Not A Drop To Drink

Ice In Tractor Tyre Tracks
Ice In Tractor Tyre Tracks

Although the roads seem to be free from ice (fingers crossed as I write this) the water lying in the fields has a film of ice on it. Where the water is only a fraction of an inch or so thick – a few millimetres for those whose entire life has to be divided by ten – it is usually quite solid. The interesting thing about ice, of course, is that it is lighter than water, hence the ice cubes floating at the top of the glass rather than sinking to the bottom as, no doubt, they would if they had any sense of style. Just in case you live on that desert island we mention from time to time, ice floats because the same weight of water is larger when it’s a lump of ice – so the same volume of ice is lighter than the same volume of water – so it floats. The really interesting thing is, if it didn’t float, ponds and seas and stuff would freeze from the bottom up, making it impossible for life to survive in the oceans when, from time to time, ice ages wipe out everything that ventured out of them.

It would also make it very hard for Eskimos to chop fishing holes through it.

Apple Pie Order

Apples. Yummy!

‘A bad apple’ is a phrase that is easy to understand. But perhaps not. These days when apples, along with most fruit and vegetables come from the supermarket and people who lay them out in the loft, each individually wrapped in newspaper that the newsprint stayed on, are gone into the dustbin of history, along with the expectation that every boy over ten would have a penknife in his pocket.

Not, for one minute, that I’m suggesting that this particular apple was bad – far from it it would seem. It certainly looks as though is has received a vote of confidence from the local wildlife. I didn’t want to touch it, it seemed as if it was hanging on by its fingernails, to look more closely at the tooth and beak marks inside the fruit. I’m inclined to think that the vote of confidence comes from The Blackbird – he is well known for his love of windfalls.

Was this one just so scrumptious that he couldn’t wait for it to drop? It is just too easily accessible, sitting there, just a few feet off the ground, you don’t need wings to reach it, it could be almost anyone really.

Ahead Of The Game

Gorse In A Sunny Spot
Gorse In A Sunny Spot

Today’s walk took us round to the sunny side of the hill. Well, over the hill and down the sunny side really. The first important thing, of course, is that it was sunny, so there was a sunny side. It wasn’t by any means warm, but the sunlight gave everything a cheerful glow. We didn’t meet anyone today so there was no stopping to chat – but The Dog did find an exceptionally fragrant pile of horse droppings and had to be forcibly removed from the vicinity.

As we came down the hill we chanced to look across at the fields. A large boggy area round the base of the hill rising to a sandy summit covered in gorse bushes in a smooth vibrant green sweep. The gorse, at this time of the year, while it doesn’t lose all its leaves, does have a distinctly grey cast to it, as the leaves have become quite thin and the thorns have become dark dry spines.

Well, surprise, surprise. There in the middle of the clump, at least one of the bushes had put forth a sprinkle of flowers!

For Dr. Edward Bach (who died seventy six years ago yesterday – 27/11/1936) Gorse was about the return of hope to the hopeless – and very uplifting it was to find those bright yellow flowers twinkling at us in the sunshine.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Birch Tree In Winter
Birch Tree In Winter

As there are no leaves left on the trees, it seemed appropriate to have a picture of a tree with no leaves on. It does seem strange doesn’t it? Here we are in the coldest part of the year and all the trees take all their clothes off and stand around naked like a bunch of sixties hippies at a music festival. It makes you wonder about the evergreen trees, the Pine, Fir, Holly and the Yew for instance, are they considered just a bit prudish by the other trees do you think?

This is a Birch tree. Coleridge, in ‘The Picture Or The Lover’s Resolution’, a long involved litany of trees and plants, the sort of thing you might use to entertain an Ancient Mariner while he waited for a wedding guest to turn up, called the Silver Birch The Lady of the Woods. In America they do things differently and Hiawatha used a different member of the Birch family to build his canoe I’m pleased to report. This worried me throughout my childhood as, I had never seen a birch tree with sufficient girth to have made more than a pair of moccasins. Longfellow has our hero barking the tree using wedges to remove the bark but it seems that the bark, because of the oils in it, it doesn’t rot away as quickly as the wood inside it does, so it is often easier to find a dead tree and knock the rotten wood out of the middle of it.

