Thursday 24 April 2014

My First Film - Building a Home

Well, here we go ........ We took the footage, we've played with Windows Live Movie Maker and we've found royalty free music on the Free Music Archive website.  I am very proud to share our first film with you all.

We have spent many an hour watching the coming and goings and we are waiting with trepidation for the rest of the family to arrive.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Easter Push

As Martin was off over the Easter weekend and we wanted to make the most of the four days, you saw my list, I got all the boring jobs done on Thursday.  We then hit Asda and B&Q Thursday evening so we were fully equipped for the weekend ahead.

Friday was fabulous, blue sky and sunshine all the way.  We were in the garden from 8.30am till about 5.00pm and got loads done. 

As the light was so good first thing we started off by taking some more pictures of what's in flower in the garden right now.

In just four weeks Beryl's Tree Peony has done us proud.

This little beauty is Camassia Leichtlinii.  Yes, I did have to look the name up!

For our Wedding Anniversary last year, we stayed in a beautiful cottage, with a beautiful garden in Pickering in Yorkshire.  We had never seen this plant before and we asked the owners what it was before we left.  They weren't too sure, but very kindly offered to dig a clump up for us to take home.  Well, as I've said before, you don't say no to new plants.  It's currently in a pot on the patio and looks great at the moment.

We've got an abundance of bluebells, which just seem to keep on spreading like mad, which are currently looking their best.  Also looking the best they ever have are the Morello Cherry, bring on the jam making, and the lilac. 

The year before last the Morello Cherry took a real heavy pruning as it was looking really straggly.  It didn't do well last year, but this year it is back with a vengeance.  We have had the lilac in a pot for about three years now.  The first year it didn't flower at all, last year, we had two blooms on it.  This year it is covered in fragrant purple flowers and looks great.  It's a good job really as this year was its last chance. 

The other thing which is looking glorious at the moment is the yellow Azalea, which moved in with Martin, about seven years ago.  When he moved in there were two of them.  Sadly, the other did not fare so well.

After what seemed like ages faffing about taking photos we finally got down to some serious garden activity, we worked like Trojans for the rest of the day

  • Raised bed - painted!
  • Wood for the new fence - painted!
  • Shed roof - re-felted!
  • Shed - painted - yep, a job not even on the list!
  • Greenhouse - built!
  • Tomatoes and hanging basket plants - potted on!
  • Beans - planted!

Martin even sneaked in a trip to Kwik Fit as the Astra needed four new tyres - she must know we've been looking at new cars and her days are numbered.  She is not to going to go quietly!  Based on the trade in value we've been offered for her, the tyres are now worth more than the car. Happy days!

Compared to the glorious blue sunshiny day of Friday, Saturday dawned and looked pretty gloomy.

We were busy inside all morning, so we didn't mind too much.  We knocked up another Butternut Squash & Red Onion Tarte Tatin and Seafood Lasagne, ready for tea with mum and dad later, so there was only dessert left to do.

The weather did pick up a bit and mum and dad spent the afternoon with us in the garden and we had another really productive day.
  • Sweet Peas - wigwam created and potted out
  • Pineapple Broom - she's gone
  • Red Robin - also gone, but not without putting up a fight!
  • New fence - built and looking lot better than the old one

All creaking at the joints and shattered, after a hard afternoon grafting, we were really ready for dinner, which went down a treat.

We finished our meal off with brandy snap baskets, filled with blackberries, picked last Autumn, soaked in Kirsch and topped with a lemon mascarpone cream. Oh yeah, we also had some home made buttery biscuits on the side.

Once mum and dad went off home, we flaked out on the sofa in front of the TV and didn't really move again till bed time.

Sunday morning seemed to just come and go in no time.  We didn't really surface until about 11.00am, well we are on holiday, and it was another grey day.

As we'd been in the garden solid for the last two days, we were getting a bit concerned that we hadn't seen much of the blue tits.  We decided to give the garden a wide berth to give them a bit of peace and quiet and headed off out to do a bit of Geocaching maintenance.  This is one of those pain in the jacksie jobs that comes with launching caches for other cachers to find and involves checking the position and condition of the cache containers.

Armed with all kinds of repair paraphernalia we headed out to give our Round about Hopwas series some TLC.  Our Hopwas series is a series of caches placed on a three mile circular walk taking in a lovely village, Hopwas, some canal towpath and some green lanes.

We knew from logs other cachers had recorded, that some needed new log sheets and some needed repair.  There were also a few which hadn't been found for a while and needed checking out - it's amazing how these things can move.

As rain was threatening and we were still tired, we decided to drive round as much of the circuit as we could and only did a bit of walking where we couldn't reach the caches by car.

We ended up having to search for three caches, which hadn't been replaced as they should have been.  We were pleased to be able to find all three and replaced as they should be.

We also repaired a few broken containers, replaced numerous log sheets, dried out a couple of boxed and fitted an 'O' ring to a nut and bolt type container, which just kept getting we through and seized up.

