Slow Lane Life II

How we moved to the West Country and learned to slow down even more


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A rubbish post

imgres urlBin day (rubbish/trash/refuse collection) here occurs fortnightly, with recycling and food waste collection being weekly. It’s always a noisy affair, with much banging, clattering and chucking of glass items, the road often being blocked to other vehicles as the huge wagon trundles slowly up the hill and down again. The narrower lane at the top has a later service with a smaller vehicle.

But in the equally narrow streets of the Greek island of Syros, where my sister lives for half the year, bin day is a much more frequent and picturesque event. The hi-viz jacket remains the uniform apparel, the pace remains slow, and there’s no impatient traffic build up as the bin man and his team of one plod up and down the steep steps and alleyways. photo 1 photo 3 photo 2Such a nice idea. I wonder if West Somerset Waste Partnership would be interes…. maybe not.


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Three years

R6051895I know I write about this every year, but always being rather emotional about it, I’m about to do it again….. On this very day, three years ago, the Lovely Son and I – along with two dogs and four cats – set off at midday on a long, hot, tiring journey in an overstuffed car to this cottage. North-East to South-West in a day; the end of an era. I hadn’t wanted a cottage, especially not one with low beams, but this one had whispered to me as I crossed the threshold to view it: “I’m yours.” and I was compelled to listen. A few weeks later, I was moving in.

The sale hadn’t quite gone through, thanks to a nervous solicitor who didn’t understand the flying freehold issue that is so commonplace here, but the lovely vendor had calmed me down considerably over the weekend by saying that I was just to move in, regardless of whether or not the last-minute tenancy agreement had reached her.

And in we came, at around 8.30 in the evening. Looking back, I am still amazed that I had survived the deep exhaustion of the preceding months, and recall that dreadful car journey with horror, but I was able to walk into the cottage with a sense of elation at having moved at last, after several years of planning and preparation, scouting and setbacks. Of course, an empty house looks rather different from when it was viewed, fully furnished and presented for sale, and some areas were rather more urgently in need of work than I had remembered. There was much to do, but over the following months, mostly spent in the company of visitors and builders, it became my house, and my home. Our home.

I love it here.


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Tricky question

R6051953 - Version 2Sipping iced coffee in town this morning with a new friend who is struggling to adapt to a new life in a new village after dramatic change was forced on her, I listened to her describe how habitually industrious she is each morning, finishing all her routine chores by 10.30, then not knowing what to do with the rest of her day.

“What do you do all day?” she asked me.

“Search me.” I said.

And thought about her question for some time afterwards. I’m still none the wiser, but suddenly it’s bedtime, and I seem to have been very busy all day. What was I doing?

Search me.


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Yard work

Here’s a rather long story about a very little thing….. (skip to end if you know now how boring this is going to be!) The back yard is almost finished.

For US readers, ‘yard’ in the UK isn’t a garden, but generally means a hard-surfaced area behind a house; often functional rather than lovely, and unglamorously multi-purpose, able to accommodate washing lines, an outside loo, a coal shed and the dustbins. In our case, it is was a scruffy uneven area of old concrete and ill-assorted paving slabs between the back of the house and the raised garden; the outside loo  became the boiler cupboard several years ago, and instead of a coal shed there’s a home made woodstore knocked together by The Gardener from old pallets.

There was no way I could fancify it by calling it a patio; it was, and will remain, the back yard. It was full of trip hazards, assorted plastic pots and old recycling boxes, and many many snails, and it Had To Go. So we saved up, got an impossible quote from someone who would have swooped in with a team, a digger, a lorry and a skip, and transformed it within a day or two, and so we said thank you, impressive but not possible, and saved up some more.DSCF4225 L1096292Then we got Jason. We liked his slightly rustic style, and the fact that he understood that sharp clean lines and brand new materials weren’t necessarily what we were keen on, and his rates were fair. He was only available a day or so a week, but didn’t seem to mind working on his own and in a very cramped space, so we let him get on with it. Sometimes the weather was seriously against him, but slowly, slowly, the yard metamorphosed into something altogether more pleasing to the eye, and while still sloping in every direction possible, and still requiring a step to access the back gate, is safe to walk on, sit out on, and offer the cats somewhere to loll in the sun/conduct noisy quarrels with invaders in the middle of the night/throw up hairballs (thank you, Lottie).

