The Best Thing about this Snow …

January 19, 2018

still snowy

… is that we definitely know the hares are back. One picked its way down our path this morning at first light and settled in a little hollow it has made for itself above the pond. It’s not as chilled as past visiting hares have been – I suspect it knows it’s a bit more conspicuous than usual (it not being one of the mountain hares that goes white for the winter) so its ears keep swivelling around like a radar dish and it takes flight at the slightest movement from the house, leaving only a hare-shaped hole in the snow.

hollow in the snow

Place where hare was, sans hare. You’ll just have to use your imagination

Some clearing and ploughing from neighbours with way better toys than we have (our retired lawyer neighbour up the hill has not one but two diggers and relishes any opportunity to use them) means our road is somewhat passable; postal deliveries have been resumed and I was able to cycle almost all the way to and from our door, thanks to the magical ice tyres.

snow on the hills, green below

We walked in the woods today and our footprints from two days ago had been completely obliterated by the snow since then. Apart from a glorious bullfinch, looking even more gorgeous than usual against the snow, the only signs of life were the tracks of badger and deer, foxes and squirrels. There’s something a little strange about coming out of the woods, having waded through pristine foot-deep snow, to see the cars back up to speed on the road across the valley and the green of the fields reappearing down below us, while everything around us remains buried in snow.

single green field

(except this one field, mysteriously, which doesn’t seem to have any snow on it at all. What do you think the farmer has done to it? Extra potent slurry? Underturf heating to make it a luxury sheep spa destination)

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12 Bright Days*

December 29, 2017

fishing in the river

It’s been colder than we’re used to these last few days – in fact we woke up on Boxing Day to discover it had snowed (and all credit to the little girl with the scooter who was scooting up and down the pavement with a snow shovel clearing the sidewalks her neighbours had neglected to shovel themselves), followed by overnight lows of -15C (that’s F cold in Fahrenheit) and days that didn’t ever get above freezing.

pawprints on ice

It’s curtailed our cycling somewhat – I’m fond of my fingers – but we’ve still been getting out and about even if it’s felt like a bit more of an ordeal than I really like.

throwing stones

If you get the right rock, and the right kind of ice, it sings

Tomorrow afternoon we will be flying home, so naturally the weather has started to warm up again. We still didn’t get out on the bikes but we did get a final stop for tacos and a walk round the State Park where it seems the beavers have been busy

beaver chewings

Back to normal Scottish weather service soon, you will be glad to hear. We’ll miss the sunshine. We probably won’t miss the sight of people walking in to restaurants to order tacos with a sidearm (not waving it about – they paid like a normal person – but still, a gun, in a holster, at their hip. I hope the food was served exactly how they liked it. America, I love you but you have no idea how strange this feels to a sheltered European).

seed heads

* I don’t normally do these things, but Findra’s 12 Bright Days of Christmas campaign seems as good an aspiration for Christmas as any.

 


Put a Lid on it

December 7, 2017

While nobody would describe me as a dedicated follower of fashion, I do notice the odd trend as it whooshes past, mostly with bafflement (and seriously, what was it with the slits in the shoulders of tops this summer? Any future period drama set in this will leave the poor wardrobe mistress frantically taking the scissors to slash through the sleeves of every top, while people scratch their heads and wonder – not for the first time – just what we were thinking in 2017). But I was heartened to note that otherwise clearly fashionable and soignee young women had suddenly started sporting practical bobble hats everywhere, even indoors (indeed, even paired with tops that left their clavicles out in the cold). Not that I had any need for a bobble hat, having my magical tweed cap to keep my head warm and dry, but it was nice to know that if I did, I’d be able to just go out and purchase one, in an actual fashion outlet, and wear it safe in the knowledge that I was in with the in crowd. And also that young women were at least keeping their heads warm, if not their shoulders

And then, the other half came home from work with just such a bobble hat, knitted by a colleague (he has such lovely workmates) who had brought in her handiwork to share. I tried it on, and it was so cosy and comfy that it was quite hard to take it off, even though wearing a hat indoors seems like a step down a slippery slope that ends with never taking your fleece off ever, even in August. Feeling a little chilly at my desk the next day, I couldn’t resist sticking the hat back on, and was surprised at how effective it was at keeping all of me warm, not just my head (more results from the Centre for the Study of the Bleeding Obvious as they come in). I fear that a line may have been crossed here, and that fingerless gloves, scarves, and the dreaded fleece will not be far behind. It is perhaps fortunate that we will be off to America, a place where they heat their houses properly, before the habit can get out of hand.

rainbow

No photo of the hat – it might be fashionable but that doesn’t mean I don’t look ridiculous in it – but this was the weather on my ride home

Still, having got caught in an icy rainshower on my way back from fetching the paper, I can not only confirm that the new jacket is (so far) Waterproof in Scotland, but that a woolly bobble hat was a very welcome thing to come home to, especially as there is now snow on the ground. Here’s hoping that the fickle finger of fashion does not move on too fast and spares me my hat, at least until the weather starts to warm up again, in, ooh, about May.


Harey Christmas?