We do have another series, which is also in need of attention but we'd had enough for one day and headed home for a roast lamb dinner.  Mmmmmmm lovely.

Monday dawned, the last day of our Bank Holiday weekend.  I was full of cold, so got dosed up with LemSip, before heading back out into the garden for a nice relaxing day, planting and potting on - real pottering!

We planted lettuces, radishes, spring onions, beetroot, watercress and parsnips.  The greenhouse is bursting at the seams.

Mum and dad are now off on holiday for two weeks so all their stuff is in there too, including the shallots planted, as per the advice of the vegetable gardener at Hardwick Hall - they look great and it won't be long before we can plant them out.

So, we've had a really productive and rewarding weekend.  We're both aching and shattered, but feeling very pleased with ourselves.  All jobs on the list done, bar visiting my brother and his girlfriend (he wasn't around to visit, when we were available to visit), and extra stuff squeezed in!

Not only are mum and dad away for the next two weeks - I'll be doing my own cleaning - but Martin is heading off to Scotland for the rest of the week with work.

What will my Life of Pottering be like without my closest Amigos?  Will I like it?  Will I get bored?  At least I will have plenty of time to catch up on my blog.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Wildlife in the Garden

Generally speaking we love having wildlife in the garden and do all we can to encourage it though, as you know, we don't have a lot of time for that dratted red lily beetle - yes, we've spotted another one.

We always have lots of butterflies, bees, dragonflies, ladybirds and all manner of other insects regularly frequent the garden and we've even built a log pile to encourage more and maybe, even a hedgehog.

One thing we don't see lots of though, is birds.  They've probably stayed away as, in previous years, they've fallen foul to Tinker, Monkey or William. 

In spite of this we still keep hanging lots of bird feeders around the garden and we do see blackbirds, blue tits and the occasional goldfinch, from time to time.

We have also had a nesting box hanging in the garden for about 5 years, but it's never even been sniffed at by any of our feathered friends.

Imagine the excitement!  One Saturday morning, just before I headed off to the hair dressers for some serious root therapy, I was looking out of the kitchen window and I was sure I saw a bird fly in the box.  I thought I must have imagined it and called Martin to come and have a look.  He arrived at the window just in time to see a blue tit come back out. 

Sad as it may sound, we were both beside ourselves!!  Within seconds the zoom lens was set up on the tripod with the top part of the stable door open, focused and ready to snap should she come back.  We weren't sure at this point whether it was a first viewing or whether she is getting ready to move in.

We had a quick look on Google and confirmed that it is definitely blue tit nest building time and, did you know, a blue tit can have a clutch of 12 eggs and each chick can eat up to 100 caterpillars a day - Respect has to go to the blue tit family.

Martin dropped me off at the hair dressers and headed back home for a stint of nest watching.  When he picked me up later I asked if she had been back.  He had a massive grin on his face and said had she ever.  He'd spent the majority of the morning watching, taking pictures and even a sneaky video, which I am working on posting as my first film, once I can sort out some royalty free music and work out how to make it small enough to upload.  Any advice with this would be greatly welcomed.

Just when I was looking at the photos Martin had taken she came back and was in and out of that nesting box like crazy.  It was amazing to watch and there has been some serious bird watching taking place on the pottering agenda since.

Oh yeah, Martin also let me know we'd got blackbirds nesting in the ivy.  Awesome!

Thursday 17 April 2014

Happy Easter Everyone!

I just wanted to wish everyone a really great Easter.  Two Bank holidays!!  One of my favourite times of year.  I hope you all have a great break.
I am praying for sunshine as we have a huge list of outside jobs that we've been saving.  If it rains we really are scuppered.
As we are going to be so busy I am going to have to go 'cold turkey' on the blogging front, as I can get a bit carried away and end up doing nothing else.  So, I thought I'd share with you what my top 10 priorities are for the Easter weekend and we can all meet back here next Tuesday and I can let you know how I got on.
  1. Replace the fence in the front garden
  2. Paint one of the raised vegetable beds
  3. Build the temporary greenhouse
  4. Have mum and dad round for dinner
  5. Visit my brother and his girlfriend
  6. Pot on all of the seeds that we planted a few weeks ago
  7. Do more planting - parsnips, salad, courgettes, carrots and more beetroot
  8. Take out the Pineapple Broom - sorry, it's got to go
  9. Geocaching maintenance
  10. Replace the shed roof
Martin, if you're reading this list here for the first time ....... sorry sweetheart, we are going to be really busy, but don't worry, you can go back to work on Tuesday for a rest.
So that's what we'll be up to, I'd love to hear your plans.
Here's a quick reminder of what our fence looks like, as a blog without pictures is just boring.
Back soon .......

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Rich Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries & Buttery Biscuits

A very rich dessert!
Whilst this is a mousse, it's not light and airy like most mousses are, it's more of a very thick cream.  Still nice, but you'll be disappointed if you're looking for light and airy, with lots of bubbles.

We made the mousse and served it topped with fresh raspberries, soaked in kirsch, with home made Buttery Biscuits on the side, so a bit of an effort, but the finished result is pretty impressive.

