Happy National Cream Tea Day!

Happy National Cream Tea Day! Yes, 26th June is officially the national day for celebrating our traditional cream tea. While I am (very much!) in favour of tucking into a cream tea… do we actually need a day to celebrate it?

The introduction of ‘awareness days’ and ‘national’, or even ‘international’ days or weeks, seems to be a growing trend, which I am guessing is fuelled by Facebook, Twitter and the like. If you search online, there is virtually an event on every day of the year – amazing! I have had to chuckle at some of the ones I have come across lately.

One of my absolute favourites and, to be fair, it has been around a while now, is ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’, always held on 19th September and a great example of the British sense of humour! 

Other gems I have stumbled across include: 

Obviously, some of these appeal much more to me than others!

Generally, there is a difference between national days and awareness days. Usually awareness days are health related, and help raise awareness of particular conditions and usually involve raising money for associated charities. International days often aim to raise awareness of important humanitarian, cultural, social and political issues around the world. 

National days generally have a fun or quirky side to them and are, in some cases, run by commercial organisations to help promote their products and services. These national days are often fundraisers for associated charities and can be a very successful way or raising both money and awareness in a fun way.

Have you taken part in any of these special days or weeks? If you have, we’d love to hear more!


Veteran trees – a link to our past

The magnificent ‘veteran’ oak tree.My partner in crime writing, Julia, met a man recently who could be termed a bit of a ‘tree hugger’! But it is not as daft as it sounds as you will find out… 

“Look at that – absolutely perfect!” It’s a blustery afternoon and I am standing in a field on the edge of the moorland town of Chagford, with Mike Palmer, one of the Dartmoor National Park’s volunteer Tree Wardens. And Mike is a very happy man.

“A prefect specimen! Look at the shape of it – lovely!” Mike is almost hopping up and down with excitement as he rummages in his rucksack for a piece of string to measure the size of the tree’s trunk.

As tall as a house, its canopy spreading wide above us, it is a very beautiful oak. The bark is incredible, twisted, deeply ridged and speckled with lichen. How many years has this magnificent tree stood here, I wonder?

Estimating the age of a tree is more art than science. Having measured a metre and a half up from the base of the tree, Mike asks me to hold one end of the string while he disappears around the other side of the trunk. 

Mike measures the girth of the huge trunk with his faithful piece of string!With age, the height and spread of a tree reach a maximum, and then decline. So this means it’s really difficult to estimate the age of a tree but as the trunk itself increases in circumference throughout its life this can be used as a measure of age.

Mike, re-appears next to me and marks where the two pieces of string meet, and then we measure it. We guess the trunk is about 12 feet round, but it is actually 17ft! Most trees reach a point when fully mature, with a full crown, when the circumference is one inch for each year of growth. So a tree, like this one at 17 feet, measured at chest height, is over 200 years old. Wow!

“The trouble is, the only way to date a tree accurately is to cut it down and count the rings, which defeats the object really,” says Mike. He has a point!

Veteran trees are defined as: ‘Trees which, by virtue of their great age, size or condition, are of exceptional value culturally, in the landscape or for wildlife’. 

Veteran trees are a link to our past and have stood for many hundreds of years. Some veteran trees are well known such as the Meavy oak on the south side of Dartmoor, but there are many others, often in isolated locations, which have not been mapped. Tree Wardens with their local knowledge are ideally placed to locate these valuable trees.

Beautiful ancient bark.“In general terms, you can say an oak will grown for 300 years, rest for 300 years and then decline gracefully for 300 years. Often, the crown will die and blow down which can make the rest of the tree grow even more vigorously,” says Mike.

A dead tree is also of enormous value, he adds. Often supporting over 100 different species of insects, mammals and fungi, it puts a great deal back into the environment as it rots away. We would do well to take more notice of trees.

