The Saga of the Snowdrops

How Far Have We Come?

My Wwoofing blog posts are few and far between as that is the nature of my Wwoofing /gardening project.  The Wwoof visits have to fit around the availability of the accommodation and in rhythm with the growing seasons.  Spring and Autumn. Luckily Ane’s visit in Summer last year and the dormant Autumn and Winter season had left the garden as I left it last year.

Kate applied to visit in March enthusiastic for spinning and dyeing.  Using the “Immediate Availability” posting on the Wwoof web site I tried to gather together a 1 week working party.  However the list of jobs was “bitty” and involved mostly clearing and tidying, so I was cautious about hosting too many willing bodies with not enough to keep everybody meaningfully occupied.  I generated quite a few enquiries but mostly for the wrong dates, so Kate and I created a working party of 2 for a week on some perhaps surprising projects.

Preparing for the Hen House

Next to the raised-bed garden is that area at the back of every garden which gets neglected.  It housed a shed at one time which fell down and blew away, but the hard standing was still good, if a bit mossy.  The wooden crate that housed the old plant pots was rotting away and the flower arch which once held the climbing rose was bent out of shape.

Whilst Kate transplanted the snowdrops to protect them from the planned chicken run I finished the edges of the raised beds in efficient Italian Wwoofer style learnt last year (no more tape measures, brackets and screws but a good dose of ratch in the shed, chop it up and shove it in).  Hey presto a functional path and raised beds that will hold lots of cardboard and horse manure.

BUT who would have thought there were 3 wheel barrows of snow drops.  I had estimated about 10 clumps.  By the end of day 2 we had re-planted 25meters of snowdrops and 12kg of daffodil bulbs, which will make a great display along the whole wall and provide heaps of yellow dye from the heads next year.

Shit Shovelling

Every Wwoofer to the Wild Wool Barn has the privilege of gathering bulky manure.  Sorry it’s just a fact of organic gardening!  We spent a fun morning firstly in the co-op topping up the stores (there was a Coronavirus epidemic to plan for and shelves empty of toilet paper to view in disbelief) 1 bag full of shopping was all we could purchase (no panic buying here) as it had to be carried on the passenger/Wwoofer’s lap.  The back of the car would be full of smelly stuff.

Last year I found the manure gathering exhausting.  Not sure it was worth all the effort I mildly resented doing it and certainly did not enjoy it. However in Storm Ciara in February one of my beds was exposed when the plastic lifted to reveal a beautiful bed of fine soil.  I am now so excited to plant and can really see the point of the bulky manure…but a gardener must be patient.

Day 3 finished with piling on the cardboard accumulated over 6 months, topping it off with the manure, and covering the layers with the plastic.  One more bed had now been conditioned to mature over this winter.  2 more to go.


Heath Robinson building

Kate’s final day and an exciting build.  Using everything we could scrounge from the sheds, we built a cold frame. I just love learning from the Wwoofers’ experience. The frame was made from old roof beams and Celtex-type insulation left form the barn conversion and windows removed from the house 20 years ago (so glad to see the back of them!) and kept for this purpose.  Oh! and parts of an old loom – how appropriate!  Katie suggested the  insulation would reflect the heat and keep the plants warm. So now I can’t wait to plant but with snow on the ground this week it just feels tiny bit too early.

Of course it sounds like we worked outside all the time

But don’t forget this is the Lake District and it rained, was windy and sub-zero most of the week.  We also combed wool, made some posters for the Workshop, played Risk (Captain America Version and Dungeons), shared lots of tips for dye plants and enjoyed some lovely family meals.

Progress and Success in 12 Months

So from this time last year with ground that was just a weed bed and having no gardening experience whatsoever the Wild Wool Dye Plant Garden now has:

A Cold Frame

7 Raised beds with conditioned or conditioning soil

12kg of Daffodils  planted ready for spring 2021

Woad plants in their 1st and 2nd year (not many plants but it is a start and the seeds are as important as the leaves)

Madder in pots going into year 3 some ready for harvesting

Weld plants  – just a few but with the knowledge that they should not be covered when germinating

Alkanet – identified by Katie

Flower beds full of perennials and other Dye plants like Coreopsis and Genista Tinctora bought at Wool Fest last year

A stack of experiences and memories from hosting our Wwoofing friends.


