Dec 04 2021

Winter Arrives!

The golden autumn is suddenly gone!

A howling wind roars through the valley, a huge whirlwind rages round the house. Golden leaves fill the air. One minute they gather in great piles only to take off again swirling and twirling up, up and away. Great trees bend back and forth as if to snap.

The huge Eucalyptus tree, high on the hill, is doing a terrifying dance, it sways manically this way and that. Can its branches withstand the wind’s mighty force, I wonder?

The weather forecast foretold “snow on the way: a big freeze ahead”. And indeed, today the temperature has plummeted. An icy north wind cuts through, as we walk across the top fields. Dartmoor stands out crisp against the sky; no snow on the south side yet. The river shines an icy blue below.

We have travelled, oh so gently, from autumn into winter this year. Sheep grazed quietly beneath an azure sky. Golden sunlight shone through golden trees as they held onto their leaves rocking gently in a soft breeze.

Morning mists gave way to bright, mild days, the hillside bathed in sun. Can it really be late November we asked ourselves?

Now all is changed! Winter has arrived!

Donkeys play rough games on the hillside in the wind.

Ouch !
Qui Moi ?

Tough Dartmoor sheep graze quietly on the top fields in icy sunshine.

A rose lingers on in the garden as the temperature plummets.

Little autumn camellias cling to their bush, buffeted in the wind

A cheeky squirrel hangs on in the swaying bird feeder!

We’re not used to rough weather down here in South Devon ! So we scuttle in at dimpsy: donkeys fed, chickens safely housed, eggs collected. Even Dog is happy to have her tea and snuggle down with me by the fire!

I turn, of course, to my beloved old cookery books! What shall we have for supper…… Time passes as I read on, finding, ah, another book I haven’t opened for so long, I had forgotten that and that, oh, and that one too….er, about supper?….oh later!

Immersed in the writing of Elisabeth David, Rosemary Hume, Nigel Slater, Joyce Molyneux, and so many more, my mind wanders. Ah, Joyce Molyneux, proprietor of Dartmouth’s wonderful Carved Angel. As I read Joyce’s book, “Angel Food”, I am reminded of all those years ago, oh so long ago now, when I cooked for her contemporary, Kem Bennett, at Nick’s Diner in Fulham!

Joyce and Kem had both started out with the wonderful George Perry-Smith at The Hole in the Wall in Bath. I had no idea at the time, of course, how fortunate I was to find myself working for Kem and his team!

Nick Clarke, former Guards Officer, had a small, very fashionable restaurant in Ifield Road. He also leased a converted garage nearby on the Fulham Road where we prepared Nick’s Moveable Feasts! Long before Take-Aways, these were delivered to the great and the good all over London. I was sent to help the host or hostess dish up and serve the food straight from our garage kitchen. And , of course, I ended up in some extraordinary places! But more importantly, under Kem’s careful eye, I learned to love cooking.

As I emerge from my reverie, I suddenly remember John delivered scallops on his Monday fish round today: hurrah supper!

My favourite way with scallops is based on a simple recipe by Mitch Tonks, he of “Seahorse” fame. Inevitably I never have exactly what recipes ask for but a forage in the fridge usually comes up trumps! Today is such a day. I have anchovies, butter, parsley, garlic. I whizz them up in the food processor to make a savoury butter. I have Japanese Panko breadcrumbs in the larder, for a crisp topping. I put the scallops back into their shell , drizzle a little white wine and olive oil over the top, add salt and pepper and the savoury butter. The crumbs go over the top. Then into a hot oven for five or six minutes. I’m careful not to overcook them, training from Japan!

We eat the scallops with samphire, a green salad and maybe a boiled potato or two. Delicious and so quick!

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Aug 26 2021

Tumbling into Autumn

Autumn creeps in

Is autumn surreptitiously creeping in already? Today Millie and I climbed the hill to the top fields under a watery sun, struggling to make its self seen in a drizzly grey sky. Then suddenly a brief burst of warm sunshine, hood down, waterproof coat off, hurrah. A cohort of geese flashed across the sky like the Red Arrows! Dartmoor appeared briefly in the distance, the river below.

