The dramatic history of Hallsands…….

A century ago one of our local fishing villages was struck by disaster.  South Hallsands was one of several small communities dotted along the coast that relied on the sea for its living and supported 128 inhabitants, 39 houses and a pub.

Hallsands originalIn the 1890s it was decided to expand the Naval dockyard at Devonport,  Plymouth for which sand and gravel was needed.  Dredging of the shingle bank began offshore from Hallsands in 1897 and soon up to 1,600 tons of shingle was being removed each day.  Much to the alarm of the villagers the level of the beach at Hallsands began to drop. In the storms of the 1900s some of the sea wall protecting the village washed away, causing villagers to petition their member of parliament and complaining about the damage to their properties.  In 1902 the dredging licence was revoked and the beach level recovered somewhat.

On the fateful night of January 27th 1917 a combination of strong easterly gales and an exceptionally high tide ripped through the village. Seawater swirled through the houses, enveloping the village and wreaking a trail of devastation. By midnight four houses had gone. The inhabitants gathered the few belongings they could and assembled on the cliff tops above to watch the horror unfold.  By the end of the night only one house was left standing.  Miraculously no-one lost their lives.

The villagers fought for compensation for years and many resettled in North Hallsands and Beesands.

Today, there is a viewing platform at Hallsands where visitors can learn the history of the village and look out over the ruins.

Hallsands 2To commemorate the centenary of the disaster the occupants of the remaining house (used as a private holiday home) allowed guests to come in to the old village.  It was a suitably atmospheric day – the sky was grey and the wind bitingly cold.  It was fascinating to step back in time and to visit the old village, to pay respects to those who had their livelihoods taken from them and to consider the impact man’s actions can have on the natural environment.

Young readers may enjoy “Wings to fly” by Patrick Cooper, a touching story about the night of the storm.

Posted in Beach, Boats, Member Farms

Spotlight on Ilfracombe………

Damien Hirst’s Verity definitely has the Marmite factor – whether you love her or can’t stand her she’s extremely popular and draws people to Ilfracombe.   However Verity, as statuesque and commanding as she is in the harbour, is not the only reason for visiting this interesting town.  The harbour area itself is great for a wander around, with fishing vessels and passenger boats plying their trade, as well as privately owned sailing boats coming and going with the tide. Verity

Ilfracombe Aquarium will keep most children and adults occupied for an hour – longer if you spend time in their café which overlooks the harbour.  Situated in the old lifeboat station, the aquarium provides a fantastic insight into the wonders of the aquatic world found locally around North Devon.  Its beautiful exhibits are in carefully recreated natural habitats, providing home to over 75 species of fish, some of which, for many visitors, have never been seen before.

A short walk away is the entrance to Tunnels Beaches.  Step back in time as you walk through the tunnels, hewn through the Ilfracombe cliff face in the 1820s by the Victorians to get access to the beach and tidal bathing pools.  A great place to sit and admire the lovely rugged scenery while the children play in the tidal pool or explore the fantastic rock pools – it was rated the 3rd best beach for rock pooling in the UK by BBC Wildlife Magazine.

There are still echoes of the traditional English coastal town as you walk along the promenade with its crazy golf, amusement arcades and formal planted gardens.  The views from Capstone Hill are stunning and on a clear day you can see across the Bristol Channel to Wales.  Looking back on the town, with its abundant Victorian architecture, it’s not hard to imagine what Ilfracombe was like in its heyday.

In recent years Ilfracombe has developed something of a foodie culture, with some really good restaurants, including the Michelin starred The Olive Room and 11 The Quay, where you can dine surrounded by Damian Hirst’s Artwork. There’s also a fabulous fish restaurant, Take Thyme and many more besides, all offering good quality food at reasonable prices served alongside a warm North Devon welcome. the olive room

Local’s Tip: Park up by the swimming pool near Larkstone one evening and walk down to the harbour via Rapperee Cove.  Take in the atmosphere of the harbour at the end of the day, grab some fish and chips and enjoy them on the harbour beach if the tide is out or sit on the harbour wall by the main car park facing out to sea.  Be sure to take something warm, as the onshore breeze can make it quite chilly, even on a summer evening.

Posted in Beach, Boats, Member Farms, Restaurants, walks

Chocolate cake recipe, courtesy of Mincombe Barn:

Luke’s chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.  Can be decorated according to the season!

