First frost of winter

Hello lovelies hope you are all wrapped up warm and toasty this morning. I got up and looked out of the window, only to discover that all the car windscreens are frosty! Unfortunately, the sun is low in the sky but really strong so if there was any frost on the blades of grass, it has melted and they all just look soggy/damp. Hello, world, this is not photogenic! So instead of sharing beautiful landscape photographs, I’m going to will the postman to bring my new tripod sooner, and I’m dreading that moment in twenty minutes when I have to put my tea down, cast off my blanket and venture out into the freezing cold world and cycle to my work placement (we still don’t have a car).

Frozen winter meme cold winter is coming Elsa
I don’t own these images. Top: Disney. Bottom: CNN

What’s the world looking like where you live? Is it winter there yet? Let me know in the comments (and link me to any photos you’d like to share! I love seeing people’s photos)!

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Mysteries and Histories of Newgrange, Ireland

I slept like a log last night.  Do logs actually sleep?  How do logs sleep?  Like me?

This is Newgrange, a Neolithic site in Ireland that was on my 30 list, which I visited in June when I went to Dublin to see The Who (I recently re-read that article and I’m glad I waited to write this one because I wasn’t making a lot of sense back then).

All the photos from Newgrange came out very, very brightly, because the light was doing something strange here.
All the photos from Newgrange came out very, very brightly, because the light was doing something strange here.

Archaeology:

Newgrange was constructed around 3,200BCE (it’s 5,000 years old; BCE means ‘before common era’).  It’s a chambered passage tomb in Neath, Ireland, about 40 minutes drive up the road from Dublin Airport.  It is ringed by kerbstones, most of which are carved.  The site was previously filled to the top with soil and remains (I have no idea what they were remains of), but in an act of Archaeological Stupidity, it was cleared out in the Victorian era (Ireland did also call the time period this because they were under British occupation at the time) so we don’t have as much evidence as we would like, so archaeologists can’t really say what was going on except that it was a chambered passage tomb.  Which I said already.

It’s mostly risen to significance in the last hundred years because of an interesting phenomenon:  For a couple of days before and after the winter solstice (December 21, midwinter), every year, when the sun rises, it shines in through a hole above the doorway and shines on the floor of the tomb, making it a clever way to mark the passage of time because it marks an annual event.  You can get entered into the lottery that they draw to get a ticket to see it in December but you’d have to make your own way there and you’d have to go alone because the lottery is per ticket.  I went alone but I’m not sure I felt like repeating the trip in the middle of winter and I have to wonder how many people win a ticket then don’t show up for whatever reason, causing other people (who would have turned up) to miss out.

Why does it only do it on Solstice?  Because the Earth is tilted, and it’s orbit around the sun is slightly elliptical, so the sun appears to move position in the sky to different heights (in its second dimension, it rises and sets on one plane and lifts and falls on another; see the diagram below) at different times of year.  In Ireland, in winter, it’s at its lowest during the winter solstice, so the rest of the year, it’s too high in the sky to shine through the hole above the entrance to Newgrange.  In summer, it’s got further to travel than in winter, so the days are longer (actually, we’re the ones travelling, but it’s easier to think of it this way if you’re stuck).

I just drew this to show how the sun appears to move across the sky at different heights at different times of year.
I just drew this to show how the sun appears to move across the sky at different heights at different times of year.

Why go to all the trouble to build something so big just to mark the passage of time?  Well there’s a few reasons (if we’re assuming this was its only purpose which is doubtful due to the human remains that have been found inside), but it’s mostly to do with the fact that during the Neolithic (when Newgrange was built) most of the world had transitioned to agriculture – in fact, these days, we define “Neolithic” as happening at different times around the world depending on when the onset of agriculture was, nothing at all to do with stone tools or fire or whatever.  The Neolithic fits into our current “age system” for prehistory (was the “three age system,” but sort of expanded now) like so:

Palaeolithic – Was “Upper Stone Age” (really long time ago, all of human prehistory until 10,000 years ago)
Mesolithic – Wasn’t a thing, now defined as between 10,000 years ago and the onset of agriculture.  The time of the “hunter-gatherers”
Neolithic – Onset of agriculture.
Iron Age – Discovery of and use of iron.
Bronze Age – Discovery of and use of bronze (an alloyed metal)
Historical – documentary evidence of events in the past.

