Preparing for Winter and a Halloween Fright (courtesy of the cat)

Halloween2

October has been a month of misty mornings, silvery sunlight breaking through the clouds and stormy nights in our part of the country. Over the last few weeks we’ve been racing against the decreasing daylight and worsening weather to finish tidying the garden before winter.

My husband has extended one of the raised beds to give us more space to grow some of our own vegetables again next year. I’ve composted the courgette and pumpkin plants, and we’ve bought a second compost bin to keep up with the kitchen waste, grass cuttings and ash from the woodburning stove. I’ve also planted snowdrop, tulip and crocosmia bulbs in the flower bed, and hopefully some of them will surface. I was sad to pull up the last of the wildflowers as some of the marigolds were still flowering but it is deeply satisfying to see the freshly turned soil free from all the weeds that were growing between the flowers.

Nasturtiums have been creeping along the back fence but I don’t mind as that part of the garden has been sorely neglected while we’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – we’ve discussed everything from apple trees to a zen garden or a chicken coop (if local by-laws allow). There are currently three fir trees growing at the back and though I hate the thought of cutting down trees and losing the privacy they provide, they’re almost twenty foot tall and still growing, they block out a lot of light and their lower branches take up too much ground space.

There is nothing like a visit from parents or in-laws to prompt a frenzy of cleaning inside the house, and this weekend we had back-to-back visits from both sides of the family. My in-laws live quite a distance from us and we don’t get to see each other as often as any of us would like, yet it always makes our reunions joyful occasions and we spent a lovely day chatting, laughing and playing board games together. No sooner had we waved goodbye to one set of parents than the other side of the family arrived as we wanted to treat my mum to a birthday meal and she chose a vegan restaurant near us. Afterwards, we all returned to our house and spent a few cosy hours chatting and half-watching one of mum’s favourite films with hands wrapped around cups of coffee and the fire crackling in the background.

This weekend also brought the first frosts of the season to our part of the country and we were up before dawn yesterday defrosting the car as our cat Mara was lethargic and off her food, and given the year she’s had we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed to the emergency vet. Mara was severely dehydrated after eating something she shouldn’t have the day before and spent most of Monday hooked up to an IV drip but thankfully she was discharged in the evening. Our naughty little snaffler gave us a fright, but we couldn’t have been happier or more relieved when she woke us up at ten to six this morning whining for breakfast as usual.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween and lovely week!

Advertisements

An Enchanted Weekend in Pitlochry

EnchantedForest3

One of the events I look forward to every October is our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry. This was the sixth year that my husband and I visited, but the first year that schedules allowed us to visit the forest with a couple of good friends, and it was lovely to be able to share the experience together.

We have always been lucky with the weather, and although the path was a bit muddy in places, it was a mild and dry evening with a waning gibbous moon just visible above the tips of the tallest trees. The Enchanted Forest follows a path around Loch Dunmore in Faskally Woods using the bridge across the loch to create a figure of eight circuit. It is only a couple of kilometres long but there is always so much to see that we can easily spend an hour or so meandering through the forest savouring all the different sights and sounds of the show, and we always wander around more than once.

The theme changes every year, but the designers often draw their inspiration from nature; this year the show was called Oir An Uisge meaning Edge of the Water in Gaelic, and both weather and water were recurring motifs. I’m often guilty of viewing life through a lens and it’s especially challenging to remember to lower my camera and actually experience the Enchanted Forest because it’s all so wonderful and I want to capture it all.

We have stayed in a few different hotels and guest houses in and around Pitlochry over the years, but this year we returned to the Atholl Villa for a third time as the rooms are clean and comfortable, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it is conveniently located just a five minute walk from where the shuttle buses collect and drop off visitors to the Enchanted Forest. The following morning, we took a wander around Pitlochry itself, which is a pretty town full of boutiques, gift shops and cafes, and although I don’t really start getting excited about Christmas until after Guy Fawkes night, I can’t resist a quick look in the Christmas Emporium whenever we visit Pitlochry.

