The Banff Mountain Film Festival

A film festival all about mountains. What could be better?

Banff 1

For anyone who loves the outdoors, and there are a rapidly increasing number of us, this is the festival for you. It is action packed, and whatever your sport of choice, if you can do it on a mountain you’ll see it here. Climbing, kayaking, free running, snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, horse riding, snow-kiting… everyone driven by a passion for mountains and being outside will find something they like, but there are also quieter moments. You can’t just tear through the wilderness without seeing it can you, without breathing it in and having at least the occasional ‘wow’ moment. There’s plenty of that too.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival was launched 40 years ago in 1976, and has since become a highlight in every outdoor-enthusiast’s calendar. Taking place in the Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, each year around 300-400 films are entered, and the top 60 or so are showcased at the festival in November. A selection of the best films then go on an international tour, visiting 40 countries in 2016 and being seen by more than 500,000 people. There are a variety of themes and styles, and they range in length from brief shorts to longer, more comprehensive films that the tour provides abbreviated versions of. I suppose you could call them documentaries, but each is telling a story, and the sense of narrative is as important as it is to films that are purely fiction. 

For me, this was a chance to observe the sports I enjoy in very beautiful and very dramatic locations, and to start a wish-list of other things I wanted to try. It was also quite exciting to be a part of the crowd; the MOUNTAIN crowd! What a wonderful group of people, all passionate about the environment and the outdoors, all driven by a thirst for adventure and exploration, and all positive, active and healthy. I definitely recommend.

The 2016 UK and Ireland tour is hitting around 55 cities, towns and communities, and there are still dates left all across the country – the last screening is in Ireland on 28th May. Tickets and dates are available here (£15.49 pp). We saw both the Red and the Blue programmes, but I definitely favoured the Red. Particular joys were the slapdash but talented climbers’ bromance in A Line Across the Sky, the beautiful but sad goodbye in  Denaliand Unbranded, a film following four Texas boys, who decide to break in eleven wild Mustangs to carry them from Texas to the Canadian border (so, across the whole of America. It takes them 5 months. That’s a lot of riding). Saying that, there were some fantastic films on the Blue programme as well, so just go and see them both if you can!

A Line Across the Sky 1

The line across the sky. Climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold traversed the entire range you can see here in one go, something that had never been done before.

A Line in the Sky 2

Here they are. Aren’t they just the cutest?

A Line Across the Sky 3

And again. Still adorable.

Denali 3

Denali, taking things much more seriously than his motley crew

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Looking after Ben in hospital

Denali 1

Denali and Ben at the beach

Unbranded 2

Cowboys heading North

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Boys and their… mustangs.

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My favourite film, Unbranded. This lot were an absolute pleasure to travel with. Trailer for the film here, and you can buy the DVD here.

Is anyone else a Banff fan?

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Flaming Tar Barrels on Bonfire Night

A pre-Bonfire Night post today, to get you in the mood for fire and frolicking.

Ottery Tar Barrels

I was hunting through my old photos earlier, and came across an album from exactly a year ago that I completely forgot to share with you. So, without much ado…

Last autumn we hired a Landrover (any excuse), headed on down to Dorset, and took up residence in Wolverton Gatehouse. It wasn’t one of the most exciting Landmark Trust properties that we’ve stayed in I have to admit, but it was very picturesque from the outside.

Wolveton Gatehouse

Wolveton Gatehouse

The first night coincided with Tom’s birthday, so he was allocated the honour of choosing the obligatory fancy-dress theme. After rejecting several inspired ideas (‘dress as a Kevin Costner character from any of his films’, being my personal favourite), he finally alighted on ‘dress as your mum’s favourite TV or film character’. The only stipulation being that you weren’t allowed to explain in advance why you were asking, and you had to go with the first answer she gave. The results were pretty wonderful, but you can see for yourselves!

Fancy Dress Party

So, from left to right, we have: Miranda, Doc from Back to the Future, Spock, Aslan and Tommy Cooper.

Fancy Dress Party

Not forgetting Groucho Marx…

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

…and Robert Redford, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Yes I have stubble. I went full-Redford.

Fancy Dress Party

I think the conclusion we can all draw from this, is that our mums are AWESOME. And weird… but in the best possible way. So thanks Mum, and all the mums, for being the goddamned coolest.

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

The next day we ate a lot of fish and chips by the sea, looked at tanks, and hung out with some monkeys. Really though, we were just killing time before we could weave our way down dark, country lanes to Ottery St Mary.

Nobody knows for certain why men, women and children carry burning wooden barrels coated with tar around the town every year, but it is the West Country, so they don’t need to explain themselves. The size of the congregation was phenomenal, but everyone wandered cheerfully up and down from bonfire to town centre via toffee apples, mulled cider and jacket potatoes, so it never felt claustrophobic. Despite barrels of fire being carried at a run through densely packed crowds, the atmosphere was relaxed and the people friendly.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

The barrel rollers wore (presumably dampened/ fire-proofed?) hessian mitts, but were otherwise unprotected. Cameras and camera-phones obviously made the most of the spectacle, but just as many people were happy to simply bask in the proximity of the death-barrels. Flurries of sparks cascaded onto the ground, and flames plumed into the air as they looped and turned through the square. Their centres throbbed with heat, a fierce amber glow that was both slightly alarming and yet also strangely hypnotising.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Some spectators went to greater lengths than others to get a good view (he actually received a round of applause from the crowd when he successfully ascended the street-light, though was forced to relinquish his vantage-point soon after by weary police).

Ottery Tar Barrels

We watched the tar barrels for a while, then made our way back to the now-dying bonfire, picking up cider and mulled wine rations as we went. Finally burning low enough that we could get near to it, we joined the circle and stood as close as we could to the glowing embers.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

What are your Bonfire Night plans? We hope you enjoy it, whatever you do!

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Wild Camping by Loch Coruisk

Camping in the highlands had seemed like a good idea at the time.

