Tuesday, September 28

Mystifying sign

I spotted this sign from the train while waiting at Doncaster Station. It has obviously been altered, but from what and why?!

*Updated later - thanks Val in the comments for supplying a link explaining that 'brute' actually stands for 'British Rail Universal Trolleying Equipment'

Sunday, September 19

Sloe gin

The sloes have been so prodigious this year I have been itching to go out there and pick a potful in order to stoke up my first batch of sloe gin. It's recommended to wait until after the first frosts to pick your sloes, or prick each one individually in order to break the skin and allow the flavour out.

If, like me, you are not confident that you will be organised enough to pick on demand, or you are too impatient to wait, you can do it the cheat's way and put your sloes in the freezer overnight.

Once they have defrosted, combine about a pound of sloes with a pound of sugar and steep in 600ml of gin or thereabouts. Put them into a large jar and stir, then put the lid on. This is how they look at first:

Within hours the colour will start to seep out - a glorious beetrooty pink. Stir or shake every day for a week, then once a week for the next two or three months. Strain the gin through muslin or coffee filters before decanting into sterilised bottles. Keep it longer for a better flavour - 18 months if you can resist!

The sloes can then be steeped in cider to make 'slider'; made into chutney; pureed for ice-cream; baked into cakes etc etc.

Cycling challenge

I'm very proud to say that a friend of mine from university is currently riding his bike from Orkney to Chatham on his own personal adventure/challenge/fundraiser.

Hugh is a keen cyclist who has long been envious reading about my solo tours on the bike - although he often goes out cycling with his family, he has also yearned to take off for a different kind of adventure and a personal challenge of his own.

Ironically redundancy has given him the opportunity to do this - probably something of a once in a lifetime chance - and I'm delighted that I'm able to follow his adventures on his blog.

I know quite a few cyclists read this blog and might find his adventure inspirational, so if you have a moment, do pop over there and leave a comment to spur him on his way. He's also raising money for two charities and any donations would be gratefully received.

Saturday, September 18

French architecture

The good and the bad.

This is the town clock and the town hall of Desvres in northern France. The town is known for its painted pottery and we had come here for lunch in one of the cafes in the market square. We had not bargained for the godawful architecture. From the look of the town, the same 'architect' was employed to design the clock, the town hall and the library. Perhaps he or she is related to the mayor?

Apparently the clock is designed to reflect the town's famous ceramics - which explains the tiles around its base but doesn't give any clue as to the 'inspiration' behind the remainder of the pile of po-mo poo.

Thankfully my short stay in France included many sights to gladden the eyes, such as the glorious surroundings of the campsite we stayed in at Manoir de Senlecques in Pernes Les Boulogne.


Almost exactly two years ago I first visited the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans just outside Cardiff on the way home from a cycling tour of the Brecon Beacons.

Happening upon clogmaker Geraint Parfitt I made a spur of the moment decision to order a a pair of hand-made clogs from him - requiring nothing more at the time than having my feet drawn round and choosing a style and colour.

I'd all but forgotten about them when he rang me a couple of months ago to say that they were ready for me to collect, and last week I travelled out to Cardiff for an overnight trip to pick them up.

The final fitting involves getting to the museum first thing in the morning to try them on, then Geraint will make the final adjustments to the upper and attach the rubber soles and so on, so that you can take them home later that day.

The wooden soles are made of sycamore, which came from Barry (the place, not Geraint's mate!) just a few miles from the museum. They are also made by hand and bear the signs of the whittling involved. The dye is painted on by hand by Geraint himself, and the extent to which the dye takes to the leather varies, depending on the oil content and so on of the leather. As a result the colour is expected to weather over time to give a mottled effect. The closures on the straps are very simple and are made very tight to begin with, as the leather will stretch quite quickly as the clogs are broken in.

Wearing the clogs gives me a couple of inches extra in height - which is very welcome for a shorty like me. The lack of flexibility of the soles means they are strange to walk in and I suspect it will take some time to get used to them. I really love the colour and the care with which they have been crafted.

