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MARCH: “Pincushion moss growing in the crevices of a stone wall. A stretch of freshly turned earth, fingered over by frost.”

“Pincushion moss growing in the crevices of a stone wall. A stretch of freshly turned earth, fingered over by frost.”   From “Ten Delights of a Garden” - part of her book, “Through the Garden Gate” by Susan Hill. Flowering currant - almost there! In this March 2023 blog, I’m writing about a fortnight of very wintry weather! I take the journey from the first of the month to the sixteenth and I hope that the second half of March will see off Winter and welcome Spring! Maybe the weather is less wintry where you are? So where are the daffodils please? We have so much snow at present that ours have all disappeared. Socrates, my old pipe-smoking friend and Granddad-Bobby-lookalike, is slowly disappearing too. Even the topiary is up to its terrible knobbly knees in snow! I love snow but, frankly, I had hoped for that first mild day of March by now! Crystal ball photography To My Sister It is the first mild day of March: Each minute sweeter than before The redbreast sings from the tall

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. This age of technology with its cyber systems and robots is moving so quickly. We haven't lost our ability to think, to empathise and to mentally project, but the speed at which the new technology is taking over our lives is frightening. It isn't that we can't keep up - more that no one seems to be listening.

Snow at the wind farm

Riding rough-shod over the planet for crude profit has been acknowledged as dangerous - and yet the accelerator seems to be stuck on - only very few governments are getting the brakes fixed! Those in charge of countries which are expected to be worst hit by climate change are making impassioned pleas to the rest of the world. The industrial countries are mostly responsible for the demise of the worst-hit countries. The help they offer struggling nations is little more than a sticking plaster – and a flimsy one at that! Courage is needed to make massive changes for their protection and ultimately for the protection of the planet - but very few have that courage or the commitment needed to secure the planet's future. It’s not just disappointing – it’s terrifying.

My bedtime reading recently has been "English Pastoral, An Inheritance" by James Rebanks. A few years ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed his bestseller, “The Shepherds Life, A Tale of the Lake District”. I couldn’t wait to read his next book but life happened and it had been on my bookshelf for two years before I got around to opening it. The book is a masterpiece of description. Straight away I was there, on the Rebanks’ farm, witnessing its demise over recent years and afraid for its future.

“The old faith that the natural world has limitless reserves and resources has been tested to destruction... nature is finite and breakable.” (James Rebanks)

This being the case, change needs to happen – and fast! I can recommend the book to anyone concerned about our environment and I would urge others who may think there is no need to worry, to consider getting to know the author, from the pages of “English Pastoral”, and taking on board at least some of his practical wisdom. Our little corner of the earth can’t stay the same.

“We need to put farming and nature back together, not drive them further apart.” (J. Rebanks)

I was reminded of Ruth Stout’s, “No poet I’ve ever heard of has written an ode to a load of manure.”

And yet James Rebanks virtually has! He tackles the issue of manure versus Haber-Bosch fertilizers in a modern poetic prose which is memorable in its humility. 

But I’d still rather play games and eat than lead a cart-load of manure on a New Year’s Day!

January sunrise

On New Year’s Day 2023, at Stempster House, we had two bedtimes – one at 2 am and the second at the right side of midnight. It had been a day of snow and sleet with small icicles forming around the little outdoor table by the kitchen door. The birds had been so very hungry that I’d employed the table as an extra feeding station. Who can sit at the kitchen table eating heartily when tiny, feathered friends are struggling outside?

The month began, as December ended, in making garden plans. Ideas rather than designs. As the little spears of springtime bulbs are pushing through in all corners of the garden, we are considering who will be their companions in the late spring/early summer.

I have chosen a David Austen rose from the catalogue as I was given a gift voucher for Christmas. It’s called “The Poet’s Wife” and is a rich yellow with a strong perfume. Last year our friend gave us one of David Austen’s yellow roses, “Tottering-by-Gently”, and I’ve been so delighted with it that I’m going with yellow again. “Tottering” is planted next to a Eucalyptus and the soft yellow is perfect with the grey-green leaves of the little tree. Now where to plant “The Poet’s Wife”? I shall deliberate for a while – and thoroughly enjoy myself while I’m making the decision.

Clemency bought herself another rose at the same time. And another box, looking very like it may contain plants, has arrived for Clemency. She just can’t help herself!

January 23rd was my adored Granddad Bobby’s birthday and, at one minute to midnight on the 23rd January 2019, our first grandchild was born. She’s Araucaria, Auri for short – well, Araucaria is a bit of a mouthful!! Last year, her parents gave us a potted Araucaria tree and we spent a long time considering where to plant it – Araucarias being what they are, they need space so that the monkeys can run along their branches! Clemency has planted it not too far from the drive so that it will welcome all comers. She broke up the soil to quite a depth and added compost. It looks literally brilliant with the grey stone wall and the ivy behind it. It’s small and, as with Little Auri, we will watch it grow.

Araucaria: a puzzle for monkeys!

I intend to have the stretch of meadow flowers again this year. I mean to cut off the dead tops, leave them a day or two and then rake them off. The next thing to do is to lightly fork over what is left and to scatter some new seed there too so that last year’s seeds will develop alongside this year’s seeds – all being well we shall have a band of wildflowers to enjoy yet again. I shall be on the look-out for ground elder too. It was such a battle last year – me versus the ground elder – until I dug my little trenches. Will it work again?

