Hot buns

Having had a nice long weekend over the Easter break, I decided to do a bit of baking. And the logical thing to start with was some hot cross buns. So I got out some of my baking books, found a recipe that I liked the look of and got on with it. It took a little while, as the dough needed to rest after I’d done anything with it, but pretty soon I had some fairly respectable buns ready to go in the oven.

I even made a flour paste to decorate the tops. But I got bored with crosses after the first couple, so splurged a variety of letters and random shapes onto the rest. This means, I guess, that they’re technically not hot cross buns, but rather just hot buns. But I can tell you one thing: once they’d come out of the oven, they smelled – and tasted – delicious. The floppy anaemic ones we get from the supermarket quite literally paled in comparison.

Oh, and here are the finished articles…

Hot 'cross' bunsClearly, they’re long gone now. But, mmm, they were yummy. Even if I do say so myself. Next up: croissants. Anything that involves battering a block of butter with a rolling pin (honest, that’s what it says in the book) has got to be worth a try.

Snowtime!

When I woke up this morning, I glanced out of the window and thought for a moment that I’d sleepwalked into the wardrobe and been transported to Narnia. The street lights were glowing and there was a carpet of smooth, velvety snow covering the ground. But then a man in a bobble hat skidded past, towed along by a massively over-enthusiastic border collie, and I realised that I was still at home. But, boy, was it snowing.

Nailsea or Narnia?

By the time I was up properly and listening to my porridge bubble away on the hob, what had been a paltry two inches of snow was a fairly respectable four. And still it was falling, great big flakes tumbling out of the sky like leaves from a tree.

Snow in the garden

We wasted no time in getting dressed in our coats, hats, scarves and mittens (Natalie and me) and outdoor hooligan harness (Molly) and heading out to the nearby fields. It had just about got light by now, though the falling snow made it a bit difficult to see where we were going. The schools were shut, none of the buses were running and it was clear from the absence of tyre tracks that most people had given up on the idea of going to work.

Natalie in the snow

Out on the hills, the snow made everything look so clean and new. If it hadn’t been for the trees, with the snow clinging to their branches like frosting on a wedding cake, it would have been difficult to tell where the ground stopped and the sky started.

Snow-covered tree

Needless to say, Molly loved it. She’s a big fan of the snow and had a great time chasing snowballs and barrelling into the few other dogs that were around. And while I’m a big, grown-up adult kind of person, I must admit that I enjoyed playing in the snow, too. (But only a little bit.)

Playing snowball with Molly

What Molly couldn’t understand, though, was why the snowballs I was throwing for her kept disappearing. She’d leap into the air, catch the snowball in her mouth and then find that all she got was a giant slurp of water. But rather than explain to her the basic laws of physics, I just kept chucking more.

Hunting for snowballs

And she kept racing around like a lunatic.

A high speed hound

With me tagging along behind her. (You can just see me here on the right.)

Molly racing through the countryside

As we headed home, we came across an army of little groups heading the way we’d just come. Each group seemed to contain a very harassed (and very well wrapped) parent, a sledge, a grinning dog and eight (or more) very small, very excited (and also very well wrapped) children. All off out to enjoy the snow.

Sunrise

One of the best things about winter is that the sun comes up sufficiently late for us to catch the sunrise. Molly and I were taking our early morning walk the other day and the sun was just coming up over the hills. The colours were stunning. It was like normal life, but with the colour saturation cranked up to the max.*

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* Please excuse the large volume of photos on my blog that are of this part of Somerset and taken with my cameraphone. But I walk along here several times a day and there’s always something new to see. I really do live in a particularly fantastic part of the world. And no, I don’t work for the tourist board. Though perhaps I should.

And then the rains came

Until last weekend, it had been raining here non-stop for the best part of a month. Now, we’re quite used to a bit of bad weather, but when a significant part of your annual rainfall arrives over the course of just a few days, things don’t always work as they should. Which is why much of the area around here has been a little bit on the damp side.

In some places, it has been quite dramatic. I drove into Bristol just as the worst of the floods had started, and was a little surprised to see torrents – and I mean torrents – of water gushing down the hillside and onto the main road. And when I returned a short while later, this and several other roads had been closed by the police, as they were simply impassable.

Some of the lower-lying villages have been practically cut off, such has been the scale of the rainfall. Because it has been so wet for so long, when the rain falls there’s just nowhere for it to go, so it forms huge pools wherever it gathers – on field, on roads, in people’s houses. Not great. And for the third time this year, too.