We upgraded our camping gear (waterproof tent, airbeds, gas stove, decent backpacks), bought some Adventure Food, and flew to Scotland. The plan was to camp on the Isle of Rum on our first night, then beside Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, then book into the Sligachan hotel for well-needed showers. The problem with this, however, was that a lot of boats were involved, from Skye to Rum, Rum to Skye, and Skye to Loch Coruisk, and high winds were preventing the rig boats getting out to Rum. So the plan changed, and we headed straight to Coruisk.
Isle of Rum
The Isle of Rum above, looking just how I always imagined Neverland would
Loch Coruisk
er… and our actual destination ahead. I think we were all wondering at this point what exactly we were in for.
Loch Coruisk

Well, some of us were. Others were busy posing…

The boat dropped us off on the shore, and we headed over the headland to search for a good place to set up camp. Coruisk is a water-filled caldera, a volcanic eruption millions of years ago resulting in the jagged peaks and swathes of solidified magma you will find there. Boulders of honeycombed pumice are scattered across the loch’s shores, and tendrils of cloud often wrap around the peaks like drifting smoke. It is also very wet, and we spent a lot of time bouncing up and down to determine whether the squelching peat beneath our feet would sustain a tent.
Loch Coruisk
Tom modelling our sexy – and very useful – head-torches
Loch Coruisk

Then the midges found us.

We were woefully unprepared for the ensuing onslaught. Luckily I had a bottle of Amazon-rainforest strength fly repellent, that was frantically dug out of my bag. Do not get this stuff on your lips. It burns. Then your mouth goes numb. I had also brought smoke-coils as we always used these on Nauru, and I figured tropical mosquitoes had to be worse than Scottish midges, but there were just too many midges. The fly-repellant stopped them biting, but did not deter the clouds that swarmed around us, filling our lungs and obscuring our vision. It felt like we were in some kind of crap horror film. Katy and I erected the tents together as quickly as possible, being unusually polite to each other.

“When you have a moment, could you possibly pass me one of those tent pegs you’re holding?” [Shaking head fiercely with eyes closed].

“Oh of course, so sorry” [handing over tent peg in between flapping arms around face, before sprinting away to higher ground for a brief reprieve].
Loch Coruisk
Our wonderful little tents. Very easy to put up and, miraculously, both waterproof and midge-proof
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk

The view from outside our tents. Not bad eh!

Once both tents were secure, sleeping mats blown up and sleeping bags unrolled, I leapt into the porch of mine and Tom’s tent, zipped myself inside, and sat there for a good five minutes regaining my composure. I have no idea what Katy was doing at this point, as I felt like I’d temporarily lost my mind. Perhaps she was doing the same.

Tom returned around then with our bags (we had been forced to drop them and run, carrying only the tents, so he had taken on the responsibility of lugging them over to our campsite). We grabbed gas stove, water, mugs, tea bags and Adventure Food, and scrambled down to where the loch flowed into the sea. A wide expanse of dry rock and a gentle breeze kept most of the midges at bay here, as did constant movement. We were able to perambulate around the area, like druids circling their ceremonial gas stove, clutching much needed mugs of calming sleep-tea.

Revived, we held a brief council of war, and elected to head to higher ground to try and eat our dinner in peace. We climbed as high as we could, searching for a rocky outcrop sufficiently far from water that the midges would be deterred. The views were spectacular, but there was no escape. It was like being hunted by tiny, flying velociraptors, only eluded by our keeping on the move. Katy and Tom returned to the flat rock on which we had made tea, and began to prepare dinner. At this moment however, the sun set, the sky turned carmine and I grabbed my camera.
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
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‘Wow, what a beautiful photo. What on earth has caused those glittering specks like fairy-dust in the sky Jade?’ Midges. That’s what. Goddamned midges swarming towards me and confusing the flash on my camera.
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
If you follow the river’s path down, just before you reach the sea you can see a tiny Tom and Katy making our dinner on a finger of rock that juts into the river
Loch Coruisk

Our Adventure Food supper was surprisingly good. Packets of dehydrated meals need only the addition of boiling water, a fierce stir, then a 10 minute wait as they resume the appearance of food inside the bag they come in. I pulled out a bottle of Oban for us to share (whilst packing my backpack in London I had made the difficult but absolutely correct decision to bring whisky instead of my camera tripod), and as darkness descended the midges finally abated.

Waking up in the wild is the most amazing experience. The air is crisp, the sun gleams like silver on the loch’s surface below you, and the percussive impact of the view hits you as soon as you unzip your tent. After another Adventure breakfast (Katy and I somewhat suspicious of how they crammed 600 calories into a small bag of sugary porridge and raisins), we packed up our gear and got a boat back to Elgol.

Loch Coruisk

Has anyone else survived Scotland’s midges? There must be a support group for us somewhere.

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Hiking in the Lake District (With a Broken Foot)

Lake District

So I broke my ankle, a few weeks ago.

Just a little break, an avulsion fracture of the talus, apparently, though the additionally sprained ankle and knee have been causing me a lot more trouble. Never make assumptions about horses. You think they’re going to go over a jump, you think they’re a big brave thoroughbred, and then they coward out at the last-minute leaving you to go over said jump on your own. Cheers for that Wizard.

Aside from accusations of equine cowardice, I only have myself to blame for my injuries though. I’ve probably fallen off several hundred times since I started riding twenty years ago, thanks to getting a reputation for liking ‘problem’ (crazy) horses. Flop and roll. Every time. Even if you land on your spine, you flop and roll. On this occasion, however, something went wrong and my reflexes said ‘land on your feet – no actually, just on one foot, that’ll work better!’ It didn’t.

I may or may not have lain on the floor for a good two minutes whimpering, and thinking ‘bloody hell, I’ve actually injured myself here, aaaarrrgggghhh’, but then I dragged myself upright and the pain completely vanished. I could feel that the ankle had swollen under my leather boots, but I was able to rotate and put gentle pressure on it, so I recaptured Wizard (who had been standing next to me looking bemused/ bored), and got back on. We carried on jumping for a bit so he didn’t learn that ditching his rider meant getting out of work, then I limped home.

