Back in April, we were treated to a few days in Portugal courtesy of family. The first proper holiday abroad since the dreaded C, we were really grateful for the chance to escape for a little while. We hopped on a Ryanair (luckily getting through security with minimal delays or hitches) and a few hours, locator forms and vaccine passports later, we landed in Lisbon. A family member was chauffeur, and we piled into the back of the rental car. As darkness fell, we headed to an Airbnb in Colares, a few minutes from the coast.
There’s something magical about arriving in the dark, in a strange place, in a new country. The living room lights welcomed us in, as did cups of tea and the dumping of carry-on bags into new bedrooms. A pool glinted temptingly from underneath sliding covers – but that could wait for the morning. Yawning with that specific travel fatigue, we headed up the wooden stairs to bed.
I always look forward to that first glimpse of surroundings in the light of the new day when on holiday. We opened the shutters (shutters!) and were greeted by pine trees swaying in the breeze, the April clouds floating by, and the giggle of our younger family members playing around the pool below. Ahhh. Holiday!
Colares is handily located for travel, with regular buses and excitingly-old trams (well, one tram) rumbling to and from Sintra. Exploring the local area, we wandered down to Praia des Maçãs with its huge beach. Being April, it was quiet, with the beach absolutely deserted. The sea breeze was bordering on chilly, and we headed to a nearby beach café for fantastically garlicky cheese toasties and copious coffees.
Having chronic fatigue is slightly annoying for travel and so I slept a lot in the first day or two whilst everyone else did some exploring! Although lying on a deckchair under a pine tree wasn’t bad at all, and somehow way more restorative than back home…! A main aim of the trip was to eat as many Pastel del Natas as humanly possible and to go on a yellow tram. With this in mind, we caught the train from Sintra into Lisbon (cheap, clean, quiet and on time, a very different experience to the UK!) which took about 40 minutes.
Lisbon was a lot hotter than Colares – the sun beat down onto the pavements and we were glad to find a fountain and play in the mist for a while to cool down. With slight hanger setting in, we headed to one of many street cafés for lunch where I had a great lemonade – still, bitter and ice cold. I am still dreaming of it!
Luckily the café also sold pastries, so armed with a box of Pastel del Natas, we headed down to Commerce Square next to the sea, walking through the Arco da Rua Augusta. Watching a huge cruise liner float into the port, we devoured our pastries (excellent!) and headed up the hill in search of a tram. After some debate we luckily managed to catch a busy famous yellow 28 tram. I was a little disappointed with the huge adverts covering the trams which left only a slight hint of yellow on each, but once we were inside, it didn’t really matter! The interior is dark brown wood, with a standing area at the back, and we creaked along up the winding roads with the horn ringing to move people out of the way. It’s cheaper to pre-book tickets, but we just got them on board as we weren’t that organised, paying around €10 each.
There are many different tram routes, some there-and-back and others circular, so it’s worth having a look at a guide beforehand.
Back in Praia des Maçãs the next day, we ventured to a Roman fort – the Sítio Arqueológico do Alto da Vigia, located on the cliff next to the beach. Once the most Western point of the Roman Empire, we wandered around the ropes protecting the small excavation site, imagining life here, from baking summer heat to the wild waves of winter. A few miles down the coast at Praia Grande are dinosaur footprints (Pegadas de Dinossauro) – we didn’t manage to get to see them this time, but I’d love to go back to visit those, too. Looking down the rugged coastline and huge beaches, it seemed easier for me to imagine dinosaurs plodding along, leaving trails of footprints behind. Even though the world looked incredibly different in the time of the dinosaurs (the footprints are apparently on a vertical cliff!), there is something still ancient about the coastline.
In between all the exploring, we bobbled around the Airbnb, swam in the pool and visited some great eateries. Souldough Pizza was a particular highlight, located with a handful of other restaurants, Hops and Drops bar (great beer) veggie & vegan friendly, and with amazing wood-fired pizzas. You can order from any of the restaurants and they bring everything to your table – a great place to while away the hours, and a swing park for kids too. I had a pear, honey and parmesan pizza and it was *chef’s kiss*. We also wandered along to HopSin brewpub in Colares, a small brewery. They do small plates to eat, and we definitely recommend the 10-beer taster! I’m not a huge drinker any more sadly but the beers went down very well amongst those I was with!
It goes without saying that we just had an absolutely lovely family time. Catching up with everyone, having the laughs, the adventures, loud times, quiet times, play times and exploration times was just exactly what we needed – we had an amazing time and are so grateful to our family for the experience. I somehow managed to catch the plague in between England and Portugal, and for the last couple of days I was flat out with a stinking cold (not covid! Isn’t that a familiar phrase now whenever we are ill. ‘It’s not covid!’) and spent a day asleep feeling very sorry for myself whilst everyone else did some more exploring! I managed to wander the garden and loved all the exotic plants and flowers in bloom, even though it was only April. The bird of paradise plants and the huge cacti were my favourite.
