Friday, 30 December 2011

Too Early for Spring, Death of a Peahen, Delicious Turkey & Happy Christmas Visitors

Well, here we are at the very end of the old year and with such mild weather in stark contrast to what we were enduring this time 12 months ago. It is so mild that the birds are singing and in the garden yesterday I found narcissus in full flower & a couple of of very frail looking primroses! Daffodil shoots have been visible for a couple of weeks now & I have seen snowdrop shoots in the hedge banks for a month or more.
The holly trees are still covered in that portent of a hard winter yet to come?!

Tragedy struck last night in the form of the 'gentleman with sandy whiskers' who took a fancy to our sweet peahen and she is no more! Over the last few weeks the Farmer has been feeding the peacocks outside the kitchen window and they had become quite tame and appeared regularly at breakfast time for their daily morsels of bread or cold potatoes. I hope Charlie Peacock won't now go into a decline & pine away with loss of wife number 2.

Christmas came & went very quietly in our household. We had one of our home-reared turkeys which was quite delicious though far too big to fit in the oven! The Farmer decided to bone it  and then rolled it up with stuffing & sausagemeat and it then fitted perfectly. Boning a bird in that way is great, it means there is no fiddling around carving the bird & every scrap is eaten. ( The Famer & Younger Son did talk about putting a woodcock in a pheasant in the turkey, but we left it too late to gather the necessary birds. Another time we will definitely try that rather medieval way of cooking a fine roast bird.)
The presence of our 11month old grand-daughter was lovely. At that age all she is interested in is the wrapping paper which was was very sweet to see.
Our guests in the cottage over the Christmas weekend kept themselves to themselves & said they had had a very happy time just being on their own and thought the cottage was perfect for their Christmas holiday & I must admit it did look lovely with the Christmas tree lit up and a roaring fire when they arrived.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

'A Christmas Reunion' or 'Tan ar y Comin' - Filmed at Penyrallt

With the huge number of films being shown on television at this time of year I find myself wondering how many people will catch a film that was made here at Penyrallt Home Farm in 1993 starring James Coburn & Edward Woodward. It was called 'Tan Ar Y Comin/ Fire On The Common''  or 'A Christmas Reunion'. It is shown every Christmas on at least one of the many channels that are now available, though as we don't have tv ourselves we never get to see it & unfortunately it is not available on dvd (we do have a very old video copy that is in poor condition but no video player these days).
We spent the summer of 1993 hosting the film crew & having our house taken over as a set both for interior & exterior shots. It was great fun and we met a lot of great people. As well as having Edward Woodward here for some of the time, the director David Hemmings was here as he was working in conjunction with Carol Byrne-Jones who was directing the Welsh version of the film. They worked together filming 'back-to-back' which meant every scene was filmed in English & in Welsh.
We all had great fun, with the Farmer & the Sons (who were very young at the time) all taking part as 'supporting artists' or extras. Even our dogs, poultry & cattle were roped in & our house & buildings were used from all sorts of angles and looked wonderful.
The script was based on a book by the Welsh children's author, the late T. Llew Jones who was born just down the road from the farm. He remembered coming up here to play as a child so the idea that his story should be filmed here was rather fitting. The story centres around an orphaned gypsy boy who inherits mare & her foal on the death of his grandfather, but then learns that he is the illegitimate heir to the local squire (Edward Woodward). Much trouble ensues but with a happy outcome, of course.
The Welsh version is set entirely in Wales but the English version has scenes set in Boston which is where James Coburn comes in playing Father Christmas(!). You'll just have to try and see the film!
Despite these oddities, it is good film for family viewing and has a definite Christmassy flavour.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas Turkeys

Today is turkey killing day! Sorry to be so blunt about it but it is the reality of rearing table birds. At least we can say with all honesty that they have had very happy lives wandering around the farm foraging for beetles & worms as well as having an ever full hopper of pelleted turkey food, which is a world away from the lives of the poor creatures produced in intensive poutry units by the thousand.
(I saw a very funny card the other day with  a picture of a beautiful bronze turkey in fulll display mode with placard round its neck saying 'Eat Ham'!!!)
I will quite miss them being around the place with their strange turkey-talk being audible all over the farm, though they have completely shredded my geraniums and various other plants in pots that are struggling through the wintery weather.
The Farmer has taken the plucking machine down to the slaughter area and he & the Sons will get the job done cleanly, quickly & efficiently. The turkeys will then be stored in the cold-room until they are collected or delivered to their final destinations, the ovens of family, friends & neighbours. The Farmer says they will be killing out at about 12lbs + which is reasonable size I think, not too big but large enough for several meals...or enough for everyone to get heartily sick of turkey curry & turkey sandwiches, which personally I adore!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Miserable Weather, Farmer Visits School

Rain, sleet & hail but no snow! Everything is grey, damp & sticky...we need some real cold with frost and snow to cheer the landscape up!

Yesterday the Farmer went into a local primary school at the request of one of the teachers to talk to her class of 9-10 yr olds about farming and food production. He went armed with large photos of our cattle & sheep, a great bag containing a fleece & carders & some samples of hay, silage & manure(!). Apparently the children were great, really interested & knowledgeable and to the Farmer's surprise the conversation covered not just farming but vegetarainism, food imports, hunting & vermin control. He was impressed by the standard of questions asked and the comments of the children on the various subjects.
He was encouraging the teachers to bring the class out to farm next May to witness shearing and to then visit the National Wool Museum which is wonderful and only five minutes down the road from the farm. I hope they do arrange such a day; we would certainly enjoy it as much as the children.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Pruning Apple Trees

Yesterday, in the pouring rain, we hosted an apple-tree pruning course. The instructor was one of the gardeners from the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth and she was very knowledgable and came equipped with pruning knives & a lot of information.
8 people came along to learn this useful skill as well as ourselves (though I spent most of my time doing the catering as per usual!) and despite the hideous weather it was a very enjoyable day. It is always a good sign when people sit over cups of tea & cake in the warm kitchen after being out in the cold rain, for a couple of hours chatting.
I had not realised that apple trees can be pruned either in winter or summer depending on what you want the tree to do. Winter pruning encourages growth of the tree itself while summer pruning encourages the cropping of fruit for the next year.

We have a large number of fruit trees here on the farm in two orchards so were able to have a variety of trees to look at. The old smaller orchard has trees that are anything from 100 to 150 years old while the new orchard has about 30 trees that were planted 12 years ago. As well as apples we have pears & plums, a couple of cherry trees & a very young mulberry tree.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

New Vehicle, Turkeys, Pheasants & Christmas Food

At last after almost three weeks of having no vehicle the Farmer & I can now get out and about in our lovely new (to us!) Daihatsu Fourtrak. We have been very fortunate in finding this is ten years old but with very low mileage (only 46000!)  and in near perfect condition & at a very reasonable price. Let me dispel the myth that all farmers drive around in new Discoverys or similarly expensive vehicles. Most of our farming acquaintances have terrible tatty pick-ups or down-at-heel saloons that do everything from carting bags of feed & wet dogs to getting the wife to town, which of course is just what our vehicle does, though while it is is still in its shiny polished show-room state I am very loathe to allow muddy boots & filthy dogs anywhere near it. I am sure however that by the end of the week it will be getting that well-used farm vehicle look despite my best intentions...after all it  a work-horse and has to be utilitarian and just going up and down our drive it is already spattered with a fine coating of mud.

