Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas is Coming . . .

. . . but are we ready?+

The food and drink is sorted (more or less).
The cake is made (still to ice).
Cards are finally printed, written and sent (running out of yellow ink so our grass looks a bit blue).
Presents bought (quite a few still to wrap and deliver).
Tree brought into hall and decorated (and for the first time, I held back and didn't use all the baubles).
Trees in bedroom windows (one set of lights already replaced).
Sitting room tastefully decorated (i.e sparsely).
Kitchen decorations on kitchen table (maybe making it to the beams tonight).
Slurry pit level lowering (tractor and tanker going past the window as I write).
    update - now abandonned re heay rain
And later today I'll be getting right up to date with bills and paperwork so I can, hopefully, forget about it for a while.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

North West Herd Competition

Earlier in the year Stephen Girvan from Northern Ireland judged the North West Shorthorn Herd Competition. Over the course of several days he travelled round our region (from beyond Dumfries to Weardale and down to South Cumbria), looking at whole herds and individual animals. And last night was the culmination when we held our annual dinner and prize giving. Fifty Shorthorn families converged on the Greyhound Inn in Shap, and after dinner were entertained by the Dairy Shorthorn president Graham Madeley, updating us on the Society and giving an insight into his childhood, and Stephen's reminicences of his tour of our region. He then presented the cups and certificates. He said he couldn't please everyone - so he pleased one person - himself.




          1st    Winbrook Herd  - G A & D W Dent

          2nd   Strickley Herd  - W H & K M Robinson  

          3rd    Brafell Herd  - J Teasdale

          4th    Whitchester Herd -  C Hall


          1st    Briscoll Herd  - I Coulthard

          2nd   Moorriggs Herd  - S Armstrong

          3rd    Screel Herd  - S Wilson

          4th    Oakthwaite Herd  - M Dobson


          1st    Whitchester Herd - C Hall

          2nd   Winbrook  - G A & D W Dent

          3rd    Strickley Herd - W H & K M Robinson

          4th    Brafell Herd  - J Teasdale


          1st    Screel Herd - S Wilson

          2nd   Newpark Herd  -  D Craig

          3rd    Moorriggs Herd  - S Armstrong

          4th    Tahuna Herd  - D Jackson


          1st    Winbrook Dewdrop 129th - G A & D W Dent

          2nd   Whitchester heifer - C Hall

          3rd    Strickley Athena 5th - W H & K M Robinson

          4th    Moorriggs Starbud 2nd - S Armstrong


          1st    Moorriggs Lady Barrington - S Armstrong

          2nd   Winbrook Dewdrop 128th - G A & D W Dent

          3rd    Nejay JD Anne - I Coulthard

          4th    Kirkbryde Goldie 2nd - M Robinson


          1st    Briscoll Graceful Lady 3rd - I Coulthard

          2nd   Strickley Starlet 94th - W H & K M Robinson

          3rd    Winbrook Royal Kathleen 19th - G A & D W Dent

          4th    Brafell Lady Laura 11th - J Teasdale


          1st    Winbrook Diamond - W H & K M Robinson

          2nd   Winbrook Gilly - G A & D W Dent

          3rd    Marleycote Lucky Man - C Hall

          4th    Moorriggs Cosmic - S Armstrong


          1st    Breckney Gregory - S Wilson       

          2nd   Nejay Amazon - W H & K M Robinson

          3rd    Middlebankend Digger - N J & C Barker

          4th    Moorriggs Cosmic - S Armstrong


          1st    Breckney Gregory - S Wilson

          2nd   Lisnamulligan Star - M J Dobson

          3rd    Marleycote Lucky Man - C Hall

          4th    Nejay Amazon - W H & K M Robinson


          1st    Strickley Pansy - W H & K M Robinson

          2nd   Winbrook Vi 114th - G A & D W Dent

          3rd    Winbrook Peeress Rose - G A & D W Dent

          4th    Winbrook Digitalis 2nd - N J & C Barker


          1st    Winbrook Vi 114th - G A & D W Dent

          2nd   Winbrook Peeress Rose - G A & D W Dent

          3rd    Winbrook Digitalis  - N J & C Barker

          4th    Strickley Pansy - W H & K M Robinson

Monday, 12 December 2011

By a Babbling Brook

A couple of short clips of deer early one morning (sound and vision!)