“It’s probably only a sprain, but maybe get it x-rayed just in case” from my GP led me to a fracture diagnosis at the Royal Free a couple of days later, at which point I have to admit I may have gone a little mad. The doctor who talked me through the x-ray didn’t quite know what to make of me, as I espoused my lack of pain and begged to be allowed to go on a hiking holiday. It’s not that I have a high pain-threshold, I really don’t, but I do get migraines and back problems, both of which are so excruciating at times that the upper limits of my pain-scale are perhaps higher than average. Compared to this the ankle hardly hurt at all, and nobody seemed to care about the knee. The problem came, however, when I was told to rest. I don’t do rest. I go to the gym every day, and I ride two to three times a week, and I do MMA and boxing every week, and hiking, scrambling, swimming and occasional rock climbing and ohgodpleasedon’ttellmetorest!

Rest I did though, religiously. I bandaged ankle and knee every day, and tried to use the crutches he forced on me (mostly I carried them around with me, but I sort of used them sometimes). I elevated and iced the ankle every evening when I got home from work, and I kept as still as I possibly could. The clever man, you see, told me that the only way I would be able to go on a hiking trip to Scotland in 13 days was if I rested until then and didn’t go on the planned hiking trip to the Lake District in 7 days.

This ‘resting’ malarkey lasted all of 5 days though, at which point I warily headed back to the Royal Free for an appointment to get a ‘support boot’ fitted, or even perhaps a cast. I waited around for nearly an hour, but the wait was worth it in the end as the wonderful, wonderful doctor who saw me said no cast, no support boot, no crutches if I didn’t want them, and actually yeah, why not go hiking in the Lake District?! Just don’t ignore the pain if it gets worse. I could have hugged her.

A week of hiking in the Lakes wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely, definitely worth it. Through trial and error we worked out that I could cope with about half the walking we would usually do, and 10-12 miles a day over rough terrain was about my limit (16 miles was a bad day. A very bad day). I had also forgotten to take any painkillers during ‘rest-time’, so regular doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol on holiday really made a difference. Pushing myself to just get on with things was the best possible remedy. The constant twisting and stretching of my ankle as we clambered up and down uneven mountain paths was a far less boring form of physio (there’s only so many times you can write the alphabet with your foot), and the sense of achievement at the end of every day turned me from a miserable, paranoid gremlin back into something resembling my real self.

Much to Tom’s relief, for whom the two weeks of rest time had been more trying even than for me. Also, we went to cafes. We had pit-stops involving lunch and ice-cream and alcohol. I had an epiphany half-way through the week and pointed out that I was actually really enjoying myself, rather than just walking miles and miles and miles in the rain like usual. Almost like, dare I say it, a real holiday?! “Humph, well, yes I suppose this is what weak people do on holidays” replied my darling Thomas. ‘What, have a good time?’ He did at least laugh at this.

Hopefully more fun walking-holidays are to come, but here are the photos from this one.

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

End of the day here, at a waterfall near Borrowdale. Veeerrryy tired!

Lake District

The librarian adventurer.

Lake District

Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

Nearing the top of Catbells, a peak I’ve never climbed before because Tom deemed it beneath him. Turned out to be a nice little climb with a beautiful view, despite the crowds – just the thing for a broken foot!
Lake DistrictLake District

A lovely cafe we stumbled upon, the Grange Bridge Cottage Cafe. It has a beautiful little garden with views over the river – the perfect place to stop for lunch and ice-cream!

Lake District

With polariser…
Lake District

…Without polariser. Magic!Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

One day I’ll climb up to that cave…Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

Outdoor cafe at the Lodore Falls Hotel.

Lake DistrictLake District

Sunset at Castlerigg stone circle.Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

Tales of wild-camping and swimming under waterfalls to come.

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Skye: The Perfect Spring Holiday

DSC_0074 (800x533) Tom and I visited the Isle of Skye last August, but everyone we met told us we’d visited at the wrong time. A whole week of blazing sunshine seemed to say otherwise to me, but apparently the best time of year to visit for both weather and wildlife is mid-April to mid-June.

So I thought I’d tell you about it now, when everyone is thinking about planning their next holiday.

In case you’ve not encountered it before, Skye is a large island located on the West coast of Scotland. It’s covered in mountains, waterfalls and whisky distilleries, and the waters are rich in dolphins, seals, whales and otters. What more could you want?! Reaching it isn’t the easiest, but that challenge puts off the lazier tourists who swarm over the rest of the UK, so it’s something to be grateful for. Isle of Skye map We had spent a couple of days in Edinburgh beforehand, so got the train to Inverness, then a connecting train to the Kyle of Lochalsh (the nearest village on the mainland to Skye), and finally a taxi across the sea-bridge to Portree; the largest town on the island (it’s not particularly large). Seven hours that took. Alternatives would be getting the sleeper train to Inverness or driving of course, but I like being able to observe the view. I’m rarely happier than when staring through a train window as the countryside rolls and billows past, getting lost in my imagination for a couple of hours.

Seven hours was pushing it a bit though.

We arrived at Viewfield House in the middle of the night, just as the storm clouds that had been following us broke. The house seemed deserted, but we were soon discovered and led into the dining room, where Tom had requested a meal for when we arrived, knowing we would be too tired to go out again. We were then ushered into the drawing room, and spent the evening exploring the extensive list of scotches in front of a crackling open fire.

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Viewfield House

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The Drawing Room

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The view from the front door

Set in twenty acres of woodland just outside Portree, it’s nevertheless only a ten minute walk into the town, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops selling all the basics. We spent a couple of days here, walking the coastline and eagle spotting.

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The mountains you can see in the distance above are called the Cuillins.

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Cruise ships often anchor off Portree, and ship parties on shore for daytrips.

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Though convenient, we’d soon had our fill of Portree after a couple of days. We wanted better walking and fewer people, and were craving a bit of privacy after staying in hotels for so long, so we made our way South to Elgol. Public transport is limited on Skye so we had another taxi journey, this one taking nearly an hour.

Tom really is very, very good at finding accommodation though, and when we arrived at our thatched cottage I literally ran around in delight. There are four of these restored crofters’ cottages vaguely grouped together, but we were there for a whole week and hardly saw the people renting the other three. They’re managed by the owners who live just around the corner, so any problems and they’ll pop round to fix them personally. Heated stone floors and wifi bring a comforting modern touch, but they’re otherwise cosy with traditional details.