Well, we are on the run up to Christmas and I already have 3 Christmas cards on the dresser, two of which arrived in the third week of November which really is a bit too soon.
The turkeys are doing well. We had 20 but are now down to 18 thanks to the over-enthusiasm of Molly the sheepdog. They spend much of their days roaming freely around the farm and can be found chattering gently to each other in sunny corners. They are so ugly but quite entertaining to watch with their need for company and constant reassurance that they are all within in sight of each other.

The Farmer, Younger Son & labradors have gone off beating again today. A nice dry day for it and the sun is trying to glimmer through the cloud. They will all come back tired, muddy & with a brace of pheasant apiece which will hang for the best part of a week before I have to do something delectable with them. Iam getting through the range of cooking methods, roasting, casseroling, braising & I think I shall try making a type of terrine with some of the meat, also game pie always goes down well.
I spent the morning making large quantities of mince-pies which I shall freeze for a couple of weeks to be brought out nearer Christmas & I must get on with making marzipan for the Christmas cakes and various special sweetmeats (nice old-fashioned phrase) to be given as presents in pretty tins & boxes.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

New Look Website, Olympic Free Zone

The new look website ( for Penyrallt Fach Cottage is now up & running & it looks wonderful. I am very pleased with its clean fresh appearance and many thanks must go our good friend G. The Mushroom Grower who apart from being a purveyor of fungi is bit of a whizz with a computer.

We've had good year with the cottage bookings, Christmas & New Year are booked up and I already have several weeks booked out for 2012 which is encouraging.

I would recommend Penyrallt as good place to escape the Olympic hysteria that will no doubt grip the country next year...we will be an Olympic Free Zone and extend a warm welcome to anyone who feels the need to retreat from the media frenzy that will mark the sporting fixtures of 2012!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Moving Lambs, Home Decorating, Death of a Daihatsu, Leonardo at the National Gallery

I have just come in from helping the Farmer & his dog seperate our lambs from a group of cattle with whom they have been sharing grazing, to bring them up to yard to check them over before selecting those to be sold and those that are not quite ready yet.
Splitting off a group of scatty sheep from a group of curious & flighty young cattle & getting them through a gate onto the lane & making sure they go in the right direction (not up towards the main road!) is not the easiest thing in the world with only two people & a dog. However with much rushing about and waving of sticks and shouting at the cattle to keep them away from the gate we managed and now the lambs are safely up in the yard being sorted.

Things have been very busy lately. I have spent most of last week painting & decorating our stair-well which was in dire need of sprucing up & of course the job got bigger as  I went along as it always does. However, it is now done and though I say it myself  the stair-well looks very good with its new soft grey walls & clean white woodwork.

Yesterday our faithful old Daihatsu Fourtrack was declared dead at the MOT station which is bit of a blow. We have had it for 10 years and it has worked hard for us but it turned out that it was held together by rust that has gone beyond welding so we now have to look for a replacement vehicle. It is actually quite scary to think that we've been merrily driving around in a vehicle that failed the MOT so spectacularly! But thank goodness we have such things as MOTs!

Last week the Farmer & I treated ourselves to an evening of culture when we went to Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan to see the live showing of the preview of the Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition at the National Gallery. The theatre was packed which amazed us...there is obviously a real appetite for such cultural events as we are so far from London and travelling up there is so expensive. Whatever one's views on Sky & the Murdochs, Sky Arts certainly did us a huge favour by showing the exhibition. It was wonderful and to have art experts discussing the paintings at very close quarters was fascinating. If one is able to go up to town then a visit to the National Gallery while it is housing the 'Madonna of the Rocks'  & the Burlington House Cartoon is a must.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

OMScO, TB Testing of Cattle, Well Matured Christmas Cake

I missed the opportunity yesterday to write 1-11-11 which looks very neat & tidy, however we had to attend an orgainc milk producers meeting and the day just disappeared.
The meeting with OMScO ( was good in that we were informed of a much needed price increase in our milk price which pleased everyone. The very worrying thing is though is that the organic dairy market in UK is still dropping & we are so dependent on export sales to Europe and the exchange rate. The market for organic dairy products is still growing on the continent. Unless the British retailers by which of course one means the big supermarkets, take an interest in organic products there is very little that can be done to up the consumer demand. Impressive tv adverts may do something for certain products but not necessarily for the whole industry. New marketing strategies are trying to be found & the comsumer needs to be better informed on the value of organically produced milk & other foods.

Last week all our cattle, the dairy cows & the Herefords were brought in for their annual TB test. The vet came out to do the preliminary injections & then returned two day later to test for any reactors. There were none which was very good news for us. TB is an on-going problem for dairy farmers and many of our milking colleagues  have suffered loss of herds & restricted movement of cattle. We are very fortunate that so far we have not had TB coming into our herd; maybe this is due to the fact that we are a 'closed' herd, not buying cattle from outside. The badger cull in Wales has been stopped though the Farmer & I have never been fully convinced that a cull was the answer. Vaccination of both cattle & badgers would seem to be a more sensible approach.

Last week I made the Christmas cakes and when I was putting them away in the oak cupboard in our dining-room I found I still had one left from last we are eating it! And as a very well-matured dark fruit cake it is excellent, rich & moist with strong lingering aura of brandy & spices. Can a really good rich fruit cake be left to mature too long? I don't think so.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Free Range Dairy Initiative; British Dairying Magazine Article

In this months' issue of 'British Dairying' which arived at the breakfast table this morning there was an excellent article by Neil Darwent of Lordswood Farm proposing a new intitiative to promote the image of milk & dairy farmers in the UK. Mr. Darwent is setting up a Free Range Dairy (FRD) initiative which hightlights the real value of British milk being produced by cows grazing grass in fields. This may seem a fairly obvious notion but with the recent planning applications for mega-dairies in which the cows are kept in sheds and never see a blade of grass something needs to be done whereby the comsumer is told the truth about farmers & their herds in Britain and thereby putting real value into our product. We find that with many of our visitors ther is an anxiety that milk in Britain is produced or will be produced in large mega-dairies. For those of us who are at the smaller end of the milk production scale this is very important stuff. While many consumers may believe that their milk comes from grazing cows the dairy industry as a whole may not maintain that perception as greater intensification looms. If British dairy farmers can use their integrity & build on the fact that our nutritious,wholesome & delicious product comes from  fields of grass there would be no need for added ingredients or ridiculous processing such as filtering for pseudo benefits.
Mr Darwent feels that there is a 'growing air of inevitability about our future milk supply coming from fewer and larger farms' but that attention must be returned to value in order to preserve our diverse dairy industry. How right he is.

