Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Let it snow....

Only an inch or two by first light....

It seems too short a time since we last had a snowfall of such proportions. We moved house in the last lot only to be snowed in for a couple of days afterwards with up to sixteen inches more of the stuff. Not that we minded - it gave us a break to square the cottage. Yet here we are with November still not ended, temperatures dropping to stay at around freezing during the day and well below that during the night. Altnahara in the Highlands recorded -20 and -10 has been fairly common across the UK.

It does, however make for some pretty scenery and walking around the estate today with the camera proved lucrative enough as far as Chocolate Box photography is concerned.

My wife was saying how much she loves the sound of the crunch of footsteps in the snow and it really is an evocative sound. The sound and sight of snow takes one straight back to one's childhood. I wasn't brought up in the UK but West Germany until my teens and snow was certainly not uncommon over in Europe where my father was stationed, being further east. So snow for me is a direct memory link to my formative years, sledges, thick gloves and hats being requisite from November to February.

The Holly is full of berries this year...

Our bird feeders are taking a severe hammering. We're having to fill them up on a daily basis with a scattering of seeds around the base to feed the pheasants, robins, pied wagtails and other visitors that can't or don't like getting up to the feeders. I haven't seen much sign of the rabbits, though the squirrels are as abundant as always. I suppose all the wildlife struggles at this time of year, so we're glad to help really.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Foraging Forays.

Mainly Parasol Mushrooms

Parasol Mushroom, Sweet Chestnut,
Field Mushroom, Hazel Nut,
Chantrelles, Rose Hips,
Ceps, Walnuts,
Boletus mushrooms, Rowan Berries,
Horse Mushrooms, Elderflowers,
Amathyst deceivers, Elderberries,
puffballs, Sloes,
Chicken of The Woods, Blackberries,
Wild Garlic. Sorrel,

The above list is most of what we've picked up in the woods over the last six months or so. Obviously care is needed when foraging - there are many pitfalls for the unwary, uneducated or merely hopeful. Certainly when picking mushrooms extreme caution should be excercised, there are a dozen or so mushrooms that can kill and several dozen that can cause severe gastric upsets. If you're not 100% sure - then don't eat it, don't even pick it!

Horse Mushroom
The same goes for some of the flora that can be foraged. There are many members of the potato and carrot family that can kill or at the very least cause severe illness, so again, make sure of what you're picking. There are many brilliant books available - try the River Cottage series on mushrooms, Hedgerow and Seashore for information, humour and recipes.

Sloes, chestnuts, hips and walnuts
But we've made chutneys, jams and jellies galore, sloe gin, bramble vodka, rosehip syrup, risottos, omlettes and eaten the nuts au naturelle, so to speak.

I would encourage anyone to get out with a couple of good books and have a good look around. It's fun, educational, healthy and free!

Monday, 1 November 2010


Harry and I met again at this large Kent/East Sussex reservoir hoping for a change of luck and as I now live less than a mile away, it seemed churlish not to have yet another go at the pike that have eluded me thus far. Harry's had a couple including a lovely upper double - I usually catch trout!
This time we took deadbaits with us as well as lures - actually that should be well dead baits, as I'm sure they were not the freshest baits by a very large margin. However they worked, Harry, they worked.

The Autumn colours were as wonderful as always at this time of year and spotting the red maples amongst the yellow and gold birches, chestnut and beeches was a real joy, even more so as the day was bright, calm and mild. The reservoir, however, did not look as pretty being lower than I can ever remember seeing it before. With all the rain we've been having lately, one wonders where the water has gone.
Harry returns his fish
I was the first to catch after a couple of hours drifting and casting. We anchored up in a quiet spot, cast out a bait rod each and proceeded to cast a few lures around the boat keeping an eye on the floats as we did so. After almost an hour my float disappeared and the resulting 5 pound jack was as tatty as any I've caught before which leads me to wonder about the viability of Bewl as an ongoing fishery.
We then spent a few hours drifting and trolling and although we found many interesting features - we found no fish. I had one pull, from a trout probably, and as we settled back into the earlier, lucrative swim, Harry had a take on a small plastic which resulted in a small jack - but at least we both caught.
The shame of it was, as always, that just as things started to look up, we had to get back, the boat needed to be at the jetty by 4 pm. However, the fly anglers could stay out until dusk - another hour or so of fishing. I think our money is as good as theirs....

