Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Eel-friendly eelectricity!

We are delighted to say that the EA has approved the screen already in place at Watermill Cottages for the water turbine and declared we are eel friendly. So the electricity we generate for our house and for Barleycorn Cottage really is eel-ectricity!
Here in the Gara Valley we're lucky enough to have a thriving eel population, as this year's EA fish survey showed, as well as an equally thriving otter population for whom eels are a fast food.  The Slapton Ley Field Centre have told us that most female glass eels drift into the Severn Estuary whilst most male glass eels drift around the south coast. 

Our eels enter Slapton Ley through the overflow at Torcross before making their way as elvers upstream to mature, which takes several years. They then transform from yellow eels to silver eels to make their way back to the Sargasso Sea to mate.  if they fail to reach the sea then they transform back into yellow eels and wait for the next year.
There was much excitement in summer and early autumn as many eels were visible from the bridge and lawns at Watermill Cottages.

To help raise awareness of eels here's some information from The Environment Agency website - they are quite extraordinary creatures, long-lived and  at ease in salt and fresh water.

Eel facts from The Environment Agency
Eel numbers have dropped since the 1980s to very low levels across Europe. As a result European regulations are now in place requiring action by all European member states to reverse this decline. Legislation comes into force on January 1 2015 to protect eels and their diminishing habitats.  This includes having all weirs, turbines and abstraction areas checked by The Environment Agency (EA) for eel-friendliness, and installing expensive screens if required.

Why the eel decline?  The EA says it's not caused by one problem alone, but it's a complicated picture. Over-fishing in some parts of Europe, parasites, climate change, pollutants such as pesticides and heavy metals probably all have parts to play. One of the most likely causes is the huge decrease in available habitat for eels in our freshwater rivers, canals, lakes and tidal estuaries. Since the Second World War, we have drained lowland rivers, straightened channels and created modern flood defence barriers. This sort of water management reduces suitable habitat and makes it difficult for eel to move freely through our rivers.

The eel is a famous international marine traveller completing only part of its life cycle in freshwaters or coastal areas, where it is fished for by both rod and net. Spawning has not been observed, but it is believed to take place in the spring, deep in the Sargasso Sea, between Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Larvae and glass eel 
Maturing females, although their eggs have not been collected, are reported to contain up to 10 million eggs. The eggs develop into a 'leaf-like' larva called a ‘leptocephalus’ It was originally thought that these larvae took three years to migrate from the Sargasso Sea to the European coast but, recent studies suggest that the journey may take as little as 12 months.

When the larvae reach the continental shelf they change into what is called the 'glass eel' stage before continuing with their migration. In the British Isles, from around May, once temperatures have reached about ten degrees Celsius, the glass eel make their migration from the estuaries into freshwater.
Once the glass eel develop pigmentation they are referred to as 'elver' and are very similar in shape to the adult eel. To facilitate their passage through the estuary and into rivers they use the tidal currents, migrating upstream on the flood tide. During the ebb tide they move out of the current towards the bank side to prevent being washed out to sea.

In fresh water the eel lives on or near the bottom, often digging into the gravel, and migrates slowly upstream. During this period they are generally referred to as yellow eel. Moving further upstream eel become fewer and more dispersed. Eel in the upper reaches of river systems are generally fewer and  they tend to be much larger than in the lower reaches. In the lower reaches the populations have a higher proportion of males, which contrasts with the upper reaches where females predominate.

Silver eel  Male eel stay in freshwater for between 7 and 12 years, maturing at an average length of about 36cm. Females stay between 9 to 20 years and mature at a larger average size of about 50cm, though eel can grow larger reaching up to 1 metre in length and live as long as 40 years.

When the fish mature they change to a blue/silvery colour and migrate seaward during the autumn, usually during dark stormy nights.
Species - Eel, Anguilla anguilla (L.)
Weight - rarely 2.3kg (5lb), very few over 3.2kg (7lb)
Length - rarely exceed 100cm
Age - maximum recorded 40 years
Location - estuaries and freshwater
Behaviour - catadromous
Preferred habitat - slow-flowing, deep water, sand, silt and weed
Feeding - May-October, most active at night, forage in debris
Natural food - crustacea, worms, small fish.
Maturity - 8-15 years
Spawning - Sargasso Sea at depth
Migratory habits -  August-December, adults migrate to sea; February-May, glass eel arrive at coastal waters; May-September elvers migrate upstream 

Predators - pike, eel, fish-eating birds, otters

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Slow Nature Wild Words ... Fri 15 Nov – Sun 17 Nov 2013... A rural writing retreat

Slow Nature Wild Words
The Gara Valley

Fri 15 Nov – Sun 17 Nov 2013
A residential rural writing weekend in the heart of the unspoilt Gara Valley in south Devon close to Slapton Sands.