Now thoroughly chilled in the late afternoon, Mike and I set off back to Chagford for a warming cup of coffee. As we start to thaw out, he tells me that he is a retired bank manager from Sussex who loves his new life and the chance to be outside for so much of the day rather than stuck behind a desk. I instantly think of a range of daft jokes about him becoming a different sort of branch manager, but decide I’d better just drink my coffee instead…


The Ethicurean

It is rare that I go out for a meal with friends or family and come home bouncing and raving about how fabulous it was both as an experience and as a delicious meal. Well this week I did just that. We had two American friends to stay and to contrast with their fast, flashy Los Angeles lifestyle, we went to The Ethicurean in Barley Wood Walled Garden near Bristol.

I can honestly say that the food was something I will remember for a very long time and the view, wow! It just stretched for miles! Basically, this is a garden designed and built in the early 1900s for the Wills family (of cigarette fame). The old orangery has been turned into a restaurant and some of the outbuildings converted into craft workshops. The decor in the orangery is gentle, reminiscent of times gone by, and just wonderful.

The enthusiastic waitresses were both charming and very sweet – for example our waitress gently said to my American friend when he tried to add a 20% tip onto the bill, no sir, that’s too much just half that would be very generous. Well, how many times have you heard that?

Everything – and I mean everything – is home grown or raised by friends and locals. Home made drinks, bread, food – all from garden to table – yum! I had a welsh rarebit for starters, then some Cornish hake followed by local blue cheese with quince jelly. Richard chose beef followed by a sticky toffee apple pudding that I suspect he will mention over and over again (sigh) and yes, they do a cookery book and, no, I don’t know if the recipe is in there!

I took a few pictures, my apologies if my camera skills aren’t quite what they should be but you can get the gist of it – I just wanted to share with you all! Contented smiles!

PS. An ‘ethicurean’ is someone who attempts to combine ethical food consumption with an interest in epicureanism, eating ethically without depriving oneself of taste – and yes, I had to look it up!


Kitty Jay’s grave – the making of a Dartmoor legend

Hound TorThere is a very pretty drive that I enjoy up over Dartmoor that is especially lovely just now with primroses and gorse in flower. It takes you down winding narrow lanes and then up over wild stretches of moorland, and past some of the best know tors such as Haytor and Hound Tor. Abount a mile from Hound Tor, I always glance to my left as we go past a small junction to check that there are flowers on the grave… and there always are! This is Jay’s Grave (or Kitty Jay’s grave), supposedly the last resting place of a young woman who is thought to have died in the late 18th century. It has become a well-known landmark and is the subject of local folklore, and several ghost stories…

Since it was first set down in the late 19th century, the story attached to the grave has changed and been greatly embellished, as these things so often are. An early newspaper account of the discovery of the grave appears in the North Devon Journal for 23 January 1851, under ‘County Intelligence’: 

Kitty Jay’s grave, complete with flowers, when I drove past earlier this month…“In the parish of Manaton, near Widdecombe on the moor while some men in the employ of James Bryant, Esq. of Prospect, at his seat, Hedge Barton, were removing some accumulations of way soil, a few days since, they discovered what appeared to be a grave. On further investigation, they found the skeleton of a body, which proved from enquiry to be the remains of Ann Jay, a woman who hung herself some three generations since in a barn at a place called Forder, and was buried at Four Cross Lane, according to the custom of that enlightened age.”

There are numerous other reports, with the name changing from Betty Kay to Mary Jay and then Kitty Jay. But the unchanging fact is that it is the body of a young woman who took her own life in tragic, if sadly predictable, circumstances.

As told by one ‘Granny Caunter’ the sorry tale was:

“Mary Jay was the poor maid’s name. I heard my mother tell of it, when I was a li’l maid. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, ‘prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree. One day, when her was quite young, her tooked a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam. Her was quite dead when the farmer found her. Us reckoned ’twas the same old story – a young man, who wadn’t no gude to her, poor maid.”

HaytorBy 1965 Jay’s Grave had become a major Dartmoor attraction, with tourist coaches stopping there while the driver related his own version of the story. The mysterious appearance of fresh flowers upon the grave was always mentioned. 

