Garden Visiting

May 12, 2019

Bike parked by garden

Sometimes everything just comes together and this afternoon was one of those times: glorious May weather, a gap (of sorts; there’s always something I could usefully be doing) in the schedule and not one but two open gardens to visit, both of them, crucially, offering teas.

Sunny view

Of course, this being May, you don’t have to go far to be struck by the beauty of late spring – this is the wood along our road at the moment.

spring woods alongside road

And you don’t have to go far to find bluebells either – even on the short ride down to the first garden, famous for its bluebell wood, I was assailed on all sides by the heady smell of them and shimmers of blue beneath the fresh spring green, but it was worth the visit, and not just because of the chance to catch up with Old Nearest Village gossip (the oldest inhabitant, who sweeps the board at the village show each year, lost her greenhouse over the winter so it’s all to play for in the tomato classes) and the ample tea.

bluebell wood

(We’ll draw a veil over one chap who managed to go from ‘why don’t you wear a helmet?’ to ‘I just drive them off the road anyway, they get in my way and slow me down’ in just three moves, a record, I believe).

Then it was off down more quiet rural roads to the next garden.

road with overhanging trees

(Potholes not shown; some of them were truly spectacular. I particularly liked the stretch where just one of them had been outlined in red, presumably for mending, while the dozen other equally hazardous ones around it had been ignored).

The second garden was also spectacular but more of the ‘just shows what you can do if you’ve got staff’ variety (as observed by the only other cyclist there). Also you had to pay separately for your tea, so I was glad I’d made good at the first. I am gradually learning that the posher the garden, the less generous the tea arrangements.

formal garden

All in all a very splendid day. Although our morning coffee on the bench, enjoying the view, (and my homemade chelsea buns) was possibly just as enjoyable …

coffee and chelsea buns

… Especially as it didn’t come with a side order of cyclist-baiting remarks.

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To Heck and Back

May 5, 2019

Hmm. Yesterday morning saw me settled on the bus, feeling that – rail replacement bus services notwithstanding – I had things well in hand. I had a lunch packed, my knitting to keep me busy on the coach to Edinburgh, and would be arriving well in time for our Pop pub session. I’d even had a stern word with myself about being over cautious with my bus times and decided that half an hour was plenty of slack between the bus’s scheduled arrival in Lockerbie and the rail replacement service departure. It was a Saturday, the bus had arrived well on time, and all was going to plan.

knitting work in progress

From my mouth to God’s ear, of course: for the next thing that happened was we happened upon a police road block. The main road to Lockerbie was closed and would be for some time, so the bus was going to have to find another way. Off we set, into unchartered territory, down a winding lane and then another, past the hamlet of (I swear I am not making this up) Heck, which appears to be less a place and more an excuse to put up a comedy road sign, and back up to the main Lockerbie road after a five minute or so detour – still plenty of time to catch my train. Phew.

Except that the road was still closed ahead, so round we went again, back to the original road block, back down the winding lane, skipping Heck this time and heading into even more unchartered territory, on what turned out to be about a 10 mile detour along increasingly narrow (and now quite congested with detouring traffic) roads. After a pause while a volunteer was found to help the bus back out of a wrong turning, always an exciting procedure, the driver confessed he wasn’t entirely sure where he was going and a navigational committee of passengers formed to get us finally into Lockerbie ten minutes after my Edinburgh service was due to have left.

All was potentially not lost though – the coach might have been delayed so I still had a chance, except that, as the bus stopped at the stop before the station, the chair of the Passenger Navigation Committee paused as she alighted to give the driver some further advice, a process which seemed like it might take forever. At that point, a bus stop worth of people who had been waiting 20 minutes for the Bigtown bus crossed the road to enquire about when their service might arrive, at which point the Brompton and I bailed out and sped off to the station just in time to witness the Rail Replacement coach sail out of the forecourt without me, despite frantically waving to get the driver’s attention. He’s probably wondering even now what he’d done to get the middle-aged lady on the clown bike so worked up …

Still, I made it and, while I was more than ready for my post-Pop beer by the time I arrived, in the end it was just an hour’s delay and a funny story to tell. Sadly, I found out later that the road was closed because of a fatal collision – it’s a notoriously dangerous road, and not just for cyclists (indeed I know of very few cyclists locally who would ride on it). That puts my petty problems into perspective and reminds me to be grateful that I made it home unscathed.


Welcoming our Compost Overlord

March 29, 2019

I mentioned we had exciting composting news and I can now reveal that the Dalek mothership has landed.

