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,
I have a penchant for interesting things in old tins. There’s something fascinating about the possibilities that could be contained within, the individuality, the tetris-like placement of items. The myriad of options. Any number of small things could find their home in that familiar, pocket-sized container.
In a recent issue of Ernest Journal, writer Tanya Shadrick shared her ‘concentrates of place‘, beautiful memories nestled in old tobacco tins. As a fan of making treasure to remind me of places, reading about her tins enthralled me. The possibilities an old cigarette tin has are endless and always intriguing.
I’m happy to have my own old tin, snuffled from eBay, a gold Nosegay tobacco tin in which I keep my tiny emergency kit for when I am wandering about on the moors. Said kit has slightly expanded out of the tin, but joyously, a teeny little IKEA bag does the job of carrying the expanded items just fine.
I am by no means a long distance walker, but enjoy an morning or afternoon’s plod accompanied by my thoughts, ideally in driving rain, damp drizzle or gusting wind, when most other people are sensibly indoors and the only people you meet are people just as enthusiastic and daft as you, raindrops dripping from their noses, exchanging eye rolls and grins and that unspoken wildness just below the surface.
Up on the moors, there are dips and holes and bogs and a myriad of places to fall into, off and through. With this in mind, I put together a little kit, just in case on day one of these hazards creeps up on me and catches me unawares. These days I never get so far as to be miles from civilisation, but having a little backup just in case puts me at ease. Plus, I get to put things in a tin, which is always the real reason for doing anything.
This is my current mini emergency kit all packed up:
The mini IKEA bag gives me an immense amount of joy, honestly. The perfect size to pop in your adventure rucksack.
In addition to my two containers, I also take two clips that came with my walking poles – they just look useful in case I need to hang any soggy socks off a nearby branch. There’s a tin of Vaseline – in addition to helping chapped anything, it can also be spread onto cotton rounds to help them burn slower if you need to start a fire. And of course, no walk is complete without Kendal Mint Cake (a quick mint-flavoured rabbit hole has led me to discover no less than 4 mint cake brands, although the packaging of Romney’s is tip top. They also do tins! Huzzah).
The ‘thing in the bag’ is a knitted mat (I spun the wool, terribly, then used my knitting skills – also terrible – to make this rectangle. The good thing about both those things is that the wool is very thick and the knitting is very tight. Happily, this makes a comfy, warm sitting pad!) Popped in a carrier bag, it is a smug way to sit on rocks/grass/damp ground and not get a numb bum.
Unpacked, my mini kit looks like this:
In addition to the items I talked about, my mini emergency kit has a couple of first aid bits – gauze bandage, cleansing wipe, paracetamol. The moors are damp and mossy, sphagnum moss makes a great poultice. The aforementioned cotton pads for if ever I needed to start a fire (absolutely banned on the moors, for good reason) and a small fire steel. Practically, I have some paracord and a Swiss Card containing a small knife, tweezers, pen, screwdriver, bottle opener and file. I used to have one with a magnifying glass and scissors, but stupidly forgot and left it in my hand luggage on the way to Iceland one year. You can guess the rest.
Lastly, I take a bit of paper with emergency details on – who I am, who to contact, car reg & description, any meds/health conditions. In summer, I’d add Factor 50 (ginger) and insect repellent if I’m about around dusk.
Of course, I always take a bottle of water, usually a quick lunch or snack and some fruit/nuts. I charge my phone before I go and if I’m going to be a while I take a battery pack and lead. App-wise, I have What3Words (also useful for marking interesting places) and a first aid app, and use the free version of OutdoorActive as my map and route tracker – it works on GPS too if there’s no reception.
For me, this is an easy way to make sure I have something useful on me if I encounter a calamity on a boggy adventure, and means I can help myself a little whilst I wait to be rescued. It also satisfies my ‘things in old tins’ penchant.
Do you have a mini emergency kit (or large emergency kit) you take with you on walks, no matter how long they are? Of course, longer adventures require different essentials. I’m interested to know what you class as essential for your adventures. Also if you love keeping things in tins, or is it just me…
It’s March now, somewhat unbelievably. 2022 seems to have sped by so quickly, January and February feel so distant, like I missed them somehow. It’s been a quiet time, hiding from the news, watching and waiting and trying to make some sense of it all, and all that has happened in the last few years.
Against this backdrop of big, unsettling thoughts, I can notice our little garden and the changes that emerge. The light still returns, the shoots still emerge, the world still spins on and on. And in that there is comfort, for me at least.
