We took a look at the older stuff and I accepted the proposition that it might just be asbestos, took some to the tip and had it checked and confirmed that it was asbestos. They thanked me for my offer but said they didn’t want it — at any price. At this point it could have stayed behind the shed for another 20 years but no, with the help of a friend with a digger we have sorted and stacked it and tomorrow an approved contractor is arriving, at immense expense, in PPE to double bag and remove same to a place of safety (actually controlled un-safety) after which I will get a certificate!
And look — space for a new barn!
Tomorrow the man will come to measure up for the steel frame of the new barn and we will order the wooden cladding, the painting of which will be another new diversion.
Reappraisal, re-purposing and a lot of digging: that is what we have been doing during the corona lock-down as we wait to see what Nature throws at us next.
When Bill and I renewed our friendship we had just come through difficult times having both recently lost much loved spouses after long illnesses. In the past we’d worked together for many years so knew we got on and are still getting on in both senses (three score years and ten!) We also lived in and are rooted in different parts of the Britain, he in England, me in Wales.
As the Corona Pandemic started to unfold it became evident that movements would be restricted but I think we had already made a leap of faith and here we are — locked-down together in Wales.
I had sold or re-homed all my stock (apart from my dear old pet “lamb”, Aby seen below in her new role as artistic muse!) We should have been making the most of our new found mobility… Lisa runs her sheep on the land now.
Recent portrait of Aby — lady of leisure.
But there is still a lot to do and so much better with a willing helper!
I’ve always believed when you run out of space what you need to do is sort things out, de-clutter and find the space that you had just mislaid! We have tidied the tools.
We have processed the remains of the demolished, unsafe, storm damaged and rotten barn and removed the remains of the rat infested container — taken down in the nick of time. All the higgledy-piggledy timber we have cut and stacked.
We have surveyed the fences and arranged for all the wobbly ones to be reinforced by new posts now that contractors are free to come. We have removed the debris.
I have repurposed the now deserted chicken run — digging vegetable beds and converting the coop into a potting shed. The feed troughs that are no longer needed have been filled with compost and planted with lettuce, onions, coriander and radishes. Brought up on Beatrice Potter I’ve always identified with Peter Rabbit! Not any more — I’m Mr McGregor. As the new baby rabbits gathered in awe around my magnificent courgette plant, I rushed to the now tidy shed and put my hand directly on the roll of chicken wire, grabbing the staples with the other, and made haste to increase security.
The grass from the chicken run was raised like an old carpet and re-laid on the scar that was left by the container and seeds sown where it would not stretch.
The compacted stony ground within the chicken run, the only rabbit proof area, has been dug and re-dug and fertilised and planted. The seedling beans got frosted the night after they were planted out (I’m on a learning curve) and the onions got mowed (so is Bill) but it all looks more promising than any of my previous attempts at gardening. The Jerusalem artichokes left over from a recipe that gave us hurricane levels of wind are growing fantastically — a mixed blessing.
Bill has cut the bracken and the thistles on the pasture with the new topper pulled by the newly serviced quad-bike without mishap and I cut the ones on the steepest banks by hand.
During all this time nature has entertained us. The birdsong is less deafening now as this years fledglings hop about in the low branches and the parents flit about busily feeding them. Kites soar above as two buzzards and a magpies skirmish in the field over one less rabbit for me to worry about. Neither of us have ever witnessed the Spring unfolding in such detail and the weather has never been so good.
“She’s got rid of those breeding ewes — we won’t have to look at any more pictures of slimy new lambs”
Not so! As with all things in the Garden of Eden — Mother Nature will have her way! The young lady who now uses our land to graze her virginal, adolescent ewes is learning just how fragile is ovine virginity!
Happy Accident 1 and 2, discovered on Wednesday:
They were left in peace in our top field and the others brought down to the fields around the house, I was out. The first thing I knew about what was going on was when I was eating my lunch in the sunshine and heard a strange baa — like a child imitating a sheep — I went to investigate and found a bewildered young ewe with tummy ache. But something was wrong — didn’t I say that anything that could go wrong would go wrong? It’s the 1st rule of rearing anything! She was agitated, as well she might be, and not progressing in her labour. I tried to catch her which only reminded me why I had decided to stop lambing in the first place. I phoned the shepherd, who phoned her dad, who borrowed her dog, who came and caught the ewe.
