Sunday, 30 November 2014

Where is the time going?

Its the end of November 2014 already and another week has flown by. We'll be sitting down to Christmas dinner before we know where we are. It's been a busy week and I am beginning to wonder how I had time to work. The weather hasn't been great, so not much gardening has there been. Not as many walks either after such a good start last week when I walked 32 miles altogether, wow! On Monday I was feeling a bit shattered after our long walk on Sunday, so the dog and I had a lazy lie in morning, verra indulgent. Then it was on with domestic chores: no rest for the wicked; but one clean and tidy hoose and a local walk to Walston and back when David got home. It was certainly chillier, but nice light down the Dunsyre Valley.

Looking down the Dunsyre Valley on our Monday walk

On Tuesday I squeezed in some gardening before and after coffee and a catch up with Gill. Another great thing is having the time to meet up with friends and catch up. It wasn't too cold as I rummaged through our garden ornaments that are stored away and brought some of them out to dot about the patio. They always cause comment, especially the 'Bracken bum'! It makes it feel a more like home having them there. I also listed everything in the wee greenhouse to double check its on my plant data base or not. I will be doing the same with the big greenhouse. I then hunting for the plants I lifted and brought but haven't found yet. I suspect most of that job will have to wait until spring when they start appearing in the troughs again.

My lizard from Arizona

Mossy frog blending in with the stone wall

The Bracken bum!

Tuesday's walk was the circuit up to Walston school and back. It was an overcast afternoon so no real views to be had. There were however some dead thistle heads that I then played around with on the computer once I got home. 

Thistle leaves in Infrared

Black and White Thistle heads

Xanthoria parietina

Wednesday saw us in Glasgow visiting middle son who is at uni there. He's settled in very well and making lots of friends. He did of course need food and what better time to get it when Mum is through to give a helping hand (with bank card!) We then took him out for lunch, going with his suggestion of a restaurant he'd seen on Vincent Street. When he mentioned it was a burger place, I thought oh here we go. But since it was his treat we went along with and are glad we did. Bread Meats Bread is no ordinary burger restaurant. It has burgers with imagination and they were fabulous too. Not too expensive and the service was quick. I'd thoroughly recommend it if you're ever in Glasgow centre and in need of feeding. I had the pulled pork burger and it was melt in your mouth delicious.

Christmas cake in the making

The Christmas cake is now made and stored away, ready to be fed with brandy every so often. The mincemeat is also done and packed in jars. I have used the same recipes for these for over 20 years by the renowned Dehlia Smith. I am beginning to give in to Christmas as the trolley when I did the food shopping was showing, a few bits and pieces for stockings and gifts, wrapping paper on offer and so on. I like to pick up a few things every week as time goes on. 

Mincemeat packed in jars

Friday was a lunch date at a local garden centre with my friend Sarah, a fellow photographer and gardener. It was good to catch up in person and swap notes. I also bought some Christmas decorations, well two lovely metal work hearts and stars. I always buy a new ornament every year. 

Unfortunately we only walked Monday and Tuesday this week and with a busy weekend coming up there won't be any opportunities then either. So next week it is back to walking every day and gardening if the weather allows.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A hill walk to Whitehope Heights via the Annandale Way

Aside from gardening another of my passions is hill walking. Unfortunately over the past two or three years this has been sadly lacking from my life. But now I have more time I plan to do more, starting with easier ones to get my fitness back up. Sunday was forecast to be clear and sunny so the maps were out and some planning done with help from the excellent Scottish Hills website, which has great trip reports and you can keep a record of all the Donalds, Graemes, Corbets and Munroes you have climbed. There are a great bunch of folks on there with lots of useful advice.

Start of the walk, you can park here at the side of the gate
or in the view point car park 500m down the road. We parked here.

I chose this walk as my "back to hill walking walk" as its fairly straightforward and not too strenuous (try telling my legs that now). Because the road climbs up and around the Devil's Beef Tub the height of the walk is not far below the summit although there are a few ups and downs on the way. I've walked part of this walk before, a long time ago, but our goal today is Whitehope Heights, a Donald. David had opted to go flying as the weather was perfect and he needed to get his hours back up. Its been such a busy year at work and with moving house, but not much time left for flying. Since eldest son was at home I asked him if he wanted to come, He's not a huge fan of  hill walking, but like me he loves to get out and explore, though it did mean a much earlier start to his day than normal.

Looking down towards Moffat, covered in fog

As with all southern upland hill walks, it was rough walking over the tussocky hills sides, though popular walks tend to have a rough path. Because this walk is on the Annandale Way it's fairly well used by walkers and by quad biking farmers, so most of the way there were clear paths. There is an interesting noticeboard at the beginning of the walk, showing the route of the Annandale Way. After a quick sharp climb the first hill top is Annandalehead Hill with its trig point. From here you get a clear view down Annandale towards Moffat and the south. That part of the walk meanders along the top of the Devils Beef Tub. If you don't like steep drops, stay away from the edge! It's a long way down and nothing to stop you.

