Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 20 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, while taking our dog Welly for a walk, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could start sharing with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

Friday
Apr172015

Kitty Jay’s grave – the making of a Dartmoor legend

Hound TorThere is a very pretty drive that I enjoy up over Dartmoor that is especially lovely just now with primroses and gorse in flower. It takes you down winding narrow lanes and then up over wild stretches of moorland, and past some of the best know tors such as Haytor and Hound Tor. Abount a mile from Hound Tor, I always glance to my left as we go past a small junction to check that there are flowers on the grave… and there always are! This is Jay's Grave (or Kitty Jay's grave), supposedly the last resting place of a young woman who is thought to have died in the late 18th century. It has become a well-known landmark and is the subject of local folklore, and several ghost stories…

Since it was first set down in the late 19th century, the story attached to the grave has changed and been greatly embellished, as these things so often are. An early newspaper account of the discovery of the grave appears in the North Devon Journal for 23 January 1851, under ‘County Intelligence’: 

Kitty Jay's grave, complete with flowers, when I drove past earlier this month...“In the parish of Manaton, near Widdecombe on the moor while some men in the employ of James Bryant, Esq. of Prospect, at his seat, Hedge Barton, were removing some accumulations of way soil, a few days since, they discovered what appeared to be a grave. On further investigation, they found the skeleton of a body, which proved from enquiry to be the remains of Ann Jay, a woman who hung herself some three generations since in a barn at a place called Forder, and was buried at Four Cross Lane, according to the custom of that enlightened age.”

There are numerous other reports, with the name changing from Betty Kay to Mary Jay and then Kitty Jay. But the unchanging fact is that it is the body of a young woman who took her own life in tragic, if sadly predictable, circumstances.

As told by one ‘Granny Caunter’ the sorry tale was:

“Mary Jay was the poor maid's name. I heard my mother tell of it, when I was a li'l maid. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, 'prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree. One day, when her was quite young, her tooked a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam. Her was quite dead when the farmer found her. Us reckoned 'twas the same old story – a young man, who wadn't no gude to her, poor maid."

HaytorBy 1965 Jay's Grave had become a major Dartmoor attraction, with tourist coaches stopping there while the driver related his own version of the story. The mysterious appearance of fresh flowers upon the grave was always mentioned. 

Recent versions of the legend include embellishments such as the orphaned baby being taken into the Poor House in Newton Abbot where she was given the name Mary Jay. She sometimes acquires the name Kitty after being sent to Canna Farm as a teenage apprentice. In one version she is wronged by a local farmhand, in another, she finds romance with the farmer's son. Either way she becomes pregnant which results in her being thrown out of the farm. Such is her shame and despair that she hangs herself in a barn, or perhaps from the great kitchen fireplace lintel, or else she drowns herself in a shallow pool.

It is said that the three local parishes of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground, so she was buried at a crossroads, which was standard practice for suicide victims at the time.

There are always fresh flowers on the grave, but how they get there is the subject of local folklore – some claim they are placed there by pixies. By 2007 the placing of flowers had expanded into all sorts of offerings: coins, candles, shells, small crosses and toys. Motorists, passing at night, claim to have glimpsed ghostly figures in their headlights, others report seeing a dark, hooded figure kneeling there.

All I know is that whenever I have driven past, and that is quite a few times in the past 25 years or so… there are always fresh flowers there. So who knows, perhaps it is the Dartmoor pixies looking after the poor girl… 

Tuesday
Apr142015

New videos planned for the website

Here’s a little heads up about our plans for the website (and this blog) in the next week or three. I thought it might be fun to make some videos that show you clear demonstrations.

I haven’t been able to go up to Peterborough (Create and Craft) to take part in programmes for a little while now and I miss the demonstrating and very good reasons to make cards! I am happy that this is my time to be here for my parents, heavens they gave me enough help and love when I needed it, but a crafter can’t be starved of card making for too long!

The card you can see here will be the first video as it’s one of those cards that are so much easier to show rather than to tell how to create!

The image is from our Daphne Brissonnet pad and the fan dies are from our Signature range, the fans (all of them) come in among my top ten Signature die choices.

So be patient with me and the videos will start shortly ... I am hoping for next week but sometimes life gets in the way so it would be the week after. Hope you’ll enjoy them.

Friday
Apr102015

The reasons for seasons…

We’ve had several glorious warm and sunny spring days this week – so lucky for everyone enjoying an Easter break down here in Devon, or indeed for those of us fortunate enough to live here! I love springtime and the whole cycle of rebirth and renewal heralding the arrival of longer days and (hopefully) more sunshine – so uplifting!

Somehow, seasons used to be more clear-cut when I was a child. Summers were warmer, it always snowed at Christmas and I am sure all of that is probably poppy-cock – it’s just childhood memories that seem to change as you get older. But what really makes our seasons and the weather that they bring? I thought I’d investigate…

What causes the seasons?

