Sunday, 28 March 2010

A Downhill Walk

Black Mountain, with the flat-topped twin peaks of Pen-y-Fan behind it . . .

I got my husband to drop me off at the toppety-top of the hill going towards Brechfa this afternoon, having been tempted out by the warmer temperatures. It was about 2 miles home and I took my time as I had my camera with me and kept stopping to look at the view, listen to birdsong, gaze at the mountains, take in the view, and gaze at the mountains some more, and in between all this, look at what leaves of wild flowers were starting to poke through the winter debris.

I have to confess I could have just sat down on a damp bank and gazed at the mountains for quite a while. There were a pair of Red Kites kii-ing to each other overhead and a robin carolling to me from a Hazel thicket, and then, joy, I heard the first Skylark of the year, way out of sight above me, throwing its song to the breeze. The hedgerows were sprinkled with Dogs Mercury, and Primroses, and just one or two Windflowers to keep the Celendines company. This higher land bids spring come slower, holding onto cooler temperatures and basted by today's cold wind. As the lane dropped towards home it became noticably warmer, especially when the high banks reached above my head and cut out the wind.

Walking into the view . . .

I could still see the mountains from lower down, and wanted to be up by Black Mountain today.

Hawthorn silhouetted against the sky.

Looking along the valley, where the little farms punctuate every few fields.

Red Kite.

Another Robin bounced along the hedgerow in front of me. Whilst the Primroses and Celendines are late, the Windflowers, though few in number yet, are on time. A quarrel of Blue Tits shot straight up into the air from a hedge, feet and wings flailing as they had their argument. As I dropped lower, the overgrown thickets edging the grazing of the nutty hippy neighbour we try and avoid, gave cover to what I am certain was a Chiff-Chaff. I know their song, but this seems to have arrived early? (Just checked on Wild About Britain and perhaps not so early after all). There was another - probably migrant - birdsong, but I haven't identified it yet and the memory of it is fading already.

You can just see, on the dead bit of bramble in the centre of the picture, what I took to be a moth, but it had the shortest stubbiest wings and a big fat body. Hmmm, need to go away and do some research I think.


I have lived here a good many years now - 22 in fact - I try not to take the scenery for granted, and never tire of looking at the distant Brecon Beacons - but I have to confess, my yearning for Dartmoor grows with each passing day. I cannot wait until we can go house-hunting.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Spring has sprung

I'm inclined to think that the dryness and chill winds we had in early March (resulting in more than a peck of March dust in these parts - we had dust-devils whirling around in front of our gate!) was what was holding spring back. Within 2 days of the first rain we had leaves coming out on gooseberries, blackcurrants and roses, and also the daffodils all across the county suddenly blooming, several weeks later than usual, but showing their sunny faces now.

Just after I got up this morning I had a little wander around the garden. I am so sick of winter and want more signs of spring to cheer me up. Last year, in my intake plot in the paddock, I planted half a dozen Lidl fruit trees. Several pears, a Victoria plum and a.n.other plum, and a Pippin apple. I was delighted to see the sturdiest of the pears, which has of course lost its name tag, has put out some huge buds which are bursting into leaf now. I think planting trees (especially fruit trees) is so rewarding and I can't wait to see whether I will have fruit on mine this year. The Pippin gave me one delicious apple last summer, though it set fruit of a dozen or so more, but they dropped. I just hope the cold spell (snow again? Eeeeeeeeeek!) doesn't put paid to those next week. I will have to drape it with an old sheet. The other trees have small buds on but not bursting forth yet. All the other soft fruit bushes: black- and red-currants, gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries etc are sprouting leaves to and I am relieved to find that my Rhubarb plants (I am notoriously good at murdering them) have all survived the winter, so we are looking forward to our first Rhubarb Crumble.

This week I made a little bed at the foot of the young Rowan tree by the front wall. Having yanked all the ivy off the wall, I was told off by my husband for removing the covering of a few loose stones at the wall base. Feeling suitably guilty, I have now tidied the area and planted it up with all sorts of self-sown seedlings from the main borders: Feverfew, a tall plant with blue flowers whose name I have forgotten!, Foxgloves, Aquilegia, Welsh Poppies, Teasel, a big felty-leaved Greater Mullein, and lots of baby Cowslips, and about 100 Nasturtium seeds which I'd saved from last summer. It should look pretty when it's all flowering.

Yesterday the big Honey Monster had to go to the vet's as she had an abscess on her mouth. It had started to drain but I wanted it checked and a course of anti-biotics. "Do you want pills or liquid medication?" I was asked. Remembering only too well the fun and games we had a couple of weeks back when I had to worm them all, and Honey put up a battle (from which I still bear the scars!), I settled for liquid, and the vet said, "Hmm, that's what most people opt for . . ."

Well, this won't do. I had better get cracking on the brambles with my trusty secateurs before it starts to rain again!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

I think I need my eyes tested!!

I can't remember what it's called, but it's flowering nicely!

