Living the good life…

Many of you will know Sandra Goodman as our bright and bubbly Customer Service Manager… but there’s another side to Sandra that you probably don’t know about! To find out about her ‘other life’, read on… 

Sandra met her husband, Charlie, in 2011 and they set out to fulfil a lifelong dream – running their own smallholding. With property prices sky high in Devon they headed west to Cornwall. In the wonderfully named village of Polyphant they found their dream home – an old barn once used as a potato store and now converted, in a rather rustic way according to Sandra, into a two-bedroom house.

Sandra says: “We knew instantly that this old barn, set in a picturesque valley with a couple of fields, was where we wanted to settle.”

Charlie, having been raised on a farm, has in-depth knowledge of not only livestock but wildlife and the countryside in general. Sandra’s background is in craft, interior design and floristry and she has a love of flora and fauna and all things country. 

Their aim is to be self-sufficient – yes, totally! To date, they have 20 chickens, soon to be 40, and are about to take delivery of a pregnant Oxford Sandy and Black sow, followed by two ‘Lowline’ cattle. These gorgeous ‘mini’ cows are bred to be about a metre high at the shoulder, they are easy to handle and docile and ideal for the ‘small acreage’ farmer, which Charlie and Sandra definitely are with their four acres having to produce a lot of food to sustain the two of them!

As well as livestock, they have also put up an impressive poly tunnel (in Polyphant – sorry!) and, when I asked Sandra what they were growing, I couldn’t write it all down quickly enough, but the list included: Carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, butternut squash, aubergines, cucumbers, melons and lots more that I missed!

So far, Sandra says everything is germinating and growing really well in the poly tunnel, so she’s optimistic for good crops this year. Their next project is to prepare the outside veg beds and get even more produce underway.

Charlie and Sandra are keen to be as eco-friendly as possible and are looking at ways to generate their own power through a small wind turbine and solar panels. The River Inny runs through their land and they are permitted to take water from it to irrigate their crops as keeping overheads to a minimum is really important.

Sandra stays up in Devon three nights a week and then travels back to Cornwall where Charlie is based full-time. It’s a tough regime, but her enthusiasm when she talks about her Cornish life is so infectious, you just can’t help believing they will make a great go of it!

 

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Butterflies flitting by…

Butterflies are one of the loveliest things in a garden, fleeting, delicate and beautiful. True, their caterpillars can decimate plants, and a cabbage white munching its way through your veg patch is a very unwelcome sight… but I try to forgive them all that for their sheer beauty.

Larger varieties can live for up to a month, but many of the smaller varieties only live a week. All that beauty gone in such a short space of time…

The orange tip is one of my favourite butterflies and it is on the wing from April through to June. The males, predictably, are the show offs with orange flashes on their wings! Their caterpillars feed on cuckoo flower and hedge mustard while the adults often feed from plants such as bluebells.

Other favourites include the red admiral, the tortoiseshell and the very lovely peacock with its stunning ‘eyes’ on its wings. The buddleia in my garden is a huge draw for butterflies and, in a good summer, is absolutely covered in many varieties.

If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden, plant nectar producing flowers. Butterflies visit flowers searching for nectar, the sweet fluid produced by the flower as a reward for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. Many British butterflies seem to prefer purple, pink and yellow coloured blossoms while clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat topped blossoms provide ideal shapes for butterflies to land on and feed.

No matter how hard we try to encourage butterflies, sadly we are all at the mercy of the weather. Statistics tell us that fewer butterflies flew in British skies in the miserable summer of 2012 than for thousands of years, leaving several species in danger of extinction from parts of the country.

Intensive efforts to conserve our rarest species mean that no butterfly has become extinct in Britain since 1979 but conservationists – as well as butterflies – are now struggling to adapt to climate change.

 

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Murder & mystery in deepest Devon…

The west country, with its dramatic coastline, brooding moors and secluded hideaways is a pretty perfect place for writers to escape to – well that’s what I keep telling myself whenever myAgatha Christie enthusiasm flags! Over the years, this corner of England has been home to some of our most popular authors of the 20th century. Two female literary giants – Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie – both spent many happy years in this part of the world.

South Cornwall was the home of Daphne Du Maurier, writer of the haunting classics Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman’s Creek, among many other excellent novels. She lived a reclusive life down on the wild south Cornish coast and nowadays there is an annual Daphne Du Maurier Literary Festival (now called the Fowey Festival or Words & music) which I keep promising myself I must go to! 