But it didn’t last of course. A ferocious wind whirled up from the valley, trees bent double, coat on again. Donkeys stayed in their barn munching hay. Chickens sheltered under trees. Only the sheep continued to graze peacefully, raindrops bouncing off lanolin. As we descended Millie danced in muddy puddles and launched herself into the stream, paws akimbo: Labradors love water. We reached home soaking wet once more!

It’s August, of course!

The Boat Float

And Devon is full to the brim with visitors! Many more this year than usual as covid restricts traveling to hotter climes. So hundreds have come West instead, flocking to the local towns seeking fun and relaxation. Alas the weather lets them down. Fully booked cafes and restaurants struggle with acute staff shortages, traffic jams abound and beaches are brimming with hopeful chilly surfers: all so disappointing.

The lanes narrow!

But something else is different this year. Although we are only half way through the big holiday month there is definitely a feel of autumn in the air. The trees have that tired dark green look they take on just before the leaves begin to turn. The lanes are already narrowing more than usual as hedgerows, so abundant, crowd across the way, arching overhead. Huge fronds of bracken, tall as trees, wave in the wind. Buzzards are already whirling overhead, filling the air with their autumn cries. Wild damsons cover the ground. The fruit cage is empty and the vegetable garden a soggy disaster! The whole garden is running amok!

Every year I so enjoy my little harvest, gathering fruit and vegetables, some for now and some to store for winter treats.  But alas, this year no abundant crops to stash away in the deep freeze, barely enough for now. Draught and deluge, scorching sun followed by biting cold winds have all taken their toll over the summer months. Only the tomatoes and green peppers, safe in the greenhouse, have come up trumps!

So I find myself moving towards autumn dishes, thinking of future meals, turning, as I always do, to cooking for comfort! Yesterday it was those wonderful “Old English” sausages from the Dartmouth Butcher, Boulangère potatoes and spiced lentils with a handful of Cavalo Nero from the sparse veg garden.

“Old English”

What shall we have today? Will it be Beouf Stroganoff or a quick ratatouille pasta, I wonder.

For the Stroganoff I will gently cook shallots and garlic in butter and a little oil till soft before adding a big handful of sliced mushrooms. A quick sauté then I remove them from the pan. I add a little more oil and let the pan get really hot; in goes the finely sliced steak. A quick turn around then off the heat and back go the mushrooms. I quickly stir it all together before adding salt and pepper and a good dollop of crème fraiche and chopped parsley. All cooked in minutes!

I do love making ratatouille from my own vegetables, though no aubergine this year, but fortunately I found a beautiful specimen in our village shop!


I have learnt, at last, that the secret with ratatouille is to start by cooking the peppers, aubergine and courgette until just al dente. Then I take them from the pan while I soften first the onion, garlic and then add the chopped tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have melted a little, I return the peppers etc to the pan and cook gently for a few minutes. Doing it this way round prevents the vegetables all going to a mush!! All I need to add is a little salt and pepper and a big handful of chopped basil; delicious!

John Dory

Living near the sea we are so fortunate to have wonderful fish delivered literally to our doorstep. John comes by each Monday at lunchtime in his van packed full of the weekend catch.  Such a wonderful choice; it may be John Dory or scallops or lemon sole, it’s always delicious.  Every Friday I queue to buy more fish from Mark’s stall in Dartmouth Market where there is an even bigger array of the previous nights’ catch!

Tuna with Salad Nicoise

Sometimes I find enough in the fridge to make a quiche of sorts; rarely the classic Quiche Lorraine but delicious none the less! Despite the travel restrictions of the last eighteen months, I still have some frozen pastry left in the deep freeze, bought from a French supermarché in Brittany! By chance it fits my metal flan ring perfectly! When I run out, I will resort to ready made pastry from my local supermarket!