The trig on Annandalehead Hill

This deep hole in the landscape has been linked with many historical figures. This link from the Scotsman gives a good wee round up. From here we had a good view back towards the Lowther hills and one of the many wind farms that litter the landscape. It was a perfect weather day for being in the hills and the blue skies set off the hills perfectly. We stopped for a wee rest at the trig as the first bit was quite steep on our out of practise legs.

Looking back towards the Lowther Hills

Forwards again and though it was November and 3 degrees C when we left the car at 11 am, now we were moving it was comfortably warm. Bracken was having a great time careering over rushes, tussocks and boggy puddles following the latest smell.

Whitehope Heights is the light coloured hill in the centre,
with darker Hart Fell behind

This part of the Annandale Way was created around 2009, providing a scenic walk from Moffat to the Beef tub and back. Well marked out with posts and markers, it is easy to follow even if you aren't a regular hill walker or map reader. As always in these hills the narrow saddles between hills are wet and boggy where the water collects, before spilling over the edge and down the hill. The skill is to find stones, tussocks and the fence to hold your weight whilst impersonating a mountain goat and hoping you don't fall in!

Ben, contemplating the fact you have to go down and then up again!

We crossed a flat, wet area to the cairn that marks the return journey. This makes it easy to recognise which cut you take down to the valley below. I like seeing cairns in the hills: natural monuments, ancient and new. We were groaning at the sight of the steep ziggy zaggy path up Spout Craig ahead. It also was one of those hills with several false summits, just as you thought you were nearly there..... nope there's another stretch to go, and another.

The Annandale Way cairn and Spout Craig behind

A lovely view looking down Annandale

After Spout Craig it was a fairly easy walk upwards to the deer fence just before Whitehope Height summit. Fortunately there is a stile over the fence, albeit a stile built for giants. It was a bit challenging for wee me! There was also a dog gate for Bracken at the side. It was certainly a sturdy piece of engineering and we could see it for a long way before we got to it. After that it was a hop and a skip to the cairn on the summit.

Yes its a long way up Bracken and a long way down

The cairn on Whitehope Heights

Bracken and I at the top, my 44th Donald

Once at the top we had a well earned rest sitting on my survival bag in the lee of the cairn. It was chilly once we stopped with the breeze blowing, so we didn't stop for too long. Food always tastes so much better on a hill top, much needed coffee too, sandwiches and cookies for us and biscuits for Bracken all went down well. Then we were ready for the much easier route down. 

View from our lunch spot on top of Whitehope Heights

Hand over your lunch and no one gets hurt says Bracken

Going back down Spout Craig was so much quicker than up, and once we reached the cairn we turned left and headed down the broad path into the valley. This was an easy walk out: the grass was short and the path not too steep. We were much taken with the amount of tree planting that has been done in this valley. Thousands of native broad leaves and evergreens are poking their heads above tree guards. The slopes of the surrounding hills and right down to the path were thickly planted with Birch, Alder, Rowan, Holly, Juniper and Hazel.

Heading back down the Annandale Way

We followed the path to the bottom of the valley past some plantations of larch and across two sheep fields. From here there is a great view into the Devil's Beef Tub. Corehead House nestles nicely in amongst the trees looking down the valley.

The Devil's Beef Tub

From here we followed the signs along the tarmac track to Ericstane. Whilst walking through the farm yard, hoping Bracken didn't spot all the rabbits, there was a bit of a rain shower, so we sheltered under the corner of a cow shed until it passed. From here it was a bit of a steep climb back out the valley towards the main road, the A701. Fortunately, it being a Sunday it was quiet and easily crossed to the footpath on the other side. We could have walked back up the main road but opted for the safer, quieter route around the back of Ericstane Hill, more "over the top of", rather than "around the back of" though! Our legs were crying no more hills. We did however get some lovely views in the afternoon sun of the surrounding area.

Looking over the valley to the hills we walked from Ericstane Hill

Whitehope Heights and Hart fell in the late afternoon sun

Sun setting over the Galloway Hills from Ericstane Hill

Nearly back at the car, the lone silver dot to the left

For my first walk in a long time I did all right, as did Ben, we were sore and tired but that for me is always offset by being on the hills on a beautiful day, achieving another summit and most importantly getting back safely. Although Ben did slip onto his back at one point and I tripped over fresh air and fell on my length onto my face, we just ended up wet and muddy and laughing. I'd thoroughly reccomend this walk.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Glasshouse Winter Preparation Complete

Another weekend gone and it was a good one. The weather was dry and warm (ish) for November. On Saturday we had some errands to run in our local town, so after breakfast we jumped in the car with Bracken. Our plan to walk every week day is going well, but because we didn't walk on Friday we decided to do one whilst in Biggar. This also means I don't get too bored doing the same local walks all the time. If we are out and about we are going to try and build in a walk where ever we are.