These “ages” are debatable and the time we reached them differs around the world and particularly how they are defined differs around the world as different cultures view different events as being pivotal moments in their past development.  It is fairly likely that Newgrange, then, was built without the use of iron and was built by people who were living in an agri-culture.  Because this is really all we know about them, it has been put forward and agreed upon by many archaeologists that Newgrange’s function as a big calendar probably has something to do with needing to keep track of the time of year for purposes such as planting crops.  This, of course, would depend on what sort of agriculture was taking place because there is always a bit of an assumption that agriculture has always looked the same since it was first brought to the West, but we don’t actually know that to be true (and are gaining evidence that this is not the case – a topic for further discussion at some point perhaps).  Evidence for agricultural practices has pre-historically been difficult to find although advances in bioarchaeology might move us forward with this if people start seeing farmed land as legitimate archaeological sites instead of just looking for settlements.  Anyway…

I’m not using “absolute” words because you can’t point to anything in the past and say it’s a fact or an absolute truth, because it’s all down to whether we’ve made the correct interpretations of the evidence or not, and while scientific methods can reduce the margin of error, they can never fully eliminate it so most of the time we can’t construct those elaborate “histories” or narratives of the past that people like to hear with any great amount of accuracy.  Which sort of defeats the original point of archaeology if we’re to believe it was ever really about finding narratives of the people from the past in the first place (which I don’t believe, I believe that came later).

Enough Archaeology!  Show Me The Photos:

On the approach. The darker stones to the left are original, the whitest ones are part of a reconstruction.
On the approach. The darker stones to the left are original, the whitest ones are part of a reconstruction.
The entrance to the actual tomb, from almost straight-on (at a slight angle so you can see some contrast in the pic because the sun shines directly on it).
The entrance to the actual tomb, from almost straight-on (at a slight angle so you can see some contrast in the pic because the sun shines directly on it).
The opening through which the sun shines around the December solstice.
The opening through which the sun shines around the December solstice.
The corridor leading to the chamber in the heart of the tomb (photography not allowed inside).
The corridor leading to the chamber in the heart of the tomb (photography not allowed inside).
Another interesting structure nearby.
Another interesting structure nearby.
The site is still disappearing into the landscape and becoming one with its environment, making it hard to get a good picture from a distance.
The site is still disappearing into the landscape and becoming one with its environment, making it hard to get a good picture from a distance.
Many of the rocks were carved in the Neolithic, into intricate patterns that many call "Celtic."
Many of the big rocks (kerbstones) were carved in the Neolithic, into intricate patterns that many call “Celtic.”  These carvings would probably have been done with flint (a type of stone) tools because there were no iron tools yet.
Rock art in one of the rocks forming the outer back wall.
Rock art in one of the rocks forming the outer back wall.
A side view of Newgrange.
A side view of Newgrange.
A tumbledown farmhouse near the site. I thought it was particularly beautiful.
A tumbledown farmhouse near the site. I thought it was particularly beautiful.
A closer picture of the old and reconstructed stones.
A closer picture of the old and reconstructed stones.
A shot of Newgrange taken from the Visitor centre.
A shot of Newgrange taken from the Visitor centre.

The Tour:

It was remarkably short but still enjoyable.  For the fact I’d waited so long in line and on the bus and for the tour to start, I thought there could have been a lot more made of the age, construction, and archaeological finds (by contrast, the tour at Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh is fantastic, if you want an out of the way and mysterious site to visit with a damn good tour, go there).  Most of the information I gave you in “archaeology” was stuff I had researched as part of my archaeology final year dissertation (and never used, because I decided to stick with British Neolithic sites).  There were also too many people visiting for the size inside the tomb, and the guide told the taller people to get to the back (which is fair on the shorter people, and usually I’m all for this, but when the taller people are then unable to see much, it’s just a bit unfair).  It was stunning inside, but there was no photography.  More annoying still, there were no photos of the inside of the tomb available to buy in the gift shop, all the pictures focussed on the light on the floor or this one specific rock with carvings in it.  For you, dear readers, I did sketch while I was in there.  Forgive my crude drawings; I got a D in GCSE Art and when I did my degree, I only did archaeological drawing for 2 days then I dropped it because it was the stupidest course I ever went on, and everything we learned there had no real use in a situation like this (y’know, an actual archaeological site).

