Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Life at a standstill.

Life has almost ground to a standstill here in North Yorkshire. There has just been a two hur long blizzard and all the places where the snow had been cleared are now filled up again. The farmer and I went into town to do some food shopping and are now home and well-stocked-up.

In town everyone is struggling to walk on the uncleared footpaths - there seems to be a philosophy that providing the paths are left uncleared then, if someone falls, it is nobody else's responsibility. This means that most people walk out in the road way - and that makes driving more of a hazard.

Local schools are mostly closed - children are bussed in from a wide area and staff often live quite a long way away from school too.

Our animals (sheep and heifers) are being fed outdoors. They have thick winter coats and don't seem to mind the weather. The farm cats seem to be venturing out only to be fed and the food is disappearing off the bird table almost as fast as we can put it on. Yes - Winter has come early this year and as yet there is no sign of it lessening its grip, so we had better get used to it.

Thanks to you all for your marvellously uplifting messages of support - you will never know how grateful I have been to receive them over the last few days. Love to you all.,

Monday, 29 November 2010

What a pity that this weather is so beastly for travelling around, because - really - it is so very beautiful viewed from inside, looking out. We are putting out our usual quantities of bird seed, nuts etc. and in addition platesful of scraps, raisins, suet etc. All of it is disappearing before our eyes.

What traffic there is is going past very slowly with a lot of wheel-spinning and wobbling across the lane. A stiff Northerly breeze is beginning to form which does not bode well for later in the day when more snow is forecast. Certainly, the best place to be is by the fire, which most of your messages suggest.

And speaking of messages I am most touched by your concern - both over my blog and through the post. Thank you all so much - it is so heartening. I have several friends who at present seem to me to be in a worse state than I am and that also gives me strength to be positive.

I shall now have a little tour round blogland, catching up on all your entries and leaving messages. What a wonderful place Blogland is - long may it continue to offer love and support all round. Have a good week.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Determined effort at normality...

...whatever that is!
First of all - thank you all so much for the good wishes. They have been much appreciated. I am back home again, the sun is shining, the world is a lovely shade of white out there and I am trying my best to look forward, not back.
Of my attack I know nothing, just that I was airlifted to James Cook Hospital and stayed there for four days. Now I am on a cocktail of drugs and feel very disorientated, but trying hard to get back to normal.
Outside the window the world has turned white and beautiful (as long as one does not have to negotiate the roads) and for the time being I am staying inside and looking out. I did venture to the Hairdresser yesterday and - by golly - I feel better for it. Of course, after my fit, I can no longer drive - my Driving Licence is on its way back to DVLA and I am starting to set up a network of Home delivery from Tesco and also a reliable taxi service, to take some of the pressure off the farmer (who has been wonderful).
This morning's footprints reveal a whole secret world - the farmer says the fox has been all round the fields and to within a few yards of the hen-houses. Looking out of the windows tells me exactly where the cats have been and various places when pheasants have had a mooch under the bird table.
Now today it is still and sunny - not a breath of wind, so let's hope it stays that way. My amaryllis have come into full flower while I have been away - they are a delight. Tess and the farmer are both overjoyed to see me home again. Duck breasts with cherry sauce for lunch and The Times and The Guardian crosswords to tackle to get my brain back in gear. See you all tomorrow - in the meantime keep warm.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A bit under the weather.

There has been a gap of a few days in my blogging because I was airlifted to hospital on Sunday afternoon with some kind of seizure. After various tests I was discharged last evening (in a snowstorm) and am back home but very shaky - so for the time being I shall not be blogging. I hope to be back before long - depends upon how I am feeling.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Winter secrets.

I love trees. I love to see them as they are just bursting into leaf; I love them in their full finery when the leaves are new and bright; I love them in their Autumn colours; most of all I love them in Winter.

In the fens of Lincolnshire there is very little grassland - all the fields are ploughed up and replanted each year, which means you get a wonderful vista of bare trees and brown ploughed fields - that I love most of all. One of these days I shall buy myself a watercolour painting of just such a landscape even though I have little wall space which is not already covered with pictures.

Up here, of course, almost every field is a pasture or a meadow, so the views are different. Nevertheless, there is something so beautiful about a bare tree rising out of the hedgerow and revealing its shape. This morning, driving into Leyburn, bare alders were rising up out of the mist - breath-takingly beautiful.

