Set of later than intended, so did something totally out of character - Used the M11. But as most people who were "getting away" had already gone, traffic wasn't too bad. Spotted hares in a wheat field at a spot almost parallel with where we'd stopped on a country lane last autumn. We drove on, and as we passed through Newmarket I saw thoroughbreds training on the gallops and the furthest reaches of the racecourse, and in the paddocks of various studs, mares and a few spindly legged foals.
Once we passed Bury St Edmunds, we headed off the main roads. We stopped at a farm shop and bought vegetables that had just been picked or lifted from the surrounding fields, and ended up chatting to the father in law of the farmer about veg growing, specifically about the frustrations of not being able to plant potatoes at our "normal times". There are times when I feel I was born a townie by mistake.
We continued on through the Suffolk lanes, avoiding random pheasants, and reached the village of Troston, site of Francine Raymond's annual Easter Hen Party. We visited her several years ago, and parked just down the lane from the cottage. This time we parked the other end of the village, in the garage next to the pub and walked up to the house.
You could say that Francine Raymond's Kitchen Garden Hen set up in Country Living magazine made flesh - a deep Suffolk Pink painted cottage, sat opposite a small flint walled church. The gardens are immaculate and even in this slow Spring, splashes of colour exist - mainly hellebores and viburnum, but also anenomes self seeded in the brick paving and gravel, plus the boards of the raised beds in the vegetable and herb garden, painted the same colour as the house.
The garden is divided into three by clipped yew hedges. One column ends with the willow fenced duck pond, one is the vegetable garden, and the middle has a lawn and a gate to the open fields. Francine's flock of Buff Orpintons reside in a shrub lined area near the cottage, and whilst free to roam most days, were confined to quarters for the event. The lawned area housed several exhibitors with their hens, selling hatching eggs. I almost wished one of my hens was broody, as a gorgeous wheaten Marsh Daisy hen laid an egg right in front of us! (That's another one for the list).
There were other stands in the cottage itself, which is decorated in lighted muted colours to tone with the yellow grey of the oak beams. I loved the coat hooks shaped like eggs on the beam that forms the portal to the kitchen area. The wooden furniture is also heavy grey oak - I doubt anything else would look right. I also loved the collection of old lead toy chickens in a knick nack display, including a Buff Orpie type hen like one I bought Howard a few birthdays back. Smallholders feeds had a stand, and their special mixed corn was on special offer, so we bought as many bags as we could carry (two). The rest of the stalls in the dining room were given over to edibles - cakes, preserves and delightful tiny French style macaroons. The yard and outhouse were given over to plants and gardening equipment. Sadly, someone beat me to the last of the bamboo tunnel cloches (as did someone else to the blue glass chicken shaped egg cups in the Kitchenalia stall in the garage) but I bought three pots of rhubarb. It's an unknown variety, but it was rescued by builders from an old man's garden, who told them it was a very old variety. So it has been named Mr Batchelor's in his honour.
We were too old for the Easter egg hunt in the churchyard, but the WI were selling cakes, teas and soup in the church itself, so despite being laden with goodies, we stopped off for some more before heading to the van.
Our next port of call was Harveys, a plant nursery specialising in shade tolerant plants. I became interested in shade tolerant and woodland plant long before we moved here, but I'm now able to really indulge, have a damp shade and a drier shade bed at either end of the garden. Thus I was able to justify buying both a burgundy and a yellow flowered Scopolaria, another geranium, two Polygonatum, plus a Uvularia and a Trycitris.
The nursery has a cafe which sells wonderful lunches and cakes. They were happy to chop and change my order when my sesame allergy became known. We sat at a table where we had a good view of their chickens in the old orchard. The luch was excellent and the entertainment superb.
On the nursery's recommendation, we next went to a farm shop with a deli in search of local cheeses. The deli shuts up early on Saturdays, but we treated ourselves to some Suffolk (black treacle & ale) cure bacon.
After that, we drove on towards the fringes of Norfolk to stop at Blooms of Bressingham. It's Blooms only in name now - the family have handed over the reins to the Gardening Club (formerly Wyevales) group, but at least that meant I could use my club card and get vouchers from my purchases.
By now, it was gone 5pm, so nowhere else worth investigating would be open. We drove for a short while, back down country lanes and their suicidal pheasants, until we stopped in a parking space for some heathland. The notice board showed in Summer it was the haunt of Sand Lizards and Adders. The soil was so acidic that little else was growing bar Gorse, Silver Birch and moss. As we sat and brewed up a tea, it became clear from the other cars arriving that this was one of those "beauty spots popular with dog walkers" that get mentioned in newspapers. Suspect funny things go on there after dark.
Our journey continued south back into Suffolk, spotting a few more hares and deer, before we reluctantly hit the main roads and headed home.