This was done inside the main chamber. The roof (bottom right) was from standing in the middle of the central atrium (see pencil arrow) and looking straight upwards.
This was done inside the main chamber. The roof (bottom right) was from standing in the middle of the central atrium (see pencil arrow) and looking straight upwards.  The zigzags and swirls were copied from some of the stones in the three chambers.

Given the way that the sun was behaving, and the fact that I went two days after the Summer Solstice (midsummer’s day) I would like to put forward, based on the evidence of my own eyes, an additional theory about Newgrange:  That it wasn’t originally just a winter calendar, but also a summer one – there’s a straight up and down arrangement of rocks (see my drawing) with a capstone which may not have been original, through which, I’m fairly sure the sun could have shone in from above if the capstone hadn’t been in the way.  So perhaps, since it was full of soil and overgrown when people found it back in the Victorian days, the whole thing was repurposed and filled in at a later date (when the capstone went on)?  I don’t have any hard evidence of this, just my drawings, but it seems entirely possible to me.

A major redeeming feature of the tour was that the guide was open in admitting  that we don’t really know much about Newgrange – there are all sorts of theories and ideas bouncing around in the academic and “fringe” circles, but at the end of the day what they’re all lacking is any kind of evidence.  Some people (not archaeologists, I hope,) make it their life’s work to concoct plausible stories for big sites, using the least amount of evidence (a grain of truth to support their lies, if you will), and the most amount of drama, fantasy and “inference” (in quotation marks because it’s not so much inference as ‘making it up to get on the History Channel’), and sadly these versions of things run around the world before we can research, get evidence, assess context and investigator biases, consider reductionism, and all the other things that need to be done to support an idea about the past.  I’ve been to a few “historical sites” and found the guides to be reiterating as “facts” some complete gobbledegook that has no basis in evidence at all.  I found it very refreshing that what little the guide did tell us was all clearly stated as interpretation and she did tell us what those interpretations were based on (and why we don’t know more) and I think there’s a middle ground between “we just don’t know” and “a wizard did it.”

Accessibility:

There is no disabled access to the actual Neolithic tomb of Newgrange itself.  This picture is taken at the entrance, this is as far as you can get if you’re not pedwardly mobile:

There is no disabled access to the tomb of Newgrange.
There is no disabled access to the tomb of Newgrange.

Tickets must be bought at the Visitor Centre not at the site, and there is a walk and a bus ride between the Visitor Centre and the site.

Newgrange 3

You must get there early.  I got there before 9:00am and went on the first  tour of the day, and this was the queue already for tickets when I arrived:

This was before 9:00am and there was about 30 people inside the building who I had to wait behind before I got to the ticket desk.
This was before 9:00am and there was about 30 people inside the building who I had to wait behind before I got to the ticket desk.

Buying tickets:

When I visited, the combined ticket was the same price as the separate tickets for Newgrange and Knowth, so you may as well go to Newgrange first (because that sells out) then decide whether that’s enough chambered passage tombs for you or not (I decided it was enough for me but then I’d been up for 2 days and that always kills my attention span).  Ticket for Newgrange cost 6 Euros.  Check opening times and do some Googling before you go so you don’t miss out on the significance of this site.

Ben Lomond? More like Ben SNOWmond!

Having just got back from climbing Mount Snowdon, I thought I should write up my ascent of Ben Lomond from early April.  I’ve written this from beginning to end rather than as a “travel piece” as I wanted to share some useful information about the climb.

Ben Lomond.
Ben Lomond.

