ONCE UPON A TIME
PHOTOGRAPHER ABBIE MELLE, NOW BASED IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS OF NSW, RECALLS HER TIME SPENT IN THE PICTURESQUE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE.
LAST APRIL I FLEW to the other side of the world, to a small hamlet among the green fifields of Wiltshire and the welcome of one very energetic English pointer dog called Mr Whiskey, and photographer, Marte Marie Forsberg. I went to assist Marie as she wrote and photographed her cookbook — a series of recipes and reflections on her journey from Norway to England. I had admired Marie’s stunning depictions and imagery of her life in Wiltshire for many years, while living myself in the small country town of Yass, located in the Southern Tablelands of NSW. Marie’s lush images were such a contrast to the Australian landscape around me and when the opportunity arose to work alongside her, I jumped at the chance. Somewhat unknowingly, I was going to live in one of the most stunning parts of the country. Whenever I mentioned that I was living in Wiltshire, people would smile and say, “You’ve come to the most beautiful county of England!” and I had to agree. Narrow laneways lead through fields set behind hedgerows, and every few kilometres you’ll find another village with stone homes covered in climbing roses. We lived on the edge of an old estate, set high on a hill, with oak trees and woods stretched out behind. When I first arrived the woods were a dark, mysterious place for me. I’d step gingerly across the muddy paths, the silence and thick woodland full of unknowns. Gradually though, the woods became a friend. I grew to love quiet walks with squirrels scampering on tree branches overhead and occasional sightings of shy deer. The days fell into a steady rhythm of work and life. The early morning light would shine through my window, and I’d pull on my Wellington boots and slip downstairs, where Marie and I would start the day with a cup of tea before getting to work. The days were varied, ranging from recipe testing for the book, arranging workshops and retreats, and assisting with shoots. I learnt to cook with ingredients I’d never touched before, including rabbit, snails and truffles, to wait to be served at the greengrocer instead of picking vegetables out myself, and to drive a manual car along the tiniest of lanes. Some days we’d head to the Pythouse Kitchen Garden, a café nestled in the walled garden of the estate. Marie took me there the first morning after I arrived and we ate breakfast in the converted glasshouse, overlooking the garden. The café fast became my favourite place to go and over the months I watched with delight as the garden unfurled into the most glorious display of vegetables, fruit and flowers. Rows of currants mingled alongside gooseberries and raspberries. Apricot trees grew upwards, clinging to the walls with artichokes clustered underneath, while big apple trees cast shadows across the grass on the sunny days. The menu would change according to the seasonal produce available from the garden.
We lived between two villages; Tisbury on one side, with it’s one main street and handful of stores whose friendly owners would come to know me by name. On the other side was the larger village of Shaftesbury — famous for Gold Hill, a steep cobbled lane bordered by charming old homes and the ruins of a historic wall. Market day in Shaftesbury is a bustling happy affair, when the Town Hall comes alives with bakers, butchers and fishmongers. It’s held each Thursday from 9.30am to 11.30 am and it’s hard to walk away without a loaf of bread or a bunch of flowers. Afterwards I’d sit in one of the cosy country pubs watching the locals come in, farm dogs trotting behind them and obediently sitting at their owners’ feet. Families were welcome too, with board games often stacked in a corner, ready for an after-dinner game of Scrabble. When the cooler weather arrived the fires were lit, drawing people in around the warmth to sip on tea and read the newspaper. I also enjoyed watching the farms and woods throughout the seasons. As the weather warmed, wild garlic and bluebells sprung up in the woodlands and Marie and I would head out to gather the tips of the garlic plants to make pesto. Along the roadside, we’d find little crates perched on walls or hedges, filled with produce from the cottage gardens — ‘Hedge Veg’ is what they call it on the small island of Guernsey (which is a ferry ride away from the mainland). Seven months flew by as I was immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the English countryside. It became like a second home. I hadn’t imagined when I arrived how painful the goodbyes would be, and just how much love and friendliness I would be shown in this beautiful place. For more information, follow @marte_marie_forsberg and @abbie_melle on Instagram.
A rose-covered cottage in a village near Shaftesbury. FACING PAGE A corner of vintage children’s books and prints in the Dairy House Antiques and Interiors shop in Shaftesbury.
ABOVE, FROM LEFT Marte Marie Forsberg walking among gorse bushes during one of her photography retreats. She hosts a range of retreats and workshops throughout the year; the dining room at Marie’s house decorated with spring flflowers. FACING PAGE A Guernsey cow and calf overlooking the Shaftesbury valley on a misty summer evening.
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT Flowers growing outside Cools Farm; Highclere Castle in nearby Newbury was the setting for the Downton Abbey television series; a building in the close surrounding Salisbury Cathedral; most of Abbie’s days began with a hot cup of tea; The Beckford Arms pub in Tisbury. FACING PAGE, FROM TOP An apple tree at the Pythouse Kitchen Garden; inside the Pythouse Kitchen Garden café;the Palladian bridge at Stourhead Park and Gardens; a fifield of poppies.