Successful funding bids and a great day out at the Devon County Show!

First things first: the priory has been awarded £250.000 from the Nation Lottery Heritage Fund! How exciting is that! Always a tricky application process and a lot of hard work but it has paid off. This funding helps us stay open for free; it supports our education programme as well as community outreach, and it is gives us the opportunity to work with the best available experts to look after our grade I listed building and adapt it to performance and educational use. We are now in a position to host weddings, film crews, as well as conferences and corporate events. This, in turn, will make us more resilient with enough income to support ourselves and still keep the building open to the public – free for everyone to visit. My team and I are celebrating, as you can imagine.

We decided the best way to do this is go to the Devon County Show. So this is where we spent our weekend, eating local produce and drinking local brews. Who would have thought there are so many independent cider brewers in Devon? I think we should organise a cider festival – “From Apple to Cider”, or similar. A bit like Killerton’s Apple Festival, just showcasing Devon’s amazing variety of ciders. What do you think? Ideas welcome.

I have to say, half the usual numbers of visitors at the County Show made the whole affair a lot more fun. We didn’t feel crowded or unsafe and the stewards were welcoming and friendly, and knew exactly where to point us to get a cup of tea. To reduce waste, the organisers had sent out an email to bring your own reusable cups, so we did. Clearly others did so, too, because I did not see any overflowing rubbish bins or any litter. Impressive.

We were, of course, in our wellies – like the seasoned County Show goers we are, we know the weather for the show is always bad and the fields muddy. So naturally it was bone-dry, sunny and hot. But that didn’t keep us from stopping by Farmers’ Friend (of St Thomas, Exeter) for a top-up of rainproof gear.

The displays were as always somewhere between sweet (the kids on the ponies), impressive (I can never get over how huge a shire horse is), amusing (the pigeons), and educational (the police dog training show). The machinery on display was polished and gleaming in the sun and got even me interested in steam engines (not a specialism of mine). Though I have to say it was the music machine I found the most amusing. An orchestral range of sounds all produced by these eccentric automatons. Always make me tap my feet and want to dance…

There seemed to be fewer craft and garden stalls this year and we spent more time chatting to people there than usual. I wonder if this is a post-lockdown thing – we actually enjoy talking to others a lot more. (No, my partner says, I always strike up conversations, if given the chance. And also if not. Hmm, well…) One stall with heat-resistant marble plates decorated with colourful paper particularly intrigued us. A tricky technique, we learned, and we liked it so much we bought it for our kitchen table.

Then on to the Exeter Woodcarvers. I have always secretly wanted to join, so we stopped for a chat (admittedly, I do that a lot) and admired their work. It’s the snake made of gorse we fell in love with – cheeky little fellow, related to a slowworm, we think, because he’s so benign and cute-looking. We decided to pick him up on our way back… which didn’t work out as planned because we were late and the woodcarvers had gone home. We did, however, find them online, and called to arrange to have the snake dropped off with a carver in our neighbourhood for us to pick up… can’t wait for Sydney, the slowworm/snake to live on our windowsill and bask in the sun.

So all in all an amazing day out. And as amazing days out go, our free Tudor Cooking session this coming Sunday, 11th July isn’t to be sniffed at either. The Devon and Exeter Medical Heritage Trust are back with a medical instrument handling session on 18th July and then we have our medieval reenactment fair to look forward to. But more about that next time!

Until then, stay safe and be in touch, Judith

Dr J Morgane, manager of St Nicholas Priory, Exeter