Ben Lomond is 974m high and it’s a Munro but it’s not even in the top 10 highest mountains in Scotland – which starts with Ben Lawers at 1214 metres high, which is over 200m higher than the highest mountain in England (Scafell Pike, 978m), as a reference. Ben Lomond is only 4m lower than Scafell Pike, so I thought Ben Lomond would be a better climb since S.P. was an abortive mission back in February due to flooding and the whole of Wasdale (where S.P. is) had given me a VERY eerie “get out” kinda vibe so I was in no rush to return. Also Ben Lomond was on my ORIGINAL 30 list before I subbed it for S.P. when I posted about my list as I thought it was unfair to England if all the mountains from the UK were from Scotland (and one from Wales). I retract this wholeheartedly – Scottish mountains are just the absolute best in the UK, seconded by their milder friends, the Welsh mountains.

Scottish mountains are like dogs – they’re so excited to see you and boisterous and so much outdoor fun (but they can bite you); Welsh mountains are like rabbits – they’re very mild mannered and friendly, but they’d never eat you unless you looked like a carrot (but they might nibble); and English mountains are like cats – they just refuse to co-operate even when you bring them treats, and insist on hanging out in hard-to-reach places.

It started off in Rowardennan car park, which is on the East side of Loch Lomond.  To get to the car park, you have to drive to take a left at Drymen (Rowardennan is signposted) and drive up a very long country road with forest on one side and Loch Lomond on the other.

Parking was fairly cheap, although, being early April, it was still the off-season when I went (which surprised me as I’m used to the tourist season starting a month earlier, in March, in England).

There is a set of public toilets that are near the beginning of the route, and these were excellent with benches to sit on to put boots etc on since it was drizzly raining outside.  I decided since it was drizzling to go up in my trainers.  My husband went up in his walking boots, which he has had since about 1997, which were a poor choice as they have cracked, hard soles.  His feet got wet before mine.

A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets.  I wondered where it led, but couldn't get it opened to find out.
A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets. I wondered where it led, but couldn’t get it opened to find out.

The initial climb is in a straight line and everything seems easy if somewhat steep as you get up past the treeline.  Then, out of nowhere, it makes you choose a path, left or right, neither of which seem to be going UP the mountain.  But that’s okay because the summit straight in front of you isn’t Ben Lomond, it’s the taller one to the left that looks like it’s on a separate mountainside (because it is).

So it’s very important to go left here, otherwise you will spend a VERY long time being lost.  When we climbed it, starting at about 7am and ending around 11am, it wasn’t teriffically busy.  We were literally the only people on the mountain until we started our descent, so if anything had gone wrong we would have been a bit stuck.

I Considered the Evidence for The Fauna of Ben Lomond

As soon as we started on the left hand path, we were suddenly attacked by a very very harsh strong wind and it still drizzled constantly on this bit.  Loch Lomond was on our left at this point.  We kept going and saw loads of what we thought was dog poo, although since seeing so much of it that looks the same, I think it must have been fox poo.  There are no wolves in Scotland, as they were hunted to extinction, so it definitely wasn’t wolves.  Which was odd because all the poo was larger.  This probably doesn’t matter to most readers, but being an archaeology graduate, this did bug me, so I did some research and found two possible animals – the Scottish Wildcat, or a special red-fox subspecies (a giant red fox breed) called Vulpis vulpis vulpis (it’s apparently much larger than the standard red fox vulpis vulpis crucigera).  This giant red fox is apparently only native to Scotland.  Since there was also plenty of what looked like giant oval-shaped rabbit poo, I inferred that the giant rabbit poo came either from deer, because sheep do similar droppings, or mountain hares.

This theory was borne out when we turned a corner slightly and came face to face with two grazing deer.  They must have heard us coming but they still seemed surprised, and only ran off when my camera made it’s “beep beep beep beep” turning on noise (the MOST annoying thing when trying to photograph ANY animals at all as it always makes them move).  So we could tick that mystery off as solved (although I was disappointed that it wasn’t mountain hares, but you can’t be TOO disappointed because deer are soooooo adorable).  We saw quite a few other deer out and about at this time of the morning, so I think the droppings probably weren’t from mountain hares.

Shortly afterwards, I saw an interesting-shaped rock on the ground.  It was a pentagon, and it was almost regular, which was amazing because it was clearly done by natural processes such as weathering – there were no cut marks on it at all!  This was not evidence of animal activity, but it was still an interesting feat of nature so I took a photo.

An interestingly shaped rock.
An interestingly shaped rock.

