We set off on Wednesday morning after a protracted search for Nick’s mobile phone………… which never did turn up. We drove to north Devon, to the home of long-standing friends. Friends made during the days of pre-school children. Teachers both, they are now retired and living in the lovely house they owned all through their time at Charterhouse. It was a wonderful retreat for them and their family along the way, but now they occupy this house full-time and the house is flourishing.
Built from the 15th century it is an Open Hall House (a house consisting of a single storey hall with two storey domestic ranges attached to either one or both ends), sitting on top of a hill near Bratton Fleming. To stay with Rob and Rosie is to enjoy hospitality of the warmest kind. They hone these skills from time to time when they receive Bed and Breakfast guests in the bijou barn in the grounds. They have some of their children staying, and two grandchildren too, so Nick and I are invited to sleep in Rosehill Barn.
I’m keen to see the garden: the courtyard, the border round the lawn, but most of all the vegetable garden, with its associated greenhouse into which much enthusiasm is invested. During our stay we enjoy home grown produce: for one meal we have a panache of the last-of-the-crop vegetables with the smoked haddock pie one evening, the final pickings in these clement October days.
Rob and Nick spend the first day of our visit modifying the second compost bin into a triple-chambered model. (Nick and Rob constructed the bins in July 2008). In order to do this they first need to take the car into Barnstaple to round up their timber. This involves driving the streets to find discarded pallets outside commercial premises. Of course they ask first before they make off with their booty.
During the course of the afternoon the pallets are unpicked and new struts are fitted into the original structure. Alex helps with this. We are all outside variously building bins, weeding, dismantling bean frames or swinging on climbing frames.
On Friday Francesca, Poppy and Charlie must drive home. Poppy and Nick have struck up a friendship: he likes making up stories, she likes listening. They sit at the kitchen table playing out their double act, whilst preparations for the journey home are made.
Another double act has been under way. Alex’s wife Sarah likes doing cryptic crosswords and she and I have managed to complete the Indy puzzle the day before, so we are keen to buy the paper later when we go into Barnstaple for lunch and some shopping.
A table has been booked at The Custom House where there are good light lunching options. After there are things to buy: wonderful local cheeses from a small shop in the street running alongside the covered market and we also want to get some seafood for Saturday evening. Although it is well into the afternoon the small fish-shop, in the same parade as the cheese shop, has just what we need. We buy a lobster, a brown crab and some prawns for a platter. We are just about to pay for this when I spot some plastic bags with black contents.
I think it might be Laver, and it is. This is a seaweed, Porphyra umbilicalis, which you can collect on many rocky shores in the British Isles. I’ve eaten laverbread once before, when a fellow conchologist gathered some on a field trip and cooked it for a group of us as an appetiser. I’m keen to have a go at making some so we buy a bag for the princely sum of £3. Our total bill is £20 which is a real bargain.
We still haven’t managed to buy an Indy when we drive out of Barnstaple at the end of the afternoon, but third time lucky when we try at the petrol station on the way out of town.