It is one of those days when the fair weather to the West of the Pennines (blue skies and sunshine) is fighting the sea-fret/fog of the East coast. The battle is taking place round about where we live so that one minute it is thick fog and the next the sun breaks through. It was like that on our walk a short while ago.

And it struck me just how many secrets these bare trees and hedgerows reveal. First of all there are the birds' nests - how well the birds conceal their nests at breeding time and how vulnerable they look now that the trees and hedges are bare.
A small crab apple tree in the hedge has gone unnoticed all year until now, when all the leaves are off and it advertises its presence with a crop of yellow, waxy fruit.
The cotoneaster horizontalis just outside our front gate is covered in red beady berries which were hardly noticeable when the little leaves were on the branches. Now they stand out like rubies, waiting to be picked off one by one by the blackbirds.

My favourite bare tree of all is the alder. By the time we got back to the farm after our walk the fog was coming down again. I took a shot of the alders in the distance - not near enough to be really exciting, but it gives you the general idea.

So for me, Winter does have its compensations - there really is beauty everywhere if only we take the time to look for it. Have a nice weekend.

One perk of the awful, dismal weather is that the farmer has time on his hands, so yesterday he gave the kitchen a bit of a spruce up by re-doing the walls with 'daffodil' - doesn't it look nice and sparkly clean (for how long?)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Rooks Two!

I enjoyed reading your rook/crow stories in the comments on my yesterday's post. It seems I am not alone in loving them. Here in the UK we say you can distinguish between rooks and crows (if you wish to do so) by the saying - ' if there's more than one crow, they're usually rooks'. This refers, loosely, to the fact that rooks are very sociable birds and like to live in close proximity to other rooks - hance the enormous rookeries like the one below our farm in Forty Acre wood. Crows, on the other hand, are fairly solitary. If there is one nest high in a tree (and how easy they are to see in Winter when the leaves have gone) then that nest is usually a crow's nest. And yes, I agree with Bovey Belle that 'shooters' do not like crows - they accuse them of taking other bird's eggs and babies (some truth in this but live and let live in nature, I say.)

I thought you might be interested to hear why I like rooks so much. I am deep into making Christmas puddings and cakes (4 of each for various friends) so have no chance of going outside to photograph today (who would wish to anyway as it is another grey cold day). So I thought I would do a post about my childhood - at the end of which you will understand my love of the bird.

I was born and brought up in the Lincolnshire Fens. My parents were quite old when I was born - I had a sister twenty-two years older than me and a brother eleven years older than me (both have died some years ago). We lived in what was then a small village (it is now almost a small town). I was definitely an 'after-thought', my mother not being aware she was pregnant until she was taken ill and rushed into hospital, at which point I was born weighing only three pounds and spending my first month in an incubator. They were wonderful parents in spite of the surprise of my birth.

When the second world war started my sister was already married and my brother was immediately called up into the army. So from the age of about six I was, to all intents and purposes, an only child. That can be quite lonely.

But I had lots of friends - this was a friendly village and we all went to the village school until we were eleven. So in many ways it was an idyllic childhood in spite of the war - lots of airfields in the flat lands of Lincolnshire meant lots of army and airforce personnel around in addition to evacuees from various cities. Suddenly there was a lot more going on around us and I loved it.

At eleven I won a scholarship to the grammar school in the city of Lincoln and had to make another set of friends there - but my village friends are friends to this day
although I now live away from Lincolnshire.

But one thing was constant through all this time. We lived opposite to the village church and surrounding the village church was a huge wood - and in that wood was a huge rookery. I awoke each morning to the sound of rooks and I went to bed each night to the sound of rooks. My bedroom window was on the level of some of their nests and I would look out onto mother and father rooks worn out with feeding their young. I would watch young rooks learning to fly, taking off unsteadily from the branch and suddenly realising that their wings would carry them along. And I would grieve with the rooks at what seems to have been an annual rook=shoot cull, when the whole colony would erupt in turmoil, shout and scream their objections and be left decimated at the end of the day. I am told that when I was about two I toddled down our garden path and, finding a dead rook on the grass, picked it up and sucked on its beak!! I prefer not to think about that.