The filling is random: bacon or ham, maybe, with mushrooms and shallot. Or perhaps I will use shrimps, prawns or some left-over cooked fish and a big handful of quickly cooked, really well drained spinach. It depends what I have in the fridge. The part that doesn’t change is the custard. I whisk two eggs into a mixture of milk and cream together with salt and pepper and some grated cheese. I pour this into the pastry case over the filling. I sprinkle a bit more cheese over the top then put it in a hot oven until the custard is golden and set and the pastry lovely and crisp. We eat it with a green salad.

So as the days seem to get prematurely shorter my thoughts turn once more to gathering whatever I can find and taming the chaos which is my garden………… while others relax!


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Jul 01 2021

Sunshine and Cream Tea !

One thirty on a cloudy Friday afternoon and already we hear a rumble of cars gliding past the farmyard to the car park in a big field beyond. By two o’clock a steady stream of people begin to arrive in the garden. More and more keep coming all afternoon! Saturday and Sunday are the same, but we even have sunshine then too!  

We have been opening our garden for the National Garden Scheme Nursing Charities for many years now, but never have we had so many delightful, happy visitors: two hundred people in just three afternoons! Everyone wanted to chat, to ask questions about the garden, the house. I explained over and over again that there had been no garden when we arrived, that the pond had been a tractor shed and the flat lawn covered by three huge derelict greenhouses. They looked again in surprise!

I told how we had cleared and dug, dug and chopped, cleared and dug, and how, slowly the basic structure of a garden, long forgotten, began to emerge. Someone, sometime had cherished it. Down fell the derelict old green houses, broken glass threatening to chop off our heads.

Down came the great tin tractor shed, in went the pond, out went the fencing made of gas stove and corrugated tin. In went banks of shrubs, out went broken outhouses and bindweed and dead trees. In went roses and camellias, beech hedges. Up popped swathes of bulbs and wild flowers. Stifled for years beneath the undergrowth, they took their chance to break free at last. Slowly, slowly as we worked, a garden began to re-emerge in the valley.

As usual my dear friends helped each day with the cream teas: no plates or cups and saucers this Covid year! Instead, our local Anchorestone Café provided stylish little boxes each taking a tiny pot of jam, a scone and a scoop of clotted cream, the latter so generously donated by Hallets the Bakers and the Dartmouth Dairy.

It’s been two years now since we last opened. So much water has passed under the bridge since then! Covid 19 has changed our lives. Lockdown followed by lockdown, self-isolation, separation from friends and family, fear of infection, strict Government rules, so strictly enforced, contradictory news bulletins; all have limited our lives in a way few of us could have ever imagined or have ever experienced.

Then suddenly a few weeks ago we learnt that we could indeed go ahead and open to visitors once again. The race was on! But the weather sadly hadn’t heard the good news! It has been the strangest spring. High winds roared through the valley bending trees and flattening shrubs.  Chickens cowered in the farmyard and donkeys voted with their feet to stay in their big shed. The garden was in limbo.

We longed for rain for weeks. But as the saying goes “be careful what you wish for”: suddenly the heavens opened! Water ran off the parched ground trickling through grass, pouring down hill until it reached the stream in the valley below. The air temperature remained far below the seasonal norm. I planted out beans, peas, cavalo nero, sweet corn, courgette, even late sweet peas. They all stood still!

The sun crept out now and then from beneath black cloud, roses began to offer a few flowers while rhododendrons hung on in full bloom in June! The big buddleia alternafolia slowly began to turn blue.  The huge embothrium was just as tardy, gradually putting on its magnificent glow of scarlet weeks later than usual. It is only just beginning to fade now as we approach July. A strange year indeed.

Meanwhile Paul built a magnificent new bridge across the stream.

The days raced by. Eva and I weeded and tided, potted and pruned. Gradually we brought some sort of order into the valley. But the wild flowers, still racing beguilingly along the banks had to stay.

