Skip to content

Archive for

A Walk in the Woods – a Spooky Ramble

Walking Boots in Action www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Overnight last Friday a fierce north wind from the arctic swept over the whole country, swishing the prevailing south westerleys out of the way in its advancing grip. On the weather map it shows an arc of clear blue advancing southwards like a cartoon shadow, swallowing up the muted softness of the taupe and brown. We are the last to receive it, it looks like liquid fill.

The moon was full and the stars were bright in the night, there was a sliver of silvery light on the reveal. And we wake to brilliant sunshine, the sky is clear and cloudless and the wind is strong, the boughs of trees are being stirred to the core. Everywhere is rustling and sighing. I put on my gloves, hat and boots and go forth, as I do not want to miss this rare crispness, this wringing out of damp and mist.

It is the kind of cold that cuts through and I wrinkle my nose as it stiffens in the wind. The light is diamond sharp and the contrasts are deep, sometimes there is nothing in the shadows except black.

Ash Keys www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tyre Tracks in Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSun through Trees www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMy feet make a crackling sound on the fallen leaves and then a crunching as I hit some sun dried shale. I take the route down the bridlepath, across the stream by way of a granite bridge and then cut away to the rivers’ edge and upwards into the woods. I have trodden this way many times before and today the going is hard on the sloping fields, the surface broken up into deep uneven divets where the resident dairy herd have chewed up the saturated ground with their hooves.Green Stile www,thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I can hear the whoosh of wings as I disturb a wood pigeon. Crows are calling high in the sky and there is the ping and chatter of smaller birds in the thickets and understorey.

Granite Bridge with StreamI roll under an industrial looking electric fence and come into the pasture which borders the river. To my left there is high knoll stubbed with trees and then below to the right on the other side of the river are flat meadows punctuated with flag Iris.

River with Trees North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comKnoll with Trees North CornwallRiver Meadows North CornwallI make my way to the wood which rises steeply away to the left, almost a cliff, the trees at a dizzy angle above me, the sunshine illuminating each branch and leaf. Once upon a time this was a working quarry so this is secondary woodland. Trees and Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I notice that there has been some major earth working going on and a track has been made by shifting tons of shaley soil, presumbably for efficiency to link the fields either side of these old quarries and woodland. I can see the scars on the bank which have been left by the digger. It makes it feel less secret than before and I have to scramble up an unstable bank, stones and soil slipping behind.

It brings it home that there are many ways of thinking about land. To me this is a place of living history, a place of beauty which reveals the story of its past in subtle ways. To this particular farmer it seems that it is in the way, an inconvenient rumple on what might be a smooth featureless land of endless green. But this is the same farmer who ploughed up old meadows and reseeded them with rye grass, and ignorantly filled in the wiggly stream at the bottom of the valley bordered by trees so the two fields either side could be linked. And then who knows, were they surprised when it flooded and many of the trees drowned? Out came the digger to scoop it out, leaving piles of earth by the side, gradually getting colonised with nettle and thistle. It made me weep. A whole ecosystem destroyed in one season, its beauty and purpose having taken hundreds of years to form. But we should take responsibility ourselves too – this is an industrial scale dairy farm – the supermarkets often pay for milk below what it actually costs to produce and this is driven by consumer demand for cheap food. Is it any wonder the farmer feels the need to maximise production from every square inch of land?

As Oliver Rackham says in his book The History of the Countryside

“(the rural landscape)…has been made both by the natural world and by human activities, interacting with each other over many centuries.”

In it he makes both a passionate plea and a reasoned argument for the conservation of the historic landscape citing that

“no art gallery’s conservation department would think of burning a picture by Constable, however badly decayed, and substituting a picture in the style of Constable by Tom Keating. Yet this kind of pastiche is daily perpetrated in the guise of ‘conservation’of the landscape”

The analogy may be a bit heavy handed but it perhaps it’s needed to dissuade people from the view that

“the rural landscape, no less than Trafalga Square, is merely the result of human design and ambition…in popular belief this view is simplified into the ‘Enclosure-Act Myth’, the notion that the countryside is not merely an artefact but a very recent one.”

