Monthly Archives: July 2017

Sometimes it rains a bit


Last week it was our local agricultural show, North Lonsdale. Occasionally we have a glorious day for it, because in an infinite universe, anything is possible. But frankly I reckon we have more damp, or at least gloomy days than we have sunny ones.

Still last week you have to admit nobody was going to accuse the day of being half-hearted about it. If you want a day to sum up the Cumbria summer, it was the one. It started by blowing a gale and with driving rain, and by mid afternoon it was actually quite a nice day and the mud was thickening nicely.

I arrived on the show field at about 7:30am because I was going to help with ACTion with Communities in Cumbria with their stand. By 9am, in spite of the driving rain, we had not merely erected a gazebo, we’d taken it down again before it left of its own accord.

But still we found a new home in one of the tents. A fair few traders hadn’t turned up. Now to be fair to them I can understand that. We had some leaflets to hand out. In the morning we left them in the car, there was no point at all in thrusting paper into somebody’s hand. It was turning to papier-mache even as they struggled to read it. A trader could lose thousands of pounds in damaged stock without selling a thing.

But anyway in the tent we made ourselves at home. In passing I’ll say a big thank-you to Ulverston Auction Mart and the local NFU office for keeping us supplied with coffee. Facing those conditions inadequately caffeinated is a recipe for disaster.

But once underway we did all sorts of things. We talked to people about disaster planning. Given the weather people could see where we were coming from with that one. Also we did a survey, you know the sort of thing. I showed them a list of services rural areas need and asked “Which of the following services are most important to you as a rural dweller?”


If you fancy doing the survey then there’s an on-line version of it available here.


I’m sorry if it lacks the ambiance enjoyed by those for whom it was a part of the full North Lonsdale show experience. But if you like you can always fill your Wellingtons with tepid water before sitting down at the computer to tackle the questionnaire.

After about noon the sun started to come out and people appeared. These were the ones who were there to support ‘their show’ because they know these things are important. Not only that but when we got them doing the survey we’d see them wandering off in their small parties still discussing whether affordable housing or broadband was more important. We didn’t merely ask questions, we started a discussion and people went away thinking. I suspect we were the most subversive organisation on the show field. If everybody started thinking then that would be the end of civilisation as we know it.
And as with all these shows, there were any number of high points. Wringing the water out of my cap for the third time wasn’t really one of them. Still for me, one of them was coming across one chap who I drafted into answering the questions. Once you got him talking you discovered he was a young man with a real heart for the rural community and the problems we have.

Then there were the half dozen or so young lads, aged about ten, who drifted into the tent. With infinite mud and no adult supervision they were having a ball. But in the tent they didn’t splash mud around, answered the questions, and came up with some good points.

Like the lad who said they’d like more parks and footpaths. I was about to say ‘but you’ve got the countryside, what more do you want; but then I realised. He was a decent lad and just wanted to know where he could go. I was born round here and at his age knew everybody. So I could go anywhere. But since then the links between the various parts of the community have broken down, he doesn’t know who owns what, he doesn’t know who to ask. It’s something to think about and hopefully do something about.

And then there were the other traders, to pick one out I’d say a big hello to the shy self-effacing chap from the Damned Fine Cheese Company.


Their Black Gold is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that I’ve been forced to break off to cut myself a slice.
Another to mention is local author Gill Jepson. Gill claims to have been at school with me, but all I can say is that she must have lied about her age to get in early. It takes real nerve to carry books through the driving rain, even if you’re going to sell them in a big tent, but Gill did it


So yes, it was a bit wet, but it was a good day.


Obviously on a day like this you need to chill out with a good book


When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

As a reviewer commented, “What starts off looking like a theft at sea, followed by a several findings in the mud when the tide is out, soon morphs into an intriguing tale where Benor, Tallis, Shena, Mutt, and a plethora of other folks, get involved in dealing with dark deeds in Port Naain.”

Making a hash of it man!


The problem is that if you are a farmer, it sort of sticks with you. You don’t stop being one just because you’re asleep, on holiday, or reading facebook.  Anyway I saw a post of a friends facebook page saying how much money would be generated in the economy if we legalised marijuana. So of course I just had to sit down to do the maths, but from the farmer’s point of view.


It’s interesting trying to get any decent economic figures. First I tried to look for how much marijuana the average user uses (by weight). It’s the sort of thing you need to measure the size of your market. Now there are a lot of figures quoted but people tend to quote the proportion of the population who use the stuff or the estimated financial value of stuff seized.


What I did discover was that the average joint apparently contains 0.32gms


Not only that, but apparently the average US user smokes 123 joints per year


So it’s possible to estimate the size of the market, but what about output?

Apparently you can get 500gms per plant growing outdoors


The trouble with articles like that is that they regard individual plants as precious. On an agricultural scale you wouldn’t be worried about yield per plant; you’d be worried about yield per acre.