Equinox is approaching, finally that tip into the lighter half of the year. Impatient, I see pictures from those further South, of bulbs flowering and finishing before ours are even above the soil. I know, though, that soon the leaves will bud and the insects will return. The early signs of spring are showing – slowly now, but I can’t wait for that heady rush when the season tumbles into life, changing day by day, with vibrance and energy and that riot of life.
Life in the pond
In the pond, leaves are growing and ripples start to twitch the surface, evidence of movement in the mud underneath. Yesterday, a frog popped its head above the surface for a few seconds, caught in a sunbeam. I felt a rush of relief that they have survived the winter. I check my Biotime diary – this time in 2020 there was spawn in the pond. Things are a little later this year, for sure.
The pond is overgrown, roots and duckweed all tangled together in clumps. Leaves from the holly tree above have fallen in copious amounts over winter. Now the frogs are up and about, I will wait for a warm day to clear it out and tidy up a little, before spawning. I usually find a few grumpy frogs still hiding in the mud at the bottom.
Along with the mud, they spend a few moments in a bucket, before mud, plus frogs, are tipped back in. It’s good to keep a nice layer at the bottom for them to hide in, and to keep a good dose of microbes there. The pond has established over a few years now, with clear water and healthy plants. I don’t want to clear all of that away, just give the inhabitants a little more room to move.
Every year I put a few handfuls of barley straw in a bit of chicken wire. As the straw rots it keeps the water clear (through some magic of science!) and provides a place for snails, larvae and the occasional frog to hide in.
Bulbs and birds
On Christmas Eve we planted bulbs in the lawn – crocuses and tulips – and they are pushing up through the moss now. At one side the crocuses are flowering, nestled underneath the Birch, tiny happy colours hinting at what’s to come. The snowdrops have finished for the year and daffodils are waiting for that perfect time to pop into bloom – not just yet, they say.
I feel that a little myself. That waiting, through the winter. It’s not time for action, just yet. Nurture those seeds planted, physically and mentally, in this world and in others. I always feel a disconnect with the whole ‘new year’ push. In the dead of winter, it is time to reflect, to hibernate a little. I used to push against this, but falling back into the rhythm of the seasons over the years has helped me to go with the tide some more. It’s ok to slow, to wait out the dark. We are still animals, part of that huge, glorious interconnected web. We still feel the pull of the earth.
Back in the garden, the birds are busy singing for mates, gathering twigs, filling up on seed before the still-cold nights. The hedgehog has happily returned, wandering past our wildlife camera in the dead of night, snuffling for nourishment after waking from a long sleep. It’s a noticeable shift – something has changed. That rising anticipation for warmer days and the sumptuous joy of those long, light nights. I know soon that the bees will return – I miss their background hum during winter.
We’ve planted our first seeds in a propagator – it’s our first year of having one and wow! The difference! In a few days, shoots were exploding with life. I’ll write a post about the propagator in the future. It’s brilliant so far. I worry for the potting on and transferring of those small plants to outdoor life, but it will happen as it will – I’m sure we will manage.
As the light returns, I feel myself starting to wake a little more with the longer days. Planting, moving, creativity.
A few sparks signalling a shift in me, too.
Amidst the wild winds of Storm Malik this weekend, I glanced out of the window to see the first little snowdrops of the season dancing their heads in the gales. Small delicate white petals nodding this way and that as the wind whipped over the low stone wall beside them.
Amidst the storm, a reminder that soon the days will lengthen, the sun will warm us, the endless UK grey will give way to bluer skies and louder birdsong. I do not mind so much the days before winter solstice. The darkening and quieting of all, as we settle down to winter. It is the drawn out waiting of January, February and into March – that all pervading greyness, the damp cold, the washed out colours and brown twiggy borders. The trees that seem to take forever to bud, the waiting, waiting for those promised spring days that are always just around the corner. My mood settles with the grey. That something just out of reach.
I am impatient, as always. I want summer, with the heat and 11pm light and heady scents of honeysuckle in the dusk. I thrive with that rush of energy. My soul stretches out to fill those long, bright days. Here, still in winter, I feel small, drab, as if those days will never come. But they will, I know, and even now signs of change are popping up, however small.
The snowdrops are accompanied by the sun peeking back over the top of the valley in mid-January, shining into the windows to the back of the house, even just for a few minutes each day. I rush upstairs and throw the windows open, close my eyes and bask my face in the weak rays, the pale golden light.
Bulbs planted in Autumn begin to poke tentative leaves above ground – tulips, daffodils, crocuses – bringing the promise of colour and flower and those insects that love to feed on their pollen.
