Thursday 30 June 2011


On the day when, here in the UK, thousands of teachers and public sector workers are intending to walk out on a one-day strike in protest about a reduction in their pensions, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about teachers.

I think, if you are lucky, you have at least one inspirational teacher in your school days. Mine was an English teacher called Miss Ryder. She was a quiet, mouse-like creature but she demanded absolute accuracy with spelling and punctuation and she expected (and got) good, long essays which stuck absolutely to the subject she gave us to write about.

In those days (during the Second World War) teachers were still unmarried and I often think what a miserable life so many of them had when all they had was their teaching career. If they enjoyed it and were good at it then it would have been fulfilling but what if they hated it but were stuck with it? Those are the teachers we want to avoid for our children, aren't they?

Did you have an inspirational teacher in your childhood? I think most of us did. I have just been reading about John Henslow who was rector at Hitcham and who created a wonderful botanical garden at Cambridge. Although only thirteen years older than Charles Darwin, he was an inspiration to the young botanist and it was he who recommended Darwin as the naturalist to travel on the Beagle. Of such small incidents are giant steps forward made.

I was totally unable to get on to my blog yesterday - it kept telling me that I had made a bad request!

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Midge Cometh!

I read today in the Times that any day now the dreaded midge will arrive in Western Scotland and that because of the 'right' weather conditions the 'crop' will be up by 200 or even 300 percent. There seem to be peak explosions - the end of June, the end of July and then a smaller peak in September.

The Highland midge is the worst offender although it only has a wingspan of 2mm at the most. Apparently it cuts a small hole in human skin and then sucks out the blood. You really wanted to know that, didn't you?

My one and only real encounter with the midge was a few years ago in Nova Scotia. We arrived late one afternoon at an absolutely beautiful log cabin site on the banks of a river. Each cabin was on stilts so that you had a beautiful view of the river and the surrounding trees (I am itching already as I write this!). When we arrived at our cabin we were interested to see that every window had a screen of what looked like perforated zinc (remember that on old meat safes many years ago? No? Well you are not old enough then). Wonder what that is for we mused?

About one hundred yards away from our cabin was a lovely restaurant. They rang through and asked for our order for dinner and we ordered Planked Salmon. We showered and walked over. By the time we got to the door of the restaurant the midges were thick around us and biting like mad. What is more, they were huge.

The planked salmon was delicious. I asked the waitress when the fly had come and she said that day. I asked her how they coped with them and she said, somewhat laconically, 'we don't!'

After the meal we put our cardigans over our heads and literally ran back to the cabin - and there we stayed. Those who dared to have a walk along the river bank - it looked so inviting - paid the price and were covered in bites.

There is a 'midge belt' around the world, in that area where the ground is humid, boggy and acidic in Summer. I remember many years ago seeing cities in Siberia when we were told that thousands had died of malaria during the building of these cities because of malaria-carrying mosquitos.

I read also in the Times that this tiny little biting lassie (yes, it is mainly the female who does the biting) is beginning to spread into the Lake District and North Wales - so watch out down there.

I for one am keeping clear. If there is one within a mile of me it will search me out and have a feast. You have been warned.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Country matters.

Chariots of gold said Timothy!
Silvery wings said Elaine!
A bumpety ride on a wagon of hay
for me said Jane!

Yes, it's that time of year again. It seems from comments on my blog that many people don't know the difference between silaging and haymaking. First crop silage has been done mainly now here in the UK. It entails cutting the grass and either foraging it ( blowing it into trailers and tipping it into a clamp) or baling it up and wrapping in plastic for winter.

But haymaking - now that is a different thing altogether. To start with, the weather has to be just right. Yesterday was what we call up here "muggy" - in other words hot, damp and sultry. Too "soft" for hay making as the farmer would say. But this morning it is cooler, sunny intervals and cloudy periods, a slight breeze and above all very dry, with no rain forecast. So the hay fields have been cut. There is always a risk involved and if the weather changes then the hay will be made into silage but if the weather remains crisp and dry then so will the hay and then it will be bailed up and put in the hay barn and the smell will be divine.

Another question which keeps coming up is why our lambs still have their tails. This is because they are upland sheep and have to endure adverse conditions in the cold weather, where a nice long fluffy tail can make all the difference between a cold bottom and a warm one.

The farmer has cut the verges of the lane as he has driven to the hay fields. Some people get quite cross about this and say he should leave them long for the wildlife, but he doesn't cut right to the hedge and at least it means we can get out of our gate onto the lane and see both ways, so we are not taking our life in our hands if there is anything coming.