Holly Berries  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I press on higher into the woods leaving the river behind. There is a gorse still in flower on the steep bank, or maybe it’s come into flower, confused by the sudden sun. It provides a late feeding station for a plump tawny bee which buzzes from bloom to bloom. If it weren’t so cold it might be summer. Intense red holly berries sparkle amongst the yellowing foliage of field maple and ash. There is a gentle rain of leaves.

Gorse in Flower October www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Autumn Leaf Falling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI arrive at the site of the old quarries. A sign tells me to go no further as there is danger here. All old quarries say this, sometimes it is true and sometimes it isn’t, the sign is there to remind you that whatever you do it’s your own responsibility. This one does feel particularly spooky and the vertiginous cliff of overhanging slate over the cave entrance doesn’t look that stable so I keep my distance. In the green gloom of overhanging trees, the sunlight partially obscured by the canopy, it makes you think of gremlins and night creatures, witches and hobbits. Halloween would definitely not be the right night to visit here, you could seriously scare yourself.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate QuarryNorth Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI peer through the trees to a second quarry which has now filled with water, a green pond standing in a circle of trees, ropes of ivy cascading in jungle like fashion from the branches.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI hear a crack of a branch somewhere to the south and human voices. It makes me jump a little and reminds me that I am in fact trespassing so I begin to make my way home. On the way back I see the spreading stag headed oak, its branches crying out to be climbed, though for me those days are long gone.

Stag Headed Oak North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

On the bridlepath I find a dead mole. It is not often that you get to see these underground creatures so I pause for quite a while looking at its shape and wondering how it came to be to be here. Also on the ground is next years oak trees.

Dead Mole www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Acorn in the Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI have warmed up after the uphill climb and pop in to see the cows. Belita is lying down in the sun looking content.

Traditional Hereford Lying Down

Advertisements

Keeping the Cows In (and Out)

One thing I’ve realised, as a stock keeper you spend an unseemly amount of time thinking about fencing.

In a former life, fences were simply a delineation between one back garden and another, or even better, an opportunity to spend someone elses money on something more beautiful, resilient and unique than the ubiquitous larchlap panels which abound in cities, towns and suburbs.

William Cobbett was as usual quick to point out his general disapproval of this trend back in the 1830, writing in his Rural Rides: ‘This is the first time since I went to France, in 1792, that I have been on this side of Shooters Hill. The land, generally speaking, from Deptford to Dartford is poor, and the surface ugly by nature, to which ugliness there has been made, just before we came to the latter place, a considerable addition by the inclosure of a common, and by the sticking up of some shabby-genteel houses, surrounded with dead fences, and things called gardens, in all manner of ridiculous forms, making, all together, the bricks, hurdlerods and earth say, as plainly as they can speak, “Here dwell vanity and poverty.”’

But I have digressed…

I suppose all this thinking about fencing could be the result of our novice status as stock people. And the scary stories of bulls escaping (not ours, other peoples) and getting to our heifers. Eeek.

Or the other possibility of our heifers escaping and getting to a neighbouring bull. This wouldn’t matter so much (apart from their tender years at the moment) if our heifers weren’t from a rare(ish) and small breed about which you can read here if you’re interested.

So, a pairing of a Limousin (huge and French and next door) with one of ours would result in a calf far too large. Cue vet visits, scanning, abortion.

Sometimes, when they are not eating, which admittedly is rare, Belita, Lucy and Mary-Rose patrol the boundary mooing plaintively. I’m not sure if this could be a sign of bulling (in season) or that they are a bit lonely and would prefer to be with the big herd next door or simply that they are saying hello.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers by Hedge www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Anyway, since the leaves have been falling it has exposed a few gaps in what seemed like an impenetrable hedge. In an attempt to ward off curiosity turning into boundary crashing, yesterday I put up the electric fence along some of the more vulnerable areas while we wait for the fencer to come with a post driver (an exciting bit of kit which I was going to link to wikipedia, but there is no entry, shock, horror). I hope they have learnt to recognise it, their eyesight isn’t great apparently.

Limousin x through the hedge www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hmm next doors cattle very curious

Electric Fence Pigtail Post www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A Pigtail Post for Electric Fencing

Electric Fence with Reel www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Electric Fencing Wire on Reel

Traditional Hereford Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Let’s hope it does the job

Incidentally, the BBC programme Wartime Farm has been really enjoyable.  In tonights episode I discovered that electric fencing became widely used from 1939 when a portable battery pack was launched, even though it had been invented in the 19C.

