Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, February 27, 2009

In Search of Spring

Bilbo Baggins and I went in search of Spring yesterday and I have to tell you that in this part of England there wasn't much sign of her. We walked along Old Hay Brook and these alder catkins caught my eye. They are one of the earliest trees to flower and are invariably found alongside streams and rivers. In autumn they produce small cones which are loved by goldfinches, siskins and redpolls.

Over the old stone bridge which I think was originally a pack horse bridge but I've never been able to find out anything about it. There were several water-powered mills in this area so I imagine this route would be used to transport lead ore to the mills for smelting and then on to its final destination - usually the coast to be transported by sea.

Signs of life in the field - docks, creeping buttercup and a plant I feel I should know but can't quite bring to mind - ground ivy perhaps?

Over a style and following a public footpath on the other side of the road we attracted the attention of this rather handsome sheep which came racing over to the fence to inspect us.

Practically nose to nose with Bilbo Baggins who was rivetted to the spot - I didn't dare let go of his lead to take a photo of the two of them as he is a sheep chaser and I have to be very careful where I let him run free.

Not really a sign of Spring as it's rare for the gorse not to have a few flowers open - a nice cheerful sight on a dull day though. I believe the flowers make a lovely wine too.

The path goes up through the fields belonging to this farm, it can be interesting the summer months as there are often cattle grazing here! Cows are incredibly nosy and will nearly always come and check you out - just try standing at the gate of a field full of cows and I'll lay odds that inside five minutes they'll start coming over for a closer look at you.

Almost back on the road and I spotted the first of this year's lesser celandine flowers - soon there will be sheets of these cheerful little flowers all over the place but for now there are just one or two members of the advance party doing a reconnaissance.

Finally can I recommend to those of you who would like to learn more about the countryside and its flowers, trees and wildlife a new blog started by my friend Bovey Belle. It aims to pass on all the old country knowledge to those who are interested in learning it themselves and/or passing it on to children who these days are further and further removed from the countryside and the natural world and have never known the joys of sitting in a flower filled meadow and listening to a lark singing as it soars high into the summer sky.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

February Gold

I always think of Seville oranges as February gold - a bright reminder of sunnier climes on dark February days. These bitter oranges had their origin in South East Asia and had been brought as far as Arabia by the 5th century and by the end of the 12th century they were being cultivated in the area around Seville in Spain and came to be known as Seville oranges. For 500 hundred years they were the only orange growing in Europe.

The oranges finally prepared and ready to simmer slowly to soften the peel. This makes the kitchen smells wonderful - bitter oranges are much more fragrant than sweet oranges.

Citrus aurantium is the Latin name for the tree that produces bitter oranges and it is not only the fruits that are used. The flowers are the source of the essential oil known as neroli and they are also distilled to give us orange flower water which is used in making cakes and desserts.

The distilled essence of bitter orange is mixed with a blend of cognacs to give us one of my favourite liqueurs - Grand Marnier. It is the secret ingredient of my fresh fruit salads - when they were small my children always used to ask for 'more juice please mummy'!

Some hours after I started we finally have the finished product! Marmalade was allegedly first invented in Dundee in Scotland in the early 1700s by a lady called Janet Keiller - whether this is actually true or not it is a fact that the first marmalade factory was built by the Keiller family in Dundee in 1797.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Garden Visitor and Awards

The recent snow and low temperatures have brought several unusual visitors to my garden including this fieldfare who was kind enough to pose for me a couple of times in return for a regular supply of apples.

Before his arrival there were seven or eight blackbirds enjoying both apples and seeds but they really spent far too much time fighting each other over the apples - this all ended with the arrival of the fieldfare who saw the lot of them off and successfully defended 'his' apples against allcomers!

I have been fortunate enough to be given two awards recently - nita at Kentish Lass and Tricia at Tarragon and Thyme have been generous enough to give me the Lemonade Award for being a blog that shows great attitude and/or gratitude. nita has also given me the Proximidade award for a blog that is 'exceedingly charming'. Thank you both, I'm delighted to think that anyone would apply these labels to my blogging efforts.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Signs of things to come

Windflowers by John William Waterhouse


COME, sweetheart, listen, for I have a thing
Most wonderful to tell you -- news of spring.

