I have noticed an increase in the amount of birds coming in to the garden this week. I should think that there is now very little food left in the hedgerows and the birds are needing to build up their strength for the breeding season ahead. A local farmer wrote in the community news that he hadn’t noticed the enormous flocks of woodpigeons this winter that we have had the past few years. He thought that perhaps we hadn’t had birds from further north escaping severe weather there. He is probably right. The regular winter visitors to my garden are house sparrows, blackbirds, woodpigeons, collared doves, stock doves, robins, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, dunnocks, wrens, rooks, jays, starlings, great spotted woodpeckers, green woodpeckers, moorhens, pheasants, mallards. We have a pair of barn owls who regularly patrol the garden, the fields around us and the lane and we hear tawny owls at night but rarely ever see them. Kestrels and sparrowhawks hunt for prey in our garden. During the severe winters of past years we had much larger numbers of birds than we have seen so far this winter. I admit that for some time in the autumn I didn’t put feeders out but I could see that there was plenty of food for birds in the fields and hedges. I have not seen the large flocks of fieldfares this winter flying over the house, moving from field to field. I haven’t seen the heron in our pond this winter yet either. Only now have the blackbirds started to come in to the garden and I haven’t seen any thrushes yet though I have heard them. I was listening to a song thrush starting to sing his spring song a couple of days ago. I haven’t seen any starlings in the garden this year yet though while I was in Halesworth on Thursday I was listening to a vey loud starling singing from the top of a street light.
I like stock doves – they are chunky, bustling birds with warm grey plumage and the most beautiful iridescent patch of purple and green on their necks. They have a strange monotonous hooting call – a loud hoot and then a couple of quieter ones almost like an echo. They are becoming more obvious in the garden – always in pairs. I have started to hear the chaffinch singing his song too. This is quite early, no doubt because of the mild weather. Jackdaws and crows are about but hardly ever visit the garden. We also hardly ever see a magpie maybe because we have a number of beautiful, raucous jays.
I have seen reed buntings in the garden again this week – I saw them for the first time here last year.
The greylag geese have also arrived this week. Every year they come to nest on the island in the pond. They take over the end of the garden and hiss at us if we dare to invade their space. I think they will have a hard time this year though. We are due to have some work done to remove large amounts of willow growing on the banks and on the island and this will no doubt upset them very much.
A beautiful red sunrise this morning and some frost on the grass. We had a lot of heavy rain yesterday evening with high winds and thunder and lightening but during the night the sky cleared and the wind dropped. Yesterday afternoon I managed to work in the garden for a few hours. There has been so little cold weather that the weeds are growing very well and so I decided to try to clear the worst affected flower bed. It was hard going as the soil in our garden is clay over chalk and flint and with all the rain we have had the soil had become very sticky mud. It is not recommended that work is done with the ground so wet but if I had left the weeds, mainly red dead-nettle and thistles, they would have totally engulfed all the miniature bulbs coming up. I wasn’t able to finish the whole bed before it got dark and began to rain but most was done and I was quite pleased.
This morning we decided to go to Norwich Cathedral and have lunch in the city. The drive was pleasant (especially as R drove not me!) and I noticed all the catkins on the trees and in the hedges. The sky was very overcast as more rain was forecast but the roads were fairly empty and we quickly found somewhere to park. E loves coming with us to the cathedral: she enjoys listening to the choir and the wonderful organ playing and also being part of a large congregation. We left the cathedral in pouring rain. Only then did R realise he’d left his hat in the car and didn’t have his umbrella. E had her umbrella but the wind kept blowing it inside-out. We went straight to the café where we had some lunch and then did a little shopping. I left E in Waterstones where she chose some books to buy with some of her birthday money, and went to buy her a new umbrella, some re-proofing spray and a couple of things from the chemist. R went to buy himself some underclothes and a hat!