OH and I went up the hill for a quick walk after lunch. I took my inhalers and managed it quite well (it IS steep), though I did stop a couple of times on the way up to, ahem, look at the view! I looked across to my neighbour's land, to see if any of his broodmares had foaled yet. I couldn't see them - one is a grey, so they normally show up, but I thought I saw a dark bay mare down in the field, and rolling. I thought colic . . . or malpresented foal. Anyway, we climbed up to the top, gazed across at Garn Goch, and the precipitous slopes of Black Mountain beyond it, and I took some photos of wild flowers putting out their leaves and proving spring really IS here now, and squinted across the valley again. Yup, definitely one of his dark bay mares, and STILL rolling. We walked faster down the hill and I set off up the valley in the car, to see if Jim knew she was in trouble. As I drew around the final bend and could see the field clearly, I was mortified to discover that the dark bay mare was . . . a dead tree, and its branches sticking up were the mare's 'legs' . . . ah well, better safe than sorry I suppose!

Above: Dog's Mercury, always one of the earliest wild flowers, and below, a good clump of Cow Parsley leaves.

I had a little stroll around the garden with my camera today and have taken some photos of the few things which are now in flower, but everything is starting to break through the soil and those spring bulbs I belatedly planted in January (!) are through and growing and some in flower.

Today I have been busy listing surplus books on Amazon and eBay, and have also put a piece of surplus furniture on eBay, a rather nice oak corner-cupboard on stand. I have some horsey things I want to list today or tomorrow too, so I shall be busy.

Our Middle Daughter arrives home today, a day late (long story), so I have a BIG leg of hogget in the oven and need to do all the accompanying bits to go with it. She's home for three weeks, which will be lovely, though she will be working flat out on her dissertation, so we probably won't be going out anywhere.

Looking across to Black Mountain.

Wild Strawberry flowers - last month there were only two flowers on this plant.

In the garden: the blue Pulmonaria. I have a pink one too.

Palest yellow Cowslips.

Tete-a-tete, and below, LOTS of Aquilegia seedlings have sown themselves in the gravel. For some reason this picture keeps appearing elsewhere on the page . . .

I have managed to wreak havoc with my secateurs in the ditch around the back of the house. As I worked, I listened to birdsong, and the chug chug of a tractor dragging a reluctant roller up and down the track,and watched a Buzzard soaring high overhead, and thought about other days when spring is further along, and the sun is warm on your back and life seems worth living again.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Busy . . .

I'm afraid I am trying to keep my nose to the grindstone here with all the preparation for putting this house on the market. If I'm not painting, I'm gardening, if I'm not gardening, I'm going through boxes and sorting out stuff for eBay, charity shop, car boot or dustbin. You will have to bear with me, as it will get worse before it gets better.

Our middle daughter returns from Uni today and will be working flat out on her Dissertation. Still, she should get quite a bit of reading done on the train journey down from Durham which lasts from 9 a.m. till just before 5 p.m.! I've got a huge leg of lamb out of the freezer and made chocolate cupcakes yesterday which I will ice today.

The rain it still raineth, the chimneys still leaketh, the Building Society still hath not answered . . . the worry is horrid . . . I am so desperate to move now, to move on to the next stage of our lives, to get HOME to Devon. I wasn't born there, but I have the very deepest of roots and they are calling me home. I am longing to be able to walk on the moor again, and go to the Devon Records Office to research my family history - have a possible lead to where my dad's family came from pre-Napoleonic Wars and want to find out if it's correct, but it means looking at parish documents.

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Country Kitchen 1850

This is the title of a little book I bought on Saturday for just £1. It is about American kitchens but very interesting all the same.

I loved this recipe for Metheglin:

"For half a barrel of metheglin, allow forty-eight or fifty pounds of fresh honey. Boil it an hour in a third of a barrel of spring water. Skim it well. It should be so strong with honey that when cold an egg will not sink in it. Add a small dessert spoonful of ginger, and as much of powdered clove and mace; also a spoonful of yeast. Leave the bung of the cask loose till the fermentation has ceased; then stop it close. At the end of 6 months, draw off and bottle it. It improves until three or four years old, and has a fine colour. It is a very healthful cordial."

Ye Gods, they must have kept a lot of bees, and I can't help thinking you could have still stood a spoon up in it after 3 or 4 years!

This sounds nice:

"Currant Ice Cream Take a gill of fresh currant juice, make it very sweet, and stir in half a pint of cream and freeze it. In the winter, or when fresh currants are not to be had, beat a tablespoonful and a half of currant jelly with the juice of one lemon, sweetened, and put to it half a pint of cream. A nice boiled custard is a very good substitute for ice cream, in the following way. When the custard has become cold, add lemon juice, sweetened , or the juice of bruised strawberries or raspberries, stirring it very fast till perfectly mixed to keep it from curdling, and then freeze it."

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Walk in Carmel Woods

Yesterday my daughter and I managed the longed-for walk somewhere new, and explored a circular trackway around the abandoned limestone quarries at Carmel Woods (now a Nature Reserve).

These limestone quarries were an important source of income for the Ammanford and Llandybie areas up until 1990, when they finally closed down and fell silent. Lime was essential for building work, limewash for painting, and above all, for sweetening pasture land - much of it with acidic soils in this area of Wales. For a full history, see HERE.
The trackway led us to the old quarry face. We passed several ruined buildings which had been in use during the quarry's lifetime.

