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Looping the Bounds

A bowl of plums stands on the kitchen table, ripening one at a time. It’s been a good year for fruit.

Though I felt for the cherry farmer who’s crop ripened all at the same time because of the July heatwave. To grow them reliably in this country the trees have to be tented to protect them from … too much rain, too little sun, too much sun… and of course the wind. Gone are the days of thirty foot  trees and tapering high ladders. These cherries are grafted onto a small rootstock. The huge investment has been made and it’s thirty miles of tenting which has to be raised or lowered according to need. The farmer and his workers are lean.

A balloon flying over

A balloon flying over

This September morning I will loop the bounds, walking out around the three and a half acres which encircle us. I step into the front yard and survey the slight devastation which the cows have wreaked on the galvanised trough planted with Black Scabious , Orange Cosmos and Cornflowers.

Traditional English Hereford

Yup, that’d be you

We moved the cows into the field behind the house after the hay was finally cut and baled in August (another 280 bales, distributed between us and others).

This was their first visit and they were suitably excited.

Traditional English Herefords

We put them in here to forage as they were getting a little rotund in the cow field. Now they seem to be lying down a lot, like it’s all a bit exhausting.

Traditional English Herefords

Traditional English Herefords

We cleared out the ground floor of the shippen so they have some undercover quarters should it take their fancy, but this entails them traversing the front yard, a cow free zone up til now, and hence the predation on my flowers. But I have always imagined them using the shippen just like our predecessor Mr. Creeper did. His cows used to come in the front door. We’re working on it.

Traditional English Hereford

I carry on. Astonishing worlds of spiders webs are draped in the damp stalks. A wren rat-tat-tats from the front  hedgerow where the young Elms are, descendants of the huge trees which once stood here and gave this place locally the name ‘the Elms’. Let’s hope the Ash doesn’t suffer the same fate. I can hear a plane, our neighbour crunches across the gravel and tinkers with something in the shed and a nuthatch barks from the phone wire, perhaps already staking a claim on a stony hole. The swallows are still here, flying high in the sky, clicking and wheeling. Although some kind of catastrophe befell our only pair I was pleased to catch some young fledglings over at T & N’s place when I went to visit the new calf.

September2013 010a

Swallow Fledglings on Wire

New calf? I hear you say.

Yes! Born only a few weeks ago to T & N’s Hollyhock this little heifer was sired by Herald, who, for those that don’t already know, was our shared bull who we had to have culled earlier this year due to Johnes disease. Luckily the disease is not passed onto calves in this way. This is Hollyhock’s first calf and she did splendidly. I missed the actual birth but arrived a couple of hours later and she let us approach quite close and only the next day allowed T to pick the calf up and move her indoors. Well done Hollyhock.

Traditional English Hereford Cow and New Calf

Two hours old

A wood pigeon is cooing high in the canopy and I can hear the jackdaws calling and cackling, landing and then swooping low over the field. The sun is warming things up and a tortoiseshell butterfly is spread out on the ground on some small stones then moves to a post. The Purple Knapweed has gone over, hard black seed heads silhouetted like little soldiers. A few bees are still buzzing around late flowers and the Goat Willow which has self seeded in the front of the house has been stripped of its leaves by the cows. I go through a gate into the garden, a development project which is still at the thinking stage for the moment.

The apple tree is weighted by both fruit and time, this one planted many years ago, it’s flattened profile telling of an espaliered moment. Bill Mackenzie, a yellow clematis, is curled around the swing seat supplying a nectar filling station for late honeybees. It’s whiskery whorls mingle with the bright sepals. One side of the garden boundary is the stone wall of the barn. In front of this are the collapsing stems of Wild Carrot, Yarrow, Woundwort, Deadnettle, Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill.  Windfalls stud the grass.

