Monday 28 June 2010

Welcome Summer Rain, Elderflower Cordial

The summer view across the valley is vibrantly green and gorgeous. The neighbouring woods are lush and look just like something out of a Constable painting. With everyone's silage crop taken off , there are now a large number sheep grazing in the fields opposite.
As I write it has been raining  and though it is barely enough to damp the dust it will help prevent the grass shrivelling up completely. We have seen the fields across the valley go brown in previous hot summers and the farmers remove all their livestock because there is no grazing and no water. We are fortunate here that although water does get short we've never run absolutely dry though we have had to give the dairy access to the river in the past. When we do have a water shortage the needs of the milking cows have to take priority, they need 10 gallons each, every day. When the boys were very little we had a very dry summer and I had to take them and the laundry to be washed at kind neighbours houses who were on mains water, so that we had enough water for the cows. Whilst long hot summers are lovely they do bring similar anxieties to those we endured in the long cold winter.

The Farmer has been off today shearing a handful of pet sheep for some friends. He did some at the weekend was well and in payment we were taken out to dinner at a very good local excellent arrangement!

The elder trees around the farm are in full flower now and I fully intend to make some elderflower cordial again. I have not made it for a couple of years and really should try it again, it is so simple.
Here is the recipe I use;
Elderflower Cordial
1 litre/2 pints elderflowers,Water,Granulated sugar,Lemons

Gather enough elderflowers to fill a 2 pint measure when lightly packed.
Cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes. Top up pan if necessary to keep the flowers covered.
Strain the liquid through a muslin, gently squeezing it to extract all the juice and then measure the the amount of juice.
Add 12oz. sugar and the juice of 1/2 a lemon, then heat gently to dissolve the sugar.
Bring to a gentle simmer and skim off any scum that forms.
Let cool.
Pour the liquid into clean bottles to about 1" below the top and seal with screw tops or corks.
The cordial will keep for some weeks in the fridge but the bottles will need to be sterilised if you wish to keep it much longer.

We have a friend who makes elderflower champagne which is delicious but sneakily lethal. It should be served with a health warning!

Thursday 24 June 2010

Cows Invade Garden, Promoting Carmarthenshire

This was the scene that greeted me from one of my kitchen windows the other morning when the milking cows had been put in the field behind the house and had decided that the wilder part of the garden was much more tempting. They had manged to push down a length of fence and were happily grazing on the bank behind my drying lawn. The Farmer speedily got them moved  and repaired the fence before there was mass invasion of the garden.

Yesterday a friend & I attended the Carmarthenshire Tourism Summit held in the new Parc y Scarlets stadium ( the Scarlets rugby team stadium) in Llanelli. The summit was put on by Carmarthenshire Tourist Association & Carmarthenshire County Council and proved to be an interesting event. ( /
There were about 170 people attending representing all aspects of the tourism industry, everything from self-catering accommodation, to adventure days out, museums, B&Bs and prime tourist attractions like the National Botanic Garden of Wales ( and our friends with the yurts & tipis (
Carmarthenshire has always been regarded as the 'hidden jewel' of Wales and a county that suffers from its proximity to Pembrokeshire. It has always been somewhere that one passes through on the way to Pembrokeshire. However that is changing and last year 2.8 million visitors came to the county (!) which is astounding. I'm proud to say that a number of them stayed here at Penyrallt and discovered how lovely and varied this part of Wales is. Carmarthenshire is a county of contrasts; in the south there are the more industrial areas around Ammanford and Llanelli but up here in the north we have a deeply rural environment with remote farms, tiny villages and attractive old market towns and very many fascinating historic sites connected to old legends and stories as well beautiful hidden valleys and dramatic uplands.
Come and find out for yourselves!
Thats my pitch for tourism in West Wales!!

