The End of a Chapter

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Greetings from High Bank for the final time.  We are at the end of a happy chapter and the start of a bright and exciting new one.  This will be the last High Bank message, its been great fun but it is time to say goodbye.  The most important thing we want to do, is to shout out a big thank you to everyone who shared a part of this with us, to our paying guests, to all our great friends and family who have visited and stayed with us, eaten, drank, laughed and sang with us, to visiting doggies, passing birds, bats, hedgehogs, toads, frogs, owls, and all the other beasties and leaf-ies who share this magic spot in the peaceful green Marches.  We hold a great deal of love for you all and can’t wait to share the next adventure with you.11626650765_38a246a1b4The new chapter will begin in spring, right here in the heart of the Marches, with some sustainable building and business developing, we’ll share more in Spring when we launch the revamped blog.  The blog will be rebranded, so look out for The Marches Hare blog, and The Mad Hatters Lodge.

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It seems fitting to share this message on the Winter Solstice, a night for celebrating the shifting of the seasons and the changing of direction towards newness and light.  So raise a glass and share a warming midwinter dram, with warm wishes to the new residents of High Bank, and a big, bright burst of positivity for the spring, for lighter nights and the future.

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Make the most of the sleepy, frosty beauty of Nature in Winter, and we’ll see you all with an abundance of kindness and love in 2017.

Cheers,

Gavin, Jenny and Vita x

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Autumnal

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The owls are in fine voice over Richards Castle again this year, barely waiting for dusk some evenings to begin their calls.  They are great evening companions.  The heart warming croaked call of a juvenile has also been a regular sound in the chorus for another summer.

Beyond these bewitching sounds, the Marches are in the full amber flow of Autumn, Mortimer Forest is rich with colour, especially the arch of copper Beeches as you drive through them into the village.
It has been another rich summer season at High Bank, thanks to all the guests, friends and family who came and enjoyed it with us.  Time to wrap up and get out into these lovely fresh autumn days.

Smelly Friends

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A good friend, and fellow botanist sent us a picture this week from Edinburgh Botanical Gardens where he is based.

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The Amorphophallus titanum, a.k.a. the Titan Arum or Corpse Flower (or ‘New Reekie’ as the Botanic gardens named it) is the world’s largest and smelliest flower.  You might not guess from the picture but it was 267cm tall.  7000 people went to visit it last week.  Nice to know that flowers can still obtain celebrity status.

It has now gone over so no need to rush off North for a visit.  The Shropshire/Herefordshire Marches may not be able to boast such grandiose flowers, though you may be grateful of this given its shocking smell.  We do however have some rather more subtle beauties emitting scents from under our hedgerows and woodlands…

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Herb Robert and Wild Garlic are two of the more distinctive smells to be found in the undergrowth.

We still have some limited availability for late summer, so come to High Bank and enjoy some tranquility amongst the abundant (and only mildly pungent) nature of the Marches.

Sky Blue, temp finally a cooler 19c.         Time for G&T

Happy Summer Solstice

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A very Happy Summer Solstice from High Bank.

Summer is in full swing in the Herefordshire/Shropshire Marches and nature is doing what she does best, dazzling us with life.  Amongst other things in the last couple of weeks we have been visited by Hedgehogs, frogs, Newts, Toads, Red Kites and two nests of Bumblebees.

The Bumblebees are particularly pleasing as we have been planting flowers specifically for this purpose.  Unfortunately one of the nests is in an old compost pile that is just ready for use.

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The picture above features the Lychnis flos-cuculi, one of my favorite wildflowers growing well at High Bank.  The ‘Ragged Robin’ as it is known is a flower once common in the UK but now in decline thanks to modern farming.  The ragged form of the petals and the striped appearance of the receptacle/sepal at the base of the flower make it a particularly pretty plant.  Below is a close up of a dwarf form of the plant I recently obtained.

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Centranthus ruber, in full bloom and attracting bees pretty much everywhere it can find to grow.

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An unusual geranium P. Renate Parsley.

The landscape is glowing with a lush green calm.  A great time of year to visit the peaceful and picturesque Marches.

Have a Happy and Tranquil Summer Solstice.

With love from the High Bank Gang.

Sky Blue, temp rising.  Time for G&T

Apples are not the only fruit

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Exciting times in the High Bank garden as one of our experimental crops flowers for the first time…

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The beautiful apricot was given to us by our dear friend the Snail of Happiness as one of many ideas to broaden our range of crops as we work to increase productivity.  The plan is for the apricot tree to live permanently at the end of the long glass house where it can be trained in a 90 degree fan, to elegantly fill and shade out one end of the glass.

