Easier, better or both?


Walk from Great Comberton to Nafford Lock

We made the most of a gap in the weather today to explore a beautiful section of the Avon valley.

Our walk began in Great Comberton, crossed a gentle valley and a couple of brooks, then headed up the hill, along the ridge above the river towards Nafford.

The views were gorgeous – birds bobbed  on the river, the spire of Pershore Abbey could be seen in the distance, Bredon Hill rose up behind us and the Malvern Hills were spread across the horizon in front of us.

The wind on the ridge was a chilly, so it was good to head down to the sheltered area near the river bank when we reached Nafford. We crossed an impressive little steel weir, stopping to admire the wheels and gates that controlled the water rushing down the river after the recent storms. Then we headed for the relative calm of the lock where we sat for a while enjoying a warming cup of coffee and the sight of a canal boat heading gently down river.

Nafford Lock

Nafford Lock

The return leg to Great Comberton was a lot faster due to the strong tailwind provided by the approaching storm. It was a wonderfully refreshing walk, that certainly blew away the winter cobwebs.

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Running on Sunshine

Solar thermal and solar PV panels

Our solar technology has worked amazingly well throughout the sunny UK summer this year.
– The solar thermal panels have provided us with hot water  on all but ~two days since April. And that’s heating  a 250 litre water tank to between 55 to 70 degrees Celcius each day.
– The solar PV panels have done their job too. The electricity meter runs backwards when the sun shines. The current meter reading is only 300kWh higher than it was at the end of March.  At 12.4p/kWh, that works out at a cost of £37.20  for all our electricity/hot water for the 4 months from April to July (or £9.30 per month) (excluding service charge). We don’t have gas or oil, so this will be our total spend on energy this summer.

Our usage will go up once the days get cooler and we start to heat the house. Generation will decrease once the clouds re-appear. But the performance of the system has surpassed our expectations. It’s wonderful to be running on sunshine!


Springtime in the Costwolds – A Feast for the Senses

We have been enjoying a springtime sensory extravaganza.

Sounds

Each morning we are woken early by the incredibly beautiful the dawn chorus. The birdsong gets more complex over the first few weeks of the spring as a mixture of migrant birds arrive for their summer holidays.

Soon the air is filled with the sound of cheeping chicks, when food is delivered to nests by hard-working parents.

Spring days are punctuated by high-pitched bleats from little lambs, answered by deeper baas from watchful mothers.

Smells

The air smells fresh and is filled with wonderful fragrances.

We pop into Broadway to check on the gnarled old wisterias in the high street every few days, so that we don’t miss the wonderful smell of their divine pastel flowers when they emerge.

Hubby’s favourite is the aroma that wafts over the fence from the buds on the neighbour’s poplar trees.

I love to sink my nose into the blossoms on lilac trees dotted around the village.

Woodland walks are rewarded with the sweet smell of violets – best appreciated by getting a nose close to the ground – well worth the muddy knees.

Sights

It’s wonderful when colour returns to the village after the drab, grey winter.

Snowdrops appear first, followed by bright yellow daffodils.

Then the world erupts into colour as blossoms appear on cherry, plum, apple and pear trees.

Clematis flowers cascade over walls and fences. Wildflowers pop up on verges and across the meadows. Bluebells form a brilliant carpet in the woods.

Birds fly sorties collecting moss and twigs for their nests.

Male birds  flirt with females by puffing up to make themselves look more eligible.

Touch

A mild, warm breeze replaces the winter’s icy blasts.

Nettles along paths need to be given a wide berth, otherwise they sting like crazy leaving an area of skin that buzzes for 24 hours afterwards.

The ground is soft and warm and yields gently when turned to plant soft, new seedlings.

Tastes

In April we start to prowl the farm shops in the area looking for the divine local asparagus – so wonderful that an Asparafest is held in its honour. It’s absolutely delicious and for the next few months is a reliable and consistent fixture on menus at home and in local eateries.

Wild garlic pops up on woodland floors. The leaves add a subtle, interesting flavour to frittatas, omelettes, salads and a host of other dishes.

Fresh chives, mint, nasturtium flowers and the first crop of lettuces form a base for spring salads, accompanied by garlic mustard (Jack by the Hedge), which is foraged by hubby.

We love springtime in the Costwolds – it makes us feel alive again.


