Monday, April 21

Hastings to Winchelsea

Taking advantage of the long weekend, Gareth and I took a trip to the south coast on Friday to walk from Hastings to Winchelsea. It's a walk I've been meaning to do for some time, having heard how lovely the coastline is in that part of Sussex, and I wasn't put off by Gareth pointing out that it was labelled 'the toughest walk in the book'.

The full walk (the one we were following in the Time Out book of walks) goes from Hastings to Rye but by the time we'd got to Winchelsea, and having stopped several times and had a few diversions around landslips in the Hastings Country Park, we were ready to go home. All the same it was a good ten mile stretch with plenty of hills to get the blood pumping.

I love the slight weirdness of the Royal Military Canal which borders Romney Marsh, and the first part of which we followed from Fairlight to Winchelsea - there's a real stillness and eccentricity about its presence in this forgotten corner of the country. Maybe one day I'll walk the full length in one go.

Winchelsea itself is also an interesting little village, its semi-ruined town gates standing alone some distance from the centre and its train station just as remote out the other side.

At the centre is a fascinating church built half of ruins and featuring some striking 20th century stained glass windows designed by Scottish artist Douglas Strachan.

Monday, January 20

New jumper on the go

I cast this on last year but have only just got to the really (really!) easy bit - acres of knitting, not even any purling as I'm going round in circles on my lovely Knit Picks needles!

I've used the Drops Alpaca yarn before some years ago when I made hats and scarves for the niecelets one Christmas, and it's a lovely fine yarn that relaxes quite dramatically when washed. Hence I'm trusting that the neck is going to be a bit looser than it is at the moment when it's finally done and blocked. I did make at least three swatches for this (washed and blocked too), so I'm fairly confident it will work out.

Of course the great thing about doing a top-down circular knit is that you get to try it on as you go along. The bad thing is that by the time I get to the sleeves it's not going to be a very portable project.

The pattern is Hannah Fettig's Lightweight Pullover which you can buy as a single pattern on Ravelry or it's available in this book if you're not a Raveler (if not, why not?!)

Wednesday, November 27

Homemade mincemeat

You are probably wondering why the hell anyone would bother to make their own mincemeat when you can buy 'perfectly good' stuff in the shops.

To be honest I don't always make the effort since I don't eat a lot of mincemeat at christmas, but I did some last year and the mince pies went down so well that I decided to do it again this year.

Here's why I make my own mincemeat:

1. no candied peel. One of the few foody things I dislike is mass produced candied peel - the homemade stuff is fine, as my chocolate-covered orange peel fave sweetie attests.

2. vegetarian. Not a huge concern for me, and I believe a lot of shop-bought mincemeats are veggie now in any case, long gone are the days when beef suet was a staple ingredient, but it's good to know what's in there in any case, for those friends who are veggie. It's almost vegan, and if I were able to dig out some vegan trifle sponges or did an appropriate substitution it would be suitable.

3. no booze. You know I think booze in food is a waste and it dismays me that a lot of the better quality mincemeats are soaked in stuff that should really be served in a glass.

Making the mincemeat was also was the main foody tradition in our house at christmas, since we didn't really do christmas pudding and the christmas cake was only of modest proportions. 

So here's the family recipe, it's far from traditional but makes a very fine product and is very easy. This recipe makes half a dozen jars and if you use veggie suet rather than butter, it will keep for months. Adapt with booze or mixed fruit if you really must. 

11b cooking apples
1.5 lb sugar
1lb sultanas
1lb raisins
0.5 lb veggie suet
1 box trifle sponges
1 lemon
1tsp ground mixed spice
1tsp ground nutmeg

Peel and core the apples, grate them into a large bowl.
Grate the lemon peel into the apples, then juice the lemon and add that as well. 
Stir in the sultanas and raisins, then the spices, sugar and suet.
Crumble the trifle sponges into the mix, stir it well, cover with a clean teatowel and leave overnight at room temperature.

Stir again, then pack into sterilised jars and store in a cool, dark place. 

Friday, November 8

A view I never tire of

When I work at home I miss the morning exercise I get from the bike commute, and if I'm not in the mood for a swim, I usually ride a half hour circuit round Greenwich before I sit down at the desk. 

After nipping through the pretty streets of the Ashburnham Triangle I give the legs and lungs a workout up Point Hill, before cutting over Blackheath, against the traffic, and turning into Greenwich Park. Where all the commuters turn left and down the hill to the village, I go straight on and pause for a few minutes at the General Wolfe statue on the top of the slope next to the Royal Observatory. 

It's one of the best views in London and I often have it to myself at that time of day.

Often I take a photograph, so I have quite a selection now. 

Mist - or perhaps more likely smog? - drifting across to Canary Wharf.

Lovely autumnal scene with damp pavements and fallen horse chestnuts.

A clear and sunny morning, looking particularly grand.

Saturday, October 19

Beautiful things

Walking, for me, is not just about getting from A to B while having some exercise and perhaps seeing some nice views.