Exploring our natural processes of creation and writing in response to our felt sense of nature in thirteen acres of unspoilt coastal valley that’s virtually untouched by the modern world.  Far from the madding crowd away from the white noise of TV, mobiles and WiFi, time and space to attune to natural rhythms.
  • James Crowden inspiring words as we walk the byways of the Gara Valley
  • new ways of creative expression through the resonance of woods, winds, walks and water
  • footscapes, landscapes, soundscapes, wordscapes
  • space to unearth lost, found, forgotten, new & old rhythms
  • sessions on raw & found materials, creating across disciplines, collaborative writing…
  • nourishment for creativity, body, spirit and soul
  • Full programme here
A room of one’s own in shared old stone cottages that are part of an historic 18th Century former watermill at Watermill Cottages, Hansel, nr Slapton, Dartmouth, South Devon TQ6 0LN. 

Watermill Cottages
Click the link for full details of the glorious setting at Watermill Cottages in the Gara Valley.

Just 12 places. Residential, two days and nights, all food, accommodation and tuition – £169.

Check-in 15:00 Friday and checkout by 18:00 Sunday - or stay longer if your fancy takes you, just ask.

Biographies here for leaders and facilitators.

To book or for more information please email or call Christine on 01803 770219

Or take a look at Slow Nature WIld Words website   

Higher North Mill

A Left Bank event with Watermill Cottages

Dartmouth Food Festival 25-27 October 2013

 oh yes! From Friday 25 October to Sunday 27th October a feast by the tidal Dart in Dartmouth, its restaurants and yacht clubs.
Food stalls, cookery demos, dining events showcasing the best that the Dartmouth area and south west can offer, including with renowned Dartmouth chef Mitch Tonks
Here are some of the highlights -  the full festival programme has all the juicy detail.

Eat Your Words 
A Series of In-Conversations with Food and Cookery Writers at Dartmouth Yacht Club on the South

How do you explain to a reader what a tender, juicy leg of lamb tastes like, or describe the aroma of a crisp, dry glass of Riesling? How do you use words to communicate such sensory experiences?
Food and wine are some of the most difficult subjects to write about, but have also produced some of our richest writing.  Listen to renowned food and cookery writers and experts in their fields chat about why food writing matters, why we all love to read it, and what we really write about when we write about food

Drinks Tastings and Seminars featuring local wines, beers and ciders

Workshops with Manna from Devon cookery school  how to dress a crab, cook a perfect steak, decorate cupcakes and more

Stay at Watermill Cottages, enjoy the food fest and press apples with us on Sunday afternoon (27th October), we've hired the huge oak apple press from Orchardlink - fresh-pressed apple juice straight from the press.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Watermill Cottages on Tripadvisor

And we've joined Tripadvisor (as well as facebook and twitter) ...

We're  listed as Watermill Cottages, Slapton, Devon if you'd like to have a look or write anything, and so far we have 11 reviews. 

Here's a couple of them...

Quack, quack, quack!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 2 September 2013
'Me, my Mum and dog stayed stayed in Quack cottage for 5 days and had the most wonderful time. The cottages are in such a rural setting but not too far away (driving distance) from lots of beautiful towns and beaches (some dog friendly all year).
We were welcomed by lovely Jade, gorgeous cake and dog treats and flowers from the garden too. We felt so welcome and what a great start to our holiday.
The cottage is equipped with everything we needed and more. The garden is massive with the lovely ducks saying hello everyday!
It was a welcome break from the internet, tele and mobile phones and we thoroughly enjoyed cooking, knitting and chatting the nights away!

“Down the rabbit hole”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 12 May 2013
'Remember how Alice goes down a rabbit hole in Wonderland and finds a magical place unlike any other? Well, when we go to Watermill Cottages (twice so far in one year and another in the planning), we feel it is a bit like that. No wifi, no TV, no traffic noise. Just the rush of the stream and the birdsong, the animals and silence. This is the kind of place that inspired WH Davies to write his poem, Leisure... "What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare..." Here, we slough off the dry skin of the 'real world' and bask in the bliss of how things used to be and should be. From the great fish and chips in Slapton, to the farm shop with real, hung, beef, the Pig's Nose pub where you can help yourself to knitting needles and wool after a bracing coastal walk. Beware. If you ever visit Watermill Cottages, you may get addicted....

“All cottages are great, but Crownwheel is closest to the water, Quack has the cutest name and garden, Rose has the highest terrace and Barleycorn is closest to the mill itself.” '

Thank you for your kind words everyone ...