There really is never a dull moment here at this time of the year. My sweet peas needed tying up and watering (the flower heads were dropping off, a sure sign that they were short of water) and the chard needed a water too as it is only about an inch high and growing fast. Our peas and broad beans are well in flower and we shall have our first beetroot later this week. We had strawberries for lunch today - not the even-sized 'perfect' fruits of the supermnarket basket (what do these farns who supply the supermarkets do with their less than perfect fruit?) - but after yesterdays sun, golly were they sweet.

Monday 27 June 2011

Full Summer.

Our lane is sporting its full summer clothing; grasses have all gone to seed, elderflowers cover the bushes and some of the trees have wild roses growing high into the branches.

But without a doubt, the plant which is the most common is the Rosebay Willowherb (epilobioum). In the early nineteen hundreds this plant was quite rare in the UK and was much prized in Victorian herbaceous borders. But it is a sturdy grower and produced a huge number of seeds so inevitably it wasn't long before it began to colonise hedgerows.

When is a weed not a weed? Well, as I read in a book the other day - if a cabbage plant came up in the middle of your rose garden you would pull it up as a weed, but if it came up in the middle of the cabbage patch then you would nurture it.

I guess the Rosebay's final downfall came at the end of the Second World War when all the bomb sites in London and throughout Europe became covered in it and it is now found even above the Arctic Circle. So there you have it - it is too common and we don't want it any more.

That is a pity because it supports the caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk Moth and the Froghopper enjoys a munch at its leaves.

Would I plant it in my garden border? Probably not because it would take over, but you have to agree it is a rather pretty plant.

On the chick front - I had another go at taking a photo but Mrs Hen is adamant that I am getting nowhere near them. I love Heather's description (ragged old blogger on my side bar) of the mother hen as "Attila the Hen!"

Sunday 26 June 2011


I have taken the farmer out to lunch today for his birthday. We only went about five miles down the road to The Friar's Head, which is a pub, a restaurant, a caravan park and a golf course.

Sitting there in the Orangery, where I have to say the meal and the service was excellent, I got to thinking about outings and how they had changed over the years.

There was a pub, where the pub customers were drinking and eating snack lunches, then there was the Orangery, where us middle-aged and elderly (all dressed up in our Sunday best - chaps in shirts and trousers, ladies in dresses or smart trousers and earrings, make-up etc.) and then outside on the patio the golfers and the caravanners in their shorts and T shirts, sandals, with children running around and playing in the warm sunshine. It was such a carefree occasion. And I realised just how laid back everybody is these days.

I thought back to my childhood days when hardly anyone had a car and where the outing took on great importance because it meant going either by train or by bus. Old photographs of my mother and father with me as a young girl at the seaside (usually Skegness, our nearest place) show my father in a jacket, shirt and tie and my mother wearing a hat!

There just weren't the leisure clothes available, and if there were then we probably couldn't afford them. Our annual choir outing from chapel took place in mid-summer and entailed a bus trip to either Scarborough, Bridlington, Cromer or Hunstanton (we did them in turn) and I well remember four of us rowing round Bridlington harbour in our best coats in the pouring rain.

But golly, how we enjoyed those outings; maybe because they were red letter days rather than every weekend. But isn't it lovely now how leisure clothes are worn all the time,for any occasion. No chaps seem to wear ties any more except for the most serious events. Newsreaders still wear ties but surely it is only a matter of time before they too go 'casual'.

I think maybe I am now too old to adopt 'casual' as I do find T shirts far too sloppy and irritating but I think that is a fault in me rather than in the design of the T shirt!

But to get back to our outing today. We both ate far too much and will not want anything else to eat today. It's a good job we only go out for such binges on anniversaries, birthdays etc. otherwise we would both be like balloons. As it is, we have both had an hour's sleep since we came back.

Saturday 25 June 2011

The end of June.

There has been a slight improvement in the weather today in that it is a few degrees warmer and now and then the sun manages to come out. At other times there is a fine, warm drizzle falling - not unpleasant - "good growing weather for the vegetable garden" as they say; although there is plenty of grass lying in the fields waiting to be collected up for silage (not ours I am glad to say).

The farmer picked the first of the gooseberries this morning and I made eight jars of gooseberry and elderflower jam for giving away or for the store cupboard. It is so satisfying picking one's own fruit and making it into preserves and yet few people seem to do it these days.

During the last week we have had over an inch of rain and the grass is growing well for second-crop silage and also for the cattle and sheep out in the pastures. The Swaledale lambs are growing fast and really are very pretty. At last one stood still long enough for me to take its photograph, which is more than can be said for the chicks. As soon as I approach their little run mother shepherds them all indoors and then comes out again to tell me off.

Walking up the field, being scolded by a parent curlew who stands on the stone wall and calls for her offspring to lie low, we find the first toadstool of the season - a pretty little thing, very delicate. By the pasture gate the wild honeysuckle is now in full bloom and smells exquisite, particularly early in the morning.