Walking the dogs this morning I wandered through our herd of milking cows, who took no notice of us, and relished being among these large animals as they grazed on the lush aftermath on one of our silage fields,
The noise of them pulling at the grass and chewing it along with smell of grass and warm cow is something quite special at very close quarters.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Autumn, Approaching Winter

Misty autumn mornings with the hedgrows glinting with dewdrops on cobwebs and the occasional flutter of leaves falling from the trees as the dogs & I take our post breakfast walk.
There is terrific crop of acorns which are scattered everywhere. We really ought to have pig to snuffle them up as its the only way that we can make use of them! Though saying that I recently met someone who is gathering acorns & peeling them with the intention of grinding them to make 'flour'. My feeling was that its going to take a veritable mountain of acorns to make any quantity worth speaking of!
More useful are the sloes which seem to be doing well this year but the brambles are not good which is very disappointing.
The elderberries are plentiful too & they can be used for jellies, medicinal syrups & wine. The elder tree is associated with ancient magic; bathing one; eyes with the grren juice of the wood was said to confer the ability to see invisible beings and in Scotland it was said that if you stood under an elder tree at Samhain you would see the faery host riding by.

The Sons have been kept busy over the past couple of weeks with hedge-trimming both here at home & around the neighbourhood. Calving has been taking place too, with about 27 calves born over the last two weeks. It has all gone well and I am getting used to the early morning wake-up calls of the calves demanding their buckets of milk. It is another sign that winter is on the way.
We took delivery of 20 white turkeys last week which are being fattened up for the festive sacrifice in a couple of months time. Yes, we are already thinking of & planning for Christmas!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Primary School Visits Farm

Yesterday we hosted a group of 6yr olds from a primary school in Gorseinon, near Swansea.
The weather was perfect unlike on the day of the school party visit last week, and so we were able to have the children sitting out on the yard for their lunch.
The Farmer & I walked them across the usual route over the fields down to the river at the bottom of the farm and then back up top the farm-yard. Coming away from the river where the children were told about how it flows to sea and seeing all the little insects & creatures living under rocks and flying around over the water, I overheard one little boy saying to himself  'This has been the best day ever!'
That made the day for me.
On the way up to the yard they were able to see Molly the sheep-dog demonstrating her skills with group of sheep & some of the Traditional Hereford cows & calves accompanied by the bull ( a very docile creature).
When we got to field with the dairy cows the Famer separated out his 'pet' cow and she most obligingly went up to the children who were all sitting in silently in a row on the grass and sniffed and blew gently at them. They were thrilled! The Farmer showed them how she chewed the cud and they counted the number of chews (usually about 37) betweeen each swallow and then observed the bolus of grass moving down her throat.
Two of the children afterwards told me that they had never seen a cow before, only in pictures. Once again I must emphasis how important visits by school groups to farms are, for the very reason that children never see real animals at close quarters and I hope we have given them life-long memories of a real farm.

After we waved the children off the bus at 2 o'clock I had to set to and cook for dinner party we had last night. We had a very good though very late evening & one of our guests is staying for the weekend so there is a lot of food preparation going on (when isn't there actually, guests or no guests?).
Having been rather stuck for pudding last evening I experimented and made a blackcurant meringue pie, not having a any lemons in the house. I just replaced the lemons with blackcurrant puree and it worked a treat and was the star turn of the meal which was very gratifying especailly as it accompanied by thick cream from our own cows.This has in the past been described as having the consistency of axle grease...quite unlike anything one can buy nowadays when what is laughingly called double cream can pour like milk.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fungi Forays, Home-Made Apple Press

At last we seem to having a glimpse of the Indian Summer that the BBC keep talking about. When the rest of the country has bathed in gloious autumn sunshine we have had grey skies and damp air. However, today things have improved and the Sons have begun mowing grass for various neighbours to make silage. A busy few days are ahead of us.

With the damp weather it has been a bonanza time for fungi. On my daily walks with the dogs I have found many different varieties around the farm. I have taken pictures of many of them but identification is difficult. I think most of them are boletes, but further than that I cannnot go except to say that I think I found what are known as Plums and Custard and the deliciously malevolent sounding  Amethyst Deceiver. I have seen a number of enormous fly agarics and greasily yellow waxcaps. Apart from the large, easily seen fungi in the hedge banks there are also many tiny delicately gilled toadstools to be found in the fields of all shades from creamy white to dusky grey. I did find some field mushrooms yesterday but they seem to be few & far betweeen this year for some reason. I am certainly not confident enough to eat any of the other types of fungi , though according to the books many of them are edible.  We have eaten puff-balls & parasols in the past & I know shaggy ink-caps are supposed to be delicious, but I do prefer field mushrooms or cultivated shiitake!

The Farmer has spent  a great deal of time over the last few days in the orchards  up a step ladder harvesting apples. There has been a superb crop this year and in order to maintain our winter intake of vitamins most of the fruit is being juiced and then frozen. Also a lot of cider is being made!
One day when we are in funds I would like us to get a small pasteuriser rather than keeping the juice in the deep freeze. However until that time freezing will have to do.
The Farmer has built himself a fruit press which looks rather splendid and is very effective.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Robins Wood's Brilliant Blog, Learning to Knit

Please read Robin Wood's latest (Friday 23rd Sept.) blog posting. He is a man who talks so much sense and is out there practising what he preaches.
also see

I have been teaching myself how to knit again. Having learnt as a child though never really mastering it, I lost interest & always felt I was happier with a sewing needle than a knitting needle, however I am now really enjoying twisting a length of yarn round a pair of metal pins. The resulting knit is getting to look less & less likes a cat's cradle as I persevere and hopefully before too long I shall be able to produce a small garment for the Grand-daughter.
It has been so long since I did any knitting I have bought myself an excellent book 'Knitty Gritty; knitting for the absolute beginner' by Aneeta Patel. Its wonderful with very clear instructions, photographs and  simple patterns.
I was brought up in a family in which great-aunts & my mother knitted beautiful pullovers with Fairisle yokes and marvellous intricate Norwegian & Arran jumpers which seemed to be produced so effortlessly. I will be happy just to make a decent piece of plain stocking stitch!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Local Primary School Visits Farm, Australian Visitors

Last Tuesday, a grey drizzle-laden day,  a group of 5-7yr olds from our local primary school were brought to visit the farm. The school is only a mile away yet the children were brought in huge bus instead of walking down across the fields which would be so much more fun for them. However, they duly arrived fully kitted out in wellies & many of them with waterproof over-trousers which I was pleased to see. Despite the miserable weather the visit was great success with the Farmer marching them around the farm showing them everything from silage & grass to a new born calf out in the field with its mother & aunts which they were thrilled by.
 After walking up hill & down dale, which the grown-ups complain about more than the children!!,
lunch was eaten in one of the farm sheds after the obligatory hand-washing which the children find as much fun as anything else...washing in a trough of cold water after having queued up for a squirt of liquid soap and then being handed a length of paper towel seems to be quite an experience!

Again we were surprised by the fact only two children in a group of 35 from a little rural school, come from farms. When the Farmer went to the same school some 40-odd years ago the majority of the pupils were farm children. This is why is so important that we continue to have schools visit us and for the children to see livestock and machinery and feed-stuff in the proper context & to make the connection with the food that they eat..
This group took back to school with them a lovely collection of bits & pieces that they had garnered from the hedgerows; they had sloes, hawthorn berries, acorns, beech husks, fungi of various kinds & wisps of sheeps wool, real treasures that they guarded most jealously getting onto the bus for their return to school.

