High Summer weeks

8 September 2019
Ben Pentreath

It seems weeks ago that I got down to Dorset at the end of one of the longest and craziest weeks in the office in a fair while – three days in Scotland, an intense day of meetings in London, a photoshoot for a project and then jumping onto the 6.35pm down to Dorchester. Bliss. And summer arrived again, just as we did.

That first weekend, we had lunch with our friends Fergus and Louise Dowding, up in Somerset. We’d called into the Bannermans too, on the way, seeing their extraordinary new house of which great adventures await.  The Dowdings garden is little short of amazing. You enter through this labyrinth of huge leaves….

Time for a red hot poker revival too…

Beautiful houses in the village…. the twin brother of the Old Parsonage, I thought?

See what I mean?

The air at home was hot and scented that evening. 

Charlie’s veg garden, which is really now the display dahlia garden, has gone insane. 

It was a week of beautiful early morning walks with the dogs. 

But a busy week too… Charlie was getting ready, after all, for the Melplash show. On the Wednesday evening, I called in to drop things off with him – in the Morris Minor, which felt very at home in the line of little white canvas tents with red trim. 


T H E   M E L P L A S H   S H O W

Show time the next day… was amazing. I’ve never seen a more full Horticultural Tent, with a riveting standard of exhibition. 

Mark Read’s vegetable display – best in show. 

Gorgeous Gladioli.

We did the Grand Parade…

But then back to the tent for prize giving…

Our friend Caddy, and the master Bill Howarth. Vegetable growers extraordinaire.

One of Charlie’s prizes!

We were there with Flora and Jay. We couldn’t help but die of laughter. 

Caddy’s RHS Banksian Medal – for the most points in the entire tent. A great achievement.

Julian Bannerman trying on a 19th century pink coat…

Which looked fairly dapper on Charlie too…

A message well said:

Giant Marrow prizes…. Dahlia prizes:

And then it was an empty tent, all put away… until next year. 

The next day, Bridie came for the weekend.  We started in the village up the road, who’ve turned their village hall, once a month, in to a brilliant pub, the ‘Come on Inn’.  

Life from another era, but actually not. It’s today, and it’s very alive. 

Bridie, with Jackie and David Cain. 

We went to wonderful Dorshi, in Bridport, and rolled home in a taxi and the following morning had to get up extremely early. We were going to the Great Dorset Steam Fair.


T H E   S T E A M   F A I R

We arrived as the gates opened and as the huge campsite was just waking up.

Most of the engines were still shrouded.  No one stirred. 

A few early callers at Tea in Mugs. 

The Shire horses were having breakfast. 

As were the Shire horse owners. 

Breakfast in the shepherds hut compound.  No Farrow and Ball/Cath Kidston (or even Pentreath & Hall)  in sight, I’m very very glad to report. I’ve got to admit, I don’t approve of the gentrification of the shepherds hut. 

This lot is the real deal.

Everywhere you go at the steam fair, there is extraordinary typography.  Can you see why I love it here so much?

A field of tractors as far as the eye can see.  The showground is on the high chalk plans of north Dorset – you can see for miles to distant clumps of woodland on the skyline. 

So many enthusiasts, so much knowledge. 

Steam engines. 

Pipe organs. 

Fairground attractions.  We couldn’t resist the Lighthouse Slip – made of aluminium in 1947, from ex WW2 surplus. 

It is magnificent.  The owner is the second since it was built. 

Lovingly looked after. 

Elsewhere – faux marbling to die for. 

We did the Ferris wheel.  Quite a long way up.

The Grand Ring. 

And then home to a barbecue….


This was Sunday breakfast in the garden. The heat was extreme – beautiful. 

That evening, we went to the beach.  The sea was warm and the beach was packed. 

The heat broke for a day, and a sea fog rolled in across the valley. I love the garden at this moment. 

We went to visit Caddy’s beautiful garden.  Under the towel are resting her carrots that yesterday won at the Dorset County Show. 

There are few places more beautiful in Dorset than Caddy’s greenhouse. 

Home to the softest pink evening light. 

The next day, Charlie and I went to Abbotsbury gardens. I can’t believe we’d never been before. Amazing moments… such as this glimpse, through miles of trees, to the distant chapel of St Catherine on the far hill.  

