Showing posts with label Devon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Devon. Show all posts

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Bed time bunnies ...

One of our favourite things to do when we're down in Devon is to pull some lawn chairs just round the gable wall of the house so that we can sit quietly and watch the rabbits play in the meadow. They seem to come out just before darkness falls to graze and chase each other in the cool of the evening.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Traditional Devonshire Long Straw ... for thatching ...

Yesterday whilst we were out on our travels we were delighted to come upon this field of straw stooks. Whilst I'm not much of an expert on traditional thatching techniques I'm pretty sure that this is long straw, grown and harvested in the the time-honoured way, for thatching the local cottages to keep everyone weather-proof over the winter.

It always makes me smile when I come across something like this: a country scene that hasn't changed in a millennium. I'm not saying that I'd have liked to live under William the Conqueror, but in a rapidly changing world it's sort of reassuring to know that some things stand still.

And then I had a play to see whether I could turn the shot into something a little more atmospheric, fiddling with monochrome and sepia to make it feel like Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge, might come marching out of the rows.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Sunday 24 July 2016

The Mid Devon Show 2016

One of our favourite days out in Devon in July is the annual Mid Devon Show. I'm a big fan of country shows that celebrate all the wonderful aspects of country life from the livestock on the farms to the wildlife in the fields to the country sports and the fabulous things that grow in our country gardens. They're a great day out for all the family, with something there for everyone. And you can bring your dog along. In fact I'm not sure they'll let you in to the Mid Devon if you don't have a pooch on your arm ...

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Fungus fetish ...

It's been a good autumn for Fungi down here in the not-always-so-sunny South West of England.

Yesterday morning I spent a happy hour out in the garden taking macro shots of all the fungal goodness nestling in the grass. Now I'd be lying if I pretended to know the names of these beauties - or, even more importantly, whether I can eat them without poisoning myself. So it's probably just as well that my interaction with them remained one that was channelled exclusively through the lens of my camera ...

Monday 26 October 2015

Halloween tombstones ...

As Halloween draws nearer I've been enjoying some macabre tomb carvings. The carving below used to adorn a grave in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Exeter. Today it lives in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. It dates from the 1600s when such tomb ornaments were very much the vogue. They lived through some pretty tough times back then. There was the English Civil War (1642 - 1651), followed by the religious excesses of Cromwell's Commonwealth and Protectorate, the Black Death raised its deadly face in 1665 and, after the Restoration, there was considerable apprehension as to the direction in which the House of Stuart was leading the country. It was a time of intense religious debate and radical politics. And normal folk, convinced that they were living in the last days, and that the end of the world was nigh, took to the macabre to underline their own fragile mortality ... .

Sunday 25 October 2015

Like the sunshine after rain ... a spiritual journey

Isn't it wonderful when the sun finally appears after the rain? We've had a succession of  grey, wet days, down here in Devon. We've hunkered down and nested indoors, but yesterday afternoon the sun came out, and all of sudden autumn turned into something glorious again.

Only a day ago the field of stubble over the hill was a maze of maize. There's a ramblers' right of way that runs right through it, and it felt a little bit like hiking through a jungle. What a difference a day makes ... .

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Autumn's bounty ...

There's a lot to be said for starting your day with a stroll before breakfast. Here in Devon the farmers are ploughing the fields to plant their winter crops and the rich red earth looks as though it were chosen from a palette of perfect autumn tones to blend with the leaves.

And the very best bit of all this early morning shenanigans is picking an apple, fresh and crisp, straight from the tree. No other apple tastes anything like so good as one that's just been picked.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

An autumn afternoon stroll ...

There are few things in life that can compare with an autumn stroll in the countryside in that magical hour just before sunset. Yesterday I set off in the late afternoon as the sun was dropping low in the sky and throwing long shadows over the grass. For me it's an unusual thing to go for a stroll on my own. Normally I have Emi in tow and the Wonderdog at my heels, but Emi was busy doing his history project, and the Wonderdog was busy having an afternoon snooze along the back of the sofa. He was stretched out with his paws in the air, snoring gently as though he hadn't a care, and it didn't seem fair to disturb him.