This was the first time we’d left our cat Mara alone overnight since moving into our new house, and she gave us a very warm welcome when we returned from our little adventure. It’s lovely to be cosy at home again after an enchanted weekend away with friends. Have a lovely week.

A very special anniversary… ❤️

Maranniversary1

Just a quick post to mark that it was two years ago today that we adopted our cat Mara from the SSPCA. As Mara is a rescue cat we don’t know when her birthday is or even how old she is but we like to celebrate the day we adopted her, and this is a very special anniversary as we weren’t sure that she would even still be here to celebrate it at all.

Back in January when our vet diagnosed the lump we’d found on her tail as a mast cell tumour, they had warned us that she might only have six to twelve months left. The vets amputated her tail to give her the best chance of survival, but the next six months were full of blood tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays and fine needle aspirates to ensure the cancer had not originated or spread elsewhere. It was a relief for all of us in July when the oncology department at the small animal hospital finally gave us the all clear, and we’re so grateful to all the vets who have helped us.

We all still miss that fluffy, tabby tail crooked like a question mark when she walked around, thrashing from side to side when she played or curling round our wrists when she was asleep, but nowhere near as much as we’d miss Mara if we hadn’t found the lump in time. Mara has been so brave and resilient throughout it all, she made a full recovery and adapted with no continence issues or loss of balance and mobility, and she is still every bit as affectionate, mischievous and curious as the day we adopted her.

Back then, we were newly-weds just back from our honeymoon, when we visited the rehoming centre to look for a potential new addition to our little family. I still remember seeing the tabby and white cat pressed up against the door of her enclosure and rearing up on her hind legs to let us stroke her when we went in to say hello. Bringing her home, we were almost as nervous as we were excited, as she was the first pet either my husband or I had had since leaving our family homes, and it seemed like such a big responsibility, yet Mara easily settled in with us, quickly becoming the centre of our world and the beating heart of our home. Now, two years later we are happy to have an excuse to spoil her a little more than usual today – even if she steadfastly refuses to let me take a photo of her wearing a party hat. Have a lovely week.

September’s Golden Glow

September1

There has been an avalanche of gold and amber leaves in our street over the last week, and every day the sun seems to hang a little lower in the sky on my morning and evening commute. September is always a busy month for us, and this month has swept by in a blur of happy anniversaries, birthdays and annual traditions.

Every September, one of my closest friends hosts a get-together in the countryside. Over the years, we have become good friends with the other guests despite most of us living so far apart that we only see each other a few times a year. Our annual weekend get together is something we all look forward to, and it’s always a relaxed and wonderful time spent enjoying delicious food, rambling walks along the Solway Firth and long conversations with old friends and new around the fire-pit as the stars twinkle above.

September2

In August, my grandmother was in hospital for a procedure that was not without risks due to her age, yet she recovered in time to celebrate her 91st birthday this month. I feel very grateful to have had my grandmother all through my childhood and well into my adulthood, and while she is still fiercely independent, I can’t help noticing that she’s slowing down a little bit more every time I see her, which makes the time we spend together very precious.

At home, the cooler evenings have given us an excuse to light the wood-burning stove. My husband – a modern man in every other respect – relishes the opportunity to get in touch with his inner caveman and takes great pride in his ability to create fire, while our normally lap-loving cat Mara has firmly established herself on the hearth.

As the calendar edges towards October, it has been a lovely month full of family, friends and cosy moments, all suffused in September’s golden glow. Wishing everyone a lovely weekend. X

Our Little Kitchen Garden

KitchenGarden1

I love this time of year when the sun is still warm, there is a slight chill in the air and the leaves are just starting to turn but the evenings are still light enough to tend the garden after work.

Our attempts at growing some of our own fruit and vegetables have been somewhat less successful than our wildflower garden, yet this year was very much an experiment and we have learned some valuable lessons that we’ll be able to apply in the years ahead.

