Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A profusion of wild flowers and herbs (or 'Why I haven't blogged in ages' !)

Well, it seems the cobwebs have been gathering here.
I've been away for so long that I think I may have forgotten how to use Blogger!

I'm sorry to have abandoned you all - I really didn't mean to - it's just I get so caught up in the 'here and now' that there never seems to be enough time to blog. Still, I'm here, and I'm dusting away busily. There is so much to catch up on - new projects afoot, pony news, that I've been scratching my head for weeks and wondering where on earth to start.
So, for today, I thought I'd show you the reason WHY I spend so much time away from my computer. 
There is so much to see and do outside, that I spend almost every waking moment out under the skies, grateful every moment that I live where I do.
These stone lanes, green woods and steep valleys are just bursting with life. It seems there is more this year than ever before. A walk around the footpaths takes hours as I stop to examine each and every new plant, delighted whenever I find a new one.
Today I took my camera with me, so I could document the abundance of wildflowers.

Herb Robert, Foxglove, Dog Rose, Stonecrop, Water Dropwort (I've a story about that - remind me to tell you one day)  Nettles and Goosegrass.

 Honesty, Hogweed, Wood Woundwort ( my least favourite wild flower - it's foliage is truly stinky) Red Campion, California poppy (must have escaped from a garden) and Feverfew.

Beautifully glowing California Poppies.

 Yarrow, Wood Sage, Spear Thistle, Pig Nut and Wild Oat, and Hedge Bedstraw.

Goatsbeard, with their seed heads the size of an orange!

Bumblebee and Bramble

Wormwood, Tansy, Yarrow flower, Tufted Vetch, Honeysuckle and a yellow vetch - I think it's Meadow Vetchling, but I'm not certain.

The path to the stepping stones is overgrown that we had a job to get down it.

Greater Plantain

And a pause to paddle and play in the river in the mid-day sun. The stepping stones are precarious, but it's lovely to wade across. The river is alive with the sound of whirring wings. Dragonflies and damselflies in every colour imaginable dart and swoop across the water.

And we pass the village pool - river fed, and beautiful, nestled in the valley beside the river.


Here, in the large swathes of wildflowers, left in the rougher corner of the hay meadow, is the plant I've come looking for today: St John's Wort

Golden clumps in amongst the many wild flowers.

 More Wood Woundwort (beautiful mixed in with the golden St John's Wort), White Campion, and, to my excitement, a solitary Wild Valerian plant.


We stopped to look at the Beaver Tree, and the names carved therein. We spent our childhood summers in this tree, the limbs spiralling up like a staircase.

Pennywort flowering in the walls.

Bindweed, Green Alkanet, Speedwell, ivy leaved toadflax, and my most favourite wildflower of all, the Orange Hawkbit.


This is what I brought home with me today.

St John's wort is steeping in oil, and the others are on racks to dry.

Next time I'll show you my new work :)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

A Dartmoor Harvest

We have been walking the late summer days. Picking and gathering, wandering across the ridges and clambering in the gullies,  sitting in the heather with a flask of tea, surrounded by pots and buckets and the quiet roar of a thousand bees.

The first harvest is the whortleberries. The earliest berries ripen on my husband's birthday, and we always head out across the moor then. I could have been a gleaner in earlier lives. I am happiest with the sun on my back, and my feet in the heather, picking whortles. It's a slow process, they are tiny and well hidden, but it soothes my soul like nothing else. It takes an afternoon to fill a basket, but it is immensely satisfying.
My children used to call them 'heatherberries', because they grow in amongst the heather bushes, purple flowers and dark blue berries together.
After the first week my children  lost all interest in picking them, and refused to come, but Steve and I and the Wolf spent many evenings alone gathering berries. It seems no-one does this any more. In all our time out there we have never met another person taking advantage of this incredible bounty.

Some were frozen, and some made into pies, and many have been dried for the winter, but the best use of all for them is to make fruit leather. I have cooked and dried sheets and sheets of it, sweetened with a tiny bit of heather honey, and then cut into strips and put in the cupboard. Perfect for a sweet treat, or pack lunches, and good for you too :)
We are part way through picking apples, and many of those are turned into dried apple rings (but the children eat these faster than I can make them if I don't hide them away!) . And we had a glut of yellow dwarf beans in the allotment, which weren't nearly as tasty as the wonderful Cosse Violette purple beans which I love best of all. So I experimented with a salty, chilli style of pickling, reminiscent of Japanese pickles. They are delicious, and disappearing fast!
Then came the blackberries. The ponies like to go blackberry picking too, and it's useful to be taller so you can reach the higher berries.

