January 29, 2016

Ab ovo usque ad mala


We have now reached the end of the shooting season here at Highclere: in this case “game” shooting rather than “film” shooting, a difference which, in the recent past, caused many a “lost in translation” moments in our conversations with the Downton team.

This year the shooting season has been characterised above all by rain, and these last few days have seen biblical downpours. I think I have gained brownie points for increased skills with cross country driving and last weekend slid and bumped my way around the estate with passengers who were hugely grateful that they did not have to get out and push. The mud both inside and outside the cars attested to my efforts!


I always feel a little nostalgic as January moves to a close as I watch all the happy gatherings of early morning beaters, pickers-up and associated supporters arrive to pile into the beaters’ room at the start of the last day. The fire is lit and Eddie the head keeper is cooking breakfast.

Shooting season breakfasts and lunches for our guests are always a feast. Lunches are often stews and meat cuts, followed by proper old-fashioned Highclere puddings such as jam roly-poly, apple charlotte, bread and butter pudding, rice pudding and winter fruits and so on. Elevenses of soup and sausages emerge between breakfast and lunch, whilst later on there follows afternoon tea, cocktails and dinner. February definitely needs to be a month of salads and herb broths…


Since December 24th (the shortest, darkest day here), the chickens by the walled garden in the Park here at Highclere have begun to lay more eggs as the daylight begins to lengthen again. The hens produce not merely brown or white eggs but also blue and green. They are quite beautiful and, as boiled eggs, delicious. I also find the hens’ unfailing time clock fascinating.


The above title quote “ab ovo usque ad mala”, literally means from eggs to apples, from the beginning to the end, which was apparently the order of a Roman meal. I think of it, however, as the order of the year. January begins with hens starting to lay again and moves through to the autumnal harvesting of apples. In some ways Downton is moving through to its finale but it is also a new beginning for us as I try to figure out how to harvest its apples for Highclere. So from a new start to a different end. I have no idea what the end is merely that I, like many others here, are on a journey.