Thursday 31 March 2011

Out like a lion!

March crept in gently with warm, sunny weather and a sneaking hint that Spring was on its way. True to the old adage it is going out like a lion as today is gusty and rainy. It is almost always true that old saying about March - "In like a lion and out like a lamb and vice versa.) However, the temperature is quite high and I am keeping a sharp eye on the marsh marigolds in the beck - they are heavily in bud and the first one to burst into bloom is always on the same plant at the foot of an alder tree. That first burst of pure gold heralds Spring for me. After that Winter has no chance against all the burgeoning plants.

Speaking of plants - trees actually - I read yesterday that the first trees to appear up here were probably Birch, followed by hazel, pine, elm, oak and alder.
Sadly all the elm trees - the quintessentially English tree - have perished, victims of the deadly Dutch Elm beetle. Here on the farm there are a lot of alders and they are lovely - beautiful shape in Winter, lovely red catkins in early Spring and then marvellous when in leaf.

We ate the spelt bread at tea time yesterday - it was delicious although I shall put alittle less honey in it next time as it was rather too sweet for my taste. One of my readers said in the comments that she had a recipe for bread raised with beer - I might try that one day when I feel a burst of enthusiasm coming on. But the mention of beer reminded me of an old Yorkshire rhyme. To non-Yorkshire readers it might be a bit hard to translate - but you should get the general idea:-

This verse is to be said when a man is sitting with a glass of beer in front of him and he is about to drink it:-

Oft times tha's made mi pawn mi clothes,
Oft times tha's made mi friends mi foes,
But now tha's here afore mi nose,
Up tha pops and down tha goes!

Have a nice day.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Today's happenings.

This morning I had my first attempt at making spelt bread. In case you don't know about spelt - it is (in the farmer's opinion) an inferior kind of wheat - it tends to grow on hillsides in poorer countries and is a poor cropper by today's standards.
But it has a delicious taste and is become more popular. So much so that our local supermarket has started stocking bags of spelt flour.

My first attempt was only fairly successful. We are going to eat it at teatime and I am sure it will taste good but I know that I left it to rise for too long, so thatit hung over the edges of the loaf tins. However, it has left a lovely smell of baked bread throughout the house, which is a better smell than we have had around for much of the week!

This afternoon we had our Poetry afternoon and I was host this week. Seven of us met and read our favourite poetry. It is one of my favourite days in the month as we all get to hear poetry we don't know and are introduced to fresh poets. Today's highlight had to be S reading The Lion and Albert by Marriott Edgar. The poem is printed in a book called "Shout, Whisper and Sing" and the instruction at the top of this poem says "This must be read with a pseudo Northern accent". Well we have S in our group and she comes from Lancashire and her accent is perfect. Oh how we all enjoyed her reading and there was no pseudo about it.

Now they have all gone, the cups are in the dish washer and it is time to get the tea for the farmer, but it has been an enjoyable day thanks to good friends who are such good company.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

My lovely present!!

Regular readers of my blog will know that a fortnight ago I was lucky enough to win a hundred dollar give-away from Pamela at From the House of Edward (a lovely blog - see my side bar if you want to read her beautiful prose).

In order to claim my prize I had to go to, which is a site run in association with National Geographic, to sell artisan products from all over the world - what a difficult choice it was!

In the end I chose this beautiful bag, made in leather, hemp and cotton in Thailand. I ordered it and within a week it was here, beautifully packaged and such an exciting present to open.

The service of novica was absolutely faultless. I made a mistake on my order and sent them an e mail which was answered in a short time by a lovely lady called Stephanie. Everything went like clock work and now I am the owner of this lovely bag.

So thank you so much, firstly to Pamela and then to Novica and finally to Team Thailand. All that remains now is for me to go out somewhere where I can show it to everyone - and I know it will be well and truly admired.

Monday 28 March 2011

A Day Out

Out to lunch yesterday at one of our favourite venues, The Black Swan Hotel in Ravenstonedale - it even sounds lovely, doesn't it? We met friends and spent two and a half hours of pleasant conversation and delicious meals as well.

Part of the pleasure of going for us is the lovely journey there; a journey of about thirty five miles through spectacular countryside. After leaving Wensleydale we drive along the side of the Mallerstang (a fell with a Viking name, as have many of the fells around here) and then turn across the high moor. There is little traffic on the ground and the traffic above consists mainly of lapwings, curlew and the odd skylark.

It was a sunny, hazy day with a sharp wind but the walk with Tess on the way there was lovely. The expression "Blue remembered hills" came to mind when I photographed the Mallerstang in the distance.

