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Richard Long's sculpture in the Stone Hall at Houghton Hall's EARTH SKY exhibition

Richard Long’s circle of flint and slate hushes the grandeur of the Stone Hall at Houghton. The Roman emperors, whose fine classical busts line the walls, must be gazing down in confused envy at the monochrome tumble of jagged slabs and rocks which have upstaged them.

Long’s arrangement, a cross within a circle, aligns not to the axis of the room, but rather to magnetic north – a reminder, perhaps, that his works relate first to nature and then to the spaces in which they’re housed.

Standing in the 40 foot cube of Houghton’s Stone Hall, amid an embarrassment of sculpted riches by Giueseppi Artari and John Michael Rysbrack, the realisation slowly dawns it has all been faded into background scenery by Long’s striking installation.

Thanks to an invite from Davina Barber at Norfolk by Design, I had a chance to admire it for a moment in the quiet of the hall a few days ahead of the opening of EARTH SKY, the exhibition of Long’s works which runs at Houghton from 30th April 2017.

Long has been labouring at Houghton for a year and a half, adding to his permanent work, Full Moon Circle, which was installed on the lawn in 2003.

Richard Long's henge at Houghton Hall's EARTH SKY exhibition

Elsewhere, the green space between the driveway and the stable yard is now home to a circle of mighty tree stumps from the estate. Placed upside down, with their roots waving towards the sky like antlers, they will be good company for the deer herds which roam the park. Apparently Long was inspired by his recently acquired knowledge of Seahenge, the 4000 year old wooden circle discovered in 1998 on the coastal sands at nearby Holme-next-the-Sea.

Richard Long's sculpture in the walled garden at Houghton Hall's EARTH SKY exhibition

The Walled Garden, lined with apple blossom and tulips in late spring, features another cross by Long, this time executed entirely in slate and on a much larger scale than in the Stone Hall. It rises in peaks from the impossibly green lawn. Seen from ground level, it appears as a mountain range in miniature, jutting up into the huge blue and white Norfolk sky.

Richard Long's sculpture on the lawn at Houghton Hall's EARTH SKY exhibition

I suspect it is Long’s ruler-straight stripe of local orange carr stone, which slashes through the lawn for more than 80 metres between the house and the Full Moon Circle, which will remain the exhibition’s enduring image. It gives scale to the massive expanse of Houghton’s lawn, leading the eye on and on until it is eventually absorbed in a bucolic haze of fields and grazing herds. This is the runway visitors will now follow to the Full Moon Circle and I’m told you should hope for rain, as the circle’s slates – dry on the day of my visit – shine in the wet.

Norfolk by Design sign at the Houghton Hall exhibition

The stable yard, faced with more of the carr stone, hosts an exhibition of works for sale curated by Norfolk by Design. If Long’s sculptures felt like a chance meeting abroad with a kindred spirit, Norfolk by Design’s collection was much closer to home.

Blakeney Sands painting by Lorraine Bewick at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

I was drawn immediately to Lorraine Bewick’s landscapes. The wild expanses of Blakeney Harbour at low tide, where I walk daily, are beautifully evoked in her ‘Blakeney Sands’. This is work by someone who understands the middle of the harbour – when the water is out – is as much a journey for the imagination as a trip on foot.

Smoke drawing of an owl by Maria Pavledis at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

Maria Pavledis’ giant ghost of an owl, created as a smoke drawing, hovered over another of the horse stalls which house the exhibition. The use of smoke seems very fitting for a creature which, at this time of year, Michelle and I often see drifting above the marsh on evening walks between Morston and Blakeney.

Shell art by Blott Kerr-Wilson at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

I remembered Blott Kerr-Wilson’s wonderful shellscapes from a previous Norfolk by Design exhibition. Their sweeping textures and metallic sheen remain just as striking, especially at the large scale on display at Houghton. There’s something about framing the curving patterns in a rectangular space which seems to amplify the natural form of the shell. Our nearest mussel beds at Morston, sadly, are no longer producing, but the shells are everywhere on the coast. At Freshes Creek, a little anchorage near Stiffkey, the path itself is made of crushed mussel shells laid down over the years by the locals.

Helena Lynch chair at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

There were bright flashes of colour to catch the eye throughout. A large armchair and footstool by Helena Lynch stands out in bold blues and reds against the wood and cream of the stables.

Pink and white tree by Catherine Cazalet at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

Catherine Cazalet’s Weeping Pink and White tree uses an amazing shade of almost neon pink, yet somehow seems so calm and natural.

Ceramics by Polly Fern at Norfolk by Design's Houghton Hall exhibition

The progression of spring to summer in Norfolk is an evolving haze of sun and cloud, fields and flowers, expanding days and living outside on the allotment and the water. A set of nine tiles by ceramicist Polly Fern captures the essence of that, or at least how it often feels to us in our little coastal corner of the county.

