Apple Pressing 2018

Everyone seems to have an abundance of apples this year, many of which have ripened early. If you still have apples, our pressing day this year is on Saturday 13th October, 2-4pm in the New Barn at Greenholme, Bewcastle. Everyone welcome. Bring your own apples if you have any you would like to juice, or just come along to help. Refreshments available (apple juice and tea!). Suitable for all ages.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Apple Pressing 2017

Another year in the round and another apple pressing day. This year it’s on Saturday 14th October, 1-4pm at Greenholme, Bewcastle. Everyone welcome. Bring your own apples if you have any you would like to juice, or just come along to help. Refreshments available (apple juice and tea!). Suitable for all ages.


Apple Day 2016

Well what a great time we had! Juice everywhere, sticky fingers, mucky clothes, mashed apple and wasps! It was good to welcome new faces as well as old. Tea and apple cake and music and apple juice for all, and so many apples. We were going constantly, non-stop from 2pm til well after 5pm and we still had hundreds of apples unpressed at the end. Washing, chopping, milling, pressing. Everyone left with bottles and bottles, weary and happy.


The humble apple, Malus domstica, is traditionally the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, probably through word association in the Latin – malus is also Latin for ‘evil’ (as in ‘malice’) – during the early centuries of Christianity. Renaissance pictures of Christ as a child often depict him holding, or taking, an apple as a symbol of the sin from which he came to cleanse the world.

Bramantino, Madonna and Child, pre 1508

Here, in north Cumbria, it is one of the few trees that is happy to have have a go at putting down its roots into our heavy, wet soil and, providing it isn’t nipped by a May frost, yielding us wonderful, edible fruit – perhaps this is part of its redemption?

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Apple Pressing Day – 1st October 2016

Saturday, 1st October, 2pm to 5pm, apple juicing at Greenholme, Bewcastle.

Bring along your surplus apples that you would like to be juiced, and some clean containers to hold the juice, such as empty milk containers. If you have a surplus that you do not want for yourself, bring them along anyway and share the fun!

Even if you don’t have any apples of your own, come along and join us for tea and cake.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

A success at last? Learning how to sing

Trying to listen to our land and find ways of enalbing it to sing while providing for us is proving to be difficult. Constant rain, heavy waterlogged but thin soils, stiff clay subsoils, cold temperatures, limited sunshine, strong winds, short growing season and rushes with thick, deep roots explain why the only crop farmers attempt to grow around Bewcastle is grass. And even for that, fertilisers and glyphosate herbicides are systematically used. Nevertheless, here we are at the beginning of June, three weeks from the summer solstice, and the farmers have yet to turn their cattle out of the byres after their winter sojourn – the ground remains sodden and the grass reluctant to grow. More wind and rain is forecast.

Numerous experiments we have attempted in trying to work with the land have ended in a failure to produce any worthwhile crop so far. Apart from second-season willows that were coppiced after their first year, the orchard, the polytunnel and the raised beds remain the only ‘productive’ areas at Greenholme. These, of course, are relatively controlled environments where the land has been heavily modified.

In the summer of our first year here (2013) we built three ponds. One (the largest) was a ‘restoration’ of an ancient flax pond that had become overgrown, the second was dug out of an unproductive slope, and the third was little more than a ‘scrape’ in a permanently wet and boggy corner of a field. None were artificially lined, all utilised the natural clay subsoil as the water-impervious barrier. All are filled naturally, either from rainfall only (wildlife pond), or rainfall plus intercepted field drains. We have no flowing water on site (although the River White Lynne flows along our border), but we do have over 1200mm of rain a year (note that is 1.2m of water over every square metre of land!). All ponds were ‘inoculated’ with water and plants taken from a local natural pond a few miles away, to seed the invertebrate and macrophyte populations. The margins of each were also planted with Phragmites australis (common reed) and Typha latifolia (reedmace) obtained from a northern nursery.

Main Pond

Main pond – 3m at its deepest with an island

Middle or 'Nursery' Pond

Middle or ‘nursery’ pond – up to 2m deep

Wildlife Pond

Wildlife pond looking northwest

The third pond was intended for wildlife. We hoped it would fill to the brim, since the site was permanently wet even through the dry summer of the previous year, and overflow down to the nursery pond. In point of fact it has never filled to a depth of greater than about 12 inches, the limit of the clay. Thus the vertical edge around the pond demonstrates the thickness (thinness) of the soil over the clay. Above this level the water seeps into the surrounding soil.

