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.
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.
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.