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Accidents will happen

Since we've lived in the cottage - we moved in January this year - we've had a plethora of accidents, incidents and happenings on the road alongside.
Although we live on the A21, we are shielded by trees which means the traffic is a quiet woosh and we don't hear the bangs and smashes that occur up and down the road. Usually, though, we see the cars pull up onto our drive, or the flash of indicators - sometimes even the police, ambulance or recovery truck.
So far we've had a young man who smashed his wheel and didn't know how to change it, a delivery van in a ditch, several lost drivers, a rear end shunting and, just last month, a deer hit. AS yet no-one has been hurt (except the deer) but we don't relish the next few shunts and scrapes.
The delivery van was an interesting case in point; he was delivering some items for my wife's business when he reversed into a ditch whilst turning. I towed him out with the Defender and he delivered his parcels. Then he drove into another ditch! Out with the Land Rover again.
The last incident with the deer was naturally a sad event as a wonderful large buck was killed. However, it wasn't wasted. The guys who hit it were on their way to a shoot and Steve, a colleague of their's, pulled up in his Nissan truck and three of us loaded the buck into the back. Later that evening he turned up with a shoulder of venison for me and two duck he'd shot that day. Very nice. I've since been on a couple of shoots and met some wonderful characters.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Fishing again!

I dunno! No fishing for 6 months, then twice in 5 days! Another friend, John Dashfield - from the same breakfast meetings - invited Phil and I to fish a little lake just a mile or so from where he lives. John is a md keen c*rp fisherman and has fished all over the country for his prey. he's caught fish to well over 30 pounds and has an almost scientific approach to his angling. He was winching his baits across the lake today, to ensure that they were in exactly the right place. He has far more patience than I.

It paid off. He caught the only carp, whilst Phil and I contented ourselves with catching roach and bream on the feeder and float. I used the float for a couple of hours in an attempt to see what else was in the lake, but I only caught bream and only up to a pound or so. I had a carp run on the boilie rod, but it went straight into a snag and came off almost imediately.

So I sat taking photo's of the mallards and a mayfly as it drifted past, in between the rain showers and catching up on gossip with John and Phil, good company both.

John returned a few days later and caught a fourteen pound mirror, but he's sure there are 20 pounders in the lake.

I might have to go back!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Fox Cubs

I was walking through a thick Sweet Chestnut copse at the back of the cottage about a week ago. These thin trees used to be coppiced and grown tightly together so that they would grow long and tall, then they were cut as hop poles to be used on the Kentish Hop Farms. Now they struggle to grown as they are so dense and yield little in the way of fruit in the autumn. Ongoing work on the estate is creating clearings here and there in order to diversify the wildlife.

Anyway I was walking through one of these areas at the back of the cottage when I spotted something moving ahead. At first I thought it was a couple of rabbits, but realised they were walking not lopping along. My next thought was badgers, but I soon realised that they were fox cubs. By this stage I had pretty much scared them off so I vowed to come back and tog them if I could. By the way togging means photographing, it's just quicker to type.

To get close I had to walk the long way around the den to make sure I was down wind and then sit with my back against an oak tree to keep as low profile as possible as possible. When the fox cub appeared it seemed not to see me and was relatively unconcerned. It seems they have great hearing and smell, but the ye sight is not so good. Then, of course when you have a photo of one cub, you then want a picture of two together, and although vermin, they were very cute.

One evening, as Franc and I sat waiting for the cubs, we were granted the sighting of two Fallow Deer. They spotted us immediately, but stood watching us warily as I tried to get some photo's of them through the foliage. It was our best sighting so far.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Corporate Days

Yes, fishing - on a fishing blog - and it was absolutely fantastic to dust off the rods, brush off the flies and shake the cobwebs from the reels.

Phil Sharnock, a friend, invited me to a Salmon & Trout Association organised day, an annual event held at a local Trout Fishery and attended by 20 or so souls of varying ability. It was a bright and very warm morning and would end up as the warmest day of the year thus far. The water was exploding with tadpoles, clouds of them appearing from the weed like an oil slick, not that trout like them - they must taste horrid!

Having arrived later than most, I chose to fish in a bay for the first hour or so without a touch. It was obvious that the fish were in the deeper water at the dam end, and as soon a spot opened up, I jumped in. I had a fish fairly quickly - a fat three and a half pounder - taken on a slow fished gold head damsel, and half an hour or so later I had another on a deep nymph.

It was soon time for a rather wonderful lunch - heavy on the carbs and wine, but nevertheless a welcome time to sit back, relax and listen to some tall tales, mostly from Phil and Glyn Hopper before returning to the warm sunshine and another fish taken very deep and slow.