The fields suddenly grew lush. Sheep grazed on the hill in the sun and the weekend arrived and was gone!

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May 22 2021

Changing Times

I’ve just found an old copy of Country Living Magazine February 1994 “How to Survive Redundancy, a second career”. My, that took me back a bit! There we are photographed climbing the hill, pitch forks in hand and dogs in tow, starting our new life.

We had already lived in our funny old house for a number of years when Thames Television lost its franchise to broadcast and Paul found himself, part of the team in charge of closing down technical operations and making so many people redundant: a painful process which was agonisingly slow. Months passed as transmission wound down until finally, he was able to write himself out of the script. He walked out of the studios after twenty-seven years in television: “Can I have your car keys, please, sir” and suddenly it was all over. It seems a life time away now.

Then at the very same time, the strangest thing happened: our farming neighbour, born in our house, decided to sell up and move away. Most of the land went to his relation, up the valley, in Devon farming tradition; brother’s wife’s sister’s husband, just a few minutes’ walk from us across the fields. But the relation didn’t want it all; he didn’t want the steep thirty something acres which had once belonged to our house or the large ugly 1970’s ramshackle farmyard. We pondered our options; not a very promising farming potential.

We bought two sheep, a couple of Dexter cows, a few chickens, some turkey poults and quite a few books.

It seems a long time ago now that we bought those first two sheep, two Jacob ewes, Phyllis and Madge, named after the previous owner’s Bridge partners!

I knew very little about sheep and it took me some time to understand that sheep speed and human speed are very different. I had no idea how to catch the two of them and rushed madly about the field finally grabbing poor Madge by the horns only to be taken downhill very fast on my stomach. As she protested at my inappropriate efforts my husband looked on quite unable to help, paralyzed with laughter! Oh how quickly I learnt to slow down and show respect.

We soon added a few more Jacobs to our little flock, two Suffolk crosses, then Hazel, another girl gifted to us and Maisy, a stout woman who had lived in someone’s back garden. She, like Hazel, was a bit confused about her identity until she joined a flock of something similar to herself. Those were the early days.

How things have changed. Gradually we built up a beautiful flock of pedigree Whiteface Dartmoor sheep and, I’m glad to say, a much more professional approach to animal husbandry.

But, most important of all, a lot of our success was due to our neighbouring farmers overwhelming kindness and generosity, sharing their knowledge, help and support.

In time our thriving little business breeding sheep, producing free range eggs, raising table birds for delivery every week and turkeys for Christmas grew. We began making up salad bags long before the supermarkets caught onto the idea. All this we delivered in our minute, elderly refrigerated van to a quickly growing list of regular customers. And soon we supplied local businesses, hotels and pubs with our eggs, lamb and chicken.

A summer visitor in a big queue in our village shop was heard to ask the sell by date of our eggs “About half an hour “replied a local wag. We knew we had arrived!

One day we were surprised to turn up on BBC Spotlight, the Devon TV News programme; it helped our sales no end. A little later the Weekend Times did a half page feature of us called “Farming for Fun”! Despite the terrific input of the Regional Director of The National Farmers Union, South West, the journalist clearly new little about farming and described us, rather disparagingly, as Hobby Farmers! Some things don’t change.

Our weeks followed a regular pattern. From Monday to Wednesday I worked for Plymouth University, ran my own Psychotherapy Practice in Totnes and provided Clinical Supervision for local NHS GP Counsellors.

Paul farmed.

On Thursday’s I joined him and began preparing the chickens he had plucked. I drew and trussed them then packed, weighed and labelled them. I took the orders, worked out the delivery route, wrote recipes to accompany them, picked salad and herbs from my polytunnel and made up the salad bags. I collected, graded, packed and labelled the eggs.

We were approved and regularly visited by Health and Safety, Trading Standards, Environmental Health, MAFF which preceded DEFRA and the “Egg Inspector” who always made me giggle, poor man. Fancy being called an Egg Inspector, but someone has to do it.….and Paul had, of course, done the appropriate training to be awarded a professional poultry slaughterman’s license; not so glamourous either!