The pond is at the highest point of our land and has no natural inflow other than a few metres around it and the rain that falls on its surface. However, unlike the other two, it suffered from clay in suspension that has never settled. Turbidity remained so high, even after 18 months, that light could only penetrate the top few inches of water. As a consequence, almost none of the introduced macrophytes have survived.

Perpetual turbidity in the wildlife pond

Perpetual turbidity in the wildlife pond – February 2015

Light only penetrates the top 2 inches or so

Light only penetrates the top 2 inches or so

Of all the macrophytes introduced, only Bog pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) struggles on

Of all the macrophytes introduced, only bog pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) struggles on

This was an inauspicious start for encouraging wildlife! Clay in suspension will never settle out due to the nature of the electrostatic charges on the surface of the clay minerals and their incredibly small size. Most solutions to the problem involve introducing a flocculating agent (usually the sulphate of calcium, magnesium or aluminium) that cancels out the electrostatic charges and enables the clay particles to clump together until they are large enough for the force of gravity to act upon them.

One form of organic treatment is by the introduction of hay. As the hay decays in the water it releases organic acids whose free hydrogen ions are thought to neutralise the negative charges on the surface of the clay particles. This allows them to flocculate naturally since they no longer repel each other. The decomposition of organic matter utilises disolved oxygen (DO) in the water, so the process can be detrimental to active pond life. For this reason it is best undertaken over the winter months when, although decomposition of the hay will be much slower due to the low temperatures, there is little organic demand on DO from aquatic life.

Before adding hay we took a sample of the pond water and applied the vinegar test. This simulates the release of organic acids to see if the hay is likely to have an effect. After two to three days the turbidity had not changed, and no settling out had taken place. In other words, it looked like the hay treatment would not work.

Nevertheless, nothing was to be lost, so in February 2015 an old square bale of hay was divided and distributed around both the nursery and wildlife ponds.

For several months, there was no observable difference. But as the temperature slowly increased, so decomposition gradually accelerated. At last, at the end of May, the effects were clearly visible, and, for the first time since the wildlife pond was built, it’s bottom could be seen!

Slowly decomposing hay, and the pond bottom at last visible

Slowly decomposing hay, and the pond bottom at last visible.

Newly introduced common water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) is beginning to thrive in the now clear water

Newly introduced common water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) is beginning to thrive in the now clear water.

Common water crowfoot and emerging reedmace (Typha latifolia) cast their shadows on the now visible pond bed.

Common water crowfoot and emerging reedmace (Typha latifolia) cast their shadows on the now visible pond bed.

Newly planted lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) next to floating sweetgrass (Glyceria fluitans), emerging common reed (Phragmites australis) and the bog pondweed (Potomageton polygonifolius)

Newly planted lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) next to floating sweetgrass (Glyceria fluitans), emerging common reed (Phragmites australis) and the bog pondweed (Potomageton polygonifolius).

So now, perhaps, aquatic life will have a chance to establish itself and learn to sing God’s praise in so doing.

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

1st Swallows

Our first swallows arrived today, Thursday 16th April, exactly the same date as last year (2014), and 3 days earlier than 2013 (19th April).

Resting after a long, long journey...

Resting after a long, long journey…

Today also heralded the arrival of the first willow warblers, filling the hedgerows with song, and all travelling from the same part of the world.

The fly honeysuckle is also now in full leaf and the rowan and elder are not far behind. This year we are attemtping to record the first day on which the first leaf on each species of tree is fully opened. This is useful information for helping keep track of trends in changes of seasonality.

The Woodland Trust are running the nature’s calendar survey, an observation record that extends back to the 1600s. It accepts anyone’s observations of key events of several major species of tree, shrub, flower, grasss, bird, insect, amphibian and fungi. We will be contributing to it this year for the first time. It would be good to hear of anyone else who has been doing, or is going to do the same.

Spring recording sheet

Spring recording sheet

Also provided as downloads are a very helpful guide with descriptions and pictures of what to look for and how to identify the index species, as well as a planner that indicates the seasonal window in which to expect to make the various observations.

