Christmas 2019 newsletter

Okel Tor Mine 2019

As another decade at Okel Tor draws to a close it’s time to reflect and look back at the highs and lows of the last year. On balance, we’re happy to say, it’s been a good year.

The first drama occurred a year ago when Jess caused a train crash - indirectly I hasten to add. We were enjoying our usual evening walk to the village and back, along the river bank and, as we got closer to home, noticed that there were lights shining through the trees from where the railway track is. Some of those lights were blue and flashing. It looked like there had been an incident at the railway crossing. Now, as all those who’ve stayed here will know, the crossing has no barriers and when a train approaches it has to stop and toot before proceeding. Unfortunately an over enthusiastic delivery driver came bowling round the corner just at the wrong time. He braked, skidded and slid into the path of the oncoming train. A collision was inevitable. The whole incident literally happened in slow motion but nevertheless resulted in considerable damage to the van. The train barely suffered a scratch. It was several hours before the railway people and police concluded their duties and eventually the line was cleared. The passengers had long since resumed their journeys on a replacement bus service. Why was Jess to blame I hear you ask - well, the driver was trying to deliver Jess’s dog food!

Spring came very early this year. In February the grass was growing fast enough to warrant bringing the lawnmower out of hibernation. It was in regular service until the grass stopped growing in the summer due to lack of rain. It all changed again in August and it hasn’t stopped growing since. From brown parched turf to a lush and shaggy green carpet we’ve seen it all. It’s the latter that Jess loves as she rolls around on her back kicking her legs in the air. Incidentally it looks like we could be in for another early spring next year as, just this morning, I noticed the first daffodil shoots.

The early warm weather gave rise to a population explosion of ladybirds. I first discovered this when I was clearing the debris of twigs that had collected at the bottom of the eighty-foot chimney (shoddy jackdaw nest-building work!). I opened up the chimney access and was greeted by thousands of them. Red ones, black ones, orange ones — some with two spots, some with seven, some with more. They were everywhere. The chimney sides were covered in them. After a few weeks they had all disappeared and we saw hardly any for the rest of the summer. Perhaps they had all been blown across the Tamar to Devon.

Count House Christmas

In June I was walking with Jess around the mine footpath and became aware of a curious wheezing sound above. Looking up into the dense leaf canopy it was unlikely that I was going to see what was making the noise. I craned my neck and peered into the greenery and was eventually rewarded with the sight of something grey and round moving along a branch. It clearly wasn’t a squirrel but what was it? It was difficult to make out because of all the leaves in the way. Suddenly it was visible in its entirety and I could see that it was grey, very fluffy and side stepping along the branch. Then I spotted a second one in a neighbouring tree. They were in fact baby tawny owls - owlets as they’re known - and were in the act of “branching”. Unable to fly at this stage they can still explore their environment and can actually move quite quickly with a neat little side shuffle. I gather that they sometimes get it wrong and can fall to the ground but, being very light and fluffy, are rarely injured. With their big feet and sharp talons they are able to swiftly climb back up and continue exploring. That morning was the only time I actually caught sight of them but cottage guests did spot them a day later and the pair of downy chicks were huddled together on a low branch. Cute!

An ambitious project has commenced just downstream from Okel Tor. It’s an Environment Agency initiative to allow the large area of fields to be flooded. This will reduce the pressure on the already vulnerable river bank and help absorb excess water when the river levels are high. By creating series of ponds and channels it will also become a wonderful new habitat for wildlife. When the existing bank is breached next year we will experience the novel sight of expanses of water on both sides of the river footpath. Jess and other water-loving dogs will be in heaven! A bridge will be built by volunteers so the access to the village will remain. Not all has gone to plan however. The massed ranks of the Environment Agency’s contractors have had to postpone the works for six months due to excessive water. It started well. They set up their mini village with facility huts and a mass of machinery. Earthmoving started and the foundations of the new inner banks were laid but then it all went pear-shaped. The rains came and the site became a giant mud bath. They ended up spending as much time extracting stuck vehicles than actually carrying out the work. The decision was made to abandon ship, take down their village and remove all plant. They will return in the spring when, hopefully, the area will have dried out by then. It’ll be nice when it’s done…

Smithy Christmas

The cottages have been full all year and it’s been lovely to see so many familiar faces returning - dogs too. We’ve had some particularly adorable puppies staying. Max the floppy Doberman and Henry the very, very bouncy spaniel spring to mind. The latter embarrassed his owners by jumping on the table at the nearby Horn of Plenty country restaurant, scattering glasses everywhere. They won’t forget Henry there!

Another guest’s dog made it onto the local television news in October. BBC Spotlight’s weather forecast often feature a clip from their roving cameraman. On this occasion it was of a man and retriever walking across a clapper bridge on Dartmoor - very scenic. The pair did look familiar although it wasn’t clear enough to be sure. Chatting with the guests the next day confirmed the sighting. 

A big thank you to all who’ve stayed with us this year and we look forward to seeing all those who’ve booked to come back again next year - including bouncy dogs!

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Nick, Greg & Jess