Mincombe Barn choc cake


225g Butter or baking margarine

225g Caster sugar

225g Self-raising flour

50g Cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 large duck eggs or 4 chicken eggs

Dash of milk if required



Cream the butter and sugar

Slowly add the beaten eggs

Fold in the sieved flour, baking powder and cocoa powder

Add a dash of milk if mix looks a little dry

Split the mixture between two lined cake sandwich tins and bake for 20-25 mins at gas mark 5 or 190c.  To test your cake is cooked it should spring back to the touch

Once cooked leave cakes in the tin on a wire rack to cool for 10 mins, then take out of the tin and leave to cool completely


To make the Ganache you will need:

100g Dark chocolate

100g Butter

100ml Cream


Heat the cream and butter until boiling, take off the heat, add the chocolate and leave to cool.

Spread some of the ganache on top of one of the cakes put the second cake on top, spread the remaining ganache on the top of the cake and around the sides.



  • Take butter/margarine out of the fridge in advance so it’s at room temperature
  • Use ready-made cake liners.  They are so quick and easy
  • You don’t have to decorate the whole cake with ganache if you are pushed for time.  You can always just do the filling and dust the top with icing sugar
  • You can put marmalade as the filling and use the ganache for the topping – yummy chocolate orange!


We like to have this cake with clotted cream, or my sister likes it served floating in double cream!

Enjoy and don’t think about your waistline!!





Posted in Member Farms, Recipes

P-p-p-pick up a penguin on World Penguin Day!

Living Coasts is an all-weather attraction, located on Torquay seafront in South Devon.   There’s always plenty to see and do – mingle with the playful penguins, get up close to the otters, octopus and seals, and much more.  Visit Penguin Beach to walk with the African and Macaroni penguins and catch the entertaining feeding time

Below the decks the fun doesn’t stop, with more fascinating habitats and creatures in the aquariums, games, activities and panoramic underwater viewing areas for the diverse array of stunning species.

Open to all, the Living Coasts Café has free entry to non-visitors too, so go in anytime for family friendly, local food and drink with panoramic sea views overlooking the Bay.

You can also grab some retail therapy at Tradewinds Gift Shop anytime without having to visit the zoo.  It’s packed with wonderful products to suit all ages, from plush toys and games to books, clothing and confectionary. There’s also a huge range of Fair Trade jewellery and local art.  All profits go towards their conservation work.

Today, 25th April, is World Penguin Day!  Why not visit Living Coasts to help celebrate these amazing birds.  There will be a puppet show at 14:50, Mac the Penguin mascot will be doing his rounds twice on the day.  There will be lots of penguin things going on, penguin touch trolley, games and enrichment for the penguins too with the bubble machine and disco ball – they love a bit of sparkle!

Posted in Beach, Member Farms, Restaurants, Retail, Shopping, Wildlife

Easter at Little Comfort Farm means egg hunts and plenty of chocolate

The Easter egg hunts have always been popular with our holiday cottage guests at Little Comfort Farm and we hold one each week throughout the Easter holidays so everyone staying on the farm gets a go. Clues are hidden around the farm, there’s a fiendish anagram to solve and of course plenty of chocolate eggs at the end of it.  Chocolate is so much a part of Easter for many people and for a serious chocolate hit, our brownies are always right on the money so we thought we’d share the recipe with you…


170g dark Chocolate
115g Butter
2 Beaten eggs
55g Plain Flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
¼ tsp salt and a few drops of Vanilla extract
115g  Muscovado or soft brown sugar
55g   Granulated sugar
115g chopped nuts, cherries, raisins, dried fruit of your choice.

Preheat oven to gas 4 ,175C, 350F
Lightly Grease and line 20cms square baking tin
In a bowl over a pan of hot water, melt the butter and the chocolate. Take care not to allow the bowl to touch the simmering water. When the chocolate has melted take the bowl off the pan and beat until smooth.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs and the sugar until they are light and fluffy. Spoon in the chocolate mixture and fold in the flour, salt and baking powder. Finally stir in the nuts and dried fruits of your choice and the vanilla.
Spread into prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes approx or until a dull crust is formed on top. Allow to cool, then cut into squares or fingers and store in an airtight container.
(Brownies are supposed to be soft in the middle so please don’t think that they are not cooked enough, the proof is in the tasting!)

The credit for the recipe goes to Mary Bailey who wrote a lovely book called ‘Granny Mary’s Baking Secrets’ filled withe traditional recipes from her home in the Peak District where she is famous for her contributions to the cricket teas.

Posted in Member Farms, Recipes

The story of a castle as told for children and then for the adults!

Entertain your children over Easter:

The story of Lawrence Castle (Children’s Workshop)

Have you spotted the big white castle from the viewpoint on the Discovery Trail at Haldon Forest?  Why not learn a little bit about its colourful history and its links to India?

