Monday 31 October 2011

The Last Act of the big day.

Well - the last birthday act has just been completed: the pumpkin has been carved, put outside and lit and as I write this he is burning merrily with his cheeky grin. Thank you all for your birthday wishes - they were much appreciated. Inevitably when one is near to a big O birthday, one person got it wrong and sent me a big O card a year in advance but I have managed to put that card at the back so that the number is concealed!

The farmer, Tess and I had another day out yesterday in mild, sunny weather. We did a round trip through Nidderdale, across Grassington Moor, into Kilnsey, where we had lunch at the trout farm, then down to Hubberholme church (one of my favourites, where the ashes of JB Priestley are scattered in the churchyard) and along the side of the infant River Wharfe, up over the fells at Oughtershaw and down into Hawes and back through Wensleydale. We had several pleasant walks with Tess too.

As we were riding along I thought what it was that I really liked about Autumn - what makes it such a special season. Here is my list - maybe you can add to it:-

I love our Autumn colours. I know we cannot compare with New England and those wonderful maple trees but really our beech trees put on a magnificent show yesterday.

I love our full, peaty rivers and the bare trees which contribute so much to our scenery.

I love the ploughed fields scattered with white seagulls. We have one at the top of our lane and it is a joy to behold.

I love the slow, steady build-up to Christmas. I always start my Christmas shopping early so I never have that panic at the last minute. But the house gets filled with the smell of baking fruit cakes and puddings, spices, delicious things which I make in advance.

I love the dew and the gossamer webs on the grass when the sun is low and the dew on the cobwebs in the early morning. Later on, if we are really lucky we might even get a hoar frost.

Finally I love those last few struggling flowers which are determined to flower on to the bitter end - the last rose, the rudbeckia, the tiny cyclamen under the bushes. And if you look carefully then you can see the snowdrop spikes already beginning to push out of the ground.

I have just remembered one more - it is wonderful to see the hedgehogs preparing to hibernate for the winter. It is fifteen degrees here today and so they are still out every night, snuffling about under the trees, searching for things to eat, stealing the cat food.

Birthdays are marvellous for reminding ourselves that life is wonderful. I have enjoyed mine tremendously - enjoy yours when it comes around.

Saturday 29 October 2011

My birthday treat.

My friend called at nine thirty in the morning yesterday, and we were off for our day out. The sun shone all day and still has warmth in it. We went first into Ripon so that she could buy me a lovely print of a hare - such a beautiful one, I shall show you it eventually. Then, after coffee, it was off to Fountains Abbey and Studley Park.

An hour's shop in the National Trust shop at Fountains means that I have done a good part of my Christmas Shopping and then a bowl of pumpkin soup in the restaurant finished off that part of the day.

The sweet chestnut trees in Studley Royal Park are just beginning to turn a lovely golden yellow. A lot of waterfowl have come in for the winter. There were a lot of people about (it is half term here) and everyone was enjoying the sunshine.

A short way away one of the three deer herds (sika, fallow and roe) was resting quietly. Nearer, a stag and a doe mated as we passed - quick affair - over in a minute - but I was only able to get this one shot and the herd is a long way away.

We drove back along the country lanes in the Autumn sunshine. The leaves are turning now and many are falling like copper pennies. Back in our little town my friend came with me to choose the right frame for my hare picture (two heads are better than one) - it is to be ready in two weeks and I look forward to hanging it on my wall (another hole in the wall, remarks the farmer).

Out in the evening for a meal with a group of friends finished the day off nicely. The highlight dish for me was lemon sole stuffed with scallops, garnished with smoked salmon and served in a lemon sauce. Delicious. Wish I had a birthday every week!

On second thoughts, no I don't - it is the rarity of this kind of day that makes it so special.

Friday 28 October 2011

It's a girl.

Our Belgian Blue Heifer had a heifer calf, born by Caesarean section quite late last night. Mother and baby are doing well. Sorry about the quality of the photograph but the lights were dim and left on for her all night and the farmer shone his torch which shows on her back - but thought you would like to see it nevertheless. The calf has beautiful big eyes.

She had her first feed through a tube into her first stomach, so that she got that early collostrum. Hopefully, by this morning, she will have fed normally, as she had moved when we went in last night really late, so she is obviously walking around.

I am out all day today and out to dinner tonight, so a pretty hectic day. Glorious sunshine here in North Yorkshire. I know I shall enjoy my day - enjoy yours, wherever you are.

Thursday 27 October 2011

A very grey day.

