It shouldn't be, but it is...

Yep, March, just isn’t doing it. It teases so much promise. You think you’re nearly there. Just as it feels within your grasp, it steals a march on you and whisks your hopes away. Years ago, we were heading down to Southern France, it was a one day bash, no stopping just keep going, km after km, aire after aire flashing by. As we neared Brive-La-Gaillarde, I asked Becky how near we were and she said under an hour. That mean’t, 50ish mins, easy, home straight. Come on. We carried on and a bit later I saw a sign saying ‘Pau 367 Km’.

‘Umm, What? I thought you said under an hour? That's more like 3 hours!’

I was hungry. It felt like being shown mother's Spaghetti Bolognese, with bountiful parmesan, put under your nose. Spoon and fork ready to go in, then it’s taken away, like a rug, swept from beneath you. 

Yep, that’s what March is. Damn you March. Damn you for the sodden bog in every gateway across the farm. Damn you for the pinched lambs shivering in the downfall. Damn you for making February’s daffodils look sad. Day after day, cloud, rain, cloud, rain, occasional sunlight to remind us what we should be getting, one day.

If we’re lucky.

February. October; Come on lads. Have a word. 

Times are a changin'

Easter Down 7.00am February 6th

Easter Down 7.00am February 6th


In more ways than one. 

Today, at 7am as I rushed to feed the animals, I noticed something profound. Something, that should not be a jolt or a stark realisation, but something that ebbs. But no, it was a jolt. To stop and observe.  Rather than head back to the house through the cloying morass of Chives, and wrestle with the broken rusty gate, I decided to walk back via the road. The thinking was, that with torrential rain last night, 11mm of stair rods, the storm drain would most likely be blocked and the run off would be shooting down the road causing sediment and grit to scatter liberally down by the shed. Off I chipped, stout boots, a strong strut, drain was fine, I turned in right onto the farm lane, and up into the parking area for the Nap. Below was the lake, looking black and Slitherin like. The ducks were flapping and joshing, what a bunch of yobbos...But looking up the steep field of Easter Down, or roadside as it used to known (by dint of the fact that it was the field by the road) I saw the sheep scattered across the horizon. The colours were a muted white and green, but with monochrome filter, the contrast turned to 1. Clambered over the gate, dogs told to be calm and off I trot. As I turned to look at the valley, I realised I could see. My torch was on, but I didn’t need it. It was light. All those days of it getting lighter by 1minute now became the sum of the parts. There below me was a blanket of mist, oozing down the Mole Valley, being pushed out by some marching glacier. It was so still, so monochrome, but the depth of field was intense and then I noticed, the stillness was being peppered by cheer. Birdsong everywhere, the early morning chorus was so beautiful. It wasn’t like the cacophony of April, it was more sedate.

A selection of birds, yawning, waking up and offering up their pleasantries. 

'Good morning Robin’, 

'Morning Blackbird’, 

'Hello Nuthatch, sleep well?’ 

'I did, young Coal tit, excellent snooze''

Woody, how about you?’

'Blimey mate, it was well wet were’n it?' (for some reason I imagine our woodpecker is from the EastEnd)
I took a pic, even thought about taking a video to keep that gentle song locked for posterity, but it would never have done the moment justice. 
Sometimes, it's best to drink in the moment and savour it. 
And maybe share it too….!

A Routine January

Ahh, 2019. Blimey, the years are cracking on. Years ago, the thought of 2020 was so far away I couldn’t relate to it. I could just imagine being really old and past it. Life, a lived rather than life ahead…

Well here we are, those life years have wracked up and I don’t feel old, anything but, perhaps more comfortable in my own skin. Less to prove, but lots still to WANT to learn. That's the difference, back in the 90’s it was all about living for the present. Party central. Planning ahead, conjuring where life would take me was not on the agenda. It feels different now, more observation and intrigue but less outright fun. More thinking really. 

Back on planet Lanagbridge, the winter is slowly marching on. The days are getting lighter by 1 minute a day. But still the yomp to the cattle shed for morning feeding is still a dark old affair. It's a routine, the misery of going out into the cold and damp from the warm fug of bed and Aga soon dissipates. 

In to the farm store, light on, head torch, overalls, wellies, Barbour, hat and off into the still dark farmscape, with a morning chorus of low’s, clucks, screams and snorts. The dogs following on behind looking disinterested in the potter ahead. 

