My Blog List

Monday, 28 July 2008

Dyeing At Last

I have had some gum leaves drying out on the floor of the garden room so that they will give a more intense shade when used for dyeing wool.
On Friday I bought a lovely enamelled pan in Wilkos for less than a tenner and decided that it was time to get dyeing.
The wool is the Wensleydale Longwool from the shop of the same name near Leyburn.

I used 200gm of torn up gum leaves from the tree at the bottom of the garden that is down for removal. I shall harvest more leaves before it goes and leave them to dry out in the garage. There will be no more once the tree is gone.

I mordanted the wool in Copper sulphate which gives it a hint of pale blue-green and then dyed it in a pan in which the gum leaves had been simmered for an hour or two.
This is the result.

Its a lighter colour than I expected from my experience of dyeing with gum leaves in Australia but then of course, the climate is so different.

I have some alum-mordanted wool which will be dyed with another 200gm batch of gum leaves at the end of the week. In the mean time I'm mordanting more wool and have harvested a tangle of Tansy from the garden to experiment with. News of that tomorrow.

Friday, 25 July 2008


I managed to get the last ticket for the minibus ride into Hamsterley Forest yesterday for a look at the timber harvesting machines.
Mark, the Head Forester, on the right, gave us a talk on the history of the 2000 hectares of Forestry Commission land. Originally planted to Sitka Spruce in the 1920s to replace vast areas of timber cleared for WW1, the area now contains a great variety of species.
It is harvested and replanted in patches called coupes which form a mosaic pattern in the forested landscape. Different species show up as variations in the green.
The logs are carried to the edge of the forestry track by a forwarder and piled in groups by size. Logging trucks collect them and take them to a saw mill just outside Durham.
The harvester grabs the base of the tree and slices through it like a knife through butter.
It retains a hold of the tree and moves it sideways through the cutter, removing branches and bark and chops it into the right size logs.
Then it heads off and does it to another tree.
Such a cutting head is worth the same as half a dozen cars.
It can fell, strip and cut into logs, a whole tree every minute and a half. Teams of foresters with chain saws are no longer needed although individuals will still remove unusually shaped trees and lone species.

My bat locator arrived early in the week and we sat out in the garden on Monday night and tracked quite a few which seemed to have appeared from the house roof. They spent a happy hour performing a bat ballet over the lawned area where we were lying back on the loungers. Tiny and so agile, they swept around close to one another and ducking and weaving with great skill. I prefer this to TV and shall sit out often with the bats.

Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Batty About Bats

I went on a bat spotting expedition last night organised by the Durham CC in conjunction with NaturalEngland. It was a truly batty experience.

We started with a slide show in the tiny Saxon Church at Escomb given by a slightly eccentric chiropterophile. He also handed round small dead ones so that we could see the truly, tiny size of them, and feel them!... if we felt inclined. The tiny pipistrelles can be fitted into a matchbox. So different from the fruit bats in Australia that flew through our garden at night to feed somewhere and sometimes stopped for a rest by hanging upside down on the Hill's Hoist (the clothes dryer). They hang down 30 to 40 cm.

This was followed by a cuppa (in Wood's Ware_Beryl, for chinaware afficionados) provided by the ladies of the village and a chat and a lesson on how to use the echolocators. The four different species of bat in the area all echo at different kilohertz levels and so can be identified by the number on the dial on the echolocator even when it's pitch dark and you can't see a thing. ( I think it's appropriate here that THING is an anagram of NIGHT).

We were able to identify all four possible bats by sound and two, maybe three, by sight. Pipistrelles, Noctules, Daubentons and Whiskered bats. The whiskered bats actually live in the roof of the Escomb church and it is wise to sweep the seats on the southern side, clean of bat droppings before you sit down. They can be seen because they fly above the tree line and can be seen against the not-quite-dark night sky. The Daubentons can be seen in the beam of a strong torch as they skim across the surface of the water and their light-coloured underbelly glistens. Our genial chiropterophile was literally jumping with excitement at the success of our expedition. Some time after 10.30 we stumbled back up the path to our cars outside the church. There were still whiskered bats coming out from under the roof and off to the river to feed...hopefully on the 3000 midges an hour that they can consume.

Look after bats and there will be less midges!!!

I'm now after an echolocator for my own use. I'm sure there are bats in the outbuildings and maybe even in the house roof. I want to know more.

Cheers Gillian

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Bottom of the Garden

This is the northeast corner of the garden, now cleared of undergrowth and needing fresh plantings. The trees are all very large and too closely planted. It's as if whoever planted them many decades ago did not believe they would grow so much.