Back in the garden Alexander Girault, my rambling rose is in almost full bloom. As usual full bloom and rain come together and the lovely pink, sweet-smelling blooms look like wet tissue paper.

I have spent the afternoon emptying and replanting a couple of alpine tubs. They were so overgrown that some of the plants were struggling to survive and others were completely taking over. Now I suppose, a nice gentle shower would be nice to help water them in. (and a nice gentle hot shower wouldn't come amiss for me either)

Have a nice weekend.

Friday 24 June 2011

Wimbledon weather.

There seems to be a tradition here in the UK that when the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament is on the weather is variable - usually sunshine and torrential rain in turn. This year is no exception but at least that very expensive roof can come over Centre Court and keep some of the matches going.

Yesterday we went to our feed merchant to stock up on food for our various animals. As we arrived in the yard, so did a cloudburst so I am posting two photographs of typical June weather.

The chicks are a week old today and we have let them out into the run for the first time, although mother soon took them back in again. She is most agressive. You nearly need a suit of armour on when you put their food into the chicken hut - she comes flying at you like a bullet and you have to shut the door quickly to avoid being pecked to death. She is certainly looking after them well and they have almost doubled in size.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Joan Cairns 1922 - 2011

I posted about my friend, Joan Cairns, passing away earlier this week. Her friends and neighbours, Trish and Stan, have posted a wonderful tribute which is well worth watching. If you have time, please put "You Tube Joan Cairns" (don't forget the inverted commas) into Google to watch Joan and her friends when they were on television with their band. Joan was a professional musician before her retirement and was a highly accomplished pianist. This is a fitting tribute to her musicianship, her exuberance and her determination to stay young. Enjoy!

Wednesday 22 June 2011

A Great Birthday.

My dear friend M is 80 today. Earlier in the day I posted a tribute to her and a birthday wish. Tonight we had a lovely hog roast party in the Village Hall. There were over 100 people there, M and S had decorated the hall with bunting, there was a bar, a whole roasted pig, plenty of home made cakes and the most wonderful happy atmosphere. We all knew each other and the evening was spent chatting and circulating around people we don't see very often. It was an absolutely lovely evening. We sang Happy Birthday to her and we all left feeling very happy. So thank you M and S for such a lovely party.

Monday 20 June 2011

A Tribute to Joan Cairns 1922 - 2011

Joan died over the weekend. She has been failing for some months, so it was not a great surprise. She was a poet, a musician,a raconteur and a friend to many. As a celebration of her life, today's post is one of her poems:


The March winds knife me, yet
in bushes curdled with blackthorn
birds shift about
trying on songs for size.
Soon hawthorn tips
will butter the hedges
salmon pink.

After that vacant, hollow year
they're back -
electric lambs
pronking stiff-legged,
butting their shabby
bundled-up mothers,
Kings of the Castle on every tiny bump.

The new Spring
stretches itself awake,
forgetting the bruised voices
in last year's wind.

Although Joan's body became frail her mind remained sharp to the end and she never became old - she always had Spring in her heart, so I think this poem is appropriate.

Sunday 19 June 2011


Eight out of ten eggs - two eggs infertile. Seven of the chicks are pale yellow and one is black (we have some Black Rock hens). We knew they had been born because Goldie was making a gentle clucking noise when we looked last night, but this morning she allowed us a little peep at all eight.
At present I have left her a bowl of chick crumbs but later in the day I shall take her a saucer of chopped hard boiled egg - always a good food for new born chicks and a bit of a pick me up for Goldie who has hardly eaten anything over the last three weeks.
When I do that I shall try and get a photograph so watch this space.
The farmer is walking with his walking group today and I have a friend coming for coffee (her husband also walks with the group). There has been more rain overnight but at least the farmer will not get his bottom wet when he sits down for lunch as I have bought him a waterproof cushion to carry in his rucksack. Now that it has started raining here it does not know when to stop.
Have a nice Sunday. See you this evening complete with photograph (hopefully).

Saturday 18 June 2011

Drama on the farm.

Farm - indeed Country - life is always full of drama. One drama ends (happily or sadly) as another one unfolds. Birds, particularly young ones who have only just learned to fly, have a nasty habit of hitting our kitchen window at speed and leaving in a flurry of feather (usually the greeny/yellow ones of the tit family). Such an incident happened this morning and the bang of beak on glass was a loud one. I went outside and there was the little bird, winded but intact. I put him on the hedge and after a couple of minutes he flew off seemingly no worse for the close encounter.

