Tag Archive | Somerset

Paeony envy

On Saturday my sister and I did a trip round various National Trust properties in Somerset, and fitted in a visit to Kelways Nursery at Langport on the way back, a specialist paeony and bearded iris nursery. The paeonies were looking amazing, and they weren’t all in full bloom. My sister came away with a trolley load:

Paeonies from Kelways.

Some of the paeonies were on offer as they had been intended for Chelsea Flower Show but had flowered too soon, thanks to the lovely weather we’ve been having recently.

The beautiful view in my rear view mirror on the way home.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Shimane Seidai’.

Paeonia ‘Noemi Demay’.

Paeonia ‘Dr Alexander Fleming’.

Paeonia ‘Dr Alexander Fleming’.

Paeonia ‘Angel Cheeks’.

Paeonia ‘Syaraku’.

Paeonia ‘Syaraku’.

A simple supper: twice baked potatoes

This is a recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall‘s wonderful cookery book River Cottage Veg Every Day!, which I tweaked a tiny bit. It’s a fab cheesy and very filling jacket potato supper, quick and easy to make.

Twice baked jacket potatoes.

Twice baked jacket potatoes.

I baked some medium sized spuds, whole and unpricked, for about an hour at 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F / gas mark 6.

Grated cheddar, soured cream, spring onions and chives.

Grated cheddar, soured cream, spring onions and chives.

In the meantime I mixed together a load of grated tangy mature cheddar (we love Keen’s, made nearby in Wincanton, Somerset, mostly because it is one of the best farmhouse cheddars out there, and partly because Chap is friends with the maker and truckles have been bought at the pub for mates’ rates ….), the best part of a pot of soured cream I had left over from another recipe that only called for a dollop; all the spring onions (scallions to USians) I could find in the veg drawer, chopped roughly, and a massive handful of chives, also chopped roughly. Plus loads of freshly ground pepper (no salt because the cheese is plenty salty already).

When the spuds are cooked (poke ’em with a skewer to test), cut them in half lengthways, and scoop out the centre. Mix this with the cheesy filling and put back in to the potato shells.

Ready to go back in the oven.

Ready to go back in the oven.

Cook for another 10-15 minutes, until as browned as you like them.

Hugh also adds butter to the mix, but I thought that would be dairy overkill, considering all the cheese and cream in there already …  He also recommends crisping off the shells in the oven for 10 mins before putting the filling in, which I did, but in my opinion this made them a bit too tough and dried out. So I’ll omit that step the next time. I added shedloads of chives, which his recipe doesn’t use, because we love them and we have three very large and healthy plants in a pot just outside the back door.

Hugh’s recipe can be found here in The Guardian: scroll right down as it’s the last one on the page.

Tuesday stroll: Glastonbury Tor

Today we went for a walk up Glastonbury Tor: it seemed like half of Somerset had the same idea as it was such a beautifully sunny day compared to the mostly soggy grey ones we’ve been having recently. (Click on all photos to embiggen/bigify/largeificate).


Glastonbury Tor in the distance with the ruins of the church of St Michael’s Church on top, the tor rising prominently out of the Somerset Levels that surround it.

Glastonbury Tor is a small, isolated hill which stands out from the flat expanse of the Somerset Levels around it. It is formed from layers dating from the Jurassic period: the tor itself is Bridport Sandstone, overlying Blue Lias and clay. Only the tower of the church of St Michael that formerly stood there now remains. This dates from the 14th century. Local lore says that Glastonbury Tor is the Isle of Avalon of legend, and is reputedly the burial place of King Arthur.

The tower of the Church of St Michael on top of Glastonbury Tor.

The tower of the Church of St Michael on top of Glastonbury Tor.

South-west face of the tower.

South-west face of the tower.

South-east face of the tower.

South-east face of the tower.

Lovely graffiti on the tower.

Lovely graffiti on the tower by J H Burgess, who visited on 21 May 1864, and revisited in 1869 and 1874.

Panorama from the tor, looking from the north-east (in the first photo) clockwise round to the south-west (sixth photo). The village at the foot of the hill in the middle distance in the second photo is Pilton, and nearby is Worthy Farm, of the famed Glastonbury Festival.