Back to the Silver Birch. It’s good for making brooms and besoms and in the spring you can collect sap from it and make birch wine. So, there you go, if you are feeling inclined to stand around naked it’s better to wait till spring – at least you can have a glass of wine to get you in the mood.

Islands In The Stream

Island In The Stream
Island In The Stream

The beck has risen to the point where, what was a hook shaped promontory, first became an island, it does this now and again – so that’s not too big a deal, and has now become a waterlogged swamp with just small areas of vegetation showing above the surface of the stream. A bit like Manhattan, I suppose. We keep and eye on the ‘island in the stream‘ because it gives us some measure of how much water there is in the beck. I don’t think our beck has any tributaries, I think it just collects water that runs off the fields – or perhaps, oozes out of the fields would be a more apt description. Trying to walk across them at the moment is like walking over a large, fully loaded sponge. It is still raining and it is going to rain again tomorrow. I don’t normally give weather forecasts too much credence but it’s hard not to believe it at the moment. The sky is low and the horizon is close and soggy.

When the much-married Ernest Hemingway died, his last wife put together ‘The Sea Book’ that he had often talked of writing, from stuff she found in the three hundred odd bits of finished and partly finished work he left behind. She then published it as ‘Islands In The Stream‘ and it did rather well for him.

Our island isn’t very ‘Caribbean’  at the moment.

Hills And Mountains

Mountains Of The lake District
Mountains Of The Lake District

In the old life we either had to look out across the Solway Firth or turn round and look the other way towards Skiddaw. In our new life, as we walk down the hill we can look at Solway Firth over there and a little bit father along Skiddaw rears just above the trees. It is quite possible that when the trees are in full leaf, next spring, our ‘eye-line’ will not have the same reach.

There were three ways of crossing what we now call Solway Firth in the old, old days and they carry the wraith of border raiding and smuggling about them. There’s the Bowness Wath – a ness is a mound or a hillock – from near Annan to Bowness. A Wath is a ford or a crossing or, don’t mention it to any historians could it mean, a walk or a way? The other one is nearer the head of the estuary and was known as the Sandy Wath. Then, there was the shortest and most used crossing, the Sol Wath or Mud Way – or dare we suggest The Soil Way?

Over the years we’ve had the occasional glacier around here and most of the Solway area is made up of all the loose bits that were scraped off the Scottish Hills on that side and the Cumbrian Mountains that make up the Lake District on this side. Then, as if having everyone else’s  cast-offs wasn’t bad enough, when all that ice melted we got dunked in the sea a few times too.

With all the ups and downs we’ve seen around here, it’s amazing that there are any mountains left to stick up on our horizon, but there are.

That’s Not My Sky

That's Not My Sky
That’s Not My Sky

When we woke this morning, after two days of almost continuous rain, driven by a mean and vicious wind, we woke to a gorgeous blue sky and a gentle breeze. There was just enough bite in the breeze to remind us that this fantastic sun filled day was only a few weeks away from the winter solstice, or the last day of autumn, or first day of winter, or the end of the world. So you may, or may not, want to move to red alert once the solstice comes round and we find ourselves with only three days left until Christmas. Of course, if you wanted to be rather safe than sorry, you could advance your Christmas celebrations to say, the twentieth of December. This means you have four days less before you need to have all present buying under control and I’m not sure if even the end of the world is worth that.

By the time The Dog and I set out to make sure that all was in readiness for the end of the world, or the solstice, the world had turned and our bit of blue sky had been passed on to some more deserving area while we were being threatened with this one, full of large black clouds.

Well, I’ve looked under the tablecloth, and behind the furniture, and opened all the little doors on every page – but I still can’t find my sky.

It’s A Hard Knock Life

Beech Tree - been through hard times
Beech Tree – been through hard times

Did you know that the musical Annie has a history that goes way, way back? You could almost call it an American legend.  It has it’s roots in the American Civil War – and you can’t get much more legendary than that, surely.