I miss the busy buzz of bees in the background, that soundtrack of spring and summer. Soon the tree bees will return (hopefully) to the attic, buzzing around the stone roof, whizzing around the garden, mating in piles of legs, wings and fuzz.
It is time, too, to begin to move myself. It is all too easy to sink into stasis when everything around you is deep in winter slumber. Although yes, stasis is needed. Winter of the soul. Balance in all, the ever-turning spiral. Now, along with the slowly awakening land, it is time for me to awaken, too. To fall back in love with the area I live in. To take those little sparks of energy, when they appear, and direct them into a life, into enjoyment, laying bases for things to come. Like the turn of the earth, to wax and wane with the seasons.
Now the snowdrops are here, spring will turn ever quicker, a reminder that even when all seems silent on the surface, inside little bulbs life is continuing to thrive. Even in the frozen dead of winter, deep down under the soil, plants and animals still feel the change of the days and ready themselves. I hope I can do the same.
With that, I re-fill my mug with tea and pull on an old jumper. I head outside, in search of more signs of spring.
We’ve lived in our cottage for a decade this year. When we moved in our garden was clipped and manicured and mown, and we promptly set about doing absolutely nothing to keep it like that. As we learned more about the decimation of wildlife by the overuse of pesticides and the loss of habitat (Dave Goulson’s ‘The Garden Jungle‘ is a great read about this), we made a conscious choice to stop fighting to keep things ‘perfect’, and in a way, created our own kind of perfect.
The garden has really started to relax into itself once more. Clover began to grow through the gravel driveway. Couch grass is taking over. The lawn grows wild, mown maybe twice a year. About three years ago, we noticed the insect population was flourishing – more ladybirds, moths, beetles, flying things and crawling things were returning.
Frogs croak away to each other in the pond. Wasps lived in the attic for a year and we left them to it (although slightly regrettable, as we are still finding bits of them in the water tank). The next year, and every year since, tree bumblebees have lived in the other side. Bats flit around in summer and mice live in the garden walls.
It’s been amazing and rewarding to see nature coming back. We haven’t used a pesticide for years now, and seeing the return of insects, followed by bigger animals – hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, a cheeky squirrel – is one of the best feelings. We have an ongoing large housing development being built right next to the garden, and although it has been silent since the start of lockdown, building will recommence imminently. I worry for the animals that have made their homes in the abandoned site -shrews, voles, the badgers, even a herd of deer – so want to make our little patch of land as wildlife-friendly as possible.
A lot of people would call our garden a mess. There are piles of stones and logs, leaves everywhere, grasses left long through the winter, mining bees nesting in mud. However, wandering round with a brew in my hand, I’d say it’s more ‘interesting’. There’s always something to look at, even now in January.
However, we do want to make some changes this year. The couch grass is running rampant, and we have a pile for the skip that has been home to some spiders for the last few years – but the bags of rubble and old pipework really need to disappear. I’m also excited to grow more flowers, sort out a shady area, and maximise the sunny spots. This bit by the shed has become a dumping ground for the remnant of all the house DIY we have been doing.
Believe it or not, under the grass is a gravel driveway! This area gets really boggy since the new building behind us has stripped all the natural drainage away from the field. The plan is to plant ferns, foxgloves, hostas and other shady plants as this area only gets sun in June around midsummer. We will probably re-gravel the driveway due to the poor drainage.
I love all the piles of logs we have dotted around. Something definitely lives in here, but I didn’t want to disturb whatever it is! We’ve heard it snuffling a few times. Maybe it’s the hedgehog?
A thin strip of ‘field’ we have adjoins houses in front, and still has our hastily erected fence, consisting of a few bits of wood and some straggly hornbeams. This means there is hardly any privacy, and I don’t like going in that part of the garden. We will re-fence this and open it up to the rest of the garden, increasing space.
The veg patch has been okay for the last few years but not overly productive. We dug up the existing crazy paving, however we discovered an old road underneath which meant we had to make it into a raised bed. We’ve been filling it with compost for the last few years and this year we’re going to increase the height, too.
We made the edges from old sleepers we found hanging round the garden (there were lots of exciting things left when we moved in). We’ve found that there are a few things that grow well, mainly potatoes and field beans, but the amount of slugs and super-snails means a lot gets eaten. You name it, we’ve tried it. Copper, fluff, garlic spray… Last year we had beer traps, which seemed the most effective thing so far…
Here you can see where the couch grass is really taking over. Everywhere! It’s fine but means other plants can’t really get started. Next to the veg patch is self-sown marjoram which the bees absolutely love, so we’ll keep those there (plus it’s useful for cooking). I half-heartedly started putting cardboard down for the weeds but gave up after two bits, so excuse those! I’ll finish it off soon I’m sure!