Albeit winter still is in the air,
And the earth troubled, and the branches bare,

Yet down the fields to-day I saw her pass --
The spring -- her feet went shining through
the grass.

She touched the ragged hedgerows -- I have
Her finger-prints, most delicately green;

And she has whispered to the crocus leaves,
And to the garrulous sparrows in the eaves.

Swiftly she passed and shyly, and her fair
Young face was hidden in her cloudy hair.

She would not stay, her season is not yet,
But she has reawakened, and has set

The sap of all the world astir, and rent
Once more the shadows of our discontent.

Triumphant news -- a miracle I sing --
The everlasting miracle of spring.

Narcissus by John Willam Waterhouse

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Winter and Rough Weather

All the media hype about the snow during the past few days has made me think back to the days of my childhood and before when cold, snowy winters were the norm rather than the exception. The photo above was taken yesterday, a pretty sight and perfectly fine for walking in.

Now this is a rather different scene, a photograph taken in the Peak District in the winter of 1946/47, the very first winter of my life. Here German POWs are clearing snow from a railway cutting.

This photo and the next were taken in North Yorkshire also in 1947. Life was hard just after the war without any extra dificulties, both food and fuel were severely rationed,everyone had coal fires for heating and the power stations were also fuelled by coal but there simply wasn't enough coal being produced so the Government introduced power cuts - the electricity was off between 9am-12pm and 2pm-4pm every day and buying enough coal to light even the smallest of fires was like finding gold dust.

This man and his dog are dwarfed by the huge drifts at the side of the road but at least the snow plough seems to have got through by this stage. The snow began on January 21st in the south and southwest of England and it was the middle of March when the thaw began causing terrible flooding. In many parts of England it snowed virtually every day in February. This is an excerpt fom a book of mine called 'Letters From Compton Deverell' which was written during early February of 1947:

" The bitter spell has returned. Since I last wrote there has been a dramatic change, yesterday it snowed all day long and most of the night as well. Much of the north of England is cut off, Manchester and Buxton, Scarborough and Whitby are isolated, Lincolnshire is buried deep. The Great North Road is blocked near Grantham with vast drifts, trains are buried, farms are being provisioned by airplane, in short, it is the hardest winter in the memory of most people living today. "

So maybe things aren't so bad after all - the present day media have obviously never experienced a real snowfall or they wouldn't make so much fuss about what is, after all, just a few inches!

The Great North Road was the old Mail Coach route from London to York and Edinburgh which is now known, rather less romantically, as the A1. It runs up the eastern side of England through the flat Fen country and is a road I use regularly on my trips to Suffolk. It was once reknowned as a haunt of highwaymen including the infamous Dick Turpin. Nothing to do with snow but still an interesting bit of information :)

Edited to add that Roy, in his comment, has given a really interesting link to a Met Office article which I'm putting here as a live link since I can't edit the comment. Thanks Roy!

Monday, February 02, 2009


Like many other parts of the country we've been having some snow though it's only a light covering so far. It's beginning to snow more steadily now though and I suspect there'll be a fair amount by morning. I forgot to take my camera when I took B Baggins out this afternoon. He absolutely loves the snow and was racing up and down and rolling on his back waving his legs in the air and generally having a thoroughly good time. I've just opened the French window and taken a couple of shots down the garden.

This is the magnolia with a couple of the birdfeeders, I love seeing the white snow against the black tracery of twigs and branches. The garden has been full of birds all day between snow showers. The niger seed feeder has had goldfinches, siskins and redpolls on it all at the same time. I shall have to get all the feeders filled up again first thing tomorrow and see if I can get DH to take some photos, he's better at photographing birds than I am.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Difficult Times

Just a quick explanation for my recent absence, our family have had a very difficult and distressing few weeks as my 6 month old grandson has been desperately ill and spent a week on life support in Addenbrookes Hospital ICU in Cambridge. I have been down in Suffolk with my son and his family and have just arrived home today. The ICU staff have been magnificent and George is now home again but still has a very long way to go and the road is not necessarily straightforward though hopefully all will now be well. If all goes well I shall be back posting again, if I disappear for a while it will be because I'm needed in Suffolk again. I'm thinking positive thoughts....