Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Chicktastic

What feels like way back in June, I mentioned in this post that we had plans for the meadow at the back of our house and I am pleased to say that, a little late, I'm back to tell you what we've been up to.

Mr HenHouse has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes since the real henhouse arrived here at The Old Vicarage.   He's cleared an area of the meadow, trimmed away the tufty grass around the perimeter so he could install the electric fence, treated and built the henhouse, built a shelter and since cleared the entire bank so we have an uninterrupted view out over the meadow from the house.  Reader, if you hadn't guessed already, he's a keeper.




I'v been reading away any book and magazine about chickens I could get my hands on.  I like to throughly research whatever I am doing.  Since breaking up for the school holidays, the Master has been asking every day "Are we getting the chickens today?" but we wanted to be absolutely ready so the answer was generally no until one day, there were no more reasons to say no and the answer finally turned to yes!  In the end, we went to the outskirts of Bristol for our girls as our local breeder did not have any pullets available (young chickens) and I knew that Annie Hall had many of the breeds I was looking for.

We have a house for a dozen hens but had decided we would get maybe five or so, being the novice chicken keepers we are.  Of course, when we saw all the lovely chickens at Annie's, it was hard not to extend our list!  She assured us that it would be no harder looking after a few more and she also suggested we did not introduce any more chickens within a short space of time as this would stress our existing flock (which is something we had been thinking of doing) so in the end, home came eight hens.  We chose six hybrid hens, these are the modern chicken.  Hardy, easy to care for, vaccinated and with the added bonus of laying just about all year round.  They are still available in a lovely array of colours, shapes and sizes.  We have a Bluebell, a Rhode Rock, a CouCou Maran, a Silver Link and a Brown Speckledy.  We affectionately have termed these girls the fatties and they are lovely big fluffy bundles, who charge around ruling the roost!  We also have a hybrid White Leghorn who lays pure white eggs and is a funny little "upright" chicken.



Although we hadn't intended to, we also brought home two younger pure breed hens, being a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer because these girls, when they come into lay, will give us blue/green and dark brown eggs.  Being younger, they are still at the prehistoric dinosaur look stage!



So, here we are, finally there are hens in the henhouse!  Hello Henny Penny.


They seem very happy with their lot.  They spend all day outside in their run and then put themselves to bed at night as dusk falls.  We have an automatic device on the pophole so that it shuts at dusk and opens again at dawn, just in case we are ever not around to close the pop hole ourselves.  The girls are very clever and after a few nights, started to put themselves to bed in their house as dusk fell.  We have kept an eye on them and have had a few caught out by the automatic closing door so we've popped them in the back way but they soon learn!  They love going to bed.



They are a delight to sit and watch, their antics endlessly amusing and they are very sociable.  They come running as you approach the run and of course, they know when it is treat and corn o'clock.  Their favourite treats are watermelon and corn on the cob.  I think we can safely say they are very spoilt chooks.



We have a 50 metre electric fence in place as with so much space available to us, we wanted the girls to have as much room to roam as they could whilst staying safe.  One can never be too careful with Mr Fox about.  It is a complete joy to wake up of a morning and see the girls pecking about happily.


Their house came from Flyte So Fancy who, luckily for us, are based just over the border in Dorset.  The little box at the base of the ladder is now filled with gravel to help keep their feet clean in wetter weather.


Mr HenHouse has also built the girls a shelter as there are chickens on the allotments in our village and we spent some time observing them and noted how much they liked the cover of their shelter during the day.  He cut down some sycamore branches from our trees and then boarded the sides.  Of course, it had to have a little HenHouse-style makeover with some aqua-coloured wood treatment and "outdoor" bunting made from double-sided oilcloth and polyester webbing.  They love it and have gradually been turning the base into their dust bath but it has come into its own in the recent wet weather we've been having.


It's fair to say we have spent a fair amount of time outside with the girls whenever we can.  Of an early morning, when we had nice weather earlier in the Summer, I would wake early and take my quilts down and sit hand sewing the binding whilst watching them peck about.  We have also enjoyed the odd glass of something chilled out there of an evening and watched the sun set over the fields behind the girls' run.




