We've had a bit of a sunny spell recently, and it's been nice to talk advantage and do a bit of walking. First of all, a wander through the woods with a friend in Sheffield.
I don't get chance to wander through woods much around here, and very rarely by running water, so having both together was a proper treat.
The next day, we finally made it up the big hill near our house with some other friends. We look at this hill every day, and while visitors have walked over it, we never have ourselves.
From up at the top you can really see why this ridge is often called the dragon's back.
It was a lovely day (although rather breezy) and we weren't the only ones up there, but we did find a quiet spot for some lunch near the top.
I don't do much hill walking, and clearly I'm missing out on some epic views.
The route off the hill was rather convoluted, but we did end up on this rather jolly path, and found another nice sheltered spot for a cup of tea.
We didn't have to drive anywhere for this walk, just straight out of the gate and down the footpath across our fields. We didn't measure it exactly, but probably walked no more than six miles. I'll definitely be tempted to do it again - maybe I'll even try to get up there early one morning to see the mist swirling in the valley below.
Anyway, all this walking is good practice, as it seems my sister and I have signed up for the virtual London marathon at the start of October. Not running, I hasten to add, and as it's a virtual event, we have a full 24 hours to do the distance, but even so, 26 miles is a long way. I'm probably not going to get any more training walks in before the event, which means my longest walk this year is currently, er, six miles. But we've done the distance more than once before, and given that we'll be walking in loops near her house, really, how hard can it be?
I suppose we'll find out.
This week has been a veritable flurry of activity and adventure. First of all I took myself off on a solo adventure to Lyme Park, after spotted it on a road sign last week and realising it wasn't actually as far away as I thought.
Only a small part of the house is open, so it only took about twenty minutes to walk through, and I spent most of my time out in the gardens, and wandering about through the grounds.
I confess I can never quite enjoy these places as much as some people can - my mind always goes to the unfathomable levels of wealth it would have taken to build (and where that wealth came from), the sheer number of people who would have been servants (or worse), and the general inequality that lets some people live like this and others very much not.
I did spend most of the day there though, wandering around the herbaceous borders and up through the woodland.
Yesterday I had a very different type of day out - an impromptu visit to my sister. We'd booked both a 10k race and a half marathon this year, and of course both were postponed, and later cancelled, and we missed the opportunity to ramble about the countryside for a few hours putting the world to rights. Then it dawned on us - why not do that without a race?
We walked out to Hilbre Island, and it was more seaside than countryside, but it did the trick, and the sun even came out eventually, and our mum met us for lunch in a little cafe by the beach.
I don't get to see the sea very often so this was just the thing I needed.
Today has been different again - a friend and I went to the gardens at Chatsworth. I didn't think I'd been before, but it turns out I have, probably about 17 years ago.
We were more interested in the kitchen gardens, and cottage gardens, so we headed there first, and weren't disappointed.
What a huge number of gardeners it must take to keep this lot in check! I can barely keep up with my tiny veg patch. I confess I was secretly pleased to see their kale had caterpillars too....
I definitely had shed envy on the way round.
I was interested to see they were growing ginger, which I'd always thought needed more heat. I think it was quite sheltered there, but it gave me hope for starting my own ginger experiment in the future.
We both came back with plenty of ideas for our own gardens (some of which might even be implemented).
The rest of the gardens weren't quite so interesting (to us, anyway), but we did manage to lose nearly four hours in there, as there was plenty to look at.
Again, the sheer unfathomable wealth to be able to pay someone to design your garden to fit with the landscape - and to be able to shape the landscape because you own that too was quite mind-bending.
There were a few other ideas we came away with - less on the scale of a massive fountain, and more like making a fence from old branches.
We brought ourselves back down to earth with a cuppa at Cauldwell's Mill on the way home.
It started to rain while we were in the cafe, and hasn't really stopped since, so I think we timed our visit pretty well.
This has felt like the busiest weekend in a long time. Some of our Friday visitors stayed over, and the others joined us on Saturday morning before heading off to visit a local park. We spent much of the rest of Saturday sat under our festival shelter, reading and dozing.
Saturday was a big day for the new chickens - we let them out to properly free range for the first time.
