It’s been a long time since our last blog but 2021 didn’t exactly go to plan. It started with my husband’s illnesses and finished, after an extremely busy season, with another family emergency. We are hoping 2022 will be healthier all round. But Storm Eunice has just hit us so hard that this year has started with another big challenge.
A busy season ended with the retirement of Carol and Dave, housekeeper and groundsman of 21 years. They had looked after the Abbey and grounds beautifully for all that time. Many may remember Carol in the shop and Dave on the mowing machine! We wish them a long and happy retirement locally.
We are delighted to welcome Andy and Maxine to the Abbey in their place. They have made a terrific start but Storm Eunice has made so much extra work with all its devastation to the gardens. Andy had the grounds looking immaculate before it hit us full on with winds in excess of 100mph on Friday 18th and Saturday 19th February. Extraordinarily, on the same dates in 1978 the terrible blizzard struck us and it took six weeks until the snow went.
We feel so sad to see some of our most loved camellias, all covered in buds and about 20ft high, completely destroyed by two huge, ancient oaks whose tops crashed on to them from a huge height. I can hardly bear the loss of such old friends. Remarkable Blackpool Mill Cottage escaped almost unscathed – only the fence blew away! Like most we had no power or communications for a few days.
We have many new residents in the Abbey… The house has become the most comfortable Bat Hotel in the world! Reroofing with Delabole slates had to incorporate ‘Bat Accommodation’! They live in considerably more comfort than we do and permanently set off the alarms!
What I couldn’t say in my last blog, as it was a secret, was that CBBC had commissioned two more series of ‘Malory Towers’ with us. Filming started in early April when, thankfully, the weather was good but May was awful! We were still closed under covid rules which made filming in the house easier – filming was allowed under covid rules, to keep the industry going. Production companies King Bert and WildBrain did a fantastic job keeping everyone safe; it was before mass vaccination. Our huge scaffold was still up which did not make it easy for anyone.
Many of the 2019 cast and crew from the UK and Canada were back at the Abbey again. They have become great friends and are the happiest production we have ever had. The unit base was in the Park making it easier to keep everyone safe and well. Series 1 and 2 are now on IPlayer with Series 3 coming out shortly. Many scenes were filmed in the gardens and on the cliffs as well as indoors. Our ‘Malory Towers Trail’ for children was a great success last year and kept our young visitors occupied!
The mother of one of the lovely location team made us Peacock masks to sell for charity. We were able to send £250 between Marie Curie and the North Devon Hospice. They were terribly smart and befitting to the Abbey with its peacocks!
Thankfully the scaffolding came down in May so filming at the front of the Abbey could begin. The production moved to Cornwall for a week and when they returned the Abbey had emerged from its shroud!
Thanks to Malory Towers we were able to re-cover some of the Dining Room chairs. Some were very scruffy but Neil, our local upholsterer, did a marvellous job; more are being covered as I write. And wonderful Sue, one of our longest serving room stewards and brilliant seamstress, is making new Dining Room curtains as the old, beautiful pale blue silk ones had sadly completely disintegrated after sixty years. The problem with our seaside climate is that the damp, salt air combined with strong sun isn’t good for our curtains and soft furnishings. The Dining Room, hopefully, will soon be looking a lot smarter! We love our old things and are always reluctant to part with anything – they are old friends and part of history.! We rarely throw anything away, let alone an envelope. We were brought up to ‘make do and mend’ and that is what we do!
The season eventually opened on May 14th. Due to lockdown and limited foreign travel it was a very busy season. Jo and Kath operated the Tearoom out of a window, Theresa and Jonathan through perspex in the Payhut; we thank our visitors for their kindness and understanding at such a challenging time. Miraculously none of the Abbey team caught covid thanks to everyone wearing masks and taking care of others.
The summer became busier…. Rosie, our terrier, had four adorable puppies. It was difficult, before they were vaccinated, as we couldn’t put them on the grass where other dogs had been. A regular sight was the puppies in the wheelbarrow being wheeled to clean grass! All four are still in the family which is lovely. Our family were able to visit in the summer which was very special after so long apart.
We managed some outdoor theatre on the lawn. Brought to us thanks to The Plough Arts Centre, audiences were so happy to be able to come and spend the evening outside again enjoying great productions from companies who had immense covid difficulties themselves. We have more exciting productions this year – please see our Events page. Picnicking on a lovely evening makes it special. We are now able to hold our Daffodil Day, Bluebell Days and Easter Fun again so lots to look forward to in more normal times, we hope!
We had a really stunning display of annuals in the Kitchen garden in 2021 and this year we hope for even better! I remember my grandparents kitchen garden in North Wales had wonderful box hedges and annual flowers and that lasting image in my mind influenced our planting. Nigel kept them going with endless deadheading; he worked so hard to keep the gardens looking their best, much of the time alone. We congratulate him in difficult times. Dick had reroofed the potting shed last year; painted bright pink and green it lit up the darkest of days!
A recent Lichen Survey has revealed some rare finds – we hope to display images soon. The clean Atlantic air, old trees and stone are the perfect environment for something which many do not notice but which are beautiful.
We are thrilled to be able to start the season with Daffodil Day on Sunday 20th March. Three years ago, in 2019, we had to cancel on the day as we woke up to thick snow! The last two years we had to close due to covid so this will be the first time we can open for our wonderful daffodils in four years! We do so hope to welcome lots of Daffodillers and their dogs to the Abbey again. There will be so many lovely bulbs and spring flowering shrubs too!
We still have a few summer weeks left in the holiday cottages. All the details are on the website.
With best wishes for 2022 from us all at Hartland Abbey. We do hope to see you soon! Angela Stucley