Archive | January 2016

Frenzy on the bird feeders

Every day we fill the eight bird feeders, and there is a frenzy of activity for the next few hours. The favourite food of most of the birds is the sunflower hearts, and the two feeders containing this get completely emptied every day.




Above are a greenfinch and a goldfinch stuffing themselves. They will sit there for many minutes feeding constantly. The little blue tit on the left is more cautious, and will dart in, take a piece, and fly away to eat it in the bushes. The great tits and coal tits are the same. Chaffinches will occasionally come onto the feeders, but spend most of their time mooching around underneath eating the bits that have dropped, along with the pheasants.




The chap on the right is a siskin, smaller than the greenfinch behind, with a little black forehead. We didn’t get these visiting our previous garden in Hertfordshire, so it is a treat to watch them.




That’s him again on the right. The goldfinches are the prettiest, though, with their red and white heads. As you can see from the video below, it is a bit of a frenzy when they are all hungry!




Epiphany at Baggy Point

Last night I attended the local branch of the Clandestine Cake Club, where the aim is basically to eat and talk cakes all night. Cake is a bit of a passion of mine, so I did enjoy the evening, although I may have eaten a tad too much, even thought I didn’t try all the delicious varieties on offer. So this afternoon I went for a brisk calorie-burning walk along a mostly level stretch of coast path to Baggy Point. It is an ideal route for striding out, as the surface is good, but taking photos did slow me down a bit…




I enjoyed the brisk breeze and the sound of the waves on the rocks, and the un-photographable glimmer of the weak sunshine on the water. It felt good to be out, especially after the previous two days of stormy weather.




At the point, I found a sheltered spot and sat for a while watching the gulls soaring in the wind. Then I set off up the slope to the clifftop to take the ‘high road’ home. As I struggled to the top of the path, I was gasping for breath, my heart hammering in my chest, and my legs felt like jelly. I felt so disappointed with myself, as I had really been hoping that I was getting fitter, and wouldn’t feel quite so pathetic when dealing with the Devon slopes.

Then I glanced back down to where I had sat, and realised that, a mere two months ago, I would have never managed the whole climb in one go, and would have had to stop for breath much earlier. So I am getting fitter, but that feeling of utter exhaustion is going to keep happening if I push myself, just after even greater exertions. Of course logically that makes sense, but it came as a bit of an epiphany.




Feeling happier, I was able to relax and enjoy the views of the famous surfing beach at Croyde, and also enjoy the downhill route back to the car.




(I may have had another slice of cake when I got home….more walking needed tomorrow???)

A different bit of coastline

Today I had to drop my husband and friend off at the heliport at Hartland. Sounds very posh, doesn’t it….not!




This is the heliport; a few buildings in a sheep field (with sheep, you will notice), a muddy car park, shared with the coast path walkers, and catering facilities in the green shed in the car park. Mind you, it is better than it used to be, as the check in lounge is now a warm building with toilets, where it was once just a container. And the cafe usually does a nice bacon butty, if there are enough people booked on the flight. Needless to say, today was not one of those days…

The heliport only runs flights to Lundy, a small island twelve miles off the coast. The men are spending a few days there doing a bird survey of all the birds using the inter-tidal areas. It is a national survey, done by volunteers. It can be quite pleasant, sauntering along counting the odd oystercatcher, if the weather is kind. Unfortunately it is not going to be kind, so I suspect they will be cold, tired, and bedraggled by Friday.

I took the opportunity to potter along the coast path while they waited for the helicopter. It was a tad breezy, and quite dull, so the pictures are not spectacular, sorry.








Finally the helicopter left, and having waved them off, I then drove a bit further South to Hartland Quay, fully intending to walk a bit more.




As you can see, by now the brief glimpses of sun had ceased, the drizzle had set in, and the wind was even stronger. As I struggled across the car park to admire the spectacular rock formations, I decided that enough was enough, and being blown off a cliff path was not how I intended to start this week.





Definitely somewhere to revisit on a slightly nicer day!

A short stroll before dinner

One of the many reasons we moved to North Devon, and the main reason we bought the property we did, is the proximity to the beautiful coastline. I love the sound of the waves and the fresh sea air, as well as the stunning views.

So after a busy day doing chores, when you feel the need to ‘get out’ and clear your head, you go for a walk, don’t you? To the park, or around the lake, or in the forest. Well, we can go to the beach.




And, despite the gloomy skies, stiff breeze and spots of rain, our stroll along the sands and back through the dunes was just lovely. There was the odd hardy surfer bobbing beyond the breakers waiting for ‘the big one’. One or two families were walking their happily wagging dogs. But there was plenty of space for everyone, even at high tide. At low tide, the sea recedes almost out of sight, creating a vast playground of hard sand for riding, kite-flying, cricket games, and the most elaborate of sand creations. But today it was just a place of solitude for the locals.



