Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Always look on the bright side

There were a few bright moments but overall August was a snotty month. Yet again early teases of a barbecue summer came to nothing - tomatoes swelled up and stayed mainly green.

But looking on the bright side we’re that much better prepared for winter, not deluded into a sense of never ending summers.

Rainy day projects have come forward, such as shelving in the cellar, and the first batch of bilberry wine is bubbling away in its demijohn on track for a Christmas tipple. The old barn that serves as workshop, grain silo and dumping ground is spruced up – junk rationalised to the tip, yet more shelves for storage and new stones stuffing gaps in the thick walls.

Dropping temperatures brought forward the chimney sweeping and spurred us on to fill the log shed and more. The Aga has been serviced ready to serve hot meals and water through to Easter. Oil has been purchased at summer prices, towed up the hill in the bowser and siphoned into the main tank.

Last Sunday we had (probably) our last bilberry walk and picked 5 lbs. It was slim pickings to begin with, sparsely covered bushes, blotches of brown on the leaves, some berries wrinkling into raisins and just a few outcrops of good ones precariously out of grazing reach. With but a few ounces each we headed home a different route until we struck a rich seam. For some reason the goats and sheep had left these alone, incredibly so as the leaves seemed to have dropped leaving these prominent ripe berries like beacons. Our bags full it was time to sort and freeze – not much room left in the freezer.

Carrots, courgettes, cabbage, kale and runner beans are all cropping well and the potatoes have died down – that is apart from the new, new potatoes. Seeds stored at low temperature, planted in late July are sprouting through ready for harvest from October to Christmas.

Seems like cheating but gives that sense of an almost never ending summer, especially when you start the day with a handful of bilberries on your muesli.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gannet in our Dining Room

Not a gluttonous guest but a full grown bird. Our neighbour had found it amongst his cattle half a mile upstream from where the Dwyryd becomes tidal at Maentwrog. Last year he presented us with an injured buzzard which had taken a chunk out of his finger– this time he was taking no chances and the gannet’s beak was knotted with farmer’s orange twine.

We made our guest comfortable on a bed of straw in a large cardboard box and closed the lid for fear it would frighten the dog with its enormous beak and piercing blue eyes. Then we called for Benji who, as well as being warden for the local ospreys, runs a bird rescue service and has a back yard alive with owls, buzzards and falcons.

He inspected the bird’s wings, quite a span when extended at a dining table, and judged both to be in good working order. In putting the bird back in the box the string slipped off and its beak was open at a 90° angle ready to strike. I fetched a strong rubber band that had come with the morning post and Benji, with his fist clenched round the beak, slid it on like securing the claw of a lobster.

There was a long scar across the top of his hand from yesterday’s gannet rescue near Barmouth. ‘I stuck one hand in sideways as far as it would go, so that it couldn’t close, held it open with my other hand, but managed to catch myself on the sharp, hooked bit at the end’. Back to Benji ’s for a mackerel supper and a day’s rest in the cardboard box, the bird should then be ready to be released by some cliffs.

Two gannets in as many days was a coincidence and he’d never heard of one being found so far inland. (August 2009)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Sunset and meteorites

Saturday 6 pm

Flimsy dome tent secured with boulders to keep pegs in the ground. For added protection pitched in a deserted quarrymens’ barracks 600 metres up Moelwyn Bach, sharp stones removed then floor softened with a mattress of reeds and sphagnum. We cut in to an underground stream for water, next to what must have been their wash house. Nearby a stone enclosure, maybe where they kept a goat for milking. Our kitchen the next door room with 3 flat slabs in a corner, one each for the primus, Haydn and myself. Handy gaps in the walls to store cutlery and bottles. Sizzling, thumb-size, chipolatas browning in the frying pan with cubes of pancetta. Fat drained off, beans poured in till all steaming and served on tin plates with a crusty baguette – blazing saddles.

Saturday 8 pm

Wind from the north east perched below the summit watching the sun drop behind an isolated cloud. Beams of light shone down and before the shadowed side of Moel Hebog into the flatlands below. A fast moving wispy cloud floats just overhead, shaped like a dragon with outstretched claw, then melts to nothing like a sprite. After a long wait a slice of orange sun peeps beneath the cloud and warms us as it sinks gracefully behind the rugged horizon. Sheep still munching away – they’ve seen it all before. Back to base camp before sunset meets nightfall.

