Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Back to work

While we were away last week (relaxing in the sun, or not) James was busy painting and tidying up round the yard. Last year we had several events at Strickley (culminating in our Ruby Wedding Party) and had a massive tidy up and clear out. This year is quieter - but it does us good to have a reason to get back into shape. Last Friday Natural England held a training session here (training them, not farmers) and we provided the land, and somewhere inside (in case it rained). So we cleared out the "new" building across the yard (stanchions etc painted red by James) and provided coffee and cake (thank you Michelle - master cake maker). We put a dish out and asked for donations for Endmoor First Responders (who now cover New Hutton).

On Saturday the building was in use again (perhaps we should call it Strickley Conference Centre, Or Strickley Hospitality Suite?) when Kendal South Choir held their own fundraising event. It was a miserable wet and cold day, but 30 odd brave souls were led on a farm walk by Arthur, and then were joined by the less hardy (including us) for a barbecue. If only it had been on Sunday, when the weather began to perk up.

By Monday the weather was looking settled so we mowed a six acre field for big bales. This is more or less the last of first cut. * We got the bales last night and today James is moving them from the field to our Big Bale compound.

This morning Natural England are back with another group of trainees and have the benefit of seeing the farm in sunshine.

Over the years we've accumulated several garden chairs, some off Freecyle and Freegle, which are useful for these sort of dos. So, if you're investing in posh new patio furniture and wondering what to do with the old faded stuff, think of Strickley Conference Centre.

* Updated - ignore what I said about finishing mowing - we're at it again this afternoon

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Holiday Diary

Sunday morning
Quick dash to M & S to pick up a "Dine in for £10 Meal".
Last few bits loaded into the car and caravan - including in the boot, a bucket, sponge and large can of water.
Drive very slowly down the lane and onto the road. As we headed off up the road, all the muck picked up from the lane flicked off the wheels and onto the front of the caravan. (The cows come up and down the lane every day and inevitably add a few extra messages to the mud already there).
We drive onto New Hutton Lane and pull in at a wider bit. Henry gets to work with the water and sponge, and clean and gleaming once again we head off up the motorway.
About an hour later we were set up at the Caravan Club Site at Englethwaite Hall. Everything connected, plugged in and switched on.

Mid afternoon I noticed an ominous gurgling noise. A quick look under the back seat confirmed the worst - the repaired water heater was leaking. We assume that something expanded and/or shrank as the water got hotter. So, Henry was back to wiggling and wriggling with the various connections, and eventually managed to isolate the water supply, so it bypassed the heater. We had water in the taps again, but only cold. Never mind, we have a gas cooker and a whistling kettle.

Sunday evening - enjoyed a nice M & S meal, watched a DVD and dropped into bed.

Monday morning

Up late. Leisurely cooked breakfast. Boiled water to wash up.
Quick dash to the supermarket to stock up on food (taking it all with us would be far to organised), then back to SIT OUT IN THE SUN! This was what I at least had come on holiday for. The weather held all day and we were even able to cook outside. (Chicken stir fry in a Wok on the barbecue).

Slight problem - we noticed the fridge light had gone out, and sure enough it had stopped working. It can run on electric, battery or gas. As it's easiest to just plug it in, we always just use mains electric. Henry fiddled about with with wires and fuses, but it stayed off. So, out with the instruction book and find out how to run it on gas. Very surprised when it worked! Ice on the go for G & T.

Tuesday morning.

Up late again and another leisurely breakfast. Not as sunny as yesterday. In fact no sun, just showers. Never mind. We planned a drive round the high fells to the east, stopping off for a bit of shopping in Hexham.
12 ish - went to start the car. No joy - battery completely flat. So, we made the most of the subscriptions we've been paying all our lives, and called the AA. They were very helpful, and kept us informed of arrival time etc, and in just over an hour we had an AA man on site (are they still called Patrolmen?). He connected his gizmo to the battery and confirmed it was dead. He connected some serious looking jump leads and checked that it was charging and that it was holding it's charge. He also confirmed that nothing was draining the battery when the car was switched off and locked. He reluctantly admitted that he didn't know what caused it. I think not knowing really upset him. So we thought we ought to get the battery checked at a battery place and went to ATS on the outskirts of Carlisle. We had to wait in line as they fixed/fitted various tyres on other cars. At this point I began to regret coming out without a book. When we got to the front of the queue, they too were puzzled. They confirmed the battery was OK and holding its charge, and couldn't say why it had suddenly completely discharged. They recommended an Auto Electric company nearby. They were very helpful, and as it was by now warm and sunny, I sat outside on a rock while they did their diagnostics. No obvious answers as to what happened, and we agreed with them that we wouldn't know if it was now OK, until it went again.

