Last Saturday we went to Dunster by Candlelight*. Always held the first weekend of December, Dunster by Candlelight is a pleasant way to see the village and indulge in a spot of (Christmas) shopping at the same time. The title is only slightly misleading – there are quite a few candle lanterns – and almost all of the shops are open late. We saw a medieval procession – wassailing I think, although I might have mistaken this fire lit procession for something else – and a samba drum band and drank many cups of mulled wine with brandy. We also snuck into the castle and admired the decorations and wall paintings and enjoyed the medieval style craft market in the cobbled stables area.
Dunster, for those not aware, is a medieval village with age-old cobbled streets and an old yarn market in the middle. Both sides of the main street leading up to the castle are filled with a variety of little shops. Including Horse & Crook. Which is a darling little find, filled with an ever-changing selection of vintage and hand-made home and garden accessories as well as being a florist. I always make a beeline for Horse & Crook whenever we visit Dunster and not just because they have a beautiful dog called Maisie who is always interested in some attention.
Horse & Crook was the first place I have found down here which sells only natural candles (usually plant or soy wax in this case) in taper dinner candles as well as pillar and votives. They also have, in the winter, a beautiful selection of handknitted gloves and wrist warmers, soaps and body butter. It is an excellent place for present shopping and they are, again, the only place in the south-west, so far as I have found, to sell my beloved V V Rouleaux ribbon. I have been known to buy reels of garden twine in shades of russet and stormy blue for no other reason than they looked so beautiful.
Barely anything in the shop is pre-packaged. My lovely white plant wax candles came tied in a scrap of velvet ribbon and were then wrapped in tissue paper and handed over in a recycled paper bag. Ribbon comes on card or wooden reels; soap in paper parcels. A beautiful shop and one that I can never leave empty-handed.
They also have a website, for those whom Dunster is perhaps too far away to pop over one afternoon. The selection on the website is in no way representative of the collection at the shop and seems a little too handmade, but perhaps that is all part of the charm.
Horse & Crook
High Street, Dunster
(Image borrowed from Horse & Crook website)
*My top tip for Dunster by Candlelight is to leave your car in either Minehead, Porlock or Watchet and get the park and ride buses. We walked down to the bus so, for once, both of us could drink as much mulled wine as we fancied without worrying about the return journey. We also only realised that the Tithe Barn was open right at the end of the evening – the beautiful church of St George also has candlelit carols at various points which we discovered too late to enjoy. A programme is available (although at £1 we opted not to purchase) and this might have been useful if “not missing things” was the theme of our evening. It wasn’t, as it happened, so we didn’t mind.
If you, like me, wondered where to get a Christmas tree in the West Somerset area, you could do worse than getting one from the Crown Estate, Dunster, who sells locally grown trees at Dunster Woodland Products (also known locally as Minehead Saw Mill). The trees are all grown just down the road and we bought a lovely little one for a very reasonable price.
After all, if you eat locally it stands to reason your tree purchasing should be local too.
October brought weekdays of high winds and autumnal rains interspersed with weekends of glorious sunshine. The leaves clung to their summer tones refusing to really submit to the russets and ambers and squash tones which illustrate my favourite of all the seasons. Until this last week when the moor seemed alive with browns and reds and the trees so glorious I could stop and photograph every single one, if only I had the time.
On Exmoor, October means two things. Deer and apples. The deer are rutting although I am sad to say personally the only stag I have seen was at 2am, driving home across the moor when we encountered a handsome fella stood illuminated briefly in our headlights before he cantered off, effortlessly bounding over a five bar gate. The Combes (valleys covered in ancient woodland, and we live in one) are supposed to be alive with the sound of deer. Sadly, all I have heard is owls.
Of apples however we have had moor success. We have eaten most of our small offering that our garden produced and have bought plenty of local juice. Today we went to our community apple juice and watched juice being made from apples grown in the village. Emphasises the use of so many apples in Halloween traditions and has given me a craving to make toffee apples for pudding.
