Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

widecombemare“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!”

…so goes the well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose poor old horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his many, many friends. Although not at all funny for the grey mare, it is a humorous song and often performed by rowdy crowds (all NINE verses of it!) that have enjoyed a little too much cider! It’s such a well-known song that the term ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ has come to be used as a colloquialism meaning “anyone and everyone”.

widecombehistoryPossibly because of the song both Widecombe and its Fair are famous throughout the country. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to use its full name, is a picturesque village in the middle of Dartmoor, with a magnificent church (the interestingly named Church of Saint Pancras!), visible from all the surrounding hills and tors and known as ‘the cathedral of the moor’.

widecombeproduce

Widecombe Fair takes place annually on the second Tuesday in September, attracting thousands of visitors to the tiny Dartmoor village. It is still a traditional event full of farmers and local craftsmen and as popular with locals as visitors and well worth a visit. My partner in crime writing, Julia, went along this year to take some photos and soak up the rural tranquillity and a way of life that has gone on for centuries in the Dartmoor valleys.

widecombeanimals

There were sheep shearing competitions, cattle, sheep and pony classes, vintage cars and agricultural machinery and some stompingly good live folk music in the beer tent from morning through to midnight! The obligatory produce tent, crammed with huge vegetables, jams and flower arrangements (and you wonder where we get our inspiration for the Swaddlecombe books?!) is always worth a visit. There was also an interesting area dedicated to ‘Living History’, complete with thatchers and other traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Add to this ferret and terrier racing and the intoxicating smell of steam engines and you have the perfect rural day out!

widecombeadam

Left to right: Was the Reverend Ruminant present at the Fair? Certainly looks like his car! Adam Henson and his BBC film crew… and a traditional bit of ferret racing!

Such is Wideombe Fair’s fame, Julia spotted Adam Henson, the farmer presented from BBC1’s ‘Countryfile’ programme, busy filming at the fair… so, if you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see it on TV!

 

 

 

 

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Thatch – much more than just picturesque

Victoria farm

Victoria Farm

I am fortunate enough to live in an old farmhouse with a thatched roof. Another house in the village here was being re-thatched recently, and it was fascinating watching the thatcher at work whenever we drove past… and it set me thinking about thatch and how, even in 2016, there are still so many thatched roofs around.

When I started investigating, the first thing I discovered is that although thatch is popular in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, parts of France and Ireland, there are more thatched roofs in the United Kingdom than in any other European country. On top of that, I found that Devon has more thatched properties than any other English county, so no wonder they seem quite commonplace to my eye!

Thatching materials can include heather, gorse, broom, flax, reed, rye and wheat straw. These light, but incredibly durable, materials were particularly used in areas, such as Devon, where buildings were made of cob or clunch that are less able to carry the weight of stone, tile or slate.

North Bovey

North Bovey on Dartmoor, a pretty thatched village.

The materials used for thatching were local and cheap. As I so often discover in my research, this ancient tradition was also very efficient and, while today we rush around being ‘green’ and insulating everything, thatch was doing a great job and ticking all the ecologically sound boxes from the outset! It is naturally weather-resistant and is also a natural insulator, and air pockets within straw thatch insulate a building in both warm and cold weather, so a thatched roof ensures your house is cool in summer and warm in winter. Thatch also has very good resistance to wind damage, so no flying slates to worry about!

Good quality straw thatch can last for more than 30 years when created by a skilled thatcher. Traditionally, a new layer of straw was applied over the weathered surface, and this ‘spar coating’ tradition has created thatch over 7ft thick on some very old buildings! The straw is bundled into ‘yelms’ before it is taken up to the roof and attached using staples, known as ‘spars’, made from twisted hazel sticks.

Thatching

Thatching, a highly skilled trade.

Technological change in the farming industry had a huge impact on the popularity of thatching. The availability of good quality thatching straw declined in England after the introduction of the combine harvester in the late 1930s and the switch to growing short-stemmed wheat varieties. Increasing use of nitrogen fertiliser in the 1960s–70s also weakened straw and reduced its longevity so thatched roofs became expensive to build. Since the 1980s, however, there has been a big increase in straw quality as specialist growers have returned to growing older, tall-stemmed, ‘heritage’ varieties of wheat… as ever, the original way is so often the best!

Thatchers themselves, highly skilled tradesmen and much in demand, all have individual ‘signatures’ that are often seen in the way they treat dormers, eaves and gables. If you have thatched properties in your area, you might be able to spot these fascinating little details! You will also often see little thatched figures, such as a pheasant, created on the ridge of a new thatch. I think these are charming and really add to the appearance of a property.

ThatchedEco

A modern eco-house… with thatched roof!

Today, with the enthusiasm for energy conservation and minimising one’s carbon footprint, eco houses are being built with thatched roofs and hay bale walls… rather like ‘going organic’ and growing your own veg, nothing is new in this world!

 

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Tea for two

TeaCupBirthdayFor the last 100 years at least, “I’ll just pop the kettle on” has been the British way of handling life. If in doubt … have a cup of tea. Things not going right … have a cup of tea. Long and difficult discussion to have with a family member, I’ll just get the kettle on!