Serves 4
Preparation time - Mousse - 20 minutes plus setting time
Preparation time - Biscuits - 40 minutes plus 10 minutes cooking time
Preparation time - Raspberries - 15 minutes

For the Mousse
4 standard (65g) Mars bars, we used Asda's own brand equivalent, chopped into pieces
50ml milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder
3 egg whites
Chocolate shavings, to decorate

For the Biscuits                                                            For the Raspberries
125g plain white flour                                                     550g fresh raspberries
50g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting                           4 tbsp kirsch
100g softened butter                                                      2 tbsp icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp rose-water or orange juice

  1. Start off by making the biscuit dough.  Sift the flour and icing sugar together into a bowl.  Stir in the butter, egg yolk and rose-water, or orange juice, and beat well to form a soft dough.  Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes
  2. Next, make the mousse.  Put the Mars bars, milk and cocoa into a heavy-based saucepan.  Warm over a gentle heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has all melted.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool for 15 minutes, whisking frequently with a wire whisk to blend in any pieces of fudge that rise to the surface, leaving a smooth mixture.
  3. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl, until softly peaking.  Using a metal spoon, fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate sauce to lighten it.  Then fold in the remainder.
  4. Turn the mixture into 4 small cups, glasses or ramekins, then chill in the fridge to set, for at least 2 hours before serving.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190C.
  6. Remove your biscuit dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to 3mm thickness.  Cut out biscuit shapes and transfer to an oiled baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden.  Cool.
  7. About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, place the raspberries in a bowl and sprinkle with the kirsch and icing sugar.  Leave to macerate.

Serve the mousse, topped with the raspberries and chocolate shavings, with the biscuits on the side.  Dust all with icing sugar.

Monday 14 April 2014

Saturday Night with Good Friends

Now, after a long week working, for Martin anyway, and a busy week pottering, for me, the best ever Saturday nights for us, have to be the cook a great meal and eat it in front of the TV, watching a good film, kind.

Coming a very close second are the kind when good friends come round for dinner.  Martin and I spend lots of time during the day in the kitchen together, coming up with new and interesting food ideas to try out, followed by an evening of eating, drinking and chatting round our dining room table.

This Saturday night our good friends Jackie and Phil came to dinner.  Whilst my partners have come and gone over the years, I've been Saturday night entertaining, and entertained by, Jackie and Phil for about 30 years - seriously, how did the years pass by that quickly?

Now it's looking like Martin is going to be a permanent fixture, so hopefully we will continue to meet up for the next 30 years, though, by then, our food may all need to be liquidised!!

So, I'd been to the hairdressers, needed to get the grey sorted, the house was tidy, the table was set, Katie Melua was playing in the background, the wine was in the fridge, the starter and main courses were all prepared, just waiting to go in the oven and the dessert was just waiting to be put together.  We just needed our guests to arrive.

Our evening started off with the obligatory tour of the garden, a bit of bird watching, we have Blue Tits nesting in the garden, which I'll tell you more about in another post, and a 'Space Rail' demonstration.
There's a bit of a 'thing' in our house, and all our friends are aware of it, that, whilst Martin loves building models and gadgets, the finished articles don't really fit in with the style of our Victorian semi, which is quite cottagey.  When he finally retires he will need to hire a van to bring all of his stuff, that has been banished, to work, back home, and goodness only knows what we will do with it.

So far, Martin's office is providing a temporary home to the majority of the houseplants from Martin's old house (I mean, Cheeseplants and Yuccas, a bit 70s for me!), a remote controlled helicopter, a selection of models made over the years from modelling kits and a home made internal combustion engine!!  It's my own fault really, I keep buying him modelling kits!

The latest item destined for transit is a 'Space Rail' model, which is a track built to roll ball bearings round.  Trust me, it looks better than it sounds.  This was a very well thought out Christmas gift from my brother Dave and his girlfriend Alison, thanks so much guys!

Martin loved building it, though it was tricky, and research has already shown a massive selection of far more extensive and complex models that do actually look pretty cool.

Anyway, now that Phil and Jackie have been round and Martin got to show it off it can be despatched to work, which is becoming a bit like a Museum of Science and Technology.

Once all the obligatory activities were our of the way we sat down for our meal.  We started off with a Butternut Squash and Red Onion Tarte Tatin, which I'd never made before, followed by a Seafood Lasagne, which is becoming a bit of a favourite.  We finished off with a dessert of Rich Chocolate Mousse, with Raspberries and Buttery Biscuits, which was another first attempt.

As always, we had a lovely relaxed evening, good food, probably too much of it, plenty to drink, but hopefully not enough to write off Sunday morning and excellent conversation.  We're already looking forward to the next leg.

That was Saturday, Sunday was all about test driving a Mazda CX5.

We have a repeat performance, of dinner that is, next weekend with mum and dad - might try a different dessert though.

Hope you all had a great weekend too.

