The promise of January

21 January 2019
Ben Pentreath

I’m writing on what has officially been labelled, by people who label things, as the most depressing day of the year. In fact it was a beautiful day in London, soft hazy light, sunshine, cold January air – the best kind of day. I think if you want to avoid getting depressed, it’s probably sensible to turn off the radio and avoid the papers, and to reflect just for a moment on that amazing sense we get this week (as opposed to last week or the week before that) of the year about to burst into life.

You’ve got to savour that moment for a long time to come of course. My friend Kim Wilkie was the one who first told me that winter can often feel like its over on one of those beautiful sunny January days, but it’s in March when it’s pouring with rain and freezing cold and there still isn’t a leaf to be seen on a single twig that you realise what we mean by false dawns. However, just this week, you can enjoy for the first time in the year, the sense of what’s next – and of a beginning, not an ending. It is, after all, this week that we also suddenly step outside at 4.30 in the afternoon and think ‘my god, it’s still daylight, how amazing’, and the dark days of December seem already distant.

It’s been a beautiful weekend in Dorset.  Well, officially, a beautiful Sunday.  Saturday saw lashing rain and freezing wind in amongst the sunshine. We had our friends Skye and Anthony for the weekend.

On Friday, walking the dogs, there was one brilliant early ray of sunlight that lit the trees and earth to gold.
(did you spot Sibyl in that photo? – far right, middle). 

Moments later it passed and those grey clouds rolled inexorably in.   The threatened rain held off.  I was on site for the afternoon but came home to a sofa full of that Friday feeling.

The weekend felt packed, although really only with our usual sort of Saturday and Sunday things – Bridport Market (severely diminished because of the rain), walking the dogs; a trip to Poundbury to see Mum and Dad in the afternoon, friends over for supper, Brassica in Beaminster for Sunday lunch.  So I suddenly realised I had better take a photo or two by way of a diary, not that there was anything particularly eventful to record.

In the garden, snowdrops are shooting up everywhere and one or two lone primroses are out ridiculously early.

Back in the autumn you may remember that Charlie dug his nine large square ‘show beds’ in the meadow – more space needed for giant marrows in the precise part of the garden that gets maximum sunshine all day.  The four pumpkin beds are filled with a huge pile of manure now.

A glimpse into the veg garden, freshly dug. We’ll see more later. 

This is a rather unusual view of the garden taken from the gate to the lane. The terrace that we built I guess a couple of years ago now is completely bedded in. What a difference it made to the setting of the house.  In a few months, of course we’ll be looking at a thousand dahlias…. and another year will have nearly rolled along. 

Here is the old village school, now our village hall, and our neighbour Ed and Christine’s house just beyond. It’s the back of their thatched roof that you see at the bottom of Charlie’s veg patch. One of the most picturesque compositions in Dorset, with the steeple of the church beyond. 

We took Skye and Anthony for a wander around the village – snowdrops appearing everywhere.

On the south side of the old walled garden, the site of one of the former glasshouses. Beautifully positioned – in full sun even on a January afternoon; faded now.

Opposite, a tree full of catkins in flower – they are particularly good this year. 

We walked into the woods, which in a few months will be carpeted in wild garlic. 

The lake and waterfall were beautiful in the afternoon sunshine. 

Charlie’s veg garden, full of promise:

and up by the shed, a half-finished pile of manure waiting to make its way down to the beds. 

It’s a good moment of the year. We tore ourselves away from Dorset and back up to London on Sunday evening. Tomorrow, we’re off to Atlanta. Charlie and I are speaking at the Cathedral Antiques show – which will probably be crazy and doubtless will be fun – before setting off to Savannah and Charleston. So the blog in a couple of weeks will be looking rather different. I’m looking forward to reporting back.


19 comments on this post


I love winter sunshine. It’s a gift that is all too frequently dangled before us before being snatched away – viz today in East Devon we have snow! May I add hellebores to the hibernal list of beuatiful flowers? Have a good trip. Best wishes, Nicola


I was in the UK visiting family and universities with my daughter over Christmas. As we were touring UCL and King’s we passed by your store. I was so excited. One of ladies who works in the shop was changing the window display and taking down the Christmas decs. I told her we were visiting from San Francisco (I’m originally from England) and was so happy to see your shop in person. My daughter has since been accepted into both UCL and King’s – so maybe I’ll be returning a lot more 🙂


Lovely pictures for a January. I know what you mean about January being a bit depressing with our cold winters in Canada. My birthday in January and always worst storms. So your beautiful pictures were so uplifting. I can’t wait until you send pictures of your trip and antique show in Charleston & Savannah. I am off to Copenhagen next week for 4 days and see snow is falling there. So exciting to see the snow drops peaking up from the ground.

Diane Keanesays:

I have been following your and Charlie’s Stateside adventures on Instagram. Oh how I wish I could pop down south and meet you! Perhaps another time.

The landscape photos are thrilling, it is amazing what the sky gets up to in Dorset! Your blog is some of the best medicine for these troubled times, a dose of sanity and friendship. Thank you!


