High Summer weeks

It seems weeks ago that I got down to Dorset at the end of one of the longest and craziest weeks in the office in a fair while – three days in Scotland, an intense day of meetings in London, a photoshoot for a project and then jumping onto the 6.35pm down to Dorchester. Bliss. And summer arrived again, just as we did.

That first weekend, we had lunch with our friends Fergus and Louise Dowding, up in Somerset. We’d called into the Bannermans too, on the way, seeing their extraordinary new house of which great adventures await.  The Dowdings garden is little short of amazing. You enter through this labyrinth of huge leaves….

Time for a red hot poker revival too…

Beautiful houses in the village…. the twin brother of the Old Parsonage, I thought?

See what I mean?

The air at home was hot and scented that evening. 

Charlie’s veg garden, which is really now the display dahlia garden, has gone insane. 

It was a week of beautiful early morning walks with the dogs. 

But a busy week too… Charlie was getting ready, after all, for the Melplash show. On the Wednesday evening, I called in to drop things off with him – in the Morris Minor, which felt very at home in the line of little white canvas tents with red trim. 


T H E   M E L P L A S H   S H O W

Show time the next day… was amazing. I’ve never seen a more full Horticultural Tent, with a riveting standard of exhibition. 

Mark Read’s vegetable display – best in show. 

Gorgeous Gladioli.

We did the Grand Parade…

But then back to the tent for prize giving…

Our friend Caddy, and the master Bill Howarth. Vegetable growers extraordinaire.

One of Charlie’s prizes!

We were there with Flora and Jay. We couldn’t help but die of laughter. 

Caddy’s RHS Banksian Medal – for the most points in the entire tent. A great achievement.

Julian Bannerman trying on a 19th century pink coat…

Which looked fairly dapper on Charlie too…

A message well said:

Giant Marrow prizes…. Dahlia prizes:

And then it was an empty tent, all put away… until next year. 

The next day, Bridie came for the weekend.  We started in the village up the road, who’ve turned their village hall, once a month, in to a brilliant pub, the ‘Come on Inn’.  

Life from another era, but actually not. It’s today, and it’s very alive. 

Bridie, with Jackie and David Cain. 

We went to wonderful Dorshi, in Bridport, and rolled home in a taxi and the following morning had to get up extremely early. We were going to the Great Dorset Steam Fair.


T H E   S T E A M   F A I R

We arrived as the gates opened and as the huge campsite was just waking up.

Most of the engines were still shrouded.  No one stirred. 

A few early callers at Tea in Mugs. 

The Shire horses were having breakfast. 

As were the Shire horse owners. 

Breakfast in the shepherds hut compound.  No Farrow and Ball/Cath Kidston (or even Pentreath & Hall)  in sight, I’m very very glad to report. I’ve got to admit, I don’t approve of the gentrification of the shepherds hut. 

This lot is the real deal.

Everywhere you go at the steam fair, there is extraordinary typography.  Can you see why I love it here so much?

A field of tractors as far as the eye can see.  The showground is on the high chalk plans of north Dorset – you can see for miles to distant clumps of woodland on the skyline. 

So many enthusiasts, so much knowledge. 

Steam engines. 

Pipe organs. 

Fairground attractions.  We couldn’t resist the Lighthouse Slip – made of aluminium in 1947, from ex WW2 surplus. 

It is magnificent.  The owner is the second since it was built. 

Lovingly looked after. 

Elsewhere – faux marbling to die for. 

We did the Ferris wheel.  Quite a long way up.

The Grand Ring. 

And then home to a barbecue….


This was Sunday breakfast in the garden. The heat was extreme – beautiful. 

That evening, we went to the beach.  The sea was warm and the beach was packed. 

The heat broke for a day, and a sea fog rolled in across the valley. I love the garden at this moment. 

We went to visit Caddy’s beautiful garden.  Under the towel are resting her carrots that yesterday won at the Dorset County Show. 

There are few places more beautiful in Dorset than Caddy’s greenhouse. 

Home to the softest pink evening light. 

The next day, Charlie and I went to Abbotsbury gardens. I can’t believe we’d never been before. Amazing moments… such as this glimpse, through miles of trees, to the distant chapel of St Catherine on the far hill.  

And such intense shades of jungular green. 

A magical place. 

And then as if by magic carpet, at the end of the week, we whisked to Venice. We were staying with our friends Anthony and Skye for a couple of days – to see Marianna Kennedy’s wonderful show, Invincible Truth, and really just to have fun.


V E N E T I A N   D A Y S   A N D   N I G H T S

Lunch on Skye’s terrace on arrival. A different shade of green. 

Wandering through Venice towards dinner:

Breakfast the next morning:

And then a beautiful hot Saturday on the lagoon, with lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena on Mazzorbo.  We went in the boat. Heaven. 

Back via Murano…

And then home…

To prepare for the evening. Nothing feels quite as fun in the world as heading through the canals in a beautiful wooden taxi, dressed in black tie and ballgowns. 

First stop – S. Giorgio Maggiore, for Marianna’s exhibition. 

A beautiful dinner in the cloisters followed. Here is beautiful, brilliant, genius Marianna….

Followed by The Vanity Fair Black & White ball, dancing like madmen in the heat of the night until the small hours of the morning. And on Sunday, after a lazy start, the Regata Storica – when all the ancient boats of Venice are rowed in a beautiful procession up the Grand Canal, before a dramatic boat race.  We made our way over to lunch at Arsenale, to see the old boats being rowed out. 

Thanks, needless to say, to Skye, we watched from a prime spot on the Grand Canal, in an ancient palazzo.  The canal had been closed to traffic all day. Extraordinary to see the water mirror flat, not churned around by the engines of boats, just like in the paintings by Canaletto. 

The procession began…

And here the race proceeds dramatically – as the boats turn furiously around the orange marker buoy just to the right of the picture;

And then, as the light softened, the procession makes it way down the Canal again.

We rolled home…. supper… bed and home the next day.


T H E   D O R C H E S T E R   S H O W

So then, home. It was a hectic week – as could be expected after two weeks away. But summer had one more blast.  I was back down in Dorset on Wednesday for work – so I felt as if I was in London for a minute or two. By Friday, I’ve got to admit, I was ready for an early night. Charlie was up for an almost all-nighter – getting ready his many, many entries for the Dorset show, to be handed in by 7.30am on Saturday morning.

After a walk with the dogs, and a quiet breakfast at home, we headed in. Charlie entering the tent to find out how he’d done. Many great Dahlia growers seemed to have arrived this year….

But everywhere you look, he had firsts. In some classes, he had first, second and third. Amazing!!

So proud!!! So exciting. 

Mark Read and his amazing veg again….

Caddy won longest carrot. Incredible. 

Bill Howarth, Mark Read and Ron Benfield – the three champion growers of Dorset. Potato bake-off!

Mark’s Begonias are one of the most beautiful things you can see in the whole world…

Bill’s dahlias. 

The judge tent. Charlie’s Marrow…

Then to the show ring.  Coach and four…

The incredible grand parade…. 

My all time hero:

Best Hay:

Grain tent:

The audience of the shearing competition!

Such, such an amazing sight this year.

We rolled home. Charlie was literally exhausted and fell into bed.  It was the most beautiful evening….

The dogs and I played in the garden…

Everything glowed…And as the sun set, it felt like sun was setting on the summer as whole. 

it’s been a magical one.

In times which feel, well, little short of mad, it’s nice to know that unchanging life has a good habit of carrying on regardless.


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