Thursday, 9 March 2017


Greek goddess of love, beauty and pleasure - her Roman equivalent, Venus
Birth of Venus (detail) - Sandro Botticelli

Three years ago we explored the remains from antiquity of a city called Aphrodisias lying in the fertile upper reaches of the Meander Valley, Turkey
Tetrapylon - the magnificent monumental gateway which led into the city

At its heart are the remains of a great pagan temple dedicated to Aphrodite. Once there were 40 Ionic columns surrounding the temples perimeter, now most lie where they fell during severe earthquake temors in the c4th and c7th.

Birth of Venus Sandro Botticelli - 1484 in Uffizi
But we seek antiquities new as soon we head off to an island where Greek Myths tell us Aphrodite was born 

In the garden this week a large male Green Woodpecker

captured through the window - males have a red moustache, females black - his beak is caked in mud from digging in our lawn looking for grubs

Some garden corners taken this week - fulfilling a request from Catherine
Botticell images via   

Monday, 6 March 2017

Let's Make Cakes

Quick, simple, easy cakes
When it comes to cooking I tend to be an improviser depending on whatever happens to be at hand. In Austria they make a cake called Zwetschkenkuche which uses fresh plums so naturally I substituted a persimmon instead! - also known as sharon fruit or kaki - I can't believe that it is now over 30 years since I first saw them growing in China.
Make any light sponge mixture you favour but sufficient to make a sandwich cake, the mixture is going to be divided into two for separate cakes. 
On top of the first half thinly slice and layer a persimmon - then add a small dab of jam. If using plums or apples a sprinke of brown sugar would be in order.
For the second half of the mixture add a generous spoonful of pure cocoa powder, sultanas and glacé cherries then top the mixture with flaked almonds. The permutations that can be used here are endless, two quick and easy cakes - coffee with cake anyone?
Elsewhere I am very happy as our garden is once again giving us a host of Spring colours♡

Thursday, 2 March 2017

More Tales from along the Towpath

'Spring was in the air' along the towpath - 'pussy willows' were laden with pollen and nectar 
Of the 150 mills that once crowded these valleys only two are still working woollen mills. Many are now utilised as business premises, places where artisan craftspeople work, specialised shops, and art galleries. In this valley some of the foremost sculptors of our time have their work caste in bronze within one of the mills.

  A mill race runs beneath this building where originally a large water wheel would have turned

Five of these little round houses were built along the edge of the Severn/Thames Canal following its completion in 1789. They housed what were known as Lengthsmen who were responsible for maintaining the towpaths, managing the water levels and controlling the weirs. They also kept the banks in order on their 'lengths', cut back the reeds and vegetation, and if there were lock gates on their 'length' it was their duty to keep them in good order.

Life along the waterways was not the
idyllic place of leisure and recreation that we know and enjoy today. 

For the canal watermen and their large families living was tough and physically demanding - a life lived in a cramped, confined area, often coated in black dust from their cargo of coal. They led itinerant lives crisscrossing the country along the waterways with no fixed abode. Their children, born as they travelled, were expected to help on the boat and were unable to attend school. Such a tough life resulted in the whole family having an extremely low life expectancy.
In stark comparison, life for the successful Clothiers was good - they built themselves fine houses on the upper slopes of the valley 
whilst down in the valley bottom 
dwelt rows of modest cottages to house the 'weavers' and their families 
However, as mentioned in the previous post, many of the Mill Owners were extremely benevolent to the area, building fine schools, and churches, and families tended to remain totally loyal to the mill where they worked for their entire working lives. Today one of those locally endowed schools is nationally recognised as being a top state school which achieves a very high level of successful entrants to Oxbridge every year.
old images via

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Walking through history

 One of the things I love about this corner of the Cotswolds are the many and varied walks that we continue to discover even though we have lived here for over 20 years.  Walks across hilltops with far reaching views, along deep verdant valley bottoms, down networks of quiet hidden narrow country lanes, through pretty stone villages, or as in this case wandering along a towpath running beside a canal.
We know and have walked many different stretches of this canal as it journeys from the River Severn to the River Thames, but we have never discovered this particular part of the towpath previously even though it is no more than a couple of miles from our home high in the hills.

What is now a quiet and peaceful sanctuary - a haven for wetland birds, would have been a hive of industrial activity during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This elegant original brick arched bridge was built in 1778 to carry a road over the canal to the woollen mills.
Today it is hard to imagine what a busy thoroughfare this would have been with boats and people plying up and down the water all day long mainly carrying coal

The ancient church of St Cyr's had already stood here for more than 650 years before the canal was even given consideration during the early part of the c18th.

The whole area with its hills and valleys grew very rich off the backs of sheep for centuries - known as Cotswold 'Lions' and introduced here by the Romans. Medieval weavers in c12th Flanders would sing "the best wool in Europe is English, and the best wool in England is Cotswold"
The prosperous local mill owners built themselves grand mansions, wonderful churches which are still known as 'wool churches', and endowed many fine schools in the area

During the c18th these valleys were particularly famed for their scarlet red wool cloth dyed with cochineal which was used to make soldiers uniforms, but also loved by Cherokee Indians who traded furs for it. In the painting above it is just possible to make out the red wool cloth hanging over tenderhooks to dry on the hillsides
St Cyrs churchyard features several traditional style Cotswold table top tombs

500 years before the wool mills were even built, wool was one of the countries most important commodities. It paid for the great abbeys and monastic buildings and it is acknowledged that wool was responsible for half the wealth in England - wool exports paid for Richard the Lionheart's enormous ransom to the Saracens. The Lord Chancellor still sits to this day on a sack stuffed with wool in The House of Lords showing the pre-eminent position that the wool industry has played in this country's affairs. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Cream of Celery Soup

Sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil
add 1 litre of vegetable stock
 one large potato chopped into small pieces,
some chunks of celeriac (optional)
add a whole head of chopped celery
Season with ground coriander,
some freshly ground black pepper,
and nutmeg,
finally add a couple of bay leaves
leave to simmer for 45 minutes or
place in a slow cooker
for several hours - mine goes in a slow cooker.
Remove the bay leaves then liquidise before serving -
add some single cream and fresh herbs

  A tasty bowl of nourishing soup and some crusty artisan bread - just what the doctor ordered
Spring has arrived in our garden