The following day we conducted another farm walk, this time for three adults who were holidaying in the area from Australia. They had 130 acres, (a mere garden by Australian standards of course!) which they were hoping to stock with cattle. They were amazed at how green Wales is, but then it never stops raining whereas in Oz it never rains at all! Or so we like to believe.
After a good walk round we all came into the kitchen for tea & cake and compared notes on life in Australia & Wales.
We love having visitors from around the world and as it is extremely unlikely that the Farmer & I would ever go to the Antipodes we do get an insight into a different world. We were particularly fascinated by one of our guest's experiences living out in the bush alongside an Aboriginal tribe who still lived in the traditional way with very little contact with white people.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Exmoor National Park, Cider Orchards & Marilyn Monroe's Dresses

The Farmer & I ran away to Exmoor last weekend! On the spur of the moment we decided to book a cottage and just go. The Sons were more than happy to be left in charge for a few days and so off we went. I managed to find a delightful cottage ( & the owners, though a bit surprised, were willing for us to arrive that evening and we headed off down the M4 after lunch. We had a very good run and found the tiny dot of the village of Exton where the cottage was located, without too much difficulty even though it was up a tiny lane in very quiet & secluded spot. Perfect!

As well as sleeping & reading a huge amount, we spent a lot of time exploring Exmoor, neither of us having been there before. It is lovely and though several places were heaving with 'charabanc outings' on the whole there were few people around. Porlock was a sweet place as was Dulverton. Dunster was beautiful but parking impossible & of course we went to Tarr Steps, the impressive ancient stepping stones across a small river which is a magnet for walkers. We approached it from the non-tourist side, i.e. the side without the pay & display carpark! and though it is a ford the Farmer would not drive through it in our 4x4 as he said would be showing off!

Although we are not church-goers we are church visitors ansd there are some lovely old & very interesting village churches dotted around Exmoor. They all had lists in beautiful script of the vicars who had served those parishes dating from the 13th century; I think the earliest one we saw was 1270 going right up the present incumbent who came in 2009. There was real sense of continuity in seeing the names of the men who had conducted the rites in those remote parishes over so many centuries.

The cottage was very comfortable & the Farmer was very kindly given the use of a music-room that was attached. The owner was a violin-maker & player and so he and the Farmer had good conversations.
I had the aurally interesting experience of sitting reading one evening with the Farmer playing some Bach in the adjoining music-room and hearing the bell-ringers practising in the village church which was only a 100 yards from the cottage. As I said aurally interesting, harmonically horrendous!!! not a musical experience I would want to repeat!

We left for home yesterday and on the way stopped at a cider orchard in Somerset (Pixford Fruit Farm, Bishops Lydeard) to buy cider (for the Farmer to compare it with his own !) and were able to go into the orchards to see the harvesting machines which the Farmer was fascinated by. The orchards were very beautiful with their serried ranks of trees many still laden with glowing red apples and others with the ground underneath carpeted with greenery-yallery fruit where the trees had been shaken ready for gathering up by the harvester.

We then made our way to Claverton just outside Bath to visit the American Museum in Britain. This is a place I have vivid memories of being taken to as child on several occasions & the Farmer had never been so now was our opportunity to call in as we were passing..more or less!
The museum traces the story of America with a display of rooms furnished in different styles showing the progress from the 17th century to the 19th. There was also gallery of portraits  in the folk art tradition which were beautiful.

But an unlikely bonus to the day was the exhibition about Marilyn Monroe. It was display of her dresses as worn in her most well-known films including this fabulous scarlet sequinned number from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.These gowns & other items from her home had been collected on her death and were now in private collection that has been loaned to the American Museum for a temporary exhibition.
The exhibition was superb, even the Farmer was impressed & its not really his kind of thing! The dresses were stunning and the work in them, the beading & embroidery was beautiful. The exhibits were shown with a background of songs from the films and further illustrated with the life story of this Hollwood icon & victim. I love the films, especially 'Some Like it Hot' & Sugar Kanes's little black beaded dress was in the exhibition.

After all that glamour it was back to the farm and family having endured horrendous traffic through Bath & on the motorway, crawling at 20mph much of the time! It was relief to get back onto our own quiet country roads and to find that while we were away seven calves had been born and the Sons had been kept very busy.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Darwin & Philosophy, Third Leaf Books

It was a very dark & stormy night & this morning I went out to inspect the damage with the dogs and found this large branch down in the big garden. It had not done any great damage & I am surprised that more had not fallen.
I always expect September to be fine golden days with the hints of autumn in the air. Not so this year, clearly. Is this blustery weather the tail end of the hurricane that that hit the east coast of America recently?

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to lunch with our friend & neighbour the Author & his wife, neither whom we had seen for a very long while.
He has just written a new book that has been launched on the internet as an e-book called  'Darwin Plus! Evolution, Science, Religion & the Paranormal...a Reconciliation'. A weighty title & a bit cranky (as the Author himself would be the first to admit!)  but do not be put off by this. It is extremely readable & very interesting dealing with beliefs, rational thinking & the materialism of science. The Author's style of writing carries one along with ease even when dealing with such potentially heavyweight material and certainly provides a feast for thought & debate.
This new work is a bit of a departure from the Author's previous books, though they do touch on his philosophies, in which he writes very entertainingly about his life as smallholder in West Wales over the past 30 years, 'Scenes from a Smallholding'  &  'More Scenes from a Smallholding' by Chas Griffin, published by Ebury Press.
The new e-book  is available from

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Local Agricultural Show & Rural Skills Displayed

For as long as I have lived in West Wales our local agricultural show has been held about 10 miles away. I will admit that we have not attended it for a very long time; it is always held on the first Saturday in September & Saturday is my busy day with cottage change-over & the arrival of new guests. In fact we last went to it in 1997 on the day of Princess Diana's funeral ( the show was surpisingly well attended, a great antidote to the general gloom of that day, though a minutes silence was held). However, this year (and apparently will be for evermore) it was held on a new site just half a mile from us, so we had no excuse for not going. Also the Sons had been asked to be stewards for the judges of the dairy & beef cattle classes. So, yesterday despite the very unfortunate heavy drizzle which continued throughout the day, we made our way up to the fields of our neighbour which had been turned into the venue for the 137th Annual Llandysul & District Show.
It was such a pity the weather was simply atrocious for such an event as the new site is excellent, being very accessible from all directions and with  superb views across the Teifi Valley. Nonetheless, a considerable number of people turned out to show their cattle, sheep & horses all of whom, people & animals, stood  for long periods of time in the persistent rain & got soaked. So much time & effort is put into preparing animlas for showing that rain cannot stop play.
As well as the livestock classes there is very serious competion in the horticultural section. There was a fine display of huge leeks, giant onions and smooth skinned potaoes and elegantly tapering carrots as well as magnificent dahlias, sweet-peas & chrysanthemums all having been so carefully produced for the show.The floral art section is always popular at local shows but my favourite group of entries are the childrens ones; a miniature garden in a egg-cup or a necklace made of sweeties where great ingenuity is shown, though I was surprised to see 'Any item made of Lego'!...not excatly a tradtional rural craft.
Some the most beautiful examples of rural crafts on show were the walking sticks. There were classes for Thumb Sticks & Shepherd's Crooks made from wood or with horn forks or crooks. They were stunning with some the horn being just polished to show up the natural colours or having been carved & painted as a curving trout or the head of a heron or a badger.
It is wonderful how much skill there is in the rural community that is only ever seen at small local shows.

