Saturday, 17 September 2011

Exmoor National Park, Cider Orchards & Marilyn Monroe's Dresses

The Farmer & I ran away to Exmoor last weekend! On the spur of the moment we decided to book a cottage and just go. The Sons were more than happy to be left in charge for a few days and so off we went. I managed to find a delightful cottage (http://www.the-malt-house.co.uk/) & the owners, though a bit surprised, were willing for us to arrive that evening and we headed off down the M4 after lunch. We had a very good run and found the tiny dot of the village of Exton where the cottage was located, without too much difficulty even though it was up a tiny lane in very quiet & secluded spot. Perfect!

As well as sleeping & reading a huge amount, we spent a lot of time exploring Exmoor, neither of us having been there before. It is lovely and though several places were heaving with 'charabanc outings' on the whole there were few people around. Porlock was a sweet place as was Dulverton. Dunster was beautiful but parking impossible & of course we went to Tarr Steps, the impressive ancient stepping stones across a small river which is a magnet for walkers. We approached it from the non-tourist side, i.e. the side without the pay & display carpark! and though it is a ford the Farmer would not drive through it in our 4x4 as he said would be showing off!

Although we are not church-goers we are church visitors ansd there are some lovely old & very interesting village churches dotted around Exmoor. They all had lists in beautiful script of the vicars who had served those parishes dating from the 13th century; I think the earliest one we saw was 1270 going right up the present incumbent who came in 2009. There was real sense of continuity in seeing the names of the men who had conducted the rites in those remote parishes over so many centuries.

The cottage was very comfortable & the Farmer was very kindly given the use of a music-room that was attached. The owner was a violin-maker & player and so he and the Farmer had good conversations.
I had the aurally interesting experience of sitting reading one evening with the Farmer playing some Bach in the adjoining music-room and hearing the bell-ringers practising in the village church which was only a 100 yards from the cottage. As I said aurally interesting, harmonically horrendous!!! not a musical experience I would want to repeat!

We left for home yesterday and on the way stopped at a cider orchard in Somerset (Pixford Fruit Farm, Bishops Lydeard) to buy cider (for the Farmer to compare it with his own !) and were able to go into the orchards to see the harvesting machines which the Farmer was fascinated by. The orchards were very beautiful with their serried ranks of trees many still laden with glowing red apples and others with the ground underneath carpeted with greenery-yallery fruit where the trees had been shaken ready for gathering up by the harvester.

We then made our way to Claverton just outside Bath to visit the American Museum in Britain. This is a place I have vivid memories of being taken to as child on several occasions & the Farmer had never been so now was our opportunity to call in as we were passing..more or less!
The museum traces the story of America with a display of rooms furnished in different styles showing the progress from the 17th century to the 19th. There was also gallery of portraits  in the folk art tradition which were beautiful.

But an unlikely bonus to the day was the exhibition about Marilyn Monroe. It was display of her dresses as worn in her most well-known films including this fabulous scarlet sequinned number from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.These gowns & other items from her home had been collected on her death and were now in private collection that has been loaned to the American Museum for a temporary exhibition.
The exhibition was superb, even the Farmer was impressed & its not really his kind of thing! The dresses were stunning and the work in them, the beading & embroidery was beautiful. The exhibits were shown with a background of songs from the films and further illustrated with the life story of this Hollwood icon & victim. I love the films, especially 'Some Like it Hot' & Sugar Kanes's little black beaded dress was in the exhibition.

After all that glamour it was back to the farm and family having endured horrendous traffic through Bath & on the motorway, crawling at 20mph much of the time! It was relief to get back onto our own quiet country roads and to find that while we were away seven calves had been born and the Sons had been kept very busy.

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