Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bag End through the year?

While I was having the MAMMOTH blog catch-up session I came across this picture, taken on 24th March.  I originally intended to do a post showing the Cottage Garden getting a thorough pre-season mulch of home-made compost.  Well, the mulch went down but the blog entry never happened ... such is life :}

I was shocked to see how bare the long border had been over winter and the difference to how it looks in the summer is remarkable.  It got me thinking that I'd like to do a series of posts/pictures showing how different parts of the garden change over a 12 month period.  But I haven't worked out how exactly to do it ...

At more than half an acre, the garden is too big for half a dozen "end of the month" shots to cover it.  The only idea I can come up with so far is to have a separate post for each part of the garden that I re-date and add to once a month?  This would mean that eventually a year's worth of images would be contained in one post.  Which might be huge and unwieldy?   Or do I do something completely different ... ?

I'd welcome some help and inspiration if anyone has any to spare, please :}

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A quiet Christmas

It's been a quiet holiday at chez Bilbo, partly because Management is exhausted from working too hard and has a cold, and partly because I've felt quite grotty since Christmas Eve.  The cause of my malaise was eventually diagnosed as my own baking . . .

The problem was my trying to create homemade granola bars with less fat & sugar than store-bought ones. I've been experimenting with various recipes and finally I cracked it!  A cereal/breakfast bar which was not too sweet, was moist and soft but didn't disintegrate all over the place, and full of oats, nuts and seeds.  Into the "assorted nuts & seeds" component I added Linseeds from the supermarket bakery range.  Some days of considerable discomfort later it dawned on me that the only thing I'd eaten which was not usual were the linseeds and a short time on Google produces the glorious information that it's a known gastric irritant, causes cramps & indigestion and all sorts of other unpleasant side-effects in some people.  Oh goody.

I wasn't so poorly that I had to stay indoors, in fact, going for walks took my mind off the discomfort.  The good news (and there always is some) is that we've had a few days of settled weather and I was able to take Daisy out for proper walks.  Unfortunately they've only been "three milers" which is not nearly enough to tire out Her Ladyship.  All I seem to be doing is making her fitter and more muscled.  On Boxing Day we all went to the beach, remarkably there was no wind.  Himself likes to walk on the sand so we split up to encourage Daisy to run between us.  That lasted as long as the sand was dry, once we got to a bit with water laying on the sand she wasn't at all keen so our attempt to tire her out failed miserably :}

Looking in the other direction, the Back o'Skidda fells were bathed in sunshine.

Yesterday we had another lovely walk around Sale Fell and saw very few people.  Fairly windy on the summit, and Daisy wasn't in the mood to pose at Lothwaite :}

This morning we had a pleasant meander around Whinlatter, starting near Swinside Cottages.  The area underneath Hobcarton Crags is one of the finest examples of a glacial corrie in the Lake District, although sadly there's no tarn under the headwall.  The proper path ends where a forestry road stops and at present it's too wet to have much of a play off piste but I'm looking forward to exploring this area when the ground isn't so saturated.

There were a couple of (fool?) hardy souls on the ridge between Ladyside Pike and the Hopegill slabs.  A bit too windy and slippery for my liking.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Sunshine and Shadow

After the horrendous storms of the last week I didn't expect Christmas Day to bring sunshine, but with the prospect of a few rain-free hours Daisy and I didn't need a second invitation to get out and stretch our legs on Sale Fell.  Not as busy as I expected, although there were more people around than usual.  It was breezy but not blowing a gale, and nippy but not freezing cold.  Her Ladyship obviously enjoyed being about and about on a 'proper' walk.

I can see my house from here :}

Definitely enjoying herself:

It is exactly one year since we first took Daisy to Sale Fell and let her off the lead.  Since then we've covered about 350 miles on the fells, by the beach and down by the river.  Aiming for 500 in 2014?

I've waited 12 months to get this picture, Madam doesn't do posing or portraits!

The rest of the day was remarkably quiet, it feels more like a "mid-week Bank Holiday with the expectation of a good supper" rather than Christmas.  Management has a cold and I'm getting one so there was sitting around, TV and the good supper, our 'traditional' Beef Wellington with glorious fillet from the local butcher.