SeptemberC2013 085

Leaving the garden I move on into the new orchard, part of the back field. Here we have the compost heap and the polytunnel.  The trees are still young and have been slow to get established because of the wind but they are just beginning to produce a small amount of fruit. Sadly, a flurry of anticipation for a few pears was hijacked by a splitting event and then a wasp feeding frenzy. Empty husks of pears floated to the ground like lanterns. Sigh. The Dahlias did well though and they’re still going strong in the polytunnel.

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The hedgebank here is full of Wood Avens, Foxglove and Bramble.  The leathery straps of the Harts Tongue Fern are still green, feet-deep in between the stones and the one time feathery upstanding  grasses; of Foxtail, Bent and Yorkshire Fog, are breaking up and bending down.


I can see the cows coming down this way as my footsteps make a squeaky sound on the wet grass. Walking up the field, the hedgerow is a jumble of Bramble, Hawthorn, Hazel, Ladys Bedstraw and Dogrose. A young Ash which we’ve allowed to grow away is now fifteen feet, heavy with ash keys drooping like pea pods. A glossy compact Holly nestles comfortably, belonging in its place, and on the bank a plethora of next years Red Campion seedlings jostle one another in a thick bloom.

SeptemberC2013 078

I duck under the electric fence which divides the field from the orchard and behind the birdsong I hear the rumble of traffic up on the top road a mile away. Rabbits have been making new holes as this years’ youngsters claim new territory. The blackberries are fat, dark and shiny, really black. They remind me of my grandparents in Kent and how we used to go out blackberrying and my grandmother would make blackberry and apple pudding or crumble. They loved their damsons too and told us stories of picking fruit during the war years. We are not the only ones who like the berries, flies are also fond. Bluebottle, Greenbottle, Horsefly, Dungfly, Biteyfly and a black one with tawny down trousers. A crow caws from neighbouring airspace, the woodpigeon coos again. On the reddy-orange hips of the Dogrose I find a peculiar growth.

SeptemberC2013 067

Ivy wraps itself closely around the branches of a leaning hawthorn, a twiny embrace. Tiny green nodules are just beginning to show in clusters, when they turn black it will be a winter feast for the birds. Bramble leaves are just going over; red,orange, bright green and yellow. I walk up the finger of land, rising all the time. I look back to the moor, there is a heavy grey cloud squatting on top of a misty tor, while in the foreground small sloping fields criss crossed with hedges hug the contours of the land. A flock of sheep pour into a waist thinning gateway, then spill out again, like an egg timer.

As part of the ongoing hedgerow restoration project we released a Holly from the thickets of Hazel a couple of winters ago. It is now is shooting strongly from the trunk where the light has been let in while some young Oaks have a chance to get away. The idea is to have mostly hedge, with larger trees at intervals. Hedgerows are invaluable for wildlife and it is part of the conservation here on the farm. It’s one of the reasons we get the Environmental Stewardship subsidy.

I reach the top of the finger and beyond the gate is a bright green field with black and white dairy cows lying down. It looks attractive in a clean kind of way but this kind of pasture is what conservationists might call a ‘green desert’, a monoculture landscape devoid of biodiversity. The cows look young; this is the less intensive part of their lives, before they are pressed into service to provide us with a constant source of cheap milk. This demand makes dairy cows the hardest working animals in farming with the squeezed farmers needing to monopolise every square inch of land into production. No such luck for a dairy cow to enjoy her calf like Hollyhock. They will be separated when they are only two days old. When I start to think about it, it doesn’t sound good. Apparently, in the UK, the average working lifespan of a dairy cow is around four lactations (milk-producing periods), and hence many dairy cows are culled when they are relatively young. On the plus side, at least the RSPCA, along with some other organisations are working together to campaign for higher welfare standards for European dairy cows and we as consumers can help by looking for either the Freedom Foods labelling, or failing that, organic.

I then experience what a lot of people do – a concern which is ignited and then changes into a feeling of general overwhelm at the enormity of the task. So, as I pass a beautiful mature Ash, I look up into its branches and get lost. But I will do what I can. It’s an ongoing process.

