Saturday, 14 July 2018

Summer Fruits, German Guests, Music for Penyrallt, Slow Holiday Season.

It is the season for soft fruit and the Farmer has brought in blackcurrants with which I shall make into jam later. Despite the lack of rain over the past weeks the blackcurrants have done well though our raspberry crop is almost non existent, sadly, as they are quite my favourite of the summer fruits.

We have had a lovely German family from Frankurt staying in the holiday cottage for the past two weeks. It turns out that Herr M. is a very talented musician and specialises in rennaissance music but is skilled in other musical disciplines as well, so much so that after hearing the Farmer playing some traditional Welsh dance tunes he set to and has composed a piece of music for us, entitled Penyrallt Rondo, which is quite lovely. It is based around typical Welsh tunes but with an interesting variation. A really lovely gift for us and one by which we will certainly remember these guests.

Our German guests leave today and disappointingly we have no more holiday-makers arriving for the next two weeks. It is proving to be a very difficult year for the holiday accommodation business here. Not just us but all our friends and acquaintances who run holiday cottages, glamping sites and B&B's are saying the same thing. I certainly have never had empty weeks in July & August before and one just hopes that last minute bookings will come in. No-one can come up with a good reason why bookings are down this year. (It can't be the Trump effect!) Admittedly there is an over-supply of holiday accommodation but even so one would hope that the glorious weather might encourage more 'staycationers' to come and discover lovely west Wales.
(For all availability in Penyrallt Fach Cottage please go to

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Drought-hit Farmers & a Parched Countryside

The heatwave continues and the view across the valley is no longer one of lush green fields with plenty of grass but on of dry brown, parched land broken up the the hedges whuch are managing to remain green and clumps of woodland. The fields are almost crisp as one walks across them and we all dread a carelessly thrown cigarette butt or piece of glass or even a shiny can refecting the light into a tinder-dry patch of grass. While we have been fortunate in this area not to have wildfires breaking out on our moorlands it could so easily happen with everywhere so dessicated.
The fields are not able to provide the cows with all their food at present and many farmers, including ourselves are having to feed silage that was intended for the winter. What the knock-on effect of this will have on milk production and fodder supplies when winter does come is anyone's guess.
We are fortunate that our water supply is holding out. We do not have mains water anywhere on the farm and are reliant on springs and a bore hole. Some thirty-odd years ago when we had a couple of very hot dry summers our water supply was low and all water had to be given to the cows as a priority (they need at least 10 gallons each a day)and we gave them free access to the little river at the bottom of the farm. I had to take the Sons, who were very little at the time, down to kind neighbours in the village for baths and do my laundry (I didn't fancy taking it down to the river and banging it on rocks!). We are not in that situation this year and our water supply has been added to by a recently drilled bore hole but I do keep waiting for a hint that we need to go steady on water consumption in the house.

Despite the lack of rain the roses this year have been superb. Apparently they liked the hard frosts of the winter. Looking out from the office window there is wonderful tumbling froth of Kiftsgate which even now after a couple of weeks of flowwering is till looking good. The other, mostly anonymous, roses in the gardens are doing well and give a splash of colour where most other plants are really struggling with the hot weather but not so much in that they are thirsty as in the sun shrivelling up their buds before they have chance to open as has happened on a large hypericum which should be covered in gleaming yellow flowers and instead has dried up tight little brown buds.
Below are Kiftsgate, Cuisses des Nymphes & Willy Lobb.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

House-Guests & Beach Picnic, Hot Weather, Wild Swimming

Another very busy week having had some friends from London staying for a long weekend. We took them over over to the coast one evening with the canoes, a primus and a frying pan and cooked supper on the beach as the sun went down, an idyllic end to a very pleaant visit.
The film crew from the BBC then arrived for two more days of intense busy-ness. Most of their time was spent with the Farmer filming the chickens and thier behaviour in certain situations such as how they react when a kite that looks like a bird of prey is flown over their run. Apparently some very good footage was taken with the poor hens geting rather panicky. When the poultry session was ended it was the turn of the cows again and they were walked into the yard and then back out to their field and again some good shots were obtained. The project has been going on since March (see previous posts) with the film crew arriving here every few weeks to film farm animal behaviour and should end up with an interesting programme. I will keep you posted on its title, as yet a closely guarded secret that I'm not allowed to reveal, and its broadcast date which should be sometime in the winter.

