Monday, 17 August 2015

Wild Swimming

One of this summer's favourite frugal activities has been swimming. Wiltshire Council kindly provides free swimming for kids during the summer holidays, and we've made good use of the offer. 

This year the kids have also enjoyed wild swimming. Not in Wiltshire, but in the East Dart at Bellever, Devon, and further down in the River Dart itself at Newbridge, towards Ashburton -a really popular swimming spot.

It was icy cold water and both kids quickly concluded that wetsuits are definitely needed for river swimming in England. That was why I couldn't be found in the water. Rivers are just as enjoyable when you're sitting beside them, enjoying the sound of the water flowing swiftly over large granite stones and the play of the light as it shines through the trees.

Wild swimming has really become a 'thing' over the last few years - locally, a swimming area on the Avon not too far from here has become very well known, although we have yet to make our way there. With the help of Grandad and the Internet, Son seemed to easily find grid references for the two Dartmoor swimming places we visited - both were safe (as in, not too deep) and the water looked clear and fast flowing enough not to be harbouring any nasty diseases.

A good introduction to wild swimming, and certainly something we (or some of us) will pursue.

Do you know any good spots for wild swimming near where you live?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Two of your Five-a-Day...inspired by GBBO

Two weeks ago I told you about my bloggy collaboration with Fabrizio from, a website that promotes products produced by monasteries. Fabrizio sent me two food items produced by monks in Italy to use in recipes of my choice. 

The deal was that in return for receiving the edible products, I would link to the Holy Art UK website. I've already told you about the cream tea we enjoyed using the Italian gooseberry jam. The second item was a beautifully packaged bar of chocolate, Il Cioccolato Di Roma, no less. So delightfully packaged that we almost didn't want to eat it. Once we'd opened the chocolate it did seem a shame to cook with such an objet d'art, so we ate half of it as it was, neat. Unsurprisingly it was delicious.

What to do with the other half?

My usual policy is not to get involved in reality TV shows that will sap hours from my life and that promote the culture of celebrity. It's the holidays though, so I broke the rules and accidentally watched the first episode of The Great British Bake Off last week.

Maybe the reason I don't watch reality TV shows is also because they are so emotionally draining. I know it's 'just a cake' as Husband reminded me several times, but I couldn't help but shed a tear when the woman whose non-setting chocolate mousse filling showed her sloppy chocolate cakey mess to the judges anyway. And as for poor musician Stu (who was the first to exit the competition) and his creative cakes that didn't impress...The best way to show solidarity with him and his Black Forest Gateau made with beetroot, was to make one too.

Not a four layered thing, that would be just too extravagant, but Jamie Oliver's Epic Chocolate and Beetroot Cake (you can find the recipe here) sandwiched with creme fraiche and cherries. Beetroot and cherries makes two of your five-a-day, and with no flour or additional fat (other than that in the chocolate) required and a relatively insignificant amount of sugar, this cake can only be a good thing...

In deference to the GBBO, I asked for feedback on my 'chocolate work' decorating the top of the cake. "I don't think you can call melted Italian chocolate spread around with a fork 'chocolate work' ", said Son. I guess I won't be entering any baking competitions soon, but the cake was still scrumptious or even, to use Jamie Oliver's description, epic. Thanks to the grated beetroot it's very rich, moist and chocolatey. I did have to buy some Co-op dark chocolate to top up the Italian stuff to the volume required in the recipe. (In fact the Italian chocolate was Al Latte and probably wouldn't have been dark enough on its own (so it really was a good and useful thing that we ate the other half on its own)).

This is a cake to be savoured slowly, just like Il Cioccolato di Roma.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The RE-giveaway winner and Tilley hat love.

I promised that I'd draw a number out of the hat for the Simple Living Handbook re-giveaway if Kathi from Florida, the original Simple Living Handbook giveaway winner, didn't reappear. She didn't. If she ever does I promise I will make it up to her. 

I got one of my kids to draw a number out of the hat. The number was 9. Commenter number 9 (if you take away a duplicate commenter) was Louise Houghton so Louise is the winner this time! Pleeeeease drop me an email via the blog's email ( with your address, Louise, so I can post the book to you. 