We reached a gate thingy then we went along another path for quite a while, then we went through a second gate where we soon found a sign that said Ben Lomond.  We joked with each other that we must have reached the top -although we knew full well that this was clearly the start of its prominence.  The prominence is the part of the mountain where it’s not part of another peak, mountain etc, which is almost always lower than its elevation.  When people talk about “Ultras” or “Ultra Prominents” they mean mountains whose prominence is over 1500 metres, but that just means that 1500 metres or more of the mountain sticks up above all the rest of the mountains in a group or the rest of the land if it’s on its own.  The first “Ultra” on my list of 20 mountains is Arcalod, in France.

Are we there yet??
Are we there yet??

We carried on past the sign and the drizzle remained stopped but the wind started to blow worse, after a little while I took this next picture of the view, it’s the last picture I got before we came back down.

This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.
This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.

Those clouds moved VERY fast, the wind must have been blowing them across, and we then fought with side winds of over 60mph and some very vicious hail at one side of us.  There was no shelter from it, as Ben Lomond is a very exposed mountain, and we basically had to climb it with one hand covering our left ear to protect us from the 60 mph hailstones.

Whiteout in April

As we trudged ever upwards, we discovered that the snow we’d seen from below was actually made from these same hailstones that were attacking us – millions of them combining to form icy snowlike stuff, covering the surfaces more and more, until a bit where we needed to scramble (a climb not long or steep enough to require rope) up a 20 foot section and suddenly the ground was totally white.  The path was just about visible.  Then as we kept going the path disappeared completely, and it stayed like that with the biting hailstones and wind, which my husband found he could sit backwards on, and be kept upright (literally, he was sitting as if he was on a chair, and the only thing holding him in place was this strong wind).  We were frequently being blown sideways and progress became very very difficult, until we finally got to the top.  The wind and hail were awful, and I couldn’t get my phone out to take any photos because I was afraid it would get blown away.  All the “respect the mountain” type information goes on about taking an ice axe and crampons, but I don’t think they consider that these aren’t the ONLY solution or the ONLY things you need to take up a mountain, because the main problem was the wind and the velocity of these sharp hailstones, they would have just been dead weight in my pack.  I think the crampons at least would have been useful on the top but they wouldn’t have solved the worst difficulty which was not being able to open your eyes because of the barrage of projectiles.  It was like being repeatedly shot in the face with an airgun, and we both had a lot of redness and bruising on one side of our face from our ascent (and I had the lower half of my face covered with a cotton scarf for protection).  There was no view, just hail in our faces causing a total whiteout, so we didn’t linger, and turned back, making our way back down the mountainside a lot more quickly.  The wind and snow stopped again when we reached the Ben Lomond sign (peculiously) and by this time of the day, the path we had climbed was now covered in water and we were paddling back down the mountain.

My face on the way back down.
My face on the way back down.

Mountain Survival

I didn’t really feel much of a sense of achievement because it was mostly a survival issue from before we reached the summit (the top):  The temperature was about -10 and we needed to get down to the tree line as quickly as possible before hypothermia set in, because I’d brought my standard winter gloves instead of my amazingly protective +3 Gloves of Snowboarding (I’ve never snowboarded, I have them for when I go to the Alps).  Standard gloves are fine for normal ground-level snow (when you’re not at any altitude) or for hill walking, but when you get over about 700m above sea level, I would strongly recommend using skiing gloves or snowboarding gloves (not those shitty thinsulate ones) as my hands went numb in my gloves!  It’s good to learn the exact limitations and appropriate times for equipment from experiences such as this though – as I said when I didn’t get to the top of Scafell Pike, sometimes you learn more from what you FAILED to do than what you did do, because you can often see what you need to do next time.  This time, I failed to take appropriate gloves, and I can now see exactly when I need thicker gloves (and when I went up Snowdon, I did NOT make the same mistake, and I will never take the wrong gloves up a mountain ever again).  On the flipside, I was glad I took my trainers and not my snow shoes because they are lightweight and flexible and don’t cause me excessive ankle strain or leg tiredness, and in fact keep my feet more comfortable because I get too hot in big boots.  I find that while all the respect the mountain type people have a point that walking boots are a good choice of footwear, I strongly disagree that they are “essential” for any of the non-technical climbs in the UK.  I have struggled to complete mountains in boots (I wore my snow boots to do Scafell Pike because it was February and I would have needed to wear them with my crampons except there was no snow on S.P. in Feb) because as my grandma used to say, “heavy boots weigh you down” and I find I can walk much further, climb higher and balance better in trainers.  Different strokes for different folks.  There’s more than one way to climb a mountain.