Butternut Squash & Red Onion Tarte Tatin

We cooked this as a starter
I was struggling for inspiration for a starter, that I hadn't served before, for our Saturday night dinner with friends, and this seemed to tick all the right boxes.

I can't say I wasn't a bit scared though.  I mean, Tarte Tatin!  Mary Berry cooks that, and I'm no Mary Berry, I've seen what can happen on the Bake Off.

Anyway, we decided to go for it and I have to say, I was surprised at how easy it was and thought it might be worth a share.  It would be good either as a starter or as a nice summer lunch and, I guess, you can change the veg if Squash isn't your thing.  You could try it with pumpkin, carrots or parsnips.

Serves 4
Preparation time - 30 minutes
Cooking - 40 minutes

50g butter
50g sugar
400g red onions, cut into wedges
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
Fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry, we used Asda's own ready rolled

To Serve
A green salad
  1. Preheat the oven to 190c
  2. Place the butter, sugar, red onion, squash and half of the thyme leaves into a non-stick pan.  Season and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until everything is lightly caramelised.  Cool slightly.
  3. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish and pack the vegetables down with the back of a spoon.
  4. Roll out and cut the pastry so that it is large enough to cover the dish and place over the top.  Trim off any excess and tuck the sides down into the dish.  I used the handle of a spoon to ensure that the pastry was tucked right down, so no mixture could leak out whilst cooking.
  5. Bake the tart in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Turn out onto a serving plate with the pastry on the bottom.  Cool slightly and serve, with a green salad, sprinkled with the remaining thyme leaves.

Seafood Lasagne

A really good way to eat more fish!
I've cooked this dish 3 or 4 times now, and every time I've done it we've really enjoyed it.  The recipe seems to change a bit every time I do it, so I'll give an overall guide but leave it to you to decide on what and how much fish you want to use and how 'saucy' you like it.

Serves 6
Sorry, I didn't note the preparation time, but it can be made up in advance - bonus!
Cooking time - 30-45 minutes.

2 medium sized salmon fillets
2 medium sized cod fillets
2 packs of fresh, cooked prawns
1 pack of frozen small scallops (from Asda)
500ml milk
500ml fish stock
Good pinch of saffron, added to the fish stock
75g butter, plus extra for greasing
4 heaped tbsp plain flour
300g mushrooms, sliced
Lasagne sheets - I used about a pack and a half
Grated Parmesan for sprinkling over
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, nutmeg & paprika

For the tomato sauce
Olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
Fresh basil - as much as you fancy

To serve
Roasted asparagus
Roasted cherry vine tomatoes with basil
  1. Make the tomato sauce.  Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5 minutes, until softened and golden.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato puree and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season and stir in the basil.
  2. Put the salmon and cod fillets in a shallow microwavable dish with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover with clingfilm, pierce and microwave until nearly cooked (about 3 minutes in my microwave).  Remove the fish from the dish, reserving any liquid, for including in the stock.  Remove any bones and skin from the fish and flake and place to one side.
  3. Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in the flour.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until smooth, with no lumps.  Gradually add the stock and the milk, stirring all the time.  Bring to the boil.  At this point you are aiming for a nice gloopy sauce consistency.  If too runny, either sprinkle in more flour, or do your thing with cornflour.  If too thick, then add more liquid.
  4. When you are happy with the consistency of the sauce, add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  5. Lightly grease your lasagne dish.  Spoon a thin layer of mushroom sauce over the base of the dish and spread evenly.
  6. Stir the flaked fish, the cooked prawns and the raw small scallops (fully defrosted, if bought frozen) into the remaining mushroom sauce in the pan.
  7. Add a layer of lasagne to your dish, then a layer of fish and sauce.  Add another layer of lasagne, then spread over all of the tomato sauce.  Continue to layer the lasagne and fish, finishing with a layer of fish and sauce.
  8. Sprinkle over Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, until bubbling and golden.  Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Serve and enjoy!

Sunday 13 April 2014

William Preston Sidney - Before the War

We don't really know that much about Will's life before the war began.  Even then, his diaries only begin in 1917.

We have managed to find out that, in 1907, when Will was about 13, he was a scholar at Hyde Park School in Doncaster, where he was awarded a swimming certificate for swimming one length of the Corporation Baths.

We don't know how old Will was when he left school.  We do know, from the 1911 Census, that at 16, he was a blacksmith's apprentice.

On 8 February 1913, at the age of 19, Will volunteered to joint the Territorial Force of the British Army.  At this time he was living at 45 Apley Road, in Doncaster, and working as a blacksmith for a company called Hemstocks, also in Doncaster.

By volunteering, Will confirmed he was willing to be attested for the term of 4 years, for service in the Territorial Force of the county of Yorkshire, to serve in the Queen's own Yorkshire Dragoons.

Will was committed to attending a prescribed number of drills and training exercises on an annual basis.  He was also committed to becoming 'embodied', should any 'proclamation be issued, in case of imminent national danger or great emergency'.

We can see from Will's war record that he attended annual training events in both 1913 and 1914, before the outbreak of WW1.


