There are various questions which I am often asked by visitors and journalists as they try to gather a sense of what is it like to live in, and look after, somewhere like Highclere. Perhaps one of the most frequent is to ask me to describe a normal day.
At this point there are raised eyebrows from any of the Highclere team who are listening in and quite a few grins whilst I am silent, trying to figure out some sort of coherent reply as this is surprisingly difficult to answer.
The starting point is easy as, whatever the weather or time of year, it tends to be outside with the dogs. Perhaps there is some yoga or it’s just a walk with a meeting with the gardeners to share plans. There are always natural details to observe from the dew strung spiders’ webs, to feeling and hearing the mass of beech masts crunching under foot or the need to skirt round puddles which may be deeper than I think but always a delight to the dogs.
I do not necessarily worry about timekeeping as, one way or another, the dogs will remind me it is their breakfast time, looking expectantly at me to ensure I get the message Their preferred route is back past the stables which Maggie and Sam have finished mucking out and are now busy preparing the later feeds. The dogs tend to feel it their duty to taste it too before being turfed out and Alfie always takes the opportunity to nip round the back to check if the gift shop is open and whether any lunch bags have been left carelessly within nose height.
After this, I will often take the opportunity to do some marketing photography as the weather is often kinder first thing. Recently we were trying to photograph the three yearlings who look incredibly well in order to demonstrate how good and natural our horse feeds are. They still are very young so would not really stand still and the whole project felt more than a little precarious.
Just as so much has changed in terms of how we eat over the last decades, so too has it changed for horses. Once they would have just been fed hay and oats as needed, perhaps a bran mash, rather than the compound, processed feed mixes of today. We prefer to mix natural foods together knowing therefore what they are eating. We have created a new product, Oatalin, which combines oats for their fibre content and energy, micronised linseed which promotes healthy skin through its high concentration of omega 3 fatty acids and alfalfa pellets which have a high protein content and are also a rich source of calcium.
At the same time as we were trying to manage the yearlings, the first visitors were also arriving for their guided tour. It was also the first day for the newest member of the housekeeping team and for Harriet, the new estate assistant, brought in to help James. Thus the day, like so many others before it, gradually descended into a kind of organised mayhem that is typical of so many here. The wholly unexpected element of that day was “project hedgehog rescue” when Harriet found one stuck down the drain she was checking but there is always something unscheduled and hedgehogs are considerably easier to deal with than floods, bits of masonry falling off or sudden infestations of flies all of which have also occurred recently.
It is always a joy to have a look at what Sally is up to in the gift shop but that is procrastination on my part and more fun than sifting through the emails. However, that has to be done and each day I also try to set aside time to plan, discuss and listen to what Hannah and Reuben think of the social media ideas and proposals.
Later in the afternoon I try to wend my way with a selection of dogs upstairs to write. My husband meanwhile is focusing on strategy, finance cash flows, and on the farm. Talking over the day is one thing but once it is 8pm it is better to stop and and perhaps with a glass of wine, mark the end of another long, busy day. I never know what progress we have made but hopefully a few more things are done and few less left undone.