Archive | February, 2013

Camembert au Calvados

22 Feb

Oui, oui!  For a far-too-quick week, this crumpet turned into a dairy product and roved the countryside of Basse-Normandie.  (Yes, I turned in to a cheese.  I love cheese.)  Following the model that served us well when we visited Skye last year (start here to read those posts), we set our base in a quiet holiday cottage in the middle of the Calvados area of Normandy and went out in various directions for day trips throughout the week — with a hefty dose of taking it easy, listening to birdsong, and eating local food mixed in.


I found this cottage online through tripadvisor and liked the look of it.  It’s always a bit of a leap when you book a holiday cottage — gites when you’re in france — but overall I think we lucked out.


Our hosts left wine, bread and milk for us, which was a welcome sight after a long drive down from Calais.  We came over on the Chunnel, which I was almost giddily excited about.  At first we weren’t sure how to navigate the boarding area, but:


We just followed our noses to the platform.


Which was pretty amazing — the Chunnel is fast, simple, and the least expensive path to France from the UK if you are bringing over your own vehicle.  It was like getting on the DC Metro — if you could drive your car on to the Metro.


Youngest was disappointed in the chunnel — she had imagined it would be a glassed tunnel and various fish and seals would swim around us.  That visit to the Bristol Zoo made a strong impression.

The drive from Calais in to the Normandy region is not to be underestimated.


Especially if it snows (!) on the way.

Our first morning we spent being thankful we made it through the storm to our cozy cottage, and enjoying some walks around the property.


We were deep in the bocage.


The area is known for turfed agricultural borders and deep ditches, which — at least at this time of year — are filled with fast-flowing water.


And very distinctive mud.


It’s rural, is what I’m saying to you.  Very, very rural.


We visited Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry, Mont-St-Michel, the D-Day beaches, Caen, Vire (our ‘local’ large town) and the Vire Valley.  After a good long nap, I’ll get those photos together and enjoy revisiting with you.


PS – You didn’t think I’d go to France and NOT take a photo of the village recycling point, did you?  Of course not.


You’re welcome.

Day out: Lodge Park and Sherbourne Estate

19 Feb

The National Trust ‘s Lodge Park and Sherbourne Estate pinged the radar when we started looking for snowdrops.  The Lodge is a popular wedding venue and summertime destination.

IMG_3936In the sub-zero February air, from beyond the locked and pointed gates, it had more of a … Jane Eyre sort of look.  Well, really it had a sort of zombie apocalypse look, but not everyone’s mind goes in that direction …


The promised ‘pleasure’ and ‘family’ walks are down this lane toward the village of Sherbourne — the house is locked December-February.

IMG_3949 Free parking (for National Trust members) here at the Ewe Pen Barn.  (And during winter months, honor-system parking, as there is no one here.)  The barn houses information panels and several laminated walking guides which one can borrow.20130207_095506

Possibly not the most sensible day to wander through the woods looking for snowdrops?20130207_100024

But helpful signage pointed the way.


This way, apparently.  I was feeling thankful that the icy mud was not quite this icy on the day of my last muddy run.  But still so much fun to crackle the puddles with your (well-covered) feet.20130207_100840

A view back towards one of the entrances to the Lodge Park.IMG_3953

Sculpture dots the trail.  I was not much for trail walks back in the US, so I’m not aware — are sculpture trails a UK thing?  A European thing?  A new movement (or old movement) in drawing visitors to engage with public walks?  I don’t know.  It’s fun to turn a corner and look up to see a metal bat, though.

The National Trust Trail wanders through private land.  I think this is reminder enough to be polite, be tidy, be respectful.20130207_102842

Ah, those snowdrops.  All my photos are terrible.  Such a sadness.  The snowdrops themselves were lovely.  You’ll just have to find some yourself to see what I mean.


In person these are sweet clusters of delicate flowers.  In the photo, it’s just bracken and sticks.  Sigh.20130207_103749

No clue.  Would be a nice place to rest, or to read, on a summer day.20130207_104654

This is a family playground.  It’s … bare bones, let’s say.  Pretty much just logs and sticks.  But, I can see this being compelling for my kids for hours.  You won’t be able to see it for all the sticks and trees, but there’s a gentle rope swing towards the back as well, and a see-saw just out of frame.  I’m trying to imagine this on any kind of American family trail, and wondering if liability concerns would destroy all the natural fun of what is a very organic play area.20130207_110444

I don’t know if this is cool, or gross.  Both, I guess.  Which likely doubles the coolness.