We bid our French Student 'Bon voyage' on Thursday when we put him on the train to Plymouth and we are now back into our usual busyness without having to translate everything and being aware that many explanations are not really understood. Still despite the langauge difficulties I think the FS had good time here with us...on his last night we, with a group of friends went to one of our favourite beaches and had a picnic fry-up. We took our Canadian canoe as well which the FS thought was great; he & others paddled out where they were watched at very close quarters by a seal whioh was a binus for them all. We had a lovely time and watched the most spectacular sunset with the sun a glowing orange disc of fire dropping down below the horizon like golden penny into a slot machine.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

First of the New Calves, French Students

The first calves of the season have been born in the last few days. These in the picture are not twins though we had a set of twins born this morning. Unfortunately they are a heifer & a bull which means the heifer will probably be a freemartin and therefore sterile and fit only for slaughter.
These calves are the first ones born as result of artificial insemination by Elder Son who did his training a year or so ago. By having our own flask of semen straws here on the farm and someone who is trained saves us having to pay AI fees and so far the results are looking good.
Although the photo is rather dark this is our first Ayrshire calf to be born this year. It is a bull calf, we always hope for heifers but he will rear well for beef.

With the sudden improvement of the weather today it is all go for more silage, both our own & that of neighbours. Younger Son has gone off to mow on a neighbouring farm while Elder Son &  the Farmer are busy preparing another clamp inside one of the sheds & turning our own grass that was cut two days ago.

The French Student has gone off for the day with the Belgian vet which is great for him & relieves us from having to keep him occupied here. He cannot drive tractors so on days like today when it is all tractor work it is difficult finding jobs for him. He returns to France tomorrow & I think we have done our bit for Anglo/French relations for a good long while. We have had many French students over the years, some better than others, but is hard work, for them & us, when their command of English is so limited. I suspect they think their English is quite good until they actually get here and find that they are unable to understand most of what is said. My dredging up of 'O' Level French gets us through the very tricky patches but it is a strain...a month can be a very long time! The FS himself however, seems to be very happy and to have enjoyed his stay which is the main thing I suppose.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Silage All In, Home-drying of Fruit, Home Brewing

The last of the silage crop was brought in this week & our fodder supply for the winter is secure. The forage wagons have been cleaned and greased & put away in the back of one the sheds until next summer. Everyone on the farm is always pleased when this stage is reached & it means the weather can do whatever it likes from now on & we won't have to worry about it.

As well ensuring that the cattle have their winter feed the Farmer has been very busy harvesting our bumper crop of plums & devising ways of preserving them. As well bottling & freezing we have been experimenting with drying them to make prunes (the Farmer loves dried fruit of all kinds). To this end a number of wooden boxes with mesh bases have been constructed. The plums have been halved & de-stoned and then laid in the boxes which are now stacked on the top of the Rayburn. They take several days to dry but the end results are very satisfactory.
There is also a lot of plum wine bubbling away in the kitchen & some bullace wine too, I think. This in addition to the quantities of cider & beer that the Famer is brewing. The kitchen smells marvellous with all this fruity activity & it is producing a lot of very palatable booze at half the cost of buying commercial stuff and  with a great deal more fun. I, however, don't drink any of it!

Yesterday the Farmer & I went to Cardigan ( to buy some more fermenting bins!) and had lovely day once the 'shopping' had been done. We went down to Gwbert, which is the estuary of the river Teifi and watched the tide come in and the large flocks of swans, Canada geese & curlews gradually losing their standings on the sandbanks to the incoming waters.
We had escaped the Sons & the French Student for the day & had left them to their various employments of mechanics & the painting of gates. Today the FS has gone with one of our local vets who is a French speaking Belgian, on his rounds. It is a wonderful opportunity for him and gives him a break from having to communicate in his poor English with us & gives us a break from trying to interprete. It is a strain on all of us & we are driven at times to drawing pictures!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Foreign Vets, Home-grown Fruit & Veg

Several times over the past couple of months we have had 'Ministry' vets  turning up having got lost, the latest one at the beginning otf the week. The main reason for these arrivals is that on the whole they have been Spanish & therefore unfamiliar with the area. They have been sent out armed with a map, the name of a farm & the farmer & little idea of where they are going.
They arrive here, get out of the car, tog themselves up in wellies & over- trousers, grab their clip boards then come to the door & say they have come to test our cattle. They have not as they do not have an appointment.
They then ask if we are Mr. Jones? We say 'No'. They say 'Is this ....Farm?'  We say 'No'. They say 'I am lost!' We say 'It certainly looks like it!' &  then have to go through a great rigmarole of trying to find out where they are meant to be, which is difficult for the poor Spanish vet having to cope with Welsh place names & for us having to interpret & show on the map that in fact they are probably even in the wrong parish!
What I am getting round to is that while the vet is only doing his or her job, they are very conscious, as are we, that they are compromising the anonymity of farmers having their cattle tested for TB by a lack of local knowledge & frequently an inadequate grasp of the English language & a strong accent, a situation made more difficult by local accents & that many older Welsh farmers are more at ease speaking Welsh.. For some reason a lot of the vets employed by Defra seem to come from Spain & also in the local abattoirs & it is a cause for concern and there is potential for serious mistakes to be made.

We have been picking plums...there is bumper crop this year but sadly they are lacking flavour, so we have bottled them in a syrup. They will be delicious in the winter when made into crumbles & sponge puddings.
The blackberries are beginning to ripen now and it looks as though there is going to be a very good crop of them too. Hazelnuts are ripening as well and I hope I shall be able to gather a reasonable quantity to keep for Christmas before the squirrels get them. In the garden I have a red hazel which produces deep pink nuts with lovely flavour.
While the polytunnel has been keeping us well supplied with cabbages, courgettes & sweetpeas, the tomatoes are doing very badly. Very little fruit has set & what toms there are are not ripening. We cannot think of a good reason for this at all & it is very disappointing as one of the best things about this time of year is freshly picked tomatoes for salad lunches with good bread & local cheese.