Sunday 20 June 2010

Al Fresco Friends, Welsh Game Fair, Raffle Win & People Watching

The gardens here at the farm are really beginning to look their best, the roses are coming on very well and these poppies in Elder Son's patch are looking so gorgeous.
With the wonderful weather we are having at the moment, we gave a small al fresco supper party last evening for our friend the Architect and his wife. We see them quite often but never really sit down and have good extended conversation so a summer's evening in the garden was perfect. M. has known the Farmer since they were at primary school together and so there was a lot of reminscing about local characters and mutual acquaintances. While I am out of the room (or garden) on these occasions the conversation is conducted  in Welsh  and though I get the general idea of what they are talking about they always very politely revert to English once I rejoin them.

Today the Farmer & I gave ourselves a day out and went to the Welsh Game Fair which is held every year near Llandeilo. It is great fun and full of things to see and is also a good place to meet up with people that one doesn't see very often. We saw a marvellous demonstration of hawking whichI  always find fascinating and there were lots of lovely working dogs of all kinds, including hound packs from various local hunts. We have walked hound puppies in the past which is always good fun and though they can never be pets they are delightful dogs.
It was very hot but fortunately there was breeze blowing which made things bearable and we had a most enjoyable day, made all the more so by me winning the Countryside Alliance raffle. The Farmer doesn't believe in raffles and is always very disapproving in a mock-Calvinistic way, if ever I buy tickets, which I do very rarely. However, his bluff was called today when I won a large bottle of whisky!
The venue for the Game fair must be one of the most beautiful settings for such an event. It is held on fields at Gelli Aur in the Towy Valley with densely wooded hills rising up at each side and the river Towy flowing down one side of the show ground. With the clear blue skies occasionally dotted with fluffy white clouds and the lush green valley surrounding the ground it was lovely. The river is used for fly-fishing demonstrations which are very popular.
A game fair is great place for people and dog watching...the world and his wife in every guise are there from the tattoed couples with a bulldog or trio of grim terriers on leads to gentle bowler-hatted elderly farmers with a mad collie and the small boys in camouflage kit leading a pair of elegant lurchers with shaven-headed dad following carrying his box of ferrets.
There are inevitably lots of labradors & spaniels, usually in the company of gamekeepers and shooting men and tough little Patterdale terriers with tough men in strange headgear..
Then of course there are the women, many of whom are hung about with small sticky children as well as small yappy terriers and dragging shopping-laden push-chairs with shiny balloons attached. The women without the glued-on kids are often accompanied by a serious large dog, Irish Wolfhound or some exotic Continental hunting dog who find the whole thing terribly infra dig.
This is the place for serious Shopping! You can acquire a plate wih a picture of your particular breed of dog, a wicker dog's bed, a pair of tough moleskin trousers, a whistle made of antler, a whistle for calling foxes to you, a mother hen and several chicks in a crate, a hand-carved walking stick, larver-bread with a Chinese take-away (ugh!), a book on hunting with eagles in Mongolia, a hank of waxed bootlace (the Farmer's favourite...just cut off a length as and when required which is quite often with the Farmer) and vintage Welsh blankets. Its all such great fun.

Friday 18 June 2010

Sheep Shearing, School Visit & Baby Frogs, Nick Rebbeck, FACE

Yesterday the Farmer did the shearing. He and Elder Son brought the sheep in and set to. There were about 20 ewes to be shorn and were all dealt with by early afternoon.
When we had many more sheep and the boys were at school, I used be out there helping by rolling and packing the fleeces. I can't say I'm sorry not to be doing it any more. It is very hot dirty work and and when we used have help with the shearing itself it was hard work keeping up with packing away the fleeces as they came off two at a time. In those days they had to be rolled up in a very particular way and tied up with the neck wool twisted into a rope around the fleece. Nowadays they are just rolled up quite loosely and stuffed into the huge woolsacks that are supplied by the Wool Marketing Board.
Later on we will be given a date on which we have to take the woolsacks to a collection point, usually a neighbouring farm that is on the roadside, where they will loaded onto a lorry from the wool depot in Brecon and taken away to be graded and sorted. We only have 2 woolsacks to take but some farmers turn up with trailers loaded high with many bulging sacks. They are carefully stacked onto the lorries and well secured before they go to Brecon.