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Perfect October short walk

Oh what a beautiful day! 
Perfect October Indian Summer, and a perfect Devon walk from Slapton to Torcross, along the beach there and along the shore of Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve on the way back.

The contrast of crunching on pebbles with silently padding over rich, reedy, soft loam; salt sea and musty marsh edge with reeds whispering in softer waves than at the shoreline.  Cicadas still in the grasses ...

It was hot and sunny, a breeze to refresh but not to chill, and the sloping October afternoon light gifted fabulous colours.

And just a five-seven minute drive from the valley tranquillity of Watermill Cottages.  The Gara Brook runs through our land and feeds into the Higher Ley, which is why we're so careful about what happens to our water and land.

Higher Ley
Lower Ley

This is a level walk apart from the slight slope from the free Slapton Park and Walk car park, on the right as you leave the village and head to the sea, and is beach/shingle one side so not great for pushing wheels of any kind.  There are loos at the memorial car park five minutes from Slapton and at Torcross which has a village shop, tea rooms, restaurant & pub.  And the tank of course...  and a seat with a view over the Ley by the Slapton Ley sign - this is another nature-rich diversion.

Start Bay towards Strete Gate and Dartmouth

This walk forms a short stretch of the South West Coast path - you can continue beyond Torcross, over the crest to Beesands and Britannia on the beach fish shack/café and The Cricket Inn (dogs welcome in the bar). Or the other way, to Strete and Dartmouth - the bus route here runs regularly through the day so it's easy to go one way (it doesn't reach Beesands...).

Or you can walk a long loop from Watermill Cottages, up the 4WD track between Quack Cottage and Rose Cottage behind it, via Strete, the beach and Slapton.  Good refreshments on the way!

And the whole length of Slapton Sands from the flowery, grassier end at Strete Gate to the narrower beach at Torcross is dog-friendly all year round, all 3 1/4 miles of it! 

You can see why it's designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Ley, sea and Torcross

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

R.I.P. Specs ... Obituary

Specs in spring 2013

Sadly, Specs our big old grand daddy Muscovy drake went downstream and into eternity in August.  He was very old and had struggled to maintain his  rightful place at the peak of the pecking order for some time - John had to help him out with the aid of a gentle broom in the spring battles with the new boys.

He was named 'Specs' because he looked like he was wearing red glasses.  He needed them really, as this year he lost the sight in one eye.  It only added to his allure with the ladies, a charming wink still won them over.  During the summer, we noticed he was missing his landings - a few scrabbles up the netting meant he made some ungainly entrances to dinner. But when he very publicly missed the fence at Quack Cottage and fell into the garden we knew he was not long for this valley.

He's been our emblem for years, standing his ground with all doggies great and small and unfazed by most.  Specs was already here and senior when John and I arrived five years ago and luckily he took to us quickly.  Corn played a big part in his choice of 'friendships'.

His progeny clearly go marching on ...

Hail, Specs ....

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Tikka Chicken Grows Up - Meet Rita and Ora

Tikka Chicken
Well, Tikka the chick who hatched at Easter at Watermill Cottages, has turned into a handsome cockerel with a splendid plumey tail just like his Dad, The Red Admiral.  Tikka's Mum is a white Leghorn (pronounced L'gorn, looks like a cartoon road runner) called Marigold because she looks like she's got a rubber glove on her head. 
Marigold, Mum, and Tikka

Tikka has turned out to have the Rhode Island Red russet breast which is speckled with soft grey; his magnificent tail, is pure grey.  His voice is breaking, producing rather squeaky cock-crows which are increasing in consistency and decreasing in warble.

The Red Admiral
As Tikka hatched in a duck nest and was raised by us (we didn't want the duck to leave her eggs; hens take 21 days and Muscovy ducks 34 days to hatch) we found some two day old chicks to keep him company so he was socialised as a chicken not a human.  They are pretty tame and still come running when I call them, and RonnieBarker and The Other One will happily let me cuddle them and enjoy perching on my wellies. 


Of the four chicks we bought, Versarchie with the fabulous feathers is a cockerel, Pingu is a hen and RonnieBarker and The Other One we're not sure about yet.  If they start laying eggs before the end of the month then I'll be right about my hunch that they're girls...  The Red Admiral has done some tango around them so I'm going with his sense.

We think RB and TOO are Australorps,  Versarchie (we don't want a copyright issue do we) has some Wyandotte in there and Pingu - who knows, though all possibly have some Bantam in there somewhere as they're small. 

