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Archive for the ‘Gardening holidays’ Category

The House of Dun is near Montrose in what I think of as “Golf” Country (Carnoustie and a billion other golf courses).  The Montrose Basin is nearby, with the nature reserve.  However, what I found most impressive about this National Trust property was the espalier fruit trees against the kitchen garden wall.

I have honestly never seen such amazing fruit.  The leaves were dark and glossy.  The fruit looked sumptuous – rich, ripe and plentiful .  My garden envy was at an all-time peak.  I want their secret!

It must be the climate, and I was quite prepared to up sticks and move to Scotland that instant.  That day, my eyes were opened to the possibilities for fruit trees, and one day I will fulfill those.

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We went on holiday to Scotland this summer, and it was a very pleasant oasis of cool and damp following our long, hot summer of drought.  The green made a vibrant contrast to our brown and yellow, and when the sun came out, you didn’t feel obliged to run for cover.  The reward for the changeable weather was a lush natural world and stunning landscape, with nature teeming from every pore.

We were staying in Kirriemuir, the hometown of JM Barrie, writer of Peter Pan, and were lucky enough to be staying in the cottage next door to his birthplace, pictured above.

Kirriemuir is known as ‘the Gateway to the Glens’ and I could not more highly recommend anywhere for a restful break.  The traffic levels were non-existent, and the gentle pace of life was the perfect antidote to city living.

It will come as no surprise to some to hear that most of Scotland started out as a separate island from the rest of mainland Britian, and in prehistoric times the continental plates ‘crashed’ together.  The rocks are radically different in composition, and this explains the different landscape of the highlands to the lowlands, and the ‘granite city’ of Aberdeen compared to the red sandstone of Edinburgh.  Well, the Angus glens are formed on the boundary of that historic join.  Where the two types of rock collided, you get the most fantastic waterfalls imaginable.

You can see salmon performing almost miraculous jumps up the waterfalls.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I couldn’t have believed it.  As well as stunning natural features, there were lush forests full of wildlife.

I have to say that it was very easy to start believing in magic too!  The Glens are peppered with castles, both inhabited and ruined, leftover from the days when the fertile lowlands needed protection from raiders from the mountains, known locally as ‘Caterans’.  The one pictured below is a ruin at Inchmark in Glen Clova.

Scottish Heritage maintain some of the remaining ones, including this one at Edzell, which has been enhanced with a picturesque knot garden.

In keeping with the emblem of Scotland, wild thistles grow everywhere, and along with heather were fully in bloom, adding a purple tinge to the green and browns of the countryside.

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Last week we went camping on the Isle of Wight for my first visit to the Island.  I had read that it was ‘the new Cornwall’, and one of the homes of ‘cool camping’, thanks to Vintage Vacations, who rent out various vintage caravans and locations including the converted chuch below:

Originally we planned to stay in a yurt, but as we have got all our own camping gear, it seemed like a bit of an exgtravagance.  Since the election, David Cameron and George Osborne have got us scared witless facing ten years of tax rises, pay cuts and redundancies, so we are trying to save every penny.

In the end, this had to be the cheapest holiday we have  ever had, with the ferry to the Isle being the biggest cost at £80.  The camping cost £55 for five nights, which paid for this view out of the tent:

We stayed at Chine Farm campsite on the South coast.  It is right next to an old derelict and vandalised holiday camp, which was a bit eerie, but as long as you didn’t look in that direction, it didn’t really put us off.  Even the petrol didn’t cost us that much as it is quite a modest distance from London, and the Island itself is only 27 miles across at the longest point.

We brought all our own cooking gear, and it was the first time we had gone camping with the dutch oven and the firepit/barbecue, so we were eager to get cooking.

I was desperate to explore and form my own opinions of the Isle.  Looking at reviews on tripadvisor, it is either a paradise of picturesque countryside and old-fashioned seaside resorts or incredibly dull and past its best.  I suppose both of these could be correct, depending on which part of the island you are on.  The Isle of Wight has a surprisingly dense population, and it feels as though there are too many hideous 60s bungalows ruining picturesque seaviews.  Parts have a feel of a fading resort that was once very busy and developed, now fallen out of favour.  Things such as the deserted holiday camp and the Isle of Wight Pearl have a quite tragic air about them.