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head home. Half of us had to return early as our flights were changed, and we left the rest of our party for another couple of nights. They managed to explore the castles of Sintra some more, catching a bus in between.
Dosed up on paracetamol and armed with an extra loo roll to blow my nose with, I still enjoyed our flight home – although security both at Lisbon and back in the UK was rammed and it took ages to get through. The route home was clear and calm and I loved watching the land and sea pass by far below. We even spotted a few other planes in the sky. After passing out asleep on the sofa when we got home, I felt a lot better the next day, typical!
I’d love to go back to Portugal – everyone was friendly and I feel we’d need a few weeks to even get started on all the places to explore. Even Lisbon itself would need a whole separate holiday! In April there are a few hot days, but near the coast I definitely didn’t bring enough jumpers – although getting them in a Ryanair cabin bag might prove a problem…
To finish off, here are a few more photos from our trip: the pear pizza, the infamous Pastel del Nata with the Arco da Rua Augusta in the background, and an obligatory plane window photo! Have you ever been to Portugal, or would you like to go? Where would you recommend?
I’m not too sure what a first glance at our garden would be like. To me, it’s years of light neglect that has somehow settled into a faded haven for slugs, bugs, and the things that like to munch on them. Letting go of the need for neatness allowed us to welcome in a growing number of cohabitants – nesting in gaps in the roof tiles, scurrying through hidden paths in unmown grass, hanging from spider webs between the plethora of spiky teasels that have self-sown this year.
The gravel ‘drive’ is couch grass, mostly. The lawn is unmown and long grass gently sways in the breeze under birch and willow. A rambling rose, perpetually angry at the world and anyone who dares walk near it is left to climb into the sky near the pond. Occasionally we’ll attempt to trim it, but it always fights back and usually wins, leaving us to retreat and tend our lacerated hands with tubes of germolene.
Four large trees live in the garden, and we exist underneath them, in a little green world of dappled shade. They drop catkins and sap onto our heads, and in turn we pat their trunks , occasionally turn the hosepipe on them, and tell them everything is going to be ok. They’ve raised blue tits, magpies, and dozens of sparrows. Wood pigeons roost and take great delight in pooping on anything and everything below.
We’re located on the side of a valley, with no part of the house facing south. This means that half the house gets morning sun, half gets evening sun, and some gets no direct sun whatsoever. In the winter, we’re mostly in shade as the sun struggles over the valley top, rolls along a little, and falls back down behind the hillside at around 3pm. The winters are long and grey. In the summer, the trees provide a cool, shady area to potter about in, whilst the other half of the house bakes in direct sun and the drying wind that is channelled down the valley most days.
I’ve spent years stressing about the encroaching grass, especially on the driveway, but recently am seeing it for a new habitat – the area is boggy, and after watching Nick Bailey on Gardener’s World suggesting planting irises in between long grass, I think I’ve come to a nice conclusion. I have a chronic illness so energy is in very short supply, which is why the garden has somewhat overtaken me over the years – it can be overwhelming, especially when I see people pottering about for hours, pulling up weeds, replanting and dividing – that’s mostly unachievable for me.
At first it was a challenge learning to live within those limits, to sit with it and notice the positives of having a wild garden. But of course, the more overgrown it became, the more wildlife came to join us within these stone walls. It’s changed the way I look at gardens entirely.
I think there’s a pressure to have a traditionally ‘beautiful’ garden, or at least an organised one. I admit I still get frustrated a little, but then I sit out with a cup of tea, on a bit of wall or stone, and just watch and listen to the buzz of life around me, and that feeling of comparison fades away. Frogs plopping into the pond, or raising their heads above the water covered in duckweed. Wasps scraping away at the beanpoles. Badgers bumbling through at night, the hedgehog snuffling around at dusk. The absolute rampant display of dandelions in spring, accompanied by just as many bees. Although I’m almost obscured by couch grass, it’s what supports the life that belongs here.
I think of this little piece of land and the phases it has been through. Old aerial photos of wartime veg beds, extending out into the fields beyond. A small road that ended in the garden (and that we uncovered when trying to build the veg patch – the plan changed rapidly to a raised bed!). The rocks and earth beneath, the water running through, deep below the surface. All we can do is exist lightly upon its surface, with our quirky human views of ownership. It’s a blink of an eye, our time in this place. We just try and make a good home for whatever else is here alongside us.
