Thursday, 29 September 2011

Wenlock Edge Farm – A Food Hero from Rick Stein’s List

Rick Stein (one of my personal cooking heroes) did a couple of TV series on Food Heroes.  He visited small producers who were standing out against mass produced food and the pre-packaged uniformity of the supermarket shelves. There was a second series and two books. Rick Stein's Food Heroes and Rick Stein's Food Heroes: Another Helping'.

Among these was Wenlock Edge Farm between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton and lying just below Wenlock Edge itself.  This is typical Welsh Marches country, that land which was Welsh or English, depending on which army was stronger.  Small family farms, interspersed with stands of trees and a feeling of being in a land apart with people who stand on their own two feet and make their own fortunes.

We were attracted to the farm by the tagline that they made ‘proper sausages’.

We love ‘proper’ sausages – fried and served with mash, cooked in the oven with roast veg, in a batter as Toad in a Hole, in a casserole, in a sandwich . . . shall I go on?

It is fun, and a cheap hobby to try different sausages everywhere we go. So far the gold medal goes to Bobotie sausages from a Farmers Market at Horsemonden in Kent. So spicy.

So we bought some Pork, Plum and Ginger sausages which were delicious, cooked in the oven with carrots, onions and potatoes and accompanied by home made fruit chutney and broccoli.

The shop and working space are being rebuilt and they are working in a temporary building at the moment, so hats off to them for making us welcome and allowing us to watch as one of the butchers boned out a piece of pork and tied it ready for roasting. His hands flew and became a blur but I didn’t dare ask him to slow down as he was using one VERY sharp knife.  In the end, two photos were worth sharing.

pork rolling


We asked one of the butchers where the pork came from and he pointed to Wenlock Edge.


Just over that hill there.”  That’s local enough for me.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Shropshire–The Devil is in the Detail

We’re back on Haughmond Farm near Shrewsbury for two weeks.  The weather is glorious with a temperature of 26C or 79F for those who haven’t been converted yet.

On our way across Shropshire in search of other things, we detoured to Hughley, made famous by A.E. Housman in A Shropshire Lad.

He wrote :

‘The vane on Hughley steeple
Veers bright, a far-known sign,
And there lie Hughley people,
And there lie friends of mine.
Tall in their midst the tower
Divides the shade and sun,
And the clock strikes the hour
And tells the time to none.’


Oops!  No steeple and never has been. A.E. Housman had never visited the place.

The church was well worth a visit though, founded in either 12c or 13c, depending on which authority you consult, it has a beautiful rood screen.



After discovering the Three Hares window in Long Melford Church, I was peering at what little stained glass remains and saw this.

Hughley Church

I can’t find anything about the history of the church or this devil – if that is what he is?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

tinker tailor

I remember reading this book as soon as it came out in paperback in 1974. It wasn’t the first in the George Smiley series, in fact it comes near the end but it is the most famous, thanks to the 1979 television series, starring Sir Alec Guinness – known to some of you as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars series.  When we heard that it was being made into a film, we were both sceptical that anyone could replace ‘our’ Smiley.

It’s like watching Dr Who. We all have ‘our’ Doctor and take a little while to accept the new one after regeneration.  Gary Oldman as George Smiley?  We shook our heads and tutted in true Grumpy Old Folks style.

Colin Firth as Bill Haydon?  H’mm, possibly. 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam?  Maybe. 

Kathy Burke as Connie Sachs?  Yes, definitely.

We’re not great Cinema goers, in fact I can’t recall what we saw last or when it was.  We usually wait for the DVD to come out so we can watch as often as we like (and pause it to get cups of coffee when we want them).  This time, though, we decided to make the trek to Batley and see Tinker, Tailor on the Big Screen.

It was well worth it and, in my opinion, it is better than the TV series. Gary Oldman avoided channelling Sir Alec Guinness and, by the end of the two hours that the film ran, he was ‘our’ George Smiley.

Colin Firth was a believable Bill Haydon, arrogant and tortured by turns.  No more than I would have expected from the definitive Mr D’Arcy.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a very lively Sherlock Holmes in the current TV series but his portrayal of Peter Guillam brought out the essential qualities of calmness and determination that I recall from the book, proving that he is one of those rare actors who can stand absolutely still and still project his role.

We went to the 16:30 performance – us oldies, need to get home before it’s dark.  There were about 20 people in the audience, most of them Senior Citizens and as we were leaving there was some chit-chat and it felt like a private viewing.

Oh, before I forget, the 37 year old mystery is solved.  We now know who shot Bill Haydon. 

As RiverSong would say “Spoilers.”

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Sand and Sea–Caister


Rain threatened the day we went to Caister on Sea, near Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast.

I vaguely recalled it as place of sand dunes and wind.  I had remembered it accurately and, with the clouds scudding across the sky, it is as wild as I remembered with a stark beauty which borders on desolation.  Why would anyone settle here?


Photo by A.R.Yeo

But settle they did and a small part of the evidence can still be seen in the middle of a modern housing estate. This Roman Fort dates back to the 1st century AD and there was, later, a Saxon Fort.

The attraction, as it was all the way down the East Coast of Scotland and England, was fishing. Herring was the major catch and, where the fishermen landed, smokehouses, warehouses, and net chambers were built and people settled. By the late 18th Century Caister was thriving.

The sea off Caister is a  treacherous place with shifting sand banks offshore and, when a wind from the North coincides with a high tide, ships can be driven onto the sands and wrecked.

So another industry grew up alongside fishing  – The Beachmen – who watched for any vessel in danger and set out to sea to salvage the ship and, hopefully, save the crew.

In 1794, The Caister Beachmen formed a Beach Company and built a 60ft watch tower to keep a 24 hour watch for shipwrecks.

