They look like ordinary swans - but they aren't. These swans live in the moat that flows around The Bishops Palace at Wells in Somerset. In around 1870 Bishop Lord Arthur Hervey's daughters taught the ancestors of this brood to ring the bell at the Gatehouse in return for food. Today the Palace Wardens who live at the Gatehouse continue this tradition.
My young friend and I were in Wells to attend the opening of the annual exhibition of the Hilliard Society of Miniature Artists held in the town hall. After a very nice lunch attended by about 50 or 60 people I was presented with this lovely little replica of the Bell Award for the best portrait which I won last year. (It is a tradition that the previous year's winner presents the silver cup to the current year's winner).
Later in the afternoon seven of us gave short presentations on our specialist subject. For example Paul Eaton talked about and demonstrated his sculpture. Ros Pierson showed us some of her exquisite landscape miniatures. And Heather Catchpole gave a slide show briefly outlining the history of miniature painting. I put on a digital show where I talked about some of the incidents that occurred when I painted famous people - from the Sultan of Johore, through the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to Spike Milligan. Six of us had a great dinner later in the evening, then we returned to Coxley Vineyard where we spent the night.
(I managed to break the chaise longue in my room- It slowly collapsed when I sat on it and splinters went everywhere.)
Next morning the sun shone warmly and the bitterly cold wind of Friday became a distant memory. We decided to visit Stembridge Tower Mill in Somerset.
This is really something special as it is the only remaining thatched windmill left in Britain. This is a typical stone and timber Somerset windmill dating from the 1820's. These mills ground only small amounts of grain for the local community. To grind corn from the nearby fields two pairs of millstones were driven by timber machinery turned by canvas-covered sails. The thatched cap (roof) could be rotated to ensure that the sails always faced the wind.
Later we drove down to Sidmouth where we sat in the sunshine on the front and looking out to sea whilst eating ice creams and chips. At the end of the esplanade we saw these boats getting ready to put to sea for a race.
Then it was on through Dartmoor...
.. to finally arrive at our destination for the night.
This is Edgemoor Hotel near Bovey Tracey. After a long winding walk upstairs and downstairs (and through my lady's chamber) I arrived at a room leading out to a beautiful little garden. I wondered what the little containers with plastic liners were for, and when I heard a dog bark realised I had been allocated one of the 'dog' rooms - where people with dogs could stay the night with their pets! In fact it was a very nice room - with no trace of a previous canine occupant ever being there.
Today, Sunday, the sky was blue, the sun beat down so we sat in the pooch garden soaking up the heat. Then drove to an incredibly picturesque village called Coffinswell. It's wisteria time so the many thatched cottages were at their best. Here's one of them
Here we were to meet Ian Stevens, a very old friend from my Singapore days. The restaurant was called The Linny. Two other friends, Jill and Alan were there too.
I must say it was the best Sunday roast I'd had for years ( not counting those that Val makes). The turkey was fantastic. Later my young friend and I drove to Dartington Hall. The site on which the Hall and gardens stands has been occupied for well over a thousand years. The Hall was granted to John Holand by his half brother Richard II in 1388 when building began. However the poor chap was beheaded in 1400 and the estate passed to successive members of the Holand family. Many of the great trees planted then remain in the gardens today - including the 500 year old Spanish Chestnuts. This is a view of the 'Tiltyard'.
It was named in this way because of John Holand's reputation for jousting. There are tiered grassy viewing steps on the right of this photograph. However as it offers limited space for jousting maybe it was originally used for a different purpose. We spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around the lavish gardens admiring the acers and azaleas.
Now I'm preparing for tomorrow. We'll leave Devon in the morning and drive back to Henley before going to London and the Royal Brompton hospital in the evening. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the operation scheduled for first thing on Tuesday morning. Thank you everyone who sent me messages on Facebook or my last blog. We'll catch up next week.