Ne’er Cast a Clout…..

Just when we thought Spring was with us, we have more unexpected snow: yesterday it snowed for most of the day, overnight and much of this morning. It’s now going very fast again but we had a good three or four inches of white stuff settling over everything. They’re now predicting rain for this evening, so with any luck it will be clear again by tomorrow. We had about minus one or two overnight last night and zero at 07:00 this morning:

It begins, yesterday afternoon:

This morning, it has settled:

And that sky looks as if it may hold a few more surprises:

‘Tis a pity, because J is driving down to Sundsvall – a 200 mile plus return journey – to collect Roger, our German neighbour at the rail station, where he returns today from his internet-lovelorn Tashkent jaunt. The roads might be a bit hairy in parts, though generally the main routes will be fine. Although she didn’t want to, she has taken Roger’s car – a big US 4×4 thing with winter tyres – just to be on the safe side.  It also means she is able to put Roger’s dog Alex’s cage in the back and take him too. Which is best for Alex and for me. Our cats are less than enamoured by Alex.

Rocky took one look at the snow-cover this morning at about 07:00, when he’d managed to wake us both with his howling to get out, and returned to the warmth of the house. Charlie, on the other hand, was off and out alongside Jack, though he has since returned. Just a few minutes after Rocky decided to brave the melting snow and head off out. No doubt, he watched from a safe distance, as Rocky launched himself into the wintry wilderness, before scurrying back home!

Håkan has been busily cleaning up a cattle feeder thingy he recently bought. This means he is preparing to release the cows following their seven months of captivity. The cows are kept indoors, in a state-of-the-art, largely automated barn-cum-milking parlour from around November to May every year. And, even now, they cannot simply be put out to graze because the grass has yet to regrow. In addition, Håkan must give certain fields a good chance to regenerate as they must provide a major part of next winter’s feed/hay/silage for the beasts. All in all, it’s a fairly delicate balancing act, I imagine. Late snow is not really what he needs or wants right now!:

His daughter, Sara, a student, has put a small island type thing out on one of the lakes, to act as a nest-box for Duck. It is already occupied by a grateful pair of Golden Eye, who no doubt value its safety:

Nest-box in situ:

Of course, it is probably a mere bagatelle in the grand scheme of things but it was built and floated at minimal cost without the aid of a UK parliamentary expense account.

I’ve mentioned before that the locals here are pretty handy with saws and wood. Here’s an example of Håkan’s handiwork. A shed that he built a couple of years ago using traditional methods and materials;

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Darkness, Be Gone…..

Yesterday  evening (the last day of April)  was the night of the annual bonfire in Junselevallen (the Junsele valley), a few miles from us. It is, of course, like the Scottish Beltane (today/May 1st), a celebration of the end of darkness and a welcome to the forthcoming six months/half year of light. I didn’t make it to the event but Håkan went along and enjoyed himself, chin-wagging with his old cronies and other local farmers etc.  He was interested to know that in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland this is also celebrated. Down to the Viking invaders back in the mists of time, he decided; ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said to me when I went up to the milk parlour for milk at just after 06:00 (!!) this morning.

And this was the scene at 06:00 this morning, zero degrees but glorious sunshine and a lovely feel of Spring getting a proper grip on the place:

And this is the Sami infant burial island, taken from the garden, and still ice-bound, just:

With a bit of luck, the Gök (Yok) or Cuckoo, as we know it, will arrive fairly soon. The locals do look forward to this annual visit and comment on it. A few years ago I was roped in to help the lads with the building of new pontoons/brygga for the lakes and one of them mentioned that he’d heard a Cuckoo a few days before. They were all, to a man, astonished when I commented; amazed that I had understood what was being discussed in Swedish!:

Hakan driving one of his Volvo machines, delivering the new pontoon/bryggan to the lakeside:

Hakan hitching a ride across the lake, with Mats holding onto the thing while Eric, out of site, does the heavy oarswork:

Almost in place, with another few neighbours, Uno and Per Toget, lakeside to anchor:

Yesterday afternoon. Rocky slumbering gently with a contented smile:
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Let There Be Light…..

We’ve reached that stage when the daylight comes rushing up to meet us. Soon we’ll be having our daily 23.5 hours of light, and hopefully sunshine.  It creeps up on you up here. Last night I got up for a pee about 03:50 and it was light(ish), certainly dawn-like in a UK way. And last night it was lightish till about 22:00, when Rocky decided to return home after a day out hunting/on the castrated-cat tiles.

