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.
Six months ago today we moved house. We were exhausted after two years of decorating, cleaning, packing and bureaucracy, and the night before moving day we only had two hours sleep. We both cried. We tried to sneak to our favourite cafe for a last consoling cuppa but it was full, so we got drinks to take away before driving, in two separate cars, over the hills to our new house.
The removal men were already here, and had unloaded one van into the garage already, as instructed. We opened the house, and as the sky turned grey and a few flakes of snow started to fall, they (rather hastily) unloaded the other two vans into the living room while I rang the plumber and tried to turn the heating on.
I can't say that first night was fun, and being snowed in for the next few days was adventurous rather than pleasant, but it gave us a chance to unpack, and to move all our possessions from the one warm room (which we'd intended to use as a temporary store) to a rather colder room (which we'd intended as a living room).
So much has changed in six months, so I wanted to look back a little on the progress we've made.
We moved on February 26th, and from then on through March, there was quite a lot of weather.
We did some necessary work - filling potholes in the drive, and making a path across the lawn to the door - and the snowdrops arrived.
March was a month of early mornings, sunsets, and not quite believing how lucky we were.
We did some more practical things - started on the never-ending task of fixing our dry stone walls, reclaimed some of the stone from the collapsing old barn, put up a greenhouse, demolished an outbuilding, and spent yet more time staring at the view. And I finally achieved my dream of hanging washing out on my own washing line.
In April it snowed (again), and then got rather soggy (again). I optimistically planted seeds (and rebuilt the greenhouse after it blew down), and we spent a lot of time taking wellies on and off in a futile bid to not have the house fill up with mud. Crocuses arrived, and then a parade of daffodils lined the driveway. I went on a dry stone walling course, and we acquired a proper glass greenhouse from a friend. We ate breakfast outside wrapped in blankets in the middle of the month, and by the end I was gardening in a t shirt.
May was a month of grass and wild flowers. I acquired a push along mower, and a scythe, and we opened our fields to the cows from the neighbouring dairy farm. I planted raspberry canes and made raised (ish) beds and it was finally warm enough to take my socks off.
June was lush. The garden grew faster than I could keep up with it, but by the end of the month the second greenhouse was up and stocked with tomatoes and cucumbers, and the courgettes and squashes were in the ground. We had our first salady harvests, I finally finished rebuilding my first dry stone wall, and socialising was done mostly outside. Oh, and we started dismantling two of the bedrooms on the first floor.
July was hot. Too hot really. The surrounding grazing land turned brown, and the local farmers were feeding last year's hay to the cows. I traipsed back and forth to the greenhouse with watering cans, cursing myself for not plumbing in the water butts properly before the heatwave arrived. We dug in our first home made compost, and had our first harvests of raspberries, courgettes, cucumbers and beans.
And now we're in August! The weather has turned a little - we've still had some hot days, but it's more like a normal English summer, and now I'm off work for a fortnight it's been raining rather a lot. We've been picking blackberries, harvesting more courgettes than it's sensible to eat, and our first calf arrived (and several more since). We had the excitement of scaffolding as the local farmer kindly removed our chimney from the roof, and Peter has been dismantling the chimney walls inside. We're also building a chicken coop ready for the arrival of our own mini flock next weekend.
I don't think we've done too badly for our first six months. This was a big change for us, and we're finally starting to feel like we live here (probably a good thing as we've started dismantling walls).
I wonder what the next six months will bring?
Where did the last two weeks go? It feels like forever since I've posted here. As always, I can see what I've been up to by scrolling through my photographs...
Hmm. But it hasn't all been entertaining visitors and eating. There's been plenty of pottering in the garden (although I'm saving all that for one post at the end of the month). I've also been creating us some footpath signs.
We don't get a lot of walkers here, maybe four or five lots in total over a sunny weekend. Most of them can read a map, and it's pretty obvious that the main footpath runs straight down our driveway. The side footpath isn't so obvious though until you're right on top of it, and a couple of groups of young people have gone wandering off into the wrong field (from which there isn't an exit), or stood around looking puzzled. So I've added a couple of yellow arrows and hopefully that will clear things up (I always appreciate clear footpath signs when I'm out walking - I hate standing in someone else's yard not knowing where I'm going!)
