A few weeks ago a piece of paper came through the door. Fish and Chips, it proclaimed. For delivery on Friday nights. Run by the Exmoor Cooking Company – whose kitchens are based at Porlock Weir and who bake rather tasty bread – so we decided to give them a go. Now, our cottage might be reasonably ‘remote’ to those who don’t live round here, but it’s not *that* hard to find. Or it shouldn’t be, we gave them the postcode. When they did arrive, slightly cooled, they were nice. Not too greasy, decent chips, decent tartar sauce. Reasonably priced at £5.50 a portion. We rang to complain that they weren’t so hot on arrival and we were offered a free portion the next time we ordered. Pleased with the customer service, we decided to give them another chance next time we fancied fish & chips.
This weekend was our 9th anniversary and, in our timed honoured tradition we like to have fish & chips and champagne. We telephoned, reminded them of their offer and they remembered. Only, they’d abandoned delivery. A wise move I thought, as everyone can locate them pretty easily, delivery is much harder. This time they were piping hot and tasted pretty good, washed down with a Billecart Salmon Nicolas Francois Billecart 1998. They haven’t reduced the prices though despite collection only. Even so, I would order them again.
Out of interest, I went to the website. I was surprised to see customers are describing the fish & chips as “better than Rick Stein’s and a damn sight cheaper”… We have eaten Rick Stein’s fish & chips on several occasions and can definitely vouch that they are better than these. Not that these are bad, just Rick’s are better. I also recall Stein’s prices as around £6.95 to their £5.50, so cheaper but not overly so. Still, compared to what else Porlock has to offer, the Exmoor Cooking Company’s fish & chips are well worth the order.
Apparently they are also suppliers to the BBC, so we’re in good company…
Exmoor Cooking Company
6 Anchor Stables
Serves fish & chips Friday evenings, contact company for other food.
New cottage, new job, new life. Driving. Sleeping alone. Darkness. Winter walks and weekend drives. Exploring.
Anniversaries. One month of country living. Eight being together. Getting used to country living. Snow. Sunshine. Friends visiting.
Lambs. Spring. Daffodils. Riding on the Railway. More sunshine.
More visits. Sunsets. Blossom. Spring lunches sat outside in the sunshine. Easter.
It was late night shopping in Porlock this past Saturday evening. Based on our experiences of Dunster By Candlelight the weekend before we thought perhaps that it might be another slightly overpriced but enjoyable as an isolated event. Turns out it was a community effort to get as drunk as possible, shopping was optional.
We started the evening at the Churchgate Gallery with a glass of mulled wine as we surveyed the beautiful collection of paintings, prints, ceramics and gifts. We had received a gorgeous Christmas card from them earlier in the week entitled “The Big Mince Pie Heist” enclosing an invitation to the evening and so we were keen to attend. We bought our Christmas cards from the same range as the mince pie heist – ours are called “Not Just for Christmas” from a drawing by Jonathan Walker.
Our next stop was the florist – The Garden Room – which sells all manner of garden accessories as well as being a florist. The owner, Jackie, also has a local produce stand from which we shopped all summer and sells seeds in beautiful paper packets which I cannot resist along with natural wax candles in terracotta pots which I used in the summer. This Christmas, I was hankering after a wreath for our front door. In my six years in London I had never had a front door upon which I could hang such a thing and I was determined for our first year in the countryside we would have one. I investigated making my own but decided that, for the first year, I would buy one and then I would have a florist ring and a moss hoop which I could use year on year to come. At a very reasonable priced £7.50 we found a simple holly and moss one with a red ribbon bow. Jackie was offering home made chestnut and cranberry sausage rolls and some kind of alcoholic hot punch. Fortified, we continued our progress…
…to the butchers, Clive Downs, where we drank fizz and ate game and redcurrant sausages hot from the oven and discussed geese and bought ham and ran into various people we knew. We drank these drinks whilst watching the Watchet Town Band playing christmas songs at the Exmoor Classic Car Collection where life sized beef eaters sneered at the trombone players and an ice queen and king on stilts watched from above.
And then to my actual point of this post: we followed the ice queen and king back up the High Street towards the church (they cut a rather lonely figure – 9 foot tall, hand in hand, ice white and silver in the darkness) and found Green Dolphin Crafts. This is a charming shop essentially in the front room of a darling little cottage with the most lovely of bay windows. Run with a hippy like vibe it is stocked with interesting silver and gem stone jewellery, woollen garments, silk underwear and night wear, and delight of delight, hand made beeswax candles. The beams are so low that my husband had to stoop and the fire so entrancing and warm that we might have stayed there all evening had not other customers wished to crowd in too. I bought 4 votives and a pair of taper candles and was even able to pay by cheque. As we paid, another customer was voicing her delight at the embroidered cushion covers and the owner was explaining that they had one day simply decided to use the front of the house/cottage as a shop. It was an utterly delightful place and well worth a visit if you are ever in Porlock.