It is now three-thirty in the afternoon and it has not really got light yet. The farmer reminded me at lunch time that we put the clocks back this weekend, so it will be dark even earlier. Oh dear, Winter is surely on its way. I suppose I shouldn't complain; if I lived in Northern Norway it would be dark almost all day by now and I don't think I am cut out for that kind of life. Somehow I need the light to survive. But today is just one of the 'dark days before Christmas' which my mother used to complain about.

Yesterday was so different. We had our poetry meeting in a friend's conservatory - light, airy and very warm although the sun was not quite out. I can assure you that there is something very relaxing about sitting in such a place and listening to good poetry being read out and watching the world go by. A flock of Winter thrushes (fieldfare and redwing) swooped over at one point, and - dead on cue - a white pigeon flew on to the roof just as one of us was reading a lovely poem about a white fantail pigeon.

It is sad that poetry is no longer popular as it used to be. Good poetry says such truths in so few words. We had Shakespeare, Walter de la Mare, Congreve, Yeats, Auden, Pam Ayres, Carol Ann Duffy, poets from the Great war - and plenty of others. As there were only eight of us we managed to read four pieces each - and have an interesting chat about them in between. It is such a civilised afternoon and one of my favourites in the month.

Today we have a Belgian Blue heifer close to her first calving. She is pacing up and down the field and has 'bagged up well' as the farmer says. The trouble is that often this breed find first births very difficult and need vet-assistance, so we shall have to watch her carefully over the next few hours.

As it is my birthday week-end I am being taken out tomorrow by a friend to buy my present. I will post it on my blog so that you can share it on Saturday. In the meantime, if you are in this awful dismal weather - keep smiling, the sun is only just behind the clouds.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

It worked.

You will see from today's photograph that the jelly turned out alright. For anyone who wishes to try it (you can do it with rosehips and/or crab apples too) you need equal quantities of sloes and cooking apples - the apples chopped up, cores and all. It seemed to cook down fairly quickly. I put it through a muslin sheet, taking care not to squeeze or in any way interfere with the process (that would have caused the jelly to lose its clarity) and then boiled it up using 1 pint of liquid to 1 pound of white sugar and the juice of a lemon. I have to say that I had to boil it for a long time. Also it kept forming a kind of crust on the top which I had to skim off. Now it is all potted up in small sterilised jars, waiting for cold meat/pork pie/cheese with which to eat it.

The downside - as it always is with these things - was the amount of cleaning up and washing up the enterprise entailed. Everywhere was sticky. I put the muslin in a cold water soak immediately and I must say it has come totally clean and is now flapping on the clothes line. The Aga has been wiped thoroughly although I still keep finding sticky places and the pan has been cleaned.

What does it taste like - several people asked. Surprisingly sweet but with a kick in the tail. Once it has gone down it leaves that characteristic dry/sharpness you get with sloe gin. Whether I shall make it again I don't know - but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Today is a pleasant Autumn day - after quite a violent thunderstorm last evening. This afternoon is our Poetry afternoon - one of my favourite afternoons in the month. I am reading Yeats, Auden, Edwin Morgan and Roger McGough. Wish you could join us.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Misty moisty weather.

Do you remember the old rhyme we used to sing when we were children:

One misty, moisty morning,
when cloudy was the weather -
there I met an old man
cloth-ed all in leather.
Cloth-ed all in leather
with a hat under his chin.
how de you do and how de you do
and how de you do again.

Well I would not have been surprised to see that old man this morning for it was just such an occasion. Contrary to our expectations, there has been no traffic at all on our lane - the diversion signs occurred further up the main road. So we have been exceedingly quiet. I have been quite relieved for the sake of the farm cats as they are not used to heavy traffic - but I am expecting a pair of new boots by mail order and, of course, I really don't see how the delivery man can get through. So - you win some, you lose some.

But it did mean that this morning, in order to get into town, I had to go the long way round. Every farmer on our lane is muck-leading and every dairy farm still has the cows out. These two things together mean knee-deep mud. At nine o'clock this morning it was so dark and misty that I needed the car lights on. Our neighbour at the bottom of the lane has pedigree limousine cattle and they were gathered round a feeder in the mist - such a lovely sight and I didn't have the camera with me.

There were literally hundreds of pheasant about on the lane. The shooting season is just about to start but the birds have not yet learned to keep hidden (believe me they soon learn once the guns begin to go off in their direction.) Progress through them is slow because they have a habit of running in front of the car rather than getting on to the side. At one point about fifty pheasants flew over the car from one field to another.

