Monday, 1 September 2014

Family & Friends, Terrier Puppies, Wild Fruit Harvest

Well, here we are in September...August is always such a busy month that it is almost a relief to move on in the year.
Apart from the holiday-makers who are an everchanging & unknown troupe we have had a rush of other guests. Family members and old friends who come to stay for a couple of days of conversation, eating & sightseeing & it is wonderful to see them but when their visits coincide with Grandson's 1st birthday and party, cottage changeover, the birth of a litter of 7 terrier puppies, cows calving & the usual dashing here, there & everywhere by the Farmer & Sons it is fairly exhausting!
Family visits are always good as we are a somewhat scattered tribe & so visits are usually several months apart so there is always lots of catching up to do and one day is always taken up with the Farmer organising a trip involving much walking & a picnic. This time we went up to Tregaron, a tiny market town in the hills & then onto the lovely ruins of Strata Florida abbey which are set in bowl of green sheep strewn hills and then a switchback drive to the source of the river Teifi, a vast & lonely empty place at the top of the previously mentioned hills where we had our picnic accompanied by the call of the buzzards over the heather clad moors. On then into the Ystwyth valley to Hafod for a good long walk through the extraodinary remnants of a great 18th century estate. The house of Hafod has long gone but its romantic woods with the river and cascades & gorges are now run by the Forestry Commission and offer visitors some seriously dramatic & beautiful walks.
Other house-guests have included friends from childhood days who have not visited the farm for well over 20 years so it was a real catch-up of news & nostalgia but also a trip to the beach one evening for a very chilly & buffeting swim followed by fish & chips at another beach watching the evening draw in over the water...an excellent evening as it turned out.

While all this social stuff was going on my little terrier produced a litter of 7 (!!!) puppies without any fuss or bother. she just got on with it one night all on her own & we came down in the morning to find her ensconced in her nest of hay in the dog shed very proud of her babies. They were tiny with a great variety of black & white marking...the Farmer says they look like good Frisians!...but have grown tremendously in 6 days. A litter of that size for a small farm terrier is I think quite unusual, but she is coping amazingly well with them.


One my daily walks with the dogs I go armed with a stout stick, secateurs, a basket for brambles & a cotton bag for hazelnuts. I must have put the best part of 40lbs of brambles in the freezer now & I have gathered nearly 3lbs of hazelnuts which are now in paper bags hanging from my kitchen ceiling ready for Christmas.This year is proving to be quite amazing for the quantities of wild fruits and nuts. The Farmer picked a large amount of bullace plums the other day as well as the Victorias in the orchard. The bullace are already turning into wine ina large bin sitting by the Rayburn in the kitchen bubbling away merrily. Sloes are showing their dull purple in the hedges and we must collect them before the birds strip the bushes. They are usually left until after the first frosts but one can cheat and pick them earlier and put them in the deep freeze. They need to be frosted before being put into gin or vodka...something to do with the release of sugars I think.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Summer lilies, Hedgerow Harvest, Dolphins in Cardigan Bay

Each year the lilies in my somewhat chaotic garden astonish me with their magnificence.
Although the gardens are looking very full & lush they need some work to be done to remove the dead heads of straggling ground cover plants and some general end of summer tidying up, however the lilies rise above the general tangle.

I was out at 7 o'clock this morning with the dogs and a basket for brambles. This is proving to be a wonderful season for the hedgerow harvest. I have already frozen 4 large boxes of brambles and they are masses more to come. I was pleased to find sloes hiding behind their thorny barricades...last year there were almost none. There will be a good crop of hazelnuts too this year if I can get to them before the squirrels, I have already found scatterings of shells in various wooded corners of the farm. A fine gathering of field mushrooms was had the other morning to add to my list of seasonal bounty, delicious fried with bacon for breakfast.
There is a definite breath of autumn in the air now and the there has been a change in the weather though the Sons are still busy on silage.

The Farmer & I went to the beach one evening last week and swam in warm-ish waters. It was lovely and even better when once again we saw a small number of dolphins swimming just a few hundred yards from us. We have never seen dolphins off that particular beach before so was very exciting. There have been a lot of sightings of the dolphins that patrol Cardigan Bay this summer and it is always special if we catch a glimpse of them on one of our infrequent visits to the coast.

