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Posts from the ‘History’ Category

Splitting, Sawing, Scappling, Axing, Dunting: in Search of a Quarry

The quest to find all the beautiful swimming spots on the moor continues. Before the rain filled clouds roll in from the west we have a few hours in which to find and explore another quarry which we have located on the OS map. The tiny tear drop of blue indicates a pool of some kind on top of the Tor and looks promising. This time we cross the spinal A30 to the south side of the moor and drive along deep lanes heavy with foliage.

The track is easily found and is bounded by mossy stone built hedgebanks topped with outgrown multi-stemmed hawthorn, hazel and sycamore which form a shady canopy above us. Last autumns leaves are still intact, rusty and dry.

Cornish Lane www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Looking back down the lane

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We can see the gate ahead, a bright aperture through which we’ll pass onto the open moor. Centuries of over grazing on this upland have created a unique landscape which is slowly changing with a different management.

Farmers are no longer subsidized for the number of animals they produce but instead for the amount of acres they have. Hill farmers have been traditionally acre rich but production poor, given the harsh conditions in which they are raising animals. Now the pressure is off there is less need to go for maximum grazing and the moor is beginning to look a bit shaggier as a result. I don’t think anyone would want to see the landscape change entirely as it has evolved alongside human habitation since the Neolithic period and has its own ecology – but a few more trees, areas of scrub and increased hillocks in the grassland can only be good for wildlife.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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We make our way up the hill and much to our surprise there is a sign on the gate proclaiming that this is a working quarry. A slight disappointment that no swimming will be happening any time soon gives way to intrigue about the quarry. As far as we know there is only one granite quarry still in operation on the moor at De Lank. We pass through the gate and make our way upward along the track.

Possibly because the side of the hill is in the lee of the wind there is a gentle feel to this moorland scene. A dry stream bed snakes through long tufted grass pinpricked with heads of bracken which hides rocky knolls and dips. Huge rounded boulders are fringed with trees; small oaks and twisted sycamore. The telltale rags of lichen drape the branches, whispering about the clean wet air. Rarely seen, a fairly mature gnarled holly stands alone, leaves dark and glossy.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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The Holly – once probably nibbled by sheep, hence it’s multi-stem appearance.

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As we climb we look backwards across the land. The horizon is hazy but the light is beautiful. The hot weather has passed and we are back to our usual cloud filled skies and though we may miss the heat, nothing can beat the endless changing; the billowing and brooding backdrop we know so well.

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Up ahead is Bearah Tor.

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We make it to the top and glimpse the entrance.

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There is a slight frisson of apprehension that we will be seen off by the owners but this is Cornwall where everybody is really friendly and we are invited in to have a look around.

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Note relaxed stance. I am not in a hurry.

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He explains that they no longer lift granite from the quarry itself but cut and dress stone of all different types which is brought onto site from different places. As there are not many places doing this type of work stone can come from quite far. A lot of their work is for local projects but they do a fair amount for historic buildings all over the country. Today there are just two of them, but they also have an apprentice, putting things in place for the years ahead. He has worked here for 25 years.

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Regarding the history of quarrying in general on Bodmin Moor, the Tors and hills have been quarried for granite for over 6000 years. Incredibly durable, it was used for major monuments and buildings throughout the centuries including Early Neolithic chambered tombs and long cairns; Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age standing stones, stone circles, stone rows and burial cists. Much later, granite-clad office blocks, 19th century lighthouses and 20th century war memorials are like the modern sisters to these ancient monuments.

The early medieval period saw inscribed stones and crosses and later medieval wayside crosses, bridges and churches. The granite was used extensively in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for bridges, dockyards and churches and other important monuments, toiled over by quarrymen to produce perfectly dressed stone. It was also used after the two world wars for the headstones of the dead.

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Smaller pieces were used at least from Tudor times for lintels, jambs, mullions, thresholds and other principal stones in domestic buildings. It was also an essential part of farming, being used for gateposts, field rollers, salting troughs, pig troughs, cider mills and presses. A miller would grind the flour with it, and others, including tinners (mining) and claymen (china clay) needed a stone which was strong and hard. Granite of lesser quality with its densely packed vertical joints and dykes of elvan (quartz porphyry) which easily crumbled also started to be quarried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for roadstone and ballast.