I have embarked upon making a batch of sloe jelly. Even the recipe says that it is not always a success. Would you believe - sloes are very low in pectin. Obviously sourness does not necessarily mean pectin. So I have put equal quantities of sloes and cooking apples into the preserving pan (cores, skins and all) and cooked them to a mush. Tonight they will strain through muslin and tomorrow I shall boil them up with sugar and lemon juice. The yield is quite low too but I thought I would give it a try.

The sloes are hanging from the branches of our biggest blackthorn tree - the farmer can never remember it being so heavily laden. We went down the field together after lunch - with Tess - and picked enough (two pounds) in just a few minutes. Tess could not resist going into the wild marshy field belonging to our neighbour. She took quite a bit of getting back and came back the long way round, studiously keeping out of reach of the farmer and sitting quietly by me! I am afraid the pull of rabbits is very strong.

Monday 24 October 2011

The Visitors are Gone.

Lovely having visitors who are so familiar that it is like having family around - no rush, no standing on ceremony -just a nice relaxed chatty time.

For lunch on Saturday I bought a piece of Belted Galloway Pot roast rib. By the time the farmer came to carve it it was so tender that it just fell apart, so we had a pile of bits of beef of a plate on the table and helped ourselves. I cooked it in red wine so the gravy was delicious too. A pile of Yorkshire puddings on the table and a large dish of roasted root vegetables meant that the meal had been very little effort. We had more Swiss chard out of the garden and I found that all the local ladybirds had chosen it as their winter hibernation place. I finally had to go outside and shake it well to try and evacuate them. If we ate any steamed ladybirds we don.t know about it. Somehow steamed ladybird doesn't seem so unpalatable as steamed maggot!

For pudding I tried Rosemary's recipe (Share my Garden on my side bar) for Pear tart. If you fancy a nice easy sweet go to her site for the recipe.

Then we walked at Thorpe Perrow arboretum. The autumn colours are so slow in coming I really think they are going to be non-existent this year. But the walk was lovely. There were hundreds there but the place is so large that we hardly met a soul. We walked round the Bird of prey centre - I find something very sad about these majestic birds caged when they should be wild and free. Maybe a bird feels differently about it - but I don't like it at all.

Today on the farm the giant muck-spreader has arrived and the loose-housing is being cleared and the manure spread on the fields. Cats have been disturbed and are not happy - spending time by the back door demanding milk in recompense (and volubly at that). It is a damp, dreary day and the fields are getting wetter underfoot by the day - so the cattle will be in shortly. Twenty seven in-calf heifers are destined for our housing - coming into nice, warm, clean straw any day soon.

In the field the belgian blue heifers are well in-calf and one looks near to calving. The farmer hopes that it will go 'home' before the day arrives as Belgian blue heifers often have a difficult calving. She has to wait to go home until the Tup Sales are over.

The road into our little market town is closed all this week for re-surfacing work, so any trip into town means a long way round. We we dreading an influx of traffic being diverted down our lane but so far this hasn't happened. We are just not used to traffic noise and would find it very intrusive.

It would be nice to see the sun today but in spite of what the weather-forecaster said yesterday, at present it is well and truly hiding behind a blanket of thick, misty cloud. Message to self - keep all doors and window closed as any time now a sweet smell of manure will begin to drift towards the house on the west wind that is blowing. Wonder how the remains of the Belted Galloway will taste to a background of that!

Friday 21 October 2011

The Booker Pri\e.

I have no time to blog today as I am getting ready for visitors who are staying for the week-end. But I do suggest that if you have a minute, you go to yesterday's blog, click on the comments and scroll down to acornmoon. Here Valerie gives us an interesting fact about the Booker that I certainly didn't know about.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

It's come round again.

Regular events always seem to make the year go more quickly - hairdressing appointments, committee meetings - even Christmas and birthdays. One no sooner seems to have passed than the next is upon us. I'm sure that the older one gets the more this is true. I do seem to remember in the far distant past waiting for Santa to arrive seemed an endless wait. Now the Christmas decorations are up on the high streets before they have had time to gather dust in whatever safe place they are put for the Summer.

Nowhere is this more true than in the annual Booker Prize for Literature. Because it falls so near to my birthday, I often get the prize book as a present and welcome it is too, although there have been times when I have been totally unable to finish it (Midnight's Children springs immediately to mind.) Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' was a masterpiece and a great pleasure to read.

