We have reached the point in the year when the main job at the allotment for most is clearing out the old and spent plants, tidying and clearing up, all ready for next year. It is also a time of reflection, what crops worked well and should be planted again next year, which were not as great as you had hoped and not worth another try. What did you enjoy eating, what do you wish you had tried and will put on ‘The List’ for next year? Maybe even time to look at the layout of the space you have and see if there are ways in which you’d like to change things around.
There are often times I am left wondering why I planted certain things and then what on earth am I going to do with them…
The biggest problem I find is time, mainly the problem that I don’t have enough! But, we get down to the allotment as often as we can, to do as much as we can. Of course, with the weather being unpredictable, you think you have time to weed and harvest, only to be caught out by a torrential downpour…
When the weather was a wee bit kinder we made the most of the opportunity to pick all that was ready, before the weather changed again..
Everything washed and ready to be used, now just the decision as to what to make..
After a lot of slicing, chopping, simmering, roasting, whizzing, blanching and stewing we have yellow courgette and tomato relish, stewed apples and blanched sweetcorn, all ready for the cupboard and the freezer respectively.
Slowly, but surely our freezer is filling up and it is good to think we will have the benefit of all this over the coming months. To my mind, this is the whole point of having an allotment and why the hours of digging, weeding and planting are such as worthy investment.
Sadly, due to the Covid 19 situation we were unable to make our usual journey to Crail, but when one door closes another will open and new opportunities arise. There is so much of Scotland still to explore we were open to wherever it would take us, this time it was the Trossachs.
Staying in a B&B just outside of Callander was a perfect base from which to explore. Fortunately the owners were happy to impart a little a local knowledge and on our first day we set off on a walk. Driving to Balquhidder we parked by the churchyard, right by the ruins of Balquhidder church, where lies the grave of Rob Roy who lived and died in the area. Walking round the churchyard there was a path to the back, leading to a river. We took a few wrong turns trying to find the path the map showed – this was despite taking a photo of the said map before we set off, great idea, but unfortunately it didn’t help much!
Of course when things don’t go to plan that doesn’t mean to say they go wrong. In such an idyllic area, with so many red squirrels – a rarity in the South – we were just enjoying being there. It’s true to say that the journey is sometimes just as important as the destination.
When we set off on our walk we were just planning a loop around, we didn’t have a destination in mind, or any expectation as such. As we came up to the river, with the water cascading down through the rocks and squirrels merrily going about their business we knew we were in our happy place. This was as good as it gets, the rest would just be a walk in the woods.
Along the way we met a lady walking her two dogs, stop to let her by and started chatting. It was a daily walk for her and she told us we should carry on along the path to Creag an Tuirc, where there was a viewing point, which we did. Well, she wasn’t wrong, we came to the place, marked with a cairn and a well place bench, and the view was spectacular.
Looking down you could see all along Loch Voil and the village of Balquhidder, stunning. At this point we were so grateful we had a dry and clear day, as you could see for miles.
Then to find our way back down and continue the loop to get back to the car. An easy walk, although steeply downhill in places. The view from the top may have been fantastic, but there is always lots to see on any walk if you just look. Sometimes it’s the simple things which are worth stopping to appreciate.
But then there are also some sights which make you just think ‘how??’
Our first guess was lightening, but I’d love to know for sure!
We had really given up on the idea of getting away this year, with everything which is going on in the world with Covid 19, the fact that everything in this country seemed to be getting booked up faster than you could say ‘holiday’ and prices were soaring. We had two weeks already booked off work and a teenager who had spent far too much time on his computer in the past few months, so day trips were looking to be the only option.
Then, just before our annual leave started we managed to get a couple of rooms in a B&B in the Trossachs for the first week – starting Saturday!! No time to prepare and write my lists of preparation, first priority was to make sure the cats would be looked after. Fortunuately we are very lucky and have fabulous neighbours who are real animal lovers and agreed to pop round to feed and make sure they were okay. We learned on our return that the girls decided to make sure there was no chance of being forgotten by lying in wait at their front door each morning, meowing at the door and then escorting them home to get their breakfast! When it comes to food, our cats take no prisoners, they will make sure that they are fed.
