Fancy coming for a walk round the fields with Tess and me? It's a while since you came and, as it is the last Friday in September, Autumn has already "set in" as they say around here.
Down the yard the hens scratch desultorily in the grass. They are not hungry but wander about looking for the odd bug or worm. As we go into the pasture the cool South Westerly wind catches the gate and slams it shut, scattering the sheep.
The hawthorn leaves are beginning to turn. Here and there is a hawthorn tree with plenty of ripe, red berries but many have no berries at all this year, which is not good news for the fieldfares and redwings who will shortly put in an appearance. They have already been seen quite near and when they come we shall probably hear them before we see them.
Most of our hawthorn is very old, the trunks are split and gnarled. But they are truly a tree of the North, hardy and used to clinging on tenaciously against the elements, so they don't die easily (unlike the sheep who can die at the drop of a hat). The hawthorn leans with the prevailing wind (Westerly here) and weathers most storms, although a few years ago a gale lifted one - roots and all - clean out of the ground and deposited it upside down in the middle of the pasture.
The leaves on the willow by the beck are just beginning to turn yellow. This too is an ancient tree with a gnarled trunk - it has always been there within the farmer's memory.
On the blackthorn the sloes are ripe and squashy. The birds avoid these unless times are very hard as they are so sour. This afternoon, on our last walk of the day, we shall take a bucket and pick the sloes, bring them in and pop them in the freezer, then tomorrow put them into a demijohn and pour in a couple of bottles of vodka, give them a good shake, add some sugar and leave them until Christmas.
The thistles have gone to seed. Each plant sports a top knot of thistledown which will blow about in the wind, ensuring a healthy crop of thistles for the butterflies next year. However many the farmer chops down each year at least as many survive to flower and seed!
Blackberries continue to ripen but are beginning to go over the top. The day is fast approaching (October 15th) after which one should never pick blackberries (the devil is said to urinate on them on that day, says folklore) sorry but I am afraid you can never get far away from a lavatorial theme on the farm! The blackberry leaves meanwhile are turning beautiful shades of red and yellow, proving once again that Nature creates wonderful works of art every Autumn.
The fields are greening up after hay and silage making. Although Autumn grass is of poor feed quality it will provide enough for the Swaledale sheep, who are used to a meagre diet and are very hardy. We shall supplement the grass with sugar beet and they will thrive.
Where there are rabbit holes, Tess will find them. She goes carefully up each hedge, setting up grey partridge and pheasant who rise and fly off, seriously annoyed at her intrusion. Where she finds a rabbit hole, she sticks her head down and calls, "Oy, you down there, I know you are there!"
Elderberries ripen by the day. The birds love them but unless you are a wine-maker they are not much use, so we leave them for the fieldfares and redwings
On our return home I notice this lovely patch of lichen on the garden wall - inspiration for any embroiderers out there. And on the cotoneaster growing along the wall the berries hang like so many red beads, to tempt the blackbirds. One day soon they will descend and clear the bush in the space of an hour.