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En route….



Ben

This was meant to be a blog about moving into Scotland. But I’m 100 photos in and we just arrived at the bothy.  So, that will be another blog, because it’s Sunday evening, I’m back in London, feeling a little tired, and I think I can’t write for hours and hours and hours. As I write, helicopters are hovering furiously overhead above the flat. Maybe something to do with the Extinction Rebellion ‘shutdown of London’ being forecast for tomorrow morning? Our tiny bothy seems so far away from all this. And I’ve got to admit, I’d rather be there I think.

The reason this is a long blog is because we didn’t drive in a straight line. Last Saturday, Charlie, the dogs and I left Dorset bound for Herefordshire, near Ledbury – beautiful Perrycroft.

Now, long term readers of the blog will recall that a long time ago Charlie and I went to stay at Perrycroft as guests of our friend Phoebe Clive. It’s worth reading that blog, if you have a moment to look at the beautiful gardens around this extraordinary Voysey house.

This time we were back to stay with Deby and Phil, friends over from Canada, who make the Ledbury pilgrimage every year. This year was especially special – Phil’s 70th birthday. We arrived in time for a superb lunch of warm pork pies and scotch eggs from the Ledbury butcher.

And then we were off, just down the road, to something Charlie’s been wanting to see for a long time. The Malvern Autumn show. 

For Charlie, it wasn’t really about the people:

It wasn’t about the garden machinery stands…

Or about the classic car corner…

Or the Classic Car People in the classic cars…

No. It was about the Dahlias. More dahlias. 

Malvern really is the national championship of dahlia growing. 

But as well as being blown away by the craziness, I couldn’t help but love the faces too.

Here was a happy person….

Realising that his dahlias could hold their own in these ranks. 

Tomato lovers would have enjoyed themselves too. 

Bigwigs of the National Vegetable Society were making their rounds…

Perfection:

Did you know about the National Trug Championship?

No, nor did I. Amazing. 

The busiest tent of all was giant veg. This was full of spectators, like an ugly vast celebrity boxing match in Las Vegas. 

For some it was a little too much. 

Giant onions. 

beans. 

Beetroot (radishes in the foreground). 

Insane marrows, although we worked out that Charlie’s would have made a pretty respectable showing… 4th or 5th perhaps.

Pumpkins. 

Giant cabbages. 

We were in awe.  But sadly, we needed to return to the festivities at Perrycroft… so I had to miss a noodle. 

Back to the dream house….

Debs, who is an amazing cook, had created a superb dinner.  The room was filled with friends. So much fun, into the night.

That night, a huge rainstorm swept in. But in the morning, briefly, clearance. 

Our bedroom window looked straight over to British Camp.

The hills gleamed with orange sunshine, stunningly beautiful.  It is a part of the world that I love and would like to explore more….

We left Voysey’s low-eaved, welcoming house….. (which is, incidentally, beautifully furnished and available to rent, year-round, here)…

Deby had amazingly knitted us not one but TWO beautiful tea cosies as a house warming present for Scotland, together with perfectly sized tea pots. 

As we left we called into Phoebe’s beautiful Tinsmith’s shop, looking better than ever. 

We left laden with treasures…

The wall of letterpress posters by the Tilley Letterpress

And we tore ourselves away from Ledbury, and set off on the next phase of the journey. We were heading to Edinburgh for the night, to see the daughter of a good friend who’s just started at uni there. And on the way, Charlie had cooked up another detour with a dahlia variety. This time, Halls of Heddon, nurserymen. 

The dahlia nursery was set up 98 years ago by the current owner’s grandfather. Their dahlia fields are beyond mad. The first photos are in the covered beds. 

And then we walked out into the field.  Incredible. I particularly loved the power pylons marching their way around the flat landscape beyond. 

We had missed huge rainstorms that were sweeping across the country that afternoon.  We still had a way to go before Edinburgh. So we left, but took the dogs for a little walk along a large intact section of Hadrian’s wall in the village at Heddon, poetically overlooked by a large number of small 1960s bungalows. 

