Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Blackpool Sands is open to dogs again for winter!

November 1st, bright sunshine, blue skies and 16C and there we were down on Blackpool Sands with lots more happy dog-owners to celebrate the first day of winter beach bliss for dogs and humans alike.

We love this beach and its Venus Beach Cafe, which is open every day except Christmas Day when we take mince pies and flasks of mulled wine anyway!  Parking is free out of season.

To comply with the Blue Flag regulations, dogs are only allowed on the beach from the beginning to November to the end of March - it makes winter worth waiting for!


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Dog Portrait Artist, Shirley Cherry, Graces the Gara Valley

Bob the Jack Russell

Burgeoning artist and dog portraitist, Shirley Cherry, is expanding her horizons on canvas and offering to paint portraits of favourite pets.  Shirley graced the valley in summer this year and was regularly seen in the garden painting human and canine visitors alike.  

Her portrait of Bob the Jack Russell perfectly caught the mischievous friendliness of the pup and enchanted all who saw it.  Sarah Harrison, Bob's owner, gave the following testimonial:

"My friends are very impressed with the Bob portrait, and we all agree it's a perfect likeness and a fantastic memento from our holiday."   

Shirley would love to offer you the chance to have your beloved dog captured on canvas forever so do take a look at her website at www.cherrypaintings.com  for more information and other examples of her work.

Artist Shirley at work

Friday, 26 August 2011

A dogtastic review by Charlie, the Springer Spaniel

Ha... pant, ... pant ... it was like this ha ... It was my first holiday with the folks!! Wow .... Wow what can I say .... GRRRRREAT!!!

Smells galore ... lots of sticks to chase and other dogs' chews to find.  I was a bit unsure about the stream at first, but my mate Monty showed me what to do and I love it ...
... in fact I love everything about Watermill Cottages ...

Oh and I've got to tell you ... ALL THE OTHER DOGS!! It was fab! We chased one another round and round and up and down. The cottages were at the end of the lane so our owners were really chilled and relaxed about it ... Makes a change!!!  But hey ..... when you have other dogs to play with, it gives your own tail a bit of a break!!!
One of my favourite walks was straight from Barleycorn Cottage, where we were staying, up the Gara River to Gara Mill. Wow it was pretty! There was bright orange cuckoo pint in the hedgerows, butterflies that needed chasing, rocks and trees covered with thick, soft lichen to bounce on. I couldn't get enough of the smells, sights and sounds of the woodland in early summer ... You don't need me to tell you, I ran here, there and everywhere ... well, you have to don't you ... don't want to miss anything ...

But the great thing was the stream was always there when you got thirsty!! 

It was heaven, Nirvanah for dogs!!! ... I hope the big people come back again next year! 
Charlie, also from Tysoe Warwickshire  

Photos by Ben Cherry   www.bencherryphotos.com
Words by Shirley Cherry

Watermill Cottages - A Dogtastic Holiday by Monty, the black lab

Holiday time again!  Fortunately, our owners decided to spend time with us and stay in the UK rather than go on some boring foreign beach holiday. At least that way we all got to have fun together and Charlie and I had free run of the place without having to 'do-time' in kennels.

It took us a few hours to drive down to Hansel, near Slapton, in South Devon from our home in the Midlands, but boy was it worth it when we got there!
As soon as the car door was open and we could smell the fresh greens and hear the babbling brook, we knew we were on to a winner.  I'm a lab, so it goes without saying - me and water, we go together like ham n' eggs! Whereas Charlie here, the young up-start - well he's not a year old yet, so he still has a lot to learn, like when he launched himself off a rock into the stream and ended up submerged in a pool! That'll learn him to try and copy me all the time.  Woof, I laughed but then I went back to picking up rocks!

We were away the last week in July - picked a good 'un!  It was sunny almost every day but it often took a couple of hours for the sun to penetrate the Gara Valley.  We didn't mind, we just loved every moment being able to wander about the place like it was ours. We felt like kings, not canines. We went to the beach at Slapton Sands and Torcross, to Start Point where the lighthouse is, and Lannacombe beach. Lannacombe was my favourite, with lots to explore and rocks to climb, although I had to turn back when I tried to follow my mistress in the canoe heading out to sea.

Monty, from Tysoe Warwickshire     

Photos by Ben Cherry www.bencherryphotos.com

Hen & Duck News - Maisie & Miracle!

It's a real generation game in the poultry stockade! Our four new hens are fully-grown and Maisie Chicken is laying eggs, compact brown ones with a light speckle.  Clarrie hen has gone broody, and Magda and Dolores continue to prefer the duck house for egg laying.

Our ten spring ducklings are now fully mature, flying, and every morning, descend like a horde of Viking invaders onto the hen house and pillage the leftover corn. Their diet is supplemented by weeds from the kitchen garden and any veg snippings, like tomato leaves and gone-over pea shoots. They haven't yet realised that they can fly over the fence...

