On Wednesday I went to Calke Abbey, a National Trust house which they describe as 'the un-stately home'.
I'm not particularly given to visiting large fancy houses (as I think I said back in October, when I visited Biddulph Grange), but this one piqued my curiosity, quite a lot of it being abandoned and derelict.
It starts with several rooms which have been restored, and feel much like any other National Trust house.
So much furniture! So many patterns! And goodness me, so many stuffed animals.
After the first few rooms though, things take a more bizarre turn. Different parts of the house were abandoned at various points, and the National Trust made the decision (I have no idea whether for interest, or for financial reasons - possibly both), to keep those rooms in their existing state of disarray.
Some of the rooms made me think back to the days when, as a child, I would decide (or be told) to 'have a clear out' in my bedroom. I'd start with one drawer, empty everything out on to the bed, and then be completely overwhelmed, unable to figure out what to do next. (Actually, come to think of it, I still do that now sometimes).
If my house had been that big, maybe I would have just abandoned it all and moved into a different room instead.
The house felt a bit depressing after a while, and I was glad to get outside into the gardens. It was raining fairly heavily all the time I was there, so I mostly had the grounds to myself.
I do love a productive kitchen garden, and harbour fantasies of having one myself, rather than the weedy, chicken-ruined hare buffet that I currently have.
Of course, I'm sure that level of garden is much easier to maintain with a team of gardeners, so I'm not going to be too hard on myself.
The orchard was my favourite part, and if it hadn't been raining so much I would have lingered there much longer.
The gardeners' sheds were in a similar state of abandonment to the house.
Altogether it was a strange day, with the weather probably making it feel more gloomy than it was. In some ways it was an interesting contrast to the ludicrous opulence of many other stately homes. The National Trust have focused their attention on the personal stories of the family at Calke Abbey, and I felt myself wanting more background than just one of individual idiosyncrasies. How was the house built in the first place? I confess I'm always suspicious of so much wealth.
I was pleased to find that Calke Abbey is part of the Colonial Countryside project, which aims to get young people exploring the colonial history of some of the big stately homes in England. I was surprised too, as I didn't see any mention of this at the house itself, which was a shame. I'll follow the project with interest.
I finished the day where I started, in the cafe. I wasn't quite ready for the long drive home, and a nice cup of tea was just the thing.
When I lived in the city, I walked all the time - to work, to the shops, to see friends. Now I live out in the wilds, none of those things are within easy walking distance (well, I could walk to the local shop, but it's a round trip of an hour and a half). As a result, I barely walk at all in day to day life without making a special effort.
I'm off work for a fortnight now, and decided it was about time I made that special effort. I arranged to meet a friend (Sarah from Country Realist blog) in a cafe near her house, and set out to walk the six miles to get there.
I did this same journey in reverse, back in March I think, getting a lift over to meet my friend at her house and then walking home, so the paths felt vaguely familiar which was nice.
It rained on me at the start, but the sun soon came out again and after the first hour I was in a sleeveless top and regretting wearing two pairs of socks.
My route took me quite high up, and for a lot of the way I could see for miles.
The wild flowers aren't as plentiful as they were a few weeks ago but there were still plenty about.
I arrived five minutes late, which on a walk of almost two and a half hours isn't bad timing at all.
Cake always tastes much better when you've earned it, doesn't it?
We're not going on holiday this year, but at the minute we seem to be having a whirlwind of mini adventures instead. I like a mini adventure - not too much travelling and home in time for tea. And who doesn't love a day out?
Back at the start of June I took myself to Lower Hurst Farm, which had an event as part of Open Farm Sunday. They produce organic beef, and it was interesting to hear about the way they manage their farm for wildlife as well as farming. I had a bit of a wander around their nature trail before I left.
Later in June, we took ourselves to Nottingham for the day.
Funny how all of our adventures seem to involve tea (I think that last one is Sheffield, not Nottingham).
Towards the end of June I dug my bike out of the garage. It's got a slow puncture, and I keep meaning to fix it, but at the minute it stays inflated for a good couple of hours of riding so the urgency just isn't there.
I love these old railway trails that have been turned into cycle paths.
Not all of our adventures have been quite so sunny.