When the farmer shut the hens up last evening one old Rhode Island Red hen was missing. She is getting a bit ancient so we were rather worried, thinking that the fox might be round for her overnight if she was still around. We need not have worried. She had roosted high up in the straw and as soon as the hens came out this morning she joined them none the worse for a night 'on the tiles'.

We have just walked round the fields and luckily the farmer spotted, half way down the field, deep in the hedge bottom a lamb had got stuck. Swaledale sheep have horns and they begin to grow when the lambs are quite small. This lamb had pushed through the square wire netting after a succulent morsel of grass (yes there is a field full but you know the old saying - the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence). There was no way that lamb could have got out on its own - each time it pushed it got further and further in. It took the farmer several minutes to extricate it and then it ran off to find its mother. By this time of the year the mothers are a bit fed up with their boisterous youngsters and the mother didn't seem all that delighted to see it.

An old friend has died today. She was almost 90 and had been failing for the last few months. Now her end has come and we are all sad to see her go. Rest in peace Joan.


It is a cold, wet Saturday morning (typical June day I suppose) and no sign of any chicks under Goldie as yet. Bulletin later in the day!

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Cobbles, grass and sitting hens.

Much of the market square in our little town is laid down to cobbles. It was all renewed a few years ago at considerable cost. There was controversy about it, of course, particularly from those who wore high heeled shoes (I am long past those days if I ever was in them). I tend toward thinking the cobbles are rather nice - and rather old fashioned, in keeping with the place. Yesterday, as I walked through the square I saw that some of the cobbles were being repaired and I couldn't resist taking this photograph - is he really going to reset them all by hand? If so it is going to take him a jolly long time - but it is rather a nice job don't you think?

Now to the grass of my title. We walk through it, we lie in it, we mow it almost to extinction on our lawns, it gives some of us hay fever, and without it we would be unable to keep our sheep and dairy herds - and a lot of nibbling mammals (rabbits for a start) would be non-existent. But do we ever really stop and look at it?

This afternoon on our walk I took a small pair of scissors and snipped a few heads off where the grass has gone to seed. Any day now the farmer will mow the sides of the lane so that we have a better view when we drive out of the farm gate. When we got home I laid the seed heads of a sheet of white paper and photographed them for you to look at. You have to admit - they are rather pretty aren't they? There used to be quaking grass but sadly I couldn't find a single stalk of it this year. Does anyone have any round where they live? I would love to see a photograph of some. When we were children there seemed to be a lot about and we always called it Tottering Johnnies.

Now to the sitting hen. Goldie is sitting tight. If the eggs are indeed fertile (and we shall not know until they hatch - or not) then they are due to hatch out on Saturday, so it is fingers crossed. She should be feeling movement in the eggs by now if there are chicks inside. Chick crumbs are at the ready and she certainly looked at me with her beady eye when I took this photo for you earlier today. News of the birth will be announced the moment it takes place!

Incidentally - thanks to John (Going Gently) who writes the most super blog about country and village life, for posting a special view of his little smallholding just for me yesterday. I did appreciate it - so thanks John. If you don't know the blog do pop over and have a read.

##I do know that the grass on the left is not a grass at all but is what the farmer calls sour dock (I think it is really a kind of sorrel) - but it grows everywhere amongst our grass and gives the whole field a lovely red tinge - so I included it anyway.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

One perfect summer's day.

Here in the UK in some 'summers' a real summer's day is as rare as hens' teeth. It is still very cold at night and we are still having a log fire every night. For the last two days it has been raining heavily and for weeks before that it has been cold and windy. We did have one week of real summer weather in May - early Spring! Yes that is the contrariness of our weather system and may well account for why we all become so preoccupied with it.
But today it has been a perfect summer's day. There is a tiny breeze; the sun has shone in a cloudless sky all day; it is warm - and above all there is a smell of summer. That smell is of grass, wild roses, greenery in general and it is a delight to be outside.
It has also meant that we can at last gather in the last of the first cut silage. This morning it was rowed up and then baled in big round bales. Now, at 5.30pm, we are waiting for the wrapper to arrive. Then it will be all hands to the deck to get all the wrapped bales into the barn before dark (i.e. before the rabbits get to them!)

Monday 13 June 2011

On this and that.

First of all - thank you for your positive comments on our vegetable garden. I would just like to point out that almost all the credit should be taken by the farmer, who spends a lot of time in it. I do the odd hoeing in both back and front gardens, I cut back things with the secateurs and I sometimes do a bit of hand weeding. But the real hard work is the farmers and he needs the credit for it. I just gather the vegetables when they are ready and either cook or freeze them.
Now to today's second subject - that cous-cous recipe. Seems some of you would like it so here it is. And even if, like Rachel, you are not sure about serving the cous-cous to your nearest and dearest - do give it a try - you might be pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

Put the required amount of cous cous into a bowl, along with some chopped mint, some snipped up ready to eat dried apricots, some salt and a tablespoonful of oil. Stir well and add boiling water. The cous cous packet will give you the amounts of cous cous and water. I did this first thing in the morning so that the flavours infused. Just before serving I added a few knobs of butter, stirred them in and heated it for two minutes in the microwave.