Come rain or shine, have fun discovering colourful local history through art, stories, crafts and games.

The age guide for this event is between 6-11 years (children need to be accompanied).

This event will take place in the Ridge Studio’s and is being hosted by the custodians of Lawrence Castle.

Booking is essential so please e-mail

When is the event?

Tuesday 11 April 2017

What time is it on?


Who is this for?

6-11 years (must be accompanied)

How much?


Where to meet?

The Ridge Studio’s (next to the café), Haldon Forest, EX6 7XR

Dogs Allowed:


Lawrence Castle

Information for the adults!…………

The Haldon Belvedere (also known as Lawrence Castle) was built in 1788 at the height of the Romantic Period of the Georgian age.  It’s a much loved, iconic landmark sitting high in the hills of Haldon Forest above Exeter, with breath-taking panoramic views over the Devon countryside.  Even in pre-history the high piece of land on which the Belvedere sits was seen to be important. 5000 years ago the earliest Neolithic farmers occupied the ridge and excavations which took place in the 1930’s found pieces of very early pottery.  Worked flints were also discovered. The ridge continued to be occupied during the Bronze and Iron Ages and the Romans left trackways over the hills.  During the Civil War the Haldon Hills provided a natural barrier making troop movements difficult when the Parliamentarians tried to stamp their authority over what was mainly a Royalist area.  Following this torrid period a time of relative peace saw the laws of the land change and the growth of the great estates with the Enclosure Act passed by Parliament from 1750 onwards.

The Tower is open on Sundays from 2pm to 5pm from 16th April to 24th September 2017.  The grounds are open daily, but the upper lawn may be closed and clearly signed as such.  It is also open on Bank Holiday Mondays.  It can also be booked as a unique and spectacular venue for weddings and civil partnerships.



Posted in Member Farms, Uncategorized

Be sure to visit Croyde during your stay…..

Croyde beachTell people you live in North Devon and they will invariably have heard of Croyde, even if they don’t know anywhere else in the area. Probably best known for its surf, when the conditions are right Croyde produces steep, powerful waves which attract surfers from far and wide. Perhaps not the best place to learn to surf, it is nevertheless very popular with novices and experienced surfers alike.  The sand is fine and golden, great for sandcastles and ideal for a family day on the beach. There are plenty of surf hire shops for wetsuits, body boards, surf boards and places to book surf lessons.  Parking can be found at either end of the beach, although it’s probably best to park at the Baggy End if you want to be closer to amenities.  However, if you park at Downend you will find the beach quieter and children always have fun playing in amongst the rocks.Surf lessons Croyde

Dogs are allowed on the beach between October and April so Croyde is great for walking, particularly if you are following the South West coast path from Saunton and continue up and around Baggy Point to Putsborough.  There are also some lovely paths leading back to the village through the dunes to explore. If you’re a National Trust member then you can park in Baggy car park for free, take a walk around Baggy Point, with its stunning views, then grab a cuppa in Sandleigh Tearooms.  Their walled garden with its raised beds is delightful!

Croyde village has a really good mix of pubs, restaurants, surf shops, gift shops, tea rooms and a Post Office.  Last year the village stores underwent a total facelift and reopened with a fabulous new look, a shop filled with delicious local produce, delicatessen and treats as well as a licensed café and restaurant.

If you need to entertain the children on a rainy day a quick trip to Cascades pool will help them burn off some energy and The Thatch, Manor and Billy Budd’s are all child friendly pubs where you can also get a decent pint of the local brew too.

Posted in Beach, Member Farms, pets, Pubs, walks

The dreams and reality of a running a farm based B&B!

My dream… to have wonderful children staying at our farm enjoying what they would normally only see on the television or Xbox – real fields, grass, sheep, cows, bullocks, chickens.

Before moving to Yellingham we knew that the farm would not sustain a family of 4 – too small and and an awful lot of work to do as well.  So the major plan was for me to farm and Edward to carry on working full time as Executive Chef doing what he did well – cook. The only link to farming that Edward has is cooking the results – that’s where it starts and finishes, but he does a great job

Within 12 months of moving I decided that a good quality B&B was the way forward to earn and inject some much needed cash into the business.  A major part of my marketing plan was children – dreamy, well-behaved children.  Ones who would sit at the table, be polite, eat everything, smile, laugh and I suppose… just be kids, but ultimately learn a little about the wonderful world of farming.  Yes, I know – a dream to get all that in a small package!  It is so wonderful to watch children’s faces light up when they collect a warm egg, laugh at a cow having an early morning release of the bowels  (they do it in such an unashamed style!), watch the cockerel enjoying his morning treat.

bullocks at YellinghamThe advertising and website I designed was totally child friendly and focused on families, and it worked.  Loads of families were booking.  My dream was underway!