So I set off on my own with only the birds for company.  And right now we have some very fine birds running around under the trees.

Monday 12 October 2015

12th October, 1582 ... the day that didn't happen ...

Now here's a random thought for you ... this date, the 12th day of October, the 285th day of the year - or 286th if we're having a leap year - didn't happen in Italy, Poland, Portugal or Spain in the year 1582.

Exeter Cathedral's 15th Century Clock

Saturday 8 August 2015

Summer nights ...

Do you ever wish that summer would never end? I do. 

One of the many things I love about this season is how it never gets totally dark. The sky turns a dark, inky indigo, not the usual jet black from other times of the year. And you can go walking in the woods after twilight to listen to the creatures that come out after dark. Emi comes with me, but he's a bit scared of the dark. He likes to draw me into involved conversations. We talk about aliens and what kind of dinosaurs used to live in this part of Devon. In fact we talk about anything at all that will take his mind off his fear of the night. 

As the twilight darkens the bats come out and swoop around us. Sometimes we hear the big dog fox who lives in the orchard. On nights like tonight he enjoys a good bark at the moon. I think he needs to find himself a girlfriend, but that's a whole other story. And if we leave our nocturnal wanderings until really, really late we sometimes catch a glimpse of the barn owls. They appear like phantoms out of the night and they sound like nothing else in the world of the living ... . 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Coldharbour Mill: a little piece of knitting history ...

The other day I popped by a wool spinning mill with more history than you could shake a stick at. The Coldharbour Mill in Uffculme, Devon (just beside junction 27 on the M5) is a little chunk of the West Country's industrial heritage. It's been doing its thing, spinning wool from raw fleeces, for more than 200 years. At first it was powered by a huge water wheel, then they upgraded to steam. These days they mostly run on mains electricity, but on certain days of the year they fire up their huge beam engine and return to the age of steam once again.

Coldharbour Mill, Uffculme, Devon

Thursday 30 July 2015

Barley field in the moonlight ...

... and there's nothing to beat a moonlit stroll through a waving field of barley on a mild night in July.

Sweet dreams,

Bonny x

Noisy Neighbours ...

I've always found it much noisier down here living in the fields and rolling hills of Devon than in the suburbs of West London. Does that sound bonkers? Yes? Well just look who my neighbours are:

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Okehampton ... once the beating heart of Devon

Okehampton is the town just down the road that we pass through on our regular trips to Cornwall. It sits on the edge of Dartmoor, and perhaps it's because it's on our own back door that we've never really taken the trouble to explore it properly. Does that make sense ? Am I the only person who's got an irrational tendency to overlook what's within easy striking-distance of home in favour of gallivanting off to far-flung places? I guess far-away fields always look greener ... .

Now as it happens Okehampton is a town with a lot of things to boast about, but it's a modest place that doesn't really shout much about its attractions. There's a medieval motte and bailey castle, St. James' Church, a Tudor Chapel of Ease, there's a museum of Dartmoor life, a very fine 19th century railway bridge, the Meldon Viaduct, spanning the ravine of the Okement River and, just outside of town in the beautiful village of Sticklepath there's an amazing, fully working blacksmith's forge with all the latest water-powered kit from the early days of the Industrial Revolution. I've already written about it here: Finch Forge.

Okehampton Castle, Devon

Sunday 26 July 2015

Finch Foundry, Sticklepath, Devon ...

The other day we were keen to go exploring, but the weather didn't look great and, having got a good soaking on our supposedly rain-proof trip to the Levant Mine in Cornwall, we wanted to play things safe and not stray too far from home. So we decided to mosey on down the road to the pretty little village of Sticklepath, not far from Okehampton in Devon.

My father's grandfather (my great grandfather) was a blacksmith back in Ireland, so my father was interested to see the last working water-powered forge in England. And it proved to be a thing of wonder, which was way above and beyond anything that my ancestor ever operated.