Today, after a decidedly chilly start, it is shaping up for a pleasant day of blue sky and sunshine. At 07:45 when I rose we had plus four degrees; now we have plus 18 in full sun. It must have dipped below zero overnight, though, because one of our water butts, by the side of the house, had a thin skin of ice capping it earlier.

J is en-route for home. She travelled by coach from Carmarthen yesterday but got held up in a melee following an accident on the M4, before being switched to another coach direct to Heathrow Airport. This was both good and bad; she’d arranged to be met at Victoria by a friend who had a couple of books and some Scotch Pies – that I adore and will now miss!  Her diversion straight to Heathrow meant that she was unable to rende-vous with him.  I’ve asked him to keep/freeze the pies – from a very good butcher in Dunblane – but I know he’ll scoff them. He is a Jags’ supporting Scot, after all. No doubt, he’ll wash them down with lashings of scalding hot Bovril – a curiously Scottish football ground sort of repas, certainly one of the few attractions at Firhill, as I recall!  Though, on second thoughts, they also did a passable Bridie too.

It seems that they’ve had storms and strong winds in the South, and trains from Stockholm have been badly affected by power failures etc. J’s train is even now running about an hour late – virtually unheard of in the near-Swiss clockwork precision of Swedish railways.  If it’s over 60 mins late she is entitled to a full refund on the fare. It’s due into Sundsvall anytime now, with a current running prediction of being only fifty minutes behind schedule. There is an online site where you can check/monitor progress of trains in service. Knowing Swedish rail, they’ll be hammering along, flat-out, in a bid to ensure no refunds are needed!

I’ve cut a bit of wood this morning to tide us over. I think we now have about enough cut to last the rest of Spring; we can now let the stove dribble out in mid/late afternoon, though it is still needed in the morning to take the chill from the place.

Rocky and Charlie both went off on a joint foray first thing, but have both returned and are slumbering peacefully bathed in the glow of sun from the windows.  Alex is also lying in the sun outside; Jack is asleep on the kitchen floor. I feel like joining them all but instead will now get myself out into the sun on the porch with a cuppa, I think.

The view last night at a 22:20. Taken without flash or lighting of any kind:

The neighbouring farm:

Our place:
And, finally, Rocky last night, clearly considering taking up wine-drinking (he’ll be bloody lucky!):

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‘Tis A Chill Wind That…..

A potentially lovely day here today. Were it not for the freezing, biting wind from the West – I blame Norway myself. A common complaint made by Swedes that can cover just about anything.  I was up at around 07:15 this morning in brilliant blue-skied sunshine. Jack slumbered on in one of his three baskets – one in the kitchen by a radiator for daily use, and two in the bedroom, both of which tend to be annexed for use by one or other of the cats – enabling me to get dressed without disturbance/snouty, slobbering greeting.

By the time I was downstairs, it was reading plus eight degrees; pretty impressive for this time of year up here. I was going to leave the stove alone but when I let the menagerie out and stood on the porch, the wind was arctic, so wisely, I think, I retired indoors and lit it and made me usual breaky chocolate and fruit juice, a mixture of Apple & Pineapple – about the closest I can get to the great melanges of Andalucia.

Alex spends his time barking, whinnying and yelping. I feel sorry for him, he must be baffled by his current predicament and missing his German owner, Roger. Unfortunately, he’s not been properly trained and is therefore a very difficult hound.  But after breaky today, and about an hour of choral practice, he seems to have settled down in the sun, despite the cold wind:

At night, he stays indoors in our old Bagarstuga, where Roger has left his cage – this is usually in the back of his car and so Alex is familiar with it:

I think we could do with bird-feeders made from this stronger metal. A few years ago, after the Squirrels has eaten another few plastic feeders to get at the sunflower seed, I swapped over to metalware. Until now this has been a great success. But today I find one badly damaged, irreparably holed below the waterline:

I think it must have been the strong, greedy attacks of the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woody. He sure as Hell gives it a hammering at times! Sadly, I’ve left my best metal feeder down in  the Spanish house.