Silver Birch and Hazel are always the first to colonize abandoned sites -quickly followed by Sycamore and Ash.

The trackway climbed steadily through the woodland.

Moss has softened the sharp edges of the quarried rockface.

Little rosettes of the wild Aquilegia.

View from the top of the quarry looking back down the valley.

The path took us ever upwards.
Looking across towards Carreg Cennen, which you can just see in the photo below, centre.

Entrance to a cave system in the limestone.

Our path back to the car led past the lake.

Footings of an old cottage, probably connected with the Quarry in former times.

My darling daughter
We ended up at Goldstone Books, at the back of a little industrial estate just round the corner from Tesco's. They had an interesting and sensibly-priced bookshop front-of-house but it was the stock behind closed doors (sold on their website) which was tempting and out-of-bounds! I was good and just bought two books for £3, and T bought her boyfriend two books he had been looking for (£4). T goes home tomorrow, so I shall miss her, but her sister returns home for three weeks next week, so I have that to look forward to.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Not a good week for sleep

A view from a walk up the valley on Monday.

Our son has been away for two nights now (home tonight). I was being good about not worrying until the phone rang at 2.45 a.m. Thursday morning. I was wide awake and running at the first ring and picked up the phone at the 3rd, getting carpet burn on the way. It turned out to be a drunken mate of my son's, asking to speak to him - so drunk he didn't realize he was phoning a land line and not a mobile number. Believe me, if I knew who it was I'd have strung him up by his toenails. Well, I went back to bed, but of course all peace of mind had gone, and I began to fret about all sorts of things for the next three hours, tossing and turning, before I finally dozed off again.

Last night I woke at 3.30 a.m. and that was IT for the night. I waited until first light (around 6 a.m.) before getting up, but I shall pay for it later I don't doubt. One again I revisited old worries, stupid things I did many many years ago - and so pointless fretting about them now.

Our eldest daughter is here for a few days (going home on Sunday). It is lovely to have her here and has cheered me up no end. Our middle daughter returns home next week, for 3 weeks. The house is going to seem very empty when she has gone back up to Uni.

T and I may try to find a big bookshop on the industrial unit at Ammanford today. I fancy getting away from our four walls for a bit especially as the sun is just coming out now. T and I have hit the charity shops this week, and she was delighted to get some lovely work clothes for a new charity job she is starting next week.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Chocolate Crackle-Tops

7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 1/2 ounces (scant half cup) butter
4 ounces (generous half a cup) superfine sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 1/2 ounces 9scant two cups) plain flour (all-purpose)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/2 tspn baking powder
pinch of salt
6* ounces/1 1/2 cups icing sugar (confectioners' sugar) for coating * I just used a couple of tablespoons of sugar and didn't coat so heavily.

In a pan set over a low heat, melt the chocolate and butter together until smooth, stirring frequently (I used a bowl in a pan of hot water).

Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the sugar and continue stirring for 2-3 mins until the sugar dissolves. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Gradually stir into the chocolate mixture in batches, until blended.

Cover the dough, cool and chill for at least 1 hour, until the dough is cold and able to hold its shape.

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F/Gas 3. Grease two or more large baking sheets.

Place the icing sugar in a bowl and using a small ice cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out chunks of the cold dough roughly the size of walnuts, and roll into balls in your hands. drop each ball into the icing sugarand roll until heavily coated. (I did mine lightly, as family haven't got a very sweet tooth). Remove with slotted spoon after tapping lightly against the side of the bowl to get rid of excess sugar. Place on a prepared baking tray about 1 1/2" apart.

Bake for about 10-15 mins, until the top feels slightly firm to touch. Remove baking tray and allow to cool for 2-3 mins, then slide cookies off to cool thoroughly on a wire tray.

Yesterday's car boot sale

The area cleared of winter weeds in the soft fruit intake area. Strawberries now under cover from the night-time frosts. In front of them, some of the raspberry canes and a Loganberry. You can just see a scabby cherry tree (left) and then two of the Lidl fruit trees I planted last year - a damson and a pear.

Whilst we didn't spend much money yesterday, we had an excellent visit to the car boot sale. I was pleased to find a big bag of DMC and Anchor embroidery silks on one stall for just £1, so I snapped those up. On another stall I spent £2 on a spare double duvet set for one of the girls to take back with them. OH bought some solid brass hinges and 4 bronzey handles for £1 each lot.

The pack on the left was sent to me by my dear friend in the Forest, who said it had my name on it in the charity shop. Literally within an hour of it arriving I was using one of the greens as it was a very close match to one I'd just run out of in my Devon picture. The pile on the right were the ones from the car boot sale.

Here are few of them which I wound onto spools last night (bits of cornflake packet!) As embroidery floss is 75p a time now, this has been a huge saving.

These are some choccy biccies my son asked my to make. I will put the recipe up later.

Right, back to the paddock, where I am clearing brambles, and then I intend to do a walk up the valley.