Saturday, 26 December 2009

Eventful Christmas

Well all I want for Christmas now is a new rear light for my car! My silly BMW that really has to go hasn't moved for a week (well until yesterday) as it is rear wheel drive and we have had so much ice that taking it out would have been a major mistake, I just never expected to crash it when parked in our driveway!

Yesterday we woke to blue skies and having had sleet overnight this had frozen over the already frozen driveway leaving a glassy finish. We were due to go to see our friends and have a Christmas cup of tea with them and distribute some pressies. We got in the 4x4 and started off up the drive, almost immediately we started off back down the drive as the 4x4 decided to go its own way right into the back of my car shunting it forwards about a foot. I thought we would find a tangled mess on the boot but (thankfully) it was only a smashed light. It was a bit scary at the time but afterwards it was just funny. We still had the 4x4 at a precarious angle on the ice so cleared out the fire and used the ash to try to melt the ice a bit and got the big beast back onto a safe patch of driveway. Our trip to our friends cancelled.

We had nice drinks with our neighbours who had invited us round too and then M had a crunchy walk round the fields whilst I started on Xmas dinner. Why is it we try to cook something we are not used to cooking on Christmas day? We thought a whole turkey too much for us so I had ordered a boned turkey breast, bit of a mistake as I hadn't a clue how to cook it and in the end had to do extra roasties as they were ready about an hour before the turkey was and then the turkey was overdone! The stuffing was nice though. Thankfully both of us had enjoyed some bubbly before dinner so the whole thing was in the rather funny.

We had a good glut of lovely pressies, many of them pratical but you get to the point where you don't want fancy pressies but those that are useful, ie new hot water bottles and waterproofs.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Beach walk cancelled

Snow yesterday+ light rain overnight + drop in temperatures = icy roads!

This morning despite the ice and the remains of the snow we thought it was a nice day to go for a beach walk, cold but sunny. There is a 2 mile drive (at the least) to get to the main road along little Devon country lanes, no gritters come down here! So off we go and it is sheet ice, I mean sheet, like glass! We have the 4x4 of course, and in manual and 4 wheel drive and going slowly it wasn't too bad, but the skid lights on the dash board were going off like a Christmas tree. We rescued a driver who had slid off the road into the hedge (M rescued two drivers yesterday when he went out - thank goodness for the beast, my BMW is going nowhere!). So we got to the main road and thought, if it sleets (forecast) and then freezes getting home will be fun! We have a nice shoulder of pork ready for Sunday lunch and the cats and the hens to think about so after picking up the Sunday paper gave up the idea of the beach - although the 4x4 is good it can still slide and there are some pretty big hills to negotiate on our 2 miles to the main road, also 4x4s are heavy so when they slide they really can slide alot.

Instead we have had a nice crunch round the fields and down to the river, the snow and sleet showers waiting until we got back home. Now it is looking very broody and we have had two sharp showers. Fire is lit, oven in on, there are pressies round the Christmas tree and probably a rubbish film on the tele, so I am now going to have some 'quality time' with the cats!

By the way if you are going out in the car in this weather, particularly on long journeys make sure you take some spare warm clothes, food, water, hot drinks, a blanket, a shovel, a torch , mobile phone and if you have one a high vis jacket, and of course a tow rope. You just never know!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Winter mornings

I have had to get up very early (well early for me) for work this last week and the mornings have been just beautiful. On Thursday I had to go to Bridgewater and was up horribly early, it was a misty foggy cold morning with thick fog at ground level but blue sky above (well when it got lighter). It was such a foggy morning even the sun seemed reluctant to get up and didn't appear over Dartmoor until nearly 9am!

This morning we had a beautiful sunrise with the moor standing out black against a red sky, there was a gap between the top of the moor and the cloud and it was stunning.

Something we have noticed living here, and I may have mentioned it before, is that we appreciate the passing of the seasons more and the different in the rising and setting of the sun. In the summer it rises and sets almost behind the house, now it seems to almost rise and set in the same place, just peeping over the horizon for a few hours before going somewhere warm again. Well that is what it seems like. I would love to go North where it only just breaks the horizon in the winter. I think though the total darkness that some places get in the winter would be a bit difficult to live with. Shortest day soon then summer on its way, possibly after another cold and snowy winter.

Hope everyone is warm and dry, very cold here, the kitchen doesn't seem to get above 8 degrees unless we are cooking. Thankfully the big wood burner in the sitting room keeps the bedroom at a temperature that is just about OK for going to bed. Big hot water bottles are definitely the thing. The cats love the woodburner!

If I don't post again, happy Christmas to all and wishing everyone a happy 2010.

Postscript. Since I started writing this post it has been snowing, quite hard on and off. Now settled and still snowing. Ooh how I wish for a white Christmas.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A good day out with the kids

As we are finally having some nice (but cold) weather we thought we should go for a walk yesterday but the tide times were not good for beach walking; so where else do you go when you have a 7 and a 4 year old to take into account? Well Dartmoor is out really and a long way to drive, same for Bodmin and Exmoor. There are some nice coastal cliff path walks around Hartland and Morwenstow but can be very hilly and some of the walking is quite tough. So we decided to have a look at the Tarka Trail www.devon.gov.uk/tarkatrail.htm. The nearest place we can get onto this is only about 10 minutes drive for us, near Torrington ,so our friends loaded the kids bikes and we set off. The entry point for us is a place called Watergate Bridge and from there you can go north - towards Torrington and eventually Bideford and even Ilfracombe, or south towards Meeth. We chose the northern route as there appeared to be a couple of pubs on the way - good for a rest and maybe some lunch.

The Tarka trail is a bridle/cycle and walking route along the old railway line. The first part was particularly lovely walking though a wooded section with a fast flowing river close by. You then get to a bridge crossing the Torridge River close to Torrington. You can walk then down to Taddiport where there used to be a great pub but we understand it has recently closed. We kept going along the route north towards Bideford. As you go under the main road from Bideford to Torrington there are the remains of the old station complete with a carriage. There is also a pub called the Puffing Billy but sadly this was closed too (we think it has not closed completely but it certainly wasn't open yesterday). There is also a cycle hire shop here and this was open.

Our aim was to get to Weare Gifford, further along the line and this route crosses the Torridge River several times. The countryside opens up to fields here too. In order to get to Weare Gifford itself you will come to a path on your right signposted to the Village just before a bridge over the river. Take this path if you want to got to the village, do not be fooled by the Explorer map which seems to suggest there is a path closer to the village, there isn't any way to cross the river here and the path refers to a ford. There is NO way, you can cross the Torridge on foot, we made the mistake of thinking perhaps there was a footbridge and found of course that there wasn't so had to turn back. We did follow the path signposted to the Village and this takes you through managed woodland (you can't take your bikes through here, there is a place to lock them up if you have brought locks with you just before you leave the old railway line).

The walk was lovely and luckily the path is quite easy to follow on the way to the village, on the way back the path is signposted by use of white painted dots on the side of the trees, it could be quite easy to get lost in the forest without them I think. Once you get out of the forest turn left onto the road and follow this through the village for about half a mile, you will then come to the Cyder Press the local Pub. Note, it closes at 2.30 and stops serving food at 1.30, we were too late for food but the cider was good and many packets of crisps consumed. It is a lovely old pub and we can say that the landlord was very friendly, next time we will leave earlier and have some lunch here.

By the time we got back to the cars it was getting late, I reckon it takes about an hour and 45 minutes from Watergate Bridge to Weare Gifford on foot, obviously on a bike it would be a lot quicker. M and I plan to try the southerly route from Watergate on our next trip and this time we will take our bicycles.

