AVALON, RILLA MILL.
It felt very strange leaving my eighteen-year-old daughter behind and driving the three-hundred miles to Cornwall. I felt as if I was abandoning her but it was her choice. The lonely journey from Cambridgeshire to Cornwall was mostly motorway and very tiring and I breathed a sigh of relief on entering the front door. As I had only stayed briefly before it didn’t feel like mine, but the large clean and tidy, light-filled bungalow was refreshing after the confined, cluttered space of the cabin. My husband welcomed me with a cup of tea and we sat discussing our plans for the house while the dinner was cooking. So nice to have someone cook for me for a change!
The huge kitchen diner was crying out for a farmhouse-style table and chairs, and a dresser, which we intended to have made to our own specification at an independent manufacturer in Callington. The curtains to fit the wall of windows in the lounge would’ve been extremely expensive had it not been for Trago Mills, a discount store I became well-acquainted with, where we found a heavily-patterned tapestry material and had them made. The modern but cheap fire surround left a lot to be desired so we planned to have the fireplace reopened and a wood-burner installed.
Every newly- plastered wall was painted magnolia, which meant a blank canvas and very little immediate decorating to do, but we began to explore paint colours to make it our own. As already mentioned, we had a large master bedroom with an en-suite and French doors onto the garden. These posed a problem in as much that the small window to one side meant a peculiar arrangement of curtains. I had bought two pairs of full-length voile curtains from John Lewis in Cambridge before my final move and I had to shorten one panel to fit this tiny window. These curtains let in the early morning light but did not keep out the cold. However, we never replaced them. The further three double bedrooms – the largest of which was used by our daughter when she came home – we planned to decorate at our leisure. The smallest, with its view of the pretty front garden, was turned into the study. This window was longer than all the others, a non-standard measurement, so I bought some blue striped material and made the curtains myself on my ancient Singer hand sewing machine. In the other two bedrooms we hung the curtains we had brought with us from our house in Haddenham. The en-suite had no window and the bathroom had frosted ones to the side of the house making curtains or blinds unnecessary. The en-suite, bathroom and cloakroom all had modern white suites, but we didn’t need three lavatories so we used the cloakroom to house the ironing board and such things; the one room missing being a utility room.
We began to redesign the garden which still had a distressing amount of gravel. Our next-door neighbour, in the old farmhouse, used some of this for her paths and the floor of her greenhouse. Having exposed the earth we got to grips with the planning and planting, drawing the plan on graph paper, but first we had to redesign the unimaginative patio. My husband re-laid this in a more interesting design, with a bed for herbs near the house, and joined it immediately to the step from the bedroom doors instead of it being a boring slab on its own.
We knew if we lowered the hedge running along the bottom of the small garden, we could take advantage of the view. This was one of the first outdoor jobs which revealed the hills, green fields and hedgerows. To sit on the elevated decking in the sun, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, with the cows and sheep grazing on the hillsides and the buzzards circling overhead, was a delight. To the side of our bungalow the overbearing trees and hedges were trimmed, exposing another different view towards Bodmin Moor and Caradon Hill.
My husband dug up the old grass turf and levelled the ground. We sowed some grass seed and tied strings, threaded with tin foil, across to prevent the birds eating it. He was a bit dubious whether this would work (we didn’t want to splash out on turf) but after a year it had grown into a thick green lawn.
Under the elevated decking we found some paving slabs and some grey bricks. These were up-cycled to make the path down the side of the garden between us and our neighbours in the old farmhouse. Also amongst the debris underneath the decking were some concrete blocks and slate slabs which would come in useful when we eventually re-designed the fireplace. Everything we found in the garden we up-cycled, either in the garden or in the bungalow.
We found a builder who was willing to open up the original fireplace but we didn’t know what the plaster board was concealing. There was no photo and none of the neighbours could remember ever seeing it! Nevertheless we went ahead. The demolition made a terrible mess; bricks and dust filled the room, but it revealed a less than attractive very small fireplace that had obviously been thrown together. (Apparently a builder had built this bungalow for himself and his wife in 1975.) We asked our builder to rip it out, make good and create a mantelpiece using a piece of granite five feet long by nine inches square obtained from the local quarry. The slate slabs we’d found in the garden were used for the hearth, and we had a wood-burning stove installed. We painted the inside of the fireplace burgundy red. When all this was completed it looked very cosy. Watching the flickering flames on a chilly autumn evening was better than watching the television!
