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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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