The very hot weather continues and whilst is glorious and wonderful to have a proper summer such as one remembers from childhood it does make doing anything rather trying. The Farmer comes in dripping with perspiration and needing to change his shirt after being out fencing or moving the sheep. I often make lemonade in hot weather and yesterday afternoon the Farmer came in, with a neighbour in tow, asking for some but of course I hadn't made any in readiness so he decided to do it himself...with the result being that having failed to secure the lid on the liquidiser jug properly it spun off and we had lemonade and all the bits of chewed up lemons all over the kitchen wall running down to the floor, dripping into drawers and generally making a real mess that was very tedious to clear up and a waste of good lemons! The Farmer's comment was thank goodness our neighbour was there to witness the disaster as it reduced the level of wrath unleashed upon him by the Farmer's Wife! The neighbour, needless to say,thought it all hilarious!

With the intense heat of the days by late afternoon the Farmer has been doing a bit of wild-swimming (swimming with dragon-flies rather then dolphins!) in one of our ponds and encouraging the dogs to join him as their are finding the heat very difficult, especially the black labs, but even Molly our old lady sheepdog will go in with persuasion and clearly feels better for it afterwards.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Summertime, House-Martins Return

Summertime and the livin' is very easy for the cows out grazing in the sunshine while the farmers are so very busy gathering in the grass for the silage to feed the cows over winter. As always we are thinking ahead despite the temptation to sit and enjoy the glorious weather and planning the work schedule for the tractors and drivers for the next few days hoping the weather will hold so they can get all the contracting work done. We got our own silage clamp finished yesterday and all sheeted up as the next cut will be baled.

The Farmer & I were very thrilled this afternoon to realise that we have a colony of house-martins busily building their their neat little mud-nests under the eaves of the farmhouse along side the nests of the swallows. I have not known martins to be here in the thirty-odd years I've lived here though the Farmer says he remembers them in great numbers in his childhood. They can have arrived only in the past day or so as their nests are still very little more than a wodge (technical term!) of mud stuck to the wall in the shadow to the eaves. Why they should returned now is a great mystery, but wonderful. We shall be watching their progress with a fascinated eye and hope they will raise successful broods. We now have colonies of swifts shrieking and diving along with the madcap aerobatics of the swallows with their cheerful chatter and the pairs of martins busily chittering away to each other as they bring their beakfuls of mud to the wall, all living in and around the house and farm buildings and sharing the air space with the numbers of sparrows that are permanent residents.

Whilst walking along the drive the other day I was able to photograph this Speckled Wood butterfly as it rested briefly on a beech leaf. So beautiful.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

U3A Visit, Silage & Shearing

Earlier this week we hosted a lovely group from Brecon for a farm walk. They were members of the wonderful U3A organisation (the University of the Third Age, ) which is for people over 50 who wish to continue learning. There are no exams or tests just opportuniites to attend talks & lectures on every subject under the sun as well as having trips to interesting places. There are branches of U3A all over the country and each branch will have it's own specialist interest groups. The party that came to us from Brecon was the Wildlife Group.
About twenty-five people came, all of advanced years, the oldest being 94, and they all walked the farm with The Farmer and me and were the most attentive and enthusiastic group. They were shown the milking parlour, the cows, given a history of the farm over the past 200 years, and walked the fields to see our magnificent laburnum hedges in full flower and to exclaim over our beautiful views. After the walk we all came back to the yard to sit in the sunshine enjoying tea and cake. As well us telling them about the farm & food production, they asked very intelligent questions and this resulted in interesting discussions on politics, Brexit and the future of farming. It was a very pleasant and stimulating day for all concerned.

With the glorious weather over the past week the Farmer & the Sons have been very busy on silage. We did a second cut for ourselves and then they've been out doing cuts for neighbours. In addition to driving a tractor al day the Farmmer has found time to make a start on the shearing. Although we have only 50 ewes the Farmer has found that if he shears them in small batches over two or three days he finds it less exhausting (is this age beginning to catch up? he used to think nothing of doing the whole lot even when we had a greater number number of sheep, in one day!) The Sons will have nothing to do with the sheep! Amongst the seheep there is one lamb who was bottle-fed and it escaped from the yard and appeared in the house to my dismay. A large lamb bleating for company in one's kitchen is not really desirable.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Jam & Chutney

A couple of days ago we obtained a quantity of apricots so today I am busy making jam and chutney and what fruit is not used up in those recipes is bottled. The kitchen is alive with the bubbling of fruit and sugar and the spices and vinegar used in the chutney are scenting the air with rich aromas. Apricots make the best jam I think and bottled apricots are infinitely useful in the winter months to make puddings and pies. The Farmer adores chutneys of all kind and today's recipe is for a rich chutney using a fiery combination of spices as follows;

Spiced Apricot Chutney

12oz apricots (stoned and halved)
11/4 cups sugar
1 tspn. coriander
1/2 tspn. crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tspn.allspice
1/2 tspn. ground cloves
1/4 tspn. cayenne
3/4 cup vinegar
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tspns. ginger
1/2 tsn. salt
3/4 cup water.
Mix all together in a heavy based pan, bring to the boil and boil until the desired consistency is obtained.

