Gardening & Walking In A Pandemic (Panacea For Mind & Body)

The Imposing View From Arnison Crag
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

A quiet time in the greenhouse just now, the frosts just keep coming and I’m loathe to put the tomatoes, as healthy as they seem to be, in the cold frame just yet. I have managed to get some jobs done, although the main task needing to be taken care of, the burgeoning weed problem, keeps getting put off to “another day”. But, as the old saying goes, “it’s an ill wind” and the hard frosts have given way, on virtually a daily basis, to long, sunny and dry (if cool in the wind) days. Days which are perfect for walking up fells and along sweeping ridges to some of the finest vantage points, view wise, in the whole of the Lake District. On Easter Monday 5 of us drove to Caldbeck Common and ascended High Pike before traversing the wide boggy ridge that leads to Carrock. It was extremely windy and cold, but we were well wrapped up and suitably booted against the bog. A total ascent approaching 3,000 feet and a distance covered, on this circular walk, of around 5 miles. An extremely rewarding experience which challenged me physically but, more importantly, drew me out of myself and into the wild beauty of my surroundings. For those few hours Covid and all the mind numbing detritus surrounding it was put to one side. We met a good number of other walkers, of all ages, who were friendly and happy to talk. Obviously, or so it seemed to me, they were all of a similar frame of mind. Many people are becoming increasingly sick of (and disillusioned with) the whole narrative; the continuing *Hands Face Space & mask propaganda, the extremely convenient “new” variants and strains, the happy vaxxers with their stickers and their superiority complexes and, most of all, a government being led by the nose, by a cabal of “experts” in thrall and debt to Big Pharma or, worse still, a small group of crazed billionaires with their own sinister agenda. Time will tell, a time rapidly approaching, when we’ll find out what’s going on. I hope it isn’t too late.  Since the 2nd of April we’ve walked and/or climbed Sale Fell, High Pike, Carrock, Blease Fell, Arnison Crag & Lough Rigg Fell. Not bad for a fellow in his 70th year. As I write this plans are afoot to do at least one decent walk over the weekend of the 17th & 18th before we head off to the North East coast for a couple of days. There may even be a postcard in it.

A Stitch In Time
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

One job that did get done was the sowing of the last short stitch of potatoes. I’m banking on these being ready for harvest, as “news” from early July into September. Although there are no signs of life in the other 3 rows sown, assuming they do sprout means I should have fresh spuds for about 15 weeks. If they don’t I’ll just have to go to the shops.

In Vino Veritas
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

As everyone who reads my ramblings knows, I’m extremely fond of my inherited grapevine. We recently tried to figure out how old it is. The original cutting came from a smallholding which was located on the Crofton Hall Land Settlement (the Land Settlement programme being a story in itself) near Thursby. This part of Cumbria has an interesting micro climate and the holding this vine came from was renowned (amongst a select number of those in the know) until comparatively recently for producing a wide range of soft fruits, including some fine apricots,  several varieties of plum, greengages and some of the largest, sweetest gooseberries I’ve ever tasted. As near as we can tell a pair of cuttings were planted in the greenhouse around 22-23 years ago. One of them unfortunately died back but, as you can see, the second one lives on and is producing very healthy looking shoots. Maybe I’ll try to make wine this time around, the grape jelly has never been that successful. Nice on porridge though.

Blease Fell & Tarn From High Pike Ridge
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

Fell walking is a thing I wish I’d got involved in sooner. When I first arrived in Cumbria, (Cumberland in the mid 1970’s) I was far too interested in women, beer & dope, not necessarily in that order, to take the fells seriously. When I returned to live here I had a job to do and a house to build, consequently hill walking was a rare occurrence. We live and learn though. Many of you will already know this, but the sense of achievement in reaching the end of  decent walk or the top of a decent hill is life affirming. Even more so if, at the end of the walk, there’s a foaming pint waiting, with your name on it, to be pulled in an old style country hostelry. Let’s hope there are still some of those left when this whole thing is (if ever) finally over.

Nine Inches Of The Finest, Phew
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

Back to the gardening life and the ongoing nurturing of my tomato plants. The fears I mentioned last time surrounding the cold induced brown tipped leaves and the attendant worry that I may have lost some or all of my crop were unfounded. My house is south facing and a little boost from the heating system, combined with lots of sunlight over this last 10 days or so, has given me 36 healthy plants, of 4 varieties. The bottom leaves don’t really perform a function for the plant and I’ll remove them before planting out. The ruler isn’t easy to to read, but this plant is around 9 inches tall in old money. I’m hoping to plant them all out on the weekend of the 24th & 25th of April, the ground being already prepared and well fertilised.

A Lakeland Hidden Gem
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

Although I’ve walked around Rydal Water on a number of occasions I’d never previously visited Rydal cave. It isn’t a natural opening, it’s the now abandoned Lough Rigg slate quarry which, due to the shape of the entrance, always has a shallow pond inside its mouth. It goes quite a way back into the side of the fell. Next time I go up there I’ll take my camera (and my time) and get some better shots. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see one of the fabled musical performances that are reputed to take place. Apparently the acoustics are excellent.

If At First You Don’t Succeed
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

The first lot of pepper and chilli seeds I sowed haven’t germinated. I’m actually not that surprised, they were old stock, although I now wish I’d save some seed from a small orange-yellow pepper I grew last year. Although they were sweet with a hint of heat eaten raw, I wasn’t too impressed with them. At the end of the season I pickle what was left of them in cider vinegar. They’re pelting now, hot, sweet and sour. Just one in a dish adds a special touch. Hopefully one of these new types will be as good. In these trays I have 2 types of pepper, Amy ( sweet yellow) and Fragiello (mild red) and 3 types of chilli, Hungarian Wax (hot yellow), Jalapeno (hot green-red) and Cherry ( red). I’ve also sown some rainbow chard and two climbing beans, a purple and a green, as the directly planted ones haven’t performed as I’d hoped. From being extremely satisfied with the direct planting a couple of weeks ago, I’m now a little less enthusiastic. Less than half of the peas have germinated. The little pots, which we came across whilst tidying out Normans house, were made by my daughters at a local pottery in the mid 1990’s, I now have them to “keep my bits in”. A nice reminder of their childhood holidays with their Grandad.

How Many Beans Make Three
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

The one real success of the direct planting has been the broad beans. I now have six very healthy looking plants (3 each of 2 varieties) which I’m hoping will crop well. We’ve still to decide on the definitive method for supporting the beans, but given that most of them aren’t even in the ground yet there’s no panic. We’ve made a decision about a walk too, Ling Fell. At just over 1,200 feet elevation it’s a bit of a tiddler but I’m guessing the views back across the North Lakes will be immense. I may even take a photo or two.

Next Time; More of the same, seedlings (I hope), the ritual planting out of the tomatoes, Hooptedoodle, A report from The Herdwick, Musings on life….. 

© Colin Cross 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file