Spring planner

Spring planner

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture

Easter Hillwalking

There is a mother on a hill. Her brow and back are bent like haggard wiry grass on a wild, wet moor. She stands in a dark place with a torn veil at her feet. A cracked stone is beside her, an old tree is before her, thunder clouds boom and billow far above her. She has spent her whole life walking up this hill. Many are behind her, following in her footsteps. Only one is before her.

She has been following him at a discreet distance, for thirty long years. Along the way he hungered but fed thousands, he thirsted but called to others to come to him and drink, he was weary but in him others found rest. And she, behind him, has carried the burden of a care that she cannot share. When he was lost, she could not find him, because she was lost. When she called to him, he did not hear her, because she did not yet have any words. When they crucified him, she could not save him, because she was already dead. Hers was the sacrifice of a mother who must let sacrifices happen. Because she was most blessed, she was most cursed. She was the mother of a God who was born to die.

Though the world rejoiced with her at his birth, so too was it doomed to weep with her at his death.

The torn veil at her feet is crumpled like discarded swaddling blankets or bandages. Veils like these have always existed. She has always seen them. They are the heavy curtains that separate heaven and earth. They are the misty thin, ethereal gauze beyond which voices whisper but cannot be understood. All through his life, the veils in which the world is draped have been fluttering as the mysteries of the otherworld draw near. They fluttered at the wedding when the wine ran dry and only water could be found. They fluttered when the nets were empty and the silver backed sea erupted with the glittering fins of fish. They fluttered for the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the bleeding and the lame. All these years, heaven and earth have been drawing close, contained in him but not yet released. In his life she has seen glimpses of the true shape of things. She has seen glimpses of things un-severed from their purposes and from one another. At his birth she knew that he contained those two worlds as one within him. Distantly, she always knew that for that miracle to be shared, he would have to be broken apart, like new bread from an oven, or a fresh egg taken from the nest, or a lamb wet from the womb, carried down from the hills and up to the city.

How could such a wonder be slaughtered? How could one cut apart the one place where heaven and earth met, and pull down the one altar that stood uncorrupted in a defiled temple. He who walked freely between worlds, he who alone knew the true dimensions of things, knew their names and their faces, their unspoken words and their precise places. He for whom there were no veils, he, who in equal measure and equal ease, was at one moment standing amid the bells of the lepers where no one would walk, and in the next was wandering in ancient times with Abraham and Isaac as they toiled up that same hill in order to make their sacrifice.

It is the hill we all walk, the mother knew. We climb its crags and steep rocky paths – to find he has gone before us. Pilgrims with our burdens, with our hearts laid heavy with death, each of us walks up the hill at this precise moment, only to find him already here; the sacrifice already made, and the whole world his altar. That was the keenness of the sword in her heart – it was not just his willingness to climb this hill, it was that he climbed it once, a thousand times, and always, so that no creature that ever toiled to the summit would have to raise that knife to cut into their own heart. Every Isaac could live. Every Abraham could rejoice. Apart from her of course. But she, at least, could rejoice in the knowledge that she was the last Abraham that would have to make the sacrifice of a heart, a child, shattered upon the mountaintop.

We toil up a hill. There is a mother before us. Her brow and back are bent like haggard wiry grass on a wild, wet moor. The veils are torn. They are torn and all the world with it. All the world is dying upon this hill.

What is rent asunder is beginning to become one. In learning how to die well, we are beginning to comprehend what it is to live. There was always a fine line between living and dying, a veil perhaps. Living and dying well looked something like the man who gave food while he hungered, who promised water though he thirsted, who comforted though he was afflicted, who brought rest though he wearied, who wiped away tears whilst shedding his own, who, with a whisper, leant a hand to help up those already dead, whilst walking alone up a hill to die.

Emma Brown, Lanercost Priory

Good Friday 2015


Solar Eclipse 20th March 2015

The view of the eclipse from Greenholme, where we had an eclipse magnitude of 0.93, or 93% of the sun eclipsed at around 09.35GMT.

09.28 20th March

09.28 20th March

09.33 20th March

09.33 20th March

09.34 20th March

09.34 20th March

09.34 20th March

09.34 20th March

09.35 20th March

09.35 20th March

09.37 20th March

09.37 20th March

09.37 20th March

09.37 20th March

09.39 20th March

09.39 20th March

09.41 20th March

09.41 20th March

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture


A solargraph is a photograph of the sun as it courses across the firmament. It is usually taken using a pinhole camera with exposure times varying from 1 day to 6 months. This solargraph was taken at Greenholme over the period 25 June to 21 December 2014.

