It's no secret that I spend a lot of time in cafes. I can't really remember when it started. It wasn't something we did when I was a child, and for a long time I didn't have spare money for such frivolities, certainly not when I was at university. For several years I was vegan, and back in the late nineties it was definitely not cool, and the only vegan snack you could get (other than fruit) was a Fry's Chocolate Cream or a speciality flapjack from Holland and Barratt.
As I'm writing this a vague memory is coming through, of my first trips to Liverpool as a teenager, buying a Big Issue and sitting in the cafe in Quiggins with a hot chocolate, or in the cafe at the Bluecoat gallery, or in the Thornton's cafe at Central Station. I would have been maybe fifteen or sixteen, so maybe this isn't such a new habit after all.
There was a pause once I got to university though, partly veganism, partly lack of money, and then I don't remember any serious cafe visiting until I moved to Sheffield in 2003. I started my PhD with quite a few other new people, and we hung around in the Students' Union cafe reading and watching the world go by.
My cafe habit became seriously entrenched when I met Peter though. At first just on holidays and days out, but eventually we found cheerfulness in a weekend cafe trip, and when we nearly went mad renovating our old house, our local cafes gave us a refuge to run to (and a nice bit of cake).
The cafes we frequent have changed over the years of course. We haven't been to the cafe at the city farm since we moved house, and our favourite cafe in Sheffield closed down not long after we left (were we really keeping them afloat??) We found a new home in a cafe in our new local village, but that closed too last Christmas.
Recently we've settled on a cafe in a bookshop, not far away, as our new favourite place. It's busy, so we have to get there when it opens, especially if we're going to get our favourite seat. Recently the card machine had broken and we walked out without paying (oops!) - the staff left a note about the 'regular morning sofa couple' and so that's now how we refer to ourselves too.
Of course it can get expensive, all this cafe visiting. We're generally not too extravagant, we have tea and toast (or cake) rather than a fancy lunch, and spend between £5 and £10 each time we're in there. We've contemplated giving up, or at least cutting back, but as vices go, this is a fairly tame one, and we are fortunate that we can make room for it within our budget. It helps that we rarely go to the pub, the cinema, or anywhere else that requires paying to get in.
Our favourite cafe is opening again today after a short break for Christmas, and you can bet we'll be there when it opens. I'll take a book, Peter will take a crossword, and we'll sit mostly in silence, drinking our tea and eating our breakfast. A most satisfactory start to the day.
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.
So, here we are in 2019! And a 24th of the way through the year already I suppose, although it's best not to think of such things.
One of the things we're noticing about living out here, something that I love and Peter isn't quite so sure about, is the seasonal nature of it. We have far more outside space here than in our old house, and we got rather used to being outside in the summer, but now it's cold (or raining, or snowing), it's less easy to do that.
And it goes dark so early! The same time as in the city, of course, but with no street lights directly outside the window, the world feels cut off when it's dark in a way that it never did before. I like the opportunity to get cosy with a good book, but I can't deny it does feel a little confined sometimes.
I'm trying to turn the problem (not that it's really a problem) into a positive by focusing on the seasons as they come around. I've never really had a nature table before, but I've made a little corner of a living room windowsill into a seasonal display that I'll change as the seasons change. And I'm trying to notice the light more as it moves around the house.
We're in a funny old situation here at the minute. We've removed a wall to combine the kitchen with what was the snug, and we acquired this eight foot long solid oak table from a lovely lady recently through Freegle. I love it - but I can't deny it looks quite bizarre in our unfinished, unplastered room. Rather medieval I think.
The house faces south, and the table is flooded with light at lunchtime, which is lovely. Those bricks at the head of the table are going to be a window at some point, so I hope this room will eventually be less 'cave' and more 'light and airy'. At the minute the whole place has a rather Bond villain air, as we have an extremely odd rubble feature in the floor where the chimney used to be.
I find myself remarkably unbothered by the chaos. In the old house, the DIY drove me a little mad, but that's because we were wanting to leave and couldn't until everything was finished. Here, it can take as long as it takes. It won't surprise you to know we're doing a lot of it ourselves (so it might take a while).
In the meantime, as usual, we're spending quite a lot of time in local cafes.
We're casting round for a new favourite cafe at the minute, as the one we spent a lot of last year in closed just before Christmas, which we were most distressed about, especially as our favourite cafe in Sheffield has closed down too.
The one above does an excellent scone, but is far too busy unless we get there when it first opens (which we often do). This is the problem with living in a tourist hotspot I suppose....
In other news, the chickens have found the back door to the house, and are taking every opportunity to sneak in while our backs are turned. It's not too bad now as the door is mostly closed, but come the summer we may have to be more vigilant.
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.