Monday, 31 December 2007

Happy Hogmanay!

Well, it's Hogmanay here in Scotland - New Year's Eve to the rest of you. We tend to do New Year in a big way here, though not as big as we used to. In fact, until recently, Hogmanay was celebrated more than Christmas. The Golfer used to say that he remembered his father working on Christmas morning, and only getting the afternoon off.

Traditionally at Hogmanay we first-foot, though it doesn't happen so much these days. What used to happen was that shortly after "the bells" (that's midnight to the rest of you) friends and neighbours would visit each other, bearing gifts. The first person over your threshold in the new year was your first-footer. It was considered lucky if he was tall and dark. Traditions vary locally but in my area, the first-footer would bring you a lump of coal to wish you warmth, shortbread or black bun to wish you food and , of course, a bottle of whisky to wish you - well, plenty to drink I suppose! You would take a drink from his bottle and then he would have a drink from yours and so the party would begin. It was not uncommon for that group then to move on to the next house in order to first-foot them and onwards and onwards, often well into the next day.

Since the Golfer died, my Hogmanays are rather quiet and, to be honest, I prefer it that way. I never saw the appeal of ruining the beginning of a brand new year with a horrendous hangover and sleep deprivation. Now that I am no longer expected to party I bring in the New Year very gently - watch the daft programmes on the telly for a while, then come through here to think about the Golfer and how my year has gone - another year without him. I have a glass of something warming. I don't need to have the radio on to hear when midnight comes - my neighbour always fires his shotgun to welcome the new year (you get used to it!). Then I go and stand outside and breathe the air and, if it's a clear night, look up at Orion striding across the southern sky. I feel very small and very connected.

I've quoted passages from Wendy Wood's book here every month since I began this blog. It was her passage for Hogmanay that first grabbed my attention. When I first came to live in the country I was lonely and isolated. I missed the companionship of the town, especially in the dark nights of winter. But she showed me that being in the country could be special too and now that I live alone, I find myself bringing in the new year in much the same way that she did.
"Hogmanay! I turned on the wireless and listened to the habble of excited crowds milling round in a city square and I turned it off again to hear the silence. The clock ticked into it irrevocably, like drops of water wearing the year away. The kettle hummed and was silent again, as if regretting its momentary conversation. It was five minutes to twelve.I opened the door to let the old year go, and stepped towards the loch. The black water was like a dish of stars stirred with a giant's spurtle. It lapped with a crisp sound as if it were more alive than usual, yet no breath of wind disturbed the air. The woods that arise abruptly above my little cottage were obviously waiting, with a million twig-hands upheld to receive unquestioningly what the new year might bring. A lone oyster-catcher gave a sharp disturbing cry.

Again there was silence except for the gentle swish of the water, but something moved. At first I could neither identify nor locate the sound, then I realised that it came from a bunch of bracken on the mound beside me, and I knew who it would be. I tried to be as completely immobile as the rock on which I sat; then I saw her, the roe deer who brings her Bambi every spring to drink at my well. The moon outlined her slight form, her delicate little head turned in my direction, but she did not flee; she stood there expressing faith in our mutual kindliness. I wonder if she too feels the drama of the turning year?

A cloud passed over the face of the moon and when I looked again she had disappeared. Somehow she had given the night a legendary quality, as if the black Morvern hills remembered the hind that was the mother of Ossian. I felt suddenly small in the immensity of the night, in the infinity of history, on a star among stars in the profundity of space. The doe and I were insignificant atoms suspended in wide, deep, peace. A breeze ran up the loch, the trees whispered, and right across the firmament, like a finger drawn across a darkened pane, a meteor streaked. So came the new year to the western Highlands."

Happy New Year to you all and let's hope for a peaceful 2008.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Happy Solstice Everyone (a bit late)

To celebrate the passing of the shortest day I thought I'd post this picture of a sheepish friend on a frosty day.

I am always glad to get Christmas out of the way. It seems just the wrong time of the year to be grinding to a halt. I'm always worried I won't get going again if I stop. This year, I have work to go to, which is fab. So having made it through Boxing Day, I can get back to work tomorrow...and normality. Hooray!

Hope you all got through the darkest days of the year unscathed too.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Peter the Pheasant

I was a real townie when I first came to live at Puddock Acres. I think I knew what a pheasant looked like, although I might not even have been sure of that, but I certainly didn't know what they sounded like.