But now, living here in the North Yorkshire countryside, I feel I have come home at last, home to the rooks I love so much and to countryside which, apart from the odd hill or two, is not so very different from where I came from.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


As you will know if you read my blog regularly, I love rooks. We live near to a huge rookery in Forty acre wood and they fly past our farm morning and evening. In the Summer they start out for their feeding grounds at dawn and come back home at around ten o'clock at night, so I only see them occasionally. In the depths of Winter I am up and about long before they venture forth.

But at this time of the year I see them twice daily and they give me great joy. If there is a gale from the East then they tumble past my bedroom window in a great heap, which takes twenty minutes or so to pass, as there are so many thousands of them. If the wind is from the West then they tack back and forth, struggling to make progress, hedge-hopping and often sailing away in the wrong direction - by golly they must have strong wings to ever get anywhere. If it is a still day they often pass so high up in the air that I can barely see them.

But around three o'clock in the afternoon they begin their journey back to their roost, stopping off in our fields for a search for grubs on the way. They suddenly arrive in one great cawing mass - they settle in the fields, they fly from ash tree to ash tree, they land in the Scots pines, pinch a pine cone and carry it off to drop in the field (now why do they do that?).

Today is bitterly cold and very dark and dull. Dead on time they arrived so I got my camera and went out to take a photograph of them for my blog. I leant on the gate - there was not a rook to be seen; I came in and stood in the window - the sky was full of rooks; I went out again and there was not one to be seen.

But I did take a photograph of the ash tree opposite my kitchen window - and there are a few rooks sitting in it laughing at my predicament - and one flying off just to be kind to me.

So - here is my poem about rooks again. I put it on my blog every year about this time. I make no apologies for doing so - please indulge me in my love of this cheeky black bird.


It seems to me the wind
is your friend.
Soaring, tumbling,
playing with the thermals
on a still day.

Tacking, swooping,
cutting along the hedge top,
manipulating the gale.

Chattering, flying high,
sailing home on a
light breeze.

Building your stick nest
high in the bare branches
for it to rock and rattle
round the rookery.

You joyful bird
with your black, lustrous plumage
and your crusty beak
that stabs the ground
for leatherjackets.

You can
fill the sky with movement,
write a tune on the wires,
blacken a field with your parliament
and fill my heart with joy as you
surge past my window
in your thousands
at dawn
on a cold Winter morning.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

An Ordinary Tuesday.

Tuesday morning is always the 'Tesco run' - I know, boring old supermarket and all that, but it is necessary to stock up for the week - and as I have told you before, the journey from the farm to Tesco is a lovely one as it goes on a high road overlooking the Vale of York. This morning it was especially beautiful as the sun was shining low in the sky and there was mist. I found it so beautiful that I pulled into a layby and penned a short poem. Not brilliant by any means but it was spontaneous so I will share it with you:-

The Vale of York has
strips of mist
that mark the river's run.
And in between
the etched bare trees
shine darkly in the sun.

I suppose it lets you know what the view was like.
After Tesco I usually go to my friend, G's, for coffee. This morning we had a good chat for an hour on all things creative - discussing artists and embroiderers we both admire, looking at techniques, chatting about materials etc. I came away fired with enthusiasm to do some work on my book when I had time.

After lunch Tess and I decided to walk to Forty Acre wood. We left home in brilliant, warm sunshine but before we had gone more than two or three hundred yards a mist began to creep in. I took a photograph (above) across a field of sheep - just a tiny mist at first, but by the time we returned home it was thick fog all the way and freezing too, so that the fog wrapped around us like an icy blanket. Not nice at all - called for a hot cup of coffee on our return.

If you look right centre in the photograph you will see the remains of a lovely alder tree which was brought down earlier in the year in a fierce gale - I don't know what it is about trees that makes us so sympathetic to them, but somehow looking at that fallen tree one feels for its demise.

Now, as I write, night is falling and the fog is thicker than ever and freezing too. Any minute now the log burning stove will burst into life and hopefully a warm glow will settle on the farmhouse. Have a nice evening and keep warm.
After tea I shall have a go at the next page of my book.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Coming early for the poetry bus.

I have quite a busy day tomorrow and very little I feel like doing tonight, so this is tomorrow's blog a day early. I am sure, if i was more computer-literate, I could write it tonight and get blogger to post it in the morning.

