We went to Knole on Sunday: I was with Tom, Sarah and William. Here is a house with 500 years of history set into a mediaeval deer park of 1000 acres.
The house turned out to be off-limits. Only when we got home did we find out that with an over-booked Children’s Book Festival in full swing, other visitors were being urged to stay away.
It didn’t matter. A 1000 acre deer park simply never gets crowded, and the weather was sunny and bright. William rushed about the unending open space and we all helped him spot distant deer.
What we didn’t expect was that the deer were rather more interested in spotting us, and not staying at a distance at all. They’d developed a formula which goes something like this: ‘people = rucksacks = picnics = free food’.
We knew it wasn’t a good idea. We know that deer are wild creatures, sometimes unpredictable and that they can host ticks and other unwelcome creepy-crawlies. It was a treat to be able to see them grazing nearby.
The deer had other ideas. They found a neighbouring toddler’s empty push chair and nuzzled around it for treats. Then they spotted William. He had an apple. The young sika deer thought that William’s apple might make a nice change from grazing for young grass.
It was treat for William of course, to get so close to these wild creatures. And it was a treat for us too. But we were wary, and did what we could to discourage our marauder. Once he ‘d snaffled the apple core, we made our excuses and left.
We’ll go back to Knole of course, to explore the house. But we may leave our picnic at home.
It wasn’t our best walk. Chris and I set off to ‘do’ part of the Nidderdale Way on Thursday. Thursday was fine. Wednesday hadn’t been. Nor had Tuesday. There’s been an awful lot of rain lately.
Even as we started out, we realised that mud was to be our constant companion. And water, trickling along slippery, sticky oozy paths. We forded streams which according to the map simply didn’t exist. If we wanted to go onwards, we had to wade through running water, or totter across from unsteady stepping stone to unsteadier fallen branch.
It was tiring. Finding not-too-soggy resting places was challenging too. We had our sandwiches in a wood alongside what should have been a babbling brook, but was in fact a raging torrent.
And that’s when I noticed these stones – and trees. I’d expect boulders and branches like these to have a few tendrils of dry ash-grey lichen clinging to their surface. Instead they were thickly carpeted in vivid green. These specimens (and I don’t know what they are, despite a spot of Googling) were healthy, fecund and spreading very nicely thank you. It’s easy being green in such a damp, shaded and sheltered environment.
Surely it’s only in England that you would find an annual festival dedicated to marmalade in all its forms? And it’s no surprise to find it hosted in a delightful country house, Dalemain, the family home of the Hasell-McCosh family.
Eleven years ago, Jane Hasell-McCosh devised this very British festival, and now in March every year, some 2,000 marmalade makers submit their entries to be judged .
The day kicked off in a rare rain-free moment with local schoolchildren belting out a jolly song about the delights of marmalade. In this ballad, they rejected any treat they were offered, preferring instead a slice of toast, well slathered with this bitter orange preserve. As if.
Marmalade celebrated in song.
Dan Lepard and Jane Hassel-McCosh start the day off.
The judges of 2000 pots of marmalade get their reward.
MC was one of my baking heroes, Dan Lepard. He introduced everyone, and announced the winners. And then we went into the house, to visit room after room stuffed with pots of marmalade. Each jar is awarded a series of marks, and is given an individual critical commentary. I was quite cross that I hadn’t in the end made the effort to enter any of my own efforts.
The entrants though are not only true Brits, eccentric or otherwise. In our B&B we had met Chris Brown, a baker from Vancouver, who had come for this one weekend only to enter his marmalade. He’d already won gold medals in previous years. So many Japanese have done well that the Japanese Ambassador himself came to the opening ceremony and made a gracious and witty speech. There were Australians there, and Kiwis, South Africans, Americans, someone from the Czech Republic ….
The competition has categories for Seville orange marmalade of course, for marmalade with a twist, for any citrus marmalade, for dark and chunky marmalade ….. all this could be predicted. But a category for marmalade makers who are also campanologists? Octogenarians? ‘The Establishment’: those redoubtable and upstanding members of society, such as bishops, MPs and judges who used to be the only people who could verify your likeness for a passport application?