 Industrial scale quarrying on remote Tors only became commercially viable with the advent of better road access and a more efficient method of splitting. Prior to this they were visited for centuries by stone splitters, laboriously chiselling series of grooves and using metal wedges to cleave the granite. Mostly these splitters and skilled stone-masons used surface stone, or ‘grass-rock’, the large weathered blocks which are scattered over the landscape.

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

From around 1800 the plug-and-feather method for splitting stone was used, which meant hand drilling series of holes, then placing short iron chisels, the ‘plugs’, between pairs of thin iron feathers which reached the bottom of the holes. Striking the plugs cleanly in turn brought percussive pressure to the sides of the holes and thence to the heart of the stone, making splitting more efficient. From the outset, deftly controlled blasting was also used to extract the stone before splitting, using gunpowder in hand drilled charge holes, lit by a safety fuse. The powder was stored in small secure powder houses or magazines, away from the main quarry.

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Nice place to work eh?

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The fortunes of the Bodmin Moor quarries were always unpredictable, even though some attempts were made to churn out the more stable products like headstones and setts. But in the end, competition from abroad forced many these moor quarries to close.

This one has survived as a going concern for specialist pieces. Here is a gallery of images of the working quarry. Please click on a photo to enlarge.

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There is also the great St Breward pit of De Lank where granite is still lifted, now cut by thermal lance. It is sawn and polished and mainly used as cladding for smart high rise buildings and provides high quality memorial monuments too. On their website there are some interesting images both past and present.

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The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

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Hopefully this yard will survive into the future but one thing is for sure, what will remain forever are the plug-and-feather and charge holes, the traces of cleaving etched indelibly into rock.

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Leaving the others chatting about machinery I climb up above the yard and find the pool. It’s possible for a swim but I don’t like the look of those submerged angular rocks too much.

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Maybe a launch from here? This is the same pool as in the 1979 picture above.

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The landscape is fascinating though, a mix of industrial and wild, the present and the past.

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Is this the base of the crane in the 1979 picture above?

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This is a ‘finger dump’ with trackway. ‘Wasters’ were piled in long fingers away from the pit, often 4 metres or so in height.

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Afterwards we go onto open ground for a picnic, Twelve Mens Moor above us. We are watchful of the gloomy mass of dark shapes heading our way. A lone walker with her collie dog strides across a few hundred metres away but other than that and a few alarmed looking sheep we are alone. We sit on a massive rock, eat our lunch and listen to the noise of the moor.

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Twelve Men’s Moor

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This is where we were.

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On the Upside – A Few Beautiful Things Made from Wood – if a King Penguin Can Be Called That

Blurry Type www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I can’t see that

…was a phrase which seemed to crop up rather regularly on a recent trip to London. Cue myopic hilarity from myself and friends who’s eyesight is degenerating but who haven’t quite mastered the art of remembering their glasses.  Still hoping, perhaps, for the twenty twenty vision of yesteryear and incredulous that this thing is actually happening.

So, wine lists and menus in cafes and restaurants, exhibition texts and departure boards at train stations became something of a mystery. I even got lost with a friend in Walthamstow in search of the refurbished William Morris Museum as I could neither read the A to Z or grapple with my friends iphone as she valiantly drove us through the chilly grey wastes of east London.

I won’t do a review of this most excellent museum, as fellow blogger Hamer from the The Rowley Gallery has done one here which inspired me to make the visit.

After the bad news about Herald, I thought I’d balance it out with something more uplifting.  One of the great things that has happened since I have more time to think, is that I also have more time to look. Slowing down really makes you see stuff in detail, whereas visual appreciations before were more momentary, passing by at a great rate in an unmemorable blur.

In this post I just want to share with you a few beautiful things which have been made with craft, the kind of things that William Morris and his gang would have approved of very much.

have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

is his most famous quote, but I quite like

the true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life

First up then is this oak swill basket, which came into my possession recently as a present. There is only one person left in the UK who is making these and you can find out about him and them here, including a fascinating look into the history of these amazing baskets.

I reckon it will last a lifetime.
Oak Swill Basket www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Oak Swill Basket www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOak Swill Basket www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Secondly, this yurt maker crafts these wonderful nomadic houses by steaming hand split local ash. I love the form and the clever way it is all put together… shame to put the canvas on really…

Yurt in Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yurt Workshop www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The yurt maker also made this wonderful curved stair rail, also steamed. Every time I grip this as I go up and down the stairs I am aware of what went into making it.