The summer stream of holiday-makers in the cottage is keeping me busy...I am waiting to do my next change-over while I write this.
We have had a lot of delightful people staying really enjoying being here on the farm. It is always good when families just spend their days sitting outside & chatting reading and going for walks and generally watching the farm activities. It makes us feel that they really appreciate what the place is about & enjoy seeing how we live, which is on the whole so very different from urban lives. Most of our guests are town-dwellers and they love being in the real countryside for a week though some do say to us that they couldn't live a country life for long!



Thursday, 7 August 2014

St. Dogmael's Abbey & Shakespeare, Ethical Shopping


A lovely August morning after threats of bad weather that never really materialised apart form a heavy rainstorm two nights ago. The Sons are still busy working bringing in other people's silage though Younger Son has been driving for a straw haulier today & yesterday, leaving home at 3am with a lorry & drag to get to Oxfordshire to pick up a load to bring back to Wales. Wales does not grow much arable and so we need to import straw from the productive arable lands of England & the haulier's lorries can be seen ploughing up & down the motorways with their huge golden loads.

Near the small town of Cardigan is the village of St. Dogmael's or Llandudoch as it should rightfully be known. at the heart of the village are the wonderful ruins of St. Dogmael's abbey where each year a production of a Shakespeare play is put on in the abbey grounds by the Abbey Shakespeare Players (www.abbeyshakespeare.co.uk).
This year it was 'The Merchant of Venice' and through a a last minute invitiation by a friend the Farmer & I were able to go. We had not been to this event for a number of years though we used to take the Sons when they were little quite regularly. As an outdoor event the weather has not been favourable for a number of summers recently, however this year it was perfect. The production was very good and as always the abbey ruins are used as the stage and with very simple sets, props & clever lighting a world is created. As the evening drew on and the light faded with bats coming out an flitting over the heads of the actors & audience and owls calling from the woods surrounding the abbey & with the moon appearing just at the right point for the 'On such a night...' speech, it was a lively & entertaining production, though the anti-semitic aspects of the play I always find somewhat disturbing.

Lately we have been having conversations with friends about ethical shopping.
The subject came up as we were talking about the merits of Rachel's Dairy yoghourts which I no longer buy. Many years ago our milk went to supply Rachel's Dairy at their small family run business in Aberystwyth. Since then the business has been sold to a string of companies and is now owned by a French firm Lactalis, a French dairy 'giant' which is a partner of the multi-national giant Nestle. Nestle is one the most boycotted companies in the world, a stance that started back in the 1970's with the aggressive promotion of baby milk formula. Nestle own a vast number of brands that are available in every store & supermarket. For details of their empire go to www.ethicalconsumer.org...it is a real eyeopener! I do not wish to buy products that are marketed by a vast impersonal organisation that is only interested in profit. Dairy products particulary seem more inappropriate in such a scenario than most, especially when so many good dairy products (not necessarily just organic ones) are produced locally all over the country.
Other products I do not buy are Green & Black's owned by Kraft & anything from Cadbury's which is also owned by Kraft.
There are many independent producers of all goods and surely it is better to buy everything as locally as possible.
As for yoghourt I buy Yeo Valley which is where our milk goes.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Summer Gardens, Bees, Monty Python Live (Mostly)

The gardens are looking lovely at present, with my pots of lilies trumpeting their colours. Hydrangeas do particularly well here and driving around the area one is overwhelmed by these massive displays of rich purple, blue & cerise flower heads leaning over garden walls and banked in borders. I have several vast hyrdrangeas that are looking spectacular as are the giant red montbretia that are sending up their vivid flowers and sharp spears of leaves creating sharp architectural backdrops to other smaller plants that fill in the front of the beds like blue cranesbill. It's all rather lovely with the Farmers bees very busy throughout the gardens and in the trees. We seem to have a strong colony & the Farmer is happy that they are working well. I have just had a phone call from a neighbour to say he has swarm of bees in his shed so the Farmer has gone off to collect them, hopefully. It is not the best time of year for swarms, being rather late but if he can capture a good good size cluster they should have chance of survival.
'A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in june is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July is not worth a fly.'
We shall see.
Well, a wasted trip...the bees were bumble bees, not honey bees. Our neighbour really should be able to tell the difference! Farmer now disgruntled!

