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
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
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!
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
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!
August has been frenetic at the Abbey with so many of the family staying. All nine grandchildren
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
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
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
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 email@example.com 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!
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…