November 15, 2017

So I was all set to write another grumpy post today, having received yet another unsolicited letter from a legal firm that wants us to enrich them by agreeing to sue the electricity company over the fact that there’s a cable going over our property, something we should apparently see as a dreadful imposition rather than a source of free tree surgery.

So there was much muttering about parasitic capitalism as I cycled into Bigtown to brave the Christmas music,* cheered only moderately by encountering a chap out birdwatching by bike and then only moderately more by the silver flash of fieldfares’ wings as they flocked in the hedgerows on the way back.

But then, looking out of my study window on my return I was restored by the sight of not one but two hares sauntering about the garden. We have not had hares in the garden for ages – possibly too much gardening going on, with the construction of the greenhouse and other projects – and I was beginning to wonder if we had chased them off altogether. So it was encouraging to see them back, and hopefully more more than just a passing visit…

* It turns out that the source in the shop is in fact a life-size animatronic singing Santa which interrupts its renditions of Winter Wonderland with the occasional cry of ‘Merry Christmas everyone!’ Frankly, if it makes it through to Christmas without ending up beheaded and crucified in the local primary school playground, then that end of Bigtown will not have lived up to its lawless reputation.


And the Rain it Raineth Somewhere Else

September 13, 2017

For anyone who has ever thought that ‘this blog is all right, but it really doesn’t ramble on about the joys of rural cycling in Scotland anything like enough’, all two of you, I am on the CamCycle Podcast doing just that.

I have no idea what I said because I just chatted away happily as I am wont to do, and there’s no way I’m listening to my own voice to found out, but I do remember that the opening question was about what I’d seen on my bike that week. The recording was made a couple of weeks ago and I undoubtedly rambled on about blackberries and exciting drainage works, those being pretty much the highlight of the week at the time.

I was reminded of all this today, as I cycled home from Bigtown and found myself riding in the wake of what I’m pretty sure was a merlin, using the hedge as cover as it flew along the road for a couple of hundred yards, before hopping over a hedge and disappearing from view. I can report that, while not as speedy as a peregrine, they can certainly outpace me on a bike, and it was definitely the highlight of my ride home, indeed my week.

Naturally, I didn’t capture any of this because I was barely able to keep the bird in sight, let alone get a photo of it. So you’ll just have to enjoy the equally rare image of the rain raining on someone other than me as I rode into Bigtown at lunchtime …

rain raining somewhere else

Unusually, the weather gods didn’t manage to catch up with me all day


Entrapment

September 4, 2017

Regular readers will know, I’m all for a bit of citizen science, so when I heard about the Big Wasp Survey I thought I might as well sign up. It ticked all the right boxes: a little bit of diy trap building (but nothing so complicated I couldn’t manage – although possibly my effort could stand to be a little less wonky), learning new things about wasps, and beer (not quite as good as cake, but maybe they’ll do an ant survey next year …)

wasp trap with beer

The only problem was the beer part – you don’t need very much beer, and obviously throwing beer away would be a terrible shame. As it happened, nobody who came over the weekend fancied a beer, so there were no open bottles I could pinch a few millilitres from for my trap. So, once the dust had settled and everyone had left on Sunday, I was forced to drag myself off the sofa and have myself a beer.

It’s amazing the sacrifices we all have to make for the advancement of knowledge…


Peak Swallow

August 25, 2017

If there’s one thing we’ve missed since we moved to the new house, it’s been having a whole shed just for the swallows which meant a ringside seat when the various broods fledged and – having mastered the whole swooping-out-of-the-window trick – started practising their flying around the yard. Indeed, having resident swallows is a great way of marking the passage of the seasons: from the cheery moment when the first one arrives back from Africa, chattering busily about its journey, to the sudden silence when you realise that they have gone, and they didn’t even say goodbye.

trainee swallows

Trainee swallows on the roof below our bedroom window. Paving beyond demonstrates our relaxed gardening approach …

So we were pleased when we looked out of the window the other morning and discovered not one but dozens of swallows, some still clearly novice flyers, swooping round our garden and perching all over the roof of the house. At one point there were well over 30 all lined up on the wires, and it’s been very distracting trying to work with a bird zooming past my study window at warp speed approximately every 30 seconds.

Not having hosted their nests in our own garden means we can’t feel quite such a sense of proprietorial pride in these birds but, as the other half pointed out, at least our somewhat relaxed attitude to gardening means there’s plenty of insect life around for them to hoover up. Plus there’s the fact that I ride so slowly up the hill that I’ve usually gathered my own personal cloud of flies by the time I get to the house (and if the swallows were to learn that and start greeting my approach by swooping round my head for a free snack, how cool would that be?).

swallow food

We have various plans for the garden, from a greenhouse to a sitooterie* but so far they have not quite extended to building a swallow shed, especially as both the neighbouring farms feature steadings with plenty of swallow habitat. Still, if a corner of the garden somewhere proves hospitable to hirundines (house martins are also welcome, and possibly easier to accommodate), then that will be a massive plus. Meanwhile, we shall continue to enjoy any birds who grace us with their presence, however fleeting.

* The place in the garden where you can sit oot, obviously