Thursday 31 March 2011

Cats and Kingcups

Some cat photos for my eldest daughter, who is missing the cats very much.

Eric the Red, sunbathing.

Alfie on top of the wall between the garden and the yard.

Tippedy-doo-dah (as we call him!) also having a wash . . .

His brother "Little Whale" aka Jarvis, having a wash and brush up.

Miffy and Alfie on the old cart shed door.

This heifer calf was less than an hour old in the picture and she had just climbed up quite a steep bit of bank, little legs still doddery from lack of use. Her mum very sensibly walked up the lesser incline and rescued her by the tree to lead her down to safety.

Kingcups (Marsh Marigolds) at the edge of the wildlife pond. These are especially for Weaver of Grass, who is longing to see them blooming up in Yorkshire.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Friday's walk

This afternoon was a repeat, pretty well, of yesterday - clearing brambles and also chucking yesterday's logs up the bank so they can be wheelbarrowed back to the yard. My husband took the chainsaw to the remains of the dead (diseased) willow, so we have a goodly amount of firewood for next winter, and more to come as there are a couple of other trees at the paddock-edge to drop (one is half way there already).

Once again I had time to ponder things. Such as, if you truly did spend decades researching a book (on a very popular topic of history) you would think that you'd get someone to check out your Welsh translations for you . . . Nuff said, but having found one big mistake on the first page I opened it at, I am disinclined to place much faith in the rest of the research . . . It annoys me when folk have a theory and then manipulate hard-won research to justify it. Just as well it cost only 50p at the boot sale this morning . . .

Anyway, I had a short loosening-up walk on Friday morning. I set off before my husband drove over the hill for the paper, and got him to give me a lift up the steep valley side as I just knew I wouldn't be up to it. Then I walked some more and he gave me a lift back again. Usual array of river photos, but I hope they get you out of the house . . .

Water-worn rocks loop in scallops.

The sun lighting the waters downstream like they are bejewelled with diamonds.

The little wild daffodils which were once found by the acre in quiet Welsh woods and valleys.

Looking upstream from the lookout rock.

Wind anemones opening their little faces to the morning sun.

A very new lamb enjoys the sunshine with his mum.

This house used to be a pub, I believe, and then for some years stood empty and unloved.

Looking across the misty fields.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Birdsong . . .

. . . subtitle: I thought I lived a normal life!

I have spent a good hour or so this afternoon tackling the overgrown finger of land between the back of the paddock and our top field, which has always been called the "triangle", or if you are my oldest daughter, it is where the fairies live as that was her sincere belief when she was about 5 or 6 . . .

Since our horses have all gone to their new homes, everything has gotten very overgrown. My horse, Fahly, used to love zipping round the corner of the triangle, across the edge of what was once the Mill pond, and then leaping into the sunlight over the little patch of brambles at the paddock edge. I thought of him today, as I chopped brambles, both live and dry-as-a-bone dead, into managable pieces for a later bonfire. He wouldn't be able to zip round there today, as the old willow had finally fallen so far as to touch ground and had blocked the pathway completely. What's more, the slope to the stream where the Celendines grow was a mass of totally overgrown brambles, which is going to take a week of hard work to clear.

As I wielded my secateurs, I listened to the burble of the stream as it passed by, once it doubled as a leat and fed the Mill pond, which now has three very well grown ash trees in it. Some of the old mill workings were still here when we arrived, but I think the Mill must have fallen out of use some time in the early 60s. At one time, virtually every farm near a water source, had a mill of some sort - usually to drive a belt to run a band saw for timber.

A Blackbird sang plaintively to his mate, and there were the voices of Blue Tits and Great Tits in the trees above me, and a rather annoying Pigeon who insisted on singing just part of his song "My Toe Bleeds . . . . My Toe Bleeds . . . My Toe Bleeds . . . and never the final "Betty" part of the refrain.

Glancing up I could just see the roof of the house, where I knew that a Pied Wagtail would be prancing up and down, looking for insects (hah - probably Cluster Flies escaping from the slates over the attic). I knew without hearing that the Sparrows ("Spadgers" as my Hampshire mum used to call them) would be cheeping monotonously and squeezing themselves under the barge boards beneath the guttering, where they nest.

My mind, allowed to wander, pondered on the death of Elizabeth Taylor this week, and her relationship with Richard Burton. For the first time she had actually married someone more intelligent than herself, and they could "have a decent argument"! They both loved books, and had long discussions about the merits of books they loved. Soulmates physically and mentally - what a shame that booze had to get in the way. Someone on a Forum this week remarked that they betted that up in Heaven they were desperately trying to get Richard Burton sober by pouring black coffee down his throat . . . Wouldn't mind betting she gave him a piece of her mind when she got there!