The variety of Apricot is ‘Moorpark’ a deep orange fruit blushed with crimson, a soft sweet flesh that should go well with ice cream and fig liqueur.

Because of its situation indoors it may require a little assistance with pollination and so tickling the flowers with an artists brush will do the trick nicely, also the windows and door will be left open to encourage some natural pollinators to buzz by.

Due to our new project being undertaken the glasshouse is to be relocated,and so the training of the tree will begin in earnest in late summer.

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It is the first time the tree has flowered and although it won’t produce substantially enough for guests this year, it is an exciting beginning.  The flowers are beautiful too, with papery white petals.

Sky grey, temp 8c.      Time for a dram

Positively 2015

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High Bank wishes all our guests, friends and family a very Happy New Year and a special thank you for helping to make 2014 such a good one.

2014 was a great year for outdoor types and guests were able to enjoy the beautiful Shropshire and Herefordshire Marches in all its bright and dry glory.  It was the year of the flower as much as the fruit, with an abundance of wild flowers to enjoy, in the hedgerows, meadows and woodlands throughout the Marches, an abundance of familiar species and also a few less common flowers were blooming well in the 2014 light.  herefordshire 3

Hedgehogs appear to have had their own baby boom  as we spent the summer with them dotted about across the High Bank gardens, getting up to mischief, hopefully the winter won’t be too cruel and there will be a real boost to their population.  Apples have once again proved the best power-crop, though not a commodity that is ever in short supply in Herefordshire.  The ‘Old Faithful’ tree produced not only in abundance but the fruits were larger than usual also.  The squashes came out their usual weird and wonderful selves, the seeds of this years quirkiest variety (Sharks Fin Melon) came as usual from our dear friend and eco-comrade the Snail of Happiness.  Not the most obvious ingredient in the kitchen, as any guests that purchased them around the harvest time, or friends who dined with us will attest, but an attractive addition to the veg beds all the same.

We have been busy in 2014 laying down the plans for the next phase of our project that we hope will begin to be implemented soon, hopefully making 2015 an adventurous year and one that will involve great changes and further evolution towards the twin goals of greater self-sufficiency and living in tune with our natural environment.  Also new luxurious guest accommodation.  More news in the new year…

And a New Year post would not be complete without a resolution.  So the same as always, as we step into a fresh new year we seek to tread lightly and ground every action in sincerity and love.
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We hope your 2015 will be filled with positivity, love, contentment and fruitful self-sufficiency.  We look forward to welcoming you back in 2015.

Now taking bookings for Spring 2015.

Sky grey after days of clear blue.  Temp 6c.

Happy Solstice (and other seasonal greetings) from High Bank

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Happy Winter Solstice everyone, for folk who live in direct contact with the soil or purely in tune with the natural environment around them the most special date in the late December calendar.  A time to enjoy the stored harvest from the past season, to reflect on the season gone and how we might make the next one better and to look forward to the promise of the days growing longer, the buds breaking, the soil warming and the new growing year.

High Bank would like to share a seasonal greeting and a (not so) wee dram with all the guests, friends and family that have shared the past year with us.  It has been a great vintage; the guest cottage welcoming many friendly visitors, the produce baskets have been overflowing, the wine, whisky and gin also overflowing, the sunshine a familiar friend.  The Herefordshire/Shropshire landscape has been a joy, the hedgerows have been a constantly changing parade of flowers, the season was so long that we had many repeat visits from some favorites like the red campion.  The fruit trees have been laden and the papery beech leaves glowing in the long light.

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I am going to sign off with a seasonal poem, about the white stuff, from one of my favorite poets, just for the purpose of this solstice post having captured three of my favorite inventions (Whisky, Trees and Poetry)

SNOW AND SNOW   by Ted Hughes

Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying “It”s snowing!”
But it is not. And nobody”s there.
Empty and calm is the air.

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.

There is a pagan tradition carried out on the solstice where regrets and hopes are written onto dried leaves and thrown into the fire where their burdens or promises are released.  A poignant way to mark the end of one season and the beginning of another.