They day was getting away from us, so we whizzed down the motorway to Cranstons at Penrith, had a drink and cream scone, and bought some fish for supper. By we got back to the caravan the weather had reverted to showers so we cooked and ate inside (Salmon and smoked haddock in watercress sauce, with savoury rice). The TV reception was a bit erratic, so we settled down to a favourite DVD - The Italian Job. Can't beat it!

Wednesday morning.

Yet another lie in and leisurely breakfast (getting to be a habit!). A quick check of the car and it started first time. More and more rain, so we tried to escape it by car. No luck. It seemed to follow us. We drove through places we'd never been to before, but the rain never left us. We nipped into Waitrose at Hexham and treated ourselves to a ready meal - "Thali banquet for two punjabi". I was a bit worried that it might be too hot for one of us as it was classified as "two chillies". No need to worry - it was the least spicy Indian meal I'd had, and one of the most disappointing. Should have cooked ourselves again!

Thursday morning.

The final lie in (and only toast for breakfast - no eggs and bacon left) and then packing away ready to come home. As we disconnected the gas from the fridge, we tried the electric again. Worked first time! By 11.30 we were on our way and now the caravan is back in the Paddock (waiting to have the water looked at again) and I'm waiting for the Aga to be lit (it's a man's job) so I can get warmed up!

PS - I'm sorry for the hit and miss grammar in the post - I've been adding bits and pieces all afternoon, and it never really flowed.

PPS - another disappointment - the books I took! I ordered a set of books from The Book People that I thought would be light enough for holiday reading, but still at least slightly gripping. Wrong choice - 10 books for £9.99 might be a bargain - but not if they're Agatha Raisin books by M C Ballard. I shouldn't have believed the reviews.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Back on track

As far as we know the caravan is now in full working order. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet we managed to find a refurbished (i.e. sprayed blue) tie rod for the water heater. Henry put it all back together again and miraculously there were no bits left over. So he reconnected the water pump and switched on. Oops! still a leak (but not as bad as last time). More wriggling and wiggling and he discovered the new part was ever so slightly longer (or was it shorter?) than the original. But some extra washers secured it and it's all now back together and connected. (I was busy babysitting so missed most of this).

The last hurdle was hook up the car and test the lights and indicators etc. It's very rare that it all works first time - but this year is the exception. Last night Henry washed the car - it had more white spots than actual bodywork, and then put it in a building out of the way of birds. So, we're now ready to go at a moments notice (which is how it's supposed to be).

Looking forward to next March, I've booked tickets to see Chris Rea at Harrogate. It seemed to be a bit of a faff - several sites had "pre-sales" when you could get tickets a day early if you were registered. But they all seemed to offer blocks of seats in the less well favoured blocks. I held back until yesterday and then booked direct with the box office, managing to get the same seats as we had in 2010 (so we know they are in a good position).

Have you been looking at our "new" weather page? The new station and updated software seems to be working very well. I'm confident that the results are accurate (no more tropical temperatures as the sun beat down on an exposed thermometer), so I have registered with WOW. This is a Met Office site (Weather Observations Website) and shows weather information across the country. Our site uploads to them every 15 minutes, and a quick look on the home page shows the range of temperatures. (It can be changed to other variables). It's a new venture, so it has had some issues (e.g. performance), but is better now. Click here to see for yourself. You can zoom in and drill down to see details of all the sites. If you know where we are, we're easy to find.

WOW site

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Congratulations to James

who last night successfully completed his assessment to be a First Responder.

And not only but also *

Happy Birthday James!

