All change at the Abbey

It is already mid-November and Christmas is approaching rapidly over the horizon. With our four children, their other halves, nine grandchildren, my mother and other friends staying and another influx on Boxing Day, now is the time I have to start cooking. With so many presents to buy and wrap up and masses of food to prepare I try to get organised early on so that I can actually enjoy Christmas! There is always the risk of getting flu just at the worst time as everyone is arriving; even a flu injection doesn’t seem to do the job properly! We buy our turkey from a near neighbour who produces the most delicious turkeys who have lived a very happy life. I normally provide good post-Christmas business to our local chiropractor, Frank Loftus, in South Molton as heaving a turkey which feeds 20 people in and out of the Aga normally does my back in! But it is a wonderful time all together with all the children and their children and ninety year old great-granny!

This autumn has been particularly busy for us at the Abbey with exciting things happening for next season.  At the end of September we said goodbye sadly to Nancy Johns and all the wonderful ladies from St Nectan’s Church who had run the Abbey Tea Rooms for the past 26 years. Anno domini was catching up and there were just not enough younger volunteers to take it on. We also said goodbye to Mary Heard who had been our Administrator for nearly as long and has been such a support to us over that time. Just before we closed we held a lunch in aid of Elizabeth Finn which does such great work to help elderly people. Mark Poltimore, who is a cousin of my husband, came down to Hartland and gave a very amusing talk about being an expert on the Antiques Roadshow. He brought lots of slides and kept the audience enthralled with ‘behind the scenes’ stories. The Elizabeth Finn committee then gave everyone the most fantastic buffet lunch in the Dining Room, all cooked by themselves.

Every cloud has a silver lining as they say and out of the ether has appeared Kath Morrison and Jo Wade to take over the running of the cafe in the Old Kitchens.  Kath has been helping us in the kiosk, welcoming visitors and stewarding in the past and has a history of catering. Her friend Jo has a shop in Bideford currently but will be starting a new career feeding all our visitors! It promises to carry on with the same ethos of good home baking with all the familiar homemade scones and cakes but will have exciting new additions like hot paninis and cappucino coffee from the coffee machine! We are moving forward…!

Decorating the Old Tea Rooms

Leighton, our wonderful handyman for the past umpteen years, is busily redecorating the Tea Rooms and soon a new kitchen will be installed with ovens and all mod cons ready for its launch on  Snowdrop Weekend!

Theresa Seligmann has taken over Mary’s job as Administrator and is attacking the job with huge enthusiasm and energy! She has lots of ideas to make everyone’s visit more exciting.  We have started by revamping our website with the help of Stephen Hobbs our honourary archivist who is so good at all the technical stuff.  We have still got a bit of tweaking to do until we are really happy with it but it is such an improvement on the last one.  It should make it easier for potential visitors to see what we do.

We have so many exciting events for 2013 and we will keep posting the details when we have them. Our opening times for 2013 will be completely different from previous years; we will be open from Sunday to Thursday all season from March 24th – October 6th inclusive from 11.30 – 5pm and closed on Friday and Saturdays.

We start the season with Snowdrop Weekend on 9th and 10th February.  It is always such an exciting time with the thousands of snowdrops appearing from the Walled Gardens to the sea. We open up other parts of the estate which are not normally open where the snowdrops grow so there is masses of room to explore and for children and dogs to run wild! We always encourage visitors to bring as many dogs as possible and the result is the most amazing array of all shapes, sizes and breeds. Some arrive in posh coats which are soon covered in mud as the pooches go berserk in all the space!

I always mean to hold a Dog Show at the same time but people might freeze to death at that time of year!

In March we have our annual Daffodil Day on Sunday 17th and then we reopen for the season on Sunday 24th March in time for Easter.  The week of April 21st – 28th we will open every day for Bluebell Week which is such a beautiful time of year and hopefully a bit warmer by then. On Sunday 5th May, during the first bank holiday weekend, we hold a very exciting new event called The Hartland Hartbreaker which sounds hellish as it is a really gruelling cross-country race starting and finishing at the Abbey. Apparently it is about 15 miles long, up and down the steep coastal footpath, through the fields on the estate and through as much mud and water as possible, we are told!  It is all in aid of some very good causes including the Children’s Hospice, South West. We will hope lots of people will come, not only to take part but to watch as well. More details will be posted on our website when we know what is happening. At all our events we hope to have Sam and Em Stone from Exmoor Kitchen with their delicious barbecue as well as the Tea Room producing some delicious drinks and eats and hot pasties. We will also be holding Outdoor Theatre events during the summer but we have not got any dates yet but I know ‘Treasure Island’ is in the offing in August. This will be very befitting to Hartland as years ago the film was made here.

For the whole 2013 season we are planning to stage an exhibition on William Stukeley who was a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, wrote on his famous apple experience, was instrumental in saving Stonehenge and Avebury from being ground up into road building materials and is a distant ancestor of my husband. He was an amazing man who seemed to have achieved more in his life than most people would in 10 lives. We have his portrait by Kneller looking down on us every day in the Little Dining Room so it is fun researching his life which ranged from being a druid, an antiquarian, an archaeologist to a vicar! We also hope to have scale models of Stonehenge and Avebury made by a local person. I was inspired by hearing two programmes about Sir William on BBC Radio 4 recently.

The Spring Clean starts early, such a lot to do

The donkeys are back at the farm in great luxury with lots to eat and plenty of shelter.  Alice has taken up her winter living next to the Aga between forays to chase anything that moves. Nowadays most things escape as she has slowed down a bit! I have been wanting a cat for ages but knew that it wouldn’t survive with the dogs but I now feel much more confident as Alice is much lazier. Hopefully we will get a kitten soon as the mouse problem is awful. They seem to thrive on mouse poison and take the bait to have picnics in the beds while making holes in the blankets to make nests! It is very annoying (and expensive).

We have just had a couple of days in London attending the Historic Houses Association AGM. They are the most wonderful organisation for us house owners, helping us with our problems and giving us great inspiration. Being able to discuss house opening with other people in similar circumstances is enormously helpful.  Most historic houses in private ownership are members. They run an excellent Friends Organisation which with an annual membership subscription allows free entry into all open HHA houses and many that are normally closed to the public.

The family have had busy summers and autumns. Our eldest daughter with her husband, Tom Scudamore the jockey, moved house into an old farmhouse which they painted themselves from top to toe. They are now ensconced well in time for Christmas. Tom had a successful weekend at Cheltenham with a couple of winners and a handful of seconds.

It has rained and blown so much lately that a huge chunk of the Walled Garden wall has fallen down, luckily not on top of anyone. Just what we did not want when we are so busy.  Nigel and Sam are working so hard at the moment cutting down the borders and planting all the tulips for next spring.  We are going with the same colours again which we love but next year I think  we will be really radical and have a complete change!

We have differing shades of purple, yellow and red in the Rose Garden which look stunning, purples in the pots and bright red in the pots by the front door. Nigel has done a wonderful job in his first season and we had many compliments particularly on his stunning displays in the summerhouse.

With so much to do to get the exhibition and the tea rooms ready it may be a while before the next blog! A happy Christmas and New Year to all who have visited us in the past and we hope to see you back again soon.

Angela Stucley