Early spring flowers



Today has been very mild, so quite a contrast to the recent heavy frosts. The first of the mini daffs has opened, and seems a true miniature of a large yellow trumpet type. The snowdrops continue to pop up in the woodland, but are not fully open yet.




As with the daffodils, I keep finding them hidden under other plants, and I will need to dig them out and give them a better home. They are too special to leave hidden in the undergrowth!




I found a grape hyacinth today; only a common bulb, I know, but it is still nice to know that I have some…or one anyway!


Grape hyacinth


The first of many daisies has flowered. I do like daisies in a lawn, so the front lawn will be spot treated to remove unwanted weeds, while leaving the daisies, primroses, and bulbs well alone.




My new hellebore has opened it’s first flower. It is such a pretty double. The only others I have found round the garden have been less impressive, so I think i need to treat myself to a few more choice varieties.





The frosts damaged all the open flowers on my azalea, but I think there are more buds which will open. The camellia suffered the same fate, but has already covered itself in fresh flowers. Such a joy to see them at this time of year!



A change in the weather…finally!

It has actually stopped raining in Devon. We had a mainly dry weekend. Unfortunately we were not in Devon, but had gone North to visit family. In the North it was snowy, so not only did we miss a dry weekend, but we slipped and slid about on icy pavements. And the M6 is not nice on a Friday even in good weather, and it was awful in snow. But we did enjoy the break, and the company, so returned to our rural idyll refreshed and ready to work.




An apology here for forgetting to take a before picture. But if you look closely at the lane, can you see the dark area on the left, reaching about a quarter of the way across the lane? That was where the mat of soil and dead leaves was hiding the tarmac. Three barrow-loads later, and we have a wider lane. Well, near the house, anyway. The whole lane could really do with the same treatment, but it is half a mile long…

Today we woke to a heavy frost, coating the garden with grey. Our hillside faces north, so although the winter sun puts in an appearance for a few hours, it is at a very shallow angle to the ground, so the frost didn’t melt all day. Not a day for weeding, so instead I had a bonfire. It is the first chance I have had, but it was still a bit of a struggle to light as everything was so cold. But once it was going, I got a really good blaze, and managed to burn everything, including damp, leafy stuff. T’was a bit smoky though!




Following the bonfire, I had to put all my clothes in the wash, and have a quick shower, as this afternoon was my first shift as a volunteer in the local shop. It is a non-profit community shop in the heart of the village, and does a roaring trade in milk, bread, papers, pasties, after-school snacks, as well as being the place for a good gossip.  I enjoyed my two hour shift, and met a few new villagers, so it was a good experience. I am now officially Mrs Wednesday 2 til 4.

One last photo to prove that the sun does come out.



Not all cream teas and coast walks

I know that I paint a picture of a lovely lifestyle here in Devon, and, don’t get me wrong, it is pretty good, but there are always going to be things that go wrong, and things that need dealing with, and it is all hard work.

Today we had our leaky shower fixed, so that is one issue dealt with. Tomorrow an engineer will hopefully stop our precious heating oil dripping from a leaky joint. Then the garage door gets fixed….it just goes on and on.

It’s not much better in the garden.




This is the archway right outside my kitchen door. Once an attractive structure, I am sure, with a lovely climbing rose carefully trained over it. Now it is a crumbling unsightly eyesore completely swamped by dead rose stems. There is an outer layer of living rose, but it obviously hasn’t been tended for years. It will have to go!

Talking of roses, do you know the species rose, Rosa rugosa? Healthy foliage, large single fragrant pink flowers, followed by huge orange hips. What’s not to like???




This is one of three patches of Rosa rugosa in my garden. This one is at least 10 metres across… It spreads, and regrows if chopped to the ground, and is extremely thorny. It has to go before it takes over. Yeah…maybe next week.




This is the centre of my main perennial bed. I haven’t tackled this area yet. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was there until I had trimmed away some dead foliage round the edge, and saw what was beyond. I will get to it soon, now I have finished working on the front of the border.




The wheelbarrow contains the dead leaves of just one of my fifty thousand clumps of crocosmia. The border does look better now I have cleared away the dead stuff though. The photos aren’t quite at the same angle, but you get the idea.


main border


It’s not all doom and gloom, however. I uncovered this little beauty while clearing – it is a spring snowflake, much taller than a snowdrop, and a solid bell rather than individual petals. Not supposed to flower until at least February.




Everything is confused by the weather. This hydrangea is continuing to put out new flowers!




as does this azalea.




And the daffodils and other bulbs are coming up all over the garden, so I have a feeling we are going to have a spectacular spring display. If it ever stops raining!





