Autumn is well and truly making it’s presence known, the temperature has dropped, the mornings are darker and the colour of the leaves has changed to those beautiful autumnal reds and browns.
After a very wet week we have been very lucky with a dry and bright weekend, making the most of the Saturday to get some work done down at the allotment we decided to have a family day on Sunday and go for a decent walk. At ours son’s request we headed out to Virginia Waters, a loop around the lake is about four miles, enough to blow away the cobwebs without leaving you pooped for the rest of the day.
To begin with the paths are busy with couples, families, people on bikes, others with dogs. There were dogs of all sizes, from the beautiful, shaggy Irish wolfhound who made a small girl screech by merely loping past her, to tiny little chihuahuas and a Dachshund being carried in a specially designed bag, with just his head poking out.
As we reached the totem pole, the path branches off to the left, in the hope of avoiding the majority of the other enjoying the weather we hope we are taking the path less travelled.
When you do escape the madding crowd you can start seeing beyond the wood to the trees and more.
There are trees growing as much horizontally as they are vertically…
Trees growing out of trees…
Fungi growing out of trees….
Evidence of romances past – I do hope these two are still together…….
Flocks of parakeets….
Then you look down and there is an amazing array of fungi growing all the way around the five mile walk…..
There are also the picturesque waterfalls, once people were allowed to walk all around them, but now they have been cordoned off, health and safety no doubt. Annoying for a teenager wanting to rock hop, but it makes it a lot easier to take a photo without people popping up in the background.
All in all, if you are after a good walk, to blow away the cobwebs and enjoy the fresh air, then this is definitely a place worth visiting – there is even a nice place to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat.
I was full of cold and feeling really rather grotty, so no Saturday paddling for me. Whilst I would have loved to curl up on the sofa with a supply of hot drinks and a few good films the weather was holding off and I didn’t want to waste the chance of a family day, especially with winter looming.
Not wanting to venture too far we decided to dig out our National Trust cards and try somewhere relatively nearby which we have never been to before. I’m not sure why we’ve never been to The Vyne, it’s under 15 miles from us and a beautiful property with plenty to see.
The grounds leading up to the main house are beautiful and I can imagine they would be packed on a warm summers day. With a river graced with elegant swans and deck chairs on the lawn to use, it would be easy to just sit, relax and let the world go by whilst soaking up the sun and people watching.
Despite the seasons changing and the beginning of the autumnal colours, there were still flowers blooming, brightening up the borders. I was particularly looking forward to the walled garden, but I think they are undergoing a bit of a make over at the moment as they were not as spectacular as you would usually expect.
Of course the buildings as a whole are beautiful, but often you need to look a little closer, to see the detail, the funny little bits and pieces which add character to a place.
We all have different things we find interesting, with a place like this I think you could return multiple times and each time find something you failed to notice before.
When entering the main house the first thing that struck me was the ceiling. I remember a minister once saying to look up, that people forget to look up enough. That was many years ago, but I think with everyone burying their heads in their mobile phones nowadays, it is more important to remember now than ever before.
The route you take through the building winds through the various rooms, each one has a guide who can tell you so much more than just a casual look around would afford you.
Whether it was the chapel, with its wood panelling and stain glass windows
Or the orangery with the selection of children’s toys and various carved busts
At the front of the house you have an impressive set of stairs, but personally I much prefer the stairs at the back. More likely for the use of the servants, but beautiful with the turns and that dark wood.
Whilst I love the grandeur of these stately homes I much prefer the ‘back of stairs’ side to the properties. I guess this is because this is an area you can relate to, you can imagine trying to cook and run a household in the kitchens without all the mod cons we take for granted, no refrigerators, cookers which produce instant and controllable heat, washing machines and tumble dryers to ensure a regular supply of clean clothes.
Unfortunately this tends also to lead to the secondhand bookshops which a lot of the National Trust properties seem to have, this time I managed to escape with only two new additions to my already overloaded bookcase.
My dragon boating adventure has just reached news heights, as this weekend I took part in my first races.
After work on Friday Sarah and I jumped in the car and set off for Nottingham, what should have been a two and a half hour drive, turned into a three and a half hour magical mystery ride. The traffic was horrendous and so the Sat Nav decided to avoid the worst of it by taking us cross country, through some very picturesque wee villages and towns. This would have all been fine, except after never being let down by it before, this was the day it decided to play up, every now and again it would just turn off, leaving us…… well who knows where! Luckily we had the back up of Google Maps, but it was an irritation I could have really done without.
As it turned out we hadn’t done too badly, other members of the team had set off at midday and taken just over five hours to make the same journey!