I coud not fail to mention of course, that as well as being rather adorable pets, the girls are also very productive.  When you buy chickens as pullets, they are usually around 16-20 weeks old.  They come into lay usually at about 20-21 weeks old.  We were lucky in that the five chubby hybrids we bought from Annie were already around this age and so we hopefully would not have to wait long for eggs.  Well blow me if the first morning we came down to find there were two eggs in the nesting box.  Oh my, it was so egg-citing.  Sorry!


Since then, about a month ago, we have had eggs every day.  From the second day, we always had three or four, then one day we had five and now we regularly have five or six.  You really cannot beat the excitement of opening up the nesting boxes each day and looking for eggs.  We are continually amazed by the egg laying.  What a clever clever thing to do.  The girls get very excited when they have laid and come to the pophole of their house and loudly begin to cluck to let you know just what they've achieved!


Our latest big thrill has been that our White Leghorn, Snowdrop, who is a few weeks younger than the others, has now come into lay.  She gets very excited when she has laid an egg and makes a lot of noise for such a delicate girl.  Her eggs are a beautiful pure white and are quite small at the moment but will get bigger with time.  We have a huge variety of eggs and have had quite a few whoppers laid, many with double yolks, which is always super exciting.  Our record so far is an egg weighing 79 grams with a double yolk inside.  


As you may imagine, eggs now feature widely on the menu here in the HenHouse kitchen.  From my own Scotch eggs...


...to crustless healthy mini quiches...


...to a lunchtime frittata whilst watching the girls from our newly installed picnic bench for that very purpose.


I whipped up my first cake with their eggs to take to a friend's knit club group at her home recently.  There is something very satisfying about collecting your girls' eggs then using them in your own kitchen.


Getting the girls has been the most brilliant experience, we love every minute, they are great company and easy to look after and we also get delicious eggs.  Winner!


If you've ever been thinking about giving it a go, we couldn't give chicken keeping a bigger thumbs up and we are very happy to pass on our experiences to date. Xxx

Monday, 31 August 2015

Lanhydrock

On our way down to our holiday in Cornwall, we decided to pop in on a National Trust property and that was Lanhydrock.  It is a vast and sprawling estate with quite a walk from the car park to the house (with golf buggies for the less able) but it is a pleasant stroll and helps to get you in the mindset of the people who must have enjoyed living here many years ago.  The house inside is now presented as if it was in the early 1900s.


Although the building is essentially very old, being Jacobean, a devastating fire meant that it was largely rebuilt in the late Victorian era.


I took oodles of photos inside but you were understandably not allowed to use a flash and it was a gloomy day so apologies if the photos are a little dark.

What we really loved about Lanhydrock is that the NT have staged it as if the family is still in residence.  So as you can see, the table in the dining room is set ready for dinner.  This really helped bring the visit alive.  Sometimes when you visit these old houses, it can all seem a little remote.



There were a lot of rooms to see in this house which was also a plus and it was not too busy on the day of our visit.  Although many formal rooms were on show, my favourites tend to be those with a more down-to-earth feel.  I therefore loved the nursery and school room and the Nanny's bedroom with its stunning handmade quilt.




The lady of the house's boudoir was pretty special, though.  In true Victorian style, a lot of the rooms were quite colourful and sometimes dark in their decor but this space was like a breath of fresh air, light and bright.  Again, seeing all the little personal effects on display was a really positive experience for me.




I think I would have liked being the mistress of Lanhydrock very much.


My absolute favourite part of this house tour however, and yes I have saved the best for last, was looking round the kitchens.  I am really interested in interiors styling and kitchens in particular and those of the Victorian/Edwardian era tend to be my favourite.


What was so incredible at Lanhydrock was that there was not just a grand kitchen, or even the addition of a pantry, but a whole series of rooms.  Oh my!


The main kitchen was a very large room with an extremely high ceiling.  It was difficult to take a photo of it in its entirety, both because of the scale and because there were quite a lot of visitors in this room.  What is it that makes kitchens so fascinating?


I was drooling madly over all the beautiful pots, pans and utensils on display.  I see pieces like these on stalls at antiques fairs such as Shepton Mallet and am always tempted.


The cabinetry itself was also stunning, the quality palpable as you would expect from the Victorians but also immensely practical.  It struck me how today's kitchen styles still hark back heavily to this era.