It all started when Elizabeth Riley, hearing from a friend that Mary Alice Smith who, at only twelve, had been left an orphan when her father was killed in the war (Elizabeth’s husband Reuben, who had joined up on the Union side, was also away fighting) went and brought the young girl over to her house to join her six children. Children in those days were expected to earn their keep and help with the housework etc. This can’t have been easy for parents, as there was no television to use as a carrot to get the work done. Mary Alice, or Allie as she became to the other children, became a very useful television substitute because, in the evening, after all the chores were done they would sit round the fire and she would tell scary stories.

In the 1890s one of those children, James Whitcomb Riley, now an adult and a successful poet and performer wrote a few verses remembering those evenings, called “The Elf Child”. It was printed and became very popular, so popular that it needed to be reprinted. He asked the printers to rename the poem “Little Orphant Allie”. The printers, however, renamed it to “Little Orphant Annie“.

Next stop 1924. Poetry is out of fashion in newspapers by now and the newfangled cartoon strip is all the rage. Enter the “Little Orphan Annie” cartoon, based on the character in the poem, that ran and ran and ran, until 2010 to be exact.

Somewhere in that eighty-odd years, there has to be enough material for a musical.

Greenbacks

Leaves
Leaves

In amongst all the reds, golds, browns, yellows, in all their various shades, we came across a scattering of these paper white leaves. Strangely, the area where I found these pale shadows of their former selves, was in the large cleared area formed by the entrance to a field closed farthest away from the road by a very infrequently used gate. The whole space, from road to gate was deep in beech leaves. The road at this point is flanked by a beech wood and the remains of a very old beech hedge, which has now become a line of half a dozen or so elderly beech trees.

These odd extraneous sycamore or some kind of maple leaf must have blown in recently – and they must have blown in from some distance because try as we might, amongst the beech trees around us, we could see no sign of a maple. Now I don’t want to be dogmatic about it, beech trees and maple trees with no leaves on do have similar looking trunks it’s true, but I did take this into account and we walked up and down the road peering into the woods and searching the ground for more evidence.

The fact that there was already a good thick layer of beech leaves and that the maple leaves were lying on top, leads me, using the principles of archaeology, to believe that these maple leaves are recent immigrants to the beech wood.

Possibly a wandering tribe of nomads trekking through in search of a pile of leaves of deep religious significance.

The Misty Mountains

Over The Misty Mountains And Far Away
Over The Misty Mountains And Far Away

To be open and honest about it, we haven’t quite orientated ourselves yet. The sun, should it ever appear, is at such a low angle that it makes it very difficult to know when it is at its zenith – to be able to pinpoint exactly south. Now, I never made it into the boy scouts but I did do a couple of years as a cub. Dib, dib dib, was it? Or dab, dab, dab? I can’t remember now. Still having been young-ish during the Boy’s Own era I do know that if you point the hour hand of your watch (don’t try this with your iPhone kiddies) at the sun then south was mid-way between the hour hand and twelve o’clock, and most obligingly, north was the other way. At least something of the sort seeps to the surface of the brain whenever I worry it about directions and the like.

The Balrog, in his home deep below The Misty Mountains, didn’t really care too much about north and south. Up and down was his thing, down mostly. Orcs of course, just do as they are told. Tom, on the other hand, suffered from the problem (other than dishonesty) a great many amateur musicians don’t seem to be able to overcome. The only song that he could play was Over The Hills And Far Away and there’s no doubt that Pigling Bland and Pig-wig are still dancing there.

Oh. Yes. As I was saying, I don’t know what mountains these are on the skyline.

Today, Matthew, I’m Going To Be . . . A Telephone Pole

Buzzard Disguised As A Telegraph Pole
Buzzard Disguised As A Telegraph Pole

Here we have one of our resident Buzzards doing an exceptionally good imitation of being in a relaxed and nonchalant mood. He’s very good at this, as he spends most of his time in a relaxed and nonchalant mood. He’s chosen this telephone post because it matches the particular ensemble he selected for himself today. He has just been to the hairdressers but the wind seems to have taken it upon itself to ruffle his feathers. Never fear, he won’t let his irritation get the better of him, a little preening soothes the soul, you know.

I do wonder how they survive as I’ve never seen them actually catching anything – or even appear to catch something. If you watch a Kestrel as they patrol the roads, waiting for some something to break out into the open from the safety of the grass verge, you will quite often see them dive down from their hover. Presumably because they thought that they spied a tasty morsel, who was attempting to leave the party without saying good bye to the host and hostess. But our Buzzards never seem to bother with this hunting stuff – they are very laid back about it all.

