Friday 30 December 2016

Sarah Raven Journal Giveaway

So, you want to own the lovely Sarah Raven's 'Cutting Garden Journal'? Of course you do, you're only human and lo, I WANT TO GIFT A COPY TO YOU!

So sorry, this is only open to UK residents but I'm thinking selfishly about the cost of posting a lovely hardback book and I think the speed at which the lucky winner gets it it paramount - there will be planning and dreaming to do 😄

I wrote a little book review of this tome when I received it from Frances Lincoln pre-release way back in 2014. By the evil quirks of the internet the photos I included in that review have disappeared into the ether but trust me, it's gorgeous. I shall find them again on my external hard drive. I do have the text of my review and here it is in edited snippets....

"I may have fallen in lust with this fabulous Sarah Raven's 'Cutting Garden Journal'. Sarah is a goddess of all things cut flower and I just love that she has written a easy, go to book helping people like me to be more confident in her area of expertise."

"Not too much reading, gorgeous photography, plans, projects and inspiration for next year's flower patch."

"It is an absolute joy to the senses; the touch of the paper, the layout, the photography. It is sort of a cross between a coffee table book and a how to manual, so stylish but full of great know how and precise instructions."

"A guide to getting your beds right and full of exactly the right plants. Raven even tells you the best variety of the best plants to grow; how to grow them, where they'll grow best and how long the stems should be cut for the best look!"

Now it's over to you. Just leave your name in the comments section if you want to be entered. All names will be placed in a pot and one shall be plucked out (with my eyes closed tight!) to be the happy recipient. Then I would just ask that the winner contact me with an address.

Go, dear reader and good luck. The winner shall be announced on New Year's Day.


Wednesday 28 December 2016

Delectable feasting

It can not be left quiet anymore - my hubby is a fabulous cook and I am so lucky to have him in my life! I wanted to shout it from the roof tops on Christmas Day but society does constrain one and the word 'mad' gets bandied about, hahaha.

It is a shameful thing to admit here on my allotment blog but, I did not go with Andrew to do our annual Christmas Eve harvest. It was cold and raining heavy and to be honest there were cute films on the TV and I was cuddling Toby - sorry but someone has to do it. Here are some of Andrew's pictures of that glorious moment....

Probably the most laughable harvest yet! The Kale was fabulous but the brussels had been attacked and we had about 3 tiny ones each and there were no carrots or parsnips - the shame. I think we're going to quit carrot growing, the disappointment every year is really too much and to be honest they are so cheap at all times of the year, it feels like it isn't worth it. * Now, I've just learnt (after publishing this post) that we DID have parsnips but the ground was too wet and claggy to dig them up!

* That is unless YOU can tell me of a foolproof carrot variety that NEVER fails.

Our Christmas Day was joyously quiet and uneventful; we started off eating porridge with chocolate drops on top and drinking 'jingle fizz' ~ prosecco and cranberry juice. Ah, there's nothing better than a day were it's socially acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast and (responsibly) drink alcohol all day.

And here was the main event - check out those brussel sprouts, they were delicious and were eaten slowly and deliberately. Plus, I would love it to be known that I didn't eat all the food on that plate - Andrew was a little generous. We did eat all the left overs on Boxing Day though.

And on Boxing Day we went for a lovely walk in Carnfunnock Park, where Toby had his 1st walk ever; this time went a heck of a lot better. There's nothing finer than getting all wrapped up warm and burning off that Christmas Pudding in amongst the trees and meeting cheery fellow walkers (and their dogs). Also, Toby got to wear his festive jumper on the journey and a very sexy red coat on the walk itself. Truly a festive walk is a marvellous activity, particularly when you stop to make tea, find mushrooms, berries and enjoy another sunset.

Today we went into Belfast which was a bit of a nightmare, so many people! Tomorrow we go for another hike in the middle of nowhere.. The allotment SHALL see us soon though, fear not.


