Saturday, 11 July 2015


I had local-to-me bloggers Dawn and Pam visit me yesterday.  We had a lovely morning chatting about all sorts, and how our lives have developed to get us where we are now.

Dawn mentioned being inspired by the books of Elizabeth West - Hovel in the Hills, Kitchen in the Hills and Garden in the Hills.  They were my inspiration too, although I have to say I think their frugality from necessity - they were on the Dole and found, as English incomers in 1960s North Wales found that paid work was very hard to come by - was a little daunting.  To literally have NO spare money at all, only money for absolute essentials isn't easy - and I can speak from experience in our early years here in Wales. The Wests grew all their own vegetables, had a stove for heating, hot water and cooking which would run on the cheapest coal, wood or even turf.  They had a windcharger on the hill which supplied them with electricity and their water supply came from a spring and in summer, showered in the garden!   They were "Eco-friendly" almost before the term ever existed.

Then came along John Seymour with his books on self-sufficiency and added fuel to the fires of inspiration.  I can remember dipping into an illegal overdraft limit to buy his book when I saw it in W H Smith's Above Bar shop in Southampton.  I just COULDN'T leave the shop without it!

I read all the books written by Derek Tangye about their idyllic-seeming lives on a Cornish clifftop smallholding, with a tiny cottage where they still were able to entertain the good and the great who they had met in their London days.  I didn't think growing flowers for the London market was for me, but the books were inspiring in their own way and I loved reading about the donkeys and the cats and the beautiful Cornish scenery and their way of life had great appeal.

Radio 4 used to run a delightful series on a Saturday morning, when A Small Country Living with Jeannine McMullen was aired.  She would travel around the country, interviewing real country people and their connection with country living.  I can remember ducks with the "July sprawls" to this day!  She lived in a delightful smallholding in the Carmarthenshire hills at Llandeusant, looking across to the Black Mountain and wrote about it so beautifully in her books "A Small Country Living", "A Small Country Living Goes On" and "The Wind in the Ash Tree".  All on Amazon at just a penny a pop if you haven't discovered her yet.  Her writing is delightful.  She really made me want to move to Wales - more than Elizabeth West did.

I forgot to mention (so have just popped back to do so) the novels of Lillian Beckwith, which were set on a Hebridean island, where she (an incomer) became a crofter.  Wonderful characters, and a gentle humour, and a life so different from any I could imagine.  I think the first one was "The Hills Is Lonely", and then there were (in no particular order) "A Rope in Case", "The Loud Halo", "The Sea for Breakfast", "Lightly Poached" and "Beautiful Just." Just checked on Amazon, and there are a couple more: "A Breath of Autumn" and "Breuach Blend", neither of which I remember reading.  Ooh, and there are more, "The Spuddy",  "About my Father's Business" and "An Island Apart".  Such comforting reading, and a way of life which probably hasn't changed a great deal in the more remote Scottish islands.  This only came to me because I wrote "beautiful just" in my Facebook comment, and suddenly thought where it came from.

Below: Raubritter in my garden.  Isn't she beautiful?

Of course, anyone who can remember the 1970s will remember The Good Life, which further fuelled my fire, and in 1998 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage" converted many more people to growing their own, and lifting the veil off home-butchery and charcuterie, and the wheel still turns.

Over the last 40 years I have collected books about baking, bread making, and preserves, and still have a terrible weakness for new ones along these lines, although I know I probably have all those recipes already in other binding!

I think my real inspiration comes from my maternal grandmother who made all her own cakes, preserves, wines, clothes and had an allotment to grow her own fruit and vegetables.  Go gran!!  I think I am "a chip off the old block" as folk used to say.

What was your inspiration in life?


  1. The thing which drives us is to eat as much food as we can which has not been processed, therefore removing most of the flavours and adding in salts, sugars ect. We want to make as much as we can, we grow a small amount, sometimes it is cheaper to buy, but the fruit and veg from the supermarkets have no taste. We are hoping to go pick your own soon.