As what we would usually class as weeds amble slowly into the garden and make themselves at home, I’ve been looking them up and seeing how to make use of them. Viewing them this way reminds me that it is such a treat that they’ve chosen to spend a little time putting down roots in the same earth. I’ve made rosebay willow herb tea, bramble leaf beer and dandelion jam, whilst learning of the healing properties of plantain, clover and cleavers. I’ve held my nose bubbling nettle leaves into fertiliser, and woven reeds into Brigid’s crosses for Imbolc. After a while, weeds become abundance. Even the angry rose bush donates petals for tea and hips for syrup, albeit grudgingly.
These long June days are my favourite time of year. Time where the garden is rampant, spilling leaf over leaf in an exuberance that is unmatched. The more I take time to exist, quietly, alongside these plants and grasses and trees, the more I’m pulled headlong into that joyous energy that abounds. That relentless stretching growth, fuelled by the sun almost directly overhead. It’s a different feeling to spring, or summer proper, where flower heads are blooming then setting seed, veg is ripening, and everything seems to breathe out in readiness for autumn. June is the golden time for this rambling cottage garden – and rambling it most definitely is!
It’s the day before solstice, the shortest night. As the breeze floats through the grasses and the branches, I watch the robin pipping angrily at the woodpigeons that have dared to take over the shallow plant tray used as a birdbath. Dunnocks flit along the ground under the fir tree, skirting the variety of grasses there, the result of bird seed spillages over the years. It feels very much like it’s a space for all of us, no matter whether we have wings, arms, roots or many pairs of legs. We all just co-exist, in this little piece of land, no matter what we are. And that, I think, is the best feeling of all.
I find it hard to describe the few weeks run-up to summer solstice. I feel as if there is not enough of me to stretch into the heady long days. I cannot expand myself to feel it all – the smell of summer coming, the fresh leaves, the expectation, and that undercurrent, that something else none of us can put a finger on. I want to dissolve into it, every molecule fizzing into the season, expanding and stretching my soul into the dusk, the 3am light, the days that could go on forever, if we just let them.
I belong here, in these few weeks. It tugs my heart and I wish with all my being that I could just hit pause and stay in this rush of energy, of light and warmth, for just a little longer. It’s the final few seconds before the rollercoaster tips over the top of the track. That last held breath, the possibilities, the surge of adrenaline and hope and fear and just life, life, the joy of experience, all wrapped up in endless daylight and growth and wonder.
I feel the sun, pulling us all upwards, trees spreading branches into huge skies, reaching as far as they will go. I reach my hands upwards, stretch, lengthen my limits and my soul and my thoughts. Every part of me belongs, finally.
I hop and fizz each evening as twilight begins to descend, eyes bright in the gloom that’s never quite darkness. Soul season, bare feet in late nights with the ghostly flit of moths, the bats, the deer quietly whispering through the long grass. The campfire twang from millennia past, the feeling that one moment stretched back over echoes, hints, a scent on the breeze. For these few weeks I am wholly, truly me.
It’s four days before solstice and I breathe this headiness deep into my lungs, treasuring every smell, every rustle of every leaf, each caress of that breeze on my skin. I place my hands on tree trunks and share that deep contentment, where light is plentiful and the days are warm. I push down that knot of sadness that all too soon it will be over, darkness returning, temperature falling, the UK grey seeping in at the edges – but for now, I dance into my season, on and on and on into these endless days.
I can’t quite believe it’s Sunday Chat time again, another week has flashed by in the blink of an eye. It’s cold here today, that chill wind over the last few days has reminded me that summer isn’t quite here yet – the jumpers have found their way back out of the wardrobe and the heating has snuck on for a day or two. The UK weather, notoriously indecisive as always. Mr. GF is laying paving slabs (from freecycle!) outside and I’ve got a cuppa and a biscuit (or two) and am settling down to write this Sunday post under a blanket. I’m quite looking forward to having a catch up so please share what you’ve been up to this week! How has your Sunday been so far?
I’ve had a slow week again, mostly pottering around the house and garden, a few errands run and that’s it. It’s one of those times that is small, quiet, kind of folded in on itself. I somehow just wanted to be alone, forget the world for a bit, spend time hiding away. I’m not sure why but some weeks are like that, and I’m learning to go with the ebb and the flow. I spent a while fighting this sort of feeling, but eventually realised there’s strength and healing in it, learnt to listen and to relax into it. There’s still a tinge of guilt, that ‘should be doing something’ feeling that never goes away, but it doesn’t shout any more, just mutters along in the background. It helped to pop up to the moors for an evening – the wide spaces always help me gain some perspective.