There are many things that I miss about London. I thought restaurants would be one of them but there is a surprisingly good selection of places to eat to choose from down here. We are slowly attempting to try out them one by one.
Surrounded by pubs and hotels, Piggy in the Middle is situated bang in the middle of Porlock, along the stretch of ‘high street’ which is lit up by pretty little lights and looks so welcoming as you come down the hill and through the village. On Exmoor we are lucky to have a fantastic selection of local produce being both on the moor and coastal. We have organic produce everywhere we turn and thankfully Piggy in the Middle serves up yummy dishes full of local food.
Fine dining it’s not. The house wine comes in a carafe, the napkins are black linen, it’s a little faux french in decoration and the coffee is less than desirable but the food is nicely cooked and the service is friendly. Too many viewings of Masterchef and Junior Roux have led me to notice things like plate choice, symmetry and style of the food and precisely how acidic the beurre blanc is yet what really matters on a Thursday night when you book with ten minutes notice is that the food is cooked by someone who knows how to choose their ingredients. We shared a prawn, rice and salad dish and a herb and tomato crusted salmon fillet with a sticky toffee pudding and felt satisfyingly full but not overstuffed. The chef came out to speak to us and there was a happy atmosphere.
Not somewhere to go on a first date but an enjoyable place to have a casual supper.
Piggy in the Middle
Exmoor National Park, Somerset
R (reading from West Somerset Free Press) (struggling not to laugh) “…Germaine Greer had the [hall] in stitches over her irreverant view of life the universe and all things feminine…”
M (snorting out his wine) “…I’m not quite sure that’s quite accurate… haha… Germaine Greer…discussing “all things feminine”…haha… are you sure it says feminine?”
R (kindly) “yep. But I’m not sure that feminine is quite what they meant”.
When I have a moment or two to spare I will be back to report on the arts festival events that I did attend and share why I thought Germaine Greer’s feminist stance is out-dated, irrelvant and how I reacted when she flirted with my husband…
One wet Tuesday evening we went crabbing at Porlock Weir. Winding our lines down into the murky water with bits of bacon attached to temp the crabs up and into a bucket for no particular purpose other than it was a fun way to pass the evening. And then suddenly, the sun came out and we were bathed in glorious sunshine….
Something to remember in the darkening days of September, where I turned round and the indian summer had gone. Where the air has such a chill to it that the cottage is damp and I need a torch to find the gate again when I come home after work.
Our first year in Somerset marches on. It does not hang around for me to savour summer but pushes relentlessly on. September. Autumn. It is as if a page has flipped; the light is undertoned with amber in the sunshine and a strangely peaceful steely grey when it is not. Leaves are falling, the rain is no longer the laughing rain of a summer storm but more forceful. A taste of what is to come. The fronts scud off the sea, the sky seems bigger, emptier. The tourists have faded fast. The roads are full of pheasants not cars. Term has begun and those that are left are the hardy walkers and campers with their boots and rucksacks and plastic-backed maps. The season is ending and the village events have started. Carnivals, art weeks, apple days, a celebration of the bounty of summer and a collective urge to celebrate as the nights draw in.
I stood yesterday upon a gate, stretching up to pluck blackberries off the top of the bush. The rain of the morning gradually receeding over the moor and a warm sunshine broke through the clouds. A buzzard wheeled overhead, it’s cry just audible over the sound of the rushing water. When my bowl was full I climbed off the gate. Crossed the tiny lane and went back over our bridge into our garden. I did the same last week with a couple of kilos from the same bush. That day, I went into the garden, picked some early eating apples from the tree, went to the kitchen and made pie. I think the flour I used travelled the furthest. Tree to table in two hours.
In London the seasons came and went, marked not by weather but by fashion. Here, the change is daily; the flowers that grow in the lanes which mark my journey to work, the colour of the heather on the moor*, the movement of the sheep, the clouds which pass over. The size of the pheasants littering the roads. I miss London and fashion so much I dream of frantically shopping like my life depends on it. And yet, there is something compelling about being here.
*It has just turned the most amazing shade of pink and purple.