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March 2015

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Something for everyone

Sam Bertram

31 March 2015

My children have both been to Marlborough College Summer School and every day they come back with big grins on their faces and tales of all the fun they’ve had – whether it’s canoeing or sliding down an inflatable slide covered in bubbles. When you walk around the impressive grounds you can hear the sound of laughter from people having a fabulous time. Many families and individuals feel so well looked after and have so much fun, that they’ve been coming to enjoy the fantastic courses on offer since it began in 1975. You often see grandparents meeting up with their grandchildren for lunch, or enjoying a cup of tea and a treat in the marquee at the end of the day. It’s the largest of its kind and there’s nothing else that caters for all ages in so many different areas. This year it’s extended to 4 weeks for the first time (12th July to 8th August) so customers have an even wider range of courses and opportunity to enjoy them. The types of courses you can enjoy are endless. There are…. Arts & Crafts, Landscape & Architecture, Literature & Creative Writing, History, Art History and Culture, Music, Dance & film, Science and Technology, Body & Mind, Life skills & Outdoor pursuits & Sport and varied and entertaining courses for children.  Need I say more – there’s something for everyone. The most popular courses are History & Cookery but it does vary and Ukulele for beginners is already full, closely followed by metal-detecting! Originally the Summer School was run by a few staff part-time but now it has a dedicated team of 5 and many more during the Summer School itself. They have recently been joined by new Director John Blake whose previous experience includes Chelsea Flower Show and Ascot Racecourse. The Summer School helps raise much needed funds for bursaries and upkeep of the Marlborough College Estate.  There are lots of local regulars as well as Londoners but it also draws customers from countries such as Spain, France, America and China. There’s plenty of accommodation at the college with meals in the Norwood Hall, as well as some lovely local accommodation options nearby. Some people love to stay in the dormitories as they get the feel of what living in a boarding school must be like, and if you stay at the College it’s easy to stay and enjoy a drink with friends in the evening in the Court. The lovely High street with its independent shops and cafes is right on your doorstep as well as access to all the College’s amazing sporting facilities. There are some fabulous new courses this year. For those who dream of hitting gold, or finding a Roman artefact in their garden, metal detecting is proving a massive hit. There’s a Learn to Brew Course, a Teddy Bear making course from the lady who made the Teddy Bears for Downton Abbey, and Dance Fusion for teenagers run by 3 incredible dance teachers. For 9-12 year olds Summer Baking looks at different recipes and a new goalkeeping course is perfect for football enthusiasts. The Gala performances form part of the evening entertainment and have also extended this year to include Tuesdays as well as Fridays.  There’s a range of acts from Jazz artist Courtney Pine, Cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber, political figure Giles Brandreth to an Abba Tribute band.  It’s first class entertainment that can be enjoyed by Summer School attendees as well as local residents who just want to take advantage of the shows on offer. There’s no better way to enjoy the long summer days but places are booking up fast so get in quick….. www.summerschool.co.uk

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A Tranquil Walled Kitchen Garden

