Books I've Read

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Cotswolds...Part Two


Back to the Cotswold story...sorry to leave you hanging for SO long. Day two dawned bright and beautiful. The day promised to be even nicer than the day before. We had our second lovely breakfast this time I had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon YUMMY! While Mark had his second full English. After a brief chat with our hosts and a second consultation with the oracle of all things we were off. The second day's journey was decided to use the map only despite the missed turns and the momentarily lost moments from the day before. We had had SO many adventures minus Mrs. Garmin so we left her locked in the glove box.

Goals for the day were to find Broadway Tower, Rollright stones, and Burton-on-the-Water using as few main roads as possible. So leaving Charlton Kings we headed first towards a place called Guilting Power after going through Guilting Power we got lost! We ended up in Winchcombe. Whoops!! Turned out to be a great mistake though  as there was a lovely castle, Sudeley Castle (which was closed) and a few beautiful vistas. We walked round the outside of the castle and took a few photos before getting in the car to then try and figure out how to get back on the right road to Broadway tower.

Historic Houses in Winchcombe

Our view of Sudeley Castle
Queen Katherine Parr's view...while minus Mark!

Well I know you will find this hard to believe at this point but rather than stay on the main road we left Winchcombe found a single track road and got on it. Now I had no idea how to get from where we were to Broadway tower, but neither of us wanted to go on the boring main roads. So winding our through beautiful English countryside through Temple Guilting (which is almost due north of Guilting Power...meaning we completely doubled back on our selves...hehe), up to Cutsdean Ford, and then Snowshill. Snowshill was a beautiful tiny little village boasting of a few houses, an iconic phone box and a pub. A booming metropolis compared to Taddinton, long may these villages remain less discovered!
Snowshill church yard
Snowshill Pub
 Sometime after Snowshill I directed Mark down the wrong road yet again, which took us into the town of Broadway. Now we were planing on going to Broadway but not until after Broadway tower. But it REALLY didn't matter. Broadway is a gorgeous village with the kind of shopping that Mark and I were expecting in Cheltenham. It was full of odd little shops in ancient buildings. More than once even I was ducking to avoid low ceilings! It was amazing to get to see the inside of some of these buildings. From the outside the look very straightforward and simple but the inside of them is a maze of adventure, massive wooden oak ceiling beams, and the oddest angles of ceiling meets wall meets floor! It was hard to focus on the beautiful things for sale as these shops gave you a free tour of the inside of the classic Cotswold stone houses!

Broadway tower was next. As we approached it there were also signs for a Nuclear bunker, but being out of season it wasn't open. Broadway Tower was, but we decided not to pay the extra money to climb the tower as the view from the ground were stunning. Besides with no wind cover it was VERY chilly and as we were now beginning to start to be conscious of the distance (calculating getting lost once or twice) that we needed to cover IF we were going to make it to all our other stops. So it was a whirlwind walk round the base of the folly before jumping into the warm car. 
Capability Brown's Tower (aka Broadway tower)

View from Broadway Tower 

Supposedly you can see as many as 16 different counties from here, but it was too chilly to stop and try and figure out how many I could see. Next was on to the Rollright stones. Due to the fact that our day was quickly coming to an end we decided it would be best if we stayed on the main road. I know boring, BUT there were too many things that I wanted to try and see in such a very short time. So down the A44 we went stopping for a quick shop in Merton on the Marsh were we found a lovely old book store with a resident dog so you know it was a good shop! and had a quick bite to eat. Then on to Little Compton where we had to leave the main road in order to get to the stones.

Most people have heard of Stonehenge and want to visit them. What less people are aware of is that there are lots and lots of stone circles all over England. Most of which are not the major tourist attraction that is Stonehenge. I have been lucky enough to actually get to see Stonehenge many times (hard to miss as it is on the side of a main road on the way to Salisbury). Even more lucky I have also been to see Avebury which is a stone circle that goes around an entire village! As well as the Woodhenge which is thought to be an earlier Stonehenge. Well according to the great oracle the Rollright stones are the third most famous stone circle in England. First thing to say is that the difference between most famous and third famous means that we

A Rollright stone
completely missed the signs and the stones the first time we drove past. Now this might be understandable if there was lots of other things around this area, but the ONLY thing on this small little road is the Rollright stones and we still missed them...I think  we must have been tired as there was in fairness to the national trust a BIG green sign. Now as for the stone circle; legend has it that it is not possible to count all the stones and if you manage to do it you get a wish full fulled. The sun was fading and the stones were pretty but to be honest I wasn't feeling the magic of these stones. Avebury definitely something special about those stones, and the same for Stonehenge but not for me for Rollright. Maybe I'm getting a bit to used to this sort of special thing and maybe for me they are just old stones now...hehe...Am I becoming a "local"?