Everything comes to he who waits, I suppose.

Silly Goose

Geese Flying South
Geese Flying South

We’ve had the odd V formations of largish birds, making goose sort of noises, flying over for the last week or so – heading in a south-ish direction. Recently they have begun to pick up the tempo. I checked with Google, Google and I are old friends, we go back a long way together, the funny thing is that all he could find about geese migrating seemed to suggest that the geese are inclined to stop in Scotland and wait for the worst of the winter to run its course in Iceland and Greenland – I hope the fact that they are venturing this far south isn’t a sign of a bad winter.

The story goes that Eric The Red, who gets blamed for most things Nordic, occasionally even the Americans are his, or his son’s, fault, was then living in Iceland. At that time, Icelanders were having problems inducing immigrants to leave the comforts of Scandinavia and to move to a region of mist and ice that sounded too much like a trip to Niflheim where Hel ruled over the dead, for even a glossy brochure to overcome. Back to Eric, who had a small problem with the law and sailed off to the west to check on stories of land seen in that direction and where he could kill who he liked without people going over the top about it. When he found land, he decided to call it Greenland.

Spin and hype were alive and well among the Vikings.

Wait For It

Waiting for the train
Waiting for the train

A level crossing is an interesting place, not only are there occasional trains to enliven your experience but there is a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ about it. It is possibly the spice of danger. There is after all nothing to separate you from hundreds of tons of iron and steel thundering across. Don Quixote would have loved level crossings, but only once. It’s a good thing there isn’t a station at La Mancha – did you know that Cervantes started working on the idea for Don Quixote while he was in prison in La Mancha, for not paying his debts.

We stand there knowing that the train is confined, controlled, it is on the tracks and its route may not deviate. We can safely stand and wait while the dragon blusters harmlessly past, separated by the flimsiest of barriers. So flimsy in fact, that both Younger Grandsons could easily walk underneath the bar, if they were not held firmly by the hand.

When the lights are not active we saunter across with boastful bravado “There are no trains coming” we say “Come on, let’s go across to the other side.” We don’t need to cross, of course, a train is a train, whichever side of the crossing you stand, but it is important to establish our mastery, our control.

There is no signal so we know it is safe – and knowledge is power.

A Little Gardening

Garden Tools
Garden Tools

Every now and then you get an urge to commune with nature and to get your hands dirty, or so I’ve been told. I have to confess that I am quite happy to leave the garden to get on and grow, within reason, without any micro-management from me. I don’t mind giving it the odd haircut, just to keep the lawn looking presentable and if it gets a bit out of hand and starts to encroach upon areas that I consider reserved for my recreation, I am happy to lop off an occasional tree branch or brandish secateurs threateningly at a rose bush. Should my righteous indignation be aroused, I have been known to reduce the offending shrub to an insignificant bunch of twigs. It made me feel a lot better! I must add, that although there followed several months of trepidation, we did have a good show of roses that year.

Autumn, of course, is the right time to get stuck in and do the larger reconstruction jobs around the garden. You know, move plants around, dig stuff up and put it on the compost heap – you can read about the right time and the right way to do any amount of heavy lifting in your gardener’s world, on any number of web sites. Don’t forget that the healthy exercise is doing all sorts of good and valuable things for you – while it wears out your body and causes any number of aches pains and other signs of a virtuous life.

Perhaps, here I ought to add “don’t work harder – work smarter”

Early To Bed

Hog Weed - up late
Hog Weed – up late

Sometimes time just vanishes. One minute it isn’t very late and there will be plenty of time to continue to work on the current project. And the next? Well, somehow the time that we had a few seconds ago just seems to have taken French Leave. As an aside did you know that the equivalent expression to French Leave in French, translates as “to take English Leave”. That’s all the explanation of this phrase we need, really. The Hundred Years War (about who was the King of France) lasted for about – a hundred years actually, pretty much until the two sides, England and France, forgot what it was they were fighting about. But, back to the inconsistency of time. When you are busy, time goes faster – everyone knows this – sometimes however, when you aren’t exactly gainfully occupied, not exactly idle either but just not keeping an eye on the time, time has a habit of hoping around from slow to fast to slow again, just to keep itself amused while it waits for it to be time for something to happen. It suffers a bit from Attention Deficit Disorder you know, it just can’t keep its hands and feet still and it will squirm and wriggle and fiddle with the buttons if you don’t watch it continually.

