Stockland Womens' Activities Group

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Our News, Reviews and Future Events

We meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Our aim is Friendship, Fun and Forays. Our programme for 2018 is available from our Secretary Jane. You can contact us using the website email address

February 2018 - Ferne Animal Sanctuary

At the onset of World War II, Nina Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, pondered the fate of family pets about to be abandoned as their owners went off to war. She was so concerned that she did a radio broadcast and soon found herself confronted with some forty pets left on her doorstep, Ferne House in Berwick St John near Shaftesbury. Needless to say, many of their owners did not return from the fighting and so Ferne Animal Sanctuary was born, the Duchess leaving the estate as a home for the animals in perpetuity upon her death in 1951. The organisation was then run by a friend until 1963 whilst all the finances were established and Ferne as we know it today was developed from the Duchess’s country house. In 1975, the estate was a collection of ramshackle sheds and was rehousing pets from a radius of some forty miles. A cattery was built first and fund raising took off with the sanctuary raising half a million pounds in eleven months to fund kennels and other necessary buildings. Today Ferne is home not only to dogs and cats but to abandoned cows and calves found wandering the paths in the sanctuary, goats who had been living in a second floor flat in Bristol, horses and ponies whose owners could not afford to keep them ,a variety of small furry creatures, together with geese and ducks.
The local community plays a part in running the Sanctuary with gifts of food together with plenty of volunteers who help with day to day things like dog walking. The site has been developed with nature trails, a cafe, children’s play area, a sensory garden and tree planting, together with conference facilities and offices. These have been made possible by benefactors like Betty Blakeborough who left £100,000 in her will and George Miller who used a collecting box to receive donations and who is commemorated by a wishing well for further donations to this day. The aim of the sanctuary of finding forever homes for furred and feathered friends for over seventy-five years continues.

January 2018 - Bingo

Our annual Bingo was held at the Tuckers Arms at Dalwood.

November 2017 - Devon Wildlife Trust

Steven Hussey from the Devon Wildlife Trust was our guest speaker this month on the subject of Beavers. There had been none in England for 4-500 years so when one appeared on the Otter river in 2010 a great deal of interest was aroused. By 2013, camera traps proved the existence of such creatures but a public outcry ensued when the government decided that a licence was needed to re-introduce Beavers to the countryside – they do carry not only parasites which can be harmful to humans but also bovine TB. An official trial is now in progress until 2020 when a decision is expected on their future.
Meanwhile, there are now three males and two females – with their only predators being dogs, they continue to do well. Adults can grow to 20 kilos and they are expert diggers and swimmers enabling them to build dams and lodges from where they feed from the riverside foliage. Two or three kits are born each year which are able to swim immediately. Beavers have poor vision but excellent hearing and sense of smell and are able to stay underwater for 15 mins at a time. Their dams and water structures have been shown to have great benefits to other water life such as frogspawn and fish. There are helpful effects on flooding and water quality. Regular testing and monitoring is taking place so as to provide the fullest picture for the government report.
The area around Otterton Bridge is a good location to possibly spot Beavers but more information is available at

October 2017 - Whitton’s

Whitton’s auction house in Honiton was the scene for our October meeting in the form of a quiz where we were confronted with various antique items for identification and evaluation. This formed the basis of a very entertaining and informative evening. Many of us coveted the diamond, onyx and seed pearl brooch made in Bond Street and valued at £6000, whilst others preferred the beautiful Exeter silver tankard – unusually assayed in Plymouth – dated 1716 and worth some £4000. A French Kingswood veneered cabinet inlaid with ceramic panels and made in the 18th century was valued at a mere £1500 . Perhaps a Famille Rose Charger from around 1800 at £3-400 would be of interest ? Sadly Edward, our host for the evening, told us that so called ‘ brown furniture’ held little value and that much of the sale contents these days was exported as far as Australia. The fact that houses are becoming smaller meant that larger furniture items like wardrobes do not sell, as cheaply made modern replacements flood the market.
The evening certainly generated much interest and the auction rooms will certainly be frequented by more of us in the future.

September 2017 - Buckfast Abbey

This month’s meeting took the form of an outing to Buckfast Abbey where, thankfully, the rain held off and we had sufficient sunshine to enjoy the day. The grounds, although past their best at this time of year, were laid out as Sensory, Physic and Lavender gardens as well as widespread lawn areas with trees. The Abbey itself, having been built by the monks, is beautifully maintained – full of light with enormously high white pillars supporting a beautiful brick patterned roof with central decorated ceiling panel. A vast modern metal and beautifully coloured stain glass window depicting Christ sits behind the altar occupying the whole end wall of the abbey. Beautiful music and prayers at an unexpectedly encountered short midday service furthered the whole experience.

May 2017 - Val Bugden-Cawsey.

