Building work and landscaping has moved on apace aided by the glorious spring weather. We've put up the decking for the Mongolian yurt and Nick has finished the brick-built bar-b-q and gas cooker stand which is looking great.
We had working parties of friends up over Easter, battling cow parsley in one of the copses and they did fantastic work. We've cleared the pond and created a natural fence/hedge around the boundary which should be good for insects and our hedgehog family over winter.
The builders are doing brilliant work on the barn and our same working parties spent a good couple of days shifting various types of woodchip to provide a new soft surface in place of the thick old concrete that used to surround the barn and stables behind. The solar thermal evacuated tubes are now in place for the hot water and we're hoping to have the new woodland shower constructed within the next month (though we could have made good use of it in April). We'll have this as well as some more conventional showers in the building behind the barn.
The wonderful (though dry) March and April have sped the progress of the vegetable and fruit beds in the field - the asparagus is beginning to shoot; it's in its first year so we can't cut it this year, but next year it should be perfect by late April/early May. The strawberries are loving their new home in the long cattle trough we bought at the Diss auction and are promising great things for July, as are the blueberries. The new potatoes (International Kidney, which if we were in the Channel Islands would be called Jersey Royals) are shooting up and hoping for a decent rainfall one day. And we've now got the sweetcorn in - fenced off (hopefully successfully) from interested rabbits.
Our friend Alvaro made a couple of benches and a table from some of our willow tree logs which have recognised that spring is in the air and are greening up nicely.
We've enjoyed watching the hares and red legged partridge scuttling about and the trees have been full of birdsong. The moorhens produced six chicks which we hope will survive to adulthood and the great spotted woodpeckers have been working hard on a next inside the trunk of one of the willow trees, so we're hoping for good things there too.
We had a great time at the RSPB Reserve at Minsmere - beautiful December light and marsh and hen harriers Plenty of people had spotted the waxwings on the berries, but we not us, sadly, though we did see a water rail, creeping out from behind the reeds, which was fun. The resident ponies blend beautifully with the winter colours.
And from there, we wandered down to the beach which is glorious in winter. The dead tree trunk was a similar bleached colour to the ponies and reeds, and looked sculptural just lying on the shingle.
But back to work, and this is the completed trench arch which will take away the "grey" water from the showers and washing-up. We're now in the process of back-filling the trench with soil and will cover it over with woodchip to create a pathway through the wooded area. The arch is in a "U" shape - it doubles back on itself and is a good 40m long, so it required some fairly hefty digging and clearing of shrubs to get it in. It's great to have - it feels like our first solid piece of infrastructure for the yurts and we're looking forward to following up with the "jungle" showers and the loo in this wooded area.
The builders are getting on well inside the barn, despite many freezing days which disrupted the schedule for laying the concrete floor. But it's now all in place, and they start on the roof soon - a new plywood ceiling with masses of insulation behind it, with the tiles going back on top.
And this is the big piece of machinery that has been working outside to uproot the ancient, broken, concrete slabs from around the barn! We're planning to replace the concrete with a membrane covered by a thick layer of woodchip, courtesy of some of our own trees, as well as a plentiful supply from our neighbours.
Since the snow has melted, we've been seeing the barn owl hunting over the field most days. It's a beautiful bird, and we're lucky that our part of North East Suffolk is one of the places where the numbers are beginning to improve.
Nick is doing his bit to encourage the barn owl to nest in the small copse at the end of the field, which is where he/she likes to sit and survey the food possibilities. It would be great to have the box occupied. We've been clearing out all the smaller nesting boxes and putting them up again, and already the birds are beginning to check them out
We've just heard that our planning application has been approved allowing us to operate the yurt business, so we're now able to progress some repairs and improvements to the barn (as an R&R space for yurt guests), and get to grips with the logistics for building the yurt decks, the outdoor showers and compost toilets.
The barn is divided into two, with the older part (early 17th century we think) needing some serious work on levelling out the floor (it's currently about 3 different levels) and removing old, solid concrete walls - you can see them in the photo here. We've spent every spare weekend taking down old corrugated iron sheeting and hardboard to expose the beams which are, mostly, in pretty good condition. The builders - who start next week - will put some windows in the roof and in the side wall of the barn, as well as a new external door and a large internal door connecting to the other part of the barn, The big job will be laying new concrete flooring which will be polished so it should look good and be resistant to mud, wellies and stilleto heels!
