One of our aims since arriving here nearly four years ago has been to plant some trees on the land, and we're thrilled to say that this plan is finally coming to fruition this Spring with the launch of our Adopt-A-Tree programme.
I don't think I had ever heard the word until last year when someone I follow on Instagram posted a gorgeous photo of snowdrops and referred to 'imbolc' (pronounced im'olc). It's a time of year that always reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Freda. Her birthday was 7th February and she had the most wonderful array of snowdrops in her garden.
Imbolc celebrates the return of the Sun and the re-awakening or 'quickening' of nature following the Winter's rest. In the last few days it has been noticeably lighter in the mornings and the afternoons don't seem to close in quite so early. Snowdrops and daffodils are pushing up through the earth and there are buds of blossom on the trees, forerunners of the Spring to come. Imbolc is traditionally the start of the lambing season too, although we had our first twins in the field adjacent to the yurts on New Year's Day so they are now nearly a month old! Read on to learn more about the origins and traditions associated with imbolc.
Tomorrow (Friday 10th January) sees the first full moon of 2020. It is known as the wolf moon because January tends to be the time when wolves are most vocal in Europe and North America, apparently lamenting the scarcity of food. It is the first of thirteen full moons this year as there are two in October, one on the 1st of the month and another on the 31st, which will make it a very special Halloween/Sawhain indeed.
Tomorrow's moon is also special because it will feature a penumbral lunar eclipse (one of four this year). This differs from a full or partial eclipse because the sun, Earth and moon are not quite perfectly aligned causing the Earth's outer shadow (the penumbra) to fall on the moon's face instead of the Earth's full shadow. This will make the moon appear slightly dimmer than usual, rather than totally or partially eclipsed. You may need to look closely and be in a place with lovely dark skies and little light pollution (and of course little cloud!) to see the effect of the penumbral eclipse.
This year, the Winter Solstice falls on Sunday 22nd December, which means that the shortest day is just around the corner, the days will soon be getting longer and Spring will be here before we know it!
But before we wish away this season, we wanted to introduce you to the origins of the Solstice, what it is and why we celebrate it.
Also known as Midwinter, the Winter Solstice occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun. It happens twice a year, once in the Northern Hemisphere and once in the Southern. For us here in the UK, it means that the light we receive on the 22 December is considerably less than in June.
The winter solstice has been cause for ritual and celebration since the earliest human times, with many of our Christmas traditions evolving from these rituals. Although not religious in origin, solstice celebrations occur throughout many different cultures and countries, more as observances of an astronomical or natural phenomenon. It has always marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun.
Press release issued 29.11.19
Mid-Devon couple celebrate glamping success at tourism awards
A couple from mid-Devon are celebrating today after winning bronze at the 2019 Devon Tourism Awards last night. Katie Parsons and Mark Hammond who run Blackdown Yurts near Cullompton, together with their children Mia and Felix, scooped the award in the Glamping and Alternative Accommodation category at a prestigious ceremony held on Thursday at the Riviera Centre in Torquay.
The award is a huge success for the couple, who only moved to the area from Surrey in 2016 and had never worked in the tourism industry before.
‘As anybody in this sector knows, running an establishment like this is incredibly hard work, and it’s something that our whole family mucks in and helps with’ says Katie. ‘To be recognised in this category is such a huge achievement for us and has given us a real boost. We love what we do, but it means even more to know that other people love it too!’
The slide into Winter is a fantastic time to look back and reflect on past achievements and to plan for the future. This Autumn we have been revelling in the announcement that Blackdown Yurts has been made finalist in the Glamping and Alternative Accommodation category of the 2019 Devon Tourism Awards. For a little more than a month we have been wondering whether we will achieve Gold, Silver or Bronze at the awards ceremony. We haven't got long to wait now (the awards ceremony is on Thursday night in Torquay!), but whatever colour our award turns out to be we are over the moon to be considered one of the top three Glamping sites in Devon.