Although we are now firmly in plus temps, both night and day, and have had days of downpour, the lakes are still ice-covered. It takes a while for the ice to give up its wintry grip on these. Some rash – or stupid, take your pick – Swedes will still venture out onto these with their fishing gear, chairs and picnics and spend a day gradually sinking into the slushy much in the forlorn hope of catching a whopper. And this, believe it or not, is one of the lakes just below the house today:

There’s a small island in the middle of this lake, Storsjön, which, we’ve been told by locals, was used as a burial place for Sami infants who died at birth in past times. They used to come down with their Reindeer herds and winter here, using our Bagarstuga – the oldest building in the area – as a base/makeshift maternity ward. God, it must have been a hard life. The Bagarstuga is very basic, with a bread-oven and open fire in the main L-shaped room and another old cast-iron stove in the other. We use it for storage and it has got a good, big upstairs area too:

I often mention our neighbours, Håkan & Monica. They’ve been great neighbours, warm – in as far as Swedes can ever be warm – friendly and immensely helpful. We will miss them when we move away. They are dairy farmers and Håkan has a substantial chunk of forest which he also works/farms/manages. This is their place, a photo I pinched/got from their son, Tomas, who is just finishing his degree in film-making at Kalmar film school down near Stockholm. Håkan is quietly/secretly rather proud of him but also baffled about this choice of career when there is a farm to inherit/run! It is quite an idyllic place:

On our other side, to the West, is another neighbour, Sören, who runs the local Turistbyra/tourist office and only really uses the place as a Summer/weekend joint:

I’m expecting the other village Brit to arrive in the near future, though nobody seems to be sure when he’ll arrive for his annual holiday break. He’s an Irishman, lives in London and, until recently, worked at Heathrow Airport. He bought a house not far from us in the village a few years ago but we’ve yet to meet up. Should be interesting to get his take on things here. And maybe we can give him some sensible info about the place, the people and the area!

There are more and more Redwings around now, which is nice. I do like these birds, beautiful Thrushes with a nice stripey eye and that gorgeous red flash under-wings. It’s great to see them in full summer finery rather than the drab plumage we get in UK. I first saw these birds, to my delight and surprise, during my first term at University in Sussex, where they were prolific on campus. But, as usual, I missed a piccy of one this morning. Instead I did get this lovely fellow, a White – rather than Pied – Wagtail. Difficult to tell apart, to be honest:

J returns from Blighty tomorrow. She’s collecting Roger’s car from the car-park by Sundsvall Station when she arrives and driving up. She flies into Arlanda this evening and will stop overnight in a nearby hotel before catching a morning train North. We’ve agreed to collect Roger  at the same rail-station when he returns from his lovelorn trip to Tashkent next week. This way, we all benefit; it’s cheaper than parking the car for another five days and J has reliable transport available on her arrival. In addition, and purely coincidentally, it means I don’t have to hussle off down to Sundsvall tomorrow morning. A good result, I’d say!

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Birdsong…..

After two days of rain, we have a bit of light snow this morning. As the ground is now so wet, it won’t/can’t settle. Thankfully. Thursday was a cracker, though. Wonderfully warm and sunny – wall-to-wall.

Roger’s dog, Alex, is fine but demanding at times. Last night in the early hours, however, at about 01:00, he managed to get back out of the Bagarstuga and sat in pouring rain on the threshold howling hoarsely till I got up and went out and sorted him out again. Not a good night!

The rain has more or less got rid of the snow lying around, lingering. Now most fields are more grassy than white. This suits Rocky, who now wanders at will, in and out of the outbuildings. Charlie is very wary of Alex, understandably as Alex barks wildly, straining on his tether to reach him. He sits, puffed out on the edge of the porch and when I open the door he rushes past me and back into the house. Rocky is also similarly cautious and spent much of yesterday indoors, curled up on the sofa, dozing contentedly.

There are now hundreds of Fieldfares around, the whole area is alive with them and the noise is remarkable. This morning there was also a significant flock of White and Yellow Wagtails and just newly arrived as I plonk here, Redwings, in the garden. Woody, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, is noisily hammering away on the telegraph poles, skipping round them, trying to conceal himself whenever I approach. There was also a lovely Grey Headed Woodpecker trying his hand at the now empty nut-feeder. These are quite rare in Sweden and one of the most notable birds here in the nature reserve. They are a bit like a dowdy Green Woodpecker but with a clearly defined grey nape/head.

Still no sign of the Golden Plovers or Swallows and Martins yet. No doubt, they’ll be here very soon as the snow has gone.

The Spanish house sale seems to be rolling along nicely though the buyers, a London-based French couple with three young kids, are hassling us to leave and/or sell them some of the furnishings etc. This would normally be okay with us but we must think of replacement costs which are horribly high. So, I reckon it wil be easier to simply turn them down, I think.  The development means we really must start to think about going down to France sometime soon on a house-search. Luckily we have the Swedish place still – though we hope to sell this too – so have some leeway. But as the French system is pretty similarly paced to the Spanish one, we must get our act together.

Normally at this time of year, we are often in the USA, attending a great music festival, Merlefest, http://merlefest.org/  in North Carolina, a gloriously beautiful state – Appalachans, Blue Ridge Mountains, Smoky Mountains etc – a real feast of a place with generally great Spring-time weather. Being a Scot, I usually find people in the region to be welcoming and warm and friendly; most have some Irish or Scottish blood in them somewhere.