The next town answered that question for me rather quickly! Burton-on-the-Water has to be one of the prettiest little village I have ever seen! If it was in America you would think it had been constructed just for the tourists. It was very easy to imagine it HEAVING in peak season. Thankfully we were there in off season so we had to share it with locals only. I tried to take some pictures of it but didn't really mange to fully capture the essence of the place.
Instead bear with me as I try to describe it. There is this village made from honey coloured stone. Its buildings are simple rectangles and yet there is a beauty in the clean lines that have stood for hundreds of years. There is a waterway which divides the town. It is clear and shallow and mainly serves as a place for the local ducks to pretend to hunt for plants and algae while secretly hoping for small children to feed them bread. Across this waterway at what seems like ridiculously close distances are picturesque arched bridges. Some for cars, some for pedestrians and some I think merely for the beauty of repetition. We happily strolled thought this impossibly perfect village and managed before the shops closed to get our  tourist magnet, a teapot (in the shape of a VW van), and a spice rack! Don't ask....

Where else but England is the "new" part of the in from 1938?
After Burton-on-the-Water it was time to head back to Detmore house. As we drove though more little roads I relished in the views. Here more than any other place that that I have visited so far in England, it is so easy to see and believe in the England of the Bronte sisters as well as Jane Austin. The land was still visibly divided up in manors and small pretty villages that sprung up to support the wealthy in those manor houses. Here being wealthy meant being a landowner and having others farm the land for you. I felt like I was gazing into the past.

Our final day in the Cotswolds started the same as the others sunny with a fabulous breakfast. This time I had the cooked full English and Mark had the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. We left Detmore house having had a restful wonderful time. We made our way towards home once again winding through tiny roads taking in the view. Stopping for lunch in Cirencester another beautiful Cotswold market town. We slowly wound our way back to Surrey. As the landscape changed and the buildings changed from honey stone into redbrick a part of me felt that I had been to another country not just a new county and was now returning home!

If you ever go to the Coltswolds, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. As scary as it might seem, turn of you chosen GPS device, pull out a map (even if it is old and out of date) and just have fun! You will get lost, but by doing so you may be as lucky as we were: and find a countryside full of nodding snopdrops in full bloom, hidden villages unknown to the multitudes of tourist that frequent the area, and meet a goose who thinks he is David!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Nutty Cake for a Nutty Husband

Feb was a busy month for Mark and I. There are a lot of special days that we honor in this month! one of the important days that never goes without a bit of a celebration is Mark's birthday!! I decided that we would have a day of cakes for him. So the morning started with homemade American style blueberry pancakes: a recipe from "the Joy of Cooking" by Betty Crocker whatsapp'ed to me by my sister. I have adapted it to make it a bit more healthy (lower GI) by substituting a cup of plain flour with a 1/4 cup of soya flour and 3/4 cup of wholewheat flour. It requires a bit more milk but I add this by look and feel.

The second cake I made for him was a bit more labour intensive. Also from my memory I believe it is only the third cake that I have made from scratch! Most of my other cakes have all been made from a box as it is cheaper and easier. hehe! However, whether it is a new wife syndrome, or a factor of me getting older, OR the fact that in my time away from work I truly do enjoy taking life a little bit slower! I am getting old...OH dear!!!Anyways my first cake I remember making from scratch was when I was little. The second was only a few short months ago. One of our wedding gifts was, "Baking Made Easy" by Lorraine Pascale. I made the "I can't believe you made that" cake on page 58. It was a great success with Mark and his Uncle so I thought to myself....easy! I will just make that cake again BUT instead of following Lorriane's advice for decorating I decided to make something up on my own.

 After much thought and consideration I decided as the cake was going to be one of Mark's favorite things....chocolate. I would add in his second favorite thing....nuts! This was the finished result. It was in a weird way VERY easy but VERY fiddly at the same time. In case any of you have a nut lover in your life let me share what I did.

First between the two cake layers I put a layer of homemade chocolate butter cream (thank you Loarraine Pascale) with copped mixed nuts as well. The sides and top of the cake was covered in a simple vanilla buttercream icing (again homemade). With the exception of the top of the cake I didn't worry too much about the icing looking okay or being even as I was planning on covering my messy work with more chopped nuts. To place the chopped nuts I used the uber technical skill of... take a handful of nuts and squish them onto the sides. This was the fiddly bit and if any of you know a better way to do this I'm all ears, please leave comments. That process took the longest and judging from the speed of which the cake disappeared I will be making it again, so all suggestions are welcome! I then took half walnuts and using a knife cut them in half again and placed them as edging around the top of the cake and the same for the star in the middle. Volia! Cake finished.

It was very scrumptious. But probably not so much on the healthy side, but the pancakes were! So it evens out right? 