Pigs first. Snort snort snort, noses alive with scent and excitement for food, a snuffle, a trot and canter across the pitted carnage of the orchard landscape and into the trough like a porcine rugby scrum. Fill up the water trough with unhelpful buckets. Then over to the chickens. Alert and bouncing down the stairway to the feeder, often one of them has only one thing on their mind.: ‘Egg, Egg’ Hop to the old shed, up on the big round straw bales and a cosy brood, bomb doors open, release. Cluck. Oddly formed egg, warm and toasty ready for toast. 

Across Woodshed field, down through Dingly Dell, note: the speed of the stream water no longer rushing in the channel beside the lake - we’ve had a dry January, after a soggy 162mm in December. Dogs shoot off, like canon balls once I force open the broken gate into Chives. Every morning it’s the same. What they are rushing at, I never know, but they gun it, North across the boggy reeds on the lower slope of the field, 20 seconds later some wild barking. I am sure there is nothing there. They are fixated by some inanimate object. Each day they are surprised. Goldfish bowl like. 

Trudge to the shed. The lowing, getting more frenzied., occasional screams of malevolence. The haylage bale, having collapsed in the night is reluctant to offer up its booty, and so begins a tug and pulling on the finger nails as I heave out the hay from the tangled bundle. As more haylage hits the feeder barriers, the frenzied lowing disseminates, and I am left with chew and cud, the occasional shove as one of the bigger cows decides it wants to change place. The floodlights illuminate 35 cattle heads, their breath rising up into the eves. It's a wonderfully calming moment, the angst has left the barn, the frump and clump of their mouths, a peaceful soundtrack of satisfied cowstomers. Ouch. That is bad, baby. 

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The bedding area is a constant fret for me. 24hours after a whole big round bale of straw is laid out across the shed, the memories of the golden summer are gone, the bed now dung ridden, glistening almost by the water troughs. The cows are messy drinkers, slopping and slapping the water everywhere, think dog with cumbersome tongues!

The only cows not munching are the calves, utterly sold on Mothers milk, they skittle round on the straw, chasing each other like banshees, tails up, letting out little croaks of joy. Bless 'em. 

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So off back to the farm yard, and then another load to feed, this time it's the yearling calves. Cossetted in the old shed the sounds are muffled, deadened by the surrounding stack of straw bales. On my way there, a loud chatter of disagreement and competitive preening, the mallards are strutting their stuff, eager to win the attentions of all the teen ducks. The lake is now clear of green duckweed, just hoping this year we come to see a flotilla of ducklings one winter’s morn. Roland please don’t ruin it again. 

It's the same everyday, but always something new to take in, to savour such is the delight of a small dark farm above the River Taw in Winter

Big up..

to October. Ok, so April and May are the most exciting times of the year. A sense of new, of rebirth, of freshness and hope. Poor old October, is seen a sense of loss, of the end, the doom and gloom to come. It’s #Rocktober Or #Stoptober. This is a play on words not a rejoicing of the time of year. Well, I’m going to ramble on about the wonders of October. It doesn’t get any press.

This is the time of year, when you get the best of both worlds, that imminent sense of cosy fires, wooly hats, crumpets, warm pubs with red faces and fine ale. And at the same time, astonishing mornings, the cool air hitting the warm ground and the mist oozing out and sitting like lazy layers of wool in the valley. The sun is lower, the colours emanate oranges and browns, all cues for warmth and oneness. Yesterday, I woke up and the wind was blowing gently from the North East, you could just make out the Tarka Line train puffing along down in the valley. I walked up to the Nap and the world sat quietly below me, the mist hanging down by the Taw, It was like being in a plane and looking down on the clouds. It was cold, but bright, it felt like spring almost…

Later that day, I was over in Somerset, helping out putting some shingles on the roof of a sawmill. It was baking, Literally airless heat, top off, face burning. So bad, I had to spend £8 on suntan lotion. Yes in October. Then today, it’s wet, cool, the grass is soaked, I look to the woodburner and think of a cosy evening. All the seasons in 24 hours. You don’t get that in Rio. The sunsets the same every day, well almost, the temperature the same every day, well almost. We moan about our weather but I love it. Constant change, constant flux, keeps us on our toes, no day the same, its good for the soul.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous

After 6 months of almost continuous rain whilst building the Nap, we now find ourselves in drought. What have we done to Mother Earth? The fields are brown and scratchy. The borehole is stuttering, the aquifers drying. 

It's great for our guests up at the Nap, but our resident cows are not happy. General unrest in the ranks. Boredom, flies and swishing tails. 