The trail walk wanders a bit through the village — here some plantings take revenge on an old greenhouse and escape.  20130207_111700

Sheep grazing near Sherbourne Brook — which becomes, eventually, part of the river Windrush.  (My Favorite River In England.)


I had my eye on this grassed-over stony footbridge for quite a ways, but it is reserved for wildlife — no public entry.  Loved the massive swan guarding his watery retreat.

Just a random house in the village.  This type of stony Cotswold house will stay tied up in my imagination and memory of England.  I know in the late spring, summer, and early fall, that stone will glow and be surrounded by nearly unbelievable greenery and flowers.  But right now it looks … cold.  A bit grim.  A little smoke coming from one of the chimneys might promise some coziness inside.  As it is … brrrrrr.


The trail leaves the village and wanders back through a woody area.  With more metal animals.


And wooden people.  This is “The Shepherd”.  He looks out over a sheep field, with his working dog at his feet.

It is — once again — remarkable to think about the history of random small villages and woods like Sherbourne.  A village has been in this spot since before the time of the Domesday book.  Edward I and Elizabeth I both visited Sherbourne, and there is a nearly thousand-year history of connection between the village and the Abbots of Winchcomb (and through them, the Kings of Mercia).  There’s no such thing as a undiscovered country here in England.  Every stick and stone has been a part of documented history.

So weird.


After a four kilometer stroll over a muddy trail in freezing weather, what could be better than a quick drive to Burford and a warm pot of tea at Huffkins?  And if you’re staying for tea you might as well really stay for tea:20130207_124850


Here’s a nice write-up of the walk we ended up following, from the Guardian:

Cabbage catch at the moon

16 Feb

Veg box update.  I slowed down on my effort to try out as many veg box purveyors as possible.  I’ve found that Ocado delivers a perfectly acceptable box for a reasonable price, without requiring me to sign up for a weekly delivery — I can order a box of whatever size, full of mostly seasonal vegetables or even including fruit, at any time.  The larger box mix of organic veg and fruit looks like this:


This box included things like avocado, mushrooms, potato, celery, plums, onions, swede, banana, celery, beets …


And purple carrots!  I still love finding surprise vegetables in my box and trying to figure out something new to make.

IMG_3925Like kale, one of those green super veggies that I’ve always felt like I should like, but never gotten to know properly.  Here I’ve sauted it simply, with a bit of grapeseed oil, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, and onions.  The other night I tried chopping it up a bit smaller and hiding it in pasta sauce — delicious.

Receiving a mixed veg and fruit box is like getting an unexpected birthday present.  Whoo-hoo!


Day out: Witcombe Roman Villa

13 Feb

I’m catching up from some excursions from many months ago.  This one from a year ago, in fact.  The setting looks remarkably identical right now, with frozen slush on the ground and hats and gloves required for some brisk walking.  Come check out the Great Witcombe Roman Villa, maintained by English Heritage.

I’ve mentioned before how much I love our proximity to ancient Roman life here in Britain.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when we took a detour to follow signs to the Great Witcombe Roman Villa.


A (free) car park sits at the bottom of a slow hill, and visitors are directed to walk.


They really want to make sure you go in the correct direction.  Probably because this site hangs out basically in someone’s backyard, and if you take a wrong turn you’ll end up in their front parlour.


No signs, no gift shops, no guides, just a few lonely sign posts.


Some significant imagination required — but the view is amazing.  This villa complex was contemporary with the Chedworth Roman Villa and one could imagine the families visiting back and forth, or meeting up in Corinium, Glevum, or even Sulis.


Report says fabulous mosaics are protected inside this (modern) building cover, and sometimes during the summer the doors are unlocked and visitors are allowed to peek in.  No chance of that happening in the middle of winter.


But we were free to wander the remains of rooms and buildings and spin daydreams about who lived here and how.