I was so excited the first time one wandered into the garden. Some birdwatchers disdain them because they are game birds, and foreign, but I love them.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Crofting Life in November

It's November, so time for the next extract from Wendy Wood's book about life on a Highland croft in the 1950s.
A stag is roaring on the hills across the loch. He is very late in throwing out his challenge, but last month there were nights when you could not sleep for the noise of stags roaring; it was like being beside a lion's den.

I have been putting off a routine job that I dislike: the job of sweeping the chimney. If you wanted a professional sweep to come here, you would have to pay ten and twopence in fares alone, and either put him up and feed him, or pay for a hotel for the night, so naturally we are our own chimney sweeps. I have the usual sweep's outfit, but take the added precaution of attaching a rope to the ring brush before I push it up, in case the thing gets stuck in the uneven surface of the chimney, for then I would have to be without a fire till I could stop a lorry driver who likes diversion on his job.

These are indeed days when one needs a good fire, for there is hard frost at night, frost and a full moon. The hills look as if they were cut out of black metal. The crisp stillness is awesome. The grass is furry white and the sky wide with stars except where the moon will brook no rival and sails noiselessly, remote and cold, drawing the great tides in her skirt and causing the farm dog to cry its suddenly remembered wildness to the echoing hilltops.

Life has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifty years here in the Highlands, yet it is still possible to feel that connection to something bigger than oneself, standing at the back door on a dark, still night, with the sound of owls in the pine tree and the Milky Way overhead. Not bad!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Orange ladybirds

Here are the latest insects from the wood. I'd never seen these little chaps before but then, I'd never looked that closely before. They are orange ladybirds - much the same size as the well-known red ladybird but this lovely toffee colour with cream spots.

As you will see in this close-up, they are extremely cute. The black button eyes show up clearly against the lighter body giving it more character than is usual in insects. I particularly love what looks like a transparent shell around it - very outer-spacey. Ladybirds are well-known and welcomed for eating aphids but apparently these little chaps eat mildew!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Honest Toil Rewarded

I was hanging out my washing today. It's been a beautiful mild and golden autumn day. After having been fed up for the last few days and, as I posted here, even having lost interest in walking my two and a half acres, the weather was making me smile. Even the dog was gambolling about on the grass as if she was a puppy again (which she isn't!) So things were looking a teeny bit better. Then I noticed something weird about one of my clothes pegs - can you spot what it is...

...a moth! The sweet little thing must have been asleep. It sat there even as I pegged up a sock, then unpegged it to take the picture, then pegged it again. The camouflage is perfect. Made me glad that I leave my pegs out on the line to weather...and it gave me a picture to post here!

Maybe life isn't so bad after all.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Roses are Blooming...

To cheer myself (and probably you lot too) after that last post I thought I'd put up one of my favourite photos - of a rose that, because I grow it in the inner garden, escaped the attention of the deer who nipped the flowers off every rose that I was daft enough to plant in the outer garden. Hope you enjoy it.

Not Walking in the Woods

When I began this blog I planned to record, every day or so, the life that I saw around me in my patch of Earth. The main reason for doing this was that I didn't know how much longer I would be living here; since I was widowed I have been hanging on, mainly to prove that I could do it. After two years I reckon I have proved that I can do it but now I don't know that I want to do it any more.

But Puddock Acres is a special place: rather, it isn't special at all but to a townie like me it has brought me so close to nature that it has changed who I am and I pity anyone who hasn't had the chance to step out of those human-centric towns and cities for a while and discover for themselves that there is more to life than humanity. I am nervous about going back to the town and maybe forgetting all that I have learned, losing that connection to the rest of nature that put me in my place.

So I thought I'd record here what I saw, get my pictures and observations out there as a record of this place. I thought the discipline too might encourage me to actually create a body of work instead of just talk about it.

But I'm finding it more difficult than I thought. Every time I step out into the woodland or the field I end up feeling sad. At first it was memories of the slow promenades I would take with the Golfer when he was very ill - here's where he tripped; here's where we would sit and stare out across the Firth; here's where he cried. And I despaired of ever being able to enjoy the land again. Then gradually a kind of euphoria took its place - the challenge of managing it myself, the pride at the work I had done with no help offered or asked for from neighbours. Now that I've proved myself, I've run the place completely on my own for a year, it feels like a sad place again. Who am I proving myself to? Who notices?