This manifested itself late in July. Whilst planning some wild swimming on the Taw, Milo and I went up to fill the water tanks up at Stoneridge only to find only 12 cows. Hmm. 12. There should be 24!!! We wandered round the field, and could hear echos of mooing in the deep woods near by. Further investigation and there was one of the matriarchs (Big Black), standing on the bank beside the trampled hedge, looking thoroughly concerned but utterly unfazed by her and her friends destruction. But where were the other 11? 

We stumbled through the wood and finally found our neighbour gaily chainsawing away. He told us what a lovely herd we had as they past him in the woods. Luckily he had shut the gates on to the main road. 50 minutes later, using cowpats as our method of tracking, we found them in a field, lying down, basking in the sun. We shut the gates, left them there and went swimming in the river. It was a wonderful, cooling off in the deep strata like fissures that streaked across the river bed. The dogs leapt for sticks and swam beside us, a kingfisher buzzed by, but apart from that we had the river and our thoughts to ourselves. 

Later on we moved Herd11 into the cattle shed with a stern ticking off. 

Next day, endless mooing and only 11 cows in the field. 1 hour later, I find Big Black had taken the same journey though the woods, past the farm up into the fields above looking for her baby. Total consternation. She had spent the whole night calling for her calf and in the end, jumped the fence, pushed her way back through the woods, through 5 fields only to find her way blocked near where I had put her calf and the other rogues the night before. 

I opened the gate and Big Black and I wandered down the road together, her udder shaking from side to side, until at last she was back with her calf in the shed. Nothing was going to stop that mum finding her baby. She's a legend that cow. I almost shed a tear. All is forgiven!

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Long time

Its been a very long time coming. After 12 months of build time, and probably 6 months planning beforehand, the Nap at Langabridge is ready to take guests. The final hurdle nailed last week when we got our building regs certificate through. Come on! 

Actually feel immensely proud, it's been bloody hard, pushing on through the stubborn sod of a winter, but to know that I have built a house to modern building standards both in structure and energy performance with no previous experience, gives me a damn good feeling. 

Even though I say it myself it looks pretty cool!

Added to that, the summer has rolled on for 9 weeks now, endless summer sun, dry breezes gently swaying the trees, the land parched and devoid of moisture. One extreme to another. And hell it's hot. The weather centre is showing temperatures of 24C plus for the last 3 weeks. This just isn't how Devon or the UK for that matter operates. Some people don't like it. The Herd are hacked off. They graze the straw like grass like elephants ranging the African savannah. They don't help themselves. Lying out on the ridge, scorched to dust all day long when shade lies below in the valley, well it's just blatantly silly. I keep telling them but they won't listen. When the evening cools off they head down to graze and nibble at the overhanging trees. It's the wrong way round!!

Devon Savannah

Devon Savannah

thats better. 

thats better. 

 

Mad Dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun. And um, Cows too. 

 

To continue the title theme of 'its been a long time coming'  another milestone has just passed in a haze of laughter, booze and bad wigs. This weekend saw Langabridge host a party for myself and 6 of my best buds, who all turn 50 this year. It's hard to believe that we can possibly be that old. Where did all that time go? And look how young we still look....

It was a blast, a whirl of organisation, sweeping yards, mucking out sheds, laminating signs, building marquees, rolling 100's of metres of cable, tweaking the sound system so it rocked to high heaven, and then the party weekend. Baking heat, hippy's, beatniks, turbo pimms, mini skirts tie dye scarves mad Nam soldiers. Even Billy Jean King came to party. Genius. Tired now. Becky is snoring. 

First guests arrive on Friday. Loads to do. 

The marquee in readiness for the madness

The marquee in readiness for the madness

And three chumps ready to party likes it's err 1968.

And three chumps ready to party likes it's err 1968.

Bottle it.

May 8th – Tuesday.

 

Just done a 13 hour day. Tired but happy.  Landscaping almost finished. Terrace complete. Plastering of ceilings and Mezzanine wall happens tomorrow. Soakaway built. Awaiting the vagueries of building control to view, judge and throw as many spanners around as they can.

 

Face is brown and warm. Last week has been endless sunshine. Kew has had hundreds of journeys across it with 5 ton diggers, tractors and trucks, but it’s holding up well.

 

It feels like the final push, but I am sure there will be some hiccups still to come.

 

On Friday, we sat up on the deck, listening to tunes, having a few drinks and gazing across to Exmoor in the late evening sunshine. It was blissfully warm.  Sharps Atlantic for me, Sauvignon for Becky, Coke Zero for Milo, digging mud holes for the dogs.