It is a very welcome endorsement of all of the hard work we and our team have put in during the last three years and eight months since we arrived at Halsbeer Farm and Blackdown Yurts in March 2016. Many of our guests ask how we ended up out here in the Devon countryside running a glamping site. Neither Mark nor I (Katie) have any background in the tourism sector other than the experience of going on plenty of holidays ourselves! So how on Earth did we end up here?
Being immersed in nature as we are here at Blackdown Yurts, we like to think we are in tune with the seasonal year, and so try to learn as much as we can about pagan rituals. Rather than the mass commercialised holiday of Halloween, we like the more simple, ancient traditions and so thought we would introduce you to this holiday of Samhain.
The week after we returned from holiday I found myself feeling rather down in the dumps. Why on Earth was that? I couldn't understand it. I'd just returned from a fantastic fortnight away with my family in sunny Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, our first summer holiday in five years and our first two-week break in eight! On arriving home we were warmly welcomed by friends who had been house-sitting and we still had ten days of the summer holidays left including fun with family so why did I feel so flat?
Many of you know I love bats and enjoy guiding bat walks on the farm for our guests. We listen to bats' echolocation with bat detectors as they fly over the ponds catching mosquitos and midges. Back in June I borrowed a recording bat detector from the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project for three nights to see what activity it picked up. I located it between our two ponds in our garden at the farmhouse and to be honest I didn’t hold out much hope as the forecast was for rain, rain and more rain. However I was pleasantly surprised when I got the results back after a couple of weeks.
One of my goals this year was to start walking the South West Coast Path after reading Raynor Winn's fantastic book The Salt Path. Various stretches are accessible from Blackdown Yurts - the closest being East Devon, but you can also reach the North Devon and Somerset coastline and South Devon should you wish. We started with a beautiful circular walk from Branscombe to Beer and back, up and over the cliffs to the attractive fishing village for lunch and back along the jungly undercliff.
The National Trust has a good guide to the walk. We parked in the beachside car park in Branscombe (be aware you still need to pay for parking even if you are a NT member). You can charge yourself with a coffee at The Sea Shanty beach cafe before you tackle the hill up to Hooken Cliffs. We enjoyed watching a pair of peregrine falcons hovering and diving while hunting on the clifftop.
A cause very close to our hearts here at Blackdown Yurts, on Saturday 20th July we are hosting a 'Crafternoon' in aid of Mind - the mental health charity.
As well as supporting worthy charities, we're passionate about the local community and so thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to invite families to come and join us here at Blackdown Yurts, as well as our sister business; Halsbeer Farm.
We've got so much space here to craft and play that it seems silly not to open it up every now and again to those who aren't staying here. So if you'd like to come along, there's no need to book - it's totally free so just turn up and get crafting! We'll have plenty of refreshments to keep you going, all we'd ask is that you donate to the charity while you're here.
Here are our top ten things to do this half term and beyond near Blackdown Yurts and Halsbeer Farm. We've divided into places you have to pay entrance for and things that are free. The titles to each attraction below are clickable through to their websites for more information, and we've provided links to some of the blogs we have done previously about attractions we've visited so you can see what we really thought and read our top tips for visiting.
Hooray for the holidays. Have fun whatever you are up to! Katie. x
Mark and I were recently treated to a wonderful evening at nearby Pipers Farm. One of the owners, Peter, ably assisted by his beautiful sheepdog Fly, showed us around the farm which showcases their grass fed, traditionally-reared livestock.
Pipers Farm is actually so much more than this little Devon farm with a view of the Blackdown Hills in the distance. The company supports a network of family-run farms and sells their quality meat online. It has a loyal following of ethically-minded consumers who want to know that the animals are treated well and reared outdoors in tune with nature.
On Tuesday evening I went running for the first time in nearly three months since fracturing a bone in my foot. I've missed getting out in the beautiful landscape and getting the headspace and exercise that comes with it.
I ran from the picturesque village of Culmstock along the River Culm through the water meadows to a little Woodland Trust reserve called Hunkin Wood where I stumbled on a granite gateway with a beautiful poem on it by Elizabeth Rapp.
Katie is one of the owners of Blackdown Yurts and likes to write about things going on at and around her beautiful glamping site