I think I am at last emerging from my grief. I am impatient to be amongst people, though I have forgotten how to do it. Running this family-sized house and this bit of land with no-one to see it, no-one to enjoy it feels pointless and ever more isolating.

All this is by way of an excuse for not posting here in a while. I wish I could summon up the enthusiasm for it but I cannot face that walk round the field, the stream and the woodland just now - it's just too sad.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A Puddock's best friend

Here's a Puddock's best friend looking unusually reflective on a clear autumn day. She must have been taking a break from the digging - her usual occupation!

Monday, 8 October 2007

October on the croft

It being October now, I thought I'd bring you the appropriate extract from the book From a Highland Croft by Wendy Wood (see the September extract here .)
Acorns are a great help as additional feeding for the hens, and it was necessary to hurry and pick them up before the squirrels and mice got them, so I went out with a basket, the dog at my heels. Then I went back for a hat, as acorns falling from a height on to one's head are irritating, to say the least of it. They were plentiful, big brown ones, little green ones, and some rosy pink. My fingers were busy among the moss and fallen leaves, and not wishing to spoil my focus by looking up, I passed from tree trunk to tree trunk with my head down, always making for the tree of biggest girth in the hope of greater harvest.

From a crofter's point of view, an outrun of rocky hill covered with oaks is a curse. The cow is lost to sight within a few yards, and it is difficult enough to know where you are yourself, much less the cow, when foliage cuts you off from familiar landmarks. For this reason I put a bell on my cow, but the crafty creature, preparing to sleep outside, soon learnt to lie down at dusk and keep quite still, so that I could be within a hundred yards of her yet unaware of her presence. One night after plunging about for hours along the rocky shore and up the even rockier hillside, I gave up the hunt...In the very early hours of the morning I heard the sound I had so eagerly listened for at night - clang-clang - and there at the gate, deliberately swinging her head "clang-clang" stood the cow. She got a good skelping for her behaviour and well she understood, for the next evening I heard "clang-clang" at the byre door as the sun began to set. It sank a crimson ball and lit clouds near and far like banners, throwing out its glory for miles, tinting the crests of the hills and dipping the lower slopes in purple dye.

Skelping is a Scots word for smacking - not very politically correct to skelp your cows these days but I can imagine her frustration on those cold October evenings - the fireside would be calling and once it was dark it was really dark - you wouldn't want to be out alone on the hillside.

Tiny mushrooms

It is mushroom season here at Puddock Acres. In fact, there is usually some kind of fungi growing at any time of year but autumn is when the greatest variety pop up, literally overnight. Different fungi prefer different conditions - some are associated with birch trees, some with pine, every variety seems to have its preferred place.

I don't know much about fungi, to be honest. The ones that appear in my garden, field and wood don't look like the ones I see in the books, so I can't put an official name to most of them. But I love to photograph them and maybe when I have more time I'll try to paint or draw them.

So I have quite a collection of the weird and the wonderful fungi that I find about the place. I've got two pictures to post today. I thought they made a nice matched pair. They are both tiny. One is black, one is white but they're a similar shape - I liked the contrast.

This one is really small - that is a pine cone next to it on one side; on the other is a pine needle, which is only about an inch and a half long.

And this one is a similar type, but a dazzling white colour - slightly bigger, but not much.

The closer I look at the tiny things in my gaden, the more I wonder at the richness of life around us that we barely notice. Glorious!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Larch in the sunlight

I photographed this branch of larch this week as the late afternoon sun lit up its needles. It's come out rather well, I think - a quiet image of an ordinary little bit of nature. The fresh green so restful on the eye.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma

Free Burma
Originally uploaded by Buffy Holt: Flickr
This is the only blogpost I will write today. I am proud to join thousands of fellow bloggers around the world who dedicate their blogs today to the people of Burma.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Welcome to Puddock Acres

Mind you, cutting the grass does have its consolations - and I don't just mean the bulging biceps and the free exercise. I get to cut paths like this through my woodland. Welcome to Puddock Acres!

Widow's Biceps

I'm recovering from what I hope will be the last grass cut of the season. This year was the first year that I had to cope with all the grass cutting completely alone and I was worried that I wouldn't manage. But I was determined to try. I reckoned that if I couldn't cope then I would have to move. The house and the land are really too much for one person - too big, too much work - but I was not ready to move away and leave behind the memories of my life with my husband, unless there was no alternative.