Thank you for sharing your garden photos your garden looks lovely even in winter very tidy and organised.Charlie has done a brilliant job getting everything prepared for spring.Great to see snowdrops and primulas first sign of new growth.We will be returning to Dorset in April we always look forward to it so much.Have a good trip to Atlanta.


I just found you… So looking forward to following. Love your viewpoint. A big smile from Dallas, Texas, US


Hello Ben,
Lovely words and photos as usual. Unfortunately it all reminds me of an extraordinarily painful incident!

We visited your lovely village in early December, on holiday from Yorkshire. We had never visited before. We were with our beautiful basset hound dog, her name is Theodora and she is one year old, still a puppy.
As we stood by the glade Theodora was being her normal uber friendly self and ran off up the bank to meet some new doggies she had just spied. I ran after her. She was jumping around and being a bit naughty. As I tried to grab hold of her she neatly jumped backwards, straight into the lake. And sank!
Being a besotted dog owner, I did not hesitate, and jumped in after her. Hauling her out was very difficult. 27kg of sodden dog was impossible to lift out by myself, especially after her collar had come off. The owner of the other doggies helped and we hauled Theodora out between us. By which time my husband had finally joined us. Theodora shook herself down and was totally fine. I was traumatised and in tears. So shocked I am not even sure I properly thanked the helpful man.
I went into the church and was thrilled to establish that the radiator was on full blast. I rubbed my soggy bottom on it to try and dry off.
I have now recovered. You live in a fabulous part of England with helpful neighbours and a very pretty church equipped with the best radiator ever!

Thank you for your blog which I really enjoy.

Kindest regards. Helen ( and our beloved Theodora)


Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and words. I look forward to drinking in each post. I hope you are considering putting them into a book…


Will be heading to North Carolina from Sydney for work, so can’t wait to read about your upcoming trip to Savannah and Charleston!

Lisa D.says:

Dear Ben,

Your pictures of Dorset are so lovely and bucolic. It reminds me of the northern California where I grew up, many years ago, before everyone and their cousin moved here! I’ve never been to the English countryside, only London, but I’ve always wanted to go. Thank you for the lovely images.


Dear Ben,
thank you for your lovely January blog with shimmering photos in golden sunshine ……. how beautiful the rural Dorset life ! Gentle colors in January and a slow awaking of nature, it’s fantastic, the first snowdrops, catkins etc. is every year amazing ! I love this time of the year 🙂 The church and buildings around the parsonage are so lovely ! Enjoy all your photos & how you have spent your weekend ! Thank you for sharing.
Wish you & Charlie a wonderful time in Atlanta etc.
I’m looking forward to your next blog !
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂

Hazel Lavellesays:

Thankyou for your lovely post , sitting here in Manchester , with the snow falling ,and thinking of the year to come . Wishing you both a good trip to the states , I wonder wether you will bump in to the queen of style Carolyn Roheme when in Charleston ??

All the best Hazel

Barbara Shamblinsays:

These are some of your most beautiful photos of Dorset and surrounds ever! Tis a dream…
Thank you. Much needed.

Be careful in Savannah. Gun crazy country here.

Thank you for brightening my day with your gorgeous photos and the reminder that spring will inevitably come. I’m in northern New York State and it’s 18 below zero Fahrenheit at my house!! Just seeing snowdrops help. Cheers!

Lynne Pardoesays:

I’ve only just discovered you but what a find!!! I just love the way you furnish houses, its what I call ‘spabby’. I help the glos group of the society for the protection of ancient buildings where they let things age and enjoy the sense of history the layers of wear left by the generations, so we call anything like that ‘spabby’, a bit like myself really!!
I quite agree with Mike about about politics at the moment, thank goodness there are wonderful places to retreat to!
Have fun on your travels,
Lynne Pardoe

Anne Fairfaxsays:

Dear Ben, have a lovely time in Charleston, and don’t forget to check out the Hotel Bennett on Marion Square… we had nothing to do with it after it was passed by the BAR and then sitting in limbo while legal objections finally got dismissed. By then Mike Bennett had hired a southern architect (from Atlanta?? not sure) to anxious to see the results. We never were asked to detail the interiors so its anybody’s guess how it all turned out! with much love, A.


Hi Ben, as a long time reader of your blog, I wanted to, at last say a big heartfelt thanks for sharing your beautiful corners of the world with us on the blog. The photos and your words are always so inspirational and somehow often just capture the mood of the moment. Enjoy your trip to the States. Really look forward to seeing your photos as we visited those areas recently and loved them.

southern galsays:

a lovely respite from the bitter cold (4 degrees this morning – 13 now with wind chills in the negative double digits).

have a grand time in Georgia!


I’m rather envious of your ability to tune out the news -it is admittedly quite dire these days on both sides of the Atlantic. Her Majesty’s government isn’t doing much governing at the moment and in the states half of it is shut down with many suffering the fallout. Grim.
Thankfully we have your lovely photos of the impending English spring to distract us from our weltschmerz. Have fun in Charleston & Savannah, they are gems.

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