A Short Walk in a Small Wood

October 10, 2018

Sod’s law dictates that today’s uncannily fine and warm weather would come when I was labouring under both a work deadline AND a stinking cold, so I was largely confined to sitting in the sunniest part of the house, labouring over the laptop. But days like this are rare enough – and even rarer in October – so after lunch, when I can never really get anything sensible done anyway, I ventured out for a walk in the woods.

half obscured path in woods

Ordinarily, if I need a walk in the company of trees, I head up to where our road ends in a forestry track, but I have been reading the Hidden Life of Trees and I felt the need for something a little less regimented than a forestry plantation.

The other wood is not really a forest, just a scrap of wooded valley too steep and marshy to be of any real use which has been allowed to just get on with it.

steep valley sides

There’s only one path through it, and that’s one that increasingly only makes sense to badgers, so it’s only an out-and-back walk and a bit of a scramble in places. But I like how the fallen trees are just left to fend for themselves.

tilted birch tree

Or become homes for other things.

birch stump with hole

And the only real sign of man’s hand is this mysterious shed with its lucky horseshoe.

mystery shed

It’s not a long walk, and you never quite escape the sound of the road, but having read the book and realised just how much is going on in the apparently placid world of trees (you will never look at a beech tree in quite the same way again) it’s refreshing to be in a place, however small, which feels as if it’s there for itself, not for us. beech in the wood

Given what we’re doing to our poor planet, we need more places like this in the world.

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Going Nuts

October 9, 2018

I’ve been a bit rubbish at foraging this year – not only did I completely miss the moment for gathering gooseberries from the travelling gooseberry bush, but I’ve barely had any wild raspberries – or even any blackberries. The neighbour has given us permission to pick the plums in the field below our house by ruined cottage, but after going down too early and finding only unripe ones, that too had slipped my mind, despite grand plans for jam and all sorts.

But a chance encounter with a friend on the cycle path this morning tipped me off about a slightly more exotic foraging option. Her neighbour’s walnut tree is not only generous with its bounty in all the surrounding gardens, including hers, it’s also spreading the love onto the road as well. A sneaky detour was in order.

The tree was easily spotted by the mess of walnut hulls on the pavement, and the sound of walnuts bouncing into the road. I’m not 100% sure of the legality of picking walnuts off the pavement by someone’s house, but as they were mostly just getting run over, I decided I wasn’t robbing anyone but perhaps the jackdaws, so a pocketful was gathered and taken home.

fallen walnuts

Of course, like most things you get for free, it’s not quite as simple as picking them up and enjoying a delicious walnut treat. For a start, I may have been too late – you’re supposed to pick them when they’re still in their green hulls, rather than when the nuts are raining off the tree so they might be a bit tainted. And then they need to be dried, which either means putting them in an oven for an unspecified amount of time (‘until they’re dry’ – thanks, RHS website) or hanging them up somewhere fairly warm, squirrel-free and with good air circulation to dry naturally. This would have been a marvellous job for the Rayburn* but in its absence, the woodburner and an old clementine bag have been pressed into use, giving our hearth an unseasonably festive air.

drying walnuts

Hopefully that will work because we may end up with plenty more (in the fullness of time). because, as an added bonus, the jackdaws inadvertently plant walnut trees all round my friend’s garden in their attempts to open the nuts by bouncing them off her patio. Did we want a tree? Yes indeed we did. As soon as it has dropped its leaves and we have worked out how to get a young but tallish tree into a smallish hatchback it will be ours, as long as we promise to look after it better than the olive tree

Oh, and flushed with success from my walnut scrumping, I nipped down to the old ruin to see if any plums might still be waiting for me…

plum harvest

That plum harvest in full

I think I won’t be making jam this year.

* The other night I met the most recent inhabitant of our old house who – shockingly – never bothered to get the Rayburn lit. Admittedly, it does use so much fuel I did think we had a leak in our oil tank at first, but this seems to be missing the point entirely of living in that house.


Dirty Plot Letter

October 5, 2018

A knock on the front door this morning alerted me to a visit from the garden inspector – actually my pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to drop by when he’s passing to see how the garden is getting on. I knew it was him because when I went to the door, there was nobody there – he was already in the back garden checking on the raised beds.

Fortunately, Wednesday’s work had not gone to waste and I think I passed, just, with the help of the other half’s professional greenhouse set up. Points were deducted for my leeks being planted too close together again (given they’re already enormous, we agreed that was just a style point, and I escaped serious censure), and the undue fanciness of my veg selection (cavolo nero and rainbow chard are very much not categories in the village show) but were gained by the colour of my purple sprouting broccoli, and the well-rotted horse manure on the old pea bed. Phew. We both agreed that fretting about cabbage white caterpillars was a waste of time and that it had been a good year for potatoes and then, having exchanged a bit of village gossip, he went on his way. No doubt he’ll be popping in again when I least expect it, just to keep me on my toes …

I joke (well, sort of) but there’s actually nothing like having fellow gardeners come around to have a nosey and exchange ideas, and the opportunity have a nosey back. I didn’t get to any proper open gardens this summer (and besides, they’re always a bit too primped and unobtainable to be really informative), but I feel some sort of peer-to-peer garden noseying exchange system should be worked out for those of us unlucky enough not to have an allotment. Or a regular irregular inspection regime…


Tea for … Well, a Small Army, Frankly

September 15, 2018

teas sign

Normally, when a group ride goes silent, it’s because the ride leader has set too fast a pace and the participants are saving their breath for the climb in hand. But this afternoon the silence had a different source: this was no normal ride, but a ‘cake raid‘ and we had reached the legendary church tea of what I must now dub Church Tea Village and there were more important things to concentrate on than chat.