So I decided that if I could manage the grass - and there's a lot of it - then I might be able to stay on here; if not, then that would be telling me something too.

And I have survived! In fact, I am fitter and stronger, thanks to all the work, than I have been in twenty years. It is demanding work and takes 6-8 hours every ten days or so - that is, four one-and-a-half hour sessions to get it all done. That is a lot of pushing and pulling on a slope! I've got muscles in places I didn't know I had and biceps the size of - well, what biceps are supposed to look like.

So I have proved something to myself. I have kept on top of the grass on my own for a year. But it takes a lot of time which means that other things, not least the interesting work in the garden, is neglected. I wondered why the garden was so weedy and was berating myself for not staying on top of it. But then I realised that, as it takes four sessions to cut the grass, the first four dry days in a ten-day period (and this is Scotland so dry days are not that frequent!) are taken up by the damned grass. I can't start on the weeding, never mind planting, or sitting around watching the flowers grow, until the fifth session. Usually there have been a rainy few days, so by the fifth session the grass needs cutting again.

Also, although I'm not that old, I'm not going to get any younger as the years pass - damnable isn't it? If I found the grass cutting hard going this year, what will it be like in five years, or ten?

So today, as I finished the last cut of the hardest, steepest patch of grass, I patted myself on the back - or would have if I'd had the energy. As it was I was completely knackered. Why am I doing this? Who am I doing it for? I've proved to myself, and the world, that I can run the place single-handed. But am I enjoying it? That's the question now. It's a pig.

Or maybe the question has as much to do with being more ready to move on, as with the effort involved in keeping the grass down. In March, at the beginning of the growing season, I was six months closer to the death of the Golfer. Now, at the end of September, I have spent another 180 days without him - another 180 days to get it into my thick skull that he ain't coming back and that this, whatever it is, is my life now. And I'm not sure that cutting an acre of grass on a 40 degree slope is my idea of fun in this new life.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Bugs and things

I like to walk the paths through Puddock Acres every day. The trouble with that is that you tend to grow so used to what's there that you stop looking. Also, having been here for getting on for ten years, I keep thinking I've seen all the wildlife there is about the place. I am delighted to say, though, that every year one or two new flowers and even the odd new bird appear. But still, I know that I do not pay enough attention as I walk and so miss much more than I see.

So I was thrilled to notice, out of the blue, (must have been feeling particularly perceptive) not one but two tiny bugs on a fencepost - both brand new to me and both really small and easily overlooked. I am now hooked on a whole new (tiny) level of nature watching.

I haven't been able to identify them yet - haven't found them in any guides. The first is some kind of shield bug; I'm pretty sure of that. It is a startling green, with striking red and brown markings on its back. It's about the size of a ladybird; a bit smaller perhaps:

The other bug I have had less luck with. It was on the same post, just a few inches away from the shield bug. I think it may be a juvenile something but I haven't as yet a clue what that something might be.

I am now hooked on bugs. It was bad enough before, keeping eyes peeled for slugs and fungi and flowers but now I have to examine every fence post for new creatures.

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Magnificent Slug

Having brought slugs into the conversation with my last post, I couldn't resist posting one of my favourite photographs. I took this a couple of years ago. It was another of those occasions where I was sitting in the house, saw something weird in the garden and grabbed my camera. I'd never seen a slug like this before. It's Arion ater - the Great Black Slug. There it was, contentedly munching on a toadstool. I had no idea slugs ate fungi (I had no idea about most of nature as will be becoming apparent) but apparently slugs, and these ones in particular, love them. When you see half-eaten fungi around the garden it's usually slugs that have been at work.

I was thrilled to get some good close-up shots of it but this one in particular caught my eye. If you look at it full-size you can actually see his 'teeth' nibbling away at the edge of the toadstool. Having these photographs, I could see in fantastic detail its wonderful markings, which reminded me of Durer's Rhino. Look at the beautiful markings, that jet-black colouring.

I am now very fond of the many slugs I find about Puddock Acres. They get such a bad press it's hard to find a webpage about them that isn't just about eradicating them in the garden. Maybe I should start a Slug Appreciation Society.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Slugs, Edible Houses and Being Miserable

I am low today. What is it that alters mood and makes one day good and another bad? The anniversary of the death of the Golfer is approaching so that's a partial explanation. Hearing the first mouse of the winter in the roof above my bedroom last night doesn't help either. After an untroubled summer round Puddock Acres, winter rots my confidence, with the promise of leaking roof, snow, dark, dark nights and rodents that I don't want to kill but I can't bear in the house either.