The newer part of the barn (Georgian?) needs some bracing to stop the progress of a crack, as well as a new floor, door, windows and some sprucing up. Freddy had his 18th birthday party here last weekend, with table tennis, table football, hammock (plus 20 teenagers) and it worked well. We'll put WiFi in this part of the barn, as well as books, games and the table tennis etc. We think we can create a really good space here and longer term we'd like to be able to use both barns for rural courses, screening films and the like.
We took a break from stripping corrugated iron sheeting to visit the Hen Reedbeds nearby (on the estuary heading down towards Walberswick/ Southwold) in the hope of spotting the huge murmurations of starlings we saw regularly last autumn. If you look carefully at the photo above, you'll see a small grouping, but nothing more substantial this time.
It's a lovely spot to be in the late afternoon and there were fantastic reflections as the sun went down - the tide was out and all the waders were busy, with curlews calling across the marshes. We stood and watched a marsh harrier hunting for a while too. Bliss.
The past few weeks seem to have revolved around flora and fauna, judging by the current crop of photos. Despite the wet August and September, we've been having a good time working on the meadow, roping in gallant friends and encouraging them with copious amounts of food and drink.
And we've been visiting one of our favour local nurseries, Woottens of Wenhaston - if you don't already know them, they're definitely worth checking out. Woottens send out a fantastic weekly e-mail which, even though you know you don't need anything more for the garden, is always tempting. These dahlias were looking glorious when we went on a very wet day in August, after lunch with friends at the Queen's Head Inn, just up the road in Blyford.
That's where we saw this beautiful creature (I guess it's a hen, but that doesn't seem a sufficiently powerful description) strutting its stuff. The Queen's Head has pigs, geese, chickens and lots of vegetables dotted around outside, most of which find their way into the kitchen at some stage. They're supporting the current Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival - yet another good reason to head to our bit of Suffolk over the coming weeks.
And finally it was time to take the yurt down after a good season trying it out on friends and relations. The wood burning stove was a definite success, and we can't wait to get it up again next year complete with rugs and furniture which we'll be aiming to source or build/create over the winter months.
The strawberry plants are now bedded in to the long trough bought from Diss Auction Rooms a few weeks ago, freshly painted in a lovely British racing green (though applied to cast iron it feels more like an old steam engine). Here's hoping it's relatively rabbit proof.....
And we were really lucky to get this photo of one of "our" hares nibbling at the grass on Sunday morning! It's fantastic seeing them around. If they can't be bothered to run away, they simply hunker down and hope they won't be spotted. And it seems to work with Jet the dog, she simply pootles past without paying attention; it's only when they start running that she gets excited.
We are the proud owners of a really good crop of Desiree and King Edward spuds - they've done brilliantly in our newly dug bed in the garden. We're planning to plant International Kidney (like Jersey Royals) Anya (a salad potato) and Pink Fir Apple (a main crop which keeps) in the veggie bed in the yurt meadow. You can't beat the fun of ferreting around in the warm soil for new potatoes, and then there's the wonderful taste once they're freshly boiled with mint! We hope they will be popular with our first yurt guests, who we're hoping to entertain next summer if all goes well with the planning application.
Speaking of which.... the local press took an active interest in our application, and gave us front page status in the Beccles and Bungay Journal! We were rather taken aback. Fortunately it's a very positive piece, and we've since spoken to the journalists and invited them to come along once we've got the yurts up and are ready to roll, all being well (that's not us in the photo, by the way).
We saw our front page news splash when we returned from a marathon trip to Wales to collect our Monglian yurt. Some of the key pieces are loaded on the back of the tractor trailer here. We were lucky to have a window of good sunny weather, which meant that the layers of felt and the thick canvas cover weren't quite as wet as they might have been. We've been drying them in the barn. Whilst we were packing our yurt, we took photos of one of the others that was still up, so we can remember how it's all supposed to look when we next put it up!
And this is what it should look like once we've re-assembled it next spring! The yurts come from Hidden Valley Yurts in Llanishen, who import them from Mongolia and have their own successful yurt campsite. They've got a really interesting business model going, and some lovely alpacas. There's a link to them on our site if you want to see more.