Using our loaf

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Last Saturday was Kim’s umpty-flumptieth birthday. So, as seems to have become the tradition, off we went to the Running Fox for a spot of lunch, after which we brought home a couple of slices of cake, both of which had the density of a small planet. However, the foodie delights didn’t stop there as we were also treated to a fantastic rustic loaf which our lovely friend Pru had made as a birthday present. It was fab!

Now, this was indeed a revelation. You can actually use a bread maker while off-grid? Apparently so. Cue a trip to the box room where our own bread maker has been gathering dust for the past three years and more. And the above loaf was our first creation since we moved to Beanley Wood Cottage. No need for the genny on such a sunny day – and the smell of baking bread permeating the whole house has been just wonderful all afternoon. It might be a bit on the small side (the yeast was probably a bit old), but this is definitely going to be the first of many loaves that get baked here from now on. So thank you very much indeed for the inspiration, young Prudence!

A time for reflection

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Since the greenhouse here at Beanley Wood Cottage was completely renovated at the end of last summer, we’ve been relishing the chance to bring it into action and get all the seeds which need germinating ready for deployment in the poly-tunnel. However, in the meantime there has been a bit of a problem.

While the French glazing which was used in the renovation looks fantastic, all that seamless glass with no glazing bars has sadly turned out to be something of a death trap for the local birds. In the past couple of weeks the mortality rate has been going up and has included blackbirds, thrushes, tits and finches, and a little while back even a woodpecker. So when Kim found three dead songbirds lying on the ground a couple of mornings ago it spurred us into taking action. This is nesting, chick-rasing season, so something had to be done.

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As a result, each of our greenhouse windows now features two strips of tin foil which will hopefully reflect the sunlight back out from behind the glass and deter the local birds from flying at literally breakneck speed into the invisible glazing. (There are 56 strips of hand-cut tin foil in there. It took for ever. I just hope it works.)

Meanwhile, the whole fabulous, wonderful sequence is, once again, well under way.

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Even the spuds have decided it’s already time to put in appearance.

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And if that doesn’t make your day, I’m not quite sure what does.

Blowing hot and cold

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Recently at Beanley Wood Cottage we seem to have gone from enjoying some really wonderful early-morning blue skies (as well as some rather magnificent clouds), to admiring gorgeous sunsets over the distant Cheviot Hills.

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Our wonderful start to spring was, so we thought, a foretaste of the balmy weeks and months ahead. So much so that only yesterday morning Kim got stuck into a much-needed overhaul of the fruit bush bed, first putting down a layer of cardboard to suppress the weeds and then covering it with lots of lovely mulch from one of our compost bins.

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And she was ably assisted by Dexter, who helped enormously by trying to shred all the cardboard he could get his teeth into.

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But… but then this!

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Snow? Snow! Let’s just hope it’s just a temporary glitch. Brrrrrrrrrrrr!

A local battle that sort of never was

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Just a couple of miles from our little oasis of tranquility here at Beanley Wood Cottage lies the busy A697 road, which runs north from Morpeth to Wooler. For much of its course the A697 follows an old Roman road known as Devil’s Causeway, and a mile or three from where it crosses the Breamish River, at what was the old Roman ford in Powburn, stands an innocuous copse of trees inside a walled triangular plantation.

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Blink and you might very well miss it. But behind an iron gate and within its litter-strewn confines is a reminder of a little bit of local history from the English civil war over 500 years ago.

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Here’s an account of events I’ve borrowed from elsewhere online which, like the now fading signage at the site itself, reports that the battle of Hedgeley Moor (25 April, 1464) was a Yorkist victory which marked the beginning of the end of Lancastrian resistance in Northumberland.

After the battle of Towton of 29 March 1461 the most effective centre of opposition to Edward IV was in Northumberland. Queen Margaret and Henry VI had escaped from Towton to relative safety in Scotland, and the Lancastrians were able to use their Scottish base to make repeated attacks on the castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh. Edward IV attempted to find both a political and military solution to this problem, sending armies to recapture the castles and attempting to come to terms with some of the remaining Lancastrian leaders. During 1463 he appeared to have made peace with Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset. Somerset had spent some time in exile, and had returned with a French mercenary force that seized the castles in October 1462. When Queen Margaret retreated back into Scotland Somerset was left to defend Bamburgh, and in December he surrendered it to Edward IV.

Somerset had been a dedicated enemy of the Yorkists, but Edward was determined to win him over. His estates were restored, his brother was released from prison and Somerset spent much time with the king. This dramatic pardon didn’t make Somerset popular, and after a near riot he was sent to his estates in Wales for his own safety. His change of heart would prove to be short-lived, and late in 1463 he left north Wales and attempted to make his way to Henry VI, who was at Bamburgh Castle. On the way he made an unsuccessful attempt to seize Newcastle, but the plot was discovered and foiled.