Looking for a comparison, if I was planting industrial hemp then it’s common to use 10cm spacings between rows. So there you could be looking at about 300 plants be square meter. Obviously growing for marijuana you might sow for a lower crop density. Perhaps aiming at 30 plants a square meter.  But here I’m just guessing, because whilst 30 plants per square meter might optimise marijuana output per plant, at 300 plants per square meter you might still get as much marijuana, but also a valuable fibre crop as well.

But let’s stick with 30 plants per square meter.

First, assuming that each plant only produces half the marijuana it does when being cosseted inside, that’s 30 x 250gms which is 7.5kg per square meter. In marketing terms, that’s 23,438 joints.

All in all this is enough to last 190 average consumers the full year.
Now the Home Office produced figures which show that 2.1 million people in the UK use the stuff. Now obviously they won’t all smoke the full 123 joints a year. But if it’s legal others might try it and users might smoke more. So let’s have all 2.1 million people smoking 123 joints. So the estimated market is 258,300,000 joints which needs 11020 square meters to grow on. This is just over a hectare, not quite three acres.

Even if I’m an order of magnitude out, or even two orders of magnitudes out, we’re only talking about somewhere between three and three hundred acres.


Legalise marijuana in the UK and I suspect in 10 years, it’ll just be part of the fibre hemp industry. Growers planting varieties which will produce marijuana and if Tesco and Asda are willing to pay a reasonable price then more will go for processing. As for price, it’s suddenly an agricultural commodity; it’ll be so cheap that in some years farmers will plough it back in because it’s not worth harvesting.

But then we get VAT and excise duty. At the moment three quarters of the price of a bottle of cheap whisky goes to the government. The various consumer taxes on legal marijuana could be the money tree our political parties are looking for.


But cheaper than anything you can smoke, and probably every bit as addictive 😉


As a reviewer commented, “Tallis, the well-respected (he says) Port Naain poet, becomes embroiled in a bit of sedan chair racing, with all its associated betting and a side order of bullying and corruption. He is helping to arrange a large social gathering to introduce a widow to the social circle and we see how important it is to have a resourceful poet on the task.”


Bigger than Brexit? Unesco awards Lake District World Heritage site status.



Every so often something comes along and initially you wonder whether it’ll make any difference. And then it occurs to you that it might be wise to read the fine print. So you heroically refuse to allow umpteen pages of dense bureaucratic prose to put you off and you start reading. As you read you slowly come to realise that the world has changed around you and that nothing can be the same again.

You might or might not have noticed that Unesco has awarded the Lake District World Heritage site status. If you want to read their document it’s at


The people I feel sorry for are the various groups of environmentalists who have been trying to drive sheep from the fells and who have been pursuing their own, often conflicting, environmental agendas. They got what they asked for and perhaps they are now wishing that they hadn’t asked.


What is the most important thing in the Lake District? What holds it all together, keeps it the beautiful place everybody wants to visit? Which body should step forward to accept the grateful plaudits of the masses?
Here I quote Unesco


“ICOMOS generally concurs with the view of the State Party but highlights that the maintenance of the English Lake District’s visual qualities is highly dependent on the sustainability of some 200 shepherding farm families and their herds of “hefted” Herdwick sheep. The system has to face crucial challenges of shifts in global markets, changing agricultural subsidies and schemes, particularly given the exit from the European Union, introduced diseases, and climate change.”


Yes, the whole thing depends of 200 farming families who’re working long hours for very limited financial recompense. In fact I doubt any of them will earn anywhere near as much as the National Trust Agents and National Park officers who spend so much time telling them what they can and cannot do.

Not only that but for the last couple of decades we’ve had the same endless refrain, get the sheep off the hills, cut down numbers. As Unesco says


“In the past, overgrazing and other farming management practices threatened the environmental and natural values of the property. Although these practices have been corrected, there seems to be a certain imbalance in the consideration of the natural values favoured over the cultural values of farming practices. In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”


Basically think of Unesco as the school teacher who’s standing in front of a bunch of big kids (various conservation bodies) and jabbing her finger at them, telling them that they’ve got to stop bullying the little guys.

But let’s just stop a minute and think about this. Government has accepted this. If it’s true for the Lake District, then it’s true for most of our countryside. We’ve got ourselves a good general principle worthy of wide acceptance here.


“In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”
That I should live to see the day!

Another issue we have is that for most Cumbrians, tourism is more of a blight than an economic opportunity. The Lake District has about 40,000 inhabitants. The area gets about 17,000,000 visitors a year. That’s 13,000,000 day visits and 4,000,000 overnight stays.

Just to put that in context I was talking to one Lake District farmer from Langdale. On one May day Bank holiday the Park did a survey of the number of people walking though their lambing fields (while their sheep were lambing) and walking up to  Stickle Tarn. The flow of people averaged 1135 per hour thought the day. That’s what tourism means for the people who are doing the work that maintains the Lake District as people like it.