Warm and cosy

At last - a sitting room that's warm enough to sit in without extra heaters and layers of jumpers.
We lit the new stove at dinner time on Friday and by evening we were enjoying what seemed like a new room. We've declutterd a bit (all the ornaments and stuff are still boxed up somewhere and the Chesterfield has gone to a new home via Freegle), and rearranged some furniture. There's no TV or HiFi etc, but we do have music. With the magic of a wind up gramophone and a crackly 78, Robert, Chris and Izzy were able to dance to "MacNamara's Band", then entertain us with excerpts from their school Nativity plays.

And on Sunday afternoon when the visitors had gone I could shut myself in and (almost) not here the farm work going on outside

Friday, 9 December 2011

Almost there . . .

The new stove for the sitting room arrived this morning (just two weeks late) and is now setup in the "new" fireplace. Despite our best efforts the room is full of dust and the parquet floor has almost disappeared beneath footprints. The furniture is still piled up at one end and there are chairs and boxes in other rooms (I was amazed to realise we had 10 dining chairs downstairs). Christmas starts about 3 o'clock this afternoon when Rob, Claire, Izzy and Quinn come for the weekend, so so frantic cleaning is in order. I'll take another photo when it's tidied up, but here's one to prove we're getting there.

P.S. - decoratting is postponed to a (much) later date.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The fields are empty . . . .

. . .  except for the wintering sheep.

We've just brought in the last few heifers and everything is now squeezed into the buildings. No more going round the wet and soggy fields to check stock - but more to feed and muck out.

And Christmas is coming to Strickley.

The cake is in the oven (at last). And I'm printing out Christmas cards. Last year I thought that when I retired I would be much more organised and on top of things. Not so. We've also put up four Christmas trees in the front bedrooms. Rob, Claire, Izzy and Quinn are coming up this weekend so we're trying to have at least a little bit of sparkle.

New Project update - the wall is plastered and today the builder is fitting the plate thing that goes in the chimney and pointing all the stone work. But - we've been a been let down by the stove supplier (not the retailer who is doing everything he can) who keeps putting back the delivery date. Plans to be finished by Friday look totally unrealistic now. After the stove is fitted there's a mountain of cleaning and sorting to do.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New camera - more features

I'm sure you've been missing the wildlife pictures over the past few months. After the original camera met with an unfortunate accident in September we claimed on the insurance. We sent the camera away to be assessed and it was declared "not worth repairing " - or words to that affect, and we had a cheque from the NFU. We didn't rush into getting a replacement but did a bit more research than last time, now we knew a few pros and cons. Eventually we decided on a Bushnell Trophy Cam. We shopped around and found a good deal (it even included a bear guard -  and you don't know what might be lurking down the wood). But it was such a good deal that it had sold out - but, instead they sent the new improved version for the same price (but no bear guard). This version has more bells and whistles and we are still trying out the different options and settings. One great advantage is the built in screen, so we can check the images out "in the field" (with the old one we had to bring the SD card up to the house). It also has a microphone, so the videos come with sound! We've tried it in a couple of places round the pond and these are some of the results so far.
And the next ones should be better quality!

Note - I forgot to save the settings when I set the date and time, so the date, time and moon phase are wrong. And note - it even shows the temperature when the photo/video was taken.


Yet another retreating deer





Monday, 5 December 2011

First Snow

Half past nine last night - but look back at the Blog for this time last year to see real snow.

Friday, 2 December 2011


It's that time of year when we try to get our hedging done. Henry and James have been out in the bitter cold today, in the field we call "Bottom Field at Over Bleaze". All the fields have up to date field numbers (eg SD5488 3273) but these are only ever used in anger on Defra/RPA or HLS etc forms. Some names have stayed the same for years, but some are more prosaic and modern. If you click here, you'll see photographs of most of them, with the original and current names.