Now, I don’t know what you might have in mind when you picture something advertised as a ‘light lunch and church tea’ but – although I had been warned that the catering was substantial – I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed. After starting with some delicious home made bread, slices of melon and salad, we moved on to savoury pancakes with a choice of fillings. As these were being demolished, a plate of dutch pancakes (poffertjes) scattered with sugar and raisins arrived, which proved to be dangerously moreish.

scones and pancakes

To be honest, this would have qualified for a decent meal right there, but proved to be merely the warm up. As some were tempted by a second round of pancakes, this time loaded with nutella and marshmallows, the rest of us were piling into the scones and more pancakes (scotch ones, this time). Just as we were starting to slow down and contemplate the 20 mile ride home that lay ahead, thankfully mainly downhill, one of the group nodded to the windowsill ‘I’m just looking at what’s coming next’. For the church ladies weren’t finished with us yet.

We still had the cake trolley to deal with.

cake trolley

Top tip for church teas – when an innocent looking white haired women in a church hall offers you ‘just a normal sized slice’ of cake, get that quantified before you rashly agree to anything. Oh, and don’t sit directly opposite the scones if you find it hard to see any form of starch going to waste …

So yeah. Cycling. A great way to keep a healthy weight. Just make sure you heed the warning signs and keep away from the church teas.

 


Timebends

September 11, 2018

Having just finished some work and finding myself with a few days off, today should, technically, have been an unusally leisurely affair, with not much to do other than plant 200 bulbs,* bake a loaf of bread, deal with a backlog of admin, pick up some flyers for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign bike breakfast and distribute them to unsuspecting cyclists, and deliver emergency coffee and cake supplies to the other half’s workplace …

…I may need to work on my definition of leisurely.

I also had to work in a detour for my ford correspondent had told me last night that the freshly laid tarmac has already, as predicted, crumbled into a mess of potholes (or ‘a road’ as we call it in Bigtownshire). Sadly there was too much water to see for myself, but it was nice to revisit an old friend.

Anyway, the upshot was that having looked at my watch and realising it was 12 o’clock and somehow the morning was gone, I found myself timetrialling into Bigtown to fit it all in – made somewhat more bearable by hitting the holy trinity on my way in of smooth tarmac, downhill and an epic tailwind. Indeed, this was, if I’m honest, one of those ‘why I cycle’ moments (but yeah, sure, it’s all about the environment and maintaining a healthy heart).

Tomorrow, though, tomorrow, I’ll get a chance to relax.**

* Damn you Crocus and your two for the price of one offers

** Maybe not


What Lies Beneath

September 5, 2018

So today (once our current hare had deigned to stop sunning itself in the back garden, preventing me from going outside & enjoying the sunshine myself) I thought I’d have a look and see how this year’s potato crop was shaping up

Pretty well, actually

digging up potatoes

Yup, very nicely indeed.

potato harvest

This is the initial* haul from the second of my three potato beds – the first had the first earlies in it (plus a fine crop of mushrooms) and we’re still only half way through those. I may need to upgrade my pototo storage solution so we can keep them through the winter and still have something to eat come Brexit.**

Meanwhile, in tenuously related news, the final chapter seems to have almost closed on our local stretch of the gas pipeline project with the mysterious pipe-and-bag arrangement now replaced with a much more engineering-y manhole cover, and the land returned to the cows.

manhole cover

Given the rate that grass grows around here, it’s already hard to imagine that there’s anything beneath this field but stones and soil, were it not for this warning sign (and incidental Gaelic lesson) and final loose ends which I have no doubt will be dealt with in the fullness of time.

pipeline warning sign

We’ll update you on this story as soon as we have news. I know, you can barely wait.

* Fellow gardeners will know that harvesting potatoes is a Zeno’s Arrow sort of an affair, with each dig yielding a few more, but still leaving enough in the ground to be a complete nuisance for years to come.

** Kidding ***

*** I hope.


Noisy Neighbours

August 23, 2018

So, we have got new neighbours over the summer, which is good because it means we’re no longer the newbies in our little group of dwellings (the oldest inhabitant is 90-odd and was born here so we’re never going to actually catch up). As custom dictates, we’ve dropped by to say hello and deliver some of their misdirected mail and, obviously, have as much of a nosy round as we* could manage within the social boundaries offered by being invited in for a cup of tea.

They have also returned the visit and we’ve since exchanged pleasantries as we pass through their yard up on one of our normal walks. And it was during one of these that we noticed they have a couple of guinea fowl – indeed they’re hard to miss because they make even more of a racket than the peacock that used to live down the road from the old place. They’re even harder to miss when you end up inadvertently herding them comically down the road in front of you as we did on our return from our walk. Fortunately, they didn’t make it into our garden but headed up the hill towards our other neighbours instead and we let them get on with it. Presumably any birds that free range must have at least more road sense than a pheasant and enough of a homing instinct to get back to their new place (unless of course the new neighbours started out with a couple of dozen of them and these are just the survivors. I hope not, because I really don’t want to cycle past a sad little heap of polka-dot feathers on the Nearest B-Road).

Anyway, whether they’ve lost their way permanently or are just of an exploring bent, this morning, we discovered we had visitors…

guinea fowl

It’s an interesting addition to the garden bird list, but I may have to upgrade my hare defences.

* And obviously by ‘we’ here I mean ‘I’ as the other half is above such things.