Something that has brought me great joy this week are the lengthening days – there is a glow on the horizon still at 11pm now, and I just feel my soul fizzing with the joy of it.
I’m a light person, a heat person, born in June and full of it person. Those evenings that go on forever, those days that begin before we’re even aware of it. Just a soft touch into darkness and then off again, that swirl of energy, life, warmth. I could live my life in summer, always. May is that tantalising month, that promise that it’s coming, the slow tick up the track, just before the rollercoaster tips over the top and rushes into the riot of summer. Soon, so soon. Although as the sky darkens this afternoon and the wind cools even more, I’m not sure it will be all that soon at all…
Weather aside, everything is green in the valley. To look around is to absorb millions of shades of green and it is absolute joy. It’s weird but just spending some time looking at all those different shades makes my eyes relax somehow. It’s sort of a reminder that instead of screens, this is what I should be looking at instead! We walked around a local nature reserve this morning, under branches bursting with those soft new leaves, almost like velvet.
In garden news, the blue tits fledged earlier this week, and sparrows this morning – I love to watch them all learning how to ‘bird’… cue much falling off bird feeders and shuffling precariously along branches. I sat in the car and watched a new fledgling blue tit perched on the woodpile, being fed and ‘encouraged’ by the parents – I made an Instagram highlight if you want to have a look (it’s called ‘fledglings’). Very cute indeed!
The garden is blooming well – here’s a little posy of flowers I collected displayed in a very upmarket ‘vase’ – a tomato sauce bottle! I really like the shape of it, don’t judge me ;). Here there are chives, bistort and ceanothus.
So, that brings me to the end of this post – a quiet week all in all! Do you find some weeks quieter or slower than others? How do you feel about slower times? (And let me know if you also use ketchup bottles for vases…)
This week I’m:
Reading – The new book from Dainty Dress Diaries aka Catherine Carton. She’s one of my favourite YouTubers and this collection of 50 DIY and upcycling projects is just what I needed to spark my creative mojo!
Brewing – Darkwoods Coffee Roasters Colombian Mikava. Full of funky fermented flavours, fully recommend if you’re into great coffee that tastes unique.
Watching – Huw Richards and his fab garden – recently talking about how he has stopped weeding, very inspirational for us as our garden is about 90% weeds and we’ve just been letting them get on with it to be honest! We’ve been watching Huw for years and his videos are an absolute goldmine if you’re into any sort of gardening or interested in permaculture or no-dig.
P.S. My coffee wax melts arrived and as promised last week, I can report they smell lovely! I got the morning coffee ones from A Slow Sunday. Plus there was a free sample of ‘Spring Blooms’ which is also beautiful and will probably fall into my online shopping basket at some point in the future 😉
Welcome to our Yorkshire cottage kitchen – the place where cake and tea and coffee and biscuits lurk! Hoorah. You’ll need some slippers as the tiled floor is freezing, the walls are insulated with actual rubble and one single old duvet stuffed under a windowsill, and the sun only shines through the window for approximately 2 months of the year… but it’s homely, welcoming, and today I’m going to chat through how we did it – including how much it cost!
It’s important to us to use as much secondhand stuff as we can. Having previously worked in charity
retail for a good few years it really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of amazing, perfectly good stuff that is thrown away every single day. Most of our furniture is from charity shops, freecycle and eBay (and most of my clothes, too) and we try and repair things as best we can. With this in mind, and on a very tight budget, we decided to make over the kitchen a little to fit more with our style.
So firstly, we enter through this small door! Mr. GF has to duck everytime. It was originally dark brown woodstain like pretty much everything when we moved in, so we painted it blue and put the window in too to let some light in as the kitchen is very dark. I painted the frame white too (of course it was brown!). I love this door but have no idea why it is so small!
The conservatory tiles are the original ones from when we moved in, we haven’t had either the budget or the motivation to do anything about them yet. They’re fine, not quite to our taste but not entirely offensive, so they’re staying for now.
Back to the kitchen!
We bought the table with the house and I love it. We wood-burned our names and the date we moved in onto it so it feels special! It’s a good size for the room although we have no idea how the previous owners managed to get it through the door…maybe they built it in situ?!
One wooden chair is from my childhood home and the rest are from Oxfam (£5 each!). On that note, the Le Creusset kettle is also from Oxfam, as is the enamel breadbin.
When we moved in, there was a gorgeous Rayburn tucked in the chimney breast that also heated the hot water. However, it proved so expensive to run that we decided to change the oven. Luckily we were able to give it away to a good home, and even more luckily, found this beautiful blue Rangemaster on Freecycle! We were able to snap it up and bring it home, and after a VERY good clean we had it professionally installed (this is a must due to legalities!) across on the other side of the kitchen.