We’ve been curious about compost tumblers ever since visiting my friend’s parents’ amazingly productive plot. It’s fair to say that our own adventures in composting haven’t really been more than partially successful so far.

Enter the compost tumbler (or technically speaking the ComposTumbler), which cost How Much!? and promises speedy compost (as long as your average temperatures are high enough), or at least the opportunity to spend less time emptying and refilling an ever-growing platoon of daleks.

In between shelling out for this behemoth and it arriving, the subject of compost tumblers came up on Gardeners’ Question Time where they were roundly dismissed. All we needed to make compost, Bob Flowerdew opined airily, was four pallets joined together – and to turn it regularly. As it happens we do have four pallets but I also have A Shoulder and that has made turning the compost a bit painful, and probably unwise. And besides – while I’m all for frugal gardening and the creative use of pallets – there’s something about having a great big steampunkish metal contraption that is equally appealing.

The other half assembled it in the garage, and yesterday we carried it out onto its stand in composting corner where we filled it up with a starter load of stuff that had been festering (or, more properly, failing to fester) in one of the daleks all winter. According to the very detailed instructions that came with the beast, we should be taking its temperature daily (disappointingly it did not come with a spreadsheet for recording it, although it did include a few graphs) to ensure the magic is happening, and turning it at least four times a week.

You would think that would be enough, but I’m slowly realising that composting is an exacting science and we are also going to need a decent shredder. Plus, in order to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, separate holding areas for things like grass clippings and wood chippings. Not to mention somewhere for kitchen and garden waste while we wait for the tumbler to do its work and somewhere to store the finished compost once it’s completed it. Compost Corner clearly still has a way to go.

I have long suspected that gardening largely comes down to the accumulation of stuff to go into the compost. Now, I am sure of it.


Getting Away from it All

March 25, 2019

Apologies for the lack of posting in recent days – with my usual excellent timing, I managed to organise my relaxing birthday week away in Northern Ireland to coincide with an extremely unrelaxing editing job (hello 120-page international tax policy document) and POP planning suddenly stepping up a gear. So in the interests of full disclosure, for every relaxing barefoot* stroll on the beach, there has been an equal and opposite period spent chained to the laptop in a position that would make my physio wince.

beach footprints

We also learned that, at least in the UK, if you’re looking for a nice seafood lunch, a proper working fishing harbour is probably the last place you should look, but the cafe on the harbour front will do you a very good value fry up. I suppose if you work with fish all day, the last thing you want to do is eat the stuff. Presumably it all goes straight back out to Europe to be eaten by people who don’t consider seafood to be some sort of an aberration.

kilkeel harbour

Or it did, anyway. For the other thing we seem to have been doing – like approximately 90% of my social media timeline – is watching the numbers tick up on the Revoke Article 50 petition (you have signed it, right?), while the government, opposition, and apparently the entire political system falls apart around us. Not that you’d know about it around here, despite the fact that we’re in the region that will likely feel it the most. Perhaps it’s because it’s the sort of place where you go to get away from that sort of thing (we came here on holiday right through the 80s and 90s and the Troubles barely seemed to touch it either) but nobody’s said a word about it and everything is apparently just carrying on as normal. As long as there’s ice cream to be had, and mountains to climb and the harbour wall to be inspected, and black guillemots sitting in pairs on the sea wall, we might just find a way through this madness and come out the other side.

That in itself has got to have made this week’s visit worth our while.

*OK, I wasn’t the one who was brave enough to go barefoot. The weather’s been nice, but it is still March


Birthday Treat

March 20, 2019

We’re in Northern Ireland for my impending birthday and today, with the weather looking nicer than expected, we decided to spend the last day of my 40s climbing Slieve Donard (I had vaguely planned to do it actually on my birthday, but you take your windows in the weather where you can find them in March).

