If you asked me my favourite season I'd usually tell you it was autumn. Not this year though. This year autumn is filled with torrential rain and mud.
My favourite wellies sprung a leak, and I've done an experimental repair with Sugru. You can see where it's a more shiny yellow across the front. So far they're holding up well.
I've been trying to throw myself into the season, and a couple of weeks ago a friend and I visited a little local autumnal event, which was most jolly.
We have had the occasional glimpse of sunshine between downpours.
But the sun never seems to last long before it starts raining again.
Yesterday I'd arranged to meet a friend in a local cafe, and I was determined to walk there. I've been spending so much time either indoors or driving that I felt the need to move. There was a brief break in the showers, and I togged up as much as I could and set off.
Hmm, that's a small river running through one of our fields.
I did get a bit wet, but the overriding feeling was one of greyness. I took these pictures at lunchtime, and look how dark it is!
There was water everywhere, of course, and I was glad my wellies were holding up.
The sun did come out eventually (for about five minutes), and we had lunch in the cafe and then a jolly afternoon putting the world to rights over a nice cup of tea. Maybe autumn's not so bad after all.
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.
The builders have left, and while I'm glad to have our house to ourselves again (as cheerful as they were), it does rather mean we're on our own now to turn this space back into a kitchen.
It's been pretty exciting to see it develop (slightly nerve wracking at times too). Having all the ceilings ripped out was interesting, but I was relieved to see the new ones going back in.
Ceilings do make it rather darker downstairs though.
It's all very exciting having ceilings (or rather, having rooms upstairs that we can walk in), but for me the most exciting thing about all this is the new windows in the kitchen.
This didn't even require anything structural, as both had had windows in before, a long time ago. The bigger one had been bricked up, and the smaller just had a sheet of ply nailed over the outside, with the kitchen cladding covering the inside (no wonder it was always cold in there).
Both are now proper windows, and while this room, nestled within the wings of the house and with low ceilings and thick walls, is never going to be light and airy, they do make quite a difference, and it's nice to be able to see out across the fields.
Hmm, possibly not the most picturesque view of our tumbledown barn... The house is quite low compared to the height of the land, and so we're going to have to keep on top of the grass or pretty soon we won't be able to see out.
Anyway, we'll worry about that later. There's plastering to be done first.
The poor garden has been sadly neglected this year. I may have had visions of some kind of Victorian cottage garden, but I certainly didn't have a team of professional gardeners, and so my vision has (so far, at least) failed to become reality.
Back at the start of September things still felt fairly orderly. I had beds laid out, apples growing, and we had even strimmed the grass. I'd planted sunflowers, and while yes, I'd had to plonk them in any old place rather than finding somewhere ideal, some of them had grown - not very tall, but they were looking rather cheering.
Back then (and it does feel like forever ago), it was still warm enough to sit outside with a cuppa and do a spot of plotting and scheming.
The signs of autumn were there though, and as we moved into October we harvested our first ever apple and the weather got slightly more inhospitable.
The garden has been quite disrupted these past couple of weeks as we've had to create a temporary enclosure to separate the builders from the chickens. They're not impressed (the chickens, that is - I'm pretty sure the builders appreciated not being followed round by the a hoard of pestering birds), but they do seem to forgive quite quickly (especially when faced with treats).
Now we're near the end of October, and it feels like it's been raining for weeks, although my photographs do give me a slight glimpse of sunshine here and there. Our drive has turned into a bit of a river, with a new (and inconvenient) water feature developing just outside the garden gate.
The clocks went back last night, so our chicken routine has to change slightly. I'd been letting them out later and later each morning and yesterday it was around 8am and they still seemed quite sleepy. This morning with the changing clocks, I went out at 7.15 (which would have been 8.15 yesterday) and they seemed quite content still having a bit of a lie in.
The sun was shining (for once) and if I'd been dressed, or had a pair of wellies that didn't have a hole in (must do something about that) I might have paddled up the lane for a bit of a morning wander.
As it was, I pottered round the garden in my dressing gown (one of the many advantages of living in the middle of nowhere, although I do sometimes forget that there's a public footpath running past our house).
Maybe autumn's not so bad after all.
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.
The start of August was rather soggy round here, and we developed a few new water features.
The sun did emerge eventually, but I confess the garden has been mostly left to fend for itself. Between the chickens, Tiny Hare and the local invading sheep, I've not managed to grow much other than a few courgettes.
