Winter Warmth

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

Before Bressenden starts to prepare for its sixth year of hosting B&B guests, the quiet, largely guest-free period of the dark weeks around the solstice provides an opportunity to reorganise the wood shed and use up old stock, particularly as a fair number of trees came down during the recent storm. There are now new piles of logs dotted about all over the garden that will need to be collected, seasoned and stored. At this time of ridiculously high energy prices, a log fire is no longer an occasional treat but an all-day provider of heat. With long nights, short days, cold temperatures and often atrocious weather, the temptation is simply to hibernate. But this winter’s favourite pastime involves beating the hell out of enormous slices of tree trunk with an axe and a mallet. One learns by trial and error. It is strangely satisfying to go out in all weathers with thick leather gloves, protective goggles and tough shoes (essential to avoid toe injuries from falling steel, iron and heavy logs) and get to work in the sheltered space of the wonderful shed that Robert Ghent rebuilt for us. A second axe and a couple of heavy wedges are essential accessories and valued friends when an axe head gets stuck fast in an unyielding piece of wood. How satisfying, though, to wield these traditional tools with their smooth hickory handles and then to enjoy the fruits of one’s labours at the end of the day. Colin the gardener says that those who chop wood get warm twice. How true!

A Cold and Frosty Morning

Friday, December 16th, 2022

This photo was taken at 11 a.m., one hour before the sun would reach its highest point for the day in the azure sky. The moon is visible just above the treetops. It shows how little sunlight we have at this time of year, and a possible temperature of minus nine degrees Centigrade is forecast for tonight. The challenge is to prevent water pipes from freezing in one part of the house that lacks heating — the laundry room. It certainly is unusually cold for mid-December. Elsewhere in the garden the tree surgeons are busy felling trees and branches that have snapped under the weight of the snow.

White pre-Christmas

Monday, December 12, 2022

Thick snow fell last night, bringing an unusual realism to scenes usually depicted on Christmas cards, but seldom seen in real life in the south of England until at least January. The freezing temperatures and accompanying power cuts were not so welcome.

Paving the Way

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

During the days that followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II, when the late summer weather acquired a noticeable chill, here at Bressenden we had the main part of our paved terrace repointed and the wobbly steps repaired and cemented into place. The paving slabs were pressure-washed earlier in the summer, which cleaned the pavement thoroughly but also had the effect of dislodging much of the old and loose mortar. Now it looks all of a piece and there is much less risk of slipping and tripping. There should no longer be unsightly weeds growing in the gaps — at least for a year or two. Phase 2 of this large job, the long path past the sun dial down to the pond, will be done later. Part of it will have to be relaid on a rebuilt base, The mill wheel outside the front door looks much better too.

A white elephant and a nail brush

Monday, August 29th, 2022

It’s quite a while since my last news item. That is because it has been an unprecedentedly busy summer. Guests have stayed here most days and we are almost fully booked until October.

When I started the B&B I quickly realised that I was going to need a lot of machinery to cope with the laundry. My initial hopes of contracting out laundry or hiring bed linen were soon dashed when what few services existed in this area proved to be far too expensive. The tumble dryer that I bought was a huge disappointment. Not only are these things expensive to run, but pure cotton bed linen comes out far more creased than when hung out to dry on a washing line. Creased sheets need more ironing, which again costs time and money. The only thing I ever use the tumble dryer for these days is as a fluffing up machine for laundered towels. But no more! With the soaring cost of electricity, fluffing up towels by means of tossing them around in hot air seems a ridiculous and extravagant waste of electricity. As from last week I have been burning up the calories with the aid of a stiff nail brush. Smoothing and buffing up freshly laundered towels with a stiff brush is surprisingly hard work but is also surprisingly effective. It works much like a suede brush on goat skin shoes. The big white elephant of a tumble dryer stands unused in the laundry room as a memorial to the days of cheaper electricity.

Strawberry Season

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, at around 30 degrees Celsius from morning until evening. Strawberries that were pink in the morning were red and ripe by the evening. What can be nicer than to populate the breakfast fruit bowl with Kentish strawberries picked from the garden a few minutes before?

Regular visitors may wonder what happened to my colourful jars of jam. I reluctantly decided that guidance given by the Food Standards Agency confirmed my suspicion that the practice of decanting jam into containers, which might be opened and closed repeatedly for several days — or even weeks in the case of the less popular flavours — was not something I should continue to do. The risk of mould and/or contamination is simply too great. In addition, checking every jar every morning for signs of mould, not to mention carting all the jars to and from the fridge each day, was becoming too much of an onerous task, as well as taking up a lot of fridge space. When mould appeared, I would have to discard the whole jar, which was wasteful. For reasons of safety and hygiene therefore, I decided that sealed individual portions should replace my colourful array. Fortunately, Tiptree provides a good selection of fruit jams, as well as chocolate spread, honey and lemon curd. You will certainly find B&Bs that do supply home-made jams — and I have many memories of wonderful locally produced confitures eaten with my morning croissants in southern French chambres d’hôte — but in our damp English climate, especially when you live in the middle of the woods, mould is an ever-present hazard and I do not have the turnover of guests to warrant keeping ten flavours of jam in an unsealed, non-vacuumed state.

A Golden Cascade

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

We have reached peak season, for guests and rhododendrons, and the diary is full for the next couple of months. I don’t have much time to go in the garden, but while walking up the drive I was surprised to notice this magnificent laburnum tree half concealed in the woodland to the right. You can see in the photo how far to the left and the right its branches extend, poking their way through rhododendrons and pines, all jostling for space and light. What is less obvious is how tall this tree has grown. The topmost blooms (and there are more above the top of the picture) must be well over 50 feet above the ground. It is a shame that the tree is inaccessible, because its cascading golden flowers are truly spectacular. Here is a close-up of one of the blooms nearer to the ground. To reach it, one has to battle through a dense tangle of bushes and brambles. But what reward awaits the treasure hunter!

Laburnum flower

Burying the electrics

Sunday May 8th, 2022

The staff cottage is currently vacant. It is essentially an annexed bungalow, originally built as servants’ quarters, with a crazy layout, an inadequate bathroom and a lot of wasted space. It needs to be reconsidered, rearranged and reconfigured. To this end, we plan to regularise its odd shape at the back, take down the chimney, and either raise the roof in line with the rest of the house to create up upper storey with a couple of bedrooms and proper bathroom, or do something creative with the ground floor so that there is a good bathroom near to the bedrooms instead of at the other end of the building. That will make it a much more desirable and flexible space for a couple to live in and look after the grounds and garden. More details in due course.

The first step is to bury the overhead electricity mains cable so that it is out of harm’s way and not the death trap that it currently is for anyone who needs to check the roof or clean the gutters. Dan the builder spent four days in hard labour wielding diggers, drills and spades to dig a trench from the pole to the house, and the electricity crew spent Thursday and Friday laying new cables and dismantling the old ones, and Dan did all the backfilling and making good in record time. Today, apart from a new line of cement marking the location of the trench, you would never know that such a major job had just taken place. Two paw prints made by one of the cats adorn the fresh cement. Next step is for the architect to draw up the plans.

April Fool

Friday, April 1st, 2022

Following yesterday’s bunch of golden daffodils, this was the view from upstairs this morning at 7.30, with the temperature barely above zero degrees Celsius. The blizzard came and went within half an hour, and by 9 o’clock, the grass was green again.

White gold

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Last week saw high temperatures and sunshine hot enough to make it impossible to sit outside without parasols and sun hats. This week we are back to single figures and night frosts. Today we had even snow showers — the first snow since 2020. The daffodils in the garden are nearing the end of their flowering season.