Fortunately Unesco can see the issue here and has an answer


“ICOMOS recommends that mechanisms are set up to ensure that economic benefits from tourism are increasingly shared also with shepherds and farmers, recognizing the important ecosystem and management services they provide in maintaining the landscape.”


Well fancy that, the peasantry getting a cut of the income stream that only exists because of their work over the centuries. Damned commie pinko stuff this I tell you!


But it isn’t just about the 200 farming families. The Lake District works because it’s a community (or at least that bit that isn’t all second homes). The whole community needs help. Especially when we’re getting floods which cut all the roads due to extreme weather events. Unesco is on the ball as always.



“The management system should be expanded to develop strategies that prevent depopulation, including affordable housing, neighbourhood shops and promotion of local products, strengthen the disaster risk strategies and incorporate into them local knowledge, and develop interpretive plans based on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property so as to assist visitors’ understanding.”


Yes you read it here, we are now to have affordable homes and building within the National Park! If I’d written that last year you’d have assumed I’d been smoking something illegal. Finally there are the additional recommendations. I’m just including them all.

ICOMOS recommends that the State Party gives consideration to the following:

a) Providing assurances that quarrying activities within the property will be progressively downsized and extraction volumes limited to what is needed for carrying out conservation of the assets supporting the attributes of the property,

b) Formally committing to avoiding any negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and related attributes of the property from the NWCC energy transportation facility being currently planned; and informing the World Heritage Centre about the results of the Heritage Impact Assessment, and how these will be integrated into the planning consent and in the development consent order (DCO),

c) Informing about the timeframe of the integration of World Heritage consideration into the local plans and policies,

d) Developing proactive strategies, including alternative national farm-supporting policies, with the farming community, to address the issues that threaten the viability of the shepherding tradition that maintains many of the landscape’s significant attributes; recognising and financially compensating farmers for their heritage services in caring for the cultural landscape, as well as values such as genetic diversity of herds and food security,

e) Rebalancing programs and funding dedicated to improving natural resources with the need to conserve the valuable cultural landscape that the Lake District is by acting on its key attributes and factors,

f) Strengthening risk preparedness strategies for floods and other disasters that incorporate local knowledge on how to cope with recurrent disastrous natural events,

g) Developing convincing programs to prevent depopulation, including:

a) develop affordable housing for new households and for local retirees,

b) ensure that communities have a mix of commercial outlets that serve the local community,

c) further develop and market local products that benefit residents and local farmers,

h) Developing an interpretation strategy at the landscape level which communicates the different strands of the Outstanding Universal Value by using the documents put together for the nomination dossier,

i) Ensuring that careful attention is paid to conservation of landscape-defining features such as land-use patterns, structures such as shelters, dry stone walls, hedgerows, and also to vernacular architecture and Victorian buildings, not only in designated Conservation Areas, but in the whole property,

j) Submit by 1st December 2018 a report on the implementation of the above recommendations to the World Heritage Centre and to ICOMOS;

Not only have they got to work their way through this list,  but they cannot just kick it into the long grass as far too embarrassing to deal with. Teacher expects their homework back in for marking by the 1st December 2018 or there’ll be trouble.

Already the howls are coming up from the vested interests, the liberal commentators and those who earn serious money from writing about conservation. If you want to read a rant of monumental proportions which verges on the hysterical at times, I’d recommend this one, George Monbiot in full flow. The writing is now on the wall and they don’t like what they’re reading.



There again what do I know?


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.


As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

The little ones are the real problem


We were moving some heifers, they’d escaped from field A into field B. I fixed the fence and two of us, plus dog and quad when to bring them down field B, along the road and back into field A. This went well enough except for one of them who took umbrage at the presence of the dog and jumped out of field B, over two perfectly good fences and a bit of broken down hedge, into field C.

We looked at her disappearing down field C to join stock already present, shrugged and decided to get the rest moved to field A. We’d let her calm down a bit and move her tomorrow (or whenever.)

That evening I checked field C. Our errant heifer wasn’t there. So I wandered round a bit and finally discovered she’d worked her way through two perfectly stock-proof hedges to rejoin her mates in field A, entirely of her own volition.

Moving cattle is easy if everybody keeps calm. The problem is that young cattle quite like to run. There’s obvious something atavistic about it all. The thunder of hooves, the dust, the endless prairie, all they need is John Wayne. As an aside here I always remember my Grandfather’s comment,

“Hell I wish I’d had John Wayne working for me.”

“Why Grandad?”

“Because he’s just driven Longhorns into a canyon and they’ve come out the other end Herefords.”