We had a brilliant night in Edinburgh with Willow. Here’s Sibyl working the camera a bit more artfully than Charlie… And then the next morning we were off…. driving over to Glasgow, calling in, I will admit, to Ikea, too buy some boxes of white candles but ending up with millions of things we hadn’t thought of ever needing.

And then the serene journey, that’s becoming so familiar now, to Inveraray. Loch Fyne was mirror flat. The air was completely still. 

We’d decided to stop at Auchindrain, just south of Inveraray, which we’d spied many times on the road before.  If you get the chance to go, you must. It is a dream. 

Auchindrain is a museum of a way of life now completely passed in Scotland… a small township of the type that once dotted the whole of the Scottish countryside.  Unlike many other museums of Rural life, which have recreated buildings threatened with demolition, this is an actual place that somehow, curiously, survived the huge economic and agricultural upheavals of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centurie, well into the 50s. The sense of history is palpable. The buildings, houses and barns are incredibly simple but very beautiful too. And very inspirational for Charlie and me in our own little project. 

You can walk around all the houses, with a guide book explaining who lived there and the history of each one. Pictures really do speak louder than words here. And I am afraid, as you can imagine, that I took a lot of pictures.  (By the way, if you do visit, buy the eggs for sale in the shop. They are delicious.  Hens roam everywhere.).

Amazing little house. 

Auchindrain is brilliant. It hasn’t been over-run with interpretation boards or this and that. It’s gentle, it’s thought provoking, it hasn’t been ruined by lottery-funded makeovers, it’s just totally right. Get there if you can.  Reminiscent, for those who know it, of the Lost village of Tyneham in Dorset.

And then, we drove west, and over to our own little piece of heaven.  The removals van was arriving the next morning.  That evening, the light was perfect, the sea was glass-flat. It was a moment to savour for ever. 

The veg garden off to the left.  The cottages NEARLY finished, and looking fantastic. 

That evening, in the bar of the Crinan hotel, the dogs were exhausted. As were we. 

And the following morning we were up with the lark. We had an early early breakfast,  in the hotel, and set off down the road to meet the removals lorry, arriving at 9 that morning. The light gleamed on the long road to the house.  A new adventure was about to begin. It’s one that readers of this blog are going to become familiar with.

Tonight, I’m back in London, as I say – Charlie has headed down to Dorset to give some love to the garden and to Henry, the cat. We’ve both got busy old weeks coming up. As I walked out of Euston station this evening, the bustle and chaos of London hit me like a wall. Don’t get me wrong – I love London; I love its mess, its chaos and creativity, its sprawling majesty, its ugliness and beauty, but I think I felt the contrast between here and the empty, wide open spaces of Scotland more intensely than ever. Much more so that when I return from Dorset.

When I read the many kind and generous comments left by readers from around the world on this blog, one of the recurring themes is that they find in some of my words and photographs a sense of respite from the pressures of the so-called ‘real’ world, from the madness of politics, on both sides of the Atlantic (and doubtless beyond).  Whether wittingly or unwittingly, I suppose this is true. And that’s because my eye is drawn to things that in some way or another, don’t really change, or don’t worry about politics. The dahlia show at the Malvern show – the people who grow those beautiful beasts – they know the important things in life. The dahlia fields at Heddon have seen the great crash of 1929, they’ve seen the rise of Hitler, the Second World War, economic boom and bust, the nuclear age, the rise and fall of the communist empire, and, as we tip through our own decades of this century, more and yet more cataclysmic changes. But life chugs on. A hundred years ago, when the Dahlia nursery was founded (in 1921), the men who were planting the first rows of dahlia tubers that spring had just come through the Great War; an event that would be far more brutally etched in their minds’ eye than New York on September 11th, 2001, is in ours today. And yet here the dahlia fields still are, doing their thing, brilliantly and beautifully.  And that’s what I like about life, and why I’ve said a million and one times now: look after, and nuture the things, the places, the people, the world that are in your direct gift to do so – like Deby, our Canadian friend, who so gently, carefully and thoughtfully maintains and looks after her friendships – around the world.

And be concerned for the rest, but don’t be consumed with fear about the things that you can’t control.  It’s a message that was reiterated to me again and again on our meandering journey, en route to the final destination this week.

 

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