I won a Swiss Navy Tool (!) in the raffle, but I have to say it was an enjoyable day spent in good company and I am indebted to Phil and the STA for their hospitality and to Glyn for the local information.
Cheers fellas.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Togging and Blogging

All the photographs on this posting were taken within just two or three days - it's amazing how when you start looking, you start seeing! As Franc and I continued to walk around the estate, it seemed that we only needed to name what we wanted to see and it would appear. We mentioned that we hadn't seen any grass snakes - we found 4 and a lizard! We then said that we hadn't had any clear sightings of deer and then two showed up whilst we were waiting for the fox cubs. (see my previous blog.)

Since we've been living here we have heard the Tawny Owls (both sexes) on a regular basis, but we had never seen one. I've had a few brief sightings of Barn Owls as they quarter they fields near the castle, but nothing clear. Tonight, as Franc was working, I went for another long walk around to the back of the fox den, but they didn't show. As it was getting dark, I stood at the escarpment and looking around I saw a fluffy shape high in the oak tree. After a brief scramble, I managed to get within 15 to 20 feet of the bird which had no intention of moving or acknowledging me in any way. What an amazing sight. The bird didn't move as I flashed away, barely opening an eye in disdain as I quivered and quaked 40 feet above the ground.

I took some photo's with flash as it was pretty dark by now, but there it was - a clear sighting of a Tawny. Brilliant.

It's difficult to contain myself at times. I'm fortunate in that Franc shares my wonder and enjoys our long walks around the estate. She wouldn't touch the snake or slow worm though, but she is pretty good.

Saturday, 15 May 2010


The woodpecker above is a regular visitor to our new garden (I'm not sure how long I can keep referring to it as new, but there are just so many changes on a daily basis that makes it feel as if we only moved in yesterday) and I've tried to capture it on camera for a while now. It hasn't been at all easy and this part of photography has always proved to be problematic for me.
A Buzzard in The Highlands
I've been attempting to photograph birds for many, many years. The results have been less than stunning. I'm never close enough, never patient enough and certainly not technical enough to produce some of the results that my colleagues on Pike&Preditors Photography forum do. As you can see from the diversity of quality on this post, my results have been very hit and miss.

Just occassionally though, as with the buzzard photo, a lucky shot comes along and the result looks marginally impressive. Obviously with the bigger birds, the problem of nearness to the lens is reduced slightly, but most big birds are just as shy as their smaller brethren and they tend to stay even further away.

The garden shots here show that we do have a diversity of species to watch; nuthatches, tits including the willow tit two pictures above, pheasants, jackdaws, tree creepers, robins, chaffinches, jays, woodpeckers and the ubiquitous blackbird. There are so many to see that I'm hoping to improve my patience and thus, my portfolio of unblurred birds.

Monday, 3 May 2010


Black faced lambs
We went out for a long walk yesterday in persistent rain and found a few new trails as well as rescuing a silly sheep that had got its head stuck in a fence. So today as the weather was mostly dry, but chilly and windy, we walked those trails again and made a few wonderful discoveries. Well, I say wonderful - they are for us. We're loving living here and each new discovery fills us with amazement.
We found more wild garlic, some more wild apples and acres of bluebell glades, but amongst all those I spotted the dryad's saddle fungus on a tree and was so intent with focusing the camera on it that I hardly heard Franc's excited voice. She had found a wood full of wild orchids, the early purple and there were dozens of them in among the bluebells, wonderful to see. They could easily be confused as off colour bluebells, or a variagation of them, but the leaves are very different, and on much closer inspection, the flowers are so intricately patterned as to be nothing like the bluebell.

Early Purple Orchid
The rain stayed away, although by the time we got back home we were windswept - several squalls had come close to giving us a serious soaking - and sat down to a welcome cup of tea and a bowl of home made Butternut squash soup, with wild garlic sprinkled in. Mmmm. Then, as an added bonus, two fallow deer graced the back edge of our garden, dissolving into the woods before I could get my camera. A wonderful day.
Dryad's Saddle - inedible, but pretty.

Wild Garlic Soup

This is the time of year when the foraging starts in earnest and it starts with either wild nettles or, today wild garlic or ramsons. A water loving member of the alium family, these wonderful plants can be found in deep, shady glades from March until the end of May. Their leaves are used mostly, but the amazingly aromatic flowers can be used to decorate salads to startling effect. I use Wild Garlic in many recipes this time of year and I always pick it fresh as it cannot be kept for longer than 24 hours.  The best recipe, though in the early season is a nice heart-warming soup.

