Clout Casting Commences

May 24, 2018

Signalled by a strange portent yesterday morning

Not only has the fine weather continued, but suddenly it’s gone from ‘nice and sunny and warm if you’re out of the breeze’ to ‘this is not a drill, this is summer, enjoy it while it lasts, because when it’s gone, its gone’

Unfortunately this has coincided with the crunchiest of crunchy work deadlines so I’ve mainly been enjoying it by proxy, but I have been allowing myself a snatched hour or so outside here or there. This has meant choosing between gardening and the bike …

hawthorn (may) blossom

Today the bike won, even though my seedlings are queuing up to be planted and starting to suffer in the sun. I don’t regret it though, because the may is out (and the bluebells and the gorse and everything else) and where the farmers haven’t been slurry spreading the air is positively perfumed and gorgeous, and warm with it.

sandals

Apologies for the glare…

There might even have been a bit of clout casting done.

Besides, I have pipeline news: they have finished laying and joining the big gas pipe and started to make good the enormous hole they dug to do so, so the site now looks like this. Given the talent the land round here has for growing grass, I expect it to be indistinguishable from the surrounding fields within weeks.

pipeline covered over

Or almost, because a mysterious pipe remains, sticking out of the ground, purpose only to be guessed at …

pipe sticking up

Amazingly, if the forecast is correct, this weather is set to continue after the deadline crunch has passed and I will be able to do all the binge gardening I’ve been longing to do all week. Watch this space. I might even get around to blogging about compost …

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Suffering for my Principles

May 15, 2018

Heading back from Bigtown with a freshly serviced stealth bike this afternoon, I had to pick up some sausages on my way home. This meant a choice: the butcher in town, who does nice sausages but from pork of unknown provenance and hence probably intensively reared pigs. Or the farm shop and shortbread emporium out on the edge of town, which does equally nice if somewhat pricier sausages but from its own outdoor reared pork, which means happy (albeit now obviously dead) pigs

may woods

And an extra mile or five added to the ride back…

may woods

It’s a tough choice.


Down in the Wildwood, Something Stirs

May 13, 2018

I love this time of the year, especially once POP is over and I can enjoy it, and above all I love the colour of the just-emerged spring leaves which is so fleeting and so gorgeous with the sunlight filtering through it that the Germans, of course, have a word for it:

Today, then, with the Weather Gods relenting and bringing us some proper May weather (I knew they read this blog), was the perfect day to finally visit Carrifran Wildwood, which I have blogged about before. We pass it every time we go back and forth to Duns, and we have watched with interest over the years as the tiny trees have grown up from a barely visible fuzz on the hillside, but we’ve never properly visited.

Carrifran Wildwood

Today we took the opportunity of a guided walk led by one of the people who’s been involved from the start (and joined by the contractor who planted several thousand of the trees we were there to see over the years). It was a gloriously sunny day, loud with birds, and a fascinating glimpse into a project I’ve long been admiring from afar.

carrifran new trees

It was great to hear about its history from the people involved and learn more about the wildlife that was coming back alongside the trees – but you don’t need a guide to see what an amazing difference a few determined people can make if they stick at it year after year (and don’t let anyone tell them what they’re doing is impossible).

trees emerging on the hillside

We even got to see the original rowan, the sole surviving tree in the valley when it all started, now surrounded by its own emerging offspring.

Original rowan

We’ve got used to Scottish hillsides being cropped bare by sheep and deer, and the rest of the valley where the wildwood lies does have its own bleak beauty, but Carrifran is something else.

Carrifran track

Such a contrast between the emerging native woods – and the bare hills and plantation forest beyond

Go if you can, in May if you can, when all the birds are singing their hearts out and the trees are just putting out their leaves. You won’t regret it.

Carrifran track

Though maybe bring some boots.


Bottling It

May 7, 2018

Planting out my peas the other day, I realised that my collection of old plastic bottles that I use as mini cloches has become somewhat diminished over the years. A combination of the house move, my disorganisation, and last year’s less-than-convincing gardening efforts means a fair few have gone missing, and others may have simply become too tatty to be used, although some of them must be almost a decade old and pretty much unchanged, which I suppose illustrates the problem with plastic in the first place

We don’t buy that many drinks in plastic bottles any more but that’s not a problem because empty ones apparently grow on trees – or at least in verges, ditches and parks. Anyone who’s cycled with me in recent days has had to put up with me slamming on the brakes and suddenly swerving to the side of the road or doubling back as I spot a particularly fine specimen to add to the pile on the back of my rack. Even being picky and sticking to the freshest-looking new arrivals, I usually run out of room before I run out of bottles.

bottles on bike rack

I feel a little bad only picking up some of the litter but I suppose each one salvaged and put to work for the next ten years in my garden is one more not clogging up the gullet of an albatross chick, so it’s better than nothing. Especially now that summer has arrived even in Bigtown (I actually heard someone say ‘taps aff’ this afternoon) and people are apparently feeling the need to keep themselves well hydrated and then helpfully leaving their bottles out for me to pick up, in some cases just yards from a bin …

summer in Bigtown

“Aye, it’ll no last, mind”

That is, if I’m allowed anywhere near the garden for the next few weeks, as the other half reported he couldn’t complete the strimming round the back because there was a tiny leveret hanging out in the long grass. Fortunately not so tiny that it didn’t have the sense to get out of the way – finding one baby hare in the garden is wonderful, finding half of one, not so much.