On the top of the hill is a lovely engraved plaque showing directions and distances to other notable places and features in the area.


The tor cast a wonderful shadow over the surrounding lower land (view looking north).


The low-lying Somerset Levels are very prone to flooding and drainage is a very important part of the land management there, with many straight drainage ditches (rhynes, pronounced reens) cutting across the landscape.

Waterlogged fields after the heavy rains of the past few weeks.

Waterlogged fields after the heavy rains of the past few weeks.

The countryside is looking unnaturally green for the time of year, a result of the very mild and wet weather we have been having. We’ve barely had a frost this winter, let alone a prolonged cold spell: compare with photos I took on 16 January 2015 on a walk in Wiltshire, almost exactly a year ago.


It’s been pretty wet and miserable here for the last few days. This is a photo I took of a rainy day in the beautiful cathedral city of Wells a few years ago. It had been a lovely sunny day, and we’d been for a long walk around the sights – the Cathedral, Vicar’s Close, Bishop’s Palace and the many beautiful secular buildings – and then the heavens opened. We went back to the car and I took this photo from inside through the windscreen as the rain pelted down. I quite like its impressionistic quality.

A rainy day in Wells.

A rainy day in Wells.

Earlier on had been like this:



Vicar’s Close, Wells. Constructed between 1348 and 1430.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral. Built between 1176 and 1490.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

and then the rain blew in. I like the fact that we get such changeable weather here – there’s often drama in the skies (apart from when it’s a flat, dull, grey day – not much drama then).

If you’re a film fan, Wells is the setting for Hot Fuzz: the co-writer and director, Edgar Wright, grew up in Wells. The Cathedral was digitally removed from the film though, I think because it was too imposing and took away from the smaller parish church, the Church of St Cuthbert, that featured in the film. Some of the filming took place in the Bishop’s Palace grounds, though.

The Piet Oudolf garden at Hauser & Wirth, Bruton

We had a look round here on Saturday. The old farm buildings have been beautifully restored and altered for use as a gallery exhibition space, and new buildings have been added. My favourite part was the modern cloister, with clever planting. I assume the planting is by Piet Oudolf, who designed the beautiful meadow garden behind the gallery. The gallery and gardens are free to enter. The next exhibition there is one of photos by Don McCullin.








The late summer prairie-style planting was looking spectacular, and the garden was alive with bees and butterflies and hoverflies and dragonflies and damselflies and other assorted bugs and beasties. I think any beekeepers round there must be delighted!

Hauser & Wirth Somerset website

Sunday stroll: Down through Dorset

Not really so much a stroll as a bimble in the car with a short walk at the end of it. Chap and I headed for the seaside yesterday, taking a long and slow route through Somerset and Dorset’s winding country lanes.

We stopped off at several places en route. First stop was the church of St Andrews in Yetminster. Here we admired the 15th-century painted decoration still surviving on the stonework and woodwork and a reminder of how our mostly now-plain parish churches would have looked in the past. There was a splendid brass monument to John Horsey (died 1531) and his wife on one wall, and another, stone this time, to Bridgett Minterne, who died in 1649. While we were there we were surprised by the church bells, which rang out ‘God Save the Queen’ – very unexpected. Apparently this happens every three hours to remind the villagers of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. I wonder if it happens through the night? There are some fantastic gargoyles on the tower, and a beautiful golden weathercock, but my photos of these haven’t come out very well and so don’t do them justice.


15th-century painted decoration at St Andrew’s, Yetminster.


Brass monument to John Horsey (died 1531) and his wife, St Andrew’s, Yetminster.

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Monument to Bridgett Minterne (died 1649), St Andrew’s, Yetminster.


The tower with gargoyles and golden weathercock, St Andrew’s, Yetminster.

Next stop was the reservoir at Sutton Bingham. We went for a short walk along the edge of the reservoir through the wildflower hay meadow that is managed by Wessex Water, but as it had been given its annual cut not too long ago there wasn’t much to see. On the water there were mainly gulls and a few ducks, and a heron perched on the opposite shore. Sadly we didn’t see the osprey that are summer visitors here. A few dinghies and sailboats from the yacht club were pootling up and down the water, all very Swallows and Amazons.

