A really good day

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On Wednesday, we discovered what could be one of the most perfect places in the entire world.

Enchanted bluebell woods, a pebble beach with caves, cliffs, and some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen in my entire life.

Having had our fill of surfing for the time being, I suggested that we take a drive to Hartland Abbey, a nearby stately home with pretty grounds, a walk to a nearby beach, and (of course) a tearoom. A gentle morning’s entertainment. Except we ended up spending the entire day there. I ended up taking so many photographs that I’m not sure my favourites will all fit into this post. And we didn’t even go into the house.

I want to live here!

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The house itself is nestled in the bottom of a valley about a mile from the sea, surrounded by green fields full of new lambs. It was built in the 1100s as a monastery, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries he gifted the Abbey to the Sargent of his Wine Cellar at Hampton Court, a Mr. William Abbot. Nice work if you can get it!

We arrived quite early in the day, but the kindly staff allowed us early access to the beach footpath, a magical little trail straight out of the children’s story book that wends its way through woods carpeted in bluebells. Every book I ever read as a child about a group of children going on holiday to a cottage by the sea and having all sorts of adventures immediately came flooding back to me.

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When we emerged from the woods we could see the sea. The path plunged down through the trees to the cliff edge, and on to the beach. Jane Austen fans might recognise some of the scenery from the recent Beeb adaptation of Sense And Sensibility, as a nearby cottage starred as Barton Cottage, the exile home of the Dashwood family. Also Top Gear pushed some home made motor homes off the cliffs.

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With rock pools like that, you know that there was some serious exploring to be done. I can’t get enough of these rock formations that look like books leaning up against each other. The shapes are so beautiful. And they form caves. Which is awesome.

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Once every rock pool had been thoroughly investigated, we wound our way back through the magic woods for CREAM TEA. Well, a savoury version with cheese scones, sour cream and chutney. Mmmmm. Also some chimping at the morning’s photographs.

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Re-fuelled, we set off to take in the gardens.

Now I’m not much of a botanist, despite the biology training. I can tell you the difference between an elephant and a stalk-eyed fly, but my ability with plants extends to “daisies” and “not daisies”. But even I can tell that these gardens were something really special. We started off in the walled gardens, which are south-facing and perfectly positioned to capture the sun. The first garden contained vegetables, organised into perfect rows. All I wanted to do was charge in amongst them and start sampling everything, but I restrained myself to taking only photographs (lots).

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Even the biggest veg hater ever would surely be tempted by this sexy row of Swiss chard? Check out those beautiful colours. Why have just green veg when you could have red and purple too!

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Through a not-so-secret door we came to the rose garden. Although at this time of year it was more like a tulip garden. So many beautiful, fat, colourful tulips.

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Finally we came to my favourite part of the gardens: the green houses. Don’t ask me why I love greenhouses, but I really really do.

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I spent the day in a blissful, disbelieving haze, trying to drink in as much of my incredible surroundings as I could. One of my favourite holiday experiences is the moment that real life and work dissolve away, leaving you feeling completely rudderless and blissed out. That happened today. And it was wonderful.

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Some of us even conked out before we got home!

Pink power

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Charlie May sleeveless blazer | Another8 ‘Rita’ tee | Zara skirt | ASOS sandals

Yes, there is more Charlie May in my closet. Yes, this could be classed as unhealthy obsession. But you know what? When clothes make you feel this damn good I say screw it. I just want to wear my new blazer over everything, but this combination of textured whites is my favourite so far. To be honest, this outfit would look so much better with this season’s Charlie May brogues (daaahling), but I felt that these Céline-esque sandals deserved a small moment of glory.

This latest wardrobe purchase did get me thinking about my fashion spending habits and how they have changed. Once upon a time I was definitely a ‘spend less, own more’ kind of girl, but these days I prefer to have just one really nice thing rather than ten that are only so-so. And if that one really nice thing does stretch my available funds to the limit, I am not above selling five (or more) other things to raise the cash. Slowly but surely the so-so items from my past are being cycled into history and replaced by beautiful, awesome pieces. Like this one.

Devon is being very good to us with the weather, and so far my days have involved surfing, ice cream and sunburn (oops). I love our holiday routine of active, salty mornings followed by chilled out afternoons to read and blog. The house we are staying in has some brilliant blogging spots, of which my favourite is still the sunny window seat. I require one of these in London. Preferably with a view of the sea and a field full of lambs. Stupid London and it’s lack of anything remotely approaching countryside (a couple of biggish parks do NOT count).

Hartland

These photos tell a happy little holiday story, a classic tale familiar to anyone who has holidayed anywhere in the British Isles.