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Link here to the website

Conveniently, they’re also next door to Coruisk House, the only restaurant in Elgol. They have just six tables so you must book in advance, but the atmosphere is cosy and informal, and the food incredible. Seafood is purchased daily from the harbour nearby, and we sampled huge hand-dived scallops and bowls full of squat lobster tails.

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Coruisk House, seen from our front door

Elgol harbour drew us to it nearly every day, and we would trot down to the sea (a forty five minute walk) every morning to see what boat tours were going out. Some take you to the nearby islands of Rum, Eigg and Canna where there are cafes and castles to explore, some tear about searching for wildlife and attracting pods of dolphins, and some take you past rocks covered in sunbathing seals to Loch Coruisk, where you walk across solidified magma and can scramble around the loch in around two hours if you’re brave. The whole environment is absolutely stunning, and the boats are very accommodating – they can drop you off and pick you up pretty much any time you want as long as you’re ready and waiting when they have a landing scheduled.

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A waterfall we found on the way down to the harbour

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View across the bay from Elgol harbour. Loch Coruisk is hidden amongst the jagged hills ahead.

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Some of the many, many photos I took of seals as we drifted past them on our way to Loch Coruisk.

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The Misty Isle boat trips take you out to Loch Coruisk, diligent collie Finn keeping a close eye on those pesky seals for you. You need to book them from the kiosk just above the harbour, and they cost from £12.50-£28, depending on whether you want to stay half an hour or all day, or somewhere in between.

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Standing on a magma field. Black rock appears to have been poured like molasses from the surrounding peaks, the remnants of a distant eruption that created the crater now filled with water.

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Every time you turn a corner the terrain and light changes, completely altering the landscape. The recent hoof-prints of a stag marked the meandering path we followed around the loch, though we didn’t see him unfortunately. We did see a golden eagle silently riding the updrafts above us, soaring backwards and forwards in large sweeping arcs. We watched it for a while then pressed on, aware that we had requested two hours to walk the loch and the captain’s assistant had declared it would take more like three or four.

He was wrong, luckily!

We passed very few other walkers. A small party walking in the opposite direction who seemed alarmed to come upon us, and a father and son swimming in a sunny corner of the loch, but we otherwise had the place to ourselves. Most visitors sit on the rocks with their sandwiches, take a few pictures then get back on their boat and leave. There’s a fair bit of scrambling over rocks I suppose, and at one point the path disappears and you have to find your way through an actual bog, so in that respect the walk wouldn’t be possible if your mobility was limited or if the water level was higher (Tom had a small tantrum when he realised I’d led him into a bog that he was rapidly sinking into, but luckily I managed to find a route out hopping between tussocks of grass).

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A sea-plane landed on the loch as were wandering along its opposite side, and by the time we reached it the passengers we had observed pouring out and clambering across the beach and rocks behind had vanished. Possibly the group of perturbed walkers we had passed, worried that we were about to come upon and make off with their transport (there are no roads to Loch Coruisk, only a path from Elgol that necessitates crossing ‘The Bad Step’; a point where to continue you must reach around a rock and step down blindly. (Tom refused to risk life and limb, so we got the boat instead.)

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On another day we visited the island of Rum, which has a small cafe and post office, as well as shower facilities for campers. There’s also a 19th century-built castle and an otter hide, deer everywhere and abandoned crofts to explore.

DSC_1393 (800x533)The Isle of Rum

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The coastal path

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An abandoned croft overgrown with moss and ferns. It felt like being inside a Neolithic dwelling, like those re-discovered in 1850 at Skara Brae in the Orkney Isles.

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Tom in the otter hide. We didn’t get up early enough to see any otters unfortunately, but it was a very nice hide nonetheless. We did, however, see a lot of dolphins! They enjoy riding the bow wave created by the Bella Jane AquaXplore boats, large orange dinghies that tear across the bay and around nearby islands searching for wildlife. Again there’s a kiosk on the harbour where you can book boat trips, costing £16-£95 depending on how far you go.

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Almost close enough to touch, every time we went out on with the AquaXplore team a pod of dolphins would mob us, leaping out of the water beside the boat, swimming underneath us and surfing the bow wave we produced.

In spring there are whales to be seen, and also colonies of puffins (I would like a puffin). We had the most wonderful time possible though, even without puffin pleasures, and I can’t recommend Skye highly enough if you like the outdoors. You’ll need sturdy walking shoes and waterproof clothing, but if that sounds like your idea of a good time then prepare to be amazed.

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Best Books about the Countryside

This is by no means a definitive guide, rather a varied selection across all genres. Books to dip into when you’re missing the smell of damp loam and the sound of trickling streams. I’ve selected four favourites which draw me back, their images and anecdotes equally compelling but in very different ways. There are other greats that I haven’t mentioned, like Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, and John Lister-Kaye’s Song of the Rolling Earth, but I’ve focussed on books that you can dip in and out of – flashes of inspiration to illuminate your day, however you choose to spend it.

Wild Swimming – Daniel Start (£13.59, available here)

Wild Swimming 2

This book is pure inspiration. How many of you swam in rivers or ponds when you were younger? Wriggled away from water-weed and slippery amphibians, squealing with pleasure, doggy-paddled around lilypads or back-stroked across plunge pools? Now, when was the last time you ventured in? If it wasn’t recently, then this book will entice you back to Britain’s wild waters. As the introduction points out, “being by and in water is more than just a pleasure, it is at the core of our human condition”.

Wild Swimming details nearly 400 magical locations where you can swim in the wild, from rivers to lakes with hidden waterfalls along the way. There are tarns at the top of mountains, and natural pools in woodland clearings. Accompanied by tantalising photos and anecdotes, they’re organised by geography, and there are maps and grid references to help you on your way. There’s also an amusingly high-percentage of photos featuring scantily-clad young women enjoying the waters… but I wouldn’t level that as a criticism!

Wild Swimming 1Extract:

Tarns – or Llyns as they’re known in Wales – are those magical lakes that appear as you’re sweating your way to the top of the mountain. Swimming in them provides total immersion in the landscape and the ultimate sense of the wild. 