Last weekend I went to visit my mother, and we went up Leasowe lighthouse. I don't think I've ever been up a lighthouse before. It was decommissioned over a hundred years ago but is being lovingly restored by a group of volunteers who run tours in the summer.
Incidentally, I think that was the first time I've seen the sea this year, which is outrageous.
The following day I drove to Lincolnshire, completely the opposite side of the country, for a tutorial for my permaculture diploma (which I will be finishing soon). My tutor (Hannah at The Inkpot Farm) raises organic free range turkeys (and sheep, cows, goats, and all kinds of other things). I'd never seen a young turkey before - these are about nine weeks old, and seemed surprised to take off when they flapped their wings.
Closer to home, we've been to Bakewell a couple of times this week, and found grapes growing in a courtyard above a cafe.
No adventures today, it's been far too hot for anything other than lying around reading. At the minute I'm reading all I can about meadows as I try to decide what to do with ours, and how best to restore it to its former glory. More on that soon when I've cooled down a bit.
I've been dashing about rather more than usual these last few weeks.
First up was a work trip to Glasgow, where I met up with two internet pals (one for the first time) and ate far too much cake.
Being in the hustle and bustle of a city was a nice change, although I didn't once regret moving to the middle of nowhere when someone was busking in the street outside the hotel at midnight.
I got back from Glasgow at midnight, and at nine the next morning I was on a train to Hebden Bridge, a cheery little village in West Yorkshire, for a gathering of people doing the permaculture diploma.
I then had a few days at home before jetting off to Copenhagen for another work event. I promise my working life doesn't usually involve this much travel...
I went to Copenhagen with a cheery colleague, and so we were able to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel. Gosh it was lovely, and if I ever go on another trip like that I'd make every effort to do the same again.
We did get a little bit of time to wander around the city too, which was nice.
Sadly I was full of cold, and felt rotten the whole time we were there. And have you ever flown with a cold? I hadn't (I think this is only my fifth or sixth time flying ever), and so I had no idea of the unpleasantness of my sinuses being messed with by the air pressure on the plane. Three weeks later and my face is starting to feel normal again. Not an experience I'd like to repeat.
Still, I'm home now, and don't have any plans to go anywhere else major for a while (although there will be one or two local jaunts of course). Mostly I'm just wandering the local footpaths, hanging out with the chickens, and doing a spot of light decorating. Who needs to go far with a view like this out of the back garden?
As I often do at this time of year, I've started running again. Not very far, not very fast.
My running is precarious at this time. I find it very easy to give up again, and so it's useful to make it enjoyable rather than 'just exercise'.
This morning I knew I'd be driving past Tittesworth Reservoir, so I went out in my running kit and planned an out and back route up one side.
The weather wasn't as bad as I'd expected, so I ended up going all the way round. Some running, some walking, and a lot of stopping to take photographs.
It was breezy and cold, and the sun flitted in and out of the clouds, but I quite like that kind of weather for a run, it makes me feel like I'm having an adventure (albeit a very mild one).
I'd done just over 4.5 miles by the time I got back to the car, and I was cold and windswept. The cafe was open, but I saved that for another day and came home for a cup of tea and a hot bath.
I could get used to this running lark (again).
Goodness me, a lot happened in 2018. I've found myself quite overwhelmed with the thought of looking back. However, I've done summaries of the year on my blogs for several years now, and I didn't want to have a missing year, so here goes.
I started 2018 on my old blog, with a look back at 2017 - a year of DIY and bureaucracy as we finished decorating, sold our old house, and waited for the paperwork wheels to turn. I went for a nice snowy walk in the woods, and visited some local nature reserves.
I made my own lip balm (which I'm still using, that stuff lasts a long time), contemplated learning how to identify trees in winter (something I've still not done), and started running again (for probably the 100th time).
February was exciting, although it mostly didn't feel like it at the time. I started a series of trail races with my sister, and took her for a walk past our new house (which we still didn't own at that point, and which I was starting to feel quite daunted by). I cocked up and then rescued a knitting project (no change there then), and pondered what I'd been reading lately (I'd forgotten I used to do that).
Finally, in the middle of the month, we exchanged contracts on the new house, and celebrated with an almond croissant in our favourite cafe (which has since closed down, sob).