On Friday and Saturday Paul did deliveries while I cleared up, cleaned and caught up with paper work. On Sunday we crawled to church, planned the new week ahead, fed the animals, (no one told them it was Sunday!), cooked supper and collapsed: some Hobby!!!

Then a few years later disaster struck. We went to tea with my ninety-six-year-old father on his birthday. We returned home in sunshine to find a very distressed cockerel running round the garden. Alas, our flock had been routed by a family of foxes. Only a handful survived.

Time to take stock; we closed our egg business and concentrated of our Whiteface flock which went from strength to strength. Paul became Chairman and then President of the Whiteface Sheep Breeders Association, not bad for a Cornishman in Devon on his second career!!

And so now, here we are again, starting another new chapter. As time moves on, we must reduce our workload so we can continue to concentrate on opening our garden for the National Garden Scheme. We’d been pondering our options for some time, feeling sad and reluctant to say goodbye to our girls. And then out of the blue came a wonderful compromise. We met Matt, a young man who has a small flock of his own Whiteface Dartmoors and is keen to get into sheep farming. He will rent our fields and buy our girls to add to his twenty or so, and they will all share grazing on our fields. In the autumn he will bring in his ram and next spring he will lamb in our yard. So the cycle will continue.

A perfect solution: we will still walk over the hills and enjoy our sheep but now they are his responsibility! How wonderful is that!

Our garden is open on June 11th, 12th & 13th. in aid of the NGS Nursing Charities. We are praying for just a little bit of sunshine!

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Mar 23 2021

At Last a Sign of Spring

Is it spring at last?

As each day passes the sun rises and sets a little higher above the hills and suddenly the valley is not in darkness. We see sunlight once more. Sun greets me in the morning now, as I watch Millie race round the garden before her breakfast. Birds sing. Indeed, they seem to be shouting for joy as they crowd the bird feeder. A pair of pheasants potter down for an early snack, hooting quietly as they clear the fallen seeds on the grass below. Hordes of fat pigeons patrol the garden.  A long bleak winter begins to drift away behind us.

And, after this long, lonely extraordinary year, we are told lockdown restrictions will gradually be lifted too. We will soon be allowed to see our friends and family again, travel a little further afield, eventually even have our hair cut! 

We will open our garden once more in June for the NGS to raise money for the nursing charities who have worked so very hard for us all over the last difficult months.

So as March marches onward, cherry trees are bursting into blossom, buds are swelling and the grass is starting to grow again. Fading snowdrops are replaced by a carpet of primroses. Camellias defy the frost, and everywhere daffodils and hellebores nod in the breeze. Sheep, horses and donkeys graze quietly on the hill. Nature seems to know nothing of this human pandemic. Time will heal.

march garden from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Feb 20 2021

A Pause for Thought

It’s Groundhog Day: time stands still, time freezes, all is repetition, repetition. Is it just me or do the days seem to creep by as weeks fly past? What day is it today? Everything seems the same and yet completely different. Routine takes over my life. But how lucky am I to have space all around me. Millie dog and I walk to the top fields every day to feed the sheep. We climb the hills and look out over Dartmoor in the distance and the river below. We tend the donkeys and clean the stables. We feed our lockdown chickens, Avian Flu not Covid !  Sometimes there’s a little treat, friends walk by and we manage a quick chat, a bark, over the fence. Isolation, aloneness, no friends for a cuppa, a glass of wine or supper in the kitchen.

We wait, we hope, we try to be patient. Vaccinations are going well we’re told, then contradictions flood the media. We hang onto hope. That is all we can do. How will it all pan out? Only time will tell. We wait, we obey the rules, we isolate, we go on hoping.