On the way back down we took a different path for a small section where we ended up climbing down a waterfall which was awesome and really pretty:

The second waterfall we climbed down.
The second waterfall we climbed down.  Going round would have been just as slippery and also muddy and therefore less awesome.

Farewell, Lovely Trainers

This was the footpath on the way back.
This was the footpath on the way back.  It’s underwater at the front too, just a different depth.

The streams on the descent were the first point my trainers got wet, but ultimately it was their death toll because we had nowhere to dry them, since we didn’t check into a hotel for another day, so they went mouldy or something, and I washed them twice in the washing machine when I got home, but they just had to go to the bin in the end because they smelled absolutely foul.  Ben Lomond might have been their swan song, but they were a very good pair of trainers and they got me up and down the mountain with no blisters or anything.  While some very expensive walking boots would have kept my feet dry (cheap ones generally don’t), I didn’t really have a problem with getting wet on the descent.

Back at the car, I changed into my jelly sandals so my feet could dry out while I drove us to the Loch Lomond entertainment complex (there was an exciting adventure with a dog cafe).  I think the whole climb took about four and a half hours up and down, because we set off at about 7am and got to the car at 11:30am.

The next day, we checked into our beautiful hotel (we were staying in our car camper around Loch Lomond, which is really hard as there are major byelaws so you have to follow the rules or risk getting a big fine) and I found for the first day that it was hard to walk down the stairs because my leg bones just under my knees were really swollen and couldn’t bend properly on stairs!!  I had done loads of training and particularly built up the muscles around my knees but my bones seemed to let me down.  I do have a problem with them anyway ever since I bruised the bone on one leg (and the swelling tore the skin right open – I have a very sexy scar on one leg because of it) a couple of years ago, when I fell down the stairs and landed with my full body weight on something sharp with my shin.  The other leg seemed to get compression problems from being walked on for six weeks straight because I didn’t take a single day off because it happened during teacher training and if you take more than three days off (at all) you fail it at the training provider I was attending.  As an aside, my childhood dog died two weeks later at the ripe old age of 16, so I took a day off for that instead.  I will write an article on Dillon one day because he was the best dog in the universe.  But that was all 2 years ago.  The bone pain from mountain climbing went away after a few days, although I’ve got it again today, the day after climbing Snowdon.  I will have to look into this at some point.

Phew, I’ve FINALLY posted about this trip up Mount Ben Lomond. Expect another mountain post about Snowdon very soon.  I am aware I keep saying I climbed Snowdon yesterday, and the date stamp will say this was published on Wednesday, but it’s going to be posted just after midnight so when I say yesterday all through the start and end of this blog post, I mean Monday, when I climbed Snowdon.  It’s only taken me all afternoon to finish writing this post what with seeing the (private not NHS) psychiatrist today and everything else!

[rabbits] How to keep hot, happy bunnies over winter

Ideas for keeping your bunnies warm, and how to move indoor bunnies outdoors or outdoor bunnies inside:

Sometimes the weather gets cold. Like, really cold. As you know, rabbits love to go out whether it’s rainy, sunny, snowy, windy or foggy. Rabbits just love to play. Pet rabbits are different to wild rabbits because they do not have the same ability to keep warm in the cold – particularly if they don’t have a very large run. Wild rabbits keep warm by running fast over entire fields and by snuggling up underground in big groups for warmth. They sleep during the day when it is warmest and they come out at night when it is coldest so they can keep themselves warm in the chilliest time of day. Domesticated rabbits lack a lot of these instincts, and can become uncomfortable in the cold, so you need to help them out a bit.  Also, older rabbits can get arthritis so it’s essential for any bunnies over 6 years of age to be kept toasty warm in winter.

A bit of frost never stopped Katie and Fifer.
A bit of frost never stopped Katie and Fifer.