* you need to be a bit older than James to remember that

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

One man went to mow

The rain has stopped, the sun is shining, so last night James mowed about 12 acres. The plan is to big bale it later today or tomorrow. There was a very heavy dew this morning, which is slow to dry, so it may be later rather than sooner before we can get on the grass.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ups and Downs

Having a caravan means (in theory) that we can get away at the drop of a hat. It is always ready to go (in theory). No one will have borrowed bits off it for agricultural purposes (in theory). And everything will work as well as it did last year (in theory).

Having got first cut silage we have decided we can get away for a few days next week, so we went to check out the caravan. For some reason the battery had been removed to put on the old digger. We got it back in and connected and tested the lights. No good. We tried another battery. Still no good. Now, the battery can either be charged externally with a battery charger, or onboard using the caravan's Zig charger. This also keeps it charged when on site and connected to the electric. Every day last week batteries moved between the caravan and battery charger, but never managed to get the magic needle on the control panel to flicker. After much poking about under cupboards we found some fuses, changed one and Hey Presto we had battery power.

Next issue to overcome was the oven. It's always been a bit temperamental - switching off while cooking supper and we have resorted to using tape to hold in the switch to keep it on. Henry thought he should look into it and that maybe the jets were bunged up. So after disconnecting everything got to work with spanners and sockets. At one point it got a bit serious as something was unscrewed that shouldn't have been and it took much ingenuity with a long piece of wire to get it back together again. So it's working again - at least as well (or not) as before.

The last thing to do was to check and purify the water supply. Seasoned caravanners (and we should be called that after 35 years) know to drain the water system before winter. But we're too optimistic - expecting to get  away one more time in autumn, or too hopeful - "it'll be alright" - and don't always get this done. Remember the temperatures last winter (minus 15 in December)? When we put the pump in a can of water and turned on the tap, the water ran out quickly - but not into the sink. The inevitable had happened and something had blown on the water heater and water was leaking fast. After much wriggling and wiggling Henry got the water heater out and discovered that a vital tie rod had sheared.  No problem we thought, we'll look on the Internet and order a new part. Not as easy as we thought. It seems that this heater hasn't been made for eight years and there are no new parts. So we started looking at caravan breakers and eventually found a site in Wales with the part in stock. I rang up this morning to check if the website was correct and then ordered the part. It should be here in a couple of days, and assuming it's the right bit and we can put it all back together again it will be all systems go. A lesson learnt - always drain the water before winter!

All the hassle over the weekend was making me feel a bit low, but an emailed alert this morning lifted my spirits way high -

So I'll be on poised to click at 09:00 on Thursday. Something to look forward to next year. At least I don't have to check my working rota now.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Weather in France

If you've been reading the comments to recent posts, you will have seen updates from our cousins in France about the weather there. I thought I would gather them all together -

19 May 2011 18:34
Here in Charente-Maritime, France, it's been wall-to-wall sunshine since the beginning of March (only 50mm of rain since 01/03). We are now in "stress" conditions for farmers - no irrigation, no forage available, farmers selling their milking stock for slaughter because they have no feed.

Welcome to global warming?
27 May 2011 18:44
Thought I'd give you an update from Charente-Maritime after another week without rain.

You look to have some good silage there. Farmers here claim their first cut (about 4 weeks ago) was of poor quality,: and that the grass hasn't grown since. Some Mayors are now allowing farmers to cut and harvest the verges of the small lanes. Other farmers are cutting any fallow piece of land with anything like grass on it for fodder. Our large pasture opposite, which has not been "farmed" in the last 12 years to our knowledge, yielded a meagre 2 round bales. We've seen small traffic islands being cut. It's crazy. The grass - or whatever - is clearly of poor quality but the farmers are desperate for fodder.

Last weekend they blocked local motorway slip-roads, met up outside the Prefect's office, and blocked the roads to the beaches. This latter was important.

AS they argue, tourism is important here (we are N° 3 in the most sunny departments in France), and the visitors have been flocking here to enjoy the weather. Tourists also need water. They are getting it, farmers are not. (Crops are about 3/4 weeks ahead of normal, so maize needs water now).

The only good point is that fishing, especially Oyster fishing (our oyster beds are the largest in France) don't need fresh water - yet. Oysters grow in estuaries, so need both salt and fresh water. But the current mix of each is said to be OK.

