed his evenings at Cambridge drinking and eating with friends at the same table as half dissected dogs and cats, his research for

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

that day! The exhibition will be a muddle of everything he did from his memoirs of his friend, Isaac Newton, his drawings and records of Stonehenge and Avebury, his Itinerarium Curiosum around Britain along with his description and pictures of dissecting an elephant with Sir Hans Sloane in his garden in 1720. There will be lots to see…!

Hartland Hartbreaker
Hartland Hartbreaker

Finally, well done Simon Haywood for organising the first Hartland Hartbreaker cross country run at Hartland Abbey a couple of weeks ago now. All in aid of The Childrens Hospice South West, it was a fantastic effort not only on Simon’s part but by all the runners who endured 18 miles of the toughest terrain of the coastal path together with miles of rough ground on the Abbey estate and through the gardens. It was a great day with some very happy but very sore participants at the end of the day but all for a wonderful cause. The winner was from the Tiverton Harriers and was home in just over two hours, an amazing effort. But huge

Our Hartland boys
Our Hartland boys

congratulations to our six Hartland runners (sadly Lisa is not in the photograph), one of whom was fifth overall which really was terrific. Congratulations to Ross and to all of them! It reminded me of the London marathon a few weeks before. Our daughter ran in it for the first time, in aid of the Children’s Hospice SW, with her knee breaking down at 15 miles and walking the last 11 miles at a limp. Whatever the agony, determination overcomes it when you are raising money for children with terminal illnesses.

A busy time down in the valley

our early morning visitor
our early morning visitor

Saturday 4th This must be the first day of a long-awaited spring. There is some warmth in the sun and lovely, almost Alpine air, and the birds all sound so much happier. Our pheasant friend, who wakes us every morning at about 5am ‘chooking’ under our bedroom window demanding his breakfast, is all puffed up and happy.

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sharing their chicks!

Two banty hens who hatched out only two chicks each in the freezing cold are much jollier today but keep muddling up their chicks, creating a hiatus!
They have all had a lucky escape as a badger chewed through the electric wire and dug under the chicken wire surrounding the henhouse last night but mercifully never got in. They are such brutal killers and to find chickens still alive in the morning with their legs and bottoms eaten off, is one of the most distressing and cruel sights you could see. Not many people understand the devastation they cause.

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Hoping for this sight soon!
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A Daffodil Day Visitor
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Alice posing for North Devon Journal

The early daffodils are still looking wonderful with the later ones still to flower! Nothing much has changed since Daffodil Day on 17th March. The first bluebells in the valley are appearing which bodes well for our Bluebell Days on 21st and 28th April. There will be lots of other lovely spring flowers out and the tulips are about to burst into bloom along with the camellias so if the bluebells are a bit late there will be plenty else to see! Entry to the walks and gardens on these days will be only £4 per adult with children free. It is always a popular time for local people and dogs to visit and often there are holiday visitors as well.

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Jo and Kath ready for an invasion

Our new Tea Room is proving very popular; Kath and Jo are producing mouthwateringly delicious food and lots of hot sustenance in the cold weather. They have decorated the tearoom to look so fresh and welcoming and have worked so hard. It makes us want to help them as much as we can so this week I am taking the plunge and ordering a cappuccino machine as so many of our visitors like to have different coffees.  Kath and Jo have been collecting vintage china so people have the choice of modern fresh white cups or a lovely mixture of pretty ones to suit all tastes!

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Model of Avebury by Philip Johns
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Exhibition room all ready to receive the display

Preparations for the opening of our William Stukeley Exhibition are coming on albeit a bit later than we had wished but hopefully not as late as the opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which has reopened five years late! We plan to open in May. Finding and ordering all the images, obtaining permission from the Bodleian, Corpus Christi etc, researching manuscripts and books, designing the display, making and painting exhibition cases – all such a big learning curve. David Northmore , Sir H’s cousin and an Emeritus Professor of Science in America in real life, has produced some really clever, eccentric and exciting design, quite unlike anything I have ever seen! An academic, he has surprised us all (and probably himself) by his creativity. Philip Johns, in Hartland, has made some stunning scale models of Stonehenge and Avebury for us; we are so grateful to him as he is not very well. We wish him a full recovery. We are now so obsessed with our ancestor that I doubt we will ever end our research, it is so extraordinary! Reading Stukeley’s 1745 books on Stonehenge and Abury (Avebury) and Stuart Piggott’s Biography has become my night-time reading which I shall miss, especially when WS is becoming obsessed by Druids having been perfectly normal in the 1720s!

Our son in law, Tom Scudamore, had a good winner at Aintree on Friday on a lovely horse called Dynaste for the David Pipe team. He had a great Grand National ride on Major Malarkey for Nigel Twiston-Davies; he was never going to worry the judge but his bright yellow colours were easy to see nearer the back than the front and he had a wonderful ride on a true stayer finishing 11th. What a wonderful Grand National it was on a beautiful spring day with the horses loving that good going. Charlotte, his wife, is running in the London Marathon next week in aid of the Children’s Hospice, South West. It is a brilliant cause and she has raised a great sum to help them in their wonderful work.

Blackpool Mill has had a facelift with Mel tongue and grooving the kitchen and the shower. Please don’t worry, (all our regular guests), it is only to stop the paint flaking off the wall! Nothing has really changed!(our guests hate change)! It has made it so much cosier and warmer.

We have had a lovely Easter with nearly all the family. The Abbey was like living in a deep freeze and my mother, who is 91, braved it admirably! Good wartime training! We had lots of visitors who also braved the icy blast and children had a lovely time doing our Treasure Hunt with an Easter egg for each participant.

We have some lovely coach groups this week and John Hodges, our head steward, and I did a double act today – he providing all the Abbey history and me filling in with all the family anecdotes. Topically, we were reminiscing on the visit of Sir Dennis and Lady Thatcher to the Abbey in 2002. It was an enormous honour for us. They were so interested in the house and Lady T was especially fascinated by our Falklands display, of the photographs and diary entries of Sir H’s grandfather when he made a visit to the Falklands in 1909 with his dog, Madge! His diary had been published in the Economist at the time of the Falklands war in 1982; it contains many drawings and early photographs from 1909 of the country and buildings which were the same then as in 1982, very little had changed in nearly 80 years. We have many happy memories of that special day. I well remember when our children were small, we were in the grip of strikes and I had to heat their food and bottles on the open fire as there was no electricity or heating. Then Mrs. T was elected and we had her to thank for restoring essential services to our life and we were only too pleased to repay her in some small way.

Our new arrivals, Snowdrop and Becky
Our new arrivals, Snowdrop and Becky

The black sheep have arrived back at the Abbey today from the farm. Graham and Trevor, our farmhands, drive them down the link road in two trailers behind their tractors causing awful queues, I am sure! If only the link road had been a dual carriageway originally, this would never happen. It seems so unfair that South Devon has such a good road and we are stuck with a very inferior link to the outside world. The sheep, and their lambs, looked as though they had arrived in heaven with so much grass in the park. Now the donkeys and sheep create a lovely pastoral scene for our visitors. The sheep can’t lamb here as the foxes and badgers will eat the lambs when they are born. Hopefully they are old enough to escape now. Black Welsh Mountain lambs are so sweet with their long tails. Becky and her baby, Snowdrop are proving very popular with visitors; they love all the attention!

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