That's my Tilley hat in the picture. One of my favourite possessions. Tilley hats are not cheap but last year I invested in one (and it was truly an investment at nearly £60) in the interests of good sun protection. Usually I'll scrimp and save and look for the secondhand or cheapest option but sometimes it's worth spending out, especially when personal health is concerned. And Tilley hat owners must be a loyal bunch who hang on to their hats - you won't find many bargains on eBay. I was also after, once and for all, a hat with a brim that doesn't flop around and which doesn't blow away in the slightest gust of wind - the Tilley stays firmly put and even has adjustable strings for extreme weather conditions. 

Tilley, a Canadian company, pride themselves on making good quality products "handmade with Canadian persnickitiness", that last. Their hats come with a life-time guarantee - worn-out hats will be relaced for a small fee. A letter in a recent Which? consumer magazine from a Tilley hat owner praised them for successfully replacing his hat after 18 years.  

I'm hoping that this is a case where the initial investment will be outweighed by the fact that I will never ever need to purchase another sun hat again and so it will work out to be a frugal choice in the long run. I just mustn't lose the hat. 

What also swayed me in my decision were the environmental credentials of my particular hat - the Tilley 'Mash-Up' - it is made of 70% recycled hemp and 30% organic cotton. It's not a flashy hat - it's simple, eco and I think frugal. That's how I like it.

I'm curious - what items are you prepared to spend more on, in the hope that they will last well and save you money in the long term?

All opinions my own - this was not a sponsored post in any way.

Friday, 7 August 2015

RIP Chickens

A sad blog post, this. You can maybe tell where this is leading.

Not to beat about the bush, a fox took all our chickens. Yes, ALL five of them, the four ex-commercial hens and our original white hen Yoko. In one night. Without eating any of them. Just lined them up neatly and disappeared.

We were devastated. Two of us cried our eyes out at the sheer brutality of it and at our own part in the situation. One of us momentarily reversed her position on fox hunting. 

For various reasons Husband had left the door of the chicken house open that night. Despite the gate of the supposedly fox-proof chicken coop being shut and the fact that we have only twice in five years seen evidence of foxes in what is a small, town-centre allotment site surrounded by roads, this fox persisted and clawed through the chicken wire.

Poor chickens. The only consolation is that Yoko had a good life of at least five years, and the ex-commercial hens had a longer and happier life than many other commercial hens.

We are going to give the land a rest for now, and maybe resume chicken-keeping again some time in the future. 

RIP Chickens

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Simple Living RE-giveaway...

It often happens with the Giveaways on this blog...the winners disappear. That's what happened with the last one which was for a book called The Simple Living Handbook. In the interests of summer decluttering, I'm going to re-give it away, with the usual rule that if the original winner Kathi from Florida resurfaces in the process of re-giving it away she reverts to being the winner. I guess it just makes it all the more exciting. As if a Simple Living book giveaway was not exciting enough already, that is.

So here you have it - here's the book:

And here's what I wrote about it before:

"It's a quick read (two sittings for me, and I usually take ages to finish a book) in a very colloquial style (Lorilee was a blogger at LovingSimpeLiving and most of us bloggers are not professional writers). Although it's not the most comprehensive simple living book, it covers many aspects, not just the decluttering of 'stuff'. The author's approach to life is clearly informed by her strong faith and that may not be everyone's cup of tea.

I sometimes think that I'vc had enough of reading about frugality and simple living, but in a world where it is still something of a counter-cultural lifestyle choice, I want to be kept inspired and affirmed. A different perspective on things can be motivating."

If Kathi doesn't come forward and you'd like to be in with a chance of reading this book, just comment on this blog post by 7pm (GMT) on Sunday, and I'll stick all the names in a hat. Open to all readers worldwide. If you do comment, please don't forget to come back afterwards to see if you've won! Good luck!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Labyrinth love

I do love a good labyrinth, and summer provides the opportunity to visit two of our favourites. 

Seaton Labyrinth in Devon - image from

Often confused with a maze (which has lots of opportunities for wrong turnings and retracing your steps) a labyrinth has a single path which winds its way back and forth to the centre. At times you feel that you are on a path that surely leads in the opposite direction from your goal. 

It takes patience to follow the path assiduously without cheating. In fact, what is the point - why take twenty minutes to walk around in circles? Well, aside from being a place within which to keep a minotaur, labyrinths have often been used for contemplation and quieting the mind, and even as part of worship. Surprisingly, in our 'have it now' world that values short cuts and quick fixes, labyrinths have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years (I think both of our labyrinths are millennial). Maybe they really do speak to something deeper within us.

Son inside the willow labyrinth at Bradford-on-Avon -
harder to cut corners on this one because you can't see the centre.