Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dovecotes of the rich and pious

Before the snow came and marooned us in our cottage we had been out into Worcestershire, catching up on National Trust properties which are too small to spend much time at individually.

First port of call was the 16th century half timbered dovecote at Hawford. Originally part of a wealthy monastic grange, the dovecote now stands alone, neatly tucked away between handsome detached houses in this peaceful hamlet off the A449.

We walked around the place twice before I discovered the double doors were open and disappeared from OH's view! 

Inside was actually cosy, with brick floor and half timbered walls standing on a small sandstone wall.  Despite an opening for a ladder, there was not one there up to the other levels, and with floorboards missing it would be dangerous for visitors. 

I love these mini buildings, and can imagine them with an inglenook fireplace to one wall and woodburner at full pelt, warming the whole place through. Although they would never have been heated, it makes a nice thought!

As I can't find out much about Hawford monastic grange, I can only imagine it is no longer around because of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monastries. 

There is no parking at Hawford, and the dovecote is a short way up a private road, which you can walk up but not drive. Vehicles are tolerated on the grass verges in the nearby lane.

Our next building was across the river Severn, and a hundred years into the future, the 17th century Wichenford dovecote.

Another half timbered cute property, this time with a picturesque brookside setting, and again just off a private access road.

The surroundings were stunning

We will have to revisit in Summer, this is just too pretty!

Here, the doorway made me feel gigantic, poor OH had to squeeze himself in. The floor was raised too so it was quite a step up.

(had to throw these boots when I wore them in snow the other day as the sole had split, I'd worn them so often, ah well, several years and £20 so not too bad) Spot the £1.95 Kipling bag!

That's quite a step (OH in his Merrell trainers which were too ugly until he tried them on, £8 CS find and comfy as walking on air!)

Inside, all of the 560 little nesting areas were still present, and someone at the National Trust has spent ages making paper doves to fill the spaces

As there was an impressive cupola on top for the birds to enter, this dovecote had more light inside, despite the tiny door.

One last view of the gorgeous half timbered exterior and we were off

We had lunch outside the parish church and drove towards our next property, the largest and possibly oldest tithe barn in England, 14th century Leigh Court Barn, managed by English Heritage.

Leigh Court Barn is huge, a whopping 140 feet long, 33 feet high and 34 feet wide. It was built around 1325 (dated by style of carpentry and radiocarbon dating). There are two pairs of huge doors on both sides of the building

Here, you can just see the walls bowing, the foundations are inadequate to support the building and it has now been underpinned to prevent collapse, although the brick infill would originally have been more lightweight wattle and daub.

Apologies for the blurry shot, my phone is not good at low light photography, however, it makes the woven panels easy to see.  The above doors would be opened on both sides when grain was laid out, and the wind would help sort the wheat from the chaff.  

These huge cathedral like arches of oak are stunning. There are nine pairs of solid oak cruck timbers, in effect the ribs of the building, holding it all together.

 As you enter the building, to the right is an area for cider making, and judging by the size of the equipment, they made a lot here.

The barn was originally part of the Leigh Court grange, or monastic farm, belonging to the monks of Pershore in Worcestershire, and here they stored grain grown on their land.

The steep sided roof is originally thought to have been thatched

The view from the other end of the barn is just as spectacular, and it was a sunny day with the low winter sun helping to create a warm glow through the barn.

These wooden pegs have been in place for 800 years, holding everything together

Despite being in the care of the National Trust and English Heritage, all of the above properties are free to enter usually during hours of daylight, but as they are not manned there are no facilities at any of them.

I'm quite pleased with the photos as my camera of choice is my new toy, a smart phone, and a cheap one at that. I decided to bite the bullet when I ended up spending my £10 per six month pay as you go top up in one afternoon trying to sort out a problem with the rental. I realised the phone could be offset against my business, and it has been worth it so far, despite the frustrations of initially getting used to it, saves me lugging my camera around and I always have it on me.

Just one pennypinching purchase to share this time, and it is this pretty bracelet in shades of grey, just 50p and from Denmark. The company is called Pilgrim (kind of fits with the monastic theme to this post!).

Of course it goes without saying that my Christmas shopping is all done, and at minimal cost but with maximum thought.

When I discover a quick way to get photos from my phone to my blog I will be back on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sloe gin, sloe gin...

It's that time of year when I feel I should be out in the hedgerows, gathering all the free food Mother Nature has to offer.

Not this year.  But, we did crack open a bottle of 4 year old sloe gin the other day and it was rather potent and very warming!

So I thought I would share my recipe with you, no point in buying that expensive shop bought stuff, when you can make great sloe gin at home for a fraction of the price. 

You will need some cheap gin, I use Aldi gin, tastes great anyway but is cheap, bottles or glass jars to brew your gin in, and sugar, lots.

Collect your sloes, they are the fruit of the blackthorn, a plum related bushy tree which grows to a height of around 25 feet. Beware, blackthorns have huge thorns and can grow suckers, which means they can be thick and bushy around the base, you will invariably get caught up in the thorns as you scramble for the fruit!

 Sloes are about the size of your thumbnail, they are bitter to the taste and have a large stone in the centre, they also have a white bloom.

Don't bother picking wrinkled ones, and watch out for infested ones too, some insects like to burrow into ripe sloes. Most old recipes state that you wait until first frost before picking your sloes, no, just pick your sloes and put them on the freezer overnight after washing. This also makes the next stage, pricking them, easier. 

