Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Winter weather back again.

Not as much snow as the rest of the country, about 5cm on Saturday night followed by about another centimeter or two on Monday.  However, the temperatures have struggled to get above freezing over the last two days and we have a fantastic hoar frost (thick fog for two days).  Yesterday it got to about minus 2.4 and currently it is minus 6.7, sorry just had an update, it is now minus 7.4, how on earth can it get colder during daylight!  The sun is trying to get through, but not making much impact obviously.  Haven't been out of the drive since Saturday but need to get out today to pick up a prescription for our neighbours who don't have a 4x4 and need their meds.  Nice to think that we can be of some help, as long as our 4x4 can make it up and down the hilly untreated roads.  Must do a supermarket run tomorrow and pick up the birds (couldn't decide between a chicken, duck or goose so have ordered all 3, will freeze what we don't have on Christmas day).  Also have to pick up more insulin and syringes for our diabetic cat.  Thank goodness we did the majority of present buying last week, there are still a few bits I wanted to get but probably have to be late presents.  I do have a couple of items stuck in the post still, but the good news is that my amazon parcel that I ordered on the 8th of December and seems to have been round the whole of the North of the country is now in my local sorting office; we haven't had a postie since Friday but will see if I can pick it up from the sorting office when I get out tomorrow.  The main roads should be fairly clear but we have about 2 miles to go up and down single track roads to get to the main road, should be OK in the 4x4 if we take it carefully.

Seems like a big problem in this country when many other countries manage fine with much more snow than we get.  I think the issue here is that often during the day it warms up and there is a partial melt and then at night it freezes.  Of course this doesn't happen in places like Norway, Sweden, Canada etc so you end up driving on compacted snow, we have driven across the Rockies in February in deep snow with no problems at all.  Also in many countries they have snow tyres which in some places are mandatory in the winter.  If we are going to continue to have such winters it might be prudent to purchase these but they are not cheap.  Snow chains are another option but you cannot drive on clear roads with these on and putting them on and off with freezing hands is not a pleasurable pastime.

Probably won't post again before the holidays, so happy holidays to all who celebrate this time of year. :)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

End of our big freeze

It never really happened here.  We got a fairly good snow fall last Friday and until yesterday it hadn't gone as the temps were so cold.  Got down to minus 8 on two occasions, otherwise around the minus 4 mark during the night.  Most days it never got above zero, so pretty chilly.  Then the rains came; yesterday evening it got up to a balmy plus 4 and today it is hovering around the same mark, but lovely icy cold rain too!  It must be pretty dreadful for those stuck in snow in the rest of the country, but it would have been nice to have had a bit more.  It is only December though and Jan/Feb is supposed to be our cold time so winter isn't over yet!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

First snow

When we moved down here we were told that they never get snow.  Last two winters have been very snowy and our first sprinkle arrived on Thursday morning.  Big proper snow yesterday, settling quickly on the drive and roads, great fun getting to my friends for my annual hair cut!  Then it sleeted and then started a short thaw, result this morning is thick ice everywhere.  BMW now grounded for the winter!  Thank goodness for the 4x4 (although that isn't much good in ice as we discovered last Christmas day when it slid slowly and gracefully into the back of my parked car, now parked at the top of the drive so hopefully if we do take it out it won't do it again).  Minus 3 at 08.30 this morning and still at 10.30 below freezing, nice!  Fully stocked up so we will be OK for a few days...

Had to stop this for an hour as M told me we have sheep!  7 strays now fully enclosed in a field and trying to find out who they belong too.  Unfortunately you can't get close enough to them to see their ear tags, hopefully someone will claim them after my phone calls.  Also this year had had stray cattle and currently there is a stray fox hound in the vicinity, again someone is supposed to be coming today to try to catch him, what is it about our place and animals.  Also since I started writing it has started snowing again despite a forecast of sunshine!

Must go and start preparing the curry for tonight and marinade some chicken.  Hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is warm and dry! :)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Another month

Busy busy, mostly with the beads, having a lovely time at my mentor's studio, but really got to get my own lamp and equipment.  Have a new blog too now just devoted to the beads if anyone is interested (mind you that needs updating too!)

Also we had friends to stay for the half term week, they opted to camp (mad things), but it was a lovely posh bell tent.  Sadly the boys chickened out and spent most of the week in the house - wimps!  We had some good days on the beach and the boys went up into Dartmoor to get lost - I think they did too.

I have been reading a great book on Dartmoor, written in 1900 by a mad Vicar called Sabine Baring-Gould.  He wrote many books on this part of the world and also wrote an introduction to Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles at one point.  He also wrote a biography of another mad vicar from this part of the work, the famous Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow fame who I have written about before.

All the veggies are now finished and we have had our first hard frost, unfortunately this was also the night the chicken got locked out of her house.  Thankfully she survived both minus 2 degree temperatures and the fox, poor thing.

Charlie is still coping with his diabetes, not sure how, but is currently sitting in my chair! whilst I perch on the edge trying to write this.

We had a lovely day at Mum and Dad's too last weekend when it was Dad's 90th birthday.  I made one of my fudge cakes but unfortunately managed to forget to take the greaseproof paper of the bottom of one of the cakes and my lovely niece had to dissect it out!