Anyone who's ever been for a walk with me knows that I am always pausing to look at things, pick things off bushes or off the floor, taste blackberries or muse about the name of a flower or tree.

On a recent walk from Cuxton on the Medway I found/picked/came across many beautiful things.

Bushes laden with sloes - gathering the sloes for this year's gin being the main aim of the walk.

Beautiful bracket fungi on a tree trunk.

A vast array of Shaggy Ink Cap fungi, which provided a welcome and unexpected foraged supper.

Evidence of chestnut woodlands being successfully managed - the coppiced shoots in the clearing contrasting beautifully with the tall trees surrounding them.

A carved bench on the edge of the woods; a pleasant and thoughtful place to pause and eat our apples.

Fabulous sycamore seed skeletons - the filigree pattern of the wings put me in mind of winter trees, which fascinate and perhaps even obsess me.

Sunday, October 6

More Kentish adventures

I pride myself on knowing Kent quite well - and I find myself often having to defend this much-maligned county against the naysayers. Until you have spent a fair bit of time exploring the many very different parts of Kent, it's impossible to get a full flavour of everything it has to offer. 

So I was very pleased to discover yet another part of the county that I didn't know, on a recent break with my folks in a little village east of Canterbury. As well as getting chance to explore the area south of the Stour, I was able to take my parents to visit some of my favourite towns on the coastal fringes.

We stayed in a small village called Preston, just a few miles out of Canterbury, and deep in the heart of apple country. I was quite surprised to find huge orchards with apples groaning under the weight of fruit - cherries yes, hops yes, but apples? Not really! But it seems that a lot of this fruit goes to make Copella apple juice - judging by the number of lorries we met on the country lanes that were bearing the branding - and it was peak apple time when we were there.

The area is dotted with quiet villages, which are mostly off the beaten track; many have beautiful churches of a very typical Kentish style, covered in flint and generally quite simple inside - a lot are on pilgrimage routes to Canterbury so it's also more common to find them open than you would expect in such small villages.

I love wandering around the graveyards and checking out the headstones - here's a particular favourite that I happened upon in Fordwich.

The river at Fordwich is also particularly stunning - slow moving, crystal clear water streaked with weed and with the village houses built almost into it. I would happily have waded in - in the nip, perhaps! - and lain right back in water, felt its cool touch and maybe run my fingers through the green ribbons of weed. There was something deeply inviting about it, something reminiscent of Ophelia

Others clearly found the water just as hypnotic; this man stood on the beach at Deal for so long that I started to wonder if he was an art installation. His shirt and smart trousers made him look all the more incongruous, we wondered if he was considering doing a Reggie Perrin. In the end he turned round, walked back up the beach and disappeared into the roads of suburban Deal.

I visited a few old favourites too, including Walmer Castle where I had a short break a few years ago. Fond memories of having the castle grounds to myself when all the visitors had gone home.

We ate well during our stay - including a fabulous lunch at the Black Douglas cafe on Deal seafront - well worth seeking out for fresh, seasonal food, although at this time of year you might be out of luck if you don't like beetroot. We also had lunch at the very shiny new Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs - it had the feeling of not having been open very long, and certainly represents a step up in terms of the food offering in the Thanet towns. Hopefully it will survive and flourish, it has a lovely location and the three old shop units that form the restaurant have been nicely converted.  

It wouldn't be a British holiday without paddling and beach huts, and we found both of those at Broadstairs, one of the few sandy beaches in Kent.

The beach huts are much more utilitarian than the chi-chi offerings at places like Whitstable, and I must confess I rather prefer their brash colours and pebble-dash finish. I don't think I'll ever be able to do chi-chi successfully, but I can certainly do brash and utilitarian.

And finally, the oddest moment of the holiday was coming across this steam-engine graveyard behind the church in Preston. My mum and I stumbled on it just as dusk was falling - there were probably a dozen or so of these huge rusting engines all lines up, along with various enormous boilers and other assorted machines that we could not identify. Someone obviously Has Plans for them, perhaps a life's work of restoration, but in the darkening gloom and silence of a field in eastern Kent, it was nothing short of spooky.

Wednesday, September 4

Tate memories

Remember Carston Holler's slides at the Tate?

I went with my friend Lisa and we had a blast - at the time I was enjoying experimenting with the film setting on my camera and I had just discovered IMovie, so I thought I'd make a little movie about it.

I dug it out again recently after talking with another friend about making films, and felt quite proud of what I'd achieved, especially since I had no experience in film making or IMovie, and even now after making a few little films, I still struggle with the software.

Reading back the blurb on the Tate website, I was struck by the fact that the themes in my film are identical to those that interest Holler:

"What interests Höller, however, is both the visual spectacle of watching people sliding and the ‘inner spectacle’ experienced by the sliders themselves, the state of simultaneous delight and anxiety that you enter as you descend."

A bit cheesy perhaps? But brings back some great memories!