I use a long needle to prick sloes, a bodkin. I hold each one up between finger and thumb and skewer straight through twice, then pop into the chosen container. Mine are these old Tip tree bottles.

Fill your chosen container two thirds full with sloes. Pour over lots of granulated white sugar and tap gently so the sugar gets into all the crevices. Pour enough sugar in to just cover the sloes. Then fill your bottles with cheap gin! 

Now comes the hard bit, put those containers in a dark place and shake occasionally for a couple of months, decant the liquid off into another container, preferably a bottle this time, and enjoy!

Some folk use the gin soaked sloes and cover them in chocolate, I'm afraid I just squeeze them and throw them out.

As an aside, here's Joe Bonamassa singing about the very stuff!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Day trippers

One day a week OH and I pack a picnic and go off somewhere, if you've been with me a while and have a long memory, you may remember my weekly posts about our little trips out. 

As the OH is a big lover of all things Cotswolds, he persuaded me that we needed to visit again. I was after a particular treat from one of the little shops there, so it seemed a good idea.

First stop was Hanbury in Worcestershire, for a cup of tea and a breath of fresh air accompanied by a stunning, albeit misty, view.

 Thankfully, as we headed south the weather brightened and soon the sun was shining gloriously in a deep blue sky.

We ended up in Chipping Campden, a small market town in Gloucestershire, noted for its 14th to 17th century high street. Tip: during school holidays you can park on the school car park for free.

The walk round to the high street from the school is interesting, past St James church and the cart wash, a small museum dedicated to Arts and Crafts, and some rather gorgeous private houses.

I love these gatehouses, or pepperpot lodges as I believe they are called, originally the  entrance to Campden House, a grand country home built by Sir Baptist Hicks in 1613. Unfortunately, it was burnt to the ground thirty years later, and only parts remain, as well as a trace of the gardens under local fields.

The local almshouses

Not seven, but eight!

Random village house with fab stone mullion windows and hay feeders by the front door

The market hall

It's difficult to tell from the photos, but the floor of the market hall is incredibly uneven, but it is still used for stalls occasionally 

Top of St James' church

We found the little food shop we came to visit and bought ourselves a Christmas treat, proper marrons glace, expensive but proper!

It was like stepping back in time as the shop only takes real money, not cards. 

Back to reality and I've been looking for a pair of ankle boots for a while, scouring eBay with no luck. Popped into my local chazza the other day and...voila!

Faux leather Chelsea boots, brand new!  They are only supermarket ones, Aldi I think, but were mine for £3.95 and brand new. I've worn them three times now and they are waterproof and warm.

Another Aldi purchase now, but not second hand.

Both the OH and I love Jelly Belly beans, but they are expensive. I happened to buy some of Aldi's own brand a while back an they are mouthwateringly good!

They were on offer the other day, down to just 89p a bag, oh go on then!

As I'm the not-so-proud owner of a new smart phone (not a ridiculously expensive one!) I'm tending to take all my photos on it at the moment, I think they all look OK, and I'm even able to crop them and everything, ohh get me!.

 hope everyone had a safe Hallowe'en and bonfire night. 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Flour, trains, beaches and samphire

Our last day in Norfolk and it was time to explore the local area. The village of Weybourne has a windmill, which is nicely visible on the horizon as you approach. unfortunately it no longer produces flour or turns.  It looks pretty though.

So we headed off in search of a working mill. and soon found one.

Just past the nearby town of Holt on the A148 we discovered signposts to Letheringsett mill, a fully operational watermill dating back to 1802.

It cost just £3 each to go in and look around and the miller himself was on hand to answer any questions. There was a vast array of flour in the little shop, flour for every occasion it seemed, and a fellow visitor sought advice from the miller regarding her baking needs.  We took the tour and wandered the floors of the mill unattended. 

I do love a good mill, such a powerful beast of a building to supply our daily bread, our food staple. I find the ingenuity of the buildings awe inspiring.

The above drawing shows the layout of the workings

Orders ready for shipping or collection

 The millstones

 Source of all the power

The business end!

After a pleasant couple of hours we headed back to the chalet for lunch, on the way we stopped at the local steam railway station, Weybourne, conveniently next to train buff and former Prime Minister John Major's house. 

 The station has starred in many a TV programme due to it's proximity to London and period restored buildings

Him indoors was delighted to find it was the local railway station in the sitcom Dad's Army where it doubled as Walmington on Sea station

After lunch we drove down the coast again, in search of fresh samphire to try for tea.  We retraced our steps along the coast but before we got to Cley, where I had seen the colourful samphire displays, we came across Salthouse, a small seaside village between Cley and Weybourne. We stopped by a duckpond and I bought some beautifully succulent looking samphire from this little house for £2.50.

Photo courtesy of Google street view.

The samphire looked delicious, and I couldn't wait to get home and try it.

Onwards, we drove around, recounting some of our steps and taking in all the views of Norfolk that we could, trying to remember every detail.

Back at the chalet, I found out how to cook samphire ( blanched in boiling water for a few minutes then tossed in butter) and we had it with pizza. I loved it, it was tender and succulent, OH hated it, as he does all greens!  There was so much in the bag we bought that we were able to bring it home in the cool bag, and as several of the pieces had roots attached, I have some now growing in a pot.

After tea we once again spent a couple of hours on the beach, albeit with heavy heart. Norfolk had been a pleasant surprise and we were blessed with great weather.

   Goodbye Norfolk, you have been relaxing, surprising and enjoyable!