Me, and three friends, were given a unique opportunity to go out to Ditchley yesterday and paint. Ditchley will be the newest, top notch, must see destination in a few months — not just in the Northern Neck, but on the East Coast! All I can say is wow! And I should have take a whole lot more photos.
Cathy and her husband purchased the place about three years ago (I think) and are deep in the renovations of the original plantation house. It was previously renovated and upgraded in the 1920s by none other than Mary Ball DuPont. I’m not going to give away secrets here, but when this place opens in October, you have to go hear about its history. Cathy and her husband have done an amazing job of preservation, have taken old paint down to bare wood, repairing things that needed repairing, upgrading electricity, etc. etc. And, other than the electrical, have done all the work themselves!
And they’ve done it while operating the farm! They have belted Galloway cattle (which literally came up to the fence and yelled at Cathy to move them over to the next pasture, requiring her to go across the road, move them over, close the fence then find and move and fill a water trough for them). The pigs, all heritage breed, were put in place to provide meat for sausage and bacon and other pork goodies and are doing double duty clearing overgrown wooded areas in the front of the house and were able to unearth a missing foundation of one of the original buildings for which many folks had been looking. They also raise ducks and geese and turkeys (currently at their winter home) who will be brought in to the acres of apple orchard to eat bugs… well the ducks are bug eaters, the geese guard the ducks and the turkeys are what Cathy called, “the early warning system”.
The apple orchards will be producing apples which will go into the Cidery. And the original house, once renovated, will have a commercial kitchen, a tasting room, and the whole house will become one of those wonderful destination wedding/meeting/retreat centers. The upstairs bedrooms (each with their own bath) can be rented out by guests and the down stairs has multiple rooms for various purposes. The cider will be aged in the specially re-enforced basement.
And the apples will be pressed in one of the outbuildings which Cathy called the Cidery.
The trees on the property are just awe-inspiring and I think each of them has a story to tell.
But Cathy is just incredibly awe-inspiring herself. She met us at 9 a.m., gave us a tour, left the grand house open so we could use the bathroom if needed, and headed off to tend to the cows, dashed home to check on the new poultry being hatched out, changed and came back and got the bush hog out and mowed one of the apple orchards. At some point in there, she made a new shelter magically appear for the pigs…. at least I did not notice it in the pen the first two times I walked past it. And she got it all done before noon. She was planning to come back after a lunch break and mow the other orchard. Her husband is due to retire from his full-time job in a matter of days and she cannot contain her excitement at having him come to join her in this huge endeavor. As one of my fellow painters said, “She makes me feel very inadequate.”
She’s open to having us come back to paint again and I’m so glad. And I can’t wait to taste some of her sausage and cider.