Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Through a Gothic Portal

 A shimmering of snow decorates 'The Malverns'.
A solitary bell tolls in its Pugin tower - keeper of sacred memories. But we are here to relax and take a short break.
Shall we first wander the grounds and visit the Jacob sheep to see their pretty spring lambs?
Or should we stroll around the lavender parterres?
Iced champagne awaits us in our room, but there are SO many tempting gothic corridors to explore!
 We have just returned home after an unusual stay in an Abbey near Malvern, which for more than 150 years was home to a closed order of Benedictine nuns. Recently it has been sympathetically refurbished and reincarnated as a country house hotel.

More history and even more Gothic too will follow.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Who Do You Think You Are?

via National Geographic
Ten thousand years ago in the period that followed the ending of the last glacial age, Britain was still attached to Europe. It was joined to the Continent by a large area of land called Doggerland lying predominantly in the area that is now occupied by the North Sea and the English Channel. Doggerland acted like a dam against ever rising sea levels which over time gradually eroded and became reduced to low-lying islands. It is considered that Doggerland was finally submerged following a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slide resulting in the final separation of Britain from Europe. Today an area known as 'Doggerbank' still lies beneath the North Sea, but importantly 'Doggerbank' represents that remnant of land which thousands of years ago once formed a substantial land-bridge across to the European Continent.

Cheddar Gorge via Wiki
Over ten thousand years ago humans crossed Doggerland from Europe and settled in what is now the British Isles. One of the areas was here, in the west country, less than one hour south of our home.
Their settlement was in and around the area surrounding Cheddar Gorge, a perfect place for hunter gatherers to live. Very little is known about these people, but in 1903 the almost complete skeletal remains of a 10,000 year old prehistoric human were discovered - the oldest human remains ever found in Britain. A male, in his mid-twenties still showing a good set of teeth, revealing no signs of how he had died, with a height of 5ft/5ins, weighing 10 stone, and who widely became known as 'Cheddar Man'. His remains were found 20m (65 ft.) inside a cavern called Gough's Cave, the largest of 100 caverns situated within the Gorge
For the last 115 years, Cheddar Man has been in the Natural History Museum, London, surrounded by speculation about how this ancient Britain might have looked, and it is only recently that the possibility of discovering his full genome has arisen. With the ever continuing scientific advances in collecting and understanding DNA evidence, a team of museum scientists together with experts from University College London (UCL) drilled a 2 mm hole inside prehistoric man's skull to gather bone powder from his petrous bone. This is the densest bone in the human body and was, therefore, considered especially good for hopefully having safeguarded his ancient DNA.
A computer generated 3D image of his skull was done and sent to two Dutch forensic reconstruction experts who began the task of modelling his face
The DNA of people presently living in the Cheddar area was taken, some had family links going back more than 400 years in the Cheddar area. Although 400 years is a minuscule period of time compared to 10,000 years it was hoped that some interesting data might be forthcoming.
Whilst the Dutch Forensic experts were busy reconstructing Cheddar Man's features the scientists awaited the results of his DNA test hoping to to be able to confirm his appearance - what colour eyes and hair would he have? Would he resemble a Viking?
When the DNA results were finally analysed they proved to be unexpected and even surprising - Cheddar Man's DNA indicated that he had blue eyes, dark coloured curly hair and 'dark' to 'black' skin pigmentation. This cutting edge research suggests that the lighter pigmentation considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe is a far more recent phenomenon, and...............
................importantly this is now the face that is the representative of the population occupying all of northern Europe 10,000 years ago. 
It was subsequently discovered that the DNA taken from the current population of Cheddar shared at least 10% of Cheddar Man's DNA, as does most of Britain and northern Europe too.
I was inspired to write this after watching an intriguing programme on Channel Four following the research and progress of this project between the Natural History Museum, University College London, and the two Dutch forensic reconstructors.
Cheddar Man via UCL

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Keep Calm and Carry On

As previously mentioned one of my current concerns is the amout of Palm Oil being surreptitiously added to many hundreds of products that we buy. Often purchased unwittingly unless we use a magnifying glass in order to scan the ingredients on the back. Another concern is trying to purchase products without a covering of plastic.  When I was young everything was put in paper bags, and milk came in glass bottles, so why don't they come back? Both of these can be reused/recycled, and will not contaminate our oceans.
However, all of this has suddenly been overshadowed by the current goings on in the medieval city of Salisbury, an ancient place of pilgrimage, and just a few miles away from Stonehenge. Salisbury is not a place you expect to visit and suddenly find that you are confronted with Novichok, a nerve chemical more toxic than sarin, which is now contaminating the town. I wonder how many of the diners in Salisbury on that fateful Sunday, out for an enjoyable lunch or meeting friends are feeling now. I also worry in case this is just the start of something more sinister to come.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Mothering Sunday