After our day at Mum and Dad's we had a good and very long walk into the depths of Dartmoor from Belstone.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too cold.  Had to ford a few streams again, but it wouldn't be a walk on Dartmoor without getting your feet a bit wet!  We went up to the head of the Taw river along ancient (and modern) tracks and ate our lunch sitting on top of Oke Taw, just lovely.  Feel very stiff now, but I suppose that means it was doing us good.  Have a new Camera and took a few photos, need to get the software loaded so I can upload them to the blog. :)

Saturday, 2 October 2010


Good heavens, has it really been nearly two months since my last post, am getting slack!

Yes, yes, you say, you are busy, well aren't we all, it's no excuse.  Well I suppose being dragged up Dartmoor every weekend and spending time on my new wonderful hobby which I hope will become a job, and trying to keep up with my current day job, and trying to keep on top of the lawns and the garden, and spending time on the beach, could be good excuses?

So the garden first.  We had quite a good crop of runner and french beans, should have planted more peas out and the carrots have been good.  The spuds all got blight as did most of the tomatoes.  The chillies did OKish.  The beetroot looks OK and really should be pulled up now.  The cauli's bolted, someone ate all my swede, brussel sprout and winter cabbage seedlings!  Now having lots of blackberry and apple crumbles but they are pretty much over now.  Been sloe picking and have some nice sloe gin on the go.
Animals.  Charlie cat isn't really responding to the insulin and his back legs are very weak, but he still likes to sit in the sun (when we get any) and seems to spend much of the night out hunting.  The chicken is still with us, doing very well on her diet of chicken food and cat food (occasionally) shame there aren't any eggs.  I have looked into getting more, but the lady I want to get them from has had a rush on and won't have any POL's (young hens) ready till January.  We have little darlings in the fields (baby deer of course!) and a huge barn owl nesting in one of our outbuildings.  The swallows sadly have gone to sunnier climbs. :(

Dartmoor.  Had some great walks up from Belstone and then last week we discovered Okehampton Camp, which is an army base but you can check online when they are using the area for practice and when they are not you have a huge expanse of High Dartmoor available for walking.  The great thing about starting here is that you are almost on top of the moor, so even the highest Tors are accessible without getting completely worn out with climbing hills (cheating I know).  Last weekend it was clear as clear could be and we thought we could even make out our house which is 30 miles away.  We could see the sea on the Clovelly coast and the sea at Bude, amazing.

The beach.  Been good down here, M has taken up body boarding and has been having a great time.  I like beach combing (can't quite bring myself to squeeze into a wet suit, but maybe next year).

Work.  OK, but with spending cuts who knows what the future will bring (all my work is through the local council).  

The new hobby.  I have spoken before about jewellery making and it is going OK, may even have found an outlet but need to have enough stock before I can even think about putting anything in there, two pairs of earrings and a couple of necklaces will look at bit pathetic!  However, last week I went on a course to learn how to make lampwork beads (picture above).  This is done with glass and a torch and long metal sticks (in essence).  The beads are truly beautiful and I just love love love glass.  The first session went well and I have another one booked for next Friday.  I do need to get my own torch, but need to think about where to put it.  Watch this space for more pictures.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Dartmoor walk

Good walk on Sunday up on the moor (well a bit of it).  Parked up at Belstone (I used to love this place as a child as one of my favorite films when I was little was based there) and then walked down to the bottom of the East Okement Valley (you have to go under the A30, which is very noisy and really rather horrible, but once you get into the Valley you soon loose the sound of the road!).  The valley is lovely with the Okement running through it, burbling and bubbling over the rocks, forming deep pools and waterfalls.  There was hardly a soul about, a very magical place.

Eventually you come up onto the moor and we managed to leave the path and go straight up (for me) a rather steep hill; we did discover that of course there is a path which is not quite so steep!  We lunched in the shadow of Scary and Belstone Tors at the Nine Maidens (a stone ring); and then walked (I staggered as I have rubbish socks and had sore feet) back down to Belstone and a well deserved beer in the pub there.  I have attached a link to a rather nice descripton of the nine maidens and the folklaw attached to them.

Belstone is probably our nearest access point to the moor and there is lots of walks you can do from there.  You do need to be fairly careful as there is a military firing range close by, but you can check the firing schedule on-line so you know which bits you can access and which bits you can't.  They don't seem to fire much on this bit of the moor anyway.  Seems like we have quite a few walks to do up there now which will be lovely.

Oh yes, nearly forgot.  As we were on our walk we noticed a sign saying 'Permissive Path', it of course means a path that a landowner can close if he wants to.  I must admit having visions of walking down the path and finding lots of 'liberal' activities going on! (permissive society!?). :)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Country life update

I am afraid that we have summer, back in June, just the same as the last 2 or 3 years.  Very disappointing and is such a shame for all the folks who come down here for their holidays.  Suppose we must be thankful that we are not having the terrible flooding that is currently happening in some parts of the world.

The veggies are coming on and we have had our first runner and french beans.  Sadly the runners are not as tasty as the ones last year, I thought I would try a different variety, won't be doing that again!  Our tomatoes are ripening very slowly and I am concerned about blight, but we are treating them.  Our peas are over but seem to be flowering again.  The caulis are a disaster, have never been able to grow them well so might not bother next year.