This year's short list was an interesting one because there were two first-time authors on it. The winner was Julian Barnes, and this is his fourth entry - so a case of fourth time lucky for him. But, as usual, there is controversy - the eternal argument between - should the winner be a work of 'highbrown literature' or should it be ' a good read' - and can you combine the two?

There was an interesting programme on BBC2 last evening, when the six short-listed books were all taken to a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands and various inhabitants were invited to read them. I must say that it did not seem to me to be an 'ordinary' village: there were a lot of rather posh ladies in tartan and with double-barrelled names and several men in kilts - and there did seem an awful lot of so-called 'ordinary' folk willing to read these tomes. But it was
interesting and they voted on the winner, which was definitely not Julian Barnes.

The Times Literary Editor, Erica Wagner, has a good commentary on the prize, in which she asks whether the novels on the short list will stay the course and still be read in a couple of hundred years time. Of course none of us can answer that question but it is interesting to note that she quotes two contemporary reviews of books which have really stood the test of time and which are now seen as classics. They certainly were not seen that way at their time of publication. These are the two reviews:

Book a) "sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous."
b) "there seems to us great power in this book but a purposeless power, which we feel a great desire to see turned to better account."

Book a) is 'Moby Dick' and book b) is 'Wuthering Heights.'

Just goes to show that you never can tell. However, I would like to know what your general opinion is on the overall purpose of the Booker Prize - should it be a book we all enjoy or a book which takes a bit of getting through? You decide - after all you will none of you be here to know what happens to Julian Barnes's book in two hundred years, will you?

Monday 17 October 2011

Another lovely day.

Two lovely Autumn days in succession is almost too good to be true at this time of the year. As soon as we had had our lunch the farmer and I set off for a walk at Orgate.

Orgate is a tiny community just above the village of Marske in Swaledale. There is no made up road, just a well preserved track, and rarely any traffic. We left our car in the village of Marske, crossed the bridge over the beck and walked up the hill to the track. This beck is one of the many which flow into the River Swale. On a fine day like this one the beck is a pleasant trickle but after rain it becomes a raging torrent, all adding to that huge body of water that flows down the country and into the North Sea at the Humber Estuary.

In the peaceful fields there is still plenty of grass. As far as I know there is no dairy farm in the village but one field held a clutch of Suffolk rams feeding themselves up prior to their busy time. What sturdy fellows they are - they must carry twice as much weight as Swaledales.

The next field held a lovely black Dales pony. There are not too many of them about nowadays although they are becoming a little more popular. He was a lovely fellow but really too far away to get a good shot and he had no intention of coming any nearer - the grass was far too sweet and tasty.

And so we set off down the track between quite high hedges. Luckily we had Tess on the lead because suddenly - on a bend - we were surprised to see two horses pulling a splendid carriage. There were two people sitting on the front, holding the reins and two more folk standing on the back. By the time I had got my camera out they were disappearing round the next bend but the photograph gives you some idea of what it was like. They must have had a lovely ride on such a lovely day and it did strike me that a hundred or so years ago I would have known exactly what sort of carriage it was!

I talked yesterday about the fieldfares and redwings. Well I hope they come this way some time soon, because great swags of cotoneaster cornubia berries hung out over the track in various places - they looked good enough to eat.

We had a lovely wander along the path through dappled woodland until I realised that we had to walk all the way back to the car - so we turned round and retraced our steps.

Another lovely walk before this week's promised spell of Arctic weather.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Perfect Autumn Days.

Perfect days at this time of the year are few and far between, but yesterday was a special one here in the Yorkshire Dales.

It was such for the farmer - although not for me in this instance - in that it was the first shoot for the shooting syndicate who shoot the land around our farm. The farmer is not a shooting man but he does like the camaraderie which it offers, so he goes along as a 'beater'. From my point of view they had a good day in that it takes a while for the pheasants to 'learn' to fly when the shooters approach and they never shoot until a pheasant is in the air, so for the first few weeks the 'bag' is small.
Later in the season the cleverest ones seem to learn to come into the garden out of the way - they are always welcome. I don't eat pheasant and I really don't like them being shot so the farmer and I agree to differ.

But this meant that Tess and I were on our own for the day. The weather forecast for next week is horrible, so the first thing I did was a couple of loads of washing. I have visitors for the weekend next weekend (looking forward to seeing you P and D if you are reading this) so it was nice to get it done while the weather was so nice.

And nice it was - wall to wall sunshine, slight breeze - the kind of Autumn day that we so rarely get up here and the kind that- hopefully - stays in the mind all winter to carry one through those absolutely awful days to come.