Do you remember a time when the only fast food was fish and chips? When signalling whilst driving was with hands out of the window? What about black and white television? Hotpoint twin tub washing machines? We were reminded of these and many more memories by our speaker this month – Val Bugden-Cawsey who came to remind us that we needed to grow old disgracefully! Julie Andrews, when in the Albert Hall for a particular birthday celebration, chose to re-write her famous 'My Favourite Things' song in which she included back pain and fractures rather than snowdrops and kittens (Val gave us an excellent rendition of this). A copy of 'The Mature Times' from her local library yielded a page three which featured a vicar who sang his whole service – not everyone’s idea of what page three might contain. Other clear signs of aging included getting puffed out when playing cards, needing your glasses to find your glasses, and adopting the motto 'what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work'. This was a really fun evening from start to finish and convinced us that the only way to deal with aging is to be at least somewhat disgraceful.

April 2017 - Annual Quiz Night

This month saw the return of Mike Short for our annual quiz night – the difference being that this year we had questions on not only gardening but general knowledge as well. Champagne did not originate in France but here in England – which was a surprise to many of us. One of the first Xmas cards was sent from Devon when the custom began in 1843. Throughout history babies were christened not with holy water but with Cider. Spinach is known as the King of healthy vegetables whilst Strawberries first came from Turkey. Young trees are known not only as saplings but as whips. The largest herbaceous flower bed in the world is at Kew Gardens whilst the largest flower market is in Holland. The fun evening ended with victory for the Snowy Owls team who were suitably rewarded for their victory with Fuschia plants .

March 2017 - John Evans

John Evans, our speaker this month, has very limited sight with only tunnel vision in each eye. This condition is hereditary and untreatable although stem cell research might enable the retina of the eye to regrow at some point in the future. John describes his remaining vision as scanning through a Biro tube with the prospect of eventually losing his sight completely. He decided to investigate the process of acquiring a guide dog which meant both man and dog being assessed and matched for speed, size and strength. John stayed at a hotel for two weeks with a suitable dog – in this case Johnnie – one of a litter of ten black Labradors. He discovered that this entailed getting used to the dogs routine with half of each day spent training and the rest for general welfare. John confessed to wanting to give up at this point and had to be talked out of it – but after six weeks, John and his new friend were able to transfer back home. They set about learning new routes together, dealing with traffic and would have regular exchanges with their trainers until Qualification Day. After this guide dogs ‘work’ for around two hours a day and then have rest and recreation much like any other dog. Johnnie certainly claimed lots of our attention at the meeting – we hope he enjoyed meeting us as much as we enjoyed meeting him.

You could be a volunteer hero for Guide Dogs. Find out how a little time can make a BIG difference

February 2017 - Joy Raymond

Following our highly successful Xmas lunch at the Deer Park Hotel and our January Bingo session at the Tuckers Arms, we were delighted to welcome two new members to our January meeting at the village hall. Our speaker Joy Raymond described, in a very entertaining talk, the ups and downs of being a landlady.

Originally trained as an actress, she found herself in London and with work difficult to come by, took a temporary post as a secretary at the Old Bailey. She was offered a permanent job there after a year but was finding the evidence being shown there too horrific. She decided to look for work elsewhere and ended up spending some twenty years working in the House of Commons - plenty of ups and downs there no doubt. The life skills from the acting world came in very useful at The Old Bailey, House of Commons and running a B&B when she decided to return to the West Country. This entailed dealing with everything from the sudden appearance of a garden fountain, which turned out to be a burst water main, to awkward customers in the middle of the night. Music also played a part in her life and at one time she travelled around with an accompanist entertaining customers at the Kings Arms and other local venues. Joy eventually changed the B&B to running self-catering chalets enabling her to have more time to herself and her garden.

November 2016 - Devon Wildlife Trust

Ellie Nott, a member of Devon Wildlife Trust, came along to this month’s meeting to tell us about its work with Mammals. We have eight types of Mammals in the county and the Trust endeavours to monitor their numbers and habitat to protect them for future generations, using their own methods and utilising information from the public. Hedgehogs are becoming urbanised and so their habitats have changed greatly in recent years - as are Foxes. Badgers are becoming threatened by large housing developments on what was countryside on the edge of towns. Polecat-ferrets were already largely eradicated by gamekeeping activities by 1915. American Mink were first bred on the River Teign in 1957 but this has resulted in the decline of the Water Vole. However, Otters have returned due to our cleaner rivers and streams. Red Squirrels have returned to the Exeter area in recent years. Devon remains a stronghold for Dormice who are benefiting from us putting out bird food. We see the occasional Whale along our coastline along with Porpoises and Dolphins. Fishermen are being encouraged to add bells to their nets so that Dolphins are warned of their presence and will not get tangled in them. The public are asked to report sightings of mammals to the Devon Wildlife Trust who need to know where they are in order to give protection.
You can find all their contact details at (including an on-line contact form).