But to judge the whole island on these alone would be a travesty.  The rolling hills and idyllic beaches combine to make you feel you have stepped into a 50s advert for Anchor butter.  You can’t ignore the fact that the place has the highest hours of sunshine in the UK, something we really appreciated as we drove round the stunning coastal road.

The surf at Compton Bay on the south coast was like nothing I have ever seen before in the UK.

The National trust offers great value leaflets showing walks round the nature reserve of the Newtown estuary, which we almost had to ourselves, even on a sunny day in half term.

Ignoring the more run down gift shops selling cheap imports from China, you can find some real hidden gems by scratching the surface.   These ranged from Liz Earle’s skincare shop in Ryde to a small farm which was selling 100 flavours of home made ice-cream (I had elderflower).

There are picturesque villages such as Godshill, which didn’t even lose its charm on the rainiest day of our break:

For gardeners, Ventnor Botanical Gardens have the largest range of tender and half-tender plants growing in the UK. You can buy great value seeds from many of the specimens in the gardens, which are collected each year by enthusiasts and volunteers.

To top it all off, we visited Shanklin Chine, which is a pictureque gorge running towards the sea:

The Chine is the embodiment of green, and very soothing on a hot day.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll be back!

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I recently described this blog to my husband as “Me gallivanting round the UK while my husband maintains the allotment”!  He is always with me on our travels, but I have to say that without him there would be no allotment.

This weekend we went to a christening in the Bishop’s Palace at Wells.  As it is a three hour drive away, we decided to make a weekender of it.  I found a hotel in Wookey Hole near Wells offering ‘cheaper’ rates online than normal, so decided to go for it.

First a bit of info about Wells, the smallest city in the UK.  As its name suggests, since medieval times it has been a place where natural springs emerge within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace.

The city itself is more like a large village, completely charming with an impressive Cathedral dominating and presiding over a picturesque town centre.  Jamie and I spent our honeymoon here, we are always glad of an excuse to return.

You can see in the photo above that the natural springs run down channels round the town centre.

The chapel where the baptism took place is within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace, and what a fabulous place to be baptised!

Beforehand, we had a quick wander around the grounds of the Palace, which are spectacularly romantic.  Apparently the remains in the picture below are of a great hall that was erected in honour of a visit from Edward I, but subsequently pulled down by one of the bishops who felt it looked more romantic that way!

There happened to be a rare plant fair in the grounds earlier today, so I picked up some interesting plants for our new garden, including a raspberry ripple rose called ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ that apparently smells like raspberry.

The key to this rose for me was its advertised ability to ‘grow well in poorer soils’.  Even though I have high hopes for our new garden, the chalk rock that we used to have has definitely dented my confidence.

Anyway, the hotel we stayed in had fabulous grounds and a really quirky interior.  It seemed to me that if you wanted to experience what it would be like to have your own stately home full of servants, then a stay at Glencot would satisfy your curiosity.

The place had a distinctly gothic and romantic air, and you almost felt as though you had stumbled through a trapdoor in Alice in Wonderland rather than staying in a hotel.  As we played chess on chairs within the inglenook fireplace, I felt so comfortable it was as if we could have stayed in that room forever, watching day and night pass by.

The interior was full of quirky antiques which have been assembled by its eccentric owner, Martin Miller, writer of the Miller Antiques Guide.  He seemed to be in residence while we were there, entertaining guests.

I have to admit that 4 and 6 year old children may have been a mistake in such a luxurious hotel (!), full of expensively breakable objects, but we survived, and they were actually quite good considering.  The little one only weighs about a stone, which was good because jumping on us as we tried to rest was so irresistable for her:

Everywhere there are books, lining every shelf, windowsill and corridor.  You are encouraged to take paperbacks home if you haven’t finished them by the end of your stay.

The gardens are well worth a walk round, even in March before they really get going.  They would be magical on a warm midsummer’s evening as there are lots of tables and chairs strategically placed for whiling away hours.

The ultimate one had to be the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony, which can be booked for special occasions:

It looks even more spectacular at night, candlelit and chandelier lit (like most of the house interior), but alas my phone wasn’t up to the task of taking a decent photo at night!  Next time, I will remember to pack a proper camera.