We finally moved on Monday 26th Feb, and by Tuesday 27th we were snowed in for several days.
March was a flurry of snow and moving boxes, and also moving blogs. I started this blog off by rambling about how we'd got here, then did a tour of our (rather soggy) fields, and our dilapidated outbuildings.
It snowed again, and we got stuck in the city for a couple of days.
I fell into a pattern of getting up early, and started trying to fix some of our tumbling down old dry stone walls. And we sneaked off and got married without telling anyone.
April started with yet more snow (yawn), a little bit more running, and some rather soggy cycling.
I built a plastic greenhouse, which then blew down, so I rebuilt it in a different place. I had a surprisingly crafty episode, knitting dishcloths and making my own shampoo bars.
I went on a dry stone walling course, and finally the sun came out and it started to feel a little bit like spring (we also started our mouse-eviction-programme) which lasted most of the month, fortunately with no casualties.
In May, the sun shone again (on a bank holiday no less!) and I acquired a push-along lawnmower and spent quite a bit of time lying on the newly mown grass.
We got a good view of a hare, and I bought a scythe and started making space in a field for growing squash. Big excitement at the end of the month as the neighbouring cows arrived to hang out in our fields for a few months.
June was a month of flowers. I could barely keep up with the growth in one greenhouse, and started to build another. I had a minor celebration as the second greenhouse went up, and I finally finished fixing one of the walls that had fallen down. I went on a very flowery bike ride, and the garden was abundant and beautiful.
I ignored my blog for the first couple of weeks of July while we had visitors, day trips, and started demolishing walls. I started running again and entered an ultra marathon. We had a lizard in the living room, and visited a local fair. July in the garden was super hot, and we let the cows into our final field as they were running out of grass elsewhere.
In August, we picked bilberries in the local lanes, and went for a day out to our nearest Wildlife Trust reserve. I recapped half a year of living in our new house, and took a fortnight off work, during which it rained rather a lot. The garden was lush and abundant.
In September, the chickens arrived! So very exciting. A cow got into the runner bean patch, we harvested a lot of courgettes, and nearly finished the outdoor chicken run. As usual, I went through a phase of getting out of the routine of posting here.
In October, I visited Biddulph Grange, pondered what on earth we were doing out here, and pottered around in the autumn sunshine. The chickens marauded round the garden as I laid compost ready for an edible windbreak. Work got rather busy, and I spent two weeks here on my own while Peter jetted off to the other side of the world, although I don't seem to have mentioned that here.
In November, I waffled a lot about chickens. I met a friend for lunch in the botanical gardens, and had a little trip to the seaside. I spent quite a lot of time outside, some of it in my pyjamas. It felt like it was foggy a lot.
In December, I lost track of time again, and caught up with myself by waffling on about the chickens (again). I finally finished a crocheted blanket I'd started in the summer, and we had an exciting day of freezing rain. I ended the year feeling rather poorly, but festive.
What an eventful year! It feels like it's flown past in a flash, and yet I also feel like we've lived here forever. So many things have happened that I haven't written about here too, and I've got a stack of photographs I've not shared.
There's no chance of me catching up now - here we are more than half of the way through January, I've not posted here at all, and the Christmas tree is still up.
Oh well. I'm planning a rather less eventful and more settled 2019. Right now the snow is falling, and I'm settling down to a bit of knitting (which I hope to finish before the summer). A friend is due to arrive tomorrow, but given the snow she might not make it. We'll see.
I don't often get to the seaside these days. We're surrounded by beautiful countryside here, and anyway, we've not had a proper trip anywhere else since we moved.
But last week I found myself in Brighton for work, with a sea view from my hotel window.
There wasn't much time for wandering, although I could hear the sea from my bed, and I confess I did miss one session of the conference to sit in my room and listen to the waves.
The conference itself was in a rather grand hotel, also on the seafront but we were in windowless rooms all week. But on the last day, before I caught the train home, I sneaked out to sit on the beach for a while.
We're planning a proper holiday next year - our first fortnight away for about four years. We're not sure where we're going yet, but I'm certain it will be near the sea.