There are no chicken-proof fences between us and that view, and when they headed into the long grass I was slightly concerned we were never going to see them again.
But chickens are home-loving creatures, and never seem to stray too far. We spent a lot of time outside, and they spent most of the time hanging round with us, with a wary eye on the other chickens (who are still giving a nasty peck occasionally, but are learning to tolerate them at a distance).
Yes, I did let them into the veg patch for a while - I thought it would provide a nice distraction for the older ones, and encourage the new ones not to go too far away. It did confirm why I usually keep them locked out though.
So they pottered about, and Bessie had a bit of a sunbathe, which was very nice to see as she's clearly not feeling well at the minute. Poor old Bessie. Vets on Wednesday, so she just needs to hang in there until then.
When they'd finally gone into their run for the evening, I took my bike out again. I confess it's the last thing I felt like doing, but I'd enjoyed the ride the previous morning and promised myself I'd go again, trying a slightly different route.
Down the normal trail for a couple of miles, yes, but then off onto the quiet back roads.
I was tired, but I was so very glad I went.
Sunday was a day of parks. I got up early to join a group of women for my first run with other people since lockdown began. Up until the middle of March, I'd been doing a 5k programme with a local running club, and we were about to start going further when all activity stopped. We've kept in touch, and a couple of the women had been running together in the last couple of weeks. This was the first time I'd joined them though - five of us ran all stretched out around the local park rather earlier in the morning than I'd usually be running, and it was great.
After that, an exciting trip to Sheffield. I had lunch in a park with a friend and her children, and then met another friend and we ended up in another park near my old house.
Such a lovely afternoon, and so very nice to see people, but by the end of it the sun, and the driving, and probably a bit of dehydration had caught up with me and I had rather a nasty headache.
I got home to find Peter had been cleaning and shifting things in the chicken run, which now feels nicely spacious with plenty of places to perch and hide, and somewhere for both of us to sit too.
We had two more small eggs from the new ladies (no sign of any from the older ladies this week I don't think).
There are a few more raspberries on the bush, and I should probably pick those before the chickens notice them.
Back to work today, although I confess I am extremely ready for a week or two off now, if only to recover from the weekend...
Today has been a good day. This is the second vase of roses from the bunch our friends gave us last week, and I'm very much having them on my desk.
I worked part of the day sitting here, then moved to the sofa, where I tucked myself under a blanket to read some stuff for work, and it was so cold and rainy I would have definitely lit a fire if the chimney wasn't full of twigs from the jackdaw nest.
Much excitement this evening, when we visited some friends for the first time since lockdown. Since the guidance changed a couple of weeks ago we've had a few visitors here, but not been to anyone else's home. This was doubly daunting/exciting as it meant a trip to the city, where we've not been for nearly four months.
It was a welcome bit of novelty sitting in someone else's garden, although strange at first. So nice to see faces in real life, rather than through a screen.
Of course, us being out for several hours meant the chickens had to cope with being shut in the run together - we don't leave them roaming free if there's the remotest chance we'll be back near or after dusk, just in case. None of them were impressed - the older ladies at first refused to go into the run and had to be carried, and then all three of them set about chasing the new ladies and looking menacingly at them.
We did what we could, creating all kinds of perches and through routes and places to hide for the new ones, and lots of different food and water bowls, and plenty of treats. Eventually we had to just trust that they'd work it out between themselves.
We got back around 9pm - two of the older ladies were fast asleep in the hen house. Rusty and the three new ladies were out - I suspect Rusty had been in bed, but heard the car (and the new chickens) and came back out - she has form for doing that. All four of them immediately ran outside and started scratching around and behaving like it was first thing in the morning.
We sat inside the run, and within five minutes all four of them had come back in, and the three new ladies went straight to bed. Rusty then arrived, and we picked her up and put her in the other end of the hen house with the two snoozy older ladies - no point letting her go in straight after the new ones and be stuck by the door, or wake everyone up with her jostling. After a few minutes, all was quiet.
I suspect they'll all be glad to be out of the way of each other again tomorrow though.