 

 

It’s days like this that leaves you breathless and in awe of the world around you.

Cocteau Twins play late on Radio 6.

 

The Devon hedgerows are a blitz of colour and virility. The animals laze in the fields, leaching up the sunshine. There is something so wonderfully lazy about the heat, a kind of stillness, and yet there is so much sound, a cacophony of bird song and insects which drifts into your senses.

 

The woods are a smorgasbord of greens, every tree a slightly different hue. The oak the muddiest of them all, the beech the brightest, the ash the latest!!!

Rose campions and cow parsley vow for space, bluebells jostle with nettle and the docks get rampant in the fields. You just want to bottle these moments. You’ve waited so long, you want it to last for ever. It like that time when I see Milo do something, or say something priceless and you just want to hold him and stop him from getting older forever. Bottle those moments. But you can’t.

 

We had 11 duck eggs on the island in the lake last week. I thought Mrs Ducky and Malcom Mallard were so clever, but alas Raymond R, came and took them away and all that is left are a few shells and a nest like a duck down duvet. Ducky and Malcom are still around, morning their unborn. Hopefully they will try again. No fertility treatment for them.

 

Time marches on, the first cut silage on the dairy farms has now started, even one of our fields, Chives, is growing well, I think we could be only 4 weeks away from a first cut of hay, I want to do small bales on Chives, cut it before the seeds spread on the docks and I’m going to use RiverCross down by the Taw for big bale haylage.

 

When haymaking goes well, there is nothing like it. The dust of the field, the insects bouncing against the spots on the tractor late at night. The satisfaction of the harvest baled up and in the shed, and that smell of fresh hay. There is nothing more redolent of summer than the perfume of hay. You can bottle that. Like a memory. In the darkest depths of winter, cut open a grey tired looking bale of hay and inside is Summer.

 

10.42. Need to go to bed. Night all. Must remember to put my bowl away in the dishwasher otherwise there will be hell to pay.

 

One final thought: BAD BAND names.

 

Car Seat Headrests. What? First Aide Kit? Come on.

 

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At last....

18th April 2018

The sun is beating down. I’m on the southern deck. My ears have chilblains from the damp and cold winds of the winter. But all is well. Ibithan tunes play in the background. A train trickles by below in the valley. Winter said goodbye on Wednesday.

The grass is growing, the 9 yearling calves were finally turned out (third time lucky) in the Ridge of Love this morning, to join 9 other Dexters.

 

We’re just waiting for the sun to dry the ground up a bit more, and give the grass a bit more of a headstart on the rest of the farm and then the remaining 14 will head out, to skip and jump, tails up, back legs a kickin’, its cow party time.

I don’t blame them. 5.5 months stuck in a shed. Lying on their own muck each night, albeit with a blanket of straw twice a week. I guess a lot of other cows have it a lot worse. Muck and slats and not blade of barley straw in sight. No, its cold damp concerete and slurry slats for most of our bovine friends.

Hmm, might need to put a spot of suncream on!!! The last time I used that it was back in August of last year, the floor platform was being built, there was no structure. Now it’s an angled slab of elegant cedar, coming out of the land, high up above the Taw. I’m very proud of it. So far, the detailing, the style, the promise have all lived up to my expectations. I think the experience of living here, might be better than I imagined. It’s so light and airy, there is a wonderful clean, loftiness to it. You feel detached from modern life, just a place to sit stare and ponder.

I can hear the birds twittering, there are flies and bees buzzing about. The occasional whoosh of cars in the very far distance, not in fact a hinderence, more in fact a reminder of how lucky you are to living in your cedar castle away from the madness.

And what madness it is, Russia, Syria, North Korean, T.May I**iot, D Trump F**K, nerve agents, B. Johnson T*T, and Brexit. How did we get to this?

Building this cabin, you get so used to hearing the news, Radio 6 repetition, constant, recently I’ve started to listeing to my old tunes. We’ve had, Led Zep, OMD, some fantastic Sa Trincha dancy vibes, a listen to Moon Shaped Pool, twice in a row, even Marillion came up trumps, descending me into nostalgic melodrama of an alchoholic haze. I might bang on a spot of Floyd in a minute, but the weather feels more dancey. Maybe some Globlal Underground.

 

Burnin’ up here. Happy days. Oh god this is nice. How many months of wintery misery have we had. Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, March. That’s 5. It feels more.