And such intense shades of jungular green. 

A magical place. 

And then as if by magic carpet, at the end of the week, we whisked to Venice. We were staying with our friends Anthony and Skye for a couple of days – to see Marianna Kennedy’s wonderful show, Invincible Truth, and really just to have fun.


V E N E T I A N   D A Y S   A N D   N I G H T S

Lunch on Skye’s terrace on arrival. A different shade of green. 

Wandering through Venice towards dinner:

Breakfast the next morning:

And then a beautiful hot Saturday on the lagoon, with lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena on Mazzorbo.  We went in the boat. Heaven. 

Back via Murano…

And then home…

To prepare for the evening. Nothing feels quite as fun in the world as heading through the canals in a beautiful wooden taxi, dressed in black tie and ballgowns. 

First stop – S. Giorgio Maggiore, for Marianna’s exhibition. 

A beautiful dinner in the cloisters followed. Here is beautiful, brilliant, genius Marianna….

Followed by The Vanity Fair Black & White ball, dancing like madmen in the heat of the night until the small hours of the morning. And on Sunday, after a lazy start, the Regata Storica – when all the ancient boats of Venice are rowed in a beautiful procession up the Grand Canal, before a dramatic boat race.  We made our way over to lunch at Arsenale, to see the old boats being rowed out. 

Thanks, needless to say, to Skye, we watched from a prime spot on the Grand Canal, in an ancient palazzo.  The canal had been closed to traffic all day. Extraordinary to see the water mirror flat, not churned around by the engines of boats, just like in the paintings by Canaletto. 

The procession began…

And here the race proceeds dramatically – as the boats turn furiously around the orange marker buoy just to the right of the picture;

And then, as the light softened, the procession makes it way down the Canal again.

We rolled home…. supper… bed and home the next day.


T H E   D O R C H E S T E R   S H O W

So then, home. It was a hectic week – as could be expected after two weeks away. But summer had one more blast.  I was back down in Dorset on Wednesday for work – so I felt as if I was in London for a minute or two. By Friday, I’ve got to admit, I was ready for an early night. Charlie was up for an almost all-nighter – getting ready his many, many entries for the Dorset show, to be handed in by 7.30am on Saturday morning.

After a walk with the dogs, and a quiet breakfast at home, we headed in. Charlie entering the tent to find out how he’d done. Many great Dahlia growers seemed to have arrived this year….

But everywhere you look, he had firsts. In some classes, he had first, second and third. Amazing!!

So proud!!! So exciting. 

Mark Read and his amazing veg again….

Caddy won longest carrot. Incredible. 

Bill Howarth, Mark Read and Ron Benfield – the three champion growers of Dorset. Potato bake-off!

Mark’s Begonias are one of the most beautiful things you can see in the whole world…

Bill’s dahlias. 

The judge tent. Charlie’s Marrow…

Then to the show ring.  Coach and four…

The incredible grand parade…. 

My all time hero:

Best Hay:

Grain tent:

The audience of the shearing competition!

Such, such an amazing sight this year.

We rolled home. Charlie was literally exhausted and fell into bed.  It was the most beautiful evening….

The dogs and I played in the garden…

Everything glowed…And as the sun set, it felt like sun was setting on the summer as whole. 

it’s been a magical one.

In times which feel, well, little short of mad, it’s nice to know that unchanging life has a good habit of carrying on regardless.


30 comments on this post


So life enhancing!


Lovely slices of serenity – and sanity. Thank you.


Always dreamy to see your photos and well done Charlie….hoping the NZ summer will be as abundant as yours has been….

Michael Ridleysays:

Having seen both this photo essay and the piece about Charlie’s success on Gardener’s World (congrats on all counts) I could not resist posting this – as I would hate him to miss out on this vital part of British culture which may have passed him by so far…….

Carol Crump Brynersays:

An absolutely wonderful and joyful read. Thank you!!

sharron Boxenbaumsays:

You live such a beautiful life! Thanks for sharing glimpses of it with the rest of us!