A Mirror dinghy on Sutton Bingham Reservoir.

A Mirror dinghy on Sutton Bingham Reservoir.

Then down into deepest Dorset and the Marshwood Vale. We stopped at the village of Stoke Abbott, parking near a lovely lion’s-head fountain of spring water with a spring-fed stone trough for horses nearby, both under a mighty oak planted in 1901 to celebrate the accession of Edward VII to the throne following the death of Victoria. We wandered off to look at the church of St Mary the Virgin. There had been a wedding there recently, as the fresh and dried flower confetti lay on the path and the church was still adorned with the wedding flowers. The church is in such a pretty setting, and has a 12th-century font with wonderful carvings.


Lion-headed fountain for spring water at Stoke Abbott.


Spring-fed water trough for horses, Stoke Abbott.


St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.


Wedding flowers at the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.


The 12th-century font, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.


Wedding flowers and the simple lectern, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott. The flowers included agapanthus and Mollucella laevis (Bells of Ireland).


Notice in the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.


The sadly sheep-free graveyard, set in the most beautiful countryside, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.


A lovely thatched house near the church in Stoke Abbott.

When we got back to the car a family (grandparents and wee granddaughter, we guessed) were filling up a car boot-load with numerous bottles and containers of the spring water, so I assume it’s safe to drink.

After a fruitless search for the cottage in Ryall where my family had spent several summer holidays in the late 60s (Mr and Mrs Kinchin’s B&B), we headed for the sea at nearby Charmouth. The weather was wild and windy, and we had a chuckle over the couple braving it out with their windbreak and deck chairs. We watched a kestrel quartering the top of the landslip cliffs, searched in vain for fossils, walked a short way up the beach and then decided to head home, via Bridport, Dorchester and Shaftesbury. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world.


A blustery afternoon at Charmouth.


No-one in the water, unsuprisingly.

The well-named Golden cap on the right.

The well-named Golden Cap on the right.

Is it a ring, is it a hillfort?

A vintage modernist moonstone and sterling silver ring:



Cadbury Castle, Somerset, an Iron Age hillfort, as drawn by William Stukeley, 15 August 1723:


Iron Age hillfort.

As an archaeologist, I tend to see archaeological-related shapes everywhere: the ripples in a pond are the conchoidal ripples on the ventral surface of a flint flake; the tarmac repair in a pavement over a service trench is a prehistoric ditch, waiting to be excavated; the fruit and nuts in Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Chocolate are the inclusions in coarse Bronze Age pottery (okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away here …)

So it’s no great surprise I suppose that when I saw this ring, the first thing I thought of was the famous Stukeley engraving of Cadbury Castle (which he called Camalet Castle: it’s near the villages of West Camel and Queen Camel, and local tradition holds that it is the site of King Arthur’s Camelot). I have a copy hanging in my study and love it very much.

Cadbury Castle, just to the south of the A303. The enormous earthworks show up much better in the winter, when there is no foliage on the trees. 26 April 2009.

Cadbury Castle, photographed from the A303. The enormous earthworks show up much better in the winter, when there is no foliage on the trees.  As you can see, there is some artistic licence in the Stukeley version of this view … 26 April 2009.

I drive past Cadbury Castle frequently, as it is just to the south of the A303. I remember as a child being taken to the excavations there one summer when we were holidaying in the south-west, and the Iron Age body sherds were being sold for 3d a piece (I think it was) with a sign saying the proceeds would go to the diggers’ beer fund. I bought a couple of sherds and they were my treasured possessions for a long time. Until I lost them, and promptly forgot about them, as kids do.

It’s a great spot for a walk too, and always very empty of people. There is a terrific view of Glastonbury Tor from the hillfort.

Cadbury Castle. View from the top of the ramparts. 24 January 2010.

Cadbury Castle. View from the top of the ramparts (Glastonbury Tor sadly out of shot). 24 January 2010.

And as for the ring, it’s for sale in my Etsy shop.

UPDATE: 18 March 2015 – the ring has now sold. Sorry!