Roasted onion soup

Now that I am a ‘lady of leisure’, I intend to make as much food from scratch as possible. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. The reality is that I am pretty busy most of the time, especially when it isn’t raining. Far from being unemployed, I am now a full-time gardener. Just for myself…

But today while it was hailing,  I made a delicious soup to thaw out Hubby who was gardening in the hail   ( as you do…) The original recipe is from the BBC website.

Roasted Onion Soup

Serves 4 as a starter, or two hungry people for lunch.

Peel and slice 800g of onions. That was 6 medium sized ones.


Place in a roasting tin with 4tbs olive oil, a good glug of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with a little sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Roast gently until caramelised but not burnt. About 45 mins to 1hr at 160 deg C should do it.


Transfer to a large saucepan with 1litre of vegetable stock, 1 tbs wholegrain mustard, and 1 tsp of Marmite (you can’t taste it, so do put it in even if you don’t like Marmite. If you don’t have any, you can add a little soy or Worcester sauce instead). Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.


You can eat it as it is, but it improves  if you whizz it a bit with a stick blender, or put half into a jug blender and pulse it a little, just to thicken the soup a bit.


For the finishing touch, toast some bread, and top with soft goats cheese. I used English cheese and black pepper muffins, which worked really well. Serve with the toast floating in the soup.


All about water…

I thought that a watershed was a high part of the country where rivers flowed down down each side in opposite directions, so when our new neighbours invited us round to see the watershed, I expected a long hike….Instead they took us to a shed in their garden where our water is filtered…the Water Shed! Our water comes from a borehole up the lane, via this filter system, and is soft clean, sweet, and pure. It is a joy to drink, but often comes out of the tap cloudy, due to a mass of tiny bubbles, which clear gently from the bottom to leave it sparkling and clear. It does throw visitors the first time you give them a glass!

As it is soft, I have no limescale, which is bliss after living in a very hard water area for most of my life. I am still getting used to not putting as much detergent in the washing up (big bowls of bubbles!) and in the washing machine (sometimes have to give it an extra rinse).

The shower is a joy: as the water pressure is high so it is like a power shower. Ok, I should mention here that the shower does leak from the valve, so less of a joy. It is also too old to be mended, and a non standard size so a bugger to replace….The plumber is returning next week, so we will see.

There is plenty of water outside as well. Today was a reasonable day, in that it was mostly dry during my morning ride, with just enough drizzle to give a superb rainbow. This afternoon I managed an hour or so of gardening. Fed up with all the destructive gardening that we have had to do, I actually planted a plant! We have a few hellebores here and there, and don’t yet know what colours they will be. But while at a garden centre last week, I found one called ‘Cinderella’, with a double white flower heavily spotted with pink. It looks delightful, so I treated myself with a voucher that I received for Christmas – thank you Aunty Anne!




I excavated a space for it next to a set of steps, where we will be able to see the flowers easily. As the bank is steep. I have dotted a  few stones on the bare soil, to try and prevent it washing away. I can’t wait until those fat white buds open!

And then the heavens opened, and the torrential rain drove me inside. I suppose all our lovely soft tasty Devon water has to come from somewhere!

The first day of the rest of my life

A dramatic title, I know, but that is how today has felt. Before Christmas we were busy unpacking, sorting, fixing, and shopping. Over the holidays we had the family staying, which was lovely, but was not ‘normal’. We haven’t had a chance to find our new normal.

Yesterday I put away the decorations, vacuumed up the pine needles, and recycled the Christmas cards. With that done, today I could make the most of a dry day, and spend the day gardening.




I am still cutting down perennials, as I have been for the past month. I have an awful lot of crocosmia…

After several barrowloads of slimy brown leaves had been collected and added to the compost pile, I needed a ‘vertical’ job to give my back a break. The view from one of our living room windows was blocked by a conifer planted on the bank opposite, and behind the conifer was a huge fatsia.




A magnificent specimen, sure, but not when it takes my light and blocks my view. Hubby had already cut down the conifer, so I finished the job by taking the fatsia down to a short stump. It has some new shoots down low, so will regrow, and hopefully we can keep it small for a few years. The view from our window is much improved, I think you’ll agree.


window b & A2


We just need to clear away all the conifer branches, and saw the stumps a bit lower, but the view is already much better. There is still a decent sized pieris on the left, which I intend to keep, but which will have a good haircut once it has flowered.

In between barrowloads it was pleasant to stroll round the garden and see what’s new. There are daffodils sprouting everywhere, and one clump is in full flower. I even have a vase full in the house, of the buds that have flopped over with the weather.




This little chap was an unusual surprise for January!




By mid afternoon I was extremely tired, and collapsed on a bench to rest. All I could hear was the rushing sound of the fast-flowing brook in the valley below, and the twittering of the birds feeding in the trees above. It was bliss.


If this is my new normal, then I am liking it a lot.