The turn of the year

5 January 2020
Ben Pentreath

Are you reading this at the beginning of the first day back to work?  I’ve called this blog the turn of the year, but of course, it’s the turn of the decade too.

If you have read the blog for a long time, you’ll know that I’m honestly more into the idea of gentle continuity than radical change. I’m not even hugely into the notion that one day is greatly more significant than the former. Are we really in for a decade, as a keep on reading, of the Roaring Twenties, a hundred years after the first?  Is that the correct reprise?  Maybe it is.  Maybe it is more appropriate for our times than how the 1820’s described themselves… although I, for one, would be jolly happy if it turned out that two turns on the century dial led to another Era of Good Feelings. Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books? (Incidentally, did you know about the Era of Good Feelings? I’ve got to confess it was new to me, but I was happy to read about it).

Well, that all said, it’s been a wonderful Christmas and New Year, although one where I was laid low for some of the times with what really wasn’t more than a cold,  but a foul enough one to put me quite firmly in bed for a few days.  I crept down to Dorset a few days before Christmas to join Charlie, and his brother James, and our sister-in-law Anna, and their baby Charlotte – all over with us from New Zealand. As I write, they’ve been drifting back on that long, long journey to the other side of the earth, and will be arriving home in Christchurch very soon. How wonderful to have them all with us, especially this year.


I got out of bed at last on Christmas Eve. The sunshine was beautiful.

Sibyl giving her best side-eye. 

Enid has a much more straightforward character.

And Mavis loves to look out at the bigger picture while the little ones scrap away. Maybe she can teach us all something?

It was a couple of days after Mum’s birthday.  I wandered down to the churchyard. One of the most amazing things really, of all, is being able to watch over her from our bedroom window – and knowing that she’s watching back.  That is her temporary grave marker, made by my brother Tim, bottom left of the photograph. 

Charlie and Charlotte at the Christmas tree that evening.

All was still and quiet. 

Christmas morning! Presents all round….

Charlie and I took the dogs for a walk on a breathtakingly beautiful morning. 

In the garden, spring bulbs are shooting everywhere.

Strange errant primroses seem to have been flowering all year, on and off. 

The sun streamed into the church that morning. 

And in to the kitchen, where we sat down to a heavenly lunch of roast goose, beautifully cooked by Charlie. A delicious and happy feast.

And we all stumbled in to bed early that evening, at the end of a quiet, happy, beautiful day.

On Boxing Day, it was, of course, time for the Annual Duck Race.  Edgar explained the rules, as usual, in the village hall. 

Down the waterfall.

Into the sheep splash, which is a great leveller of the first part of the race, and then released into the long stream in another mass of ducks. 

The entire village follows in pursuit. 

And then the finish line, for another hotly contested race. I’m afraid we didn’t win, but of course it didn’t matter. This really is a race where the taking part is what counts.

Watch this space this year. I’m beginning to plan some improvements to our village hall, and I have a suspicion that our fundraising efforts may reach the blogosphere.


And then, via Oxfordshire, and Glasgow, we headed for a couple of days at the bothy – to show the others Scotland, and the madness we’ve been up to in the last year. Perhaps one of the happiest times of the whole trip. 

Time for Sibyl’s official second birthday photograph.

Walks and storms.

The firs view across to Jura is always thrilling. 

High tides and unfriendly seas – so different to our last visit, when this view was mirror-like, glass flat. 


We had a wonderful few days, but all too quickly had to tear ourselves back down to London. On the morning of New Year’s Eve, we had a fantastic long walk on Hampstead Heath. Kenwood  quietly beautiful, as always…

The next day – a first for me, at least since I was ten. A revelation! The Natural History Museum. It is such an extraordinary and stunning building, with so many fantastic things on display. Really, curiously, not for children at all – or, at least, for children of all ages, a category into which I firmly placed myself that morning. 

I wish the museum would reproduce this giant drawing of a sloth, by George Sharf, 1842.  Well, maybe they do – I haven’t actually checked.  It was a dream. 

Incredible notebooks by Ehret, in the same gallery.

The fantastic moon, that I think has been touring the country last year. It was such an unexpected pleasure to come across it here. 

And exploring upstairs for mere minutes – we must, must come back. The minerals gallery beckons quite urgently, for example.  

We’ve had New Years Eve, we’ve had Charlie’s brilliant birthday party.  And then, on Saturday, we said goodbye to James, Anna and Charlotte, making their long journey home.  We dropped into Kew Gardens on the way home, to cheer ourselves up.  Another not quite first, but the first in a long long time.  Heavenly.  The Palm House glowed. 

We loved the Princess of Wales Conservatory too, a completely different vibe, totally of the 80s but good.

The first snowdrops of the year, big fat plump things. 

The kitchen garden put to bed, neat as a pin. 

The Temperate House. 

And perhaps most dreamy of all, the witch hazels, surrounding a tiny Doric temple built by King William IV. 

We’ve had a lovely London weekend, sorting ourselves, having a long lazy delicious lunch at Andrew Edmunds, walking the dogs, doing not too much at all.   And this afternoon, in Russell Square, we saw our first daffodil of the year. 

