I was recently the guest of Tots100 at River Cottage in Devon, a cottage known across the land for it’s beautiful homegrown locally sourced produce. Set in 100 acres of uneven and tricky land on a hill outside Axminster, the farm is accessed via a gloriously bumpy tractor ride, which wends it’s way downhill depositing a slightly shaken version of yourself in front of an apple tree.From there we meandered down to a yurt tucked into a grassy corner, and filled with warm sheepskins, a large wood fire, and jars of pretty flowers. If that sounds terribly Blyton-esque, that’s because it is.
On this particular morning, the cool mist was being chased away by the heat rising from fire-pits and the coffee from the cups laid out ready, as a crowd of excited bloggers chatted and hugged and excitedly hopped from foot to foot waiting for the day to begin. There was an air of mystery and not a little mirth as we gathered, children around a Christmas tree, waiting to unwrap the River Cottage gift that the Tots had given us all.
The 3 and half hour drive home gave ample opportunity for me to look back on my exhausting day, collate my thoughts and feelings in relation to the event and shoehorn them into a handy ten point list that I like to call 10 Things I Learned at BlogCamp River Cottage.
- Devon is very far away. It took me four hours to drive through the five county borders to get to my overnight accommodation ahead of our full day at River Cottage. That’s the whole Stevie Wonder compilation album, The Shires’ album and a cheeky bit of The Vamps’ album too. I wasn’t even the person who had travelled furthest.
- I am pretty good at navigating country lanes in my tank of a car these days. Two years ago and it would have been a very different story but our move to the top left-hand corner of Kent has forced me to embrace driving along small lanes lined with hedgerows. And I don’t think there can be anything more glorious that wending your way through pretty British countryside in the afternoon sunshine whilst listening to Stevie Wonder.
- Making butter is so easy that everyone should be doing it. I did know this, because I do make butter, though only when I accidentally leave the Double Cream in the fridge until it’s Sell-By date. I read online that butter is much better if your cream is going out of date and it is very true (I sound like I know what I am talking about, yes?). You can beat it by hand but if you put a large pot (about 500ml) double cream in a mixer, or beat with a handheld whisk, it will take about five minutes until you have butter. Honestly. Of course you can use it as it is, but a quick scout around a neighbouring flower bed could give you an altogether more beautiful butter experience: Gil, our Master Chef, showed us how to layer the butter with edible garden finds and roll it like a pro. That I have never done before.
- Get more than one blogger in a room- or 100 acres- together and the noise is like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s a lot like walking into a bar filled with old friends: you want to talk to absolutely everyone you know immediately and you get a little giddy about it. What you will find is that you know more people in a room than you think, because you follow them on at least one of a number of platforms but have never met them in person so have no idea what they look like. Thing most likely to be heard in a room filled with bloggers: Oh My God, it’s you: I read your blog all the time!
- River Cottage, the staff and even the animals are more used to being photographed than anyone I have ever come across before. They will actually pose for you if you direct them, and do not think it strange that you instagram your food before you eat, that you move things to the window to get the best light or that you restyle vegetables so that they look nicer. All whilst carrying a phone and at least one camera. It’s the perfect setting for any kind of blogging get together.
- How to make Soda Bread. My primary reason for wanting to go on this Devon Adventure, because I have never made it before. I certainly haven’t picked blackberries from hedgerows and thrown them into bread before. But oh my goodness it was delicious and quick to make, and I am embarrassed that I have not tried it before now.
- Lucy Heath is simply the nicest human to walk the face of the earth. She is such a generous helpful soul, who shared endless tips with us about food styling and photography, an enthusiasm for taking pictures, for making the most of natural light and for how best to bribe your children to be in photographs. I could have bottled some of that enthusiasm, creativity and colour: she even rocked up in the most gloriously casual colourful ensemble it would have taken me days to put together.
- Things really do taste best if eaten in season, and if cooked by passionate people. Our lunch had so much flavour for what was essentially a large pile of vegetables harvested from the walled garden and polytunnels that surround the cottage. The wholewheat ravioli stuffed with slow-cooked Dexter beef literally melted in the mouth, the crisp flavoursome vegetables broke up the rich tomato sauce that brought the plate together. It was an actual taste of Heaven. I’m not entirely certain that the dessert was pre-watershed, it had so many delectable delicious and enticing flavours. Damsons roasted in honey, coffee bean and Madagascan vanilla infused ice-cream with salted caramel shards, and the most divine fennel meringue. I can still taste it.
- Britain is a glorious place to live: aside from the sheer beauty of the varied landscapes I drove through, fertile land on which to grow an interesting array of crops, so many passionate people working that land with enthusiasm for Organic, In-Season, Home-Grown food, such a collection of cooks and chefs at home who take these ideas and embrace them through cooking and living and eating and blogging.
- How generous and giving bloggers are with their time, their advice, their support, their encouragement. It’s why I loved blogging so much in the early days, and I sometimes wonder where the community side of things hasn’t been a little lost in the art of blogging at times. But the trip to River Cottage with Tots 100 showed me that there is still a community, amidst the worry about stats and online presence, and personal brand, and working with brands. It is still there. You just need to go out and find it.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend the event by Tots 100 and received no compensation, other than the bread and butter I had lovingly made in the kitchen.