The poetry prompt was to think about a yes or no decision we had made or a crossroads we had come to where we had to make a decision.

A poem I have always admired is Henry Reed's Naming of Parts from his Lessons of the War - an apt poem to read on Remembrance Day. It tells the story of a young man being forced to listen to gun drill while looking out of the window and seeing the beauty of nature. It is a fine juxtaposition between the good and the evil I suppose. It gave me the idea for my offer for the Poetry Bus this week:-

Displacement Activity.

Come to a decision -
yes or no.
Not so difficult,
it's only a small word
either way.

The sky is the most
incredible blue, and
white clouds hang as though
attached by threads.

Make up my mind -
yes or no.
Until I decide
everything's uncertain.

On the fence a wren
sings his high, shrill song;
so loud a song,
so small a bird.

Which is politic?
yes or no.
Such a lot rests on

The winter jasmine
flowers already;
the dark leaves are
studded with yellow stars.

Developing a style.

Yesterday I went with a friend to see an exhibition of the textile work of Alice Kettle. We have both been admirers of her work for many years, particularly of her interpretation in stitch of the human figure and her ability to create such rich stitch backgrounds and on a huge scale.

When we got to the exhibition we found that in the few intervening years since we last saw her work, she has changed direction somewhat and is now producing a lot of paper/card collage work; even her figures in textile have taken on a much more loose and free aspect - although she has still this incredibly fluid touch. A lot of the surface stitching is looped with lots of loose ends (the kind of result one would get if one's machine had been playing up and the bobbin thread had come out on the right side.)

Oddly, though, as we drove home and as we talked about her work we had to admit that every artist must follow their own creative progress. In any kind of creative work one has to keep moving forward - in textile work if this were not so we would all still be doing needlepoint.

As Maggi suggests in yesterday's comments - if you want to see Alice Kettle's work do go to her web site and have a look.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

An interesting day out.

Today the sun has been kind to us and my friend, G, and I decided to have another day out and go over into Cumbria to see an exhibition of the work of the embroiderer, Alice Kettle. The exhibition was in Farfield Mill, a converted mill building on the Eastern edge of Cumbria, at the foot of the Howgill hills, where they join the Yorkshire Dales. It is a pleasant journey through the complete Wensleydale - and with the sun being low in the sky it showed the hills and dales up to perfection.

The exhibition? Well, I have the greatest respect and admiration for Kettle's work, she is a master at the human figure and its portrayal in machine embroidery. However, she has moved on. I know that artists have to keep moving on and exploring new ideas, but I didn't like her new exhibition "Allegory" as much as her earlier work. But because I know she is capable of the most excellent stitch, I had to see her 'sloppy' stitching as a deliberate act and it took some getting used ot. But I am glad I saw it, it was certainly food for thought. Sadly photography was forbidden, so I can;t show you any of the works. But I am sure she has a web site if you are interested in looking into it further.

We had an excellent soup and sandwich lunch in the cafe and then set off on our return journey through Dentdale. I took some photographs from the car as we went along. Where there is a viaduct there is the Carlisle to Settle railway, and the little village with the narrow street is the village of Dent itself. The river is the river Dee.

Back home again late afternoon and now we have to go out to a party tonight. The weather is clear and very cold, so we don't feel like turning out. Have a good weekend.

Photos left to right top to bottom:

Dentdale farm and viaduct. Dent Viaduct.
Dent village. River Dee running through Dentdale.
Farfield Mill. Dentdale.
Mill beck from upper window. Top floor of mill showing old looms.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Heavy rain.

This week we have had over three inches of rain and our rivers are full and overflowing. The river in our dale is the River Ure (the dale used to be called Yoredale, the old spelling of Ure)and this afternoon the farmer and I crossed it as we went to collect various feed from our feed merchant. Tess insisted on sitting on my knee and looking out of the window for the whole of the journey.

I took a couple of photographs which really don't show you just how full and terrifying it is. As I went up onto the bridge to take the photographs the noise was like an express train. The bridge itself, Ulshaw Bridge, is also interesting as it was originally a packhorse bridge and has a sundial dated 1674 on it - I took a photograph of that too.