When the rain finally stopped last weekend, Natalie, Molly and I took a stroll down into the valley to see how things were doing. Here’s the team ready to start…

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The sports field across the road was half covered with water, which made for great photos and fantastic paddling, but probably wasn’t much good for football.

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We could also see some brand new water features dotted around the landscape. See the lovely lake behind the trees in the picture below? It’s supposed to be a field (and a road). I’m writing this a week later, and the water’s still there.

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As we walked across the field down towards the road, Molly found a very exciting stick, so we had to take a short break.

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Which turned into a slightly longer break.

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Which became longer still when one of Molly’s friends (Bud) arrived to share in the action.

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But we eventually made it down into the valley, where our town almost meets the next village. And where the train station is. Only two hours (direct!) to London – not bad, huh? Anyway, this is the lowest lying part of the town, so it was no surprise that there was a lot of water. This is (I think) a glacial valley and is essentially a flood plain, so there are numerous rhynes that drain the land and keep it usable.

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This one here is usually a babbling little brook, but today it was quite a lot more than that. I half expected to see some teeny weeny kayakers whooshing down it.

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You can see the footpaths across the fields, as these were the first bits to fill up. The water’s just not draining away, so if there’s any more rain, then the field will disappear.

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You see the grey barn in the middle of the picture below? And the small cottage immediately to the left of it? Natalie and I used to live there. We remember, during a similar bout of torrential rain several years ago, standing on the doorstep, watching the flood waters creep their way slowly across the field towards the house. Luckily, they stopped several metres short, but it was not a good feeling. Unsurprisingly, we have since moved quite considerably uphill.

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The nature reserve on the other side of the road was similarly drenched. Usually a little lake with a small drainage ditch running alongside it, the site was now a large lake with a tiny peninsular of land running down the middle.

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The local wildlife was clearly loving it.

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But, for everyone else, the whole episode was a bit of a nightmare. As I mentioned before, this is the third time it’s happened this year. And still, we insist on building housing estates on flood plains and ignoring the warnings of scientists about climate change and extreme weather. Honestly, how much more of a sign do we need?

In the gloaming

The gloaming is that fleeting, magical time just after sunset but before darkness. We hardly notice it in the summer because it stays light so late. But as the days get shorter, the gloaming’s nearly-night-time arrives ever earlier. Our bodies tell us that it’s time to hunker down for the evening. But our watches, sadly, tell us that it’s only half past four and our to-do lists point out politely that there’s no chance of slumping onto the sofa for at least another couple of hours.

Which is why, at this time of year, Molly and I invariably find ourselves taking our evening walk in this odd half-light, when the daytime is over but the night-time proper hasn’t really kicked in. Now, you might argue that a moonlight stroll is a perfect, even rather romantic, end to the day. But when (a) it is cold, (b) it is muddy, (c) one of you is tired after a day’s work and (d) the other one of you is a nuts Labrador, romantic is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

The views over the valley at this time of day, though, are pretty spectacular. Which is the main reason for this post. Because it has been raining here all day, but as the sun went down the rain stopped and we had a brief moment of calm as the moon rose in the sky and the world prepared itself for bed. As usual, though, I’d forgotten to take a proper camera so was forced to rely on my very rubbish camera phone.

Anyway, here’s the moon over the valley. The three bright points of light in a little row are the floodlights at the football pitch in the next village along. Must be soccer practice tonight. Most of the other lights are street lights along the main road, with some houses mixed in.

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Here’s the view looking west, where you can see that the sun has only just gone down. You can see the lights from a couple of remote cottages in the valley below, but there’s not really much here between us and the sea.

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OK, so the zoom on my camera phone is fairly awful. But I just loved the colours in the sky; the way it goes from pink to blue so delicately, silhouetting the hills below and the clouds above.

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On our way home, we passed the local church and the porch light cast this welcoming glow across the graveyard. I know it’s wonky and blurred (the photo, not the church), but given that I was holding my camera phone and the end of the dog’s lead in the same hand, I’m just glad you can make out anything at all.

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And then, as quickly as it had arrived, the twilight of the gloaming was replaced by true darkness. In wintertime, this ephemeral period is most definitely my favourite time of day. Or is it night? Whatever. Here’s to the gloaming.