Instead of decorating the Abbey with huge vases of camellias and narcissi and putting all the Quiz questions around the gardens ready for Daffodil Day on 18th March, I was at my desk cancelling it in all the ways available to us – wonderful Radio Devon, on our website, social media and word of mouth. Hopefully the wonders of modern technology worked as we couldn’t bear to think of hardy folk turning up only to find the gates closed. The weather forecast was just too bad with snow and cold winds from the east AGAIN; the car park was anyway almost waterlogged (and frozen)! The daffodils were hanging their heads in rather a depressed way so with all this we took the decision to cancel. Only once since 1996 have we cancelled anything before – a waterlogged Snowdrop Sunday many years ago. We are not quitters but we really felt it was the right decision; as it was we were totally vindicated as Sunday was horrendous with a lot of snow for Hartland, drifts on the A39 and roads closed everywhere.
We have postponed until next Sunday 25th March when hopefully everything will be looking more beautiful and something called SPRING will have arrived with the cold winds from Russia a distant memory! The mimosa in The Bog Garden is really beautiful, the camellias are gallantly flowering in full profusion and the orchard is a golden carpet of daffodils. Delicious warming food will be on offer in the Tea Room; poor Kath and Jo wasted so much last weekend.
So much has been achieved this winter by our small team despite endless flu and colds. Richard, our two-day-a-week decorator and miracle builder, was off for two weeks with a stinker but nevertheless has done wonders! New fire doors have had to go in which we did not want but Fire regs are Fire regs these days. We hated the idea but the house is much warmer as they have stopped the worst of the draughts! He has painted the exhibition passage, the Tea Rooms and the Ladies loos so all will be looking fresh for the new season. And the really good news is the NEW CARPETS! We have not had a new carpet almost since the War! But now wonderful Braddicks of Bideford have laid the most beautiful, paeony red carpet all the way up the front stairs, along the landing and down the back stairs. Our visitors had been commenting on thread-bare carpets, something that we had hardly noticed! But now it all looks so smart – we are so thrilled!
Carol spends the winter spring cleaning, dressed in about two coats and a woolly hat to keep warm in the house! She had a nasty fright one morning when she met ‘The Beast from the East’ coming into the Front Hall, under the door! Dave and Leighton have spent most of the winter sawing up fallen trees from many of the awful gales that have been so prevalent this winter. We have also had to have tree surgeons cutting off unsafe branches from many of the old trees near the paths and walks. All money out unfortunately….! But we will have plenty of logs! I am afraid there is still a mess to clear up but Rome wasn’t built in a day! We thank everyone – Nigel, Sam, Dave and Leighton for their fantastic work in the garden all through this awful winter. Theresa for her sterling administrative work and Carol and Anne in the house. Ellie doing social media. Thank you all and everyone else who supports us in every way.
We had great fun in the autumn clearing two overgrown parts of the garden. A massive tryffid had taken over a part of the Shrubbery and bramble and ivy of Himalayan proportions had taken over the wall at the Top of the Bog Garden. Clearing things at Hartland is always risky and of course the Atlantic winds found a new way in and brought more trees down! But ‘The Glade’ is already looking lovely and hopefully all the newly planted rhododendrons and azaleas will flower. It should make a lovely, warm place to sit. The grass surprisingly has germinated in the winter and is still alive after the freeze-ups.
We have been very busy getting our new holiday let ready for 2018. Affeton Barton had been the Home Farmhouse for centuries and latterly, for the past forty years, home to our shepherd. When he died two years ago we decided to bring it into the 21st century and it is now a really comfortable place to stay. It has all the advantages of the beautiful Affeton estate with wonderful walking, fishing, bicycling, swimming and a hard tennis court. It is in spectacular, rolling country between Exmoor and Dartmoor, a world away from the rush of modern living but with all mod cons!
Peter and Kieren, two of our fantastic house stewards, have, during the winter put together a really special visual history of the Abbey and the estate for all to see. It is so kind of them and will be such a bonus to visitors. Theresa, our Administrator, has been reading through old family diaries and has found one on Sir George and Lady Stucley’s honeymoon in the late 1800s. It is going to be displayed later in the season and is a fabulous account of travels in Europe at this time with some hilarious sketches.
We are all looking forward to ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ being released in the cinemas on April 20th. Partly filmed on the Hartland Abbey estate in May 2017, it stars Lily James, Micheal Huisman, Jessica Brown-Finlay, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton. We think it is going to be a wonderful film set in some stunning North Devon scenery. Having watched some of the very realistic filming, Guernsey must have been a terrifying place to have been in the War.
Also filmed at Hartland, in and around Blackpool Mill Cottage last year, is a short film which has just come out called ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’. Produced by Alastair Gourlay, it stars Clive Russell of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame. Poor things had the most awful weather to film in and the place became a mud bath. They worked so hard and we wish them every success.
Last summer Marjorie, our peahen, hatched six chicks. The previous summer she had hatched only one, Pike, her adoring son! Happily, so far, these chicks have survived the winter and are now her adolescent children! A fox was seen in the snow this week so we are hoping for the best. Sadly in 2017 Dave and Carol lost their adorable Westie, Holly, such a character and so popular with all our visitors, always seen riding the lawnmower with Dave. She is missed hugely by us all and our visitors. She was a big part of the Abbey team!
Now the season is starting and we are open from this Sunday 25th. Next weekend is Easter with so much fun for families and children with the Easter Egg Hunts! The Easter Eggs have arrived…… We look forward to welcoming back old friends and we hope to see lots of new visitors in 2018. Hugh and Angela Stucley March 2018