Oh, and one raspberry (which was swiped by a passing chicken), and a fairy ring of non-edible mushrooms.
Still, I've had plenty of opportunity to sit in the garden, and even if there's not much edible growing, there is still plenty of lush growth.
The chickens are never far away when I'm outside, and if I sit down with a book they'll often come and join me to sunbathe.
The apples are developing on the trees, and at the end of August everything looked relatively peaceful. I definitely need a more coherent plan for next year though. I've planted seeds in the greenhouse and then not watered them, planted things out and not protected from the chickens, and generally wasted my time and barely grown any food. Sitting around is all very well and good, but I do want to grow things to eat as well.
I'll tidy up over the autumn and winter I think, clear my stock of old (goodness knows how old) seeds, make my beds a bit more raised, install a couple of extra water butts, and make a decent plan. Watch this space.
The sun shone over the August bank holiday and we made hay. Not really because we needed hay, but more because we have a hay field, and a scythe, and it seemed like a good thing to have a go at.
It took us all weekend, scything in the evening when the chickens were in bed (not ideal for scything, but definitely ideal for chickens, who want to stick their beaks in everything that's going on), and turning the cut grass several times each day to dry.
We made bales in the wheelie bin, something I spotted someone else doing online just as I was wondering what on earth I was going to do with all that hay.
It's surprisingly easy - peg four lengths of twine to the sides of your wheelie bin, down and back up, then pack the whole thing full of hay, stand on it to compress it, tie up the string - and that's it!
We only made seven bales - quite enough for us - and now the cows have been let into the field and are happily munching the rest of the grass.
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?
My last 'in the garden' post was May, which feels like an awfully long time ago now.
We had rather a lot of rain throughout June and July, and also a small period of sun so hot (for round here, anyway) that I wasn't capable of doing anything for several days.
At the start of June, things were looking good. The plum and apple trees both had fruit starting to grow.
Where did it go? There are still some apples, although not as many as there were, but it looks like we won't get any plums at all this year. Did something eat them? A stray sheep, or deer? Or have the chickens perfected the art of precision jumping when I wasn't looking? They've certainly had the gooseberries off the bush - I caught Rusty in the act.
The garden is looking reasonably tidy after a good strimming session.
The chickens are doing a reasonable job of keeping the weeds out of the raised beds - unfortunately they've also accidentally dug up most of what I'd planted in the process.
The beans eventually made it out of the greenhouse and into the ground (after some rather complicated untangling), but sadly they too have fallen victim to the chickens.
I kept meaning to go and buy some kind of mesh, or chicken wire, or something, but never quite got round to it, and it seems a bit late now. One frustrated evening I wound wool between bean poles in an attempt to 'discourage' them, which worked for a few days, but eventually Bessie found her way in and the others swiftly followed.
So I don't think we'll have much veg to speak of this year, and probably not that much fruit either. The windbreak is coming along nicely though (the chickens can't do too much damage in there other than eat the gooseberries).
It looks significantly better in the other direction, and after a bit more strimming.
I have mixed feelings about strimming. I'm not one for a 'tidy' garden (as you can see...) but it is nice to be able to lie on some grass occasionally without it being taller than you. The raised beds feel much less overwhelming when you can see the edges of them. We ignore the drive for the most part, but when the grass from each side starts to meet in the middle then it's time to do something. We do some bits with a scythe, but my scything skills are not up narrow strips of grass alongside dry stone walls, so the strimmer wins for some things.
There are far too many seedlings still in the greenhouse of course. I really do have to work out some kind of better schedule for getting things outside next year. I leave it later than some people as we're so high up and exposed, but then time runs away with me, and I find it's almost August and my tomatoes are still only three inches high.
Oh well. Even if the garden isn't producing much food, it's still providing us with entertainment. We have a young hare who has adopted us, and who spends probably more time than is sensible for a hare in our garden.
We see Tiny Hare most mornings, and often in the evening too, and if we're sitting still it seems quite happy to lope about the garden while we're there. It's found a nice spot behind the plant pot to wash its ears, and often hunkers down there late in the evening too.
Between Tiny Hare, the bank vole that lives in the wall, the woodpeckers, spotted flycatchers, dunnocks, buzzards, and the young robin that's set up home here, there's always plenty to watch, and we often find ourselves sat on the swing seat with a drink in the evening. Who cares about veg anyway?
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.