Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Selborne and Gilbert White

Gilbert White was born in Selborne, a small Hampshire village, in 1720 and he lived there for the whole of his life. He was a country curate and also a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. His claim to fame though is as the first real naturalist and his book The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne was originally published in 1789. It has never been out of print since and after the Bible, Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress it is the fourth most published work in the English language. This was my second visit to Selborne and on neither occasion have I had time to explore the village and the surrounding countryside properly but at some stage I want to do that. I found an interesting booklet with not only information about Gilbert White and his house but also the history of the rest of the village with a map! As I hope to spend some time looking round and taking photographs at some future date I have just included a few bits and pieces in this post.

This is a page from my copy of the book with a couple of the wonderful illustrations.They aren't the original ones but are hand coloured engravings by artists working at the same period of time. It is mostly a book about his observations of the birds,plants and animals that he saw but it also has bits and pieces about the local people and area and the weather - always a subject of interest to British people:)

This is the back of The Wakes, the house where he lived. It is so much altered and enlarged from when he knew it though that I haven't included any interiors from the guide book. As a building I find it very attractive - full of nooks and crannies, it would be an intriguing house to explore and I feel there would be every chance of the discovery of secret passages and hidden treasure:)

Not only was Gilbert White a naturalist but he was also a very keen gardener and the gardens are now more or less as he had them when he was alive and the plants grown are the ones he would have known. Close to the house are six large beds filled with old roses and both perennial and annual plants.

Happily there is also a 'plant sales' area so I didn't come away empty-handed!

There was a pretty little enclosed herb garden to one side, I would have liked to linger longer here but as I hadn't arrived until 3.30pm and it closed at 5pm I had to go at a fairly brisk pace in order to see both house and garden.

I don't know whether any of you have heard of a haha and wondered what it was - if so all will now be revealed. From the house side the wall is invisible and the fortunate owner has a clear view out over his parkland and/or the surrounding countryside. The wall however prevents any grazing animals - cattle, deer, sheep or whatever - from invading and ruining the garden. The lawn with the sundial is the bottom end of the one that can be seen in the photograph of the house above.

I took this simply because I thought that this small corner with the door made a really beautiful picture. The remaining photos below are of cottages around the village that appealed to me, there is no particular story attached to any of them.

I think the Tudor Stillroom will have to be delayed as we are going over to our seaside home for the week in the morning and there is no computer there. If the weather co-operates there will hopefully be another visit to the Lake District and a visit to the cottage where William Wordsworth lived. If not there will be lots of pictures of a wet,windswept seashore:)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lark Rise to Candleford

Every time I drive to or from Sussex I pass a sign that says 'Juniper Hill Single Track Road'. I've always known that Juniper Hill was the real name of the hamlet of Lark Rise in Flora Thompson's trilogy 'Lark Rise', 'Candleford Green' and 'Over to Candleford. These tell the story of her rural childhood in Oxfordshire in the 1870's and 80's. For anyone interested in family history who discovers a long line of 'ag labs' among their ancestry, this will give a true picture of the hard lives that they lived. Hard does not necessarily translate as miserable or unhappy though, their pleasures were simple and few by our standards today but in many ways they were happier and more contented I think.
I had it in mind that I might turn off and have a quick look at Juniper Hill this time but it wasn't a definite plan - nevertheless when I saw the sign I found myself indicating and turning left into the narrow lane. I expected a longish drive but it was only a few hundred yards up the lane that I saw the sign telling me that I had arrived in Juniper Hill. Almost as soon as I passed it, the road widened slightly so I parked the car there. Almost immediately I was walking past the sign at the other end of the hamlet, it's a tiny place still and I would think that Flora Thompson would still find it relatively unchanged. It was like walking through a door in time into a different world, quiet and peaceful - incredible to think that not far away heavy traffic was still thundering along the A43.

This is the view that stretched before me, I stood in the middle of the road taking photographs and gazing about, the absence of cars was wonderful. I was surrounded by wheat fields scattered with bright red poppies and the reason that Flora called it Lark Rise soon became obvious - there were larks everywhere, soaring up into the clear blue sky.

Very pretty to look at but not really a sight to gladden the farmer's eye!

The roadside verges were filled with wild flowers, among them were these pretty little pink convolvulus. I walked up the lane for half a mile or so then turned back having come to the conclusion that there wasn't much else to see, no real indication of where Flora might have lived although I'd passed various small houses and cottages. I was about to get in the car and carry on my way when I spotted a little notice at the end of the tiny lane on the other side of the road saying Garden - Nursery. I decided to have a quick look and see whether there was anything worth buying. Reader, I never got there! I'd just set off down the lane when a lady appeared from round the bend. 'Are you looking for Lark Rise?' she asked me. 'Oh, yes' I replied, 'does it still exist?' I was invited to go back with her to the end of the lane while she put a notice in the village notice board after which she would show me where Flora had lived.