2015 promises to be an exciting year with many changes afoot, we will back on the blog with lots of updates, we hope our previous guests and everyone involved with us will support the adventure and come back and visit as we unfold the next chapter…

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Until then, enjoy the solstice, enjoy the winter, the crisp air, making soup from squashes, wood chopping, walking in the woods (so good for the soul,) watching for the snowdrops, watching for the snow.
SEASONS GREETINGS with love and care from us at High Bank

Sky blue, temp 6c
Time for a Dram

Reboot and Relaunch

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As of today the all new High Bank Cottage website is up and running.

http://www.highbankcottage.co.uk

So be part of the relaunch.  Click on the link above and head over to take a look.  Let us know what you think. Anything you like?  Anything missing?  Please give us your feedback, and like and share.

 

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Sky grey, rain light, temp 5c.

Time for a dram.

 

Don’t Look Down

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Yesterday was a good day for walking and the Herefordshire countryside was at its glorious best, framed in blue with a soft rolling mist tucked amongst the folds of the hills.

It served well to look outwards rather than downwards as beneath our feet a thick layer of decay and detritus cushioned our every step.  The debris of a wet autumn and winter has created more rot and mud than the saturated ground can handle.  The relentless winter rains seem to have had the effect of pulling everything back to the earth, rotting the core out of every living thing and turning England into a bog.  It brought to mind the peat bog featured in Seamus Heaney’s brilliant poem ‘kinship’

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This centre holds
and spreads,
sump and seedbed,
a bag of waters

and a melting grave.
The mothers of autumn
sour and sink,
ferments of husk and leaf

deepen their ochres.
mosses come to a head,
heather unseeds,
brackens deposit

their bronze.
This is the vowel of earth
dreaming its root
in flowers and snow,

mutation of weathers
and seasons,
a windfall composing
the floor it rots into.

I grew out of all this
like a weeping willow
inclined to
the appetites of gravity.

 

Nature’s cycle does not pause for the rot however and signs of renewal and new beginnings are starting to appear…

11626650765_38a246a1b4Sky hidden behind fog and mist, temp 1c.

Time for a dram.

New Year Revolution

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A new calendar year and a new moon falling on the same day create a great opportunity for fresh starts or the renewal of good intentions.  Statistically new year’s resolutions have a very short shelf life and little worth, however we usually create them because we have an ideal, a vision of ourselves or our lives that is better than reality.
So maybe approaching the new year/new moon with a head full of positivity will give our idealised selves the chance to exist in reality.  We have two simple thoughts at High Bank that are rooted in our belief in good-will and that we hope to be the foundations of our actions in 2014…
*Have kind thoughts and intentions towards others.  Everyone has a reason for doing what they do and being who they are, it is healthy to embrace what a person is rather than what you wish they were.
*Tread lightly as consumers.  In the midst of the fast and cheap consumerism pandemic it is more important than ever to take the time to think about what we are buying and make decisions as consumers that don’t have a negative or harmful impact on anyone or anything.

These are only two little ideals, but its amazing how quickly a moment of care and consideration is reciprocated.  Good will is infectious, with a little spreading it could be more revolution than resolution.

Have a Happy and Loving New Year everyone.

Sky grey and overcast, temp 4c

Time for a Dram

High Bank 2013 Review (part 1)

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As the tide begins to go out on the Christmas Whisky bottle it is a good opportunity for us to look back on the year at High Bank.  As always the 12 month path has not been a straight one, littered with successes and failures, good crops and bad crops, sunny days and rainy days, but either way they are all just moments grasped and made into life.

2013 was a good vintage in terms of the weather, in spite of the newspaper doomsayers declaring in April there would be no dry summer in the UK for many years to come (supporting my belief that newspapers are only good for lighting fires and wrapping crockery,) like most of England we have had a glorious summer of bright and blazing sun.  All of this is of course great news for the self-sufficiency gardener and at High Bank we made hay while the sun shone.  The great weather meant no slugs (praise be,) fewer weeds, no rotting fruit and most importantly richer tasting produce.  Of course the dry weather created other complications for example the pressure on water collecting systems (note for the new year: our water butts are inadequate for a good summer.)

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The good weather was enjoyed by most of the guests at High Bank who enjoyed exploring the divinely rich Shropshire/Herefordshire countryside in all its bright glory.  Coinciding a visit with some good weather comes highly recommended.  On a sunny day little can be more tranquil and life-giving than activities like walking the Shropshire Hills or driving through the Herefordshire landscape or exploring the areas history like our village’s own St Bartholomew’s or Stokesay Castle, all the while taking in the stunning views.