Whilst on a journey to Plymouth one day, my husband noticed a sign outside a house – ‘Greenhouse. Free to good home!’ He came back and pondered how he could collect this and erect it in our garden. Fortunately the man in the farmhouse next door was willing to give him a hand and the two of them dismantled the greenhouse and brought it home. My husband was like a dog with two tails – he’d always wanted a greenhouse and this one was in very good condition. The only problem was how to fit it all back together! It was like a giant jig-saw puzzle without any instructions. But our neighbour was very patient and together they figured it out the following day.
The decking was rickety and needed to be secured. When my husband finally completed it and painted the balustrade grey-green it looked like an advert in a house and garden magazine. My husband painted our picnic table to match and made a cold frame out of some discarded wood and painted this the same colour. We explored the local garden centres for plants and gradually the garden began to take shape. Immediately in front of the decking we created a bed for unusual grasses. The seed heads, swaying in the breeze with the sunlight catching them, were beautiful to watch.
Our daughter finally moved in with us. She had missed the deadline for being accepted at university because she had been undecided whether to continue her education or get a job. This resulted in her taking a year out and trying to find a job in Cornwall. It’s a dispiriting business going to the job centre weekly only to be told to ‘keep looking’. There aren’t many job vacancies for young people without any experience, particularly in this part of the country. After much searching she found a part-time job working in a café in Launceston but she was put-upon and hated every minute. She gave it up but never found another; instead she enrolled on a local Spanish language course which she loved. In the meantime she applied to several universities and was accepted at Sheffield to start in September 2009. This was a relief as I wanted her to be happy, but as every mother knows, it’s an anxious time when her child flees the nest.
Cornwall lost its appeal for me during this time as I associated it with all sorts of problems. My husband couldn’t find work either – something he never took into account before we moved. Miles away from what I knew I became depressed until I spotted an advert for a creative writing course in the window of Upton Cross stores. Engrossed in this new project with like-minded people, I found an outlet for my creativity and forgot the problems. I joined a writing group in Liskeard library and found another weekly one that critiqued members’ work and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. A new door had opened.
Whilst living on his own my husband had found some country walks from our front door and we often took ourselves off for an hour down narrow lanes and up steep hills. We barely saw a car. The beautiful Lynher valley with hilly walks through the woods, buzzards circling high above, squirrels and very often the sound of a woodpecker high up in the trees, were a joy. The Lynher River snaked through the woods, crossed by the two ancient bridges, Starabridge a 14th century packhorse bridge, and Plushabridge where we often stopped to play Pooh Sticks. On the road towards Doublebois, (pronounced Double Boys by the locals) Siblyback Lake is a reservoir used mainly for water sports where, at the end of an hour’s walk, we were rewarded with a cup of tea or coffee in the cafe. Cardinham Woods, close to National Trust Lanhydrock, was another beauty spot which we frequented. In the winter after a brisk walk, we were greeted with a roaring fire and comfy chairs in the tea room. In the warmer months, sitting outdoors was a pleasure and, amongst the woodland, bar-b-q bays allowed people to cook their own food.
Further afield were the Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligan made famous by Tim Smit. Heligan was my favourite with the fully restored Victorian gardens which had been neglected and forgotten after the First World War, the many gardeners having been called up. It was rediscovered in 1992 and over the years Tim Smit and his team have fully restored the vast wooded areas, the jungle and Italian gardens. I loved the large Edwardian greenhouse filled with plants. The Eden Project, created out of a disused chalk quarry near St Austell, is said to be one of the wonders of the modern world. The huge tropical ‘biomes’ like giant bubbles nestling in the hillsides, house plants from around the world. We were lucky enough to see it being built whilst on holiday in 2001 and have been back several times to watch its progress.
To make friends, we joined the short-mat bowls club at the village hall but found this a bit tame after the outdoor bowls we had been used to in Cambridgeshire! All the members were over seventy-five and I longed to find friends my own age. This led to me to becoming involved in our local theatre. Sterts Theatre on the Moor is an outdoor amphitheatre with a canopy, enabling the audience to enjoy the plays and productions in all weathers. In the summer of 2009 my daughter and I were in Gonamena, a community play written by local playwright Simon Parker, based on the mining community in the 1800s. We were in the chorus and I found the songs, specially written for Gonamena by Simon Dobson, very moving. We became volunteers allowing us to see other productions free of charge. The atmosphere on a warm summer’s evening, with the fairy lights strung along the path to the theatre, is wonderful. After taking tickets we would buy a coffee from the café or an ice cream from the kiosk and sit watching a production. In subsequent years I sang and danced my way through many in-house productions of different musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof which had rave reviews in the local press.