25-06-14 to 21-12-14 six month solargraph

25-06-14 to 21-12-14 six month solargraph

Each trace represents one day, and the highest point in each arc is 12 noon (1pm BST). So the time and duration of sunshine, and conversely of cloud cover, can be estimated for each day. The view is a full 180 degrees from East to West.

The solargraph was taken from the location of our Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder (the globe visible at the bottom, just to the left of centre) in the weather station. The very sophisticated pinhole camera comprised an (empty!) McEwans Export beer can (disgusting stuff – not my can!) with a 1mm hole punched in the side about 2/3 from the bottom. Ordinary matt B&W 6×4 darkroom photographic paper was slotted inside opposite the pinhole. The can (now a camera) was sealed watertight (using lots of duct tape), taped to a vertical post with the pinhole pointing directly south, and left for a 6-month exposure. Processing simply involved removing the paper in a darkened room, scanning, flipping, and inverting the image (to get the negative), and increasing brightness and contrast. The original is then kept in a dark envelope in a dark drawer as any continued exposure to light will obliterate the image.

You can see the Stevenson screen blocking the early winter sun in the bottom left corner (east) and a small alder tree blocking a smaller area in the bottom right (west). The two beech trees directly south appear not to affect the number of winter hours recorded by very much. The small dark vertical line visible in the bottom brightest traces just to the left of the trees is a telegraph pole.

In a future attempt we will try locating the pinhole probably 3/4 from the bottom to see if we can include the apogee of the midsummer arcs.

In reality, of course, the sun doesn’t ‘course’ at all: the earth rotates and tilts on its axis. Extraordinary to see this effect so succinctly captured – the dynamic of the solar system in one picture. Although, what is reality?…


Open Day 2014

The 19th July seems like a long time ago now, but we remain humbled that so many made the effort to come despite the rather damp weather. Folk travelled from far and near to visit: one couple walked the half-mile to reach us in the rain; another couple journeyed up from north London for the day! A full spread of ages, from teens to octogenarians, and of people from the fringes of society to the pinnacle of establishment were present. There were many important conversations, and for some, moments of epiphany, where a dawning understanding lights a face and the world has suddenly changed for the better. Rather like The Epiphany.

James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, not only gave over his entire day to us, but travelled up from an important House of Lords debate specially to be here, taking an active interest in all the developments of the last year, and making himself available to everyone who wanted to talk. His committment to us, especially as an extra-parochial entity, outside all diocesan structures but still a part of the Church of England, remains both important and encouraging.

Not the least valiant were the Reiver Arts ladies who, in their leaking gazebo, continued to work and demonstrate in appalling conditions, soaked to the skin and kept warm only by cups of hot tea. But everyone who set up stall was affected by the rain.

A fundamental part of our being together is fellowship and hospitality. The provision of free food and drink is therefore a central element of our offering. Thanks to all who contributed to the feast enjoyed by everyone.

Worship is at the heart of our celebration of the gift of life and land. Thankfully there was enough room under canvas and polytunnel to shelter everyone during the open-air service.

Music, too, is an important part of the joy of life. Many who came found themselves playing, or singing, or joining in, or just listening to traditional folk tunes or home-written songs. Probably few expected to be doing so before they arrived.

All of those who were involved in demonstrating, and many who were visiting, have, in some sense, committed themselves to be a part of something that, as yet, remains largely invisible, more an aspiration and a vision. But their very presence gives the vision reality, tangeability. It is a dream for a community where all are welcomed and valued, can participate and learn, can give and encourage, centred around prayer and the land. Many of these people would not describe themselves as Christians, and yet they have found a sense of belonging in this ancient but new outcrop of Church.

Here are some pictures of the day.

2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0034 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0032 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0030 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0026 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0023 2014 Jul 20_Open Day_0000 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0100 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0098 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0096 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0090 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0085 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0083 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0080 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0081 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0021 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0077 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0076  2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0066 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0044 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0042 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0039 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0038 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0036 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0013 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0012 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0011 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_00012014 Jul 19_Open Day_0072

Greenholme - an experiment in permaculture