Completely unprepared we set out, had a relatively clear run up and landed at the B&B within five minutes of our estimated arrival time – this was a CV19 requirement – to give our arrival time to avoid any other guests arrival. It was a real change to the normal reception you would expect, anti-bac before you enter the property, anti-bac dispensers ready for using before you leave, as you move between rooms, even before you descend the stairs, in case you used the hand rail. To keep everyone safe we were given a designated table for breakfast/dinner, a one way system for entering and leaving the dining room, designated sitting area in the bar area and asked, if we were to look at any of the books, to not return them to the bookcase, but return to the owners so that they could be quarantined before going back into circulation. Even tourist leaflets were to be requested, rather than be flicked through and potentially put back into the display unit. Okay, by now your thinking how awful it sounds, I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about how this was going to pan out. After all, you go away on holiday with a view to relaxing and forgetting about the usual daily stresses, you don’t want to feel you’ve ended up in some sort of institution!
In case all that was getting you stressed – the calming stream which runs alongside the grounds of the B&B…..
Fortunately we were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to conform to all these additional rules and how relaxing and comfortable our stay actually was.
Given the world we are living in at the moment and the hoops businesses need to jump through in order to re-open safely, it is impressive that they manage to do so much to keep everyone safe without compromising on the friendly and hospitable atmosphere. In a way it was actually very reassuring to know which table we were to be sat at for meals and have our own wee area in the evenings, especially given it was right by the drinks cabinets.
After dinner we were able to settle down in our wee nook for a game of Scrabble…..
Which on occasionmight have become a little tense….
The main thing to stand out about our stay was our hosts, Kerry and Andy. They have people come and go all the time, some just for one night, others for longer. We were there for a whole week, so saw several groups come and go, but what I did notice was the way in which they managed to make each feel special, more than just a source of income, but instead we were friends come to stay in their home.
They remembered food and drink preferences, made suggestions of places to go, things to see, with directions and that little bit of local knowledge that you wont get from tourist leaflets. They took the time to stop and chat when we returned, or were spending time in the bar area. Asking how are day went, what are plans were, but not in an obtrusive way. Not just a one way conversation either, they were also happy to chat about themselves and offer insights to their lives. I guess the upshot is, they provide a home from home, but where you didn’t need to cook, clean or worry about getting up for work in the morning.
Oh, did I mention the bears? Callum and I always take a bear on holibobs – they make excellent pillows in the car and for a long journey that is very important! They also make for a source of entertainment if your hosts are like minded…. Several times we were to return to our rooms to find our bears had been bust whilst we were out exploring.
Of course, then they upped the anti by adding two new guests to our breakfast table…
Of course, we were not to be outdone. When we left our room we also left our own little guest, as a thank you for our stay…….. hoping to return….
Do you ever wonder where the time went? I certainly do, constantly. When you are bored it drags it’s feet like a small child on a shopping trip, when you have loads to get done or are enjoying yourself, it’s more like an Olympic sprinter. Then there is the ‘lost time’, when you sit down to do something you having been meaning to do and then realise how long it has taken to get to that point, leaving you wondering what the hell happened there?
This is kinda where I am right now with my ramblings. Lots have happened inside my head, but just not made it into text. I guess part of it was a bit of apathy, what with all that is going on. Then there is what to start with?
Well it’s definitely wasn’t going to be about my travels! Due to all that is going on at the moment all our plans, like most others, have gone right out of the window. There was the sneaky week away whilst the boy was off on an NCS residential course, the trip to visit another BCS dragon boat team in Bournemouth, racing in Liverpool, racing in Barcelona, racing in Nottingham, the cheeky weekend away with the girls, even the annual pilgrimage to Crail – all cancelled.