Most soups, certainly the vegetable variety, start with the base - the more delicate the main ingredient, the later it is added in the cooking process. The base for most of my soups starts with frying some finely chopped onion until it's soft but not very brown. You can use oil or butter - I use a combination of both to stop the butter from burning. Then I add any other ingredients that need frying off; garlic sometimes, though not this time, leeks, ginger or chilli. This time though it's just the onion and then I add a litre of vegetable stock, some chopped potato, chopped carrot, celery and parsley. At this stage I also add the seasoning. I use vegetable stock because my wife is vegetarian, but I still prefer it over chicken stock in this delecate dish anyway.
After the soup has simmered for 20 minutes or so I add the chopped wild garlic leaves and cook for another ten minutes or so. Then I liquidise the broth to form a nice thick soup. To keep the green colour, add some cooked peas at the food processor stage, a vibrant green is maintained.

Serve with some drizzled cream and some chopped raw wild garlic if you wish. A crusty loaf is almost certainly a must.

Saturday, 1 May 2010


To some, this is a magical time of year, to me it's the second prettiest season, but magical - definitely! One day we walk along a certain path and the beech buds are brown and drab; the next day the lush green leaves have crowded out the bud cases which litter the floor, a precursor to the footfall softening piles of beech mast to come later in the year.
The hawthorn, well behind the blackthorn blossom, is suddenly set to flower any day and the bluebells, green for so long, now carpet the glades and clearings with a purple carpet of hazy hue. It truly is a magical time of year.

We've seen deer through the woods and the first Canada Goose waddled across in front of us as we walked past the castle yesterday evening, waiting for his flock to turn up and fill the estate with their raucous hooping calls. He looked magnificent, his black head so glossy as to catch the last rays of the evening sun.

There's a lot of blossom around and it will be interesting to see what fruit grows from the myriad flowers that surround our cottage. Some of them are known, some can be guessed at, but some are going to be a surprise. We think damson, maybe plum and wild cherry, but as this is a very old estate we could be in for a missed guess or two. There is a wonderfully old walnut tree and the horse chestnut not 100 yards from the cottage is already weighed down with the spikes of hundreds of thousands of flowers.

We know there is also hazel, elderflower and elderberry, the ubiquitous bramble, and sweet chestnut, but we've also discovered a bed of wild currants down by the stream and a possible crab apple or two. It's too early for 'shrooms to show themselves, but we remain very hopeful of a bumper crop this year.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Presages Of Spring

Having moved house in the middle of all the snow in early January, we are now starting to see the arrival of spring and every day we experience a child-like excitement at every new discovery, every green shoot and every new wildlife sighting.

Our old house was huge and situated in the middle of town; we've swopped it for a tiny cottage in the middle of the country set in 780 acres of mixed woodland and parkland. With Bewl Bridge just a mile away as the trout flies, we seem to be in the middle of a world bereft of human interference.
It's absolutely marvelous.

So the year moves on apace and the bracken is starting to raise its head through the leftover leaves in a green halo of furled hairiness. Cock pheasants are calling to their wives with a flurry of blurred wings and the nettles are already taking over the wooded dales and marching through the undergrowth. Soon the bluebells will all be open - a deep purple carpet through the woods, the anemonies and primroses a forgotten memory as April makes way for May.

The Marmalade has been jarred for later in the year and this week both nettle and wild garlic soups will be made and frozen to be remembered later in the season; a starter for late Autumn lamb or November's Herring dishes.

We've already had the wild garlic in our breakfast omlette and found a cauliflower fungus in the wooods. We've seen deer, woodpeckers and most nights our sleep is ushered in by the hoots and shrieks of the Tawny Owls.

In the garden we have spotted tree creepers, nuthatches, lesser spotted woodpeckers, several variety of tit, fallow deer, pheasants and all the usual suspects. It's been wonderful to sit out among the bats as the sun drops over Bewl and Venus and Mercury sit above the sunset for an hour or so after dark.

What has also amazed me is the surprise we feel when we identify the trees around us by the buds that burst into being almost before our eyes. Horse Chestnut and Wayfarer Tree. Hazel, Sweet Chestnut, Wild Cherry and Crab Apple - all within 100 yards of our back door!
Then of course there is the availabilty all around us of firewood, the future anticipation of blackberries, rosehips, rowan berries and a multitude of mycelium (that's mushrooms to the uninitiated), not to mention elederberries, hazel nuts, sweet chestnut or Sloes.

It's going to be a good year.