Younger Son, KT & the Baby took A. our French student to the Pembrokshire Show near Haverfordwest on Tuesday. They had lovely time & A. came back very pleased with his day having bought himself a real Welsh rugby ball. I hope he has room for it in his backpack!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Weekend Away, Visitors- Familiar & Unknown, Wood-Piles

While the farm work carries on as usual & I continue to produce meals at regular intervals we have had a number of visitors over the past couple of weeks, including various family members making their annual summer pilgrimage ot the farm which is lovely. It is always good to see them,  but we also have had total strangers turning up having found their way here for an assortment of reasons, some of which have proved to be very interesting.
 For example last week a couple arived from London coming to look for a house that they last visited in 1969 (!) that happens to be the old 'big house' here on the farm. They certainly saw some changes but were able to tell us a large part of the history that we had not been able to discover for ourselves, which was fascinating.
The following day another couple turned up hoping we could tell them the whereabouts of a neighbour who had left the area about 25 years ago who had owned a Bristol motor-car that now belonged to friends of theirs in England who wanted to track its history. We weren't able to help them but they came in for a cup of tea and it turned out that they had been involved with the Soil Association  in the 1970's & had been small-scale cheese-makers which led to very interesting conversation for a couple of hours.

We still have our French student A., who seems to have settled in to our mode of living quite well. I don't think he has ever worked so hard in his life before but he no longer gets up at the crack of dawn to help with the morning milking! He eats everything that is put in front of him & is very polite & well-mannered. We converse reasonably well with him now and I hope he does feel that his English is improving, though we get some hilarious moments where his politeness overides comprehension!

We have another delightful family from Germany in the cottage this week and who seem very pleased with place and their two small children have been adopted by the Labradors as happens so often.

The Farmer & I went away for 24 hours this weekend having been invited to a party up in mid-Wales ( a sleep-over!) near Carno at a sweet cottage tucked away in a fold of the hills. It was accessible either over a railway line where one has to use yellow telephone to ensure that there are no trains rushing towards you or down a rough track with two gates to be opened and a very, very narrow railway bridge to drive under. We had borrowed Younger Son's Ford Focus which was just as well as I don't think our 4x4 would have squeezed through... as it was the wing mirrors were scraped on the stonework!
We had an excellent weekend of really great conversation, wonderful food & very interesting people many of whom had travelled up from London & Bristol and so lived very different lives to those of us in Welsh hills, and we have returned home exhausted.

The Farmer, Elder Son & A. are doing a splendid job of processing the very large logs piles that have sitting seasoning for a year or more and filling the fire-woods sheds with very satisfying mountains of logs which should keep us going for good long time.

This afternoon I think we shall be picking plums. There is a good crop this year and we must get them before the wasps!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Riots

We are all appalled by the recent events in London & other cities and whilst no-one can condone the behaviour of the rioters & looters & the wanton destruction of small businesses there must be an understanding of the reason for this violent expression of discontent & hopelessness.
Please read Robins Wood's blog on the subject...he expresses it much better than I can.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Food for Thought Against Racism

I found this gem posted on my Facebook page.
'Your car is German. Your vodka is Russian. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your movies are American. Your tea is Tamil. Your shirt is Indian. Your oil is Saudi Arabian. Your electronics are Chinese. Your numbers are Arabic and your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbour is an immigrant? Pull yourself together!
Copy and paste if you're against racism.'

I am of Scots/Irish descent living in Wales, the Farmer is English with a dash of Dutch, our grand-daughter has Scots, Irish, English & Welsh blood.
We have French, German & Portugese visitors here on the farm at the moment.
We have Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian & Muslim & Jewish friends & neighbours.
We have Indian, Chinese, Thai restaurants.
Welsh is the first language in this area.
We live in a fascinating multi-cultural society even here in remote rural West Wales.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Free-Range Christmas Turkeys, Swallows Eaten by Owl

This morning the turkey poults that the Farmer bought in some weeks ago have been allowed out to roam about and I now have constant backgound chorus of cheerful, if ugly birds, talking turkey in the yard. They are hideous with their naked heads & necks but quite fun to watch as they move in a flock around the yard picking up beetles & other insects.
Molly the sheepdog, however is in deep disgrace as yesterday one of the birds had escaped and she could not resist the tempatation it had a brief experience of freedom swiftly curtailed by an over active collie who left trail of tell-tale feathers across the yard and was found crunching bones under the climbing frame.
Hopefully the remaining poults will survive until the week before Christmas when they will be quickly dispatched having reached a good weight and will taste superb, thanks to the exercise & diet of creepy-crawlies. Meanwhile we have the dubious pleasure of having them marching around the farm...they can cause havoc in the garden having very big feet, but are quite entertaining with their vocal exercises and defensive posturing & rattling of feathers.

Continuing the avian theme, the Famer has his wood-working workshop in one of the old stables in which for the past 150+ years the swallows have nested  and raised their broods without let or hindrance. However, this year a little owl has moved in and there are no more swallows in the rafters above the workbenches, just some sad little inky blue/black feathers floating around. It seems that the owl found a feasting place with an a la carte menu. While we regret the swallows very much, it is rather pleasing to have an owl lodging in the building so near human activity. There are many more swallows in the other buildings & it will be interesting to see whether next year the hirundines try to recapture their territory from the owls...almost inevitably though, I think the owls will prove the victors.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

French Student Comes to Stay

It is some time since the Farmer or I had to visit a railway station. On Tuesday however, we found ourselves waiting at Carmarthen station ( and Adlestrop it is not!) for some considerable time. A bleak experience even on a baking hot afternoon.
We were there to meet the 17yr old French student who has come to stay for the month of August. He had given me the wrong time for his arrival and after the 6th train had come & gone with no sign of him the Farmer & I were beginning to get quite anxious. Although we had a mobile phone number for him it did not work without the international code which, of course, we had not thought to find (duh!) & he had no number for us other than our house number (we are very lackadaisical about never occurs to me to have the mobile with me at all times, or indeed at any time, except when someone reminds that I do have one!). However an hour after we had expected to met him, A. appeared much to our great relief. He rather sweetly showed me scrap of paper on which he had clearly been working out how to say in English 'I made a mistake about the time'!
A. is with us for a month and so far he seems to be settling in quite well. The Farmer & Elder Son are keeping him very busy with logging & building a new wall in the slurry pit and there any number of things lined up where an extra pair of hands will be useful. He seems to be competent and has driven a tractor previously which always helps. He's managed to get up at 6.30. each morning to help with the milking & is very tired by bed-time. We appreciate that is a strain having to get through the days struggling with the language tho' so far he, and we, are coping quite well with my scanty French and the help of a dictionary.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Damp Start to August, Arrival of Bees, Melin Teifi & Welsh Wool Products

The 1st of August & a very grey morning...its not actually raining but the air is heavy with damp and while attempting to do a bit of work in the farmhouse garden I got soaked by the wet coming off the shrubs as I struggled to remove the strangling weeds before they take over completely make the garden more jungly than usual. It has been a good year for the wretched hog-weeds and the nettles seem to be bigger than ever and as for the bindweed & goose-grass they are rampant, much worse than last year. That said as long as the lawns are mown regularly and the worst of the weeds kept at bay the garden will pass muster.

Yesterday the Farmer was delighted to find that one the empty bee-hives that he has around the gardens has been taken over by a swarm of bees. He reckons they have probably been there a couple of weeks as one of  the supers (the box that the comb is built in) is quite full. He would like to feed the bees but is worried that the smell of the sugar solution will attract wasps who will just wipe out the colony. We lost a colony last year to wasps and don't want to risk it again having not had resident bees for a couple of years now. It would be great if these new arrivals can survive.