Cut into same size pieces a selection of mediterranean vegetables - red onion, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, spring onions, tomatoes, and toss them in olive oil and salt. Roast them on a high shelf in the oven until the edges are charred.

Then put the cous cous into bowls and divide the veg and their juices between the bowls. Garnish with a few rocket leaves (if you have any in your garden it will have seeded all over by now) and sprinkle with a little sweet balsamic vinegar. Eat and enjoy.

Now to the third thing today. What gives you pleasure? Have I suddenly got old?
I suspect I have because this morning I put a load of washing into the washer, tidied up before my cleaning lady came (!), had a shower and changed - then I took a cup of coffee and today's Times crossword into the bay window in the sitting room, looking out into the garden. The sun was shining in, it was warm and comfortable and as I unfolded the paper on the crossword page it suddenly struck me that there was probably nothing in the world I would rather be doing at that moment. Is that sad or is that sad?

Sunday 12 June 2011


At last we have had a wet day. It began to rain at lunch time and is still raining now as I write. Already the gardens are looking better for it. But before it began to rain this morning the farmer and I did our hour's stint - we make sure to do this every Sunday - fill at least one wheelbarrow with weeds and hope to keep top side of them.

My philosophy in the flower garden is to fill it so full of herbaceous plants that there is not room for weeds to grow. Then it has to look after itself for the summer. In theory this works, although the weeds are there, you just can't necessarily see them. Our biggest problem, our bete-noir, is couch grass (the farmer calls it wickens) closely followed by climbing columbine which winds its way round the delphinium stalks. All we can do is try to keep it all under check until the Autumn when we try to dig out, clear out and replant at least one side of the garden.

There is not a lot out at the moment - the remnants of some very pretty aquelegia, two or three of the herbaceous geraniums (pink one is Patricia and blue one is Russell Pritchard) the first of the delphiniums is coming into bud and the first roses are out. But as you will see from the photos - on the whole the weeds don't show!

Much easier in the vegetable garden, where everything is planted in rows and it is easy to walk up and down with the hoe. Things are all coming on well here but the strawberries have been waiting for rain and the poor raspberries took an awful beating from last week's glaes. The plants you can see are peas, runner beans, broad beans, leeks, lettuce, french beans, courgettes, strawberries, gooseberries and then my sunflowers, sweet peas and calendulas, which I always grow among the veggies. The green hut is my chicken hut and inside the vegetable garden my little green hut where goldie is sitting on her eggs (only another six days to go!) is hidden behind the raspberry canes. The faint figure in the background is the farmer weeding my sweet peas.

The down side of the wet day is that we have silage grass lying - we got half way through picking it up when the rain started yesterday. The forecasters say it will be fine tomorrow and Tuesday and then wet again on Wednesday - so we must work hard at tossing it about to dry it before then.

Friday 10 June 2011

A Day Out.

Sometimes it does you good to drive through the area near where you live and to look at it objectively (as though you are a tourist) as you go. There is nothing like it to make you really appreciate the beauty of the area.

Today - courtesy of my friend W (thank you W) - we had a lovely drive through Wensleydale, down through Woodale, past the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct and the peak of Ingleborough (for once visible without cloud) and down into the Trough of Bowland to the pretty little town of Kirby Lonsdale.

We met a friend in the Car Park; it should have been two friends but one was prostrate at home with a bad back. First we had lunch in a dog-friendly bistro in the town. This meant that Sophie, my friend's Jack Russell, could accompany us and in fact that were four dogs in the bistro. Would you like to know what we had for lunch? Well, it was so good that I intend to try it out on the farmer for lunch tomorrow!

We started with roasted prawns in garlic butter with dipping bread. Then we had roasted Mediterranean vegetables with cous-cous, apricots and mint and a dressing of rocket with balsamic vinegar. Delicious.

After lunch we took the short walk to the pretty parish church and then through the lovely churchyard to look at the Lune View (Ruskin's view). It was from this spot that Turner painted his famous picture which Ruskin described as 'one of the lovliest scenes in England.'

Our friend left us here and W and I meandered through an almost empty little town (how do shops in these small towns make a living these days?) looking into various old-fashioned shops.

We came back by a different route, through Sedbergh - through the whole length of Wensleydale, which was looking particularly beautiful at this time of the year - the fields full of sheep with their lambs and cattle with their calves; the River Ure meandering through green fields; the trees in full leaf in all their glory. Aren't we lucky to live up here.