It has been another misty morning which again promises a hot day. Walking across the shrouded fields I was treated to the lovely sight of thistles with their mauve flowers, draped in dew-bejewelled cobwebs glinting in the emerging sunshine. This is perfect time of year for shimmering cobwebs adorning plants and laced between the bars of gates dripping with dewdrops.

The Farmer & the Sons are once again busy working on the silage crop after a few days respite. Younger Son went up to the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim at the weekend where it was unpleasantly hot & humid. Here that day it was grey, cool-ish and we were swathed in mist all day...it was so miserable I even lit the fire (!) just to air the house.

Last night the Farmer & I went to our wonderful local theatre in Cardigan (www.mwldan.co.uk) to see Monty Python Live broadcast from the O2 arena. The theatre was packed and with a palpable sense of anticipation. The show was great. I haven't laughed so much for a long time, with all the old favourite sketches being wheeled out interspersed with terrific dance numbers to the hilarious songs. The Pythons were on top form and seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was certain poignancy to the event which served to add a depth to the more cynical & ironic lines being delivered by five elderly gentlemen who had first made their surreal world available to us all 40 years ago.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Nursery School Sports Day, Octogenarian Film Show, Carmarthenshire Tourism

A misty morning promising a fine day of sunshine. Going out to walk the dogs before the mist has lifted is lovely with trees & cattle emerging through the grey veil that billows gently across the fields. The dogs race through the grass disappearing & re-emerging through the mist like ghost hounds. As we walked through apart of the farm where there is a derelict building two barn owls suddenly swooped out of the mist and floated across my path to disappear into the mists, a beautiful sight.

Yesterday was a day of the ages of man.
The morning was spent on our local little village sports field watching the pre-school tots have their sports day. So sweet & very funny! All these tiny children running races with absolutely no idea what it is all about and some very competitive parents, especially when it came to the Father's race! Our small grand-daughter (aged three & a half)) nonchalantly ran her ten metres race & then sauntered throught the egg & spoon race with the specially bought plastic spoons & plastic eggs (what happened to a metal spoon & a hard-boiled egg like in the olden days, pre health & safety idiocy?)in a very unconcerned manner. She was more interested in playing on the bouncy castle. Every child was presented with minute silvery cup, gold medal & a certificate even if they had refused to take part.

In the afternoon I went with a friend to our local market town to give showing of the film 'Teifi, From Sea to Source' that I produced last year (see the side panel to this blog for details), to the town's Friendship Group. About forty very old people came along, average age probably 80, and they were wonderful, one of the most appreciative & interested audiences we have had. Many of them were locals who had lived in the Teifi Valley all their lives and they very sweetly told us after the showing that they had learned a lot from the film & had so enjoyed seeing the countryside that they knew so well, from the air.
We sold a good number of copies of the film too which was very gratifying.

To round off a very busy day the Farmer & I attended a presentation by the Carmarthenshire Tourism Association
which was to tell us all about the success of a project that has been running for the last couple of years to inmprove tourism in the county. Many of us in local tourism have been involved in the consultations & this has resulted in our area, the north west of Carmarthenshire, in a new (albeit discreetly tucked away) visitor information centre in Newcastle Emlyn and a website,www.iteifi.co.uk. With some help from volunteers & general tweaking both projects should be reasonably successful.




Thursday, 26 June 2014

R is for Rain, Rest & Relaxing after Harvest


It is raining! 4.15pm on Thursday 26th June after what seems like endless weeks of sunshine the weather has broken and we can all take a deep sigh and relax having had an incredibly busy time literally making hay while the sun shines.
The Farmer & the Sons seem to have taken up full-time residence in their tractor cabs as they have been doing many hundreds of hours & acres getting in the silage crops around the neighbourhood as well as our own. After the mild spring the grass crop is superb for everyone and we have even been able to make hay as the weather has been so good for days on end.