The dog drove the ewe into the pen and Dad and I extracted a very shocked large and strangely khaki lamb with a swollen head and enlarged tongue and initial disinclination to breath but with encouragement she did (Mother Nature was not about to be out-done at this stage!)
After her day job, the shepherd arrived to check the rest — two more wayward adolescents were identified, to be collected tomorrow and taken to the main farm. But guess what?
Now I’m going out to check for No 5!
What a treat it is for me to have some lambs to fuss over! But what strikes me most is how big and healthy these lambs are without all the extra food and care that would normally have been lavished upon them.
Last autumn it was too dry to burn the brushwood from our extensive hedging operations.
Now, when most years we have snow, I’ve been farming in my shorts! We’ve had the hottest February days since records began (here anyway). There are wildfires on Saddleworth Moor but here the ground is still a bit soggy so Alan announces that the conditions are right for a bonfire!
As we had a spot of bother with our last big fire ( see Uncall the Fire Brigade) our friend David takes it upon himself to supervise us, bringing his grab on the big tractor — always exciting for us!
There was a shower over night so it is slow to start.
But, after a bit of encouragement:
We have a spark to work with — piling on the brushwood on an industrial scale!
Until we have a decent bonfire!
Satisfying to watch!
It burns all night and no hedgehogs are injured in the making of this fire!
By next day it is manageable by a retired lady with a pitchfork.
Now we are ready for the spring and, you guessed, it’s raining!
As I get older my back aches a bit and my trousers get tighter otherwise I feel much the same but I notice that the people around me seem to ail more and the things that fill my days are changing. A lot of the things that we do hardly merit a blog — I can’t promise you a riveting account of my breast screening appointment next week.
This week I have scratched the new car and got stuck in the car-wash but I have mostly been making chutney — apple chutney. Well, I’d cleaned the house after the cider episode (the floor no longer clings hysterically to my shoes as I walk, nor the door handles to my hands) so I thought, I’ll fill the kitchen with vinegar fumes, taint the washing on the dryer and torture myself with chilli fingers when I remove my contact lenses!
I can feel exceedingly green by recycling jam jars, soothing my hands in warm soapy water, marvel at the amazing adhesiveness of modern labels and turn a blind eye (still red from the chilli) on the amount of sugar that goes in — much less than in jam!
All because I read somewhere that the reason the days seem to fly past as we get older is because we don’t do enough different things– distinguishing things — that-was-the-day-I-made-the-chutney things!
We have a decrepit apple tree — the sheep barked it, a hedge has swamped it, it has die-back and more lichen than leaves and has produced about ten apples in as many years — until this year.
It still doesn’t look very healthy but, by God, this has been a good year for apples!
A fraction of the crop.
Trouble is everyone has had an exceptional year — Alan was bemoaning this fact at the pub and the fact that we no longer had a cider press (actually that was a huge relief — we are trying to cut down.)
Next day a friend arrived with, guess what!
State of the art cider apple masher and…
It takes a lot of apples and a lot of mashing and pressing to produce a gallon of cider. We’ve got through about 200 pounds of apples.
The kitchen is now full of demi-johns bubbling away — it smells like a real farmhouse kitchen and everything is sticky!
I don’t think I can face bottling it so we will have to rack it off (to remove the sediment) and insert bungs into the big jars — that will mean we have to drink it a gallon at a time — Happy days!
It’s a misty autumn morning with dew on the pasture where Aby is getting to know her new companion.
The other sheep (including her old friend Twts) have gone to meet the ram. Aby, who had retired from lambing, has a new friend to keep her company — no sheep is happy to be alone (although this particular, hand reared one might well prefer to be back in the kitchen with the dog and me).
That’s why she looks so grumpy — to top it all, the new friend (who is very undersized) is getting extra rations which is very irritating to Aby who is on a diet! New ewe lamb who is from a neighbour’s farm, is still nameless but was an orphan like Aby, so is very bold with humans but still not at ease with Pedro, the dog. She stamps her feet in an unfriendly way when he comes near — it’s early days.
As the sun appears over the hill the whole area is bathed in amber light reflected from the dying bracken.