The white farmhouse looks splendid in its own little valley and, although it looks very isolated, it is only about a mile from the road to Kirby Stephen - a little market town.

On our walk we came aross two beautifully-preserved lime kilns. Lime has been used from the very earliest times, both as mortar for building and also to spread on the land. It always made sense to build the kilns near to where the limestone was located, so that stones didn't have to be transported. To find two so close together and in such good condition was exciting and looking at the surrounding totally empty countryside, it was easy to imagine men working in such conditions - wonderful in Summer, not so good in the depths of Winter.

Friday 25 March 2011


Any day now the sheep that we over-winter will be going back to the high-tops above Buttertubs for the Summer. And they know it! However much we try to keep them in one field they try to get out. They are adept at jumping on to walls and jumping down the other side or pushing open gates which are not securely fastened. And, as every farmer knows, the expression "following like sheep" is very true - one gets out then they all get out. So the time has come when they are beginning to shed great dollops of their fleeces and their feet are getting far too nimble for their own good.

Half of me will be sorry to see them go but the other half knows that life will be infinitely simpler without them over the Summer. These Swaledales are bred for the high tops, bred to be hefted and to roam far and wide in their search for the tough grass they love best.

In the meantime, as we wait for them to be collected, the farmer has hired a mammoth "muck-spreader" which looks like a giant Leviathan and flings the muck about the field with gay abandon. Even with all doors and windows closed (and believe me they need to be closed as the fields are spread with manure) the machine makes a great clanking noise. This afternoon he has taken it up on to the hill top to spread a friend's horse manure - I can see him on the horizon and I can hear the machine from here - and I am quite deaf!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Everything's Jumping out for Spring.

I did a spot of wardrobe tidying this morning, discarding ancient clothes, putting Winter woollies away (hope that is not too optimistic!) and reorganising and checking whether I need anything new. Then I did an hour in the garden, carrying on with tidying the front flower beds - and what a lot has come into bloom since yesterday.

Tulips which were bought for us by our dear friends in The Netherlands (and where better to receive bulbs from?) have opened overnight and are showing their colourful faces to the sun; anemone blanda shows her vivid blue daisy-like blooms; large bobbles of primula denticulata in all shades from white, through lilac to dark purple; last but by no means least this absolutely exquisite lenten rose.

After lunch, my daughter-in-law (I am so lucky to have such a thoughtful one who regularly takes me out now that I can't drive) took me to an art exhibition and on our way back we spotted this huge aircraft coming in, as we suspected, to drop a line of parachutists. I can't think of a better day than today on which to float through the skies on a parachute.

Finally into our little market town where K persuaded me to buy some long shorts, or short trousers, which ever way you look at it - calf length. I protested that I was too old but she virtually pushed me into a changing room and when I put them on I knew that she was right!

A lovely day - Spring has definitely made an early visit here in the Dales - alright it may not last and tomorrow it may well be wintry again but who cares, Spring definitely has the upper hand and is winning. There is a lovely poem about the fight between Winter and Spring - I think it is by Roger McGough - I shall have a look for it before tomorrow's post. Have a nice evening.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

A short blog today.

Just a short post as it is a lovely day and I am busy in the garden but two rather sad tales to tell.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a photograph of two white wild ducks who had already paired up and were happily setting up home at the side of the beck. Sadly they have both been found dead with their heads bitten off, but not eaten. We are blaming the fox but, of course, poor old fox gets blamed for everything and it may not be that.

And sad to report that my oldest hen, a crested bantam, was dead in the hen house this morning. She was at least twelve years old and has been failing for some time but seems to have died peacefully overnight. Always sad to see them go but at least I know she has had a long and happy life.

Enjoy this wonderful weather.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Able to farm at last.

Half way through the morning a little bird hit the kitchen window with such force that I expected to find it dead on the path but no, it was badly winded, its beak open and laying quite still. I left it there - the farm cats didn't seem to be about and I didn't want to scare the poor thing rigid by picking it up. Half an hour later it had gone, so I hope it recovered and flew off.

At last the land is dry enough to begin the Spring's work. These operations have taken place every Spring for hundreds of years - all grassland farms go through the same process and it is this continuity that appeals to me. First of all the land is harrowed. In my father-in-law's day the harrows would be heavy cast iron ones pulled by work horses; now they are much lighter harrows and in the few years before he died he would complain bitterly that the new harrows were not doing the land any good.

Then the land is fertilised. In the old days all manner of things was spread - bone meal, basic slag - by now the farmer uses a chemical fertiliser which he mysteriously calls 20:10:10. This is spread on all the grass fields and then they are rolled with a heavy roller.

