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 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.
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.
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?
I heard a bleating noise the other week, and wandered outside to find these woolly menaces hanging around on the drive.
They'd obviously found their way over a bit of fallen down wall, so once they'd returned to their own field, we patched up the wall and figured that was the end of it.
A few days later, we heard bleating again.
Fourteen sheep this time, in the front garden, munching on the flowers.
Three sheep in a field is cute. Fourteen sheep in your front garden is not.
Have you ever tried to make sheep do something specific? I hadn't, and I can tell you it's not as easy as those sheepdogs make it look.
There wasn't much point fixing the wall again until the sheep were back on their own side of it, but that meant that over several days more found their way in, until we had almost thirty happily grazing their way through our fields.
I quite like sheep. In fact, we both prefer them to cows, and I don't in principle have an issue with sharing our grass with a few hungry sheep. However, we have an agreement with the local dairy farmer to use our fields for his pregnant cows, who seemed rather bemused by the sudden addition of a flock of sheep.
The advantage of the cows is that they come with a responsible farmer in tow. He checks them daily, and if we notice something wrong, we can ring, and he will check again.
With the sheep it's different. Ringing the farmer elicited no response (not even when we found one ill just over the wall into his field), and I eventually had to find out where he lived and go round. Of course, by the time they made it over here, the sheep had hopped back into their own field (after over a week in ours), ruining the wall in the process.
So now we have several sections of wall to repair, and that's still not the issue solved, as I've watched several just jump clean over the wall without even touching it.
Clearly the grass is actually greener on this side of the wall.
Doesn't time fly in the garden at this time of year?
May started with a bit of harvesting. I planted this rainbow chard out really late last year (around October I think) and didn't hold out much hope, but here it is, and still going strong. There are a few leeks out there too that need bringing in soon.
The wild flowers are starting to appear, and some not-so-wild ones too.
I've made good progress spreading manure on my raised beds.
The seeds in the greenhouse are looking healthy, although none of them are ready to plant out yet. We're 1300ft above sea level here, and quite exposed and windy, so I'm keeping them inside for a while yet.
And of course the grass is growing in earnest now, so I'm out several mornings a week with the scythe trying to keep on top of it. It's best to scythe first thing in the morning because the moisture content of the grass is higher, so it's easier to cut, and also because it means I can leave the chickens safely shut in their run til I've finished.
They object rather vocally, but given their tendency to stand under my feet and interfere with whatever garden implement I'm using, I'm not risking them being out at the same time as the scythe. They cause enough trouble when I'm raking the grass cuttings up.
I'm hoping June will fill the water butts, and see at least some of the seedlings planted outside. And maybe we'll have our first evening meal in the garden, who knows?
I've been working at home a lot since Christmas, and I'm spending a lot of time sitting down.
When we lived in the city, working at home wasn't a problem - it wasn't every day, and there were plenty of other places to walk to. Here, we are just a little bit too far away to walk to anywhere, and so if I want some exercise, I have to consciously go for a walk.
This isn't really a problem, of course - it's just that going for a walk feels like it requires more planning than just nipping to the shops. Walking boots for a start, and maybe even a rucksack and a map.
Well, thinking like that was getting me nowhere. Instead, I abandoned the rucksack, and the map, and all thoughts of 'hiking' or 'trekking', and decided to keep things a little more simple (that's usually a good plan in life, I find).
Each morning I get up, dress quickly, make a cup of tea in my travel mug, pull on my wellies, let the chickens out - and keep going up the drive.
It's nice and simple. I'm already out of the house, I already have tea (with a lid), and there's no planning required. I have to let the chickens out reasonably early, so my walks usually start before 8am (they were starting closer to 7am until the clocks changed).
It's lovely and peaceful out there at that time in the morning, whatever the weather (and there has been quite a variation in weather so far this year).
Of course it's been more pleasant since the better weather arrived (I hope I'm not speaking too soon - the wind and rain are howling through the windows this evening).
I have a few little loops of a mile or so round the lanes and footpaths. I refuse to go much further without eating breakfast. A mile is enough time to wake up a bit, finish my tea, and arrive back home refreshed and alert, ready to start work.
