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In the bleak midwinter…

Posted on: July 19th, 2013 by
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Well, we might have finished singing this famous Christmas carol but the way winter took hold of the country yesterday just reminded me again of those words and also of other winter folk tunes full of lament about hardship and loss of livestock. It makes me think about the people back then, how they coped with such adverse conditions and got over them. Seeing the snow blowing fiercely in the bitter wind I truly felt for the poor sheep in the fields and their  possible demise as described in those tunes became a picture in my mind that was almost too close for comfort.

But on a brighter note, it was heartening today seeing various neighbours coming out and pulling together to clear our road which is rather steep and rarely ever gets gritted. Obviously, community spirit still exists and perhaps midwinter is not so bleak after all?

And finally, as a former weatherman myself I just have to praise my colleagues in the various meteorological services who weeks ago in unison correctly predicted the arrival winter proper for about the middle of January!

As we can’t change it we might as well enjoy it while it lasts!

The spring is sprung…

Posted on: July 8th, 2013 by
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…If not yet literally, then certainly in terms of activity!

This week a few things really seem to have fallen into place! The two most exciting thing from my point of view is that we have just taken delivery of a ton of top soil ready for the herb garden. It is bagged up waiting for me to use it where I need (mainly in raised beds). This is great news as it dramatically increases the list of herbs and medicinal plants I can grow at Cae Non.

Next, and equally exciting for me is that I have just sent in the first seed order of the year! So far the list looks like:

Angelica – Angelica archangelica
Borage – Borago officinalis
Burdock – Arctium lappa
Chamomille – Anthemis nobilis
Elecampane – Inula helenium
Foxglove – Digitalis spp.
Wild garlic – Allium ursinum
Gravelroot – Eupatorium purpureum
Marshmallow – Althea officinalis
Motherwort – Leonurus cardiaca
Milk Thistle – Sillybum marianum
Valerian – Valeriana officinalis
Vervain – Verbena officinalis
Wormwood – Artemisia absinthum
Yarrow – Achillea milefolium

If I could get these herbs prospering at Cae Non by the end of this year, I’d be very happy! I also have a load of other herbs in pots waiting to be planted out, and some bigger, shrubbier herbs waiting to go in too!

Hopefully, next winter will see me able to give you all an update on what took and what didn’t grow so well!

I’m aiming to get my first proper raised bed up and ready soon (next few weeks) but the others might have to wait until the summer… more on that in a separate post (I can promise it will be interesting as it involves other people giving me a hand – lips are pursed but will reveal all soon!).

Enjoy the spring guys, and whatever you do, take some time to get soil on your hands!

Harvesting Willow

Posted on: July 7th, 2013 by
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Winter and very early spring is the time to harvest – and plant – willow. Here is a view of part of a willow bed, local to us, where I was today helping to cut and sort the crop…. heads of willow can be seen standing waiting in the background; “stools” that have already been cut in the foreground and a pile of willow branches – or “whips” – lying on the ground ready to be carried off the field. And yes, that is water lying on the land; willows love it, which after the weather we have had in the past few months is just as well! Willow Bed

Cutting Red Willow

Here Neil is beginning to cut some red willow which looks particularly pretty at this time of year. I am going to have some of this to plant the heart-shaped centre of my labyrinth with!

This is the sort of material needed to build structures – and labyrinths! – beautifully straight, strong and pliant branches, 8 – 12 feet long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut Willow Lengths

And here we have some of the smaller, thinner lengths, and some of the red willow, all ready bundled and tied for transportation… guess what I will be doing for the next few days????

Different Coloured Willow Lengths

Useful recycling

Posted on: July 6th, 2013 by
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A man sized pile

A man sized pile… and a tea break!

Useful recycling: Take two people, two wheelbarrows and about 80 bags of rubble and old plaster (discarded from our house in the process of eradicating an outbreak of dry rot), and tip it onto our waterlogged path up to the Hafod… creating this….

Hard core path

Hard core path

Wonderful way to use it all, creating a semi solid base on which to spread stone which should bed into the plaster and set. Should end up a good serviceable path which looks nice as well as making journeys up the field much easier….  Simples!

Apple Wine

Posted on: July 6th, 2013 by
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Crab Apple Wine

A gallon of apple wine, the first full bottle, and bottles ready to be filled.

One of the oldest trees at Cae Non is a rather gnarly, nobbley Crab Apple tree. Originally we thought that it wouldn’t be of much use as a fruiting tree as crab apples are notoriously bitter. Anyway, I had the idea to harvest a bucket of the apples last year (2011 – when we first got Cae Non) and work out a use for them later.