WARNING: This cake has been made with nuts. If you or anyone who might want a piece of this cake has an allergy to nuts PLEASE do not serve it to them!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Cotswolds

To those of you who have never been to England or those of you who live in England but have yet to "do the tourist thing" I'd like to invite you on a tour of the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds are simply a range of hills. These hills are encompassed within several counties of England (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire). The area that Mark and I recently explored is the heart of this area, (mainly Gloucestershire). When you search this area on your chosen web browser you will find out that is has been awarded "area of outstanding natural beauty" and that it is characterized by pretty small towns and a honey coloured limestone that is rich in fossils. All this is true, but those words are truly the black and white description of the wonders that await you if you visit this place.

We traveled up to Charlton Kings (a small village on the edge of Chletenham) after dark. So after a wonderful night of sleep in a great B&B Detmore House (we stayed in the Beech room). I opened our curtains to see a promising view. Downstairs a fabulous breakfast awaited, I had decadent and scrumptious
View from the Beech Room
Eggs Benedict and Mark the traditional English Breakfast (Bacon, sausage, two eggs: scrambled, mushrooms, baked beans and toast). I was surprised to find I could move after breakfast...but move we did and step one was Chletenham. According to a guide to independent shops in the Cotswolds, the place to go was the Mountpellier district for shopping! So off we went. I won't disagree with the book as there were lots of independent shops their BUT both Mark and I we a bit disappointed as we found that it wasn't that different from any other high street in the south. Yes the shops were independent and not chain stores, but they we still full of the same things you find in the chain shops. However we did find a little crafts market to wander through and still managed to fill a half of a day in shops. Patient Mark. The weather started to turn a bit and so we decided we would head back to our B&B  for a little rest and to escape the drizzle. As we stepped through the front door the skies opened and by the time we settled into our room the wind was driving the rain sideways! Perfect timing!

The shower didn't last long and after a quick chat and consultation to the oracle of all things (the internet) we decided that we would explore for the remaining hours of daylight. We would turn off the Sat Nav (GPS) and horror of all horror rely on my map reading skills. Now in North America not a worry I am a fairly good navigator on road trips having spent a fair amount of time crossing North America with maps only as a child. BUT my friends, England takes map reading in a car to a whole new level! Especially when embarking down the roads that we were planning on taking. Not the motorways, not the "A" roads, not even the "B" roads! No we were off to explore the Cotswolds via the single track roads! Excuse me for a minute while I explain an English single track road to those of you who have never been down one....

An English single track road  is a bit more than what it sounds like. It is not merely a one way road, rather it is the width of a one way road but two way traffic is allowed and encouraged. Further these roads are rarely straight, usually have no shoulders, usually are bordered closely by tall hedges, stone walls or buildings. So it is not unusual to have to reverse for some distance in order to allow opposing traffic through. Also these roads are typically used by locals who know where they are going and are using them in a effort to escape traffic or by farmers in their large tractors.  Off these roads are other roads that to not feature on a general map and often sign posts are missing, covered by foliage, or have none of the larger villages you are using to guide your journey or worst of all don't have a single village name that is on your map! So it can be a bit challenging.

Like I said advanced navigation skills are recommended....either that or an adventurous spirit and a patient driver! We had the latter combination! So we headed in the direction of Slaughter. To be more specific Upper and Lower Slaughter. On our way we came across a gaggle of geese who had occupied the sunniest and warmest spot they could find. I was thrilled as it was a prefect photo opportunity one that I'm sure travel magazines would pay good money to set up! So we slowed and I snapped my shot. After this there were two options turn around and leave the
geese to enjoy their sunny spot or slowly advance and encourage the geese to vacate the road. We edged forward. One plucky fellow was familiar with the story of David and Goliath and fancied himself to be David. So with no thought to the impossibility of the task he squared his wings raised his hackles (who knew geese had hackles) and charged our car hissing and sputtering at the car. He got so close that we could only see his tail and he was still sputtering away at our front grill trying to convince our car that he was bigger and this was his turf and NO ONE not even a silver, boisterous machine was going to make him leave this warm bit of pavement. Poor fella. He lost the fight as the silver machine had a unfair advantage it had two humans who ever so slowly kept edging the car forward which eventually convinced David the goose that maybe this wasn't his Goliath and that he should retire to the yard to fight the REAL Goliath, if he ever had the guts to show up. We laughed and laughed!!

That battle over we made it to Stow-On-The-Wold. Which according to the web review one of the must see villages within the Cotswolds. The first picture below is of the high street and the stone that is in the sun is an excellent representation of the actual colour of the majority of the stone, houses, cottages, churches that are in this area of the Cotswolds. It is this beautiful honey color that becomes golden in the sun!

After several wrong turns, being on the same road more than once and going in more than one circle we eventually made it back to Detmore house where our hosts Gill and Hugh Kilminster suggested that we head to a nearby pub for dinner, The Royal it did not disappoint. Personally if you are ever in the area I can highly recommend the Thai beef! The meat is perfectly prepared and melts in your mouth! Now I'm hungry.

I have just looked and the length of this post and I am going to end now as it is the end of Day one of our trip to the Cotswolds. I will continue with more later...