I come to the outward facing corner on the east of the finger and here is a large Oak with a really nice big bulbous base which a strand of rusty barbed wire running through it which the bark has swallowed in a ripple. The acorns have begun to fall, they are fresh green at the moment, cupped in knobbly cradles with a perky stalk. From here the big Sycamore behind the house is just getting a coating of rust.

I turn into the last stretch back down towards the house. I sit down by Lucy who doesn’t mind me at all and see a tiny ladybird crawling along a stem of grass. The cows are lounging by what we hope one day will be a pasture woodland – not in our lifetime of course, but in a hundred years it might look pretty good. The thicket of Holly and Hazel at the gate is full of chirping birds. The Nightshade is heavy with berries and the Hazel is already forming catkins. This is the spot where we had our temporary home, the straw bale house with caravan attached. You’d never know anything was ever there now, just a few months and the only sign is the blue plastic standpipe now lying in the grass.

My last stop is the upper floor of the shippen, now satisfyingly full of the straw we saved from the balehouse which now gives the cows their bedding (which they also sometimes eat, incomprehensibly). Oh and all those things destined for a car boot sale.

One day.

September is also a month of beautiful skies. Here are some of them.

Until the next time…

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45 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, such a big blog after such a long wait- I feel like I have overindulged but still want more- don’t leave it so long next time!

    September 23, 2013
  2. What an uplifting post – and your cow photos – love love love. I have been blackberrying in my own garden this year too but without Hollyhock and babe 😦

    September 23, 2013
    • Why thank you mrscarmichael. I have to confess that I have mainly been looking at the blackberries! I think everyone should have a cow in their garden 😉

      September 27, 2013
  3. g #

    Wow! Cows everywhere..x

    September 23, 2013
    • I know, It was all a little worrying with them going behind the pond on that tiny strip of land…

      September 27, 2013
  4. I really enjoy your website. It’s quite unique…..the quality of your photography is fabulous: the flowers and the swallows are heavenly. I have been painting swallows and swifts this summer, both in East Sussex, on the balcony of my friend’s house in Swanage and in South Africa over August. I must get them into frames and into the Rowley Gallery! Some you see on my website.
    I’m intrigued as to what part of England all this takes place…….

    September 23, 2013
    • Wow, swallows in SA that must be a sight. We used to go to Swanage when I was a child, it’s lovely. I’m currently in France but I’ll definitely be checking out those paintings on my return. Thanks for the comment. We’re in North Cornwall. There is an About bit at the top if you’re interested.

      September 27, 2013
  5. Anonymous #

    You made me smile with your reference of Grandpa and Grandma. I think of them too as I go blackberrying. I wish I knew more about plants…X

    September 23, 2013
    • We were only reminiscing today about Grandpa and how he used to say…’Home, and don’t spare the horses!’ x

      September 27, 2013
  6. That little calf is too cute. Loved all the photos with the cows amongst the flowers….really beautiful photos 🙂

    September 24, 2013
    • Many thanks Ingrid, hope the travels are going splendidly. I saw some beautiful horses over at yours recently…I’ll be back to have a proper tour 🙂

      September 27, 2013
  7. What a fantastic blog! I just found it as someone recommended it on twitter, I will enjoy reading back through your older posts. I particularly empathised with the line “a concern which is ignited and then changes into a feeling of general overwhelm at the enormity of the task”. You are right that we can only take whatever small steps we can, and must remember there are others taking them as well!

    The growth on the Dog rose is a Robin’s Pincushion, a gall made by a semi-parasitic wasp

    September 24, 2013
    • Oh I was hoping one of my lovely readers would come up with the answer to the peculiar growth! Thank you. I will have a proper look when I return from holiday. Really pleased you’re enjoying the blog, you are always welcome 🙂

      September 27, 2013
  8. Katherine Kearns #

    Mmmmm Dahlias and orange cosmos! I love your skies too. You could lose yourself in a whole calendar of them. xxx

    September 24, 2013
    • Thought those might do it for you. I collected some seed from Spain last year and then this eccentric nurseywoman called Delma sent me some through the post after I asked her to find some … five years ago. Now that’s dedication.