We have new cattle in the fields and the farmer has done his second silage cut, in a short sunny gap in the weather. 

We fancy doing some walking but our waterproofs need waterproofing and everywhere is so muddy underfoot.  
Charlie cat sadly has not been responding to his insulin treatment and is now confirmed as having a growth hormone disorder called Acromegaly which is why he is not responding to the insulin.  There really isn't much we can do to treat the Acromegaly but we are going to talk to the vet about anything else we can do to help try to keep his blood glucose down.  Sadly, it is only a matter of time for him, but currently he seems happy, still hunts and likes to lie in the sun when it is out, so we just give him lots of care and cuddles and hopefully can keep him happy for as long as possible.

Inspiration for making glass beads

This is a poem from my childhood which inspired my love of all things glass, particuarly green (and blue) glass.


Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
Give them me.
Give them me. Give them me.
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
Give me your beads, I want them.
I will howl in a deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.
Give them me. Give them.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Fab wildlife sighting

Whilst we were watching the sun go down last night, M noticed something (or quite a few somethings) ,in one of the fields.  He got out the binoculars and there, in the second field from the house, were 3 Roe deer; looked like a Mum and her babies.  The babies (quite large ones) were playing at rutting.  They were there for ages, it was a lovely sight and great to see as we know we have deer but don't often actually see them.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Still busy

Well the garden is coming along although sadly we had to pull up our lovely huge cabbages as they tasted rather too, well, cabbagy and not in a nice way. The spuds are a bit floury but think that is due to lack of rain despite watering them, and we did run out of a rain water supplies, must get bigger tanks!

I bought a pack of mixed lettuce seeds and thought they would never grow, lettuces have been rubbish before, but they all grew and we ended up with more lettuces that anyone could eat, have been giving them away. They are starting to bolt now so will feed the compost bin, but the best ones have been the iceberg's, not bolted (yet) and crisp and tasty, have planted more.

Runner beans doing OK, lots of flowers but they are not setting at the moment so have planted a sweet pea that needed a home with the runner beans to encourage the bees. Tomatoes, carrots and peas doing OK too.

Also been busy with work, trying to keep 3 masters happy and juggle their requirements so I keep them all satisfied, is getting rather hard work, but can't complain I suppose.

Also been trying to do some more jewellery making, some items better than others and my bead loom bracelets were a bit big but I am learning. I am hoping to go to classes in the Autumn to learn to make my own glass beads, lampwork, they are just lovely and apparently not too difficult to learn, we shall see. It is finding the time at the moment to do these things when I need to be doing proper work and that is so busy.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Been a bit busy

Sorry been away for a bit, lots going on.

1. They have done the silaging in double quick time this year, no panicing because of looming storms (although think they did it so quick as the weather was a bit uncertain in terms of the forecast).

2. Veggie garden has gone mad, got peas, runner beans, french beans, tomatoes, potatoes, cauli, lettuce, cabbage, grapes, chillies, herbs of various varities, shallots and carrots all growing like mad. Should be eating our lettuces now, peas just starting to flower so won't be long. Can't wait, love watching everything grow but wish they would get on with it!

3. Guests, had lots of lovely guests, it's that time of year.

4. I have taken up a craft I used to do when I was younger, I shall go into more detail when I have a mo (just aren't enough hours in the day what with work, the garden and my bead working). Yes beading on a loom, learned in Northern Canada from the Native people (in the area I was, the Swappy Cree). I haven't done it for years and recently got inspired again. Keeps me of the internet! Here are a few photos of some practice items (first one - the brighly coloured glasses cord was a bit untidy- the second one which is still on the loom is a bit neater) but have just got a wonderful book with lots of fab ideas so watch this space as I will publish piccies of my creations).

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Confused animals

OK, so we have a diabetic cat who apart from his illness at least seems to understand he is a cat, whereas the other cat doesn't seem sure. To elaborate; Bob seems to think he is a dog and has done for some time, he doesn't eat dog food but he does like a nice walk around the fields with us. He also leans on you like a Labrador does.

Maybe a cat coming for a walk is not so odd, I have heard about other cats that do that, but what about a chicken who thinks its a cat! Ever since Charlie has got sick we have to be very strict about mealtimes and leaving food out, to the extent that we can't at all. This means that both cats have to eat all their food at the same time. This is no problem for Charlie as part of the problem with his diabetes and having a raised blood sugar means that he is permanently hungry (although recently this has improved as his treatment has progressed). Bob on the other hand can't seem to get the hang of this and does (even after a lot of encouragement) leave food.

At the same time all this started our remaining hen started to go downhill again, she hasn't laid since January and we really thought her time was coming, she stopped eating and looked really miserable. In order to help her try to eat we gave her a little bit of cat food (some people suggest this as a way to boost them when moulting and when they need a bit more protein in their diets, just for a while). Well the chicken just loves cat food (we don't give her chicken flavour of course) and so now rather than chuck out Bob's uneaten food we give it to the hen. She has improved a lot since this started! Now almost flying down the drive for a couple of bits of cat food. Nothing wrong with her then.

