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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

DECEMBER: "Peace for a second with a chance for more."

Great tit on the Nuts

Christmas Fayre

First the cake
in tipsy state
fragrant with spices
rich with butter, 
then the pudding
with worldwide appeal
from sugars and fruits
for marking the end of a glorious meal,
Make the mincemeat?
Not this year!
There it stands,
bought from the store,
in a jar
or two
or three
or four
waiting to fill rich pastry cases
fingered lightly to let in air.
Order the turkey,
the bigger the better,
and, afterwards,
we'll have sandwiches
of turkey with salt
and stuffing slices.
The beef, the ham -
oh the ham!
patiently prepped
day after day
with salt and garlic,
anise and cloves,
peppercorns and honey,
not forgetting
the leaves of bay.
Leave the salads,
leave the veggies
until the very last,
serve them fresh
or disappoint -
nothing limp about the season,
crisp and even
like the song,
brightest and best
for this celebration,
tuck in!
the season dictates
you cannot be wrong!

"I remembered those pre-Christmasses over half a century ago when Dad would take us to Sprakes' in Thorne to get tangerines - because in our family, in those days, all tiny oranges were called tangerines - and big juicy and sweet  oranges too. We also bought various kinds of nuts, dates and red apples which were so shiny you could see reflections in them. We were still eating stored apples - and, to be honest, they probably had more taste, but the shiny ones were so attractive. Dad bought the fruit in boxes and each individual piece was wrapped in tissue paper. He sometimes bought holly and mistletoe. It was cold in the warehouse but we were mostly oblivious to the temperature. Dad was generous to a fault and shared this bounty with extended family and work colleagues alike. At our house there was no shortage of cigars, presentation boxes of cigarettes and bottles of whisky and liqueurs as the people with whom Dad had dealt throughout the year would send or deliver gifts such as these at Christmas."
- from "Child of the Isle", available from Amazon here.

The end of the month and almost the beginning of the new year! Time to take stock of the house plants and accept defeat! My "live and let live" policy in the garden doesn't work as well inside. The house plants lead me on a merry dance - budding hopefully and then, just when I think they are going to make it, they start to lose leaves, lose their greenness and lose their will to live. It's not that we are arch-enemies - houseplants and I - it's just that we don't seem to be on the same wavelength! A lemon tree and a pepper were transferred to the compost heap earlier this month and, if it doesn't pull up its socks, there'll be another lemon tree joining them soon. 

The compost heap is filling up nicely with a mix of leaves and kitchen waste. Clemency has made one in the kitchen garden. That one is fine but a bit awkward for daily access with peelings etc., so I gave up a corner of the little back garden - the one we call the cottage garden -  to create a new compost heap. Not only has it created interest for the birds and small mammals, but it's also created a war-footing for Clemency and I! If I want the peelings, eggshells and the like to go onto my compost heap, I have to be sharp and get them out there before they magically disappear and become a part of the kitchen garden heap! First come, first served I suppose!

Early December was mild here in Caithness. We had bedtime temperatures of 7°C and 8°C. No porridge for breakfast on those days - whenever the temperature drops to 5°C, I make porridge for breakfast - and sometimes at other temperatures too - depending on whims. Porridge is another of those things which can be overlooked as a way of keeping warm in cold weather. The heating need not be turned up high if there is an action plan. Over Christmas, we have had our three grandchildren with us so I'm guilty of using lots of energy to keep them warm. Especially as the youngest was born on 8th December! But, when the family leave - and I'm not looking forward to that at all - then we will go back to layering up and eating porridge!! But I think of those young families in this country who are not able to keep warm this winter.


Coal tit

The birds have delighted the family over Christmas. We have had the conversation about how unfat they are and how they fluff out their feathers to keep warm - not an easy concept for a three year old. Keith has a feeding station in Toad Hall where he gives them seeds and nuts. I give them kitchen scraps in the back garden. They are very grateful and still sing for us through the coldest days.

Chaffinch on the nuts

Toad Hall is a small raised area by the gate. When Lydia was clearing it of ivy and unwanted weeds after we moved in, she came face to face with a very comfortable and well-established toad. It was happy under a decaying log. So we named its estate "Toad Hall".

Over Christmas, Toad Hall has been full of siskins. I had no idea how many were reared close by in the spring/summer months until this week. They do squabble! And, sadly, some fly into the sitting room window. The tiny corpses are exquisitely beautiful and I try to focus on the fact they will no longer need to struggle to survive.