Oh, and watch out for a New Year's GIVEAWAY - A copy of Sarah Raven's beautiful 'Cutting garden journal'. I'll only be able to afford UK postage but I hope you'll put your name in, there's every chance this hardback loveliness could be yours 
And some changes will be happening on the blog too, I need a change xxx


P.S. Tell me about your Christmas harvest and walks!

Sunday 18 December 2016

Pushing the boundary (full version)

Sometimes you really have to wake up and grab the day by the shoulders and give it a damn good shake. Saturday was one of those days, a day to be used to the max, to have an adventure and to be content, proud and a bit sore in the evening. We decided to walk the new Boundary Trail at Castle Ward (Co. Down).

We had been to the same National Trust site the Saturday before and taken Toby on his biggest walk yet - a whole 3-ish miles. Remember he's only little and he met other dogs and was attacked by one off lead (grrr) so it was a huge experience for him. (He was ok - Andrew lifted him high and I grabbed the dog by the collar, it was strong!) However that walk also included a picnic at The Temple which he loved. He was pretty wrecked after that walk but came round really fast. 

first CW walk - ~ ecotherapy blog

So.. Saturday last, well we pushed further, a heck of a lot further. Twice as far and a bit more, that kinda further. Toby walked with us for 7+ miles, what a trooper.

The Boundary Trail is lovely, a genuine surprise in its glory and varied landscapes. We didn't start down at the proper place as we parked in the main car park. So we started off with a walk we do often, down through the farm yard, along by the millpond flat Strangford Lough, up past Audley's Castle round the back of the walled garden. These are all Game of Thrones filming locations and is not rare to see fans and tours about.
by the water CW - ~ ecotherapy blog

Then we took a right turn instead of a left! Wonderful, we ended up in the farmland of rolling drumlins, the old estate boundary wall by our side and stunning views. (But I forgot to take any photos - I'm a wally I know!) There weren't any cattle about so Toby wasn't a threat and the new paths and fields are separated by electric fencing. Plus our dog was on a fecking lead!

After a good while we walked into a lovely little forest. The Mallard Plantation, the name of which doesn't make sense until the end where one sees the water and hears the ducks. This was maybe my favourite part of the walk, after all the gravel paths we were now on soft ground  in amongst the trees and ferns with light streaming in strongly only here and there.

The Mallard Plantation - ~ ecotherapy blog

After a spell on a proper road we re-entered more woodland, much more open and newly cleared for the path. By now we were really in our stride and not many photos were taken at all. Andrew had to declare tea time as I get a bit forgetful and just plod on for miles, forgetting to take a break, eat, drink, breathe. Hiking is such a beautifully passive experience were all I think about is the trail, no bad thoughts, no hurtful emotions. But I do need to look after my body, so yay! for sensible Andrew.

Right pic below : the trees on the far ridge are were the other side of the boundary wall is, we walked quite far.
halfway point - ~ ecotherapy blog

We sat on some logs, had lemon and ginger tea and a lemon cupcake. Haha, how fancy of us. Then we ate a fabulous trek bar each; they're like a meal packed with energy rich foods like prunes, nuts, chocolate etc. Toby had his kibble and a big drink.
tea time for all -- ~ ecotherapy blog

Then up and away (all rubbish came with us) and  10 minutes on we came to the viewpoint. Wow! That was pretty darn beautiful but we couldn't stay longer, the sun was going down! And it was cold, brrr.

From the viewpoint to the Mournes - ~ ecotherapy blog

More of a gorse and bushes landscape now and we were walking fast. This whole place would be heaven in the spring, there were primrose and bulb leaves all around and of course we ended up back in deciduous forest which I so look forward to going back to with all the bright greens everywhere.

Here, near the end of the mystery trail we could see the grand driveway into the estate on the left and this sunset to our right.

sunset- ~ ecotherapy blog

 Oh poop! We had to use our phone torches to walk through another forest bit and there were scary bird sounds at every turn. Wow, the world is a different place in the dark and boy it was pitch black without our specks of light!! This wood must have been evergreens as the smell was delicious and our foot steps silent.