The Tarka trail is great for kids on bikes, no cars to worry about and this time of year it was quite quiet. I imagine in the summer it could be quite busy. Maps for the route can be downloaded from the website inserted above. Apparently the council is opening up more off road cycle routes so you would be able eventually to cycle off road from Barstaple all the way to Bude via Hatherleigh (the Barstaple/Ilfracombe section of the Tarka Trail is on road); there are also quite a few cycle routes round here as part of the sustrans project, but some of this is on road and you have to watch out for the tractors and the hills! www.sustrans.org.uk

I would recommend this trip to anyone who lives in this area or is visting, we had a great day and the kids had fun, the 7 year old managed to cycle nearly the whole way, which we think was about 6 miles round trip (apart from the forest section of course).

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Mid November update

Well the boys have gone and I shall miss them (the bullocks that is). I used to love singing to them. Most of the cattle now will be going in for the winter as the ground gets too wet. The silage harvest was good this year so the farmers should have plenty of feed for them. The last remaining dairy farm close to here have taken their cattle in too and you should hear the noise, the cattle obviously aren't very pleased about it, but I am sure they will get used to it, at least they will be warm and dry.

It was my Dad's 89th birthday last week so I went to stay with Mum and Dad for the evening. A very lovely (quiet) celebration (apart from lots of phone calls from friends and family). Seems amazing that he has achieved such an age and is still really quite fit, still drives and cooks and doesn't look 89 at all. Wonder if I have inherited his genes (I have his stature, but won't go into that much!).

On Sunday we had a (rare) nice day so we (myself, M, our two friends and their two little girls) walked from Bude to Northcott beach (the next beach up from the beach on the North Side of Bude which is called Crooklets) along the cliff top. It isn't a scary cliff top walk but a nice stroll though a field. Then as the tide was going out we walked back along the beach. It is about 2 miles round trip but of course will little girls takes a bit longer as you have to do rock pooling, mucking about in the sand and trying not to get water over your welly tops when paddling in the surf. It was quite a windy day and the surf was quite good. No surfers on Northcott beach but a few kayaks on Crooklets and someone riding their horse. Used to do this when I was at school and it is lovely, makes me think I would like to talk up riding again.

The North Cornwall beaches are beautiful and with a good spring low tide you could quite easily walk from Bude to Sandymouth (2 miles one way) and possibly to Duck Pools and then back along the top. The cliffs are amazing and I have tried to take some photos. Sadly the rock pools didn't give up much bounty; there are a lot of mussels on the rocks but they are very small and probably not worth bothering with. We did find some quite interesting items on rocks, one looked like some kind of egg and the other almost like a coral formation formed from sand. It might have been a home for something, a worm or beetle, very beautiful though.

I was supposed to have had this week off but seem to be busy with catching up with various bits of paperwork. We were planning to do a bit of beach fishing tomorrow but judging by the weather forecast I think it will be another day indoors - hey ho.

Some more photos from our day out on the beach follow





Saturday, 31 October 2009

Autumn photos

When I was trying to get photos for the Autumn colours and the starlings I took quite a few others and thought it would be fun to post some of them.

The girls enjoying a nice dust (well more like a mud) bath, whilst listening to the Starling's chorus.

A Devon lane.
My favorite trees and view with more roosting starlings (if you can see them!)

The Birds!!

Well we are still under attack from the starlings, back in the Ash tree right outside our bedroom window at first light. When they flew off I nearly jumped out of my skin with the noise.

The farmer who tenants the land belonging to this house was here this morning, he only lives about a mile away and he said he hadn't seen any at all so was a bit surprised to see so many.

The appeal for them may be the corn field next to 'our' land which was harvested a while ago but probably has a lot of grain still in it. Quite why they like our trees and fields I have no idea. I have been trying to find out about Starlings and what they do and apparently according to the RSPB website many migrate here in the Autumn to spend the winter here. Maybe they, like the geese before them migrating out of the UK, like this area because as it is so agricultural there is quite a lot of food, and we are close to the Atlantic coast but far away to be a bit more protected. Whatever the reason I feel quite honored to see them and their displays are wonderful to watch. It is eerily quiet when they fly off to another field and I will miss them when they finally move on.

Friday, 30 October 2009

More Autumn observations

It has been crazy here today with scenes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'! There have been thousands of starlings swooping and whooshing around in the sky. The displays are quite something else. I wish I could have videoed it, but without a video camera it would have been tricky! The other thing is the noise they make when they do a huge flypast or take off from perching in the trees, it almost sounds like thunder or one of those RAF jets that we sometimes get. When in the trees or trying to get in the Guinness Book of records for the most starlings on a telephone line, they chatter incessantly, love to know what they are talking about. When they sit on the wires apart from chatting they move around and one might fly off and then come back again, they seem to have a designated amount of space between each one so if a new one comes into perch they all shuffle up, it is very very funny!

Of course the other thing that is lovely to look at right now are the changing colours of the leaves and whilst off to work yesterday and while we had a bit of sunshine I tried to take some photos of the lovely colours. Sadly I was already late for work when I left so the pictures were taken rather hurriedly. Today it has been grey and horrible and the next week sounds like it could be very very wet and very windy so not good for taking photos and by the time the weather has settled down I wouldn't be surprised if all the leaves had gone.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A wild day and quiet night

Yesterday was pretty wild and I had to go up to Barnstaple for work in the morning. M suggested I take the 4X4 (the beast) but I thought I would be OK.

Well boy did it rain, alot, and coming home it did occur to me that the beast would have been a good idea; the Bideford to Torrington road was very badly flooded purely from run off and at one point I didn't think my little car would get through, thankfully it was OK, but an inch or so more of water and I don't think I would have done it. Nearer to home the little river near us had well and truly burst its banks and I did think about going to look at the Torridge (our big river) but decided that it might not be a good idea in my coupe!

In the afternoon the rain cleared and we had blue skies followed by a wonderful clear night, one of the clearest for a while, even clearer than a couple of nights ago when it got down to 2 degrees C.

The stars here are wonderful, we really have no light pollution at all and the milky way stands out too bright in the sky. Sadly no shooting stars, we used to see lots but there are a bit thin in the sky at the moment.

The thing that struck me last night was a distant whooshing noise, like wind in the trees but a long way away. We have noticed it before after heavy rains and the only thing I can think is that it is the sound of the Torridge in full flood in the valley below, it is quite a magical sound. We did think about going to have a look but decided that sitting in a nice warm house was preferable in the end. We did notice a couple of cars going down the lane and coming up the other side of the valley so presumably the Torridge was passable - we have only once seen it so badly flooded that even a 4x4 would struggle. Seems like there is more rain on the way so you never know we could get cut off! Its OK though we have a freezer full of food and if things get really bad there is a field full of cattle next door!!! (joking of course)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Autumn gardening

Well that's the end of the beans; the runners and french beans have been great and have lasted so long, but I think we have seen the last of them now, although I might be able to get one or two french beans for Sunday lunch at the weekend. The beetroot is now being used (as in previous post, however the borscht was a bit interesting), the tomatoes have all been harvested and the plants burned (in case of blight); the main crop spuds lifted (a little late, but we planted late) and again the green parts burned. We still have a lot of chillies indoors and herbs of course and the garlic has been planted and there are some spring green seedlings waiting to be planted out; but it is the end of the produce really.

As mentioned before we don't really know how long we will be here, but just in case we are still here next year we have started to prepare the bog plot (sorry veggie patch) for next year. We have actually designated plots for next year (last year they just evolved) and put old compost from grow bags (not in areas where we will plant tomatoes in case of blight) and some lovely stuff from the compost heap onto the next year plots and covered the whole plot with black plastic that we got free from a local farm; it is the stuff they use to cover the silage pits, so we are recycling plastic in a small way.