Rita and Ora
A few weeks ago, Rita the Buff Orpington, hatched a couple of chicks though one was too weak and died when its yolk sac food had run out as it couldn't eat.  The survivor is a feisty auburn chick which is just beginning to grow adult feathers.  It's with Rita in the fruit cage which we're using as a broody coop as it's netted to stop overhead predator attacks.

No sign yet of a plumey tail like The Red Admiral, dad again, so I'm really hoping this one's a girl, as some of my other hens are getting a bit old and don't lay as often. 

We've called the chick 'Ora' thanks to Megan in Quack Cottage who informed me there's a pop star called Rita Ora... fancy! I like to think it alludes to her golden colouring ...

Glow worms in the lane

They're back!  Glow worms spotted at dusk last week and this week outside Rose Cottage in the four wheel drive track.  Last year, they appeared in the sage bush outside the old mill house.

Like everything else in nature this year, they're a bit later than usual  and we're so glad to see them 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

We're generating our own electricity now the water turbine is live!

The Turbine Shed
Well, we've overcome floods, high water and manufacturing delays and at last our new replacement water turbine is generating power at Watermill Cottages.

We're generating enough power to run our house and Barleycorn Cottage which has an 'Everhot' Aga-style electric range designed to run on self-generated power.  Excess power is exported to the grid - a 'Wattson' meter shows us how much power we're generating and whether it's being used here or exported.  We're trying to use as much as we can on site as it's more economic.

The old mill leat which used to channel water to the long-gone waterwheel now channels water to the forbay from where it is fed by pipes to the turbine.  It is so lovely to see the water flowing along the leat and trout making the most of a new shady place to swim.  And to hear the conversation, it is a real chatter, as it runs over the old leat stones.

To stroll from Crownwheel Cottage over the plank bridge and along the short track between the leat and the stream through the woods is a delight to the senses - deciduous woods, water gurgling, wildflowers, and dappled sunlight.  The bench by the weir, made from a fallen tree pulled from the stream, offers a place to rest and nourish your spirit, it is so relaxing there.

So once again, the old mill is in production, not corn but electricity.  A few steps closer to being self-sufficient and living more sustainably, harvesting the power of what flows naturally. 

Power to the people, as John says!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Devon Restaurant Month is June!

Special offers this June at many of Devon's leading restaurants - have a look at Devon Restaurant Month website for deals, discounts and taster menus whilst you're staying at Watermill Cottages

Blackpool Sands - Venus Café every Thursday night in June (6, 13, 20, 27), Devon organic 28-day-aged grass-fed sirloin steak with half a Start Bay lobster at the special price £19.99 per person. Booking essential.

Gara Rock Restaurant offer is 20-23 June
Local to Watermill Cottages are Waterside Bistro in Totnes, the White Hart at Dartington (in the beautiful grounds of 13th Century Dartington Hall) , Venus Café at Blackpool Sands, Gara Rock Restaurant (dog-friendly, on the Coast Path too) and The Old Market House Brixham.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chick, chick, chick, chicken....

two day old chick, Tikka

Well, Watermill Cottages has a new arrival! A chick called Tikka. 

When we were away recently  Marigold chicken (so-called because she looks like she's got an inflated rubber glove on her head) laid a little white egg in the nest of a sitting Muscovy duck.  We watched to see what would happen, and ten days ago,  I heard a cheeping and pecking and saw a tiny beak through a hole in Marigold's egg.

hatching ...
Great excitement with everyone here, as we all had a go at holding it to keep it warm until I put in a punnet on the Aga where it hatched as I cheeped encouragement as cooked dinner.
As Muscovies take 35 days to hatch and chickens just 21 we wanted the duck to sit on her eggs to the end and not abandon them for one rogue hen.

John made a cage with a heat lamp and we were advised to find it some friends or it would grow up to be anti-social and with the wrong species-patterning.  It instantly recognised my voice for instance and still comes running when I call it - strange being a surrogate hen.

hatched ...
Eventually, last Sunday we found some 2-3 day old chicks, and brought four back where we spent an evening enjoying a live  'David Attenborough' experience in poultry behaviour - one side of their box is perspex so we can watch them, and oddly, they can watch us. They're currently in the sitting room so we can check their water and feed easily.

Our own chicken, a Rhode Island Red/ Leghorn cross, we've called Tikka as it's quite russety.  It now looks like a raptor beside the younger ones but they grow so quickly and already have wing feathers sprouting. 

Watch this space for more news - please let them be hens not cockerels!

The swallows have returned to Watermill Cottages! I was digging some worms in the kitchen garden yesterday to see how our few-day old chicks would react to real meat (as they've been hatched in an incubator or Aga I'm having to teach them certain basic life skills) and I heard a new bird call above the long-tailed tits, grey wagtails and blackbirds.