I am also considering creating another small bed of wildflowers in the same garden at the back. Last year’s display has inspired me. I’ll let you know how that goes.

This week’s visit to Wick was an eye opener – three of the Caithness rivers, Forss, Thurso and Wick, were scarily high as we drove over each of them. On the homeward journey, the Forss was coming quite close to the road and spreading from its banks at either side and at both sides of the bridge. The snow, which had presented problems the week previously, was melting quickly and filling the river from further upstream. When you stand at the top of the hill and look towards the valley bottom you can see little grooves in the hillside from which water will seep into the Forss. Ours is a textured landscape and every dip and ridge has a story to tell.

Reflections in Wick River

One day, in the middle of this month, Judith and Clemency saw a cormorant flying in from the sea. It seemed to be following the course of the Forss upstream. The weather was getting colder again from a northerly direction so the cormorant may have been checking out sites for another chilly night! The birds have a knowledge which our weather forecasters seem to miss out on. I always smile when the term birdbrain is used to mean someone with very little intellect – the birds of my acquaintance seem very bright. Don’t forget Old Brown! A few days ago, Keith spotted a short eared owl close to home – it was the day Ginny saw a kestrel in the same area - and, the following night, a friend driving here spotted two owls on our hillside. Last night again, the tawny owls were calling to each other. They will be mating around now so you’ll often hear their ping-pong calls bouncing off each other.

The Forss, breaking its banks

The skies have been so expressive this month. The cloud formations – especially around sunset – as well as the sunrises, the many stars and planets visible without a telescope and the Northern Lights! Aurora Borealis. Friday 13th was a good day – not unlucky at all – quite the opposite in fact! Light throbbed in the night sky and it seemed the Tardis might land in the garden! I waited a little while but the others are made of stronger stuff than me so I left them out there with cameras and went inside to warm myself by the fire!

The joy of snow

Our deer grew more courageous in the bitter cold. One very early morning, Clemency went to the conservatory door to let out the dogs, and she was aware of something bigger than she expected through the conservatory window. Two somethings! She let them escape before she opened the door. The dogs have been perplexed by smells in the garden for a couple of weeks now. When Orlando gets a bee in his bonnet there is no distracting him – and, when Jess knows he has a bee in his bonnet, then she decides to help him out. Result? Two very noisy dogs!

The pine marten seems to be helping us out with a wee mouse problem. We have caught three mice in humane traps and this is an improvement on last winter’s. The pine marten’s footprints in the snow were easy to identify for Ginny with her trusty camera. They led up the roof to Judith’s redundant chimney stack and I’ve heard hefty scratching in the kitchen fireplace below there. Somehow it must be able to get down inside the chimney and then get out again. The fireplace is sealed off so it won’t come into the room. They are very cute but I don’t think I’d like to share the kitchen with a pine marten!

Snowy view from the Kitchen window - dinosaur or swan?

The kitchen is always a room for gravitating to - for one reason or another – mostly food related! – but, in the dark days of winter, there is something particularly companionable about the shimmering glasses, the gleaming pans and the ticking clock. I don’t mind listening to the pine marten as it goes about its business but it can stop at the corrugated screen of metal in the chimney breast!

In a few days it will be Candlemas and traditionally by that time one should have removed all holly and ivy from the home. Holly is meant to represent foresight and, like mistletoe, is a symbol of immortality. Ivy represents fidelity. With them in the house over the Christmas period – which was kept for longer in the past than it is now – the goblins would not bother you. After January it’s time to let them go.

The winter world is changing. On our hill, the hedgerow of flowering currant has deliciously optimistic buds all along its length. The Sweet Gum, which Keith gave me for my summer birthday, and I have planted inside the gate, has new buds and so does its neighbour, the Spindle tree.

Signs of Spring: buds on the flowering currant

Hedgerows are winter havens for many creatures. There is shelter there and sometimes even warmth below the fallen leaves and dying vegetation. Flies, beetles and moths, birds, small mammals and foxes can all be seen in the winter hedgerows of Britain. The hedgerow is far from as dead as it appears to be at first glance. This week I saw the orange stretches of beech standing out in our Caithness hedgerows and considered the intense green the beech leaves would be in the spring.

And then I looked for snowdrops.

From “Home at Grasmere” edited by Colette Clark (extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals)

“Saturday, January 23rd 

The morning not very promising, the wind cold. The mountains large and dark, but only thinly streaked with snow; a strong wind... we struggled with the wind, and often rested as we went along. A hail shower met us before we reached the Tarn, and the way often was difficult over the snow; but at the Tarn the view closed in. We saw nothing but mists and snow: and at first the ice on the Tarn below us cracked and split, yet without water, a dull grey white..."


  1. I really enjoyed your January blog. Please pass on compliments to the photographer, too.
    You have an easy flowing lilt and a clever eye for detail. Your love of nature is a joy and brightens up the winter days.X Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Dolly, for your kind comment. Winter seems to be losing the battle with Spring today here at Stempster. And we now have so many snowdrops!


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