Our Cinema

There is a patch in our garden which we’ve recently claimed as a place to take in the view, drink a coffee and daydream.

When we moved to Crockern, our soakaway had not been maintained and the neglect of untold years left a horrid mound of reeds, nettles, bramble and soggy, fetid mud.   We set to work almost immediately to clear it appropriately so that clear water once again could freely flow towards a filtering reed bed below.   We did nothing more, moving onto other projects.

A few summers ago, Roger returned to this spot and set about clearing it of all the overgrowth of plant life.   He lined  with rocks the channel which carried the overflow from our spring.   To pretty things up further, we planted the edges with iris.   This small water feature now serves as a drinking spot for birds, our chickens and Millie and Brock.

Making these improvements allowed our previous swamp-land to dry, a job completed.   But months later, Roger was back in this spot clearing stones.   I thought we were done, “Surely there are a million other projects we should be doing first.”  As anyone who is being honest with herself must admit, I was wrong.

Roger next planted a hedge of alder along the fence.  Grasses, Nettle, Foxglove and Bramble continued to grow, but at least you could walk through without getting a boot stuck in the muck.  Once a year, Roger would strim this area.

Nearly two years after he turned his hand to this patch of land which we weren’t utilizing in any manner, I had a mad moment with the lawn mower.  Working around wildflower patches, I made a clearing.   Something about this location, with its hidden view from a corner of our yard, spoke to me.  Previously impassable and neglected, it was inviting me to spend time here.  I moved a bench from a less than ideal location, levelled it with a stone under one leg, and sat down, satisfied with this development.


The bench is situated beneath a canopy of a Hawthorn tree, shading it with dappled light throughout the day.   After my morning chores are complete, I head to this bench with my cup of coffee.  The view to the west, backlit by the morning sun, opens with cows and sheep lazily grazing across the hillside.  Off to my right, I see the ripple of waves on the pond as a morning breeze arrives from the north.  It will be cooler today.  Four ducks just flew past up the river from the south, circled wide and landed in the pond for a swim.  Their morning splash a dazzling display as sunlight diamonds dance off the water.

The pond is doing well.  Roger has found a way to redirect the overflow from our spring into the pond at night, helping to maintain its water level during dryer weather.  While the ducks come to visit, they don’t seem to be nesting on the island.  However, the Grey and Pied Wagtails love its edges.  All sorts of bugs skate atop the water.  Just below the surface, it is teaming with tadpoles.  Three swallows just dive bombed some food on the wing before returning to get mud for building their nests.   Recently, we found two pregnant newts in the pond.

All around me is the happy birdsong of Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Robins and Grasshopper warblers.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker is attacking a fence post in search of a morsel or two.  Across the river, Herons are having a raucous party high in the pines. A Cuckoo calls in the distance.  We spotted two recently in a nearby Rowan tree. But this morning, like a James Brown call and respond band, I hear a second Cuckoo answering the first.  Is this back and forth an announcement of territory?  David Attenborough described the female call as “bathwater gurgling down a plug hole” as she announces to her mate she is looking for a place to lay her eggs – as many as twenty – into the nests of Dunnocks or Reed Warblers. I am hearing two males.  Territory claiming.  Announcing their presence to females.  Enjoying the sound of their own calls.

Morning is shifting into lunchtime and the warmth from the sun hits the hedges, they become alive with bugs, bees and butterflies.   As Roger and I enjoy some cheese and fruit, we are treated to a display of  butterflies.  Red Admiral.  Orange Tip.  Green Veined White.  Large White.  Small White.  Small Tortoiseshells. Peacocks.  We will need to participate in The Big Butterfly Count in July.

This new spot in the garden needs a name.  I’m not certain why we like to name locations.  Is it our human nature to let one another where we are?  But this spot is like a movie theatre with landscape and wildlife as the feature film.  I won’t be seeing the new James Bond from this perch, but the action is equally exciting.

Later in the day, we watched the farmer on the hill with his two working dogs shift a flock of sheep by gently walking around them, the dogs using their strong stare and obedience to “lie down”, staying in place.  Millie observes the action from our feet.  Brock, focused on other matters, eats another bucket load of grass.  Both content being non-working dogs.  Cute little slackers.

Suddenly a buzzard flies onto the scene.  A fast flap, gaining speed, and an abrupt 180 degree turn, banking to pick up a thermal.  Lazily it floats above looking for prey.

This is a great place to read, write, and reflect.  Sheltered from the footpath, we can enjoy the moors, unobserved.  Morning coffee, mid-day lunch, evening glass of wine.  No matter the time of day, I can watch without aid, spotting the badger set, across the valley, under a giant Beech tree.  With my binoculars, I believe this is an active set, each entrance showing fresh signs of daily cleaning.   I also spot a sloppy birds nest in another of the Beech trees.  Who lives there?

As the evening sun begins to set, I see the flash of gold feathers, a Goldfinch wearing its jaunty red cap, balance on the branch of a Maple.

Here I sit.  My Landscape Cinema with its quiet view of the valley, rich with sounds of breeze, birds, bugs, river, and the ever changing light.  Drinking in all these small joys as a viral outbreak continues to cast a shadow across the globe.


Rub’a’dub in da Hot Tub!