The lane leading down to Lark Rise cottage........

.....and here it is - it turned out, of course, that my new friend actually lived here:) She and her husband were expecting the arrival of a lady fom the BBC to do an interview and take some shots of the cottage for the local news programme, South Today. I was invited to look at an exhibition of photographs that was in the little garden house and then look round the garden while they were busy. The exhibition was really interesting - old photographs of Juniper Hill accompanied by quotes from the book and then a modern photograph showing how the places look today. It would make a very good little booklet for people to buy and hopefully might appear as such one day. The garden was lovely, a real cottage garden with fruit trees and bushes, a wildflower area and cottage-y borders.

This is the plaque on the front wall of the house.

This is the back of the cottage showing the original part, the garden in Flora's time ended just about where the line of shrubs begin, the rest of the current garden formed allotments. As I wandered back up the garden I was waved over to where the BBC lady was and asked if I'd mind being interviewed! I was fixed up with my little microphone and then I did my bit - unfortunately I have no idea whether it eventually was broadcast or not as I was back home by Friday evening when it was supposed to go out. So I may or may not be a star of stage,screen and radio by now:):) I shall be signing autographs later:):):)
After this bit of excitement Mrs Harvey asked if I'd like to go inside and see the original two rooms and was kind enough to say that I could take photographs.

This is the downstairs room. The fireplace isn't original of course but that is where the fire would have been and the cooking would probably have been done in an iron pot hanging from a hook.

The stairs leading up to

the bedroom. From what I've read elsewhere, ( A Country Calendar edited by Margaret Lane), I gather that there were once two other rooms, one up and one down, even then this would have been a tiny space for a family with five children to live in. I'd like to thank Mr and Mrs Harvey for making my visit to Juniper Hill so enjoyable and interesting - they were charming people who went out of their way to make me welcome.

As I was leaving Mrs Harvey showed me the path through the fields leading to the mother village of Cottisford ( Fordlow in the books) which is where Flora went to school and to church. I walked there and back - a distance of about 3 miles all told. The view is taken looking back towards Juniper Hill. I didn't see a soul the whole way, it was alive with birds, butterflies and wildflowers including the lovely...

...scarlet pimpernel.

The 13th century church at Cottisford. There are no aisles, just the central nave and chancel. It's a tiny church with the lovely old box pews that have disappeared from so many churches now. Flora's parents and grandparents are all buried here.

Sitting in Flora's grandfather's pew where she and her brother always sat, on summer days they could see this view through the open door to help them through the endless sermons of those times.

What was originally intended to be a 15-20 minute visit lasted about three and a half hours in the end - serendipity played a huge part in a wonderful morning. On I went to Sussex and by 3.30pm I was in the little village of Selborne home of Gilbert White. But that is for next time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Here I Go Again

There will be a slight break in proceedings here as I am off to Sussex again until the end of the week. Secrets of the Tudor Stillroom will be revealed at some stage:) I'm not sure where my side trip will be tomorrow, depends very much on the weather which is not looking terrific. See you at the weekend.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Daisy Lupin

I was so shocked and distressed this morning when I learned of the sudden death of Daisy Lupin. She was a wise, warm and talented lady who will be greatly missed by many people.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

First Anniversary

A year ago today Neil and Francesca were married here in our garden - the weather was wonderful and the day was perfect in every way. This is a nervous groom awaiting his bride and an even more nervous minister about to conduct his first ever wedding - he is the bride's brother:)

Here comes the bride - half an hour late!! I think Neil nearly had 10 sets of kittens but there was heavy Saturday afternoon traffic which held them up.

Safely married - and the minister did a great job, his little sermon was both appropriate and amusing.

Inside the marquee - the chairs are all up on the top lawn ready for the ceremony. The ushers did a top class job getting them all back down there while the photographs were being taken. I had two old and decrepit apple trees removed to accomodate the marquee but I informed them that the crab-apple was staying. Everyone thought it made a nice centre piece!

A good time being had by all, in the evening we had a fantastic Argentinian playing guitar and singing - latin american, swing and jazz. Some of the tables were taken out of the marquee onto the two lawns so people could dance, talk or just sit and listen to the music.