Thursday 9 June 2011

North, South, East and West.

Considering that we are a relatively small island our weather systems are really quite extraordinary. Last month Scotland had over seven inches of rain (186mm), most of which fell on the Western side. And the rainfall in Argyll was 150 times greater than that in Kent in the East. And according to Paul Simons in the Times today, the outlook is for little change in this.

I have found it amusing that people who live in the 'real' East of the country - East Anglia, Kent etc. - find it odd that I should think of Yorkshire as being in the East, when it is obviously (to them) in the North. It used to be the same when I taught in the midlands - my accent (Lincolnshire) instantly branded me as a Northerner, but we never thought of ourselves as being in the North.

The North to us means the Borders and Scotland. What makes us in the East to us and also makes our climate so much drier, is that we are East of the Pennines, in other words in the lee of the Pennines. By the time those rain clouds get to us they have dropped all their rain.

Isn't it interesting how where we are makes such a difference to how we place ourselves on the map. This rather random placing also happens in another area of our lives and was highlighted today by Matthew Parris in the Times. That area is one of memory.

He tells of going across Africa for three days on his own on a train at the age of around 10, going to stay with an uncle and aunt in what was then Nyasaland. Not only did his parents allow him to travel alone at such an early age - but the interesting thing for the purpose of this blog today is - he can remember the journey there in detail he cannot remember a single detail of how he got back home again.

I'm afraid that the farmer will always consider himself as coming from the East of the country - I know East Englia and Kent stick out into the North Sea further, but those Pennines make a profound difference to our weather and at his age the farmer can't be expected to change his mind!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Today's walk.

In between our fields is a field which belongs to a racehorse trainer; you can see the field in my header at the top of the blog - it is thick with buttercups and our cattle are looking over the fence into it. I reported yesterday that a brood mare and her foal had arrived to spend the Summer there but that they were a very aloof pair.

Well, walking past the field today we were delighted when she came across to investigate, bringing the foal with her. Needless to say the foal was just too timid but if you look at the close-up photograph carefully you will see him just peeping out from behind his mother. It is lovely to be so close to such a beautiful animal and I now have high hopes of making a friendship with her over the summer.

Lower down the same field (a fenced-off footpath leads along the bottom of the field) a sparrow hawk rose off as we approached. I took a photograph of the remains of some poor unfortunate bird - no doubt the raptor will be back to finish off his meal. The farmer couldn't identify it from that distance - we just hoped it wasn't one of the many half-grown lapwings and oyster catchers which are scurrying about at the sides of the fields at the moment. Now that the fields have been cut for silage there isn't so much cover for these young birds and still the parents fly up and down in front of us as we walk round, trying to distract us and to lead us away from their young. There is so much drama going on out there underneath our noses.

On the farm Goldie, my sitting hen, is really sitting tight - low down on the nest and quite unmoving when I open the door to change her water and fill her feed tray. Today is exactly half way through incubation time, so I am beginning to have high hopes of a succesful outcome.

We have just had a short heavy shower of rain but not enough to do any good - we are desperately short here in the East and the drought goes on day after day.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

An answer to the pale cow question.

The pale fawn cow a couple of posts ago is a Simmental - apparently they are good milkers and often included in 'black and white' herds - it seemed to be keeping apart from them. And funnily enough another neighbouring farmer has one brown and white cow in his black and white herd and when I passed earlier today she was completely away from the rest of the herd. All of which leads me to wonder whether cows can differentiate between colours?

As the farmer and I came down the lane at nine o'clock this morning, a barn owl was hovering and searching in the small field at the side of the lane, pouncing and flying up with a small rodent. I was astonished to see it hunting in broad daylight - maybe a necessary thing to do with babies to feed - I do hope so as so many died in the bad winter.

Other news - a brood mare and her half-grown foal (racehorses from a nearby racing stable) have appeared in the field near to the farm. As usual they are totally aloof and will not come anywhere near humans. I hope to get a photograph for you one day soon.

Monday 6 June 2011

Country smells.

Last week the whole of this end of the Dale smelled of new-mown grass as all the farmers cut their first-cut silage in the dry weather, gathered it up and put it into their silage clamps, or into bales for winter feed.

This week the whole of this end of the Dale smells of slurry as those same farmers spread the contents of their slurry lagoons on to the fields in the hope that it will soon rain and wash the slurry in - cheap fertiliser to help the grass grow again for second cut.

It is now obligatory to have a slurry lagoon if you have a dairy herd. In the winter, when the cattle are inside, all the manure that didn't soak into the straw they were bedded down with drained out into an old-fashioned midden. We still have one of these left over from years ago and I must say that this year, without its murky dampness (it is quite small) the swallows and house-martins would have had great difficulty in building and repairing their nests. But for dairy herds that midden has now disappeared and been replaced by a lagoon.

