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I’m back, I’m back! Well, actually I’ve been back since last Wednesday…but it’s been full on. We hit the ground running. So much has happened, with so much to tell that I’ve been stalling in the starting; consequently everything has backed-up into enormous unwieldy stacks. (I have a great analogy, but do forgive its bucolic nature. Sometimes when a freshly calved cow first comes into milk her udder becomes severely engorged.  The pressure is so great it prevents the milk from flowing through the teat freely; the newborn calf finds it difficult to get milk out so stops sucking, exacerbating the problem. One needs to completely strip the affected quarters out, release the pressure, relax the valves and start again…so, that’s where I am – just about to begin the stripping out and trying to establish a smooth seamless written flow!)

Leaving the farm at any time of year is difficult, but during the second half of June it’s particularly so as I’m generally gearing up for haylage and hay making.  Following the last two diabolical wet weather years I’m even more jittery than usual. Ideally I need to make enough good quality first-cut haylage before the end of June to allow sufficient growth for a second cut at the end of August.  So before we left I’d had long searching talks with my contractors, and it was decided that they would go ahead with haylaging if the weather set fair.

We left chaotically early in the morning. Matt and Clare, our friends, had kindly moved in to look after the farmhouse, dogs and stock.

The journey to France was as uneventful as any journey could be herding a large gaggle of adults and children.  Arrived at Avignon, we successfully sorted out hire cars and proceeded to our B & B (a large beautifully dishevelled bastide) with the aid of God (our purposely acquired satnav).  It was stunningly hot, 36C or so the car said, and humid…new babies, new mums and super-hyped three year olds were feeling the strain.

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

The Madam de la domaine could speak not a stitch of English but ‘understood’ my expressive gesticulating and stuttering franglaise. This prompted her to talk to me fast and in great depth about all things. I gathered we were short of a room…but she could possibly help out, otherwise we were going to have to double-up in the apartment. Swift instructions were given as to where the supermarche was, the boulangerie, the butcher, the gasoline, the candlestick maker; everything in fact we could wish for.

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

I returned to the family who were exploring our apartment.  From  the shady gravelled courtyard a pair of imposing french doors led into a large spacious living area where an enormous covered pool table acted as a multi-use surface for everything from cooking, eating, sorting, storing to baby changing…leading off this were the bedrooms, architecturally intriguing but unfortunately for us Anglo-Saxons completely dark and windowless! We came to the conclusion that this whole area under the main bastide must have once served as a store or kitchens. From the courtyard we looked down over lawns to an impressive soft-yellow sandstone surround swimming pool. The gardens were bordered by ripe barely fields bleached to wheaten paleness, with a small wooded hill beyond. To the left we had the most stunning views of St Victoire, Cezanne’s mountain, ever-changing from the softest dove grey through washed-out blues into rose quartz pink, magenta and deep palettes of purple.

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

Robert, Olly and I made our way to the shops indicated by Madame to find food for supper and stock up on basics. Still hot even though it was early evening, roads and buildings shimmered, the sound of cicadas swelled as we passed roadside trees and bushes, the smell of sun-baked earth and astringent herbs filled our nostrils. It was so different, so very different from the damp, tangled greenness of Locks Park.

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Today was the day; the hay was dry enough to bale. Brian’s little baler was playing up and would only spew out rock-hard bales weighing almost as much as me! Watching our shocked faces as we attempted to lift them, Brian joked  it was to our advantage (Oh yes?), as the cost of baling has skyrocketed he’d saved us a fortune by squeezing another third into each bale; something I’ll be paying for every time I attempt to lift a bale this winter! We were mighty glad we just had the one field. We have become soft. Back along when I had dairy cows we had to get in around 5000 -6000 small bales – that really was work!

All baled up

Olly tying down the load

First load ready to roll. We were carrying about four miles back to the farm, hence the added insurance of tying down the hay. Not that this was going anywhere it was so heavy – we worked out this little load weighed almost four tonnes!

I cut a meadow for hay on Saturday. I don’t do a lot, around 250-300 small bales for the sheep. Sheep are not keen on wrapped haylage, even if it’s dry and sweet, they will eat it if pushed though much prefer good old fashioned hay. At last, after weeks of ‘yes we can’, oh, ‘no we can’t’, those fonts of all knowledge, the weather stations, predict four to five days of dryish weather (of course leaving a 10-20% error margin for rain just in case those super-advanced technical pieces of seaweed are having an off day).

Coming back from turning the hay a second time late yesterday afternoon I was confronted by two very dejected bored dogs waiting for my return in the yard. Feeling guilty I rushed them off for a quick walk. Going past the woods I notice the ground was covered with large patches of golden leaves. Funny. I thought and went for a closer look. Not leaves but carpets of chanterelles! Quickly taking off my cardi I began to pick – but there were too many. I dashed back home to get my basket and a knife. I picked and I picked.

Last night we had omelettes with chanterelles, tonight it was chanterelle risotto, tomorrow it’ll be a chanterelle strogonoff. And, to boot, I have trays of them drying out in the sun and on top of the Aga. A totally unexpected delicious bonus.

The die is cast. The decision made. I’m a wreck and will continue to be for the next few days.

Desperate not to experience another year like last year and determined to make some good quality forage I’ve taken the bull by the horns and…cut. Now if you believe in the power of collective thought, or even if you don’t, would you mind willing the weather right for this week. Please.

Yesterday in a squally, red-face gale we visited a Devon Wildlife culm grassland site looking for the narrow bordered bee hawkmoth, its eggs and larvae when a well-worn, well-known, well-fingered length of grubby tattered thought began to unravel in my head. It goes something like this ‘oh god, I think I should cut’; ‘should I?’; ‘must go home, must check the long range weather forecast’; ‘it’s way too early’; ‘no it isn’t’; ‘I should go for it’ and so on and so forth. Stupid, wavering, indecisive but once ‘that’ thought has lodged itself I know I’m in for the annual stressathon. And despite having to make the same decision every year, it never gets any easier – in fact I think it gets worse!

Once home Robert drops me off at the top of the lane so I can walk down through the fields and make my assessment. I’m pathetically unsure…not enough, too short, good quality, go for it, wait a week, its okay, yes do it, no don’t. Back at the farmhouse I seek reassurance on the computer. No joy there – rain on Wednesday…or wait, is that Tuesday? Clouds, oh no, wait a minute its good there’s a high. Hang on, this one says different. Oh sod it, what should I do?

I’m alone on this one – everyone backs away with those dreaded words ‘Well, I don’t know. Don’t look at me. It’s really up to you’

I phone Andrew, my neighbour and contractor, he’s expecting my call. ‘Hell-lo, ummm, just washing my hands and saw the sun suck up water. Not a good sign. Father walked through though, said there was a high’. Everyone is jumpy because of last year and the thought of constant summer rain.

After a great deal more deliberating, heart and forecast searching, walking over fields, staring at the clouds and asking for guidance from whoever controls these matters I decided to decide and…cut!

concerned for my mental state!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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