But anyway, a big part of moving cattle is keeping it boring. Not only that but it helps if they know you. So every day, I, and whoever was ‘the Dog’ would walk through every batch of cattle we had. Indeed I’d often take a little bit of feed with me. When I mean ‘a little bit,’ I’m talking a couple of pounds for a batch of sixty or so. It reminds them that you’re one of nature’s nice people and worth following in case you might spontaneously produce more of the stuff for them.

I’ve regularly moved thirty cows with their calves at foot just by walking among them with the bag, then out of the gate and along the lane with Jess quietly trotting along at the back making sure the laggards kept up. If she’d been able to close gates behind us, it would even have saved me having to go back to do that later. This is from Jess’s earlier career when she had proper cattle to play with and wasn’t reduced to putting fear of Dog into sheep for a living.

But when you’re dealing with cows and calves, the problem isn’t the cow, it’s the calf. The cows are, in a vague sort of way, rational. When they set off at a run you can normally pinpoint the stimuli which provoked it. With calves they can just do it for no reason whatsoever.

The problem with calves running is not only that they are fast, but they’re not really bothered about directions or destinations, but are concentrating entirely on the running. So they can blunder through fences, end up in ditches and generally cause all sorts of problems. Not only that but as the dog tries to turn them they can run straight over her, or alternatively, they might stop abruptly, tentatively sniff the dog’s nose and then run wildly in an entirely different direction.

Once they start running, the only real solution is to put Mum back in the field, let her restore order and then bring Mum and calf out together.

Then you have the problem of gateways. Twenty of them will troop quietly through the gateway with no trouble, and one calf will somehow miss the gap and stand facing the hedge bawling for Mum. And Mum is standing on the far side of the hedge bawling back. Something like

“Help, help, I’m lost, I’m trapped, I’m alone in the world, doomed, doomed.”

And from the other side of the hedge, “So help me, don’t you make me come in there or you’ll be sorry.”

“Doomed, doomed, there’s no way out, help.”

“You wait ‘til your father gets home, we’ll see what he has to say about it.”

At the same time the dog is standing there muttering, “I can see why they eat grass, everything else is smarter than they are.”

So the solution to this problem is for a human to very quietly edge the calf along the hedge until it can see the gate again. If you’re lucky the calf will move slowly, a few steps at a time, and finally inspiration will strike and it’ll follow the others. If you’re unlucky it will set off at speed in some random direction and you’ll have to start the process all over again.


And in case you want more tales of Border collies and real life, have you read



Winter fence posts and a tired dog


In an ideal world you’d knock fence posts into the ground in winter or spring. This is because the ground is still wet and is comparatively soft. Not only that but because the ground is soft you can use a fence post with a larger diameter. I admit it’ll take more knocking in, but it’ll last longer so you might not have to replace it as soon.

Again, in an ideal world, if you have to knock fence posts in during the summer, you’d have a few slimmer ones about. Because, and I’m sure you’ve worked this one out for yourself, the ground is dry and hard.

Alas, it is not an ideal world. But then you might have noticed this for yourself. So we had a few cattle who tiptoed through the hedge and over the fence on the other side. Before I put them back in the right field I had to string up a breast wire, and that meant I had to hammer some posts in. Sixteen of them, and even with a steel bar to make a preparatory hole, it was harder work than it really needed to be.

So with the fence fixed, the cattle had to be collected from the next field, taken down onto the lane, along the lane and back into the field they should have been in. A simple enough task.

But cattle are more individualistic than sheep, and faster moving. Luckily I was on a quad, and Sal is a dog who can cheerfully run at 30km per hour, looking back over her shoulder to see if you’re keeping up. (She really shouldn’t, one time she ran into an elderly ewe and they both looked remarkably put out by it all.)
But we started the cattle moving, and between us, Sal and I sort of kept them in a group, and sort of kept them moving in the same direction. Then the inevitable happened, one decided not to play. She just put her head down and ran in a direction of her own choosing. Jess, who knew her trade, might have spotted it about to start its mad career, and if she got chance, would have restored order by a sharp snap to the nose. But by the time Sal had realised what was happening, the heifer was off.

So Sal and I set off after it. Sal managed to get ahead of it and turn it, and then it started running in a different direction. Again Sal and I set off after it. This is where the quad shows its mettle. It doesn’t get tired and you can just pull quietly ahead of the running animal. Eventually the heifer decided that it wasn’t as much fun as she thought it was going to be and turned back to her mates. Sal and I followed her back to the rest of them them, got them out of the gate and they thundered along the road and into the proper field. Job done.

We got home and normally Sal will stand somewhere in the middle of the yard with an expectant expression. This is the expression of a dog who rather hopes something else interesting is going to happen.

On this occasion she just flopped down next to the cattle trailer that serves as her kennel with a little sigh, and watched me put the quad away with a look of relief.

Given the amount of running she’d just been doing, I can see her point.


You might want to meet the lady in question


Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”