Category: Activities

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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?…

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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 commitment 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, tangibility. 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_0032 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0030 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0026 2014 Jul 19_Open Day_0023  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

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Apple Pressing Day

Community Apple-Juicing day on Saturday 18th October, Greenholme, 12pm-4pm.

Everyone welcome. Bring your own apples (if you have any) and containers for your juice (plastic milk bottles work well). Windfalls/bruised apples are fine if you want to make cider, good apples are best for drinking juice. If you have a glut of apples and don’t know what to do with them, bring them along – we can use them for the pigs if nothing else! We’ll finish off the day playing music so bring an instrument and a bite to eat.

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Philip on the Bewcastle Cross

A short video introduction to Bewcastle by Rev Philip Greenhalgh for the BBC in 2009.

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Gentle Grain – 2nd attempt

…who stilleth the raging of the sea and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people. (Ps 65:7)

If we are to establish resilience in the way we grow food in these northern climes, living lightly, without the use of heavy machinery and fossil fuels, we need to find a way of producing carbohydrates that makes sense of the land and our available energy (which is getting less as we grow older!).

‘Civilised’ societies have used the plough for thousands of years to break the ground, disrupt the growth of the indigenous vegetation, and provide a medium in which new seed can grow.

But, notwithstanding the native American abhorrence of ‘tearing my mother’s breast’, ploughs require enormous amounts of energy to turn the earth. This destroys not only the plants already growing, but also the soil structure, developing ‘plough pans’ that inhibit the redevelopment of soil structure and create barriers to drainage. Furthermore, we don’t have the energy to drive a plough, or the land to sustain a horse or ox to do it for us.


Without livestock African farmers, such as Mgeni Lamek, have to till their fields by hand. A team of oxen can plough an area in one and a half hours that would take eight days to till by hand.

Hand Plow

American ‘farmerettes’ pushing hand-ploughs in 1919. Note the ground is already broken up and they are creating furrows.

So we continue our search for a method of growing carbohydrates on a limited amount of land with a limited amount of energy.

Our first attempt to grow grain gently taught us a few valuable lessons. In 2013, our first year at Greenholme, we decided to put them into practice. Principally we would:

  1. use a grass-proof mulch
  2. provide a water-retentive matrix
  3. ensure no stock could ruin our efforts!

Building on our 2009 attempt we decided to use cardboard as our mulch instead of woodchip. It has the following advantages:

  1. is readily available
  2. light and easy to handle
  3. totally biodegradable within a year
  4. gives good ground coverage
  5. provides good suppression of grass
  6. holds moisture after rain
  7. allows penetration of roots when wet

Among its disadvantages are:

  1. removal required of packing tape and any plastic film
  2. gaps between sheets can allow vegetative growth through from below
  3. needs fixing to ground to prevent blowing away
  4. dries out quickly in wind
  5. looks horrible!

The first of these just has to be dealt with. It takes time and is tedious but is not energy intensive. The second can be minimised by providing a good overlap. The following three can all be overcome using subsequent layers of other materials.


April 2013, our top field. The area to the right along the fence was selected for our second grain-growing attempt.

April 2013, our top field. The area to the right along the fence was selected for our second grain-growing attempt.

An area of approximately 20 x 5m was chosen along the western boundary of our top field. The first job was to prepare it for the cardboard-laying by scything the rushes. Next stage was to lay the cardboard. We used our boxes from the house move that we retainted specifically for this purpose. Fixing the cardboard layer was achieved by spreading well-rotted farmyard manure over the whole area.

Cardboard layed out and weighted down with farmyard manure donated by one of our parishioners.

Cardboard layed out and weighted down with farmyard manure donated by one of our parishioners.

Wanting to work with Fukuoka’s methods of seed-sowing, we again attempted to make seed-balls.

Components for making seed-balls: mole-hill soil, riddle, and a bucket of spelt grain

Components for making seed-balls: mole-hill soil, riddle, and a bucket of spelt grain.

Grain mixed with mole-hill soil and a little water to moisten the mixture

Spelt grain mixed with mole-hill soil and a little water to moisten the mixture.

Attempting to sieve the grains into balls in the riddle lead to clumping.

Attempting to sieve the grains into balls in the riddle lead to clumping.

Prolonged sieving lead to larger balls with lots of grains in each clump.

Prolonged sieving lead to larger balls with lots of grains in each clump.

This is not what we were looking for. After several attempts with different levels of moisture we gave up the idea as we didn’t have the time or the energy to create individual balls for each grain! So we broadcast the mixture of soil and grain over the carboard/manure base.

Cardboard and manure base with broadcast grain/soil mix.

Cardboard and manure base with broadcast grain/soil mix.

The next stage was to provide protection for the grain from birds, the wind (and hence reduce evaporation of moisture from the cardboard), while retaining porosity to the rain, and covering the whole to look better. But what to use?

At last we had found a use for our abundant rushes! Scythed and dried, these formed an 8-inch mulch layer over everything.

Cut and dried rushes stacked and waiting to be spread

Cut and dried rushes stacked and waiting to be spread.

Rush mulch spread over half the grain bed. This half contained the spelt grain.

Rush mulch spread over half the grain bed. This half (10 x 5m) contained the spelt grain.

The second half of the grain-bed about to be broadcast with naked oats.

The second half of the grain-bed about to be broadcast with naked oats.