Britain did not want to go to war in 1914.  The Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, spent much of the summer of 1914 furiously trying to reassure Russia and Germany and to prevent a war happening.

However, under the Treaty of London of 1839, Britain had promised to defend Belgium. The Germans wanted the British government to ignore this Treaty and let the German army pass through Belgium to attack France.
The British government made much of their duty to protect Belgium.  Belgium's ports were close to the British coast and German control of Belgium would have been seen as a serious threat to Britain. 
In the end, on 4 August 1914, when Germany attacked France through Belgium, Britain refused to ignore the events. Within hours, Britain declared war on Germany.

Will was mobilised at Doncaster on 4 August 1914 and embodied as a member of the Queen's own Yorkshire Dragoons, being required to attend at Doncaster, by 11.00am on 5 August 1914.
Will Sidney's War had begun!

Friday 11 April 2014

Holmesfield, Derbyshire - Ladybower Dam & going Home

This is my third and, I promise, last Holmesfield holiday post - we just did so much!

Day 7 - Thursday
Our last full day of our holiday before heading back home on Friday.  We'd had a really busy and active few days so were hoping for a nice chilled out day, with no cake!

We woke up again to really thick fog and had a nice slow start, with a bit of a lie-in, a late and lazy breakfast and finally managed to log our Geocache finds from our Carlton Lees walk a few days ago, which we hadn't got round to yet. 

It was lunchtime by the time we decided to venture out into the gloom, with initial thoughts of heading up to Ladybower Dam and hoping that the fog would clear later on, as it had been doing for the rest of the week.

Once we got out onto the road however, our thoughts changed. You couldn't see more than 50 yards in front of you so we decided to stay on the main roads and head for Bakewell, which is a small town not that far away.  We thought we'd play it safe and have a walk round the shops.

Well, we got to Bakewell and the mist had cleared considerably so we basically decided not to stop but to risk it and head up to the Dam anyway.  As we went out of town the mist started to draw in again and by the time we passed Monsal Head, one of the best viewing points in Derbyshire, we couldn't see very much at all.  It didn't look like we'd be taking many pictures today.

We made it safe and sound to the Dam, parked up, got all the winter gear on as we were really high up and the wind was chilling today.  We took the short walk to the Dam and though it was still really misty and visibility was poor we did manage to take a few pictures, but will definitely need a return visit on a better day to see it in It's full glory.

Before leaving the Dam there was just one Geocache that we need to bag. Typically it was down a very steep path at the base of the Dam but we decided it was worth the effort and did what we needed to do.

The cache was in the bag and it was time to head back to the car.  Quick check of Google told us that the Castleton chippy was open so we headed there for the best battered scampi and chips ever.  We'd been introduced to this chippy a couple of years ago on a get together with friends.  It's hidden way in the back streets and unless you know it's there you would never stumble across it.

With the taste for the best battered scampi and chips ever we made our way to Castleton and managed to find a parking space.  We walked though the village towards the chippy, we could almost take the scampi.  As we approached the chippy there were a group of young school children waiting outside so we thought we were going to have a bit of a wait - though I don't remember ever going to the chippy when I went on a school trip.

It was worse than that.  After all that anticipation and me doing some homework the chippy was shut, disaster!  We were both gutted, we were starving and the only thing was going to hit the spot was those scampi and chips.

Dejected, hungry and tired we decided to head back to Gooseberry Barn to raid the snack cupboard and hope that we didn't spoil our tea.

When we arrived it seemed that the fog was just as bad as it was when we'd left, so we'd definitely done the right thing in going a bit further afield.

It wasn't quite so cosy to come back to today as Martin had whacked the underfloor heating right down, so we could light the log burner for one last time on our last night.

Day 8 - Friday
It was time to leave Gooseberry Barn and head back home today.  We needed to be packed up and out by 10.00am.  We'd done a bit of packing the previous night to get us started and were away in good time.

As we pretty much had to pass Hardwick Hall on the way home we had decided that we would make a 4th visit to the restaurant come cafe for breakfast and, if the weather was brighter, we would try and take some more pictures for the album, everything always looks better with a blue sky and I just don't believe photoshop is the same, it just doesn't seem honest.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

What a Difference a Week makes!

We arrived back home after our holiday in Holmesfield and from looking at the garden, it was hard to believe we'd only been away for a week.

Our garden always starts to really spring into life in April and May and the warm weather we'd had whilst we were away really brought everything on no end.

There was lots in flower that wasn't before we went away and we spent the first hour we were back photographing the changes to share with you.  We thought it wise to make the most of the weather.

As you can see we now have Tulips, a Camellia, which has more flowers than we've ever seen on it, Doronicum (yellow daisies to you and me), the magnolia, Erythronium, another salvage from Beryl's garden - all now in full flower.  The Prunus and the Flowering Currant are also looking at their best.
Tulips, Camellia, Doronicum & Magnolia

Erythronium, Prunus & Flowering Currant
The yellow Azalea that moved in with Martin is not far away from coming into full bloom and one of the pots of Lilies is looking really healthy.  I had these Lily bulbs from the Pound Shop and they've flowered every year for the last three years!  The other appears to have been under attack from the dreaded and lethal Red Lily Beetle, not to be confused with your average friendly ladybird.
Potted Lilies, Azeleas & a Friendly Ladybird
'Mollie the Witch'
Mollie the Witch appears to have taken well to her move as she's grown quite dramatically in the last two weeks and we can already see a bud which should give us a beautiful yellow flower later in the year.