Before Christmas, Alex found a tiny goldcrest, only recently dead, and everyone breathed a sigh at the artistry of it. It's the small birds which struggle in the bitter cold - their surface area is not large enough to keep sufficient warmth to survive. Their little hearts just stop beating.

His and Hers

I hung up the fat from the ham after Christmas Day and that seems to be pleasing our bird population.

All the animals and birds you see on your Christmas cards are here at Stempster just now. The hares are lolloping through the fields and teasing the dogs mercilessly. Poor Little Jess had a close encounter with a hare and didn't know what to do about it - she wasn't given long to ponder though - off it went at breakneck speed!

The pheasants, too, regularly tease both dogs. We have them in the garden as well as on the walks. One even comes into Toad Hall to finish off after the little birds have dined at the feeding station. It's like a vacuum cleaner!

Our resident pheasant

The roe deer come into our little wood and make themselves at home. We caught one on the trail camera - probably our clearest shot. They are very pretty deer and are the ones we see most but we have also seen the larger red deer on our dog walks. They tend to stay where the moorland starts - just at the edge of the windfarm.

The train journey to Inverness (Keith is not happy driving down in wintertime after a bad experience in 2010) was full of interest. Not only were we able to see the first snow settling on the mountains, but we also saw red deer close to the train and an eagle too. I've seen eagles before, here in the north, but I'm always wary of making a declaration because it doesn't seem normal to just see an eagle - they seem almost like magic!

Elowen - Elfi to her family and friends.

And that brings me to the greatest magic of all! Baby Elowen came into our lives only a short time ago and yet she is already a big part of the family dynamic. She is a little rosebud of a baby and already showing interest in the world around her. On the day she was born, the rosebush with the tiny pink flowers -  which I planted outside our ground floor bedroom window - just flowered again - just like that! Now if that's not magic, then I'm not sure I believe in magic at all!!!

Elowen's rose

One morning, when the temperature was down at -3°C, we caught a pine marten on the camera. It was playing on the wood for the swing - which is at present on the lawn, waiting to be erected. We tried unsuccessfully back in November and the weather has been against us since we've had extra hands over Christmas. 

The pine marten is a regular visitor but, although he/she spends time with us, we are aware that we are only one port of call as pine martens seem to wander quite freely around a large area.

Clemency has planted 25 silver birches and a small hedge of box this month. The silver birches are in the paddock - which we are slowly transforming into an orchard - and the box hedge is at the front of the shrubbery just over the wall from the cottage garden. They seem to have settled in well.

In the middle of the month, we woke up to find there had been a veritable tea party outside the conservatory during the night. There were all manner of tracks in the snow. The animals and birds we have here are all most welcome. But I do wish they would stay outside! The mouse is back in the kitchen! I've set humane traps, baited with cheese and peanut butter, but it seems more interested in tea towels and the bowl of peelings next to the sink. I wipe down surfaces before breakfast every day. I've emptied the tea towel drawer and stored them in a drawer which I think is mouse-proof. I now cover the peelings each night and weigh down the lid! I've put flour bags and the like in lidded plastic boxes. The cakes and bread are stored in a cupboard with no way in for mice. The silly thing is that, if I catch the mouse, I shall feel terrible about sending it outside into the bleak midwinter!

Alexander found lots of pellets as evidence that an owl roosts in a tall pine tree on the edge of the kitchen garden. We often hear owls and I've always said they were at the farm but now I've been proven wrong - and its a nice kind of wrong!

Boxing Day was a day of short storms and, in the early afternoon, we had thunder and lightning. Slight panic there as that is the day we have Christmas Dinner! But all's well that ends well!

The grandchildren and their parents were due to leave the next day but the weather had other ideas! Today things have thawed and I expect to wave them off. Of course I'll miss them, but I have some lovely memories to keep with me - not least the passion three year old Auri has for the life of our garden, woods and fields here at the top of the Forss valley. She and her baby sister, along with their adorable little cousin, Ailsa, are the future. While they care, I'm hopeful.

I hope you're enjoying a blessed Christmastime and please accept my sincere good wishes for 2023. May your world be kinder, fairer and more hopeful.

A Chance for More

Peace for a second
with a chance for more,
peace of a baby
to love, to adore,
peace of his making,
hope for tomorrow,
the peace of the stars
to soften sorrow,
a peace of your own, 
a sense of amaze -
the peace of the stable
where the baby stays.


  1. Dear Susan.This is an uplifting and special blog. They always are, of course, but this has all the energy and optimism of the new year and new beginnings. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Dolly - I'm so glad you found it uplifting - your kind comments are always very much appreciated


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