Apples Galore!

The nights are drawing in, the geese are flying south and there’s a smokey chill in the air. Perfect time for an apple festival!

This weekend (13-14th October 2018) was the annual Apple Festival at Gorse Hill Nature Reserve. The reserve has two orchards with more than 100 fruit trees, including apple, plum and pear. We first went last year, you can read about that visit here. This time we brought our parents along and had such a good time. The festival seems to just get better!

Being eager beavers, we arrived (on the Sunday) just before 11am when the volunteers were all having their huddle and pep talk in the barn. They were very welcoming and guided us through the displays of dessert and cooking apples. On the day there was an opportunity to go on a walk of the heritage orchard, spiralize apples and taste apple leather, a delicious cooked and dried delicacy. It made me think of stewed apples.

In a room adjacent to the barn there was a machine for pulping apples and an apple press. Here they offered apple juice to sample and purchase at £2 a bottle. In future they hope to also make cider from the apples that are left to waste. Sounds a good plan to me :p

Due to this years hot summer many of the heritage varieties had already been harvested, though there were a good number of Discovery Apples available. I promised myself that I would be more adventurous in my purchases this year. So after I had purchased a selection of Discovery and Ellison Orange, I went on to buy, Russets, Sunset, Lady Sudeley and Ribston Pippin. The costing of apples was very cheap (at 4 for a £1) and I wouldn’t have minded paying more.

I also purchased some cooking apple varieties such as the iconic Bramley Seedling, Lord Derby, Arthur Turner and the humongous Mere de Menage. I think I will be eating and cooking apples for the foreseeable future.

Mere de Menage

Mere de Menage

I really enjoyed my time spent at the apple festival at Gorse Hill Nature Reserve. I will undoubtedly visit again next year. I believe these heritage orchards are vital in keeping the history of British apple growing alive. It’s just a shame that future generations will mostly only know supermarket bought apples and not the variety, taste and texture of traditional/heritage apples.

What is your favourite apple? Have you visited a local fruit festival?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

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No Room at the Car Park…

No matter how much you plan a day out, even after getting up at 5.30am and driving for two hours, sometimes things just don’t go to plan. That was what happened to David and I recently, as we ventured to Pen-y-Pass car park, Snowdonia.

The plan was to walk the Miner’s Track to Snowdon and take in three swims, Glaslyn, Llydaw and Teyrn. However on arrival at 8am, staff were putting out orange bollards with signs saying full! Other car parks along the A4086 were also full. We were not the only disappointed visitors that day. There were many cars trying to park on verges as we drove to a new destination.

I had to think fast. Perhaps I should have suggested Idwal and Ogwen, (still llyns I’ve not swam in), but I thought the Idwal car park would be just as busy as Pen-y-Pass. So I decided we should drive on towards Llyn Dinas and see if there was any available car park spaces. There was! We paid £2.50 for the privilege of four hours. In hindsight we could have had free car parking further up the road, but we were going by my memory and that’s not the best at any time.

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Llyn Dinas

From the car park there were free toilets, only one for women, (be prepared to queue), the men fared better. We then walked south west along the A498 towards Llyn Dinas. Llyn Dinas boasts an all accessible pathway but that was further up the road and I had no map. There were many accessible routes from the road to the llyn but none with a good lake-shore until I found a site with a wide shingle beach. Not totally secluded but closest to, we decided to make this our camp.

Llyn Dinas is named after the nearby hill fort Dinas Emrys, which has mythical connections to the Arthurian figure Merlin. Merlin is reputed to have been recruited by king Vortigern who having fled the Anglo-Saxons was constructing a fort. Vortigern asked Merlin ‘why after building the fort would the construction come crashing down the next day’.

Merlin said that there were ‘two dragons or vermes who lived in a pool’ where the fort was being erected. It was they who destroyed the building. Once the dragons were freed the fort was constructed. In 1954 and 1956 the area was excavated by Archaeologist, Dr H. N. Savory who indeed discovered a pool inside the fort. Whether the myth has some foundation is debatable. Vortigern himself was supposed to have hidden the Throne of Britain beneath a stone at Llyn Dinas. Though this story seems to tally with a stone that was set to mark the boundary between three land cantrefi or borders.

On my swim I did not meet any dragons nor many people. The llyn was peaceful at 9am. The sun was warm and the water notched 20-22°C. It was the warmest wild swim I had ever experienced. I stayed in the water over half and hour and in hindsight I could have stayed in longer. I emerged from the water before the canoeists arrived. It was a most pleasurable swim.

I don’t seem to be as successful with my Welsh swims as I have been with my Lake District swims. There are so many llyns I have not attempted yet. Perhaps when the weather gets cooler I can reattempt the Miner’s Track?

Have you traversed the Miner’s Track to Snowdon? What were your impressions of the area?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Twenty-eight

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_28Day 28: For this Throw Back Thursday, I am going to break open the elderflower champagne. Last year I made elderflower champagne which turned out to be more like cordial than champagne. So this year I made a second batch using a recipe from the Women’s Institute, with extra sprinkles of champagne yeast. In reality perhaps I shouldn’t have used four sprinkles of the yeast as the bottles have become very explosive!!

I let David cautiously open the bottle and poured two glasses of the elderflower. We shall toast to all things wild!

With the addition of the champagne yeast there is a definite hint of alcohol which was sadly missing in last years attempt. Still as flowery and refreshing as ever, especially on an extremely HOT day!

How have you been keeping cool?

In 2015 I went dragon spotting in Norwich. 2016 saw me looking for moths using a light trap and in 2017 I participated in the Great British Wildflower Hunt.

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Twenty-six

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_26Day 26: It’s back to work this week after a lovely break. One positive to working in Stockbridge Village is that there are a few social enterprises, such as Mab Lane Community Woodland and Woolfall Heath Meadowto enjoy.

I visited Woolfall Heath Meadow before work and spent a leisurely half an hour walking around the circular path through grassland.

It was a hot day, the thermometer reaching 24°C. The area was very quiet and I only saw two people walking their dogs. As I walked along the path, soaking up the rays of the sun, the chirp of grasshoppers sounded at my feet while willow warblers sung from the shelter of nearby trees.

The River Alt runs through the site and I sat overlooking a reedbed while watching as red admirals fluttered past. There were many meadow browns flying over the meadow but non stopped still enough for me to take a picture.

Of the flowers I spotted were, bindweed, thistles and field scabious. Bees enjoyed the ever popular brambles.

Do you have a community development like this one near you?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Five.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_05Day 5: This Tuesday I’ve been timetabled into doing a long day at work. *sigh* So I thought I would take the opportunity to document the nature sightings I see on my walk to work. I tend to get off the bus earlier than needed and then walk for 35 minutes to work. Meaning 1. I get in two miles a day and 2. I can look out for nature!

On my walk, I notice lots of bees enjoying the dog and wild roses that line the paths. The heady scent of elderflowers wafts on the breeze, while the songs of sparrows, blackbirds, robins and chaffinches lace the warm air. A buzzard is seen in a heated argument with a crow. On this occasion the buzzard won!

Hot an sweaty I arrive at work for a long day ahead.

What nature do you see on your way to work?

Thanks for reading and stay wild!

Christine x

Tarn of the Immortal Fish

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Bowscale Tarn was the clear winner of my public vote on where my first swim of 2017 should be. Despite that accolade finally going to Crummock Water, I decided Bowscale would be my second!

As featured in William Wordsworth’s 1888, Song, at the Feast of Brougham Castle. Folklore states that Bowscale Tarn is home to two immortal fish, one with the gift of speech. With the weather forecasting sunshine and temperatures reaching the late 20°C’s, there was nothing else for it but to go in search of these immortal fish!

We got to the hamlet of Bowscale at 9.30am after a two hour drive up the M6 to Penrith and then the A66 to Mungrisedale. As we seem to be visiting the area a lot recently, we didn’t even need the help of the SatNav!

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There are only a few cottages in Bowscale and it was by these cottages that we parked the car, parking was free! As the road bends right, there is a public bridleway sign pointing towards the tarn. The path was established by the Victorians who would flock to Bowscale Tarn much more than people do now. The path was very quiet and we only saw one other person with his two dogs.

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The walk to the tarn took one hour. The pathway was well defined, gravelly underfoot but there was no worry of getting lost! The sun was blazing hot, even at 10am! The sparkling blue of Bowscale Tarn appeared like a mirage, it was a welcome sight!

A good few hours was spent at Bowscale, picnicking and sunbathing, before sliding my sun kissed body into the cool waters of the tarn. I found the shallows to be very muddy and my feet easily got sucked down into the vegetation. It was a feeling I did not like!

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Occasionally a mean wind wiped over the tarn and the water glistened like there were a myriad of tiny stars dancing on the surface. The silence of the place was only broken by the chatter of pipits nesting in the heath-land.

And of the immortal fish? I never seen head nor tail of them, other than wrestling with a rubber trout I had brought along for the fun of being silly!

Have you visited Bowscale Tarn? Been lucky enough to see the immortal fish? I’d love to hear of your stories attached to this place.

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #16

No sooner had I published Sunday Sevens #15, when more pet news occurred.

It was a lovely start to the week, with bright warm sunshine (much needed if you ask me!) When it is warm I like to sit out in the yarden, I take Artie with me. Being outside gives him more stimulation than being stuck inside the house. However I have created a nature yarden, meaning I have lots of visiting bees and butterflies, lots of stalking opportunities for Artie! While I was digging up my second crop of maris bard potatoes for my vegetarian roast dinner that evening, Artie was sitting amongst the flowers watching the bees.

I acted too slowly. I was busy marvelling at all the potatoes I had grown! From the corner of my eye I saw Artie lunge at a bee who had entered a foxglove. He must have knocked the poor bee down into the foliage as I couldn’t see her. I left Artie sniffing in the undergrowth while gathering my harvest.

On coming back into the yarden, Artie suddenly darted from the greenery, rubbing his paw against his nose. Jumping about like a jack in a box ‘You’ve been stung!’ I cried, scoping him up and taking him into the house. I called for David’s assistance. Then proceeded, a half hour long endurance, of trying to hold Artie down while David tweezed the bee sting from his nose. I got covered in scratches for my endeavour.

Afterwards when Artie was sting-less and enjoyed some cooked chicken, seemingly none the wiser for the upset. I stood shaking like a leaf. My nerves had been shot! ‘Pets are worse than kids!’ David exclaimed while I tried to regain my spirits.

Needless to say Artie is back to his ‘wild’ self again. He is siting in the last rays of the Sunday sunshine.

Have you had a pet who has had a too close encounter with a bee?

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Forgive me for returning to the great British obsession, the weather, but the UK saw its hottest day of the year (so far) on Tuesday! In the NW of England the temperatures soared to a very sweaty 31°c! The Spanish Plume the meteorologists had predicted had finally arrived! Though only for three days! On Tuesday evening as I wrote my post about the numerous animal sculptures that have graced the UK’s cities, David and I sat in the hottest room of the house. Outside the window I watched as the sky darkened as the last rays of the sun dipped beyond the horizon!

During this little snippet of summer, I was out counting the butterflies that visited the yarden, in the Big Butterfly Count. The count runs from 15th July to 7th August 2016! I don’t know whether it is because the alleyway between the houses has become overgrown with wild flowers/weeds but I have seen more butterflies flutter past this year, then any other! Predominantly the most common butterfly has been the small white. There has often been two (I don’t know if it’s the same couple) twirling in their dance of attraction before the male attaches himself to the female! They are a joy to watch!

One evening David and I were giving sugar water to this tired bee when in quick succession a small white and a red admiral fluttered crazily past! I quickly noted my sightings on the phone app before watching the satisfied bee fly off energised!

26842491This week saw me finish my latest book, Sam Baker‘s The Woman Who Raninspired by Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. At first I struggled to get into the story. It seems to me that many published novelists nowadays are or were journalists. I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not! I persevered and soon the story warmed up. The narrative was atmospheric in its description of the Yorkshire Dales. The characters were a little difficult to understand but you got to like them in the end. The finale, touted as being explosive, ended more like a whimper. I didn’t understand why the main character would act like she did in the face of opposition! Anyway, it was enjoyable. I’ve not read this author before, perhaps I will in future?

Have you read this novel? Any thoughts?

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I was going to end today’s blog with an update on Troy but there hasn’t been much improvement. Then I remembered the lovely selection of bramley apples given to us by one of David’s friends. So I decided to finish with them. I have acquired all the ingredients so next week I shall be busy cooking apple pies, or variants on a theme!

I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead.

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins.

Sunday Sevens #3

20160313_110739Last week, after a traumatic Saturday, in which my road witnessed a tragic, sad event. Sunday dawned bleakly. David and I decided it was time to sew the seeds I had bought. We planted sweet peppers, spring onions and green beans, in the hope that something will grow come summer. I am waiting for the frosts to end so I can plant maris bard potatoes and my dahlia tubers.

Now after a week of sitting in front of the window in the guest bedroom, we have shoots finally pushing through the soil! There is hope yet!

Mum decided to treat me on Tuesday with a little trip to Costa for a cappuccino and a toasted teacake. It was very restorative.

This was the final week of my Future Learn course: Literature and Mental Health. The six week course has been tremendous and I have loved reading an eclectic mix of poetry, novels and plays. The course has me reading again after a lull of some time and has inspired me to re-read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.

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Aura by David Evans

It was decided that we should capture our elderly and much loved, Lady Gouldian Finch, Aura to clip his overgrowing beak. Last November Aura had the same problem and we don’t know if it was connected but he became very ill. He had fits and lay about the bottom of the cage looking exhausted. It was by fluke that his beak was sheered to its proper size and we started him on vitamin supplements. I put it down to David having healing hands and Aura was nursed back to life. Perhaps it was malnourishment due to an inability to eat with an over long beak? Either way I didn’t want a recurrence. So David captured Aura, not without some stress as the other finches were flying about the room! I held him and David clipped the tip of his beak. He seems much better now!

On Friday I didn’t have a clue what to make for the evening’s dinner. To be honest I am feeling a bit fed up with cooking. I find it exhausting looking for new recipes. So David defrosted the final serving of his curry base and made a vegetable karahi. It indeed had a kick to it!

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The weekend was spent doing the usual, shopping, cleaning, cooking. Artie was exhausted!

While Artie slept during the evening. I decided to dress up, even if it was just for a salad dinner at our house, Bistro No. 49!

What kind of foods do you enjoy? Have you read any good books recently?

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Threads and bobbins.

30 Days Wild… Finale.

It’s the last day of 30 Days Wild organised by The Wildlife Trust. I cannot believe that a month has passed so quickly! In the past 30 days I have tried to be more vigilant to the nature that is all around!

Monday:

Not much wildness happened today. However, I noticed that my wild poppy’s had flowered while I was at work and come the evening they had already dropped their leaves. 😦

I also took a snap of this moth resting on our dining room window, though I couldn’t identify it.

Moth

Moth

Tuesday:

Phew! What a scorcher of a day! The hottest day of the year so far and tomorrow promises to be equally as hot though with some thunder storms thrown in to keep us on our toes!

I rushed home from work to enjoy the outside space that is my little urban garden. I watched the visiting House Sparrows as they sat on TV aerials. There were not as many bees visiting the Cat Mint. I think its flowers are starting to die, so I need to set pruning it so it grows a second time this summer.

While slowly turning pink I noticed the quiet fluttering of a butterfly as it made its way from garden to garden. It was a Red Admiral, though it did not stop long enough for me to take a picture, so one from a couple of years ago will have to do!

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Yesterday, my mum and I replanted some of the Borage seedlings that had grown madly since planting them the first week of June. However today I noticed that most hadn’t taken to their new pots and looked sadly limp. Oh well I still have lots so hopefully some will flower? Only time will tell!


I now sit writing this post in the garden. The humidity still lingers as the sun begins to set behind the row of houses to my right. A chilled glass of wine is close to hand while Classic FM is on in the background. Artie tries, (but thankfully fails) to stalk Cinnabar Moths while the Cat Mint is now a buzz with bees.

I thought I would utilise the warmth of the ‘heatwave’ and enjoy the last few hours of my 30 days wild! Sitting here quietly I have already seen five squeaking Swallows as they soared high into the blue sky. I think their young have fledged. I only hope that I manage to get some footage of them before they head back on their long journey south.

The evening air is filled with the chattering sound of Goldfinches as they come for their late evening snack before roost and now I have the cackling presence of a Magpie. One is never alone with nature, and living in a city, it is rarely quietly still. The voices of people’s lives going on around me punctuates the nature that I welcome into my garden.

30 days wild has been a challenge in a way for me as I have tried to look beyond the nature that visits my garden. I am still useless when it comes to Bee identification and thank the Facebook page: UK Bees, wasps and Ants for helping ID most of the bees that have frequented my garden. I would have liked to have seen more butterflies and moths but I am happy with the number of birds that have visited the feeders. It may only be small but I do my little bit for the nature in my area. If that is to plant a bee friendly plant or more feeders for the birds then I will do it!

What is certain is that I will continue to enjoy the nature that is in my area, and hopefully learn more about the creatures that call it their home.

With a lone Bumblebee feeding and the sweet song of a Blackbird on the breeze, I finish this post with one final picture. This is the view of the sky as I write.

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Have a happy summer!

Christine x © 2015

I’ve got the cooking bug again!!

Much to the consternation of my poor purse, as cooking can be both cheap and equally expensive!

This weekend I have been busy in the kitchen. With spring slowly ‘springing’ my desire to cook, (though not dampened by winter) has indeed ‘sprouted’ this past weekend, with that old eager feeling of excited anticipation gnawing at me.

On Saturday, and again on Sunday I was busy making ‘Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup.’ I had many of the ingredients left over hence why I made it again on the Sunday. The recipe says for 4 but I only seemed to make for 3, (depends on how many ladles you dole out!)
The ingredients were:

• 450g of carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 small potatoes, or a large one (that I used), peeled and chopped
• 1 head/bulb of garlic
• 2 red onions, or a mix of one red and one white (it didn’t change the taste)
• 2-3 celery ribs
• ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
• 0.7 to 1 litre of vegetable stock.
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Chives chopped to garnish

Method:

When I went to make this recipe I had not read the entire method properly. I thought it was just carrot and garlic soup, not roasted. So it took me longer, about 1 hour from start to finish.

• I peeled and cut the carrots, onions and potato
• Sliced the celery
• In a roasting dish, I put in the carrots, onions and celery with some oil, salt, pepper and the cayenne.
• I then chopped the top off the bulb/head of the garlic to expose the cloves, salt and peppered it and added a touch of oil. I wrapped the head/bulb in tin foil
• I put the roasting dish and wrapped up garlic in the oven 220°/gas mark 7 for 20-30 minutes
• While the vegetables were roasting, in a pan, I put two stock cubes in with 0.7lires of boiling water. I also added the chopped potato to the pan and seasoned it. Use 1 litre of stock to make enough for 4!
• Once the vegetables were roasted I added them, (the carrot, celery, onion) to the pan with the stock and potatoes.
• I then squeezed out the garlic and added that too the pan with the vegetables and stock. I then boiled the pan for 15 minutes or until the vegetables were soft.
• Then pop the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
• Warm-up again and serve with a sprinkling of chives or freshly made bread. It made a slightly hot soup, reduce the amount of cayenne if you don’t like heat!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup - First Attempt

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup – First Attempt

On Saturday I had bought some bread, but with more time on my hands on the Sunday, I decided to make a loaf of bread.

I always use the BBC Good Foods, recipe.

Easy White Bread

Ingredients:

• 500g of strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading and dusting.
• 2 tsp of salt
• 7g of yeast (fast action)
• 3 tbsp of oil (olive/sunflower/vegetable or your preference). I used sunflower
• 300ml of water. I have mine tepid.

Method:

• In a mixing bowl I measure out the dry ingredients. (I had trouble this Sunday as I only had 400g of strong bread flour, so had to add 100g of plain white flour!)
• I then add the oil and finally the water
• I add the water incrementally and get my hands in to mix the ingredients together
• Once the ingredients come together in some sort of dough, (today was moist; I’ve had others where more water was needed.) Then tip the dough onto a surface with some flour and begin kneading
• I have read recipes were they say knead to 15 to 20 minutes. I think I kneaded for more like 5-10.
• Once the bread has come nicely together and is silky smooth, put in a bowl and leave in a warm place. I left it besides a radiator and left to prove for one hour.
• After the hour, you will discover that the bread has doubled in size (due to carbon dioxide released by the yeast!)
• ‘Knock back’ (I just knead the dough) for 5- 10 minutes, this knocks the air out of the dough, and then return to somewhere warm. I place the dough into a bread tin at this stage and leave for another one hour! You can leave for longer.

Dough.. ready for the oven

Dough.. ready for the oven

• Once ready to put the dough in the oven, use a 200°/gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes. The aroma of cooked bread is glorious.
• Once cooked, tip the bread onto a rack to cool and then slice accordingly.

perfect bread

perfect bread

Warm bread served with hot cooked soup is delicious and comforting!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

On Friday, the beginning of the weekend, after a long week at work, I made some Slimming World Chocolate Brownies, which only had four ingredients.

• 6 eggs (separated.)
• 60g of cocoa powder
• 30g of sweetener. The recipe said 70g of sweetener and another I read said 150g! That is two whole jars! I reduced the sweetener, but with trial and error the right amount can be discerned.
• 1tbs of vanilla essence.

I decided to make these for David’s mother and mine as it was Mothering Sunday in the UK, 15th March 2015.

Method:

• Once all eggs were separated, I whisked the whites to soft fluffy peaks and then left to one side.
• I then added to the yolks, sweetener, vanilla essence and cocoa powder together, adding a touch of water if it went too dry.
• Afterwards, I folded in the fluffy egg whites into the chocolate mixture slowly, so as not to let the air out.
• Once mixed pour into a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for 25-30 minutes on 180°/gas mark 4.
• I used a cocktail skewer to see if the brownies were cooked. Once clear I tipped onto a tray to cool.
• Once cool I cut into squares. I think it made around 25 brownies and the recipe says only ½ a syn each.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video showing how to make them!

I found the brownies were rather leathery but would be nice with some ice cream or cream, and maybe some fresh fruit. I am not the biggest chocolate fan and only made them for family. I hope they liked them?

So as you can see I have been productive in the kitchen. I look forward to making many more delicious dishes and sharing them with you!

Christine x