View from Monarch's Way

An Escape

During our walks along long distance paths in England, we’ve often merged with or crossed The Monarch’s Way and eventually, we decided to discover more about this path, which appeared in so many places.

I’m sure that at some time in my schooldays I studied the Civil War and the flight of Charles II from England, but I regret that I am woefully ignorant of the period. Following a little research (if ploughing through a rather tedious Georgette Heyer novel counts as research), I now know that after a heavy defeat at The Battle of Worcester 1651 and with a price on his head, Charles II spent six weeks hotly pursued by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces as he tried to escape to France. His journey was circuitous as he first headed north, then doubled back down to the south coast and finally across the downs to Shoreham and The Monarch’s Way is a 615 mile footpath based on this escape.

 

Monarch's Way Worcester canal

We thought this walk would keep us busy for a while, so made a start earlier this month. We walked from Old Powick Bridge, just south of Worcester, in glorious April sunshine along the banks of the Rivers Teme and Severn into the hustle and bustle of the city and then headed northwards along the towpath of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which was busy with boats, fishermen, cyclists and dog walkers. We watched the fisherman, sat firmly on their stools with their copious paraphernalia spread within arms’ reach, as they picked bait from their varied selection and then used a catapult to send it flying to the other side of the canal where their line dipped into the water. I was hoping they might mistake their packed lunch for bait and catapult a sandwich across the water or pop a maggot in their mouth but it didn’t happen. Fishing remains a great mystery to me. Leaving that canal and skirting a rather unlovely industrial area we returned to the countryside and finally walked along the towpath of the sleepy Droitwich canal into Droitwich Spa.

Westwood House, Droitwich Spa from The Monarch's Way

The following day we headed out across the fields, past the impressive Westwood House, around numerous fishing lakes, had a chat with a man about ducks as we tried to find our way out of a nature reserve, followed the footpath from the road through a gate in the wall into a private garden where it ran for about ten metres and then emerged back onto the road (which was very strange), across a point-to-point course where they were putting up the rails for the forthcoming races, past a beautifully kept community orchard and into the village of Chaddesley Corbett. For once, our timing was perfect as we arrived bang on lunch time and the pub was open; normally we arrive too early, too late or the pub is shut. After a swift lunch (we were the only customers) we headed off through more green countryside, up and along a ridge with views across Worcestershire and to the West Midlands and finally into Hagley. An enjoyable start to The Monarch’s Way.

Next time we walk the path, we have a dilemma. The first two days were ideal for us – walking through villages and beautiful countryside, exploring a small city and both days there was a railway station conveniently close to the start and finish. The next few sections of the trail are less appealing as they include miles of urban pavement walking, a long stretch of rural road walking and an area with no regular public transport. We are walking for pleasure, not through a desire to retrace the royal escape route nor to tick off a completed long distance trail, so I think we will probably skip a chunk of the trail. It feels a little like cheating but I can’t see the point of walking where I don’t want to be when there are so many places that I do want to explore.

Would you grit your teeth and do the whole thing properly or would you ignore the official trail and walk your own shortened route?


Forage, cook, eat

spring undergrowth

If you drive along English country lanes at this time of year, it would be easy to dismiss the green blur of the verges as simply boring grass. But slow down to a walking pace and in amongst the different types of grass you can see so much more. The first leaves of cow parsley, a forerunner of the frothy flowers that will line the roads in a few weeks vie for growing space with the bright green new growth of stinging nettles; a mouse scuttles through the undergrowth to safety and a frog sits motionless, blending into the undergrowth until it suddenly catapults into action; cleavers and speedwell spread outwards beside the first flowering primroses.

jug of wild violets

Best of all, nestled in the undergrowth, are beautiful violets, their colours ranging from white with the merest hint of violet through to a deep, rich purple with the colour offset by their shiny green leaves. Turn off the road and walk along a public footpath and you’ll probably find even more. Just now, there’s enough violets to put in a small jug on the bedside table but before long there’ll be plenty to make a small batch of violet syrup or violet liqueur.

Nettle, cheese and chive scones

Naturally, there’s no shortage of stinging nettles and this is an excellent time of year to use them. At the weekend, I snipped off the heads of a few nettles to make scones. There were comments around the table that normal people don’t eat nettle scones or, for that matter, the violet infused milk jellies that we ate for supper. But why don’t we eat more nettles? They’re abundant, they’re free and are right on trend as foraged food but without the poisoning worries of foraging for fungi.

Nettles cut for the kitchen

Use the top six or seven leaves of a young plant and cut them straight into a colander so that you don’t have to handle them or wear rubber gloves to avoid stinging your hands. Rinse the leaves, picking out any insects or stray blades of grass you may have inadvertently cut and tip the leaves into a bowl. Pour on enough boiling water to cover the nettles and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish out the wilted leaves, which will no longer sting and squeeze out the excess moisture. Apart from Nettle Soup, which everyone seems to have heard of but I think is slightly overrated, you can use nettles to make a hedgerow pesto, green soda bread or as a replacement for spinach in many recipes. Or try the Nettle Scone recipe below. Eat them warm, spread generously with butter.

Go on, live a little dangerously.

