She lived on Porlock Hill, Somerset; a tiny village at the very edge of Exmoor (Lorna Doone country) in a cottage half way up on the bend (which is known for its incredibly steep 1:4 gradient) a very hard climb on old legs to the land of heather and deer. She knew the deer well, they would, when very hungry, stray down the hill when the cottage was snowed in during a bitter Winter, looking for food in gardens, foraging in the apple orchard that overlooked the back of the cottage and even venture into the village on the odd early morning when all was quiet, mist hung in the air and the ground was hard.
|source: Rightmove, granny's cottage, left of the hedge|
In those days there was a blacksmith, grocery store that always had fresh clotted cream in stock, a post office that sold local honey and a sheepskin clothing store where only tourists shopped. Everyone knew everyone - they all knew Ivy but she wasn't very approachable, so they made up their own ideas about her.
The cottage was dark at the back because the land behind sloped upwards into the orchard, there was no television or telephone, no fridge, no modern appliances at all in fact other than a radio and a rayburn oven that heated the water and kept the cottage warm and had an oven and a hob for cooking. There were coal fires downstairs but no heating at all upstairs. She welcomed unlikely residents; mice nesting in cupboards and very large spiders in every room, and a small girl who stayed a fortnight of every Season and then all Summer long. They drank tea with tinned milk and made shadow figures on walls, read books to each other (The Water Babies, Lorna Doone, Heidi) and painted what they saw in the woods.
They had days out together on the little green country bus to the beach or walking through the woods and across fields to Porlock Weir where they would sit on the stone wall all day watching the birds feeding off the dried muscle shells littering the pebble beach until the same bus jerked into life and ambled back through the winding, country roads to the foot of the hill. It was the closest stop to home unless they could wave down the occasional tourist bus that just might take them halfway up the hill (that would depend on goodwill and whether anyone felt it worth running a bus out to Exmoor. Beyond was the pretty seaside town of Lynmouth with a cable lift up the cliff face to tiny Lynton village at the top for those who fancied a bit of excitement).
Once a fortnight she spent the day at Dunster by the castle tending her husband's grave, ate a packed lunch there and talked to him.
She often walked in the woods with the small girl that visited. They observed nature a great deal; her favorite flower was the wild violet. She shared her knowledge of how plants could be used for ailments and which ones were poisonous. Foxgloves were not to be touched without gloves in case they entered our skin and slowed our heartbeat, cotton gloves were always kept in pockets just in case . Toadstools were not to be disturbed either as their poisonous spores could be inhaled, although giant puffballs were considered safe and they would both jump on them and watch them explode in a big cloud of white powder. Every walk was different, there could be a carpet of red, yellow and brown leaves, the sighting of a red squirrel, a carpet of bluebells, a ball of buzzing bees nesting high up in a tree, the chance to hold a bright blue birds egg, throbbing with life, warm and alive, but always returning it to the nest. She was always on the look out for adder snakes that basked in the late morning sun in the woods, finding one could mean a long detour as they were not to be disturbed.
This is the view from the apple orchards behind the cottage, she would help herself and add blackberries from the woods to make fruit crumble with custard.
Shadows were very real to her - they had presence and could mean someone departed was passing by; best not to acknowledge them or they may linger. Superstitions were complicated and plentiful, crossed knives were a huge worry for her (a fight with someone), looking over her shoulder into a mirror very bad luck, if she put clothing on inside out she would have to wear it that way all day as it was lucky, but put it on back to front and she wasn't going anywhere that day as it was bad luck. Tea leaves were read with great interest for signs of what the future held.
There were standing stones near the village, a small circle of them dating back to a time when people lived by the sun, moon and stsrs for guidance, made by a God they had yet to know. Nobody ever went there except her... and the small girl, a quiet place where you could wish for things to happen, and they would, if they were good things and you wished hard enough. The girl wished for gossamer wings glinting gold and green like a dragonfly . Ivy gave the girl her own secret name there, a magical name that nobody else knew, and she was given a circle of power that would stay around her and protect her forever.
Late neolithic 2350 to 701 bc
Ivy was my Granny and I expect you can guess the small girl was me. The happiest times of my childhood were spent with her (although I missed my brothers a lot as they were never invited). I was put on a coach that took half a day, Granny would meet me 'The Other End' (which I thought was a place for many years). She taught me to paint, to see magic in everything in nature and assured me I was a fairy, I never stopped believing.