I was so incredibly lucky to have spent the last few weeks touring Dorset and I can honestly say I am in love! The weather was perfect, the people were friendly and up-beat, everywhere looked so beautiful (and clean); a perfect joy.
Not being a very good photographer, I am so very grateful to you for your fabulous blog that helps to keep the memories alive.

Darlene Chandlersays:

Dear Charlie and Ben, This blog was just amazing and so uplifting to follow your journey. I just loved all of the photos of Venice and of your various shows you attended in and around Dorset. And so pleased that Charlie did so well at these shows. The Dahlias in your garden and at the show are just amazing. You have made my day. I look forward to more pictures of your garden and you friend’s gardens. All lovely. And Caddy’s vegetables that won, especially those carrots. All the best and I so look forward to more uplifting photos.


Ben, Hello from Seattle. Thank you for sharing your beautiful, magical photos. They made my heart ache in the best way.

Lesley Suttonsays:

Mr. Fennel Head made me very, very happy!

Sally Leonardsays:

Ben, Once again, you have been incredibly generous sharing all these amazing moments with us.
Thank you!!

David Sanderssays:

Now that’s what I call a bumper edition. A subtle dig at David Cameron’s Shepard’s hut, Ben? Quite right too; they should be a gentrification free zone. I’d heard that the Venetian authorities have reduced the number of cruise ships entering the canals, in response to a recent accident – about time too; they are so out of scale and ruin the Canalettoesque views.

Flash, bang wallop…. what pictures, what photographs! Thank you!


Always love your posts. None better than this one, though. Your final line brings tears to my eyes and prayers to my heart.Love, Ann

Clay McCleerysays:

Charlie is precious!

Joan Rosascosays:

Dear Ben,
All this is so very beautiful! We are now eagerly looking forward to your talk in New York!


Hello from Dorchester, Massachusetts. Love the fairs!


Dear Ben,
thank you for sharing all your beautiful photos and experiences with us. I enjoy always your posts and photos,they’re full of life of it’s best! How lovely are the photos of you, Charlie and Bridie in Venice …… and of course all the Dorset photos are heaven !!! Need to say that Charlie’s hairstyle now is the nicest of them all ….. 🙂
Have wonderful days, enjoy NY !
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂


Truly amazing sights compiled into one post. Now like those carrots I need a rest under a blanket! Many thanks to all those involved. Best wishes, Nicola


Stunning locations, events and flora and fauna! Thank you!

Simon Clementssays:

That was a stunning way to start the week – looking at your marvelous pictures and incredible events.

Jami Trammellsays:

I have so loved reading your blog and seeing your perfect photographs! It’s all so achingly beautiful.Thank you


Beautiful sunset.

Stella Cashsays:

Thank you Ben ,your posts and photographs always make me nostalgic for my very happy childhood. I got to know Dorset very well when my late in-laws lived in Leigh.

Tricia Childssays:

Another wonderful read after an amazing couple of weeks you’ve both had
Melbourne 9 September

Gillian Faulhabersays:

Hi Ben An outstanding post of many I have read over the years. The Images of Venice are magical. Love it all.

Barbara Tollensays:

This is a respite from the madness of the current events here in the US. Thank you for taking the time to record the beauty that you find, local and far afield. I have been following your blog since its inception – it is a treasure.


What a wonderful life you lead!

Debra Mooresays:

Hello Ben what a magnificent few weeks you have had. The Melpash Show and The Dorset County Show looked incredible everything to celebrate country life. So exciting to see that Charlie’s entries did so well. Your photos of Venice were a dream how wonderful to have had such a lovely time. Nice to see you on a couple of photos. Thank you for 10 minutes of pure joy your blog keeps me close to my favourite place the beautiful Dorset.

Leslie Huntersays:

Ben: here I sit in San Francisco, late Sunday night, reading this magical post. We know our world here in America has indeed gone frighteningly mad (selfishly, I’m afraid that your Parliament shenanigans bring me a small bit of “misery loves company” comfort…) but your lyrical descriptions and photos have calmed me down and will send me off to bed in a lovely frame of mind, wishing I could touch down in Dorset. Thank you. Oh, and I completely agree with your hero choice: it just doesn’t get any better, does it? And given the subjects in your photos, that’s saying a lot. The best.

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