Saturday 30 October 2010

Twin Calves, Work Experience Student, Christmas Cakes & Puddings.

This week we had a pair of twin calves born. Fortunately they were both bull calves and will be reared for beef. It is always a disappointment if twins are born and they are of both genders. About 80% of the female calves of a mixed set of twins are infertile and are known as freemartins. To have had a pair of bull calves is good.

Over the past week Elder Son has had help with the morning milkings from M. the 16yr. old daughter of some friends, who is hoping to become a vet. She needed to gain some experience with dairy cows having already done some work experience with our local vet's practice seeing general farm work. She was delivered to the farm each morning at 6 o'clock, thanks to her very obliging mother(!) and joined E.S. in the parlour and then helped with the routine work with the cattle during the morning. She seemed to get on very well and E.S. was very encouraging and pleased with her enthusiam and interest. I hope she enjoyed her time here and felt it had been worthwhile.

We are having a day of torrential downpours interspersed with brief glimpses of watery sunshine. The Farmer has retreated to his workshop to make a batch of tuning handles for our local Welsh harp makers and I have prepared the start of the Christmas cake mixture, in my lovely warm kitchen. I have always made the Christmas cakes & puddings during October half-term but the boys feel they are much too grown-up to come and stir the mixtures and a make a wish nowadays!

Friday 29 October 2010

Llanerchaeron Apple Week & Cyw on S4C, Dog Memorials

Yesterday the Farmer & I went up to Llanechaeron, the National Trust House near Aberaeron, to take part in the filming of a children's television programme for S4C. The programme, Cyw, has a character called Rapsgaliwn, who goes around showing various processes & methods covering a large variety of subjects. Yesterday it was how apples are made into juice.
We arrived at Llanerchaeron with all the apple pulping & juicing equipment which we set up in one of the glasshouses near the lovely orchards and the Farmer duly made apple juice and the process was filmed with Rapsgaliwn explaining to his two child co-presenters what was going on. The programme will be going out sometime in February.

It has been Apple Week at Llanechaeron and there was the most wonderful display of of over 40 varieties of apples, all grown in the gardens on the estate, including a number of old Welsh varieties.. Many of them were very old, some dating back to the 17th century such as Catshead (1600's) & Devonshire Quarrenden (1676). They have such lovely names, Orleans Reinette (1776), Cambusnethean Pippin (1750) & Roemary Russett (1831) and the variations in colour, shape and uses is amazing. The smell as one walked into the Apple Room was overpowering and just delicious.

Whilst the Farmer was occupied with the film crew, I went for a wander around the gardens and found the huge lake in the woods that has been reinstated only in the last three years or so. It was looking glorious with vast beech trees all in golden livery and a flotilla of mallards dotted about on the water patrolling their territory around the two islands. There is a also a well established heronry on the islands.
As I walked along the path around the lake I came across a small headstone tucked into the side of the path under a large beech tree.
it had inscribed uopn it the following;
26, June 1919
Aged 13 years
Vic must have been a much loved & faithful dog, a companion to one of the Ponsonby-Lewes's  of the time.
I had half expected to find other dog memorials but Vic was clearly the only one that merited such a remembrance.
We have a large standing stone here at Penyrallt, known as the Dog Stone which marks the grave of one of our dear sheepdogs, Ted and is a memorial to all our many dogs over the years, though it does not have their names carved on it...if any of us had the necessary skills it would have an impressive list carved uopn it. It is surprising how many dogs one family can have over a quarter of a century.

Monday 25 October 2010

First Frost, Unexpected Returning Traveller, Holiday Cottage in Winter.

This morning we woke to the first real frost and even with the glorious sunshine it is lingering. It seems very early in the season to have such a hard frost. The leaves on the trees are falling now and everywhere one goes around the farm there is a constant faint sussurationof dry leaves landing on the ground. In some places around the farm one can stand in clump of trees and be surrounded by a snow of falling leaves.

The last few days have been much taken up with Younger Son's travel plans and their going awry.
On Friday he left for New Zealand and yesterday (Sunday) he arrived back home having got as far as Shanghai! In Shanghai a problem was picked up regarding his visa and the New Zealand authorities would not allow him to travel any further, so the Chinese authorities put him on a plane to Hong Kong where he spent a night in a hotel and then flew back to Heathrow.
It was very strange & unnerving experience for him, being surrounded by Chinese airport officials and watching  the two friends he was travelling with get on the plane to Christchurch. They of course, had no idea why he was not with them and spent the rest of their journey wondering what on earth can have happened. All very scary and bizarre. However, it is all sorted out now, thank goodness.
So YS is now home for the winter, his first in 3 years! He has had 6 summers in a row, so a Welsh winter is going to be bit of a shock! He has not experienced real cold for such along time, but it does mean he will be able to go out with his dog on the shoots, an activity that he has missed.