Here are some ways you can keep your bunnies warm during cold weather:

1. Heat up a brick: Get half a house-brick and put it in the bottom of your oven after you’ve finished cooking dinner, while the oven cools. When the brick is warm, put it in the rabbit’s housing. I never put bricks directly in the hutch, but in the shed where the hutch is kept, to warm the air and so they have the option of snuggling up with it but aren’t forced to keep going past it every time they want to leave the hutch. If you only have a hutch and no shed, however, put the brick in one corner of the hutch, moving the food bowl if necessary so they can lie next to it. Don’t put it in the private sleeping area as this should remain undisturbed as much as possible (see below).

2. Give them extra straw: During winter, rabbits like to build a big snuggly nest in part of their hutch. Females especially love to do this. Make sure they’ve got lots of straw available to do this (but don’t put it directly in the nest – they like to build it themselves), and try not to disturb that part of the hutch – they probably won’t poo in there until Spring.

3. Fill their water bottles or bowls with warm (not hot) water: This will mean that if temperatures go sub-zero, their water will take much longer to freeze, because there’s more temperature to go down. Team this with a thermal bottle cover and it will take an extremely low temperature to make ice out of their water.

Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop.
Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop, has bulked up for winter to stay warm.

4. Give them extra food: Only a bit, mind – you don’t want fat bunnies! Extra food gives the bunnies more energy which they will need to keep themselves warm. Staying warm burns extra calories – just ask any mountaineers – so the extra food is very important.

5. If it’s really cold, or if it’s snowed heavily, bring your bunnies in periodically to warm them up – at least once per day. This will enable them to fight the cold and you will get a chance to check them over and make sure they’re healthy.

Katie wishes it would snow more so she could build a snowman.
Katie wishes it would snow more so she could build a snowman.

6. When you check your bunnies, check their bottom for mud build up. Rabbits who have been playing outside in the mud sometimes get a shell like coating of mud around their bum and back legs that needs cleaning off ASAP to avoid skin and fur problems, especially if they’re old and can’t or won’t clean themselves.

7. Cover their hutch with a blanket: even if their hutch is in a shed or conservatory, covering it with a blanket will ensure they don’t get too cold. Make sure they still have ventilation, though, otherwise carbon dioxide will build up which can kill them.

8. Protect the hutch from the wind. Either situate it so it’s touching the house (but not where any guttering might leak onto it) or so it’s touching a fence. Ideally, make a double-skinned hutch by getting a small shed and putting their hutch in it, take the hutch doors off and improve the shed with some extra platforms.  This would keep them warmest of all, if you can’t have them in your house.  It also means they have lots of play space for days when they want to stay in their indoors.

Katie and Fifer's hutch is in the brick shed in the background, to keep it extra warm.
Katie and Fifer’s hutch is in the brick shed in the background, to keep it extra warm.

Katie and Fifer used to be one of our two pairs of houserabbits, and used to play outdoors about six to ten hours a day, but one day we expanded their outdoor play space and they’ve refused to come indoors since (they literally hide under their wendy house – although they do also love playing in the whole garden when we let them out of their run).  All the photos taken are of them in their run, which is pretty huge.

They didn’t like being cooped up in the living room without a constant supply of fresh grass, so even though we have read lots of articles about how rabbits are best suited to living indoors, we have decided it was the right decision for this particular pair of bunnies to move them outdoors.  We repurposed a brick outdoor shed and took the downstairs doors off their two storey hutch so they had 24/7 indoor outdoor access.  They have been a lot happier since then, since they don’t have to wait to be put outside anymore and if it rains they can go into their hutch now instead of under their wendy house.  Banacek and Cleo, on the other hand, hate outdoors and run straight back inside when we try to get them to go out into the garden, so we would never move them out permanently and certainly not in winter.