I also thought about a Library book I was reading by Denys Val Baker (Upstream at the Mill). Not the best book I have ever read, and I hazard a guess that it wasn't his best book either, as it seemed a little bitty and early chapters just seem to talk about other books and articles he had written, but an interesting book all the same. At least he managed to earn his living from his writing, and he and his family lived in a number of Cornish properties before they ended up at the Mill. They lived a similar life to us - shunning town life and moving Westwards. They also had to struggle with the elements at times - they had an over-abundence of water each winter although it sounds to have been an improvement on the house they lived in near the sea, which got regularly flooded by it on the ground floor! He did sound a note, however, which resonated with us, as we contemplate moving from here. He mentioned the first sight he had of Mill house was when he saw the previous owner hand cutting up logs in front of Mill House. "I always felt it must have seemed very sad that old age made it necessary for them to move to the greater convenience of a town house." Whilst we're not quite ready for a town house yet, there are definitely times when the convenience appeals . . .

I was in Lidl for some groceries this morning, and fell into conversation with the lady behind me in the queue (she had gallantly let me and my two purchases go in front of her). We talked about gardening and she asked what I did with all the garden rubbish, as she could never find a bin bag heavy duty enough to bag it up for the dustmen without the branches poking through. It is not a problem I have EVER had, and I had to tell her that we just had a bonfire, but then we lived on a smallholding so the garden bits were never a problem.

I wondered what she would have thought if she could have seen me at work with the brambles today, or later dragging branches away from the willow tree as my husband cut the bigger branches into logs, or yesterday, when we were wrestling with a hawthorn tree tangled up with 20 years' growth of Kiftsgate rose, which had to come down so that Western Power could give us a functioning earth again. And what she would have made of having 150v of "earthed" electricity coming through her taps (and in the water therein!) Or having no central heating when there is a foot of snow on the ground. Or trying to count tadpoles or watching fighting cockerels when one named "Dinner" escaped from his pen (I can see why people used to bet on them!) Or having a swarm of bees coming down our bedroom chimney and wanting to set up home (twice - only Radio 1 played VERY loud in the fireplace below deterred them). I can't help feeling that Denys Val Baker would have recognized a few of these situations!

As I said, I used to think I lived a normal life . . .

Thursday 24 March 2011

An echo from the past - archaeology field trip to Ireland

Yesterday I had a meeting at the Big House where I volunteer, and I needed a notebook. I grabbed one from the top of some of my archaeology books in my office, but it wasn't until I opened it later that I found it contained notes I had made during an Archaeology Field Trip to Ireland some 14 years or so ago. After visiting the wonderful Rock of Cashel, we were taken to Holycross Abbey. Here are some notes I took, which I feel express one archaeologist's view of religion and place:

HOLYCROSS ABBEY - now Cistercian - was Benedictine? Built 11/12th C. but remains mostly gone - 14/15th C. what we see, imposed in late Medieval. Relic - fragment of the TRUE CROSS. Nave, chancel and two transepts. medieval wall paintings - one of few to survive here.

Consider how space is used. Atmosphere. Inspiration etc. Areas which can be used, others which are approached with respect, awe etc.

Dolmens and wedge tombs (which we had been seeing) about BELONGING to the landscape, being PART OF IT - as the stone is.

Use of stained glass to create beauty and atmosphere. Candles lit for departed souls, so focusing attention and thought on death and respect. The scarlet of the glass is reflected in the red of the candle holders. The Gothic arched window leads the eyes, pointing up.

Through the clear glass window at the back is the shape of the High Cross. Tremendous sense of peace, aided by the low religious chant in the background. The modernity of the patchwork stained glass linking past with present. Secular subject of hunting scene as a wall painting - yet past-time of holy men too. Showed status and elitism, but this is a monastery . . .

V. steep incline downhill towards the alter. Echoes of shapes - as frameworks within frameworks, centering on the side chapels with lit candles and windows. Intensifying and focusing.

Isn't this just one vast megalithic monument? It is an ossuary for bones - a giant container - a focus in the landscape. Sacred space is divided up inside it - some parts are sacred and may not be accessed by the people not participating in the ritual (the people wielding the power, the manipulators of religion).

Yet plain glass in the big window behind the alter. Allowing more light to focus on the principal area of ritual. Outside - the cloisters - an area of contemplation and quiet thought.

Are approaches guided? Yes - the rear of the church is in line with the alter and the PROCESSIONAL line. Ritual participants have a different entrance/exit. Wonderful atmosphere of peace and tranquility. PROCESSIONAL door.

Relics as icons. Not just one - several - as focus/backdrop for candles.