So a cat who thinks he's a dog (perhaps we should try him on dog food!) and a hen who thinks she's a cat. Oh yes and as the hen thinks she is a cat she thinks she can now come indoors because they do! Oh the joy of animals...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Dartmoor, The Saving

May I recommend this book to those of you who like fantasy/mythical books, with a hint of Arthurian legend and based on Dartmoor in the current day. It is by a local author who has self published and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The Dartmoor scenes are wonderful and areas most people who know Dartmoor would be familiar with. I have put a link to the authors website on my links, called 'Magical books based on Dartmoor'.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Update on animals

Well Charlie is doing OK and certainly doesn't seem to mind the injections, but he is terribly hungry. The vet isn't impressed with his blood sugar levels so we are going to try him on special diabetic cat food - will be looking on taking out another mortgage now! Mind you we have saved on the amount of food we used to throw out, so it might just equal out. Hopefully the special food will bulk him out (he has lost .3 kg in as many weeks and it shows) and help to bring his sugar levels down.

On other animal notes the cattle are back in the fields, lovely to have them back. Seems early this year but the farmer says no.

Lots of wildlife with lots of swallows and some funny birds that we haven't been able to identify yet. Quite a few deer and some foxes, so need to keep an eye on our remaining hen.

That's it for now, more soon, very busy and tired with all the tooings and froings with the cat.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Saturday walk, and a bit more history

We had a lovely walk yesterday up through Morwenstow a tiny cluster of buildings on the North Cornish Coast. It is almost as far North on the Cornish Coast as you can go before you move into Devon. There is a fabulous Church at Morwenstow and a beautiful old rectory. Close by at what is actually Crosstown but also considered by many as Morwenstow is the lovely old pub 'The Bush' which serves excellent food and good beer (sounds like an advert, but it is one of our favorite eating pubs).

The walk itself is circular and passes through open country, secluded glades and includes part of the South West Coastal path. This part of the Coastal path is not for the faint hearted, some is quite vertiginous (and I suffer from vertigo so had to 'cling on' for a few bits). There are also some very very steep bits. Sadly the weather was very misty yesterday but the views must be fantastic on a clear day. (I have added a link on my links to the website that has this walk on it). The walk also includes 'Hawkers Hut', this is a small Hut (I am sorry, completely forgot to take a picture, but we will go back there and I will take one then)built into the cliff by the eccentric 'Vicar of Morwenstow' Robert Stephen Hawker, who used to sit in the Hut and smoke opium and write poems. Some say he is the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier's Vicar of Alternun, but Hawker was not a naughty vicar, he was one of the only clergymen who would busy smugglers and pirates in the churchyard. He is also known as the person who gave us the Harvest festival as we know it and who wrote the words for the Cornish Anthem. He loved bright clothes, the only black items he wore were his socks (apparently). You can still find his writings in old book shops and the most well know of his biographers is Baring Gould, but it is difficult to find this book still in print anywhere.

The walk was well worth it and I would encourage anyone visiting this area to do it, stout walking boots are a must and a pole would be useful (wish I had not forgotten mine, might have made me feel less dizzy!). At the end of the walk there was a good pint of beer at the end in the garden of 'The Bush' or you can get teas at the church house down by the Church itself (St Morwenna).

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Summer is here!

I had heard that someone in South Devon had seen a swallow on the 1st April (I thought it was an April fools to start with) and did think that I had heard one at around that time but never saw any until yesterday when I saw 3 flying about late afternoon. Today I have seen one sitting on the electricity cables, so they are definitely here. Makes you feel all summery when you see them again.

Edited 24th April: Just looking back at last year, seems the swallows are 5 days late this year here, maybe they got delayed due to the ash!!!!!!!

Saturday, 17 April 2010


As I think I have mentioned, we have two cats, one long haired tabby and one short haired. When they were young I was always worried that they would get run over or hurt in one of their fights. They are now 11 and apart from a few minor problems have always been well.

Charlie Cat (the long haired one) has always seemed the more robust of the two, but ever since he was a young cat he has had a bit of a thirst. I have mentioned it at vaccination time to the vets, but no-one ever seemed very bothered about it. Also, since we have been down here and not working 9-5, they have tended to be fed (now and then) on a 'demand' basis (mainly because I cannot stand the nagging). They always have fresh water, but Charlie prefers to drink out of; the sink; your water glass when you are not looking; standing water outside and any other water that looks pretty horrible. About two weeks ago we noticed that we were having to fill up the fresh water next to their food alot more regularly and he seemed to be sleeping alot more. Also Charlie had developed a snore (he has had it for years, but it has got worse recently). Finally we decided that we really had to take him to the vet; now this is not a simple event, he is not good in cars (although behaved impeccably when we moved down here, involving a 6 hour car journey); he is known to be sick, wee and the other thing within 5 minutes of being in the car, so we have to plan well and try to make sure he hasn't had anything to eat for about 8 hours before the journey. On Wednesday evening last week we took the food away and Thursday morning we set off for the vet (he did wee, puke and the other thing but it was close to home, so I brought him back, we cleaned him up and went off again). The upshot of this is that A) he has a slight heart murmur (only minor panic on my part) and B) he is Diabetic (major panic). We really can't believe it, but here are some things to know about Feline Diabetes:-

1. It is common, 1 in 500 (some say 1 in 400) cats have it.
2. It is predominant in obese and/or male neutered cats (Charlie isn't fat, but he is a neutered male).
3. Bengal cats are particularly predisposed to it.
4. Signs of diabetes are; increased thirst (yes), increased hunger (yes), loosing weight (no).

