ONCE UPON A TIME

PHO­TOG­RA­PHER AB­BIE MELLE, NOW BASED IN THE SOUTH­ERN HIGH­LANDS OF NSW, RE­CALLS HER TIME SPENT IN THE PIC­TURESQUE ENGLISH COUN­TRY­SIDE.

Country Style - - JOURNEY - WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AB­BIE MELLE

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.

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