Oct 28 2019

Home From Japan

As summer fades to autumn a golden sun shines through the kitchen window. Sinking fast, it’s slipping out of sight behind the hills and only 3.30 in the afternoon. Autumn has arrived, light is fading, afternoons grow shorter, trees are turning, birds are leaving. And now the clocks have changed.

A certain melancholy fills the air as the garden gets ready for the winter sleep. Roses give of their last wistful glowing blooms. Dahlias and cosmos soldier on despite the damp, tomatoes vines wither, everywhere evidence of preparation for cold and hibernation.

There was a chill in the air as I went up to the farmyard this morning. Mist hung in the valley and exquisite little spiders’ webs glistened in the early sunlight. After days of rain blue sky slowly emerged through the greyness, sun crept up coyly through the valley. Millie and I counted contented sheep as we walked through the fields. Silence enfolded us broken only by the sudden cry of a wheeling buzzard overhead: this too, a cry of autumn.

Rice Fields in the evening sun

And yet it seems only moments ago we were struggling in the heat and humidity that was Japan. No rugby for us but another wonderful holiday with our family in the Japanese countryside, all rice fields and mountains, so different from Devon. There we were back again in the little town of Hino two years since our first visit.

Our start was not auspicious. Having booked our journey months earlier World Rugby on our minds, we found ourselves caught by the British Airways strike, flights cancelled at the last minute. We were issued with flights three days early but alas, no one to look after the farm until our house sitter was due to arrive the following week. A dear friend stepped into the gap.

So started a slightly stressful journey to Heathrow so different from our many previous Japanese adventures! But we made it and our flight took off on time. We landed at Narita airport instead of Haneda, made our way across the busyness which is Tokyo eventually climbing onto the Shinkansen to Odawara. A taxi took us up into the hills to a beautiful little Ryokan hotel in Hakone. We wonder how they are now. We learnt just last week that it was very badly hit by the recent terrible Typhoon. Three feet of rain fell in just twenty four hours. We so hope they are safe but have heard nothing from them.

The Merchant’s House

Restored, our jetlag subsiding, we travelled on to join the family in their beautiful old Japanese Merchant’s House in Hino just northwest of Kyoto. From here we visited one of the oldest potteries in Japan in Shagaraki. We went to temples, beer festivals, wonderful restaurants, art exhibitions, walks in the rice fields. We drove round Lake Biwa in the sun and so much more.

Kintsugi Studio in Hino

A highlight of the whole three weeks was a trip to Kyoto to the studio of our daughter-in-law’s Kintsugi Sensai.  Nolly is becoming a sensai herself now , opening her own studio in Hino. Kintsugi is the ancient art of restoration.  It is said to go back to the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, in the C15th. Disappointed with the repair of a favourite tea bowl by Chinese craftsmen, he encouraged his own people to develop another more beautiful way to mend broken treasures.

It is a meticulous skill particularly fascinating to me, reminding me of my previous life as a jeweller. A special sap called urishi, gathered from lacquer trees, is mixed in various ways to bond the breaks and fill the chips in beautiful but damaged objects. Finally a layer of gold dust melts magically into the tiny seams restoring heartbreak and turning loss into incredible beauty: a truly Japanese art.

My grandmother’s Venetian Glass Restored!

And, of course, we ate amazing and delicious food! This time I had the opportunity to learn to cook all sorts of new and exciting dishes. Nolly is a marvellous cook, well known for her workshops at the Dartmouth Food Festival in Devon. Japanese food is becoming increasingly popular all over the West as we become more and more aware of what we are eating. The food is so light and healthy, fat and sugar free!


I watched Nolly make her own dashi, or Japanese stock.  Dashi is used as a base for so many dishes, including miso soup, a staple eaten at almost every meal with many variations: maybe shitake mushrooms, dried whiting, tofu, mixed vegetables. The possibilities are endless.