Yes! I looked up and swooping above me were swallows, forked tails printed on blue sky. They're back! It's really spring!

We'll be checking over the weekend to see for the return of the usual pair that nests in the porch at Barleycorn Cottage's front door.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

20% off Woodlands Family Theme Park when you book online

Woodlands Family Theme Park, near Dartmouth, is close to Watermill Cottages and a great place to take the kids if the weather isn't kind.

There are all kinds of rides and attractions including a zoo farm and lots of water activities as well as cafes and restaurants.

Get  20% off ticket prices by booking online at

Woodlands is open from now until November 3 2013.

Have fun!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

First twin lambs at Watermill Cottages!

first lamb of spring at Watermill Cottages - we called him Lambo ...
... he arrived in the Gara Valley on Sunday morning and had a bit of a struggle to start drinking as he couldn't suck very strongly.  Jade had to milk the ewe and hand feed him so he digested the vital first mouthfuls.  One he started though there was no stopping him. 

 This afternoon, the second birth - twins this time!  The ewes are Lleyn sheep and the ram is Jade's Jacob ram Jessie, hence they're little black lambs.  One has a patch of white curly hair.  They were up and suckling immediately.  Eighteen ewes to go...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Watermill Cottages - now on Facebook and Twitter

Our five peaceful, dog-friendly self-catering cottages  Watermill Cottages are now on Facebook and Twitter.

Yes, we've finally joined so we can share more about what's happening with the cottages and land, post pictures of this unique & beautiful coastal valley,  keep you up to date with our smallholding and how we're trying to live more sustainably.

Local news, stories, offers and events around Slapton, Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and the South Hams.

You can find out about last-minute offers, follow what's happening, show your family and friends where you went on holiday. We promise lots of photo galleries and not too many words!

Like Watermill Cottages on Facebook and follow Watermill Cottages on Twitter

Thank you!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Rose Cottage & Crownwheel Cottage on Owners Direct

We've chosen to advertise Rose Cottage and Crownwheel Cottage on Owners Direct website so that more people can find their way to the restful peace and quiet in our lovely Gara Valley.

Come and wind down in the land that time forgot at dog-friendly Watermill Cottages!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

It's spring time!

Snowdrops, aconites, primroses  are out everywhere in the Gara valley.  Violets are peeping out of Rose Cottage's lawn and tiny cyclamen too, crocuses and hellebores in Quack's garden, and the daffodils by the stream are just about to open. Camelias next...

Wild heliotrope is everywhere and in the wetlands and along the leat the tell-tale smell of wild garlic rises from the first leaves.  Wild garlic pesto here we come!

When I looked at the weekend, the orchard pond was bubbling with frogspawn and in the kithen garden the rhubarb is already showing short pink stems.

With so much sap rising, Jade and Ollie rushed to prune the apple trees!

We're expecting lambs to be born here in four to six weeks' time - they'll be pretty ones, Jacobs crossed with Lleyn so hopefully polka dot lambs!

Powdery Duck, an experienced Muscovy Duck mum, is already on a nest so we hope to have a few ducklings at Easter, and Mallard PuddleDuck, our adopted stray has a handsome drake in tow.  He's even flying in for breakfast.

Specs, our dear old dark green Muscovy drake is still going strong but we kept a white drake that we bred last year, just in case...

At feeding time, the ducks are regularly joined by a chaffinch pair, robins, and a squirrel.

The days lengthen - still light at 5:30!  It is springy!

Come and enjoy the early mild spring in coastal south Devon - email for availability or call on 01803 770219.  we look forward to welcoming you...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Otter filmed at Watermill Cottages

Well, it rained.  And it rained.  And then it rained some more.  And on December 22 2012, The South Hams was so wet that there was nowhere for the water to go but up and over. Everywhere was affected by the flooding and high ground water.  And the Gara was too, rising over the bridge and on both sides of it.  We've never known it this high.

It was a tough day for everyone however the silver lining came in the late afternoon, watching a male otter on the lawn at Watermill Cottages - he was eating a fish that he'd caught in the turbulence you can see behind - and I filmed him. 

We'd had otter sightings all year and this confirmed that the family of otters living on the Gara Valley and Slapton Ley are very comfy around Watermill Cottages.  This one knew we were all there and kept watching us.  Clearly the exceptional weather and river conditions mean that the otter had to eat what it could find when it found it. 

It is rare to see otters in the daytime.

You'll see in the film clip that the river is high, brown and fast - today, January 14 2013 - it doesn't even reach the top of my wellies, and is clear, shallow and gentle again.