When it’s cold and wet and I’m stuck indoors with a few minutes to spare I sit by the fire and sometimes daydream about my first trips to the West Country. When I was a child every year I travelled down to Devon, with my parents, to holiday on a working farm with one of my mother’s old friends and her hen-pecked husband.

To me they were always Uncle Joe and Auntie Nan and remained so until they died. Auntie Nan was fierce and bossy and held the farm together. This was because dear old Joe was a dreamer.

He was also a full blown procrastinator; but I simply adored Uncle Joe. He was kind, gentle and patient with a real feel for everything natural around him. He and I would often take the cows up the road to new pasture and then lie on our backs, in the soft grass, watching scudding clouds and the summer swallows sweep through the air.

Every morning I was allowed to help Uncle Joe milk the cows and then wash out the cowsheds. Even though it meant getting up at some unearthly hour, without disturbing my sleeping parents, it felt like a great honour to be part of real farm life instead of just a holidaymaker.

I wasn’t very good at getting to grips with the milking machine with all its intimate parts and looking back I’m quite sure now that I upset the cows and probably reduced the milk yield, but Uncle Joe never allowed himself to express any kind of reprimand while I was blissfully pretending that I owned the farm and all the animals.

Once milking was done and the cows were let out into the old cobbled yard, before thankfully returning to their peaceful green fields, we had to muck out and wash down the milking parlour. This was my least favourite part of ‘owning’ a farm but like all good farmers I knuckled down and got on with the job in hand, because however hard the work was I knew that as soon as the last swish of water disappeared down the drain I was in for the big event of the day which was a gargantuan breakfast.

Uncle Joe and I would wash our hands in the old stone sink, that was almost hidden in the dark dank scullery and then we would make our way to sit down at the old worn table in the vast farmhouse kitchen. This room was very cluttered and untidy with coats, an assortment of boots, huge piles of newspapers, farming magazines and official paperwork that was always waiting to be completed when Auntie Nan could get round to it.

The kitchen was always warm, especially in high summer, due to a huge log fire that was never allowed to go out. It just accumulated a growing pile of glowing embers and ash that had always been there, untouched for years, slowly drifting across the uneven flagstone floor where it became trodden in, hiding much of the original colour.

I had never eaten breakfasts like those served at that crumbling Devon farm cottage, nor have I since. Perhaps it was because I was so hungry from my morning’s labour but I swear the food on that long oak table that we devoured in complete silence each morning was heaven sent. We always started with a large helping of porridge which was served in a blue and white striped bowl and swimming in double cream straight from the farm’s own herd of Jersey cows and we finished our country breakfast with several slices of brown toast ladled with homemade thick-cut marmalade.

But in between came the main event, which was probably a heart surgeon’s worst nightmare. Huge plates overflowing with home cured bacon, free range golden-yolked eggs, thick slices of black pudding, mushrooms, potato hash and fried bread that simply oozed beef dripping and bacon fat. All of this was placed grudgingly in front of us by a taciturn Auntie Nan who instructed us to eat it quickly as she had to ‘get on’. We needed no encouragement and within minutes there wasn’t a morsel left, not even for the old sheepdog that hovered hopefully under the table.

I don’t remember much about the rest of each day except that I went to the beach with my family or wandered the quiet lanes alone; it was those gargantuan breakfasts that were the highlight of each Devon holiday. I am quite sure that my deep love of this beautiful county stems from those halcyon days when you could buy rough cider at almost every cottage doorway and eat whatever you wanted and whenever you wanted without being controlled and ‘educated’ by this current nanny state.