So I'm feeling a bit reflective, a bit sorry for myself and a bit plain miserable today. I walked through the wood to cheer myself up - it usually does, but today all I could think of was the times we walked it when he was ill. Damn the painful memories - what use are they?

Today is the first cold day we've had - summer gone now, butterflies gone, swallows gone. But there's still plenty to look at. The fungi are burgeoning - more varieties here than I'd ever seen in one place before and precious few I can put a name to. I think I'll make up my own names for them. There would be the Sponge, the Summer Russet, the Hedgehog, the Piecrust, the Orange-Peel (I think that one has already been named that officially).

And the slugs don't mind the cooler, damper days - they are out in force. I've grown very fond of the silly things and I wish I'd had my camera with me today as I found one right inside a hollowed out mushroom - right inside it - munching away at the walls. What must that be like in human terms? I crouched down and watched it contentedly browse. Can you imagine the bliss of standing inside a small room and it being edible? The only thing I could think of was the cottage in Hansel and Gretel. I've never seen a more contented slug - made me smile.

So, for all of you out there who are grieving or lonely or just having a bad day and bearing in mind this is supposed to be a nature blog, here is a sustaining and rather beautiful little poem by Gerry Cambridge from his book of poems and photographs of Scottish nature "Nothing but Heather!"

Dandelion Seeds

From somewhere -
from the Pennines, from Skye,
will arrive the puff of air
to make us fly.

In each barbed seed
(as in a nib of gold)
though they call us weed
is light untold -

to scatter like suns
in the Cosmos's breath,
and billow long tons
of blooms from death.

Now that's what I call a sustaining poem! And I am ready to face another day.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Cruellest Cut - a thorny issue

Now that September is here, the growth of the grass has slowed down. This means that I don't have to cut the grass quite so often, which frees up my time to catch up with other tasks round Puddock Acres. So I've been thinning the hedgerows that surround the land. These hedgerows are natural, wild things so are full of the kind of shrubby plants that do well here - mainly gorse, with bramble, dog rose and honeysuckle running through it - breathlessly picturesque but very prickly.
So, as I hacked away, I knew that they were going to bite back. In between swearing sessions, I fell to musing on which was the jaggiest. (Honeysuckle, of course, is blissfully free of thorns.)

Bramble has a reputation for being prickly and I'm sure there is a fair amount of blood mixed in with the brambles gathered on roadside verges at this time of year but frankly, in this company, it is merely a bit of a nuisance. The stems are soft and the thorns tend to be equally so.

Gorse is another story. It is famously unfriendly; its thorns are long and stiff; its branches entirely covered in the damn things. Picking up any branch has to be undertaken with extreme care. This lady describes well many people's attitude to the stuff. I have a love/hate relationship with it. It is a thug, it is a nightmare to control but its brilliant yellow flowers are a joy and I have even grown to love its musky scent; it also provides useful protection for tree seedlings and flowers. So as long as I can cut it back every couple of years I'm quite fond of the old ruffian. What's more, it is not the spiniest thing to deal with in the garden. That's right - gorse is only number 2 in the thorny stakes.

It is the good old dog rose that is the champion Puddock-impaler. I had been going to award the gorse the ultimate accolade but as I was being scratched by the gorse branches, an insignificant twig of dog rose brushed against my thigh and I was hooked. As you can see from the picture above, the thorns are like fish hooks so once they are in you do extra damage getting them out. The thorns are also as tough as metal - you can't just laugh them off like the brambles.

So, dog rose wins the prize for irritating me the most - but I wouldn't be without it. The thrill of having hedges filled with honeysuckle and rose, with all that perfume and all that colour, just about gets me through while I bathe my scratches!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Gentleman in Black Velvet

Last autumn I was very lucky to see, and capture on camera, a mole. My near neighbour had begun construction on a barn and, I think, had consequently made this little chap homeless. I saw him bumbling across the front lawn and grabbed my camera.

It appeared to be making exploratory digs on the surface - snuffling here, scraping there. Moles are famous for being almost blind and this little chap seemed to be totally unaware of my presence. I was able to get very close to take my pictures, although he was well embedded in the grass so I never got a picture that I was completely happy with - although the one below, of him furiously digging with his tail in the air, makes me smile.