We managed to check in at the Village Hotel with no problems, then there was the hike to get to our room. Up in the lift, down various corridors, up some stairs, more corridors, down some stairs and eventually we found it. A few minutes to off load our stuff and back out again to meet up with some of the team to join them for dinner. This turned out to be another first as we all ended up ordering from the ‘seniors’ menu – I’m only forty-six!! This worked out well thought, the portions were supposedly smaller, but certainly big enough for me, especially given we knew we’d have an early start in the morning.
A good breakfast in the morning and we were off to the National Water Sports centre, where the first thing needed was to unload the boats from the trailer and get them on the water.
After that a pep talk and set up ‘camp’ with our chairs and the team gazebo, I was told there would be a lot of waiting about, so I’d brought a comfy chair and a book to fill in the time, ready for the day. How wrong was that, we went down for the first of the ladies 200m races soon after, then we had been barely off the water before we were back for the second, then the third race. Waiting around? What waiting around?
The day was truly glorious, not a cloud in the sky, the sun was shinning and we were ready to give it our best. The first race, my first ever race, and we loaded up and were off, heading up the way to the start line, practicing a few race starts along the way.
After some toing and froing we and the other boats were ready, the call comes out ‘teams, are you ready? …. attention …… GO!’ The first, deep, hard strokes, then the pace steps up, then up again, up once more before we ‘reach…. it…. out….’. We did our best and came in second. The next race we were third, the. We were in our final race, the Minor Finals. Maybe it was the determination not to let down our coach, maybe the threat that we would miss out on the lovely cake Josh had cooked, but whatever it was we really went for it. The grunting and effort put in to that final race paid off and we did it, we won the Ladies Minor Finals – at the Nationals!!!
The buzz from that was truly amazing, I won’t claim to be the best or the strongest paddler in the team, far from it, but I will always give it my best and work through the pain to keep going right to the final call of ‘easy’.
I was lucky enough to join the team for two further races, this time in the mixed races. They too were hard work, but great fun, then I was able to sit back and enjoy the sun and the races from the sidelines. Watching some of those teams was inspirational, the timing and power they can put in to moving those boats through the water is phenomenal.
Sunday was a whole different experience. We were warned the weather was going to turn and it certainly did. As we had breakfast it started to drizzle, then as we walked to the car the heavens opened and it came down in torrents. But, given dragon boating is a water sport, this wasn’t going to stop anything.
I was lucky enough to participate in a couple of 500m races, they were hard and fast and great fun, neither were winning races, but I’m still so glad to get back out on the water. The team did, however, win their Minor Final, a fantastic finish to a brilliant weekend.
Of course once we were off the water we had to still get the boats off, the heads, tails and drum removed and stored in the van and the boats onto the trailers. This in itself takes all hands and a fair bit of co-ordination, those boats really are heavy, so to get one off the water, over to the trailer, lifted up, turned over and then onto the top of the trailer was a feat in itself. With both boats loaded we could finally get everything else packed away and a cup of tea before the final stretch – that last, long, drive home.
I’m tired, I ache today and I know I’m going to ache more tomorrow, but I wouldn’t change a moment of this weekend. Spent with some truly wonderful people, my Hurricanes family, I have had a brilliant time and so pleased to haxve been able to take part in the racing….. now to sleep……..
Sometimes you can plan everything, other times you just have to wing it. Saturday mornings are now taken up by dragon boating for me, after an hour or so on the water and then the time it takes to put the boat away, stretch and have a cup of tea and a natter with the team that’s the whole morning gone and I wont get home until lunch time, by which time half the day is gone.
This Saturday was one of those days, but having had a stressful week and with my boy away doing his Duke of Edinburgh Silver award trek and husband just back from working away for the week, staying at home cleaning the house was not an appealing option. So, on the spur of the moment we grabbed a bottle of water, couple of bananas and some crisps and jumped in the car and drove – just like we used to twenty years ago.
Okay, twenty years ago we wouldn’t have thought to bring any snacks or quickly book a table for dinner, but I guess that’s what happens when you grow up… a little.
After a mere two hours in the car we arrived in Lulworth Cove, on the Jurassic coast in Dorset. Late afternoon and it is still beautifully warm with a clear blue sky, the car park is busy, but I suspect not nearly as busy as it would have been earlier in the day. The area is so beautiful it attracts a huge number of visitors, each wanting to take in the beauty of the place and the atmosphere.
From the car park you have to walk down the hill, past the tourist traps and expensive ice creams, past some pretty wee cottages, which would be a dream to live in, if only you didn’t know you’d have so many tourists wandering past you window all the time….