We stopped and took Tess for a short walk in a pretty little wood, where they have recently been sawing down some of the trees. She loved scuffing through the leaves and had great fun. I managed to get a photograph of the farmer and Tess on our way back. Also took one of the field opposite, which has marvellous terracing, which most likely goes back to medieval times.

The weather is still very unsettled but the forecast is slightly better for tomorrow - a shooting day for the farmer and for me a trip to a gallery to see an Embroidery exhibition. More about that tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hey-ho - Golden Days.

Yesterday was our poetry afternoon - one of my favourite afternoons in the month, when eight or nine of us meet together in each other's houses and read our favourite poetry out loud (the best way to read poetry) and talk about it - about the poet, his or her life; about the construction of the poem; about memories it triggers in us. My choices yesterday were - Frances Horovitz's "Rain - Birdoswald"; Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 (That time of year thou mayst in me behold); Yeats's "The song of Wandering Aengus" (have you listened to Christy Moore singing it? fantastic) and a few others.
Sheila read Larkin's Whitsun Weddings. I have not heard it read aloud for some years - it had lost none of its resonance, and my goodness me, what memories it brought out.

Today - see the photograph above - sees sun, rain, black cloud, wind, a rainbow, thick mist - all at the same time. It is not a day for going out (although I am going out to lunch as it happens) - it is one of those days when, if I were staying indoors, I would get out one of the photograph albums and I would leaf through it, remembering a particular holiday. Golden moments. I show you two above. Both were on a holiday which started in Canada (my favourite country) and ended in New England. The first photograph is of the farmer sitting on a wooden horse and wearing the cowboy hat he has just bought (the hat hangs on our bedroom wall) and was taken on a farm in Canterbury; the second is of a boat trip across Lake Winnepessaukee (On Golden Pond). Sorry it is a bit hazy but the boat was moving and after all this is a hazy memory!

But back to the poetry afternoon. Larkin brought out such memories amongst us ladies of a certain age about our own weddings back in the days when hardly anyone had a car and most honeymoons started at the railway station with wedding guests coming to wave us off. If you haven't read Larkin's Whitsun Weddings lately - do have another look at it. I think it is one of his very best poems. And who knows what memories it might evoke in you.

Probably my most golden memory of all was not caught on camera - sadly - but it goes back to around 1974 ish. There was a gas strike in the UK and the heating was off in the school where I taught. The children were excluded but staff went in and had endless discussions etc. in the staff room. Because of this I was able to take a day off. At 11am. I collected my son from school and drove to the railway station where we boarded a train for London. We were going to the Royal Festival Hall to see Karl Heinz Stockhausen conduct the first performance of his piece Ylem. Stockhausen had long been Dominic's idol. I didn't tell him where we were going until the last minute. For us both it was a magical day.

During the performance Stockhausen left off conducting the several groups of players spaced around the hall, came into the audience and sat directly in front of us - we could have touched him. Dominic later read music at University and saw and heard many conductors over that time, notably Sir Michael Tippett, another of his heroes. But I know that, like me, that stolen day rates very highly for him as a stolen moment too.

Do you have a golden moment you can share with us?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The North East wind doth blow.

...and we shall have snow. Well, maybe not although places higher up the Dale have already had a sprinkling on the tops.

But last night, when the farmer took Tess out for her last Utility Walk at around 10pm, he came in saying that there must have been a strong wind because our Scots Pines had shed huge branches onto the lawn.

This morning, on the local news, there was talk of a Helm Wind blowing through the Pennines. Wikipedia talks of a helm wind which originates on Mallerstang Edge under certain conditions - so maybe that is what caused our Scots Pines to shed branches. As the crow flies (or the wind blows) we are probably about twelve miles East of the Mallerstang.

But strong North Easterly winds are now forecast - good for the bird watchers as it may blow a few more unusual birds our way. Five minutes ago the sun was shining; now it is so dark that I am having to type this with the light on. Any minute there will be a downpour. What wild weather we are getting. Paul Simons in The Times says this wild weather is the result of the jet stream, which apparently is hurtling above our heads at one hundred miles an hour.

Hold on to your hats!

Monday, 8 November 2010

A Day of Trauma!

Yesterday is a day best forgotten, or at least stored in the annals of doggy history.
It was a lovely day here and after lunch the farmer and I decided to go on a long walk around our fields, down the lane, back over our neighbour's fields - one of our favourites. Tess came with us - off the lead - happily sniffing in the hedge bottom and chasing the odd rabbit.