Of course it doesn't stop filling up in the summer when the cattle are out because the milking parlour has to be swilled out twice a day after milking and nobody has yet trained cows to hold on to their poo until they get back into the field.

Still, it is not too unpleasant a smell - just a smell of the working countryside and one which would disappear overnight if we could get some desperately needed rain.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Local words.

There is a language up here in the Dales which is peculiar to this area alone, as I expect there is wherever you live. As I have now lived up here for more years than I have ever lived anywhere else I have now become slightly more familiar with the words. Also, it has to be said, that there are now so many newcomers in the area that gradually the old words are disappearing. When the farmer and his father got together to chat, when we were first married, their conversation was nigh on a foreign language - not so now.

For example: When the farmer put on his overall to go out into the milking parlour, as far he as was concerned he was putting on his kytle; fettling his tractor means mending his tractor and if he comes in and tells me that somebody is 'only moderate' I am afraid it means they are dying.

Today on our walk I remembered another word - in fact I used it in my mind as I saw the scene, mainly because I couldn't think of an alternative word. After grass has been cut and gathered up for silage then the herd is let into the field to 'pyke' round the edges - in other words to eat the grass off in the hedge bottomns and any other place where the grass cutter could not reach. Judging by my photograph of the herd in the field they have enjoyed their pyking morning and are well-satisfied with the grass they have eaten.

These cows belong to our neighbouring farm and I noticed this one cow which is a completely different colour - I have never seen one this pale, delicate colour before - the rest of the herd of Holstein/Fresian. When the farmer comes back (it is his rambling group day) I shall ask him for identification.

Have you any local words in your area?

Saturday 4 June 2011

Derby Day.

Today is Derby Day here in the UK. Whatever you think about horse racing - and I have very mixed feelings about it (from the horses point of view AND from the point of view of the thousands who bet more than they can afford in the vain hopes of winning a fortune - haven't they every noticed how rich the bookmakers are?)

Television coverage starts at something like 1pm although the actual race is not until 4pm so we have interminable less important races, looking at what the posh folk are wearing, taking a close look at the horses etc.

If you are in the position of being able to go into the enclosure then a certain type of dress is de rigeur. This got me thinking about dress codes and how in most walks of life they seem to have almost disappeared. The days when you had to take posh clothes to eat in restaurants when you went on holiday seem to have disappeared in all but the most exclusive establishments (and those awful cruise liners when you need a different outfit for each night.)

In the country of course there is the Barbour brigade who frequent shoots, point-to-points and country fairs dressed in lovat green expensive outfits (the men mostly although the women seem to almost wear the same uniform).

At the Auction Mart on a Friday here in our little town, where the real countrymen gather to buy and sell their stock - or look at what someone else is paying or getting paid for= the dress code is rather less formal. Wellington boots are pretty essential as you never know what you are likely to tread in. Trousers need to be tuckable into said boots but can be held up with a twitched- in belt or - in an emergency - baler band. (orange seems to be the preferred colour up here). Heads are for caps - often rather dirty, particularly if you are a dairyman and spend time with your head (and cap) pressed into the side of a cow. In winter the cap often gives way to a thick woolly hat pulled down well over the ears. Anyone who went to the Mart dressed in posh clothes would certainly be viewed with suspicion that he or she was 'playing' at farming.

I don't think corduroys are worn as much as they used to be. Roger Deakin in his book 'Notes from Walnut Tree Farm', which I have just finished reading, says of corduroys - "I now realise that all these English country gentlemen outfits (of brown corduroys) were designed to make you look as much like a ploughed field as possible."

But I have wandered away from today's Derby - sorry about that. The Queen is an ardent racing fan and her horse Carlton House is favourite to win today. It is the one big race she has never won. Wouldn't it be nice if her horse won today, whatever you think about horseracing?

Friday 3 June 2011

A Question for you.

Fridays are always busy on the farm. It is Market Day - and Auction Mart Day and today there is also a machinery sale which the farm has put some stuff in - so not much time to blog, but I might have a read of a few tonight when the dust has settled.

In the meantime I leave you with this to ponder. I read today that twenty three percent of children cannot read a clock face now. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does it matter? I suppose it is rather like saying after the motor car came into common usage that twenty three percent of people could no longer drive a horse and cart. What is your opinion?

See you tomorrow.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Seasons all awry.

On the road sides as we went down to our feed merchant this morning there is a distinct August in June feel. Already cow parsley has lost its creamy-white lustre and the meadow-sweet is blooming a good month early. Pink campion is already going to seed and much of the road-side looks'tired'.