So just so you can visualise what's been going on today, here are a few photos.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sexual stereotyping

Much as it pains me to say it - I think I have been conforming to a perceived sexual stereotype lately. The work on the sitting room fireplace is progressing (steadily - not fast) and should be finished by Christmas. While I am present for discussions on stonework, plaster, chimneys and flues etc, I know that I don't have strong opinions on what's behind the whole look. As long as it's sound and won't need touching for the next fifty years or so, I'm happy. But while I maybe can't visualise what is going on in the chimney, I can visualise how the room will look when the builder has left and dust finally swept away. It will be warm and cosy, with comfy chairs and no clutter. Thick dark red curtains will shut out the wind and rain and strategically placed lamps will light up the pictures and few pieces of china we've brought back in. But in my mind it's not the existing chairs and settees. Over the years we've acquired a fair few chairs and own four settees and six armchairs of various degrees of comfort. And the comfiest are not always the best looking (no disrespect to my late mother - but the washed out terracotta colour was a definite mistake). And now I've seen a sofa on EBay that is just meant to be in our sitting room. The deadline is looming and it's near enough to pick up. I can just see it in the sitting room. If we get rid of the uncomfiest settee (a low backed Chesterfield that you can't fall asleep on), it might squeeze in. Or so I thought. Maybe spatial awareness is male thing, as when we got out the tape measure it proved (almost conclusively) that it's too big. The sticking point seems to be the piano. When I got married I wanted three things I never had as a child - a dog, a real Christmas tree and a piano. We don't have a dog now, but still have the other two. I bought the piano for 50p at an auction in 1970 and I'm loathe to let it go. What we need is an extension.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Moving On

The Land Rover and trailer have been busy today - moving cows and heifers about. Some - a batch of fifteen heifers - are going down the road a bit to their winter B & B. We haven't the space inside to house all the stock so some get to go on a winter holiday a few miles away. And like travellers everywhere, they need to take their passports. A few clicks on the BCMS website and Defra knows where they are.

But for four older cows it was a one way ticket this morning. These tickets are given to cows for various reasons - sometimes if we can't get them in calf. The oldest of this batch was 13. She had 10 calves and produced over 84000 kg of milk. At this point I should say "enough to fill Wembley stadium" or "20 double decker buses" etc. But I've no idea. I'm sure you get the gist, that it's a lot of milk, and it illustrates one of the traits of the modern Dairy Shorthorn - longevity.

Friday, 25 November 2011

New Homes Ready For Occupation

Following the government's announcement on housing, we've been doing our bit. There's a range of sizes and choice of location (especially selected to suit the new occupants). All handmade from locally sourced timber.

So if you're a small bird looking for a new home - we've got 56. Larger birds are also catered for, with 6 Barn Owl boxes and 5 Tawny Owl boxes.

Small mammals will have to go on a waiting list - there's 30 Dormouse boxes still to set up.

Monday, 21 November 2011

New Project - Day Three

In the absence of a small boy or Dick Van Dyke . . . .

Sunday, 20 November 2011

New Project - Day Two

Give a couple of farmers the tools of mass destruction, and they can't wait to attack a fireplace and wall that has stood innocently for a long time. The photographs below show the "progress" as the fire surround and then three fireplaces are removed. The air was a bit thick with dust towards the end, so they are not the clearest of images. We're ready now to start the making good and construction. The aim is to plaster above and round, but leave the  actual opening as stone (and a bit round it).  More updates to follow over the next few days.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

New Project - Day One

For a while we've had a plan in the back of our minds to improve the sitting room, so we would use it more. In Summer it's a cool retreat from the heat of the day and the hustle and bustle of farming, but in Winter (or even Spring or Autumn) it's too cold to sit in comfortably. There is a coal fire - but you need to light it first thing in the morning to get the room warm enough by evening (and then it only really heats half the room). So, following on from the success of the stove in the kitchen we are putting in a wood burning stove.We've spent quite some time this morning boxing up and removing to safe places the myriad of collectables (some just of sentimental value) and pictures. Not all of them may come back - I'll never be minimalist, but perhaps it's time for "less is more". Small furniture has been moved or stacked, cupboard doors sealed and everything shrouded in a "high density dust sheet" (to quote the packaging - though to me it looks like flimsy plastic).