I originally thought along the lines of something like crab apple brandy – something similar to Sloe Gin, but I don’t tend to like those liqueurs anyway. So, I just made a wine with them, like any other wines we make. Boiled fruit in the water, add sugar and yeast when cool and forget about it…

…and forget I did. Until this evening when I found it in my dispensary cupboard. We plan to Wassail the trees (especially the apple trees) on the 26th of January (Want to come along?) and I thought that I might as well see what the old apple’s produce tastes like. Let me tell you: It’s lovely. It isn’t bitter/sour like crab apples, and it isn’t even that dry… it’s a fruity, apply tasting wine that is rather sweet. It is clear and light brown and is rather easy on the lips. According to my calculations, it’s somewhere between 10 and 18% alcohol. A few sips and you do indeed feel its effects. I imagine it would make a lovely after dinner wine rather than a table wine – a bit like a liqueur or spirits. Perhaps it is an ideal drink to have in the evening after a long day of tree planting and herb garden digging!

More Crab Apple Wine!

It might look like pee, but it actually looks like brandy and tastes divine!

Needless to say, this coming autumn, I’ll probably make 5 or 10 gallons… This taste is growing on me!

A Very Happy New Year!

Posted on: July 4th, 2013 by
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Greetings and good wishes to all our readers for 2013! After an extremely volatile and challenging year, we all enjoyed a peacefully deep and loving Solstice followed by a really quiet Christmas. But by the 27th December we were heading down on to the land with coloured candles and ribbons and bags of fresh evergreens with which to decorate the Hafod for New Year.

While I was wobbling about on stools, poking holly behind every plaque and mirror, weaving ivy around the beams and setting red and green candles in their brass and copper sticks, Dafydd was out beginning to plant the 450 trees (see Dafydd’s own post) which had recently been delivered and Holger was maintaining his various weather stations.

NewYear2012011.jpg   NewYear2012006.jpg

This was to be the first of several days we have spent down there in the past week, including New Year’s Eve. We would work around outside until the light began to fade and then gather around the little wood-burning stove, comforted by large thermal mugs full of hot tea and coffee, singing carols and playing our favourite children’s games. As twilight deepened, an increasing number of candles were lit, flares went up outside the Hafod door and more logs were piled on the stove. (At one stage we got so hot – nearly 23 degrees – that we were sitting in short sleeves with the door wide open!)

Every time we went down for the day/evening we took a sumptuous cold buffet supper to consume early in the evening; salads and dips, cheeses and cold meats (apologies to the vegetarians among you), cakes, stollens, biscuits and cheesecakes… cider and homemade wine was passed around freely… and there were only three of us there! Altogether we had some wonderful times! And on New Years Eve itself, we could see in the far distance the fireworks being let off – multicoloured flowers against the night sky. But nothing could rival the full moon sailing across blue velvet.

With all the rain that has fallen this last few months, our land is indescribably sodden and everywhere we walk we squelch into several inches of waterlogged grass or squelchy clay mud. So the evening I wandered out to find the outdoor loo and foolishly decided not to don my wellingtons to walk there… only to find myself well over my shoe tops in very cold water and very sticky mud… was not a very sensible idea! (Well I should have known better, shouldn’t I ???!!!)

Overall, our time at Cae Non this last few days has been absolutely magical. I hope that it is a foretaste of all the magical and wonderful times to come in this new year and wish you all a wonderful time of coming together, success, satisfaction and joy.

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Wassailing Imbolc

Posted on: July 4th, 2013 by
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On Saturday the 26th of January, we held a ceremony at Cae Non. It was comprised of two different traditions, both of which have been used in Britain for centuries to mark the end of winter, looking forward to the year ahead, and thanking the land and honouring the last harvest.

As you may know, Imbolc is the cross quarter festival of the Celtic calendar that marks the end of Winter, and the secret beginning of spring as rams are put to ewes, the days get lighter, and the snows (or muds) of winter give way to green things and regeneration.

But this time of year is also very close to when the old rite of Wassailing took place (Typically ‘Old 12th Night’ – around the 17th of January). This tradition involves waking up the orchards by making a lot of noise, mainly by banging pans and blowing horns, consuming copious amounts of cider, and thanking the trees for their crop, while ‘Taunting’ them to wake up with encouragment to produce more fruit for the coming harvest.

This is especially valid for us as Cae Non – we may not have an orchard (yet!), but we do have a stately, old crab apple tree. My hairbrained idea of making apple wine made those crab apples one of the first harvests from Cae Non, so it seemed only right to use this as a focus to say ‘Thank you’.

