Tuesday, 23 April 2013

New Cross House, Cranks and Dartington

The last day of our holiday, and banking on a break from the drizzle we opted for one of our favourite places – Dartington.  But just to get a bit of National Trust value in, we started with High Cross House, which we’ve never visited before, despite being on the Dartington estate.  You can’t exactly miss it, this big modernist house on the main road, but I’d always assumed it was a private house until I was scouring my NT guidebook. 
It’s now set up as an art gallery, although original pieces of furniture are mixed into the gallery space, making it easy to imagine how it worked as a house and to admire the light and space (it has some seriously great windows).  There was basket-weaving in one room, which Charlotte was keen to get stuck into, and the staff were enthusiastic and tolerant of what - it has to be said - was one of Katie’s more trying days. (The award for more impressive diplomacy of the day goes to the lady who suggested, mid-gallery whinge, that ‘If we fancied an interlude there were activities for the children next-door.’)  Charlotte and Harry were happy to potter about and imagine a life of artistry for themselves when they saw some of the selling prices of the pieces, but Katie was less enthused so there was very little meandering and we made good use of the lovely cafe and its fortifying coffee and hot cross buns – this was set within a book and card shop, which is obviously a fatal and expensive combination.  We ended up leaving with a much-needed book entitled ‘The Stick Book’, at which Charlie looked suitably despairing. 

Then we doubled back on ourselves to the Cider Press Centre, where a trip to Cranks was very much in order.  This is just amazing veggie food, and even though we have completely failed to sell the vegetarian concept to our three children, they have some tolerance for the occasional veggie-fest.  I say that, but Harry pretty much exists on bread and butter wherever we go to eat out, so the theme of the food makes little difference to him.  Obviously in Cranks, the bread was met with some suspicion, having evil nuts present (pumpkin seeds), but he seemed to accept me picking them off, which is virtually progress on the fussy eating front.  I had polenta lasagne and Charlie had bean chilli (these all come with just the most amazing salads).  Charlotte begrudgingly had macaroni cheese and we risked Katie with some tomato soup, of which she spilt a surprisingly small amount.  So a fairly successful jaunt, and we had seat, eat and leave time down to as much of a fine art as I think we ever will.

While we were in the Cider Press Centre, Charlie stoically took the younger two to the toyshop while Charlotte and I went to the pottery studio where she threw - as I believe the experts say - a pot and left with a beaming smile.  The potter here was really lovely, completely put C at her ease and was totally unphased in adapting her tuition to Charlotte’s little hand (I’m never sure if I should forewarn people, but this kind of experience gives me confidence not to make an issue of it).  The heart-shaped bowl she made was a very impressive use of five minutes, and it then gets kilned and glazed in a colour of your choice, and the finished product posted on to you.  We could have stayed much longer, and I sense there will be some nagging to identify another pottery studio back at home, but there is really only so long one (Charlie) would want to remain in a toyshop with a two year old (although he did leave with the inspired purchase of two plastic swords, just what every grumpy toddler needs ....).

Finally we headed back up the estate to Dartington Hall, or more accurately to the outstandingly beautiful gardens there, which I can never get over being free (voluntary donations).  Basically the estate is a social enterprise, set up by the philanthropists Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst (the latter turned down a Barony for his work, respect), which has been running as an experiment in rural regeneration for almost 90 years.  There is so much going on there in the arts, sustainability and learning that I certainly wouldn’t do it justice here.  Just one of those places that gives you renewed faith in the world, besides being just heart-stoppingly beautiful.

By this point in the day (naptime), Katie’s ill-humour was cranked up to the max, and we felt probably best contained in a large open space where the pain was shared with as few of the general public as possible.  You need to go beyond the rather grand main building to reach the main part of the gardens, which are Grade 2 listed, and include a dramatic series of banks leading up to a wonderful avenue of trees nestled next to a Henry Moore sculpture.  These trees have a kind of burnt-out quality to them, and the final one is a really interesting shape for climbing and exploring. 

We’ve had some really memorable afternoons with the children over the years here, which have usually involved some degree of daisy chain-making, and it was notable how late spring is this year in that there were so few daisies about.  The gardens looked much more on the verge of bursting into bloom than they have previously, but were no less beautiful for that.  I’d love to return just a week or two later to witness the transformation.  Katie was fairly malcontent about the whole exercise, save for brief interludes when she spotted an opportunity to implement a repetitive game or 300, but she was less keen on any aspect of being on the move.  Fair play to Katie, she’s varied the location of her naughty spot experiences today, one being in an art gallery, while fellow (childless) viewers looked on aghast.   Another being at the side of a field (while we made better use of the time cooing at the lambs) – the latter being for repeatedly and pointlessly poking Harry in the eye.  But no naughty spot action at Dartington, which probably counts as relative success.  Anyway, she managed to make it back to the cafe for ice cream with relative good humour, which was just as well as we passed a wedding party, who are going to have some amazing photos and could probably do without small children obstructively lying down in the background.
Back home, Katie was magically transformed once again into Delightful Toddler, perhaps because the evening involved some of her favourite activities – running the world’s bubbliest bath in the holiday cottage's huge bath, and feasting at our we-need-to-use-up-everything last supper.  And we were all happy too because Dartington is just one of those places where the world falls away and it was the perfect way to end the week.

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