Walking along the old railway line from Biggar to Broughton

We parked in the long stay car park at the back of the Main Street in Biggar and walked along the side of the wee stream that runs through the town. The path takes you behind Biggar High School and beside the Golf Course and onto the disused railway. This old rail track beds runs all the way to Broughton and then onwards towards Talla. We walked for about two miles and then turned back, it made a nice relaxing flat walk and Bracken had a great time exploring somewhere new. 

Old railway bridge

We're thinking this might make a nice linear walk when the railway mad offspring are home at Christmas, taking one car to Broughton, and then driving back. Maybe even coffee and cakes at the tea room in Broughton, sounds good to me. Any way back to this walk, there are still lots of railway features in place including the metal bridge above. The station platform and signal box are still in place back in Biggar and we will investigate them on another walk. 

Rose leaves still hanging on

Because the weather has been so mild there are still plenty berries and rose hips in the hedgerows. Lots of fat juicy rose hips shining in the sunshine. I am sure once the cold weather does appear the berries will disappear, but for now I am enjoying having them to photograph on my walks.

The birds haven't touched the rose hips or
 Hawthorn berries yet, its been too warm

After our walk and some lunch back in the house we tackled finishing the wee greenhouse now we have all the glass. This was quick and easy as I didn't have to wash the new glass and the panes of glass slotted in nicely. We also put the bubble wrap up straight away, and then its done. This gives an extra layer of insulation for when it gets really cold. Although expensive to buy initially, its worth the investment. I bought bubble wrap for both greenhouses 20 years ago when I first got them, and I am still using the same bubble wrap. Every spring once it gets taken down, its gets folded into sacks and stored in the potting shed. Toasty warm plants. I now have two completed fully functioning greenhouse, stuffed full of plants for winter. The heater has been switched off again as it isn't nearly cold enough yet, this is great as it saves gas and there for money. 

New glass ready for fitting

On edge!

I've a few odds and ends of plants in smaller pots to be brought in, but that's the bulk of the winter preparation done for this year. I still need to tackle new covers or cloches for the alpine troughs before the weather gets too cold and wet. Hopefully this week I'll get those last pots in and some other wee jobs caught up with out in the garden if the weather stays dry. 

Everything in and tucked up for winter
in the big greenhouse

Last of the plants into the wee greenhouse

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

This November I am

Making: good home made food because I have the time now

Cooking: Cobnut meringues with cream and chocolate sauce for dessert
Drinking: Raspberry flavoured Cream soda from Barrs, its goooood
Reading: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwall, one of my favourite authors
Wanting: to climb a mountain again
Looking: at the views as I walk every day
Playing: The radio when I'm in the car
Wishing: I had got the grass cut before it got too long and wet
Enjoying: my boys' progress in life
Loving: life
Smelling: roast beef and gravy
Wearing: Cosy jumpers and scarfs

Anticipating: Christmas 
Buying: ingredients for christmas cake and mincemeat
Disliking: the state the chickens have got their run into
Eating:  healthily
Planting: a prairy bed in the front garden
Marvelling; at how well Daniel is doing at secondary school
Wondering: How life turned from being so awful to so good
Feeling: content

Walking, greenhouse glass, this and that

The start of my year out, not working full time and seeing where life takes me: exciting and scary. One of the things I want to concentrate on is walking locally every day and building up to hill walking again. Both Monday and Tuesday were busy days but I managed a 4.5 - 5 mile walk both days along the lovely, quiet country roads near the house. Its a great way of getting to know our new locality and opens up the opportunity to take photographs too. On Monday we did a circuit of 4.5 miles to Walston school and back and yesterday I walked to Walston village and explored the church and graveyard then back again, 5 miles. I didn't have a chance to walk until later in the afternoon, but this resulted in some lovely sunset photographs. Bracken is loving the long walks with me.

Monday: Dunsyre Hill, one of the local landmark hills

Dead tree and a storm brewing

Tuesday: more blue sky and still very warm for November

Tinto, a local big hill which is a Graeme, 

Back to the weekend just gone and some gardening. Saturday dawned dry, woo hooo. We spent a couple of hours cleaning greenhouse glass and working out how many new panes were needed for the wee greenhouse. We put in what we had and made a list which went to the glazier today. Gulp - it's an expensive business replacing greenhouse glass.

Bracken making sure the job is done right

Buffy our cockeral, reminding everyone who's in charge

Buffy says Hi

Plants moving in

Once we'd done as much with the glass as we could, we moved the bench in and I started putting plants in for the winter. I got some plants tidied up, the big greenhouse watered and some pottering about done and I also stripped the seed from a flower stalk of some Mullein, Verbascum bombycifera. This will get sown in the spring.