Everything we moved, Foxgloves, Evening Primrose, Anemones and Forget-me-Nots have all really taken well and we can already see the first blue Forget-me-Not flowers starting to make an appearance.

The Montana Clematis on the shed is covered in buds and the Braeburn apple tree looks like blossom is on the way, so we could have a decent apple crop this year, after two really poor years.

I am really feeling excited about the garden this year.  The legwork we've put in means it's already looking good and, with more time to spend on it, I'm hoping this will be it's best year yet.

The rise in temperature has brought out all the critters though.  As well as one pot of lilies being pretty much decimated by the Red Lily Beetle, which came to an unceremonious end when we spotted it, the roses in the front were covered with greenfly, which sent us scurrying for the bug spray.  I'm afraid that one thing we can't claim to be is totally organic gardeners.  I'm sure it won't be long before the slug pellets are called into play too.

The Easter weekend is our next big push on the garden, so watch this space to see what happens next.

Monday 7 April 2014

Holmesfield, Derbyshire - Caching & Dashing, Chatsworth, Carlton Leas & Hardwick Hall

Day 4 - Monday
We decided we needed a nice easy day today, after all, we had a big Geocaching walk with mum and dad round the Chatsworth Estate planned for tomorrow.

After a cheese and mushroom omelette for breakfast, my speciality, we headed out on a caching and dashing route, aiming to end up at Chatsworth Garden Centre.

For the uninitiated, caching and dashing is the lazy way of Geocaching.  Basically, you jump in the car, drive to some co-ordinates, jump out of the car, find the cache and drive off again and on to the next one.

We managed to pick up 9 caches in total today, but the three most interesting were part of the 'guide stoops series', a drive-by series based on Guide Stoops, which are ancient waymarkers.

Apparently, In the early 1700s Parliament decreed that local governments should erect guide stoops to help travellers cross bleak and featureless parts of England. 

Nearby to the 3 of the series that we did today were also Companion Stones, commissioned by Arts in the Peak.  these are a series of modern stone sculptures placed close to the 300 year old Guide Stoops. These also hold directions, not to the nearest market town, but to the future. 

I'm not sure if you can read the inscription on the sculptures but the one on the sail reads 'Canvas all points, Graze the Azimuth, Quit the tide, From 1709 to 2008, To see you right'.  The other one is just as intriguing and reads 'For the other rode, go inward, by cranesbill and leaf star, clear the stream'.  I have  no idea what the mean but found them absolutely fascinating.

We finally made it to the garden centre on the Chatsworth Estate, where we had a very welcome lunch break, before Martin bought some cut price Hellebores.  I know, where are we going to plant them?  He was only going to buy two but I insisted on a 3rd to keep the planting as it should be.  I think I know where we have a spot for them.

We finished off our day out with a visit to the Chatsworth farm shop, always a favourite and well worth a visit, before heading back to the cottage for a nice evening chilling out in front of the log burner and the TV.

Day 5 - Tuesday
Today was our big walk with mum and dad.  Martin got up early to get dinner in the slow cooker, he really is the best!  Mum and dad arrived at the cottage at about 9.00am for a sausage sandwich breakfast before we headed out.

After breakfast we loaded up the car with boots and other, just in case, paraphernalia and headed out into really thick mist!  We had a geocaching walk planned around Carlton Lees on the Chatsworth Estate, which we knew had a pretty long uphill drag to start us off.  We all had our fingers crossed that the mist would lift and we'd be lucky with the weather.

We parked up at Carlton Lees car park, the mist had already abated and it looked like a really promising day from a weather point of view.  We booted up and headed out on the long uphill stretch.  As this was broken up with stops for two or three caches it didn't seem as bad as we'd remembered.  We did flake out about two thirds of the way up though for a quick drink and a breather.

By then the weather was gorgeous and we were all beginning to shed layers as we were just too warm.  We carried on to the top of the hill and were really pleased to see the start of the downhill stretch. 

The view from the top was amazing, we could see the whole of Chatsworth House, the Emperor Fountain was in full flow and the panorama was the kind of thing that makes you wonder why anyone would want to holiday abroad.

We wondered through a field of sheep with young lambs and spent ages watching them gambolling about.  We did get a bit worried when we saw one that was clearly crying for mum and not having much luck.  It tried two 'aunties' and got butted away before mum finally sent out a guiding bleat.  It was a relief to see them reunited.

We carried on our walk to Edensor, picking up more caches on the Carlton Lees series on the way.  We did a quick multi in the churchyard which was fascinating as the clues we needed came from the grave of  Kathleen Cavendish. 