First a piece of konbo, a kind of kelp, is soaked in water over night. Next day it is heated gently until bubbles began to appear. Then it is taken off the heat, the kelp removed and handful of fine bonito flakes shaved from a piece of dried tuna, are added.The broth is heated again then strained and the bonito removed: the result a delicate fish stock which can be used in so many ways.

For miso soup a spoonful or two of miso paste is added. Miso is the fermented paste of soya beans, grain and kogi, the fungau asperquillus oryzae. It varies from region to region but turns up everywhere and is incredibly healthy and delicious. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to the house of Japanese friend here in Devon to make my own miso. How lucky am I to have my own jars of miso gently maturing in my kitchen!

Devon Miso!

One evening Nolly quickly fried some sardines. Once cool she marinated them in dashi, mirin, sweet rice vinegar, soy sauce, onion, carrot, celery, red pepper and a dash of chili. We ate the little fish with sticky Japanese rice, miso soup and a wonderful salad dressed with finely chopped leek, grated ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ground sesame seeds and lemon juice.

Japanese Sardines

Another feast was a pork supper: very finely sliced pork cooked quickly with onion, ginger, sake, mirin and soy sauce, wonderful.

Next a quick meal which seemed to appear magically, as if from nowhere, was chicken and beansprouts. An hour or so before supper cubed chicken went into a bag with grated onion, garlic, root ginger, some sake and soy sauce and black pepper. The bag was sealed, the meat massaged a little then the left in the fridge. Then everything was tipped into a non-stick pan over a medium heat and cooked until the chicken pieces were brown. In went a big handful of bean sprouts, the pan covered and everything steamed for a few minutes. A sprinkling of fresh chopped coriander finished the dish which we ate with pickles, Japanese rice and miso soup.  


Finally of course, we had the greatest treats of all: sushi and sashimi! The freshest, incredibly finely sliced raw fish already prepared and ready to eat from the amazing fish counter in the local supermarket.

All Ready Prepared

It made me realise yet again how fortunate we are in Devon to have such wonderful fresh fish on our doorstep here too. And now, thanks to Nolly, I have another way to serve it!

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Aug 02 2019

It’s Summer!

It’s just a regular sunny summer morning as I head to the farmyard to clean out the stables, worm the donkeys, pick out their feet and check them all, once more, for lice. We’ve never had lice before but new boy, Christos, is very good at offering them a home!

I give all donkeys a brush, a cuddle and, of course, a treat, before letting them out to graze on the indifferent,  July-dry summer grass in Sunday Orchard .