Saturday 10 pm

Sheltered by an amphitheatre of rock lying on a cushion of grass gazing up as star after star lights up in our personal planetarium. So many satellites rush past – some spying, some broadcasting soaps. A streak of light and we’ve both seen our first of the meteorites. A few minutes later another – not so bright and a different direction. Then another, just a short stab of light. A few days past the peak of the Perseids but this was good .... nearer to the heavenly skies. Time for bed. I’m exhausted by all the talking and questions I can’t answer!

Sunday 6 am

The down of my posh sleeping bag had rearranged itself leaving bare patches with none. Sleep came easy and often but broken by the cold. Haydn’s sleep victim of a snoring Dad. Tired but inspired I unzipped the flap to witness the sunrise ... a bit of a pink blur through the mountain mist. Mug of tea and all packed up we walked down to the blue skies and shining sun, back beside the Aga for breakfast. A perfect father and son adventure.

Huw (Dad)

Houdini and the squirrel proof feeder

I love the birds and they love me or at least the endless supply of nuts. Grey squirrels that pinch the nuts and break the feeders are not my favourites so I invested in a squirrel proof feeder. For months all went well with exploratory attacks repelled by the cage. But then along came Houdini .... in he goes, feasts and hopefully one day will be too fat to escape.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hunt the Pegs

Merry and Pippin are growing fast and just love to play. Their latest antic was to join with Tilly and William (longstanding guests) and play ‘hunt the pegs’. The geese run up with the children to the search area and then walk around with them nattering away as if giving clues. Then when the game is over they have a race down to the bottom of the garden. At bedtime you just call them in and they slowly amble into their house and then peace descends until the next morning. Then the moment you speak to them they are awake and raring to go. We have never met such gentle loving and playful birds.

Duck war

If only all the ducks could be like the geese! We had introduced two more ducks to the Captain and Agatha. Charlie a black runner and Chelsea a beautiful cross breed. Once again The Captain asserted his dominance and started pushing Charlie around, not letting him near the pond or feeder. We hoped things would settle down with the geese being around and for a while things were quiet on the front line. Steve was still on antibiotics from his encounter with The Captain and recuperating with Adam in the veg. garden. Boris and Beryl had settled down with the other ducks with Beryl seemingly loving the company of anyone other than Boris. And Boris just loved finding a patch on higher ground and lording it over everyone. Then we went out for a few hours and returned to out and out war. The Captain was bruised and had a grazed face and Charlie was a shivering wreck with a large patch of his feathers removed to reveal bright red skin. Neither duck seemed prepared to stop fighting. We separated out the two offenders and put them in boxes overnight, administering antibiotics to both. In the morning we transferred Adam and Steve to the main duck house and put the 2 offenders in the veg patch to recuperate...but they were not finished and continued to fight. Both of them suffering from injuries. So with a heavy heart both ducks were put down.

We thought our problems were solved but back at the front line Boris and Beryl were asserting their dominance and attacking Adam and Steve. Another removal to the veg patch where they remain. They have attempted a couple of escapes through the fence and onto footpaths, each time spotted and returned. Peace has now descended on duck pond and we are delighted to report that Agatha and Chelsea seem besotted with Adam and Steve. They on the other hand are not too sure what to do with all the attention!!!

Sit back and enjoy!

‘’Mary had a little lamb’’

At last we took delivery of Merry and Pippin our 8 week old goslings. Under instruction we locked them in their house for 2 hours and then let them out. We were advised just to sit and chat to them. They just love to natter back and really respond to your voice. They are like babies although quite big and keep tripping over things or toppling into the pond. The first time they heard the train whistle they came running to Haydn for reassurance. They went to bed as good as gold and this morning they just followed me for as long as I wanted. Eventually as we do have work to do..I tried to escape only for them to catch me around a tree. So I had to wait until they were busy preening and then I managed to slip away. Haydn has been expanding the pond for them and he has also been nattering away to them So now they will respond to either one of us. An absolute delight. Here's a bit of fun we had with them