Kathleen, nicknamed 'Kick', was the Marchioness of Hartington.  She married William 'Billy' Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington,  He was the powerful 10th Duke of Devonshire's son and heir, not only to the title, but to the palatial Chatsworth House estate, along with other rich properties.  Kathleen was 24 when she married Billy on May 6, 1944.  Four months after their marriage, Billy was killed by a sniper during battle near the German Front.  With his family's blessing, he was buried close to where he fell. 

Her husband's younger brother thus became the heir apparent to the Dukedom as Billy left no heirs.  Kathleen died on 14 May 1948 in a plane crash in France.  Her Brother John F Kennedy visited the grave, in 1963, shortly before his own death.   A stone to commemorate his visit can be found in front of Kathleen's grave.

History whilst Geocaching is so much more interesting than it ever was at school.  Though from what I remember we used to spend most of our time in history lessons at school ducking to avoid being hit by the board rubber, it just wouldn't happen these days.

After we'd got what we needed from the churchyard we couldn't help but call into the tea rooms in Edensor for a well earned break and piece of cake, well it is the Geocaching law you know.

Weighed down by cake with muscles seized up from having a sit down, we all creakily got back into the swing of things for the rest of our walk back.  This took us down by the river where the views were amazing, the weather was still gorgeous and we saw herds of deer and a fly fisherman in the river.

We managed to find all of the caches we were looking for, 15 in total and made our way back to the car, washing off our muddy boots in a stream on the way.

A short drive back to the cottage for gingered beef with bay, cheese and potato pie with roasted red onions and butternut squash followed by key lime pie was a lovely finish to a lovely day.

We waved good bye to mum and dad as they headed back to their hotel in Chesterfield with plans to meet up at Hardwick Hall the following morning.

We then flaked out in front of the TV for the rest of the evening and couldn't even build up the energy to log our cache finds, which is what you have to do to confirm that you've found them. That job would just have to wait for another day.

Day 6 - Wednesday
Wednesday morning greeted us with thick fog.  Not the early morning mist that clears to bright sunshine by 10.00am like yesterday, but a real heavy damp fog.  We could only keep our fingers crossed that things would improve as the day progressed.

We drove to Hardwick Hall to meet up with mum and dad as planned.  We passed some longhorn cattle with their calves as we made our way up the drive to the Hall and stopped to take some pictures of them in the mist.

Hardwick Old and New Halls are sited on a hilltop between Chesterfield and Mansfield, overlooking the Derbyshire countryside.  The Old Hall is now just a shell, with remnants of its plaster decoration remaining.  It is believed that the building probably incorporates the manor house begun by James Hardwick (1525-1580), to which his sister Bess made radical alterations in the 1580s. 

At the time, Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth 1, and as such, her New Hall was conceived to be a conspicuous statement of her wealth and power. The windows are exceptionally large and numerous for the period and were a powerful statement of wealth at a time when glass was a luxury.

The drive seemed to go on for ages and we couldn't see more than a few 100 yards ahead.  We did wonder if we should be able to see the Hall on approach, but we couldn't see anything.

We found mum and dad on the car park, got the winter weather gear out of the boot, which was a bit odd considering how summery it had been the day before, and headed for what ended up being the first of three visits to the restaurant, it was a bit big to call it a tea room, for a hot drink whilst we waited for our outdoor tour looking at the architecture of the Hall, which we still hadn't spotted in the mist.

We met up with Harry the tour guide at 10.30am and he did at least let us know where the Hall was as it was still not visible in the mist.  We had a walk with him and did finally get to see both the old and the new Halls which looked very eerie and atmospheric in the mist.  Harry told us all about Bess of Hardwick and the history of her building of both halls.

The main Hall didn't open till 12.00pm, but at 11.30 we headed in on a taster tour which managed to get us into the 'warm', I use the term warm very loosely, but it was warmer than outside, which was just what we needed.

After the taster tour we ended up back outside, still thick mist.  As the Hall was now fully open we went straight back inside the to view the full property at our leisure and give the weather a bit more of a chance to perk up.

When we emerged for the second time, the weather had started to pick up and the mist had cleared a little.  We thought we'd head back to the restaurant for lunch before having a look round the old Hall.  Lunch just hit the spot.  Hot mushroom soup and doorstep ham sandwiches.  Lovely.  We were too full for cake so agreed we would have to come back again later.

The old Hall is pretty much a ruin but you can easily see how grand it would have been in its day.  You could also see how much of the design that Bess had transferred to the new Hall, including the plaster wall friezes and over mantles.  It's such a shame that it has gone to ruin.  We got some impressive views of the new Hall from the top of the old one and we decided we would definitely have to have a re-visit to take pictures in better weather.

We then had a walk round the gardens, which will definitely be worth another look In the summer, took more photos and had a chat with one of the gardeners who was planting broad beans and shallots.  His shallots looked fab, he'd started the sets off inside in modules about 8 weeks ago and they now had about 4 inches of really healthy looking growth in them and they were ready for
planting outside.  We also learned that we plant our onion sets too deep, his were just pretty much placed on the surface with just the roots of the set under the soil.