Oh! and we have a Wwoofing family booked to visit in June when those pesky weeds return and we are ready to build the dyeing kitchen.

We have come a long way already and look forward to the plants growing and providing brilliant colour to dye the Ennerdale wool.

Weeds will Grow

Summer in the Garden 2019

Spring seemed a long time behind us when Ane from Denmark turned up.  I had not intended to host Wwoofers in the summer months as that was peak season for our accommodation business, which is also used to house Wwoofers off-season, but Ane was so enthusiastic about the textile aspect of the project, being a spinner herself I could not say no and already I was learning that despite the huge strides we had made in  the weeds just will not wait! In a scene reminiscent of the red weed in War of the Worlds, the bind weed had invaded the whole garden, sneaking out anywhere the plastic let in the light, except where the Rhubarb was growing.  In the delightful Wwoofing way I had learned to love Ane took on those weeds with enthusiasm and determination until they all had been defeated.

Inevitably  August is the rainy season in Cumbria, so Ane spent many happy hours in the studio combing and carding wool.  She also drunk in the view of the Ennerdale Water and encouraged me to spin al fresco and revisit the view it is sometimes easy to take for granted. There was just one fly in the ointment, or should I say “wasp” in the Rhubarb.  The 3 huge plants were buzzing and crawling with a whole nest/colony. Never one to back down from a challenge I used the opportunity to try my hand at making a wasp trap or 10.  Initially I thought I had made the holes too large as the wasps seemed to just fly in and feed on the sugar/jam/honey and fly out again…..3 days later……

X 10


Easy Peasy, Panic and Freezy 84 85 86 Ling Fell, Barf and Sale Fell

Ling Fell

The depths of winter and the red dots of “Bagged Fells” are filling up the map. Ling Fell is the last one on the left as you drive towards Cockermouth and is yet another one that feels small and insignificant and just for “off-days”.  This was truly an off day.  Huff Puff, sweat and suffer, who would have thought number 84 at just 373m and 205 on the list would lay me low, not just on the bum-sliding steep descent but a 3 hours sleep when I got home.


For 6 months, a very long time ago (pre child birth), we lived in a caravan at the foot of Barf, and considered The Bishop our own personal guardian angel. We ran up and down most days and I considered the ascent on this day would be a hands-in-pocket walk in the park. It was steeper than I remembered and the bad step not even a consideration back then.  The 2 meter scramble up over a small rocky stream had me clinging on for fear of slipping on the way up and bathed me in worry for the descent.  I looked out for an alternative way down.  I was sure there was a forest ride along to the East in the Whinlatter Forest, but my memory was hazy, as were my photos as I had left my phone in my trouser pocket and the lens steamed up.  I am not as flexible and confident in the hills as I used to be, it is truly a good many years since we lived below Barf, and on the way down today the bad step became my nemesis.  Maybe I had built it up in my mind to be more difficult than it should have been and I became crag fast.

Mark tried to support my foot as I lay spread-eagled across what was really a very small boulder with only a few feet between me and solid ground, and then I froze. I could see no way out I could not go up and I could not go down and a sense of dread came over me that the only way down would involve pain, falling or the mountain rescue and tears.  The tears came and the panic subsided and inch by inch, like some macabre Hokey Kokey, I put my left leg down, my left leg up, down, up, down, up,  and then the left hand, and then the right and eventually I manoeuvered the 3ft to the floor.  I don’t think I will ever go that way up or down Barf again and when my back pack is not full of wood and wool I will include a 3m rope and body harness. I understood that panic is not a sign to flee, it is a state where you can neither fight nor flee.  There is no way out.

