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Wednesday
Dec142011

14 December 2011

Last Thursday was a partcularly windy day. Gem, Molly and I were returning down the hill after feeding the calves. We were walking along the lane which next year will be part of our farm walk, and which is lined with magnificent beech trees – when something unexpected happened. A large grey squirrel fell out of the tree and landed a few feet in front of me with a resounding ‘THWACK!!!!!!’ It immmediately jumped up and ran off. Collectively the three of us had a heart attack, with Molly the quickest to recover her wits and setting off in hot pursuit. To no avail as the squirrel vanished up another tree in seconds. I was relating this tale to son Matthew and he told me an almost identical thing happened to him while walking through a park in Edinburgh. It makes you wonder how feeble our own increasingly rare red squirrels must be if they allow these inept American upstarts to chase them out of their own country.

Anyway, to get to the point. Some of you may think running a farm is a bed of roses. Not so. As if the weather has not been miserable enough already this year, yesterday afternoon it chose to add insult to injury by visiting an even windier day upon us. You see above the remains of one of our polytunnels, a large part of which took to the air during yesterday’s storm. I am reminded of the closing lines of The Great Gatsby. ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

I know how he felt.

By the way the snow started to melt around lunchtime with no more forecast for the week ahead.

Christmas shopping at Ballylagan couldn’t be easier, plus you can collapse exhausted in front of the Tea Room log fire as a reward to yourself. Why not try a glass of Montezuma’s drinking chocolate with a hint of spice, alongwith a homemade mince pie, and all for £2.75. What could be nicer?

Regards

Tom

Wednesday
Dec072011

07 December 2011

Don’t be alarmed. Visitors to the tea room today were a bit surprised to find fellow customers in 17th century uniform complete with muskets and swords and covered in mud and fake blood. I just hope that nobody turned into our drive as this scene was being filmed. The production is a documentary for the BBC about the siege of Derry. Having spent yesterday in Carrickfergus [apparently any old walls will do] they were at our farm to film campsite scenes and horses. Here the dead body of McGimpsey is being pulled from the River Foyle having drowned in his attempts to swim for help. The soldiers are dressed in the uniform of dragoons of  the period. Dragoons were mounted infantry who could ride as well as fight. The advantage of dragoons in battle was their speed of movement, so they could be sent from one flank to the other where they would dismount and join in the fray. They were also useful for running down retreating forces. How I know all this is that yours truly (in her increasingly infrequent leisure time)  is sometimes got up like this on horseback.

Regards

Patricia

Wednesday
Nov302011

30 November 2011

This isn’t a very good photograph, but you can see the heron in the centre.  The picture was taken from the drive down to the shop, so next time you come, pause and have a look, more often than not, you are likely to spot the heron – but don’t get out of your car, for as soon as they recognize a human profile, they invariably lumber into flight and quickly disappear.

Like much of the wildlife on the farm, herons inspire mixed feelings. On the one hand they are magnificent and majestic birds. On the other, they eat our fish. Ravens when they grace us with their presence, are strangely impressive, but they have an annoying habit of attacking our young poultry. Foxes perform a useful scavenging job, but when they become too bold, they also start eating our chickens. I’m not an expert in these matters (nor in any other matters, come to think of it) but I read an article in the Daily Telegraph recently in which Robin Page suggested that the zealous work of the RSPB to protect and re-introduce so many predatory bird species was the biggest single reason for the decline in the population of songbirds and small mammals in Great Britain. I don’t know to what extent the same thing is happening here, but it was a very persuasive argument. It’s not that people don’t think through the likely repercussions of their actions, it’s just that nobody has a brain big enough to do it properly.

Thus, for instance, when I hear that some botanist has convinced the government that the way to control Japanese knotweed is by the introduction of some predatory pest that only predates the knotweed in its native Japan, I immediately assume that some other disaster awaits us, and anticipate the headline ‘Scientist admits: it didn’t occur to me knotweed weevil would destroy cabbage crops.’

Regards

Tom

Wednesday
Nov232011

23 November 2011

This picture was taken inside our turbine house, or more accurately ‘turbine garden shed’. Both Gem and Molly look a little perplexed, though this is more to do with me trying to pose them for the photograph than anything untoward happening.

The red thing in the foreground is our turbine. The blue pipe delivers the water from 400m up the hill into the turbine which then converts the water’s energy into the rotary motion of the shaft which runs between the turbine and the belt drive, beside which the dogs are sitting. The belt drive then transfers the energy to the blue generator at the back, which converts it into electrical power. That power is then sent up to our control room through underground cables, where it is divided up between ourselves and the national grid. At the time this photo was taken we were generating 9 kilowatts, which is enough to light ninety 100 watt bulbs. This is about 33% more than we actually need to power the farm, the shop and the tearoom, so the surplus is exported to the grid. All this is done automatically and without the least flicker of the lights. During dry spells, we expect to generate no electricity at all, but after heavy rain we have already generated up to 13.5 kilowatts. This turbine has quite altered my attitude to wet weather.

200 years ago some predecessor of ours harnessed the power of the Bryantang Water in an almost identical fashion, only he used it to drive a cornmill. It pleases me almost beyond measure that we are following in his steps.

Regards

Tom