Moles are rarely seen, as they live their lives almost entirely underground. Usually all you see are the molehills. You can find out more about them from the Mammal Society

I don't know when I'll see another mole. I live in hope. But I'm glad to have the photographs to prove to myself that it wasn't a dream.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Autumn cleaning

What is it about the sight of dried leaves on the path before me that gladdens my heart? It shouldn't - when the leaves start to fall, I know that the long, cold, dark nights are ahead. Already, the sun is below the treeline for most of the day; soon, I'll only glimpse it through the trees; and that will be that for six months.

And yet, as I set out to walk the paths of my wood, my heart leaps at the sight of those dead leaves on the path. Is it memories of one of those key events from childhood - kicking through piles of leaves on a cold autumn day in your wellies, holding tight to your mother's hand? Partly - kicking up those leaves as a child was one of the rare occasions when you were allowed to be destructive; and oh! the satisfying noise those leaves made!

I think that we of the northern climes are particularly attached to autumn. I love summer but it doesn't feel as though it fits me in the way that autumn does. When the leaves begin to fall, the colours of tree, grass and plant become gentler after the dazzle of summer flowers; the sun is lower and the light it casts is golden and dappled. But it's more than that; I think there is a sense of satisfaction and connection as nature begins to tidy up for winter. When the leaves fall, the air is cooler and the beasties, including the dreaded midges and ticks, disappear so walking is a pleasure again; the grasses and plants die back to the clean earth, the form of the trees is revealed - I think there is something deep in the human heart that appreciates autumn as the tidying-up of the year; the storing, recycling of nutrients. Just as we pickle and preserve and stack logs and stock larder shelves, or at least we used to, we see the same process reflected in nature with ripening conkers and rose hips and leaves falling.

Photo of the Week

Here's a rather uplifting photo I took a while ago. There is a huge tree - a Douglas fir I think - that interrupts an otherwise stunning open view of the countryside around Puddock Acres. Normally I resent it but when I saw the rainbow shining behind it, I thought it would make an interesting pic, so I forgave it - for a while anyway.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Lost World

Since I've been driven in by the dreaded midges, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you a fascinating little book I found in a second-hand bookshop a few years ago. It's a slim volume - a year's diary of a woman living alone in a croft in the West Highlands of Scotland. The book is called From a Highland Croft and it's written by Wendy Wood. I've found it inspiring to turn to when I've found the going tough here in the pond since the Golfer died.

In preparing this post I did some research on the net into the author and was surprised to discover that she was not the simple countrywoman I had thought - see here and here. So much so that I wondered if her tale of simple country life could still be trusted. I decided that, at the worst, she was an early downshifter and that, in any case, her prose is so lyrical and the picture of a way of life now all but gone that I had to share it. Here's a quote from her September entry - can you guess what year the book was published in? I'll reveal the date at the end of the post - I think you'll be surprised.
When the wind rises, the air is full of the swish of silver birch, occasionally interrupted by the clatter of falling oak or alder leaves, crisp and dry. There is a tang in the air and I am getting anxious about the bigging of my new byre.

There is something very primitive about prising stones out of the hillside with a crowbar and rolling them down. There was something decidedly primitive too about the adder that was coiled up asleep below one stone and met my hand as I levered. The sharp edge of a spade soon severed his connection with life, and by morning the birds had cleared the pieces.

Meanwhile, the cattle sale is due and that is the greatest day of the year for us...Some of the crofters have as many as eighteen miles to drive their beasts to the sale, five miles of which is dangerous going, where contest among the animals for place may throw them to destruction.

The owners arrive at the place of sale hungry enough to want a kebbock of cheese apiece of a size that would need a peat cutter to make inroads on it. Once the beasts are safe in the sale field on the side of the hill it is time for a dram, followed by a ceilidh round the fire.

Lots are drawn for the places on the sale list, each glen hoping to sell after the bidding has warmed up and before the buyers are cold - if the buyers would just go to the hotel now and have a dram!

Men hate to part with their beasts, but the money gained is the rent and the grocer's bill and the cost of feeding stuff for the year, plus a 'fairing' for the family which is to be bought down at the shop before starting for home in the gloaming.

Wonderful stuff! So, when did you think this lady was describing life in rural Scotalnd? 1952 - only fifty years ago - almost in my living memory. I am still blown away when I think of the way our lives have changed - in many ways for the better of course, but we have also lost something.