Thank goodness for fairy lights and Santa visiting the big house. We could use these lights strung all the way along the fence to get back to the car park and see (and be seen by) the other people and cars on the road too.

the driveway with fairy lights - ~ ecotherapy blog

Toby by this point gave up, he began to heave as though he would be sick and Andrew had to carry him. What a trooper, he's never walked so far in his life and almost made it the whole way! So proud, he wanted down again after a minute and was fine again. Boy did he sleep on the way home all evening and night and Sunday 

I really wanted to take him to see Santa but it was pre-booked -  human children only - bah humbug. Haha.
So that was that, sorry I posted a tiny draft version before. We all make mistakes and let's face it I was pooped when I tried to do that post on the Sunday.

Hugs and wishes for good health and thoughts of brighter, warmer days. 
Happy Winter Solstice 
C xx

Saturday 3 December 2016

A damp dander

Times have been tough with my mental health (not helped by these darker mornings and evenings) and the training of Toby. Oh Lord, I had forgotten how frustrating and exhausting teaching a puppy was. A few weeks ago we wondered what we were doing with this little stress maker!
...... But today (I write on Saturday evening) Toby did us proud and broke a few hearts on his second walk ever; he is adorable.

We visited Mount Stewart and walked around the lake there, it's so beautifully planted and works to please at all times of the year. Santa was also visiting but we hadn't booked to see him sadly, though a friendly elf cuddled Toby for a wee minute. I just love how the National Trust staff seem to love dogs and make all their gardens dog friendly with water bowls, free poop bags and places to tie yours up when coffee calls.

There is a micro climate in and around Mount Stewart and though it drizzled and I was cold (2 tops and 2 coats plus a fleecy lined hat) it wasn't a bad day at all. Many varieties of trees there still have their leaves or have very recently dropped them and even the tree ferns are still unsheathed.

I love the Trust's practise of using old and rotten logs as habitats for insects and fungi but this was a new sight - baby rhododendrons planted in this one. They also use fallen or storm damaged limbs/trunks as art and simple benches.

I didn't take that many photos but just wanted to say hello really and this was a good excuse...
And here's my boys :)

I'm going to the allotment tomorrow for a look around so a 'proper' post will follow......Indeed friends, I must apologise for the lack of blogging, truly had I had anything to say or indeed the health to say it I would have been writing more often.

Wishing you well,

Saturday 22 October 2016

Wild Camping and Toby

I'm not doing too well with the old blog post writing these past months am I? Well to try and remedy that here's another catch up post, non-allotment related I'm afraid but maybe more adventurous instead :)

The weekend of 8th and 9th October, was seen as one of the last opportunities for us to get into the wilds of the Mournes and camp in our lighter tent for the night. I can tell you that this experience has changed the whole West Highland Way hike we have planned for next spring, truly it was a game changer. (I need toilets - I'm a lady!)

It all started out with us arriving at the car park closest to our destination and proceeding to hike with heavier back packs than before, across bog and squelch for a good 40 mins in the wrong direction. The wrong bloody direction! It was made pretty self evident during this time that I really need hiking boots now and my approach shoes aren't cut out for the ankle high water deposits and indeed the streams that one finds in bog land = wet feet and we'd only just begun. On top of that, I had had a horrendous week of mental ill health and had very little strength AND my double vision was simply nightmarish - somebody remind me why I was doing this!