My early lunch was a large jacket potato which had been cooking in the Aga for a couple of hours -I split it and put in a dollop of butter and a nice slice of cheddar. It was delicious - not the farmer's favourite food at all, so good to eat while he wasn't here. (he took a picnic lunch).

Then Tess and I set off to walk to Red Bank - a mile each way. It was so quiet - I don't know where the rooks and jackdaws were yesterday but they certainly were not down our lane. So quiet was it that I could hear a group of long tailed tits working through the hedgerow, chattering quietly to one another as they went.

We stopped so that I coud photograph some bright red rose hips on the side of the lane and disturbed a huge flock of Winter thrushes - fieldfares and redwings. It is wonderful to see them back for the Winter - they swooped over the lane and off into the stubble field, making their chip-chip noise as they went.

Further on I took another photograph of the dairy cows enjoying the Autumn sunshine. They do love the sun on their backs and looked so contented in the field. But already the field is beginning to show signs of what the farmer calls 'paddling up' - in other words the recent rain has caused it to be so wet that the cows trample the grass down and make it uneatable. There will come a point shortly when they will have to go in for the Winter. A week or two of this lovely weather would be so good, but - sadly - rain is forecast for the beginning of the week.

Coming back through the garden I see that the 'wild' sweet pea given to me by S and N (thank you S and N if you are reading this), and which has given such good service over the Summer, is still in full flower. I do intend to keep seed for next year if I can - it is just a matter of harvesting them at the right moment.

Back home the farmer arrives shortly after we do and tells me that they have seen two foxes during the day - wish I had seen them too. I make a hearty soup for tea (pea, carrot and onion -i.e. the contents of the salad drawer plus a box of dried peas I 'found' at the back of the store cupboard) - I must say it is jolly good - just the soup for a perfect Autumn day.

Have a nice week end.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Warming food.

Should you ask what the weather is like here today you would wish you hadn't bothered - it is raining, cold (9 degrees), foggy and thoroughly miserable. On a farm these conditions call for warming food.

The farmer is indoors keeping warm by painting the sitting room bay window. We have just taken the curtains to the dry-cleaners. They were washable but they are huge. The dry-cleaning bill is going to be £45 but it is worth that not to have to lug them in and out of the washing machine and find somewhere to dry them in this damp weather.

So now to warming food for lunch. We are going for our flu jabs at 1.30 so it has to be an early lunch. I have made a Spanish dish which I often fall back on when time is short. I don't have a name for it but it tastes good on its own, or on pasta.
I fry an onion in a little olive oil until the onion is transparent then I add sliced chorizo (as mild or as hot as you choose) and cook for a few minutes until the chorizo is beginning to brown. Add next a tin of chick peas and a tin of chopped tomatoes, a desertspoon of sugar and a good grinding of black pepper. Then cook this down until it is nice and thick and leave for a couple of hours for the flavours to meld. Yummy.

I have also made a dish for tomorrow as it is market day, which means we come in and need something to eat straight away. There is usually some cold meat around, so I have made a dish of red cabbage to go with it.

I slice half a red cabbage, any old apples lying around (I used eaters which are getting a bit old, but cookers are best) and a couple of onions. Layer them in a casserole dish, covering each layer with a sprinkling of salt, black pepper and balsamic vinegar. Put a lid on the dish and cook in a moderate oven until it has all cooked down nicely. It is better eaten the next day and heats up easily - or it can be eaten cold, almost like chutney.

If I am short of time I cook this as a stir fry instead and if it is getting near to Christmas I add a handful of cranberries.

There has that made your mouths water? A photo of the chorizo dish is above - the red cabbage is still in the oven but might put a photo on later to tempt you. Have a nice day - hope it is warm where you are.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

It's the day of the ball.

October 12th is highlighted for two reasons. First it is my appointment at the hairdresser, so I went down to Ripon (lovely to drive myself there after all this time) in the pouring rain. Crossing the River Ure I see it is banking dangerously and when I get out to take a photograph I find it is making a noise like an express train.

The other reason it is highlighted is that today - as it is every year for the last four years - is the day of Willow's Cyber Ball. (Go to Life at Willow Manor on my side bar if you wish to read more). Anyone can go and can choose any partner, dead or alive, any method of transport and can wear whatever they wish - cost no deterrent.
Those of you who have blogged with me for a long time will remember the delightful Derrick of Melrose musings. He stopped blogging a while ago but I had his e mail address and a quick e mail soon let me know that he would be delighted to accompany me to the ball. So we are going (in our imagination) in his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. There will be delicious cyber food and the beauty of that is that you can eat as much as you wish without putting on a single ounce. Yes, I know it sounds daft but Willow has made this an annual event and so many participate now that she just couldn't stop doing it - we would all be disappointed at not painting the picture in our imagination.