  2. I have the Elizabeth West books and soon, many thanks to you, will have the jeannine McMullen ones as well. I do not have a copy of Seymour as I grew up "living the life". I have read the Derek Tangye books and found them entertaining, The Good Life was a light hearted look at "growing your own" but it was Jerry that I found the most real of the characters, I met several Downtrodden "Wagepacket" husbands during my days as a Barmaid and then a Landlady.
    I have always had either a large garden or an allotment, and at times had both.Simply down to my upbringing, this garden is the smallest that I have ever had but it suits me. I can grow a small amount of a wide selection and swap to try other crops. I suppose that My Maternal Grandfather was my inspiration, a 6' 4" true gentle man. I never heard him raise his voice at any time, when he wanted to be heard over the hubbub he simply stood up and hey presto instant silence.

  3. BTW I forgot to say thank you for a lovely visit, I love the garden, nettles and all (food for the butterflies) it has the hard structure that is so essential to support the soft billowing country garden style. The very fact that it is not forced into submission and "tidied within an inch of its life" made it perfect to me.

  4. We share a book-reading history! My very first Derek Tangye book, "Cottage on a Cliff" was bought to take on holiday to Cornwall and when I had read it, I wondered if it was a true story. So we set out along the coastal path, just as described in the book and imagine how thrilled I was when we saw the two donkeys at the far end of their field. I called their names and they trotted across to me! Wow! From that day on, I was a besotted fan of all Derek's books and have them all on my bookcase. I mourned his loss when Jeannie died - and cried at his next book. Cried when he died and since then have visited the land that is now a memorial to them both, a very peaceful and thought-provoking place.
    I also have the Elizabeth West books and thanks to you, have just ordered the 3 Jeanine McMullen books. (My piggy bank is feeling rather light . . . )

  5. Yes, yes and yes ( have all those books, wanted to live as Self sufficiently as possible, wanted to simplify to a cottage) only we stayed in Suffolk, did up a chalet bungalow, grew our own, stayed in employment and raised 3 children.
    Still want the Hovel, if only we could sell this place!

  6. It was a lovely morning yesterday at your glorious home, with lots of nooks and crannies and so many interesting items,, a real homely home were you feel comfortable and welcomed, and a lovely garden to match not manicured to within an inch of its life. Of course interesting company with yourself and Pam made it just right.
    The books you mentioned I have read and I have just taken delivery this morning of the book you showed me :-)

  7. Gosh, that was quick Dawn!! There's a LOT in it, and some new takes on things, which is always helpful. I was looking at cracker recipes in there this morning, so may blow the dust of my mixer this afternoon, although I am rereading Hovel in the Hills and don't want to stop!!! I wish my OH had found time to cut the lawn, but the rain earlier in the week put that on hold. It looks much tidier with the lawn cut. I have always liked cottage gardens, and that is what I will always aspire to.

    Sue - you did the self sufficiency bit (and FAR better than me, as I usually had Keith at my elbow talking me out of things - such as goats, I never did get my goats . . .) At least you had enough home grown food to fill the freezer. Now you can buy a Nice Hovel and relax in it - far more sensible!!

    Rambler - oh, how lovely to have been to Minack and met the donkeys, and been back to the Sanctuary made in Jeannie's memory. I follow the Minack Facebook page, which has made me want to go down there and see it all for myself. You will LOVE the Jeannine McMullen books, I promise.

    Pam - I can see I have caused a rush on Jeannine McMullen's books. We will have to go up to Llandeusant churchyard and put flowers on her grave. If you and Dawn haven't been up to Lyn-y-Fan Fach yet, perhaps we could all do that walk? It's magical, though kills my legs and lungs because it is one of those looooooooong steady climbs, and I do better, strangely, with shorter sharper hills, though I puff more! You are so kind about the Pond nettles!!! I did pull them out in the spring but they have grown again behind my back. One thing I CAN boast about is the wildlife pond, which I didn't show you and Dawn. It scores a 10/10 as a wildlife habitat for all the insects and invertebrates in it. Like you, I have come across a few Jerry's in my life. Poor sods. You were lucky to grow up practicing the good life - living off the land - though things have changed so since our childhood.