On one of the few days when the Farmer was not required to drive a tractor he brought the sheep in for shearing.He did our small flock of about 50 ewes in one day on his own. It seems there an increased demand for organic wool this year which is very good news. We shall take our wool up the collection centre in Brecon before too long & hopefully will get a reasonable price for it.

Despite the pressure of silage making the Farmer & I were able (or should I say allowed!) to go away for two days last weekend to attend the wedding of the Farmer's god-son, in Devon. We had lovely time catching up with old friends. The wedding was great fun, very simple and informal. Someone described it as being like a mini festival, with really great live music playing and fire-jugglers, stilt walkers and a fire to sit round in the gloaming of the longest day in a field on the edge of Dartmoor. A very happy & enjoyable occasion.


On our return it was back into the fray with the Farmer immediately being summoned to drive again and take over the milking as required. Today he has been painting the tin of our curved-roof barn...he is up there quite safely I hasten to add... with a knapsack sprayer transforming what was a very shabby roof into a bright red-oxide coloured curve of corrugated tin which will last another ten years or so.

The soft rain which is now falling is much needed. The fields will now recover well and there will be a lovely growth of aftermath for the cows. The gardens were beginning to show signs of dehydration so they will perk up now and the dust will wash away from the borders and be well damped on the driveway and yard. While the sunshine is wonderful it does mean such hard work for farmers and so a few damp days now will mean they can have rest and catch-up on all the other tasks that get neglected while making the most of good weather.




Monday, 9 June 2014

A Welsh Country Wedding


The first week of June and the foxgloves are coming out in their cathedral spire-like glory.
After the blaze of cerulean blue from the bluebells in the bottom of the hedges we are now lifting our eyes up to these gorgeous puce pinnacles as they fill up every corner of wild banks. They are particularly welcome on areas of disturbed ground such as the new bank behind the holiday cottage where they are giving an amazing display. Being primary colonisers they just appear in their masses with no effort on my part to create such a wonderful planting scheme!

At the weekend the Farmer & I attended the wedding of some friends which took place at the Ceridwen Centre (www.ceridwencentre.co.uk, www.welshgreenweddings.co.uk) a lovely wedding venue just ten minutes drive from the farm.
Our friends G. & R. had a perfect day (despite dire weather forecasts which fortunately proved to be very wrong)with sun shining and all their guest able to relax out of doors gazing at the stunning views across the valley.
The Ceridwen Centre has a very pretty little walled garden with a beautiful wooden structure, rather hobbit-y in appearance, for marriage ceremonies to take place in, however the registrar who it seems has the power to make such decsions said that because of the risk of rain the ceremony had to take place indoors. So we all trooped into what had been the old dairy in the days when the centre was working farm. It had of course been decorated in case of such an eventuality and was fine.
The bride came in with her father to Jimmy Durante singing 'Make Someone Happy' and then bride & groom exited to The Carpenters singing 'Top of the World'...all rather good fun & certainly original.
The bride is an expert on renovating old buildings (she is know as G...the Lime due to her encyclopaedic knowledge of the uses of lime mortar, putty, plaster etc.) and during the service the poem 'Scaffolding' by Seamus Heaney wholly apporiately, was read out. (Look it up.) The service ended with reading of a Welsh poem 'Dau berson ydych heddiw, Ag un bywyd yn eich blaen' (roughly translated as 'Two people here today At the start of their lives together'.
It was all very simple & unfussy and happy.
The wedding feast was held in the magnificent double tipi with beautiful flowers decorating each table and very good organic food & wines served.
The Farmer as well as being a wedding-guest was also part of the Entertainment with the band he plays in providing the music for some Welsh folk-dancing. The caller, who knows all there is to know about Welsh traditional dances and much else besides in the field of Welsh folk culture, has years of experience in getting people up to dance and they did so with great gusto. After an hour & a half (!) of Welsh dancing the band retired to great applause to make way for the disco...the dancers not being a whit worn out by their previous exertions continued to bop away the night to 70's disco classics.