Non-photographed desert was something I had hoped to achieve but wasn't sure I would - Summer's Pudding filled with entirely home-grown fruit.  Absolutely delicious, fresh and light, and certainly to be repeated.  Management's desert was trifle with our own strawberries.

And an early night, atishoo!!  atishoo!!  atishoo!!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


The British are very good at talking about the weather and at present we have even more excuse than usual.  For once, however, the North West appears to be getting off relatively lightly and Bag End is mostly unscathed by the current torrential rain and gale force winds. Another bit of windbreak netting came down a couple of nights ago but seeing as we only used timber offcuts to make the post extensions I'm not really surprised.

Walking down by the river is an impossibility at present, the ground is flooded almost as badly as during the November 2009 disaster.

Looking east towards Cockermouth

Looking west, out of focus because the wind was so strong it was impossible to stand completely still

Management and I went to Workington yesterday and found Morrisons quieter than on a normal shopping day.  This morning Keswick was eerily empty, in more than one store the staff outnumbered customers by at least two to one.  We got what little shopping was needed and came home, there is only three of us here for the holidays and neither Management or I want to have a food-fest.

Daisy and I are both getting a bit stir crazy - it's too wet to go to the river, too muddy to walk in wooded areas (and there have been a LOT of huge trees blown down so I am a tad apprehensive about walking amongst trees) and the fells are almost impossible.  I've had trouble walking along the pavement by the house, I think we would both be blown off our feet on exposed fell-side.

This afternoon Daisy and I had a blustery hour at Harris Park.  She was obviously happy to be out but not keen on being blown around.  The River Cocker was running horribly fast and deep and I continue to be grateful that Daisy has absolutely no inclination to go into the water.  A man died near Ambleside yesterday when he went into the Rothay to rescue his dog - the dog got out of the water, the owner didn't.  Talking to a lady I met in the park this afternoon we both agreed that, however stupid it was, we would probably both do the same thing for our own four-legs.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


I can't be the only person who absolutely hates getting up in winter when it's still dark.  My current way of trying to improve how the day starts* is to have a small lamp on a timer.  It's a far more peaceful way to wake up and a cheapskate version of these "dawn simulator alarm clocks" which cost a fortune and get lousy reviews. 

Happily, today is the Winter Solstice.  Shortest day or longest night?  Either way, this is the date which really marks the turning of the year for me, none of this 31st December nonsense.  The solar system doesn't care about the Julian or Gregorian calendars, or how 1752 was a really messed up year.  Today is the annual moment when our little rock is as far away from the sun as it ever gets.  From here, for the next six months it gets warmer (theoretically) and most importantly for the plants upon which all life depends, the days get longer.  Imperceptible to start with but day by day it will now get lighter earlier.  Thank goodness :}

I'd like to think the weather would improve sooner rather than later but I wouldn't bet on it.  When I took Daisy around the block first thing the walk started well, and then the hail stones arrived, acompanied by thunder and lightening.  Herself was Not Impressed and we both agreed that running home was a damn good idea.

Fortunately things improved an hour or so later and Management joined us on a windy walk at the sand-dunes.  We timed it perfectly and had 90 minutes without rain although the wind was not as strong as it has been, it was relentless and took its toll on all of us.  We were all surprisingly tired and Daisy didn't move for the rest of the day.

Don't blame her - by mid-afternoon the wind and rain had returned accompanied by thunder and lightening again.  If the power goes off the

And there I was, about to type "if the power goes off the log baskets are full and the emergency lights are charged" when a huge clap of thunder shook the house, the windows sounded like they were being pebbledashed with the force of hailstones and everything went black ...  A quick look outside revealed that everything had gone dark - including Cockermouth and the village on the other side of the river.  We had a very peaceful hour or so with no electric.  Management read his tablet, I read my Kindle, Daisy snored on the sofa.  It seems poetic that I'm muttering about the longest night when it all goes very black :}

A power cut during a storm might not seem remarkable, around here it's a common occurrence.   What is phenomenal however, is that it happened at 17.11 precisely ...