I have been told and read from a number of sources that if a bunny was kept indoors last winter, they should not be put outside the next winter, and vice versa.  This is not true, you just have to make it a sensible, managed move that takes their needs into consideration.  Cleo used to be an outdoor bunny and lives indoors now, and Katie and Fifer moved out in September.  You can’t just throw them out in a 3 foot hutch and expect them to cope.  Be aware that they may be surprised at the temperature difference, make sure their hutch is snuggly warm and cosy, and that they have a constant supply of hay and fresh water (especially when it snows as this covers up the grass and plants).  If they are coming indoors, they might honk, circle and generally display sexual behaviour (even if they’re neutered) as bunnies think it’s spring when their temperature suddenly and prolonged increases, and their hormones all come out in their behaviour.  It passes after a couple of weeks.  Make sure indoor bunnies have a cooler part of the house to retreat to for those times when they get too hot as rabbits don’t cope well with heat either and don’t adjust very quickly.  The main thing is to ensure your bunny is happy.  If they’re happier outdoors, put them out.  If they’re happier indoors, bring them in.  If they like both, get a cat flap and show them how to use it.

What do you do to keep your rabbits warm and toasty in winter? Do you move them indoors or let them get accustomed to the weather?

How to build an igloo

So with all the boxing day snow we’ve been having, I decided to show you how to build an igloo; we built this in our drive in 2013:

1. Get some large plastic boxes:  Recycling boxes or storage boxes will do just fine for igloo building.  A packing crate isn’t very good as it’s not very strong and the sides are full of holes so the snow falls out instead of making solid igloo ice blocks.

This is the sort of box we used for the first layer - it's a 70 litre plastic box.  The lid wasn't much use.
This is the sort of box we used for the first layer of igloo ice blocks – it’s a 70 litre plastic box. The lid wasn’t much use.

2. Fill the boxes with snow.  Pack the snow down in the box to make giant bricks of ice.  You will need to repeat steps 2 and 3 a lot to make an igloo.

These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards.  I don't know where they're from - my OH was using them to store Lego before this.
These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards. I don’t know where they’re from – my OH was using them to store Lego before this.

3. Tip the boxes upside down in a circle (leave room for an igloo door) and pat the bottom to get the snow-bricks out (see picture):

This was the first layer from a different angle.  We left loads of room for the doorway.
This was the first layer of blocks for the igloo from a different angle. As you can see our first box cracked and we used a smaller one for the igloo’s other layers (which made our igloo really strong). We left loads of room for the doorway.

4. Once you have a complete layer, do the same above – but don’t line the bricks up (think about how brick walls are built), and make sure the ice blocks are facing slightly inwards so your bricks eventually meet at the top.

This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point.  The igloo doorway was improved with bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.
This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point. The igloo doorway was improved with ice bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.

5. At the top of the igloo, you have two choices – some people prefer to build a capstone out of ice, to stop everything from falling apart.  Otherwise, leave a hole in the top to let air in.  We left a hole in the top of ours.

This is what it looked like when it was nearly finished.  The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in it over night and to keep cats out while we were building.
This is what our igloo looked like when it was nearly finished. The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in the igloo overnight and to keep foxes out while we were building.

6. We used polystyrene and wire mesh to support the door of our igloo because the size of our ice blocks (and the ambient temperature being only -5 or so) meant the whole structure may have collapsed if we hadn’t used any support.  Smaller boxes (than 70 litres) or hardening the blocks of ice using cold water would have both prevented this problem, but it wasn’t cold enough for water-hardening the ice blocks and they just melted when we tried it.    For the amount of time we put into building this igloo, I was very happy to complete it and didn’t worry too much about it being 100% Eskimo-worthy.  Whether you end up with a perfect building made only of ice or not, you will feel damn proud when you go inside your finished igloo.

This is what the finished igloo looked like.  It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.
This is what the finished igloo looked like. It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.

7. Now admire your igloo.  Can you sleep in an igloo?  Definitely!  We camped out in ours with some roll mats and a double sleeping bag and it was surprisingly cosy (although we did this wearing serious layers).  It also confused the neighbours which was hilarious.

This is the finished result.  We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year.  Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another one in our new house (and get some better pics)!
This is the finished igloo. We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year. Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another igloo in our new house (and get some better pics)!

8.  Take plenty of photos and share them with me via Twitter @invokedelight so I can see your awesome creations!

Have you built an igloo?  Share your igloo pics with me on Twitter!  Who needs an expensive package holiday to Iceland?  You can do this in your own front garden!