    Marlene - I try to avoid processed foods too. "Boughten" cake is always such a disappointment and as for "boughten" jam - well, there is just NO comparison. Even if you just have a small garden, it is amazing how much you can grow. I am the only veg eater here now (my OH being a fussy devil) so I have had to cut down from the 100 runner bean plants I used to grow every year - 4 or 5 crammed around each cane! Trouble is, that makes more room for the wretched weeds!

  8. I am only to happy to visit the churchyard and of course do the climb, just see when you can escape.

  9. I adored the Derek Tangye books - that really brought back memories BB
    I think the roses have done particularly well this year. I fed mine early with bone meal
    and Gertrude Jeykll has been a mass of bloom. Not unlike the rose you have posted.

  10. So many books for me to discover, thank you.
    Your coffee morning sounds wonderful.
    I love your kitchen & that beautiful stove, do you bake on it, it all looks so cozy.
    Fondly Michelle

  11. yes count me in always up for a walk :-)

  12. Right, I shall have to go up and down our hill a few times each day to get fitter again - I've not had time for proper walks since Spring. It's lovely up there.

    Michelle - I know you will enjoy any and all of those books. They are of a different time, when indeed life was very different and it truly was possible to "escape to the country" without needing to pay serious money for a bit of land and an unimproved cottage. Thank you for the complement about my kitchen (though I prefer yours!). The Hergom (a Spanish stove) is no good for cooking IN since we converted from solid fuel to oil, but it cooks beautifully on the top and keeps us cosy all winter - and it looks the part! Yes - it was a LOVELY coffee morning, but I made sure I hid my "efforts" at patchwork!!

  13. Pat - sorry missed you. My roses have bloomed well - apart from the Albertine climber up the front of the house, which has been sulking for years despite liberal bonemeal. I shall give it half a bucket of 6X chicken manure and see if that can buck its ideas up! Have you visited the Minack Facebook page? It will make you want to book a holiday down there!

    Pam - goody, a gang of three on a spree!!!

  14. My good friend Fi said: "My inspiration and role models where my maternal grandparents who grew veg, made jam, crafts and delighted in doing so. I came to John Seymour late but loved the good life and HFW. I don't remember learning to knit but I expect my paternal grandmother had a hand in that and her crafting skills were second to none. My continuing inspiration are people like you and my other INEBG friends to remind me how I should live when I slip."

    Taken from my Facebook entry, as Fi couldn't post on here. I replied: "What a lovely post and I'm sorry you couldn't post on my blog. I will copy and paste it for you in your name, so your inspiration is shared. My mum taught me to knit - I'm not very good at it, but when pushed, and when I concentrate, I can even knit socks! Must re-learn that art. How lovely that us INEBG's are an inspiration to you as well."

    INEBG - Acronym for It's Not Easy Being Green, the series with the Strawbridge family in recent years.

  15. What an outstanding beautiful Raubeitter I am mesmerized.
    I just want to reach into the screen and feel the soft petals.
    Wonderful photos today.

    cheers, parsnip

  16. parsnip - I felt the same way, after seeing her at Cothay Manor that time. Keith tells me off for having stuff planted in pots, ready to go to our new home, but I really don't want to wait for them nor do I want to plant them here and leave them behind . . . Glad you enjoyed today's photos.

  17. A booklist we all read Jennie, think you made it your lifetime inspiration and succeeded happily, and can look back with calm content and forward of course to the next adventure. Somehow those early pioneers have got lost now, we live in an age that is totally money driven, not necessarily by the people but economic circumstance that have made 'greed' a reality, not sure of the way back either....

  18. I think such lifestyle changes as we have lived through are cyclical Thelma. Edward Thomas and others of his time became vegetarians, lived simply, preferring craftsman-made furniture to heavy Victorian pieces, grew their own vegetables and in the case of the women, threw away their corsets - not too far apart from burning our bras later in that century! It is possible to get back - to the Age of Aquarius? perhaps, and I know many more people are ecologically aware these days. It is a case of re-educating the money-driven mind. I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to live the life we have chosen and hope my children will find that city life palls on them in due course. I know that Danny wants to return to the countryside to bring HIS family up in due course . . . and Tam has already "returned to the land" now she is sharing an allotment with friends and keen on home made everything. It's just Gabby I have to work on!