Some of the cuttings taken from plants at Easter Mosshat
and part of the auricula primula collection

Sunday saw me at a local charity Christmas fair, selling my photographs under another one of my hats, Birch Tree Images Photography It was great to catch up with lots of friends, sell some photos and see Mandy and Wendy's hard work organising the whole thing pay off. They raised over £4000 for Teenage cancer Trust and Canine Partners, two very worthwhile causes.

Selling my photographs

On Tuesday morning I accompanied David to a derelict walled garden where he has been asked to do a tree survey for bats. Some of the trees are dead and to be felled, others are to be tidied up, but first they need to be checked by an ecologist such as David, in case there are bats using any of the crevices and holes for roosting in. This was interesting for me on several levels; a chance to see another derelict walled garden, some photography oppertunities, a chance to see ecological surveying with a view to my possible future job and to id trees in winter, ie with no leaves. It was good fun and very interesting.

Another abandoned walled garden

Entrance to the walled garden

and I suppose I should start thinking about planning christmas, it being mid November and everyone is talking about baking their christmas cakes .......

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Life takes you on roads you never thought of

Anyone who has been following my blog will know that this year and indeed the last five have been full of massive changes. I've been through more in those five years than some people go through in a lifetime, sometimes it has felt like a plot line from a well known soap opera! But I survived. It's taught me a lot, it's made me stronger and bizarrely it's made me happier in the end. But that may have been a lot to do with removing  negative and destructive people and circumstances from my life. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that those people are dragging you down and put a stop to it in order to move forward. Its not easy at all but worth it for the sanity (well as sane as I'll ever be) and happiness I now have.

This week the final (I hope) huge change take place. This big change has taken a lot of thought, no little courage, a lot of thinking and feeling torn. Ultimately I have to do what's best for me. After many years of putting others first and having to do things because of other peoples' demands, circumstances and control I am in a position to make choices for me. Its such an empowering place to be! Of course I wouldn't be able to take this step if it wasn't for the money I got from selling Easter Mosshat. It's all swings and roundabouts. From something that caused me a lot of heartache (selling and  moving from my home and garden) it has actually freed me to follow a different path without financial constraints. I am no longer weighed down by financial obligations and am able to have a less stressful life where I can go off and explore different ideas and experiences.

Early Morning on the web

So I am leaving my job and taking a year out!!! Yes I am leaving a reasonably well paid job, no I haven't got another job to go to. Am I going through a mid life crisis at 45? No, I am finally in a position to do the right thing for me and and have the time to do some of the things I love doing that have been absent from my life for too long. Friday was my last day, and although it was my choice to leave it was still hard to leave good friends and the nursery where I have worked for 12 years. Its been like a second home and family to me and I will miss them all. It's not goodbye, I'll see them all soon. We had a farewell dinner, champagne, leaving cards and gifts, we laughed and we cried, it really is the end of an era.

Cool shade, Bordeaux

What am I going to do with all this time I will have on my hands? Live life instead of driving to work, spending eight hours doing something that doesn't inspire me any more, driving home, spending my evening doing domestic chores and trying to keep on on top of everything, then repeating the process the next day and so on....

~ I am going to study, I am still toying with the idea of an Open University degree, but for now I have signed up to do the University Certificate in Biological Recording and Species Identification run by the Field Studies Centre and Manchester University.

~ I am also going to do some courses at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.

~ I'm going to do some volunteering with several plant conservation groups to get some practical experience and get to know people in this field.

~ I might even pick up a part time job somewhere or help David out in his busy season. We'll shall see what opportunities present themselves. For someone who usually plays it safe and likes a set path to follow, this is a huge step and quite liberating!

~ On a more personal note I am really looking forward to getting back to doing the things I enjoy as I mentioned in a previous blog.

~ I'm so looking forward to being in the hills and walking again.

~ I am keen to read through the huge pile of books I have amassed on my desk that I never get time to read.

~ I will also have more time to do more photography and expand my knowledge and portfolio.

~ Day trips with David and/or the kids and of course Bracken the dog. David goes some really interesting places with his job so hopefully I will tag along occasionally and grab a photo opportunity or two and see some new and different places.

~ Tick more things off my bucket list

~ Cooking and baking, I am such a foody and love producing food for friends and family and it will be great to have the time to really do this again.

~ Gardening, which will mainly be maintaining my plant collection and the greenhouses here at the inbetween garden. I will be doing some more wee projects around the garden, so watch this space.

~ Catching up with friends and family, coffee and banter, and spending quality time with those that

I will not deny this is a huge step, I have either done an amazing thing or one of one of the more lunatic things I've done in my life! Time will tell. Though it is exciting to do something different and see where it takes me next.