It is all worth it when you reach the sea, the cove is idyllic and the light is just perfect.
The beach is mainly the rounded pebbles which don’t hurt your feet, but make it hard to walk as they move under foot, they also make a gentle whooshing noise as the water that has moved in pulls back out, taking some of the stones along with it. Time spent just sitting and listening to the noise of the water is time well spent…
The bet was then on, who could find the first fossil, failure would mean paying for dinner. To my mind this was highly unfair, hubby is a keen metal detectorist with a love of all such things, whereas I am probably the most unobservant person you could meet. It also felt, with all the rounded, almost uniform pebbles, it was a lost cause. Sure enough, as we reached to far side of the cove another couple came round and the woman asked whether we had found any fossils. She was convinced they would be just tripping over them and was disappointed to have not seen a thing – I wasn’t holding out for much more luck.
Once we reached the larger rocks I took the chance to sit and just take in the surroundings, on the water the boats of varying sizes, people swimming, kayaking and snorkelling. On the beach the teenage girls taking selfies, parents with small children paddling, a group of young lads listening to music and clambering down the steep hill, one slipping, laughing at himself and carrying on to the beach.
Then, as I looked down I noticed some more unusual rocks, oh yeah, I found the first fossil. Then, once I had seen one I kept finding more and then before long we had an entire selection of them.
Slowly, as the light faded the people started to drift away the place actually becomes more beautiful.
As we wandered back along the beach we found another interesting stone, I suspect this one was man made…..
To finish off a perfect afternoon we head to the local pub, an hour earlier than our reservation, but they managed to seat us.
Of course when eating by the seaside you have to have fish and, to be fair, they did a lovely fish and chips with the best onion rings I’ve had in a long time.
A lovely meal, with someone I truly enjoy spending time with proved to be the perfect end to the day.
This is definitely somewhere we will be returning to explore further, we took the low road this time, but there is still the high road left to climb…….
I’ve now been paddling since February and, although I love it and try my best, I still have a lot to learn and a way to go to be as good as I want to be. It’s not just a question of getting in the boat and sticking your paddle in the water, there is technique.
Technique – there is the thing that eludes me. Twisting, reaching forward, working the front of the stroke, keeping your outside arm straight and taking the power from your back rather than your arms and kicking with your legs. All things which you need to keep in mind whilst also keeping your head up, looking forward, up the boat, to watch the strokes and try to keep in time with them.
I know the theory, well perhaps a fraction of it, but putting it all into practice, well there’s the thing…
Here is where I have been really lucky to have joined such a fantastic team. I kinda felt for the experienced members of the team, having a load of ‘newbies’ joining and almost holding them back. Training sessions must have been tamed down when we all joined, but I have never heard any complaints, never felt as though they resented our presence, quite the contrary, they were always warm and welcoming. The help and guidance has always been second to none.
In the last year or so I’ve struggled a bit with my confidence, I can put on a front and pretend, but there have been a few things which have really knocked it. Joining the Hurricanes has proved to be the best move I could have made, I’ve not only found a sport I really enjoy, but a team of people I really enjoy spending time with. The positivity was wonderful and they are encouraging with constructive comments about how all us newbies can improve our technique, although at times I suspect they must have found us quite frustrating.
I’ve now been allowed to join the team for a race in Nottingham later this month, to which end I want to be able to do my best and not let the team down by being ‘sub-optimal’. To which end, after the training session this Saturday, when offered the opportunity to go out in an o1 for some extra training I jumped at the chance. The o1s are kayaks with a float attached on one side which you can use to practice and perfect your stroke, without worrying about keeping in time with others.
There were just the three of us this time, everyone else left after the main session and so it was just Nigel, my son and me. It’s only really when you are able to concentrate solely on your stroke that you can clearly see your own weaknesses – and I have many! Nigel helped us break down the stroke and I can now see where I need to concentrate on improving. It was a great mixture of brutal honesty and encouragement – one is not a great deal of use without the other, telling someone they are doing well when they aren’t is just as pointless as just criticising without constructive comments and praise when they improve.
It was a hard session, in as much as we worked hard to improve and in an o1 there is nowhere to hide, but I could see how far I still had to go. I felt I’d got a lot out of the session as we made our way back to the pontoon and was feeling tired but happy. Then, just as we were manoeuvring our way back in, I was turning so as to approach the pontoon with my float on the outside when somehow I must have lent too far the wrong way and yep, I was in the water!! What a donkey!!
I’ll admit getting in and out of the o1’s always feels a little precarious, but I really hope I don’t have to swim to the side again – all that extra water does make it a lot harder to get the o1 out of the water…. I’m just grateful there weren’t a lot of people there to see me make a twit out of myself and that I remembered to bring a change of clothes.