We got on to the right track and thought immediately that this was better but lo! it too turned into a boggy, squelchy, slippery mess by the last third. I'm not really a fan of hearing my foot being sucked down into the earth, haha. But then came the start of the sunset and the sight of the stile over the Mourne Wall and our thus prospected home for the night. I am quite proud to reveal that I picked out our site and the views were beautiful, but there was no shelter and the weather turned out to be the opposite of what the forecast promised! We were in the Col between Slieve Lough Shannagh and just about on the slope of Carn Mountain.

sunsetting -

Col between Carn Mountain and Slieve Lough Shannagh with Mourne wall -
mourne wall and to the right the sunset on  Slieve Lough Shannagh
Sunset on Binnan where we had or last great summit adventure
The tent was up in a jiffy and soon dinner was on in the dark (though we had dessert first cause that's how we roll ), lovely soup with noddles added and a wee bap-  thank goodness for head torches! With this darkness came a huge drop in temperature and soon I had every extra bit of clothing I had on me and was in my sleeping bag shivering like a tent flap in a gale. Lucky I had my new bobble hat :)

tent up on the lower slopes of Carn Mountain -

the lower slopes of Carn Mountain -
pretty soft to lie on - lots of mosses, grasses and gorse
wonderful soup to warm the soul -

Saturday evening was spent playing daft drinking games and and listening to the heavy rain on the thin tent. But Lord, going outside for a pee was a deal breaker; it was so damn cold, wet and windy and pitch black with 'something' moving about out there. I returned to the tent with a tear in my eye - I'm too girly for this sort of nonsense, many nips of whiskey and multiple cups of ginger tea were needed. I think I slept, eventually for about two hours - I was a human icicle.

The next morning was cold! for quite some time but as we were packing up the tent it started to warm a bit and we heard another wild camp group down below us pitched by the lake
- a dad and two girls with their dog, laughing and chasing each other. (We later saw them on the track back to the car park and the dog had his own panniers, probably to carry his own food and essentials!)

lough shannagh
Lough Shannagh 
sparkley sun on Lough Shannagh -
Taken from Carn Mountain -   Lough Shannagh shinning bright with Doan behind it and Binnan in the clouds
Stile over Mourne Wall at the Col of Slieve Lough Shannagh and Carn Mountain -
Stile over the Mourne Wall at the Col
I took some photos and watched as around 20+ people came over that stile into the mountains at ridiculous o'clock. One guy had his crazy dog off the lead and it was worrying a sheep near to death, ggrrr, that make me so angry AND he was half way up Slieve Lough Shannagh in the other direction, completely unaware.

The way back to the car park was slightly treacherous for me due to all the rain during the night and naturally, like the clumsy fool I am, I slipped on a stone hidden in the bog and fell on my face. Oh! me knee, it was badly bruised and had lots of scrapes (still does) but I marched ever onward and sneakily changed into jeans and clean socks and shoes, by the car when no one was looking ;)

Off to find pancakes for breakfast! Lucky we know somewhere open on a Sunday morning which does excellent breakfast :P We chatted merrily about our learning curve.

But the real adventure, the life changing one, happened a few days later. It was Tuesday night to be more accurate and we drove all the way out to Limavady and found ourselves in the huge shed of a man whose dog had had puppies. PUPPIES!! And not just any old puppies -8 wk old mini schnauzer ones (like Maggie was). Eeekk!

The whole way there I was secretly hoping that I wouldn't connect with either of the two boys that remained of the litter, and I really wasn't sure I wanted a boy. But then we saw the little guys and the one in front was so bouncy and licky and excited and Andrew and I just died, died there on the spot, dead. We HAD to take one into our lives.

mini schnauzer puppies! -

And thus, drum roll please.....
We have welcomed Toby into our home and hearts.

Toby! -

An new companion, a new partner in our adventures; a wee dog that has already learnt his name, the command 'sit' and is no longer afraid of leaves. Life through a puppy's eye is magical and all is edible (he's getting better with that), he a fun, cute and intelligent little fellow and I hope he will be with us for a lifetime.

Toby collage -
From Instragram #it'sToby

Love Carrie xxx

Friday 7 October 2016

Photo update from last weekend

'Things' have not been good inside the head of your exhausted writer, my dear friends. The debilitation of Depression, Anxiety and BPD is real, really real and I have been in my own personal Hades for quite some times now. I rarely talk to anyone or go outside and life without Maggie is still almost unbearable. So forgive me for the lack of blog posts or comments in fact, if you have a blog yourself, I just haven't been able to think properly - I am experiencing a moment of clarity and am devoting it to this space. Little dialogue but lots of photos....these were the plots last Sunday.

