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Rustic Nostalgia

Rustic Nostalgia

I wrote a post about corn dollies a couple of weeks ago and it inspired a very old friend of mine to Google the infant school teacher she and I both remembered so fondly.

Here’s us, back in the day.

class pic 1970
My friend is second from left. I’m not in, it I must have taken the photo.
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That’s me on with the grin and friend diving behind me. (We actually got drummed out of the Brownies but that’s a whole other story.)

I wanted to include a picture here of  the very first book I wrote. It was part of a trilogy entitled Walks Along the River Bourne. But I’ve wasted too much time hunting for it in the attic and come away with only a cobweb cardigan. I’m sorry, you’re missing a treat it was beautifully bound with original artwork on the cover 🙂 Self-published, of course. By an 8 year old.

Anyhoo, I digress. One thing led to another, and we arranged to get together to revisit old haunts of our primary years and retrace our steps along the river Bourne, where we’d spent so many happy hours.

We set off on our hike, and immediately lost our way because the beautifully descriptive print-out of the route was rather too wordy for our basic navigation skills (and we were gabbing too much to concentrate).

“… passing hedges, into the next field, through another hedge, the path turns left on a walkable field-edge beside a hedge of hawthorn [a confusion of hedges].The heavier clay of this side of the parish can make it heavy going in wet seasons. But it’s a pleasant downhill trek through a gap over a rather wobbly stile [we never found the stile] into a long, narrow slipe of a meadow, then over a step-stile [nor this one] into a bigger meadow and down to a little footbridge…”

The directions got waylaid in the wonderfully detailed wording, and some of the landmarks had changed:

“Passing the last cottage, go through the gate, closing it carefully as there may be stock in the meadow. The high bank may be the lynchet of the old lane. This is a fine spacious meadow dotted with oaks, populated by rabbits, with views of distant wooded hills…”

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Ploughed… but still a view of distant wooded hills.

It didn’t matter to us. We found ‘our’ river Bourne.

And remembered, and played silly buggers on the fallen logs… just like back in the day. We even took a selfie in front of our primary school.

Here’s to rustic nostalgia, a lovely day and the dear old friends who keep us young. I don’t think we’ve changed at all.

Barny Update – my stairway to heaven

Barny Update – my stairway to heaven

I’m all about stairs this week. It started so well because, for once, I knew (almost) exactly what I wanted. And I thought my vision was simple:

  • Black
  • Metal
  • Open treads

Like these pictures I pinned to my Barn Living board…

 

Aren’t they gorgeous? And not too complicated. It’s not as if I’m asking for this…

super stairs 1

… or this.

super stairs 2

I liked the original stairs.

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But they wouldn’t meet building regs and I’m not sure I could scale them balancing a tray of hot choccie and biscuits.

This is a budget staircase for under £2K

budget stairs

It gets you to the first floor and it looks perfectly nice. If I wasn’t hung up on my ‘vision’ I’d happily settle for that.

But onwards and upwards. The first quote for my visionary staircase came in at £18k. And it wasn’t even truly bespoke, just off the shelf parts screwed together. I should have been alerted by the supplier’s Kensington address and the website with artful pictures but zero information.

And as if the price wasn’t outrageous enough, when I told them my budget was less than half the figure they were quoting they offered to meet it! No, thank you kindly. I’ll find someone who hasn’t set out to shaft me.

I’ve whittled it down to four options now…

 

  1. Buy a cheap (all things being relative) wooden staircase. Paint it black, fit and add the balustrade ourselves. My guess is about £3k all in. Yay, under budget.
  2. The only ‘economy’ metal staircase I found online (Max Stairs). They measure and fit but it crept over budget (plus, I don’t really like it).
  3. This beauty from Challenge EngineeringI’m still waiting for the quote. Pigs might fly, but I’m hopeful.
  4. And my current favourite from Abbot-Wade (by far the most efficient of the companies I’ve spoken to). It comes measured, engineered and fitted by them. A quality product in black stained oak… and well over budget.

I’ll finish off with a news-flash pic of our barn wearing its shiny-new, under-budget roof. Hmm, maybe I can afford that Kensington staircase after all.DSC_0272

 

 

Writer’s total lack of inspiration

Writer’s total lack of inspiration

Ah, book three. It’s not so much a question of ‘will it get finished’ as ‘will it ever get started?’

I’ve dropped right out of the habit of sitting and writing this summer. There are a lot of reasons for that. My physical fitness is back after years of being limited by a dodgy hip and subsequent surgery. There’s a puppy in the house to make full use of my time (and my resurrected walking skills) and we’re converting a barn on the farm to be our new forever-home, which is keeping me mentally occupied and absorbing every drop of my creative thinking juices.

I’m walking and riding and project mismanaging… I’m loving the time away from my desk. I’ve shed half a stone just by being more active (author’s bottom be gone!) and in my downtime, I’m reading lots of lovely books that other people have written. (It’s so much easier than writing one yourself).