It was a lesson in paying attention and not becoming too complacent, one I’m glad I learned whilst the water was still relatively warm!
Okay, so it isn’t quite the invasion of the killer tomatoes, as these are all delicious, especially when eaten directly off the plants, whilst still warm from the sun. But having said that they are, after a slow start, coming thick and fast.
We went down to the allotment at the end of last week and pick just a handful of ripe tomatoes, a few green ones had fallen, so they were left of the table there to see if they would ripen off in the sun, but off the vine. A few days later and there was a trug full. It wasn’t just tomatoes we were bringing back either…
Of course this meant Sunday was mainly spent in the kitchen, using up as much as I could.
First things first and the knives are out, there was a lot of chopping and slicing to be done. With a really good, sharp knife this is actually quite a nice wee job, especially when there is something decent to listen to whilst working away. Before too long I had two pots bubbling away on the hob.
The left hand pot was to be a yellow courgette and tomato relish, a new recipe, but one which would use up that random piece of ginger lurking in the fridge. The right hand pot the sweet courgette relish I’ve made on numerous occasions.
After bubbling away the mixture was looking thick and glossy, the colours were beautiful….. fingers crossed it tastes as good as it looked…..
Whilst the relishes were cooking away it was time to deal with the rest of the tomatoes. I’m lucky that both boys love their soup, so now is the time to stock up the freezer with homemade tomato soup.
Keeping life as simple as possible I opted to wash, halve and roast them in the oven. Just a drizzle of olive oil, a garlic clove, salt and pepper and just let them cook down and concentrate the flavour.
Whizzed up with some stock and the soup is ready for the freezer… well it would have been if the boys hadn’t decided to have it for dinner on Monday evening, when I was out.
Finally packed into sterilised jars and I have a new supply of relishes to store away or give away, I just hope the yellow courgette and tomato tastes as good as it looks.
I also made an attempt at a tomato and chilli jam… but I’m not convinced it has worked as I really wasn’t paying attention and I think I might have over cooked it – definitely one to try again, but with a little more attention being paid!
The problem with this time of year is time, or the lack or it. There is so much to do, its a shame you can’t work part time over the summer to give enough time to do everything needed both down at the allotment and with the produce you bring back!
Some things just need a wash and serving up… after you’ve created tomato men with them, of course…….
Others take a little more effort. Sweetcorn needs only minimal ‘processing’, but is well worth the effort. The thing with with sweetcorn is time, as soon as you pick them from the plant the clock starts ticking and you need to get them cooked, because as time goes by the sugar turns to starch.
For this reason I am limiting the number I pick each time, so that I can get them processed as soon as possible. Obviously we will eat some the same day as corn on the cob, with butter melting over it, but most will probably be used to stock up the freezer.
Before leaving the allotment I strip the leaves from the corn, just so I can chuck it straight into the compost bin. One less job when I get home and less to bring back to the allotment (okay, so I’m a little bit lazy….)
Step one involves a sharp knife, to remove all those golden kernels from the cob, before plunging them into boiling water for a few minutes.
Finally drained and plunged into cold water and its ready to be weighed out into appropriate size bags and shoved into the freezer. Each bag is enough for the three of us – keeps it simple!
Of course there might have been a little quality testing along the way….
Other things I have brought back have taken a little longer to ‘process’. When I tidied up the flower border in the allotment, removing everything which had died back, I collected the seed heads and brought them home in a bag and left them in the greenhouse. This weekend it was just too hot to work outside, so instead I decided to get on and sort them out…. I wont lie – it took ages, but now I have a selection of envelopes containing a selection of seeds…
In amongst the mess was a mixture of calendula, sweetpeas, peas, beans and another flower seed which I have still to indentify…….
As a treat for all my hard work I rewarded myself by snaffling the yellow raspberries, just so I could finish off the last of a tub of double cream and a few meringues… well it would be rude not to!
Every morning, as my Aunt walks her dog, she bumps into friends and their dogs and will (with the owners permission) give the dog a biscuit. The dogs are not daft and they know what’s coming and, more often than not, will sit in anticipation of this treat.
Unfortunately the wee bag she had been using has been lost, so when we visited she was reduced to using a plastic bag, which was getting mixed up with the ‘poo bags’. So, on returning home, I got to thinking. I had finally reached the point of no return with a pair of trousers, no longer even fit for wearing to the allotment, so I figured I could use them to create a treat bag for my Aunt’s doggy friends.