Tomorrow the fun begins when Henry attacks the existing fireplace, before the builder comes to create an opening for the new stove (ordered yesterday and due at the end of the week).
The absolute deadline for finishing is Christmas - so loads of time!

Friday, 18 November 2011

A New Project

And this is the "before" picture

Monday, 14 November 2011

It's that time of year again . . . .

. . . . when all the cows queue up for the hairdresser. Wendy and her Clippaholics team (07785 971 614) are here to give them all a Winter Clip.

Only trouble is, when they come into the parlour tonight, will Henry recognise them? Especially as he is usually looking at the business end.

Friday, 11 November 2011

11th November

In Remembrance.
One of many

This is my father's elder brother, who died in Singapore aged 21.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Forgot to say yesterday . . .

. . now that most of the leaves have fallen (and it's a good fine day) we've started hedging.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Return of the hawk

A couple of pictures of the Harris Hawk you may have seen over Strickley this morning.

Friday, 4 November 2011

More birdwatching

This is becoming a frequent visitor to the feeders in the garden, but I'm usually too slow getting the camera out. Snapped it this time - but only the once, then the battery ran out.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Hawk Eye

Did you see a different bird swooping over Strickley this morning? Not one that comes to our bird table, but a Harris Hawk. His handler (is that the right word?) said he was only interested in rabbits, so was surprised and pleased when he got a carrion crow.

I saw a strange car pull up outside the house, and wondering who it was peered out the window, and got quite a shock when the driver got out, rummaged in the back and stood up with a large bird of prey on his arm. (He had already seen Henry down the yard)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


It's a new month and I've been looking back at last months weather. I've been using the same software for several years, but keep finding new reports and features (maybe they really are new, or maybe I've just not delved deeply enough before). This picture is a screen shot of "Local Climatological Data". There are some empty columns (either we don't track, or have no previous records), and I'm not absolutely what some of it means - but it's here for those of you who like numbers.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Improving the environment

As you may know we have an HLS agreement (click for a link). This is a sort of descendant of the Hedging Initiative, Countryside Stewardship and other schemes - which Strickley has been involved with for many years. We already had an ELS (Entry Level Scheme), then OELS (Organic Entry Level Scheme), before being accepted onto the HLS (Higher Level Scheme). It's a ten year process and we've spent a lot of time getting this far. Some of it rewards us (by payments) for what we are already doing (hedging etc), and some encourages to do more. Over the past few years local schools and playgroups have spent time at Strickley, but now they do so in a more structured way (led by Michelle). Over the winter we hope to improve the facilities.
Next week we will be starting hedging (we used to reckon we did a mile a year), now the leaves have mostly fallen. This past week, as part of the scheme, we have been felling a group of trees in the wood. These are conifers that were planted about 40 years ago and now the tree canopy is too dense. So down they've come, to let in light and encourage vegetation to grow underneath, providing a habitat for flora and fauna

We've also been busy on The Lots digging out two small ponds to encourage different wildlife - e.g. Redshanks (apparently we're on the flight path) - pictures to follow when/if we take some.

And of course muck is always with us, so plenty of that had been flung as well

Saturday, 22 October 2011

It really is the World Wide Web

We've been using Google Analytics for about a week now, tracking and analysing visitors to our main website and to this blog. I've a long way to go in getting to the bottom of all the features, but a quick click on the standard reports shows a surprising range for countries.