All went well until we got to the top of our pasture, about a hundred yards from home, when she chased a rabbit into the next field and completely disappeared. The time was 2pm. From then until 4pm we searched for her, going round each field in turn, calling her but no response. At 4pm we came back to the house, I rang my son and his wife and they donned wellies (you really need them in our fields at present)
nd set off to search from their end of the village. Friends from nearby came in their car and searched another area. I went round the field where she had disappeared, looking in the hedgebottoms carefully, in case she had got stuck in a rabbit hole. A runner running past the farm promised to keep an eye open for her.

We came home - the farmer had tea - I could eat nothing. We sat by the wood burner and I imagined all kinds of horror scenarios - she was stuck down a rabbit hole, she had got in a stranger's car, someone had stolen her, she was caught in the hedge bottom by her collar and couldn't get free. By 8pm I was desolate and sure that I would never see her again. That is until the farmer opened the back door and she shot in, like a bullet, straight to the stove, flung herself on her back with her feet in the air (saying sorry I suppose).

We were so relieved that we couldn't be cross with her. he was dry and clean, not at all muddy and had an odd, musty smell. Of course we will never know where she had been, but this morning I have ordered a new pet tag (she lost her last one) and this afternoon I am taking her to the vets to be microchipped.

All's well that ends well, they say. On a brighter note, I used Saturday to completely empty and clean and tidy my study, ready to start my book project. Thanks to Heather,(Ragged Old Blogger) I have plenty of ideas. The photograph shows my clean, neat study. Come on all you girls who have told me in the comments box that it really is time you tidied your studies. Gain inspiration from these tidy shelves. I shall keep looking at the photograph to remind me, as within a day of starting the project they will get disturbed. Ah well, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Poetry Bus one day early.

This week's challenge is set by Jessica of Perfect Fourth (if you want to read the challenge, go to TFE and then click on the link - sorry, I can't do links). She suggests we write a poem which has some connection with bathing, or showering or basically anything wet.

Up here in the Dales, once the Autumn takes hold, we know all about "wet". Frankly, if you still have a house without a bathroom and you can stand a bit of a chilly 'bath', strip off and go outside for ten minutes on a damp day (take a bar of soap with you) and your problem is solved.

So here is my ticket for this week's bus:-


There is a softness
in the rain
that falls,
wraps around me;
too fine to see, yet somehow
wetter than a heavy shower.

There is a stillness
in the field
where a smudge of cattle
stand passively,
backs to the rain,
heads hung down.

There is no movement
in this wet world.
Few birds fly.
Those that do
flit from bush to bush
furtive and silent.

The trees gleam darkly,
their leaves hanging
dull and sodden;
their branches inky black.

In the hedgerow
festoons of cobwebs
catch the fine droplets,
cloaking the leaves in
drapes of silver.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The heifers arrive.

Here on the farm we are beginning to batten down the hatches in preparation for the coming Winter. Today the farmer has had a bonfire in the field to burn all the blackberry thorns, hedge clippings and rubbish which have accumulated over the last month or two. I took the opportunity to clear my study and made several trips to the fire with bags of rubbish. Now I feel really pleased that my study is clean and tidy, I know where everything is (fingers crossed!) and I can start my next project.

The first of the in-calf heifers have also arrived today; six pedigree Holstein heifers belonging to our neighbour, who uses our loose housing for his young beast.
Now that the fields are very wet underfoot and more heavy rain and gales are forecast for the coming week, these young stock, in calf (and like all pregnant females in need of a bit of TLC), are better inside being looked after. I must say, standing in deep, clean straw and with a good heap of silage to eat they are looking very happy tonight.

It has been a lovely day today, so I have also put a photograph of the view up our fields above - Tess and I did our afternoon walk/rabbit sniff and really everywhere looked so lovely. Now bad weather is forecast so today will be a memory to savour.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Wild Apple.

The hedgerows here on the farm are full of wild apple trees. They advertise their presence in the Spring when - in a good year - they are bursting with blossom. This year their blossom was exceptional, and also very beautiful to look at.