The seasons are a result of the tilt of Earth's axis in relation to the Sun as we orbit around it. This tilt (all 23.5º of it!) means that throughout our orbit around the sun (which is our calendar year) certain areas of the earth are tilted towards the Sun, while other areas are tilted away from it. This creates a difference in the amount of sunlight that reaches different parts of the Earth and that’s how we get the seasons.

When does spring officially start?

Well, that depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological spring.

The date on our calendars that marks the start of spring refers to the astronomical season which is a result of the Earth's axis and orbit around the sun. However, organisations like the Met Office use meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.

Since the astronomical seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. This makes it difficult to compare seasons between different years and resulted in the introduction of the meteorological calendar. This splits the calendar into four seasons of approximately the same length. The astronomical seasons run approximately three weeks later than those of the meteorological calendar. So now you know!

Which is your favourite season?

Do tell me your favourite. I think I could make a case for each season in turn and I am very grateful to live in a country where there are actual seasons rather than constant sunshine... would one of you remind me I said that in the depths of next winter please!

 

Tuesday
Apr072015

Glorious Spring blooms

Today was the first time I have revelled in wonderful spring sunshine and enjoyed wandering round the garden, picking flowers here and there to decorate the house. It's hard to find enough to pick during the long winter months but now the garden is really beginning to wake up.

I could have picked a wonderful handful of daffodils. I have mini daffs like Tom Thumb and standard singles and doubles. The primroses are all flowering like mad and, of course, my beloved hellebores have been showing off for weeks. I always hesitate to pick too many of them though as I enjoy how they look outside my kitchen windows!

Today I had to choose between a magnolia and some amazing camellias and they were such showgirls I had to go with the camellias. Technically the shrubs are all towards the end of the garden where I have the more woodland section. However, the flowers are so bright and large they shout at you and look amazing from all the windows at the back of the house. 

So here are some really gorgeous camellias called Anticipation, maybe because they anticipate the wonderful flowers and shrubs I have coming into flower for the next few months. 

Have you got anything lovely out in the garden yet?

Friday
Apr032015

Puppy time!

As many of you will know, we lost our beloved Wellington before Christmas. Sadly my partner in crime writing, Julia, then lost her dog Tilly in February this year. Richard and I have decided to take a little break and think about our possible future doggy companion… But Julia decided she couldn't bear to be without a four-legged friend, and so here is the story of her new puppy. You will never guess what she is called...

“I am lucky enough to live on Dartmoor, with access to farmland, open fields and small sheltered farm tracks. Walking every day with my dog and watching the seasons change was always a very important part of my life. When Tilly went, I felt bereft. Knowing that I would never be able to replace the two wonderful collie cross dogs that had been my companions for the past 18 years, Tilly and her predecessor Rosie, I decided it might be wise to go for something completely different. Good friends of mine have had two delightful German pointers, the latest one being wirehaired. She is a particularly delightful dog so I decided this would be the breed of choice.

After much searching, and a very long trip to south west Wales, I arrived home with a gorgeous little bundle of fluffy puppy! Rather predictably, she has been named Moss. Yes, the same name as the dog in Joanna and my novels but of course that Moss is a dog, not a bitch, and he is a collie cross. 

Choosing a name that suits the personality is important, so although I was pretty sure I wanted to call her Moss, I would only know if it was right for her once I actually met her. The first time I gazed into her bright little eyes I realised it was definitely the right choice as she has the most beautiful moss green eyes and not the normal soulful brown of most dogs. She is officially coloured liver (brown) with white ticking which makes for an extremely pretty speckled coat.

It is 18 years since I last had a puppy and it certainly makes you realise how much younger and fitter I was in those days! Having a puppy is very like having a toddler suddenly thrust upon you in your comfortable middle age, a mixture of sheer delight and utter exhaustion all at the same time.

We realised quite early on that Moss possesses extremely large paws… Which could only mean one thing – in due course we are going to be the owners of a rather large dog! When I first brought her home at 10 weeks she weighed a not insubstantial 5 kg. She was easy to pick up and wonderfully soft and cuddly. Now at 15 weeks she weighs a very hearty 9 kg and is getting quite difficult to pick up! However, I am pleased to say she still remains a delightfully affectionate little dog, well, quite a big dog actually.

She is doing us good too as we are enjoying long walks in the lighter evenings in the beautiful countryside where we live up here on Dartmoor. Pointers need a lot of exercise, so there will be no slacking! Introducing her to water in the rivers and streams that abound around here is great fun and her energy and enthusiasm for life is wonderful to behold. She is currently very gangly, rather like a foal, and watching her gallop about, quite often falling over her own feet, has us in stitches. Like a young child, as soon as she has used up her energy – that’s it – she falls sound asleep, and that’s when we get to enjoy wonderful snoozy cuddles!

Apart from chewing everything and everybody at the moment, she is turning out to be intelligent, energetic, brave, enthusiastic and extremely lovable. Rather like older doting parents, we are completely besotted and convinced that she is a future Crufts best in show or possibly canine Mastermind champion. But most of all, she is just our adorable and loyal companion.”