It is half-term week now and I have guests in the holiday cottage and several more to come over the next few weeks. We have have had a very good year with the cottage and lots of delightful people enjoying & discovering West Wales. Bookings are already coming for 2011 which is great, including faithful returnees.
we are finding that winter breaks are becoming more popular. After all, what could be better than seeing gorgeous countryside in autumn colours & sparkling frost and then relaxing by a roaring log fire?!

Saturday 23 October 2010

Last Rose of Summer, First Shoot of Winter

Although it nearly the end of October & the weather has become distinctly cooler we still have a few late roses around the garden. These paticular flowers are on an old 'American Pillar' that was transplanted earlier in the year and has done very well at the foot of a large ash tree & has flowered consistently since the beginning of the summer.

Yesterday the Farmer & I took Younger Son up to Ludlow on the first stage of his return trip to New Zealand. The father of his friend J. with whom he was travelling was to take the boys on up to Heathrow. This is the 4th time that they have gone out to NZ and are now very casual & blase about the whole thing, though the 27 hour flight is still gruelling despite going Premium Economy (they say it is worth every extra penny for the extra leg room, both being 6'4", and decent food!) rather than 'cattle class'.

It is of course summer in New Zealand now, while here we are definitely getting colder and today it is absolutely chucking down with rain. The Farmer went off this morning with YS's gun dog Poppy for the first shoot of the season. They will be tired, drenched and cold but happy, when they get home having spent the day beating through thickets of brambles in the woods.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Returning to New Zealand, Apple Juicing, Winter Arrives

Yesterday we bade farewell to our Kiwi visitor. She has been with us for 4 months and had really become part of the family. We were all very sad to see her go & I think she was sorry to leave us. She has had a marvellous different to life in Timaru & no earthquakes to worry about.
Apparently this last week or so there has been another large tremor in Christchurch and also in the areas south of the city. The Kiwi said her parent's house has shifted & doors no longer open easily and everything has dropped of the walls. Since the first big earthquake in Christchurch over a month ago there have been well over 1200 (!) minor quakes monitored, but the latest ones are getting stronger it seems. Christchurch airport was closed at the beginning of the week, so we hope that S. will be able to get home without too much difficulty.

On Tuesday, a number of members of the local Transition Group came to the farm with their crops of apples to be juiced.
The Farmer has been juicing most of our apple crop with a very efficient pulping machine and juicer. He bottles the juice in small plastic milk bottles and then freezes them. Ideally we would like to pasteurise the juice which would then save on the expense of having to run freezers, although at present we are able to store the apple juice in freezers that also contain meat.
The bringers of apples certainly brought plenty of fruit & of several
different varieties. The variation of flavours was very interesting. Our   own apples produce quite a sharp but pleasant juice, though unfortunately we don't know what the varieties are, just that they are very old trees, probably a good 100 years or more in age.

Tomorrow we take Younger Son up to Ludlow to meet his friend J. with whom he is travelling back to New Zealand for a 4th stint working on Canterbury Plain. J.'s father will drive the boys to Heathrow. This year they will both be working for the same agricultural contractor and no doubt will have a good time driving huge machinery for long hours earning lots of money through a hot NZ summer again. I hope the earthquakes do not cause problems.

With YS & the Kiwi returning to New Zealand for the summer, winter is beginning to creep into our lives in Wales; we had  the first frost this week, very light but frost nonetheless and the leaves are coming off the trees and forming drifts of copper & gold in every corner of the yard and around the house. I've started my regular replenishments of the log supply in the porch as I'm lighting fires every afternoon wheelbarrow & I have a very deep & meaningful relationship!
The swallows left duruing the week the Farmer & I were away...there was one family still flying around the buildings when we left presumably waiting until their last brood was grown & ready for their long journey to Africa. They probably had reared three broods over the summer. We seemed to have had many more swallows this year for some unknown reason. Let's hope that most if not all manage to return next April.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Vale of Clettwr Hunt Meet, 'Mycelium Running' by P. Stamets, Organic Milk Rap from Yeo Valley Organics