Cats should not be fed on demand (smacked wrist), and some dried foods can cause problems as they are high in carbohydrates (it can also cause kidney problems if insufficient water is provided and can cause impaction of the cats gut - one of my parents cats developed this and did survive but it could have been otherwise).

Since his diagnosis we have had to feed him (and the other cat) at 12 hourly intervals followed 30 minutes later by a nice quick injection of insulin (I never thought my nurse training would be put to use on one of our cats). He is very good about this but is starving most of the time. We tried to keep them in at night to stop him filling up on mice, but this has proved challenging and last night he went AWOL when it was time for us to go to bed, so we left him out; thankfully he was waiting downstairs when we got up this morning. He is off to the vet hospital tonight for a day of checking his blood glucose tomorrow and hopefully it is good news, he is certainly alot more lively than he has been and has cut down on his drinking considerably. Our poor other cat is very fed up and cannot understand why he cannot have his food when he wants, we have been giving him a mid afternoon, small snack to keep him a bit less miserable.

So an adventure for us all! Hopefully Charlie will get stable on his insulin and hopefully we can feed him a bit more than his is currently allowed as he is so hungry. He is never now going to live to a great old age, life expectancy is about 2 years (on average) for diabetic cats, but he is 11 now, and the average age for cats is 14 years (although most people I know with cats seem to keep them going up to 16 or 18 years). He has had a good life and hopefully we can ensure that his quality of life for the rest of his days is not compromised too much. I will update for those animal lovers amongst you when we have more news.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Nutty weather

This must be the longest cold snap we have had in decades, I cannot believe that it is Easter and Scotland and N.Ireland are being swept by blizzards (although we have had snow on my birthday when I was a child; end of April; when we lived near London). The Cairngorm ski resort is closed down because of the conditions and thousands of people are without power! Even down here we are not exempt from the conditions. I had a particularly exciting drive across Bodmin moor yesterday morning in blizzard conditions. The temp gauge in the car dropped 6 degrees in under 30 miles/40 minutes as I drove from home up to the moor. Yesterday and today we have gale force winds and sleet, hail and the odd snow shower!, last night the temp dropped to 1 degree and today it hasn't got above 3! Thank goodness we looked ahead before planting out seeds last weekend, shall have to wait a bit before the spuds, runner beans and shallots go out! All the lovely daffs that had come out are now battered and broken and our poor hen (who hasn't been herself recently and maybe coming to the end) is really fed up and crouches in a sheltered outbuilding all day.

Apparently the Met Office are no longer going to do seasonal forecasts as they have been badly bitten with their mistakes over the last two years; remember our barbecue summer last year and our mild winter this winter! However, I saw a report on one news website that said a group of academic forecasters who rightly predicted the terrible weather we have had over the last 2 years have said it will be a hot dry summer. Difficult to imagine it at the moment and I am not holding my breath, but it would be nice to not be cold any more!

Edited Wednesday 31st March. Dartmoor has a snowy top and Exmoor does too. Still bitterly cold, very very very very windy! What an end to March.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Green and Yellow (with a bit of history thown in!)

When it was still dry, and we hadn't had rain until last week for some time; the farmers were busy spreading muck on the fields to fertilise them in readiness for silaging and summer grazing. It was a bit smelly but you get used to these things. Until the rains came, the fields were very brown and dry and the mud was the fields are green again and you can tell which ones have been fertilised and which ones haven't, there are definitely different 'greens' out there. (The field in the the background of this picture has been 'mucked' the field in the foreground hasn't)

An interesting story about this part of the world and relating to fertilising the fields is that centuries ago this area; from Hartland across to Bideford and down to Launceston (Lanson) and back across to about Wadebridge; was very rough ground and mostly heath and moor land, you can still see it today in fields which have not been managed. The land was pretty much unusable (probably why this area is still relatively 'remote') and the only way the farmers could make it productive was of course to use fertiliser. The best fertiliser for this land was sand, so farmers would go down to the beaches in their carts along the dirt tracks to get the sand, you can only imagine how much work this was. Then in the early 1800's someone had an idea to create a canal that would bring sand in from the coast to the inland farms. This eventually (after alot of work, planning and trying to find funds) resulted in the Bude canal, a small part of which can still be seen at Bude. Tamar lakes near to Kilkhampton were created as feeder lakes for the canal. Sadly when the railways came (and of course round here went; they had a shorter life here than the canal did) the canal was no longer financially viable. If you are interested in the Bude canal and its history, I can recommend 'The Bude Canal' by Helen Harris and Monica Ellis (1972!). Fascinating reading, the feats of engineering are quite amazing. The map above shows the route of the canal in red (taken from the internet), the picuture to hte left shows the remaining part of the canal by the sea at Bude Also interesting (and equally sad in its way) are histories of the railway in this Bude/Holsworthy area. Just a note to say, that generally this land is used for stock rather than arable farming, and you can see the moorland trying to take over in places still. If the farmers stopped grazing the land and fertilising it, it would soon revert to how it was 200 years ago.