I still spend a lot of my time in the city. There's not much I can do about that in the short term (although it will be a bit different next year at least). Mostly I drive in, stay in the office, then drive home again, but occasionally I meet a friend for lunch and remember to go somewhere cheery.
Last week a friend and I met in the botanical gardens. We both live rurally, and don't see each other very often these days, so it was lovely to have a catch up. We had lunch in the cafe and it was warm enough to sit outside in just a t shirt (I can't imagine ever being that warm again at the minute).
The gardens were splendid in the autumn colours.
I really should make an effort to get out of the office more often. The temptation is always to finish my work as quickly as possible and head home, but I need to remember how beautiful the city can be sometimes too.
People sometimes ask me what we're doing out here. Not many people have questioned our sanity in moving away from the city (although a couple have), but people often ask if we moved here with a specific purpose. After all, we have several acres of fields - we must have a plan? Livestock? Camping? Being completely self-sufficient? Festivals? Rewilding?
And the answer is, I don't really know.
When we started our search for a new house, we were looking for somewhere with a bigger garden. That wasn't difficult - our old garden was 92 square feet, much of it concrete, and was at the front of the house, bordering directly onto the pavement.
As often happens, our search area got wider, we got closer and closer to the top of our budget, and eventually we found somewhere we fell for that had some ideal qualities (views, privacy, lack of neighbours) and some that we hadn't really counted on (11 acres of grassland and several outbuildings).
We did wonder whether it was sensible, but we were game for an adventure. We didn't make too many plans in advance, because the process of buying took nearly eight months (shenanigans by the mortgage broker, the building society, another party in the chain), and we spent a lot of that time thinking we might not be able to move at all. When we did finally exchange contracts, we had nine days to prepare before we moved.
Anyway, we're here now. Are we farming? No. Smallholding? I would have said no, but according to Wikipedia at least, smallholdings 'may not be self-sufficient but are valued primarily for the rural lifestyle that they provide for the owners, who often do not earn their livelihood from the farm', which is true (but I suppose could apply to any rural house). It also says 'a smallholding is a piece of land and its adjacent living quarters for the smallholder and stabling for farm animals. It is usually smaller than a farm but larger than an allotment, usually under 50 acres'. That's also true.
Other definitions talk about land that is being used for agricultural purposes, but is smaller than a farm, and this is where I come unstuck. We're not doing anything remotely close to agriculture here. I grow some of our food in the garden, and we now have four chickens - does that count as agriculture? I don't think so. So are we smallholders? I don't know.
In America this type of place would probably be referred to as a homestead, and in a way I like the sound of the word homestead better than smallholding. It's an old English word, but sadly for me it's associated with the questionable practices surrounding the 1862 Homestead Act, and it doesn't feel like a good fit.
So where does that leave us? Acreage is, I suppose, technically correct but doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. I can barely bring myself to even say 'property'.
In reality, we don't need to call it anything other than home, and describe what we're doing in any other way than living here. There are plans, both short and long term, but they're not on a grand scale, and they certainly don't involve having our own farm animals or any kind of hospitality business.
So next time someone asks, I think I'll just tell them we're hanging out. Learning to live here, to inhabit this space and have a life that in some ways is similar to our old one, but in other ways is oh so very different.
Way back at the end of August I sneaked off to Biddulph Grange, a National Trust garden not too far away.
I'm not particularly given to visiting large fancy houses with large fancy gardens, but I wanted to explore the local area a bit, and Biddulph Grange has a kitchen garden, which I thought might give me a bit of inspiration for my own.
The kitchen garden certainly was pretty, but I hadn't realised just how extensive the rest of the place was. It was laid out as a series of rooms, all very different in character.
I have mixed feelings about gardens like this. It's a beautiful space, and I loved the idea of having separate themed spaces in my own garden. I went on a week day, and there was hardly anyone else there, so it was very peaceful. But places like this come with a history of colonialism, empire, plant theft, and ridiculous levels of wealth. While I can appreciate their beauty, I can never quite separate them from that in my mind.
There are a few small things I'd like to create in my own garden though. I loved all the stone steps and little trails from one place to another. And while I won't be creating an Egyptian Garden any time soon, I think I can find space for a tiny little pond somewhere.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new forray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.