I also joined Sterts choir in the autumn of 2009. I couldn’t read music but the director and choir members were very encouraging and I enjoyed singing at various venues leading up to Christmas. This was another hobby added to my interests since moving to Cornwall: theatre, creative writing, singing, and short-mat bowls – I was very rarely sitting indoors with nothing to do.
But my daughter was less inspired; she never found her niche in Cornwall and I was relieved when we took her to Sheffield for her three-year university course in History and Spanish in September 2009. She settled in immediately and made plenty of friends; one of them she already knew from Impington which made the transition much easier.
We have been National Trust members for years. Lanhydrock and Cotehele were the properties closest to us and we were fairly well acquainted with these as we had visited them often on holiday. One day we had the idea of volunteering at Cotehele and signed up to work there on Sundays – my husband at the mill and me as a room guide in the house. Unlike years before when I couldn’t work for Ely Cathedral because my daughter was a baby, I now had plenty of time to devote to volunteering and enjoyed learning about the history of the house and the Edgcumbe family. The room guides were treated to home-made soup at lunchtime, brought up to the staff- room from the restaurant, and we had a break in the afternoon for a cup of tea, but they frowned upon us sitting down whilst ‘on duty’ so my legs and feet felt like lead at the end of the day. My husband stood all day down at the mill, often freezing cold with no refreshment provided. We only did it for a year.
Our nearest seaside resort was Looe on the south coast. We would park the car at Hannafore on the west side and walk down over the bridge to the east side of the town. There is a local saying – The west is the money side, the east the sunny side. The town itself has numerous shops, pubs and restaurants and of course, the obligatory fish and chip shops. Eating a bag of chips while sitting on the quayside, regardless of the weather, was a regular treat, but we had to watch out for the scavenging seagulls – I saw one woman have her food snatched directly out of her mouth! Visitors don’t realise how bad the seagulls are – some even feed them regardless of the many warning notices along the beach and quayside. The flat beach is safe for families and while I watched them, I often regretted not having my eldest daughter and my granddaughters nearer. But on a fine day in the winter it was a pleasure to have it to ourselves, walking on the sandy beach when the tide was out. Sometimes we would walk through to Plaidy beach and hike back up the hill.
Padstow on the north coast has a quaint harbour and little streets, but not much in the way of fish and chip shops or tea rooms. Rick Stein opened a take-away fish and chip shop on the site of the old railway station but we found one down a back street that was far cheaper and their fish and chips delicious. We would see visitors sitting on the pavement eating their posh Rick Stein fish and chips, but it didn’t look any better than ours! We would often take a pleasant walk to the beach or have a game of crazy golf reached by some steep steps opposite the harbour. There is a café up there where we sometimes stopped for coffee or afternoon tea. The view from up there is beautiful (mentioned in BAY OF SECRETS) the resort of Rock on the opposite side of the Camel Estuary, and further round towards the harbour the eye is led out to sea with the old railway bridge in the distance. Hiring a bike and cycling the Camel Trail, which was originally the railway line before Dr Beeching closed it, is another way of passing an afternoon. Further along the coast is Mawgan Porth where we spent a couple of holidays in the early 2000s. This is my favourite beach in the whole of the West Country. It’s a haven for surfers (although we don’t) and when the tide’s out you can roam for miles amongst the rock pools. From Mawgan Porth you can walk along the coast path to Carnewas where there is a National Trust tea room and outdoor seating with a view towards the lighthouse at Trevose Head.
Living in Cornwall had its attributes but we lived three-hundred miles away from family and, apart from my stepchildren, they rarely came to stay, seemingly reluctant to do the journey. When we went to see them we had to book into a B&B as none of them had room to put us up. My eldest daughter and my granddaughters only came to Cornwall once as my eldest granddaughter has learning difficulties and terrible anxiety. This made visiting very stressful. By this time my elderly mother had become unable to travel and required a lot of care. I felt guilty for not being there and leaving my brother to deal with the majority of the problems. My sister, living in Norfolk, was also too far away to offer much help. My mother’s funeral in 2013 brought home to me that family is more important than the location in which one lives. Our youngest daughter hated the long train journey from Sheffield to Cornwall. So we began to make plans to move back to East Anglia, a more accessible part of the country for all.