I am already browsing the seed catalogs and we have proper plans for what we will grow next year. This time of year is quite fun when thinking about veggies, on cold nights you can sit in front of the fire and dream of the lovely veg that you will eat next year and plan the planting. Definitely more french beans than we did this year and lots of shallots, brassicas, carrots (they were rubbish this year) and of course runner beans; sungold tomatoes (the best in the world) and lots more herbs, you can never have enough and no matter how many plants we have we always seem to run out of something.

Autumn food

Its that time of the year as the nights draw in and the wild wind blows that you look forward to real warming food.

A few weeks ago we decided that we wanted to 'feed' the freezer and looked around for good deals on beef and lamb boxes. The local beef, 'Devon Red Ruby' is lovely and lots of farms now offer boxes. In the end though we decided to buy our freezer 'food' from our local butcher; Bob the Butcher in Bradworthy; he is great and I am sure he won't mind me publishing his name, we cannot speak highly enough of his produce and service; his chorizo sausages are - well hot! and his beef, lamb and pork are wonderful. His gammons are (I am afraid to say when we have done our own before) the best. We bought a lot of beef and half a lamb and now have quite a bit of pork on order as when we 'fed' the freezer we realised that we were out of pork and the pigs don't go to 'market' until December.

Now we have the freezer full of meat what to do with it? Well one of our all time, cold night favorites is a good lamb stew. M is the best at this and if you have good meat you really need nothing more than onions, spuds, a bay leaf, some water and salt and pepper. Definitely comfort food, sitting in front of the fire with some nice bread to dunk in the juices. I like pearl barley too in it.

M is also very good at beef stews and did a lovely one last week, again a one pot dish in a big bowl, yummy. Next week it will be steak and kiddley pudding and I mean pudding (not that I need any help in the pudding area but I think the weather calls for it).

Not only have we a lot of meat in the freezer but I planted a lot of beetroot and we still have bottles and bottles of pickled beetroot in the cupboard. I am hoping for a wine recipe but in the meantime and trying my hand (as we speak) at Borscht, it smells wonderful and the colour is just indescribable (when it is finished I might try to take a piccy to post on here). The other thing I might do with some of the beetroot is to make a cake, but if this soup is any good I might make quite a lot and freeze it. We both work from home so are always looking for something nice for lunch. We also have a big squash courtesy of our friends, and have to come up with a plan, will it be a curry or soup? Not sure yet, we are considering our options.

I do love this time of year for food, you can have lovely hearty warming dishes which admittedly do need love and long cooking but I think that is the fun of cooking, I struggle with those dishes that only takes minutes to make. There will be a stir fry from left over pork later in the week, which OK is quite a quick thing, but again is warming, especially if M puts some of his hot hot chillies in it. This weekend I think it has to be leg (or preferably) shoulder of lamb with the left overs going into a tasty shepherds pie. Oh, must stop thinking about food getting hungry now. Chilli tonight retrieved from the ever hungry freezer.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The sun is out, the sky is blue, and it's NOT raining

Well having moaned like there is no tomorrow about the weather, summer has finally come - bit late though.

On Saturday we went to Bude with our friend and his two daughters to get them out of Mum's hair whilst she did change over on their cottages. It was lovely and sunny and the girls had their bicycles to play on (the nearly 7 year old is now 'look no stabilisers) and had great fun riding round and round on a nice bit of concrete in front of one of the beach side cafes whilst we admired the view, the sun and the sea. It was almost hot and we ended up just in our t'shirts (having taken big jumpers with us). The nearly 7 year old (7 on Friday) was fantastic on her bike and so confident, she did end up going rather fast and had a small altercation with a picnic table, but being a big girl didn't cry at all (think I would have done).

Sadly yesterday was grey and drizzly again so I found some time finally to look at my selection of wines gently sitting in the cupboard under the stairs. Have been so busy recently that hadn't had time to look at them. Rather surprisingly the banana wine that I started in January was still slowly bubbling. I did rack it off into another demijohn and M kindly tasted some (I was worried in case it was neat alcohol). Actually it was very nice. It will be bottled probably in a couple of weeks as long as it really has stopped bubbling by then. It is also beautifully clear, which cannot be said for the tea, peach and apple wines which I also racked off again and will bottle shortly. Can see ideas for Christmas presents coming up!

Today it is lovely again, hardly a cloud in the sky and definitely warmer outside than in. The moor is clear and looks so close, although it is true that when it looks close enough to touch, rain is on the way. Forecast for the rest of the week though is like today and unfortunately I have a week of work ahead of me. We shouldn't complain really, both of us are very busy even with a recession going on. Hopefully it will still be nice at the weekend again and we can have another beach trip. We have been meaning for ages to do some more beach fishing so must check the tide times (best fishing on the beach is an hour or two either side of high water) and get some dinner in!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Autumn days

Well Autumn is on its way. The swallows must have left some time ago and we didn't even notice. We have also had great herds of geese, I say herds rather than flocks as there were thousands of them all filling up on fuel before their long flight south (there is a large field close to us that was fully of some kind of grain crop this year). It was almost as if all the geese in the North Devon area had decided to have a great conference in this field, like all the politicians at the recent party conferences they made quite a lot of racket!

The leaves are starting to fall and fill up the drains and the gutters on the house and the nights are drawing in. In fact the nights are drawing in so fast that we often realise that it is dark suddenly and we haven't locked the hens in - poor things, they do make a noise if you don't lock them up.

And it is getting colder, yesterday with the rain I was nearly tempted to light the wood burner in the office during the day as my hands were freezing. Last night the outside temp got down to below 5 degrees, no frost though yet as some of our friends have had who are a bit more sheltered. I wonder if we will be in for a snowy winter again!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Dreich

OK, this word means many things, but most commonly I think of it relating generally for a form of weather often encountered in Scotland, when it means 'dull, bleak, wet and dismal' and frankly there is only one way to describe the weather today and it is most definitely 'dreich'!

It is that fine rain that almost seems to get into your bones and makes you wetter than the heavy stuff. Good old Met office says sunny spells for here today - got it wrong again chaps. Actually I had to laugh this morning as we were forecast Highland mountain weather for tonight '22.00 hours - light snow showers, 9 degrees C' I don't think so. And this was on the BBC forecast and the Met office. Just looked again and it has changed to heavy rain shower instead. They are already having snow on the Cairngorms, you can see this if you look on the Cairngorm website and look at their web cam. Are we in for another snowy winter down south I wonder?

Off to light the woodburner, have a nice cup of tea and read the Sunday papers, can't mow the lawns and can't finish off painting the gate at the end of the lane which I started last weekend.

Edited at 15.45 to say that OK, the sun came out for a second and now we have another Scottish phenomenon - MIDGES, they are everywhere, getting in your hair and down your jumper, horrible, shame the swallows have gone! Have we moved suddenly or something and not noticed?! :(

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Butchery course

At the end of the year our friends' two Gloucester Old Spot pigs are off to the 'market'! In previous years the abattoir has done the slaughter and the butchery, but last time the butchery was not up to scratch, so this year we thought we might do that bit ourselves (home slaughter is not permitted). We have read books and done a bit of home butchery before (boning out) but wanted to learn a bit more so we enrolled ourselves on a 1 day butchery course through DASH (Devon Association of Smallholders - there is a link to this organisation on the links section of this blog). You have to be members to go on the courses they offer and they do offer quite a selection of things you can learn.

The course was held at a small mixed farm (or large smallholding) to the East of us. The day started with a good cup of coffee and chocolate biscuits, which was a very good start. After this we had a farm tour which included advice on feeding and general management of cattle and sheep. The owners of the farm have seen over time that many people take on stock without the slightest knowledge of how to look after them. It is not the case that cattle and sheep just eat grass and you can just put them out into a field and let them get on with it. They will need supplements and various other things depending on what you are breeding them for, the state of your grass and your soil. They also (and this seems so obvious but according to the farm owners it doesn't seem to be for some people) animals need fresh water!