Next the cockerel and chickens have to be caught before they go walkabout, easier said than done! We must check for scaly leg mites, another summer hazard. Poor old Claude finds the whole thing terrifying and shouts his head off. “Just a little Vaseline on your legs” I tell him as he squawks in protest, warning his ladies of the terrible danger ahead! Once done, off they go too, these feral birds, to take their chance in farmyard and field.
Then it’s up the hill to the top fields to check ewes and lambs. But just as Millie and I round the corner on the steep track up to the top barn I spot the twins. How have they got out? I recognise them at once. They are smaller than the rest having been partially bottle fed by me from birth. Their mother had very little milk so I topped them up for her until her milk came in. They are quite independent and stick together apart from the flock, frequently exploring pastures new, under a gate here, through a hedge there. They make me smile; so different from the rest. Quietly Millie and I walk up behind them and they scuttle back from whence they came. Time to move everyone to pastures new, I think.
It’s been a summer of extremes. May was so dry, the wind so cold, even a severe frost on May 5th, so rare in Devon. Beans and courgettes fell victim. The beech hedge was crowned with crisp brown leaves, wisteria ravaged, and the fig trees looked dead. More and more damage became visible as the weeks followed. Then suddenly June and flood warnings rang out all over Britain: helicopters rescues, trains halted, passengers stranded. Spectacular photos of a thousand lightning strikes illuminating the skies of South East England crowd the media. Homes without power, weather warnings nationwide and still it rained. How, then, were we so fortunate to have three dry afternoons to open our garden for the National Garden Scheme? We even had some sun and a stream of smiling visitors
In came July and it wasn’t long before we remembered the old saying “ be careful what you pray for” as the fields turned brown, the grass stopped growing and drought was the word on everybody’s lips. The rain simply stopped.
But it didn’t stop people flocking to visit the tiny hamlet of East Cornworthy. Five lovely gardens opened their gates for the National Garden Scheme Nursing Charities for the first time. After much hard work, organisation and no small amount of anxiety the weekend was upon us! Would anyone come? We were all overwhelmed at the response! Over two afternoons we greeted nearly three hundred delightful, interested, interesting people. The car park filled, queues formed. I dashed to the shop to buy more clotted cream, more strawberry jam. By Sunday afternoon we even ran out of the wonderful scones donated by Dan at Garden Time, our local garden centre. He has made far too many, I thought quietly to myself as I collected them, we’ll never get through all these. Thank you Dan, how wrong I was!
As the visitors drifted away on Sunday evening, garden owners walked quietly round each other’s gardens. Still slightly stunned we finally celebrated with a welcome glass of wine. We looked at each other in amazement. In just two short afternoons they had raised an extraordinary £ 2,500 for the charity: a record indeed!
A little rain has fallen since, tiny signs of green creep across the top fields, grass growing a little at last. The garden is beginning to have that battered late summer look. Buzzards are already beginning to wheel and play on the thermals; I feel a shadow of autumn approaching. I do so hope all our summer visitors will enjoy some sun; I hope the traditional August rain will not spoil their holiday!

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Jul 03 2019

BT june 2019 from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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May 31 2019

Bramble Torre, Then and Now

Bramble Torre then and now from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Apr 23 2019

Lambing Days are Done……!

Lambing Days are Done……!


…..or are they! As I brought in a set of beautiful twins with their mother from the field yesterday afternoon, I pondered on the final lady; just one ewe still left to lamb but still no sign of milk. Will she, won’t she, we wonder, we’ll see, maybe we have indeed finished!

The last twins

Lambing began with a difference this year. “I’m away at the beginning of March” said Paul way back in October “So I’ll put our ram in later than usual so you won’t be lambing alone!” Good idea, I thought, as Millie and I walked up to the top fields, our daily routine, to check the ewes. Almost at once I found myself face to face with a beautiful Suffolk ram! “Hello. Who are you…..oh dear!”

Our neighbour came at once to retrieve his handsome boy but not before the fellow had given us some truly wonderful, strapping Whiteface/Suffolk lambs: an unusual addition to our pedigree flock!

Our beautiful Suffolk surprises!

Now at last, weeks later, tired and happy, we can dare to begin to relax. Strange though it seems, lambing routine doesn’t change, regardless of numbers. Even though we have reduced our flock considerably, we must still be as vigilant as ever. Be it with just thirty girls or a hundred and thirty or two hundred plus, the routine is the same. Up at dawn, down at midnight!  And, of course, the usual daily rota of chores continues.

Moving to pastures new
Out at Last

Each morning the alarm goes before dawn, Paul climbs out of bed, feeds yawning dogs and makes his way to the yard, wondering what will greet him:  a ewe in labour or newly born babies, maybe. Any ewes with new lambs will be penned up in the big barn for the first few days after birth. This gives us time to make sure the lambs are feeding well and mother and baby are thriving.  They must have ear tags attached in each ear according to MAFF regulations, navels sprayed with antiseptic spray and ewes feet trimmed.

Time for a manicure

The remaining Ladies in Waiting go out for the day into the big field near the yard we call Sunday Orchard. Whiteface Dartmoor’s’ are robust, strong ewes and excellent mothers. Rarely do we have a problem. This year we are feeding just one set of twins for a mother who suffered mastitis and had insufficient milk. A visit from the vet and several injections later and she is recovering, but the babies still need a twice daily top up from the bottle.