By the early 19th century, dedicated lifeboats were being established and Caister had its first one in in 1845, manned by the Beachmen.  The RNLI took over in 1857 and provided a second boat.  It was certainly needed.  Records show that on 28th May, 1860, no less that 8 ships were lost on the sands off Caister and a couple of miles down the coast, off Yarmouth, 14 fishing vessels with their crews of 156 men and boys were lost.

Perhaps I should point out that these ‘lifeboats’ were powered by oars and sails and the crews were by now volunteers – as they are today.

In 1901, nine crew were lost while attempting a rescue during heavy seas. At the time it was said, "If they had to keep at it 'til now, they would have sailed about until daylight to help her. Going back is against the rules when we see distress signals like that".

This response was translated by journalists to become the famous phrase "Caister men never turn back".

visitor centre

By the time we had taken a few photos of the threatening sky, the rain was falling so we retreated to the Lifeboat Visitor Centre and were very glad we did. For £2, we were taken round by the two gentlemen shown in the picture above – ex-lifeboat men themselves and treated to a cup of coffee and a sit down while they enthralled us with their tales of the sea.

We came away with a Souvenir Guide at no extra cost, having spent two hours in one of the best Visitor Centres we have ever visited.


We walked to the building housing the current lifeboat and found a volunteer just closing down but she let us in and we got a quick look at the modern boats and this tracked beast of a machine which hauls the lifeboat to the sea.

The most heartening thing she told us was that they have 6 young men training to be lifeboat men and carry on the work.  That puts the tales of lazy youth that we hear so often into perspective.


I’ve written about the treacherous sands but now they are being put to use.  On Scroby Sands, just off shore, now stand 30 wind turbines.  They are 60 metres  (200 ft) high and each blade is 40 metres (130ft) long.  It gives you an idea of the size if I tell you that they are over 1.5 miles (2.5 Km) out to sea.

We left Caister in the rain, pondering the attraction the sea has for so many people, including us.  This quote from John F Kennedy sums it up for me.

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came.”

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Long Melford Church, Alice, and the 3 Hares


Long Melford is a small village on the Suffolk/Essex border. It has a population of 3,675 at latest count, but it has a church which should, by its size, be a cathedral.


Completed in 1484, it is one of the richest ‘wool churches’ in East Anglia.  The wool merchants were becoming rich at this time and building a church worthy of their lofty status was a common way of showing just how rich they were. An ecclesiastical building boom saw competition for building the biggest and grandest church.



Empty niches and blank panes of glass show where Cromwell’s soldiers passed this way.


But some stained glass survived and it is claimed that the figure in this window, The Duchess of Norfolk, was the inspiration for the Ugly Duchess in Alice in Wonderland.

The other quirky thing we found is this tiny roundel set in the window over the North Door.


Three hares and, if you look closely, they each appear to have two ears, but . . there are only three ears.  You can see that it has been repaired since it was damaged during the time of Cromwell.

Of course, to Christians, this represents the Holy Trinity, ’three in one and one in three’, and it appears in many churches.  If we hadn’t been so focussed on The Hounds of The Baskervilles last year, we might have heard of the 30 or so around Dartmoor.

Cave 407

I’ve discovered sine then that the three hares have a much older and more distant origin, the earliest example known is in a Buddhist cave temple in China and dates back to around 600 AD.  It is now believed that it travelled the silk road, appearing in India, then from there up to Europe.  It was on 13th century Mongol metal work, and on a copper coin, found in Iran, dated to 1281, in Synagogues and Churches all over Northern Europe


and has even been adopted as the Coat of Arms of Hasloch in Bavaria.

Why three hares (sometimes believed to be rabbits)?  Well, the experts may rabbit on and on, but the Chinese, Japanese and Mexicans speak of the Hare in the moon, Egyptian myths associated hares with the cycles of the moon.

Who would have thought that a church in the English countryside would yield connections to China and Wonderland.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Sutton Hoo – Myth, Legend and History



A visit to Sutton Hoo, on the banks of the River Deben, has been on my wish list for a long time.

After the Roman Emperor withdrew his troops from Britannia in 410 AD, the power vacuum was quickly filled by tribes from the continent – the Anglo-Saxons I wrote about here.  Within a century, Norfolk and Suffolk had become the Kingdom of The East Angles and ‘England’ was becoming a reality.  Kingdoms, of course, need Kings and this is where the lines between myth, legend and history start to blur.


What we do know is that beneath the 20 or so mounds at Sutton Hoo, important people were laid to rest.  When excavations started in the late 1930s, the outline of a ship was revealed and in it were precious items like the helmet above.


Scholars are mostly in agreement that the burial is that of Rædwald, the first king of whom more is known than his name.

Most of what we know comes from “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” , completed by Bede in 731 AD.  I wonder what he would have thought of being able to buy a copy via the internet?  Or of reading it on line?

The site is in the care of The National Trust, working with the British Museum and a great place to wander round with excellent displays in the museum and very friendly staff.  I’ll just whet your appetite with a few more pictures.





Saturday, 3 September 2011

Calder and Hebble Canal – Elland Lock to Crowther Bridge


This is another beautiful stretch of the canal walked, or rather strolled, on a warm and rather humid day.  The first of September and some of the trees are changing colour already.  Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always rain in Yorkshire and the reservoirs are low so I think dry weather is hastening the changes in the leaves.





The building above, now a day nursery looks like an Escher design!

We left the canal at Crowther Bridge.P1040409

First going under the bridge.


Marvelling at the way the ropes have eaten into the stone.


And crossing back to the other side and the road by a footbridge as the original bridge is no longer safe.

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