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I’ve been away. It was a spur of the moment decision made on Friday morning halfway through making a batch of quince and squash chutney. Well, I exaggerate, not wholly impulsive, I’d been toying with the idea ever since Will (3rd son) had suggested it a month or so ago. The time seemed right. Olly was around for the weekend… “100% mum. Though I’m going out Saturday evening.” And Robert had no pre-arranged ‘dos’ either.

After a couple of quick phone calls and very hastily potted chutney, I threw some essentials into a bag and was on the road by 2pm. It was the foulest drive imaginable. Busy roads, incessant rain, fierce wind and relentless spray, poor visibility…and dark! Six hours later I emerged, zombie-like, from the car.

Relieved to have arrived I push open the wicket gate and, clutching my basket, carefully walked down the slippy, uneven brick path. Lining the pathway are tall, darkly-dense box hedges crowned with mystical topiary beasts that moan and groan in the gusting wind and pelting rain. Drenched I reached the door, give a tap, turn the knob and step into another world. I blink in the soft light “Sorry I’m late…the roads…the rain, the traffic.” I thrust my basket towards Don “Supper.” Pulling it back to me I rummage around and take out a wrapped greaseproof package “Steak…fillet. Ours. Red Ruby.” I look up and smile “Quick to cook. Tender and mouth-watering…hopefully.” Grinning I dig into the basket again “And wood blewits. To go with the steak. From the woods above Marymead.” Carefully I lift out one of the starling violet-blue fungi “Aren’t they just extraordinary?” I hold it to the light “So beautiful…what an amazing colour. You’d think they were totally poisonous!”  And lastly I take out a bottle of wine “And wine. To celebrate!” I pause, take a deep, slow breath and let my eyes wonder around the kitchen absorbing every little detail “How wonderful to be here.  I feel recovered already!”

The friends I was staying with live in an old gardener’s cottage once attached to ‘The Big House’… to me it’s a place of enchantment. I’m Alice… stepping through the looking glass into another world; wood smoke, worn red-brick floors, milky glass, ancient timber framing and soft chalky walls.  Colour; colour is everywhere – softly muted and earthy rich. And then there are the things!  A jumble.  A plethora.  A marvellous abundance of treasure. I love it. I gather to me the extraordinary tapestry of senses and feast my soul.

Next day, the enchantment continues outside. An old oak barn tumbled with myrtle, rosemary and clematis, a hidden sculpture, a table, a summerhouse. Brick paths which turn into mazes of tall box hedges and fantastical topiary beings that lead one into small secret places…or with an unexpected twist guide you down a grand avenue (the Queen of Hearts?) to a pond and the rolling countryside beyond.

The reason for my visit? Time to reflect. On my memories. Of my mother and my closest family buried in the churchyard not a hundred yards away from the cottage. My father, my aunt, my uncle…and in a nearby village, my grandparents.

To me the month of November lends itself to recollection and introspection. November is a month of transition, a time for rest, a time of renewal and a time for resurrection.  The darkening days, the wild weather, the slowing down of  nature and the comfort of the home hearth make it so.

With the church bells ringing overhead I walk in the garden gathering sprays of crimson crab-apples, branches of myrtle and sprigs of rosemary which I take and  lay on the still uneven turf of my mother’s grave and remember…..with love.



dog violet
dog violet

Visiting Ben, Berengere and Camille in Marseille for the weekend on countdown-to-wedding arrangements.

An interesting journey. The Trainline sent me the wrong ticket. I’d stupidly trusted my confirmation email and hadn’t given my tickets more than a cursory look before putting them in my wallet.  Silly me. Confusion and doubt caught me out at the station where I foolishly asked the ticket people for advice. A new ticket had to be purchased and naturally I wasn’t cut any slack by British Rail who gleefully charged me mega bucks to re-purchase the ticket I’d originally booked. Lesson learnt – check tickets minutely in future.

The next excitement was staying overnight in a Yotel capsule.  The plane to Marseille leaves early in the morning (they’ve changed the flight times), making it necessary for me to leave Devon the evening before. The Yotel is a Japanese concept, which funnily enough throughstones mentioned in the dormouse nest tube post below (though this one did have a shower, loo and basin) at the very instant I was experiencing one! As I checked in there was this extraordinarily svelte expressionless American woman checking in at the same time. Chatting to the helpful, de-stressing check-in guy (I had failed miserably at the automated security point outside) about how excited yet trepidatious I was about staying the night in a luggage rack, I was never more surprised when the ultra sophisticated American tapped me on the shoulder and, with a very unexpected girlish giggle, said “Me too. It will be the highlight of my trip!”

I slept well, and so, apparently, had a lot of my fellow travellers, as I found out the following morning as we  checked out.  A chatty place with everyone apparently enjoying the novelty.

And then the pilot over-ran the runway when landing at Marseille! He managed on the second attempt as we held our breath and pretended we were as cool as cucumbers.  Except, that is, for a child who began to scream “I want to get off. Mummy, mummy, mummy. Now. I. Want. To. Get. Off. Now!” Echoing what we were all really thinking.

I arrived in one piece. No more disasters and will be back on Monday night.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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