The things some people will get up to to avoid this awful weather.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

The New gates are in place.

Here they are - the nice new gates. They are finally in place and I have to say, the hens are flummoxed. One of my new pullets, together with Goldie - her mother - managed to squeeze through when the gate was open for a minute. When I went down the yard to photograph them both hens were standing by the gate trying to work out how to get back again! As you can see in the photograph, Tess looks a bit puzzled too.

I am sorry I can't put 'before' gates on as a contrast - I simply have not got a photograph of them and they are by now in that great scrap yard in the sky. But take it from me that these gates are a vast improvement. Apart from anything else, they are more my size and I can open them with ease. Give my hens a couple of days and they will have worked out how to get through/over so that they can eat under the bird table.

The rain has stopped today. There is a strong South West wind blowing and the rooks are swooping low over the fields as they race along. The jackdaws are sitting in the ash trees and making quite a racket and when I went to my friend's house for coffee this morning, the starlings in the tree near to her house were making the most amazing noise. I always say that a ladies' coffee morning is like a tree full of starlings - well here was a tree full of starlings that sounded just like a ladies' coffee morning.

On the way back from our walk after lunch I came across this red admiral sunning itself on our garden wall - soaking up the last bit of warm sunshine I suspect.
I must say it is good to see the sun again after several very miserable days. Going to Tesco this morning, the Vale of York was bathed in Autumn sunshine - makes a change from not being able to see it at all.

To those who asked whether or not the teaser tup got any little titbits before he was taken out - I doubt it because as soon as the first one or two ewes come into season he is taken out and replaced by the Blue Faced Leicester. And until the ewe is in season she is not receptive to mating, and I suspect she would tell him to clear off.

There has also been some discussion - Rosemary on Miss Cellany brought it up - on whether or not it was 'kind' to keep cows indoors all the year round, rather than putting them out to grass in the Summer. This happens a lot in some areas and is beginning to happen up here, as she pointed out after her recent visit. I asked the farmer about this last evening, and this is what he said.

It is impossible these days to make a living from a small dairy herd, so as the small dairy farms go out of business, the farms are incorporated into larger units.
This means that some of the dairy herd have three or four hundred cows in them and while it would be ideal for them to be out in the grass (their natural habitat), if there is wet weather that number of cows soon make the whole field churned up and the grass quite uneatable. Therefore the cows are kept in loose housing with open sides, and often a large fold yard where they can be outside if they choose (but not on grass). The grass is cut and fed to them. It all sounds not quite so kind, but it is a fact that on these farms many of the cows choose to stay inside rather than go out anyway. So you will have to come to your own conclusions - but I hope this helps.

Monday 10 October 2011

The arrival of a teaser.

The field opposite is full of pedigree Swaledale ewes. Now that they have nicely settled in a smart young chap has arrived - he is a Swaledale ram - or tup as they are called up here in the Dales.

Sadly he will not get to do the job is expecting to do, because he is just a 'teaser' tup. In other words he is put in amongst the ewes to get them all excited and skittish and bring them into season.

Once this begins to happen he will be taken away and the 'real' tup will be brought in. He will be a pedigree Blue Faced Leicester tup because these sheep are for meat breeding and the farmer wants mules. Mules are a cross between a Swaledale and a Blue Faced Leicester and the progeny will be sold for meat, probably for the Easter lamb market next year (it will be a short life but a merry one for those lambs I am afraid.)

The BFL tup will arrive with his raddle harness on and we shall begin to see the ewes with a coloured splodge on their bottoms as one by one they mate with the ram. The raddle colour will be changed each week so that the farmer will know the order in which the lambs will be born. Anyone who has read 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles has some idea about what is going on!

If I manage to get near enough to take a photograph of the ram I will do so but today is again miserably wet and dismal, so I shall wait until it improves. Have a nice day!

##I stand corrected. Bovey Belle tells me that the reddleman is in The Return of the Native and not Tess. Sorry about that - and thanks BB for putting me right.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Down on the farm.

The swallows have finally all gone. I am not surprised when I look out of the window and see the disgusting weather - windy and wet. Their going heralds the return of our car to the garage; we can't put the car in in the Summer as the swallows nest in there and make such a mess of the car.