Steamed Ash Bannister www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And the brackets for the stair rail are hand made in a small forge in Devon, where the metal worker also makes woodburning stoves to any specification.

Metalworkers Workshop www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Metalworker with Gutter Brackets www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

These aren’t the stair brackets these are the gutter brackets…but you get the picture

Thirdly, I have been meaning get our books onto shelves for quite a while as they are still languishing in piles. So the other day I started dusting them off and came across this lovely set of King Penguins.  Ok, not strictly speaking made from wood, but there’s no shame in expanding the criteria to get into the Beautiful Things post. What a joy and a pleasure to rediscover these treasures among the dust (MUST get bookcase).

I wonder if all the books of the future will become more like art. Perhaps most of our reading material will be consumed on e-readers but books may become beautiful objects to collect and savour, like paintings.

Arachnophobes, there are spiders ahead.

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Lastly I like wood because it’s really useful. Here’s some chestnut fencing.

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon

And I saw these handsome wild ponies the other day, the beauties of Bodmin Moor .

Wild Ponies on Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wild Pony Bodmin Moor www,thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Ghosts Of the Farm

ghosts

Convalescing in bed a few days ago after a nasty cold I heard some unexplained noises in the kitchen downstairs. It’s a very old house and there are often creaks and groans, as if the weight of the past is sighing through the thick stone walls. We spent so long restoring it we had plenty of time to think about the people who lived and farmed here before, imagining them treading the slabs and floorboards through the centuries. We know that at one time the two rooms downstairs, now separated by a nineteenth century panelling hallway, were just used as one room and this is where the families would have cooked and lived.

Clome oven in fireplace www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clome oven in the fireplace, used for cooking and baking.

So, we get used to living with ghosts.

 I wonder if that’s Mr. Creeper, I thought, feeling comforted, as always, by the knowledge that the farms’ most recent resident, prior to our occupation, is possibly still with us. What a good name for a ghost, I hear you say. One friend swears she has seen him, a figure by the bottom of the stairs, not unfriendly.

William Creeper was a tenant farmer who moved here in 1922 as a boy of seven. In those days the farmyard was a rocky slope, a continuation of the bedrock on which the cottage stands. We have tried to recreate this unevenness by breaking up most of the slab of concrete which covered it, allowing the wildness back in, including digging a huge hole, the pond, which fluctuates in level with the water table – it has never dried out, so that gives you an idea of all the spring lines that run down the hill. In fact we didn’t realise how wet the place was until our first autumn when it rained solidly for month and water started gushing around the sides of the house and out of the front, veritable rivers UNDERNEATH the house. Digging out the soil from the back of the house and installing a drainage pipe solved most of the problem but the pond, by accident, was what really solved it in the end. Anyway, the concrete was far more practical and I completely understand why it must have been a joy to a farmer, but we’re in it for different reasons.

The Pond

The Pond

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See what happens with no concrete!

Mr. William Creeper used to have a herd of Ruby Reds (North Devons) which shrank to around to nine or ten cows as he got older and the land of the farm was gradually sold off, ending up eventually as the ten acres it is now. There are people in the village who knew him well and we have heard many stories about him. I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps with my small herd which I’m planning will eventually reach a similar number to his.

Herd of North Devon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Herd of North Devons

Right from the beginning his presence was felt very keenly. The house hadn’t been touched for years, possibly since 1922, and had no running water, rotten floors upstairs and a gaping hole in the roof of the lean to extension on the back, sending rain and wind howling into what is now the kitchen. He lived solely in the other downstairs room, while the rest of the cottage fell into disuse and ruin around him. There was an earth dunny in a little lean to on the side of the piggery.

The dunny www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The dunny

There were dark stories about the owners, relatives of his, who refused to do any work on the property because they wanted to sell, hoping to force him out, the sitting tenant, by making it so uninhabitable he would have to leave. Of course this is entirely possible, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the reason for the gradual delapidation, he stayed put.

He was eighty eight when he suddenly got ill and became very distressed at having to leave his beloved farm. However, according to the story, once in hospital he was incredibly impressed by the warmth and particularly by the bath and didn’t want to leave. Perhaps a revelation to a man who had washed every day in the farmyard in all weathers at the one and only cold tap, which was only installed in the 1980’s, before that it was the well. He died there just a couple of months later.