Somehow, it was past two a.m. this morning before I remembered that I should be in bed. So I switched everything off and did my best to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. As a result of the late night, I slept in late this morning, so it was nearly mid-day before The Dog and I stuck our noses outside to test the weather. We wandered off on our rounds, trying to look as though we’d been up for hours. Then we came across this guy sitting by the brown, leafless hedge. He’d obviously been up late and missed summer this year and so was trying to make up the lost time after-hours.

I felt that I understood.

Neighbours

Horse Out For A Little Exercise
Horse Out For A Little Exercise

As the year has drawn to a close we have seen some subtle, and some not so subtle, changes as The Dog and I walk our walk each day. The leaves have fallen off the trees for instance. At first just a few here and there, so that it was interesting to find dry leaves whirling round in the little eddies round the edges and corners of buildings. As we walked up the hill, the occasional leaf would run on ahead of us and The Dog would follow in hot pursuit. Then, it became hard to see the road for the drifts of leaves, very colourful it was too. Soon though, the carpet of reds and browns decomposed into a black slushy veneer that was thankfully washed away by the next heavy rain.

There are a few sheep around, along our walk, but there are far more cattle, or at least there were. Most of them have now been moved into their barns for the winter. There are still a few of the more hardy types pottering around in the fields but each time we pass by we notice that they are less and less obvious. More and more fields stand empty, looking quite forlorn and deserted without the munch and crunch of their bovine occupants.

In previous weeks we have rarely come across evidence of horses, marking their passage, as they do, in a way that would have left Hansel and Gretel green with envy. Very seldom have we caught the sound of their clip clopping approach as we strain our ears for the sound of vehicles but most of all for the almost silent whisper of bicycle tyres on the road. Now all that has changed. Horses too, we guess, are currently stabled against the wild winds rude lament – and so in need of exercise. Three times this week, we have stopped to chat to a horse out for a trot round the block. And very pleased we were to meet them.

Hedging Our Bets

Tree In The Hedge
Tree In The Hedge

There’s one particular place in our walk, just before we get to where the road goes through a tunnel in the embankment under the railway line. The hedge around that part of the road seems to have been neglected for a good few years. Now, The Dog and I have mixed thoughts on that. Back to nature is good in some cases but we humans have been living in, and modifying, our landscape for, probably, a good few thousand years. This means that quite a bit of our wild life has become accustomed to having hedges around.

Hedges are completely unnatural constructions and left to themselves, over ten or so years they will restore the natural order of things. The strong will deprive the weak of the necessary nutrients and what was a hedge soon becomes a line of trees, with larger and larger gaps as the trees grow and shade out their competing neighbours. It really is only those interfering, busybody humans with their fetish for tidiness that keeps a hedge a hedge.

Now the leaves are almost all gone, the skeleton is showing and interesting aspects of our hedge are coming to light. This tree is this shape because, some years ago, two shoots were used as ‘pleachers’ in a neatly laid hedge. As you can see from the thickness of the trunks that was a good few years ago.

We wondered what kind of tree it was and we discussed this with Google who had two possibilities to offer. One was Field Maple, this is the only native British Maple so it ranks pretty high on our list of guesses. Next was Sycamore. This isn’t a native to these islands but it has been carried around and planted by people on their peregrinations for aeons, and its ancestry is lost in the impenetrable fog of ancient history. These days we tend to blame things like this on the Romans who are, conveniently, currently unavailable for comment.

The main difference between these two types of tree is their leaf shape. This is Autumn and the leaves have all fallen off the tree. It looks like we will have to wait till spring, but we’re going to stick our neck out here and plumb for Sycamore – but it might be Field Maple.