The completed grain-bed 6 weeks after sowing. June 2013

The completed grain-bed 6 weeks after sowing. June 2013.

What happened next?

Well, like all growers, we waited.

We didn’t have to wait long before developements started taking place. In fact, within a few days things had started happening. But not the sort of things for which we were hoping.

We have, in our area, as probably right across the country, high densities of corvids. These birds post look-outs in trees, on telegraph poles, or just circling around to keep an eye on things while the rest of the flock feeds on the ground. Whether they be jackdaws, rooks, or crows, they are intelligent birds that don’t miss a trick.

In fact, as an aside, last year we went through a period where our hens seemed to stop producing eggs in mid-summer. Perplexed, we thought the eggs must be being taken by a rat, but there was no evidence – no broken shells, no rat-droppings. Until one day, when sitting at the desk in the study, which looks out onto the hen house, a hen came out and crowed as hens do after laying an egg. Within a few minutes a large black crow landed on the roof of the hen house. After looking around and checking the territory to make sure there was no danger, it jumped down, hopped into the hen house, and in less than 10 seconds was out again, flying straight off – with an egg in its mouth!

Back to the grain. They had spotted the grain being broadcast, bided their time, and when all was clear, ie early in the morning, came down in numbers and started rummaging through the 8-or-so inches of rush mulch to find the grain below. Then the pigeons realised the corvids had found an abundant food supply and joined in.

There is an old saying when broadcasting grain – 1/3 for the birds, 1/3 to die, and 1/3 to grow. Well as it turned out the birds took a lot more than their third. As the year progressed it became clear that almost nothing was left. The spelt was old seed and had a low germination rate, but the naked oats were fresh. In addition, the summer was hot and dry, which was extremely unusual – our first dry summer since moving into the area in 2008. It is probable that the ‘third to die’ was the rest of the ‘crop’.

I am reminded of a story Bede tells of Cuthbert’s time on Inner Farne:

The barley was brought long past the proper time for planting, when there was no hope of it growing, but it soon sprang up and brought forth a very good crop. When it began to ripen the birds came down and set about devouring it. ‘Why are you eating crops you yourselves did not grow?’ he asked the birds. ‘Perhaps you have greater need of them than I. If God has given you permission, then do as He bade you; if not, be off with you, stop damaging other people’s property.’ They flew off at his first word and did no further damage. (Life of Cuthbert, Ch 19)

We tried this but it didn’t work. Clearly, we are no saints!

Nevertheless, the cardboard mulch worked well against the grass. But not against the creeping buttercup, which just sent out runners towards any crack of light, nor against the rushes, which bulldozed their way through the cardboard.

The grain-bed a year on.

The grain-bed a year on – May 2014.

So, despite successfully implementing the lessons from our first attempt, another grinding failure, but with more lessons learnt. ‘Get Wisdom’, said Solomon. No one said this was going to be easy. Being a blessing to the land, while trying to live from it, is hard work.

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles (and buttercups, docks and rushes) it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Gen 3:17-18, adapted)

And yet we believe the very ground is redeemed through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. It just needs working out in fear and trembling.

But we still need to find a way to feed ourselves and others, to live. So on to our third attempt to grow grain – in 2014…

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NHM – a great resource

At around 3-4m tall this is a large shrub or small tree. But what is it?

At around 3-4m tall this is a large shrub or small tree. But what is it?

We have a large shrub or small tree in front of the house at Greenholme. We have not been able to identify it since we arrived, and neither has anyone we have asked.

Multiple gnarled stems demonstrate a bushy character

Multiple gnarled stems demonstrate a mature plant with a bushy character

Careful inspection of the bark, leaves and flowers led to the following description:

Around 4m tall, bushy character, multiple twisted and gnarled trunks, not thorny. Leaves not serrated, not lobed, broadly oval with slight point at end, up to 7cm long, slightly yellowy-green, matt and hairy on both sides, and in opposite pairs. Flowers are small, pale yellow, about 1cm in length, two petals, 5 carpels, 1 stamen. They occur in pairs at the end of a flower stalk about 2 cm long, two flower stalks growing from the base of each leaf-pair. The tree is constantly buzzing with bumble and honey bees. Been in flower since mid April.

Leaves opposite, not serrated, matt and hairy

Leaves opposite, not serrated, matt and hairy

A comprehensive search through the Collins Tree Guide revealed nothing that matched.

Fly Honeysuckle_2014 05 08_0008

Inflorescence consists of a pair of small, pale yellow flowers on each stalk, each with two petals, five stamens and one carpel.

An online search through various tree and shrub dichotomous keys resulted in a couple of false positives, the closest of which was a viburnum, but the inflorescence was wrong.

So where to next?

The Natural History Museum (NHM) provides a vast wealth of online research as well as resources to assist in identification of British wildlife, including several keys, which at present cover trees, bumblebees, woodlice, lichens, earthworms and bluebells.

However, when these resources fail, it also operates various forums (fora?) in which one can ask for assistance in identifying anything. We posted the question in the trees forum, including the above photographs, and about 40 minutes later received the following reply from Mike Hardman:

It is fly honeysuckle, Lonicera xylosteum

As you’ll see here, there is debate over whether it is native to Britain or if it was introduced a long time ago and has since become naturalized

So there we have it! And what a wonderful resource the NHM provides.

The UK plant atlas referenced in the response is another excellent resource.

The NHM also provide a useful wallet-guide for the six most common bumblebees – a really handy little card.

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