He was, by all accounts, rather stubbornly eccentric and loved his cows more than any thing or person. He never married, his cows were apparently the only company he required and they used to come up the front steps and into the house, as the front door was always open, whatever the month. He had abandoned cleaning long ago and when we arrived there was a tell tale area of dirt and grease beneath the door latch to his room, where he’d placed his hand so many times to open the door. We became fond of his traceries and I felt a sadness when about eight years later I finally got round to stripping the old paint off the doors, including his patch of ingrained life.

When we arrived, he had only recently left so there were lots of artefacts of his life around the place, which made him very real. He was a small man and his standard issue hospital style walking stick was propped up in a barn. We still have that. We also have the branding iron which is what farmers used in the old days before the more humane ear tags were deployed for identifying cattle. It is only the C for Creeper which remains, the W we never found, so there is a space where it should be. It is hanging by the front door, a constant reminder.

Old Branding iron by door www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Branding Iron www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBetter still, we have the prizes which he won for his cattle at the now defunct local Five Lanes and Camelford shows, which he proudly fixed to the joists in the shippen. I love to look at those.

Cattle prize 1952 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle Prize 1965 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It doesn’t seem important whether he is a real ghost or not. It is his presence which haunts us, and there is one thing at least I do know for sure – we will never forget William Creeper and his cows.

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

Winter Wood

Pile of logs www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This September morning I am woken by the Jackdaws clattering and sliding down the roof. I think they may be trying to get warm on the slates, catching the sun as the heat absorbs into the dark surface. Sometimes, when it has been really hot in the summer, enough to cook an egg in seconds, I have seen them cling on to the tiles, spread their wings and flatten their feathers to the sun. They lie there, beaks open, panting.

Jackdaws sunning themselves on the roof in summer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Last summer the Jackdaws did strange things on the roof

I can hear other birds, the song of the morning. But the swallows have gone and it feels cold outside the duvet. The warmth of the summer, which was being held in the thick stone walls of the house is gradually seeping away into the mists. Last night the weather forecast announced the first frost further north. I get up, make a cup of tea, and get back into bed.

Yesterday we had a fire in the stove for the first time in months. I think ahead to all the wood we’re going to need. The house is only heated with wood, we have a woodfired range in the kitchen which heats the water and a few radiators, and a woodburning stove in the sitting room.

Esse stove wood firebox www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Esse range wood fire box

Earlier this year we re-pollarded an old Ash pollard which stands in the hedge line of the back field, as well as felling a few other trees, mainly Sycamore, Ash and Hazel, part of the ‘restoration hedge’ project.

Polarded Ash Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The same Pollarded Ash in spring

Pollarded Ash Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Pollarded Ash

An ancient pollard is a truly beauteous thing and well worth searching a few out to admire.

The Woodland Trust has an excellent resource to find out where ancient trees can be visited. One year we went to Staverton Park in Suffolk, a privately owned estate, one of the country’s best preserved medieval deer-parks, with many ancient Oak pollards and huge Hollies in the wooded Thicks.

Ancient Oak Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ancient Oak Pollard – image captured by www.treetree.co.uk

Ash is one of the best fire woods, belting out a lot of heat and burning slowly and can even be burned a little green if necessary. Our pile has been drying out over the summer so should be fine to burn this winter. But it won’t be enough.

Ash wood pile www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The wood from the Ash

Wood pile in barn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Not nearly enough wood

When we go to France, where half my family live, we covetously drool over the amazingly large and neatly stacked woodpiles outside peoples’ houses, wood being a resource so abundant in France that it makes a Cornwall dweller weep. (Waiting for M to send me a picture – yes you!).

Ah well, better open a bottle of Roughtor beer from our local micro brewery and drown the wood sorrows by the fire. Come join me.

Woodburning stove www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Fire in woodburning stove www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Boots – When you Keep Hoping and Wishing they’ll Change

These sharp mornings, when a mist is hovering in the valley below and fingers are quicker to cool, my thoughts turn to boots. In fact, it doesn’t take much for my mind to stray in this direction. The half formed picture of the ideal boot is always hovering somewhere near the edges of consciousness, a germ of an idea, ready to bloom into a full blown obsession at any moment.

When I lived in the city there was plenty of opportunity to indulge. In the country, the practical considerations always end up outweighing any fanciful style ideas. But you can see that within this there is embodied a quest. A practical boot to withstand the rigours of the mud yet with plenty of style

There are lots of boots in the hall….