We got home at about 2pm and had a hot drink. The rain eased off soon afterwards so I went out to feed the birds. The amount of black sunflower seeds I use is amazing. I have two sunflower feeders the larger of which is about 20″ tall and both need refilling every day. I know that a lot of the seeds are taken by rooks and I haven’t yet found a way to deter them. I admire them as they are very intelligent birds but when they descend on the garden in large numbers they eat most of the contents of a feeder in a very short space of time and that becomes expensive. I have a squirrel deterrent on the larger feeder which is weight sensitive. When it detects something heavy on the feeder an alarm sounds and then the feeder spins round quickly for a few seconds. This has put the squirrels off but not the rooks! I think they enjoy the challenge and seem to play on it. One rook hangs on the feeder as it spins round and shovels out the seeds to friends waiting on the ground below. Most infuriating! A couple of years ago I was becoming almost bitter about this so I read the book by Mark Cocker called ‘Crow Country’. He used to live not far from here and studied the local corvids as well as those in other parts of the country. His book taught me to understand them and even to like them! I now have to limit the amount of food I put out (to save my pocket) and if I think the rooks have been on the feeder too long I go out and shoo them away. (They then wait for me to go out then gorge themselves until I return!). Other unwelcome guests are next-door’s free-range chickens free-ranging in our garden and of course, the moles, the rats, the deer, the rabbits, the pheasants which peck off and discard! all buds, growing tips etc. of all the plants in the garden, other people’s cats and dogs and so on.
It is now time to cook the evening meal.
The mild (so far) winter has meant that we have not, as yet, lost any of our plants. We did lose a lovely willow tree during the St. Jude’s gale but that was before winter began. Last winter was so long and harsh that all our plants suffered and I lost a number of favourites including a Garrya – a tassel bush – which had been growing so beautifully. I intend to replace it some time but I will have to think very carefully where I should put it to protect it from the prevailing south-westerly wind and also from frost. My Mahonia and Viburnum bodnantense have been flowering continuously since November and I have enjoyed their lovely scent. Last winter they had only just come in to flower when the first of the hard frost and snow came and the flowers turned black. Also in flower are the Christmas Box and Winter Honeysuckle; the Witch-hazel, in a large tub by the front door, is beginning to come into flower too. Catkins are forming on the two hazel trees near the big pond. We never get any of the nuts as the squirrels are quicker than we are in picking them. Snowdrops and miniature iris will soon be in flower and the leaves of daffodils, hyacinths and grape hyacinths are coming up. I have crocus and snowdrops in tubs and when they have flowered I intend putting them with other bulbs already under the large crabapple at the front of the house.
The mild weather has also enabled a lot of insects to survive. As usual, a large group of ladybirds has gathered to hibernate in the corner of our bedroom window frame. I presume it is pheramones which draw them back there year after year. While emptying some kitchen waste into one of the compost bins a couple of days ago I was engulfed in a large cloud of whitefly. I have left the lid off the bin to encourage them to fly away, or the frost or birds to get them. Voles are also trying to set up home in the compost bins and my husband found a mouse or vole nest made in one of his gardening trainers in the garage. We always have a wreath hanging on our front door at Christmas and this Christmas was no exception. However, we found after a couple of days that we needed to move it away from the front door as bluebottles had decided to live in the wreath and whenever we opened the front door the house became full of flies. Today I had to bury two greenfinches. One beautiful male flew into our kitchen window and died immediately – I found the other bird, a female, under the ground feeder. I have no idea why or how she died. It was very frosty this morning and the day was so lovely with hazy sunshine. I had to go to Norwich hospital for the second time this week with my mother. Tuesday’s journey was made difficult by fog but the hoar frost had iced the trees and hedges and all looked magical. Today’s journey was made in sunshine and was only marred by the large amount of tractors pulling slurry tankers and muck spreaders we encountered. I am now listening to rain against the window.
I have been so busy for the past ten days I have had no time to add anything to my blog. The post-Christmas clear-up took ages and then I had to catch up on jobs that had been put to one side during the holiday. I am almost back to normal now and have time to write a brief resumé of the things that have happened recently.
Sat 4th Jan:A wet and windy day again. R and I went to the Rector’s Coffee Morning which he holds on the first Saturday of every month. We took a couple of things for the Bring and Buy stall and bought a book and some home-made marmalade (Rector’s special recipe with whisky!) We also won a pair of neon yellow gloves and some chocolate in the raffle – hmmm! An enjoyable event as usual where we heard all the gossip and had a laugh. Went on to the farm shop where we bought strong wholemeal flour. They stock Pakenham Water Mill flour which is the most beautiful silky flour and makes the best bread I have ever tasted.
Sun 5th Jan: A beautiful sunny still morning for a change. R and I decided to walk to church this morning. The Eucharist service was at St Margaret’s which is the church nearest to us (a mile away) but is not our parish church which is a mile and a half away – we live on the parish border. Despite the sun there was still ice on the road. 2nd Sunday in Christmas, so we had our last chance to sing carols. Lovely birdsong on the way home and we looked at the Jacob sheep in the field opposite the end of our lane. A cloudy afternoon during which I cleaned and sterilised all my bird tables and feeders.