This part of the garden is very windy and exposed as we’re on the side of a valley, plus in the summer it’s sunny, getting heat and light from mid morning right through to sunset. Self-seeded borage grows at the edge or the raised bed which keeps the wind off a little, and feeds the bees! There is both blue and white borage, no idea where it came from, but it is welcome, if a little thuggish.
Our plan is to have a nice area for sitting out that’s more private, as the houses in front look straight into the garden. We would also like to have even more insect-friendly flowers and a better veg-growing season! We’re going to plant more of the things we know will grow, and maybe try some containers. Any tips appreciated, especially friendly slug-busting tips! Even the hedgehog and frogs can’t keep them at bay.
So this is the beginning of the garden project plans for this year – I will update regularly as we plod along, tidying up whilst making room for wildlife to thrive, and hopefully growing some flowers and food, too.
Wandering along the shoreline is one of my favourite pastimes. I was born at the edge of the Peak District, as far away from the crashing waves of the shoreline as possible in the UK. I’m not sure if that explains the feeling that pulls me to the sea, to the edge of this island, where the legends and tales are saltier, the winds a little wilder. My husband hails from the long coasts of Norfolk and regales me with tales of boats, bridges, coastal erosion and longshore drift. He talks of waves and tourists and the sea as a constant. It is another world to me, a child of peaks and plains. When we visit, we park up, eating chips in the car, watching the blink of ships miles out to sea in the inky blackness.
Now we live in Yorkshire, with wild moorland, rocks, peat and those liminal spaces, but again, far away from the coast. The occasions I get to travel to the beach are special, and I roll up my trousers and wander amongst the froth of breaking waves until my toes are numb and raw pink from the cold.
On the beach, I look for treasure. Sparkly sea glass, shiny shells, even a coin or two after a storm. Maybe even real treasure – eye to the ground, eyes open to the possibility of a doubloon or two sparkling under a pile of drying seaweed. Who knows?!
Anything can be treasure, though, on a beach. I love the different seaweeds, although am no naturalist and can never remember the names. The big horsetails, with their sturdy roots and giant fronds. Long, string-like pieces that whip back and forth in sea breeze. Familiar bladderwrack, interspersed with nameless chunks of yellow or lime green, slime, plastic, rope, and the occasional dead crab. The unmistakable tang of low tide.
Last visit I spent time spotting the most vibrant pink seaweeds, contrasting starkly with the dull brown lying along the tideline. Pink seaweed! Another piece, and another! I collected them in my hands, slimy and wet, and laid them out on a nearby rock. For me, that day, pink seaweed was the best treasure I could find.
My husband picked up an old pulley, washed up by strong winds and huge waves. Orange brown rust bloomed all over, tiny shells and stones sunk into the metal. We wondered where it came from – a ship, a small boat, part of a cargo? Was it broken and thrown into the sea somewhere miles from land? Was it lost by a local fisherman bringing in the catch? The pulley stained our hands orange and made rusty mess everywhere, but we still brought it home, to wonder over.
The coastline is wild in a different way. Finds can be from anywhere in the world transported by the currents. Shells and animals from deep below the waves, places humans haven’t yet discovered. A beach is a place of meeting, of the known and unknown, earth, water, air. A place of treasure, always.
Our house was built in 1860, not so old by UK standards, but old enough to have that feeling of solidity. When I place my hand on the stone walls I can feel a sense that these walls have seen time passing, and I wonder at the occupants that came before us. Luckily, we inherited the deeds of the house, back through history, old titles scratched in ornate, beautiful, illegible script on pages as big as a broadsheet. Over time the two cottages became one, roads disappeared under crazy paving, wartime vegetables were grown. Cloth from the mills dried on tenters next to the back garden boundary.
140 years is an age to a human yet such a short time to this house, and I hope in another 140 years it is still standing, in some form. This little piece of land, of which we are fleeting custodians, runs deeper than I can imagine. Beneath couch grass, worms, rubble and sand lie deeper secrets. To think in layers of earth is to travel through time.
Down the inevitable internet rabbit hole, I chanced upon the most wonderful ‘you definitely need an entire afternoon for this’ website from the British Geological Survey. The Geology of Britain map is absolutely fascinating – and there is a collection of other things to find out about too – groundwater levels, soil types, you name it. There have even been some tiny earthquakes nearby. I love a map, and this is next level mapping.