Yesterday morning Younger Son, the Kiwi & I went out to the meet of our local hunt, the Vale of Clettwr, at a pub up the road. The Kiwi has of course, never seen anything like it before and it is a wonderful sight with the Master & the huntsmen in their pink coats and the horses and riders all spruced up and and ready to go. One of our neighbours was there with his little grand-daughter ( see picture) on the smallest pony I've ever seen. She was so excited to be there. There was field of about 20 riders and maybe 20-30 couple of hounds.
As the meet was so close to Penyrallt they came over our land by lunch time and our dogs who were all tied up, were very frustrated by seeing the hounds come through the yard closely followed by the horses. A couple of the hounds lingered around and had to be collected later in the day. Hounds are great...fairly brainless but very sweet natured. In the past I have walked hound & beagle puppies for the local packs and they are great fun.

Yesterday was a glorious sunny warm autumnal day, today it is grey & overcast. It has been a very good season for fungi. We have found  fly agarics the size of dinner plates, and there have been ink caps coming up on the lawns and magnificent tiers of bracket fungi appearing on tree stumps. While the Farmer & I were in Shropshire we found an extraordinary range of fungi when walking, which we were not knowledgeable enough to identify.
The Farmer has been reading an fascinating book called 'Mycelium Running' by Paul Stamets.Its sub-title is 'How Mushrooms can Save the World' and its 'a manual for the mycological rescue of the planet'. Basically it explains  that the mycelium recycle carbon, nitrogen,& other essential elements as they break down the plant & animal debris, thus creating new soil. It has also been discovered that mycelium can digest & decompose toxic wastes & pollutants. The importance of mushrooms in the great scheme of things is clearly explained & quite amazing.

How many of you have seen the new Yeo Valley Organics TV advert? Isn't it great?! Even the Farmer who is normally very snide about most advertising campaigns thought it was good fun, so it must have something!! As our milk goes to Yeo Valley we take a keen interest in what they do, especially if it helps spread  the message about the benefits of organic milk & if that message can be put across in such a fun way then its even better.

Monday 11 October 2010

Powis Castle, Wroxeter and other Salopian Glories.

'Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.'
The Farmer & I have returned from our holiday in Shropshire which was both cultural & relaxing. As well as doing an enormous amount of reading, we had an excellent time visiting the wondrous gardens at Powis Castle, the extraordinary Roman ruins at Wroxeter and delicious bookshops, antique shops & galleries in Ludlow, Bishop's Castle & Much Wenlock.
Powis Castle was just beautiful and the gardens are to die for...we both now hanker after 400year old yew hedges that reach about 30ft in height. (We have the space so maybe we should plant them for our great, great, great grand-children.) The yews were magnificent and the other lovely thing there was the orchards of apple & pear trees set about beautifully clipped lawns and the woods with an amazing selection of shrubs growing in amongst the trees...hydrangeas look superb in such a setting. 
We stayed in a very comfortable cottage near Churchstoke and were  close to a hillfort that sat high above the village on a rocky outcrop. We climbed up there one late afternoon and it was worth the very steep scramble. The views across the Marches were stupendous.
The Roman ruins at Wroxeter, or Virconium, were fascinating and somewhat bizarre. The ruins are vast and are all that remains of a municipal bath-house that was in the centre of a small township. The Romans I find strange anyway, and their need to build these huge baths on the edge of the empire, in what was a very isolated outpost & settlement  is just weird.
We also visted the Acton Scott Farm Museum which was lovely. It is a breathtaking sight to walk into old stables and see each stall containing a magnificent Shire horse gleaming & brushed & ready for work. The stables here at Penyrallt must have been much the same a 100 years ago. Sadly, all that remains now are the cobbled floors and the backs of the stalls where the hay troughs had been.
The Farmer had a lovely nostalgic time at Acton Scott looking at all the old machinery and remembering his father talking about how they worked and quizzing the staff on various technicalities.

Having been home now for a couple of days life is back to normal, with the Sons both still working on silage carting for neighbours and selling some beef cattle. They had routine TB testing of the cattle last week while we were away, and everything is clear, hence being able to sell some stock today.
The weather is gorgeous so we got a lot of work done in the gardens yesterday (while dreaming of Powis).
A neighbour has given us a quantity of large shrubs that he has removed from his own garden, so we spent a long time deciding how to place them to best effect and planning the next stage of landscaping for next spring.