Norfolk by Design have done a tremendous job of showcasing the diversity and quality of art and craft in the local area, a reflection perhaps of the many worlds which co-exist in this place of farms and beaches, country lanes and fishing villages…and, of course, great houses with great taste for art.

There are more photos in our Flickr gallery or follow @north.sea.living on Instagram.

EARTH SKY, 30th April to 27th October, and Norfolk by Design, 30th April to 30th September 2017, at Houghton Hall. Thanks to Davina Barber for the invitation.

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Ah well we have been distracted a great deal since Christmas. No excuses really. However, a season of adventure in the outdoors is upon us and I thought we would just jump back in! Shall we start with some flower power?! 

Tulips! Tulips everywhere! First in my garden! 


They are glorious every year! But the allotment tulips this year outdid themselves! They all bloomed at once instead of in succession over 2 months. But I am not complaining! 

Aren’t I a lucky girl! 

But the major surprise of this season so far was the Norfolk tulip fields. I was not aware of these until mid April, so almost missed them. But now I know, it is not that surprising as our soils and climate mirror that of Holland across the North Sea. Here they grow the tulips for their bulbs! So they clip off the flower leaving the stems to nourish the bulbs before digging them up to be heat treated elsewhere. 

Luckily we found the field as they were cutting or we could have missed the season all together! This one was between Gayton and East Winch, although there are several throughout West Norfolk and Lincolnshire. 


There is a new twitter tag from coachcottage (Instagram account) going around to try and let people know about it next year. #Norfolktulipfestival see you then! 

Just a little seasonal tour of my favourite place….


It’s that time of year again! Watchouse 2016! Four days and three nights in our own little oasis. Last week I casually mentioned it in my post about finishing the boat. What fortuitous timing! We didn’t have to use the raft again! Now, making a bit of a spectacle of ourselves on the quay is a bit of a tradition what with furiously hammering together a ramshackle driftwood raft as the tide races in. This year we had little Snipe. And thank god! On one of the biggest tides this year there was no way we could have controlled it in the currents, even once we could touch the bottom again! We loaded the boat as the tide came in, getting ready to leave at the top of the tide, when the water would not be racing. By this time, however, we were waist deep on the quay and clambouring onto the boat with a large crowd watching. Par for the course really. And we were off!


As ever the weekend was about friends, food, and fun. Mornings usually saw a big breakfast followed by sailing expeditions on Snipe. One morning we headed down to the point and anchored. The boys jumped out and swam around the boat. We girls waited to see if they could get back in. Only barely! The seals were basking as we were!


The lovely Fiona and Jackson from Oystercatcher Catering provided meal after meal of joy! Afternoons saw lunches, kubb, fishing, and yoga in the sun. We really lucked out and the weather was sunny and warm. Later in the afternoon beer and cocktails came out leading up to some fantastic dinners. I don’t know how Jackson manages to produce the quality of food we eat in that ‘kitchen’ (and I use the term loosely). Pallella, rich and creamy fish stew, and mega-BBQ followed by cheese and red wine. There is something about being out in the sun and wind all day that makes you sleep amazingly!

Now, things couldn’t go too perfectly, and on the way back our engine conked out while we were preparing to enter the cut. We threw down our anchor and came up with many possible senarios for getting all of us back to land with our belongings. But lo and behold, up comes our friend Chris who helped us get Snipe back in the water. And who then gave us a tow back…? Bless them! We arrived in style on the quay under tow and created another mild spectacle just as we would have had the raft been there. Its just fate!


Another spectacular year on Blakeney Point. Already looking forward to next year! 


When I first met Marek he had a boat in the garage. That was 11years ago (this Oct!). It was a wooden boat his grandfather had built in the family garage in the 1960’s and was passed through the family down to Marek. It had not been in the water since the 1990’s and needed some serious love. We toyed with renovations every few years but had only managed to sand her down, to what we thought was the base level until August 2015. With a bit of an unexpected windfall we brought her up to Blakeney from her shed in West Sussex for some intensive work. 



I will fast forward through the highs and lows of learning about power sanding and epoxy and skip to this past week or so. With a newly bought engine she was ready for the water!!


Of course two days after her relaunch were some mighty big tides and 40mph winds. What a baptism of fire, for her and us!

Blakeney Quay storm tide with northerly gale

Her triumphant return and maiden voyage (matron voyage?) was our annual trip to the Watchouse on Blakeney Point. With the highest tide of the year (or thereabouts) it was quite a spectacle on the quay loading 4 people and two dogs (for a day trip). And don’t forget ll that lovely food from Oystercatcher Catering


I suppose all there is left is for me to learn how to sail!! 

We were in the middle of watching an episode of Grand Designs when Marek looked out the window and saw the sky lighting up with pinks and oranges. The tide was coming in and it all just came together for an evening sunset kayak. So we turned everything off and out went. Here is a taster of that sunset feeling. 