I’m asking myself some deep and meaningful questions:

  1. Does it matter if you never write another book? (Answer: No, not a jot.)
  2. Will your finances be adversely affected if you give up writing? (Answer: No. The opposite is true, in fact.)
  3. Do you want your author’s bottom back? (I don’t need to tell you the answer to that one).
  4. Does anyone but you give a fig whether you’re writing or not? (Answer: Yes and No. A dozen or so people do. I was accosted this week at an Uncle Funk gig by a couple of  mates avid fans of my Draymere Hall Series who wanted to know when the next book would be out (Er, probably not this week). That happens surprisingly often and I’m always terribly flattered. But, contrarily, the Farmer is happy that I’m back in the real world; that there’s dinner on the table and the washing is getting done).
  5. So… WILL THERE BE ANOTHER? (Answer: Hell, yes! Just don’t ask me why. Or when.)

I know there’s another book in there. In fact, I’ve started several…

  • A tentative foray into detective stories with a nerdy (female) PI and a dollop of quirky love interest.
  • A WWII historical Anglo-American romance set on a USAAF airbase.
  • Another Draymere Hall romance (with Zoe as the heroine, you’ll have met her if you’ve read Brambles. You know, the one who worked with Hettie… one of Julian’s ‘volunteers’.)
  • A brand-spanking-new contemporary romance series.
  • A complete departure from any genre, with a narrator who’s already dead…

Dear Lord. What I need to have written is several K words of one book, not one k words of several. Is it any wonder I’m in a muddle?

I’ll pick it up in the autumn.

Oh, hang on, that’s today.

But the sun’s still shining and I must walk the puppy down to the barn. There’s a tractor parked up outside with my name on it and I’m riding this afternoon…

Maybe this winter, then. Watch this space (but not with too much anticipation).

 

Corn Dollies

Corn Dollies

You don’t often see them now, but the culmination of harvest this week and an article in NFU Countryside magazine on how to make them set me to reminiscing about the art of corn dolly creation.

In my early rural-school years we had a teacher who wove corn dollies as she taught. She sat in a battered armchair in the corner of the classroom and her hands rarely stilled as she counselled us in the ways of nature, with an old-country wisdom which resonates with me to this day.

I recall that the different dollies had meanings and potencies and that the spirit of the corn was encased in their form. Mrs Homewood crafted works of some intricacy whilst the class had a go at the simple, spiral ‘drop dollies’ (with mixed results!)

Some are traditional to an area, named after counties and places.

EssexTerret
This is an Essex Terret…
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… and this one’s a Cambridgeshire Handbell.

Plump, comfortably dressed and slightly dishevelled, Mrs Homewood made a greater impression on me than even gorgeous, blonde, Miss Ford from my city-infant class who let me brush her long hair and handed out sweets from the drawer of her desk. I thought Mrs Homewood was ancient, but she lived on for decades after I left so that must have been an illusion of youth. I wonder if she was actually a pagan goddess of nature, even the name fits!

Our classes were often conducted outside (whatever the weather) and we walked the length of the village river to study the life and nature of its twisting path. I certainly knew what a tributary was long before I could spell it. Our very own forest school (before forest schools re-emerged as a trendy ‘new’ idea) but do not be misled into thinking that Mrs Homewood was saintly. Oh no. She chased one of the boys with a bunch of stinging nettles (he was chasing us girls with the same) and when a classmate told her he’d been stung by a bee she offered no sympathy.

‘Poor bee. You do know that he’ll die now?’

The varieties of wheat we grow today have stalks too short for successful dolly making. It’s been cultured that way to prevent the crop falling and to accommodate combine harvesters. But maybe I should give it a try anyway…

The dolly should be kept over winter and laid in the first turned furrow of the plough to set the spirit of the corn free again. Bless Mrs Homewood, whose spirit is free now too, bless all the teachers who shaped us and the spirit of the corn which makes our bread.

 

Barny Update

Barny Update

I realise it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted progress on our barn conversion and I’m not sure why, given that it’s steaming ahead and I’m rarely thinking about/talking about/looking at anything else!

I was hoping to do a ‘poll’ on here to ask readers opinions on a few of the crucial design decisions I’ve been grappling with, but the technicality of WordPress plug-ins beat me so I made the decisions myself (which is probably what I would have done anyway.)

So… we’ve opted for black for the interiors of the window frames (which still feels nerve-wrackingly brave!) Windows ordered, so no going back now.

black windows

… and black metal stairs (if I can source some we can afford).

steel stairs

After veering away from a tin roof in fear of noise and heat a last-minute U-turn returned us to traditional corrugated steel (also ordered).

corrugated tin roof

And those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know that we’ve chosen gorgeous Western Red Cedar for our exterior cladding.

Wester red cedar

(Only ours will be horizontal feather-edge. God, doesn’t cedar smell gorgeous!)

Our house won’t be as trendy as those in the pictures, we don’t have the flair or the budget, but I’m still collecting ideas-above-my-station and pictures of stuff I can’t afford over on Pinterest.

I’m trying to design the kitchen now, ahead of electrical wires and plumbing pipes being laid through floors and walls, and I thought I’d settled my bathroom but I’m in a dilemma over whether to place a freestanding bath in front of the window or offset to the side (first world problems, I know):

(Yes, the glass will be clear but there are only fields out there. I might provide a blind for the coy). Your opinions are welcome (but please know that I’ll probably ignore them).

