Monday, 3 August 2015

Has it stopped raining yet?

A piece of artwork on the Latvian/Estonian border
depicting the Baltic Way when thousands of Estonians,
Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands from Tallinn to
Vilnius to show their solidarity with each other in the
face of the Soviet Union.

It rained a lot this week (and no I’m not expecting a lot of sympathy from my British friends who apparently have had really rotten weather this summer), it just means that normally I wouldn’t have much to write about, because heavy rain all day means not a lot gets done. This time it is different. We noticed that the forecast was pretty grim and so we organised plenty of visits instead. Why sit around in the caravan moaning about the rain when we could be out and chatting with people?

Brahma chickens, these are seriously huge, maybe even
bigger than our broiler chickens
Our first visit was to someone who first visited us to see our alpacas. He and I spent more time talking about what he was doing and Latvia in general than looking at the alpacas. I was interested in his story of how he came to be a beef farmer when he had actually trained as a mechanic at the university. He started out with just 5ha (12 acres) of land and now maintains about 140ha (350 acres), not all his, as some is rented. Impressive for someone who only reached the age of 30 years old this year. His support came from his family and other young men doing something similar, but mainly in his attitude and desire to do something productive with the land. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. His mother and wife also put together tea blends from herbs and berries they grow themselves that they mainly sell in gift packs at Christmas time and they gave us a pack to take home. The Latvians are indeed a generous people when you can connect with them.

My supervisor and his wife were paying a visit to Latvia and we travelled up to see them. It has almost become an annual tradition. There have been some changes at their place in the meantime. The last time we went it looked like The Battle of the Somme, there was so much mud everywhere from excavations to re-create the ponds that had become little more than swamps over the years. A winter has passed since that time and now the ponds are full. Amazing how much water can be collected. In fact they overflowed in the winter. The areas around the ponds are also beginning to grass over and to cover up the scars made to the landscape. In some places it is hard to think there was ever any earthworks done.

Some of the border crossings between Latvia and Estonia
are tiny and quite picturesque. Just a sign on a country road
We arranged with a neighbour of ours to look after the animals for two days and then took off to Estonia, as you do. We wanted to meet up with a guy I met at a conference in Tallinn earlier on in the year. He and his wife run a horse therapy place and a sustainable education centre. It was fascinating talking to someone who runs so many different projects, using the various different skills he has, in order to make a living and to carry on doing the work he enjoys. He encouraged us to try many different things, rather than one big project, as this is more sustainable in the long term. Schools work, workshops, small gift shop, working with the unemployed etc. Big projects have a habit of suddenly ending and then leaving people with a gap and no income, small projects can run side by side and as one small one finishes another one can fill in the gap. At least that is the plan. Many of the ideas we threw around seemed a little more feasible. We also stayed overnight in some guest accommodation they have and ate loads of pancakes.
The border
We stayed in the little house on the right. The steps I
presume are because of the straw bale floor to keep the
place warm. The walls were thick and despite the
inclement weather the little room was cosy and warm.
We weren't sure what to expect, so had gone with
sleeping bags and blankets in case it was cold
(more pictures and website here. All in Estonian though
but they speak good English if you ever fancy a visit)
We did have one minor hiccup in meeting up. The guy we were due to meet sent me an email when we were already on the road and as I phoned to confirm we were nearly there, he explained he was on his way to pick up his tractor, which had just been fixed and he wouldn’t be around for another three hours. He explained that we could go to the nearby town of Paida, as there were things to do there and shops. We first found a little coffee shop to while away some time as it was still raining. Estonia seems to do coffee shops, not necessarily something that is easy to find in Latvia outside of Riga. Our village has a bakery and coffee shop, but not all do.
The outside toilet made from cob walls and green roof
A donkey hut and a chicken house in one. The walls
were laid on a sandbag base and built from cob and wood
After a little while it stopped raining so we took the advantage of a little walk around. Ian was in Heaven, there were so many shops with DIY equipment and a shop he had been wanting to visit that had workwear. We came away with two masks for when Ian deals with hay, as he is worried that the dust is affecting him, a pair of socks for him and a pair of winter work gloves for me. Not quite your everyday trip to the shop, type shopping, but the sort we tend to do now if we get the chance. With the threat of more rain we headed back to the coffee shop to wait until it was time to head to our destination once more.
This is inside the little hut, the donkeys
sleep at the bottom and the chickens
in the floor above, just under the roof.
The skylight lets in light
A close up of a cob, wood and bottle wall. Sorry no pictures
of alpacas that we took, it rained so we went inside and
then talked a lot. They have pictures on their website though
Amazingly enough, our next destination was only 25 minutes away from our first stop in Estonia. It wasn’t planned that way, it was just how close the two places were that we wanted to see. This time it was to an alpaca farm. The people who run this farm, which they had only been doing for about 18 months, had set up an Estonian Alpaca Association and were trying to encourage good breeding of alpacas to maintain fleece quality. We were interested in trying to foster some Latvian and Estonian cooperation and they were keen to do the same. We both recognise that alpaca breeding in both countries, at the moment, is very low and to encourage good husbandry would require some joint initiatives to arrange training. We swapped information on feeding, processing and just generally talked alpacas for about four hours. All too soon it was time to wend our way home.
One of their animals from Wile Farm website
gallery (link here)

