Laying Waste

November 17, 2019

I enjoy most aspects of gardening, but if I’m really honest, the tasks I really relish are the ones that involve getting properly stuck in and laying waste to something. This is especially the case in November when gardening is only really bearable if it involves being in the greenhouse or doing something fairly vigorous. I’ve already wheelbarrowed about as much muck as I’m going to need at the moment for the veg beds, so today I decided the time had come to tackle the overgrown trellis that disguises the old dog kennel.

overgrown trellis

I was a little ambivalent about this because it’s clearly a nice sheltered spot for the bolder class of bird in the winter – but for the same reason, I knew if I was going to deal with it at all, it would have to be now because it was also used by a nesting blackbird this spring (we know this, because we had to keep rescuing one of the fledglings from inside the dog kennel).

trellis bed

At some point, this must have been a raised bed with a trellis up the back, planted with a rather nice miniature rose, some sort of lacecap hydrangea, a honeysuckle, something that might be a kind of jasmine, periwinkle, and some ivy.

Lots and lots of ivy.

ivy flowering

Throw in approximately a decade of neglect, and what you get is effectively the memory of a trellis (now a few crumbling sticks clutched between the twining stems of the climbers) in a monstrous mass of ivy, possible-jasmine, and periwinkle (which is also, worryingly, coming up through the flagstones), with a rather desperate rose and hydrangea just about keeping their chins above the rampant vegetation.

ex trellis

A happy few hours with a pair of loppers and the radio for company produced that most satisfying of gardening things: a big pile. Hopefully, it has not also killed off the rose or the hydrangea although as I’d never actually realised the hydrangea was there until now, it wouldn’t be desperately missed. I don’t fool myself for an instant that I’ve done anything to slow down the ivy or the periwinkle, but at least we now know what we’re up against and can plan accordingly…

big pile

I like big piles and I cannot lie

I can’t say it actually looks any better just yet, partly because the old dog kennel is a bit of an eyesore (and rapidly going the way of the trellis), but watch this space, because we have plans for it …

Moon Shot

November 15, 2019

One of the downsides of having no working phone camera is that – having dragged myself out from the warmth of the fireside to cycle down to my writers’ group last night (and it’s definitely far harder to leave home by bike on a cold November night than it is to set off for home, knowing the woodburner will be waiting for you)- I couldn’t record the amazing golden almost-full moon with which I was rewarded.

On the other hand, nobody’s full moon pictures ever look as spectacular as the real thing, especially when the moon is rising. Arguably I was better off just enjoying it alone in the dark as it rose over the hills. I don’t remember ever seeing a golden moon before – but if it’s a symbol of the end times, then at least it’s a rather beautiful one.

The other glowing golden orb also put in an appearance earlier, so you’ll just have to content yourself with photos of that, courtesy of my actual camera, which usually does a better job than the phone anyway, but only if I remember to bring it along with me.sunshine on hills

Kill Will(ow)

November 10, 2019

With a long-running piece of work finally dispatched and a sunny Sunday in the offing with nothing else planned I knew what I’d be doing today: binge gardening.

The first port of call was getting to grips with my fedge. Over the summer it has become increasingly apparent that if my plan had been to create a line of willow trees then it has been a roaring success, as every single one of the sturdy stakes we stuck in the ground to act as a support for the woven willow lattice has sprouted nicely (I didn’t think that willow this mature would root, but apparently it will. Perhaps we should have put them in upside down to be sure but even then …)

Willow fedge

The actual woven whips, which were supposed to root much more easily, haven’t done as well. A few have taken but more than two-thirds have not, possibly due to the dry spell we had after I’d put them all in, possibly some other reason, undoubtedly user error. Nothing for it but to clear away some of the encroaching vegetation, and wait for spring to fill in the gaps.

Of course, with willow, it’s not dead until it’s warm (or in actual flames) and dead, so I live in hope. Indeed, one of the deadest-looking sticks did prove to have a shoot coming up at the base, so we shall see.

willow shoot

It wasn’t the only thing showing unexpected signs of life, either. When the sun shines in November in Scotland, everything seems to emerge to make the most of it.


Nature, Tooth, Claw, Red in, etc.

November 7, 2019

While I was gadding about in Embra, it seems there’s been a murrrder in the veg plot, which I’m rather sorry I missed.

feathers on the grass

Exhibit A: A sad pile of feathers

Closer examination of the scene of the crime revealed a little bit more about the identity of the victim:

pheasant's foot

It seems we are down one pheasant (and if that photo doesn’t convince you that birds are just tiny flying dinosaurs – and how cool is that? – then I’m not sure what will).

It leaves us no clearer about the culprit though. The position of the feathers, under the electricity wire, originally made me think it was a sparrowhawk as they like to retreat to a handy perch to pluck their supper, but I’m not sure a sparrowhawk could take a pheasant. I’m not sure a buzzard would be able to either, unless something had killed it for it first. We’ve not seen any foxes around, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any – it’s only urban foxes that like to stroll around in broad daylight. Then again, if we had foxes on the prowl would we have as many hares as we do?

It’s a mystery – and clearly, it’s also a sign that I need to be spending less time gadding about and more time at home, keeping an eye on my own back yard.

This is a programme I can entirely get behind.