Piper ate as many herself as the owl daughter could pick.

And I gathered rowan berries. The hills are scarlet with rowan at the moment.

The children helped me thread the rowan berries into strings to dry.

They are hanging in my shed to dry. The owl daughter calls it the apothecary. I call it my dreaming space.

I have wood stored for a winter project. I have been gathering pieces all year, all labelled with provenance and put away till I have time to work on it.

I made the dried mugwort and sage into incense sticks.
I love the smell of mugwort.

And I have had deer on my mind, in many ways.
Painting, reading, dreaming.
I walked to a special place today, past the cloven stone, to the Deer Rock which looks over the valley.
 Thoughts and ideas are coming together and slowly a plan is forming.
In the meantime, there are still blackberries to pick, I have a deer mandala to paint, and I think I need a deer drum.

Here is an autumn addition to the 'Blessings' series.
You can find it HERE :)
And I realised it was time to make prints of the Deer Guardian too, which you can find here HERE

Friday, 6 September 2013

A post about Captain

I'm going to warn you before you begin reading - this is, as promised, an entire post about ponies. In fact, it is just about Captain. So, I apologise to all my lovely followers who aren't interested in the pony details - I promise the next post will cover other things too :)
However, as most of you know, ponies play a pretty important role in our lives. We are very lucky to have the most amazing ponies living with us, but this is the story of Captain.
Long term blog readers may remember that Captain came to us as an unseen youngster - rising 6 but very green.  We fell in love the moment he arrived. He was intended for my eldest daughter, just moving off her 13hh pony , Matt. However, as Captain was such a novice, I rode him on for the first six weeks.
He has never been anything other than amazing! He is only 14hh, but he has the biggest heart of any pony I know. There is a childlike innocence to him, even now. He likes to play, always, and he hasn't EVER shown any bad temper or irritation - I don't think I've ever seen that in another equine. He doesn't quite abide by the normal herd behaviour rules with other horses. He seems to have no concept of personal space with ponies , friends or not, and will walk straight up to strangers to share food, or even to grab their neck and invite a wrestle. (He did this once while being ridden!). Weirdly, this behaviour is tolerated by all - he is simply treated like a foal, indulged  and looked after, or at the worst, ignored.
The downside of this is that he is a slow learner. Willing, but slow. He needs to have instructions spelt out really clearly and simply, and it can take a while to register. He tries for a while, feeling a bit anxious and confused, and then suddenly there is a 'Eureka' moment, and he's very pleased with himself!
When he first arrived, he came from a flat county. He had really only just begun work, and his initial way of going was to be very overbent and to barely move forwards at all. This was compounded by our steep hills, and the very first time I rode him he just stopped the moment I turned up hill, and appeared really bemused as to how he was supposed to get up it. It took 6 months before he felt like he was moving forward, and another year before he really began to engage his hindquarters rather than powering from the front.
By this time I had long  handed over to the fey daughter. She had weekly lessons on him, and took him to Pony Club camp that first summer.
 He started to learn to jump, which he found pretty scary to start with, although water was simply another opportunity for play!
In the Autumn of 2011, Will arrived to live with us. Captain was smitten!
The Fey daughter and Captain slowly improved together, with the help of Sarah Howard, her fantastic riding instructor (who also taught me as a teenager).
By this time, the two of them had become an inseparable partnership. Captain was experienced and safe on the moors, and I knew I could trust the pair of them out all day on the moor.
Captain's had finally mastered walk and trot, and at last was starting to build up some top line and back muscles. Although he was fine cantering out on hacks, he still struggled to balance in canter on a circle, and was beginning to fall out through his shoulder.
This was causing a bit of a problem when jumping, as he still wasn't confident, and he realised that he could drop his shoulder and run out.
The fey daughter had to up her game, and learn to ride better. She did. She worked her socks off :)
At the same time, I had Captain's back checked, which was fine, but the vet, on giving him a general once over, pointed out that he had a heart murmur.  This was news to us, but then I hadn't had him vetted when we got him.  After an initial panic, I realised there was no point worrying about it. It hasn't stopped him from doing any of the things we wanted to do with him, as long as we get him fit slowly, and allow him recovery time during hard work whenever he asks for it, I guess we just carry on as usual. It does mean that between that, and the sarcoids which I discovered when he arrived, he will never pass a vet  or have any resale value. Luckily, that doesn't matter, as he won't ever be sold, as he is worthy his weight in gold to us!
Captain is barefoot, and always has been. I'm very pro barefoot, though well aware it doesn't work for all (I have had to put front shoes on Will, because he is built to pull, and is naturally heavy on the forehand and pounds his front feet down, wearing them down and banging off his toes very fast, which results in throbbing digital pulses). I'm also lucky to have both a fabulous EP (barefoot trimmer), and a great farrier, both of whom are happy with  my choices, and both of whom encourage me to do regular hoof maintenance myself under their tutelage.
We do plenty of road work as well as lots of moorland riding, which includes a lot of stony tracks. None of this limits Captain. He is equally as happy to ride down the main road while lorries and coaches rattle past, as he is to stride across the moor. At this point he was borrowed by our friend and riding instructor to escort her students on a 2 day moor ride, as her horse was unable to go. In true Captain style, he was the star of the day. While other horses pranced and danced, and a diversion led them into a bog, Captain ended up taking the two smallest children on the lead rein, and calmly leading everyone over Dartmoor for two days.
Christmas rides and mince pies are a favourite of his. He had been wearing antlers and sleigh bells for most of the day!
Then in March this year he did his first dressage competition. They got a respectable score, although they still hadn't quite nailed his habit of falling out through his shoulder.