Good Luck

White Heather
White Heather

This is white heather – it’s a cultivated variety of heather obviously. Real heather isn’t that colour and the good luck that is associated with white heather comes only when you find a stalk of white in among the purple that is the hue of the majority of plants. Like the four leafed clover which can now be purchased to order by florists everywhere, white heather is now so common as to negate any of the luck that it used to bring. Still, if you bought a white heather at your local nursery believing that it would bring you good fortune if you planted it in the garden – it probably will. That’s the way good luck works.

Many years ago (sheesh, was it really that many?) I was in London and making my way towards the Planetarium when a very large lady with a ‘My Fair Lady’ gown and a basket of flowers stood right in front of me and, in a very thick foreign accent, pushed a bunch of white heather under my nose and demanded “You! Buy!” Luckily, I am fairly resistant to high pressure sales tactics so I declined the offer. I don’t recall if the ensuing curse was ever effective but as all this happened more than seven years ago I guess I must have survived.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to compare the negative of the lack of good luck I suffered from as a result of not buying the white heather, with the positive bad luck I  received as a result of the curse, if so we would be able judge the merits of each and so have useful data to access should we ever again have such on the spot decisions to make.

I must remember to carry a pair of dice in case I find myself in a similar situation in the future, then I can carry out a proper scientific study.

Playtime

Buzzard Just Hanging In The Air
Buzzard Just Hanging In The Air

At this time of the year, things hibernate, or just hide themselves away waiting for a sunny day. So you’d think that a bird like a Buzzard, who relies on small furry things to do a bit of scurrying about if they are going to get a snack with a quick swoop, would start to take life seriously. After all, if there’s nothing to eat then you eat nothing. A few days ago, on our way home, we stopped to watch a buzzard being harassed by a large black bird – rook, crow or jackdaw – the buzzard wasn’t overly flustered but it did leave the area. You could almost hear it saying, “All right. All right! I’m going. I’m going. Keep your hair on!”  I can’t imagine that there are young rooks about at this time of the year so the disagreement must have been based on territory rather than nest raiding. Competition for the food resources that the local area can provide is definitely hotting up.

On our way round to the level crossing today, just to make sure that it was level you know, we watched two or three buzzards playing with the wind. There really is no other way to describe it. They would float down wind for a few seconds, then turn and ride into the breeze with wings unmoving, just holding their position, hovering, until with a slight twitch of their tail feathers they would loop off to pick up a bit of speed and have another go at holding a hover.

There really wasn’t any point in this – they were just having fun. Come on guys, be serious!

All Or Nothing

Autumn Leaves And A Train
Autumn Leaves And A Train

Just lately we’ve had a flurry of posts showing a picture of autumn leaves or, failing falling foliage, we’ve had likeable locomotive largess in pictures of trains. This paucity of purposeful pictures (OK I’ll stop now, I promise) has even led us to consider the advantages of hibernation. The other option, of course, is to go to Australia, where summer is fast approaching and, no doubt the natural word is awakening and making its diary available for photo sessions, to amateur and professional alike.

As we search the brown and dried hedgerows along our walk for something /anything worth taking a picture of, the sun is now at such a low angle that even with moderate cloud cover, there is not enough light to take a photo of anything that will not sit still. Here I must interrupt this jeremiad to add that there is still plenty of wild life about, only this morning I startled a small deer and as it raced off, it in turn sent a rabbit scampering off in the other direction. A couple of days ago, not twenty yard ahead of me a large bird with long tail feathers shot up into the air and disappeared over the hedge into the wood, calling as it flew. My first thought was that it was our resident pheasant, but its call was reminiscent of the ‘Go. Back!’ of the grouse. In each case, with better illumination I would have chanced a ‘quick click’, to then see if enlarging the result on the computer could shed any light on the situation.

So it looks like it’s Australia then. The only problem is, it’s a bit far to be able to get back in time for coffee, which is an important part of our current schedule.

Penny For Your Thoughts

Honesty Seeds
Honesty Seeds

Honesty, in Winter. Shall I write a novel do you think? I think it’s too long to make a good song title. Billy Joel and Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) just called their songs ‘Honesty’, as did many others who wrote using that title. Wikipedia even remembers a horse called Honesty in the 1842 Grand National – what a long memory it has. To be honest, I can’t remember if the horse came in anywhere.