Recent versions of the legend include embellishments such as the orphaned baby being taken into the Poor House in Newton Abbot where she was given the name Mary Jay. She sometimes acquires the name Kitty after being sent to Canna Farm as a teenage apprentice. In one version she is wronged by a local farmhand, in another, she finds romance with the farmer’s son. Either way she becomes pregnant which results in her being thrown out of the farm. Such is her shame and despair that she hangs herself in a barn, or perhaps from the great kitchen fireplace lintel, or else she drowns herself in a shallow pool.

It is said that the three local parishes of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground, so she was buried at a crossroads, which was standard practice for suicide victims at the time.

There are always fresh flowers on the grave, but how they get there is the subject of local folklore – some claim they are placed there by pixies. By 2007 the placing of flowers had expanded into all sorts of offerings: coins, candles, shells, small crosses and toys. Motorists, passing at night, claim to have glimpsed ghostly figures in their headlights, others report seeing a dark, hooded figure kneeling there.

All I know is that whenever I have driven past, and that is quite a few times in the past 25 years or so… there are always fresh flowers there. So who knows, perhaps it is the Dartmoor pixies looking after the poor girl… 


Time to ‘spring forward’ – why do we change our clocks twice a year?

Time – there’s never enough of it, sometimes it flies past and at other times, it drags… Ah, we do like to talk about time and we mess around with it too – this weekend it is time to ‘spring forward’ into British Summer Time (BST) so I thought it was a good time(!) to have a search online and find out why we change the clocks twice a year…

British Summer Time is a thorny subject and something that people get very heated about. The Scots would quite like a different time to the rest of us, and those of us in the West Country are ahead of you in East Anglia, or is it the other way around? I was amused to discover that at the beginning of the 20th century, Sandringham Time (30 minutes ahead) was used by the royal household. King Edward VIII put a stop to it an effort to reduce confusion, but I rather like the idea of Queen Victoria trundling along in her own time zone… Perhaps I can introduce ‘Joanna time’? Ah, Richard says ‘no’!

Back to the facts – British Summer Time was first introduced by the Summer Time Act of 1916, after a campaign by builder William Willett. His original proposal was to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes, in 20-minute weekly steps on Sundays in April and by the reverse procedure in September – somewhat complicated!

In 1940, during the Second World War, the clocks in Britain were not put back by an hour at the end of Summer Time. In subsequent years, clocks continued to be advanced by one hour each spring and put back by an hour each autumn until July 1945. So during these summers, Britain was TWO hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST). The clocks came back to GMT at the end of summer in 1945. This DBST gave much lighter evenings for everyone, but the dark mornings must have been awful.

An inquiry during 1966–67 led the government of Harold Wilson to introduce the British Standard Time experiment, with Britain remaining on GMT+1 throughout the year. This took place between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971, when we reverted to the previous arrangement. I must say, I don’t remember this at all… I was obviously far too young to take it in!! 

Much of the reason for this experiment was to try and reduce road accidents in the dark early evenings. Analysis of accident data for the first two years of the experiment showed that while there had been an increase in casualties in the morning, there had been a much greater decrease in casualties in the evening, with a total of around 2,500 fewer people killed and seriously injured during the first two winters of the experiment. Strong evidence to keep GMT+1 all year you would think… but it wasn’t that simple as the period of the experiment coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation so the estimates were later modified downwards. 

I can remember that for years we were always out of sync with the rest of Europe or, ahem, should I say they were out of sync with us. Working out when to phone people abroad was always terribly complicated as for the odd week or two, we were on the same time, or two hours ahead or behind, or…  and it is only since October 1995 that the dates of starting and ending daylight saving time across the European Union have been aligned – amazing it took so long!

And so… the arguments for and against switching to permanent BST rumble on to this day. As well as being ‘safer’ for people on the roads, campaigners also say that it would save a great deal of energy. But then groups like farmers and other outdoor workers, and many residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland, strongly object. In northern Britain and Northern Ireland, the winter sunrise would not occur until 10am or even later.

Me, I’ll just keep trying to remember to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’ and, if that fails when I am old and potty, I jolly well shall introduce ‘Joanna time’ and have done with it!