October 2016 - Devon Freewheelers

When Dan Lavery found himself in Ireland with his wife and newly born baby in hospital after an emergency Caesarean, he realised just how important the supply of medical needs – in his wife’s case that of blood – could be. He determined to do something about meeting those needs even though four previous attempts to set up a service had all failed and when they arrived back he sold the family home to raise funds and founded the Freewheeler Service in Devon. This is an admirable system of volunteers who freely give up their time to transport all sorts of medical supplies to and from hospitals, surgeries,and homes in Devon – everything from donated organs, blood, items for testing in laboratories and CDs of procedures, at any time of the day or night - the only qualification for this service being that it is for essential lifesaving purposes and not, as has been requested in the past, delivering commodes, pipes with tobacco or mislaid spectacles. A volunteer can travel up to 3000 miles per month on his motorcycle, must be over 25 years of age and can be one of eight riders covering Devon – each at an advanced level of driving with no penalties allowed. Many drivers are retested every three years or so and work closely with the ambulance services in all weathers. A transplant specialist team exists where, when the need arises, they simply get up and go at a moments notice. Knowing what an amazing service they provide does lead to financial support from local businesses from time to time but personal satisfaction in a job well done is the best reward of all.
You can find out more about Devon Freewheelers and make donations at

September 2016 - Widecombe Fair

Having set out somewhat early on a lovely September morning, we arrived amidst the hustle and bustle of Widecombe Fair. Stalls laden with country fare along with craft work of all kinds, country clothing, and gardening awaited our attention – as well as the traditional showing of farm animals and dogs in competition, with exhibits of farming skills and activities. A Town Crier competition was in full flow, the entrants accompanied by their ladies in beautiful Victorian dresses. A show tent was full of wonderful cakes and scones, garden produce, craftwork, flower arrangements, vegetables and it was lovely to see that children had been involved in their own flower painting competition as well as creating wonderful animals from fruit and vegetables. Some members however made straight for the Countryfile area to view their favourite exhibit - a certain Adam Henson. Local residents manned stalls and provided refreshments in the hall, the church was open to visit and the traditional granite cottages surrounded by high moorland looked beautiful. Morris dancers put on frequent shows throughout the day watched by, amongst others, Uncle Tom Cobley on his traditional grey mare. Beautiful birds of prey were on display with their handler. This was certainly a day with something for everyone.

June, July & August 2016 - Mystery Trip, Garden Party and the Fleet Lagoon

Following June’s Mystery Trip and July’s Garden Party, Swags returned to the village hall for August’s meeting to be addressed by Alistair Bruce on the subject The Fleet Lagoon – a climate change story.
We were introduced to Ostracods – minute creatures with a bivalve shell, two valves, one eye and the ability to live in both marine and non-marine environments. They move through sediment and water, are able to grow, swim, burrow and inhabit plants. They vary in appearance from hard to softer shell, and are varied in colour and can be banded. One of their favourite haunts is The Fleet at Abbotsbury, where the mud base provides the ideal habitat with marine, brackish and freshwater living .In their fossilised form, after collection, washing and cleaning, they provide information of events such as climate change and salinity of the fleet. Taking one metre deep samples of the mud in which they are found provides evidence of what became extinct and when, as well as a record of natural events such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1754 and it’s tsunami.
Alistair is about to return to live in our area and looks forward to furthering his exploration of these remarkable creatures and their surroundings.

May 2016 - Stockland History

We were delighted by a most interesting talk on our village’s history by Bryan Drew, we were so enthralled that you could have heard a pin drop. We learnt that many flint and chert artefacts have been found at Telegraph Cottage, Crandons Cross and Aller Farm, mainly by Nan Pearce and dating back to the early Mesolithic Period. The Great and Little camps were both built by the Dumnonia people who were a Celtic tribe. In 934 AD, King Athelston gave the manor of Stockland to Milton Abbey, so Stockland was part of Dorset from then until 1844. Stockland was called Ertacombestoche in the Domesday Survey of 1086. The school as we know it was founded in 1859. Previously the school building was in the Churchyard. Townsend Farmhouse is believed to be the oldest inhabited house in the South West. Kite’s Cottage is medieval. It was The Forge. Summerhayes was the Policeman’s House. Mannings was the Post Office run by the Clarke family. Pilgrims Cottage was the bakery and Post Office run by the Pidgeon family in the early 1900’s The Stores, Durrant’s shop was burnt down in 1969. Jack Nankivell was a bell ringer and Sexton. He liked a glass of cider or two and one day fell into the grave whilst digging it and was pulled out just in time before the coffin arrived! We were also shown many photos of years ago when some of the ladies at our meeting were projected on to the walls as young girls. Ah memories! Stockland was a very vibrant and fun village and has a huge amount of history with it. Bryan has written a book on the History of Stockland, with lots of old photos which will be out soon.