Favourite pubs: The Blagdon Inn, Blagdon, near Taunton

My family spent a lovely lunchtime yesterday celebrating our father’s 83rd birthday at the Blagdon Inn, in Blagdon near Taunton, at the foot of the Blackdown Hills in the beautiful county of Somerset.

The Blagdon Inn, Blagdon, Somerset.

The Blagdon Inn, Blagdon, Somerset.

This pub has only recently opened (in March this year; previously it was the White Lion, before that an Indian restaurant, and before that another pub), and I have eaten lunch there with my Dad some four or five times, the first time when it had only been open a fortnight. Each time the food has been exceptional and the service warm, friendly and attentive. The pub hasn’t yet found the public we all think it deserves, so I am doing my tiniest bit to publicise it.

The chef, Sam Rom, formerly worked at the famed River Cottage canteen in Axminster. The Blagdon Inn shares the River Cottage ethos in that the food is locally produced, sustainable and seasonal. The pub has land near the pub on which are kept chickens, pigs and sheep (all of which end up on the menu in one form or another), and on which much of the produce used in the food is grown. What they can’t produce themselves is sourced locally. The menu has never been the same, and each time I have the hardest time choosing as there is rarely anything on the menu I wouldn’t want to devour …. (August sample menu here).

Memorable dishes I have eaten include a pearl barley and spring asparagus risotto, kipper hash and free-range fried eggs with capers, pulled pork crumble, lamb shank in a gorgeous rich sauce, and bar snacks such as a Blagdon pork sausage roll, potted crab, a kipper and barley scotch egg made with a quail’s egg, lovely spicy roasted almonds, Kalamata olives, and garlic bread. Sam’s twitter feed has some great photos of the food served. I can’t look without salivating!

Blagdon pork sausages, chop and mash. Photo from the Blagdon Inn website.

Blagdon pork sausages, chop and mash. Photo from the Blagdon Inn website.

The attention to detail is wonderful—the bread is homemade and comes on chunky wooden boards, homemade ketchup comes in tiny preseve jars, homemade chunky chips in a white enamel mug, bar snacks on vintage china, and yesterday’s food was decorated with nasturtium, borage and violet flowers, with pea shoots beautifully draped over. Even the paper napkins are really thick and good quality.

blagdon 1

Eton Mess at the Blagdon Inn. Several of these got scoffed by us yesterday lunchtime! Photo from the Blagdon Inn website.

Luckily our other halves were driving, as my sisters and I guzzled several of the lovely proseccos served with fresh raspberry puree—divine!

The pub is a beautiful old building which has been lovingly restored and redecorated, and displays art by local artists, some of which is for sale.

The owner, Nigel Capel, has recently launched a wonderful new initiative in conjunction with the local RVS. It helps older gentlemen in the community who are isolated and lonely to get out and about and meet new friends—a volunteer can bring an older gentleman to lunch in the pub on the first Tuesday of each month, where they will both enjoy a free light lunch. If they are lucky they might see Nigel’s beautiful old Austin parked in the car park.

I have to give a special mention to the manager, Tim, who is an absolute star. Thanks Tim, and all the lovely staff at Blagdon.


In an earlier post I mentioned that orange is my favourite colour. I love colour—the brighter the better, and for me, orange is the best of all. It’s sunshine and happiness in a colour. It’s hard to be grumpy when there’s orange around.

Orange in my garden (and a couple of others):

Meconopsis cambrica (orange Welsh poppy)

Meconopsis cambrica (orange Welsh poppy) in our garden. It’s a lot more orangey and less yellowy in real life than this photo suggests – a sort of pale tangerine colour.

Lathyrus aureus, This one's my baby - I grew it from seed.

Lathyrus aureus, a low-growing perennial member of the pea family. This one’s my special baby – I grew it from seed.

Buddleja globosa.

Buddleja globosa in our garden. This flowers earlier than the common buddleja (B. davidii) and it’s so unusual: lovely globby, bobbly flowers.

Buddleja globosa. This flowers earlier than the common buddleja (B. davidii) and it's so unusual: lovely globby flowers. And they just had to go in an orange jug!

And they just had to go in an orange jug!