Sale Fell

Sale Fell was a long time coming for my friend Christine who actually wanted to do Catbells, like everybody, for it’s super name. After many false promises to deflower her boots we finally chose the worst day of the year on a very different peak.

We chose the winding route  along Wythop Beck past Kelswick farm. The gorse was thick and our trousers were thin against the spikes and against the biting wind.  The top was marvellous. It reminded me of the ski/board-cross slopes in the winter Olympics and having been up here in the snow a year or two ago I once again logged Sale Fell as my go-to place for winter sports.  Despite the silencing howl, and the hood-stealing strength of the wind, we headed in good visibility straight for the wall and the car park and slightly stale cheese rolls.

Every Fell has surprised me as being the giver of great views and unexpexcted emotions.  Easy Peasy Ling Fell, Panic on Barf and Freezy Friendships on Sale Fell.  All new experiences, all new emotions, all different, all shared.

81 – 83 Graystones, Broom Fell and Lord’s Seat – Wear and Tear

81 – 83 Graystones, Broom Fell and Lord’s Seat – Wear and Tear

The bag I carry the wheel in was never designed to be taken up mountains. It is not waterproof and the padding it came with was not deep enough to protect my back from the hardness of the wooden structure of the wheel.  So in the early days I created a cocoon-like layer of upholstery foam to cushion my torso and the wheel. I also bought a waterproof rucksack cover for the times when I might be caught out in a shower – with the intention not to walk out in driving rain. Both have been invaluable.

The padding is going strong and only showing minor signs of scuffing and compression.  It will probably see me up  another 70 Wainwrights before it needs renewing.

The more significant wear and tear has been to the zip on the front pocket.  It is not the stitching between the zip and the fabric of the bag that has parted company, but the teeth of the zip from the tape it is sewn onto.  I fear this will be a very delicate operation to stitch between each tooth, but possible.

So here’s to my bag and wheel (which has had a good dose of oil) and to the battle scars it has accumulated together with a heck of a lot of mud, Oh and a little redecoration in the freezing wind on Graystones!

79 80 Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell – Don’t forget your torch

79 80 Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell


The views from the top of Bleaberry Fell were spectacular. It is always a surprise when you are treated to a 360 panorama from a small and insignificant mountain.

I had spent the first part of the day with friends at the Spinning and Weaving Guild, sharing the work we had spun woven knitted and felted for the annual “challenge” entitled Seaside.  A wonderful summery feel for a cold wintery day.  As well as sharing handicraft skills, we share life stories, tragedies, joys and a lot of stories about grandchildren.  The guild is made up, mostly of women, and mostly of a certain age.  At the moment and for a rare time in my life my hobby has not rendered me the youngest in the group, but only just (by age and dint of years I have been attending), consequently I am surrounded by a warm group of life experience and incomparable spinning weaving and dyeing experience.  I came away inspired and energised and certainly did not “need” a walk to get away from life.  Meeting with a group of homely, creative types comes also with delights such as great baking and left over Christmas Ferror Rocher to eat up.

This is probably why I bounded up Walla Crag with the good luck fairy on my shoulder to discover my pack had been open and my phone and purse were hanging out by a thread.  I had started out at 14:15 quite an early start for a guild day but pushed up the day’s agenda due to it still being January and very much in winter.

As I found the top of Walla Crag I was reminded that it was one of the first mountains in the Lake District my husband had taken me up.  After which he bought me a book of how to use a map and compass (along the the Essex Girl Joke Book)

I had found the top and the couple who came and talked to me commented that they could never tire of the view.  The opposite side of the classic chocolate box scene I had enjoyed from Barrow. We chatted about loving living here and as an employee of George Fisher in Keswick a large outdoor gear retailer they suggested their marketing department may be interested in hearing about my challenge.

On departing the top I discovered the good fairy had not reminded me to check my compass was in the map case but alas I was without it.  Despite my previous assertion that one should never venture into the mountains without map AND COMPASS visibility was good to the point I could see a motorway sized footpath to the top so decided I was sage to proceed.