Then you raise your eyes and see that the leaves of the trees, battered by a good week of North Westerly gales, have begun to take on a brown and withered look. You come to a stand of ash trees and see that they are not yet fully in leaf. As the oak trees are well out it seems there may be some truth in the old adage:

"If the oak before the ash
we are in for just a splash.
If the ash before the oak
we'll be getting quite a soak."

Certainly all we have had here on the Eastern side of the Pennines is a splash or two of rain - and it shows. The plums are dropping off from lack of water, as are the gooseberries and cherries. We are watering things like peas, runner beans and strawberries nightly to keep them going.

We have just - ten minutes ago - sown a row of Swiss Chard seed. I have not tried it before but there was space in the garden and I spotted the seed at the feed merchants. So if anyone out there has any recipes for chard I would be grateful for them please.

I am re-reading, for about the fourth time, Roger Deakin's 'Notes from Walnut Tree Farm'. What a wonderfully eccentric man he was (he died in 2006). This book is a collection of his writings which his friend Alison Hastie put together after his death. It is full of countryside observations written with such wit that I keep
laughing out loud in the evenings while the farmer is trying to do his Sudoku.

He also says such a lot of wise things that really make you think. How about this:-

"Books are like seeds: they come to life when you read them and grow spines and leaves. I need trees around me as I need books around me, so building bookshelves is something like planting trees."

It is the perfect book for dipping in to. I do recommend it (Pub: Hamish Hamilton).

Also on the subject of the countryside, those of you who live in the UK may well have been watching Springwatch. The farmer and I have been surprised to find the wide range of food that the Buzzard will eat. We have a pair which soar over our fields and we thought they ate mainly rabbit. But during the course of these programmes, when there is a camera on the edge of the nest, the buzzard has brought all of the following to feed her chick:-
moorhen, grass snake, rabbit, duckling, mole, squirrel and vole. This goes some way to explaining why our local gamekeepers do not seem to be keen on them. We just keep our fingers crossed for the beautiful pair that soar over our fields.

And on the subject of fields - this morning the grass which was cut yesterday has been gathered up and taken to the silage clamp. Now the cut fields lie empty and yellow and seagulls, curlew and rook poke their long beaks into the hard ground, searching for the odd feast. All the cut grass does is cry out for a shower of rain.

Wednesday 1 June 2011


This time of the year we have very mixed feelings about walkers on our farm in spite of the fact that a footpath runs along the side of the beck right through our land.
At other times of the year it doesn't matter at all and it is nice to be out in the fields and meet people to chat to on the footpath.

The farmer himself is a keen walker and goes walking with a group of friends every other Sunday throughout the Summer, taking turns to lead the walks. I used to go too before the days of a dodgy knee. Now that I don't go I do like to quote from that excellent book by Roger Deakin - Notes from Walnut Tree Farm - "The great thing about walking is that it gives you complete licence to get into fancy dress and eat junk food."

But I digress - back to walking on the farm. First of all our pastures are full of young cattle. Now the dairy herds are fine - they are used to people and they are usually intent on filling up with grass and then lying down to chew the cud. But the youg stock - in our case always heifers - are inquisitive and frisky. So if walkers come through with dogs (and most of them do) the heifers come flying down the field to see who it is. This can be very scary for the walkers and indeed it is not all that unusual for people to be injured or even killed by cattle. The best advice is to let the dog off the lead (it is the dog that the cattle are interested in), walking purposefully towards the next stile and ignore the cattle or even turn to face them, when they will usually stop or at least back off a bit. But the other day we noticed a man in our neighbour's field waving his arms and shouting at a group of young in-calf heifers which was just making them worse. In the end the man climbed the wall to get out of the way.

But there is another reason that walkers are not good this time of the year. This morning the farmer begins the annual cut for silage. Yesterday he got the cutter out of the implement shed and gave it a bit of a sharpen and clean up. This morning it stands in the yard ready to go and in about an hour, when the dew has gone from the grass, he will begin to cut it for silage. Hopefully it will all be standing up straight and all will be caught by the cutter. But sometimes walkers feel it is fine to leave the footpath and cut off diagonallly across a silage field to reach the lane. They let their dogs off the lead to gambol in the grass. All this flattens the grass down and makes cutting difficult if not impossible in some parts of the field.

The first cut is always the most nutritious; this year it will not be very plentiful because of the dry weather, but spare a thought for farmers in Essex and Kent where the fields are so dry that they are cracked, the grass has turned brown and silaging is impossible, which means that winter feed will be short and food prices will rise.

Farming is not straightforward - there will always be up years and down years. I suppose when compared with Third World countries we still have it made but our existence is never trouble-free.