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On a personal note the year was made perfect by the arrival of our little bundle of love in May, a ray of sunshine that has eclipsed all else.  Her arrival may have slowed down production briefly but we are spurred on by the promise of little hands sowing and weeding in the future.
It would be fair to say that all the fruit and veg produced this year has been more successful than it was in 2012.  Except perhaps the sweet peppers which came very late and in short supply and were never made available to guests this year.  This was probably caused by a delay in planting the seedlings out due to the aforementioned May arrival.  More about the ups and downs of 2012’s produce in the next post…

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This month’s rain proves that no 12 months can ever be summed up simply and all growers and self-sufficiency gardeners have to be prepared and covered for every type of weather that can be thrown, and often within one growing season as well.  It would be as foolhardy to plan a drought tolerant garden after this summer as it would have been to plan a boggy garden after 2012.  We have to be adaptable and prepared to cover every base.

sky clear and calm after quite a windy day, temp 3c.
Time for a Dram

A Seasonal Message

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To all the Guests, Friends and Family of High Bank…

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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Whether you’ve stayed in the Cottage and toured the area, helped pick produce, laughed with us, sat and drink Gin or Tea with us, or eaten some of our produce, a big Thank You for making 2013 a great vintage at the High Bank Project.  We’ve loved sharing it with you all and look forward to welcoming you all in 2014.

Have a great festive holidays.  While enjoying all the indulgence remember to share your love and make someone smile over the break…

Sky in parts blue and grey, temp 6c.

Time for a Dram

Apple-Shaped World

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Though thoughts would normally now be turned to festive things, High Bank is still knee deep in the apple processing industry.  More creative thinking is given to this fruit than almost anything else at this time of year, as we try to find new ways to keep and use and share this beautiful resource as far beyond its fresh life as possible.  Stewed, baked, juiced, jellied, preserved…

 

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It is partially responsible for the quietness of the blog lately as things are pushed aside to get the prolific ‘Old Faithful’ stripped of its fruit.  The tree is now nearly bald, as are our fingers from constant peeling.
Any visitors, guests or friends heading to High Bank in the coming months can anticipate tasting some of the Old Faithful crop in one form or another.  Apple and Ginger Jelly, Apple and Plum preserve, Apple and Chilli Jelly, Apple Butter, Apple Cake, Stewed Spiced Apple… In Winter nearly everything tastes of apple.

 

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…or maybe Squash!

 
Sky Blue/Grey, temp 10c.
Time for a Dram

Life’s a Beech

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Apologies for the High Bank blog silence, we have been distracted little busy bees, taking stock of the High Bank project and processing the plentiful produce.  More on this later but for now lets sit back and enjoy the pleasures of the season…

Mortimers Forest on the edge of the village is back to it’s fiery autumnal brilliance, all conversation ceases as you walk along and fall under its illuminating canopy.  I am unashamedly in love with trees and this is the time of year when my favorite tree of all Fagus sylvatica (the beech) shines most brightly.  At any point in the year this species is stunning, the polished leaves, smooth trunk and magnificent layered branching habit make it a star player in the woods, but come the autumn it is unsurpassed by anything else in the woodland.

The ground is a constant ‘through leaves’ moment with a crisp and crunching bronze layer of tranquil kick-able happiness underfoot.  Maude (the High Bank Spaniel) does her best chameleon impression and almost vanishes from the picture…

 

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The English woodland in Autumn is a very special thing.  The sounds and smells, along with the colours, represent the slowing of the season, the preparations for winter, the transience of life and the fleeting beauty of what occurs around us and why we must pause to observe and enjoy it.

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Sky brilliant blue, temp 2c.

Time for G&T (…or maybe a warming dram)

The Rich Dregs of Summer

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P1050002With the forecast for things to turn decidedly damp this week we thought it best to bring in the remainder of the squash harvest (quite a bounty.)  Along with yet more fruit from the prodigious courgettes and the tomatoes that have produced more ripened fruit in October than any other month this year.

Along with several tonnes of Apples from ‘Old faithful’ it looks like an autumn in front of the stove and a strong chance of developing that seasonal ailment ‘peelers wrist.’

Sky grey (it had to happen eventually)   Temp 11c, slight wind and chance of drizzle.

Time for G&T

Autumn Harvest …or Indian Summer?

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Collecting handfuls of produce in from the garden is one of life’s little pleasures, and September provides it in abundance…

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The glorious Summer of 2013 doesn’t seem to know when to stop spoiling us.  This week it has had a second (or third) wind with warmth and sun that has kept some of the summer crops flowing, ripening in a more prolific way than might be expected in late September.

So today’s cropping has been a pleasurable mix of the summer (tomatoes courgettes, Patty Pan summer squashes) and Autumn (various varieties of winter squashes, apples and pears.)