On from the kitchen to various rooms such as the scullery, pantry, bakehouse and dairy.  Marvellous.







This room was my favourite.  I forget what its official name was but it had me swooning.  I was in here a long time and I took lots of photos of all the detailing for when the time comes to have our own kitchen refitted.  From the cupboards to the labelled jars to the jam tarts, it was perfection to me.






Onwards to yet another room, we started to wonder just when the kitchen tour would end.



In fact, it ended in the cheese room which was utterly jaw dropping with its central marble slab complete with water connection and drainage channels, gorgeous light fitting and tiled walls.  Around the edges of the walls ran wooden slatted shelves topped with various lovely old chargers and jugs and pretend cheeses.  As with the other rooms, it was staged as if a maid could have appeared to prepare the cheese at any moment.




I don't think I've ever enjoyed visiting another National Trust (or similar) property as much as this one and we were all in agreement on that.  It was fabulous and I can't wait to go again!  I will definitely be going when it is time to design our kitchen, I cannot think of better inspiration.  Should you find yourselves anywhere nearby, please do make time for a visit as it is truly worth it.


I have only been able to share a little portion of the property with you here (completely biased towards the kitchen, of course) but the grounds are also beautiful, especially this little chapel replete with roses round the arch.


Heaven!

Friday, 28 August 2015

A Cornish Getaway

Reader, it's been a very long time.  Let's not dwell on the why and just get on with catching up.

I can't believe the very long school Summer holiday is nearly over but it is.  Rewinding back to early July, we found ourselves packing up Delilah Disco and heading across the border, two to be precise, a little deeper into the wondrous West Country.  We were heading for somewhere I'd long since wanted to visit, namely a magical little place called Trevoole in Cornwall.


Trevoole is a little cluster of old stone buildings centred around a traditional farmhouse with a large barn converted into two further dwellings and numerous outbuildings along with pretty sprawling gardens.  Trevoole has previously featured in Country Living magazine and I have drooled over its pages.  Now was our turn.

Both the farmhouse and one portion of the barn are available to rent on a self-catering basis.  The farmhouse was under renovation so we found ourselves in Primrose Cottage for the week but both are equally picture book, comfy and cosy.


It does feel as if you have stepped back in time when you stay at Trevoole.  The owners spent many years renovating the buildings to a superb standard and collecting all manner of fabulous vintage goodies.


The owner's side of the barn...


The farmhouse...


The interiors of the buildings have been furnished with much care and attention to detail.  It is clear it has been created with love and also with flair that money cannot buy.  Yet nothing looks contrived and everything works.  I fell in love with the farmhouse kitchen.  I can't really imagine a more perfect room from its 1930s solid fuel AGA to its fabulous old dresser and those gorgeous Colefax and Fowler Bowood curtains.


Upstairs, the cosy bedrooms are a delight with original wooden floorboards, feather-leaking eiderdowns (just as they should be) and Enid Blyton books waiting to indulge one's flights of fantasy.




Travis, the owner, was kind enough to show us round his own home and we were wowed by the effect in the library which is a circular room, once thought to be a threshing barn now furnished with a nod to hunting prints and the books colour coded with delightful vintage lettered spines.  Everything has been created from scratch, the wood panelling for example is made from cut-down doors.


The pièce de resistance for an old fabrocoholic such as myself?  The little laundry room in the farmhouse.  


There are no words.  Pick that chin up off the floor!



Outside, there is still much to explore at Trevoole.  The garden keeps going and going and we would round a corner and find yet another outbuilding, lovingly repurposed into maybe a potting shed, a little shop, even a café.



There was a gorgeous kitchen garden complete with active beehive.



And a Morris Minor Traveller, of course!



Trevoole is in a little stage of transition at the moment.  Its owners having gone their separate ways, it is now still owned by Travis who has been hands on in its transformation for the past thirteen odd years.  The quaint tearoom and shop is closed at the moment while he finds his feet but here's hoping that one day, it will be back up and running.


I couldn't imagine a more lovely spot and if you find yourself looking for a special place to getaway, I can't recommend Trevoole highly enough.  It's a magical place we have felt privileged to visit.  I'm hoping we will be back.