Sam Bertram

24 March 2015

There’s a fascinating story behind Pythouse Kitchen Garden Café & Shop. Pythouse is an estate near Tisbury, Wiltshire in beautiful rolling countryside where cattle and sheep graze. When you’re there you feel miles away from anywhere – it’s a quintessentially English scene. As you drive towards Pythouse you pass through Newtown village where most of the gorgeous Chilmark stone houses belong to the estate. The Estate is owned by the Rumbolds who sold the main house a few generations ago but kept the land; and it’s on a small part of this, in a walled garden, where you find Pythouse Kitchen Garden Café & Shop.  The lovely thing about the walled garden at Pythouse is it’s always been a working garden. In the 1920s a lovely man named Frank Hatton rented the garden from the Rumbolds, growing some amazing produce. It wasn’t a tidy garden with neat rows but rather a messy display of vegetables. However, locals clambered to buy Mr Hatton’s delicious produce and many who visit today remember selecting & weighing their vegetables and fruit and leaving money in the box. There was no car park, just the potting shed and a scruffy room where you could select and buy. Mr Hatton retired in 2002 at the age of 92 and only took time off to go to the races. Towards the end of his tenure he did hire a young man (aged 69) to help him out. A charming man he was a hit with the locals and a ladies man by all accounts!  The garden was then left for 5 years with no-one in residence and nothing being grown. Then a series of tenants sorted the garden, created a farmshop and tea room from the potting shed, and Pythouse walled garden was alive once again. It was in 2008 that a new manager, Mitch Earl stepped in. Mitch had married a local Tisbury girl Clementine, who runs Clementine’s Shop nearby, who he met while both working in catering in London. They now have 2 children Josh, 6 and Orlando, 3 and another one is imminently arriving! Mitch had arrived from Brisbane Australia for 3 months in 2001 but the love of a local girl meant his plans changed and he is now fully entrenched in the Wiltshire countryside. With a background in hospitality and events he was the perfect man for the job. Since taking it over, Mitch has built on a conservatory (built by a man who was weighed on Mr Hatton’s scales as a baby) transforming it into a charming destination, as you can while away the day while looking out over the garden.  There is a lovely rustic café with delicious food serving vegetables and fruit from the garden, and in the summer children can play while their parents enjoy a meal or a drink. It’s a real sun trap so plenty of opportunity to enjoy the summer days and a shop with lots of delicious produce. They have lots of regulars and Londoners use it as a meeting point with friends, and hold private parties and weddings and walks and talks around the garden for gardening enthusiasts. The café is open 9.00am to 5.00pm Wednesday to Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch and all day coffee, tea and cake and Friday nights is supper club with a tasty set menu. They are open every day in April. There’s plenty of character and remnants of old - the water pipes that fed the garden from the well, and Mr Hatton’s scales which many recognise from their youth.  In the last century, most large country houses had walled kitchen gardens to feed family, staff and guests yet many are now in a state of disrepair. It’s wonderful to see history restored into a tranquil place for us all to enjoy away from the stress of modern life.  If you haven’t been there you’re missing out and with spring days a plenty and summer on its way it’s a perfect place to go and just be.  www.pythousekitchengarden.co.uk  

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Kitchenware fit for Her Royal Highness

Sam Bertram

5 March 2015

It’s always interesting to learn how people land up in a place. Hailing from Cape Town and Estonia respectively, Garp and Liis Flack came to visit friends in Avebury one weekend, with their young children, and two weeks later had let out their London flat and moved here. They now have Sticks and Stones, a wonderful lifestyle shop wrapped around a cosy and relaxed café.  It’s the best move they’ve ever made and a place for them both to finally call home. Garp left Cape Town with his backpack at the age of 18 and travelled through Africa for 2 years, making and selling jewellery in Malindi in Kenya, hanging out in Lamu and Dj’ing in Uganda before ending up in London. He worked at various pubs and restaurants and helped run rock venues and jazz cafes, meeting Liis while waiting on her in a pizza restaurant in Notting Hill. Liis had come to London to help open the Estonian embassy for the newly independent country and after years of them both working unsociable hours, and passing babies back and forth, they decided they needed a change in lifestyle.  Liis and Garp married in ‘93 and have two children Isis, 16 and Jamie, 14. When they first moved to Wiltshire they took some time out to think about their future plans. Garp had grown up in a family of jewellers and gem cutters and had always enjoyed working with his hands. He bought a lathe on ebay, found a workshop on a disused dairy farm and started to investigate what he could do. He handcrafts kitchen items like wooden boards, bowls and knives and his most successful commission to date has been a carving board which was given to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a wedding present. When they first received the call asking for a special gift for the future King and Queen Liis thought it must be a wind up! Garp loves the learning process that’s involved in trying something new. Apart from continuing to handcraft items for their shop and other commissions, Garp is currently making items out of reclaimed bits from the HMS Victory which includes materials such as copper, wood and sail. Once complete they go into the history museum for sale. He has recently made some stunning knives from some of the original 1805 copper, brass, hide and timber. They started selling his wares at Portobello and Spitafields markets but soon set-up their own shops in Marlborough and Woodborough after tiring of the motorway commute. They now just have the one shop and have been in their current premises in Woodborough since 2012 and their shop and Café Bark is going from strength to strength with regulars lining up when it opens in the morning. As for Liis when she moved out of London she said she’d never have a shop and never do any catering - her mum is a chef and laughing. However, she loves it and enjoys going to her café every day and playing house!  As she says ‘You end up doing what you’re good at’ Their shop doesn’t only have items handcrafted by Garp but many other kitchen and gift items which they always source direct from the producers. Despite dreams of ending up on a beach in Thailand and Bali they’re pretty content where they are now. They’ve been here a long time and love seeing regulars daily at their café and love recently hosting a very successful charity dinner for 21 people for Save the Children ‘Supper for Syria’ . They are also organising a Woodborough Yard Summer Fayre on 5th of July so put that in your diaries. And if you’re looking for somewhere to have coffee or lunch, or wanting a unique present for family or friends look no further than Sticks and Stones.  You’ll love it… www.uksticksandstones.com   

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