And then the power cut: we lose everything. No WiFi, no internet, no phone, no contact with the outside world. No electricity, no heat, no light, no cooker, no hot water, no washing machine, none of the things we rely on and take so for granted day by day. I get back from the yard soaking wet, I can’t have a shower or wash my muddy clothes. I can’t prepare supper; I can’t send an email or call a friend. The house is cold and dark. All I can do is light the fire and wait.

A flurry of trucks arrive. Men in hard hats and red jackets jump out and scale the electricity pylons in the woods beyond our gate. Like trapeze artists, they swing from pole to pole high above the ground for hours until finally power is restored. They vanish as quickly as they appear.

It sets me thinking. How did our predecessors live their lives in days gone by in this tall, strange, narrow, remote, funny old house; a four-bedroom folly built by the Rector of Dittisham for his daughter in 1767? The deeds are lost so we know very little of its history but we do know that over the last two hundred and forty years it has belonged to churchman or farmers. The Reverend Francis Lyte lived here for a year or so before crossing the river to become the “Poet and Priest of Brixham”. I wonder if maybe he might even have written “Abide with Me” in this house! We’ll never know of course! All we do know is that the family from whom we bought it all those years ago had farmed here since 1922.

I heard on the radio the other day that someone somewhere has unearthed old records which show we are experiencing the highest rainfall since 1767, the year our house was built. As I watch our 21st century builders equipped with all the latest gear struggle to climb the scaffolding in howling winds and rain to mend our leaking roof and replace our rotten windows, I try to image the scene in the 18th century as men dug into the muddy Devon hillside in torrential rain toiling to build this Rector’s strange folly

Some folly indeed, down a muddy track almost a mile from a steep riverside village, it stands three storeys high at the head of a creek with ten windows, all at the front, looking east towards the River Dart. There were no other windows either on sides or back until the modern kitchen extension of 1820 was built. This was to conform to the Window Tax introduced in 1696 by William the Third to compensate for revenue lost through the clipping of coins. More than ten windows incurred a higher tax.

A well outside the basement kitchen was the only source of water and the privy was a long, cold walk from the backdoor.

A ford ran at the gate we are told and there was certainly no little shop in the village which was only to be reached on foot or by horse and cart. And Dartmouth was only accessible by water.  One token to modernity, if you can call it that, in this quirky house, were the coal grates. Very unusual for the time, they replaced the usual wood burning hearth. Coal barges unloaded their cargo at the head of the creek onto horse drawn carts just outside our gate, so coal was available to warm the two main rooms; so very modern in the eighteenth centuary. But I keep imagining just how hard and bleak life must have been

Dartmouth is still our nearest little town. A town with a an extraordinary history, it has managed to re-invent itself ina quite remarkable way, time and againacross the centuries. It sits at the mouth of the Dart, a river which rises five hundred and fifty metres above sea level on the acidic peat bogs high up on Dartmoor. Dartmouth perches at its mouth, a town with a history of ships and shipping and a story dominated by the sea. But it was not until 1823 that the town became accessible by land for wheeled vehicles, almost sixty years after our house was built. Up until that time only pack horses or ponies could manage the steep descent; the river was the highway to the town.

It was February 1982 when we arrived and our lives changed forever. We simply fell in love with this poor old battered farmhouse. On the day of completion we were early. We sat patiently on the grass pondering our future. In time an old tractor trundled up and our neighbouring farmer, handed over a key; I gazed at it in wonder, just one enormous, rusty, unused old key; the key to our new life.

Our arrival was, of course, eventful. First the removal lorry broke down on the way. And then, as I had predicted in several high decibel phone calls to the removal company, it was far too big to get down the narrow lane to the house. Everything had to be decanted unceremoniously into a small hired van in the middle of the village right outside the shop; a good place for everyone to get a look at the belongings and the people who had bought “Dorothy’s House”.

Death watch beetle, wet rot, dry rot and flourishing fungi meant we had no floor boards on which to arrange anything. All our belongings, everything but the most basic necessities, had to be stacked high in the farm dairy. They would remain there for the next nine months. We began to forget about them; things we had deemed so essential simply weren’t missed. As the months passed I soon learnt that black mould is permanent and green mould can be brushed off…..