Green Dolphin Crafts
High Street, Porlock
(not sure of opening times – call 01643 862868)
The Garden Room
High Street, Porlock
(not sure of opening times, closed Sundays – call 01643 863547)
The Big Mince Pie Heist is by Jonathan Walker and sold by Sally Mitchell Fine Arts Limited
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.
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.
On Saturday afternoon Husband and I were invited to the opening launch of the Churchgate Gallery in Porlock. The gallery is, as the name suggests, at the foot of the gate to St Dubricious Church, which has a flat bell tower that legend has it had the top part removed and used for the nearby Culbone Church. The gallery itself is, as one perhaps often expects from galleries, is open and white with interesting light coming down from the old windows.
The art is all for sale and the gallery specialises in local work, both of local artists and local scenes/interests. Foxhunting, wildlife and representations of Exmoor and the seasons were all well represented with some beautiful pieces. I was particularly taken with John Hoar‘s watercolours and Kate Wyatt‘s animal line drawings.
The gallery also features the works of local photographer Neville Stanikk who was at the launch signing his books. The Churchgate Gallery can reproduce any of his photographs from any of his books on either paper or canvas and there are some absolutely beautiful photographs to choose from. Husband and I started to try and choose and just couldn’t.
The food and drink served during the launch was some of the nicest canapes that I have eaten in a long time – mini bruschettas, pate with honey, olive and feta and enormous glasses of Pimms or Millers Gin & Tonic. We didn’t want to leave and could easily have stayed all afternoon sipping drinks and chatting to the other visitors about the art work. In the end we chose a Jonathon Walker print for a present and 2 of the beautiful artists greeting cards. Had I not been off shopping for myself I would have bought some hammered silver earrings by Caroline Lytton and will certainly be returning when I need presents and birthday cards. A beautiful addition to Porlock.
High Street Porlock Somerset TA24 8PT T: 01643 862238
E: email@example.com W: www.churchgategallery.co.uk
Open daily 10.00 – 6.00 Mon-Sat
11.00 – 5.00 Sun
Images via John Hoar & Kate Wyatt’s websites.
Husband and I started of the bank holiday with the intention of spending the afternoon at the Luxborough May Fair and duck racing. After an unpromising start in which we couldn’t find it followed by a quick escape up a bank covered in stinging nettles when we discovered hoardes of people picking over the meagrest bric-a-brac, book and plant stall I have ever seen, we had afternoon tea in Dunster followed by what was intended to be a look at Watchet, a small coastal town we have yet to see.
What happened instead was that I saw Heartfelt, the first vintage shop I have seen so far in our three months in the south-west, a long browsing session and chat with the owner, Mandy, and a purchase of a gorgeous Ferragamo white skirt which is constructed from layers of grosgrain ribbon. It is 1980s I think, classic pencil cut and reaches to just below the knee, and will be perfect for our upcoming summer of weddings. (photos coming to PeacockFeathers & Diamond Rings when I get a chance to take some).
Heartfelt is a beautiful treasure-trove of vintage, ‘vintage’ and new clothing, mainly skirts, dresses and tops. Some items are labelled vintage when they are clearly fairly recent (i.e. within the past 10 years) and from high street brands, but anyone with an eye for vintage or fashion will immediately be able to spot the good pieces. And to be fair, everything in there was lovely (I am just not prepared to pay the same value as new for a second hand dress from a label I know to be stocked by Oliver Bonas) and an excellent departure from the majority of the other shops that I have encountered so far in West Somerset.
There was also a good selection of accessories, shoes, bags, jewellery and hats and it is a shop I am certain to visit repeatedly. I was also taken by the vintage chair on which to park a bored Husband (if one had one in toe, thankfully mine is happy to indulge me and enter into dialogue) and the vintage tea cups and saucers to serve tea for customers who look like they could do with a cup to fortify themselves for the long haul. There was also a pleasing large mirror and lots of natural light.
Well worth a visit if you happen to be in or near Watchet.
They are also running an interesting looking competition for Somerset’s Young Fashion Designer of the Year which is open to all designers under the age of 26 with a permanent address in Somerset. They have some great names lined up as judges.
8 Swain Street
Open everyday except Wednesday afternoons
Photos from heartfeltwatchet.blogspot.com