I'd like to share more of Wendy's life in her croft with you all; I hope to post an extract every month and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

By the way, I should add that harming or killing adders is now illegal in the UK.

When Midges Attack!

I was going to work in the garden, honest I was. In fact, I was working in the garden. But it's both mild and overcast so the midges were out in force and I was soon under attack. I can cope with a few midge bites but if I all ow myself to be bitten too many times I can end up feeling pretty grotty for a day or two so it's safer, though VERY annoying, to give in, come back inside and wait for either bright sunshine or colder weather, neither of which they're so keen on.

There are three significant pests here by the pond - midges,ticks and leeches. Each is irritating, not to say disgusting, in its own way but only the midge can drive sensible adults running for the house.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


I love September. Apart from anything else, you can free yourself from the daily hope of a decent summer. It's curiously comforting - no hope being better than dashed hopes. (It's being an existentialist that does it - see my other blog )

The swallows are beginning to gather on the wires; the birds have begun singing again after the silence of late summer; the golden fields are full of Swiss Roll bales of hay. Here's a September poem for you:

Sun streamed down, warming the earth.
The scythe was stone-sharp.
The year came round to this.

Breaking the icy ground
Scattering the seed
Chasing the crows
Praying for rain, then sun, then rain, then sun again
All had led to this.

Corn falling
Sweat breaking
Stook gathering

A good year or a bad
Would depend on him today.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Deer, deer

Photo of the Week

Thought it was time for another deer picture. Very pleased to catch these two both looking up at the same time. Usually one or the other (or both) were browsing the flowers off my roses or the blossom off my trees.

These are roe deer. You would normally expect to see them looking a duller shade of brown but in the summer their coats redden up to this rich terracotta shade. Because of this they can be mistaken for red deer at first glance.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A Plethora of Peacocks

I was thrilled when cutting my grass paths yesterday to see a dozen or so Peacock butterflies rising up from the ground as I moved along. They were all on the ground, I guess drinking dew from the damp grass.

I've never seen so many before. Peacock butterflies used to be rare up here but have been spreading further north - they say due to global warming, and who am I to argue?

I like to think though that the changes I have made here in the last two years have helped. Nettles are vital to Peacocks, as they lay their eggs on the leaves and then the plant acts as the food source for the caterpillars, so no nettles, no Peacocks. In the new Puddock regime, I leave as much as I can uncut and so this year I had a bumper crop of nettles - loads of nettles, loads of Peacocks?

You can read more about these beautiful butterflies here:
and there's a great page, showing the progressive arrival of them through the UK this spring:

My garden is Mordor on a bad day

Okay, so I've posted a few pretty pics of the multitude of photogenic wildlife in my two and a half acres. But it isn't always sunshine and the scent of honeysuckle here - oh no! Often the place drives me mad and I wonder why I'm bothering to stick it out when I could be in a nice normal house where Pizza Hut delivers and I can walk out for a coffee.

I was re-reading Lord of the Rings last winter (a nice wintery evening thing to be doing) and I came across this passage in The Return of the King. I am now convinced that J.R.R. Tolkien must have been on holiday near here when he was writing this bit of the book because it is spot-on:
Upon its outer margins under the westward mountains...was a dying land, but it was not yet dead. And here things still grew, harsh, twisted, bitter, struggling for life. In the glens...on the other side of the valley low scrubby trees lurked and clung, coarse grey grass-tussocks fought with the stones, and withered mosses crawled on them; and everywhere great writhing, tangled brambles sprawled. Some had long stabbing thorns, some hooked barbs that rent like knives. The sullen shrivelled leaves of a past year hung on them, grating and rattling in the sad airs, but their maggot-ridden buds were only just opening. Flies, dun or grey, or black marked like orcs with a red eye-shaped blotch, buzzed and stung; and above the briar-thickets clouds of hungry midges danced and reeled.
Do you get the feeling that he was having his revenge on some ghastly holiday? I bet it was near here!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Fennel and Hoverfly

Picture of the day - a rather beautiful hoverfly on a head of bronze fennel. To see the hoverfly properly, click on the picture to get a full screen view. Hoverflies, apparently, love fennel and in late summer you can see dozens of them covering the scented yellow flower heads.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

A little gem

I was thrilled to catch this palmate newt on camera this Spring. I have a couple of small natural ponds - i.e. I dug out a couple of pond-shaped holes and then left nature to take its course. Because they don't have artificial liners they tend to dry out periodically so the animal life tends also to come and go. But the ponds were nice and full all Spring this year and so the newts hung around long enough to mate. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw a newt in my pond - I felt so honoured. But like all the wildlife in this garden, the newts are elusive, so I would see one for a day or two then not again for months, years even.