Some people say that it’s the phase of its life shown in the photo that won it its name. When everything is so open and overt, well, you have to be honest, don’t you? It’s certainly the least complicated way to run your life. When you leave your seeds prominently displayed in transparent seed pods, while the rest of the plant dies back you better be honest.

It’s also called Silver Dollar and Chinese Money. In Europe its various names translate as Judas pennies, pieces of silver and all that.

Money didn’t make it big to start off with – it was another one of these ‘overnight success that took twenty years to achieve’ acts. The first coinage was gold and gold is just too heavy to cart around as lose change. A Silver Penny appeared in the Middle Ages, with a cross marked on it, not to show any religious affiliation but so that it could be easily cut into four to make it more useful.

The big trouble with a coin is how much it costs. It is expensive to make (our ‘coppers’ are currently made of steel coated with bronze) and it’s expensive to handle. In fact, the lower denomination coins can cost, over their lifetime, far, far more than they are worth either as coinage or just plain metal.

Just Talk

Jackie's Photo Of Talkin Tarn
Jackie’s Photo Of Talkin Tarn

This expanse of autumn leaves is at Talkin Tarn. Now Talkin Tarn is called Talkin Tarn because it is near the village of Talkin. The village of Talkin is called Talkin because that’s its name. I hope that explains everything.

Talkin Tarn itself, in common with many similar small bodies of water round here, was created by an itinerant Holy Man who was passing through and received short shrift from the population of the village, now beneath its waters. Except, that is, for one old woman who lived on the outskirts of the village and who took him in and offered him food and shelter. In exchange, he asked her to throw a shovel as far as she could towards the village. He then spoke the magic words – or whatever Holy Men did in those days – and the waters rose up and covered the whole village, only stopping when it reached the shovel.

Judging by how many small lakes or tarns around here have a similar story attached to them, we’ve had a very touchy bunch of Holy Men in the past. I’m not sure if they’re any better these days, I haven’t come across any recently. I am keeping a shovel handy though – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I Talk To The Trees

Autumn Trees
Autumn Trees

Well, we’re back to the autumn leaves I’m afraid. The lovely sunny and clear but cold air mass has passed on to the next place on its list and left us back were we where before. The skies are not low and oppressive but they are grey – or grey-ish at the best.

So here’s a group of trees in various stages of preparation for winter. Soon they will all lose their leaves. Looking round the base of some holly bushes that we pass along our route I noticed that they too have been losing their leaves. I’m guessing that the thing that keeps them looking green is that they continue to grow leaves all year round. Does this infringe the trades description act? Is there a tree ombudsman we could complain to?

I’m getting a little bored with half-clothed trees, not to say piles of leaves clogging things up and getting in everyone’s way. I’m beginning to wish they would just get on with it, turn the sap off and retreat down into the roots in the basement until spring.

I won’t let you oversleep – I’ll wake you in plenty of time.

Glacier seedling

Snow On The Mountains
Snow On The Mountains

Another bright sunny day greeted us this morning as The Dog and I set off for our morning ramble. Still very cold but only a light breeze, when this happens on a Sunday it’s known as ‘good flying weather’ in some quarters. There seemed to be even less warmth in the sun today than there was yesterday. Yesterday we hurried through any shady patches we encountered along the way. Today it didn’t seem to make much difference, the air was cold and, although bright and cheerful, the sun didn’t seem to be adding any warmth to the day.

Once again the air was clear and the mountains were thrown into sharp relief. Some of the mountains we see are part of the Lake District – Skiddaw and all that – some of them are part of the Pennines. This morning we went all the way round the block and at one point in our walk, I thought I recognised the form of the hills the other side of the Solway estuary, over in Scotland, this is the first time I’ve seen them since we moved here.

While it’s quite pretty having snow on the mountains this early in winter, there is a more serious point to be considered. If the snow stays there and more snow falls, as winter progresses, the depth of snow will build up and the pressure will solidify the lower layers, it will form ice and start to slide down the mountain side as a glacier. Luckily for us Carlisle is directly in the glacier’s path and so when Carlisle disappears this should tell us that something is amiss. Of course, when the trains can’t get all the way into Carlisle and start terminating at Wetheral we won’t notice, but when they move the terminus to Brampton we won’t get any trains on our part of the line any more and this will be a warning to us that all is not well.