Fill your Boots

April 22, 2018

Yesterday was the New Nearest Village church plant sale and – it being a rather glorious sunny one – I actually managed to lure the other half to join me on a cycle ride up there for my annual ‘how many plants can you fit in a Brompton basket‘ adventure.

After a very pleasant interlude sitting in the sun in the church hall car park eating barbecued sausage sandwiches and as many tray bakes as we could decently pile onto a plate, and talking cycling in Rwanda (as hilly as it looks, apparently), we pootled (me; it’s difficult to get up much speed when you’re conscious of your new plants’ leaves all blowing in the wind) and raced (the other half) back down again. The plants (random lupins of unknown provenance and a named primula species which I’ve managed to forget everything about apart from the fact that it apparently likes boggy conditions) are now awaiting such time as I can clear a space to plant them and set up slug defences, as the last lot of lupins I planted didn’t last a week. I should probably have thought of that before I bought them but hey ho, if I keep throwing lupins at the problem surely some of them will get through…

plant sale haul

In other plant cruelty news, I was wondering why our windowsill basil had started looking peaky even (especially) after I’d fed it. It was only when I took it out of its lovely white pot cover – which I’d bought earlier this year as part of a set and left on the windowsill of our entrance hall awaiting a plant pot to put in it – that I realised why. Handy pots left on windowsills in our household get random things put in them, it turns out. Like spent button batteries, for example. And it also turns out basil doesn’t thrive when sitting in a weak solution of battery acid. Who knew?

On the other hand, it might also do for the slugs …


Floundering

April 20, 2018

You know, when you have lived somewhere for almost 10 years (and how did that happen, I want to know), you start to think you’ve got a grip on the place and its little ways and strange customs like talking to strangers on buses. And then you have a conversation in your writers’ group that goes like this:

Local person: yes, it was like at the flounder tramping when I just couldn’t bring myself to stand on a flounder.

Other local person: oh God, they’re so wriggly, I don’t blame you.

Me: Wait, whoa, hang on, back up a minute. Flounder tramping?

So it turns out, there used to be an annual event where you waded out into the sea to go and stand on flounders (you can get a flavour of the excitement here).

Sadly (or perhaps happily if you’re a flounder) it has apparently since been banned on health and safety grounds – although not, presumably, the flounders’. You snooze, you lose, even in the world of bonkers rural pursuits it seems.


Anarchy in the UK

April 14, 2018

So, I’m a bit busy at the moment, as is normal at this time of the year (and by ‘this time of the year’ I mean January through to December) so really the last thing I needed to be doing today was cycling into Bigtown to spend the afternoon in the park at an inclusive cycling event. But It turned out to be exactly the thing I needed to be doing (and not just because I took the opportunity to spread the word about Pedal on Parliament).

You might think an event promoting cycling for people with disabilities would be all kinds of worthy, but that’s because you’ve not experienced inclusive cycling Bigtown style. The group I’ve been volunteering with for the last year or so have just bought a whole van load of secondhand adaptive bikes, ready to set up a new inclusive cycling hub at Bigtown station.

bikes lined up

The calm before the storm. Bikes lined up, ready for the onslaught.

I like working with them because they have a somewhat anarchic style which is the opposite of wrapping people up in cotton wool. Today’s event consisted of lining up an assortment of contraptions from a state-of-the-art wheelchair bike to some miniature go-karts, getting all comers to sign a form so we could at least inform their next of kin if they rode straight into the river, and then letting them loose with the instructions ‘stay in the park, don’t hit anyone, and bring it back’.

kids on a side by side tandem

Pretty soon, almost every bike and trike had been commandeered, and the park was full of people old and young, able bodied and not, pedalling round the paths like people possessed. Amazingly, everyone came back unscathed  – and in most cases with huge grins on their faces.

four person bike

Me, I just stood around in the sunshine, took a few folk on a guided ride, chatted to all comers, and came home somewhat knackered but infinitely more relaxed.

Highlight of the afternoon was seeing two of the Buddies members – one of whom couldn’t ride a bike a year ago and had been told he never would – caning it round the park on a standard tandem that nobody else there had been able to ride.

Oh and this dog, who spent the afternoon snoozing on the path right in the middle of the event, completely unfazed by the fact that he had become a small furry traffic island in a sea of chaos.

chilled out dog

I need to get hold of some of that attitude for myself.