The cattle are still out in the fields. Silaging is finally finished on all the surrounding farms and there is still plenty of grass, so the cows will stay out as long as possible to eat it off. They seem to prefer to be out in any case. What will finally bring them in is the state of the ground. If there is a lot of rain then the ground gets wet and soggy and they paddle it up.

The hedgehogs don't seem to have gone into hibernation yet. Tess seeks them out when she goes out for her final mooch under the Scot's pines. They seem to take absolutely no notice of her and all she does is bark at them. The ones we have here all seem to be fat and healthy. This is hardly surprising as they eat the food we put out for the farm cats and any apples which are past their best I throw out under the bird table for blackbirds and hedgehogs. When they finally go to bed for the winter it will probably be in the hay barn where it is snug and warm.

The new gates are not fitted yet. The posts are in and the concreting of the gate way is completed. Now the farmer is waiting for it all to set really hard. The hens are therefore having an extended birthday as they can come up every day with no need to fly over the gate. For some reason they seem to find sunflower hearts, niger seed and mixed bird seed preferable to poultry wheat and layers pellets. But then, stolen fruit always was the sweetest.

The farmer is already inside for the day and has just lit the wood-burner - it is that miserable outside. When I questioned how early he was he just informed me that he was not staying out in this weather. It is only 10.24 but he has all yesterday's papers to read and the Grand Prix is on shortly after lunch, so he will be happy.

I am baking our own onions for lunch. I bake them in their skins and we eat the insides at the table - like one would do with potatoes - they have not been taken from the groundn long and are still very sweet. Served with pork chops, apple sauce and mashed potatoes they should make a tasty lunch.

Tomorrow the farmer begins to clean out the loose housing - two feet of manure in there from last Winter. It will all be put in a heap on one of the fields to mature and will then be spread in the Spring. The farm cats will be furious as it is by far the warmest place to spend the day - the heat has built up considerably over the Summer. But it is necessary to clean it out and put in fresh deep straw so that it is ready for the day when those girls have to come inside.

Friday 7 October 2011


This has been a very busy week for me - friends in for tea and coffee, days out, visitors staying - a lovely, enjoyable week but no time to blog. However, things are now back to 'normal' - so I will tell you about one outing we had.

My visitor S, a friend W and I all went to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum, which I have featured several times before. We were hoping for the Autumn colours of the Acer grove but we were too early and apart from one Acer turning colour the rest have some way to go.

At the entrance there is an avenue of horse chestnut trees and underneath the ground was littered with bright shiny conkers - very tempting - I wonder why they have such fascination.

After our walk round the Arboretum, where the staff were busy putting Hallowe'en lanterns in the trees (they always have Hallowe'en festivities for children) we had a walk through the bog garden, which is already kitted out with scary creatures, and then it was into the cafe for a bowl of hearty cabbage, ham and puy lentil soup. It was delicious and I shall try it shortly.

From the car park you can see Snape Castle, so we decided to have a short trip to look at it. It is only a ruin and it is not possible to go round it as it is attached to a private house. But you can go into the chapel, which has been carefully restored (apart from the celing, which I am sure would once have been splendid) and seems to be the parish church of the village now.

But the history of Snape Castle is fascinating. Until late in the seventeenth century it belonged to the Nevilles of Middleham (who owned the castle there too) and so has an association with Richard III - with both his mother and his wife.

But perhaps the most poignant connection is that it was the home of Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, who lived there when she was married to John Neville, the third Baron Latymer - this was before her marriage to Henry.

Catherine was only 20 when she married Henry and he was her third husband - her first marriage was when she was just fourteen.

By the time Catherine married Henry he was a very large, ugly old man - hardly the sort of chap one would chose for one's twenty year old daughter. But of course in those days women were mere commodities to be married off so that the money and the prestige was kept in a tight little circle.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

You need a strong arm......

....around a farm.

It seems to me, as a late incomer to farming, that everything built on a farm - gates, fences, barns, machinery stores etc. is built to last forever. In other words, built of some heavy metal which is almost impossible for anyone of 'normal' strength to manipulate. Farmers, because they are manipulating it all the time, build up the strength over the years. And even when the said items - gates for example - become old and rusty, they still work (after a fashion) and are left in place as having 'nothing wrong with them.'

Thus the gates at the bottom of our yard have become (to my eyes) an eyesore and - more importantly - too heavy for me to open and close, particularly on a day like today, when the wind is blowing fiercely against them. This means that I can only reach my chickens by going round by the paddock and similarly if I want a handful of parsley from the garden. Frustration has set in.