As mentioned this was a mixed farm and is organic. They grow much of their own animal feed too. As I have said before I am rather in love with long wool sheep and this farm had the most wonderful Leicester Longwools which they breed for wool and also cross them with Texel sheep for meat production. A few of the lambs were put into a crush (a metal cage which doesn't hurt them but means that you can handle them as you may want to when giving vaccinations or worming. In this case we were able to feel the lambs to get an understanding of what a lamb for meat should feel like.

The farm also breeds Ruby Devon Cattle a breed native to this area. We saw the cows and calves and also met Daddy bull (from afar). 'Baby' bull, 3 months and built like a small housing estate was put into the cattle crush (a bit similar to the one used for sheep but MUCH bigger and stronger so that we could feel the various cuts on a live animal . Both the bulls are for breeding purposes and showing and win lots of awards, their services as bulls are very popular and the farm gets inquiries from all over the world for their 'you know what' (don't like to say it on a blog, I might get lots of strange messages!!!!).

The farm used to breed Oxford and Sandy and Black pigs but now only raise the weaners, sadly they didn't have any when we visited as they are rather beautiful. Talking of beautiful the farm sells free range organic eggs from their Welsummer hens which are just lovely.

After our tour we moved to the cutting room. The farm has its own cold room and cutting area and sells its meat locally to the general public and to pubs. We started with a lamb carcass and the farmer (who is also a butcher and stockman) jointed this and boned some joints out, some of us had a try. I quite like boning out, there is a certain sense of satisfaction of being able to get a bone out without leaving much meat on it.

After we had eaten our packed lunches and sampled some of the home made soup at the farm we made sausages and burgers. This was quite fun but we had done this before. Really what we need to do is to take a side of pork (when they are ready) to a butcher (and you can do it at this farm) and watch him joint it and help if we are allowed (which can be done in some cases). You really cannot learn butchery in a day! We also realised that there is a lot of equipment that we don't have that we would really need in order to cut up our carcasses so we are not sure now whether we can do this this year. For example, it is advisable to hang carcasses in a cool room for at least two weeks, many abattoirs can't do this as they don't have the room and we most certainly don't have the right facilities for this at the moment.

The whole day was very interesting and made us think a lot about what we might want to do. I think we both feel that before we get any stock we want to go on other courses to learn specifically about the care of the animal; sheep for example can be hard work and keeping them would need careful consideration before going down that road. Cattle need a lot of room and you probably wouldn't want to go down the route of breeding as there is milking to be considered (and that means lots of early mornings and probably more milk than you could cope with). You can buy a couple of steers (castrated bulls) and raise these for meat, but again cattle need a lot of care and time. Pigs seem simpler and we do have some experience of pig keeping, but again you should know what the potential problems are before buying a couple of weaners.

The day ended with tea on the lawn and a nice chocolate cake. We met lots of interesting people and the folks at the farm were great. It was an instructive, enjoyable and thought provoking day.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Show time part the last

Sorry, the Holsworthy show was over a week ago and no post. To be honest getting a bit bored reporting on the shows as they are much of a muchness, if we didn't go to them for work I think I would probably only go to one a year!

The weather for the show was not as good as Okehampton but better than North Devon. It had rained a lot just before the show and the ground was a bit boggy but you could have managed without wellies. The day was windy and overcast and it set in with really serious drizzle just at the end of the show (just about the time we were sampling a small beer in the beer tent!). Holsworthy Show beer tent is very well run but a local landlord who would never run out of beer unlike Okehampton and the beer tent is probably the biggest of all the ones at the 4 shows we went to. I can thoroughly recommend the beer tent at this show (hoping for a free pint for commission!).

We had a huge stand at the show and managed to fill most of it up with a fantastic 12 foot long walk banquet walk through table. It got lots of interest and really is a fab piece of garden furniture, good value too, but probably heavy so you would want to put it somewhere where you weren't likely to need to move it. We put one outside the beer tent too!.

Entertainment at the show; pretty standard stuff really. Good amount and diverse range of stock including some wonderful different sheep varieties. My favorite has to be these wooley white ones not sure if they are Devon and Cornwall Longwool or Dartmoor, but aren't they brilliant, mind you wouldn't want to keep them in a wet field, imagine the shampoo you would need to get through! This blackface is also rather nice but you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of those horns!!!! It is troubling when you start looking at sheep and think how pretty they are mind you!

Again we were in a good position next to the main general entertainment ring and the one display that caught my eye was the falconry. Now I found this a tricky subject as the birds are kept in captivity and fly for displays and I suppose for exercise too. I have looked up falconry and feel a bit better now. It seems that in this country falconers can only work birds that are bred in captivity (I recall the falconer at the show saying that some of his birds were rescues?) and it is illegal to take feral birds for falconry (or for anything actually). It is such an ancient sport and I must say watching the birds fly and swoop past your ear at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour with their long talons and vicious looking beaks was really fantastic. The birds and the falconer put on a great display and encouraged folks from the crowd to come into the ring and hold our their (heavily) gloved hand for a bird to perch on. This Golden Eagle was looking right at me, I hope he wasn't thinking I would make a good dinner!

That is the end of show season for us now, but it not a time to rest. We need to plan our marketing for this coming winter and will need to start thinking sooner rather than later about which shows we want to do next year. No rest for the wicked!

Chicken update

Well our poor hen with the prolapse is back to normal, scratching about and looking good, thanks to a lot of TLC from us and our friends who came to stay for a few days last week. However, two things.

1. She still hasn't laid an egg now over two weeks since the incident. Whether she will again I don't know. She is a hybrid (Warren or ISA not sure which but they are very similar) and they can have a short (but intensive) laying life so we will see. If she does lay we still have the risk of another prolapse so the longer she goes without laying the better as it gives her a chance to heal inside.

2. She is now moulting! Poor thing, if its not one thing its another. I did think to start with that this was related to the other hen pecking at her but I don't think so and it is moulting season. This in some ways is also good for her healing process in that when they moult they tend not to lay. We will have to make sure we give them supplements during this time to keep their energy up as their bodies now spend a lot of goodness moulting and getting ready to grow new feathers. We don't know yet whether this is a partial moult or a full one, she had a partial one in January (the coldest time of the year!!!), so this could be a full one. In this case she is going to go very bald. They look dreadful in moult, ragged and disheveled but when the feathers grow back they look good as new again - well pretty much. As they get older they don't get quite back to normal and old hens do look a bit ragged.

The plan is to get more and I am thinking about Black Rocks as although they too are hybrids they don't lay quite so many eggs in a year and therefore have a longer life (both laying and overall). They are also very hardy birds and don't mind the weather. Our girls have been huddled in the outbuilding a lot recently sheltering from the rain, wind etc. When it snowed earlier this year they refused to come out at all. There is a lady who raises Black Rocks about 45 minutes away; there are only a few registered Black Rock growers in the country and only one approved breeder, not sure why but it means that there are only a few places you can get them. She also has some other interesting breeds, Marans (the picture on the right is of a Cookoo Maran), Blues and this rather nice Magpie (picture below). I am interested to talk to her to find out if Black Rocks are the way to go or whether we should have a mixture or try something else. Will keep you posted and will have piccies of whatever we get. (pictures posted here are taken from www.organicpullets.co.uk, the website of the breeder I have mentioned)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Chickens

We have had a bit of a weekend with the girls again but (fingers crossed) it looks like things will be OK.