Our friend Amy Merrick wrote of them – in her beautiful, incredible book ON FLOWERS (which, if you don’t already own it, you must) – ‘Daffodils have impeccable timing – they bloom just when you cannot stand one more day of winter’.  I’m afraid these ones have arrived a tiny bit early. Because I know that there’s more winter on the way. But equally – don’t they also tell us – spring is coming, in a while, just around the corner.  Have you suddenly started noticing, already, that the evenings are getting that tiny bit longer?  The days roll on, the weeks roll by, a month turns, a season, a year turns, a decade turns.

The slow, gentle rotation of life carries on – and as I’ve thought for ever and ever now, some things get worse, most things don’t change that much at all, and just every now and again – some things really do get a great deal better. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the world in which we find ourselves.

Happy New Year.

27 comments on this post


How can you possibly have green things and any kind of flower coming up right now? I am looking at this and it’s January 8th today.


Thank you for another year of amazing pictures and information. Best wishes to all from Nicola


Another visual and reading feast for the senses. Oh that view across to Jura, those mountains – stunning. And of course the mention of the sadness of dropping family off at Heathrow. I always cry and feel sad for a few days when I drop family and friends off at YVR or when I get dropped off at LHR. And on that note I think it time for me to go and watch that wonderful LHR bear commercial from a few years ago, which is all about arrivals, but hey it captures those feelings so well.

Natalie Canningsays:

Happy New Year to you and your family Ben.
Your blog is always so generous and full of genuinely interesting content, so thank you. We often share your interior images for the perfect quintessentially English styling inspiration. I particularly enjoyed your Christmas table and Christmas morning pictures as they felt really festive and stylish but totally relaxed. What a clever combination!
Thank you again and I look forward to the next publication!

Diane Keanesays:

Happy New Year, Ben, Charlie, & fur family (including the mysterious, seldom-seen Henry.) And Happy New Decade as well, a significant one for me as I will start my 70th decade this Spring. Your blog helps me enjoy the simple gifts of life, and keep things in perspective as the years go by.

The photos of Christmas in Dorset are magical, especially Charlie and Charlotte contemplating the tree. Her face is turned away but you can still detect the awe.

If I may so, the “duck race” is a bit of typical British whimsy that is so amusing (and absurd, in the kindest way possible! Mad dogs and Englishmen…) Those who can keep alive their child-like pleasures alive will stay young forever.

The Museum of Natural History was surely visited by J.K. Rowling. Where else could her Hogwarts staircases have come from?

Looking forward to another decade of delights, insights and trenchant observations from you, Ben.

Hugs from Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Darlene Chandlersays:

Thank you for the wonderful inspiration to me for this blog you sent. It is so beautiful and uplifting to see the beauty when these days some things around seem to have lost their beauty in the world. I so loved your Christmas tree and Charlotte is so adorable. The lovely Christmas table seating and that wonderful goose that Charlie cooked and not to mention the Christmas puddings and other dessert. The duck race I had never heard of and what a wonderful day outing to be involved in that fun. The pictures of your place in Scotland and Charlie and Sybil. The wonderful pictures of Kew Gardens and the History Museum where I have spent many an evening and many an evening watching people skate while visiting London in the winter months. I have been back from London 4 weeks and in two weeks back again to avoid some of Canada’s bad snowy weather coming, so funny to see that I will be April to catch sight of some daffodils and other bulbs and plants that are flowering in London in January. I am coming to attend the antique show in Battersea and again so look forward to see greenery and plants and flowers. It was so nice to see all of wonderful holiday pictures. Thank you again and thank you for the book referrals also.

Leslie Huntersays:

Thank you from just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Ben. Was so looking forward to your first blog of the new year and it did not disappoint! Couldn’t resist writing this time because of your visit to Kew. We went for the first time ever two years ago when our family converged in London for Christmas with our eldest daughter. Well. I was lukewarm on the whole idea of Kew but went because my Columbian sister-in-law is a botanist and was mad to get out there. Her doctoral supervisor worked there and invited us into the Herbarium after our wanderings. Ben, you and Charlie please find someone to take you into these hallowed spaces: cabinets from James Cook’s vessel! seeds and pods from Darwin’s voyage! coffee leaves and orchids that are beautifully preserved from the most long ago faraway journeys! all put up and stored and kept the way they have been for two hundred years. We ALL got goosebumps. It is swoonworthy–especially for gardenistas like you and Charlie. Happy New Year! a humble neophyte when it comes to London–Leslie Hunter

Catherine Ssays:

Dear Ben
Great blog, thank you. Your mention of a village hall project reminded me of a competition that has been promoted in my village. In the spirit of community sharing here is the link for details:
I rather think you will provide stiff competition for the rest of us.
Good Luck!


Is it possible that I heard you on the radio talking to Andrew Marr this morning? I declared that it was you and then heard him refer to a Ben. They were certainly architects discussing postwar high rise architecture, but I was driving and missed quite a bit.