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Well, we just got back from our road trip to France in a VW campervan.  Not recommended for the faint hearted, with two small children, but what an experience!  We travelled down through the Champagne region staying in Troyes, then on to Burgundy and back through Nancy, Brussels and Bruges.   It was so amazing to see the regional differences, all united by a common language.  From a medieval timber city, through dusty French villages and grand gothic cathedrals to the tidy topiarised landscape of Belgium, there were a lot of contrasts.

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One of the most interesting parts of the journey was travelling through the Champagne region.  Before the introduction of the ‘method champenoise’ the local wines were apparently not renowned for quality at all.  It seems that over the years a huge mystique has been created around the wine in Champagne, which is more to do with the skill of the wine makers, blenders and marketeers than any inherent quality of the climate or soil.  Within the region, you can buy for 95p a bottle of sparkling wine that tastes very similar to anything coming out of the grand Champagne houses.

You have to admire them for it, but as we have a similar soil and climate here on the chalk hills of Surrey, I felt a tinge of envy at their ingenuity, mixed with the extremely tantilising prospect of making our own sparkling white.  Denbies vineyard near Dorking have based their enterprise on the similarity of the soil and climate to the Champagne region.  We have already started planting vines at the Warren, so watch this space….

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The plants in the photo above aren’t actually our vines, but the ones at Fanny’s Farm Shop in Merstham.   Having said that, with many local producers like these starting to emerge in this area, who knows, one day Surrey vintages could be just as famous as Champagne?

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I know I am milking it now.  I just loved it – there were so many things to see and so many lovely images to capture.

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I think I have saved the best till last, but I guess it is all a matter of taste.

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There is a part of me that understands why this won ‘Best in Show’, but then there is also a mystery, because I had two completely different front runners.

‘Enchanted Escape’, on the Garden Walk, which I felt looked better from the side, when I tried to peep in the sides, trying to avoid the crowds:

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Than it did front on, although it captured something beautiful and somehow of its time:

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The colours and the planting were just sublime, and the overall feel was one of contentment and escape.

The other garden that captured my heart was a small garden ‘A teenager’s escape’.  I could empathise with the innocent heart that it was trying to capture:

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I think the colour combinations are the thing that makes the garden for me.  Not the landscaping or the clever concept, although I also appreciate these things in smaller measure.

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There was something incredibly harmonious about these two gardens, that I think struck a chord with me.  For me, they share something of the romance of gardening.

Finally, a parting shot of a garden whose name I can’t even remember,but it did make that first visual impact where I noticed that they had matched the colours very carefully….

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So, just as you catch yourself thinking that it is far too warm for bonfire night, the autumn hits with a vengeance.  We haven’t been able to get to the allotment for a fortnight now – the sunny days of late are a distant memory as snow, wind, rain and frost takes hold.

So what do gardeners do in winter?  What can you do once the long dark evenings put a stop to weekday gardening?  Well, in some ways, a rest period is welcome.  The grass and weeds slow down, the frosts kill back tender plants.  Only the hardiest and most self sufficient plants survive the winter, and they can all seem to look after themselves.  Most of your annual beds are cleared and ready for next year (or a green manure?), and thoughts turn to seed catalogues and inspirations for next year.

So we went to the Cotswolds for a weekend to visit Westonbirt Arboretum on a ‘garden lover’s break’.  A weekend of autumn leaves, good food and log fires with a bit of ancient English history thrown in for good measure.  We stayed at the Old Bell Inn in Malmesbury, in the shadow of Malmesbury Abbey, where King Athelstan was buried and the location of one of the infamous ‘Crosses’ of ‘Banbury Cross’ fame (When Eleanor of Aquitaine died, every place that her body was placed en route to London was marked with a cross).

The maple avenue at Westonbirt

The maple avenue at Westonbirt

The hotel was superb, with at least four separate lounges with log fires, and incredibly helpful staff.

The food was brilliant, and most definitely inspired us to do a bit of winter cooking. We came back brimming with ideas, including my usual ‘open a garden centre with a cafe’ dream. Maybe one day….

The starter!!!

The starter!!!

The pumpkin, incidentally, got a Halloween makeover, and is now the proud wearer of lip gloss and eyeliner – a mummy pumpkin, obviously.

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