Over the last week or so someone had been laying very very big eggs with very thin rough shells (very difficult to tell which one of course) and then on Friday evening just as I was about to cook dinner M noticed that one of the hens was pecking at the others' bottom area a lot. We had a look and noticed blood pouring from her vent (where the eggs and poo comes out of, they only have one hole). We quickly picked her up and had a proper look and there was a nasty bloody prolapse (bit like piles for chickens). With very clean hands and dilute iodine we cleaned the area and then very gently pushed the prolapse back in. Over the weekend we have had to keep the hens separated as the healthy one just pecks at the others bum and they can kill doing this as eventually they pull out the others innards (sorry not nice but true). It could be that the prolapse was caused by the other hen pecking or that the prolapse occured and then the pecking started, they are carnivorous and some nice fresh blood might have been too much of a temptation. We have cleaned the affected area and having read up about this put pile cream around the vent 4 times a day (this is nice and cooling, has a mild topical anaesthetic and a mile antiseptic in it).

At night we blocked off one of the nest boxes and kept the sick one in there with a little food and water. Yesterday she really wasn't eating and we feared that we would have to start hand feeding today (with a syringe) and if that had happened I think we would have had to seriously think about culling her; from previous experience once they stop eating it is only a matter of time.

Well this morning M went to let them out and found healthy hen had laid an egg (this had been an issue too as she had been distressed with all the goings on and appeared to be eating her own eggs which can be another big issue). M rescued the egg and lured the healthy hen to another run (to keep them apart). He went to open up the blocked up nest box and sick hen pretty much leaped out. She is eating and drinking and is currently roaming the garden finding nice baby slugs and all sorts to eat. She is making little noises (had been very quiet for the last few days), is preening and scratching, so looks a lot better. We will still clean her and apply the cream for a few days and I am going to get some stuff to put around her bum to stop the other hen pecking her feathers out.

We are not quite out of the woods yet though as when she lays another egg the prolapse could recur so will need to keep and eye on this and for the time being will keep them separated so that if she does do it again she won't get attacked by the other hen.

Prolapse can occur particularly in hens who are the best layers and those who lay large eggs. I am not sure why she was laying eggs with such rough shells and there is a lot of discussion on forums about the use of oyster shell (or other forms of calcium). Chickens need this to form the egg shells and commercially produced layers mash or pellets (this is their feed) should contain all the things they need. Some people seem to feel that this is not enough and you should give them more, but then again other people say that giving them extra calcium if they don't need it can result in rough paper thin shells and can cause other problems including death, so not sure if somehow maybe she was getting too much. As there seems to be so much confusion on the subject I am going to talk to someone at work who has a large egg business so does all this commercially and I am sure she will know the answer.

The problem with keeping stock is that you really have to know what you are doing (of course) and there are courses for keeping most kinds of stock. A lot of people are now keeping hens thanks to TV Chef celebs and there is a lot of concern that people don't have the knowledge and experience to keep them in the right ways. I have seen people ask if hens need perches and nest boxes (which is actually quite fundamental). We learned from our friends who we lived with who had hens and read up on the subject widely before we got them, but even then the advice you can get can be confusing and conflicting. I would strongly recommend that anyone who wants to keep hens (or any stock for that matter) reads up on it and if possible go along to one of the many day workshops there are on the subject. Get the right information first and hopefully you will have fewer problems and if they do occur you will know how to manage them.

Hopefully our girl will make a full recovery but I do worry that it was something we did or didn't do that caused the problems, hopefully we will have learned something from all this and can make sure our girls are happy and healthy.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Show time - Part 3

So third Show done and what a show, so far my favorite but maybe that was because it was sunny and no mud.

Okehampton Showground maybe doesn't' quite have the position of the Woolsery Show but it nestles below Dartmoor and is a lovely spot. It also has a perimeter track running round the outside so even if it had been wet a lot of the access would have been dry. As it was we had had a bit of rain in the days preceding but the ground had dried out and setting up the stand on the Wednesday wasn't too much of a pain (although it was a misty foggy day and the Camleford show took which took place on the Wednesday apparently took place in thick cloud).

We got to the ground early and didn't get too bunged up in traffic this time and managed to do the final setting up bits in good time. Then the sun came out. Well we had thought we were well prepared, wellies, waterproofs, warm jumper (lessons learned from previous shows) and the forecast had been mixed so we didn't take sun cream; we wish we had, we all ended up with pink noses and pink cheeks and I think I got a bit of sunstroke as felt rather under the weather for a few days after. Next show we will take wet weather gear AND suncream, you just never know.

The Show ground is well laid out with a central ring for much of the entertainment involving horses and the trade stands mostly surrounded this ring. We had great views of the ring where the horses came in to wait for their slot and although we are not really horsey people it gave us something to look at in our quiet moments. It was quite fun seeing the noisy braying donkeys, (once one started they all started and made everyone laugh; the tiny sheltlands; the majestic and shiny hunters; the noble and beautiful Heavy Horses in all their regalia. There were also pie and skewbald gypsy horses which were really lovely. At the end of the day there were races which although we couldn't see the main event we could see the horses and riders going at break neck speed back into the holding ring after their race; it was something called barrel racing which apparently started in America (or so the commentator said) when the men were doing the rodeo riding the women set up their own fun and raced one by one round barrels, it was very fast and great fun to watch, not least because the commentator was enjoying himself and was entertainment on his own - rather think he might have had something to wet his throat before the races but he just might have been an enthusiastic type!

The rest of the trade stands were in rows (similar to the North Devon). Then at the top of the ground there were the cattle and sheep show rings. In a large field or enclosure on the east side of the show ground were the stock pens, so here were most of the cattle, sheep, piggies, poultry, rabbits, alpacas and there was also a sheering stand, doing sheering competitions and I suppose workshops. So the way the ground was set out, it meant that you could easily find things, I thought it was great. The show also seemed more agricultural than the other shows, I don't know why, maybe because of the way it was set out or maybe there were more stock here.

Some people complain about the trade stands and the fact that these shows have become more commercialised but sadly without them I am not sure the shows would survive, the stands help pay for the shows to take place.

We had a great day on the stand with lots of visitors and lots of enquiries. we almost ran out of price lists. Each show we do we learn something new and everytime they get better and better. We even had enquiries from other parts of the country some very far away indeed.

The only downside to the shows is catering really. There are plenty of food places and a food tent where you can buy local produce (not hot) but it was so busy that we really couldn't face queuing (also it wasn't fair to leave the others on the stand for too long) so ended up with lunch that was a bit disappointing, next show we will take our own I think. Also the biggest disappointment of the whole show was that the beer tent ran out of beer by about 3pm!!!! Shocking! I think they hadn't realised that so many people would come, (the last two years the show had been cancelled because of weather) but you would have thought they would have had a contingency plan. There was a sort of contingency in the end and the man on the tannoy announced that the beer tent had restocked. We always feel at the end of the show we deserve half a pint of something cold so went along only to find that all they had were warm cans of lager and beer, nothing cold. Even these stocks were pretty thin. Okehampton Show, next year, more beer!

So almost at the end now, one more to go this year (next week). Looking forward to it and slightly sad that it is at the end now, I have enjoyed them. They are hard work, long days and early mornings (which I am not good at at all, would be a rubbish farmer!). We calculate that for one show it takes at least 3 days out of the week with preparation, setting up and taking the stand down. Will see how next week goes and then I guess it will be time to start thinking about which ones to book in for for next year.

PS. Sorry few photos camera very much on last legs.
PPS. The heat wave forecast for today hasn't hit us here, cold, damp, cloudy and windy!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Minor panic

Had a bit of a panic last night. M and I had noticed that it seems to have gone a bit quiet here over the last couple of days. Up till then we had been woken most mornings by the House Sparrows who had been nesting in the roof just above our bedroom window (bless them!) but all is quiet now. Also since about Friday the noisy swallows seem to have gone quiet, surely it can't be the end of summer just yet.

