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We had our first camper of the year last week who stayed overnight using Bluntshay as a half way stop on his way to Cornwall.  He was impressed by the campsite and hopes to bring his family to stay for a longer period later in the year. 

I had to buy a new floor heater just before Christmas.  I had discovered that one of the two  in the building was running non-stop and making the cabin feel like a sauna, when in fact the heater should only “cut in” and start operating when the temperature inside the building is approaching zero degrees.  The moral of this story is that I should check the cabin every day during the winter!


This is the time of year for a massive tidy up.  Strimming along the riverbanks had to be done before the snowdrops start popping up. (1)  This chicken run, which was erected about 25 years ago, has been recently dismantled.  (2)  It was, in the past,  used for geese that had been bullied and had to be separated from the main flock.  Once a camper kept her pet rabbit in it!

Last year this part of the front garden was labelled “wild”.   This year it has been cleared and sleepers laid down (3, 4)  to support the site ready for manure and good top soil to be added in the next few weeks.  I haven’t decided what to plant in it yet.

The climbing roses outside the farmhouse were not pruned last year so this winter they have had a complete overhaul. (5, 6) I am still trying to give away some white cactus and white ball dahlia tubers to anyone who will take them.  (7)

It has been necessary to remove long lengths of ivy growing on the inside of the cider cellar. (8)  Quite a lot of the slates are beginning to fall off the roofs of  farm buildings including this one. (9)  Maintenance and repairs are never ending at Bluntshay!


Today I treated myself to a rare “girlies’ day out.  From home I drove the 25 miles to the Otter Garden Centre, in about 45 minutes. (10)  It was an easy drive except that it poured with rain the whole way.  We arrived at about lunchtime and headed straight to the restaurant for a snack.  (11)  It was obviously a very popular place to have Sunday Lunch.  (12)

I used to go quite regularly to buy plants but my last visit must have been at least 5 years ago.  The Centre has expanded in size a great deal since then.  Once refreshed we headed towards the bulb section and I purchased a lot of gladioli corms.  (13)  Next I found the sunflower seeds and was pleased to see that they had all my favourites. (14) 

It seemed like miles to walk to try to find the check out tills.  Of course we passed by lots of tempting merchandise en route.  But I was not tempted to stop.  (15)  Once we had paid for our goods we ventured outside in the drizzle to look at shrubs.  (16) I had set myself the limit of not spending more £100 during my visit and just about managed it.   Besides the gladioli and sunflower seeds I came home with 6 Polyanthus plants, a Red Hot Poker, 2 Skimmias,  a Crocosmia, a Gypsophylla, a Mahonia and a Photima. 

Some of the plants will have to live in pots so I will need to be vigilant in feeding and watering them regularly to make sure they last more than 2 years!

We all had a very good day out.  It is amazing to think that 55 years ago Otter Garden Centre started with a roadside stall selling lettuces and strawberries.  What a success story!


The mainly clay soil in the Marshwood Vale determined the type of farming followed.  The dominance of dairying and the determination of Whitchurch farmers to stick to their pastures goes back for a long time.  Historians tell us that from time immemorial this area of West Dorset had been a dairy district.

Towards the end of the 1800s dairymen were using “chestnut-wood pails and churns, and cheese vats of elm wood” (*)  The pails (buckets)  would be carried by a wooden yolk. (17)  In those days all farmhouses had a room set aside as a dairy (milk house) with also a cheese room or cheese loft.  Cows were often hand-milked outdoors in the summer during good weather, (18) and it was the norm to use a three legged stool. (19)

 All the womenfolk in the household were involved in butter and cheese making which had to be taken to market in Bridport every week.  Of course if the farm was in the middle of the village the dairyman could sell some of his milk directly to local customers.  The practice of selling butter, and cheese and cream in this manner continued into WW1. 

The milk could then be sold directly to the state to help the war effort, and the income of the farmers improved.  By this time 17 gallon (galvanised iron) churns (20) had been introduced.  The advent of milk hauliers in the 1920s (21) must have relieved a great burden from the workload of farmers’ wives and daughters. 