This is the most wonderful time of year for the wild flowers and the hedgerows lining the drive to the farm are tapestried over with the froth of Queen Anne's Lace dotted with the shocking pink of red campion flowers and the madonna blue of the last of the bluebells. The lovely vivid yellow of Welsh poppies gleams at intervals. The hawthorn trees are in full flower and the honeyed scent of the blossom particularly after a small shower of rain is heady and intoxicating.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ducks on TV

We've had another couple of busy days with the television crew from BBC Wales filming on the farm for a programme about farm animals which will go out later in the year (title to be revealed in due course). This session of filming was centred around ducks. At a poultry sale at the weekend, we purchased four fluffy yellow ducklings and two older 'teenage' ducks. A makeshift pond was built using a children's paddling pool and disguised with reeds and foliage in order for the action of the duckling's feet under water to be filmed using a very clever little camera in a waterproof housing that is connected by WiFi to the cameraman's smart phone...amazing technology! Some great shots of little yellow feet paddling away like mad were obtained and even one of a duckling diving under water.The 'pond' is still on the yard and the ducks are very happy & decorative and much safer than they would be out on the real pond. The last ducks we had were taken, we think, by an otter which had been seen roaming around on several evenings by Younger Son. It is very frustrating for my terrier Dottie though, as she has to be kept tied up as being a true terrier she just cannot help herself needing to catch the ducks. The sheepdogs are no problem, they just watch the ducks through the netting surrounding the pond trying to herd them I think, and the labradors are just not interested.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Parties, Guests, Ghosts and Grass

We are well into May, the most glorious time of the year with the countryside greening up all around us and the air full of birdsong and the hedgerows a brimming tapestry of flowers. To cap it all we heard a cuckoo yesterday, the first time for many years that we've had one calling on the farm. Wonderful!
We've been very busy with family events, a landmark birthday for Younger Son marked by a very big party involving canopies and marquees on the lawns, barbecues, fires, a disco, two(!) birthday cakes and a great gathering of friends and family from all over the country...and great fun it all was too!

No sooner had we recovered from that long weekend than a old friend arrived for several days from Australia. She is a friend of the Farmer's going back forty years and she comes back to the UK only every 5 or 6 years. Her visit was made memorable by trips out and about discovering Pembrokeshire in the springtime, so very different to her sub-tropical life on her small farm in northern Queensland. We went down to Martinshaven to take a marvellous boat trip around Skomer, the RSPB bird reserve where we saw hundreds of puffins on the water and standing outside their burrows on the grassy tops of the cliffs. Colonies of kittiwakes & guillemots were perched precariously on the cliffs where they were nesting and we saw shags, gannets and many seals mostly of whom were lazing in the sunshine on rocks or the small sandy coves around the island. It was perfect weather with a calm sea and for anyone holidaying in west Wales it well worth the run down to south Pembrokeshire to go on any one of the boat trips out to and around the islands.

Whilst in Pembrokeshire we espied a solitary church spire above a grove of trees and so went to see if we could find it and came across the most beautiful and extraordinary place. Up a track we came across a very old church surrounded by the most overgrown and delightfully gothic churchyard. A place of leaning tombstones shawled in ivy with clumps of bluebells and primroses dotted across the mossy ground and delicately wrought rust-railinged enclosures keeping captive the graves of long dead ship builders from Devon who had come to the this hidden corner of Wales to work in the shipyards at Pembroke in the early 19th century. Do their ghosts long to go back to the west country or did they find peace and acceptance in lovely Pembrokeshire?

With the weather as perfect as it is the silage season has begun, so there will now be days of mowing and carting by the Farmer and the Sons and with me making picnics of sandwiches and good rich fruit cake for hastily grabbed sustenance while the weather holds. The valley will be humming with busy-ness as everyone gets their first cut in and there is careful watching of the weather to make sure we all get done before it breaks. We enjoy the work despite the long hours and so long there are not too many break-downs of machinery. It is satisfying to know that we have made a start on the supply of winter fodder, although the last winter does not seem that long ago...the cycle of farming & food production for cattle and ultimately for people is never-ending.