My favourite is Llyn Eiddew Bach, part of a series of wild mountain lakes that is very dear to me. It’s in the heart of the northern Rhinogs, Snowdonia’s least-visited region, close to a 3,000-year-old roadway that once linked Ireland with Stonehenge. I spent some time living in the farm close by and I would always leave a bottom of bubbly stashed and chilling on the lake bottom, tied to a secret piece of string, in preparation for weekend picnics.

Death of a Naturalist – Seamus Heaney (£7.49, available here)

Death of a Naturalist 1

There are many poets who write about the natural world, but very few really understand it as Seamus Heaney does. When I first encountered Heaney I didn’t know he had garnered international fame, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature amongst many other awards and accolades, I just recognised the world as I also saw it in his poems. He lifted me out of my GCSE English classroom and back into the countryside, which was exactly where I wanted to be.

There is a power and precision to Heaney’s poetry, and a clarity of vision that is not marred by agenda. Although many of his poems have an autobiographical element, evoking memories of his rural childhood in Ireland, somehow it is often not Heaney we see as we turn the pages but ourselves. I make all my students study his work, whatever age they are. For them it is an alien-world he evokes, as few seem to venture outside of London unless they do so at 36,000 feet, but with a little guidance Heaney helps me to show them what they’re missing out on.


Death of a Naturalist

 All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles.  

River Cottage Handbook: Hedgerow – John Wright (£11.99, available here)

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The River Cottage brand began back in 1998, though Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall first appeared on our screens in 1995 with A Cook on the Wild Side. Since then he and his team have become synonymous with the promotion of ethical, sustainable food production, and especially with food you’ve found yourself in the wild.

A walk in the autumn countryside so often turns into an all-consuming foraging expedition, with buckets overflowing with blackberries, pockets bulging with chestnuts, and even a trug full of wild mushrooms if you’re lucky. When Hugh’s pal John Wright began writing the River Cottage Handbooks, however, he opened up all the seasons.

I have a number of these little guides, and flicking through them – especially the recipes section – always make me glance longingly at my gumboots. The tantalising pictures are quite enough, but John also includes witty explanations of how best to eat your plunder, whether berries, nuts, seeds, roots, leaves or even tree sap.

Blackberry Whisky


Crab Apple

A fully burdened Crab Apple tree is a wonderful sight in autumn, but chiefly from a distance. The apples themselves are, as one Edward Long put it in the eighteenth century, “never admired for loveliness of aspect”. Small, misshapen, spotty and scabby, and full of pips, they do not inspire the cook. Nor are they remotely edible raw – they must be cooked. Yet when prepared properly they are a treasure. 

Of course, the recipe for which this tart apple is best known is Crab Apple jelly. The very high pectin content means that it will always set well, and other fruits can be added to make a variety of jellies. Cooked, strained and with sugar added, Crab Apples also make a sharp apple sauce – just use extra sugar if it takes the roof of your mouth off.

P. S. I cannot resist passing on this medicinal recipe from the early 1800s; it is for a concoction called Black Drop:

Take half a pound of opium sliced, three parts of good verjuice (from crabapples), one and a half ounces of nutmeg, and half an ounce of saffron. Boil them to a proper thickness; then add a quarter of a pound of sugar, and two spoonfuls of yeast. Set the whole in a warm place near the fire for six or eight weeks, then place it in the open air, until it become a syrup; lastly, decant, filter, bottle it up, adding a little sugar to each bottle

I am not sure what it was supposed to cure. Everything perhaps.

Country – Jasper Conran (£20, available here)

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Jasper Conran is best known as a fashion designer, but in 2010 he published a photographic essay about the English countryside. It is whimsical and rose-tinted, portraying an idealised vision of the country where people make bread and butter very slowly by hand, but it’s a fairytale you will want to be a part of. Every image is absolutely beautiful, and woven into a narrative of the seasons that proves our halcyon past is very much still alive.

Conran spent a year exploring the UK, getting to know its villages and capturing our rural pastimes as well as occupations. There are flower festivals, morris dancers, surfers, fell runners, bell ringers, artists and artisans, foxhunters and even an old-fashioned travelling circus. The seasons take centre stage as often as the people he meets though, and each building is treated with equal curiosity and reverence whether farmhouse or manor house.

Every time I dip into this book I find something new that makes me smile or takes my breath away. For lovers of the countryside, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Conran 3Extract:

‘Country’ is an idea – a texture, a flavour, a state of mind. Close your eyes, and imagine the English countryside. What do you see or hear, smell, feel or taste? It might be a sweep of beautiful landscape or the warmth of a roaring pub fire; perhaps a porch filled with dripping coats and muddy wellingtons, the scent of ripe apples and freshly baked bread, or the hum of bees in a sleepy kitchen garden.

I wanted to celebrate that idea; to attempt to capture in words and photographs some of the many threads that, woven together, make up some of the fabric of the English countryside. To record the people and events I found during a year of exploration. The fact that I am a designer who has worked all his life with fabric, form and colour does not make me an expert on rural affairs but, when it comes to appreciating part of the texture of the English countryside, I think it may have helped.

Our world is being transformed, not only by globalisation but also by urbanisation. For the first time in history, more people live in towns and cities than in the countryside. Across the globe we are forgetting our rural roots, but country life, its values and people have never had more to offer. This is not about some imagined past, but life as it is lived today, in all its wonderful complexity. I worry these treasures can be all too easily lost. In some countries, grey urban landscapes merge from one city to the next. I hope something similar does not happen here.

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Let me know your own favourites – what books get you excited about the countryside?

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Honeymoon Week in Cornwall

It’s so rare to get all of our closest friends together, and we love them all so much, that we took them on honeymoon with us.

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I know that isn’t quite traditional, but we’re sort of used to doing things our own way. (My stag party was evidence of this, as most brides-to-be don’t take their fiancé along on their hen-do, so you shouldn’t be surprised!) We decided to stay in Cornwall for the first week of our honeymoon rather than rushing straight off. A few of us rented a cottage together in Flushing from Martin at Creekside Cottages, and everyone else made sure to stay nearby.