This data is for the main website (the Blog is tracked separately at the moment - though there is an overlap with links from one to the other)

And if your geography is a bit rusty - that's
Hong Kong
United Kingdom
United States

Some visitors come direct - i.e. type in Others follow the link from this blog. Some people follow links from other websites (e.g. or But quite a lot "Google" us. We can see what keyword they searched on - and it's not all farming related. The spelling in the list below is as input by searchers.

blackthorn tree
charlotte, ia poor farm
cuckoo flower
dairy shorthorn
dairy shorthorn cattle
dairy shorthorn prefection ten
dairy shorthorn sales uk
dressed poultry chicken
dust and stones
garlic mustard
holly flower pictures
how to dressed chickens
iris yellow
pearson william robinson
robinsons dairy dingle liverpool 8
rodway organic shorthorns
shorthorn bulls head
strickley farm kendal
yellow irises

But rest assured - we don't know who you are, or your IP address. I just find it fascinating that someone the other side of the world is reading about us. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Don't be scared, but . . .

. . . we are watching you.

I've just discovered a new "toy" - i.e. something else to fiddle about with.

Google Analytics

Assuming I've got it setup correctly, and inserted the right bit of code in the right place on the Blog, Strickley main website and Weather page, I should be able tell how many people visit them. And a lot more besides. I've a bit of a learning still to do, but the results so far seem to be accurate.

For instance, yesterday some from Bristol, using Windows and IE 8, with a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 visited us.  I even know their ISP.
And then was someone from Leicester looking at the weather on an Android  phone. I even know the make of phone.

I hope this isn't worrying, but if I, with no previous experience, can find out all of that with a free out-of-the-box tool in 30 minutes, what are the real websites picking up about our online behaviour?

Well, I'm off to fiddle about some more - so keep visiting us (to give me some data to analyse)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Dipping a toe in the water

. .  well, several legs actually.

As part of our HLS agreement we have had a few local schools visit us. And by the next ones come, looking in the pond will be easier. We've assembled a "Dipping Platform" and Henry and James have prepared a place for it and today it was lowered into place and firmly fixed.  This video shows how useful our tele-handler is.

And in case the video doesn't display correctly - here are a few photos.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

In, Out, In

Over the past week the milk cows have been going out during the day, but there have been a couple of really bad days when we've kept  them inside. And now the time has come to say, enough's enough, and stop the trek through muddy gateways. We also brought a batch of calvers in, so the winter routine has definitely started.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Whatever the weather . . . .

. . .  there's always plenty to do.

The brief misplaced spell of summer has been and gone, and the only reminder is the big stack of bales. But wind and rain (and there's been a lot of wind) don't keep farmers indoors. This week almost every animal at Strickley has been moved around. The cows have finished off the grass that was undersown the Triticale and are  now in The Teapot Field. Groups of calves have been shuffled round and have new grass to graze. And we've sorted out the bulling heifers. The first group should be calving in summer and go into the herd (with a few to sell at the Penrith Sale) and the next group calving a bit later (with a batch for sale in the autumn).

School visits have stopped for now, but we're improving what we offer ready for next year. We're lucky having the wood and pond and have bought some picnic tables and benches for outdoor activities. There's also a pond dipping platform, which is ready to be lifted and lowered into place.

And whatever the weather, you're never more than a Click away from checking it out. We're now exporting the data to four different places.

So, you can see all the latest details and historical analysis on put main weather page - updated every 15 minutes

Or read summary on the top of this Blog - updated every 10 minutes

Or see how we compare with the rest of the country on WOW - updated every 15 minutes

And we've joined Twitter. I've never really seen the point of telling the world the mundane details of your daily life, or reading other people' random thoughts. But partly as an exercise to see if I could, and to keep my brain active, I've set up our weather software to send a Tweet three or fours times a day (I'm still fine tuning the schedule). As each Tweet is limited to 140 characters, it's a slimmed down report. This is it's first day, so it's probably still a work in process. But if you're a Twitterer, you can "follow" us (StrickleyFarm) - but don't expect any non-weather Tweets.

Monday, 3 October 2011

More deer

Who needs a fancy remote sensor wildlife camera, when Victoria was able to take this yesterday in deepest Leicestershire (well, not so deep - Bradgate Park).