And am I glad this wasn't happening today after 48 hours of non-stop rain and a garden that is giving a good imitation of a bog!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Show and Tell

A very short show and tell for this week. This stone birdbath has stood in my garden for 17 years now but it reaches much further back in my life than that. It was bought by my dad when I was about 12 years old and stood in the garden at the front of the house we lived in then and moved with us to the next house when I was 19. My dad died in 1989 and my mum sold the house and moved to an apartment in a retirement complex. That was when the birdbath came to my home - it's a link with my dad and my childhood that means a great deal to me.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Sussex Again

It actually seems ages ago that I did the course on the 16th Century Dairy, I got rather carried away with the posts on Avebury I'm afraid. This course was rather less hands on and more lecturing than previous ones I've done at the Weald and Downland Museum.I still found it very interesting though so I'll tell you a little of what I learned - first of all 16th century cows were much smaller than they are now and they gave much less milk. The quality of the milk depends on the grazing and the first flush of grass in the spring gives the richest milk with a high fat content so the best butter is made at this time of year. Later in the summer the grass is thinner and contains caseine, this gives poorer quality butter but is the best time for making good cheese. One thing that Ruth told us I found really intriguing, I don't know how many of you know or remember the old nursery rhyme The House That Jack Built? One of the lines is 'And this is the cow with the crumpled horn'. Apparently if a calf has a particularly rich and nutritious diet its horns will grow very quickly which results in them being very ridged and this is where you get the 'cow with the crumpled horn'. If the diet is less rich and the horns grow slowly they are nice and smooth.

These are the dishes of cream and jugs of milk ready for us to use. Butter can't be made from the current days cream, it needs to age first though we are talking a day or two not a week or two here:)

To my surprise I discovered that the only implement you actually need to make butter is your hand which is used as a paddle! We made butter this way and it came very quickly so the conditions of temperature and moisture content in the air must have been just about perfect on that day. It really was incredibly easy - 2 pints of double cream and one pint of single cream and off you go:)

This is the better known method using a butter churn, it's very hard work but you can tell what stage the process is at from the feel of it, hardest is when it is thickened but hasn't started to seperate and you can both feel and hear when that starts to happen.

When the butter comes out of the churn the butter paddles are used to squeeze every possible drop of moisture out as the less moisture is in there the better it will keep.

This is the almost finished product. At this point it was known as 'sweet butter' and was for more or less immediate use. In order to make it keep it is salted, lightly for fairly short term preservation and heavily for long term. It was placed in stoneware jars for long keeping and the lightly salted butter was layered with more salt - in this way it will actually keep for a year though it does need washing before it is used.

We've added rennet to the milk and left it on top of the old wellhead to work for an hour or so while we have our lunch. Some was left by the fire inside, some had warm water added and was left on the table inside and some was left out in the sun just to see what the difference was in the amount of set achieved. It turned out that the one in the sun was just about perfect when we got back. The other two needed a bit longer. At this point you have junket. I rather think that this might be the stage where 'Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey' though that's pure guesswork on my part. Cheese is edible at every stage of its making, first as junket, then cottage cheese, then a soft brie type cheese and finally as a hard cheese.

After being 'cut' with a knife to encourage the seperation of the curds from the whey the curd is put into cheesecloth to drain. It's a very delicate process as the curds have to be broken up very carefully and gently to achieve just the right consistency.

Two bowls - one full of curds and the other full of the whey which has been drained off.

This is the curd being put into a cheese press which is as far as we were able to take the process in one day. From this point it takes at least another couple of months to make a good hard cheddar with great care being taken of the cheeses, they are turned daily to start with then weekly and they are regularly wiped over with a clean cloth wrung out in salt water as the rind forms. In theory cheesemaking is quite simple and straightforward but in fact making a really good cheese is almost an art and some are better at it than others.

This is a cheese that was further on in the process, Ruth brought it in to wipe with the cloth and re-wrap ready to be put back on the rack to continue maturing.

I've only just got this posted in time as I'm off to do another course next week - Secrets of the Tudor Stillroom this time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Lady of Shallot - A Diversion

I rarely venture into the realms of poetry here but recently my favourite poem has been appearing in my life a great deal - listening to Loreena McKennitt singing The Lady of Shallot on a new CD this afternoon made me decide to share it with you. I love the wonderful imagery of this poem and the romance of the Arthurian legends of Camelot which it is connected to. For me King Arthur and his knights still sleep in a cave under Alderley Edge in Cheshire near where I grew up, awaiting their call to arms when Britain is in its greatest peril. The Edge is an ancient sacred place which is steeped in legend - my wedding reception was held at The Wizard at Alderley Edge:) There is a wonderful children's book by Alan Garner called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen - it's a perfectly good adult read too and has the Edge and its legends as its background. I've digressed rather a lot here so on to the main event:

The Lady of Shallot
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shallot.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shallot.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shallot?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shallot."

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shallot.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shallot.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shallot.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shallot.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shallot.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shallot.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shallot.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shallot.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shallot.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shallot.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shallot.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shallot.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shallot.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shallot."

The wonderful images are by
1John William Waterhouse
2.Charles Robinson
3.William Maw Egley
4.Denise Garner
5.John William Waterhouse