The dairy, now a cosy study, was part of a cold north facing addition circa 1820. The deep slate shelves all around the room still remain. Each shelf has a gully which held a trickle of cold water that acted as the cooling system, keeping hams and cheese, milk and cream fresh; a nineteenth century “refrigerator”.

For months we all camped downstairs, sleeping on plastic covered mattresses. The children were ecstatic. They climbed around the house balancing precariously on the joists, exploring every corner and bagging a future bedroom each. They spent hours happily picking wet wallpaper off damp walls, they counted dead flies and compiled a scrap book of the amazing interior decoration. They recorded all details of yellow and orange staircase, pea green paneling in the little Georgian sitting room and the beautiful iron fireplace steeped in cream paint. They explored the overgrown garden and made camps in the orchard. They tramped across fields arriving home wet and muddy with happy exhausted dogs.

There was no hot water in the bathroom and the lavatory, perched above the kitchen extension of 1820, replaced the mounting block at the original backdoor which had enabled incumbent rector or farmer to lower himself onto his horse from on high! It was inclined to give those brave enough to use it, a fairly substantial cold shower when flushed. Fortunately there was another one upstairs which was less eccentric, but journeying to it meant balancing once more on those ceiling joists.

I loved the solid fuel Rayburn. It stood cream and battered in the corner of the old kitchen. It hadn’t been used for years but it was the only source of heat we had. All the chimneys were blocked up either deliberately or by years of nesting birds. So to cook our food, give us a little hot water and keep us warm, I set about bringing it back to life. I called the chimney sweep, scrubbed the old thing, bought some “nuts” to feed it and fired it up. If the wind was in the right direction it was a marvel. But, as the hills rise high behind the house, on grey days the smoke was returned unceremoniously down the chimney. I began to understand why it had been out of action for so long! It began to rule our mealtimes. Would it roar into life and cook lunch or would thick cloud, hanging heavy in the sky, make us wait till supper time for the fire to draw.

The old kitchen and pantry had no sink or drainage of any kind but a small modern breeze block scullery, housed a metal sink whose waste pipe ended in mid-air. Water flowed first onto the floor then trickled optimistically towards a little drain hole: sometimes it disappeared, sometimes it didn’t. It was a long, wet walk from cooker to sink with a saucepan. Cooking was a challenge.

In November the builders arrived and the restoration process began. The pantry vanished together with the waterfall lavatory. Suddenly a large space appeared which would in time become the new kitchen. Ceilings fell down, new ones replaced them. Heating and plumbing appeared; water, no water, heating, no heating.  And, of course, things got so much worse before they got better.

Christmas approached and after much discussion we decided to make a valiant effort and celebrate in the shell which was to be our home. We hung a curtain across the bathroom door for Granny who whistled to indicate her occupancy; new floor boards in place made her journey slightly less hazardous. 

Rubble was barrowed out of the kitchen; the floor was leveled. A shiny new sink appeared then taps, hot water. What more did I need! A Christmas tree acted as camouflage and a few decorations lit up the occasion.

The dear old Rayburn came up trumps and cooked a turkey to perfection. Chairs and table were pulled out of storage and dusted down. Table laid, crackers in place and friends and family sat down together for the traditional festive feast in somewhat unconventional surroundings.  My father gave me a long hard look and asked if I thought we had been altogether wise. I just smiled.

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Jan 06 2021

New Year’s Day


We woke on New Year’s morning to a frost-white sparkling world. Tiny clouds bathed in pink sunlight scudded across a turquoise sky.  An omen for a better year, I pondered hopefully, as I struggled out into the frozen landscape. Such a contrast to the recent squelch of months of mud suddenly replaced by the crunch of icy grass beneath my feet. 