Originally Mothering Sunday was a c16th religious event here that had nothing to do with mothers at all. The word "mothering" referred to the "mother church", which is to say the main church or cathedral of the region. It became a tradition that on the fourth Sunday of Lent people would return to their mother church for a special service. This pilgrimage was apparently known as "going a-mothering", and it became something of a holiday event. Domestic servants were traditionally given the day off work to visit their families and attend a service at their mother church. Walking home they would often pick bunches of wild flowers from the hedgerows and woods to give to their mothers and to decorate the church.
 courtesy PigeonParkPress
Ann Jarvis is recognised as the mother who inspired Mother’s Day in the United States, she was a social activist and community organiser during the Amercian Civil War era. It was her daughter, Anna, who compaigned for a Mother's Day to be held during May in memory of her mother, and it was President Wilson who formalised the date to be the second Sunday in May. 
Today is Mothering Sunday here, which also means that Easter is now only three weeks away.
  Whoever you are and wherever you are enjoy a lovely day

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Around the garden on this last day of February in 2018

 During the last few days many parts of this country have received snow carried over by a reverse Jet Stream from Russia, but not as much as predicted by the weathermen.  However, it appears to have totally ignored us - this is the sunny aspect from our front porch today along with lovely blue skies, but in the shadows there is a bitter chill in the air.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A Spicy Snack

Roasted chickpeas + spices makes a delicious snack. They are also good as a topping on soup or add crunchy flavour to a salad.

 Line a roasting tin with parchment paper then scatter all of the chickpeas in a single layer removing any loose skins
Dry roast for 30 mins at Fan 190℃
 Whilst roasting tip into a bowl a little rapeseed (canola) oil, or whatever you prefer - just enough to coat the chickpeas when they leave the oven.

 Prepare one teaspn each of smoked paprika, ground corriander, ground cummin, and cayenne pepper.
Take the chickpeas from the oven, toss in the oil and then add the spices and mix well.  Return the chickpeas back to the oven raising the temperature to fan 200℃ and cook for a further 10-15 mins until they are golden and crunchie.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

'Cotswold Farm' Gardens - visited 5th February 2018

Common Snowdrop Galanthus Nivalis
As Mother Nature lifts her winter veil those much loved harbingers of Spring, the snowdrops, are once again nodding their heads in greeting. In February many gardens open their gates to the public giving anyone who is interested a chance to catch these first signs of spring. 
In this area of the Cotswolds there are five particularly renowned snowdrop gardens. Having shown two of them - Newark Park in 2013 and the Rococo Gardens in 2016 this third one has a completely different ambience. The house and the garden were both designed in the local vernacular 'Cotswold Arts and Crafts' style overlooking a quiet valley. In the 1930s, Norman Jewson, the Arts and Crafts architect/designer used local stone for the garden terraces which gradually descend down the side of the valley.
The house was originally a small Cotswold stone farmhouse with a stone barn and cow byre forming a small farmyard. The original farmhouse dates back over 300 years but the stone barns were added 100 years later. In 1900 the house was doubled in size, and then in 1926 Sydney Barnsley, the eminent Cotswold architect/designer was employed to add two new wings in the 'Arts and Crafts' style. Norman Jewson at that time was his assistant, but eventually became responsible for completing the work following Barnsley's death. 
 Chimonanthus praecox - wintersweet - Japanese allspice - native to China 

The garden holds  62 different varieties of snowdrop - these are Galanthus Hill Poe
It is extremely difficult to photograph the underside of a snowdrop without lying on the cold ground so this snowdrop was brought indoors. 

Galanthus Natalie Garton

The terracing gently leads you down to the foot of the valley and the Bog garden.
I do hope that the blight on this Box topiary has the same strain of disease that my plants suffered from. To my delight, and most curiously, my box balls have now completely recovered and regrown.
dwarf Iris alida
Helleborus argutifolius 
 Leucojum vernum - spring snowflake 

Although this pretty little flower is a member of the same family as a snowdrop and is a similar size it has 6 corolla (petals) all of the same length, whereas the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis has three main petals and three more tiny inner ones. 
The entrance driveway lined with staddle stones.