Clivia miniata. I put these out for the summer but they have to come inside for the winter before the first frosts.

Clivia miniata. I put these out for the summer but they have to come inside for the winter before the first frosts. They need to be in a shady spot as the sun can burn their leaves badly. The seed pods are so pretty too, and clivias are easy to grow from seed.

Crocosmia × crocosmiiflora 'Star of the East' with a few orange Tropaeolum majus (nasturtiums).

Crocosmia × crocosmiiflora ‘Star of the East’ with a few orange Tropaeolum majus (nasturtiums) in a garden I designed in Berkshire.

Lytes Cary 7

Erysimum (wallflowers) and lily-flowered tulips (possibly Tulipa ‘Ballerina’) at Lytes Cary in Somerset, a wonderful National Trust property.

And recently I realised I’d been buying an awful lot of orange and reddy-orange things for my shop on Etsy:

Baltic amber and 800 silver ring by Wilhelm Becker of Pforzheim.

Baltic amber and 800 silver ring by Wilhelm Becker of Pforzheim, Germany. (NOW SOLD).

Baltic amber and sterling silver ring, by Niels Erik From of Denmark.

Baltic amber and sterling silver ring, by Niels Erik From of Denmark. (NOW SOLD).

Art Nouveau style Baltic amber and silver ring.

Art Nouveau style Baltic amber and silver ring. (NOW SOLD).

Art Deco carnelian and silver lavalier necklace.

Art Deco carnelian and silver lavalier necklace. (NOW SOLD).

Vintage carnelian agate big bead necklace.

Vintage carnelian agate big bead necklace. (NOW SOLD).

Art Deco carnelian glass lavalier necklace.

Vintage Art Deco carnelian glass lavalier necklace. (NOW SOLD).

Art Deco Czech glass necklace.

Art Deco glass necklace, probably Czech glass. (NOW SOLD).

Victorian banded agate brooch.

Victorian banded agate brooch. (NOW SOLD).

Faux amber and 830 silver flower brooch, possibly Danish.

Vintage faux amber and 830 silver flower brooch, possibly Danish. (NOW SOLD).

So then I had to go on a blues and greens and purples and pinks buying spree—such hardship!

Filming locations: Montacute House

The news that the National Trust’s Montacute House and Barrington Court, both in Somerset, will be closed over the next month or so for the filming of a BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall has given me an idea for a series of posts here on my blog: local places that have been used as filming locations for movies and television programmes.

Montacute House, the east front.

Barrington Court.

Barrington Court.

Montacute House is a stunning Elizabethan house and estate near Yeovil in Somerset, not too far from us and always a favourite to visit. I remember going there a few years ago with Chap and a friend from Canada who was staying with us. We went in April, I think it was—the first day it was open for the season, after its winter closure. The stewards (all of whom seemed to be middle-aged ladies) were all of a tizzy: it turned out that The Libertine had only just finished filming there in the previous few days, and the highlight for the stewards, who were preparing the house for its opening alongside the filming, was seeing the film’s star Johnny Depp. And even better than that, said one, was seeing him wandering around in the nude. I think he made a lot of ladies there very happy!

While walking in the grounds on that visit we noticed a small sign next to the trunk of a large spreading tree. We went over to see what it said—the tree species, maybe?—and as it was so small we had to get right up to the sign to read it. And so, standing almost under the centre of the canopy, we were amused to read something along the lines of  ‘Please do not stand under this tree as it may shed its branches suddenly’. Priceless!

Montacute House was also used in the 1995 film of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, standing in for Cleveland House, the country estate of Mr and Mrs Palmer.  (I was lucky enough to witness some of the filming for Sense and Sensibility at Mompesson House in Salisbury – but that’s for another blog post!)

I’m looking forward to Wolf Hall very much – I thought the books on which it is based (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) were terrific, and it has a cracking cast, including Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Joanne Whalley, David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Mark Gatiss, Claire Foy, Jonathan Pryce, Anton Lesser and Saskia Reeves, among others.

If you were planning a visit, Montacute House is closed until 11 June and Barrington Court from 18 June – 2 July. More details on the National Trust website pages: Montacute Estate; Barrington Court.