I found out our garden lies pretty much exactly on a border of Millstone Grit and Guiseley Grit – both formed around 320 million years ago. Sipping tea, I sat and thought about this little piece of land and the story it could tell. I had seen some local fossils of giant palm leaves, dated from around the same time, growing in a river delta somewhere near the equator. Of course, I had to find out where this river delta once existed.
I forget, sometimes, how amazing the internet can be. A quick search brought me to Dinosaur Pictures’ amazing site, where I entered my town in the search bar and watched as the globe spun back over millions of years (also, the main site is full of dinosaurs which, if you’re a dino-lover like me, is always a bonus). There was the UK, half submerged in a shallow, warm sea. The river delta must have run into the sea just where my house lies today. I imagine giant fronds, oxygen-rich air, who-knows-what living our their unknown lives.
I love this. To stand outside barefoot, toes frozen by the winter frosts, on this land that is so, so old. A tiny human existence, fleeting, barely a spark in this timeline. Yet here I am, existing, a small part of the story of this place. I am overwhelmed by time, the enormity of it, the shortness of life, but in awe that somehow I am here, with senses and a brain that can comprehend some of it, at least. What an experience this life is. I wonder, in another 320 million years, where this land will be, what ocean will cover it? Where will the molecules be that were once part of me? What life will exist, if any? In the midst of such thoughts, I smile, and I feel very lucky that I have placed my footprints, however transient, on even the smallest piece of this earth.
I watch the bright flames crackle and dance in the soft early morning gloom and fight the urge to take a photograph. To document somehow this feeling of warmth, this primal fire in an 1800’s house, the otherworldly in the mundane. But for who? To sit with experience just for myself is increasingly hard.
This fire and me, we regard each other. Ancient connection, speaking to a part of me long forgotten, cells and sparks of millennia that I cannot put a name to. It is safety and danger, food and destruction. And mesmerising, always.
New flames settle with me, the fire burning well, and I struggle to write as my eyes are drawn to flame. The space between each flickering tongue. The dark charred wood a case of shadow. As flames die down the fire whispers “feed me”, and I do, entranced, as we are one, the house fading as soul and flame dance together somewhere deep in memory.
A cat slinks in and by fire she is tiny panther, orange reflected infinitely in huge dark eyes, and this panther flops down and melts into the floor, those wide eyes now closed in dreams of last night’s mouse hunt. The fire shifts in the grate and flames lick over a new surface, flaring and settling again. There is ebb and flow even in this.
The flames sing to me, to slow, to let go, to remember truths greater than myself. Orange glow, not harsh blue light. To peel away the layers of this world and let the flames devour them, leaving us as one, small fire, small human, and something bigger than us both.
The winds blow the sea into crashing, foaming waves. Rain drives pin pricks into faces, clothes soaked through, feet in the sea-froth and alive, alive, soul singing in this tempest. One foot in front of the other along the shoreline, wild smiles as wide as the horizon. The rain falls harder, smashing into crowns on the wave tops, thundering from rock and headland, in our ears and eyes and souls.
Later, I comb the tideline, for after the storm is the best time for seekers. I collect plastic rope and crisp packets, chocolate wrappers from far away, shards of who-knows-what now broken down into coloured, sea-bleached pieces. But alongside the plastic, I also collect treasure.
First is driftwood, a small piece, lighter than air, dry and salty and filled with holes. A mermaid’s purse – two, in fact, one small and brown, the hole in the casing showing where new life began a journey into the sea. The other is huge, black, glistening and intact – I lie it gently in the shallows and let the waves take it away.
Oily seabird feathers lie scattered and I pick a small one, white with a streak of brown, to remember the wind that still ruffles the tops of the waves and ties my damp hair into salty knots. As the tide slowly recedes I comb the shining pebbled sand for sea glass. First one piece, translucent and glittering. Then another, and another, as my eyes tune into the spaces between shell and stone. Soon my palm is full and I grasp tightly to the pieces, feeling them scrape against each other as I secrete them safely in my pocket.
Finally, seaweed to bind. A long piece that reminds me of a shoelace – I hold it to the air and it whips back and forth in the sea breeze.
Days later, at home, I lay my finds out and begin the sea totem. A small piece imbued with wind and sea and wildness. Carefully, I wrap old rope and seaweed around the driftwood, attaching feather, egg case, sea glass. Elements of a place, of time, become one. Next time I visit I will release it, undo it, return each piece to the place where it belongs, but for now it stays with me, bringing that wild place home.