We had to buy a new cover for the back as it was missing and not legal, but this was cheaper than I expected (I think about £25?) direct from Rangemaster. We also bought an extractor which was on sale. Whilst the gas fitters were here we had the old gas pipes sealed off in the chimney area. After one too many times bumping our heads we decided to turn the chimney space into a pantry/larder instead.
We reduced the amount of cupboards when we re-did everything, so having this space to keep dry goods, baking supplies and tins in is so helpful. The curtains (terribly sewn by myself) also hide the microwave. We just have wire racking inside and a few baskets. The spice cupboard to the left was here when we moved in, of course, again it was stained dark brown! Many coats of paint later it’s now cream-ish and full of lovely smelling spices.
The clothes airer is so useful – one of the iron hangers was snapped when we moved in. Luckily a friend had some spare so we did a barter exchange. I can’t believe it but yes, again, the original wood slats were stained dark brown (!!) resulting in every bit of washing absorbing a nice dark brown line across it… so we replaced the wood as well. We are going to strip the beams too, one day, but after doing the same in the living room we still haven’t quite recovered from the ordeal. So it may be a few more years!
Fairy lights, Wharfdale speakers and blue glass net float all from charity shops!
We re-did all the cupboards as the old ones were really small, old, and starting to fall to bits. We got the actual cupboards from a place on eBay that sells B&Q returns and damaged stock and luckily just the boxes were damaged so we got a bargain! The oak doors were very kindly given to us by my lovely cousin who was redoing their kitchen. I’ve contemplated painting them but really like the bare wood so am sticking with it. I’ve seen lots of kitchen units and doors on freecycle over the years so it’s worth keeping an eye out. There are also companies that do new fronts for IKEA cupboard units so that might be a cheaper option to refresh, rather than buying new units.
The splashback behind the oven and around the worktops is made from reclaimed roofing slates which were pretty cheap and look great. We varnished them once in place, so they’re easy to scrub clean. The total cost for all the slates came in at £20, plus another £15 for grout and adhesive.
The wooden cupboard on the wall houses the electrics and is made out of old pallet wood by DIY maestro Mr. GF. Talking of pallet wood, all the windowsills are also made from old pallets! It’s doing the windowsills in this house that you realise why it’s so cold.
These kitchen ones have just a huge gaping space underneath, with some convenient holes in the wall that go straight outside. No insulation at all (the rest of the house has none either, just rubble in between the thick stone walls!). We had an old duvet so stuffed that in to try and stop the wind whistling through, and jammed the worst holes up with expanding foam.
I had always dreamed of having a Belfast sink, and we managed to get ours from ‘Bargain Corner’ at IKEA for less than half the price of a new one. This cost us £40 as we also had a £20 voucher! I think it is an IKEA Domsjo, which has apparently been discontinued now, which is sad! Mr. GF made some legs for it from metal poles, and again I used my awful sewing skills to make a curtain to hide underneath (washing powder and spiders!).
I love the old tiled floor even though it is freezing and shatters anything you drop on it. I get tempted by all the beautiful shiny kitchens you see on social media but I just really like that we’ve managed to make a quality, homely space that’s unique. Using lots of old bits of wood and pallets to turn into shelves, cupboards and windowsills gives it quite an organic feel – again I like colour but I think really I prefer the natural wood with all its knots and grain.
Lastly, here’s our coffee station – not much second hand here except the Krups grinder from eBay and the shelving made from old planks. Fun fact – the top one is straight when you put a spirit level on, but looks wonky…optical illusion! Or too much coffee, maybe. 😉 Again, the tiles are roofing slates.
We painted this whole wall in shiny copper paint in a fit of excitement and I love it. It really warms this cold, dark room up. I’m not sure metallics are so ‘cool’ any more but I don’t care. It makes all the wood look nice and really goes quite well with the white and grey of the other walls. We used Crown Metallic in Copper. The walls themselves are very wonky and the metallic shows up all the lumps and bumps which actually I quite like, it gives areas of shadow and light where you’re least expecting!
In total, the kitchen cost £845 for absolutely everything. That includes £200 for tradesmen, all the petrol to drive to collect bits and bobs, all the fixtures, paint, and fittings (including to change the hot water heater over). It even includes paint brushes! The most expensive thing was the Saljan worktop which we got new from IKEA and cost £150, followed by the cupboards which cost £140 in total, for 8 units (1 corner one) and a wine rack!
Well that’s really everything for the kitchen, I think. I’m sure I’ll think of other things as soon as I put this post live but hey ho. Have you refreshed a room on a budget? What’s the best thing you’ve found on freecycle or second hand? I’d love to hear!