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

November 4, 2019

So I thought I had my current trip to Edinburgh well planned – I’m attending a conference at Murrayfield, with a workshop that started at 1, giving me a nice amount of time to take my usual train (getting in to Haymarket at 11:30), drop the Brompton off at the nearby Brompton dealers to get its mudguard sorted and various niggles ironed out, and then walk down to my afternoon session. It’s safe to say it didn’t quite work out like that – and not just because the Edinburgh Monsoon still seems to be in full swing. For a start, there was that fact that ‘a few niggles’ on a Brompton that has been somewhat taken for granted by its Bad Brompton Owner for the last few years translates into How Much?! and then some, and then some more. And for another start, there’s the fact that I hadn’t quite readjusted my mental scale for walking distances rather than cycling distances so once I was Bromptonless and trudging through the pissing rain, what had felt like it might be a nice leg-stretching walk quickly (or, rather, slowly) became a route march. It didn’t help that Murrayfield Stadium is huge and when it’s not holding an actual rugby match, quite hard to get into without walking about three-quarters of the way round it in the wrong direction in the pissing rain (did I mention it was raining? It was raining). Which is why I ended up at my workshop late, damp, and with VERY strong opinions about the need for better pedestrian wayfinding.

But that’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it was discovering that the train from Lockerbie – the one that connects reasonably nicely with the bus, that means I can get into Edinburgh for a late morning meeting or lunch without getting up at silly o’clock, the one that everyone in Bigtown uses if they’re heading up to Embra – that train is going to be no more from mid December. Instead, we can get the 8:30 train (and pay peak fare) or we can wait until after 12 for the next train. And it seems there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because that’s the mad way we run our train service in this country.

I’ve been feeling recently a vague sense that, at least in Scotland, the powers that be have started to – just a little bit – get the idea that we can’t just keep providing for car drivers and letting everyone else have the scraps. And then something like this comes along – effectively removing a key sustainable transport link between a major town and the Scottish capital – and it seems we just have to accept that’s the way it is.

Funnily enough, a few months ago, I sat through a long meeting about how transport links to Lockerbie could be improved, the subtext of which was ‘how can we avoid building a multistory car park to serve the train station because that’s clearly ridiculous in a town the size of Lockerbie’. Nobody thought to mention it at the time, but it would seem that TransPennine Express have had the cunning idea of cutting down the demand by not running any decent trains, so everyone will end up just throwing up their hands and driving direct to Edinburgh instead.

Remind me how we’re tackling that climate emergency again?


October 31, 2019

October sunshine

Well, it’s a turn up for the books, but October has been remarkably un-Octoberish this last week. While the weather further south has sounded pretty dire we’ve had a succession of fine and surprisingly mild days, light winds, a bit of frost in the mornings and clear starry nights.

It will surprise nobody who reads this blog to learn that this has coincided with a collision of work and campaigning deadlines – but that’s the beauty of getting about by bike, because busy or not I’ve been forced out into the sunshine most days anyway.

It’s a hard life.

Someone’s got to do it.

On Sunday night we headed out into the dark for the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign annual celebration of the clocks going back, where we ride up past the reservoir in the fading light, and then careen down a long winding potholed descent in the darkness before racing back home before the hypothermia sets in permanently. Nothing about this ride makes sense on health ‘n’ safety grounds and I sometimes find myself wondering why exactly we (I) chose that route apart from a vague association of the reservoir with bats, it being round about Halloween. But then I head out with a bunch of people who think this is an excellent way to spend a Sunday evening, and we are forced to stop on the way down because how often do you get to admire the Milky Way, and I ride back the last few miles home on my own under the stars knowing that the fire is lit and the house will be warm – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One and a Half Feral Hogs

October 26, 2019

Glancing up from my desk this morning, I happened to notice an addition to mammal list for the garden:

Pig in the garden

Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to weaponry – our new neighbours in the farmhouse up the road have a bit of a menagerie (it’s not the first time we’ve had some of their charges in the garden) and this was one of their Tamworth pigs that they’d brought in to do a bit of ground clearing (in this case Japanese knotweed but apparently they love ground elder, although from the sight of their enclosure, it’s a bit of a scorched-earth solution to weed eradication). They’re clearly well treated because its reaction to a couple of strange humans, one armed with a camera in search of blog material, was to come over and try and make friends.

friendly pig

It was easily encouraged back home, happily following the other half up the hill while I followed on behind in case ir decided to make a run for it. Then I kept the pig in place by scratching it behind the ears while the other half hunted around for our neighbours. They were out, but with a little bit more encouragement we did manage to get the pig more or less contained next to its companions, closed it in with a gate that was leaning against a wall (this is a smallholding very much of the Grundy persuasion), and hoped for the best.

pig on verge

And the half a hog part? Well, when I went back up later to let our neighbour know what had happened, he enquired whether we wanted to purchase half a pig for Christmas. This leaves me in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, if you eat meat, which we do, albeit less than we used to, then we’re urged to choose meat from animals that have had a good life and were raised on a small scale, and we know that this one at least is definitely very free range. But on the other hand, and this is nothing but sentimentality, it’s hard to face tucking into an animal whose ears you have recently been scratching.

Maybe if it makes another break for it, we’ll give it asylum instead…

* with thanks to Stroppy Cow on Twitter for the title suggestion