‘tis Poldark country!

Poldark fever gripped the nation earlier this year… and I confess I was one of those gripped. Well, I mean to say, there was a lot to be gripped by! Apart from the rather delightful sight of the hero himself (remember the bit of shirtless scything – goodness!) there was also the stunning scenery that contributed so much to the series. Poldark, written by Winston Graham, is set in Cornwall. As I expect some of you might be heading this way for your summer holidays I thought you might like to go and look at the magnificent scenery yourselves. Sadly, I cannot arrange for actor Aidan Turner to be on hand to add to the view, but still…

Charlestown
Top to bottom: Charlestown, Church Cove – Gunwallow, Porthgwarra, St Agnes Head.Charlestown near St Austell, famed for its collection of ships and traditional appearance, often plays the role of the principal town. As you wander along the side of the original Grade II Listed harbour complete with tall ships, you can almost imagine that you’ve been cast as an extra or have been transported to Winston Graham’s 18th Century setting.

Church Cove, Gunwallow
Church Cove Gunwallow on The Lizard re-lived its smugglings past when Aidan Turner and a hoard of other cast members descended to film night-time ship wrecking scenes. In reality, it is an attractive sandy cove overlooked by the tiny church of St Wynwallow.

Porthgwarra
Once a thriving fishing cove, the beautiful Porthgwarra sits at the heart of St Aubyn Estates and boasts a peaceful existence with its days surrounded by wildflowers and birdlife. The tunnel cut through the rock makes it perfect for swimming and rock pooling while the South West Coast Path offers unsurpassed views

Bodmin Moor
The cast and crew found themselves on Bodmin Moor for a large part of their time in Cornwall. Scenes featuring the exterior of Ross Poldark’s cottage, Nampara, were shot there.  With a rugged character and wild streak, Bodmin Moor provides the perfect backdrop to Poldark’s plot of passion and family dramatics.

Botallack to Levant
Location managers couldn’t resist the rich mining heritage of the stretch of west Cornwall coast linking Botallack and Levant. Cameras rolled with Levant Mine playing the role of the fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill while Owles and Crowns near Botallack starred as Wheal Leisure.

Padstow area
For some of the cliff scenes the filming action moved to the Padstow area. Fans of north Cornwall will recognise the spectacular views across the Camel Estuary and Tregirls beach, while the beauty of the wide sandy beach of Porthcothan is hard to miss in the scenes featuring Poldark’s fictional Nampara Cove.

St Agnes Head
Another area that enjoyed a taste of Hollywood is St Agnes Head where iconic engine houses perch serenely on the cliff-tops offering a silent reminder of Cornwall’s mining heyday. A natural location choice, it doubles as Nampara Valley in the series.

I am old enough to have fond memories of the original series, starring Robin Ellis and I wasn’t too sure I’d warm to this remake… but I did! What were your thoughts – original Poldark, or 2015 Poldark? Which gets your vote.

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Blooming marvellous

MayblossomWhen I sit down and think what to write about in my blog, I sometimes have to chew the end of my pen for a bit… but this week, I had no hesitation! Everywhere we have been in the past week or so, we have been ‘wowed’ by the blossom in this extraordinary spring!

We are very lucky in Devon that we always have a profusion of wildflowers, but this year is a truly bumper year. Last year, when we wrote ‘A Violet Death’ I can remember my partner in crime writing, Julia, struggling to find violets to photograph for the cover… this year, you cannot walk through woodlands or meadow without treading on the gorgeous things, they are everywhere! Coloured from deepest purple to pale lilac, wild violets abound. Primroses, wood anemones and celandines have also been amazing this year.

Currently, the biggest ‘wow’ has to be the may blossom, or hawthorn. In this area of steep hills and small fields, we are blessed with plenty of hedgerows and I don’t think I have ever seen such clouds of white may blossom as we have right now. The blossom is so thick it looks like snow! If you look at the flowers close up, they are so pretty.

Top to bottom – wild violets absolutely everywhere this year! Delicate wood anemones and primroses and primulas in profusion.I must just ramble on for a moment about hawthorn as it is a rather wonderful plant, but one that tends to get overlooked as being rather commonplace. It is used extensively for hedging and its spines and many tangled branches make it pretty much animal and human-proof. When you have a garden bordering a field used for cows or sheep… you will find a hawthorn hedge extremely useful! The traditional practice of hedge laying (which we still see a great deal of down here in Devon) works very well with hawthorn. It is also a good firewood and burns with a good heat and little smoke.