Walnuts

We had a bumper walnut crop in Worcestershire this year.

My Hubby is crazy about walnuts. He has identified every walnut tree in our village plus most of those growing wild around Bredon Hill.

In our house, Walnut Fever is biphasic:

The initial phase starts in late June/early July, when unripe, soft, green walnuts can be harvested to make Nocino. This is a delicious, deep brown walnut liqueur, traditionally made Italy.  (However, the fervour of this phase has somewhat abated in our household since Hubby’s initial attempt to make Nocino last year resulted in a rather startling green, bitter concoction.)

The second and most intense phase starts in autumn, when the walnuts are ripe and ready to be harvested. At this time of the year my foraging Hubby ensures that every walk passes a walnut tree or two, and we head home to the sound of nuts clattering in bulging pockets. The rest of the day is spent happily cracking the shells and savouring the wonderful fresh flavour of the newly harvested walnuts – so much better than those bought in the shops.

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Washing on the Line

Washing basketI grew up in a warm sunny climate where, on most days, it was possible to hang washing on the line to dry.

Then I moved to the United Kingdom and had to purchase my first tumble drier. This was essential, as I worked long hours during the week, and it always seemed to rain on precious weekend days when I had a chance to do the washing.  If it didn’t rain, the local pyromaniac would invariably decide to burn his garden waste just as I was taking the washing out of the machine. There’s nothing worse than smoky washing.

I have accepted the presence of a tumble drier in the house somewhat reluctantly, as it does get the washing dry when it’s wet outside. However:

  • It uses a lot of electricity
  • No matter how careful I am, and no matter what temperature I use, the tumble drier seems to accelerate the deterioration of fabrics.
  • It increases the risk of sock-pair-divorce.  (Where do socks go? And why do they always take off alone??)
  • Clothes that contain elastane shrivel.
  • Worst of all, duvet covers seem to get in a major, “soggy-in-the-middle”, twist, unless I baby-sit the process.Pegs

I’d far rather dry my washing in the fresh air on the line any day. It’s only a pity it’s such a rare treat here in the U.K. I spent a few weeks in California recently and was sad not to see many washing lines while I was there. Such a pity when the climate is so warm and dry. Laundry could be dried so easily there, without wasting all that electricity by tumble drying.

Fortunately, I get to use my washing line more often these days. I have a less hectic job and am no longer constrained to doing the laundry on weekends. So I can wait for those precious, dry, sunny days to get the washing out in the fresh air. After a dull, damp winter it’s such a joy when spring arrives and I can bypass the drier and head straight into the garden with a load of clean goodies.

It’s amazingly therapeutic spending a few minutes pegging the washing on the line, listening to the birds and watching the clouds scudding across the blue sky. For the next few hours I can look out the window and see the laundry gently floating up and down in the breeze. It is also satisfying knowing that I’m harnessing energy from the sun and the wind rather than using electricity. Drying washing on the line is also free!

On the line, bedding and clothes dry evenly and wrinkles seem to disappear. There’s something special about washing that has been dried in the sunshine. It’s warm, crisp, smooth and smells wonderful. We love jumping into bed and smelling the sunshine on our freshly laundered sheets – like for Dharma and Greg, “Clean sheets day” is one of the highlights of our week.

Washing on the line


Yellow, Orange and Gold

The colour palette in our corner of Worcestershire is shifting again. Over the last few days the colour of the leaves on the trees around Bredon Hill has started to change into the yellow part of the spectrum. Autumn has started.

We popped into the Batsford Arboretum near Bourton-on-the-Hill yesterday. It’s a great place for tea or a light, informal lunch. They have a good selection of hot meals and sandwiches and there is usually a gluten-free option or two in their delicious cake selection. The restaurant is in a beautifully designed modern, wood and glass building. It’s light and bright inside and outside is large deck with stunning views of the Cotswold countryside.

We hadn’t planned going into the Arboretum, as we thought that autumn had not quite got going yet, but as we were there, we decided to go inside anyway. Good decision! It was a warm, clear, still afternoon and perfect for a walk among the trees. The aptly named Golden Mile was a spectacular succession of yellows, golds, bronzes and oranges, with bright red acers thrown in for good measure. The low autumn sunshine filtering through the leaves was quite breathtaking. We left feeling wonderful and so pleased that we’d decided to pop in and have a look.

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