Welcome to the first Sunday Chat 🙂
It’s Sunday and the perfect time for a bit of a break and a chatty, probably overly-long post! Brew up and come and join me for a few moments as I type away. On my old blog I used to quite like doing these sort of chatty posts, I called them my ‘morning brews’. I think I’d quite like to carry that on here, as more of an off topic weekly ramble! So ramble on I will, haha! Please join in the comments…
It’s a blustery day, hot in the south apparently, from looking at Instagram stories. Here in Yorkshire it’s mild but with a slight chill in the wind. The newly flowering lilac dances in the breeze as blue tits chirp angrily at Agatha as she wanders about below the tree. It’s a lazy kind of day, the best kind. I’ve scoffed a Sunday treat of a pain au chocolat and am now sat in the conservatory next to a tray of plants, bouncing away in my freecycle Poang. Lovely!
I’ve spent the morning attempting to set up a new login for my laptop, to separate my blog from my uni work – I was beginning to dread turning on the laptop in case I spotted emails, or Teams started pinging away. I wasn’t enjoying having a visual reminder of all the work I have to do, when all I want is to log into my blog and type away happily!
After wading through two hours of Windows bloat, I’ve finally sorted out a nice, calm area with just the essentials for blogging. It’s really nice not getting distracted by a million things and having a separation between uni and blog. I’ve been swearing at the screen all morning as it kept putting loads of pop up news things, weird apps that have nothing to do with anything, and bizarre notifications, all of which you have to manually delete one after the other. So hopefully I’ve got them all now and nothing else annoying is going to sneak in and remind me of all the horrible things happening in the world without me asking it to.
It’s been a quiet week – I’ve just felt like hiding at home and doing small things. Repotting, sitting in the shed, getting lost in social media too many times, cooking, watching plants flower and leaves turn ever greener. I used to fight against weeks like this, but now I embrace them a little more. Everything comes in waves, after all, don’t you find? The slower weeks are just as important. A positive was that the new Permaculture mag plopped through the letterbox and I had plenty of time to immerse myself in it. I also sat down at my piano for the first time in ages and had a tentative hour or so playing my way rustily around some pieces I haven’t touched for a year.
After lockdown stopped my lessons and my teacher then retired, I gradually stopped playing as much, and then as other things filled my brain, little by little I found I’d stopped totally. Without an external structure I find it hard to keep going – but it was nice to sit back down in front of the keys. Kind of like a hello after a long time. I’m finding a lot of things are like that, at the moment. After lockdown, it feels we’re doing a lot of things for the first time again. Do you feel that? I’m finding it rather strange, a little excited and apprehensive in equal measures.
I feel like something is missing though, somehow – like we have this huge, shared experience, this shared trauma, and no-one is talking about it. We’re just ‘back to normal’ here in the UK, but of course, it isn’t normal. I wonder how long it will take to trickle out. How things will turn out in the coming years for people.
Back in the garden, I’ve been repotting ferociously, if you can do such a thing! (Image of wild ginger-haired woman flinging compost madly around the greenhouse, surrounded by 4000 seedlings and absolutely no medium-sized pots anywhere to be seen!).
It’s that time of year when I regret planting so many tomatoes. Does anyone else have the tomato regret? I don’t know how I ended up with so many, I’m sure I only planted 4 seeds. Even though one was a frankenseed and ended up producing five plants out of the one seed which I couldn’t separate, so it is now growing away happily in a single pot. I’m wondering if it will produce some exciting franken-matoes?!
We also popped into Scape Lodge’s NGS Open Garden last week and got loads of inspiration from their absolutely stunning garden high up in the hills. I took so many photos! There were tulips galore, exciting nooks and crannies and incredible trees making a beautiful scene every way we turned. Oh, an a cat-shaped topiary! They’re open again in June and I fully recommend a visit. (There was also a delicious selection of cakes!).
On that note, I think it’s time to finish my coffee and potter on. I think I’ll try and make these as regular as possible, and maybe get them up at a specific time each Sunday, like a proper cuppa and a chat?
This week I’m:
Listening – to The Scotland Yard Confidential podcast on Spotify – I’m not usually a podcast person but this new crime podcast kept my attention the whole way through, full of dastardly deeds, detective’s intuition and entertaining narration that made me giggle.
Buying – I finally began getting through a pile of free wax melt samples I’d amassed. Unfortunately the scents weren’t for me (bit headache-y, does anyone else get that with certain scents?) so I ordered A Slow Sunday’s Morning Coffee scented ones instead – I’ll report back once I’ve had the chance to try them out.