      September 27, 2013
  9. This is a grand tour of gorgeous fruitfulness. I like your eye for detail, particularly that web of dew drops. Do you mind if I pin that one? And those dancing, skipping cows look like real party animals. You’re surrounded by beauty. Keep up the good work.

    September 24, 2013
    • Actually the dancing skipping cows became slightly alarming at one point… as they hurtled down the hill towards a stone wall and only applied their brakes at the last minute! Yes, feel free to pin. I’ll try to keep up the good work, but I don’t think I’ll ever keep up with you 🙂

      September 27, 2013
  10. Looping the bounds, eh? It’s much like what we call riding the fences – getting out and about to see what’s what, to feel the breeze, to smile at the sky.

    Oh, did I smile at that calf! What a wonderful legacy from Herald. And the photo of the girls frolicking is wonderful. I snagged that one of them in the field and carried it over to Palmettobug. She’s having surgery tomorrow and won’t be able to come by until after, but I thought seeing the girls might make her smile. I linked back, too, just so everyone knows where the lucky cows are living.

    Otherwise – simply agog over all the beauty at your place. I’ll have to do a walkabout one day and see if I can find something here worth noting. We do have an abundance of baby lizards just now – some are only an inch or two long. They’re quite amazing.

    So nice to have you back – and so nice to see your post end with that “south end of a cow going north”!

    September 24, 2013
    • Actually, I might have made that up! I’ll have to look into it… I know as a parish it’s traditional to tread the bounds, I just liked the sound of looping… Riding the fences brings up images of real cowboys and girls – oh, how I used to love those Westerns.

      I’d like to see those lizards – they are very photogenic – I have just been persuing one on a wall in France!

      Glad you enjoyed the post, I like the last photo too.

      September 27, 2013
  11. What a wonderful post! Great photos. Thanks for taking us along as you looped the bounds.

    Your cows are beautiful. We rarely see Herefords around here anymore. Nowadays most folks seem to prefer Angus. But there were lots of Herefords around when I was growing up. Properly cared for (as yours are), they are magnificent creatures.

    September 25, 2013
    • Thanks Bill.

      I think I am relaxing a bit with the cows. They were very frightened and worried in the beginning and I was wary too. Now we’re getting used to each other.

      I guess Angus are quicker to mature… mine are Traditional English Herefords, which are different from the other Herefords. Very slow growing and now a rare breed.

      September 27, 2013
  12. Missed you from the cyber-sphere! Have waited to read this post until I had enough time to sit back and savor your looping. Lovely as always. Love the bliss of the cows as they run through the field and then lay – so obviously luxuriating in the delicious beauty of it all – like you. Always a joy.

    September 26, 2013
    • I’m glad to be back. And I’ll be catching up with everybody soon… at the moment I’m in France…just about to start a poetry course!

      Glad you savoured the post and it gave you joy. Thanks!

      September 27, 2013
  13. The cow at the door steals the show! 🙂

    September 26, 2013
    • Thought you might like that one, it’s one of my favourites too. It’s funny isn’t it how images just suddenly seem to come together? Actually, come to think of it maybe you don’t do them like that! I see you’re moving…I’ll be along to subscribe soon, looking forward to getting into the blogging groove again.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

      September 27, 2013
      • Yeah, that’s exactly how it happens! It’s just making sure you take advantage of those situations. And seeing the opportunities. Your pics are great, they show a real affection for the animals and the countryside!