OK, so enough history and 'green', what about the yellow. Well the spring flowers are now making a real effort, thanks to the rain and the odd bit of sun. I just hope that with the forthcoming cold spell over next week, it doesn't put everything back again (apparently Spring flowers are late this year). We would normally have planted our runner bean seeds (under cover) by now, but we will wait until it gets warmer again. Have been busy digging though and the veggie beds are looking good and all will be ready when it is time to plant out.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring is on its way.

Oh dear, 6 weeks since my last post, it has been very busy with work for both of us and just no time to keep this up to date; must do better (reminds me of my school reports!).

Been trying to get the veggie plots up to scratch again, lots of compost from our own little heap and some lovely well rotted chicken do dos that has been maturing for over a year in plastic bags in an outbuilding - nice! Had I heard about it in time we would have done the no dig method of gardening - look it up. It's too late now, but will definately look at it for next year, but will need to start collecting the chicken do dos again! Have planted marigold seeds out and getting ready to do peas, runner and french beans soon. I would have done this a while ago, but up until less than a week ago we were having severe frosts and night time temps of minus 5. Have to say mind you that we have very impressive coriander going in the porch which has survived the cold nights very well.

Been on some lovely walks round Hartland way and M bought one of those silly foil kites (the ones that lift you off the ground) so we have been flying that from the fields (in amongst the silage, yes it's spreading time again and they always seem to do it when I have the washing out, some of our clothes have a lovely 'eau de countryside' aroma about them!). The kite is great and can really pull you around, you have to keep tight hold of it as if it crashes it can seriously damage it (and anyone standing underneath it I expect), it certainly makes your arms and shoulders ache. We also took it to the beach yesterday, but the wind wasn't really strong enough and you do have to keep an eye out for stray small children or dogs that might get swept off the ground if it flys too low... lots of fun.

The snowdrops are out and have been for a while, and we have crocuses. In the last couple of days the first primroses have poked their faces out, they obviously think Spring is here, but I do wish it would get a bit warmer, we are still very cold with a fierce (most of the time) easterly or northerly wind; really had enough of being cold now. The cats are enjoying the sun though. This is a picture of Charlie enjoying some rare spring sunshine!

The yellow hammer is also back, he/she disappeared for ages, so its really nice to hear it again, only not so early in the morning. We also have a chaffinch, this is a newbie as I haven't heard him/her before round here, so the word has obviously got round that this is a nice place to stay. On the subject of birds we still have only one hen we just haven't had the time to go and get any more; it looks as though the two Easter weeks are going to be quiet on the work front as most of my work at the moment is with people in the tourism and leisure industry (not surprising really bearing in mind where we live) and they won't want to see me over the Easter hols; so it should be a good time to introduce some more birds to our hen house. We are not sure that our current incumbent will be very pleased as she gets all the food and all the treats, but it will be good for her to share again!

Meanwhile I have been trying to get on top of my wine collection and have now bottled the banana (15% ABV) and racked off the gorse (25% ABV - that can't be right) and the primrose (our own flowers, I didn't destroy the wild ones of course). The banana looks good but tastes of just alcholol, maybe it needs to be treated like a vodka, but it is a bit disapointing, I think I left it on the lees (the yeast and bits) too long.

I have also restarted to use my bead loom, something I learned from my sister who in turn learned it from the native Cree in Northern Canada. Sadly my eyesight is not what it was and even with glasses it is difficult. I am going to get myself a proper loom and some slightly larger beads and keep at it. I do find it quite relaxing. Photos will follow.

Right must stop procrastinating and go back to some work.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Still no more chickens

I went to look at some hybrids last week so that our poor little girl isn't lonely after her friend went to the great hen house in the sky. Hybrids are generally bred for egg laying and lay more eggs than pure breeds, however they are sometimes not as hardy as pure breeds and don't live as long. You can get hybrids bred for meat birds too. Most eggs that you buy from a supermarket come from hybrid layers whether these be from the nasty battery hen system or free range. Most commercial egg businesses tend to replace their hybrids after 18 months, even the free range ones. That may or may not be true if you buy your eggs from the farm gate or from farmers markets (I don't know to be honest). After about 18 months the shell quality of some of the more commercial hybrids can not be as good as with younger hens.

So you may ask why am I looking for hybrids and not pure breeds? Well it comes down to cash in some ways, as hybrid pullets (pullets; or POL, point of lay; - hens of about 18 weeks that are just coming into lay for the first time) are not as expensive to buy as pure breeds, however of course the pure breeds may last longer (as long as they don't get eaten by Mr Fox or get egg bound or develop other problems). Some hybrids are bred specifically for free ranging and lay more eggs (not as many as some of the really commercial hybrids such as the ISA's, warrens etc) and are good hardy birds that can live good long lives and these are the ones I was looking for/at. Problem is that I have rather fallen in love with a pure breed, the Welsummers, they are so so beautiful so now I am not quite sure what to do. The most hardy of the hybrids (the Black Rock) seems to be difficult to come by at the moment and their nearest relatives that I can fine are mostly very black!! (some have lighter head and neck feathers than others). I thought I liked this but when I went to see some similar hens I did think that I do really prefer the brown hen; you can get brown hybrids (I am thinking here of the Calder Ranger, also known as the Columbian Black Tail) that are hardier than the ISA's (these are the ones we got first time), but I am not sure if they are as hardy and long lived as the Black Rocks. What of course we could do is get a couple of the Calder Rangers and a couple of Welsummers. Need to put my thinking cap on about this one. The other option would be to raise some chicks, but this takes a lot of time and care and attention and we currently are not set up for this logistically, so something for the future perhaps.