Of course, we might get the odd mammoth wandering past before this – which could be a good clue.

Castling

Toppin Castle
Toppin Castle

It was crisp and clear again this morning and we ventured out under a blue sky but with clouds piling up on the horizon. Everything looks so different in the sunshine when you’ve had a succession of gloomy days, doesn’t it? The Dog and I wandered along, with the pale sun giving out barely perceptible warmth to take the chill off the nose, ears and fingers. There was one point in on our stroll that seemed to be just the right place to take a photo of the green field below and the blue sky above, so I stopped there and took a few pictures this way and that. Then I started to zoom out a bit and to my surprise there appeared to be a small castellated building a few fields away.

It took me a minute or two to realise what I was looking at. As we drive home, once we’ve turned off the main road and are making our way down the country lanes, we pass a a very large and pretentious farm house that looks very like a castle or perhaps more like the keep inside a castle would look. This is Toppin Castle, built a century or so ago for George Head Esq.

The story goes like this – in the dim and distant past, a small farmer, or yeoman, called Toppin,  lived on the site of the current castle and he built himself a new house there. At the house warming party (in those days, given to thank all your neighbours for their help and contributions) after the ale had been flowing for a while, in response to a toast to his good health, Mr Toppin launched into a long rambling dissertation on the hardships of agriculture and the state of the nation. In his speech he mentioned that ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’. From then on the homestead became known as Toppin’s Castle.

Some time in the 1800s the property was purchased by Mr George Head and during his extensive remodelling of the buildings on the site he added a tower of four floors and a turret containing the staircase.

And this is what I was looking down on – the top floors and staircase turret of Toppin Castle.

On The Beech

More Autumn Leaves
More Autumn Leaves

Yes I know – more boring autumn leaves. That’s all there is at the moment, I’m afraid. These, we believe are Beech leaves. Beech is one of those trees that is either a native species and should be cherished,  if you are on that side of the fence, or an invasive species and should be uprooted as a weed, if you are on the other side. It probably arrived here just after the last Ice Age – the one that scrapped the soil and vegetation off most of Britain, so it is probably as invasive as any other vegetation we have.

In the days before paper, beech tablets were used to write on. You see what a stubborn, impatient bunch we are, why couldn’t we have just waited a bit? Even today the Swedish word ‘bok’ means both a book and a beech tree. The wood makes good firewood, splits easily and burns long and hot. You can make drums with it as it has a different sound to maple and birch, which are the other favoured woods. If the defence budget gets a bit tight and won’t stretch to walnut stocks for rifles you can use beech as a cheaper alternative.

Edward Bach felt that a tincture of Beech flowers was what is needed by overly critical, arrogant people.

Mrs Grieve notes that the ash of Beech leaves contains a high level of potash that is useful for making gunpowder.

Don’t try this at home kids – unless you’ve got a suitable adult to supervise, of course.

Jolly Roger

Jolly Roger
Jolly Roger

So, we made it through Halloween – I think it was the garlic myself.

Garlic is so effective at keeping ‘things that go bump in the night’ under control, that even witches have been known to carry it with them – to protect themselves in case things go wrong. This seems a bit defeatist to me, I must admit. Wouldn’t it be better just to learn the spells properly and then you wouldn’t need to worry that they might get out of control? I know that there are hundreds of spells to choose from – that’s why you have to have a spelling book if you’re going to be a witch.

Surely witches don’t just go round casting spells at random? If they are going to cast a spell then they must know before-hand what they want to make happen, so there should be plenty of time to read up on the correct procedure and make sure that you have all the ingredients and that the moon is in the right place and you have the correct cat who has the required degree of blackness. You will also need a cauldron of a size large enough to hold all the ingredients without too much slopping out when you stir – you wouldn’t want to put the fire out in the middle of it all now would you?

If you’re going to go to all this trouble – surely it’s worth learning the spell properly before you start? Then you can use the garlic to make a nice spaghetti bolognese to warm up in the microwave afterwards.

PS This Pirate Pumpkin was sitting outside one of the houses we pass on our daily walk. We knocked, to say how much we liked it and found an authoress who has just published her first book – it’s here, go and have a look.