Finch Foundry, Sticklepath, Devon

Saturday 25 July 2015

Grandma's Apple Pie

The apples aren't ready to harvest yet, but things are shaping up for a good crop when the autumn comes. As we were admiring them the other day my mum suggested we pick a few of the Bramley apples for an early apple pie. We found a windfall or two to add to the mix as well, so that it didn't feel too sinful to harvest baby apples that haven't had a chance to reach their prime.

Every year when they're ready we have a glut of apples, way too many and all at the same time. So in a way it makes sense to use a few now to make an early season apple pie.

Just read on for my mother's recipe:

Thursday 23 July 2015

Corn in the barley field ...

One of the many things I love about being in Devon in July is our after late evening stroll. We've got a lovely barley field just outside, which makes a great place to go to walk off our dinner-time excesses. As the sun sets, we enjoy the magical light of twilight. And whilst the weather hasn't been brilliant in recent days it always seems to get itself sorted out by dusk, allowing the sun to set in a relatively cloudless sky.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Apple blossom in Cider Country ...

This 'ere be Cider Country ... and I be a Cider Drinker ...

Yes, that's right, I'm channelling my inner Wurzel!

There are few things in God's good earth that are more beautiful to a cider-drinker's eyes than the apple blossom in May. And this year, I am happy to report that the apple trees are looking especially marvellous. I know that this doesn't guarantee a bumper crop, but, hey, it's a start.

Want to take a look around the orchard? Come on, I'll give you the grand tour:

Monday 27 October 2014

Exeter Guildhall

The other day, when Emi and I were on the cold trail of the long-gone Romans, we happened to pass by the Exeter Guildhall ... and the door was open.

Guildhall, Exeter
The Tudor front facade of the Guildhall, Exeter

Come on, Mum, let's check it out, Emi said.

And who could have resisted this wonderful open door?

Guildhall, Exeter
Nicholas Baggett's magnificent door, the Guildhall, Exeter

Although it has to be said that it was designed for people who were a bit vertically challenged - and that's coming from someone who stands all of 5' 0" tall.

Looking out the other way, it's just as impressive.

Guildhall, Exeter
Nicholas Baggett's door from inside the Guildhall, Exeter

The Guildhall has stood on this site since 1160. The present structure was originally built in the fourteenth century and refaced with the current porticoed front facade between 1593 to 1596. Dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating of the roof timbers in the magnificent vaulted ceiling of the chamber shows that the trees from which it was built were felled over the period 1463 to 1498. 

The amazing oak door, which was too good not to walk through, was made by Nicholas Baggett, a local carpenter, in 1593. I love the fact that they remember his name, and deservedly so, because it's a gem of a door.

Meetings of the full town council still take place inside, making it one of the oldest working municipal buildings in England. Exactly how old is a matter of some debate. There's been some sort of guild operating down here in Exeter since the year 1000 AD, and it's likely that their original hall stood on this spot. 

They used to keep the city stocks under the central arch of the porticoes, just in front of Mr. Baggett's wonderful door.  The weekly market also took place on the High Street,  just outside. There's still a hook in the ceiling from which they used to hang the scales for weighing meat, wool, corn and the other goods that would have been sold here on market day. 

Moving inside, this is what the chamber looks like: 

Guildhall, Exeter
The Chamber of the Guildhall, Exeter

Under this magnificent room there is a 14th century cellar that once functioned as a prison, known back in the day as ye Guyldhall pyttt. 

In the time of the travelling Assizes, the King's Justices held their courts in here, trying those who had been indicted for felonies, and who would have been incarcerated, awaiting trial, in the Guyldhall pyttt beneath. Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys presided over the Bloody Assizes in this very room after the Duke of Monmouth's failed rebellion in 1685. James, Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate Protestant son of Charles II had risen against the Catholic James II, leading many West Country men to fight for the Protestant cause, only to be defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle ever to be fought on English soil. 

In the aftermath of the rising the defeated men were tried for treason against their King in the Bloody Assizes, notorious for the severity of the sentences handed out to dissuade other would-be rebels from following suit. These trials were held in a number of towns across the South Western Circuit including Dorchester, Exeter and Taunton. Hundreds were condemned to death and transportation to the Americas. 