Some small things remain to be done: the blown render on the house wall, a bit of pointing here and there, and the stabilising of the little overgrown wall that stops the garden from avalanching into the yard, but these will wait until autumn, when Jason has more time. Meanwhile, after the tomatoes in their old recycling boxes have finished, there will only be nice pots allowed to sit on our lovely fossil sandstone, I will always retract the washing lines, and I will never leave bags of compost, tools and the hose lying in the rain…. I will, honest.

Here’s the progress so far, from a rain-sodden start some weeks ago, to how it looks now:
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Then came the digging out/breaking up/setting the levels, coping with the weather, the chaos and the dirt. How Jason coped is beyond me, but as he needed much of the rubble to use as hard core beneath the new pavers, he kept it all to hand:DSCF4408 DSCF4409 DSCF4410 DSCF4411 DSCF4412 Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Exif_JPEG_PICTURE _6051473 _6051475
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And of course the garden carried on growing, adding to the crowdedness…..

We chose the sandstone flags. The old bricks were kept, to be re-used as risers. The ugly manhole cover would go; access to the drain would be hidden in a special frame that held one of the flagstones. The woodstore was emptied, moved, paved underneath, replaced and re-filled.

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Oops, wrong setting on the camera….

R6051519The paving began, and it became exciting. Of course, nothing was square, or level, or even. Just like the house. Charming, but meant a lot of measuring and calculating. Jason remained cheerful and confident. In his spare time (i.e. when walking the dog before and after work) he creates land art, mysterious structures made from natural materials such as stone and wood, usually in the many woods that abound in this area. An interesting man.

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Wet, the flagstones took on a golden Hamish-y glow.

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Halfway, Jason had a week’s holiday in Cornwall, well-earned. The Gardener broke up some of the remaining concrete, and the cats continued to traipse through the cat flap with filthy paws. The sofa covers are not getting washed until it’s all finished….

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Some cosmetic things still need to be done, like hiding the bin and recycling, clearing the black plastic containers, and planning the repairs to the walls, but we have our improved back yard at last, and we like it. R6051877 R6051874R6051875R6051872And the cats like it too. Result!


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Seasonal colour

To the tiny picturesque hamlet of Bossington on a beautiful blue-sky afternoon; we walked past a river where children splashed, through trees, across wide fields, up and over shingle to the place where the storm tides breached the ridge last winter, and looped back in search of tea and cake, always in plentiful supply round these parts.L1096247

R6051784 R6051790 R6051793 R6051800 R6051806One autumn, we went here, to the Exmoor Owl and Hawk Centre tearooms, sitting indoors on a beautiful misty, moisty morning. cropped-246564_4642729823097_1089901378_nYesterday, we had our tea and cake outdoors, but in the same place. R6051821 - Version 2But there were splashes of colour this time, above and beyond the trees and flowers…..L1096263 R6051815 R6051817 R6051809L1096264Three blue and gold macaws, happy to chunter on gruffly (“Whorrrr! Whorrrr!”) to visitors and each other from their perches, or to show how cleverly they can hang from their strong beaks. The one who can say “Good morning!” declined my invitation to do so.L1096265R6051819 R6051824And the little bantam hens watched us closely, waiting for cake crumbs, making their comfortable chickeny noises. The Good Dog, wet from her riverside walk, watched them all with mild interest, more concerned with not missing any of those cake crumbs herself. Our summer visitors, be warned: we shall be taking you there; bring sensible shoes and brace yourselves for cake!


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Bombs away

Please let me introduce you to my new friend, Bombus Hypnorum.

IMG_5339 IMG_5345The tree bumblebee is a relative newcomer to the UK, having made its way from Europe about thirteen years ago, and is spreading fast. So far, it appears to be harmless to our native bumblebees, and may be filling a niche in our ecology. You can read more about it here. IMG_5380I can tell you that it’s big, it’s noisy, it’s fast, and it loves my jungly little garden. Bombus, we love your Dickensian name, your busy, buzzy high-speed landings, and your fetching orange furry white-tailed outfit. Keep visiting!


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Car park

R6051703To Periwinkle Cottage at Selworthy today, for a cup of tea and, as always, a long tranquil gaze over to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor. R6051708 R6051710This little car park has to have one of the loveliest views in the county. R6051709 R6051714Across the lane from the churchyard, clearly visible from Dunkery Beacon, the 15th Century church sits gleaming. A beacon of sorts too.

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