No swallows at all this morning and the Sparrows have definitely got fed up with the rain and cold, but it isn't quite over yet. Have seen two Swallows today but the numbers are definitely depleted. I reckon that some of them may have already gone ahead to warmer climes but there are a few left. It only seems like yesterday they arrived and it is quite sad to think they will soon be gone, they have been so entertaining.

Have to say that we never really noticed this kind of the change in the seasons before, I suppose we wouldn't have done when we didn't have such summer tenants in our old house.

There is a definite early Autumn feel around though (and only mid August). Mr Robin has started singing loudly again, a sound which I always associate with Autumn and Winter. The crows are back too, instead of small black bodies clinging onto the telephone wires (the Swallows) we have large black bodies clinging to the telephone wires making harsh Autumn noises!

According to the forecast we might get a barbecue summer day on Wednesday but last time I looked it had changed to rain again, hey ho, here's to living in the West Country (and don't get me wrong, I wouldn't live anywhere else even with the rain).

Okehampton Show report on its way, camera is playing up, but will be posted soon.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Summertime

Well it seems to be here (after a bit of a damp day yesterday). Gearing up for the show on Thursday and the forecast doesn't look brilliant but it depends which forecast you look at!

I have been out with the camera (which I am afraid seems to be on its last legs; it will be a real pain in the neck if it packs up now).

A couple of lovely ones.

Garden jewels: If you only ever grow one type of tomato, grow this one, Sungold, it is beautiful and tastes even better. Those red ones seem insipid compared to the burst of sunlight and warmth and summer time you get when you bite into one of these little golden globes.

The bog garden: Slowly, slowly licking it into shape (but still a lot of weeds and docks and there is only a little produce growing now as a lot have been eaten!!!!!!). This winter we will put down black plastic (old silage covers) where we want the plots to be and leave the grass paths between, might even manage a few more raised beds, but have to watch this as even though this is very wet plot the raised bed dries out quickly. The blue stuff is netting to keep the hens off the carrots I have just planted out (a little late!)

In our old garden we had a grape vine, something called strawberry grape. It goes mad and grows everywhere, the English winters don't bother it at all. The grapes are dark reddish in colour and have the most amazing berry flavour, sort of a mixture of strawberries, blackberries and other yummy fruits but are not 'grape like' at all. We took cuttings several years ago and gave them to friends who are growing them up a trellis in front of their oil tank (not sure the trellis will be able to cope eventually but we will cross that bridge!). This winter I took about 40 cuttings and have 37 plants growing. Our friend has a nice sheltered, well drained south facing, gently sloping field so is thinking about trying to grow them on a larger scale (he also took about 40 cuttings last year, so we have almost 80 plants!). They will take time to mature and produce fruit and maybe ultimately some wine! This picture shows the cuttings together with an odd selection of marigolds and other flowers (no idea what they are or why I planted the seeds). The marigolds are there because they have been watered and will go back shortly to sit with the tomatoes to help ward off nasty bugs (marigolds encourage nice bugs that eat the nasty bugs, clever eh?)

Finally this is one of the old apple trees that last year produced a total amount of nothing. I gave it some TLC over the winter and a decent hair cut and now we have apples; hooray. Just have to get the other one producing now.

Must go out and stop working and enjoy some of this rare break in the clouds before the weather turns again tomorrow!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

I've been tagged!

A very nice lady who reads my blog and posts nice comments too has tagged me (thank you Pattypan). I believe that this means I have to tell you 7 things about myself you may not know (and of course I am sure that there are a lot of people who read this who know very little about me at all, so in essence this should be relatively easy!!).

1. I have my Coastal Skipper sailing certificate and Yacht Master theory certificate.

2. I have skippered 40ft+ yachts twice in the Greek Islands for two wonderful bare boat holidays we had many years ago before certain members of the crew had babies!

3. I am a distant relative of Florence Nightingale (and George Elliot as there was a relationship here too between these two).

4. I made a record as a teenager singing as the contralto soloist in the School Choir. Have no idea what happened to the record think some of the singing (not mine of course) was pretty grim.

5. I trained for a while as an opera singer (but I was a student nurse at the time and it got a bit expensive).

6. I always wanted to be an actress and used to find it very difficult to go to the theatre cos I wanted to be on that stage.

7. I would love to sing again particularly local folk songs, but find it difficult to find how to start again and how to find a group to sing with. I do sing to the cattle (don't tell the farmer he thinks I am mad as it is). I used to sing to cattle as a little girl when Mum and Dad had a house in Herefordshire. They do seem to like it and as soon as I start the audience gathers I think I posted a picture somewhere on the blog of my 'appreciative audience'. Have to say though that the cats and the hens don't seem to like it.

Well think that's it really, not much more to say. Ah, just remembered another one (sorry I know it was only supposed to be 7). The year of Charles and Diana's wedding my Mum and Dad went to Buckingham Palace for a Garden Party and I went too. For various reasons we were to be presented to Prince Philip. The only thing I remember about it is that whilst we were waiting for the Prince to come down the line an equerry was talking to us and he asked me if I was still at School. I said no, I had just left and was going into nursing cos I wanted to meet lots of nice young Doctors. It turned out that this gentleman was actually one of the lesser Royals (I spotted him on the tele when the wedding was on). I was very embarrassed that I had told a member of the Royal family that I was going into nursing, not because of a vocation or a desire to help people but to meet young men!!!! Apparently according to my Dad I also spent some time telling naughty jokes to a Bishop! (he was one of the govenors of my School so I did sort of know him, but naughtly jokes to a Bishop, hopefully he wasn't too offended.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Show time - Part 2

So North Devon show yesterday - where to start - I suppose at the beginning. (By the way you can look at the pictures better by clicking on them and they should enlarge)

We were to be working a stand for a local company that M is doing some work with. We went to set up the stand on Tuesday in misty, damp, drizzly weather. We had an inkling that it would be muddy and we weren't wrong! We managed to get into the ground through the mire and eventually found our plot. Unfortunately the first car and trailer (there were cars and big long trailers) had driven past it, so you reverse back to it don't you if you have a lot of heavy items to move; no you don't (we found) not in that mud. There were plenty of tractors about dragging people out of muddy patches so we managed to find one to drag the car and trailer back into a better position and then proceeded to get very wet and muddy. When it was time to leave we almost managed to get out of the ground until the last 200 yards when both vehicles (now with empty trailers) got stuck (and both were big 4X4's!). 4 very tired, wet and extremely muddy people made their way home for dinner and an early bed.

Up early Wednesday morning to get to the ground before the show started and yours truly read the signs wrong and took us up a road full of show traffic going to car parks for the dog show bit and other areas but not where we were supposed to park. It took us an hour and a half to do a 30 minute journey! Luckily the boss went the right way and was there in time for the show opening. We finally got parked and picked our way through the mud to the stand (picking up some breakfast on the way).

There were lots of food stalls at the show selling all sorts of food (and a catering tent too). There was fish and chips, Chinese food, burgers, roast pork rolls, hot dogs, crepes, ice cream and lots more I probably never found. there was also a wonderful food tent with various local food and delicacies including sausages, pies, organic meat, olives (possibly not local), cider, pasties, cheese, chocolate and lots of other yummy things.