We’ve also got to do the back field as there is so much grass there and we need to have it grazed soon before it goes too rank. And then there’s the corral for catching them in. I’m hoping that once all this has been achieved my thoughts might turn to other matters….

Like…I think something is LISTENING

Tree Ear www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Galvanised Skies, Slate and Ash – In Which I Pay Homage to (Get Lost In) Grey

Oh god, I think I may have missed the wordpress deadline for posts on A Splash of Colour, but’s that’s probably because I was meandering about in the world of grey, where you don’t have any strong opinions and it’s all give and take and two sided. Then it’s suddenly the end of the week! Never mind, I offer it up anyway. Please don’t get depressed.

Lime Plaster Wall in Shaded White www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grey. You might not like it but it’s everywhere. It’s the median of life, neither absence of light, nor full of light. It is hovering all around, in every shadow, touching each surface, making objects solid and deep.

It’s a symbol of authority and conservatism. Suits and ties.

It is often the muted backdrop to this temperate place, the sky washed through with a hundred shades, a comprehensive index of neutral.

Cloudy Grey Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cloudy Grey Sky with TreesIt is the colour of aggregates and cement, we build with those. It is grim and tough like granite and cool and smooth like slate. It is the bloom on the wriggles of tin and the protective coating on iron. It is as heavy as lead.

Rag Slate Roof

Galvanised Dustbin Lid www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com Galvanised Close Up www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Lead Pipe www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSlate Floor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLead Pipe fixed to WallIt is mistily ambiguous, made of only of water and air.

Condensation with Willow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And flaky and flyaway.

Wood Ash www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clematis Seedhead www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grey Moth www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

image by thepoormouth.blogspot.co.uk

But it is solid and dependable.

Grey Front Door www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Ash Wood www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It is known as sombre, cheerless.

Lime Plaster Wall in Shaded White www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

But can be practical and warm, soft and cosy. It doesn’t show the dirt

Gloves with Tar Paint  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grey Jacket on Grey Wall  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comGrey Wristwarmers

It is the cover of a favourite book

Book Cover by John Gray  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And has a certain elegance

Ikea Duvet Cover  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grey Shirt  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tree Wallpaper  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And lest we forget…

Grey Cows  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I did a job the other day…

In amongst moments like…

Our friend M welding the gate hinge which has been broken for years. Thank you. Hurrah.

Farm Gate Hinge www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Through the Farm Gate www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOur friend R bringing round some cucumbers from his polytunnel. Thank you. Yum, raita, tzatziki.

Cucumbers on Board www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Seeing for the first time the cows using their shelter. Happy.

Traditional Herefords in Shed www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Admiring the recycled rubber tyre feeders I bought from the farm shop. Threes, I love them.

Recycled Rubber Tyre Feeders  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Herefords Feeding  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWondering when we’ll ever get that chestnut fencing done. One day.

Chestnut Fencing Stakes  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Feeling sorry for a grasshopper who was desperate to get warm on the front step. Life and death.

Grasshopper on Slate  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And just revelling in this shaft of sunlight that fell on the hay. Beautiful.

Shaft of Sunlight on Hay  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

…I did actually mend the blockhouse roof. It’s called the blockhouse because it’s built from concrete blocks. There are quite a few farm buildings and a clear naming delineation is crucial – otherwise you can find yourself run ragged looking for that piece of wire mesh, remember? (no)

It’s attached to the shippen (Cornish name for a cow barn) and is really very ugly. I had plans for its demise until we realised that any dry space is essential. You’ve got to remember that we live in a place where you get a fine coating of mould on a leather bag if you leave it in the corner of a room for longer than a month or two – and that’s in the house.

Anyway, time to introduce you to Farmers Friend – tar paint. We discovered a while back that painting strips of newspaper with it and layering it like papier mache created a totally waterproof skin. This was when we were living in the bale house during renovations – a straw bale box, clad in plywood, attached to a caravan. To link the two B used this method and it was brilliant. It allowed for a bit of movement between the two structures and we only had to replenish it in one place in eight years.

The blockhouse has had some holes in the corrugated iron roof for a while but now we want to make it more watertight as we are clearing out the shippen for the cows and some of the accumulated stuff will live in here. Very excited that the shippen will be used for its traditional purpose once again.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

All set

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

Paint area, cover with newspaper strip.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Paint over with Tar Paint

Roof mended with Tar Paint and Newspaper  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Voila!