A little extra to help mother!

Once sheep and lambs are fed, donkeys let out into their paddock for the day and the chicken house opened, it is time for breakfast. Then it’s back to the yard for the daily routine of mucking out, scraping the yard and gradually moving lambs and ewes from the barn up the hill to the top fields onto fresh grass. Dogs and I walk up the hill and feed mothers and children every day. We feed the yearlings too, that is to say last year’s ewe lambs, grazing in an adjoining field. Some of them will join our flock in the autumn and lamb next year. Others will be sold at the big Whiteface Dartmoor sheep sale in August, joining other flocks to improve the blood line.

Yearlings coming for tea!

Then it’s back for a lunchtime snack and time to catch up on paperwork: birthing records, ear tag numbers etc. Late afternoon and back we go to bottle feed lambs and check the ewes in Sunday Orchard again. Any new mothers are brought into the barn with their babies as soon as possible. The corvids: crows, magpies and ravens, are our biggest threat. They will attack a new born lamb and even sometimes, the ewe too.

Next we feed all the ewes in the barn with sugar beet and oats, hay and fresh water. We check all lambs are feeding well and ear tag any new babies.

Nutmeg Christos and Tiny Freddie

In come the donkeys and while they eat their tea I fill their rack with hay and shut their barn door for the night. These desert animals are not waterproof like horses and too much rich, sugary grass will lead to laminitis. They are as greedy as our Labradors so caution is best!

By the time we have filled the sheep troughs in the yard, the Ladies in Waiting are queuing at the gate baaing loudly for tea! Once in they will stay in the yard and sheep barn for the night away from night time predators.

Time for bed

Time now to shut up chickens for the night, collect eggs, water the greenhouses and sit down at dusk with a glass of wine!

Supper and a little tele and then it’s back to the yard to check everyone, deal with any new births, bottle feed any lambs and come home to bed!

Time to Relax

So,  happy at last, with our beautiful new flock safely up on our top fields overlooking the river Dart and Dartmoor in the distance,  we can look forward to a long night’s sleep!

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Mar 10 2019

Goodbye February!

Gale force winds, torrential rain, mud and still more rain chased us through February taunting us, every now and then, with bursts of brilliant sunshine!  The north wind ripped across the hills driving south from distant Dartmoor. Sometimes I found it almost impossible to stay on my feet as I struggled to fill troughs for hungry sheep. I was so pleased with my old wonder-waterproofs to keep me warm and dry in the deluge!

And now suddenly everything has changed. The hills are turning green at last, as grass begins to grow. The valley is awash with flowers. Daffodils, primroses, hellebores, leucojum, celandine all carpet the hillside. Camellias just go from strength to strength, the best for years.

Birds are in full throttle, shouting above the wind, as they race skywards through the swelling branches going about their business. But rain, sunshine, strong winds and an erratic weather forecast keep us on our toes. As we are greeted with this milder weather, memories of last year’s March snow make us all more than a little wary.  Will this sun stay with us or will everything be knocked back again once more?

We put our ram in with our pedigree Whiteface ewes later than usual last autumn, intending to lamb at the end of March. But, alas, our neighbour’s big boy climbed a huge fence and a very thick hedge to admire our girls. And, although his stay was very brief, we wonder now what to expect as we wait anxiously for early lambs of uncertain parentage!

The wet winter has taken its toll on the donkey’s feet. These desert animals are not cut out for mud. Their feet are porous and old Nutmeg, in particular, has suffered badly. Keeping them all in their big barn has been the only option. But at last, as the ground begins to drain and firm up, they are thrilled to go out to stretch their legs even if this does mean a regular evening pedicure!

