We have the promise of a few dry days! Hurrah. Feeling a little below par with my head cold, but a bit of sunshine makes you feel better anyway.
There is snow on the tops and there was a hard frost overnight, but the fields actually started to dry out a bit yesterday, surprisingily quickly. Unfortunately, the dry has not come soon enough for the local annual ” Point to Point” to go ahead; a day of horse racing. It has been too wet to start the course preparation; last week the track was still standing in water. There are weeks of intense fence building and ground preparation by a small, dedicated bunch of the men in ordered to be ready for race day. Every Sunday in February a gang of us go out “birch cutting”. This entails going to a farm, in woods, where we have been invited; a couple of men with chain saws cut very young birch sapplings, which shoot up everywhere, smothering other young trees, so in itself can be useful. These cuttings are then dragged from the wood, bundled into half a dozen pieces, tied, trimmed and put on a trailer for transportation to the course. Last year a gang of us managed to do one thousand bundles – plays havoc with your hands, but having a pic-nic in the sun in some of the most glorious countryside, high up in the hills, after a hard morning’s graft was great fun. This work has to be carried out before first week in March so as not to disturb nesting birds, but alas this year it was not to be; you could not of got vehicles on to the land.
My job on race day now is to man the sponsors tent; providing refreshment for race sponsors and helpers. Standing all day, but very sociable if it is wet and cold and everyone comes in for a “warmer” and a chat. Last year we had such an exceptionally beautiful day me and my helpers didn’t really see anyone until racing had finished as everyone was enjoying the sunshine.
Up until the last couple of years I have been out on the course on “horse catching” duty, which means trying to catch a loopy, hyped -up thoroughbred that has ditched it’s rider. Bridle usually round it ears, acting like it’s never been handled and running loose can be quite dangerous to the other runners. Their adrenaline levels are sky high and they mostly just want to keep running. There are usually a couple of “catchers”, on their own horses, stationed at either end of the course. One year, it had been exceptionally quiet my end of the track, all the loose horses had been caught by the other party near the start. Embarrassingly, the only horse that had to be caught our end of the course was mine!! It was a very cold day and between races we were having a little canter round to keep us and the horses warm. One of my fellow helper’s little cob in front of me shied at something in a gateway, and my “old boy”, who could be a bit “sharp”, thought there must be some enormous monster out to get him if “Jack” in front had been frightened. He leapt into the air, spinning 180 degrees at the same time – leaving me on my back on the grass, much to the amusement of the near by fence stewards. My fellow helpers then had to dash off and catch him; their only “catch of the day”!
There are other signs of springtime too. I have spotted frogspawn in a few pools and ditches on our hill. We have a few common frogs in and around the garden, but I have never discovered where they spawn. From time to time they get trapped in the poly tunnel and have to be rescued. Occasionally, on late summer evenings I’ll come across a toad. There was one living under the strawberry trough last summer. The presence of these little creatures never seems to have an effect on the slug population; it’s monumental. For a number of years I refused to use slug pellets, and at the time we had ducks, which are supposed to be really good at clearing slugs, but it was hopeless, heart breaking and expensive; the amount of damage the little b……. would do was unbelievable. One damp summer 4 rows of early potatoes just vanished, entirely eaten by tiny little black slugs. Having the poly tunnel helps to an extent bringing tender things on with some protection but the crops planted direct into the garden have pellet protection. Another particular favourite of my slugs and snails seems to be French Marigolds. The slugs and snails will also scale the inside walls of the poly tunnel in order to launch themselves into the tomato plants. I can pick what appears at first sight to be a beautiful ripening tomato, but drilled into the back,the side against the poly tunnel plastic, is a hole; occasionally the offender still to be found lurking in the hole.
Riding out twice this week I have spotted an unusual bird of prey about half the size of a buzzards. I have heard it calling several times, quite near the house one day. Friday, what ever it was, it was really annoying the red kite and buzzards circling on the thermals overhead. At one point it hovered slightly and then looked as if it was a bout to “stoop” (go in for the kill) like a peregrine falcon, but it was just to far away to identify. I can only hope to see it again. I’ll have to take binoculars in my pocket. I have listened to the RSPB identification “calls” on their web site, but can’t make my mind up what it is. Be fantastic if it was a peregrine…..
Well frost is melting – must go and exercise the horse …..will put the binos in my pocket – in hopes …..