Now, of course, they have borne fruit. The wild winds of earlier this week have stripped most of the leaves from the trees in our fields and most of the crab apples from the branches. The heifers, who are still out (although they will be taken in any day now as the fields are so wet underfoot) have had a veritable feast. They are very sour apples but the beast seem to love them. One day earlier in the week the orangey/red crab apples of one tree lay thick on the ground. I made a mental note to return with my camera to record this but when I did so, every one had been eaten by the heifers, who were standing around the tree.

However - high up the big pasture one tree is holding on to its crop of crab apples for dear life. Every tree in the hedgerow seems to be full of fieldfares and redwings today. I fully expect they will descend on this apple tree before the weekend is out and strip it bare. There was a day when somebody would have collected the apples for crab apple jelly, but it is a chore to make and really we eat such a little bit of it - maybe once or twice over the winter with cold meats etc., that it is easier to buy a jar. Once opened it quickly goes mouldy.

So here - in a last gasp of Autumn - I give you a photograph of this magnificent crop of wild crab apples. Now we can look forward to another lot of blossom in April and it can't come soon enough for me.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Rain, rain...go away!

Come again another day.
Little Tommy wants to play! Remember the Nursery Rhyme?

How I wiahs it would go away. It has rained incessantly here for about the last twenty four hours and everywhere is soaking wet. There are huge puddles in the road ways, the fields are standing in water, the gateways are deep in mud and the rivers are overflowing.

Up here in The Yorkshire Dales, just below the Eastern watershed of the Pennine Chain of Hills, we have the greatest respect for our rivers. The river in our Dale is the River Ure. It rises within yards of the River Eden which flows Westwards, through Carlisle. The Ure flows into the River Ouse and then into the Humber Estuary and out into the North Sea. So it goes without saying that any water in excess that we get up here goes down the Ouse to York and then down to the Humber. If we are flooded today then York gets it tomorrow.

I went down to Ripon this afternoon. The photograph was taken just before we reached the village of Middleham at about 2pm. this afternoon. When we returned at 4pm there was no green field left to be seen, the water had covered it all. I couldn't take a photograph as it was almost dark.

The power of the water is quite awesome - and quite frightening too. I am glad to be home with the curtains drawn, the log-burning stove glowing bright in the sitting room, Tess asleep in her bed, the farmer just taking a new jig saw out of its box and Nigella on the television at 8pm. I watch the programme for her excellent recipes - I don't need to tell you why the farmer watches it (or rather her). Have a warm and cosy evening and let's hope the sun is shining in the morning.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


I wonder why it is traditional to say, "Rabbits!" early on the first day of each month. Does anybody know the answer to that question? I must say that I always say it as soon as I remember it is the first of the month.

I can't think there is a person in the whole of the UK who does not know what a rabbit looks like. They are so common that everyone has seen at least one in their lifetime. Most of us, particularly country-dwellers, have seen thousands if not tens of thousands of the creatures.

As to what we think of them - well opinions differ. Writers like Lewis Carroll, Douglas Adams and Beatrix Potter have anthropomorphised them into dear little creatures. Then there is the wily Brer Rabbit, who always gets the better of his opponents. But in 'real life' they are often the bane of farmer's lives - it is said that ten rabbits can eat as much grass as one cow, and in times when grass is scarce they become a nuisance.

Now and again the farmer invites a man with a gun to go around our fields at dusk and try to clear out some of the rabbits. The phrase "breeding like rabbits" is no idle phrase. If you have half a dozen in a warren at the beginning of the Summer, by the end of Autumn you will be counting them in hundreds unless something catches them. They have plenty of predators.

Our fields this year are riddled with rabbits. Every hedgerow has a continuous stream of rabbit holes and there are one or two warrens - one in the wood, one along the side of a field, where there a large concentrations of them. It is no accident that we seem to have recently acquired a resident buzzard - for the buzzard's favourite food is said to be rabbit. When the shooting party went round looking for pheasant on Saturday they saw a fox in the distance. Foxes are pretty partial to rabbit for lunch too.

Some years ago I came across a phenomenon that I had heard about but never seen. At the bottom of the farm yard is a gate into the pasture. As I stood there I heard a high-pitched scream and when I looked over the gate I saw a rabbit frozen with fear, mesmerised by a stoat a few yards away. I clapped my hands and both disappeared, but judging by the size of our rabbit holes this year, a stoat would have no difficulty in sneaking down one to snatch a rabbit as it slept.