We put Avalon on the market in April 2014 and began tentatively looking for a suitable property. But we hadn’t realised the house prices in and around Ely had risen whereas the ones in the West Country had stayed more or less the same. We began looking further afield in Suffolk and Essex and took a holiday cottage to view some areas, but we couldn’t come up with a solution. The trouble was, we needed to be accessible to all the family and to find somewhere central was proving difficult. The ideal would’ve been to live in the London area but that was out of the question – too busy and too expensive.
Whist he was staying with my step-daughter and her husband in Littleport near Ely, my husband viewed a house in Watlington near Kings Lynn. We hadn’t intended to live that far north but the house was attractive and the village had a post office/general store and a railway station. It even had a fish and chip shop. My husband rang me in Cornwall and waxed lyrical about the house. By now it was October and while my husband was away I’d had to show a lady around Avalon. She brought her father back for another viewing and put in an offer straight away, so we felt we had to get a move on. My husband came back and stressed we should view the Watlington house together, so we took a holiday cottage in Feltwell and went to view the house the following week.
We liked this three-bedroom detached house in a quiet road. There was a small development being built at the end of the road but we didn’t see this as a problem. The day we viewed it the weather was pleasant and bright and from outside it looked as if the house had been well cared for. There was a double gravel driveway, a double garage and a small front garden laid to lawn. The owner opened the front door and a waft of warm air greeted us from the Rayburn in the kitchen. The two guys were very friendly and they told me to treat the house as my own and take my time looking around while my husband remained chatting downstairs.
There had been an extension added four years earlier. This consisted of a shower room, a utility room and a study. The double garage, accessed from the back lobby, had an automatic door. The kitchen had been recently modernised with white units, charcoal grey work tops and a breakfast bar with black and chrome bar stools, a fan oven with an induction hob, a grey American style fridge/freezer and of course, the Rayburn which was British Racing Green. The walls were light olive and the tiled splash back bottle green and white squares. A large clock with Roman numerals hung above the Rayburn.
The large lounge/diner had a white Georgian fireplace, something I loved, and French doors onto the garden. Wood-block flooring ran throughout apart from the beige tiles in the kitchen, shower room and utility. The feature wall in the living room was almost black. Their sofas and chairs were white leather and a glass-top dining table and tubular steel chairs stood in front of the French doors, all far more contemporary than our furniture.
Upstairs the three bedrooms were decorated very tastefully with feature walls and there was a bathroom with a bath and a shower enclosure. I came downstairs to the kitchen where the owner made us a cup of tea. He boiled a kettle on a tea towel resting on the induction hob to demonstrate how safe the induction was. I had never seen this done before. He invited me to sit on one of the bar stools while he continued chatting to us about how efficient the house was to run and how to operate the solid fuel Rayburn. A real salesman!
Outside, the garden was a manageable size, the grass had been newly mowed and the birds were singing in the trees. I went round the property twice. I felt I could live there.
Result! We came away after two hours intending to put in an offer the very next day. This we did and it was accepted. I was looking forward to moving into our new home.
But there was a delay in moving. The woman who was buying Avalon had asked her solicitor a lot of questions for which we had no answers. One worry was that our builder hadn’t obtained proper planning guidelines when he re-tiled the roof. The sale seemed to drag on and on without any news. Then the people we were buying Glebe Avenue from had a delay on the house they were buying in Peterborough; some legality about the steps up to the front door. There were phone calls and emails back and forth including did we want to buy the American fridge/freezer that was too big for their new house? We said yes as it was a good price and being our own f/freezer was integrated, as were our other appliances, it would’ve meant buying one anyway. We also bought the two sliding-door wardrobes that were screwed to the walls as it would’ve been a nuisance for the two guys to dismantle them.
We didn’t know if or when we were moving. To take my mind off the waiting, in November I took the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) competition challenge which I completed and gained a certificate. Christmas came and went without much celebration. We spent the whole holiday on our own, our daughter having made many friends spent Christmas in Sheffield. However, we finally got around the problems and on 18th February 2015 we moved into 1 Glebe Avenue.