The later three have adult feathers, and we have two new fortnight-old ducklings, called Miracle and Jack.  Thereby hangs a tale....  Jack is named after Jack, the three year old who would really have preferred to move in with the ducklings rather than stay with his family in Crownwheel Cottage.  The ducklings last year made such an impression on Jack as a toddler, that he still remembers that we used to keep them in the courtyard.  Luckily, the day Jack arrived, some ducklings hatched....  it just made his holiday, so we just had to name one after him.

Miracle had a different start to life.  He took all day to hatch and when we checked in the morning, there he was, still and lifeless.  He'd clearly hatched, been damp from yolk, and was too weak to snuggle under his mother's feathers. He was dead.  I went to pick up his body, and then he twitched... What was the warmest place to put him?  Hmmm... this was an emergency...  so, I popped him into my cleavage, where he sat, a little block of ice, until he began to warm up and wriggle, and then popped his head out over my T-Shirt.  

We rushed him to Intensive Care in a cardboard punnet filled with straw and feathers from the nest, and put him on the (closed) simmering ring of the Aga.  After two hours, he was leaping out of the punnet so we returned him to Mum, where John fixed up a heat lamp, just to make sure.  He is thriving, and now spends his days with Jack and his mum, Pretty Duck, in the fruit cage!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Summer Morning Dog-Walking Beach

Strete Gate, Slapton Sands
Start Bay sweeps round from Strete to Start Point Lighthouse in an arc of beauty.  It's dog-friendly all year round and offers miles of walking on the shingle beach, the Coast Path just above the beach, and along the side of the freshwater Slapton Ley, the National Nature Reserve.

August flowers on the beach at Strete Gate
On summer mornings, the sky and sea shimmer in shades of blue, and the slate cliffs bounce the light back. At the Strete Gate end of the bay, flowers grow on the beach from early spring right through to autumn, and the light shifts over the Dart estuary past Strete, and above the lighthouse past Torcross. 

What a way to start the day!

Slapton Sands is dog-friendly all year round.  It has three car parks, each with toilet facilites and dog waste disposal: at Strete Gate towards Dartmouth, at The Memorial in the centre, and at Torcross by the tank.  They are Pay-and-Display.  In summer, at Strete Gate there's a refreshment van; at the Memorial an ice-cream van and information on Slapton Ley from the Field Centre; at Torcross, cafes, pub, general store and Post Office, and Hannaford's butcher.  And the Sherman Tank from Operation Tiger.  Please keep your dog under close control on the Ley side as there are ground-nesting birds.

And what better to come home to your cosy, dog-friendly cottage at Watermill Cottages - call us on 01803 770219 and book your doggy in for some fun!

Hen and Duck News

Maisie Chicken and Maisie Girl*
I thought it was time to post some news about the poultry at Watermill Cottages.  

They now live in a fox-proof (so far) and dog-proof stockade in the little old orchard up the lane. The hens are still in the HenHouseHilton, a wendy house which John converted, adding nesting boxes and a tilting roof, for egg collection.

Our chickens had been used to flying out and about, and it's been their downfall; the foxes have taken plenty for their cubs, including Gretel, the last of the originals and my 'hen of prey'.  A sad day indeed. We were down to three hens and our lovely new Rhode Island Red cockerel, and so, last week, brought four new hens home.  
Red, the Rooster

One of them, the speckled and friendly Maisie Chicken, will come right up to be stroked and she feeds out of my hand.  She's named after Maise who was staying in Crownwheel Cottage last week.  Hence Maisie Chcken, to distinguish her from Maisie Girl, who helped her to feel right at home. 

The others are Gilda and two Light Sussex lookalikes (they're hybrids really) called Tallulah and Marilyn.  They should start to lay eggs in the next few weeks.

The ducks are in the same large coumpound in their own quarters, again built by John, with perches, nesting boxes (we have three ducks sitting on eggs at present), and an annexe which was used as a nursery when the ten ducklings hatched, but is now the teenage hostel.  Powdery Duck's ten are taking flying lessons and will soon be airborne, though they do have a good pond there and plenty of grazing so hopefully won't stray far..

Violet's three 'toddler' ducklings are just getting their adult feathers, and Specs, the big old Muscovy drake, is still the lord of all he surveys.

Dare we count our ducklings before they hatch?

*Photo of Maisie Girl published with her parents' permission.

Early Summer Nature Notes

a Dipper in the stream at dusk
Since April, we've been noting what's been spotted at Watermill Cottages, in the Gara River and valley, and in the cottage gardens and surroundings.  How lucky we are to have such varied wildlife and how lucky some of you have been to see it!

Dippers - these are rare birds that walk upstream underwater to gather food.  We have a pair living between the old bridge and Crownwheel Cottage (we think they nested on the old leat wall in spring) and they're often seen from the riverside bedrooms of Mill and Crownwheel Cottages.  As are flocks of goldfinches.

Otters - one lucky visitor saw a young otter climb onto the main lawn and run around for a few minutes.  People recently have reported hearing them at night.