But there is one "person" to whom the word 'rabbit' is a signal for sheer ecstasy. I took the photographs above on our walk this afternoon. What she would do if she actually caught one I really don't know, but boy, does she like trying.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Armchair Traveller.

Some months ago I published on here a poem about my father, who I said was very much an Armchair Gardener. All Winter he would read gardening books and plan his garden; come Summer the garden would stay as it was.

I have come to the conclusion that to some extent I am an Armchair Traveller. Oh yes, I love my holidays abroad and over the years have been to some exciting places = Samarkand, Bukhara, Vladivostok, Istanbul, Beijing, Mongolia - and I have loved them all. But, dare I say, once I get home and have written up my diary of the holiday and put photographs in it, I get almost as much pleasure from reading about it frpm the comfort of my armchair. On a wet Sunday afternoon in mid-Winter, the farmer and I can enjoy a half hour tour of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, wander round the farm that inspired Anne of Green Gables, remember fish and chips on the wharf in Halifax - and all without leaving the log fire!

But for real vicarious pleasure I do love reading of the travels of those intrepid travellers of the 1920's and 30's. Gosh, they don't make 'em like that any more, do they? I am thinking of Freya Stark, Lawrence of Arabia, Wilfred Thesiger, Vita Sackville-West. Reading about them almost makes me wish I had lived in that era. But then of course, with hindsight, the period was followed by the Spanish Civil War, the fight against Fascism, the Second World War, the persecution of the Jews - a terrible time was to follow. So maybe I am better getting my pleasure by the fireside. Not that I have any choice in the matter, anyway.

My son, who knows my taste in books to perfection, found a little book in a second hand book shop in Wales last week and bought it for me. I am enthralled and cannot put it down. In the mid 1920's Sackville-West amd her diplomat husband, Harold Nicholson followed an old caravan trail through the Bakhtiari mountains in South Western Persia (Iran). Of course, although they travelled mostly on foot or on mule, they had an enormous retinue of servants going on ahead to set up camp and so forth. The journey was pretty dangerous - there were plenty of what she calls thieves and vagabonds about - but they had a letter, which they brandished whenever trouble arose. The letter, from an important personage in the Persian Government, ended with the words, "If you do not show every courtesy and grant every facility to the above-mentioned noble persons, it will be extremely bad for you."

Her writing is perfection. Just read this little snippet. They were staying in a village house overnight - "We were aroused by a knocking on the door and the voice of our host: "The dawn has come and the sun is rising." They rise and throw open the shutters - and she says, " Below us the ravine lay, still in shadow, rising on the opposite side to the level of the plain. The plain stretched away dark and wide to a range of jagged hills on the horizon. The sun had not yet appeared, but the whole east was lambent with his near presence; the hills stood up, sombre shapes, against a saffron heaven, bruised and streaked with narrow, purple clouds. A camel caravan was just going out of the village; we could see the long, swaying string and hear the grave, deep note of their bells. This was the immemorial beauty of Persia, framed for us in a square opening. Imperceptibly the sky grew more luminous......." Magic stuff. For a moment I am there (and without all the vicissitudes of such a journey).

I do urge you to keep an eye open for this little book. It was first published in 1928. My book was published in 1987 by Michael Haag Limited.

Monday, 1 November 2010


It is here again. It comes round with absolute regularity (give or take one day every four years) - the First of November. I am reminded of the Thomas Hood poem:-

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease;
no comfortable feel in any member.
No shade, no shine,no butterflies, no bees;
No fruit, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

What a dismal poem it is, to be sure - and how untrue for today at any rate, because it is a lovely day. I did a quick walk round my garden with the camera and there is still plenty out to give pleasure. The sun is shining, it is warm, the bird table has as many goldfinches, chaffinches, tree sparrows and members of the tit family as it ever has. I didn;t see a butterfly or a bee but I am sure they were still around if I had bothered to look for them. Each night, when the farmer takes Tess out for her last little walk, they are still seeing a couple of fat hedgehogs who have yet to hibernate.

So - be of good cheer - there are still some warm, pleasant days to come. Alright, there will also be some foggy, dismal days too - but as I said the other day = maybe we need the one to enjoy the other. Here's to a Happy November.