April 2016 - The Garden Quiz

Mike Short came on what was his ninth visit for the annual garden quiz and began with the mantra that we should all sow our seeds to stop the weeds which, assuredly, the true gardeners amongst us were already doing. Some seeds, for example Parsley, apparently go to the devil and back seven times before growing hence the need to get on with things.
As usual, we learnt many interesting facts in the course of the evening. Pomology is the study of fruit growing. The national flower of India is the Lotus – although many of us were tempted to say it was the Marigold for obvious reasons! The plant grown in memory of Guy Fawkes had to be Rocket. Cumin is in fact a Mediterranean herb rather than an Indian one. The vegetable which does not belong here was the French Bean, which one team disputed that a broad [ abroad ] bean would surely qualify ?
The winners were the Earthworms team whose prizes were plants - closely followed by the Rose Blighters, Tiller Girls and Bluebells. Hopefully Mike will return next year for more of the same.

March 2016 - Somerset Dowsers

For our March meeting we were lucky enough to have Mandy Bennett and her assistant Jeff from the Somerset Dowsers association. Mandy has been dowsing for over 20 years. She became interested in the subject because of her own health reasons. We think of dowsing for water but it has benefits in a wide range of ways. We started off using Angle rods and asking them to show us our Yes position and then we asked them to show us our No position. This was fascinating as the rods were swinging from left to right without any help from us. These have to be understood before asking them to show you where something is. Exact questions have to be asked of the rods i.e. Is there any underground running water near here ?We learnt that there is a stream running under the hall from the kitchen diagonally across the hall and out to the children’s play area about 10 feet down. We also learnt that there is a good energy source running straight through the hall and the strongest energy force is right by the door leading into the kitchen. Before dowsing you should always ask Can I ? , May I ?, Should I ?.
We then all had a go with crystal pendulums. These either rotate clockwise or anti clockwise depending on your own yes direction and no direction. Nearly everyone can dowse so why not have a go. All you need is a couple of metal coat hangers bent to the right shape.

February 2016 - The Cats Protection League

It was good to resume our monthly meetings after the Xmas festivities and our January Bingo. Our speaker for February was Louise Croft who was giving only her second talk on behalf of The Cats Protection League which had begun in 1927 when help for strays was from an old milk float – it now has 250 branches and 9000 volunteers.The League always tries to re-home cats with an appropriate owner – this is sometimes to help with, for example, the mental state of a person giving them a new focus but, in general, is to find happy caring homes with families or individuals. The policy is to trap, neuter and release the cats with micro-chips installed, and lots of advice on future care. The felines need interactional play with their new owners, lots of cuddles [ you can actually become a cat cuddler to those still in care ] with plenty of good food and water [one cat in three being allergic to milk ]. We learnt something of cat behaviour too – cats are one of the few animals to carry their tail upright and when this is crooked at the end it means happiness; slow blinking is the equivalent of a smile; licking their nose is a definite sign of fear; they need sixteen hours of sleep each day – originally cats were African hunters who needed rest after catching their food. The cat owners among us will now place a different interpretation on their pets day to day lives and hopefully one or two of us will help the league in one way or another.

November 2015 - Tibet

Hazel Hare, our speaker for this month, chose to greet us in the traditional Tibetan fashion – tongue out [to signify no poison] hands high [to show no weapons ] and wearing a silk scarf with which every newcomer is welcomed. Hazel was hospitalised at fifteen years old as a result of which she resolved to become a physiotherapist and worked with many disabled patients. Having read up on China whilst a patient herself, she resolved to go there and some forty years later realised that dream. Hazel refers to herself as one half of a pair of chopsticks – she being the religion and prayer side whilst the other half is her support team. She began with a fundraising walk on the Great Wall of China – followed by work in orphanages, some of which were ‘showcase’ and others that, as she put it, were like working in the times of Florence Nightingale. She both taught and carried out physiotherapy – hoping to give more hope and comfort to the many crippled and disfigured children who are classed as ugly and not worthy of care. Hazel wanted very much to show that it was worthwhile and rewarding to give care. Life was very hard in the areas where Hazel worked – still very remote, with the barest of necessities in tiny homes but with always a television present. Hazel had been back seven times to show that it is worthwhile caring - the first hospice having now been opened – and has travelled equally in Tibet and spent some time in Burma – dealing with the results of atrocities witnessed by the children and their families who are now refugees. Whether she will go to these areas again is something for future consideration but one thing is for certain - she will be sorely missed.
You can read more about Hazel's work at