An Autumn Walk

October already! How did that happen?

The long, hot summer days have faded away and autumn has taken hold. Late afternoon yesterday, when I went out to shut my hens away for the night, the sun was shining and there was a pleasant breeze so I thought I’d make the most of it and take a quick walk.

Heading out through the back of the yard, I joined the public bridleway that runs through the farm but there was nobody else around. The blackberries are just about finished but scarlet rosehips still make a splash of colour in the hedges and I resolved to pick some soon to make a little rosehip syrup to mix with this year’s Hedgerow Gin for an autumnal cocktail. This year, I’ve been infusing a few seasonal ingredients like raspberries or blackcurrants or blackberries in a small amount of gin for a week or so. Unlike a traditional, sweetened fruit gin that’s drunk neat, I’ve left them unsweetened and added tonic water to make a colourful drink with a hint of fruit. The hedgerow gin with blackberries, rosehips, haws and sloes has been particularly delicious.

As I walked alongside the ditch where the track changes to a narrow footpath, the water had flooded the path making me glad that I was wearing wellies (even though I don’t like walking in them) as I sloshed through muddy ankle deep water. Further downstream the banks and bottom of the ditch are so overgrown that the water is obscured but I suspect, from the noisy rush of water, that the flooding was caused a fallen branch that has made a dam. That stretch of path is owned by the local council who don’t seem to care too much about maintenance or keeping footpaths passable but they probably have rather more important matters to deal with during this Covid crisis.

crab apples floating in water

On firmer ground, fallen crab apples littered the path making a circle under each tree or floated like the prelude to a giant apple bobbing game where the trees overhang the ditch in Lakes Field. This field has lots of wizened crab apple trees along its boundary with each producing its own shape and size of apple, all of which are disgustingly sour. I often wonder if the trees have sprung up from apple cores discarded by farm workers years ago or if there used to be some sort of dwelling here. A map from the eighteenth century shows small buildings dotted along the main track that runs through the farm, although they’re long gone and have left no trace.

Geese flying over a cultivated field

Walking southwards, the trees cast long shadows across the cultivated earth as geese flew noisily overhead and a hare sat motionless on the headland ahead and then quickly turned to dart through the hedge, across the ditch and over the open field. I lost sight of it as I walked behind a high section of hedge but then I thought I saw him waiting in the middle of the field. Or maybe it was a clod of earth. It’s difficult to tell at that distance, especially in the fading light.

Rain on an autumn day
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Suddenly, the sky darkened, the wind blew cold and large drops of rain fell in a torrent so that within a minute I was soaked to the skin. The folly of wearing a lightweight jacket in a showery week. Though this was considerably heavier than a shower implies. I thought about sheltering under a tree until the rain had passed but I was cold and didn’t think I could get any wetter, so ploughed on. I was wrong! By the time I reached home, my trousers were so wet that water trickled down the inside of my wellies and water streamed from my hair. Cursing that I walked before I did the hens, I tipped in their food as I did a quick head count and closed the gate.

Across the yard, the lights were on in the house, which is always a welcome sight. I peeled off my dripping clothes just inside the door and by the time I’d had a hot shower and put on dry clothes, there was a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table. And a slice of millionaire’s shortbread. Perfect.


blackberries in hedge

Simple Pleasures | September

I love these late summer days.

No matter how many decades it is since I left school, each September I still feel that sense of sadness that summer is ending, tinged with the anticipation of a new term. I may not need new shoes or feel the need to sharpen and organise the crayons in my pencil case, but it’s the start of the netball season*, there are classes to resume and new activities to take up while on the farm the ground is prepared and the seeds sown for next year’s harvest.

There are so many simple pleasures to be had in September.

Enjoying

hedgerow berries

Every day as I walk through the fields, I notice another change as we move closer to autumn. The colours of sun-bleached August are giving way to autumnal hues as brown earth replaces the wheat stubble and the hedges fill with orange, red and purple berries.

I’d enjoy it even more if we had some rain.

Picking

In the garden we’re picking the last of the raspberries and the first of the Discovery apples. In the fields, the blackberries are now ripe for snatching a handful on a walk or filling a container to bring home.

Eating

We’re still eating fresh vegetables from the garden every day. Supermarkets may try to connect with our hunter gatherer instincts by offering us loose vegetables to pick into our trolleys, but nothing beats the satisfaction of pushing a fork into the soil to prise out a handful of carrots. Even if they aren’t perfect.

 

Making

natural dyeing with blackberries

Last year I tried dyeing with many different plants and produced an amazing range of beige. Unfortunately, I was usually aiming for yellow, orange or pink. This year I’ve tried to reproduce some of last year’s more successful colourings. Above are blackberry, feverfew, blackberry with wood ash water modifier, brambles and walnut husk. Blackberry dyed yarn is well-known for not being colour fast; some of last year’s faded to a rather beautiful silvery grey, though one batch is still a dusky purple. As I only use this wool for knitting hats and the like, I don’t mind the colour change and rather enjoy watching the decline.

Anticipating

blackberries

Later this month, Ruth and I are holding a Blackberry Day when people can pick blackberries from the fields and bring them back to The Barley Barn where we’ll use them for dyeing and jelly printing. We’ll make blackberry vinegar, eat blackberry cake and I’m sure we’ll have time for a little Blackberry Gin tasting too.

 

Do you like September? What are your simple pleasures

*I have slowed down to walking netball, which (the way we play, though I cannot vouch for other more elderly teams) is much faster and more competitive than you might imagine. It’s also tremendous fun.


July wildflower walk

Simple pleasures for July

Eating vegetables from the garden every day.

beetroot

We’re in that blissful period when there’s enough vegetables for meals but before the summer gluts of courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans.

digging new potatoes

The asparagus and broad beans have finished but we’re eating sweet carrots and thinnings of beetroot and we scrabble in the dirt to lift the new potatoes, so far unsullied by slugs or scabs.

cherries from garden

Picking fruit

It’s a bumper year for cherries. Last year we had a crop of just three cherries that we watched slowly change colour. And then they disappeared. Just as they were almost ready. This year we netted the tree more carefully and have been picking cherries by the bowlful along with blackcurrants, gooseberries and loganberries while out in the fruit field we’ve started to pick raspberries for Raspberry Gin.

baking tins

BAKING BREAD

In July we light up the outdoor oven, though it always takes me a couple of sessions to get back into the different way of cooking. The pizzas were successful, cooking in three or four minutes with a crispy base and bubbling hot topping but the loaf of bread I put into the oven afterwards was less successful because I didn’t let the oven cool down enough. The base was blackened and inedible so I sliced off the bottom, scooped out the middle to make breadcrumbs and put the top into a slow oven (indoors) to dry  out so that I can use it as a bowl. In theory. Maybe.

There have also been experiments with Devonshire Splits, which I’ve started to make instead of scones because they taste so good, especially when eaten with cream and freshly picked strawberries.

cow parsley gone to seed

ENJOYING THE COUNTRYSIDE

A lack of rainfall this year, coupled with a few hot days last week has tipped the countryside from green to yellow. The wheat crops are already turning colour, the oilseed rape is dying off and the cow parsley in the verges has run to seed.

being creative

I’ve been trying some different screen printing techniques and doing more jelly printing. And I’ve been dyeing wool and fabric. With beetroot and rose petals. Hmm. I think I’ll stick to printing.

simple pleasures for july

What are your simple pleasures for July?