Butterflies - this year has seen profusions of butterflies.  We're trying to record sightings with time and date to aid a butterfly conservation project.  We've seen many types this year, including orange tips, holly blues, peacocks, ringlets, wood whites, sulphur yellows, painted lady and red admiral and tortoiseshell, and gatekeepers.
Birds - many sightings of the kingfishers as they zoom past in an azure streak.  One once sat on the bench and the rocks for a while.  Chiff chaffs and long-tailed tits are a common sound; a common sight are goldfinches, goldcrests too sometimes, green woodpeckers, several owl species, wrens and bullfinches. There's a swallow nest in Barleycorn Cottage's porch, grey wagtails on the fallen weir, and buzzards whirling on the thermals.

Reptiles - up the green lane, I have regularly seen two shy female grass snakes warming themselves in the morning sun with a female slow worm - lots of slow worms in the compost!  They move away as soon as they feel vibrations from foot or voice and so far, I haven't managed to photograph them.  They're too quick and shy!  There are newts in the orchard pond too.

And best of all, glow worms in the lane and seen too in the garden of Barleycorn Cottage at dusk.

I saw this on a twig above the stream last week - does anyone know what it is?

Please post a comment if you can identify it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easter at Watermill Cottages - Far From the Madding Crowd

Sorrel in the Gara stream
stream walking in the Gara Valley

cricket bat willows  
stroll between milll leat and stream behind Crownwheel Cottage

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

April Nature Notes

The sunny, dry spring weather this year makes it feel more like mid-May than mid-April.  Everything's out early and  the hedgerows are a picture.  Quack Cottage's cherry trees are heavenly and the valley is scented with blossom.

Lambs and ewes are grazing the meadows, the orchard pond is wriggling with tadpoles, and ducks are sitting on eggs. 
Along the leat path through the woods, bluebells and white wild garlic mingle with the pale pink flowers of ladies smock and purslane - it's sensory heaven with the stream tinkling, birdsong, and warm earth and crushed garlic underfoot, soft new leaves tickling your face as you stroll to the wooden bench by the fallen weirs.

 Butterflies are in profusion over the gardens; we've seen orange tips, holly blues, small whites, tortoiseshells, red admirals and even the sulphurous yellow of a Brimstone. 

The pair of dippers are often walking underwater upstream to feed. They nest between the old stone bridge and Crownwheel Cottage, near Mill Cottage, on the stream walls.

The bobbing long tails of the grey wagtails and their distinctive yellow feathers are fun to watch as they dip along the river and perch on the stones.  Last year, they nested on the side of the bridge.  

And the swallows are back and busy building a nest on Barleycorn Cottage, swooping and chattering as they catch flies amongst the lilac.

The kingfisher has been seen zooming along the stream, as the heron barely stirs.  From the woods, the woodpecker calls and hammers.

Small brown trout are jumping in the stream, after the mayfly larvae, when the kids and dogs are not splashing in there with them.

Strange dens appear in the woods, and teepees on the lawn, piles of stones and fishing nets by the stream - is it fairies, or happy children playing?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Testimonial from Barry Wheelock of Calmer by Nature

Testimonial from Barry Wheelock of Calmer By Nature on his first visit to Watermill Cottages in November 2010.  He has just visited us for another week and hopes to return in spring to film.

Calmer By Nature films magical moments in nature then creates DVDs & CDs without people or voiceovers, to help people relax, escape to and enjoy the natural world whenever they feel the need.  The DVDs are used in care settings to help help people with stress, sensory problems, autism, dementia, anxiety & insomnia. 

''When I arrived at Watermill Cottages I desperately needed to re-charge my battery. There was a warm welcome and when I went inside Quack Cottage I was surprised and pleased to see a generous slice of homemade cake waiting for me and the rest of the party.

Despite a lot of wet weather that weekend, the beautiful remote setting, ducks wandering around and the sound of the river running by, combined with a log fire, good company and walks along the river bank and through the woods between showers enabled me to return home refreshed and ready to go again.

Can’t wait to return in the spring to capture on film this special place!''

Barry Wheelock

Monday, 24 January 2011

Beesounds - Midsummer Acoustic Music Festival Weekend 17-20 June 2011

FRIDAY 17TH JUNE – MONDAY 20TH 2011  Beesounds
MIDSUMMER ACOUSTIC  MUSIC FESTIVAL WEEKEND mainly at The Underwood Discovery Centre, Beeson TQ7 2ED and at venues around Beesands. Come and make a slate xylophone, listen to the band, join the dance, sing to the sea and much more.                      



JACKIE OATES is now the honorary president of the festival and will be giving a workshop and performing at 7.30pm on Saturday.



The event supports the Mbale Youth Bands in Uganda which are made up of  boys and girls who  overcome great difficulties just to play. Music gives them hope and direction.
Individual workshops and concerts from £5.
For further details and tickets contact  Valerie Belsey on 01803 866916  or underwoodorganic@onetel.com
Why not buy a ‘Beezounder’ ticket for £25 to cover all the concerts and events