Refilling – my UpCircle face cream. On the third refill now, I think! The cream itself smells amazing and really helps to soften my dry skin up. I’m also a huge fan of the coffee eye cream (can you see a coffee-related pattern here) which I also use the refill scheme for. They come in glass jars with metal lids, so plastic free too.
Reading – Helen Lewis’s The Bluestocking newsletter – excellently written.
What else does a day need when you have coffee cake? Here’s my favourite recipe, from the no-longer-there/now something else Cegin Llynnon tea rooms in Anglesey.
My little recipe book advises it was created by the proprietor Dilys Hughes, so thank you Dilys for many years of amazing coffee cakes. All in old school ounces, so you may need your conversion heads on. An ounce is 28 grams, apparently.
6 oz sieved self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
6 oz soft margarine
6 oz caster sugar
2 oz walnuts
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 dessertspoon hot water
2 oz butter
4 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp hot water
2 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tbsp hot water
Walnut halves to decorate
Pre-heat your oven to Gas 3, 170C. Lightly grease two 7″ sandwich tins and line the base with greaseproof (I use cake release and don’t bother with the lining!)
Dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water, then place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, including coffee mixture. Beat well to creamy dropping consistency. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-35 mins until spongy. Leave to cool a moment in the tins, then turn out onto a rack to cool properly.
Buttercream – again, dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Cream butter until soft, then gradually beat in sugar and add coffee liquid. Beat well then use to sandwich cake layers together.
Topping – you guessed it, dissolve coffee in the water. Place icing sugar in a bowl then gradually add coffee mixture until the consistency of thick cream. Spread over cake and sprinkle your walnut halves on top.
Notes: I usually make 1.5 times the topping as the original is a bit stingy with the quantity! I also put more instant coffee into pretty much all of the stages as I love a strong coffee taste. Definitely remember to sieve the flour, it makes a big difference. Cake also freezes pretty well, if there’s any left…! Coffee beans in photos for hashtag aesthetic purposes only. Although you can munch on them whilst making the cake, of course 😉
The rain is warm, a rare treat in the UK, and falling hard, fat raindrops plopping into hastily formed puddles, battering against earth that a few moments ago was dry dust. That smell, petrichor, floating joyously through open windows, the sun and heat of the morning suddenly dark, suddenly grey. The rain hammers against the conservatory, a thousand drumbeats, loud and insistent. Come outside, warm rain says. Feel alive.
I dance through open doors and turn my face to the sky, a relief after this dry spell. With water butts running dry and just a few drizzly days over the last six weeks or so, the weather has broken and it’s time to celebrate, even in a small way. Plants seem joyous, water battering green leaves, finally. Rivulets rush from the steep lawn, over the driveway, onto the road – the earth is too dry to absorb this sudden river. I stand, with heavy rain hitting my scalp, soaking through my clothes, raising hands to the sky and laughing, laughing.
This morning, everything is greener, brighter, fresher. The day dawns with blues and pinks and those fluffy clouds that rush across the skies as though chasing each other. The breeze brings a coolness and trees stretch into themselves, lazily reaching to the sun, refreshed from the energy of just a few hours ago.
The UK is no stranger to rain, of course. But those big, swollen raindrops after a hot morning – where the skies are leaden but the downpour still has warmth – those are the rare days. We are used to freezing pinpricks, cold mizzle, slate grey and shivering. I feel alive in warm rain, I need to run out in it, be part of it, rather than hiding away. There’s something primal, freeing, standing in this suburban garden but feeling some ancient reminder – an echo, a shadow – of what it is to be a human, standing in a downpour, for no other reason than to feel alive. Water for life, water for the soul.
Staying in a leaking tent in a downpour is pretty miserable, I admit. As much as I like to be ‘one with the elements’, when the elements start dripping through the roof onto your socks then it’s time to make a move. So, embracing the downpour, we scuttled into the car and headed for one of our favourite beaches on Anglesey.
There’s a small layby for parking which has become a lot busier over the years. Even in this weather there were a few other cars already parked. Down the track, past a bush covered in knots of tent moth caterpillars, we spotted the few other hardy souls wandering through the downpour in the distance. Not just us that likes a bracing walk! As the sodden sand mingled with the surf, we tracked footprints along the shoreline, rain dripping from our noses.
Porth Nobla is along the coast from Rhosneigr, just before (or after, depending which way you’re coming!) the better known Cable Bay. Down a small track, there is a nice sandy beach, plenty of rockpools, and a path around the headland to the Neolithic burial chamber Barclodiad y Gawres. The burial chamber is amazing, although the entrance is barred off. Peering into the gloom you can make out artworks, and there is usually an lovely array of gifts left just through the bars too.