Despite this setback Somerset was able to reach Bamburgh, which was now the centre of Lancastrian resistance. Scotland was now closed to them and peace negotiations were underway between Edward IV and the Scots. A number of other pardoned Lancastrians joined Somerset, amongst them Sir Henry Bellingham, Sir Humphrey Neville and Sir Ralph Percy. The Lancastrians were able to capture Norham, Langley, Hexham, Bywell and Prudhoe, and by late March had created a small Lancastrian enclave in the far north east.

This caused Edward a number of problems, including disrupting the Anglo-Scottish talks, which had been due to take place at Newcastle on 6 March. The talks were rearranged for late April and were to be held in York. An army commanded by John Neville, Lord Montagu, was sent to Northumberland to collect the Scottish envoys, and on 27 March Edward announced that he intended to lead a large army north in person to deal with the rebels.

Edward’s presence wouldn’t be needed – Montagu would win two battles that ended the Lancastrian threat before the king could reach the north.

Montague was heading into dangerous territory. The Lancastrians attempted to ambush him while he was heading north to Newcastle, with a force of archers and 80 men at arms. Montague was able to elude this force and reached Newcastle, where he picked up reinforcements. From Newcastle he moved north to Alnwick, then north-west towards Wooler. The Lancastrians decided to make a major effort to intercept him and Somerset led their main army south-west from Bamburgh. The two armies clashed at Hedgeley Moor (now close to the A697 just to the south-east of Wooler).

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The events of the battle are fairly obscure. The Lancastrians may have had as many as 5,000 men, and were led by Somerset, Percy, Robert Hungerford, Lord Hungerford, Thomas Roos, Lord Roos, Lord Grey and Sir William Tailboys. But before the two sides came to blows the Lancastrian left fled the field, leaving Somerset outnumbered. At some point during the following battle Sir Ralph Percy was killed and the main Lancastrian force withdrew. Somerset pulled back to Alnwick, while Montague was able to continue on to the Scottish borders, meet the envoys and escort them to York.

So there you have it. A battle of sorts – but with most of the Lancastrians high-tailing it before a blow had been traded, I guess you could call it more of a skirmish.

The prickly subject of a chap’s fifth birthday

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Today marked birthday number five for our youngest dog, Hitch. And by way of a present he got a new hedgehog toy – his fourth to date (we aren’t sure what it is about them, but he just seems to love hedgehogs more than any other toys). The previous three incarnations are now more holes than material, and their squeaks, grunts and rattles have all long since been chewed into oblivion, but thanks to Kim they all still survive, in a moth-eaten kind of way. So the above beauty parade was arranged while birthday boy was, as usual, only too happy to pose for a portrait.

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After which, Hitch and Dexter spent the day driving us up the wall demanding to play with toys while we were hard at work in the garden (more of which soon). Then it was, of course, time for a little lie-down. Or two.

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I tell you, it’s a hard life being a dog in this house.

Wicked leaks

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Strange though it may seem, the shed roof is a particularly important feature here at Beanley Wood Cottage. And that’s because it just happens to support the dozen solar PV panels which provide us with our entire electricity supply for six months of the year, and contribute significantly for the other six. But despite previous efforts to make sure it was in good shape, the threadbare felt on the roof was clearly giving up the will to live, and makeshift measures had to be taken to protect precious electrical equipment such as inverters from the numerous leaks that had started to appear.

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But recent strong winds suddenly brought the issue to the fore. Like it or not, it was time to take action.

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So it was off with the PV panels and all the paraphernalia that holds them in place.

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Then off with knackered old felt.

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And on with a proper roof cover that should last us for years and years.

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It was thirsty work, so it went without saying that a constant supply of tea was definitely the order of the day.

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And finally it was time for the solar panels to be re-instated on the shed roof. I spent a good couple of hours washing them down before they went back on, so hopefully they’ll be working at peak performance again. Well, until the wood pigeons decide to crap all over them from their roost in the trees above, as usual!

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Our thanks to Mike Seeley and the Pure Energy Systems team for such dependable and prompt attention, but most of all to the amazing Johnny Robson, ably assisted by Sneck. Another top job that ensured we were back in the self-sufficiency business with the minimum of delay. Now, bring on that sunshine!

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Time to cut and cut loose

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It has been one of the most delightful spring weekends you could imagine here at Beanley Wood Cottage. So despite the ongoing knee problems there was no getting around the fact that it was time to bite the bullet and give the lawns their first trim of the year. And clearly it wasn’t just Kim and myself who were feeling full of the joys of spring. So while I was pushing the lawnmower around the place, Dex and Hitch were pushing it on the boisterous behaviour front. But I think we could all agree it really has been a fabulous couple of days. More, please!

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