The fruit of the hawthorn, called haws, are edible raw but of course we mostly cook them and use them in jellies, jams, and syrups. They can also be used to make wine, or to add flavour to brandy. Even the petals of the may blossom are edible, as are the leaves, which if picked in spring when still young are tender enough to be used in salads. So all in all, a pretty wonderful thing!

With so much splendour in the wild, my garden almost seems a poor second at the moment. But, luckily for me, it has also been a bumper year for one of my most favourite plants ­– hellebores – and mine have done really well, so I am happy.

Sadly, the forecasters are saying that this recent spell of hot and dry weather will end soon – can you believe they are already talking about drought conditions?! Regardless of the change, it is thrilling to see that first few bluebells and sprigs of wild garlic are just emerging, ready for their displays next month. I can hardly wait!

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Puppy time!

As many of you will know, we lost our beloved Wellington before Christmas. Sadly my partner in crime writing, Julia, then lost her dog Tilly in February this year. Richard and I have decided to take a little break and think about our possible future doggy companion… But Julia decided she couldn’t bear to be without a four-legged friend, and so here is the story of her new puppy. You will never guess what she is called…

“I am lucky enough to live on Dartmoor, with access to farmland, open fields and small sheltered farm tracks. Walking every day with my dog and watching the seasons change was always a very important part of my life. When Tilly went, I felt bereft. Knowing that I would never be able to replace the two wonderful collie cross dogs that had been my companions for the past 18 years, Tilly and her predecessor Rosie, I decided it might be wise to go for something completely different. Good friends of mine have had two delightful German pointers, the latest one being wirehaired. She is a particularly delightful dog so I decided this would be the breed of choice.

After much searching, and a very long trip to south west Wales, I arrived home with a gorgeous little bundle of fluffy puppy! Rather predictably, she has been named Moss. Yes, the same name as the dog in Joanna and my novels but of course that Moss is a dog, not a bitch, and he is a collie cross. 

Choosing a name that suits the personality is important, so although I was pretty sure I wanted to call her Moss, I would only know if it was right for her once I actually met her. The first time I gazed into her bright little eyes I realised it was definitely the right choice as she has the most beautiful moss green eyes and not the normal soulful brown of most dogs. She is officially coloured liver (brown) with white ticking which makes for an extremely pretty speckled coat.

It is 18 years since I last had a puppy and it certainly makes you realise how much younger and fitter I was in those days! Having a puppy is very like having a toddler suddenly thrust upon you in your comfortable middle age, a mixture of sheer delight and utter exhaustion all at the same time.

We realised quite early on that Moss possesses extremely large paws… Which could only mean one thing – in due course we are going to be the owners of a rather large dog! When I first brought her home at 10 weeks she weighed a not insubstantial 5 kg. She was easy to pick up and wonderfully soft and cuddly. Now at 15 weeks she weighs a very hearty 9 kg and is getting quite difficult to pick up! However, I am pleased to say she still remains a delightfully affectionate little dog, well, quite a big dog actually.

She is doing us good too as we are enjoying long walks in the lighter evenings in the beautiful countryside where we live up here on Dartmoor. Pointers need a lot of exercise, so there will be no slacking! Introducing her to water in the rivers and streams that abound around here is great fun and her energy and enthusiasm for life is wonderful to behold. She is currently very gangly, rather like a foal, and watching her gallop about, quite often falling over her own feet, has us in stitches. Like a young child, as soon as she has used up her energy – that’s it – she falls sound asleep, and that’s when we get to enjoy wonderful snoozy cuddles!

Apart from chewing everything and everybody at the moment, she is turning out to be intelligent, energetic, brave, enthusiastic and extremely lovable. Rather like older doting parents, we are completely besotted and convinced that she is a future Crufts best in show or possibly canine Mastermind champion. But most of all, she is just our adorable and loyal companion.”

 

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The wonders of seaweed!

Julia with her lovely terrier appropriately named Seaweed!I first met Julia Horton-Powdrill on a writing course, some six years ago. I was there with my partner in crime writing Julia Wherrell (you don’t meet a Julia for years and then two come along at once!) and we have stayed in touch ever since. Julia H-P lives in St David’s in Pembrokeshire where she runs foraging courses, writes novels and runs the ‘Really Wild Food Festival’ – one busy lady! Julia W went to visit earlier this month as she was collecting her new puppy from the area (and that’s another blog coming soon!), so she thought she’d ask Julia H-P about foraging and one of her major passions – seaweed!

While I enjoy growing my own veg and picking the odd mushroom and wild berry, I really am not very knowledgeable about wild plants and food for free, so I was interested to hear how Julia H-P first got into foraging.