The older members of my family were complete tea-aholics drinking many, many cups a day. But now as the younger generation comes through and flourishes, not so many of them are tea drinkers. I’m a bad example as I mainly drink coffee, then switch to peppermint or ginger tea after lunch, but my daughters – not a sign of a hot drink, what did I do wrong? My younger daughter quite likes mint tea made with fresh mint leaves (bet nobody in the office makes her one of those!) but apart from that, neither of them have anything except water. Goodness me, my granny would be amazed!

I always love sending a card with a tea bag hidden inside it as a little extra – just makes the handmade card even more of a little present. Here’s how to make this card:

Ingredients

Technique

  1. Cut some lilac card to slightly smaller size than the card blank and then white smaller again and layer. Attach to main card using thin foam tape or sticky pads.
  2. Die cut the cups and teapot in white and then stick some scraps of lilac card behind the rose design.
  3. Die cut the Clarissa die in white and trim to fit the card, attach with glossy accents glue or a quickie glue pen.
  4. Now cut a plain circle in the Kraft card and layer onto a scalloped circle in lilac card about 3½” diameter. Attach the teapot and cups using glue gel and curve them slightly.
  5. Die cut the wild rose in cream and green – or you could do it all in white and colour with alcohol pens. Attach to the card as shown.
  6. Finish the card with some flat back pearls and the printed out sentiments.
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The magic of magnolias

PinkBestWishesIt makes me smile that one of the early words my granddaughter Grace could say was “Magnolias”! I think this was partly because the area of Somerset where she lives has so many gorgeous and really huge magnolia trees. Also, Grandpa is very keen on magnolias so he taught her what the tree was as she collected the petals from the ground for Granny… ahh!

Magnolias are one of the beautiful heralds of Spring, so… totally unsuited to a blog at this time of year! But the trees, once the flowers are over, are still gorgeous. I have planted so many trees during my life, I just wish I could whizz their growth along a bit to see what they’ll be like in fifty years time when I guess only little Grace will be around to see them.

All the staff clubbed together and bought a willow tree when Richard and I got married – (ten years ago) and it is just immense now – we have a stream in the garden and we planted the willow beside the water and whoops, it went ballistic! It is now about twenty feet tall, possibly more (I’m rubbish at guestimating). I also have a wonderful cherry tree in the garden that has been here at Victoria Farm for close on fifty years at least – it was quite large when I moved in over 30 years ago. Seeing the mass of blossom is my early May treat most years.

We should all plant trees in the garden… even though we may not be around to enjoy them, they’ll be there for the next generation. Meanwhile, here’s a magnolia-themed card that would be admired any time of year.

Ingredients

  • Signature dies Magnolia SD332 and Victoria Lace SD308
  • Any make of dotty embossing folder
  • Oval and scalloped oval dies
  • 6” square white card blank
  • White and pink cardstock with a scrap of brown
  • Pre-printed best wishes sentiment

Technique

  1. Cut some white card to approx 5 ½” and put through an embossing folder then layer onto pink card a little larger. Add to the main card blank with slim foam pads or glue gel.
  2. Cut out the Victoria Lace die in pink and glue onto the card at the bottom.
  3. Cut a scalloped oval in white and a slightly larger plain oval in pink. Layer these with foam pads or glue gel and then attach to the card.
  4. Cut the magnolia die in both brown and pink and add to the card as shown – I use Glossy Accents or a Quickie Glue pen to do this. Finally, add the sentiment using foam pads.
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Children’s books – expanding imagination!

As an every-so-slightly doting grannie, I was very interested to read a recent BBC radio poll about which books most adults say every child should read. At the moment I read my granddaughter Grace Winnie the Pooh (the original, not the Disney version) and a lot of Spot the Dog books and ‘noisy’ books that have buttons to press that make different noises! She is not yet three, but I am already planning her future reading, so was interested to see what the top picks were in the poll…

… and it’s no surprise really that the poll suggested 26% of British adults think Harry Potter is the book they think every child should read, closely followed by Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

Top10BooksThe top ten list looks like this:

  • Harry Potter
  • The BFG
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Famous Five
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Gruffalo
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Bible

When people were asked why they chose any particular book, the most common answer was because it ‘expands imagination’, followed by the desire to pass on the pleasure they themselves got from reading it. Couldn’t agree more! Books are so wonderful to lose yourself in, whatever your age.

The top choices of books varied across the generations with Harry Potter (35%) and ‘The BFG’ (31%) the runaway favourites among 18-34-year-olds.

However, ‘The Famous Five’ (26%) and ‘The Wind and the Willows’ (25%) are the most common recommendations for those aged 55 plus – ahem, I think that’s me then! I adored ‘The Famous Five’ series and owned every one, and ‘The Wind and the Willows’ had me enchanted, and I still love it today.

To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen because it provides lessons about the world and because it helps to develop good moral character. It wasn’t a book I particularly enjoyed… but each to their own!

The poll showed that for the most part, choices are evenly split between the genders – however, The Famous Five is a more popular recommendation among women (22%) than men (15%), while The Lord of the Rings is more likely to be recommended by men (20%) than women (9%).

I was also thrilled to see that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was listed. I wrote a blog about it in 2015 when it was the 150th anniversary of its publication and, since it was first published, it has never been out of print. It is the most fascinating story, simple and also complex, however you want to read it and a book that most certainly expands imagination.

What were your favourite childhood reads? And what did you read to your children or grandchildren? I’d love to hear!

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