Mon 6th Jan: Epiphany and all the decorations to be taken down and put away. I would like to be able to keep the crib out until Candlemas on 2nd Feb with the figures of the Kings offering their gifts to the Christ Child but it would mean two trips up to the loft and the thought of that is too off-putting when we are tired. The day started windy and wet but by afternoon was bright, sunny and mild. The birds were not at all interested in the clean feeders I had put out. They would much rather have stinky dirty mouldy ones I think! R and I went to the Epiphany Eucharist this evening where incense was burnt to commemorate the frankincense given to the boy Jesus.
Wed 8th Jan: Our last remaining goldfish died today at the grand old age of ten.
Fri 10th Jan: A frosty night and a calm sunny day. Shopped in the morning and then spent the afternoon preparing fruit for the freezer. I have no time and no inclination for preserve making at the moment so I’ve put all in the freezer for later – much later, I am sure, knowing me! Youngest daughter went for a walk down the lane and was chased by a small dog. Why won’t people keep their dogs under control? E also had to leap into the hedge to avoid an HGV which thundered down the lane then up again. HGVs, some with trailers, have become such a menace in recent years. They are as wide, if not wider, than the lanes: they break the banks and verges down and cause terrible damage. The mud from the sides is spread across the road by their wheels making it dangerous and messy to walk and drive along. Everyone living in the country has filthy cars at the moment – it isn’t worthwhile spending time cleaning the mud off when we know that within minutes of setting off our cars will be muddy again. Farm traffic is enormous too and also causes mess and damage.
Sat 11th Jan: It is our turn this month to clean our church so R and I spent a couple of hours this afternoon doing our duty. Our church is a lovely place and nearly a thousand years old. However it is in such a bad state of repair and we have no money to do any work on it. It is damp and has woodworm – the roof leaks and the windows need repairing. It is so cold in the church in the winter despite some electric under-pew heaters. Condensation and penetrating water drip on one during services. Bats live in the church and cause so much damage but they have nowhere else to go as all the old barns have been done up and converted into modern residences.
Sun 12th Jan: A frosty morning. Drove to St James church for the Eucharist service this morning. Very cold but enjoyable service. Home for lunch then out again to our church, Rumburgh, for the Plough Blessing service. This takes place on the first Sunday after Epiphany. A local farming family has a lovely old plough which they bring to the church and decorate with ribbons. This is blessed during a short service which is thought to ensure food for the coming year. The following day, Plough Monday, traditionally is the first day when work on the fields is recommenced after Christmas. I will include a picture of the plough in my next blog. Made apple cake when I got home. A delicious Mary Berry recipe. R and I had a small slice each and E had the rest over the next 24 hours!
Not as windy overnight as forecast but very heavy rain about 8 o’clock in the morning. Fortunately this didn’t last long and by nine o’clock the sky was clearing and the rest of the morning was quite beautiful. I had some shopping to do in Beccles, a town about eleven miles away. Not much traffic on the road so I got there quite quickly. By the time I had finished my shopping the sky had clouded over and the wind had picked up again. I really enjoy driving on the road between Beccles and Bungay. It usually doesn’t have much traffic on it so I travel at about 50 or 60 mph. The road rises and falls and the views from the tops of the hills down into and across the Waveney Valley are good. Today, the clouds were purple-black and I could see the mist of falling rain in the distance. It began to thunder and lighten and I drove into heavy rain which quickly changed to sleet and hail. The roads in Bungay had a lot of surface water on them and then as I got on to the hill out of the town I had to drive on roads covered in a layer of hail stones which were very slippery. The temperature dropped from 9 degrees C to 4 degrees in just a few minutes. The afternoon continued cold and showery but at nightfall the sky cleared and a new moon and stars appeared in the sky. Quite a windy evening.
My house is a typical eighties-built one: red-brick, grey roof, nothing special, quite plain. It is easy to maintain but set out a little strangely with the kitchen, utility room and downstairs cloakroom at the front of the house and the living room and dining room at the back. There is an unusable conservatory opening out of the living room – leaky, too cold in winter and too hot in the summer. The house was designed by the people who owned the field on which it is built. They liked to eat their breakfast looking out on to the road at any passing walkers or traffic and wanted to relax in their sitting room looking out over the fields at the back.