It's quite fun looking at all the different breeds and there is a poultry auction at the agricultural market next Saturday so I might go for a look. I am not sure that I would buy from auction as you can get caught out and end up with cockerels rather than hens if you don't know what you are doing, sorry to say that there are some unscrupulous folks out there who will try to pass off a young cockerel as a hen. Also you really need to know that the hens have been vaccinated against the nastiest hen diseases, mareks for one. I will go and have a look anyway and report back. Who knows by this time next week we may be the proud owners of more girls.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

A glorious end to a funny day

Been feeling a bit low all day after the hen affair last night and the remaining one does seem a bit lost today, poor thing, she'll be OK.

We were told when we came here that there was a barn owl, but I have only really seen an owl type flying thing a couple of times (it is very quiet on the owl calling front at night), then tonight I saw him just as the sun was going down, as I saw this thing flying towards me I thought it was one of our resident buzzards, but as he flew past I saw his white tummy and head and he was most definitely owl shaped.

Secondly, we have a clear night and I have just seen the biggest blood red moon rising over the horizon, at first I thought someone had a huge fire, it was that colour and then very very slowly it rose, just lovely. So a nice end to an otherwise odd day.

Sad day

Our lovely 'Librarian', so named because she was very intelligent and inquisitive (probably should have called her the Professor), has finally gone to the great hen house in the sky. I think I have related how she had a prolapse last August and never laid an egg since but seemed generally happy enough most of the time. She ate well, ran down the drive for food, scratched about and generally did what chickens do. Then when the cold weather came she seemed to go downhill and started sleeping in the nest box (mind you it was the warmest place to be). She still seemed OK apart from this and the fact that she couldn't jump like she used to. Then two days ago she stopped comming out of the nest box and was limp and sad looking (if you know what I mean), she was still eating and drinking but just stood around in the hen house looking really fed up. I guess we should have done the decent thing then but couldn't bring ourselves to do it. Yesterday she was no better and wasn't really eating at all; so after dark (so as not to distress her too much and not to distress the other one who was asleep on her perch), we gently took her out of the hen house, gave her a cuddle and put her to sleep (I won't go into details).

We are both sad as she was a lovely hen, but at least now she is not suffering anymore. The other hen does seem a bit distracted today but she has been running about on her own for a while (the other one kept herself to herself) and sleeping on the perch on her own for about a month. We still don't feel the run we have is terribly fox proof and the bad fox time is comming up in the spring when they have cubs, so we have to decide whether to get more hens or wait until we find our own place and can put something permenant in (we don't really want to put a permenant run in here when we don't know how long we will be here). If we don't get more we will have to think what to do with the remaining hen (Houdini as she can escape from anywhere if she wants), as having one hen on her own is probably not a good idea, although aparently my Grandmother had one hen for years as a pet. It must be said, that the remaining hen is fit and healthy and still lays lovely eggs.

Sad times, but in a sense not, we have done the right thing and it was over very quickly, she would have felt no pain or anxiety, so the only creatures really suffering are us as we miss her.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

They think its all over

Now the snow has finally gone and the land has gone all mushy again, everything seems to think its spring time. The birds are singing like there is no tomorrow and the bulbs are pushing green spears through the sodden (and still slightly chilly) ground. But... last year we had a lot of snow in early Feb and again in March, so think some prudence would be wise.

The cats are much happier and whereas Charlie would only go out for calls of nature (and I don't mean the birds) with company when we had snow (no idea why, odd cat), he is now out and about at all hours bringing us nice presents! The Chickens are happy too, one was looking decidedly ill while we had the snow but she is a new chicken now, tail and head up, scratching about and looking good. The only hangover from the snow is that when it was cold she stopped perching at night and took over one of the nest boxes (full of straw) as her new boudoir, she has clearly decided that this is a much nicer place to sleep and hasn't perched since (think we might need to keep an eye on this and encourage her back again as sleeping in the nest box isn't good for hens). She also seems to have lost the ability to hop; chickens can jump quite high if they want to (ie if you dangle a nice worm in front of them they get achieve quite a height, will try to get a picture but usually over very quickly); since the snow this hen can't seem to do this anymore and for a bit this meant that she couldn't get onto the ladder leading to the hen house; she has now learnt how to get onto this without jumping up to it. Don't know why this should be, but other than that she is back to normal.