Initially I thought of using the front pockets…. but the slant looked as though this would be tricky as I wasn’t sure it would work, but that tie would be useful….
Yep, the back pocket had far more potential, shame I can’t cut in a straight line!
So this was the edges all neatened up, but maybe a double sided pocket would be a good idea…..
Okay, a trouser leg looked promising, there is a hem which could be used, when sewn to the pocket, to hold a draw string.
Sides all sewn up and draw string inserted and it’s starting to come together…
Draw strings pressed and tied and a button for detail. The button was in my button box (everyone has a button box – right??)
The final product, a wee bag, just the right size (I hope) for a few dog biscuits on one side and….. something else on the other!
This year, for the first time ever I’ve had some truly awful vegetables, whilst they were as fresh as a daisy, just picked from the plants and they looked absolutely perfect, the taste was absolutely vile. The first time it happened was when I attempted a courgette soup. Followed the recipe to the letter, used some potatoes from the allotment and yet on the first taste it was truly revolting. It wasn’t a ‘too much salt revolting’ but a tastes like chemicals revolting – took an entire glass of wine to banish the taste!
Now I know one of the potatoes had a green bit on it, so I assumed that, despite removing it, this was the cause of the problem and just put it down to experience. Then, a few weeks later, I had a message from my mother to say that the runner beans I had given her were delicious, but the courgette tasted foul! Well that had me thinking and after doing a bit of research I found that the poor plants had been stressed!!
Apparently, if exposed to extremes of temperatures, drought or uneven watering then courgettes and cucumbers can become stressed and the chemicals in the plants, called cucurbitacins, become concentrated and give the fruits that disgusting taste – who knew!! Well not me, that’s for sure.
Now of course we have the problem that we don’t know from which plant the affected courgettes have come, which makes it a bit of a nightmare when you have given them to friends, let alone when you want to use them. I have now taken to tasting them all raw before attempting to use them in any dishes or relishes, if I give them away then I do so with a warning to do the same!!
Sadly the bad fruits are not obviously different from the good!
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we can’t trust the courgettes from the allotment yesterday we discovered the same was true of the cucumbers from the greenhouse. We harvested two small cucumbers, same size, same part of the greenhouse, in fact they looked identical. Sadly, the first one we sliced for salad was, like the courgettes, revolting! My husband almost binned the second one, but we risked it, tried a wee slice and bingo, beautiful home grown cucumber which tasted perfect!
I know that we have had some extremely hot days this year, but the same is true of previous years, and yet this is the first time ever we have had such problems, I do wonder whether this problem is more rife this year than previous years, or whether we have just been unlucky?
Last year I tried to grow cucamelons and I failed miserably, the seeds did germinate and we did have a couple of plants. Eventually a few flowers and tiny fruits appeared, but that was as far as they got.
I don’t like to fail, so I thought I would give them another go this year. To be honest I wasn’t convinced they would come to anything, but I had the seeds, so nothing ventured, nothing gained!
It was great to see fruit starting to appear, then finally reach a size big enough to pick and eat – my first ever cucamelon!!
With the exception of one tomato, today’s crop is a study in miniature!
Although only a small crop, this heralds the beginning of my tomatoes ripening. These are a mixture of Red Cherry, Shirley F1 and Rosella and just the start, with many more to come. I will freely admit I grow far too much, especially of the things I like. This year I have really gone a bit bonkers and grown, from seed, the following varieties:
Oxheart – as the name would suggest, these are large tomatoes, but are sweet and fragrant – we have a lot of these coming through, which I’m really looking forward to trying for the first time!
Striped – these were part of a ‘funky veg kit’ – I guess they are striped…
Moneymaker – a medium sized fruit which I’ve always found successful.
Gardeners Delight – small, sweet fruits grown on long trusses.
Red Cherry – sweet and juicy and often don’t make it back from the allotment – best eaten when still warm from the sun.
Shirley F1 – medium size fruit
Rosella – a cherry sized rosy-pink fruit with few seeds
Red Pear – a pear shaped cherry tomato which did really well last year and which have self seeded in the allotment.
Whilst we will be having a lot of tomato salads, just simply with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and basil leaves, I’m now looking at what I can make with the glut we are no doubt going to be harvesting. There will of course be a lot of homemade tomato soup, stocking up the freezer for winter. Last year our tomatoes were mainly the cherry sized fruits, one of the reasons for trying larger varieties was to make soup. I usually roast the tomatoes first as I think this intensifies the flavour – delicious, especially with balsamic vinegar and a little bit of sugar. I’m hoping a larger sized fruit will make this a lot quicker to prep, but hopefully without compromising on flavour.