So pleased we noticed and went out. It is a great way to calm and settle before bed. 


It’s all gone off on the allotment this past month. Yesterday we took in our first redcurrent harvest to joint the cacophony of strawberries. But there is also a list of greens to join in as well. Artichokes, mange tout, broadbeans, and our first onions. Now just holding our breath for some tomatoes and squash! 

Amidst the angst, anger, and anxiety of the last few days I have been comfort-preserving. Here are a few highlights.

Lavender syrup

The first stages of rose petal syrup

Pistachio meringues (not preserving but delightful)


And of course strawberry jam. 


The syrups are intended for some much needed cocktails. 

 Sea Thrift or Sea Pinks


This time of year the sea thrift carpets the marsh with low pink flowers. They seem to thrive here, even in areas that flood. I love watching the incoming tide creep between them and form a pool so that only the flowering tip is tall enough to poke out from the water! 


In the verge the elder is now in full bloom and syrup seems to be the obvious choice to save this flavour for colder days. Cakes, cocktails, ice cream. We want to get a bit more adventurous than just cordial this year. 

The poppies that brought this area the name ‘Poppyland’ in Victorian times are in their prime as well. This year the field of corn behind Blakeney is full of it. Not sure how the farmer feels about it but it is beautiful! 


The avocets should be hatching and they have the cutest chicks. We haven’t spotted any yet but last year there were a few down the Cley channel so we may need to make a trip to look for them and experience the new harbour in all its opened up glory! 


The garden has exploded and the red hot pokers, Marek’s favourite, are having a good year. They thrust themselves out from the background of geranium, clematis, lavender, nasturtiums, and California poppies. In the courtyard the roses are performing well. We have four varieties, but my favourites are the lemon scented yellow rose and the sugar scented rambling magenta rose. The succulents are back out full time as the only plants that will survive on my south facing table. 


This is the first year we have made it to Sherrigham Park for the display of rhododendrons and azaleas. Definitely worth the visit!


In the allotment high winds flattened some of the artichokes but they were getting a bit too thick anyway, and they have been made into mulch. The strawberries are coming in thick and fast now after some actual sun! The ox eye daisies are rife and self seeding so may need the chop. The squash didn’t make it through the torrential rains but I have put in seeds direct and they seem to have taken. Only a minor delay! 


The cutting garden has been producing well this time of year for the first time. The verbascum have always been glorious but they are now also profuse. We have also added a cultivated red scabious and the ranunculus has come up for the first time. I have never had much luck with these until now. I almost gave up, but here they are and I now understand why florists love them so. 


On the dinner table steamed fish with a lemony asparagus risotto was a real treat! The samphire keeps coming and grilled sea bass sandwiches are now a staple, if only we had caught them ourselves! Oh well, a little longing is good. You can’t have everything. 

On evenings when high tide coincides with sunset we make a special effort to get out in the kayak. So peaceful. Takes away the cares of the day and is a perfect way to get ready to sleep. 


Marek’s birthday, on the same day as our friend George, is usually an outdoor affair. This year we had a beach BBQ with our friends from Oystercatcher Catering. A simple affair with sea bass, crab, and an oyster bar (of sorts) on Cley beach. Of course no beach party is complete without a swim!



Events this period: Marek’s birthday June 9th, Father’s Day 

Start of Summer

This is the time of year when ‘firsts’ and favourites come thick and fast and it is easy to forget to be mindful and take it all for granted. The Japanese natural calendar marks this past season as ‘the beginning of summer’. Britain’s calendar keeps this until the Solstice at the end of June but I am going with now! Maybe I am just impatient. Maybe it is the harbour walks barefoot and the year’s first swim that convince me that it’s close enough. 


In the courtyard the large frogs have been joined by a multitude of tiny frogs. I celebrate them for eating the slugs! The last of the tulips are fading and give way to the plethora of summer. I can see the first heads of allium waiting to take their place. 

Out in the larger gardens the lilacs are in flower followed closely by the never to be out done laburnums. The elderflower a are only just starting but we await them eagerly to start preserving. Even the horse chestnuts are in flower. Their stately blooms remind me of the queen’s hat perched on the grand dame’s head.  


In the wild the Night Jars curr on the heath and look out for the Montagu’s Harrier, they are a rare special sight these days. 

On the allotment things are coming on by leaps and bounds the last two weeks, especially the weeds! In the cutting garden things have diversified from tulips only to ranunculus, white verbascum, iris, cerinthe, and red scabious. 


We also spent a long Saturday digging over and building a windbreak for the tomatoes. We think it looks whimsical using scavenged marsh drift wood to keep costs down. Very pleased to keep things super-local. And super-economical! 

Sharrington strawberries are out! And asparagus! The first true seasonal specialties! What a treat. Can’t wait for our own strawberries to ripen. Well, here’s to the start of the summer season!