The ground falls away sharply outside the garden and the outbuildings seen in the background are displaying their upper storey. Outside in the back lane there are garages below these lofts.
The largest of the trees is a gum tree and it is so close to the outbuildings that it has caused movement in the stone walls. The gable end appears to be about to tumble into the Wynd.
The Raby Estate Head Forester came round yesterday and took photographs of the impending event so that he can get planning permission to remove the tree. Apart from the obvious damage to the buildings, ten telephone lines go through the tree's branches to all the neighbouring properties. I have no regrets about the tree's removal. It is a necessity.
It will be a difficult job, though.

The block of land which is the northwest corner of the garden has been put in the "too hard basket" for this year. The weeds are higher than me and I'm just short of six feet in height. But the fine weather yesterday reminded me to check out the fruit trees planted a couple of months ago. They took a bit of finding but they are doing well. My searching exposed a blackcurrant bush. It was laden with ripe fruit which had remained hidden from the birds as well as me.
I picked a bowlful and brought them in to make into blackcurrant jelly

It's easier than jam and although it makes a smaller quantity, that suits me because I wouldn't know what to do with lots of the stuff. It also gives me a chance to use my strainer, which is one of my favourite kitchenalia pieces.

I had a lovely ride out to Chillingham Castle today. A friend drives a van around the country to work in various places and I rode shotgun. It's a fabulous old castle and parts of it have been in movies like "Elizabeth" and on TV shows about ghosts. You are allowed to climb up onto the roof and look out over the battlements to the Elizabethan Topiary gardens which look splendid from above.They also have a herd of the only wild cattle in the world. Guess which day the cattle have off. Yes, Tuesdays! I shall have to return to visit them.

Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Aga God Shines on Parade

The sun shone for most of the day. True, it is toasty warm in my kitchen with the Aga on but Carnival day is a success and I think I can claim some small credit for the improvement in the weather. The parade came down the small road next to the houses on North Green because it costs too much to close the main road now that the police charge for such variances to the norm. The pipe band is passing D's house which has the old blacksmith's shop attached as its sitting roomThe Carnival Queen led the walking parade to the judging area. There were some great efforts as usual on these days, from so many mothers in particular. The Brownies won. They were the ones wearing the jungle outfits but I couldn't catch the title on the banner.There was a very good turnout and a long queue formed at the tarot card readers tent. These ladies are not in the queue, just resting and watching.

The day still continues with a rock band. They sound great and everyone is still out there dancing around.
At the last minute I decided to enter one of the village hall competitions called "recycled bag" by presenting a small bag made out of an old pair of pyjamas torn into strips and knotted and knitted!
To my great delight I came third and Yes reader, there were more than three entries! I got a certificate and my prize was the refund of my entry fee. It is true that the fourth bag presented was from one of the organisers and a close neighbour. A gesture of kindness to the newcomer, perhaps.

I'm already planning next year's entry. There were no entries in the "marmalade" class and V and I both realised that together we could have scooped the pool of prizes. The quiches and curd tarts (a delicious yorkshire bakery item) looked good. Floral entries were all impressive, but I'm the sort of flower arranger who plonks them in a vase, adds water and then pulls them into a vaguely symmetrical shape.

Cheers Gillian

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Carnival Comes to Town

Staindrop Carnival parade is tomorrow so I hope it stops raining soon. The Fair has been set up on the green outside my house and it all gets turned on tonight. There have been lots of trials and revving noises from the generator truck just outside which makes all the windows rattle!

I shall retire to the back bedroom and live in the kitchen for the weekend. Every time I turn off the Aga, the weather turns cold and wet so I have lit it again to bring on some fine warm days.

I bought some more shrubs from the New Row Farm nursery and if the weather clears I shall spend the weekend planting them. I dont feel like doing it in today's drizzle. And a walk is planned for Sunday. I don't mind walking in the rain because waterproofs work quite well but I hate it if it is windy, so that outing will depend on the weather too. I shall pray to the Aga god!

Cheers, Gillian

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Newby Hall

I was invited to join the Staindrop WI excursion to Newby Hall. This is a stately home in north Yorkshire and although lived in by the Compton family, is open to the public. It is wonderfully grand and houses a plethora of furniture, furnishings, pictures and china collected over the centuries. The present front door has a lawn at the end of the drive where I spotted this seat. I have the perfect spot in my garden for something just like this!

The view from the back door sweeps away into the distance over terraces and farmland and the prone conifer on the left makes a green waterfall onto the grass. There was very little time between rain bursts and exploring the lovely gardens was impossible.

There are hundreds of acres of parks and gardens around the hall and there was a craft fair, a polo match, and sculptors at work as we scuttled round. The terraces, ponds, herbaceous borders, walled rose garden, sculpture garden and plant shop all called, but the rain never stopped.

I shall have to return on a dry day to do the gardens justice. It is less than an hour away.

Can anyone beat this for a "back" door?

Cheers Gillian