Other tents at the show included arts and crafts, poultry, rural skills, countryside skills, Womens Institute, Young Farmers (no idea what was in there, never made it!), scouts (including a visit by James May of Top Gear fame), flower competitions, horticulture, you name it. Then in terms of trade stands again you had all sorts, banks, solicitors (!), wood burning stoves, garden furniture, agricultural machinery, clothing, wellies (which were selling like hot cakes), surf gear, kites, headstones for graves (!) etc etc. I think there must have been about 500 stands there. There were also fairground rides including a big wheel and lots of bouncy castle type things.

In terms of entertainment I think there were about 4 or 5 rings. There were the usual live stock competitions and horse show activities including show jumping. There were people showing you how to cast properly for course and fly fishing and how to get your gun dog to pick up. There was pig racing and ferret racing (did see this before, not this time and it is great fun, just love ferrets but they can be smelly and have nice sharp teeth), missed the pig racing by 5 minutes (that's the problem with being on a stand you have to get back to work!. - the picture is of the ferret racing enclosure) There was someone with owls too and a falconry display. There was a dog show too.

I haven't been to the big county shows; I was supposed to go to the Royal Cornwall back in June but couldn't make it; and have only otherwise been to the smaller shows, Holsworthy and Woolsery, but I did enjoy the North Devon, it was big but not too big and probably enough to keep you entertained for the day. Initially I thought the price of entry was a bit steep but in fact comparing this to the other smaller shows I think you got good value for money at the North Devon. The only downside was the MUD!

As the day wore on the mud did start to dry up towards the lower part of the ground (in all it is about 50 odd acres on a slight south facing slope (the main tents are placed on the top of the hill and on the north side you have a fabulous view out over Clovelly and the Bristol Channel to Lundy. To the south there were great views of Dartmoor, it would be a lovely place for a house if a bit exposed. The mud at the top of the hill by the main tents did not dry up and they were still having to tow vehicles out at the end of the day, including some huge 52 seater coaches, even the tractors had fun with them.

I mentioned earlier that stands selling wellies did a roaring trade. I suppose we would think it is obvious to wear wellies to an agricultural show, especially after weeks of rain but maybe some people just don't realise and maybe the visitors to the area who hadn't been to a show and didn't know what to expect, but there were people turning up in flip flops, crocs, sandals, trainers and even one or two ladies in high heeled boots! Some people just gave up and walked around in bare feet and some went and invested in wellies. The weather looks good for the next week, but I will be taking my wellies with me to the Okehampton show just in case. Something else I would recommend when you go to a show is to buy a programme, there are lots of events but without a show guide you might miss something you would like to see. We didn't get one and I wish we had, I might not have missed the pig racing if I had had one.

We had a fairly busy day, for our type of stand we didn't expect to actually make a sale at the show but we did have quite a lot of interest and apparently some calls yesterday to place orders from people who had visited us at the show. It was hard work and really took 3 days out of the week to do it (possibly more with preparing flyers etc) and time will tell, but we think it was worth it. The boss was talking about the Royal Cornwall for next year but that is a 3 day show and very very big and will be very tiring (it is about an hour away by car and you have to get there by 8am and can't leave until about 6.30). We will see.

I would recommend anyone who can to visit an agricultural show, not only are they entertainment but they are part of our rural heritage and as we know the Royal Show which is held in the midlands each year has now closed because of a reduced amount of interest. We must keep these things going and we can do that by supporting the shows, either by exhibiting, or entering the competitions or just visiting.

Local accents

About a year ago I did a first level teacher training course and as part of it each 'student' had to do a short teaching session. The course was run in a college in Cornwall but most of the people on the course worked for the college but ultimately many came from other parts of the country, including Devon and counties further afield. One of the students did a session on 'How to speak proper' and by that he meant how to speak with a Devon accent and in Devon dialect. It was great, mostly because he got us incomers to practice using role plays and some folks hadn't got a clue what they were saying.

It is true to say that the Devon and Cornwall accents and dialects are still strong (especially in the rural and agricultural areas). We know several locals some of whom speak with such a broad accent it is very difficult to understand them (no idea if they understand us either!). Some locals though have very slight accents and I know a Cornish lady who I would have said was an incomer her accent is so slight.

I often think that I am a bit of an accent magpie in that wherever I go I pick up accents quite quickly, even so at the North Devon Show this week I was talking to a couple who had come to our stand (and were incomers like us) and they picked up straight away that I was 'not from round here'. I wonder if I went back home if friends would think I had picked up a burr.

I do think that local accents are so important and it saddens me sometimes when I talk to local friend's children who seem to have lost the accent altogether. I suppose it is because of the TV and radio where regional accents seem to have disappeared to be replaced by home counties or just a 'non' accent. I do hope that these beautiful voices aren't lost forever in the great melting pot that our country has become. I would have liked to have thought that if we had children that they would have picked up a local accent from school, but that just doesn't seem to happen anymore judging from children I know round here.

A few examples of local place names as they would be said by local people and confused the life out of us when we first came down here.

Launceston - Lanson
Holsworthy - Olsery
Bude - Boode

Here's to local accents, dialects and languages, lets hope we can keep this valuable and beautiful heritage going.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Show time - Part 1

Well its Show time down here (actually it started over 6 weeks ago with the Royal Cornwall Show at the beginning of June, but the local ones have just started). Over the next 4 weeks I will try to do my thoughts on the local Shows, starting with Woolsery Show which took place on Monday this week.

Didn't make it to Woolsery last year (place is officially named Woolfardisworthy West - there is another Woolfardisworthy near Crediton - but everyone locally calls it Woolsery, even the road sign as you get into the Village has both names), probably because of the weather! This year we are going to the Shows as M is on a stand so he gets in free and I go along too (have to pay sadly) to help out and wander around. The Woolsery Show is held actually down by Clovelly at Clovelly Court an absolutely beautiful Estate with dramatic views (when it isn't raining) across the Bristol Channel. To be honest it wasn't well signposted and you really needed to know where you were going, I nearly gave up as I kept thinking that I had missed it and then at the last minute found it.

The Woolsery Show has a reputation for being a good one, but I found it a bit small and wonder if a lot of stands just hadn't turned up because of the weather. Having said that it is one of the most 'cost effective' shows to get into, half the price of the North Devon Show for example and almost half the price of the Holsworthy Show. There were the usual stands for Cornwall Farmers, Mole Valley Farmers and Holland farm machinery together with lots of food wagons and a small beer tent, interestingly selling draught Pear Cider (Perry). There was also a few smaller stands selling things from clothing to garden furniture, cars and stoves. There was a craft tent with some interesting things including some wonderful cards and pictures made up from Photos taken by a local lady, just lovely and had to buy a few! There was a food tent exhibiting local food items but by the time I got there think some exhibitors had gone home.

In terms of livestock there were beef and dairy cattle and sheep with competitions and prizes and also a large equine ring with competitions and fun and games going on. The main ring had all sorts of events most of which I am afraid to say I missed as was either on our stand or wandering round the tents.

The weather held off for most of it with a few showers early and one or two sharp ones later on in the day. It was a bit windy and there was quite a bit of entertainment to see who's tents would fly off first, none did but it looked close sometimes. Wellies were definitely the thing, although the car park looked OK the show ground itself was a bog (to be expected really), the great entertainment at the end of the day was watching the lorries and vehicles getting out of the show ground being towed by tractors, we got out fine thankfully.

Next Show for us is the North Devon up near Torrington next Wednesday (It is the Totnes Show today if it goes ahead with all this rain). I will try to get some photos if it doesn't pour too much and also give some more detailed reports of the activities. This is a much bigger show and includes lots of other types of stock (Alpacas, Poultry and Piggies) and has 32 acres of ground for trade stands so will definitely need a whole day devoted to it, especially as I have agreed to do half a day on our stand. Don't forget if you are going to the shows, wear wellies and bring a waterproof!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Garden

As I mentioned in my last post there was a window in the rain when I could get out and pay some attention to the weed plot (sorry veggie plot). With all the wet weather the weeds have been coming on beautifully to such an extent that they have pretty much strangled the veggies, so action was needed.

