The Newt Revisited and Weekend Rituals

For the first time in months, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I got in the car and had an all-day outing together.  We went to The Newt hotel and garden in East Somerset.  We left quite early so that we could walk around the ever-evolving garden and then have a leisurely lunch at the hotel before drifting back home feeling full and very satisfied.

One Of The Views Across The Newt Gardens – With More Landscaping Underway In The Distance

We have visited The Newt garden a couple of times over the last year or so.  It is a wonderful space even at this time of the year.  The attention to detail everywhere is amazing.  The garden construction and quality exudes wealth, but also love for craftsmanship and plants.  What I like especially is that the garden is continuing to develop rapidly.  That makes it worth visiting time and time again, not just from one season to the next, but year to year.

A New Plant Frame In The Constantly Changing The Newt Gardens

The entry pass is valid for a year.  As a result, there is a risk that parts of the garden nearest the entrance and the surrounds of the café, cider works and firepit, are being overrun by local mothers with pushchairs with toddlers and babies finding socially distanced company in a lovely environment.  However, it’s nice to see children enjoying the garden and, anyway, there are several paths off the beaten track which could explore while LSW perused the quality products in the shop.

The Newt Hotel

Lunch, in a glass roofed annex to the carefully restored hotel and amid several equally trim outbuildings, was excellent.  We drank cider produced on the premises rather than wine.  I haven’t had cider for many years but it was lovely and, having become inured to the high cost of quality craft beer over recent years, I may buy some to take away next time we visit.  The whole day was a lovely break from lockdown routine.

The Newt Gardens: Beautiful Textures And Colours

In that lockdown routine, the differences between Saturdays and Sundays and every other day have become decreasingly distinct.  Those differences between workdays and weekends were huge pre-retirement.  For most of the latter couple of decades of my working life, I worked in London but returned to the family home in Gloucestershire on Friday nights and left again on Sunday afternoons.   So, not only was the weekend activity different from the other days, the location and immediate company was different too.

Sometimes work impinged on the weekend – sometimes very considerably – and that blurred the weekend but, now I’m retired, Saturdays and Sundays are almost identical to every other day.  At times it feels like it is only the day and date on the newspaper voucher I hand over at the newsagent every day that keeps me grounded in the progression of the week. 

However, there has remained some structure to my weeks in retirement and LSW and I do still have some rituals that distinguish between the weekends and the rest – albeit some have been disrupted by the current pandemic. 

For example, the pandemic and the associated lockdown of hospitality has disrupted our regular Sunday visit to the local pub.  Since retirement, and since the village pub reopened a few years ago, we have popped up to the pub, usually via a lengthy walk, to finish the weekend quick crossword over a couple of Sunday lunchtime drinks.   Now limiting our visits to a quick drink without a complementing lunch is disallowed under the lockdown restrictions.  The only good thing about this is that my weekly alcohol intake has reduced and so my New Year resolution with regard to alcohol is well within reach.

Forest Green Rovers’ Current Stadium (Second Highest in England After West Bromwich Albion’s The Hawthorns)

The Covid-19 pandemic has also disrupted my attendance at live local football on Saturday afternoons.  Two local teams I sometimes watch have played no football for several weeks and the team I love, Forest Green Rovers, have only been watchable on live internet streams.  Watching live football has long been part of my weekend schedule.  So, it felt a little bit wonderful (despite the bone crunching cold) when, yesterday, I was able to return to a live game at my football team’s stadium to watch the mighty Rovers triumph.  I’m still hoarse this morning from all the vocal support (through a face mask) during the game – just like the ‘old days’.

Getting Ready For Forest Green Rovers 2 Cambridge 0

Amid all this weekend routine disruption, one weekend ritual has been maintained: bread!  Breakfasts during the week are, for me, fruit, yogurt and granola; for LSW they are more varied but are usually porridge and some combination of fruit, seeds and syrup.  At weekends, we abandon all that healthy stuff and have slice upon slice of locally made bread (Salt Bakehouse sourdough is our favourite).   On Saturday’s I have it untoasted and slathered with home-made jam.  On Sundays I have it toasted with Marmite; always!  That way, I know which day is Saturday and which day is Sunday 🙂

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt.  This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail.  Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop.  It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution.  The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year.  We will certainly try to go back this summer.

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days.  We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February.  We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.

We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting.  On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free.  The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital.  He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people.  The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.

'Cannot Enter Cannot Exit' By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth

‘Cannot Enter Cannot Exit’ By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth (With The Dovecote In The Distance)

Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin.  I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them.  Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic.  Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier.  Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists.  We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again.  In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently.  Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us.  We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home.  Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency.  There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy.  However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.

Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed.  This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities.  I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort.  Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop.  LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.

Visiting The Newt And Going Abroad

Autumn is well and truly here.  The weather has been very variable.  Days of heavy rain sufficient to test guttering, fill the local streams to brimming, and force a frustrating postponement of a Forest Green Rovers Football Club fixture, have been followed by frosty nights and wonderfully cloudless, sunny days.  The trees are turning brown at different rates depending on their species and health.  The woodland views from my normal walk routes are glorious patchworks of subdued colour.

Autumn: Long Shadows, First Frost And Full Streams

Last week, Long-Suffering Wife LSW) and I used one of the days we had once reserved for a trip abroad, long since postponed, to do a more modest excursion into East Somerset.  Over the last five years or so, we have become quite familiar with the countryside there and some of the pubs, restaurant and galleries around Bruton.  It’s a lovely area and Time Out Magazine calls Bruton ‘a bit like an abridged Stoke Newington with better air quality’ with its interesting shops, eateries and architecture.

This time, we visited a new garden set in the grounds of a large mansion that has recently been developed as a hotel called The Newt.  The garden has only been open to visitors in recent months and is still under construction.  However, the main bones of the garden, services and on-site workshops (producing cider, bread and other delicacies), are in place.  It has great views over the local countryside and is already somewhere I would recommend highly.

£15 initially seemed a bit steep for a garden that is so young and new.  But whole enterprise exudes class, attention to detail and quality; the visit (including a lovely lunch) was very good value.  We arrived just in time for a very interesting garden tour by one of the 18-strong operational gardening and woodlands management team.  The guide was every bit as impressive as the things he pointed out and he was able to give a few insights into the history of the house and garden.

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The estate, of which The Newt has become a core feature, was created in the 17th century.  From 1785 it was home to several generations of the Liberal Hobhouse family, including Arthur Hobhouse, a founder of the national parks system in England and Wales.

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The South African pair of Karen Roos and Koos Bekker (a telecoms magnate) then bought the property in 2013.  They had previously developed Babylonstoren near Cape Town which is a marvellous garden and winery that LSW and I had loved during our visit to South Africa in 2017.  At The Newt, they have converted the Palladian fronted mansion into a luxury hotel and invested hugely in a transformation of the garden and outbuildings.  The have used the garden designer (a Frenchman called Patrice Taravella) they employed at Babylonstoren.  As a result, by design, The Newt has a similar feel to Babylonstoren but is a tribute to the apple and cider rather than the grape and wine.

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

The centre-piece is a walled, egg-shaped garden, called ‘The Parabola’ with multiple centres, terraces and running water.  It is filled with 250 varieties of apple tied to laths (thin strips of wood) pinned to the walls or being trained up metal arches.  All are under-planted simply with a relatively small variety of herbs.  The whole ‘Parabola’, is tilted south towards a huge view and is already spectacular.  It will be even more so when the apple trees are more mature.

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

This central show orchard is surrounded by a variety of differently cultivated areas.  These include cottage gardens, grass gardens, lawns populated by chickens, and three small walled ‘colour’ gardens filled with plants of white, then blue, then red.  Below the long lawn and bathing pond (now for newts!) in front of the hotel, the vegetable garden is particularly impressive (and clearly devoid of the badger and deer damage we are so familiar with at home!)  The woodland provides gentle walks away from the main buildings and we saw plans to open these up further.

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

We are planning to re-visit The Newt both in Spring and in about 4 years, by which time further developments will have taken place and the planting will have matured.

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

Now Autumn has arrived and LSW has finished work for the season, we plan to go on more trips like the one to The Newt.

Also, finally, we have scheduled a short trip abroad. With Brexit being postponed again we are slipping in a trip to Venice in November.  Given it is only for 3 nights, travelling by train is impractical so we are opting to offset our carbon expenditure in the air.  Ryan Air include this option in their booking process but it appears not to charge enough given that the ‘bad’ gases from flights go immediately into the upper atmosphere where they are not broken down.  I used Solar Aid to top up the offset contribution.

We have always recognised that we needed to visit Venice – so many have told us that it must not be missed and that it is unbelievably beautiful.  Hopefully the weather will be as kind as it was when we visited The Newt but I’m sure we will love it anyway, and won’t have damaged the planet too much.

Postscript: Goodbye October Celebrated Nicely In Our Local Pub's Octoberfest

Postscript: Goodbye October – Celebrated Nicely At Our Local Pub’s Octoberfest