Well. Here we are at the start of 2020! Let's begin with a look back at 2019 shall we? It's felt rather less eventful than 2018 (thank goodness).
After looking back on a rather busy 2018, I started the year thinking about living seasonally, and then was promptly thrown into living seasonally when the snow arrived. I declared an intention to start walking more, which I've sometimes kept up with, sometimes not.
February started with a chicken tragedy, when a stoat found its way into the hen house and killed Hermione and Luna. We buried them under the fruit trees, and Mildred and Maud, physically fine but intensely traumatised, came to live in our house for a few weeks (rather disrupting the beginning of my work sabbatical).
They slowly recovered while we made reinforcements to their run, and at the end of February we collected three new ladies, freed from battery cages, to add to our little flock.
In March, I pondered January and February in the garden, went for a run around a local reservoir, and waffled on about the chickens (there was a lot of that in 2019).
In April I finally finished knitting a cardi for a friend's daughter (it was very late, and rather small), and continued taking my morning constitutional walks around the local lanes.
In May I talked about chickens (again), and did an unusual amount of travelling (to Copenhagen, Glasgow, and Hebden Bridge). I finished the month with a look at May in the garden.
I didn't say much in June, but spent quite a bit of time chasing sheep out of our fields (something I've just had to do again today, unfortunately). In July, work got unexpectedly busy, and I neglected the garden, but did find time for a series of mini adventures.
In August it rained quite a lot, but the sun shone too. I pondered June and July in the garden, when we tidied up quite a bit, and a tiny hare took up residence. I walked six miles to meet a friend in a cafe, and took a trip to Calke Abbey.
In September, I talked about our hay making! Most exciting. I also reflected on how rainy August had been and how soggy the garden was. I did a bit of sunbathing with the chickens.
In October we finally had the builders in, and there was lots of upheaval as they replaced the kitchen ceiling. The chickens weren't impressed at being confined (but would have tripped up a builder or got stuck in a cement mixer if let out). I reflected on September and October in the garden, and how much I'd neglected it. We did still manage to grow our first apples though!
By November, the builders had left, and we were slightly overwhelmed by what we still had to do. I went on a beekeeping course (which was interesting, but convinced me I was not going to keep bees any time soon), and I went on and on about how rainy the autumn was.
In December, Beaky the chicken was ill, and had to be admitted to our in-house chicken hospital wing for a week and a half (which gave us a nice excuse not to do any DIY). I'm delighted that she made a full recovery. I finished the year enthusing about my love of cafes.
So there we are - another year gone by. I feel like 2019 has been rather sedate in comparison to 2018, but in reality it's been our first full year in our new house, so there's still been lots of settling in to do, and we've had major building work done after all. I've had some unexpectedly busy times at work too, a little out of the normal routine, which have taken a lot of time and head space but which should (fingers crossed) make things more interesting soon enough.
A few weeks ago I went on a short beekeeping course. We never had a specific plan to keep bees, but I've been mildly interested, and an hour-long course just a few miles from home seemed the ideal place to learn more.
There were about twelve of us, and the beekeepers decked us out in these ludicrous outfits, for which I was of course very grateful.
These bees are kept in a small wooded area, quite rural, but near some houses. There are several people who tend bees here and they run regular open days.
We were shown the hives, and the bees, and told all kinds of things, and I confess most of it went in one ear and out of the other as I was so busy concentrating on not panicking about the number of bees flying right around my face.
Of course they couldn't get at me, but it doesn't feel like that when they're an inch from your nose.
Anyway, I think I remained outwardly calm, but I can't now tell you what all the bits of the hive are called, or what the different types of bees do.
What I can tell you is that we won't be keeping bees any time soon. I loved the enthusiasm of the beekeepers, but it's not a cheap hobby, especially not when you first start out, and it's pretty time consuming.
I had wondered whether we might offer some of our space to a local beekeeper to keep their hives, but it seems that our high, exposed land would make it quite difficult to keep bees alive over the winter, and I don't want thousands of bee deaths on my hands.
So no bees for us, for now at least. We'll see how we feel a few years down the line, maybe when we've planted more trees and have more shelter. Maybe.
Come and make yourself at home in our cosy kitchen.