Here in Exeter 40 men stood trial for their part in the rebellion, of whom 13 were found guilty of treason and sentenced to a traitor's death, which was a particularly grisly business involving being hung, drawn and quartered.  How they must have shivered with terror in this room as their sentences were read out. I can almost feel the ripple of horror that would have run through the people crowded in to witness the drama unfold. 

Here's the Lord Mayor's Chair, in which the presiding judge of the Assizes would have sat as he administered the King's justice. 

Guildhall, Exeter
Mayor Bale's chair in the Guildhall, Exeter

It was made for Mayor Christopher Bale who held office from 1695 to 1697, and it bears the city's coat of arms and its motto semper fidelis, always faithful. 

Around the walls are numerous coats of arms of important benefactors, mayors and the city's trade guilds.

Here are some benefactors:

Guildhall, Exeter
Benefactors' Coat of arms displayed in the Tudor panelling of the Guildhall, Exeter

I was especially interested in the trade guilds, which give a window into the economic history of the city down the years. The medieval trade guilds emerged to control and represent the interests of the different trades within the city. They were somewhere between a governing body, a secret society, with their own secrets and rituals, and a trade union. The very wealthy guild of Weavers, Tuckers and Shearmen, had their own guildhall, the Tuckers' Hall, built nearby in 1471. Exeter grew rich on the wool trade, which prospered from the 1430's right up to the 18th century and the weavers, tuckers and shearmen, who were the skilled finishers of the product, did rather better than most.

The guildsmen met in this hall to discuss their business. They fixed the rates at which they would sell their produce, sometimes they pooled their buying power and negotiated terms on which they would purchase their raw materials, or considered trade alliances with guilds in other cities, and from time to time they reviewed the necessary skills to be taught to their apprentices so as to maintain the standards within their ranks. They also met to consider the admission of new members to the guild, and to consider whether apprentices had shown the necessary expertise to qualify into the ranks of the masters. A candidate apprentice would be required to produce a master piece, a sample of his work in which he demonstrated all the skills of a master of the trade. Can you imagine the masters sitting around the walls of the chamber unpicking some poor apprentice tailor's stitching to see whether his robes were up to the mark, or passing an exquisitely fashioned kid glove around to see whether someone was good enough to become a master glover?

Guildhall, Exeter
The arms of the Tailors' Company displayed in the Tudor panelling of the Guildhall, Exeter

The haberdashers (below) would have dealt in all the small items of sewing: the needles, thread and buttons. They would have worked in conjunction with the  tailors (above) and the mercers, who were the cloth merchants.

Guildhall, Exeter

As I've explained the weavers, tuckers and shearmen worked in the local woollen industry, producing the finished cloth. In the early days the weavers wove the wool into a rough fabric called kersey. After about 1615 they also wove a finer fabric called serge. Then the tuckers treated the cloth, shrinking it and creating the nap, the textured surface of the cloth. The shearmen came along at the end of the process and trimmed or removed the nap with their shears to produce the finer qualities of fabric.

Guildhall, Exeter

Guildhall, Exeter

Guildhall, Exeter

The coopers (photo below) were the people who made and repaired the casks, kegs and barrels that just about every sort of liquid was moved and stored in. 

Guildhall, Exeter

Guildhall, Exeter

My personal favourite was the Guild of Merchant Adventurers founded in 1556. These were the merchants who traded overseas, the import/ export guys. Mostly they would have been involved with the export of woollen cloth, but they would have also grown rich importing foreign commodities such as sugar, chocolate, tea, coffee, furs and wines to sell at home.

Guildhall, Exeter
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Emi and I spent a fun half hour piecing together all the different trades that once flourished within the city walls, and trying to understand what they actually did. It all seemed far removed from the world of today where so little of what we use is actually manufactured in this country, and in which so few of us seem to be involved in work that produces a tangible, hold-it-in-your-hand, product at the end of the day. 

If you're passing and you'd like to visit for yourself you can check out the details on their website: Exeter Guildhall Website

All the best,

Bonny x

As shared on Our World Tuesday and image-in-ing