In the meantime, lessons continued, and Captain generally gets to be the 'practice on' pony.

Then, they decide to have a go at mounted games training! Poor Captain was utterly bemused by this. He liked the idea that it was all some sort of game, and was keen to help pick up flags and potatoes, but he just couldn't get to grips with racing, particularly a racing start.
The fey daughter has gamely soldiered on - she and her friends think it is the best fun ever, and it is hilarious to watch. Slowly Captain is learning new things, and I'm pretty sure he enjoys it too. I don't think he is ever going to be a threat to our neighbouring pony club teams though!

Much to the fey daughter's annoyance, we had a polocrosse training day while she was away for the weekend. So her sister took Captain instead. He took to it like a pro, and they declared it was the best fun they had ever had.
It was very fast, and very noisy, and very rough, (between riders, not ponies) and looked to all intents and purposes as if the pupils of St Trinians had been let loose on ponies.
Meanwhile his flat work is coming on nicely.
Out goal for his year was to have Captain fluently jumping a 2' 3" cross country course. At the beginning of the year I was doubtful this was attainable. We still couldn't get him really going forwards into the jumps, and certainly not moving on and away afterwards. He still wasn't entirely confident about it all.
A couple of schooling sessions at a local course helped a bit - and he has always loved water!
Then at the beginning of the summer the fey daughter and Captain were in the junior dressage team and went to compete at the Devon and Cornwall Area Dressage. He was the only hairy cob at the very smart Royal Cornwall Showground, but despite the terrible nerves, and it being only their second ever dressage competition, they did brilliantly, and got the highest marks out of their team.
And then we had a breakthrough! After all this time, the jumping suddenly 'clicked'! One day Captain turned in to a jump, and he flicked his tail , pricked his ears, and took himself in to it. They haven't looked back. It is wonderful to see him enjoying it.
The 2'3" cross country goal has been more than achieved this summer, and together they are confidently jumping 2' 6" showjumping courses. In lessons Captain is happily jumping higher, but I'm reluctant to let the fey daughter push too hard and risk knocking his new found confidence.

And then at camp this year (Captain's 3rd Pony Club Camp) the fey daughter got her chance to try polocrosse.
They've taken to it so well, that we are wondering whether we can get a team up and running.
I'm not sure I can add that to my list of jobs!
So, it's been a long old journey getting here, and after the initial 6 weeks, it has been entirely down to the fey daughter. She adores Captain, and he adores her too. Sadly, she, like all my children, seem to have had their feet in compost this year, and have all grown incredibly tall. Her peers are moving on up to horses, but we've had a lot of discussion about this. She is adamant that she doesn't want to give up Captain (which is, quite frankly, a relief, as I certainly don't intend to let him go!).  So, I hope they have a lifetime together. It may be that she wants to go on and do more than he can do in the future - in which case I hope she can borrow. She is finally a competent enough rider that she gets offered horses to ride now. She did borrow a friends horse to take her C+ test last week, because I felt it was too much pressure to ask Captain to go out and jump 2' 9" showjumping and cross country in an exam environment when he has only just gained his confidence.
But most of all, I am proud of the pair of them, for they have achieved so much together!


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