I would love an outdoor kitchen like this one. It has a pizza
oven in the corner
On the way home the skies cleared and so our rainy days were over for the time being. On the way back we stopped at a restaurant I had stopped at before on a couple of my many trips back from Tartu. From one of the tables an English accent wafted through the air and our ears pricked up. Sometimes Ian will have a chat with such folks to see where they are from and what they are doing in Latvia, but there was no way he was going to with this gentleman, we were so embarrassed. He was rude and tried to joke with the waitress, but his joke was just confusing and made the waitress feel uncomfortable. He was also very loud. This was no youngster who had still to learn his manners but an elderly gentleman, who time had not taught wisdom or humility. At least I felt a sense of accomplishment when I managed to do the whole of my order without resorting to English at any point and even Ian managed most of his. We even got a smile from the waitress.
Deluxe straw bale and cob rabbit
accommodation. They should be toasty
in there in winter
The walls have symbols created from different coloured
clays. They are such organic looking walls, not perfectly
Saturday I had to do some catching up on work that I need to have done for deadlines and although I got off to a slow start, things picked up when I realised I was actually further on in my work than I remembered. Little by little I am whittling down the list of things that need doing, before I set off on my travels again later on in the month (and goodness me it is August already, where has time gone?). Sunday was playing catch up with the garden too and I finally dug up the garlic. Normally it is ready much earlier and although one or two of the plants looked like they would have benefitted from lifting earlier, many looked just perfect – and some were huge. Finally veg is beginning to appear. The flowers on the beans are showing signs of turning into beans and there are loads of peas to pick. It has been such a slow year.
Another cute looking building made from wood and cob
This is a photo taken from a previous
visit. It has lovely granite walls.
Today I thought I had a dental appointment and so arranged to visit a castle beforehand, since we were in the area, with someone who could tell us about the history of the place. As it turns out, I had got mixed up and my dental appointment is tomorrow, but it worked out quite well as it meant we had far more time to look around, have tea in a café located in a walled garden and then pizza before heading home. What was only going to be a trip of a couple of hours, turned into an all day affair. The castle, in a place called Cesvaine, was meant to be shut, but our guide asked some people and we got a chance to take a tour, they only charged us for the tour and not our guide, even though he wasn’t working for them. The café, similarly should have been shut, but someone turned up in the garden of the place and let us look around the shop and made us tea. None of this would have happened if we had gone on our own, as we wouldn’t have dared to ask and I don’t think people would have understood either. Our guide has a gentle way of asking and people were very accommodating. The castle also had a textile exhibition that was held in rooms that had been badly damaged in a fire a few years ago. Much of the castle is being restored, but these rooms still require a lot of work. They made fabulous, dramatic backdrops though for the textiles. If anyone wants to see them, they are open until October.

So, as you can see, we have sunshine and that means the
fly numbers have increased. It might have been a cool
summer and everything is late getting started, but that has
meant it has been relatively bug free so far. Ian had to resort
to the bug net to keep the flies away from his face when
cutting the grass though this time.
So a quite different week to one that would have been expected with the weather and now summer has arrived, at least for a week according to the forecast and that means back to some hay cutting to cut the remaining grass. We don’t need to bale this for feed, it might do for bedding or it might do for insulating projects of which we have many ideas for over the last week. It still needs cutting though and so as I write, Ian is walking up and down with the two-wheel tractor with its sickle mower attachment. There will be a few more hours of that over this next week before he is finished. I must now go and pick peas before we go home too and before our little kitten starts to try and join in with the writing. 


  1. I was very interested in the cob structures. We have a little cob colony not far from my home where they teach the technique. We had a chance to visit and I, too, love the organic feel and practicality of this building method.

    1. One day I am sure we will have a go with one of these structures


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