The rain forecast for yesterday and today didn't appear. Showers are forecast for Monday. We'll see.
7 June 2011 18:49
May I give you a late - but final - update on weather, etc in Charente-Maritime?
We hadn't had rain since 01/04 (5mm). Saturday 04/06 it got hotter, and hotter: 36°C in the shade, and humid (it was unbearable outdoors). Then, about 8,45 in the evening it started raining; then the lightning and thunder; then the downpour. By 10,15, when it had stopped, we'd had 18mm. Wonderful! Since then we've had a couple of light showers only but hope for more.

Final tales: Farmers locally have been harvesting winter-sown barley for about 3 weeks now. Normally they burn the straw in the fields to help the soil; but this year have been asked to save it for stock and milk farmers. The local paper reported that one farmer was burning his straw, when he was visited by about 15 other farmers, who "took him aside to explain his responsibilities". So polite French farmers. ....
We have trials farm locally where they are piloting Sorghum, noted for its hardiness against summer drought. But it needs water to germinate: and, with our dry Spring, it hasn't germinated.
River fishermen and oyster farmers are now complaining about the low river levels: worst ever. So, it looks like fewer gifts from our fishing neighbour; and more expensive oysters. How will we manage?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back online

Last night I got the new weather station talking to the computer. And this afternoon I have got the computer talking to the website.

So if you click on   here  you can see how hot/cold/wet/dry or windy it is at Strickley. Or you can open the Strickley Weather tab below the picture of cows and click on the link on that page. Or - click on the link on the right - "Strickley Weather" - so many ways!

As I said yesterday, we have moved to a completely different weather station. It came with it's own software (Weatherlink) which I thought I might use. But I don't like the look of the charts and graphics. It's very "blocky" and almost childlike. I know that design is very subjective (and I'm not the most artistic in the family), but I prefer something subtler. But of course looks aren't everything, and I thought it didn't show as much information as I'm used to. The information was there; but not always where or the way I expected. Maybe I've been hasty, but I've gone back to the software (Weather Display) I used before.

The data now should be much more accurate and I'm confident will continue to flow seamlessly.

I'm still tinkering with the web setup - there's things I want to tweak a bit, but the basic data will stay the same.

Just a word of warning - the updates to the website only happen when my computer is switched on. I won't be leaving it on all night. So between about 10 pm and 8 pm there will be no updates. (The timings may change, depending on how late I stay up, and when I get up ).But the data is stored on the weather console, so as soon as I start up the program all the overnight data flows to the computer and onto the website. And - we've started with a clean sheet from Day One. The history doesn't show on this version.

If you have any comments please let me know.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Weather watching

Or, once a weather girl, always a weather girl.

When we finally called it a day with our old weather station last month, we sort of said "never again". I stuck it out for about two weeks then admitted to my cravings and ordered a new system.  We've taken a bit of a leap and invested in what promises to be a much better system. It's well regarded by weather watchers all over the world and should give many years of faithful service. One of the problems with the previous setup was the location. While the Teapot Field was handy, it was also slightly sheltered by the house and buildings. It was originally put there to transmit to the computer in the office at side of the house. But that computer is also consigned to the scrap heap, so we had a blank sheet to start planning on.

So the new setup - a Davis Vantage Pro 2 - is up on top of a hill (about 130 metres above sea level), on a purpose built pole (7.5 metres), with the anemometer at the top and the other instruments half way down. It's fenced in by the hedge in Plucker and transmits the data to a console in the kitchen. Currently that's as far as it goes, but in the next few days I'll get it set up to connect to the computer (slight problem with USB connectivity at the moment) and then onto out website.

And this is the view looking west from the weather station, down towards Morecambe Bay

Friday, 3 June 2011


This (taken yesterday), shows evidence of which two creatures at Strickley?
(ignore the finger - there just to show scale)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sorry it's only sound and vision

Or maybe you're glad it's not in Smellyvision.

Once again I had problems uploading straight to Blogger.

 It's the first warmish sunny day for ages - but the whiff in the air is a bit too strong for sitting out

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Done and dusted

All of first cut is now in the pit and sheeted up. So, there will be a rather agricultural whiff in the air as we spread muck. The promised heatwave never arrived, but we were lucky with the weather. While it rained round about us we managed to keep dry. In an ideal world we would like a few more dry days to get the muck on, then some rain to wash it in.