Friday, September 17

North Yorkshire delights

Not only does Whitby in north Yorkshire benefit from a glorious location, superb views and access to swathes of beautiful countryside, it also boasts at least two dozen pubs and a refreshing lack of supermarkets. There is a reasonably-sized Coop next to the harbour, but independent food shops continue to thrive in the town centre - largely, I believe, due to the lack of out-of-town supermarkets. Sadly this all looks set to change - Tesco and Sainsbury's are currently slogging it out with the planning committee for the right to build stores on the edge of the town. Current planning law and the power of these companies mean that local councils have scant defence against them - it's not legal to turn down planning applications because of the negative effect they may have on local, independent shops, while the supermarkets have the legal and financial might to fight decisions that go against them.

It's possible some of Whitby's varied shops may survive because of its busy tourist trade, but there are bound to be casualties, especially among the food stores that are off the tourist track and rely on year-round business.

Botham's, for example, has two shops - the main one being up on the top of the hill and not easy to happen upon. Curiously for a bakers it also sells sausages, bacon and cheese, as well as pork pies of course, and its own brand of teas and coffees, available loose as well as boxed.

It also sells a wide range of local speciality baked goods - including this fabulous Yorkshire curd tart. It's spicey, it's fruity and it's a bit like cheesecake in texture. Mmmm! Also on sale were plum loaf, tea bread, stottie cakes and parkin.

We managed several good walks and were very lucky with the weather. The only rain we suffered was on Friday night - apart from showers overnight and in the early morning. Here the Curse demonstrates the art of traversing stepping stones over the River Esk. I have no problems with wobbly bridges or high ladders, but for some reason find stepping stones a bit weird and scary.

No trip to the seaside is complete without crab sandwiches, here served the traditional northern way in Scarborough with crisps, a bit of salad and a pot of tea. They were heavenly.

Whitby and Scarborough are connected by a cycle trail/footpath which follows the old railway line, and I took the opportunity one day to hire a bike from Trailways and spend a few hours exploring the route on my own. The quality of the trail was very variable - in places gravelly and uncomfortable on the little shopper I was riding - and had long stretches with shallow gradients, but the views were incomparable and the blackberries along the route the best I'd seen!

Another culinary highlight of the week was meat products - from the superb black pudding that came with the set breakfast in our local caff to the fact that you could buy hunks of roasted belly pork, still slightly warm, from the butchers.

This slab ended up with chutney in between thick slices of bread from Bothams, and served as a magnificent lunch on one of our walks. We had to resist the temptation to buy another chunk to take home with us.

In Whitby, kippers are smoked by Fortune's in a small shed with an even smaller shop next door, on a street that clings to the side of the hill below the abbey. Not wanting to have to bother with all the bones that kippers entail, we settled for some kipper pate which we made into sandwiches for the drive home. Our lunch in the soulless service station on the A1(M) was much improved by the presence of these butties.

Tuesday, September 14

Back from the north

..but only fleetingly. No time yet for a full post about the delights of Whitby, its many pubs and its resolutely local food.

Instead I leave you with a taster of our week.

First of three good walks - about 7 miles from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay along the coastal path. A great alternative to Whitby on a sunny Sunday, the town was heaving and we were glad to get away. A couple of pints in RHB then back on the bus for a fish and chip supper.

Our last day began with rain (the only rain all week!) so we drove to Scarborough to visit the castle and mooch in the shops. By the time we got there, however, the sunshine was back and we were able to enjoy a seafront meal and some people-watching.

In a last-minute change to the published programme, I'm off to France later today with a friend and her VW camper van for a few days. In theory I'm sad not to be on the bike, but in practice I think it would have been a gloomy and wet few days in the west of England so perhaps not the greatest time for cycling.

Friday, September 3

Holidays call

Taking a break to visit Whitby with the Curse, then I'm off solo on the bike for a week.

Back in a couple of weeks.