This time, the rain was driving and we stayed on the beach. Clambering over rocks, pointing out anemones and winkles, wandering up shingle to find dragons eggs (definitely not just a pebble). I was more than happy to find some exciting coloured seaweed. I’m sure one day I’ll learn to identify it! An oystercatcher flapped at us as we stumbled near its nesting site, and we wandered back down to the sand, not wanting to disturb it. I’ve been coming to this beach for my entire life. Seeing how it changed between each visit is always interesting, tinged with a little nostalgia as I remember family holidays as a small child, a teen, a young adult. Now I’m approaching middle age, walking the shoreline with Mr. GF. Anchoring a bit of myself with each footstep, hearing the echoes of years past.
I’ve always wanted to stay in Tyn Towyn, the little white cottage at the top of Porth Nobla beach, but never have! Every time I wander past I think I’d love to stay there. Winter would be fantastic, rain lashing at the windows and no mobile signal. Right up my street! It looks great in any season, and I imagine early morning swims in the summer and books and blankets in winter. We have wild camped on this beach previously, lying on sand above the high tide line with the milky way hanging in the dark above and waves breaking along miles of coastline. Good times, and way less rainy. 5am camp coffee with the rising sun, bacon butties and sand in sleeping bags.
Back to the present and by the time we got back to the car, we were the only ones left in the lay by. We peeled our wet coats off, dripping onto the car seats. As the windows steamed up we were looking forward to hot chips from Rhosneigr on the way back. We planned paracord washing lines to dry our clothes once the rain had passed and headed down the road, leaving the wild waves behind.
It feels a little weird as this is the first proper post I’ve written in a few months now. But with the spirit of the season, a burst of activity on the blog is long overdue!
I’m a little late, Beltane was a few weeks ago now, but the spirit of the season is strong – that rush of proper spring, where plants are pushing through soil with vigour. The first tentative greens of early spring are deepening, with leaves almost shining as they unfurl, trees luscious, tulips almost glowing. Isn’t it heady? The explosion of life. I feel it waits and waits and then suddenly withing a couple of weeks, some invisible dam breaks and it all comes rushing out at once. I love it.
Here in Yorkshire, the days are noticeably longer – last night there was still that faint greenish glow on the horizon at past 10pm. I love this feeling – my soul season. Long days, colour, that expectation of summer just around the corner. Do you feel it, too? I spend the winter longing for these days, a little unsettled, out of sorts. The last few weeks, suddenly I fit in, and I languish in the smell of blossom, the buzz of the first bees, the wriggle of tadpoles. My soul stretches out like the daylight. The garden brings me solace each season, but the garden at Beltane is really getting into its own.
We lost a bird box in one of the storms earlier this year, but blue tits have moved into the remaining one, and this week we could hear the first hungry cheeps of the tiny hatchlings inside as the parents pop in and out with a relentless supply of creepy crawlies, from dawn to dusk, it seems. Occasionally, they’ll rest a moment on a bird feeder, bedraggled and exhausted, snatching a few bits of peanut or seed before setting off again.
Magpies have tried to nest at the top of the fir tree for the last few years but succumbed to the winds that blow in down the valley. This year, they’ve moved into the willow and successfully weathered a few storms with the nest staying put – and again, this week, we hear babies squawking quietly in response to the parent’s croaks.
The tadpoles are wriggling furiously in the pond – we were planning on having a good clear out of the pond however the day we planned to do it, we awoke to find it full of frogspawn! So a gentle plant trim and scoop of duckweed was done instead. Of course, the duckweed is back in full flow and has covered the surface entirely. Ah well!
We had our first successful tulip year as well. We treated ourselves to a myriad of beautiful, exciting ones from Farmer Gracy, as well as some extras from shops around and about. What a show! I put some tubs by the front of the house to welcome us as we came home, as well as some optimistic ones in the lawn (all came up but at different times!) and more pots around the back. They made such a difference, bringing such colour to the garden and really lifting our spirits. We also managed to plant a bargain bag of reduced mixed daffodils from B&Q which again, gave a really good show, especially since I think it was £3 for the whole bag!
I think investing in the tulips was a great idea. I’ve never bought bulbs from a ‘proper’ place before, and we were so impressed. I think we spent about £25 including some crocuses as well (amazing orange ones!) and just to have that bit of joy and colour as everything else was getting going was really worth the money. I’d love to hear what you’re growing at the moment – if you’re a tulip fan, how did yours get on this year? Where do you buy your bulbs?
We’ve been busy in the veg patch too, but I’ll save that for another post! Hope you have a lovely day,