I think that this offers an interesting perspective how human attitudes to death, religious beliefs and religious ceremony have altered little from the Neolithic to the present-day. I was aware of the layout when we later visited Newgrange, with its central passageway, control of movement, side "chapels", focus of veneration . . . Or is that what our lecturer intended us to consider after visiting Holycross?

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Weary but satisfied

Newton House seen from the castle, last May. Not long now until we have LEAVES again!

I've not long come inside from working hard out in the paddock plot, around the soft fruit area, where the 2nd bed of raspberries needed hand weeding and digging over and then mulching with muck heap. I wanted a break from working a the roadside, which is a bit monotonous, just yanking out nettle roots.

It has been SUCH a beautiful spring day, wall to wall sunshine, and it was a pleasure to be outside. I lost the morning to a necessary double meeting at the Big House where I am volunteering, but I enjoyed it all the same and am looking forward to dressing up at later date, when they have special Edwardian days. It is doing wonders for my confidence (after over 20 years spent at home, looking after my family) and I find that I still have a functioning brain as well, which DOES surprise me - I thought my memory had gone walkabouts!

This is the view across the Deer Park which I never tire of. I just have to step to the back of the hall and I can see the 100 or so Fallow deer when they are down near the house. They have a grazing pattern, like all animals, but fortunately they have been near each time I have been volunteering over the past few weeks.

Just because I remembered the camera today, they were much further away, behind the slope. Ah well . . .

I promise - the last tadpole picture for a while. I just had to take this one today as they were several tadpoles deep in this warm shallow corner of the wildlife pond.

Last but not least, my Magnolia stellata is breaking out into flower today. Spring has truly arrived.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Talley Abbey and Progress "Front of House"

We had to take the car in for its MoT yesterday (I'm relieved to say it passed) and on the way home we stopped at Talley Abbey for a stroll around. It was home to the "White Canons" - the Premonstratensians - an Order started in 1120 and spreading rapidly,and by the mid-1400s there were some 1100 monasteries for men and 400 for women. This particular Abbey was formed by Rhys ap Gruffydd around 1185. He was, of course, associated with Dinefwr Castle 6 miles away at Llandeilo. Llandeilo had been the focus of the religious community prior to the foundation of Talley.

From the Wikipedia entry: As with many village communities, it was well populated in the Victorian period, as described by Lewis:

TALLEY, otherwise TÀL-Y-LLYCHAU, a parish, in the union of LLANDILO-VAWR, lower division of the hundred of CAYO, county of CARMARTHEN, SOUTH WALES, 7 1/2 miles (N.) from Llandilo-Vawr: containing 1068 inhabitants, of whom 418 are in the Lower, and 650 in the Upper, division. This place, of which the name, signifying "the head of the lakes," is derived from two large pools, near the church, of about fifty acres in extent, was originally of much greater importance than at present, and the seat of one of the most extensive and venerable ecclesiastical establishments in this part of the principality. The parish . . . comprises by admeasurement 7167 a. 2 r. 19 p., of which the arable proportion may consist of about two-thirds in relation to the pasture, and nearly 200 acres are woodland, and 290 a. 8 p. a common. The surface displays a continued succession of hill and dale, sideland and mountain top, and is rather woody . . . The seat, Edwinsford, stands in the north-west on the confines of the parish, of about half of which the owner of the house is the landed proprietor . . . The church, dedicated to St. Michael, having fallen into decay, was rebuilt in the Grecian style, in 1773 . . . principally from the ruins of the ancient abbey . . . There are places of worship for Baptists and Calvinistic Methodists . . . In the parish are two day schools . . . There are also three Sunday schools . . . [From A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (S. Lewis, 1844).]

All that remains of the once-great Abbey.

Stone commemorating the members of Edwinsford, the local Big House.

I noticed a "Bonsai" Yew tree growing from the ruined wall.

Looking across the churchyard.

Such a peaceful final resting place.

The pretty church is surrounded, like many churches, by a circle of Yew trees.

Looking across the beautiful lake, which of course would have provided fish for the White Canons.

If we'd had more time we would have walked right around the lake.

There were two Alpacas (?) in a field nearby. How could I not notice I had taken a photo of a weeing Camalid?!!!

The road home - I was trying to capture the light on this hillside, silvery from dew, but it didn't show up.

Above - the other side of the driveway has been tidied up and planted with Primulas and Dwarf Irises, and I will add some Aquilegieas shortly. It all looks a bit bare yet, but it should look better by mid-Summer.

Yesterday I got the new fence out front painted, and it looks NEW (if you ignore the bits that Fahly, my Arab horse, chomped! He was partial to a bit of wood . . .) Now I can start planting it up a bit more - so far it has 3 x Foxgloves, 3 x rambler rose - probably "Seagull" - and a well-grown Honeysuckle. WHEN we have finally tracked down the bucket with the fencing pliars in it, we can remove the loop of barbed wire currently half-buried in the ground, and then I can clear around the mound of shale beneath it and plant something there too.