Today we had a visit by a primary school from Gorseinon, near Swansea. 37 children aged between 5 & 7, none of whom had any connection with farming and incredibly, according to their teacher many of them did not know what a farm was until they started learning about them in school.
The Farmer & I met them off their bus at the first field gate on our lane and took them down to the bottom pond where we were lucky enough to find numbers of tiny baby frogs, Such a fabulous opportunity for the children to see such things close to. They were fascinated. After the pond we took them to the river and the Farmer explained to them about the water running to the sea and that there were fish in the river even though we couldn't see any as they were hiding in the shadows of trees.
On the walk up to the yard, they were shown dung beetles in cow-pats...a subject that always goes down well being yucky & smelly and generally disgusting, and how holly trees have more prickles on their leaves nearer the bottom of the tree than they do at the top. I'm always amazed by how children find that so fascinating and take holly twigs away with them.
Once on the yard, a ewe that had been kept back from yesterdays shearing session specially was shorn and the progress of wool to pullover was demonstrated. Again the children watched in awe as these thing are shown to them.
After hand -washing they took their  picnic lunches up into one of the mown fields near the house and had a chance to just run and play about in complete freedom in a large open space.
The Farmer then took them up to see the cows before giving a short demonstration of  the basics of cheese making. They loved seeing how quickly the milk turned to curds after adding rennet. There was no time to go into further detail other than to show them a cheese that was maturing  & ripening which they were able to smell and they agreed it smelt nice which was encouraging.
We have a rigourous hand-washing regime with all the children who visit us and  they love having their wellies washed with the power-washer before getting back on their bus.

We thoroughly enjoy the days when school goups come to the farm. We were encouraged to start having school visits by a dear man, Nick Rebbeck who died sadly, a few weeks ago. Nick set up an organisation 'Learning on the Farm' which was to enable schoolchildren to visit real farms in Wales. He was passionate about children learning where their food comes from and how it is produced and had been an organic farmer himself for many years near Lampeter. He had a marvellous way with children and did valuable work in connecting schools & farms. He is greatly missed.
Getting children onto farms is facilitated by FACE (, Farming & Countryside Education and has a lot of information for teachers who wish to take their classes to visit farms.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Silage At Last, Past Times,

The silage harvest is well under way and the menfolk are very happy.
The happpiness is on several counts; 1, the weather is perfect, 2, the crop is superb and 3, they just love the whole business of driving big tractors and machinery for hours at a time!!
I have just walked up the fields with a basket of mid-afternoon refreshment (elderflower cordial & chocolate cake) for the drivers and there is something rather wonderful about the sight of large tractors being skillfully handled and a crop of good thick grass being mown, carted and stored in order for us and the cows to get through the next winter. What this morning had been fields of almost waist high grass are now as smooth as a billiard table and buzzards and red kites are wheeling overhead in the hope of some small carrion. The dogs go snuffling through the rows of grass that are yet to be picked up, finding all sorts of lovely smells and bounding freely in the newly opened space of a mown field.
Years ago when the boys were little, silage-making took several days with contractors coming in with with a convoy of tractors & trailers and I would spend many hours making vast piles of ham sandwiches with home-made bread, cutting slabs of fruit cake and brewing gallons of sweet tea. The crew would often work on into the wee small hours of the morning.
Now we do it all ourselves and while the Farmer & the Sons will still work on into the night, the social aspect of the event has gone and it is all done in just a matter of  (long) hours. I used to be feeding 5 or 6 extra men each day and they would be so appreciative of home-made food. I remenber being very shocked when I was told that we were one of the last farms in the area to feed the silage crews. It is another aspect of rural life that has gone.