The allotment perhaps? Well, perhaps. We are still digging, planting and growing. Of course we have also tipped into the annual deluge of courgettes and to a slightly lesser extent tomatoes. I keep trying to improve the layout and how I’m doing things generally. But then that too has been affected by outside forces, mainly the weather and the imposition of a ban and subsequent limitation of the use of hoses. Not great when the soil is more like dust. It has at least been an oasis of calm and escapism from lockdown, well at least it was until the inevitable politics of its management raised its ugly head. Sometimes bad times bring out the best in people, but sadly it can also bring out the worst. Personally I am just in it to play in the mud and eat peas and tomatoes fresh off the plants…… and perhaps gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries….. okay anything which doesn’t need to be washed and cooked!
The garden at home also is a work in progress, well to be fair it has been for more years than I care to remember! But, having said that, it has come a long way in the past few months. We were very lucky with our timing, ordering a new shed before lockdown kicked in.
The last shed was being held up by its contents, most of which were not worth keeping. Our flock of chickens was down to one. She was a beautiful hen, but they are flock creatures and to my mind it was sad seeing her in that big pen on her own. We let her out when we were in the garden, but it just wasn’t right. Luckily our lovely neighbours offered to see if she would like to join their ladies, it was an anxious moment when we took her round – they don’t call it a pecking order for no reason, hens can be quite mean to each other. On the whole though she slotted in better than any of us could have hoped. She is a big grey hen and made friends straight away with their grey hen, even snuggling up next to her on the perch on her first night there. She is less friendly to Nugget, she has been told off for such poor behaviour, but diligently ignores us!
All in all these are strange times indeed, it will certainly be a year to remember, for many reasons….. not all bad.
It’s been a while since I last put fingers to keyboard, but then I haven’t been down to the allotment as much as I would like. Weather and other commitments have conspired against me in that respect.
That’s not to say I’ve not been down there at all, just that my visits have been more sporadic and not for as long as I’d have planned usually. Back in November I found some garlic bulbs had missed being lifted and started to grow.
After carefully lifting and separating them into individual cloves I’ve replanted them in the hope of getting a whole new crop – hopefully this year I’ll get a better harvest than last years, which was not the best. I also planted some shop bought cloves, lucky I use a fair amount of garlic in the kitchen. Fingers crossed, after this lots is ready to lift, I won’t need to buy any more garlic for quite a while!
Returning to the plot after any time away will always mean returning to find lots to do, mainly weeding.
Both these borders had rogue brambles growing on them, last year they were quite unwieldy, produced some lovely fruit, but picking them resulted in plenty of scratches and prickles.
With the aim of making this year a little less painful and a little tidier, both bushes had a good prune and I’ve attempted to create a ‘fence’ of canes to train them along. It came at the cost of a lot of scratches and several splinters of thorns, which required digging out with a scalpel blade and tweezers. I’m hoping it will be worth it, certainly at the moment it is all looking a lot tidier, although there is still a lot left to do!
For the last few weeks life has been rather hectic, making getting down to the allotment quite tricky, the weather didn’t help matters as when we did have the time the wind and/or rain made it impossible. So, it was no surprise that when we finally got there one brisk, sunny day, it looked as though it had been abandoned for years.
When we were down previously we collected all the still edible tomatoes we could, most had been hit by the cold spell and were only fit for the compost bin. We had also collected the pumpkins, apples and a few cobs of corn which had escaped notice – maybe not edible for us, but the hens have fun pecking away at them.
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation the tomatoes were transformed to a delicious soup, strangely made with baked beans and pickled onions. I’ll admit to being sceptical about the recipe, but I knocked up the first batch, was totally convinced and went on to make three more batches, all of which are on standby in the freezer for a quick lunch.
So now was the time to clear the decks, to pull up the dead plants, weed the plots with still growing plants and cut the grass. To pull up the canes and supports to store away ready for next year, to recover as many of the wee bits of string used to tie plants in and attempt to unknot them, again with the plan to reuse them next year.
As the plants were cleared away some very peculiar holes were discovered. I strongly suspect someone had been living there, a great wee home with a plentiful supply of fresh produce, must have been ideal!
Needless to say I was a lot more careful clearing these, but no one was home – thankfully.
To begin with it feels like an endless job, that I’m hardly making a dent in the work, but once the first box was cleared things seemed to move more quickly.
Eventually one end is clear, but that still leaves plenty more to do……. next time…..
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…….