So, the morning of the 26th saw 8 of us gathering at Cae Non in a day of celebration led by grove mother of Cylch Blodeuwedd and Cae Non visionary, Gillian. In total 8 of us gathered, the greatest number since we built the hafod, and a great test of our facilities!

Opening the circle

Getting ready to share hot milk and our lovely cake!

We congregated in our newly planted Oak Grove just after lunchtime, and marked out our circle by tying yellow ribbons to the marker canes by the oak trees. We then were sent off by Gillian to find a small stone each to mark out aspirations and fledgling ideas for the year ahead – on the theme of collecting stones, later, we also gathered boulders to lay out in a small circle for a camp fire site.

Our lovely Imbolc cake made by a member!

Our lovely Imbolc cake!

 

Next, we shared a lovely ritual cake prepared by one of our members and some warm, spiced milk – indicative of the time of year with the beginning of lambing and calving. I must also confess, at this time, some mead and apple wine was also opened!

Then we set off! We processed as a group around the field making a hell of a din – banging drums, ringing bells, and blowing horns. Perhaps rather too boozily, I blew an empty bottle loudly instead! We stopped off wherever there are trees – the main grove, the feminine grove, the tree coppice beds, the old apple tree, the island, and lastly the labyrinth.

Each area honoured and toasted – and definitely woken up for the year, we retreated to the warmth and dryness of the hafod for a hot meal and some well and truly deserved hot drinks!

For those who are interested in the tradition of Wassailing, our very own Holger (Oak King) wrote an article a couple of years ago – well worth a read

The Frosting on the Cake

Posted on: July 1st, 2013 by
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Cae Non in Snow 03These photos of Cae Non were taken a week after the main January snowfall which brought traffic to a standstill and rendered it a real pleasure to be cosily tucked up at home! Seven days later, most of the snow had melted from our village and the local towns were completely clear – as if it had never been! But the Snowdonia mountains were still cloaked in thick snow and ice…. and as we drove towards the sea at Pistyll and our land we discovered that so too were the fields and lanes there. In places the drifts were four and five feet deep. Here on the lane outside our gateway it was much more sheltered, but although melting fast, easy to guess how treacherous it had been earlier in the week!

Cae Non in Snow 06Looking up the field towards the stream and the Hafod, this sturdy and immensely useful addition to our outdoor facilities awaits four – or more! – strong men to transport it up to the Hafod. Anyone for a picnic??!!

Cae Non in Snow 09The island looked so pretty, as indeed did the rest of the land. It took on a whole different atmosphere… became a fairy domain full of magical energies. I found the intense quiet and peace of Cae Non in deepest winter extremely calming but also amazingly energising and utterly joyful and ended up stomping around in the snow, cheerfully singing and whistling, and feeling inexplicably happy. Standing on the island there was an intense still as if the land was listening.

The water in the channel around the island was actually still frozen – hence the faint similarity in appearance to Kendal Mint Cake in the picture! The fact that we get such icy winter conditions opens up all manner of possibilities, not least the option of skating in winters to come! As we are contemplating forming a larger pool at the bottom of the field, it would be perfect…. shallow enough for it not to matter if we plunge through the ice into water which would only be 12″ or 18″ deep!

Cae Non in Snow 13The white of the snow makes the Hafod appear strangely dark! From this perspective you cannot tell that there is a glowing log fire burning in our little stove, or that we had had to leave the door open because it was so hot inside!

Cae Non in Snow 16

Can this really be the same stream bank where I sit in spring and summer, basking in the sunny warmth of such a sheltered spot? Looking carefully at the snow, it is easy to see that our two Labrador dogs, (Stella and Melangell), have already thoroughly explored… there are paw prints everywhere!

Later when I was trudging back down to the car at the gate, a thought suddenly struck me. As a child my mother would make a traditional Christmas Cake with ancient china Santa and fir trees grouped on top, but for New Year, she would bake another fruit cake, this time decorated with a tiny coaching scene. A yellow stage coach pulled by four minute brown horses was racing towards a jolly little inn with comfortably glowing windows, while porters stood waiting for its arrival. Several green spiky fir trees provided a rural backdrop. To make it more realistic, my mother used to create “muddy ruts” in the icing “snow” by dragging the tines of a fork through it which had previously been dipped in gravy browning. It was very effective! As I looked down at the tracks in the snow I realised that they looked exactly like the sugar-crafted miniature ones…. and for a very odd few minutes, I felt as if I was walking in a scene on a massive cake…. I told you that the snow at Cae Non has strange qualities about it!!!!