Getting interested in sheep now and hope for a good book on sheep for my birthday. Lamb prices are going up and will get even higher when we new spring lamb comes on the butchers slabs at Easter. You can also milk them (probably not the same breed, hence wanting the book to find out more). Milk is also quite an interesting idea; there was a good programme on Radio 4 last Sunday/Monday about micro dairies (we have heard of micro breweries, why not micro dairies), when small producers have a small herd and sell direct; we have an old dairy here so could we turn this farm back to how it was - interesting times.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Still got snow

I think as for many people the novelty is now wearing off. We have done sledging in the sheep field, trying to dodge the do dos; we have been shopping for our elderly neighbours (twice as we forgot to ask one couple and they rang up to ask if we could get into town for them); we check the sheep; we try to persuade the hens that it is OK to come out of the hen house; and we are trying to persuade one of our cats that outside is OK - for some reason he is very reluctant, not sure why); we have thrown the snowballs, but not yet made a snow man. But it is cold, no central heating here and although the woodburner does a good job we don't want to burn all our wood and sometimes it needs emptying so we can't have it going 24/7. It is also a pain to go out in the car; can we get out onto the main road, will we get up the nasty hill that lies between us and the main road, will we slide into the ditch as a friend did the other day and has now damaged the power steering of the only vehicle that they have that can get them up their half mile drive which is a nice hill too.

We did have a nice snowy walk to the pub yesterday though through virgin snow. No-one had been down our lane at all apart from on foot. On the way back there was one set of tyre tracks but that was all. The pub was packed (and hot) and most of the folks in the village had been having lots of sledging fun, which for some seemed to have resulted in alot of hand injuries (I have also damaged my right hand forgetting to move it out of the way when I had to slam one of the outbuilding sliding doors shut - clever girl; I have a ring on this finger and really should get it cut off, but that would involve a 30 minute drive, possibly longer, to our nearest minor injuries unit and just can't face it). M bought me one of those lightweight walking sticks for walking on Dartmoor for Christmas and it was useful yesterday if only to find the icy bits beneath the snow.

I was supposed to be going to St Austell for work tomorrow but have put that off. It is my Mums birthday on Sunday and I would like to go to see her but have to cross Dartmoor and that really doesn't seem like a good idea at the moment. Thankfully both of us do have enough work to do from home, but I find it difficult to concentrate on it. More snow forecast tomorrow and then we will see, the forecasts change all the time and no two are the same, even the BBC local and nationwide forecasts are different. Hopefully it will all go soon, but our next issue will be ice even if it does rain. Wish we lived somewhere where you got snow all the time, then I think we would be better set up for it, would certainly have snow tyres if we thought we would get every winter like this. Also is it over, it might rain next week, but last year we got more snow in Feb and March, will just have to wait and see.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

This is how it should be

We had a bit of snow last night and this morning and it makes the little lanes round here treacherous. I think I have mentioned before that where we live it is (by the shortest route and there are many different ways to go) 2 miles (about 5 minutes) onto a main road, ie two lanes. To get there you have to negotiate the little single track Devon lanes and hills.

Our neighbours don't have a 4x4 so today asked that if we were going into town could we please get them some supplies. Well I have just managed to slide into town - quite an experience with jackknifed tractors with trailers blocking the lanes etc and lots of slidey bits - and get some provisions to cover us for the next few days. Even though after snow tomorrow the weather should be better many of the lanes don't thaw out for a while and become ice rinks and will make getting onto the road even more difficult.

There is something rather warming about being able to help out your neighbours, it is how things should be.

As a PS, I was given a lovely little bottle of sloe gin as a thank you - that will go down well in front of the fire tonight !!!!

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year guests

Our lovely friends and their very well behaved and very entertaining two boys have just gone home after a 5 day visit. They live in Norfolk and arrived on Wednesday morning just after 9 (I hadn't finished cleaning up!), they had left at 2 in the morning worried about a snow forecast they had.

We have had a lovely few days together, I have taught the boys to play backgammon, I wonder how long it will take before they start playing for pennies! The weather luckily has been glorious and we have had a nice walk on the beach on New Years Eve day and they have been up to Dartmoor and visited Clovelly. It is very very very cold though - as it is everywhere and as mentioned before we have no central heating. Our two grown up friends (if you know what I mean) were great and managed not to freeze in our spare room which can't have achieved a temperature of above about 7 degrees the whole time they were here. I commented this morning that it was minus 5.5 at 08.30 and Mr friend said he had recorded minus 4 and that was the warmest the room had got (cheeky, what he meant that he had been for an early walk round the fields and that was the temperature there NOT in their room).

All of us did manage to acquire a cold over New Year but I had one brewing for a while, so we were quite tired on New Year's Eve, we weren't sure we would make midnight and Mrs friend nearly didn't. However, in the end we walked up to the top field just before to make the most of the wonderful views across Okehampton and all around so we could appreciate all the firework displays and there were lots. There were also alot of strange slow moving lights in the sky which I first thought were helicopters or aliens (:)) but they turned out to be Chinese lanterns which I have seen in shops but never lit up floating in the sky before, very nice, must get some next year.

Our friends are the perfect guests, the boys were entertaining and Mrs friend won't keep out of my kitchen and insists on washing up, cooking etc. She is too good to me and makes me lazy. They also brought lots of lovely food with them including a home made rabbit and venison pie, sausages and a leg of venison which is in the freezer as we had our 'own' pork for Sunday lunch yesterday.

It is very quiet now and I almost feel like you did as a kid, sad that Christmas and New Year are over. I feel slightly daunted about 2010 as the work situation looks a bit thin at the moment although I am sure it will come good. Be interesting to see what this year brings.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas (if you celebrate it) or good other festivities if you celebrate other festivals at this time of year and I wish everyone a peaceful and happy 2010.