(And if you're wondering about the dearth of Strickley wildlife photos - the camera had an unfortunate incident involving a bike, a coat and hard concrete. It's currently in the hands of the NFU)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A productive week

Looking back we seem to have done a lot this last week. The long (or longish) dry spell may have come late in the season, but it was very welcome. On Tuesday we mowed about 60 acres of third cut, and we now have 140 extra big bales stacked ready for winter. Big Bale silaging seem to run to a different tempo to clamp silaging. From the house I don't see a constant stream of tractors and trailers rattling through the yard, and there are less mouths to feed. Most of the work is done out of sight of the house and it can happen that the various people involved work alone. It started with James mowing on Tuesday, then Henry spent most of Wednesday rowing up. (See the videos in May posts). Wednesday afternoon the contractor arrived to bale and wrap (all in one machine). Henry and James worked till dark on Wednesday and Thursday shifting the bales to our compound. And that's another difference to the earlier silage cuts - "working till dark" was after  11pm in May, but is now only 7.30 pm.

Also on Thursday we sorted out the batch of cows that we have sold to a farm near Gargrave. They had some last year and are very pleased with them, so caught up with James at the Dairy Event to see if we have some available this year. We've done our calculations and know how much stock we can house over winter. There were three newly calved and twelve due in the next couple of months. They have gone to another Organic farm, so as well as the passports, CTS movement, pedigree certificates etc, they need Soil Association transfer documents. A lot of paperwork. All went well and the carrier came for them yesterday afternoon, in time for milking at their new home.

Other fine weather jobs this week have included sawing up wood and replacing slates on the house roof (the Manitou comes in very useful - long and high reach).

And finally a quiz question -  "When was the October temperature record set in March?"

Click here for the answer (about third of the way down)

Update - record broken today

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Here comes the sun

At last! The summer we were hoping for, and a chance to get the remaining  fields of grass.

And it's not just the sun and mower that are out again - but Henry's knees. After being hidden by jeans for a couple of weeks - it's back into shorts.

Yesterday did mark the end of the season in one way - it was our last school visit until Spring. So the Strickley Education Suite can revert back to cattle pens ready for winter.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Here we go again

Well, it hasn't rained since 02:30 am yesterday, so the mower has been unearthed again and James is whizzing round the fields for third cut (as I expect a lot of farmers round here are doing). There's 60 acres earmarked for big bales. The forecast is good (at least until the weekend), so it should have a chance to dry out a bit before the baler comes. Though with a long queue of farmers wanting his services, he's eager to get started as soon as possible.

Our apple harvest is underway. The apple tree that some friends gave us for our Ruby Wedding suffered in the recent gales and most of the fruit dropped off. We managed to get most of it ahead of the rabbits. We've an older tree of cookers in the field - not Bramleys, but don't know what they are, and Henry has picked a small batch. There's loads more - plus the pears - to get after we've dealt with the silage. First things first.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Bit of a Hectic Week

I'm not too sure why, but this past week seems to have been a bit hectic. The weekend after our holiday I did as little as possible (slowly coming down to earth). There was no cooking to do - the Aga was out till Sunday, so cold meat and cheese for dinners and one takeaway and one meal out didn't take much effort. But by Monday I had to buckle down and tackle some paperwork and pay some bills. My massive bakathon before Kendal Show had dwindled to a couple of small cakes, so the tins needed replenishing.
On Tuesday morning we sold two cows to a new breeder, who is planning to make cows' milk cheese as well as his sheep milk cheeses.
In the afternoon someone else came to look at our cows, with a view to buying a batch of new calved ones. They'll be leaving Cumbria for Yorkshire next week.
On Wednesday our vet came up to finalise some of the documents and reports we have to include in our upcoming RDPE grant application. Everything is almost in place now, just the final bits of paper due in next week.
On Thursday Michelle and James "entertained" a group of school children. The morning was spent down the wood and round the pond (a much more interactive version of what was called a Nature Walk in the Olden Days), and the afternoon round the buildings. We were lucky with the weather - the best day of the week.
Today Henry has been to Lancaster Auction with a batch of bull calves. We haven't the resources to rear them ourselves, so sell on when they're about a month old. So tonight there will be a bit more milk in the tank, with less hungry mouths to feed.
Henry's been out to meetings twice in the evening (it should have been three, but for a clash), and tonight we're babysitting - James has just found out he's won £50 in the New Hutton 200 Club and is off out to celebrate.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Back Home

Warning - this is a rather long rambling post. It's typed over a couple of days, so doesn't reallty flow - sorry!