Spain – Mountain, Meadow and Plain (Spanish Cows)

Last week I was in Spain, not specifically on a cow hunt you understand…however…

Cow Warning Sign www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cow Alert

Cow Sign Salamanca www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cow Sign Salamanca

Today the sky is a sweeping wash of high cirrus clouds. It is bright and there is a slight breeze. I make sandwiches for the journey and take my coffee to the clay tiled terrace to take in the view. Goat bells jangle softly in the distance and a chorus of dogs are barking down the hillside. I can hear a rumble which may belong to heavy machinery behind the chatter and song of the birds. This house stands on hills and slopes above a wide plain. The Sierra de Gredos mountains are behind, hovering above in deep granite folds.

The plain stretches for 50km until it reaches a parallel set of mountains, now hazy and gray. It is the end of a baking hot summer and the land looks parched and dry. The reservoir, which sits in the middle of the plain, is barely more than a puddle, its exposed sandy banks telling the history of its former level.

View across Spanish Plain  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sierra de Gredos Spain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSierra de Gredos www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comView over Spanish Plain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comAs I walk through the meadow, the bleached stalks of the grasses splinter and crack underfoot as crickets and grasshoppers scatter. A few days ago there was a couple of days of rain. I look closer, and beneath the parched and brittle surface a new bloom of tiny green seedlings cloaks the ochre earth.

Dry Meadow Spain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A stony track leads us into the hills and even though it is late afternoon the sun is fierce and hot on our necks and shoulders. The heat releases the sticky perfume from the swathes of Cistus which clothe the hillsides and the air is full of it, sweet and aromatic. I have been told that in May it looks like snow because of the white flowers. I imagine that scene, the papery flowers unfolding day after day, until just like snow, they melt and disappear. In amongst the Cistus are squat lavenders, blue gray leaves needle thin and the skeletal remains of their purple winged flowers standing proud above.

Track in Spain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Around here has been gradually colonised by people, pantiled roofs peeping out from between the scrub of Broom and Oak. Mixed orchards of figs, cherries, pear and pomegranate stand alongside vines and olive groves. Yesterday a neighbour came with her brother to harvest the grapes to make the wine and gave us two bursting bags of their own dried figs which they do by turning regularly in the hot summer sun.

Spanish Home Dried Figs www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

On our way back we stop by to say hello to the cows. I wonder if those bells bother them.

Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Returning to Rain and the Season of Mud

Hello, it’s been a while. The Spanish cows I saw were very lovely, they had bells. I will be posting about them and the surrounding terrain of the Sierra de Gredos soon .

But returning from a drought stricken country (this is all they needed on top of everything else) I cannot let this rain go by unmarked.

Like being underneath a damp pyrex bowl on the draining board of life as B puts it cheerily this morning.

Misty Rain Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Rain on Slate Step  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe rain beats and bounces on the road, like water hitting hot fat in a cast iron pan. I put on my wellies (which ones, which ones?) and step from the slate step into two inches of shiny sticky mud. Mud is the song of our autumn, our winter, it coats the roads and builds up in squelchy piles in the fields and byways.

Muddy Tyre Track  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Muddy Reflection  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI go over to the cow field. The ditch by the side of the road is flowing fast and the pond is full. I can hear the water cascading down to the river, the bridlepath is running like a stream and hooves sound hollow as they hit the watery slate and clay. Everything drips with jewels of wet glass. I pull my hood up and put my head down.

Rain Droplets on Wire  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wet Slate  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe cows ruddy fur is deep and repels the rain, I can see tiny droplets hovering on their coats. They don’t seem to mind the deluge, preferring the spongy grass to the shed. I conclude that they are pleased to see me when they come running, hoping I’ll have a treat. I stand still and they approach, sniffing me gingerly with outstretched necks.

Grass with Rain Droplets  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I have learnt that cows have a ‘sweet spot’ at their withers (between neck and back), from threecedarsfarm, which you should stroke rhythmically while talking in a low voice, then gradually move on to the whole of the backbone. This builds trust. But it needs to be done in a stall, which we’ll hopefully have by winter.

%d bloggers like this: