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JANUARY: “Ecology is bigger than one field and one farm. We need to work across many farms and many valleys." English Pastoral, An Inheritance by James Rebanks

Spot the pond! “Brought a load of coals from Blyton 9th January" "Tom started school 26th January" Catching rabbits 26th, 27th, 28th January Took a load of tates to station for Roberts 29th January" This was the life of a Lincolnshire farm labourer in 1886. On New Year's Day 2023,  we were playing games and eating rather too much. George North, the 1886 farm labourer, was "leading manure" - and he noted in his "Bad Boy's Diary" that the weather was "fine and mild". Games and food. Leading manure. I know which I'd rather be doing!  Where does the time go? In the Industrial Revolution from the mid 18th century through to the mid 19th century, many felt that their lives were changing too fast - and they had little or no control over their destinies. Few with power were listening to their pain. Today we are losing control yet again. Those of us who want to help improve our planet for future generations are powerless. Thi

NOVEMBER - "Sybil of months, and worshipper of winds" by John Clare

Sybil of months, and worshipper of winds,
I love thee, rude and boisterous as thou art;
And scraps of joy my wandering ever finds
Mid thy uproarious madness—when the start
Of sudden tempests stirs the forest leaves
Into hoarse fury, till the shower set free
Stills the huge swells. Then ebb the mighty heaves,
That sway the forest like a troubled sea.
I love thy wizard noise, and rave in turn
Half-vacant thoughts and rhymes of careless form;
Then hide me from the shower, a short sojourn,
Neath ivied oak; and mutter to the storm,
Wishing its melody belonged to me,
That I might breathe a living song to thee.

November by John Clare

November moon over the wall

“If there’s ice in November that will bear a duck, there’ll be nothing after but sludge and muck” – well there’s a thought! There’s a lot of negativity about November and I don’t think it’s entirely fair. Things are going into a deep sleep – that much is true – but it isn’t the end of things – in fact it tends to be the beginning. Yesterday I cleared yards and yards of nasturtium vines, and put them at the edge of the little back garden. To all intents and purposes the nasturtiums had died with the first sharp frost this month and yet the seeds for next year tumbled from them like small pebbles. I tossed the vines to the side and watched the seeds fall out, hoping that some would germinate next year in the place they had landed. Then I went back to the part of the garden I’d cleared and there on the soil were yet more tiny stores of nasturtium ready for development in 2023. So snooze, little embryos, and remember me in springtime!

The last of the year's roses from the little back garden

The fact that I just got up from my chair and put on another layer – that makes three – is a sign of things to come. Winter is seriously creeping into our lives and reminding us of the changes we have to make in order to survive. A little dramatic? Well maybe it is for some of us but there are many who will be compromised this wintertime. In these islands we heat our homes, accumulate sufficient clothes to keep us warm and teach ourselves the value of a sensible diet. But this isn’t the case for everyone. It’s comfortable to imagine it is and, anyway, why should I bother to think outside my little box? Because I’m human.

One chair and a lot of wood to burn

The serious job of getting through the winter months starts in November. Until then Winter is an old fireside friend to be welcomed. In September and October the prospect is appealing. But, come November, when the body starts to react to the cold and damp, Winter starts to feel threatening. If I were a hedgehog, I’d be fast asleep. If I were a badger, I would have slowed down to conserve energy. I can’t sleep through these months of the year nor can I slow down very much. Yet there are some days in November, when the skies are grey and seem closer to the earth, when I’ll be challenged. Something inside wants me to switch off for brief moments and reflect on the months behind and the celebrations ahead before the year’s end. So November becomes a time of consideration. It’s a time for reflecting on one’s personal history too. 

Florence Mabel Emerson

With a curiosity about my ancestors I’ve found out some surprising facts. One of my great great great grandmothers grew up half way around the world and this is a great source of fascination for me. On the other hand, one of my great great great grandfathers lived where I played as a child. This fascinates me too because, when I was listening to the music of Burnham Beck and finding chicken chalk in the crystal clear water there, I had no idea that the stream was connected with my ancestor so far back. My grandmother, Florence Mabel Emerson, was born by the beck, along with her brothers. I knew that – and that they walked along the Isle of Axholme Light Railway Line to get to school in Battlegreen, Epworth – but I didn’t know that George Emerson, her great grandfather, also lived in Burnham – but not in the gatehouse as Grandma had done. The gatehouse would have been built at the same time as the railway. Another thing which intrigues me about that branch of the family is that George Emerson’s niece, Caroline Dawson, was the mother of Percy Lindley. The significance of this is that Percy had lived in Aston House, High Street, Epworth and my father bought the house from Percy’s son, Brian, in 1963. Percy was an old man, no longer living at Aston House, when he gave acorns to my school friends and me with instructions for how to grow them into oak trees. He was in a wheelchair and was in the garden of his red brick bungalow which was next to our school annexe. People like Percy Lindley helped me on my way to a lifelong interest in the natural world. A nine year old child, with an acorn in her hand, must have had to think hard to imagine an oak tree hidden inside! Another coincidence worth mentioning here is that both Percy, related to me through my mum’s line, and my father, were Farm Produce Merchants. The people who have gone before us still impact on our lives, in this case, sixty years later.

Aston House, 92, High Street, Epworth - an old photograph

The days of this month when every man, woman and schoolchild think of the fallen – “the glorious dead" – are held in great reverence. Many observe the silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and honour those who died in wartime situations. The terrible devastation brought about by warfare is in the news today too. In this grey month of remembrance though, the symbol of the brilliant poppy pierces the darkness. In the summer months, where soil has been turned, poppies will grow. Driving along recently constructed roads, you are likely to see poppies blooming at the roadside as if to spite the destruction of the countryside.  And poppies bloomed in France when so many people had been put in the earth after the carnage of World War One. Poppies survive, and they continue to be an important part of the ecosystem. They offer lots of blue-black pollen to pollen-eating beetles and to bumblebees. My amazing garden poppies have bowed out now – some were flowering earlier this month – and one day, in Spring, I’ll see tiny seedlings – little specks of greyish-green – and the beautiful cycle will be revealed again. In my gardening and nature diary I noted that, on 11th November, my friend still had sweet peas flowering in Wick, East Caithness and, in the west of the county, we had scabious, one red poppy, several yellow poppies, gladioli and polyanthus in flower. There are still roses too – not many but they are still flowering. The pin-cushion-headed scabious has been unbelievable through spring, summer and now well into autumn.  I bought it from Castletown Garden Centre on 4th April. It was flowering at that point and there are still a few tired mauve flowerheads to see in November.

Tree doorway in St Trostan's Cemetery, Westfield

There is magic in the garden at lower levels too. The leaves which haven’t been collected may be pulled into the soil by worms. The leaves will decay there - enriching it for the next season. Little creatures like earwigs and slaters (woodlice) will also help soil enrichment as they consume organic matter. Compost heaps are warmed by the rotting vegetable matter from kitchen peelings and their warmth provides the ideal place for overwintering toads and also younger frogs. I’m hoping the local senior frogs will have found their way to the bottom of our pond. It’s new this year so they may not have received the memo just yet but I can hope!

Frosted Oak Leaf

Some creatures stay on their own throughout winter but others group together. Ladybirds sometimes make colonies of thousands. That must be quite something to behold! Lizards too will congregate and birds are likely to be seen outwith their family groups. I’ve seen bramblings with sparrows and redwings with felfers (fieldfares). In fact this year I’ve seen more flocks of felfers than I have for a long time. Sometimes we get dragged down by the loss and failure and omit  to recognise the good news stories. It may be that some species move to other wintering grounds, but the numbers are nonetheless upheld. Delight in birds need not be confined to big numbers. Their individual antics are often both surprising and exciting. I spend a lot of time in watching and wondering at them – like the tiny wren who sidled along the gutter on the low roof outside the kitchen door, a solitary redwing bathing in the bird bath early one morning and a goldfinch hanging upside down on the bird feeder, exposing its white tummy. Bob Robin is always a source of entertainment. He’s so easily angered by the other birds but he seems to know exactly how to pose for me to make me smile. One afternoon I was chatting on the telephone and looking out of the window. Bob Robin hopped onto a plant pot, cocked his head to one side and looked straight at me. It was a lovely moment and it seemed there was a mutual appreciation there.

A group of five whooper swans flew quite low near the broch and the next day literally thousands of geese flew over as it was getting dark. I was able to hear the different notes they used to communicate with each other. It seemed surprisingly sophisticated. They were heading south.

Moon Silhouettes

The cows are all now safely in the byre, they may think they would prefer the freedom of the meadows but there’s little for them there now and the weather holds no comfort for them. The farmer who lives at the top of our valley is a conscientious breeder of cattle and we never wonder if the cows in the fields close to us are getting a fair deal. It is obvious to us that they are.

Living in Orkney for ten years, was time enough to alter my view of November. The birth of our third child in the middle of the month had made me see right through the grey days – the mist, the rain and the sleet - to a brighter end to the year. It was living in Orkney, however, that reinforced the joy of the month. Until you’ve lived in a remote part of the country, you’ll find it difficult to grasp the sense of selfless community spirit evident there at the turning of the year. Groups of men and women work together to include every man, woman and child in a heart-warming coming together through December. November is the month of organising, the month of drawing in ends and of providing hope for the future through the wonderful celebratory month that follows. No one is left out. 

Pecan pie for Thanksgiving: Judith's speciality

If we can fight together, we must strive together
If we can play together, we must pray together
If we can plan together, we must stand together
If we can cry together, we must try together    (James Weldon Lane)

Richard of York Gained Battles in Vain


  1. Susan, you do have a way with words. I enjoyed your November Blog a lot. You are able to inform, educate and entertain with your effortless, enjoyable style. Photography needs a mention too. xx

    1. Thank you Dolly. I really appreciate your kind comments. I can't take credit for all of the photos though. Take a bow, Virginia and Judith xx


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