But miracles can happen and the farmer informed me at lunchtime that the scrap merchant is coming in the morning to collect all the scrap metal which is lying about the place. Before then he intends to remove these two gates ready to hang two new gates he has had made - two lighter gates (and infinitely more attractive).

It really will not make a scrap of difference to the hens that for a week or two there will be no gates in place. For weeks now they have soared over the top of the old gates to reach the bird tables, where tasty titbits of niger seed and sunflower hearts fall regularly to the ground.

I find something very cleansing about getting rid of rubbish - I think the farmer does too, although he is much more reluctant to do it. I frequently throw things away and then wish I had kept them. The farmer, on the other hand, has bits of wood he has kept for years 'in case they might come in useful.'

Are you a hoarder, or are you a chucker-out regardless? I would love to know. One thing is for sure - there is really no happy medium, is there?

Monday 3 October 2011

Goers and Comers.

In the barn, the last of this year's swallows have taken the opportunity of stretching and exercising their wings in the spell of warm weather last week. Some of our swallows have had three broods and the last young are almost ready to fly on that amazing journey which starts here on the farm and ends in Africa. The mystery of how they find their way is one of the world's great unsolved ones. I just wish I could tell them in some way to avoid Malta, where they will be shot at unmercifully. They share the barn with Tip, our old sheepdog, and I think he probably misses them when they go as they are a bit of company for him.

As they go then the winter visitors begin to arrive. Friends G and J saw redwings at the coast (and I believe some in G's garden) last week. This is very early. When I mentioned this to the farmer he said he thought he had heard some last week and had looked up to see that identifying swooping flight and a small flock passed overhead. Whether they were fieldfares or redwings he couldn't say, but it looks as though they are already beginning to arrive.

There are plenty of berries for them to eat but it always troubles me that they seem to eat them early giving no thought to the possibility of a hard winter and no food. Don't you find it odd that birds can fly to the other side of the world, and return next year to the same barn that they were born in, and yet they don't have enough sense to leave the berries and look for other available food?

It has been windy today and here on the farm the pine needles have been falling thick and fast. I had friends for a cup of tea this afternoon so I swept up the pine needles before they came. I need not have bothered as they were just as thick by the time they came. When the farmer opened the back door to come in for his lunch the wind blew a cloud of rowan leaves in with him - and this all of half an hour after my weekly cleaner had left.

Tomorrow Tess goes for a shampoo and haircut so it is a busy morning - luckily the supermarket is en route so I can call there as well. Visitors come to stay on Wednesday - so it is all go this week.

Any of you who remember Derrick of Melrose Musings (he stopped his blog about a year ago) will be interested to hear that I have been in touch with him as last year he was my partner at Willow's annual cyber ball. He has agreed to be my cyber partner again this year and has packed his tuxedo as he will be away on holiday. If you want to attend the ball go to Willow's site. You can choose whoever you like to be your partneer Fred Astaire, George Clooney, even your own better half - after all anything is possible in cyberland. When my son comes I will get him to put willow's poster and link on my blog. I have tried repeatedly to do it, but it is beyond me. Have a nice evening.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Everyone's gone to the sea.

Our glorious autumn weather is set to break tomorrow as rain comes down from the North and the temperature begins to drop. But today is a lovely day and the farmer and I decided to have a day out. Unfortunately everyone else decided the same.

We set off, with Tess, at around ten o'clock to go to the sea on the East coast. This meant going across the North York Moors, which in themselves are very scenic so I had high hopes of some good photographs for you.

By the time we reached Thirsk (about a third of the way there) we were in a continuous line of traffic, all heading for the same place we guessed. We pulled off the road and had our lunch and took Tess for a walk in the North York Moors - very dramatic scenery but not much of a photograph as it is all so vast and the heather is over and is all brown.

It was lovely to see the sea but we never managed to get out of the continuous line of traffic. Every car park was full and there was absolutely nowhere to stop. We went down to Whitby, Staithes, Runswick, Sandsend and Saltburn - and enjoyed the views, with the windows wide open. and saw the thousands of people on the beach enjoying themselves. But we had little choice but to keep going.

However, we did enjoy the ride out in spite of that. We passed within a mile of Denise Nesbitt's village (Mrs Nesbitt's space) but decided not to call as they are deep into remodelling their kitchen and we didn't want to disturb progress.

The countryside was so beautiful with the trees turning to their Autumn colours and the hazy views so Autumnal. Sad that everyone else had decided to do the same thing but we arrived home having enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. And if it rains tomorrow - as it is forecast to do - then we shall be pleased that we went today.