Hi Ben and Charlie…what a shameless flirt your Sybil is!!
I hope you have her under close supervision?
It’s made my day to get such a long, lovely blog from you.
No pressure, though, hon. You have a life…xx

Isla Simpsonsays:

Was thinking of you this Christmas, and so pleased you were surrounded by family.
I too succumbed to that cold, which has left me feeling quite flat, thank you for cheering me up with all this beauty. I’ve missed your posts. Xxxx


Such a joyous read,Thankyou and Happy New Year to you Charlie and the dogs!


Happy New Year, Ben! Thank you so much for such a refreshing blog. What a delight to see snow drops and the first daffodil. The duck race is too much!!! It brings joy to my heart. Keep the home fires burning.

Clay McCleerysays:

Beautiful blog, as always.
Thanks! I needed this!

Clare Edwardssays:

Your posts are always a joy, now they are additionally a comfort and refuge. Thank you.

Southern Galsays:

Thank you for a lovely newsy post. And your last paragraph is wonderful advice.

The latest news of our stupid Presidents actions in Iran and the horrid fires in Australia make for gloomy prospects.

But we each can live our own lives taking joy daily from people and those surroundings around us. One of the reasons I treasure your blog is your attitude. We each of us can only influence who we meet daily and where we live now. You do that in your actions and your life.

Happy New Year to you Charlie and all the animals! (I know I will forget one if I try to name them)

Barbara Shamblinsays:

Thank you for a gorgeous rumination!

Amanda Fongsays:

yes to the natural history museum! i’ve been taking my little girl (now 3) in the last year or so and every time we are in the building I look up and really do a double take at how beautiful the building itself is, let alone the endless entertaining exhibits. and all for free. we are blessed.

Sarah Mcsays:

Dear Ben

Wishing you a very happy new year too, you really do pack it all in despite the lurgey, I LOVE the duckrace on Boxing Day, that must have been huge fun – and a big thank you for the blog and for passing on all sorts of wonderful ideas of places to see, things to do etc – this year I visited Skagen and Svenkist Tenn whilst in wonderful Stockholm thanks to you, (cushions still being made from fabric I bought!) so look forward to more gems to come. Primroses are also happily popping up all over my Swanage garden, and daffodils waiting for their moment to come soon in Hammersmith. Can I do a bit of shameless self promotion and recommend my comfortable Swanage seaside home Sandpiper, named after the sanderlings running up and down the shoreline at Studland over the hill you can see from the comfort of the sofa, which Im starting to do holiday lets and short breaks this year, perfect base for exploring our varied and wonderful Dorset, and dog friendly of course too. (excuse the plastic flowers and bright lighting courtesy of the managing agent photographer from Wykes Dorset cottage, it has lots of nice lamps they oddly removed for photos so in the evening has nice soft lighting throughout – oh yes, the garden looks way better than the height of winter photos included too) thanks and with very best wishes – Sarah x


Happy New Decade to you and Charlie !

Your latest post is a dream , thank you for taking us along on your wonderful Christmas and New Year serendipity …wonderful pictures, I think I’ll go around again.

All Best –



Happy New Year!
Thank you, as always, for the lovely photos and words – it’s a wonderful way to start a Monday morning.


Dear Ben,
a very Happy New Year to you and Charlie !
What a wonderful blog and such very lovely words and photos, how nice to see that you had such wonderful festive days . The Natural History museum looks amazing, I only know that in Oxford last year in December, it was such a wonderful experience for us too …..
Now unfortunately this wonderful and festive time is over for us all and now a new year and decade has begun !
Week to week spring is more around the corner but I really do enjoy these quiet and darker and cosy days for now !
Wish you all the best for the new year and a lovely start this week!
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂

Patricia Lillian Taylorsays:

A heartwarming post as always – thank you.
I’m off now to plant some pots of tulips and
iris – a broken wrist – now healed – followed
by a fierce cold and cough – have delayed doing
so until now – your enthusiasm for life giving
me the burst of energy I need to start the gardening


Thanks for your post. I’ve been reading it for years now. Nice distraction from the terrible fires here In Australia. I spent the holidays in Marlborough Sounds NZ on a yacht but now I’m home and smoke is so thick. So sad to have lost half a billion animals so far. Please donate if anyone can.


Lovely to hear you and Charlie had a festive Christmas with close family around you.

Always refreshing to read your blog, after what seems like too long an interval. If like me, you now live on another continent, it allows you to stay connected, rooted almost, to England and Britain. The best parts. The parts you remember fondly growing up.

Unfortunately there are still many months of winter ahead of us here in New York and no daffodils insight! I look forward to seeing what improvements you have for the village hall and the next installment.


Missed your posts over the past few weeks and hoped that good times were being had. By the way, do you know that dahlia plants can survive 48°C which it was in my garden two days ago, they need enough to drink and a little shade but leaves and flowers are ok.
I agree with you about the Natural History museum although I do remember as a child not liking the atmosphere of the building – the wierd (to a child) arches and brick colours.
We here in Oz have had a fairly horrifying start to the decade but hope for the emergence of some leaders that we can feel some pride and confidence in.

Janice Hughessays:

Thank you Ben for your wonderful blog. I look forward to it each month. Living in the Lake District in an Old Vicarage deep in the countryside i enjoy the comparison!

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