Oh, wait. We don't currently have a kitchen. Hmm.
We have finally admitted that this job is not one we can do ourselves, and have drafted some cheery builders in. They seem to know what they're doing (although we'll reserve full judgement for the end, of course).
When we first viewed this house, we could tell the joists in two of the bedroom floors would need replacing. In one room they sagged several inches in the middle, and in the other they bounced like a trampoline when you walked on them.
Over the months we pondered, got several quotes, removed the chimney from down the middle of the two rooms, and finally this week the builders arrived.
Over the years people have scoffed at our DIY efforts. 'Why don't you just get someone in?' they ask. Partly stubbornness - I am fiercely independent and like to do things myself. Partly money - one of the original quotes we had, which included removing the chimney wall, all the work on the joists, and all the redecorating, was for £17,000. I don't have that lying around.
And partly because getting someone in, especially if you don't have £17,000 to pay them to do everything, often seems to involve doing quite a lot of preparation.
First of all, the local farmer took the chimney stack off our roof and fixed the hole. Then we (well, Peter) removed the entire chimney breast, all the way down through the house, one stone at a time. It took months - you can see the size of it in the picture above. The stone is now in the garden, and we have been stepping across that 'rubble feature' since last summer.
Once we had a date for the builders, we (well, again, Peter) had to remove the kitchen units, some of which we want to keep, and all the rest of the furniture. You can see the hole in the ceiling where the chimney breast was, and the difference in levels in the upstairs floors. We've been losing heat through that hole (which we had covered with various bits of wood) for months.
Finally the builders arrived, and this week they've removed the ceilings, filled in the holes the joists came out of, started to concrete over the rubble feature in the floor, ordered new windows - and identified that a couple of lintels will need replacing.
Hmm. They've also started filling in the edge of the chimney breast, which I'm very pleased about - it's made me slightly nervous looking up to see such an expanse of what looks like loose stone running right up the inside of the house, especially when the wall on the first floor is slightly wider than the ground floor wall it sits on.
So progress is being made, and we are trying not to feel daunted by it all. We're fortunate that the builders are nice, and also that the house is a kind of horseshoe shape, so the builders can have their own separate entrance, bathroom, sink, and tea-making area, and we can shut ourselves off in the other side of the house, having set ourselves up a temporary kitchen in the music room.
My study is out of action though, and we have to trek through the building site to get to bed, but you can't have everything.
Of course, things get uncovered on a job like this and you can't always predict exactly what's going to need doing at the start. We have a nice building regulations man involved, so he's helping to guide what needs doing. The two lintels over the existing windows need replacing, which we hadn't planned for. We're opening up two other windows on the opposite side of the room which had been bricked up - the lintels on that side are fine, but one of them doesn't go all the way across, so without a load more work (on the outside of the house), we can't have a window the full width of the windowframe.
And we had to remove the false wall at the entrance to the kitchen. We'd wanted to get rid of it anyway, but Buildings Regs Mike advised we needed a fire barrier between the bedroom and kitchen, unless we put in new windows upstairs. At the time, we decided against that because of the time and expense - but now that the wall has had to come out anyway, we're considering replacing the upstairs windows instead of rebuilding the wall, so that will be another bit of expense (and also means we have to clear a space in the bedroom now as well as everywhere else).
So things feel a bit all over the place, but still manageable right now. The builders should be gone by the end of next week, although given the extra bits of work it may taken them a few extra days.
But even once they've gone, we won't have a functional kitchen. They're literally just doing the things we can't do ourselves (joists, windows etc), so then we'll have to start on an epic DIY project of rebuilding and plastering and decorating.
The chickens aren't impressed. We've had to build them a temporary enclosure in the garden - chickens and builders do not mix well, and I had visions of a builder breaking his neck tripping over a chicken, or a chicken landing up in a cement mixer. So they are incarcerated while the builders are here, and they are making it quite clear that they are displeased.
It's the weekend now though and the builders aren't here, so they're out and about, marauding around and laying eggs in the coal shed. I hope they don't get too used to it - they'll be shut back in again on Monday morning. Not for long now ladies.
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.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.