I forgot to take any photos of the cottage but it was lovely, and perfectly located; just around the corner from the Flushing ferry and opposite the village shop. Most importantly though, it had its own decking that led directly onto the sea. It was our own fault really that we were invaded by Northern pirates.

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I really don’t think these two are taking the invasion seriously enough, to be honest

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Though they soon summoned the troops

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Rob quickly defected, and joined us on land

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Having no other means of defending ourselves, we were forced to deploy scraps of bread into the air to lure in a mob of seagulls. Mick was not happy about this.

We had dinner at a different restaurant each night, from the Pandora in Mylor to the Cornish Range in Mousehole, and there were around twenty people sitting down together each time. It was just the start we wanted to married life. We both have a number of different friendship groups, whether from school, university or work, so seeing them all meeting and getting on was fantastic.

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We went on a few cliff-top walks and enjoyed the spectacular views, as well as getting a bit of climbing in. This is just around the corner from Mousehole; St Michael’s Mount in the background

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Yes, I’m climbing a cliff in a tweed mini skirt. No, it was not easy.

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We also enjoyed the Maritime Museum in Falmouth. It’s very child-friendly, so we had a great time

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We also spent a lot of time on ferries and water taxis, which are a fantastic way of getting around Cornwall. The ferries have fixed routes and times, but the water taxis will collect you any time, and drop you off anywhere there’s a jetty.

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Here we are, all enjoying a water taxi together

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It sort of looks like everyone had different expectations of that particular day out. Expectations that were NOT being met.

The best day was definitely the beach day. We got a water taxi across to St Mawes, stocked up on picnic items and champagne, then walked across the headland. When we arrived at the top of the cliff, we found that the path down to our favourite secluded beach had, er, fallen into the sea. Some enterprising locals had tied a rope to the bushes though, so we abseiled down. Being the only people stupid enough to do so on that particular day, we had the entire beach to ourselves. Heaven.

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We drank champagne and sunbathed on the rocks

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I got a bit more climbing-in-a-skirt practice in

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We went swimming in the sea (freezing, but exhilarating!), then polished off our picnic in the sunshine. Once the champagne had run out and the sun was beginning to set, we made our way back across the headland. Lush spring hedgerows lined the dusty lane, and verdant rolling fields stretched to either side. A water taxi collected us, and dropped us off at our cottage.

Getting to spend the first week of our honeymoon with our friends was an experience we’ll always treasure. The memories will stay with us for our whole lives, though of course we plan on repeating the event as frequently as possible! That wasn’t quite the end of it though. Did I mention that my Tom is pretty wonderful? Once or twice maybe. Well, he’d organised another week’s honeymoon for us, but we needed our passports for this one. More details in my next post!

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Mylor DSCF1272   P1080787

My Cornwall Wedding: The Wedding Breakfast, Cocktail Hour and Swing Dancing

Heading inside Scorrier after the formal photos felt like the second phase of the day was beginning, so it seemed right to tell you about it in a second blog post.
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I couldn’t have been more pleased with the table decorations. Georgia Westwood and her sister Jessie Thomson, our wedding planner, made them look absolutely beautiful. I hired a lot of vintage glass bottles, but I also sourced a selection of pewter and ceramic jugs and teapots from the antique shops in Rye, and Tom and I also bought hundreds of secondhand books from Falmouth.

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We really couldn’t have managed without our wedding planner Jessie. Her advice and planning expertise meant that the day ran incredibly smoothly, and actually felt like one long party rather than having gaps where guests are standing around waiting for something to happen. She suggested and then liaised with suppliers, made sure I hadn’t forgotten any of the thousands of details and decisions that are involved in a wedding, and kept an eye on our budget for us. I’d definitely advise engaging a wedding planner, even if they just advise and supervise as we requested rather than doing everything for you.

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As Tom and I met when we were both studying Renaissance Literature at university, we used EEBO to find the title pages of an appropriate selection of Renaissance plays. We had A Pleasant Comedy, All Fools, An Almond for a Parrot, The Shoemakers Holiday, The Island Princess, The Alchemist, and of course A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the top table. We downloaded these, and I printed them on ‘parchment’ coloured card for the table names.

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I also used Microsoft Paint to edit them (serious computer skilz, I know) for the table plan above, so that each included the names of our guests in lieu of a cast-list. I used a sheet of wrapping paper for the table plan’s background that I found in the British Library’s gift shop, depicting Early Modern London, which I thought was an appropriate reference to our lives in London.

Tom & Jade FINAL 0732 (800x533)Given our love of old books, Tom and I spent the months before the wedding trawling through charity shops across the country for wedding favours, and gave each guest a different book to remember the day by. I had a stamp made reading ‘Jade & Tom, Cornwall 2014’, and stamped the first page of each. I also made all the placenames and menus, again using parchment-coloured card and left over pearls and wrapping paper from the invitations.

The Wedding Breakfast itself was perfect. The caterers we chose were Beetham Food, and Jamie was nothing but helpful and accommodating throughout. We were allowed three main course options for our guests to choose from, and the cheese buffet we’d requested for later in the evening was presented as a stunning cheese cake. Everyone commented on how incredible the food was, and how friendly and professional all the waiting staff. Menu below:

Main Course


Whole Sirloin of Beef, Medium Rare, cut thickly and served with a Béarnaise Sauce


Seafood Bouillabaisse with Saffron & Aioli

(Crevettes, Crab, Lobster, Hake, Mussels & Clams)


Roasted Vegetable Stack with Pan Fried Haloumi & Red Pepper Coulis (v)


Trio of Dessert


Pavlova with Summer Berries & Clotted Cream

Rich Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis

Zesty Lemon Cheesecake


Evening Food


Cornish Cheese Wedding Cake

Served on slates with Chutneys, Fruits, Celery & Crackers

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Although I admit I was more interested in the cheese than the actual wedding cake, I must mention Faye from The Natural Cake Company. She uses only natural ingredients, something that means a lot to me, and her cakes are both delicious and edible works of art.