24a is the real producer and it was time for some constructive deconstruction (you know I love that), as the courgettes, sweetcorn and climbing french beans are all finished now and needed composting. Sadly all our leeks had bolted too so 'goodbye' (the plot smelt like soup all afternoon!)

14b is the embarrassing little sister, going through her grunge teenage years and so unkempt but beautiful underneath it all. It gifted us some lovely squashes that we are eating now and loving. Here's Andrew's gorgeous photo of them.

Anyway we focused, as I said on the finished veggie beds on 24a and got as much done as we could before I just couldn't take anymore....

I tackled the bean wigwam and weeded the whole bed .I was so happy to find this little fellow/lady? ladybird which I put in a cosy spot on it's leaf. I LOVE ladybirds!

By that stage we stopped for tea and listened to the crazy lady pheasants running and squawking about. Andrew had by this time cleared the last courgette plants (one last wee harvest first!) and all those sweetcorn stalks. The sweetcorn this year was amazing - Swift F1 as always but a great year!

Back to it and the leeks were lifted (sadly) and composted whilst I did some really quite pointless weeding of the paths which had gotten grassy and slippy up by the arch.  I also noted that the broccoli and even the purple sprouting broccoli  had bolted! What the heck!! The carrots had carrot fly *sad face*, but the companion plants were very happy...

Andrew prepared the #1 bed for mulching with our glorious well rotted horse manure, look dear friend, I know you, as a true plotter will appreciate the wonder of our manure bin....

How lovely to watch such hard work, hahaa.

Sadly we didn't get to finish the #2 bed as I needed home but! it was fabulous to be there once again (bar seeing Maggie everywhere and her bowl sitting out for her). I am thankful for the good times and my amazing hubby who never gives up on me. Let's hope we have another nice wee time to treasure this weekend.

Best wishes to you all,
Carrie xx

P.S. Apologises for the poor photos at times, these are all unedited and from my phone (apart from Andrew's one - it's perfect) x

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Conquering Slieve Binnan

We slept in. That's how the day started, oh to sleep in to 11 o'clock is not great when a hiking adventure is in mind. Quickly Andrew's mind went to the negative but I (though feeling awfully depressed and anxious) was determined we would go. We had a mountain to conquer.

Andrew was instantly back on track and we hurriedly packed our rucksacks with the essentials and were on our way, leaving home at 12ish. By this stage I think our friend Gary had possibly been and gone home from an early photography session in the Mournes. Oh the shame, first for our tardiness and second, for the awful weather he had encountered.

And we were eventually at the Carrick Little car park, which by the way, was overflowing and spilling down the wee country road, car parked behind car. But ever the optimist, Andrew drove into the car park proper and there was a beautiful space just for us, right by the track. Off we went.....

The only people we met were coming towards us, all on the their way out of the mountains and off to a lovely late lunch or some such thing. Hiking people are terribly friendly, we all truly appreciate what we have here, the space, the freedom, the escape, even from your own mind. I have yet to meet a grumpy hiker.

There's a fork in the path and at this were we turned left instead of right. Turning left is a big deal, you have a mountain in front of you, a not so great path and the Mourne Wall stretching up into the clouds which you are going to follow and eventually surpass...eventually. I can admit, there was a little lump in my throat as I looked up; you couldn't even see the top.

Around 3 o'clock we had a lovely little family step to one side to let us continue up whilst they checked on their little girl who was only about 3. Now she was awesome and I high-fived her and told her as much. She'd climbed a good way up in her proper gear and it impressed me so much! :) She give me hope that this wasn't so bad :)

False summits are so very cruel. As I came to each point on the sky line that I had marked in my mind, I discovered that still there was so much more to climb. The first time I thought I might just lie down and quietly die was 15.45. We were starting to get quite high up and my blood pressure was playing up giving me the first of the fun, coloured flashing disco lights of the day. Also I had a damned runny nose. *Shakes fist* Andrew then in helping me up stood on my shoe lace and undid it = bending over to tie it on a slant with rucksack on back = blood rush to head again = thoughts of I'm definitely going to die. Plus, the sheep, the sheep there were mocking me.

Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
Cocky sheep and a view of the path and all the way down to the sea
Higher and higher we went, passed by two older men just casually but quickly walking down, like you or I would tackle the stairs in our homes. I'm really not fit at all 😒. We said hello, well Andrew did, I sort of just grimaced and mumbled something I hope sounded friendly.

Not much wall left at this stage and no distinguished path at all, bog had taken over and we walked were we could get a foothold. At the final push up to the tor I became a disbeliever, doubted my sanity, doubted the sanity of any hiker, doubted that I'd make it up, along, down (way over there) and all the way back to the car. But, Andrew shook me out of all that and whilst I never wanted to be a rock climber, I found, through helpful hand pulls and shear stubbornness - I am just like a mountain goat, maybe a gazelle.

Then somehow it happened. I was at the top of a mountain! As I sat there in the dirt between strange and beautifully wind sculptured rocks, a wonderful euphoria came over me. I wobbled to my feet again, turned round and walked four of five steps and saw this view. I believe I cursed quite loudly, but wow, this was f@#king beautiful!

Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
At the top and 'that' view over the back of the mountain with the Silent Valley Reservoir
I heard Andrew call, he'd found a spot with shelter for lunching in and we had celebratory little beers! Oh they tasted of sweet, sweet hoppy victory. Never has a ham and cheese bap been so rewarding, never, I tell you has Cadbury's chocolate tasted so good. We devoured it all, grinning at each other. Then Andrew reminded me we were under a large tor so, conquer it we must to claim our - First Ever Submit!

Lunch on Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
'You are here' and mini beer and bap (we also drank litres of water throughout the walk!)
With the temporary courage of a beer we each packed up and set about on our way again, this time along a truly beautiful and exquisitely quiet path behind the The Back Castles and to the North Tor. Up here is is all bubble bees, little chaffinches (which sing so loud and clear) and bog, which means gorse, heather and wild primroses. Truly it was a joy to walk this route and the scenery was stunning; our wee country is truly a green and pleasant land.

Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
Heading off for the Back Castles to the North Tor and a fabulous Black Castle that looks like Janus
The Back Castles and the North Tor are large stacks of rocks carved by the wind and, to me at least, they look comically like something out of The Muppets or Labyrinth - like they're going to talk to you any minute.

Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
The Whale in the wall and a view of the lovely Ben Crom Reservoir 
Now we come to the nightmare part, the decent from the North Tor which is completely butt clenching as there is no path for a good bit only your strong desire to get the hell out of this mass of tumbled rocks and not break your leg. Now, I don't like to make out that I'm weak and pathetic but permanent double vision and an inability to see the right hand side does not with scrambling down a vertical mountain go. My walking pole only helped so much but when you need your hands to navigate some pretty nasty drops it can also be a real hindrance. It is thus we discovered the reason for the earlier curses and screams of another people who had climbed up this monstrosity.

Slieve Binnan - ecotherapy and allotment blog
There's a shear, rocky and torturous drop over that edge and the lovely Blue Lough
When we finally got to level ground, the clouds were starting to close in and one big beauty had formed in between the ring of summits we now walked within. We didn't stop at the Blue Lake as planned as it was getting cold, but the rest of the way was fine and dandy. I like a path not to rocky and relatively flat, though two streams have to be danced over, balancing on carefully placed rocks. Thank goodness for yoga!

We got ourselves back to our car for 8.15, almost in the dark but not quite. Houses were little specks of light now looking down towards the sea and we were done. Getting those backpacks off and setting them in the boot of the car was joy, sitting down in the car was such sweet agony.

What a day.

Love and hugs