 

So the plan is to have this baby up and running and ready to take guests, third week of May. May is a lovely word. Theresa sullies it.

 

What have still to do:

1)   Finish the TGV paneling in the sitting room and bedroom.  4 days

2)   Plasterboard ceilings in bathroom, bedroom and hall. 2 days

3)   Panel parts of the Mezzanine. 2 days

4)   Build the airing cupboard 3 days

5)   Put in the ladder and balustrade 3 days

6)   Finish the kitchen, put on doors et 2 days

7)   Clad the whole back of the cabin 3 days

8)   Ridge the roof. 1 day

So that’s 20 days.

 

Not forgetting painting the entire cabin, finishing the deck, furnishing, putting up shelves. Its tight, but I think I’ve got to aim for something.

 

Right back to the paneling. Off we go. 

cedar panelling going up on the South elevation

cedar panelling going up on the South elevation

March - still a soggy state

This time last year, it was dry as a bone. You could see dust as you drove down the farm track to the road. As the month wore into April and my mind shifted to turning out of the animals, my concern was that it was so dry that the grass simply wasn't going to grow and that we'd need to keep the animals in the sheds for longer. 

This winter is has rained almost every day for 6 months. That is half the year you know! But every now and then I get a sense of spring. The celandines are out, little nettle sprigs are appearing, frogs and toads, even newts are saying hello. Our dear friends from Africa have of course not arrived yet, but the bird song is getting louder and I can now wander around the farm at 6 in full light. Surveying the fields and hedgerows, breathing in the signs of Spring like a sponge. 

Ah the shifting seasons! We love to moan about it, but imagine how dull it would be if the sun set the same time every day? The weather stayed the same throughout the year. No variance, no change. The closer you get to the equator the more true this is. 

The sogginess, means the pigs are in a flood of slurry by the feeder, every welly step is met with a squelch and the cabin is a developing island in a sea of sticky clay. 

The Nap is gathering momentum, slowly but surely. We hope to have visitors in 6 weeks.....hmm! Plumbing 2nd fix started today and I started the cedar cladding at the front. The plaster on the vast ceiling is going a whitish pink and painted wood samples line the kitchen wall awaiting a decision. But there is still so much to do and I am but one person building a small but perfectly formed house. 

The real difficulty for this whole build, is the other pressures, from family to feeding the animals, to lambing to calving, to making TV ads and last but not least, the desperate need to develop new revenue streams before its too late...

The strains and pressures of a family trying to live off the land.....

a respite from the rain!

a respite from the rain!

Bright but blindingly chilling...

17th January.

 

Something plays on the radio, jazz funk of some form. All good.

Feeling much more chipper than last time. My arms hurt from physical work, my face feels weather beaten. My hands are spattered in black paint. But my mind feels clear and fresh. The relentless toil of the cabin, continues, mainly internal works, vapour barrier, OSB on the structural lateral walls, and when the weather allows I’m out cladding in beautiful cedar the Northern gable.

The coffee hopefully has brewed now, so I shall pour that and come back to you…

 

Ok, coffee in a ‘Labrodor’ mug. Speaking of which, the dogs are insane. Zippy is spending every second she has to shag poor old Tarka, who looks brow beaten and slightly scared. ‘Oh no not again, she’s coming for me’ She doesn’t think, ‘but Zippy, you are a girl, you can’t shag me’ That because they is both bitches innit.

 

So circumstance haven’t really changed, we are still in the same boat (literally in this weather) but my mental state is coping with the storm, perhaps shutting it out is more appropriate than ‘coping’ Its coming. But its not there yet!!

 

I have been thinking how exciting the cabin is, I mean there is light at the end of the tunnel, we can start thinking about décor, bathroom units, and the whole marketing machine behind it. I must write a blog. I keep putting things off as I have so much to do, but soon I need to get a small website together and start posting to the world…Facebook is another thing that needs to happen.

 

I took a short break an hour ago and slumped in one of the chairs and looked out across the fields towards Kings Nympton, it was sunny and breezy, and it reminded how bloody cool this whole project is. Those lucky guests, who can sit in that same position, the fire crackling behind, supping a tea or some find bodied red wine, relax, breathe, slow down, do nothing, just breathe and marvel.

That’s what I’m going to do when this bad boy is built, even if its just for an afternoon, I’m going to do exactly that, SIT, BREATHE, SLOW>

 

Back to the grindstone!

a sea of claggy clay

a sea of claggy clay