Boots in the hall www.thinkingcowgirl.com

Of course boots, like other footwear, come and go. But one particular pair have become my constant companion for over fifteen years. I can’t seem to shake them off. They now hang in the barn, their steel toecaps covered in dust, dried mud from their last outing still caked between the treads, a handy holder for a mallet. But I still say one day I might need those boots…

Hanging boots www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Throwing them away, passing them on or selling them just doesn’t seem to be an option. Deep down, I keep hoping and wishing they’ll change, a bit like a confused girlfriend over-attached to her bad boyfriend. Perhaps I keep hoping that they’ll do for me what I originally wanted. The fact that that they are the most uncomfortable boots I’ve ever possessed doesn’t seem to dislodge this recurring fantasy. I say to myself one day those boots will come good

It was an attractive woman who seemed to embody who I wanted to be that got me on this boot thing. I was in the middle of a life crisis and was changing everything so I was looking for ways to solidify this incredibly fluid self. She was an artist, feminine, with long tousled hair (I might as well have given up then), yet she had on a pair of chunky work boots which poked out from beneath her jeans. I think she very possibly had long legs too. I was retraining to be a gardener at the time so it all seemed to fit. I was so happy when they were on sale – 50% off.

I was clearly in one of those blind fashion moments, adrenalin pumping, without giving a thought as to why they were so reduced.

I persevered for a few days. It was like having your feet encased in concrete. The leather was hard and unforgiving and they weighed a ton. The tops were too high, and the edges chafed the side of my (slightly shorter than the woman I was emulating) leg terribly. I invested in a pair of longer socks to help out, believing that I could crack them, that they would eventually soften. Weren’t all boots like that?

After many tries I eventually gave up. I had to admit defeat. But nevertheless I stored them away one day I will have the energy and commitment to tackle them again I said to myself (secretly though, because those around me were possibly getting a bit tired of my blister complaints)

Over the years, either when I think I need something extra sturdy, or when I have imagined I can still grasp that elusive (unobtainable) ‘look’ that I so desired, they have occasionally come out of hiding and I try again. It’s all to no avail.

2011. When we moved into our house, it was a good four years since their last unsuccessful outing. This time though, it was going to be different. This time I enlisted B’s help too. If only I could customise them myself, things might work out. B cut the tops down to an acceptable height, just above the ankle, rather than just below the calf.

You’d think I should have known by now that even drastic measures weren’t going to work. Even though they were marginally improved by the trimming, I was almost instantly hobbled by clods of sticky clay on the landscaping job I was doing. It resembled the Somme, acres of bare compacted earth, with standing pools of non draining water. The hard soles and deep treads were a perfect surface for which the soil to adhere to. It was a relief to be home and the next day I let them dry out and when we moved we hung them up in the barn. But of course, you never know…Barn wall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

B made a keyring from the discarded leather which I have treasured ever since.

Keys on slate www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

 Maybe this was the real reason for their existence.

Thought Number 8 A Cool Evening and a Step into the Past

We work late into the evening. It’s a bit if a race to try and get the swathe of nettles down the middle of the cowfield before they seed.

Sometimes a mat of fibrous yellow roots comes away from the damp crumbly soil but that level of attention will have to wait until winter. We’re hoping to encourage a woodland edge flora underneath the outgrown hedge line of hazel and hawthorn– Red Campion, Foxglove, Wood Avens, Cow Parsley, Stitchwort, Hairy Woundwort and Ground Ivy to name a few which are common in this area.

The air feels a cool blue, the moor is purple in the distance and the sky is shot through with vapour trails. I can feel autumn around the corner, there is a papery sound in the sycamores, the tips of their leaves turning a dull brown. A bee is taking shelter in an old post and I can hear the loud rat-tat-tat of a wren in a nearby thicket. I watch a buzzard drop in a vertical plunge toward the ground.

The landscape around here has probably not changed much for centuries, the pattern of small fields, woods and streams have been in place for a good long while, though at one time the woods on the opposite hill were in cultivation. On some days in the winter when the sun catches it at the right moment you can see the skeleton of small strip fields, marked out by larger trees where their boundaries were.

There has definitely been a farm here since the 1600’s, and probably way before that too, as it’s a place with sun on it’s face and a water supply. Being here, you can’t help but think of all the people and animals that have gone before, for everywhere you look is a reminder of the past, from the shape of the land to an iron strap on a barn door or a stone wall made with hands which are long since buried.

And then I feel inexplicably pleased to see the washing on the line….

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