“I wonder if you have your family room available for myself and 2 children – your farm looks soooooooo lovely and my boys are both well behaved” (I now know that’s a warning sign before you start!).  Normally my guests are talking about their dogs when they say they’re well behaved and of course they are always quite the opposite, so I was prepared.

Loads and loads of questions followed, “Will Rupert and Theo be able to feed the chickens?”

“Of course”.

“Is there plenty of space for them to run around?”

“Yes 45 acres”

“Can they get totally involved in farm life?”

“ Well, within reason, they must be safe”

“Oh how exciting!  They will love it!”.  Booked – 3 days and nights.

Said family arrived and as expected the children were so excited. Two beautiful boys, manes of wild blond hair, cheeky smiles, wellies on before they had even got out of the car.  No stopping these two.  They were gone, heading off in the direction of the front field with my 6 dogs, who immediately realised that they had got 2 new playmates. A short sharp whistle from me stopped my dogs in their tracks, and thankfully the boys came to an abrupt halt as well.  Excellent.  Mum clearly had no control and I could see I was in for a full on 3 days with the boys.  My dream? Oh heck!

I could see within seconds that I needed to assert some authority over the boys as their dear mum was somewhat lacking in that department.

“Right boys – farms are wonderful places, but you do need just to listen to me before you go off exploring”.

A few rules and regulations read out – the dogs are not pets, they’re working dogs and don’t do cuddles.  Please don’t jump off the haystack, watch out for the ponds, the river, the dung heap.  The boys were silent and nodding, mum was silent, oblivious, nodding, and on her mobile phone.  I felt awful – it sounded like they couldn’t go anywhere or do anything even though I was only interested in their safety and my sanity.

The first morning the children were up before me, ready and raring to go – no sign of mum – somehow no surprise, but, hey-ho, she was on holiday too. They were a delight and chatted non-stop as we let out the chickens, fed the ducks and then wandered off to check some sheep, all before breakfast. Egg collecting is always a highlight for kids and I showed them exactly where to search. It wasn’t long before I heard squeals of delight and saw the boys rushing across the yard with a bucket full of eggs. Alarm bells rang immediately as I knew I had only a few hens laying. The eggs were dull, all white and very warm. I knew immediately that they weren’t new laid eggs. Oh no!  In the distance I could hear one very, very unhappy chicken, rushing around, feathers all plumped up and showing signs of distress.  Bless those dear little boys.  In their quest for eggs they had searched everywhere and had come across my broody hen who had sat patiently on those eggs for nearly 3 weeks, the chicks due to hatch any day. Quickly, I took the boys hands, dragging them and the bucket and set off in haste for the little coop where she was sitting. With a lot of pecking from the angry hen we managed to put the eggs back under her and she settled down on them quickly with a look of complete disgust on her face. Tears were welling up in the boys’ eyes and I felt so terrible. Clearly they thought I was cross, but a little explanation from me they were soon smiling again and rushed off to tell “sleeping beauty” what had happened and that chicks were due any day.

Egg collectingTheir last day arrived too quickly and as a treat their mum asked if they could spend the whole day on the farm, as the weather was so beautiful and hot and did I mind if they had a picnic.  No problem – of course.

It was not long before mum appeared in the farmyard ready for her day on the farm, complete with makeup and dressed, no less, in a bikini!  In fact, a mini-kini would be more appropriate!  I watched in amazement as she set out her beach towel complete with sun tan cream, Ray ban sunglasses,  book, bottled water and, of course, mobile phone (I can only assume she thought David Hasselhoff might call !).

I had no problem with the whole set up.  It was just the position she chose to sunbathe… right under my kitchen window, in the farmyard, on concrete.  Edward glued himself to the window for the rest of the morning.

“What are you looking at?”


My dream was coming true, knowing that I had seen and helped children learn a little more about the beauty of farm life and nature at its best.  The trouble was, Edward also spent the entire day focusing on what he thought was nature at its best!

Janet East

Posted in Calves, chickens, Cows, Farm Dogs, Member Farms

If you go down to the dunes today…….

If you go down to the (Woolacombe) dunes today,

You’re sure of a big surprise.

If you go down to the (Woolacombe) dunes today

You’d better go in disguise…….

You might just bump into a rather handsome North Devon Red cow!  The National Trust are running a conservation project in partnership with a local farmer which aims to enhance habitat management for the diverse species of wildlife in the area.