Tom & Jade FINAL 0800 (800x533) After the wedding breakfast, we had a little surprise lined up for our guests. An old school friend of mine happens to be a successful mixologist, so as a wedding gift he very kindly agreed to invent three cocktails tailored to our wedding, and serve these at a cocktail hour after the wedding breakfast. I only have ONE photo of them unfortunately, which is a shame because they were stunning as well as being delicious! The May Day Tea was served in vintage cups and saucers, and was my particular favourite, though the Spring Collins was the overall winner in terms of flavour. I have since tried to recreate it, and failed utterly. Stan is evidently a miracle worker.

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Stan and another old school friend, Liam, setting up cocktails next to the gramophone

Cocktail Hour Menu

May Day Tea

Elderflowers, raspberries, grapefruit, rose petals, vodka, apple liqueur, limoncello, cloudy apple juice, lemon juice and Everingham honey (served hot)

Fragola Granita

Champagne and wild strawberry liqueur

Spring Collins

Gin, fresh basil, radishes, gin, lemon juice and cherry syrup

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Spring Collins on the left, and Stella holding a (non-alcoholic, I’m sure!) May Day Tea

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My beautiful girlfriends, resolutely pretending not to have had any cocktails at all. Ahem. I changed into a navy-blue lace Diane Von Furstenberg dress for the evening, and of course the pearls I usually wear.

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The cocktail hour certainly put everyone in the right mood for the next part of the day. The dancing.

Tom and I were not exactly looking forward to this. We wanted a song that reflected the party atmosphere of the evening, so chose Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing for our first dance. Regardless of the fact that it’s very difficult to dance to, as it’s very fast. Not that this was a problem though, as we engaged Jerome Anderson to teach us how to dance in two weeks. He happens to be Lindsay Rodham‘s partner, the lady who altered my wedding dress, so we were in very safe hands. He teaches in a wonderfully holistic way, making the most of our strengths and minimising our flaws. We just about managed to pull it off!

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My dancing shoes were bought online from Chelsea Crew, who specialise in vintage-inspired styles

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We did the first minute and a half on our own, then my bridesmaids and Australian relatives joined in. Sam and The Swing Empire, our live Jazz band, were fantastic. I had been more worried about the first dance than anything else on our wedding day, and suddenly realised the day before that maybe our guests wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about dancing to Jazz as us, but the dancefloor filled up for the rest of the evening. It made such a difference having a live band. We would never, ever have had a DJ or just an ipod playlist, as there’s something incredibly exciting about dancing to live music. It’s an obvious way to save money, but we wouldn’t have done without it.

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I think that was my favourite part of the day actually, the dancing. The fact that everybody joined in, and had such a good time, was absolutely magical. Tom and I have had so many wonderful times together, but our wedding day was definitely the best day so far.

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My Cornwall Wedding: The Church Ceremony, and Champagne & Oysters amongst Bluebells

I’ve been away from this blog far too long, and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed chatting to all the wonderful bloggers that I follow and who are sweet enough to follow me as well, and I’ve missed sharing all the things I get up to. They’re always the more fun for being able to share them with you!

Inevitably, I have to start with my wedding. I suppose this post will take the form of all the other wedding blogs you’ll come across, but I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as I can.

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The first thing I have to say is that organising it was the biggest bloody nightmare in the world, and Tom and I worked ourselves half to death in the few months before it. It was worth it, yes, but only just! My 130 hour working weeks genuinely nearly killed me, and the day before the wedding I was bordering on hysteria more times than I can count. Thankfully my Thomas is the kindest and most wonderful man in the world, and our friends and family are both incredibly giving of their time and an absolute blast to be around. Between them, they just about kept me sane.

Errands frantically completed the day before the wedding included buying 400 second-hand books, tearing along tiny country lanes to try and find the only shop in Cornwall that stocks speciality liqueurs (I’ll explain later), and driving for over an hour to Penzance to collect Tom’s wedding ring, then driving all the way back as fast as possible so we could actually attend our own wedding rehearsal. We arrived back at Scorrier House around midnight, and I got my laptop out to send about a hundred emails, and write a 2000 word assessment report I had to send to a client.

Anyway. Deep breaths. I woke early, and peered out at the mist rolling across Scorrier’s beautiful grounds. Scorrier is a privately owned manor house set within a 400 acre estate, and the lovely Richard and Caroline hire it out for weddings. It’s not the prettiest building from the outside, but the interior is beautiful, with a sweeping staircase at the centre of the ballroom. My bridesmaids soon arrived, and Tom disappeared to get ready with his brothers at a cottage next door.

Tom & Jade FINAL 0013 (800x533)We spent most of the morning sitting around drinking champagne that my maid of honour Katy had purloined from somewhere, but it was nice to stop rushing around for the first time in six months. I did my own makeup, but local stylist Megan Piekarz put my hair into a vintage-inspired up-do, and also added just a bit of polish to my bridesmaids. I was particularly keen that they all looked very natural, and she did a wonderful job.

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The bridesmaid dresses were from Coast (no longer in stock I’m afraid), and I was incredibly lucky to find them. It was the first dress we looked at in person, and the perfect shade of green (there are many imperfect shades of green, but this one was perfect). I also wanted them all to wear strings of freshwater pearls, so ordered these online from Etsy. They hardly cost anything at all, but they were exactly the look I was after.

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Katy helping

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I wore my mum’s wedding dress, which she’d transported backwards and forwards across the world for me since she married my father in Papua New Guinea. It was handmade for her in Australia, and I remember admiring the delicate Brussels lace it’s made from when we lived on Nauru, more than twenty years ago now. “You can wear it when you get married” she had said, and it really means a lot to me that, finally, I actually did get to wear it!

I had a few alterations made, by the absolutely wonderful Lindsay Rodham. Trekking backwards and forwards to Walthamstow for fittings was definitely worth it, as she made everything I wanted possible, when countless other seamstresses had said it couldn’t be done. She added lace to the length so I could wear heels, removed the collar, and added a sash to the waist so I actually felt like I had one, and made it feel completely ‘right’ for me where it hadn’t before.