Looking back I could not believe the height gained, at power walking speed.  I was pushing hard for light was fading.  I had reached the top at the same time as sun-down last week, so despite time being tight I spun long enough for my hands to feel cold but also to enjoy the burning sky as the sun set behind the Buttermere fells covered in snow.  My phone camera was useless. Truly and totally, no camera could do justice to the 20 minutes of sun-down splendour I witnessed.

Racing against the twighlight I made a beeline for the wall surrounding the top of Walla crag, phoned Mark to confirm I had not walked off a cliff, and made it to the car just as my night sight failed. 3 hrs – the time of a good marathon (or half for me).

78 Low Fell – It does what it says on the tin

Low Fell is a small mountain overlooking the Kirkstile Inn on Loweswater – the clue is in the name as they say It’s not too big.  As you may have gathered from previous posts Mark is recovering from Pneumonia and is struggling to walk for very far and certainly not up hill.  However, every week we have a go and try and stretch out the distance and elevation so this time Low Fell at 423m and number 200 on the Wainwright list seemed like an achievable target, especially as anything above this height was dusted in snow.

We reminisced about how we had, possibly in a moment of madness, driven the Mosser Road when we first moved in 20 years ago.  Now very much “Not suitable for Motor vehicles”rutted with water damage.

Arriving at the first fence on open countryside Mark beat a retreat to read a book in the warmth of his car and wait for me in Thackthwaite. If I put a shift on I thought I might be able to nab Fellbarrow as well, but the splendour of the reddening sky on the summit of Low Fell the wonders of modern technology told me that I had less than 40 minutes until sunset so it lived to fight another day and tea was an hour earlier than expected.


77 Dodd

We were optimistic that Mark would make it up Dodd but still the recovery from illness is slow. Walking from the Sawmill Tea Room direct to the summit Mark turned back 1/3 of the way up.  After 2/3rds at the bench the view was just about visible and then we disappeared into the cloud.  We seemed to be the only people out without a dog, so had a few confused conversations as we described people we had seen with dogs.

I spun alone on the summit (save 1 man and 2 dogs) and on the way down again engaged in conversation with old friends who had seen me “knitting” on  Lattrigg. They knew about the Castle Crag Race and commented that the cakes and tea at the Youth Hostel were as much fun as the race itself and hoped they could increase their “spinner-spotting” to 3 in the near future. We could not wait until next week for coffee and cakes and enjoyed our fair share at the cosy and welcoming Sawmill Tea room.


76 Castle Crag – Did I really agree to dress up as a Gorilla?


When you start an unusual and lengthy challenge it is always good to go into it with an open mind.  I have found that however much you plan you will be very surprised by the unexpected opportunities that open themselves up to you. This is one I really did not see coming……

With Mark recovering from Pneumonia we thought a New Year’s Day stroll up Castle Crag (the smallest Wainwright) might be possible. We parked up in Rosthwaite and talked about Prince Charles enjoying staying at Yew Tree Farm, and Julia Bradbury buying pasties from the Flock Inn.  We reminisced about fell running days and the route of the Borrowdale fell race and how the times posted by the fastest fell runners were almost incomprehensible.  We split for a few hundred yards as Mark and Bheinn crossed the stream on the stepping stones.  I have always had trouble co-ordinating crossing flowing water and it wasn’t until I keeled over after completing the 1 mile Great north swim I was diagnosed with Vertigo, which seems to be the reason why I can’t make my feet go forward when the ground/water beneath me in s travelling at 90 degrees, so avoided becoming stranded in the middle of the river by taking the easy path enjoying the best views of the pack horse bridge where I met up with Bheinn.  Mark was already walking at a snail’s pace so it was no surprise that 1/2 way up the climb he stopped on a rock in favour of photographing the view above reaching the top.  As you leave the grassy part of the hill and cross the wall to the summit, rocky climb a path has been landscaped into the slate slag heap left from the the mining past of the area.  We fell into step with a very chatty man, who told us about the standing slates that look like grave stones and the uphill fell race that is won in just under 12 minutes.  I think you could put a 0 on that time for our walk.

