This time last year we were ready to open the Abbey and |Gardens for Daffodil Day but then came the awful news that we were going into lockdown. Here we are a year on and again, sadly, no Daffodil Day. This is a bumper daffodil year so it is doubly sad that no-one is able to see them.
In March 2020 we had no idea how long lockdown would last and everyone was dismayed after so much effort to get the house and gardens ready. We were all frightened of this unknown disease and what it its effects would be, both on our health and on our jobs. Thankfully the Chancellor came up with the furlough scheme, without which redundancies would have been inevitable and heartbreaking. We had to put three full and two part time vital staff on furlough, gates and shutters were closed and the garden took on a Sleeping Beauty appearance! Brambles grew 12 ft in three months and the front drive became impassable! The weather was amazing and welcome for those on furlough.
We eventually opened the gardens and holiday cottages on July 4th. Much thought and planning went into opening to keep our visitors and staff safe. PPE, hand sanitiser in gallons, Perspex screens, disposable everything for the café and endless notices, instructions for holiday cottage visitors etc all had to be thought out and ordered. But it was all worth it as no-one, visitors, guests or staff, caught the bug. It was a miracle as visitors came from all over the UK, many of them with children wanting to see where Enid Blyton’s ‘Malory Towers’ had been filmed the previous autumn! Hartland Quay did a brilliant job too with no infections. Now we can’t wait to get going again!
The vaccine is a miracle and gives us all so much hope. Being of a certain age we have had our jabs as have Carol and Dave, our housekeeper and groundsman. It is the only time in life it is an advantage being older!
We have had a difficult winter. My husband was rushed to the R D & E at the end of November with a burst appendix. He was just beginning to recover when he was rushed back to hospital on New Years Eve with another emergency. Thankfully he is on the mend thanks to a brilliant surgeon and wonderful NHS nurses who also managed to keep him safe from covid. We are eternally thankful to them. We did manage a very happy Christmas Day, on our own for the first time ever, but with zooming our children and grandchildren. The miracles of modern technology! We can’t wait to see them again soon.
In October we heard that we had been very lucky in securing a substantial grant from The Culture Recovery Fund, set up to help historic properties and keep builders going in the pandemic The Abbey has leaked for years and buckets are part of life here! Leighton, who has been employed by the family for at least 50 years, has been solely responsible for keeping the roof on but it was becoming hopeless, like stopping an incoming tide! In the 1950s Sir Dennis had taken off most of the slates and replaced them with asbestos which was practical and fashionable at the time and had worked really well but this was cracking up and many more buckets in bedrooms were needed, putting the fabric of the house at risk.
The Abbey has been encased in an amazing, covered scaffold thanks to the expertise of Advanced Scaffolding from Barnstaple who have provided a watertight working area on the roof. Heddon Mill, the builders, and their subcontractors have worked tirelessly and brilliantly since January and soon the Abbey should be watertight again for the next 100 years we hope! We are so grateful to everyone involved and to the government for instigating the scheme. It is a sobering thought that if we had not received this help we would never have been able to afford to repair the roof, the chimneys and the parapet. We will do a display in the Abbey to show visitors the work that has been done. Also two Georgian or Victorian rattraps with an old rat, found in the roof!!
We will open for the season from Sunday 2nd May with the gardens, walks and takeaway teas. We have decided to play safe while most of the scaffolding comes down from mid April as we cannot risk the safety of our visitors. From Monday 17th May we are able to open the Abbey again for the first time since 2019! It will be a happy day welcoming visitors back again to the house! Our holiday cottages will be ready to open to single families from 12th April and fully from 17th May. We can’t wait to see everyone again!