Tom & Jade FINAL 0068 (800x533)My shoes were from Hobbs, and literally the only style I could find in the world in the right colour, heel height and width (no stilettos allowed on Scorrier’s antique wooden floors). Here’s a picture of me grimacing at them as Katya helps me into them. They looked better on, to be fair, but as my dress was floor-length I wasn’t that worried anyway. I found that you absolutely have to prioritise with a wedding. Decide on what is most important to you, and focus on that; you cannot give your full attention to every tiny little detail.

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Here’s Tom ‘getting ready’ (doing a Tai Chi Chuan workout)

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More ‘getting ready’ with his brothers Jim and Luke, who were joint best man.

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My beautiful bridesmaids, from left to right: Stella, Katy, Hannah and Katya. I’m very, very lucky to have all of them in my life.

Tom & Jade FINAL 0109 (800x533)The flowers were done by Georgia Westwood. I liked her style, but also that she is a set designer as well as florist; the theatrical side to her work really appealed. We were going for a slightly fantastical ‘Spring Woodland with Antique Books’ theme, to combine our love of books and the countryside, and I was confident that she’d be able to turn my rambling and often contradictory ideas into reality. She did an incredible job, both on the bouquets and the ballroom decorations, but you can see that from the photos!

Tom & Jade FINAL 0156 (800x533)Tom, Luke and Jim walking down to St Mylor Parish Church

I’m not particularly religious, but I’ve wanted to get married in St Mylor Parish Church as long as I can remember. As I grew up overseas, my parents brought me to Cornwall as often as they could so my grandparents would see me growing up. Walking along the creek or through the fields and woodlands nearby had a huge impact on me, and we’d always look in on the church and harbour behind it. It’s full of childhood memories for me as well as being mere metres from the sea, and is a very old and beautiful church. I was delighted that Tom was happy to get married in it as well, and even more delighted to find out we were allowed to as I’d been baptised there.

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Putting on fern and bluebell buttonholes

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It actually rained all morning, to my slight dismay. Mist turned to a gentle but persistent drizzle, and emergency umbrellas were found. Just as we arrived at the church, however, the sun burst through the storm clouds! We didn’t sort out transport to and from the church until the day before the wedding, but luckily Tom found a vintage Rolls Royce for us at the last minute.

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I was surprisingly nervous on the way to the church, desperately hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything, but seeing our friends and family gathered together in the church was one of my favourite moments of the whole day.

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Husband and wife, finally!

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Some of my Australian relatives who travelled a very long way to share the day with us, for which I will always be grateful.

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After the ceremony we drove back to Scorrier House, and made time for oysters and champagne before the formal family photos. We copied friends of ours who had chosen to have canapes in lieu of a starter course at their wedding, and this worked perfectly as well as balancing out the cost of all that champagne! Our caterers Beetham Food put on a range of canapes as well as the oysters we requested. Crab Cakes & Tempura Prawns with Sweet Chilli Dip, Smoked Salmon Bilinis with Dill Crème Fraiche, Yorkshire Puddings with Rare Beef & Horseradish Cream, and a variety of croutes kept everybody happy. Never skimp on food or alcohol at a wedding. You want your guests to enjoy themselves (plenty of alcohol) but not get drunk (plenty of food).

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It was quite chilly outside, so our photographer Debs Ivelja did a great job of hurrying through these! I chose Debs as her portfolio was not just the usual reportage shots, but focused instead on capturing the drama in intimate moments. Exactly what I think a wedding should be. She and her assistant Sarah took nearly 1000 photos for us, and Debs has been wonderful to deal with throughout the whole process.

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Chilly bridesmaids

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Tom and I with my grandparents and my parents

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Tom and I with his slightly more extensive nuclear family!

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I was desperate for the bluebells to flower in time, as they’re my favourite spring flower. Again we were lucky, and they were absolutely everywhere.

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The grounds of Scorrier were perfect for capturing the feel of our wedding. We were surrounded by greenery and spring blossoms, and it was clear to all our guests why we’d chosen to get married in Cornwall. Even if they did all have to travel very far to join us!

It was such a wonderful day that I thought it best to split it into two separate posts. Photos and details of the wedding breakfast, cocktail hour and swing dancing in my next post.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Margaritas

My rosehip-syrup experiment last autumn went down pretty well, so I thought I’d try a spring version. And this time, I decided to add tequila.

Ingredients – serves 4

Rhubarb Syrup (recipe follows)
2 cups white tequila
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup triple sec, such as Cointreau
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh ripped mint leaves
Crushed ice, for the shaker
8 fresh strawberries, hulled and finely diced

Rhubarb Syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large stalks of rhubarb, coarsely chopped

Directions for Rhubarb Syrup:

I was aiming for 8 cocktails, so doubled the ingredients. Then I, er, added an extra two rhubarb stalks by accident, but it all turned out fine in the end!

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Coarsely chop

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Combine 1 1/2 cups of water and the sugar in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rhubarb and cook until slightly softened, for about 5 minutes.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and steep for 1 hour. Drain the liquid into a small saucepan and cook over a high heat until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Transfer the syrup to a bowl (or a measuring jug and a cafetiere if you happen to have broken every bowl you own). The recipe then says to cover and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour, but I left it to cool down on the side for an hour or so first. This probably seems obvious, but I thought I’d mention it just in case. The left-over rhubarb pulp is delicious as well, so don’t throw it away!

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Directions for the Margaritas:

Combine the Rhubarb Syrup, tequila, lime juice, triple sec, orange juice, mint leaves and some crushed ice in a shaker,  in batches if necessary. Place the strawberries in the bottom of your  glasses, then strain the margaritas over them. I found it quite difficult to judge the batches, so would advise combining everything in a large bowl first, then portioning it out for shaking. Mine turned out more orangey than rhubarby at first (no large bowls to hand), but I’d had the foresight to store the Rhubarb Syrup in a glass bottle that we could top up with as the cocktails went down. 

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They were sugary and fruity, the lime, orange juice and bitters balancing the syrupy flavour of the rhubarb. The tequila still packed a punch, but even the boys appreciated it being a contributing flavour rather than the sole focus. Dr Jekyll seems to be after them already in the photo above.

Has anyone else got any spring cocktails planned? Not that you need an excuse!

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