* getting up at 10.00am is really not an option

Friday, 20 December 2013

Stir crazy

My walking diary (which isn't on the blog so don't go looking for it) shows that Daisy and I haven't had much in the way of 'interesting' walks this month.  It's either been too wet or too windy, and as I write this it is currently both.  I have just forced Daisy out into the garden for a comfort stop and the wind is gusting around 35/35mph and the rain is lashing down.  No surprises that Little Miss Perfect did NOT want to be outside and scarpered back to the safety of the wood burner as soon as she possibly could. 

Last Sunday we caught a break with the weather and had a good walk around the sand dunes at Mawbray, there was even a glimpse of sunshine but the wind never let up.

The ears are back not because she's worried about anything but because she can't keep them up against the wind!

Today we went to Sale Fell and not surprisingly had the place pretty much to ourselves.  Quite cold and very windy, too windy to do more than a circuit around the lower summit.  At Lowthwaite top I was having trouble walking in a straight line so going any higher up wouldn't have been pleasant.

Same problem with the ears . . .

edit 10.00pm:  at least the rain has stopped, wind gusting a mere 35mph

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The calm before the next storm

It was a noisy night but thankfully no power cuts.  According to the morning TV news Cumbria was hit quite badly with 2,500 homes still without electric.  We're forecast another gale for tomorrow but thankfully today has been much less windy, although far colder than of late. This is all relative of course - I had to come inside to escape hail storms on more than one occasion whilst repairing the fence. A lot of snow visible on Skiddaw and some on the Grisedale Pike/Grasmoor massif.

In the grey light of today there is less damage here than I feared. We have got off far more lightly than some neighbours; when I walked Daisy around the block first thing I saw at least three properties with missing ridge tiles and closer to home, Mr Clutter has lost a small bit of roof.  He's lucky the wind did not get further under the tiles and lift a larger section.

Fortunately the Bag End timber supply yielded enough 4" x 1" to repair/replace all the uprights that were snapped in the wind.

Last night I moved most of the plants that had been on the nursery area staging, tidying up everything else can wait until it's a bit nicer outside.

Daisy seemed quite happy with her role as General Assistant.  She knows it won't be long before I stop what I'm doing and chuck the ball around for her again.

Long-term I think we have to face up to the fact that the fencing along the back will have to be replaced (I don't want to measure but it's a huge number of metres). From the point of view of security, privacy and dog safety ultimately we need more than the 3 foot high picket fence and the windbreak netting can only ever be considered temporary. One of the main problems is that the ground along the garden boundary is permanently wet.  When the wind buffets the fence the posts move slightly because the ground isn't firm enough to hold them steady.  LP has knocked in extra fence posts at ad hoc intervals and this morning I screwed in a couple of braces.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

67 mph

Yesterday started very icy but that soon melted away and the rest of the day was dry and sunny.  I just wasn't in the mood to go for a long walk so Daisy and I spent most of the day in the garden.  It was lovely to putter around, a bit of weeding, a bit of tidying up, and lots of throwing the ball for Her Ladyship.

Today could not have been more different, one of those days where it never seemed to get light.  Low cloud, rain, wind all day. 

Not surprisingly it has been difficult to persuade Daisy to go outside for toilet breaks.  Just before 8.00 I'd got us both dressed up to face the Great Outdoors when there was an almighty screaming roar.  Now I understand when writers describe high winds as being like a freight train bearing down on you.  Daisy turned tail and fled back to the safety of the sitting room, I was mad enough to step outside.

The anemometer scored its highest reading yet:


Five minutes later the worst was over and I could persuade Daisy out for a pee.  Not surprisingly the dustbins were strewn across the drive, a tarpaulin was about to break its last remaining tie and head for the hills and some terracotta pots are no more.  All the staging has blown over in the nursery area but thankfully the greenhouse looks fine.  The worst damage is to my windbreak netting.  Many of the fence extensions have snapped and I've got a lot of straightening up to do tomorrow. Irritating but could be so much worse.  The lights are flickering a bit so I wouldn't be surprised if we have a power cut overnight.
I was planning on going metric next year but 107.8 kph sounds just way too frightening . . .

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Happiness is . . .