Cows on the dunes

(c) The National Trust

The project using North Devon Red cows to graze the sand dunes at Woolacombe was driven by the aim to provide a space for nature, a space for wild flowers and fine grasses that support pollinators, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds.  This is part of the Trust’s aim to manage their own land for the benefit of nature and restore the health of the countryside to bring back the dwindling wildlife.  Historically the sand dunes had been managed by man, using mechanical techniques (ie mowers) to manage scrub and improve the habitat.

With no ecosystem engineers (like the North Devon Red ladies!) capable of breaking up the dense bramble at the Warren, and it being isolated from other healthy habitats to support it, it looked unlikely that the habitat would build itself into anything rich and diverse.  However, the Trust wanted a habitat that benefits both wildlife and human well-being.  The Aquatic Training Centre at Woolacombe, where tens of thousands of US troops trained in preparation for D-Day, was probably the greatest influence on the current state of the habitat.

Obviously, erecting miles of fencing to separate the dunes from the beach would have been extremely costly, unsightly and prohibitive to the enjoyment of the dunes by the general public.  However, a new technology, invisible fencing, allowed the Trust to look at how they could use cows to break up the scrub in a manner which would help improve conditions for the species that need a helping hand. The North Devon Red cows graze the scrub erratically, creating a range of height and variety in the plant life, in a more gentle way than mowing. This helps to generate a rich and sustainable environment with a variety of habitats for wildlife, as well as opening up more space for the plant life which the Trust wants to encourage.

The dunes of Woolacombe Warren create a beautiful landscape and a stimulating and inspiring place to visit, so this seemed the perfect environment to trial invisible fencing.  The herd of North Devon Red cows grazing the dunes have been fitted with collars that respond to a radio signal emitted by a cable buried around the dunes. When approaching the cable an alarm sounds on the collar and the clever cows have been trained to know that if they continue in the same direction they will receive a pulse from the collar to deter them from continuing any further. The cows really got the hang of this and rarely tested the boundaries beyond the alarm bell.  Looking after the cattle and ensuring their wellbeing was a top priority, so veterinary observation was carried out throughout the trial of this innovative fencing and there continues to be no cause for concern.

The cows grazing Woolacombe Warren achieved more than anyone could have hoped for during this modest trial on 6 hectares of the warren, so everyone is excited to see what comes to the light this spring. Only grazed there for the winter, the cattle will be taken off the dunes by the end of March.  It has been great for the cows, avoiding being kept indoors all winter and being able to reside in a dry environment with the fresh low rougher forage that North Devon Red cattle are known to thrive on. It really has been a win for both farming and nature!

For more information on the work carried out by The National Trust, go to:

If you wanted to see the project in action, it was featured on the BBC Countryfile programme on 5 March 2017, now available to watch on the BBC iplayer if you missed it.

As the invisible fencing works so well spectacles, such as when a cow decided to join surfers at Croyde beach last year, will probably be avoided!

Photos (c) SWNS.COM

cow surfing 3

Cow surfing 4

Posted in Beach, Cows, Wildlife

Follow in the footsteps of a literary heroine…

Lovers of English literature will know that RD Blackmore’s  19th century romantic novel Lorna Doone was set on Exmoor, in and around the villages of Oare and Malmsmead.  The valley below Oare is now widely known as Doone Valley and even if you are not familiar with the story you can’t help but enjoy the stunning landscape and delightful villages.

If you’d like to walk through Doone Valley drive to Malmsmead, with its picturesque bridge and ford, then leave your car in the village car park and take a walk upriver along the Badgery Water. There are plenty of opportunities to picnic, as well as a tea room in Malmsmead for a welcome cuppa or cream tea on your return.

The little church at Oare was reputably the setting for Lorna Doone and John Ridd’s marriage and is well worth a visit for its charm and box pews.

Culbone churchWith its range of interesting independent shops and quality restaurants and pubs, the traditional village of Porlock is also enchanting.  Porlock Weir, 2 miles away, is a quaint little harbour with a unique charm; from here take a stunning walk through coastal woodland to the tiny hamlet of Culbone where you’ll find England’s smallest complete church.  It can only be reached on foot along the Coast Path. There are spectacular views across the Bristol Channel on a clear day and the route passes the romantic remnants of Lord Byron’s daughter’s gothic mansion, with tunnels carved out of the hillside by nineteenth-century Swiss mountaineers.  It really is a beautiful area to explore.

For more ideas and places to visit in ‘Doone’ country

Posted in Beach, Church, Member Farms, Pubs, Restaurants, Retail, walks