Now the lighter nights are here, I'm hoping to incorporate an evening walk too as a nice way of ending the working day and getting a bit of fresh air before making tea.
Might have to fix my wellies first though - one of them appears to have sprung an unhelpful leak.
This is one of my favourite photos of Hermione, taken just last Sunday when she picked up a shopping list I'd dropped in the snow and carried it around for a while, before deciding it wasn't quite to her liking.
On Tuesday morning, the ladies were uncharacteristically quiet when I went to let them out. Normally there's a kerfuffle, jumping off the perch, squabbling about who will come out first.
That morning when I opened the door, none of them came out.
Fearing the worst, I stuck my head in the hen house. Hermione and Luna lay dead on the floor, and Maud and Mildred cowered at the back with blood on their necks.
I tried to tempt them out, but they wouldn't move, so I ran back to the house for Peter to bring a box. We brought Maud and Mildred inside to see how injured they were, and I went back outside to see if I could figure out what had happened to the other two. The hen house was still locked - the only gap is the air vent, which is less than an inch high. Surely nothing could get in there that could kill a chicken?
I spotted the culprit as soon as I went back outside - the white stoat I'd been excited to see the week before was sneaking around the two ladies I'd left on the bench. I chased it off, and brought them inside too.
Not many vets know about chickens, as it turns out, so we trekked for 20 miles to see a lovely man who confirmed that Maud and Mildred, while badly shaken, only had superficial injuries. He advised us to keep them warm and comfortable, and try to get them to eat and drink something.
Birds in general are quite vulnerable to shocks - you often see them keel over if they fly into a window. But apparently chickens (and pigeons, as it happens) are quite resilient, so the vet was hopeful they'd recover in time.
We set up a temporary hospital wing in my study - and you have no idea how grateful I am that we have that room available. We plied the ladies with treats, but they mostly just stood and stared. It's awful seeing them like this - they're normally so inquisitive and pesky.
The following morning they were still alive, and the room was unsurprisingly beginning to smell. We shifted the makeshift hospital, removed the old curtains we'd thrown down the day before, rolled up the rug, and put down several inches of chicken bedding. Things are a lot more fragrant in there now (although I won't be working in there while they're still using it).
Each day the ladies look a little brighter, although they're a long way from normal. They mostly just stand still, usually next to each other. They will eat out of our hands, but don't seem to touch food when we're not there. Maybe we've become honorary members of the flock (or maybe they just think we'll be on look out duty).
I don't know how long they'll be living in there for. As long as it takes. I can't in all conscience put them back outside while they're still like this. If the weather clears over the weekend we'll take them out for an hour, to see if they regain some enthusiasm for scratching and pecking, but if they're just going to stand and stare, they're much better doing it inside where they can be safe and warm (apparently warmth is the best thing for a bird in shock).
Longer term we'll have to get them some friends - chickens are much happier in a flock. But we won't be doing that until we've fully stoat-proofed the hen house and run, and until these two are showing more signs of life. Initial chicken introductions can be savage while they work out the new pecking order, and that isn't what these pair need right now.
We buried Hermione and Luna among the fruit trees. They were out there just last week, making a nuisance of themselves, scratching around in the mulch and jumping into holes as I dug them to pull out the worms.
We knew there was a chance they'd be eaten eventually, but always figured it would be when they were out roaming free, which they did most of the time. These ladies spent the first 18 months of their lives locked in a barn with thousands of other chickens, and had never even seen daylight when they came to us. They'd reached the end of their commercially viable life and were destined to become pet food. We didn't want to fence them in.
It never occurred to us that they'd be killed overnight while shut 'safely' in the hen house. We'd seen stoats, and knew they might take eggs, or even chicks, but even the local farmer said he'd never heard of one killing a fully grown chicken (although now we know it does happen we've seen other accounts of it too). At any rate, we didn't think anything would be able to get through the tiny air vent.
At least they had five months of freedom and sunshine. RIP little feathery pals.
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.