Mr Jack Barnes was the first person in the parish of Whitchurch to pick up the farmers’ churns and take them by horse and cart to Broadoak.  From there the churns were transported by lorry to the Bridport milk factory.  (22**)  These churns were extremely heavy when completely full up and two strong people were needed to lift them onto the wagon.  It seems that half full churns were often sent on to make the job easier.  This much smaller churn (23) was probably used just for the family.

By about 1930 a smaller ten gallon churn was introduced.  These were first made of a heavy metal, but by the 1960s  were lighter and made of aluminium.  (24)  Cows are milked twice a day so  the milk from the previous evening had to be cooled overnight.

My neighbour used to cool his milk by putting the churns in the River Char. The lids were left at an angle to allow the heat to escape from the warm milk.  One morning when he was about to take the churns to the milk stand he discovered a dead mink inside one of the churns. Unperturbed he fished out the animal and calmly threw it into the river, and replaced the lid.   As my neighbour was a very secretive person we never did find out whether he was ‘fined’ for having less than pure milk in that particular churn!

(25) This shows one type of cooler whereby cold water ran through the middle of it to cool the milk that ran down the outside.  No worries about health and safety in those days!  Another type (26) was put into the churn with the “paddle” full of cold water which gently moved through the milk.

The churns had to put on a milk stand at the roadside.  This had to be at the same level as the lorry’s ‘bed’.

(27, 28)  Labels with the name of the producer had to be put on each churn.  (29)  This was obviously for accountancy purposes so that the monthly milk cheque could be calculated by the milk factory.  If your farm was down a very long lane it was necessary to take the churns up to the main road for collection.  The same number of empty churns were left on the stand after collection.  In a high wind the light aluminium ones often blew off the stand and into the road!

The 10 gallon milk churns and lids are now collectors items.  On the internet a churn with a lid can make anything from £75 to £95 with £15 postage.  A lid on its own will sell for £34.75, with £6.50 postage.

By 1979 collection of milk churns had ceased altogether with the introduction of milk tankers.  At this point quite a few of the smaller dairy farmers decided to give up milking and rear beef cattle instead.  The ones who remained in the dairy industry had to install new technology, including a tanker to hold the milk, (30) which had to be housed in a specially built bulk tank house.

The milk in these bulk tanks has to be cooled to 4.5 degrees C or below.  In some cases the milk is collected every other day (for smaller producers).  (31)  A sample of milk is taken at every collection to test for quality and hygiene. The driver collects from the same dairy farms each time and usually at the same time of day. This tanker holds approximately 16,000 litres.

Much larger dairy farms have huge tankers collecting every day.  (32, 33)  The farmer has to plan to finish her/his morning milking at approximately the same time as the tanker arrives.  A pipe is attached to the farmer’s tank. (34) and then the milk is pumped into the huge  haulier tanker. (35)  The capacity of this is 27,000 litres.  The tankers from this particular company pick up from three farms in the Vale.

There are other dairy farmers in the area who have their milk collected by another firm in the middle of the night.  After coming back from a social event it is hoped that you are not going to meet a very long tanker in the narrow lanes! 

By having large tankers to pick up milk it eliminates the need to have a higher number of smaller ones on the road.  Also, due to the extra axles on the larger lorries the weight is distributed across a longer length which is better for the road surfaces.

So how things have changed in 100 years.  Even 50 – 60 years ago every farm, however small, had some cows, but nowadays you need at least 100 to try to make the business viable.  Sadly the number of dairy farms in England and Wales is decreasing year by year.  In January 2019 there were 9169 which had dropped to 8557 by January 2020.  This is a very alarming statistic.

*  Barbara Kerr, Bound to the Soil

** Photo to follow


Chris Bailey, Helen Doble, Peta Johnston, George Smith, Bob Huxter, George Huxter, Albert Huxter, Paul Harris (Mangerton Mill) and Ken Bishop.

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