Tree planting – winter 2012, day 2

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by
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Whweww what a day. Amazingly sucessful – I have somehow (don’t ask me how) managed to plant 180 (yes, one hundred and eighty!) trees today!
Also its lovely to report that some of the alders we planted last year are in catkin. Very precocious!

Catkins on Alder

Catkins on Alder

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The Labyrinth

Posted on: July 28th, 2012 by
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Plotting Labyrinth I 005Ever since I first bought the land at Cae Non I have had the idea of planting a labyrinth which would facilitate journeys of self discovery as well as private little spaces in which to meditate, pray or work in some similar fashion. And I knew that I wanted it to be BIG. I provisionally set aside an area of ground and had to leave it at that until a later date.

In the summer, the vague ideas and impressions of what I was out to achieve suddenly began to swirl around in my mind and I began to play about with plans.

There will be a (heart shaped) centre and three large spirals.

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The spirals will each be 50′ across and lead to a small private space at their centre… roughly 10 feet in diameter.

Plotting Labyrinth I 003Each spiral will represent an element, compass direction and one of the three aspects of the Triple Goddess. So the first spiral will lie to the west and represent West, Water and the Maiden. It will have a pool at it’s centre. The second spiral will lie roughly to the north and represent North, Earth and the Mother. It will have a sacred space at it’s centre which contains something which represents it’s element… a mound, a cairn, a standing stone, etc..  The third spiral will lie to the east and represent the East, Air and the Crone. The heart at the centre of the three spirals will represent Fire and contain a fire pit where both individuals and small groups can go.

Last Sunday we went down to the field. I went with the intention of beginning to mark out the labyrinth to measure – and so be able to roughly estimate – just how much willow I might require to plant it, for this whole project is to be formed from living willow, planted in four or five foot “fedging” with some trees being allowed to arch over the top of the circular pathways. (However, the centres will all be completely open to the sky.)

I have never done anything like this before… at least, not on such a grand scale! Where does one begin, exactly? And how? At school, maths was never my strong point to put it mildly!

Labyrinth Outline

Outline plan of the Labyrinth

So I began by measuring my allotted space; first from top to bottom and then from side to side. It didn’t help that the area of land at this point is not square or equal, but then neither is my design! I found and marked my centre point and then, using 3′ garden canes, I marked out my central heart area. How good are you at drawing hearts? It isn’t the easiest shape in the world to replicate, especially when one is working in thigh-length undergrowth and can’t view it over all from above! But I have done my best. When I am planting I will be able to tweak the shape of things – which also means that I will be able to unintentionally distort as well – but we will cross any of those difficult bridges as and when we come to them!

I then proceeded to mark out one of the spirals. This one is the one representing the Earth, North and the Mother. Originally I tried to keep all the measurements in multiples of the sacred number three but it just wouldn’t work out that way. Several times I was obliged to change my plans and it always brought the measurements round to multiples of five. Then I realised, of course, that this is a feminine focused labyrinth and five is a much more feminine number than the masculine three! (Things have a way of telling you what is right or wrong about them and what is going to resonate appropriately!)

Plotting Labyrinth I 006I can now say that I have first hand experience of how civil engineering must have come about. Only instead of theodolite and measures etc. I had a dressmaker’s tape measure and a couple of garden canes cut to specific lengths for easy calculations. Oh, and also a pair of garden scissors and a ball of string.
I measured from the centre of the heart to the centre of the spiral and then began to mark the path out from the spiral centre. Originally the paths were going to be 3′ wide but it was gradually born in upon me that this was going to be too narrow to allow growth of willow as well as easy access, so I widened them to 5′. This meant that I had to up-sticks – literally, as I was also plotting the spiral pathways out with garden canes and remeasure from the centre of the heart. As I completed each ever-widening turn of the spiral I stopped to tie string to the tops of all the canes so that I could see what was potential “fedge” and what was going to be open pathway.

By the end of the afternoon I was beginning to understand what it must feel like to be a spider, sitting in the middle of her web spinning away! Ha! ha!

But now I have my basic measurements and ground plan. Each spiral will measure approximately 50′ across. Each centre will occupy a space of 10′. The heart in the centre is roughly 14′ across.

Each spiral will require 325′ of fedging – a total of 700 willow whips to be planted and plaited during the winter months. Then there are the 120 willows needed to edge the central heart and a further all-enclosing fedge to surround everything, with it’s single entrance in the east.

Now I know what I am going to be doing in January and February 2013! But it will be an utter labour of love, to plant and grow, to form and create a structure of such potential containing so many perfect hidden spaces… watch this space to see how I get on!


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