Our Winter manure is already lying in a heap in the field rotting down nicely. Once the grass begins to green up, then the farmer will hire a huge mechanical "muck spreader" for the day and, working from early morning until dark he will - hopefully - manage to get the whole of the farm spread in one day.

Then it is up to Nature to take its course.

On our walk to photograph the farmer we passed one of our old field barns which is rapidly falling into disrepair. I held the camera through a hole in the door and took this photograph. There is something so sad about these barns as they all lose their stone slabs off the roofs and then begin to fall down. In the old days, when they were used to house cattle in the Winter, they were such an important resource on the farm - now they are totally redundant.

We did once try to have planning permission to convert one of these little barns into a retirement home for the farmer and me, but we were turned down and now that barn too is beginning to fall down.

Incidentally, walking round the fields today, I see they are littered with bits of soft fleece which are falling off the sheep. It almost makes me wish I could spin as it all looks so beautiful - if I knew anyone who did spin I would gather it up for them.

Monday 21 March 2011


The farmer and I had to see the Land Agent today which meant a trip to Bedale, a little town only twelve miles away. It is a pretty little town but people rarely stop there - it being the quick route through from the Yorkshire Dales to the A1.

It is just one main street really and that has a wide cobbled verge on either side. There has been a market here since the 13th century. There are beautiful old houses lining the street on the top side but unfortunately there are so many cars parked that it takes away much of the beauty of the architecture. The church which you can see in one photograph stands at the entrance to the town and is mainly fourteenth century.

In such a small town would you believe there are three flower shops and they all have their flowers on the outside of the shop which makes for a pretty walk down the main street. Notice also the seed potatoes outside the garden shop and the roasted bones outside the petshop - what torture it must be for dogs going past and I wonder if a stray dog might nip over and pinch a bone - I do hope so.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Along the riverside.

All the rivers in the Yorkshire Dales are rivers which flood easily. Water comes down from the fells in times of extreme weather and some of the rivers can rise as much as twenty feet in an hour. This afternoon we walked with Tess to where two of these rivers converge - the Ure and the Cover. It is one of my favourite walks as there is such a wealth of wild flowers.

As I suspected we were a little too early for most of the wild flowers. But the pussy willow was just coming into leaf, and we saw our first sprig of hawthorne (we used to call this bread and cheese when we were kids and used to eat the sprigs while they were young.)

Purple violets were blooming amongst the grass and small tuffets of butterburr were just beginning to push their strange flowers through the ground elder.

This land belongs to the Scrope (pronounced Scroop) family who have lived in Danby Hall for generations. I took a photograph of the distant hall and tried to include a flaming orange willow on the river bank - they are all over at present and look liked lanterns.

Both rivers are very low at present and the land is drying up nicely. The photograph shows the Cover as it is today and the stones show where it has brought down material when it is in flood. In the foreground the large stones have been put there to stop the bank eroding away.

From the bridge I spotted Mr and Mrs Duck bush in the water. They are there in the photograph somewhere, although whether you can see them or not I shall not know until I put the photo on my blog.

All among the stones pied wagtails worked busily, their tails tipping up and down making them easy to identify. The whole earth is waking up; there is a smell of Spring in the air and tomorrow it will be here. Here's wishing you all a Happy Spring Equinox.

Saturday 19 March 2011

The Hens have a Birthday.

We have been waiting for a calm day since our new cockerel arrived. If we try to clean out the hen house on a breezy day the straw blows everywhere and there is enough straw blowing about from bedding the cows down without adding to it.

Today it is calm and fairly sunny and this morning the farmer emptied the henhouse. After lunch we both brushed down the cobwebs and scraped all the surfaces clean. The hens knew we were up to something and kept coming in to have a look.

Then the farmer fetched the straw and we scattered it about the floor. I got a scoop of corn and scattered amongst it so that they could have a good scratchy search when they came in for the night. Then it was fresh water, gather up the eggs and leave them to it. They were in and scratching in no time at all. It is good to see them so happy - happy hens make for good eggs!

Then Tess and I went for our walk. The first thing we saw was this balloon waving about in the hedge. These balloons (and even worse Chinese lanterns) are such a danger to cattle, so I shall point it out to the farmer when I get home. I didn't fancy crossing the beck to get it off the hedge myself.

Further up the field a patch of grey "fluff" - I suspect a buzzard has had a rabbit - there is only one little bone left, the rest has been devoured. We have a pair of buzzard who circle high above the fields and rabbit is their favourite food.

It is a full moon tonight - do remember to look at it as this is the nearest it has been to the earth for ten years and it should look spectacular. Have a good weekend.