This year’s event will be somewhat poignant for many, I suspect, following the death of one of its stalwart performers, banjo ace  Earl Scruggs. I’m already missing the experience and this weekend is the main one of the event. This year apart from the usual names of Roy Book Binder, Peter Rowan  and Doc Watson, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and David Holt etc., there’s also an old friend and guitar mentor playing. Mary Flower is a Portland, Oregon, based player of great skill. She’s also a good laugh. I’ve had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time picking with her at her home in Portland over the years and last met up with her at the Cognac Blues Passions festival a few years ago where she was guesting:

This year she’s been nominated for awards by the WC Handy Blues Foundation for her current album, ‘Misery Loves Company’ In truth, she’s a fairly regular nominee/contender:

Probably her best offering since one of my own personal favourites, ‘Ragtime Gal’:

At Cognac I also had the great pleasure of meeting with and getting to know a great old Mississippi-born, Alabama-based bluesman, Willie King. Willie had a remarkable life and was a wonderfully funny, warm and generous guy. I had been in touch with him on a regular basis and he had invited me out to Alabama to play with him at a small blues festival he helped organise each year.  I was looking forward to the possibility and to meeting with him again when, unexpectedly, all contact frittered out. It was only when listening to the Paul Jones Blues programme on BBC Radio 2 online one evening that I learned of his death from a huge heart attack. A very sad day. I still find it hard to believe that he’s gone: he was larger than life!:

The oddest thing about meeting Willie was that two members of his then backing band, The Liberators, had both been students at Sussex University at the same time as J and I, though our paths had never knowingly crossed at the time.  Music does indeed make the world a small place at times, I often find.

With Merlefest in mind I’ll leave with these pics, all relevant. The festival is named after Merle Watson, a fine guitarist now gone, and son of the great, multi-Grammy winning Doc Watson:

A favourite, inspirational album and, not far from his home in Deep Gap, NC, this road sign says it all:

Doc doing what, after 80-plus years, comes naturally, with Jack Lawrence:

And another favourite of mine and the only person I know personally to have played at Woodstock, frighteningly over forty years ago now, as lead guitarist with Jefferson Airplane, Jorma Kaukonen:

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Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes…..

Made it back from Spain with no problems, save for the security guy at Malaga airport being curious about the contents of my hand-baggage. It contained loads of odd, kitcheny bits and bobs. He took one look at the contents and just waved me on. This is often the case at Malaga; a few years ago we were allowed through and on board with a load of spike thingies – part of a tent-peg thing – which was positively weapon-like!

J is now in UK, en-route to see the daughter, LVP, and Grandsprog, Hamish, in West Wales for a few days. LVP – and us, too, if truth be known – is greatly relieved that Robin Gibb is making a steady recovery from his recent near-death, hospital experience. She is very fond of him and was most upset by his illness and possible demise.

 Ironically, here in the frozen North the temp is currently running at 21 degrees in the sunshine whereas in Wales it’s raining!  I was hoping for some sunny warmth this week. On the train back from the airport I saw a newspaper headline saying Sweden was about to benefit from the high temps they are apparently getting in parts of Russia – this is often the case, especially in summer. I was particularly pleased with this because I was able to read the article even though it was in Svenska/Swedish!

The birdlife continues to change with the latest additions being the Curlews, which arrived whilst I was in Spain, and are now as wonderfully vocal as ever; that marvellous, rippling-trilling is, for me, one of the sounds of early Summer/Spring.  A flock of Fieldfares has also set up shop in the still, bare Birch trees: these birds are in fact known as Björkträst – Birch Thrushes – up here. They have a singularly grating song and certainly merit no awards in the birdsong charts.

The Whooper Swans are regularly vocal, especially when whooping past overhead in pairs, and we saw a pair of Golden Eye Ducks a few days ago on one of the lakes behind the house; a few Black Grouse (there are usually dozens of these, we’ve counted up to 40 of them in the trees around the garden) and Common Cranes/Tråna (pronounced Tronnaa hereabouts) making their usual, unmistakable racket in the fields around the house:

We’re looking after – or rather, I’m looking after, as J’s in UK – our German neighbours dog, Alex, for a week or so. He’s off to Tashkent to meet a woman he – needless to say – met online!  We wish him well, but do wonder at times.  His dog is a Hamiltonstovare, a Swedish hunting breed, very powerful and willful. It often escapes – it can open and close doors!! – from his place and takes off into the forest for 24 hours or so. As a breed, they are apparently known to be difficult but reliable in that they invariably find their way back home – eventually. Roger’s rigged up a steel line – it eats through anything else – and it is sort of anchored outside in the garden with a cage thing etc., inside the hallway of our old cabin/Bagarstuga:

Alex, having a nap in today’s sunshine:

Sadly, our neighbour Monica’s horse died  just before I set off for Spain. It was over 20 years old, so had a good innings. She was very upset, of course. It used to fall asleep while standing and would sway as its head lowered steadily before jerking back into wakefulness. One day, it simply fell down and could not get back up, so Håkan had to do the dirty deed. They were fortunate that the ground is already softening – early this year – and could therefore dispose of the carcase on their land:

There are now more Brits in the area, too. A real surprise. We came across them when off hunting for wine at the inane Swedish State monopoly in nearby Ramsele. This house was for sale last year and it appears that a Brit has moved in:

They are not far from this lovely, secluded hilltop cabin:

That, in turn, overlooks this view:

Charlie and Rocky are getting on fairly well these days, playmates as much as anything else, always keen to get out and about – especially now the snow has largely gone, in Rocky’s case:

To cap it all,  after running J to the train yesterday – the best way to travel within Sweden, where first-class is often as cheap as second, and boasts huge, genuinely comfortable, reclining seats, free internet connection and power supply, free coffee/tea, biscuits/cakes and fruit juice and mineral water, and newspapers throughout the journey – and even passable food, if booked in advance, at realistic prices – I found a shop selling two of my favourite cheeses, Stilton and Fourme D’Ambert, unbelievable and worth supporting.


An older style Swedish locomotive. These are still  widely in use, though not on the airport run we take, where they have super-fast, sleek silvery things instead:

This is the same kind of train seen on this You Tube vid. I still can’t simply download a vid-clip from YT with the new Blogger. ‘Tis a prize pain. Instead it gives me a variety of utter dross, presumably because Google’s making money out of promoting some stuff, stuff, stuff:

http://youtu.be/0DfERb98kGk

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There’s A Moose Aboot The…..

We’ve had an interesting and relieving few days recently. The weather continues Spring-like, with odd snow flurries that fall but fail to settle in any meaningful way. Most of the garden is now clear, save for odd patches and many of the fields around us are also clearing nicely. This morning it was minus five at 07:00 when I got up to let Jack and Charlie out for a wander.  With the sun beaming down and the promise of a speedy rise to zero, I got dressed and stayed up! Unheard for me on a Sunday – any day, truth be told!

Each day, we have plus temps now and often it’s warm enough to sit outside in the sun with a cuppa and a book.  We also have light from about 05:00 through to 20:30 or thereabouts, so it feels good.

Rocky and Charlie seem to be enjoying themselves. Charlie clearly sees Rocky as a playmate now and leads him off out, waiting for him to catch-up and generally behaving in a kittenish way – something he never did as a kitten. Every now and again, he asserts his authority as local, boss cat and whacks Rocky. Just to show him who’s boss, I’m sure.

We’ve managed to sell the Spanish house, it seems: the price is way below decent, but we want to move on and everyone’s trapped in the crappy nonsense these days, so we said yes: at least we don’t have a bank/mortgage to bother about!  I pity those unfortunate enough to be caught in that circle these days.

In addition, we’ve had some Germans looking round our place here in Sweden and it looks likely that they’ll be making us an offer on that too. So, an interesting few days, indeed!  We’ve decided to head back to France, the Charente or Poitou Charente regions again and look for a place to buy with our proceeds. There’s no shortage of stuff on the market and we think we should get a decent deal in current circumstances. So it’s all swings and roundabouts really.  I’m off to Spain latertoday for a week or so to sort things out.

I was still in favour of returning to Scotland and the Hebrides in particular – maybe even Orkney – but J is not so keen. For some reason she’s more interested in the French climate, wine, culture and food. We’ll just have to make do then.

We went off to get some wine a couple of days back and en-route we came across these girls:

These were a pair of female Moose, large gangly critters. We saw one ahead of us on the verge and then about ten metres further on another came out of the forest,c rossed the road and cantered away. Always a pleasure to see them.

And here’s the garden now:

And the table for those cosy cuppas:

When we got to the small nearby town of Ramsele, where the nearest state-run booze store is located about 25 Kms form home, we also met this lovely lad or lassie:

These, they claim hereabouts, are Icelandic cows. To me they look like Highland cattle and I’m sticking with that!

We crossed this gorgeous river, now free of ice for the most part, on the way home. One of the BIG local rivers:

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