M bought a fab piece of kit recently which is a petrol strimmer/chainsaw/hedge trimmer/brush cutter (lots of different attachments). So yesterday I got my PPE (personal protective equipment on - sorry no photos) and got strimming. We can now see where the veggie beds are supposed to be and even better, actually get to them. I also got down on my hands and knees and did some serious weeding and hoeing so now I have found the peas again! I would post some photos of the veggie plot I found but can't because it is so WET!

Talking of veggies we have a small selection, sadly not a fab selection like our friends have got, but then they do have a poly tunnel and his job is growing the veggies. I am most jealous of their soft fruits, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants coming out of their ears! We have a 'wild' loganberry but it doesn't have much in the way of flowers on it (hopefully it will perk up, I did give it rather a serious prune last year) and 3 apple trees. Two of these apple trees are ancient and hadn't had much love for a long long time, so these too were given a serious haircut and one of them has said thank you by giving us, oh, at least 6 apples (not ready yet). The tree that gave us lots of cookers last year was relocated in the spring by the landlord as he wants to put up a huge barn where the tree was growing, so just when it was flowering he dug it up and replanted it in probably the windyest place around. To start with it looked like it had survived and the blossom kept coming (and there was lots and lots of it), sadly now though it doesn't look well at all and we certainly won't get apples from it this year; maybe it will recover and we will get something next year.

Going back to our selection of veggies; we have:-
  • Runner beans but the bucket load - which is great cos we love them. They are not quite ready to eat yet but it looks as though from about next weekend we will be swimming in them. I did try to plant them at intervals so we wouldn't get a glut all at once but it doesn't seem to have worked.
  • Peas. I planted a row (well double row) of peas, probably about 40 plants worth and about 6 came up, now we have 3 that are producing! I have planted some more seeds so we may get more, it may be too late. Thankfully our friends have almost half a field full.
  • Courgettes. Last year these were a bit sad and only 2 of the 6 seeds I planted came up and only 1 plant survived. This year we have 4 big healthy plants which are flowering and producing nice courgettes, only Mr Slug seems to be helping himself before they get big enough for us, so action will be taken.
  • French Beans. Last year I sowed about 10 - 20 seeds and nothing happened. This year we have 6 healthy plants which are flowering and I noticed the first little bean on one plant this morning, so we should be OK for these this year.
  • Sweetcorn. Really don't know why I bother. Grew about 20 plants and 10 have survived the weed attack, frankly it is too windy here for them and I doubt we will get anything. Again, our friends grow hundreds of sweetcorn so we should get some this year even if they are not our own.
  • Tomatoes. M is in charge of toms and last year they got blighted and we lost the lot. This year (touch wood) we seem to be OK (might not be if this weather keeps up but we are spraying them more this year). He has lots on the go including Italian plum toms and lovely golden sungolds and plans to make a lot of passata with the big ones.
  • Garlic. Not a bad crop and will be useful in M's passata
  • Potatoes. Did well on the earlies, actually couldn't keep up with them so will be used for saute as they are a bit floury now. We also have a few main crop which are coming on well.
  • Chillis and peppers. Again M's responsibility and doing well this year, especially the ones we over wintered. We had never tried this before and it has worked a treat.
  • Herbs. Lots of basil, oregano, parsley etc etc etc.
  • Lettuce and carrots. Rubbish, last year they were rubbish too and this year they just haven't come up except for one lettuce and 3 carrots. Have planted more out but still not much coming up. Again our friends have tons so will be OK, but it is depressing that our own won't grow.
  • Beetroot. A few, but again a disappointing crop.
  • I nearly forgot Shallots. Some of them seemed to rot in the ground, possibly because the hens thought they were being helpful weeding the shallot plot, once we put net over it they obviously couldn't weed it anymore and actually the ones that looked a bit limp seem to be drying out OK. Not nearly enough for us, love pickled onions and M makes wonderful winter stews using shallots rather than onions (and other things of course), but it will do and again we shall beg/borrow or steal some from our friends as they are bound to have too many!
No cabbages or brussels or leeks this year, forgot about them, but we do have our friends supplies (hopefully).

I have grown some flowers this year too, (if you can't eat it I can't see the point of growing it) but they are pretty and we have dwarf sunflowers (poor things no sun) and some other things that I forgot to put labels with and so have no idea what they are, should get a nice surprise when they finally flower!

Anyway, at least a major weed operation has finally taken place and we can find stuff now, just must try to keep on top of it all. When the rain finally stops will try to get some piccies of the runner beans as they are quite something.

WET

Well honestly, what's with the Met Office. Earlier this year we were forecast a barbecue summer, and in the spring the Ash was definitely out before the Oak; Oak before Ask you'll get a splash, Ash before Oak you'll get a soak. Then St Swithins day it rained and we all know that if it rains on St Swithins day you get rain for another 40 days. Have to say that the St Swithins forecast has been the most accurate so far.

Last year we had the same thing, June was lovely and this year we had a mini heat wave for 3 days. Even Glastonbury wasn't a mud bath and Wimbledon went off without hardly a drop but NOW, its WET very wet. Last week many of the roads round here were only passable with a 4x4 and it really hasn't stopped (actually yesterday wasn't bad and I managed to get some gardening done but more of that in my next post). Also its Show season. M is off later today to help set up their stall for the Woolsery Show and it looks like it's going to be a damp one. The Launceston Show was a couple of weeks ago too and on the way to work through Launceston (or Lanson as its called by the locals) there was the biggest blackest fattest rain cloud positioned right over the show ground. A friend from work was there working that day and came in about 10.30 looking like a drowned rat, she said she had given up. It's such a shame, these Agricultural Shows are great fun and worth going but can be mud baths in the rain, mind you I suppose for the tourists it could be something to do on a wet day when going to the beach doesn't seem like fun. Hopefully all these wet summers won't affect the Shows, it would be a shame to see them go the way of the Royal Agricultural Show which did its thing for the last time this year. We have 3 more booked in for this season to have stalls at, Holsworthy, North Devon and Okehampton, lets hope that the weather is better for these.

Thing about the forecasts is that it is understandable that it is difficult to long range forecast and it appears that this year (as in the last 2 years) the problem has been the position of the jet stream which should flow well to the North of the UK at this time of year but is actually underneath us. I suppose it is difficult to predict this. I still hear rumours that August will be good at least for 2 weeks, but am not holding up much hope.

What does annoy me about the short range forecasts is that they are often wrong and that must be a real pain for people who rely on the forecasts for work. Take the silaging and harvesting activities, you need good weather beforehand to ensure the harvest is dry and good weather while actually harvesting, with the current weather there just doesn't seem to be enough time in between the rain to do any such activities! I also feel so sorry for all those folks who this year decided to holiday in the UK, perhaps forced to because of the recession and/or decided to because of the good long range weather forecast they had heard. Mind you we do have a friend with an indoor tourist attraction and they must be rubbing their hands with glee, so the rain isn't bad for everyone.

Hey ho, will just have to see if August does get any better and if we can finally use our new sun loungers! Happy Summer all.

Edited 29th July. Now the Met Office has revised its prediction of a Barbeque Summer and says that it only ever said that we would get 65% good weather! If you go onto the BBC website and look at the news about this you can see a link to what was said back in April and they definately said we would get temps above 30 degrees C and average or less than average rain fall. Ok we had a brief hot spell end June but what is the rainfall average, the average of the last 2 years? Sorry Met Office, not impressed and I am sure the folks who booked UK holidays are not either. If you can't do long range weather forecasts then don't!