My husband and I are both novice gardeners so we chose what we hoped would be simple vegetables, though we decided against onions, carrots and potatoes as our garden is fairly small. As we weren’t expecting anything to grow, we took a gung-ho approach, planting all our seeds in April and ignoring the advice to start the courgettes and squash off inside.

We were both surprised and delighted by how many seedlings appeared and we’ve had a respectable yield of radish, spinach and broad beans, all of which we plan to grow again next year. Despite not being started inside, three little courgette plants appeared and produced a modest crop, though the squash never surfaced. My dad gave us two little pumpkin plants that we planted in the same bed as the courgettes hoping that they would fertilize each other’s flowers, and two little pumpkins reached the size of tennis balls before the slugs got them. By far the biggest disappointments were the chard, beetroot and peas, none of which got past the seedling stage, and I suspect that overcrowding and a cool, wet summer were to blame.

In the herb bed, the sage and rosemary we bought have done really well, as has the little thyme my green-thumbed friend started off for us. The chives got leek rust but have bounced back after we hacked them back to the soil.

The tayberry, blueberry and strawberries have all done relatively well, and I’ve pegged down a few new runners from the strawberries. We struggled to find a suitable home for the rhubarb my mum gave us before settling for the partially shaded bed with the strawberries.

Over the winter, we’ll plant green compost to replenish the nitrogen and nourish the soil. We’ve started our own compost bin at the bottom of the garden, it makes me feel a little less guilty about the food we waste, but it’ll be a while before the compost breaks down enough to spread over the raised beds. My husband is also planning to build a glass box out of salvaged glass shelves because he wants to try growing tomatoes next year.

Even though our harvest was modest this year and our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient, it has been so rewarding to grow some of our own food, and we’re both excited to start all over again next year. Have a lovely week!

Flora and fauna in the garden

Flora1

This was the first year that we’ve had a proper garden of our own and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed tending it. My husband and I weren’t really expecting many (or any) of the seeds we sowed to appear and vastly over-seeded all of our beds, next year we will be a bit more sparing with the seeds and also more selective about what we plant. This year, we scattered wildflower mixes and particularly loved the cheerful marigolds, poppies, corncockles, cornflowers and the striking mallow flower that appears to have self-seeded.

In June, we took part in the Great British Bee Count and enjoyed identifying all the different varieties of bee that visit our garden, such as early bumblebees, honeybees, tree bees, banded white-tailed bumblebees and red-tailed black bumblebees, all of which loved our very wild and colourful wildflowers. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many butterflies, just a few cabbage whites now and again.

Although we suspect our rescue cat, Mara, has always been a house-cat she also loves sitting on the windowsill watching all the wildlife in our garden from the insects flying around the flowers to the sparrows nesting in the hedge, the odd cheeky grey squirrel that visits and the little family of fieldmice we spotted when the wildflowers started to die back. We’ve tried taking Mara out into the garden wearing a harness a couple of times but she seemed quite overwhelmed by all the strange smells and sounds, and seems to prefer the safety and shelter of the house; though that doesn’t stop her becoming territorial when other cats decide to pass through our garden, and it always gives us a fright when our gentle girl starts making angry whale noises at the trespassers.

This weekend, I put on the gardening gloves and spent some time tackling the weeds that have also flourished in the garden over the summer. Although we have a lot of dandelions and other weeds to deal with, my priority is halting the progress of the horsetail invading our garden; I fear we are fighting a losing battle as it grows prolifically in our neighbourhood but if any readers have advice on how to get rid of it or at least keep it under control I’d be very grateful.

Yesterday, we also spent a few hours with my parents in their gardens, admiring dad’s pumpkins – that are the size of footballs now – and helping mum pick white currants, we even spotted a little frog near the marjoram.

Gardening is a rewarding and mindful pastime, and now as summer falls into autumn we’re already making plans for next year, planting the bulbs for spring and making the most of the last of the light evenings in our little garden. Have a lovely week.

A Postcard from Argyll

Seals1

Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.