Monday 21 March 2011

Busy . . .

Isn't she cute? She and a friend had "got out" of their pen and were galloping madly across the yard and up the trackway opposite. Full of the joys of spring!

The work out "front of house" continues, and we rounded the weekend off with a very useful bonfire, which got rid of a lot of the detritis which was making it look such a mess. My husband has been busy with the chainsaw, cutting the Willows he planted right back and I am hoping that the willow wands I rescued may make up into a support for my Sweet Peas, although they are probably cut at the wrong time of the year. I have planted 3 little rambling roses which I have been nurturing all winter after I had found them suckered into the ground below the parent plant (possibly Seagull or Rambling Rector? - a beautifully-scented rose I was given as a sucker from the parent plant by our neighbour at the mill!) I also had a home-grown Honeysuckle which I had been intending to take with me for the next garden, but since I doesn't look like the next garden is going to be happening for a few years yet, as the house market is completely dead, I thought that I may as well plant it. Then I found 3 well grown self-seeded wild Foxgloves on the muck heap, so those have been transplanted too. I have literally 100s of Aquilegias, so those will be the next thing to be moved to the front. I need to quickly get a coat of the brown stain we used on the stable doors last year, onto the "new" post and rail fence, and then I can plant the Aquilegias beneath it and the shrubs behind it.

The far end still needs clearing, and I want to get the middle dug over and planted with Spuds, as there is a good depth of loamy soil there and it may as well earn its keep . . . So I have bought some Maris Peer seed potatoes which are chitting in the greenhouse beside the Maris Piper.

Yesterday I got some beans started in trays - Scarlet Emperor, which is the best of the runner beans in my mind; some Monastic Coco beans which I was given ahem, a couple of years back (hope they grow) and some French beans which I happened to see on someone's Bean Blog, under the wonderful name of Nun's Belly Button from the black design around the middle! I need to get some Italian Flat Bean seeds today, as they grow well here and freeze too. As you can see, my new greenhouse is earning its keep already.

Alfie with a small shrew he had caught.

Here he is debating about hunting up another . . .

And here is his brother Tippy, who is such a funny little thing. Whenever I am near, he does a forward roll and asks to have his tummy tickled! His brothers roll over to be tickled too, but they don't do headstands first!

Did I tell you we have an incredible amount of tadpoles , as you can see from the pics - we have NEVER had so many!

Despite being frozen solid several nights from heavy frosts, they have survived!

They like the really shallow spots where they can sunbathe. There is no waste - the egg cases which weren't fertilized are being devoured by them . . .

A few of the young fish sunbathing in the main pond. We have about 40 who survived the winter, when their parents suffocated beneath 6" of ice . . .

There's nothing like a good bonfire. We fed this one for about an hour!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Hard work is good for you!

I have been out in the garden again this week. Unfortunately, I got dug a couple of times in the back of my hand by a rose bush when I was pruning out dead wood. I swore, but thought nothing of it until my hand suddenly "blew up" several hours later (after it had been painting, lifting et al). OH and I had our first Night Out in years - spent at A&E as I was worried I may have contracted Sporotrinchosis , which can occur after being pricked by a rose thorn. It is a particularly nasty fungal infection which can be pretty unpleasant. As it was, my knuckles were absolute agony and I obviously had an infection starting, so I'm now on anti-biotics.

Anyway, it (my hand!) had the day off yesterday, and today I've given it, ahem, "gentle" exercise, by helping my husband out front of house, where we are tidying up and putting up some post and rail fencing. It looks much better already, although there is still a lot of clearing of trash to go. Top picture shows the tidied and fenced bit - we will have to paint the fencing though.

Below is a picture of the cleared area.

I have been raking up dead leaves and twigs from the recently-felled pussy willow tree, which had gotten very overgrown and untidy. I've also been cutting all the brambles right back, and hoiking out long trails of ivy, which gets everywhere. I am delighted that I have Ramsons (wild garlic) peeping up by the gate, and I uncovered some more when clearing leaves today. I have a well-grown Honeysuckle in a tub which I am going to plant up, as well as several self-set heavily scented rambler roses which are "upstarts" from a set cutting a neighbour gave me. The perfume is heavenly and the rose has cream petals, just simple form, but it grows and flowers like heck! (It is possibly "Seagull", but I''m not certain.) I also have the 4 shrubs I bought for a fiver the 4 in Lidls recently (Deutzea, Spiraea and 2 Philadelphus) - so all white.

And this is the bit still to sort . . .