We've been making some progress inside the house too - although I use the term 'we' loosely as my involvement has mainly been providing the occasional cup of tea.
We're still struggling to find a builder who will remove that wall, so in the meantime Peter has removed everything else, including a false wall, the door frames, built in cupboards and old wiring. We can't use these rooms until this work is done so the rest of the house is full of boxes of stuff that should be up here. You can see how wonky the floor is.
All this sorting (and the sunshine) has at least given us a chance to air a few clothes that have been in boxes for a couple of years.
In slightly less alarming news, I've been on a few local outings. First off to a quarrying trade show - not my usual nice-trip-into-the-countryside but fascinating nevertheless.
The giant machines looked like toys inside the quarry. The main attraction for me though was this.
This is The Man Engine, and it was both extremely impressive and extremely beautiful. The tour has finished now, but if you do ever get a chance to see it I'd highly recommend it.
We've been to a couple of other localish events too - a school fair, and a Tudor fair, which I visited right at the end of the day, so was lucky enough to be given some home made butter to take home, wrapped in a butterbur leaf.
It was National Meadows Day recently so we also visited a farm with a hay meadow, and had a tour from the local Wildlife Trust to show us how to identify various grasses and flowers.
Quite a lot of the flowers had gone to seed because we've had such hot weather lately and so little rain. Everywhere here is dry (like much of the rest of the country) and we've had several moorland grass fires, which is very unusual round here. It's not often I find myself longing for rain, but lately I have been.
So that's where I've been - wandering about the countryside, drinking tea and looking at the view. And digging and planting and being at work of course, and various other things that I'll save for another post. In the mean time, I'll go back to hoping for a bit of rain soon.
We've had some good weather round here lately, and while it's tempting to stay at home and tackle the endless round of Things To Do, I have managed to sneak off for a couple of little bike rides on our local trails.
I confess they haven't been very speedy bike rides, as I often seem to find myself off my bike, taking photographs of flowers. I just don't know how it happens.
I don't always know what they are, and I keep meaning to find out, but then something else distracts me and I forget again.
These are old railway trails, and I love the way they cut through the hills and look out over the countryside.
On one of my recent forays, I came across preparations for a local bicycling festival - it all looked very exciting and on the way home I saw someone driving with a penny farthing on a bike rack on the back of their car.
Occasionally there's an old station, or a dry stone hut, or even another cyclist, but mostly it's just me and the flowers and the weather.
Last week our cows arrived. We're very excited.
Of course, they aren't actually ours - they're on loan from the local dairy farm as lawnmowers. Apparently they're 'dry cows', eight months pregnant (not for the first time), and just lounging around in the fields waiting for their calves to arrive.
I know pretty much nothing about cows, and am drinking in every little bit of information the farmers are willing to give me. This week I've learned that cows are pregnant for roughly the same time as humans (who knew?), that they won't eat buttercups because they're too bitter, that before they give birth they have sixty days of rest from milking, and that the price the dairy will pay the farmers for milk fluctuates throughout the year.
Sometimes the depths of my ignorance knows no bounds.
Yesterday the farmer dropped by with his young daughter, and I followed them into the fields to check on the ladies. They're surprisingly nimble considering their size, and wouldn't let us anywhere near them.
The young girl was telling me about her pets, and when I said I didn't have any, she said 'well you've got these cows now!' Excellent - I now feel fully justified in giving them names and posting pictures of them on the internet. (Not that we've actually given them names yet...)
For some reason I assumed cows would stay in one field until they'd munched all the grass and then wander to the next, but they don't do anything of the sort, they seem to wander about on a whim, sleeping first in one field, and then in another.
When you think about it, why would they see the fields as separate spaces? Those walls are our boundaries after all, and while they'll keep a cow out, if the gate is open, why wouldn't it go through?
After all, the grass might be greener over there.
We should have calves in around three weeks, and I'm told I won't need to have any involvement in the birthing process, although I'm keeping a close eye out and have the farmer's number just in case. I do feel partly responsible for them (even though technically I'm not at all) and can't help worrying just a little bit.
The cows, of course, have been through it all before and aren't showing the slightest bit of worry.
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.