Last Saturday we were up at five and left the house at half past. This was according to my carefully planned schedule for our Irish holiday. Normally when we go away we take our caravan, and leave when we're ready (i.e. when Henry has finished work). But this time we had a deadline - time and tide don't wait for us and we were booked onto a ferry leaving from Craigryan. I had worried about a lot of things that could go wrong, and the first on my list was missing the boat. I imagined traffic hold ups, roadworks, slow moving wagons etc., and allowed plenty of time. In the event none of these happened and we were lined up waiting for the ferry in plenty of time. We sat in the car in the allocated lane and watched the boat come in and unload.

The next of my worries was parking in the boat, and would there be room for me to open the door and get out. But of course there was no trouble at all. (I've taken lots of photos of the boat at request of Grandson 4).

We were lucky (or maybe not everyone wanted to see the sea) to get seats right at the front (bow or pointed end) and could look out over the rather choppy sea. Worry number 3 concerned seasickness, but either the pills worked or we're not susceptible.

We even relaxed enough (well, it was only really me who was worried) to have coffee and cake. Gradually the clouds lifted and we could see the Irish coast. More photos for Fletcher to show the front opening and us driving off at Larne.

We drove south round Belfast to our friend Helen's near Millisle. This was the start of a reunion of seven girls who first met 44 years ago at Edge Hill College. Unfortunately one of the others was on holiday and poor Liz fell and broke her ankle the day before. But with husbands and partners we were still a lucky party of thirteen.  We were the last to arrive and Helen gave us a quick tour of the Ards Peninsula and I tried to take as many photos as possible. Not all have come out as well as I hoped, but this is one of the best - the harbour at Portavogie (I think!)

We drove past sandy beaches and rocks, through Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, Portavogie  - where I think I took this (George Best lived (and drank) round here).

Then cut across to Portaferry. This was were we saw the first obvious signs of the affects of the recession. Whole streets were boarded up, but there were still impressive houses overlooking the lough.  We watched the affects of the tides and winds on the water, which generate electricity through SeaGen - click on the link which explains it better than I can.

I took more photos from Windmill Hill then we drove back up the side of the lough to Helen's house. We were staying in a nearby B & B, but met up with the rest of the party for supper, drinks, catching up and to play Canasta. When we were young penniless students we regularly played, and some had kept it up over past 40+ years. Henry and I hadn't played for about 15-20 years (and not in pairs for much longer), but after a quick reminder of the rules it came back and despite my rustiness and recklessness I came out a winner.
Next day on Sunday we headed up north, through the outskirts of Belfast and up the Antrim coast. By now the weather was definitely worsening and though the views were dramatic, it was not a day for photographs, so here's a link to the route we took. We cut across from Coleraine to Limavady to the shelter of our hotel, where we were spending two nights of luxury - still with our party of what someone called "recycled teenagers". On Monday the weather was no better, as the tail end of Hurricane Katia hit Ireland, but we decided to head west into Donegal. We were armed with a map, SatNav and camera and set off for foreign parts. With no border controls the first time we realised we were not in the UK was when our phones beeped to tell us we were "roaming" and the speed signs changed to kph. We wandered up the west coast of the Inishowen peninsula. We had no real route planned and just followed what looked like interesting roads. Eventually we saw signs to Malin Head, which looking at the map, seemed to be at the end of the world. We stopped at a small gravelled viewpoint and looked out over the Atlantic. By now the wind made opening the car difficult, but in the interests of photography I got out and leaned against the car to try to steady myself. The photographs don't do the experience justice, but as I was buffeted by the wind and rain on all sides I was pleased with what I got.