The site is not particularly well-restored, and was poorly treated when it was first uncovered — leaving us with not much more than bare bones.  The photo above shows the ‘temple’ room and gives a sense of the preservation of the site.

Also worth finding is a pretty trickling spring which may be the remains of a Roman water shrine, but on the day of our visit, a drowned mouse was in the spring basin, and I couldn’t bear to take a photo.

IMG_3219A friendly horse was our goodbye, as we walked back down to the car for a short drive to a nearby pub and some hot mulled cider (and hot chocolate, for the kids).

Arlington Row, Bibury

10 Feb

Before spring overwhelms us, I’m taking the opportunity to remember and embrace the beauty of this Cotswold winter.  It wasn’t all darkness, after all.  I posted a quick photo of Arlington Row a few weeks ago — here are some more, from a short walk around Bibury.


I imagine it has a completely different look in the spring and summer.


But I enjoyed the frosty charm of Arlington Row in January.


The ducks seem to like it, too.


I’m so glad someone laid on a fire, so I could daydream about a cozy fire in a Cotswold cottage.IMG_3510

The ducks have a monopoly on riverside accommodations.IMG_3503

The idea of fishing in a frozen January seems ludicrous, but I saw a large — HUGE — trout jumping in the stream.


Ahhhhhhhhh. I love strolling along the river Windrush as it runs through Bourton-on-the-Water.  But the Coln running through Bibury is damn attractive.


A public walking path passes around Rack Island — where the weavers who used to live and work in these cottages laid out cloth to dry — and takes one back around to Arlington Row.

IMG_3531Sigh of loveliness.

In search of snowdrops

7 Feb

Snowdrops.  Like fairy bells, all of white, suddenly sprung up ringing in the woods.  They signal spring, even when you find them in freezing temperatures on frozen-mud strolls.

I first noticed them in a graveyard in Northleach.  Not even realizing what they were, I thought it was remarkable to see dainty, elegant flowers decorating graves in the middle of winter.
IMG_3432elkstoneWe saw them again in Elkstone.

IMG_3487elkstoneI still didn’t realize their significance.  But look how they mound up like clouds and float over the carpet of green.

IMG_3565burford2012These were found last year in the Burford graveyard.

20130207_143437I visited them again, this year.  Has my eye for composition changed?  My pleasure in seeing these blooms has increased.

20130207_102850Finding snowdrops in a wild(ish) wood is not as easy at it sounds.  They hide under leaves and behind bracken.  And when you do see them, their first-person magic is hard to capture — at least with my poor skills.  It’s hard to describe how sharply white and green they appear, in contrast to the sear browns and grey of the woods.

20130207_143749I’m glad to have found snowdrops again this year — even gladder to know they mean spring is coming, and to value them appropriately.   They are only out for a few more weeks, so catch them while you may.


LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

~William Wordsworth, 1819

Pensive monitor of fleeting years, indeed. I’m promising myself I’ll visit that same grave in Burford again next year, and mark the end of my cotswold winters in snowdrop blossoms.

Rollright redux

1 Feb

What a difference the sun makes.  A return trip to the Rollright Stones on a sunny windswept day shines a whole new light on these ancient configurations.  Since I’ve already written about the background to these stones, indulge me with a short photo stroll.


I didn’t touch the stones — but I didn’t count them or make a wish, either.


Peek a stone.


The stones are like teeth.  So this is a mossy molar.  Or like one of those floating islands in Avatar.


These stones appear to bow towards the sun.  I have that same feeling of gratitude for sunny days like this.


The lichen was almost technicolor.


A wide view found while standing closer to the Whispering Knights.  I love how the stones huddle in a dense, dark shadow of the tree line.


The Whispering Knights are pricked out in sunlight and have a completely different aspect.


Even the Nazgul is more approachable.


I’m not sure I can say how much I am moved by this sculpture of the legendary King-to-stone-turning witch.  Even from a remove, when you first enter the field where she gestures toward the King Stone, she calls up tension, surprise, anticipation.


Here she flings her curse towards the King.


A witch and her shadow.  My favorite part of this image is the hazy, smoky length of hedge behind her that appears to build like a wave.

IMG_3873A King’s view.

Can I recommend this trip to the Rollright Stones any more?  Go.  Are you still here?  Go.