Monday 14 June 2010

Country Mice go to Heathrow, Tragic Deaths of Ducklings, Still Waiting to Make Silage, Castell Henllys

On Friday the Farmer & I had to drive up to Heathrow to meet Younger Son off his flight from New Zealand. It is a four hour journey from here so we left the farm at about 10.30 am , should have left a little earlier (!) and got to Heathrow just after the flight landed and then the fun started! We got in a complete muddle trying to find the carpark for Terminal 1. Younger Son tried phoning us but his mobile wasn't working so he had used a pay phone and we couldn't phone him back. Having eventually managed to park the car we then had to make our way to the Arrivals Lounge for international flights at Terminal 1 which proved a complete nightmare. Going up & down staircases, and in lifts and with a smiley helpful Asian car park attendant giving directions, we could not find YS. After about 3/4 hour of fruitless searching which included going to the Information desk and having YS's name broadcast over the tannoy, the Farmer spotted the wretched boy standing near the entrance to the car park no where near where we had been looking for him!! And so we were reunited with the child who only response was, 'Where the hell have you been?' Oh how we laughed!!
Anyway, it was lovely to see him and after we had all recovered from the stresses of being in an alien environment which Heathrow most certainly is, we country mice made our way back the the depths of Wales and sanity.

To counteract the pleasure of having YS home after 9 months absence, we had a tragedy on Saturday morning when Elder Son's corgi who rarely comes into our house, found her way into my kitchen when no-one was around and murdered the ducklings that had been living so happily by the Rayburn. I was so upset.
It was no-ones fault, just an opportunistic moment on the part of the dog. Corgis are delightful little dogs but never let them have access to small squeaking creatures...we had a similar incident many years ago with a litter of kittens and the previous corgi. Apart from these two occasions we have never had any problem with them, but there must be some hunting/killing instinct in their psyche that switches on when they see & hear tiny things. The labradors and the sheepdog have shown no similar inclination. It was all very sad.

The Farmer & his Sons are still waiting for the weather to come right for silage after a damp night...they may be able to start mowing this afternoon. The forecast for the rest of the week is reasonable I think, so with any luck they should be able to get on well.
Younger Son has slotted right back into his Welsh life and has not been too jet-lagged this time. Poppy his Labrador was overjoyed to see him and he her. They go off for long walks together inspecting the farm and seeing what changes have been made in his abscence.

Today is the Farmer's birthday and I must go and make the requisite chocolate cake. A request for smoked salmon sandwiches has also been made so that makes for an easy supper.

We have some delightful visitors from Australia staying in the cottage this week and I have just given them directions to explore part of Pembrokeshire and to visit the wonderful site at Castell Henllys. It is one of my favourite places, being a reconstructed Iron Age settlement on the edge of the Presceli mountains with superb views from the lovely thatched round houses that have been built in the original post holes found by archaeologists. The approach to the cluster of houses is a walk up through a beautiful wood in which lingers the spirits of the past. Near the village there are small gardens of herbs and vegetables and enclosures containing 'Iron Age' livestock such as ancient breeds of sheep & pigs.
The Farmer tells our Antipodean (and other 'Colonial' ) visitors who exclaim at the extreme age of everything here that is it all 'Pre-Australian/Canadian/ American' which they think terribly funny.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Cool June, Organic Paint, Waiting for Silage, Ducklings in the Kitchen

With June now in full swing the flowers in the garden are really coming into glory now. These irises in my small walled garden just look fabulous and the roses are beginning to open now although some of the early varieties are almost a month later than usual, particularly Maigold which is well and truly by finished by the end of May in 'normal' years. The month is proving to be cool and damp...what ever happened to 'flaming June'?

I have been busy this past week with another decorating project, this time our sitting-room which was looking so shabby. I have used some marvellous organic paint( which has no horrible solvents in it and no ghastly smell which lingers. It is wonderful to use, going on the walls very easily and leaving a good finish. The room has been transformed as I've used a blue/grey shade that is very different from the old rich cream and it gives the room a rather good 18th century air which I do like and it suits the house.
As always there have been vast numbers of books to take off shelves, but it does force one to have a good sort out and I have managed to glean 3 boxes of books that are not deemed necessary to keep. The criteria used is if I haven't re-read it in the past 5 years then I probably won't ever, so off it goes, although inevitably some get a last minute reprieve...'It was actually quite good and so I should read it again' or ' I can't remember anything about it but the blurb sounds good so I should give it another go'.