I have just been reading the blog written by Robin Wood of the Heritage Craft Association ( in which he is saying that there is little, though growing, support for tradtional crafts in this country. He is working very hard with the HCA to advance the interest & support for all types of tradtional skills.
Last week I visited our local woollen mill, Melin Teifi  in Drefach Velindre, to discuss having some Welsh tapestry counterpanes made for the beds in the holiday cottage. Teifi Mill is a small mill that is producing beautiful traditional Welsh wool fabric and sells all over the world, sadly though, the mill will be closing in couple of years time. They make lovely old fashioned nursing blankets for babies as well as gorgeous blankets for beds and the traditional Welsh tapestry that is used for bedspreads. They also take commissions using the customers choice of colours & design for furnishing fabrics & blankets. I found a suitable design for the new counterpane and I shall go over to the mill again shortly to place the order.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Second-cut Silage, Strawberry Jam

Last evening at the end of a very busy day I went to help the Farmer move a small bunch of cows into clean grazing after the field had been mown for silage. The ladies-in-waiting as they are known, being cows due to calve fairly soon, made their stately progress down the lane in the lovely evening light, stopping on their way to drink from the stream that runs down the side of the lane. Cows drinking is a lovely sight...they slurp quite delicately (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), from the surface of the water in a most genteel manner.

The menfolk had spent the day bringing in the second cut of silage. A contractor came in with his self-propelled precision-chop harvester to deal with a field of whole-crop barley, crimson clover & vetch which ensiled makes excellent fodder for the cows over winter. Two fields of grass were also cut. The silage clamp is now very full and we can rest assured that there is enough feed to see us throught the winter. There will still be some big bales made later on as extra safe-guard.

While the men & machines were busy harvesting winter feed I was doing my bit to replenish the larder by making strawberry jam. I had bought a tray of stawberries ( unfortunately they are one of the fruits we don't grow ourselves) and set to hull them which took about an hour and then set to boiling them up. Strawberries are very low in pectin which means they need something added to make the jam set. I had added some setting agent but the set would not come after hours of boiling so then I remembered I had some gooseberries in the freezer which are very high in pectin. A good handfull of goosegogs thrown into the roiling swirling pan of strawberries worked wonders. I had a setting jam very quickly and was able to fill the jars. I ended up with 15 jars of good jam which should see us through.
I might just make some goosebery jam now and maybe try to use up the backlog of other fruit of various kinds in the freezer before this years crop come in.

The Farmer has just brought in trug of produce from the poly-tunnel so I shall sit in outside in the shade of the garden swing and shell peas for lunch and think of what to do with a rather overgrown is not yet a marrow but is too big to be zucchini, hmmm.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Visit to CAT, Machynlleth, Farmer's Market

A misty July morning in the valley, promise of a lovely day.

Yesterday the Farmer, our friend G. the mushroom grower ( & I went up to Machynlleth to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT).
G. had not been there before though the Farmer & I have visited it several time over the years & we were both taken there by our parents as children when it was very, very new & still looked liked a slate quarry with couple of small wind turbines stuck on the hillside.. It is very different now with the harsh slate landscape softened by many trees & gardens and the various buildings demonstrating the sustainable technologies that are being developed to produce & save energy. There are many small garden plots with many herbs, fruit trees, bee-friendly planting and information on effective composting.
There is a very good bookshop in which, once you block out the scented candles, has lot of useful material, though there is quite a lot of  'fluffy' stuff too.
The new WISE building (the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education) has been built since we were last there. It is a huge low- or zero-carbon structure made of rammed earth & wood. It has a lecture theatre, seminar rooms, accommodation & a restaurant all designed to be as low energy & as light as possible and looks amazing ( with a vast curved wall housing the theatre which dominates the view of the building from the gardens that surround it.

After a late picnic lunch sitting on a blade from a wind turbine near the 'station' for the water powered lift that takes visitors up to the entrance of CAT, we went into Machynlleth to find our friends R. & M. who were at the weekly Farmer's Market selling their bread ( Mach.'s Farmer's Market is great, many stalls all selling wonderful food stuffs as well as the usual market stall goods. We bought some bread, naturally, and some wonderful cheeses including a good strong farmhouse Cheddar & a piece of golden-hued Shropshire Blue which with some home-grown salad will make a delectable supper.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Trawsnewid Calon Teifi Transition Group Folds

After several weeks of emails, meetings & dialogues the Farmer & I attended a final meeting yesterday in which our local Transition Group Trawsnewid Calon Teifi was closed.
It is very sad that this has come about but due to 'a breakdown of trust & co-operation' it was felt that the group could not move forward in its present form and the only way to resolve the difficulties was to bring the whole thing to an end.
In order to dissolve the group in the most civilised & painless way an external facilitator was brought in to ensure that feelings were not allowed to get heated & possibly result in  unpleasant scenes which would have been distressing for everyone present.
The facilitator was extraordinary in her control of the space & energies that were in the room. I have not experienced anything quite like it before. What had the potential to be a very disturbing meeting ended up as a calm & expressive gathering of people, most of whom had the same desires to bring about a peaceful change to an extremely difficult situation. By allowing those who wished to speak and express their views & feelings about the situation in a safe & trusting environment a very meaningfull & constructive dialogue was achieved which was fascinating to observe & resulted in a much healthier atmosphere of hope.
It is sad that after nearly 4 years of hard work & dedication by a number of enthusiastic people it has had to end, however there is feeling that eventually a phoenix can arise from the ashes and a new Transition group will be able to start up and carry on the work albeit in a somewhat different mould.
Despite the demise of the umbrella group the single interest groups that had formed, such as the Food Circle, the Veg. Group & the Energy Group will continue to function as usual until such time as everyone can be brought together again.
A new website has been set up to give information regarding the transition movement in the Teifi Valley,

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Primary School Visits Farm

Yesterday we had a visit from one of our local primary schools arranged by the charitable arm of the the Countryside Alliance, the Countryside Alliance Foundation (
 A photographer/journalist from our local paper, The Carmarthen Journal, also turned up, so we hope there will be good report on the visit in next weeks edition.
 Despite the threat of horrible weather a group of 30 3-4year olds arrived during the morning in a state of high excitement. The visit got off to a wonderful start with one the little girls finding a baby frog (broga bach) in the grass as she got off the bus. Fortunately the Farmer managed to catch it before a hoard of curious small children trampled on it and they were all able to see it at close quarters.
After a demonstration of sheep shearing and a good walk to see some cattle ( to wear them out !) they ate their picnic lunches sitting on bales of straw in one of the sheds. Lunch was followed by the Farmer showing how butter is made. In good Blue Peter style we had prepared some earlier, though a small hand churn was passed around for everyone to have a go and then I spread some of the fresh butter on to crackers for them to taste.
After being shown a very big tractor with engine revving loudly which impressed the little boys no end, we took them to see the laying hens, Two sensible little girls were then allowed to go with the basket to collect the eggs...they were thrilled! The Farmer caught one of the Bluebells who very patiently put up with being stroked & cooed over.