I’m sure we are in for a rude awakening when this amazing season finally gives up the ghost.  But when it does we can be happy with what it gave us, wrap ourselves in the pleasures of autumn, light the logs on the stove and spend some time in the kitchen cooking the fruits of summer’s labour (squash and apple recipes at the ready.)

Temp 15c, cooler than recent days, sky blue with a little greyish cloud building.

Time for G&T

 

Woodpecker Farming

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This evening the High Bank gardens had the pleasure of a juvenile green woodpecker’s company.

baby-green-woodpecker-22It lingered a long while, munching on the canapes laid out over the lawns while we pondered the beautiful shade of green that coloured its wing feathers.

It was up until this point just a pleasurable interlude during our routine evening garden tasks until we paused to find out from the all powerful Google what it might have been eating.  It turns out that the green woodpecker has a penchant for ants.  Yes we had stumbled upon a potential weapon in the fight against our arch-enemy.

Unfortunately a tractor came along to scare the bird off into the trees and out of our lives long before it had the chance to make a dent in the High Bank ant population.

Now we send out a plea to anyone who might know where we can get a breeding pair of green woodpeckers….

Sky blue in early dusk, temp 14c.

Time for G&T

Life in many varieties …and always sweet

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This time of year belongs to the Squashes, they are the kings of the ground, swelling and ripening daily.   P1040855

The High Bank veg garden has become a bit of a treasure hunt as squashes grow hidden from the human eye under their heavy leaves.  Every day we discover new ones, sometimes varieties that hadn’t as yet produced any fruit.

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They are not all supposed to hide away until autumn, the Patty Pan Squash is a summer squash to be picked and enjoyed at its time of fruiting.

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This sneaky blighter managed to outgrow itself, only discovered (and picked) today in the undergrowth, five times its destined size.

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Seamus Heaney, a great soul, left our realm today, so I will finish with one of his poems as a dedication.  It seems an appropriate subject considering I am sat writing a blog with espresso in hand, instead of digging…

Digging
BY SEAMUS HEANEY
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

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Sky blue, a luxurious August ends as it ran.  Temp 21c.

Time for G&T

Chemical Abuse

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P1030988Vegetable and fruit growers spend more time at war than the average Western Power.  Whatever species you are growing there will undoubtedly be a list of pests and diseases waiting to attack it.  Large scale producers tend to take the chemical warfare approach to this problem which on paper is probably the only answer to that scale of production, but unfortunately leaves them with a product that many would consider not safe for human consumption.  Good job for them that the supermarket is not obliged to put a list of ‘ingredients’ on a packet of vegetables.
Chemicals have been such an ally to gardening over the last century that it is now the default setting for a solution to a problem.  Spray it, spray it, spray it.  Not just pests and diseases but even weeds are widely sprayed, In many scenarios a nonsensical choice as it simply turns a green weed to brown, it doesn’t make it disappear.
Good plant and plot management will go much further than chemical weapons, simple tasks like mulching, hoeing, and hands-on regular contact with your plants.
Two years into the High Bank Project and still proudly chemical free we know first hand that chemicals are not necessary in fruit and vegetable production.  Guests eating produce at High Bank can ‘chow down’ safe in the knowledge that the produce does not come with a cocktail of chemicals.

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So for your own health, and for the health of the soil and the atmosphere, High Bank recommends these three choices…  Grow your own!  Buy organic from your local farm-shop!  Stay at High Bank Cottage!

Sky Blue, with much white cloud,   temp 19c.
Time for G&T

Please and Thank You

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Summer has been blazing away nicely.  Here on the Shropshire/Herefordshire Border, much like in most of England, we have been slow-baked to perfection and appreciating every minute of it.

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This summer’s guests of High Bank have been reveling in the sun-splashed landscape, enjoying the rolling hills, castles, rivers and ancient architecture under a perfect blue sky.  2013 has been a good vintage, not just for touring visitors but also for the apples bulging on the trees and the Squashes swelling atop the soil.  Herefordshire’s famous Orchards are looking more fruitful and full than for many seasons and they are a ‘must see.’

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There are still a few windows in the High Bank booking diary for the remainder of 2013, grab the opportunity to escape the tourist crowds and relax in this tranquil and (thanks to the sunshine) plentiful spot.

So a big cheers and thank you to those who have visited us so far in 2013 and a big welcome to those we will yet see before the close of the year.
Sky blue, temp 21c.
Time for G&T