“I was pretty much born to it!” she says. “My father studied botany and zoology at Cambridge, and then became a GP in a rural practice in south east Wales. In those days, GPs still ‘did the rounds’ and had time to pause and appreciate their surroundings so my father would often come home with foraged plants and mushrooms for our tea. I remember him bringing home elvers fresh out of the local river once, but mother thought they were revolting, so that was not one of his better efforts!

“He was also very keen on seaweed, as am I, but it wasn’t until after he died that I made a rather significant discovery. I was going through his belongings when I came across a wonderful collection of seaweeds that he’d gathered from around Anglesey back in the 1930s. It is quite probable that some of these seaweeds no longer grow in the area, so I plan to donate them to the National Museum of Wales. They already have his beetle collection anyway!”

So what is it that’s so marvellous about seaweed, I wondered? Julia’s lovely country-style kitchen is draped with the stuff – all different shapes and sizes and colours, she breaks off bits and chews them as she talks and describes how she uses them in soups and stews. Her pantry is neatly stocked with jars of it too, and there are packs stored in the freezer.

“I use it a lot adding bits here and there to dishes as different seaweeds have different flavours and textures and, of course, being Welsh, I make lava bread! It takes some time to identify different seaweeds and to know how to clean and dry and store them, but if you are interested, you can buy books on it, or look it up – it’s all there online these days. And one of the great things about seaweed is you can just stop and try a bit – have a nibble on the beach if you want to – it is never going to harm you, none of it is poisonous.”

As well as appearing on the BBCs Countryfile earlier this month, Julia has been on other TV shows and, perhaps most memorably, been filmed sitting in a seaweed bath with The One Show presented Alex Jones! “Seaweed is terribly good for your skin,” Julia explains. “It is full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, so run a good hot bath, stick in the seaweed and hey presto – a wonderful natural beauty treatment!” 

Multi-skilling seaweed!
We come across products containing seaweed quite often but are usually completely unaware of it. You will find it in some brands of cosmetics, ice cream, toothpaste and various food stuffs. It is also in bath preparations and is widely used as a fertilizer.

You can follow Julia’s foraging exploits here.

Her wild food festival here. 

Her new novel here. 

 

 

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What is it about chickens?

© ChickensInSweaters – Nicole McArthur The chicken. What is it that makes it such a popular subject in just about everything these days? Chicken fabrics, chicken calendars, chicken sweaters – yes that’s for the chickens, not you! – and just about every other chicken-themed thing you can imagine!

I shared a post on the Joanna Sheen’s Country Days Blog Facebook page today about sweaters for chickens – there are some beautiful designs and ideas out there. It isn’t quite as dotty as it looks as some chickens, especially ex-battery hens, can often be lacking feathers and they benefit from being kept warm. Julia, my partner in crime writing and general chicken-crazed woman was designing fleece jackets for hers a few years ago, when they moulted in the middle of winter but I’m not sure if that particular project ever got completed.

You only have to look online to see how phenomenally popular chickens are. Chicken doorstops, chicken coat hooks, chicken mugs, chicken plates, chicken clocks – it is endless! And there are lots of websites dedicated to chickens. Some of my favourites include:

www.ilikechickens.co.uk

www.countyourchickens.co.uk

www.cotswoldchickens.com

© www.ilikechickens.co.uk

So what is it that makes us so fond of chickens? Is it the shape of a hen? Their featheriness? The varied colours, the cosy noises they make or the fact that they provide us with that wonderfully versatile thing – the egg?

I suppose few farmyard or back garden animals display such appealing characteristics as chickens. Whether they are scratching the ground searching for grubs, performing aerial acrobatics in pursuit of insects or strutting self-importantly, they never cease to entertain us. Their ‘chatter’ is immensely soothing. I know when I have sat outside drinking a coffee with Julia in her garden, the hens are a constant background soundtrack as soothing and melodious as a bubbling brook.

So where do chickens come from originally? Although the chicken has been in Britain since Roman times (and possibly before) it originates from South East Asian some 10,000 years ago. Amazingly, it is estimated that there are about 27 billion chickens in the world today at any one time!

And finally, here are a few chicken nuggets for you:

  • The Poultry Club of Great Britain was founded in 1877
  • Depending on its size, a chicken egg provides between 60 and 80 calories
  • Queen Victoria kept chickens!
  • So which came first, the chicken or the egg? In 2010, two British universities, using a super-computer, decided it was the chicken.

PS. You might like to know that in our next novel – book 3 in the Swaddlecombe series  – chickens play a major part in the plot!

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