2.7.15

Shrewsbury Food Festival


My birthday treat was this year's Shrewsbury Food festival - it first started three years ago, with immense success, but (as some of you may know) I haven't been in the right mental place to enjoy such things. There were also wonderful birthday presents from Joe, including a Swedish whittling knife, of the type recommended by Ian the Toymaker. And a humungous bottle of my favourite (and rather expensive) perfume.


Summer had finally decided to arrive in the UK and we were glad we got there early - the Saturday country bus deposited us in town before 10am, so we arrived before the crush. The festival was held in Shrewsbury's beautiful Quarry Park, where the legendary Percy Thrower was the Superintendent gardener for 28 years.


We wandered about. It was crammed with mostly local small producers  There was cheese and pies and pickles and fudge and cider and bread and meat and stuff. And more stuff.




And rare lop eared pigs, from nearby Middle Farm.  This was part of the 'farm-to-fork' section, enabling people to make the connection between what they eat and where it actually comes from.




This is 'Beckfoot Damica' and her new calf, from Great Berwick Organics. She's an English Longhorn, one of the oldest breeds in the country, dating back to at least the 16th century.




We stopped for handmade venison pies, and in my case (what with it being my birthday and all) I had a pint of 'Steam Punk' beer from Shropshire's own Three Tuns Brewery. Dark treacle-y and delicious.



By now, the crowds were building up and as neither of us do people en masse, it was time to head off. So Joe bought some sausages...


...and I bought some bread. And we headed back to the cottage after a lovely day out. Full of pie.



Goodbye lovely Shrewsbury Food Festival, you were great - and good luck for next year!



24.6.15

Brooding topiary at Longner Hall

  
Is it just the British who have a penchant for pottering around stately homes when the so-called summer weather is typically 'iffy'? Not too far from here is the lovely Longner Hall, who were having a garden open day. 


So Brian and Jean from next-door, Joe and myself all crammed into one vehicle and bimbled across the lanes to have a little look and admire the topiary.



I do like a nice topiary bird.


 



But I like even better, sinister green domes who seem to be watching you as the rather grandiose 'big house' looms overhead.


 Some people like grand houses.


I am more taken with the ramshackle.


Such as this sweet little conservatory nestling between shapely hedges. 


 Or intriguing secret paths leading to who knows where?




And cunning doors which beckon you to enter...
 

 ...revealing the most beautiful Victorian walled garden.


 

And then the rain descended, as it had been threatening to since we arrived.


We all took shelter, packed like sardines in a funny little theatre shack and I passed round mints some found at the bottom of my bag. Jean found them a little strong and had a slight coughing fit.


Once order was restored and the rain passed, we carried on admiring the neat and orderly rows of vegetables, lined up like soldiers on parade.


 One of the old glass houses has been restored.


And already filling up with tidy rows of geraniums.




In the manner of these things, just as we were heading off, the clouds cleared to reveal beautiful Shropshire.


Back along the ever-so-long drive. It's time to return to our own humble but much loved homes, full of grandiose ideas for schemes which may one day come to fruition. Who knows?


18.6.15

Wool, automata and cake


Sometimes I am asked to do private workshops and it is always a huge pleasure. Apart from the fun of going away visiting, I am always treated like a visiting princess and thoroughly spoiled. This month I stayed at the home of Ian Mackay, maker of exquisite automata and Fleur Hitchcock, the children's writer. Here is Ian, making a needle felt version of one of the chickens on his amazing pecking chicken machine. Needless to say, as a skilled craftsman, he picked it up at once.
 

It was a fairly informal workshop, and people pretty much free ranged their designs, which was interesting for everyone and made me think on my feet.


There are wonderful examples of Ian's work all over the house, with intriguing handles which beg you to turn them. And when you do, magical things happen.



Driftwood houses are so much the in thing now, with so many people making them,  but Ian was one of the early originators and I loved this little wooden street.




Lunch was pretty darned splendid.




 Amazingly, after all that, people carried on working. This was a particularly splendid guinea pig.


And the youngest member of the group produced her own version of Totoro from Studio Ghibli.


I am always thrilled to bits when someone who has never needle felted or indeed crafted much, produces something lovely. Often they start out with a little trepidation, but at the end of the day, they have made something beautiful, and in this case, entirely their own design.


Naturally, mid-afternoon, there was cake.


The next day, I myself tried my hand at creating something outside of my own comfort zone, in Ian's workshop, but that's another story for a later date. Thanks so much to Ian and Fleur, for making my weekend really special and reviving my own creative batteries, which have been a little flat for the last few years.