A full tummy, a roaring log fire, an extra thick piece of memory foam and a soft flannel quilt.

Wild, wet and very windy

Whilst Daisy and I would both like to get out for a 'proper walk' today it's currently physically impossible. The anemometer recorded a gust of 36 mph at the house and the rest of the time it is blowing steadily between 20 and 25 mph. On the fells or near the beach it is probably almost impossible to stand up.

(rubbish picture but the best I'm going to manage in these conditions)

The little scale on the left of the screen is registering 'Gale Force 7'.

Nothing like as bad as last week, but not a day to go far from home.

    (Whitehaven harbour, photo copyright North News & Pictures)

Management came out to help with a consequence of not having everything bolted down - fortunately the chair had landed on the muddy planting shelf and was easy to rescue. It will need a hell of a clean though.

Daisy was thoroughly unimpressed with this particular trip outside and stayed on the doorstep until we returned from our madness and let her in.

She is now buried in the basket by my desk, probably sulking.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole

I may finally have learnt never to say never . . .

I was NEVER going to have another dog after the pain of saying goodbye to Ollie.  Where would I be now without Daisy?

I was NEVER going to cut my long hair, it is now as short as it's ever been in my life and I love it.

I was NEVER going to read books in any form other than printed dead trees.

But the inexorable progress of eBooks marches slowly onwards.  When I saw my friend Kath embrace not just reading books on Kindle, but the whole world of Indie publishing which accompanies the new technology I started to take note.  Kath is one of the smartest people I know and if she thought something was ~that~ good then maybe I ought not ignore it?  I downloaded the Kindle App onto both my Mac and laptop and started to read a little.  Good but not physically 'right'.  So I tried the little tablet I use just for my GPS.  Better but too small a screen.  I then umm-ed and err-ed until eventually buying a Kindle Paperwhite, an easy decision when I ruled out a 'Fire' because I didn't care about colour or watching videos and wanted the non-reflective, non-backlit screen because it is kinder on my eyes.

Geeky-Hobbit loves this explanation from the New York Times:

To my intense surprise it has been a Whoosh, Down the Rabbit Hole experience. In the last three weeks I have read 12 books and abandoned two because they were absolute rubbish, and am half-way through two others (one is scientific and can only be managed in small doses). 

I've also discovered the wonders of Calibre to organise my eBooks, it's much easier to download everything onto the Mac and then sideload only what I am reading onto the Paperwhite.

Which sort of explains why there is so little 'normal' Bag End activity and very little which is blog-worthy.  It's taken a while but Hobbit is finally kicking-back and relaxing big time :}

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Gloriously mundane

Not much activity on the blog recently because the activity at Bag End hasn't been particularly blog-worthy, in fact, life has been gloriously mundane.

All the Christmas decorations are up, earlier than usual because I wanted to clear out anything we haven't used for a couple of years and take to the Hospice shop in time for them to have a chance to sell the stuff.  As a result this year's decorations feel gently subdued and are the better for it.  I don't think Management realised just how happy I was when he came home from London to see everything finished and said "it's different this year, feels under-stated and looks lovely".  Bless him. 

There has been much winter cooking for the freezer.  I'm not an exceptional cook but I do make a fabulous lasagne and we've now got a dozen portions of beef lasagne and about 20 of a vegetarian version tucked away, along with the usual ratatouille and bolognaise.  Need to stock up on a lamb dish, chilli, some curry and a pork casserole and defrost the chest freezer.  It's a lot of work but means we eat much better.  Taking our own 'convenience food' from the freezer in the morning, adding fresh veg or a salad and I can have a decent meal at the end of the day with minimal kitchen time.  I know the meat is local, and the fat & salt content are low.

Hattie finally got a tow-bar, something I have resisted for a long time but could not be put off any longer.  The husband of our friends who bring pony poop has cancer, his prognosis is not "if" but "when" and at one point we didn't think he'd still be alive at Christmas.  His wife would like to bring the stable muck down to me because it gets her away from being a full-time carer for half an hour but she can't always leave the house.  They both love this garden and derive pleasure from the part they have played in creating much of the compost which helps things to grow so well here.  I can now go up to their house to collect the full trailer.