Nettle Scones

 

What do you do with a bag full of nettle leaves? Use this simple recipe to make a batch of delicious Cheese and Nettle Scones. Forage, cook, eat

To make Nettle Scones:

225g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

60g butter, cubed

Tops of 7 or 8 nettles wilted and drained as above

1 tablespoon of chopped chives

40g strong cheddar cheese cubed or grated

2 dessertspoons plain yoghurt

Milk

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter.

Chop the nettles and add to the bowl with the chives and cheese.

Stir in the yoghurt and enough milk to bring the mixture together in a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and quickly pat into a round about 4 cms thick. Cut into 4 (or 6) wedges and put them close together on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Brush the tops with milk and bake 220C for about 15 minutes when they should be risen and golden. Wrap in a tea towel and transfer to a wire tray.

Best eaten warm.

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daffodils

Diary of a Frugal Month

Hope that sunny days and daffodils bursting into flower herald start of warm spring weather. Start springtime regime of Using Food from the Freezer in order to have good break between frozen fruit and vegetables and fresh from the garden. Find several unlabelled bags that could be apple juice or chicken stock and great quantities of rabbit casseroles. Decide to start with soft fruit and pull out bag of unappealing raspberry rubble squashed at bottom of freezer. Make Raspberry Loaf Cake and discover raspberry pieces work just as well as whole raspberries.

Raspberry Cake

Regret that raspberry cake needs only two eggs as small mountain of eggs has appeared in pantry because every hen and duck is laying an egg a day. Encourage grandson to collect eggs from nest box on premise that he will then have to take them home. Had forgotten that toddlers hurl eggs rather than carefully placing them in egg box. Eat scrambled eggs for lunch.

Rabbit Furs

In fit of frugality, regard rabbit skins destined for throwing away after meat has been cut up as terrible waste of resources. Consult numerous websites for ways to preserve skins and consider options. Have no battery acid to hand and no wish to scrape brains from rabbit so follow instructions using salt and alum (conveniently left over from natural dyeing experiments last year). Realise half way through that alum supplies are insufficient. Hastily place order for more via internet. Days pass. Emails exchange. Regret managing to pick supplier whose health issues make trips to Post Office difficult and infrequent. Add more salt and hope lack of alum doesn’t affect end product. Alum finally arrives and process continues. Skins dried and stretched as instructed so now have small collection of rabbit skins, though no idea what to use them for. Diminutive size of collection banishes thoughts of making rug to drape artistically over sofa in front of roaring fire.

Clear books from one shelf on bookcase in effort to Remove Unnecessary Clutter in lieu of proper Spring Cleaning and find several children’s books. Flick through book of nursery rhymes. Eyes alight on

Bye, baby bunting,
Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby bunting in.

A possibility. Or perhaps just a fur trimmed hat.


Little Forest Field in March

On the Farm in March

spring growth

Around the farm, there are signs of new growth. We have nothing in flower yet but the banks of the ditches are filling with bright green primrose leaves and the tiny fern like leaves of cow parsley.

honey bees and honeycomb

When Storm Doris blew through at the end of last month, the limb of an ash tree crashed to the ground. When Bill went to clear the debris and cut up the branch, he noticed a few bees buzzing around. Further investigation revealed a honeycomb in the hollow of the branch and an awful lot of bees. The chainsaw was quickly put back in the shed and the branch was been left in situ as we waited to see what happened to the bees. After a few days of wind and rain there were several dead bees scattered about but the main mass was sheltering under the honeycomb. We were told that if the queen bee is still there, the workers will huddle around her to keep her warm and if they’re left too exposed and cold they will gradually die off. There are still several bees in the branch today (you can just about make them out in the darkness on the right*), so for the time being we’ll leave them and the branch alone.

Hay barn at slamseys

Slamseys Hay Barn

Every time the fields start to dry out there is talk of starting the spring land work but then it rains and makes them wet again so there has been a great deal of building work and maintenance. Most recently some of the twentieth century repairs to the old Essex barn have been stripped out, which has completely changed the look of the barn.

The sun is shining today, so with luck the primroses will soon be flowering and the tractors will be able to get onto the fields.

 

 

*This was the best shot I could get without disturbing the bees


Idle Speculation

 

There’s not too much to do on the farm in February.

sheep grazing Sussex

So we all ran away for the weekend to a beautiful corner of rural Sussex where there were hills and sheep, dark nights and silence, which made a pleasant change from the flat urbanised landscape of Essex. We even had a dusting of snow.

When we came home we said “Wasn’t it lovely? It was so quiet and peaceful without the incessant traffic noise of home.”

We talked about whether we’d like to live there. We said we would.

The London Eye

And then we went up to town. We went to the theatre and there were so many places to eat we had a job to decide which one to pick. We walked along the Thames and stood on the bridges watching the water rush by under our feet.

When we came home we said “Wasn’t it fun? There’s so much to do.”

We talked about whether we’d like to live there. We said it would be lovely to have a pied-à-terre.

snowdrops

But when we thought about it, the hills in Sussex were quite steep and the roads very narrow. And London was very noisy and crowded. Anyway, how could we afford a pied-à-terre?  Then we looked around us at the two cock pheasants strutting along the wall outside the kitchen window, the carpet of snowdrops under the apple trees and the fields beyond and we said “Aren’t we lucky to live here? Why do we want to go anywhere else?”

That’s the trouble with February. It’s such a non-event and leads to far too much idle speculation. Roll on spring.