A quick breakfast and Millie and I trudged up as usual to the top fields to check the sheep. Dear tough Dartmoor girls grazed quietly on frozen pasture melting quickly in the intermittent sun. The river below shone coldly white; Dartmoor looked grey and ominous in the distance. Gradually, as we retraced our steps, clouds gathered and sun vanished.

Donkeys were not so keen to brave the cold this morning; so different from yesterday! For several weeks now they have had to stay in their big barn. Tiny Freddie has been lame for almost three weeks despite the efforts of vet and farrier. So poor old Christos has had to keep him company with silly old Larry-the-Lamb who still refuses to join the other wethers, rushing back into the donkey shed whenever the opportunity arises!  I really am beginning to believe he doesn’t know he’s a sheep! And on top of everything we have notice from DEFRA telling us we must all keep our chickens inside due to another outbreak, somewhere in Britain, of avian ‘flu.

But yesterday the sun shone and we opened the great metal door of the donkey shed at last. Mayhem followed! Whoops of joy: the air full of the sound of eeyors, galloping up and down the field, play fights, kicks in the air, joy all round! And, of course, now Tiny Freddie is lame again.

And to add to their entertainment, we have two beautiful visitors for the winter. Two gentle giants, sixteen hands and fifteen two! Tiny Fred and Christos are the biggest donkeys I have ever had and I’ve had many. But these elegant mares look down on them from far above. They live next door in the stables and spend each day in the big field we call Sunday Orchard. A gate and fence keep them separate from the donkeys who look up, wide eyed at these huge new lodgers in their yard.

All this keeps us busy in these strange isolated times. But we are so fortunate to have our fields to walk through and a garden to tend. We live just a mile or so from a quiet village by a beautiful river where we can greet our friends in the distance as we visit the local shop and go to church in our masks.

Christmas was different for us all this year of course. Like so many we could not be with our family. But we were fortunate enough to have four dear friends for Christmas Day supper. I was gifted a goose, a bird I haven’t cooked for years. It was delicious but, oh the goose fat!

We started with a tiny Japanese style dish of smoked salmon and prawns, nori, wasabi, ginger and lightly pickled cucumber and fennel. The goose followed and then a splendid Tarte au Pomme and Crème Chantilly prepared with a certain amount of theatre by a guest! 

Although it looked a big bird, I realised geese have far less meat on them than a turkey or a chicken. So, I decided to hedge my bets and make two stuffings, just in case. But first I removed as much fat as possible from inside the bird and reduced it down slowly in a saucepan. Some I put into jars for future use and some I set aside for the potatoes. There is no doubt that potatoes roasted in goose fat are the best!

Next, I softened some peeled chestnuts and shallots in a little butter and a dash of red wine. I stirred them into sausage meat with plenty of chopped fresh herbs and pepper and salt. This mixture went into the big cavity in the bird. I made a second stuffing with the goose liver, prunes, breadcrumbs and more shallots. I gently eased the skin back from part of the breast and pressed this stuffing a little across the breast then into the neck of the bird drawing the skin underneath and securing it with cocktail sticks.

This done, I pricked the skin of the whole bird with the point of a sharp knife, sprinkled it with plenty of salt and black pepper, but no oil, and cooked it in a fairly hot oven 180/190c allowing roughly twenty-five minutes to the pound.  I was careful to ladle out the fat at regular intervals. Towards the end I checked it with a skewer into the thighs and when the juices ran clear took it out and rested it while I made gravy.

With the bird we had Brussel sprouts with butter and flaked almonds, leeks, carrots and parsnips in a white sauce, those lovely crispy roast potatoes, unsweetened apple sauce and, of course, gravy.

A wonderful evening, a wonderful gift and a feast indeed despite the strange circumstances

Next day the small amount of meat left from the goose found its way into a pie enriched with a little of the stuffing. The rest of the stuffing became delicious rissoles and the carcase made amazing stock promising good soups for some time to come.

Here’s to a better , happier, healthier 2021 the whole world over.

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