So, back in the car, close the door and prepare to head back to civilisation and shelter. Disaster! The car wouldn't start. It seemed to be the same, or similar symptoms, to the problem we had earlier in the year when we were in the caravan. That time we were on a campsite near Carlisle, knowing our exact location, and called the AA who were out in 30 minutes. This time were on an unmarked road (before we stopped,  the SatNav seemed to be placing us in the middle of nowhere), that may be one of several on our map (no road signs for the past 5/10 miles) and nothing but the sea on one side and unoccupied wilderness on the other. We could see a white house in the distance but nothing else. Could we call the AA? We had a signal on the phone (but can't get it one in our house!), but as we were in a foreign country, didn't know whether they could help - and how could we explain where we were? We got the handbook out. Sat and panicked a bit more and tried the car again. Nothing. Panicked even more and tried one more time - a flicker of life and the engine started! Deciding our luck wouldn't last any longer, we headed back down the track and found the quickest route back to villages, towns and safety of garages etc. We didn't dare stop the engine and I breathed I sigh of relief as we crossed back into Northern Ireland.

We put our troubles to the back of our minds (out of site, out of mind in the car park) and enjoyed another good night of food, drink and nostalgia.

Next morning, after another lie in (could get used to it), we said goodbye to our friends who were flying or sailing home. We had another two days in yet another posh hotel. We took our cases downstairs and Henry went to fetch the car nearer. He was soon back - but with no car. Dead again. This time there was no hesitation. I called the AA. In about an hour a local AA man had started the car and advised us to get the battery looked at. He led the way to a tyre place about a mile away and they confirmed the battery was definitely useless. Twenty minutes and £96 later we were on our way again. We went back up to the coast road, vaguely following our map. We headed for Magilligan Point (passing the prison and firing range), where we could look over to part of Donegal we missed the day before). For once the sun was out and the sand was golden.

Still following the map, we ended up at Bushmills and the distillery. The next tour was due in 10 minutes so things were working out for us. We've been round a couple of other distilleries, but this was the most geared up for tours - a good insight to what was happening (it was all working), but very safe. And of course, as all tours do, it ended in the shop. And of course you have to buy something. A good job we have a whisky drinker in the house (but in this case whiskey).

We continued down the coast, detouring down a side road to Ballintoy. By now the weather had closed in again but that made the seas look more dramatic.

We had hoped to visit The Giants Causeway, but our delayed start (re car) and several detours meant we had to miss it this time, as we were heading for our next hotel. We also missed crossing the Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Rede (not that I would have been crossing it), but stopped off a bit farther down the coast and got it on film.

Another hotel, another good dinner and glass (or two) of wine, another good sleep and another good breakfast. Next day we planned a different tour and thought we would drive round Lough Neagh, getting as close to the shore as possible. This was a less successful day - it was more urban and industrialised around the main roads, and when we ventured off onto minor roads we had a tendency to get lost (partly because of a complete lack of signposts on the myriad of junctions). When we passed a building for the second time in 30 minutes we thought we were destined to drive the same circuit all day. We had been looking for Washing Bay (no reason - just saw the name on the map). The weather was getting worse and we knew our hotel room was warm and dry with a comfy settee, so we put the postcode in the SatNav and took the more or less direct route back.

One more night of comfort and luxury and then a leisurely breakfast and drive to the ferry. For once the sky was blue and the sun was shining. The sea was calm and the crossing on the P & O Express only took an hour. The journey back from Cairnryan was not as restful as last Saturday - much more fast-moving traffic. We stopped off near Dumfries, and were back home by 5.30 - just in time for Henry to feed 50 calves (or did I mishear, and it was 15?).

We had let the Aga go out so the house was cold, but after supper at Wellbank we were glad to be able to sleep in our own bed (there's nothing like it). Henry planned to clean out and service the Aga ready for winter, so yesterday was still cold, but much earlier than last year we lit the wood burner and now it's almost too hot! This morning Henry has sorted out the Aga and by tonight it should be up to temperature and I can start to cook again, after nearly a week off.

I called this post "Back Home", meaning we are are back at Strickley, but in some ways it could mean I was back home in Ireland, as my great great grandmother, Elizabeth Cormack,  was born there in 1821