This Spring I took more care of the pond, kept it full and clear and lo and behold a newt arrived, then another. I've only seen two but there may be more - I'm not a very assiduous naturalist and if the midges get too bad I leave! These are, I believe palmate newts. You wouldn't believe how tiny they are - only about 2 and a half inches long. The one in the picture above was female I think, as she was greener than the other one that turned up. Bliss to have them in the garden.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

A bit about two and a half acres

I thought it was time I described this bit of land of mine. It is on a north-facing hill, about 500 feet up. Around the house we fenced in part of the land to make an inner garden that would keep the dogs in and the deer and hares out; this part I try to keep as a conventional garden.

The exciting stuff happens in the outer garden. Here I try to let nature have her own way with a minimum of interference from me. In fact, most of the last few years has been spent trying to return this part of the ground to a more natural state after the horses and quad bikes of the previous owners. My late husband, aka the Golfer, tended to want to keep things neat so that he strimmed everything to within an inch of its life, which kept things a bit minimalist. Since I took over responsibility I have left things to grow and simply cut paths as the mood took me, but cutting back any thuggish plants that threatened to take over, like the dreaded gorse. I'll come back to this in later posts because it has been fascinating to see what wild flowers have come up when given the chance. Last year I was thrilled to see my first orchid in the outer garden; this year bluebells have appeared.

This outer garden falls into three main areas: the woodland, the field and the burn and pond area. Each area is developing its own character and I hope over the next year or two to describe as fully as I can in words and pictures what it's like here and how it got this way.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Hare, chilling

I am very chuffed to have caught the hare on camera, taking some time out under an apple tree, because although I suspect they are in the garden most days, they are much shyer than the deer and I can go months without seeing one.

Hares are much bigger than rabbits, with lovely long ears and surprisingly long legs.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Roe Deer Mother and Baby

This unbearably cute pair turned up in the garden a month or so ago and have made regular daily visits ever since, strolling along my paths and browsing happily from any tasty trees and shrubs within reach. The youngster has grown noticeably since I took this picture and has now taken to racing madly about the lawn at incredible speeds. I've tried to capture it on my video camera but with no results good enough to share yet - you never know, maybe tomorrow...

Maddening but Magical

Now, don't get the impression that this two and a half acres is heaven on earth. I hated it when we first moved here. It's on a north-facing hillside, it's surrounded by stands of tall forestry plantation; the soil is hard to work; we only moved here because we were moving to the area in a hurry and couldn't find anything in town that we liked. Yet, even on the day we moved in, when we were clapping our collective hands to our foreheads and saying "What have we done?" the magic of the place began to work on us. There's a public footpath that runs along the back of the property and, taking a break from the work, we wandered up the path for a while. It was a hot August afternoon. Whenever we placed our feet on the path, clouds of fritillary butterflies rose from the path before us. Coming from the town, we'd never seen so much nature all at once. It was breathtaking. The scent of the gorse and the pine and the sight of those butterflies on the hot air have stayed with me ever since and have got me through some of the tougher times in this maddening but magical place.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Mist in the Wood

This is the woodland looking particularly spectacular. Early morning mist, early autumn sun, load of pine trees - grab the camera and wow!

My other blog

Those of you who read my other blog,, will know that I am widowed. I live in a family-sized house in a far-too-big-for-one piece of land: two and a half acres or thereabout, and I love it. I love the space and the peace and most of all I love the wildlife and the plants and the rocks in my little bit of world.

Trouble is, I don't know how much longer I'll be able to stay on here. It's a struggle, staying on top of it all, and I will probably move on in a couple of years - sooner if things keep breaking down the way they have been! So until I have to give up on it I decided I'd record as much of the magic of this place as I can and I thought a blog would be as good a place as any to share the small wonders I see around me here on this north-facing bit of hillside.

Living here, after forty years of being a townie, has been a revelation and, frankly, the thoughts I've had on atheism and the meaning of life that I write about in my other blog would not have occurred to me if I had not moved to the country. So this plot of land has been, and is, very special to me. (I an also hoping it'll help produce the great novel but that will be another blog!)