Friday 18 March 2011

Spring comes early.

The Spring equinox is on Monday but nobody has told the weather that and today is definitely a Spring day. There are so many catastrophes in the world and so many cruelties being perpetrated; in some parts of the world no-one is safe from cruelties inflicted in the name of some cause or another. I felt the need to get out in the fresh air and flush these terrible thoughts from my brain.

The day started very well when I heard from Pamela (from the house of Edward) that I had won her wonderful Giveaway. So thank you so much Pamela - there are such lovely things on the site that I really don't know what to choose!

So, after lunch, Tess and I set off to walk on our long round walk into the village and back. We called in at the owl barn to see if there was any trace at all of the barn owls - not a thing, but we were intrigued by this gate which had been erected just outside the barn, in the middle of nowhere. What can it be for?

Further on we saw our first Coltsfoot of the year - I love these little yellow, dandelion-like flowers which come out here and there on waste ground - the flowers appearing well before the leaves. We reached our friends' house and rang the bell. Their car was there but no one answered our ring, so we sat on their garden table outside and had a little rest. As usual, their garden is looking lovely - little patches of crocus, scilla, tiny daffodils and primroses dotted here and there - so I have taken a photograph M, just to prove we were there.

How busy the rooks are. Sitting in M's garden the noise was quite deafening as they are tidying up and rebuilding their nests. I have noticed that they fly long distances with great pieces of twig in their mouths to repair their nests, but if they drop the twig as they near the nest then they never come down and pick it up, so the ground of the rookery is littered with good nest material!

I walk round the village and come back via my son's house - they are out too, so I walk along to the bottom of the lane where their neighbour has two lovely Aylesbury ducks and a handsome cockerel in a pen. I'll swear they know they are being photographed as they stand still and almost pose.

On our return journey it is good to see that the willows are looking quite golden - a sign that they are just beginning to come into leaf. And when we reach the beck we see that the first celandines are out on the side - little bright suns against the sparkling water.

Returning home I find a huge bunch of flowers in the hall - roses, carnations and chrysanthemums - who are they from I wonder? Whoever it is, the flowers and the walk have managed to drive some of the awful thoughts out of my head - that is until the next news bulletin.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Nature's Magic.

After a Spring day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were very cold and very foggy; this morning the fog has cleared to leave a cold, cloudy day. No outside photography today, I thought, casting around for a post subject.

Then I happened to go upstairs and look out of the landing window onto the slowly emerging front garden. My Spirea 'Bridal Wreath' is just coming into bud and great droplets of water were hanging from the branches - it looked so beautiful. And when I went out to photograph it I saw that same dew sitting in the emerging leaves of the aquelegia plants. Which all goes to show that even on a dull, miserable day Nature can show off its wonders.

It is good to find something good to say about the power of Nature after the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami; yet even more terrible is the thought of the possible outcome of the Nuclear threat. Will man never learn?

If you want to know just how many Nuclear Plants there are in the world then you could do worse than pop over to Poet-in-Residence (see my side bar) where he listed them a couple of days ago. You could easily scroll down to see - and I can assure you that the number of plants around the world is truly shocking. Now the world holds its breath.

Wednesday 16 March 2011


I have had a visitor staying over the week-end and on Sunday it was such a lovely, sunny day that we decided to take her out on a drive to an area she didn't know at all. When the farmer does this, he will not say where he is taking us so it is always a surprise.

This time we went along the edge of Swaledale and turned into Arkengarth Dale and began to climb onto the high ground. (All the Yorkshire Dales are named after the beck or river which has formed them - in this case the river Swale and the Arkle beck). We came eventually to the Tan Hill pub, one of the highest pubs in England. It stands on the high ground between Swale dale and Teesdale the next dale to the North of here.

Back down into Swaledale we were struck by the way the countryside is beginning to wake up after the winter. There was a cold wind blowing but the sun was shining and in the car it was pleasantly warm.

We came down into Swale dale, over the Buttertubs pass into Wensleydale and then called at the Wensleydale creamery for afternoon tea. This creamery used to belong to a firm called Dairy Crest, who decided to close it down some years ago. There was a management buy-out and it has gone from strength to strength, exporting cheese all over the world, opening the cheese-making plant and its neighbouring museum to visitors, opening a shop, a coffee shop and a restaurant.

In the coffee shop we had cranberry and cheese cake (delicious) and pots of tea.
Then we drove back through Wensleydale to home. A lovely afternoon and a few photographs so that you can get a flavour of where we went (sorry it is not a cheese flavour, but if you find Wensleydale cheese in your local shop at least you will know where it comes from.)