Our plot of land is almost an ‘L’ shape, the upright going from (nearly) south to north (top to bottom) and the base from east to west. The house is at the top of the ‘upright’, the front of the house facing ESE and the back to the WNW. The kitchen with windows on two sides has sunshine almost all day long in the summer; the living room behind it, also with windows on two walls is full of sunshine from just before midday until sunset. The garden wraps round the edge of a large field used for arable crops – wheat, barley, peas, beans. We have ditches all round the garden except where it adjoins the field, so we are almost moated but not quite. We also have hedges all round except for the part that adjoins the field at the base of the ‘L’ shape. This means a lot of work for my poor husband who has to cut these hedges a couple of times a year. We are also responsible for the ditches too – making sure they are clear and draining well. Most of the base of the ‘L’ is taken up by a large pond with a tiny island on it. We have a grassy path around it, open to the south-westerly gales coming off the open field on one side and much more sheltered on the other side with lots of trees and scrubland between us and another lane and also a couple of our neighbours. We have another two ponds – one is at the front of the house and is part of the ditch and the other, which needs a lot of work doing to it, is at the back of the house. We have planted a few fruit trees and a few ornamental trees up near the house and we have started putting trees along the edge of the garden without hedge which abuts the field. We have a couple of vegetable plots and a greenhouse and a few small flower beds but most of the garden is laid to grass. We moved here in April 2006 and had hoped to do much more to the house and garden by this time. However, my husband’s work has taken him away from home so much in the last few years and ill health and other problems have meant that it has taken us all our spare time to keep things as they are and no time for innovations.
Now that I have described where I live and a little of what it looks like I will begin my blog.
I intend this blog to describe what life is like for me living in a Suffolk lane. It will be a diary of sorts; the weather, the changing seasons, the great pleasures and the great inconveniences of living here.
I live in a detached house with a large garden in a small hamlet in North Suffolk – the Waveney Valley – the border land between Suffolk and Norfolk. The three nearest towns, all small market towns, are all about twenty minutes drive away. The nearest place where supplies can be bought is a small shop attached to a pub about four miles away. Any specialist shopping has to be done in Norwich or Ipswich. We prefer Norwich as it is easier to get there from where we live. Public transport is scant. There are a couple of dial-a-ride bus companies who will collect from your door, but the nearest bus stop is a couple of miles away and buses are few and far between. The nearest railway station ( please note that I do not use the words ‘train station’ ) is in one of the market towns where an hourly service takes us north to Lowestoft or South to Ipswich on a single track. Until very recently the service was every two hours but a passing loop has been put in at Beccles which has improved things greatly. If we need to get to London or Norwich and don’t wish to change at Ipswich/Lowestoft we drive to Diss, a market town thirty-five minutes drive away (unless stuck behind a tractor or a slow convoy of lorries when we might be travelling for forty-five minutes or more). We tend to drive everywhere and are lucky enough to own two cars. My husband works and has a company car which he will have to give back when he retires in eighteen months time. Our nearest large hospitals are at Lowestoft, Ipswich and Norwich and it takes us about three-quarters of an hour to get there. There are cottage hospitals in most of the market towns and medical centres in all of them.
There is not much for young people to do, unless they enjoy walking or have the money to pay for horse-riding or other country pursuits. Parents spend a lot of their time driving their children to different venues or friends’ houses, as do parents all over the country, but the distances are so great as the catchment areas for the schools are enormous. Older young people who can afford to drive cars or bikes can cope but those who cannot are often bored or lonely.
East Anglia as a whole is a very cultured place with many theatres, concert halls, music and dramatic societies etc., but again, you have to be able to travel a fair distance to take advantage of them. The coast is about nine miles from where we live and we enjoy walks there whenever we can. Winter walks are especially pleasurable when the seaside towns aren’t crowded with visitors; however when we walked at Southwold a few days ago on one of the few dry days this winter, we found it difficult to find a parking place. We love visiting Minsmere, the RSPB reserve near to us and there are areas of the coast owned by the National Trust and other organisations where we walk regularly. When our daughters were young we often went to Orford and Framlingham castles.
My husband and I attend the local church and our social life revolves around it and the friends we have made there. We get on well with our neighbours as is necessary in a fairly remote and sparsely populated area.
I love the remoteness, the quiet and the beauty of the place I live in and would wish to spend the rest of my days here.