Self and Chris are staying with my family in Devon this week, in a labyrinthine old farmhouse near Hartland. One of those places whose old-fashioned quirkiness is simultaneously fabulous and awkward. Think amazing beams, creaking floorboards, gorgeous fireplaces, and cranky plumbing.

We spent our first night sitting on giant cushions in front of the fire playing with a Trivial Pursuit that dated from 1983 – knowledge of arcane Formula One regulations and which parts of Berlin were which side of the Wall essential – and wondering whether we could get the ancient VHS copy of White Fang to work.

Sunny Sunday morning found us meandering along the cliff path to Hartland Quay, taking in some of the incredible views on the way…

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Progress was slow because someone (ehem) kept stopping to take photographs!

We arrived in Hartland to find (much to the delight of the Men) a digger on the beach. The quay wall was badly damaged during the storms, and rebuilding work was in full swing. Needless to say the chaps were in seventh heaven.

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 “Think of the sandcastles you could build with that.”

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I even found some topical graffiti on the harbour wall. Now don’t all sing at once.

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Ice cream was consumed (my holiday preference is always mint choc chip), the digger was further admired, and finally we all took to the cliff path to wend our way home.

I’m now happily curled up in a cosy window seat alternately editing photographs and wading through chapters of Moby Dick. But now that lunch has worn off and a nap has perked up the drooping eyelids I think it might be time for another excursion. Watch this space…

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5 reasons why bloggers wear sunglasses

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Charlie May cotton shirt dress and shoes | Thrifted biker jacket 

  1. Because it’s bright out yo.
  2. Because every trip to Homebase needs an air of high fashion mystique.
  3. Because nothing makes a bad hairdo look like you meant it that way quite like dark specs.
  4. Because unlike pro models, our faces do weird things in front of the camera, and that shiz just don’ belong on no internet.
  5. Because we really are that badass.

(I’ll let you be the judge of which of the above apply to me).

“It’s nice… very rectangular,” said Chris about this outfit. Yeah, this one probably fits into the ‘man repelling’ genre of fashion, but this style of unfussy, laid back dressing is pretty much all I want to wear at the moment.

This is one of my favourite combinations for this time of year. I bought this shirt dress way back in November but it hasn’t had a chance to come into its own until now, mixed with oversized leathers and beautiful elegant shoes. The overlap details on the back yolk and the front make my head spin a little, and I won’t tell you how thrilled my little heart is with the French seams up the side. Suffice to say that stylish, clever clothing construction makes me very happy.

The spectacularly messy hair was not entirely intentional, just the product of a lazy Sunday and a total disinclination to use conditioner. But did you see the shades? Those are fashion flyaways doncha know.

Pie power

Wow. So first things first, I’m still all kinds of overwhelmed by the reaction to my last post. All I can say is thank you so much to you guys for getting in on the discussion and sharing your thoughts and ideas. I’ve always been nervous about tackling ‘serious’ topics on this blog, mostly because I tend to be highly opinionated and when combined with an irreverent sense of humour this can be all kinds of offensive. But now I’m feeling confident to deal in deeper discussions, I think we’ll begin next week with the Ukraine crisis before moving on to the status of women in science. But for now it’s time to talk about pie.

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As a wise egg creature named Weebl once said, “Mmmm, pie”. Mmmm indeed. Just about the tastiest and easiest midweek supper out there, or perfect pick me up for when the Sunday blues kick in. My version is chicken and leek, with optional mushrooms.

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Cut around 500g chicken breast into bitesize chunks and fry gently until sealed on all sides. Add in leeks…

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… mushrooms (if shrooms aren’t your bag then skip this step)…

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…and muddle into a tasty pile of awesome. I added a dollop of cream cheese to make a nice creamy sauce, but you could use crème fraîche, or even a splash of milk. Add seasoning to taste, and allow to simmer gently for as long as you can stand it (I managed about 5 minutes). Just time for a quick aid de chef…

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Load up a pie dish and cut a lid out of puff pastry. I used the pre-rolled variety for lazy people; just lay it over the top of the dish and cut a shape to fit. I like to use scraps to make decorative leaves, ‘cos I’m whimsical like that. Brush with a little milk to make a delicious golden glaze, and pop in the oven at 250 degrees C for 10-15 minutes.

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Serve with a splash more wine and a healthy heap of your favourite steamed veggies.

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This meal was something of a crowd pleaser when I first made it for the boy, and now it has become a standard request if there is even a suspicion of chicken in the fridge. This time he went and bought the pastry himself – now there’s keen!

What’s your favourite simple supper?