It was then back to the restaurant for our final warm and that piece of cake that we couldn't manage earlier, before mum and dad headed back off home and we made our way back to Gooseberry Cottage which was lovely toastie and warm when we got back.

Good bye March, Hello April

March was another really busy month of pottering with lots of legwork for later on going on in the garden.

The seeds we planted earlier in the month came through on the dining room table in about three days.  I know, what a pain.  We had no time to pot on before going on holiday so they had to be transported to mum's for care whilst we were away.  Definitely a job for early April.

We've also done lots more research into Will Sidney's war and I've published the first two posts about who he was and how we are researching his story.  The next post will tell you all we've been able to find out about his life before the war started.

April is looking like it will be even busier than March, how did I ever find time to fit work in?  We started the month off with us on our first cottage holiday of the year in Derbyshire, we were away in The Peak District for Martin's birthday, where we had a very busy week.

The rest of the month is looking busy with lots of birthdays and social engagements, catching up with friends that we haven't spent time with for too long - we are all just so busy. There is also more time for Governors meetings and teacher interviewing on the agenda before school breaks up for Easter.

The Easter weekend will see our big push in the garden.  This is when we will get the temporary greenhouse built, probably paint the raised beds, pot on all our seedlings and do more planting.

We also have another garden project that we want to progress which is to rebuild the fence on the side border of the front garden as this is dropping to pieces. We already have all of the wood, cut to size, and this has had its first coat of Sadolin.  So, that just needs another coat before we can start to rebuild. 

Along with that, we've now had the new front gate delivered, so that will need painting and hanging, with new posts.

Top priority has to be to catch up with my blogging as there's another two instalments to come about our holiday, along with the next post in Will Sidney's war and my garden planning project.  I've also had a request for some fish recipes, so I think a fishy lasagne may be coming your way.

I'm also planning to have a go at film making.  I bought Martin an HD video recorder for his birthday about four years ago and, whilst we've had a go at recording a few films, we've never transferred any to the PC for editing.  The first go will be on one of the walks we did whilst we were in Derbyshire, so watch this space.

Once all that's done we'll be thinking about getting ready to go on holiday again.  We always go away for our Wedding Anniversary and this year we have a cottage booked in North Wales.

I am still loving writing about what I am getting up to so please, please keep reading.  I've not had any comments for a while so if you read something and it makes you feel like saying something then I'd love to hear what you've got to say.

And finally, if you'd like to see a specific recipe, or have any that you want to share, or have anything else that you'd like to hear about, then just let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Goseberry Barn - Holmesfield, Derbyshire

When did we visit?
28 March 2014 - 4 April 2014

How much was it?

Who did we book with?

What were our initial impressions?
  • Whilst the cottage is situated on a main road, it has a lovely outlook over open countryside.
  • We were greeted by the owner, which was nice.
  • There was a small welcome pack consisting of a pint of milk, a bottle of wine, a home-made Victoria sandwich and tea, coffee and sugar.
  • We were able to gain entry at 2.00pm, the cottage is not normally available until 4.00pm.
  • Overall the cottage was clean and nicely presented - it looked like the pictures on the website.
  • Both bedrooms were en suite with two nice big showers.
  • It did feel cool, so we whacked up the underfloor heating.
  • There was a lovely courtyard with outdoor seating, though you could hear road noise when outside.
Our likes over the course of the week
  • The layout of the cottage worked really well for us.
  • The two bedrooms are at opposite ends of the cottage, separated by the lounge, so would be good for two couples sharing.
  • The log burner was brilliant.  It lasted all night and gave out great heat with just one or two logs.  We have known log burners to eat through a whole basket in an evening.
  • There was really good phone signal (for Orange).
  • The views from the cottage away from the road were lovely, including the stable yard (which is private).
  • The underfloor heating was easy to work and get to the right temperature.
  • Nice powerful showers with constant hot water.
  • Nice big fluffy towels.
  • The location is brilliant for getting out and about in the local area.  The cottage is situated just outside of the Peak District National Park and is in easy reach of lots of local landmarks including Bolsover Castle (English Heritage), Hardwick Hall (National Trust), Chatsworth House and Estate and the Ladybower Reservoir and Dam.  There is also lots of good walking and plenty of interesting villages within driving distance, such as Bakewell and Castleton.
  • An abundance of pubs and tea shops within very easy reach.
Anything that could have made it better?
  • The reliability of the wifi when using I-Pads was inconsistent for us - we could always get on line, but couldn't stay on for long - that said, we didn't have the same problems with the laptop.
  • We would like to have been able to connect our PS3 to the TV, but we just couldn't get this to work, which meant no F1 racing for Martin and no Catching Fire on Blu-ray for me.
  • We would imagine that if you wanted to sit outside in the courtyard, then the road noise may be irritating (not a problem at the time of year we visited).

Would we recommend this cottage to our friends and family?
Absolutely, yes

Would we stay in this cottage again?
Yes, definitely