Recently, I was away from Crockern for four out of five weeks, leaving Roger and Sam many tasks to contemplate.  However, several of the projects were caveated:  nothing that involved climbing  high up on ladders, using power tools in tricky locations, lifting heavy objects, or doing anything where a possible injury could happen with no one nearby to help.  As clever as Sam is, he isn’t exactly Lassie:  “Woof, woof, woof!”  “What is it Lassie?  Has Timmy fallen into the well?”

You might think that with such restrictions in place, Roger would have read all the great works of literature, but instead, spurred on by warm and sunny weather, he and Sam were busy.  When I returned, I was greeted with many happy surprises, including new fencing where we are planning to keep pigs and the vegetable garden fully planted.  We are trying a bit of everything in the garden this first year, to see what will work.  Here’s what we have:

Lettuces, beets, cabbages, spinach, leeks, potatoes, rocket, rainbow chard, onions, carrots, peas, broad beans, green beans, runner beans, celery, celeriac, cauliflower, romanesco, courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins, artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli, swede, brussel sprouts, sweet corn, cucumbers, peppers, squash and asparagus.  We have herbs (sage, thyme, chives, rosemary, mint, parsley and marjoram) and fruits (rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and an apple, pear and cherry tree).  Mostly, we have planted a deep belief that we’ll have successes.

Raised Vegetable Beds

Seven of the eight raised beds we have planted.


Things are growing inside the greenhouse.

So far, everything is establishing well in the vegetable beds and the greenhouse and we’ve gathered a few dozen strawberries, several salads and herbs for seasoning various meals.  We also have a very successful crop of Stinging Nettles.

Originally, this last plant was not intended for harvest and I hasten to add, we did not plant it.   Last year, the area where we put in our vegetable garden was covered in a stand of nettles.  These invasive and determined plants stood proudly, like a forest of sturdy pines, occupying the sunniest part of our yard.  Not to mention, this was also the one area we had successfully kept out the sheep!

Forest of Nettles

The forest of Nettles before the vegetable beds.

My first encounter with Nettles in England was when my old dog Al slipped down a steep Nettle covered riverbank and fell headfirst into the river.  He was not much of a swimmer and in his old age was growing deaf and increasingly senile.  As Al fell, I instinctively reached into the river, through a thick patch of stingers, and pulled him to safety.   While he shook river water from his coat, both my hand and arm immediately blistered as if from a strange science fiction movie.  The swelling lasted no more than ten minutes, but the stinging sensation remained for at least three days.

Last spring, Roger and I worked for days pulling up Nettles before building our raised bed vegetable garden.   While working free their tenacious root system, I reflected on one of the stranger things I heard about when first moving to England:  “Nettle Eating Contests”.  Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever contemplate eating these nasty, stinging, space-hogging plants.

Oh how things have changed!   Despite my strong reaction, Nettles aren’t all bad.  They make excellent companion plants in the garden attracting aphids and cabbage white butterflies away from our legumes and brassicas.   Rich in iron and vitamin C, Nettles have a history of filling the hunger gap and the young shoots of spring are the best to eat for their flavour and nutrition.    Nettles can be used in the same way as spinach.  Just boil, cool and chop, then throw into egg dishes, risotto, and pasta.   Hard core types eat them raw.  Not me.  I collect the leaves while wearing good gardening gloves and using scissors, and then I dutifully follow a recipe, most recently, for nettle ravioli!

So the few patches that are returning close to the vegetable beds are welcome and monitored!

But our pursuit of health and well being does not rest with our gardening and foraging efforts alone.   We’ve recently introduced a bit of life enhancing decadence.  Again, while I was away, Roger managed to source and install a wood fired hot tub.   It sounds medieval, but it is far from some torture cauldron for witches.  It is a sleek, round fiberglass tub that looks like a giant teacup.  There is a coiled loop that contains a basket for the fire and once lit, heats the water inside the coil feeding it back into the hot tub.  There is even a snug place for a wok, to cook food, on top of the burner.  On the other side is a holder for keeping wine chilled.    Eat, drink and simultaneously soak in the hot tub.  An inspired combination if ever there was one!

Dutchtub by Weltevree

Our wood-fired hot tub.

In 1983, Eddie Murphy depicted the funk soul legend James Brown in a fictional hot tub talk show sketch on Saturday Night Live.  Dressed in gold Speedos and a wig, Murphy shows the Godfather of Soul getting down with his bad self as he sticks his toe in the hot water, achieving a pitch-perfect “Whoa oa oa!”

This comedic sketch aside, there is something profound about the love of the hot tub.  Perhaps it goes back to the calming and soothing effects of being submerged in liquid.   Is it possible from our early days in the womb, with the outside world distant and yet unchartered, where we develop this early experience of serenity best recreated with a soak in a hot tub?   Ah, the water’s embrace as we drift into peaceful surrender is bliss defined.   Soaking in the hot tub is not just for pure pleasure, though, as there are health benefits too:  stress reduction, muscle relaxation, improved sleep, reduction of headaches, and lowering of blood pressure, to name a few.  The heat, the buoyancy of the water and, lets face it, the views surrounding us are a luxurious tonic and marvelous fun!

So now to our ongoing list of projects we can add two more to resolve:

1.  Where do we locate the mechanism to spontaneously refill the tumbler of gin and tonic?

2.  Where do we source a James Brown style call-and-response back up band?

A man on a hot tub mission.

A man on a hot tub mission.