The woods are glowing with new colors.
and dew, on spider silk, drapes the dead stalks of yarrow in gossamer.
and polishes the mellowing bramble.
Even the dead wood on the compost heap is looking its best.
Llanidloes Ram Sale — a proper country Sheep Fair — where breeding sheep are traded locally just before the onset of the proper farming year, when the tups are turned out with the ewes at the beginning of November — for lambs in the Spring!
All the sheep looking their best and relaxed — no frayed tempers today even if the hormones are beginning to flow.
Perhaps the tups are a bit too laid-back — but then the ewes are down wind on the other side of the marquee.
Here’s a pen of fine young Blue Faced Leicesters —
They may end up servicing these beauties —
–or these very tidy Black Faced ewes (I think they may be Beulahs)–
to produce a valuable breeding Mule.
But best of all (to my mind) are the lively and hardy White Faced Welsh Mountain sheep.
Best behavior in the ring but glad to be out of it!
Not looking at the colour of the grass to determine the dryness of the summer but measuring things oneself to confirm ones suspicions — that’s Science!
We had not lived in Wales very long when we suspected that it was a rather wet climate — I bought a very primitive rainwater gauge and commenced my research (in the spirit of the age of enlightenment and gentlemen scientists (or gentlewomen).
I measured the weekly rainfall for two years until one frosty morning an iceberg formed from the previous days precipitation and split the gauge and terminated the experiment. However the results were conclusive –approximately 2000 mm (2 metres) of water per year –somewhat less than on the slopes of Snowdon and less than we expected –on balance it felt wetter!
We did prove beyond doubt the proposition — it is a rather wet climate.
We have rain all the year round, more in winter and less (if only slightly) in the spring.
Weekly Summer Rainfall for 2015 and 2016 (in pencil) in mm
Please note in June 2016 a perching Magpie, attempting to drink, knocked over the whole apparatus. Okay, it’s not very professional but absolutely authentic.
In contrast this summer’s record flat-lined until a couple of weeks ago. There was no rain at all — measured or otherwise.
The poor farmers were carting water to their flocks on the parched hillsides. The waterfalls were silent and the brooks no longer babbled. Neighbours were seen lifting their manhole covers and staring forlornly into their wells or struggling up from the dwindling river with buckets of water to flush the loo.
Rainfall is something we, in Wales, take for granted. We found one of our young farming friends sinking a bore hole last week having come face to face with the real possibility of drought and the previously unthinkable situation — one where he is unable to water his stock.
Our stream did not run dry but our pond stopped overflowing and the level dropped considerably mirroring the huge reservoirs of this area that supply the big cities of Liverpool and Birmingham. Demand outstripped supply and during the hot weather we are told that the demand in the cities actually increased. None of us should take our water supply for granted.
Rocky bottom of the Clywedog Reservoir
Rare glimpse of remains of Gronwen where our friend Audrey lived before the valley was flooded by the dam 50 years ago.
‘They’ll do! They are the ones I want’, said the old farmhouse, probably in Welsh, and the couple (the ones the old place wanted) were drawn into the life of the place — inspired by its beauty, its creatures, its moods and its stories.
My book, Iolo’s Revenge, Sheep Farming by Happy Accident in Mid-Wales, is published later this week by Logaston Press. It tells of the abduction of an orderly, retired couple from Northampton to the heart of Wales.
They accidentally buy a derelict farmhouse and almost immediately are adopted by Pedro, a wayward hound. They had been winding down for a quiet life when suddenly they are climbing on the roof in the midst of a terrible storm, grappling with a homicidal, mechanical digger and wrestling with a huge pregnant ewe in a freezing stream in the middle of the night.
They had never had any inclination to move to Wales or practice extreme farming, nor try to learn Welsh –yet life just takes over and before they know it they have discovered a sense of belonging and community lost since childhood.
Iolo’s Revenge is illustrated by Wendy Wigley, a local artist who shares our love of the Trannon Valley and it’s often incongruous images!
Iolo’s Revenge ISBN 978-1-910839-24-9 £7.99 Available from Fircone Books, The Holme, Church Rd, Eardisley, HR3 6NJ, United Kingdom. Tel:+44(0)1544 327182