It was time for the equine dentist visit in February. Gemma comes once a year to do a dental check and clean and file down rough teeth where necessary, particularly important with older donkeys. Last summer she arrived as planned only to find me standing in the yard in shock having just found my dear old Luke dead in the barn with a bemused Nutmeg standing beside him. We cancelled all thoughts of dentistry and concentrated on caring for Nutmeg hoping she would not go into shock too, which in donkeys, can cause hyperlipaemia, a fatal condition. The vet’s verdict on cause of Luke’s death was old age. But it was so sudden we were all taken by surprise. He was such a gentle, stoical, funny old boy.

So six months on it was time to check Nutmeg’s teeth and give the new boys a once over too. Christof was good as gold but Tiny Freddie wasn’t so keen. He doesn’t like the farrier much either, or the vet or even wearing a head collar at all: a bit of a handful despite being a sweet gentle chap the rest of the time! But all was well and teeth are good for another year.

The equine ‘flu epidemic has brought a visit from the vet recently too. We don’t see many other equines here but the virus is air born so we must be vigilant and make sure they all have vaccine boosters for protection.

So it’s up to the yard again now to bring in the Ladies in Waiting for the night and give them tea. The donkeys will have their feet cleaned and eat their bowl of Mollychaff and I daresay I will have to search for a wayward chicken or two after our recent visit from a fox. We found two piles of feathers recently: food for early cubs maybe or just a hungry loner. Sad though it was, we must share the valley.

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Jan 10 2019

January 2019 Arrives!

January 2019 arrives………….

……………….and the Boxing Day snowdrops did not disappoint!

White camellias, delicate winter cherry blossom, tiny hellebores all swiftly followed, each opening coyly beneath a leaden sky; surely a sign that spring will return once more. As I trudged through the December mud, head down in the relentless rain, I was in danger of losing the faith! But just as the New Year has dawned so the rain has stopped. The sun returns, the hillside slowly drains, grass begins to grow and gradually the daylight hours lengthen minute by minute.

The ewes graze quietly on the hilltop, Dartmoor misty in the distance, the River Dart drifting by quietly beneath them. We hope young Hercules has done his duty and in time strong, healthy lambs will be greeted by spring sunshine.

Meanwhile right now the yearlings, feisty youngsters, are intent on eating anything just out of reach through their boundary fence, despite having plenty of grass in their own field.  Sweet blackberry leaves seem favourite. Time after time, in the last two days, Milly and I have found a little girl with her head firmly stuck through the stock wire as she tries to reach that tasty morsel.  Panicking as she finds herself trapped, she pushes back and forth dancing manically.  We must look a funny sight as I straddle her back in an effort to hold her still between my knees, then push her nose up and tip her head back through the wire to freedom. She gives herself a big shake then bounces back to her pals as I stand panting looking round for Milly. I spot her a few yards away sitting very still watching me intently with her head on one side in that particular Labrador pose which seems to say “What’s up?”  “It’s OK, Mill,” I gasp as I stagger on across the fields!

This New Year brings with it other things too, global anxieties, uncertainty across the world. Here in the UK we are totally consumed with Brexit and our future relationship with Europe. We all have our view; we are all bombarded by Press speculation and opinion. But none of us can do anything but wait for our politicians to stop squabbling and come to some sort of consensus that is truly in our countries interest with, hopefully, Europe in support of their decision. Meanwhile Mrs May soldiers on. We, the public, seem strangely powerless within our own democracy.

Across the ocean Mr Trump is intent on having his own way too, shutting down the US government as he demands funding for his Wall and withdrawing troops needed to promote peace across the world: all is turmoil and chaos.

Feeling helpless in this global mayhem we walk across the hills with our dogs, tend our sheep, enjoy dear funny donkeys.

We prepare for lambing, sweep the yard, mend fences, cut hedges, clean out sheds, service tractors. We plant seed, take cuttings, make plans for the charity summer garden openings. We prune and tidy, sweep and clean.

We rejoice in our dear family and many , many friends and try to hold the faith that some sort of world sanity will eventually return!

Let us hope 2019 will be better than we fear!

Happy New Year from Christos & Tiny Freddy

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