In Devon, we lay claim to Agatha Christie. The undisputed queen of crime was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, just a couple of miles away from where I live. Once her fame was established and money no object, there was nothing she loved more than escaping with her family to Greenway, their Devon holiday home.

The National Trust opened Greenway House to the public in 2009 and for the first time, visitors had the opportunity to view the many personal collections and mementoes of this much-loved mystery writer and her family. It’s well worth a visit.

Greenway is an imposing house, sitting high on the slopes of the valley running down to the beautiful riverGreenway House Dart, near Dartmouth – one of my favourite Devon towns. If you take the Dart River Boat trip from Totnes to Dartmouth – wonderful in itself – you get superb views of Greenway from the river and can appreciate what a lovely place it was for her to escape to. 

Outside you can explore the large and romantic woodland garden, with a restored vinery, wild edges and rare plantings, which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. Lovely!!

I keep saying to Richard, all we need is a nice mansion by the sea where I can sit and muse while sipping a gin sling and I’ll have no trouble writing all my murder mysteries!! Somehow, I don’t think he is taking me seriously…

 

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Here be Pixies!

Did you know we have pixies down here on Dartmoor…? Little people, or ‘Piskies’ as they are usually referred to, that stand no higher than your knee and live among the rocks and combes.

Numerous places are traditionally connected with their revels, one of the best known being beside the River Dart near New Bridge where grassy banks make a delightful picnic place for folk large and small.

Old stories often relate that pixies helped farmers by threshing corn, churning butter and keeping cupboards free of cobwebs, especially if a dish of cream was left on the hearth as a reward although their good deeds would stop if they suspected they were being spied on.

Dartmoor’s numerous rock formations shelter many a cleft and cave and one particular cave has long been associated with the little folk. Known as Piskies’ Holt, it stands on private ground at Huccaby Cleave. Sadly, today it’s out of bounds to anyone without a fishing licence but this was once a popular place where children would leave a shell, a pin or a piece of cloth as presents for the pixies. I read an article a recently where the writer had been given permission to visit the spot and there, on a rock shelf in the cave lay an array of tiny offerings, some obviously recent! The spooky, but beautiful, Wistmans Wood of stunted oaks on Dartmoor, home to many a pixie, surely…?

Piskies are not only found on Dartmoor there are stories from around the world relating to the ‘little people’. In Cornwall they are known as pisgies, in Somerset they are pixies and in Dorset they are called pexies. It has been suggested that in early times they were all fairies but in the West Country they separated off to become piskies, pisgies, pixies or pexies.

There are many ideas as to how piskies originated. It may be that the piskies are pagan spirits who because of their beliefs are unable to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or, more likely, they are early Christian inventions used to discourage people from worshiping their banished pagan gods.

Whatever the truth behind these little folk, the myth lives on and there are still people today up on the moor who will tell you they have seen them. I haven’t been so lucky, but you never know…!

Are there tales of ‘little people’ where you live? We’d love to hear your stories!

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Making scent of it all…

OK, I admit it, I am old enough (just!) to remember steam trains. I am also now of an age to get nostalgic about pretty much anything from my childhood.

We are lucky to have a couple of steam railways near us down here in Devon. One skirts the coast and goes from Paignton to Kingswear – just across the water from the lovely harbour town of Dartmouth. The other, the South Devon Railway, runs beside the river Dart between Ashburton and the town of Totnes. When the river is high, roaring over rocks and surging under bridges it is quite an exciting ride!

When I went on it recently, the smell of the steam engine and the leather of the upholstery transported me instantly back to my childhood in Buckinghamshire and the steam trains that puffed back and forth along the Thames Valley. Steam trains also make those wonderful rhythmical sounds, clanks and bangs and little snorts that all add up to make them seem friendly, almost human, with characters of their own, something the poor old diesel trains never had a hope of achieving.

But thinking about the lovely smell of the steam (I suppose it’s the soot really!), it set me thinking about how evocative smells can be. A particular scent can instantly recall long-forgotten memories as if it were only yesterday. Mostly, the memories are happy but some, often floral, remind me of someone I’ve lost and while it is sad, it’s also good to pause every now and then in our hectic lives, and remember them, and smile.

And so, here are some of the other smells that ‘set me off’:

  • Freshly mown grass – school sports days, ugh!
  • Two-stroke petrol engines – an early boyfriend!
  • Geranium leaves – fresh, earthiness in a damp garden.
  • Gunpowder – Guy Fawkes night and the joy of childhood…

What about you? What smells bring memories surging back? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile… happy Easter and don’t eat too many eggs!

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