 

As we climbed up out of the town, it was sunny enough for us to almost regret dressing for hillwalking in March, with the sun turning Dundrum Bay an almost tropical shade of green.

sunshine on Dundrum Bay

As we turned the corner and looked up, however, it was clear that the blue skies were not going to last and that the clouds were gathering over our destination.

clouds gathering

Normally I’d never attempt any sort of climbing when the clouds were coming down, but the advantage of Donard is that you really cannot get lost even in the fog as there’s a well made path pretty much right to the summit (there was even a band of hardy volunteers out maintaining it today), as well as a steady stream of other people out tackling the highest climb in Ireland.*

climbing into the cloud

So on we went, re-donning the layers we’d shed on the lower slopes, and made it to the top in two hours to precisely no views but a sense of achievement all the same. A nice young Frenchman offered to take our photo at the top and managed to capture two frames of me with my hands over my eyes trying to defog my glasses, and then a further three frames of me looking down and trying to clear them properly, so I’ll spare you our triumphant summit photo. Instead, we were rewarded with the sight of the sun still shining down on Newcastle as we emerged out of the cloud on the way down.

sunshine on Newcastle

We’ve probably both now reached an age where coming down a mountain is at least as tough (and potentially injurious) as going up it, but we made it down with no more than the expected quota of grumbling hips, knees and backs.

And at least tomorrow, even though I will be 50 I know I won’t be feeling my age – because if this evening is anything to go by, I’ll be feeling at least 80 instead.

*It’s not the highest mountain on the island of Ireland, but it makes up for it by starting at sea level.


It Might Seem Odd …

March 9, 2019

… that someone who’s just installed solar panels (and been ranting about global warming) would spend the very next day wantonly uprooting baby trees.

pine sapling

But there you go, conservation is complicated and pine trees on peat bogs are a problem. It’s been ages since I went out doing any sort of conservation volunteering, mainly because I got busy saving the planet in other ways, and I was anyway a bit conflicted about driving somewhere to spend a few hours saving the planet.

However, I happened to spot that there was a work party planned in a particular favourite spot of mine – a remnant of peat bog surrounded by pines that manages to feel incredibly isolated and entirely in a world of its own. Perhaps because it’s not an easy place to walk, it’s not a well-known spot and it’s a little neglected even by those who are managing it, and so I felt we could not pass up the opportunity to show it some love.*

Kirkconnell Flow

Encouragingly, more than a dozen people thought so too, despite it being a grey and drizzly morning that was more old-school February than March. Fortunately, the sun came out for most of the day (we’ll draw a veil over the passing hailstorm that hit us in the afternoon) and we made good inroads into the encroaching trees.

One advantage of working in a very wet bog – apart from the fact that you can just pull the smaller trees out by their roots – is all the weird and wonderful plants (and lichens, which are only half plants) that live there, and when you’re spending all day bent down pulling up trees alongside some knowledgeable people, you can find out what they are. Plus the fact that the little red berries that looked almost like cranberries turned out to actually be cranberries (who knew?) and very tasty – in a zingy sort of way – they were too.

lichens

I spent many weekends in my 20s doing this sort of thing, and I was pleased that most of my tree-destroying skills were still intact (conservation work is about 10% planting trees and 90% chopping them down, sometimes trees which earlier volunteers had planted). My tree-destroying muscles, on the other hand, are strongly reminding me that I am no longer in my 20s. So now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for an ibuprofen nightcap and an early night.

* I’d love to say that I overcame my qualms about the driving part going down on the bike but the other half suggested we drove and, much as I love cycling, I was very happy to collapse into a warm, dry, and self-propelling car for the journey home.


Life in the Middle Lane

March 2, 2019

As I was outlining my plans for this weekend the other day, I realised that even though I don’t turn fifty for another few weeks, I’ve already fully embraced the reality of it ‘A fairtrade event at New Nearest Village on Saturday, then on Sunday it’s Potato Day, and we might fit in a trip to the garden centre.”

I’m not even going to pretend I’m embarrassed about it. As my contemporaries announce their impending half centuries with disbelief, I’m not all that bothered about it – much less so than turning forty or, worse, thirty. And besides, I like garden centres, and I always have (as a seven-year-old there was one at the top of our road and I was always spending my pocket money on packets of seeds). I completely failed to misspend my youth, unless by misspending you mean settling down, getting married, buying a house and working long hours to develop my career, instead of going out partying all night and smashing the patriarchy and/or capitalism by day (possibly I should have done more about the latter). My hope is that this precocious diligence (and a fair bit of luck and privilege) has set me up for a later life of growing radicalism and increased trouble making rather than sinking into the status quo. The bicycle may not have kept me as young as I might have hoped, but it has at least helped keep me at odds enough to mainstream society to want to fight for change – while my advancing years might just give me the wisdom (or cunning) to achieve it.

bike and defibrillator phonebox

A sensible parking spot for one of my advancing years

And besides, as a woman approaching fifty AND a cyclist, I should now be effectively invisible both on and off the bike. Of all the superpowers, that’s surely the most powerful one there is. I just have to work out how to put it to best use.