Back in the real world, the builders are hard at it creating partition walls, inserting noggins for plasterboard and crafting beautiful lead-work…

They’re about to start wrapping the whole package in a breathable membrane and scaffold for the roof work arrives in a fortnight.

Our little Chaff House is forming (and hasn’t the dog got big!)

 

 

Rosie’s Review Team #RBRT A Bed Of Brambles by @SamRussellBooks #Romance #TuesdayBookBlog

A lovely review from Rosie’s Book Review Team

Rosie Amber

Today’s second team review is from Jenny R.

#RBRT Review Team

Jenny has been reading A Bed Of Brambles by Sam Russell

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Chic Lit, Romance

4 Stars

Sam Russell definitely writes about what she knows best. You can tell that she has a passion for horses and that she has looked after them herself.  She writes this book with a passion and thoughtfulness that shines throughout the story.

The relationship between Hettie and Alex has a love hate feel about it, but you know that deep down they are simply made to be together, but getting there is a struggle, and this struggle makes for a very good read. Although they both often misread one another, they also know each other very well.  They have a complex relationship at times and I felt myself wanting to bang their stubborn heads together.

There is a mix of feelings within the story that keeps…

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Rustic Guest Alison Howell – Walking the Cotswolds

Rustic Guest Alison Howell – Walking the Cotswolds

AlisonHowell

Alison is the founder of Foot Trails, a specialist travel company crafting custom independent walking tours in the South West of England.

It’s a beautiful, inspiring part of the country (and the setting for my Draymere Hall romances, of course!)

I’ve been lucky enough to visit many times but Alison could tempt me back with her wonderful walking tours.

Let’s have that cuppa first, and let Alison tell us about her world.


Walking the Cotswolds

At this time of year the fields of barley (with its long wispy delicate whiskers) and wheat are starting to turn and ripen. Barley changes beautifully from its vibrant green to a light beige. And wheat, standing tall and proudly as it does in the fields to a golden hue.

The sight of both crops growing whisks me instantly back to my childhood on the farm. I remember (with fondness and probably rose tinted spectacles) the seemingly endless flurry of activity from early in the morning until late into the night. Tractor drivers, trailers and my father, driving the machines and combine harvester to race against the unpredictable British weather. This will soon be underway.

We would pack frozen ice lolly’s in newspaper and rush them to the fields to keep my father cool in the heat of the dry dusty work that is harvest.

Back on today’s trail I am lulled soothingly by the sway and movement of the crops.

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We are in the Cotswolds. We, my husband and our Guide and Trail Creator, David, our children (who often accompany us on trail checks and have learnt much over the years, Molly, Foot Trails mascot and our Cavalier King Charles.)

There have been recent reports of logging on one of our trails and we are here to assess the situation and see if we need to re-route the trail.

 

Long views of green, mellow fields and impossibly inviting villages stretch out in front of us.

Out here the crowds, throngs and coaches of visitors seem miles away.

Village life is blissfully slower paced and simple. We walk, we talk we pause at the village shop café for Americano coffees, ice cream and a cream tea. We study the map and ponder the route directions on the trail card.

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By the side of the fields wild Poppies are thrown around by the breeze. Their heads of delicate and strongly hued petals dancing.

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We partake enthusiastically in the obligatory choosing and discussion of which would be the cottage we would most love to live in. There are several contenders. We admire their stone porches, elaborate chimney pots and quiet locations.

The Cotswolds are such a distinct area to walk in. Clues of its geography are everywhere. In the stone walls, skilfully put together by hand without cement, they mark boundaries and keep in sheep and live stock. And by the buildings, churches, built in the trade mark local stone.

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We reach the point of the logging and instantly see what needs to be done. A few tweaks and changes are spoken into our Dictaphone and the new directions are recorded. Soon to be written into trail cards and feature in trips for guests from around the world to enjoy.

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I reflect on my life as the sun beams enthusiastically through a gap in the trees in front of me. For 15 years Foot Trails has been the product of my life work. What began as a dream, a vision to inspire people to walk rural England in a way that was authentic and meaningful has grown and developed in ways I could not then imagine.

But one thing has remained. The simple act of walking and the pleasure it brings. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, repeatedly and letting our feet take us on a journey. Sometimes to places known sometimes to places new. It matters not. The world our feet let us see always holds something fresh and new if we look closely enough. A view, a season, a feel, weather….

Years ago we chose the phrase walking England’s rural canvas to sum up what it is we do at Foot Trails. It seems more apt than ever.

I am still inspired by walking. In many ways more than I ever was. I hope through our efforts, passions and goals you too will discover not only beautiful places like here in the Cotswolds, but gain a perspective of life that sustains and inspires you.


This post was originally shared on Alison’s Foot Trails blog where you can also read more of Alison’s Story (and book a wonderful holiday off the beaten track!)

@howell_alison

@FootTrailsUK

Facebook.com/FootTrails