        September 27, 2013
  14. Rhonda Crowe #

    Oh, what a lovely tour! The photos are beautiful – the spider webs, the flowers, and my favorites, of course, the girls! They are looking happy and well – you can just see the look in her eye as she’s thinking, “How can I unlatch that front door?” 🙂 And bless little Hollyhock’s heart – what a pretty baby! And the trust she has with her “people”…to share the little one so soon! Dear Herald lives on…Enjoy your time in France and come back to us with more of your insightful thoughts and pictures 🙂

    September 28, 2013
    • I’m looking forward to being reunited :). Hollyhocks heifer calf has been joined by another, a bull (though not for long…) born to Woodbine. So Herald lives on…twice! Thanks for the comment nice to see you again.

      October 4, 2013
      • Rhonda Crowe #

        Oh, good news about the 2nd calf! There is a great old Jimmy Stewart/Maureen O’Hara (although Brian Keith, a favorite of mine, really overacts) movie about a man who brought a Hereford bull to the States from the UK. The story goes that the ranchers thought this breed wasn’t going to make it here – that they were not the tough ranch cattle they were used to. The final result is heartwarming…the last time I saw the movie, it made me think of Herald…It’s great to have you back – I always look forward to your posts…and pics of the ladies 🙂

        October 6, 2013
  15. I like what you said about feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. If the task you mean is encouraging biodiversity, respecting the needs and rights of animals and generally giving something back to the planet rather than continually taking from it then I completely share that feeling. But I think what you are doing with your blog and on your farm is important.
    It may not change government policies but it gives hope and a lot of pleasure and some great cow photos.

    September 28, 2013
    • Yes, I think that is what I did mean. And also an acknowledgement that even when you do care about these things it’s hard to always make the right choice, so persuading people who have absolutely no interest in the subject seems a humungous mountain to climb. I’m really glad you like the blog!

      October 7, 2013
  16. Love your words. Have you harvested/used Haw berries before? I harvested some wild rose hips for the first time a few days ago… red plump looking things, but were dry and brown on the inside. I’ll try again soon, not sure if i’m too early or late… or harvesting from an ‘off’ patch. I’ll email soon, B x

    September 29, 2013
    • I have to confess I’m a bit of a slouch when it comes to harvesting wild foods, or any for that matter…! But my friend N made some Haw jam/syrup and we had a pot…quite delicious. Are you still at the restaurant garden? x

      October 7, 2013
  17. Gue' #

    I’m so glad that Shore brought the girls to visit and alerted me to the fact that you had a new entry up.

    Such beautiful photos and lovely words to welcome Auturmn with. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I think I enjoyed it as much as the girls enjoyed that special dessert of scabious, cosmos and cornflowers you so thoughtfully planted for them in the trough!

    Hollyhock’s calf is so sweet.

    September 29, 2013
    • I’m glad the girls did the trick! They are thoroughly spoilt really, but hey, never mind.

      Thank you for your appreciation. I was completely amazed by how the calf was after just 2 hours! Apparently they only grow to that size in the last six weeks, which makes sense.

      I enjoyed your cow blog too!

      October 7, 2013
  18. A wonderful post to read =] Brightened up my day of report writing! Thank you.

    September 30, 2013
    • Report writing should always have some brightening factor…I’m pleased it was this post! Thanks.

      October 7, 2013
  19. Magnificent photographs and the cows are totally adorable.

    October 2, 2013
    • I have been away for a few days and apparently they are running around mooing…maybe they’re missing me! Thanks for the comment, nice to see you again.

      October 7, 2013
  20. beautiful and detailed. well done : – )

    October 12, 2013
  21. Home from my trip and just poking my nose in. I’ve heard rumors that people aren’t always getting their wordpress emails, so I wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed a post. I hope all’s well. I see you’ve been away, too. I hope it was pleasure rather than business, or at least an admixture of the two!

    November 5, 2013
    • Yes, I think I may have missed a few email alerts. But possibly because I also seem to have become rather busy doing other things – writing poems for one! Just did a 5 day course in south of France which was really good. Thanks for poking your nose in, always lovely to see you 😉 I’ll be catching up on posts at the weekend and I’m really looking forward to hearing all about your adventures and take on life in due course.

      November 6, 2013

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