We had a lovely time with then children and although they were so young I hope they got some inkling of what a farm is all about and where their food comes from. However, when I asked one of the little boys what had been the best bit of the day he said after a long pause for thought, ' Going to the toilet!.' I was somewhat taken aback! The facilities are in a rather basic but perfectly clean & functional portable wooden 'tardis' known as the Ty Bach, (Welsh colloquialism meaning 'little house') built by the Farmer that is plumbed in with flushing loo and wash basin, but I would doubt it merits being the high light of the day!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Glorious Summer, Sun Affected Cattle, Leeches & Other Pond Llife

Dappled shade on a summer's morning...we have been having such glorious weather these last few days, though apparently it is not set to last, with rain forecast for the middle of the week. Ah, well!
Hay has been made while the sun shines though; the Boys having been off turning hay for a couple of neighbours and its been perfect weather for the digger work that has been going on in Elder Son's garden.

This morning I helped the Farmer & Elder Son move one of the Hereford cows and her adopted Belgian Blue X calf out of group of very young heifers to join the rest of the Herefords. The calf seems to be suffering from a reaction to the sun whereby its white hair is dropping out. We have seen this happen before; it does no lasting harm and looks worse than it is, though it will probably retard the calf's growth somewhat. The worst case of it we had was many years ago in along hot summer when one of the black & white dairy cows lost all her white hair and was left looking very strange with pink skin  patched with black hair. That case so severe that the Farmer would leave her in shed during the day and put her out to graze at night. She did recover.

It has been wonderful weather for the insect life around the farm with giant dragonflies zooming around like miniature helicopters and a better show of butterflies than I've seen for a couple of years. The Farmer & I walked down to check some cattle at the bottom of the valley & I saw a common blue, which is not so common here and many little brown fritillaries and commas. Outside Elder Son's cottage every year there are Red Admirals which spend much time sunning themselves on the sun soaked gravel, while up in the polytunnels the Farmer is greatly excercised in keeping the activity of the cabbage whites to the minimum before their caterpillars colonise our brassicas. The other problem he is having to contend with is rabbits...they have eaten all the leek seedlings and I think there is a sacrificial row of cabbages! Stalking rabbits with a shotgun is not easy in a polytunnel...the risk of puncturing the plastic being one problem and traps just don't work.

Back to insects and suchlike, yesterday I was down dabbling my toes in one of the ponds, it being so hot, and saw a rather revolting creature clinging to piece of pond weed and waving itself around in the water. It was a leech and quite horrid in the way it stretched iteslf out to length of about 3inches and then contracted down to about 1/2 an inch in its search for another anchor point. The Farmer has been swimming in the ponds these hot days but somehow I just can't make myself join him & the more repellant inhabitants of the water. Whilst I quite appreciate the place of the leech in the great scheme of things and its use in medicine, which has been revived, I really don't fancy swimming alongside them.
Squidgy, stretchy, sucking creatures apart I love watching the other life-forms of the ponds; the water-boatmen sculling about in the clear shallows and the other creatures known as whirligig beetles that look like drops of mercury skimming across the surface of the water. The dragon & damsel flies are spectacular in their aerobatics and compete with the swallows in their displays. The labradors make full use of the ponds in this hot weather and don't even bother to ask for a stick to be thrown  before they leap in and swim around just for the sheer pleasure of it...they don't know about those leeches!.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Brightening up of the Weather, Major Gardening Works, Cottage Refurbishment

After several days of damp grey gloom there is at last blue sky appearing this morning for which much rejoicing.

There has been great activity here over the last few days with major works going on around Elder Son's cottage. The great thing about having boys who own diggers & other useful machinery is that when landscaping work has to be done we can just get on with it.
 Elder Son & KT have decided to remove a somewhat tangled shrubbery and make a larger lawn for their baby daughter to have a safe play area so I spent most of Thursday replanting large shrubs and other plants in a cleared raised bed and fortunately they do all seem to be surviving the transplants well. I guess the damp cool weather has helped. Once everything is finished it is going to look very good and should be easier for KT to maintain.

I have been busy also with refurbishing elements of the holiday cottage ( while  it has been empty for a couple of weeks before the mass of summer visitors start to arrive this week.
I have had a new carpet laid in the bedrooms, a new sofa, rugs, lampshades and have made new curtains for one bedroom & the bathroom. It is all looking very good and comfortable. The new carpet is lovely...I just hope I don't regret my decision to allow dogs in the cottage once more! I do ask people not to let their dogs in the bedrooms but short of putting a gate across the small passage to the bedrooms it is difficult, though most of our visitors are very good about the small house-rules.
As well as putting new furnishings in the cottage it does also act as my overflow book storage, hence the over-filled bookcases and books attractively placed in the bedrooms in lieu of any other decorative items (I don't really 'do' ornaments) and after all 'books do furnish a room'.This use of the cottage is justified however when on occasion I have guests arrive who walking into the sitting room say thing like, 'Oh, how lovely, lots of books!' or 'I needn't have brought a bag of books with me!'  I make an effort to put in really good childrens books and we have had requests from children (& grown-ups) on the day of departure to take a book home with them to finish. Also books are left behind, including some written in Dutch, which is useful as we get at least one  family from Holland  each year.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Newport Pembrokeshire, Coetan Arthur, Nevern Castle, Welsh Game Fair with Mud,

The Famer & I have given ourselves two days off, as it is raining (!) and spent the first day pottering around Newport (Pembs). It is a tiny place but with a wealth of excellent galleries (, a lovely jumbled junk/antique/curio/book shop where we picked up some wonderful history & travel books from the early part of the 20th century (they don't write books like that any more!) and several good coffee shops. A perfect  place for pottering in the rain.
Just on the ouskirts of Newport there is Coetan Arthur, a impressive cromlech which is approached rather bizarrely by a footpath through a small cul-de-sac of smart modern bungalows with neatly manicured lawns & perjink (a good descriptive Scottish word) gardens. Indeed, the last bungalow has the chamber just yards away from its kitchen window. Although the stones themselves are impressive, the cap stone balanced on only two points, it does lack the atmosphere of Pentre-Ifan because of its close proximity to 21st century suburbia.
After calling on some friends not seen for long time to admire their very beautiful newly renovated house, we then went to Nevern castle which has had some recent archaeological digs.done. It was always a lovely place, just a large mound in a wood with magnificent beech trees, but no real castle remains visible. Now, after careful tree-felling and excavation of stone work and some clearing of the moat it is still a wonderful place but more clearly the remains of a castle, though the remains are not extensive. It has fascinating history the details of which can be found at

Yesterday we went to the Welsh Game Fair held near Llandeilo, in the rain and the mud was incroyable!! Nonetheless we had a very enjoyable time though progress around the showground was very slippery and our boots were rapidly caked in thick sticky mud, yuch! which made walking around quite difficult. I think the people with push-chairs & very small children probably suffered the most.
We were very entertained to see on our arrival at the Countryside Alliance stand that a photograph of the Farmer has been used on one of their large display boards. It is superb picture of him introducing a group of school children to our dairy cows. The picture was one of many taken by Charles Sainsbury-Plaice during a visit to Penyrallt by a school from a Carmarthen that was arranged by the Countryside Alliance Foundation,