The views are truly stunning from the top.  In both directions you can see the beauty of the lower landscape overshadowed by the high mountains  of the Borrowdale valley to the South and Skiddaw to the North.

When I started the spinning challenge I assumed I would  meet people on the tops of the fells but generally people are sitting, contemplating or eating and resting on the summit.  Most of my conversations have been with people on the route up or down, and this time was no exception.  We ran into (literally) some old fell running friends who now run an adventure centre in Keswick.  Lou had been the British and English Fell running Champion in the days when we competed but now runs for fun and exercise and organises events for other up and coming runners.  The Advetnure centre is called Kong Adventure and they have a Gorilla mascot who attends the events and has been known to take part in some alternative activities during the races.  They wondered if the Gorilla might be allowed to take the spinning wheel to the next fell race and the Spinning wheel agreed to oblige.  A fell running, spinning Gorilla, now I did not see that coming……


75 Hen Comb – Fill in the gap

In August I had intended to tick off Hen Comb on a walk out from home to Melbreak on the “Another Wainwright Day”, but bad weather had cut the walk short.

Again the weather was not the best, but that was to be expected on 31 December 2019 it was blustery and cold, low cloud but this time no driving rain. I walked from home and about 500m onto open fell I met a couple ahead of me who were walking in my direction, but had stopped to admire the view.  They explained they had walked from Loweswater the previous day but realised they were running out of time so had headed back without finishing the walk.  The day after they were finishing the last part of the walk in reverse up from Ennerdale, determined not to leave the walk incomplete.  I was in admiration and shook Nick’s hand hoping that some of his determination to finish would rub off on me.

The summit of Hen Comb was cold and very windy, but I found a sheltered spot just off the top and spun in peace.  However when I packed away, the wind-chill was freezing and my soaked hands were numb. Visibility was about 5m and with hands cold as ice it was the first occasion on this round that I have had to use the compass in anger. I now carry a second pair of gloves, learning that the times you will need to use your fine dexterity will always be in the toughest conditions, and those are mostly when it is coldest.

Not deterred by the cold, especially when there is a wager at stake I also had to message Mark to update on my position.  The deal had been whoever made it to the Kirkstile pub first had the right to a 2nd pint and therefore would not be driving home.  I took great delight in informing Mark I was on my way down an hour ahead of schedule, at speed, to enjoy my first pint while I waited for him to arrive.  Despite the number of mountain days being less than average in December I was delighted to feel less unfit than I had expected, and was well down my first pint when the transport arrived.


74 Gowbarrow

December came with its usual chaos of organising Christmas but in our family there was an added complication as Mark contracted Pneumonia, so most of December remained “Wainwrightless”. Finally my first outing with Mountain Bagging, came about on the 27th December.  Mountain Bagging is the walking group I have been looking for all my life. It is friendly inclusive and very enthusiastic for climbing the fells, but up until today I have not found a weekend that fitted in with my plans to join them on a walk.  With Mark out of action and Bheinn in action on the “Switch” enjoying his Christmas presents I took an opportunity to meet and walk with these “facebook walking friends” I already seemed to know so much about who might start to think I was a phantom walker if I did not put in an appearance.

Typically I was always at the back preceded by many children excited by their Christmas holidays.  I tried my first every geocaching experience and love the idea of always having something in your pocket to leave for somebody to discover on every walk. I met people from all over the north of England who love the fells, and want to share their experiences.

The climb up Aira Force was reminiscent of being in the Alps and the falls were stunning in their winter spate.

One of the children celebrated their 100th Wainwright at the top, but I was a bit puffed out and wrestling the wheel out of the bag to enjoy the celebration.  With frozen fingers the pace around to the viewpoint above Ullswater was a chance to warm up and test my downhill speed.

And the best reason to out with Mountain Bagging, Cider in the Royal Hotel Dockwray afterwards of course!