Living on a ridge between two tributary streams exposes us to wind but relieves us of flood worries if we were burnside. What we didn’t anticipate when the road was re-surfaced last year was the problem it would cause through run off. The big hay field is saturated after a month of rain and water spills over onto the smooth tarmac which in turn hits our curb and flows into the front garden where it pools before eventually soaking away. I’ve been filling hessian sandbags and putting them roadside to divert the overflow past the gate onto the verge. Meanwhile our farming neighbours struggle to get hay and silage to the ring feeders for their sheep in the fields, the gateways everywhere a churning mass of mud. A neighbouring mixed flock of ewes – cheviots, texels and mules – display yellow raddle marks on their backs where they’ve been tupped (put to the ram), reminding us that Spring and lambing time is not actually that far off.
The westerly wind pushes the rain sideways during the latest westerly blow. Suddenly water is dripping into the living room hearth from the chimney above, so buckets get put between log burner and wall to catch the drips. The slates rattle in the bedroom at night and the window leaks. Even the water in the toilet bowl is oscillating, affected by the many small draughts driven by the storm.
We sit out one evening on the back porch, for the first time since before Christmas, and are delighted to be joined by a pair of wrens whirring in. Fleeting acrobats in the fierce wind, settling for seconds just feet from us before zipping off again, in and out of the ivy or feeding through the gravel garden walks. Notice in the gloom the tell tale whiteness of droppings on the lip of an abandoned swallow’s nest under the top beam of the veranda. The wee things cluster for warmth while roosting in winter and this will be one of their seasonal hide outs. The birds high pitched chirruping an alarm to mark our unexpected intrusion into their night time feeding routine.
Dry and warm indoor activities bring the greatest pleasures now in the dark quarter of the year. Early in February I went singing with the valley’s community choir up at the national park’s landscape discovery centre, by the Roman wall. It was to mark the ‘Lost Words’ touring exhibition featuring Robert Macfarlane’s words & Jackie Morris’s images. Surprisingly good acoustic in what is a clinical and angular modern setting. We sang our celebratory songs of the elements from the balcony and later at reception level as guests mingled and socialised between the public spaces.
This week I gave the table quiz I had set on behalf of the countryside charity, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) at a hotel in our market town. Full house in the nicest of pub venues and a very happy evening all round. Eight teams fought it out amicably over 48 questions and a picture round on a theme of ‘England and the English Countryside’. (Kim my ace support on the adding up front!) Everyone delighted it went down so well as a novel social event, a first for the county branch.
Spending time in the kitchen is special in winter too of course. We made this year’s batch of marmalade when the Seville oranges were about in January and I’ve gone back to making oat, rye and beer bread which not only smells wonderful but retains its fine flavour as toast…. Perfect in fact with home made marmalade!