September 2019




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10th September


Taking advantage of a glorious autumnal Sunday, Hubcap and I set off for a place neither of us had ever been before: Burnby Hall Gardens & Museum at Pocklington, near York. We had no idea what to expect, and were amazed and delighted by what we found: nine acres of immaculate gardens and woodland surrounding a large man-made lake, home to a National Collection of Hardy Water Lillies and a great shoal of voracious carp. Neither of us had ever seen anything like the frenzy of gaping, pleading mouths that appear whenever you approach with some fish-food (on sale for £1.20 a pot – we bought four!). The fish literally climb over each other’s backs to get at it – no wonder some of them are so enormous – and will even take pellets from your hand; it’s quite a spectacle, as the picture below shows, and the resident population of doves and moorhens are just as happy to gobble some up.


The gardens were created by Major Percy Marlborough Stewart, (a descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough and Earls of Galloway, relative of Winston Churchill, and author of the splendidly-titled Around the World with Rod and Rifle), and his wife Katherine, who lived at the Hall from 1901 – 1962. A childless couple determined not to be dull, they undertook eight world tours between 1906 - 1926 and amassed a great collection of ethnographic objects and curios, many of which are on display in the small museum. I found the sad, stuffed remains of numerous animals shot by the Major distasteful and upsetting – I abhor trophy hunting, and knowing that it was ‘the done thing’ by gentlemen of his class and period does nothing  to lessen my disgust – but it was some compensation to see the diary of his brother Herbert Galloway Stewart, tutor to the family of Tsar Nicholas II, with its first-hand account of the start of the Russian Revolution.


Nonetheless, despite his animal-slaughtering proclivities, Major Stewart was clearly a decent chap who, on his death in 1962, (his wife predeceased him by more than two decades), left the house and grounds to Pocklington Council for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.


The building now contains council offices and the Registry Office, and the gardens, restored by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, are open year-round for a gift-aided admission fee of £6.10 for adults (standard £5.50) and £3.45/£3.10 for children. We thought that was great value for money, because there’s lots to see and do for people of all ages: lovely walks, mostly on level ground, around the Victorian Garden, Rock Garden and Stumpery, some delightful and very tasteful garden statuary (like the delicate wire-mesh fox pictured below), a children’s playground, nice café and gift shop, plus a programme of special events – we had the additional pleasure of hearing a brass band concert as we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around and feeding the fish and birds. Highly recommended!


26th September              Helmickton Goes Solar!


Renewable energy is hardly a new idea – people have been harnessing the power of sun, wind and water for millennia for everything from drying and preserving foodstuffs to colonising new countries. And I’m delighted to report that, thanks to some works on our roof over the past couple of weeks, we’ve finally climbed onto the bandwagon! First we had a Velux window installed on the north-facing slope to light and ventilate our loft - over winter, we plan to upgrade the insulation, plasterboard the ceiling, fit some shelves and racking, and use the space for the pleasantly traditional purpose of storing foodstuffs like apples from our orchard at Beckside. Then we brought in Ecocute, an excellent company based literally down the road from us at Newmillerdam, to install a set of solar panels on the south-facing slope, and a battery storage system in the loft.  


Ecocute differ from a lot of firms in that they employ no salespeople but deal directly with customers, enabling them to keep prices low and offer some staggeringly good deals. We got


12 photovoltaic panels (as many as our roof can hold, as the photo shows), plus the wonderful high-tech Soltaro battery and logger, all associated electrical works, and Solarman monitoring software, installed in around six hours for the very modest sum of £5790 - and we didn't even need to have scaffolding erected, which made the job much quicker and simpler. (The images below show the other hardware - dump-meter, feed-in tariff meter and AC isolator under the fuse-box in the kitchen, battery and inverter on the gable wall of the loft, and software graphs showing power generation and consumption on the laptop; you can also download an app to monitor the system on your phone.) To our surprise, the panels even generate a trickle of power on dull or rainy days, which pretty much off-sets our very low usage, while in full sun they produce a lot more electricity than we use – which initially charges up our battery, then supplies power to the National Grid.


We’re not expecting to make much money from our panels, given the present negligible feed-back tariff; nor indeed to save much money, given that our average daily usage only costs about £1 - £1.50. (Yes, our fitter told us that we’re the lowest electricity consumers he’d yet met, probably because we don’t - and never will - have energy-guzzling appliances like dish-washers, tumble-driers or massive home-entertainment systems!). But what we will get is ‘free’ hot water for the summer months when we don’t light our multi-fuel stove, and the daily delight of seeing what our energy generation equates to – so far, we’ve planted 0.05 virtual trees (in addition to our thousands of real ones!), and saved 0.02 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, in the space of just three, largely rainy, days. So we’re just thrilled with our system – it’s great to think of the panels sitting up on the roof, sucking in sunshine, using it to power our house and reduce our carbon footprint – and very happy to recommend the friendly, knowledgeable, efficient team at Ecocute if you’re thinking about going solar yourself.

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