The Farmer is itching to get on with the silage but having had days of rain he's having to be patient. Hopefully next week will be better.The grass is ready now and so long that I can;t walk the dogs through the fields at present. We have to content ourselves with going up the the various green lanes on the farm and having lovely walks through tunnels of dappled shade under the beech and oak treees that line the paths. The may trees, the laburnum and rhododendrons are all in flower and look magnificent.

For the past three days I have had a box of 4 newly hatched ducklings in the kitchen by the Rayburn. KT hatched them out in her incubator and then kindly handed them over to me to look after. They are really rather sweet and seem to be thriving. They sit quietly for a while dozing and then suddenly wake up and start making their little peeping noises and being energetic and scrambling over each other for food & water, then exhausted setttle down again...just like all baby things. They are of course, going to imprint on to the Farmer & me but once they are fully feathered and able to go out with the other ducks on the pond they should adapt reasonably well and may even stay a little tame.

Friday 4 June 2010

Laburnum, Transition Group Meets with MP, Silage Season

The laburnum, or golden chain,  in our field hedges is out and looks superb. People are always surprised that we should have so much laburnum growing in the hedges of fields where cattle graze, but the cattle aren't stupid, they know what not to eat. We have never had any problem with any livestock ingesting the seeds which are the poisonous part of the plant. Laburnum grows so readily and looks wonderful in many of the hedges in this area.

The Farmer had the stitches out of the wound on his arm today. It has healed up remarkably well and very neatly, there will be only a very thin scar I think.
After his visit to the surgery the Farmer went with three other members of the Transition Group to meet our new MP, Jonathan Edwards at the Plaid Cymru office in Newcastle Emlyn. The Farmer had a number pertinent questions to ask, with particular reference to the excessive paper work we farmers have to cope with and the badger cull that is taking place in Pembrokeshire at the moment. He knew about the Transition Movement and has agreed to come and meet the Calon Teifi Transition Group in September which will be interesting.

The silage season is well under way. Elder Son has been working off the farm doing other people's silage and working very long hours. It is hard work and involves a lot of concentration especially when having to take tractors and large machinery several miles along public roads. Most road users are sympathetic to the work of the season but a few make things difficult by being impatient and sometimes even abusive, but tractor drivers are reasonable people and have to pull in at the first possible opportunity to let traffic by and they are, after all only going about their lawful business, like everyone else.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Rain = Grass, Low Carbon Footprint Lamb,

Despite the greenness of this picture of our cows grazing peacefully against the backdrop of the valley, we have been in desperate need of rain and at last it has come. It rained quite heavily last night and is continuing today with a gentle but persistent drizzle...perfect for making the grass grow.
The Farmer & Elder son have been talking of maybe getting our silage cut towards the end of this week and certainly the grass in our top fields has come on very well. Once it is over the top of one's wellies and the knees of one's jeans get soaked when walking through in the mornings then we know there is a good quantity of grass that is just about ready to cut. Another good indicator is when a small corgi cannot be seen and just a movement in the thick grass shows where she is.

We spent this morning helping with a carbon fooprint survey that is being carried out by Sainsburys and through a local abattoir. They are assessing how much carbon is produced by the rearing of lambs for the meat market. A very pleasant ex-dairy farmer came out here and sat with his lap-top at the kitchen table for and hour & a half and asked about how much electricity was used in the production of our lambs. It was very little...only the cost of two strip lights in the poly-tunnel during lambing!! And the only use of diesel was in taking them a bale of hay each day with a small tractor and then the trip to the abattoir. The carbon-footprint of our lambs is minute we are pleased to say.

Before the rain came yesterday I spent the evening in the garden weeding out buttercups which seem to be on a bid for world domination! Though they do look so lovely in the orchard with the chickens I really don't want my hard earned herbaceous borders to become a sea of yellow.