This is entirely in keeping with the professional-but-with-a strong-hint-of-the-amateur feel of the festival.
Dan Lepard and Jane Hassel-McCosh open the proceedings.
I paid extra to go to Question Time. Baker Dan Lepard, food historian Ivan Day, marmalade guru Pam ‘the jam’ Corbin, and Martin Grant, MD of Mackay’s Marmalade made the hour whizz past. One conversation stood in my mind. ‘If we sent each of you home with a basket of raspberries, or blackcurrants and asked you to make jam, you’d all come back with much the same product. If we sent you home with a bag of oranges, you’d each come back with something quite different.’ And it’s true. They’d range from dense, dark and treacly with big chunky chewy peel to bright jewelled orange jellies with a delicate filigree of fine strands of zest suspended within. And all stops in between. This immense variety to be had from a product made simply with oranges, a bag of sugar, a lemon, and perhaps a little secret something is what gives marmalade its continuing appeal.
After lunch, we popped into Penrith. The town had gone orange for the weekend. The face of the town clock was orange: the shop windows were dressed in orange, and there was an orange-themed market in the town square. Marmalade anyone? It was all good fun, despite the unremitting rain.
The town clock turns orange for the weekend
Stall on the market square
Next morning, we headed home. The rain was so intense that newly established rivers and waterfalls cascaded from the hills. Older-established rivers burst their banks and flooded across roads. Fields developed impromptu lakes. It reminded us of a remark that Malcolm had overheard at the festival: ‘I come every year. But it always rains’
This is a Bolton week. This is the week for Ellie’s second dose of chemo. As we feared, it’s made her feel very nauseous, despite apparently super-efficient state-of-the-art anti-sickness medication.
So I’m in loco parentis. One of my duties was to take the boys to what Ellie cheerfully calls ‘Grief Club’.
‘Once upon a Smile’ supports bereaved families in all kinds of ways, practical and emotional. The children often have fun together – and appreciate being with other young people who share their unwanted feelings of raw emotion and grief. Yesterday they were at the Trafford Centre, so I had an hour to waste there while the boys got competitive on the bowling alley.
‘Waste’, because shopping is no kind of therapy for me. And the Trafford Centre is a château, a folly, a temple to consumerism. Just look at this. Look at the kitsch statues, the faux gold, the marble, the sweeping staircases and the wannabe classical fountains. And this palace, which dates from as long ago as 1998, is merely a home to the likes of Marks and Spencer, Boots, Next and Paperchase. I got crosser and crosser as I thought of what fun I’d be having if instead I was at a community market, chatting to the locals. And I was cross with myself too, for feeling so holier-than-thou.
Perhaps the Trafford Centre wasn’t built with me in mind. The boys had fun though, which was the entire point of the excursion.
This week’s WordPress photo assignment challenges us to share a wish.
I have chosen an image of the cheerfully optimistic and colourful prayer lanterns we saw so often suspended from the ceilings in the Buddhist temples of South Korea to illustrate our family’s wish, which will come as no surprise at all to regular readers of this blog.
We’d like my daughter Elinor, aka ‘Fanny, the Champion of the World‘, to be cancer-free by the time her twin boys become twelve. Then they, and we can truly celebrate their birthday, shadowed since they were eight by the cancer firstly of their father, then of their mother. It’s chemo-time at the moment. Not much fun, but all in a good cause.
It’s everything to ask. But surely neither greedy nor unreasonable.
I’m having a busy week. I’ve got far too much to do to take a day out walking with friends.
Except that on Tuesday when I woke up, the sun was already bright and the sky was clear. We haven’t had days like that in a while. And John, who always knows a good walk, had planned to take us near Thruscros Reservoir. The jobs could wait.
Here’s the reservoir, offering a home to wildlife, and panoramic views to us, while supplying clean water to the population of Leeds.
We walked through woodland and through Daleside pasture with moorland views beyond.
And at lunchtime, we found a sunny drystone wall to rest our backs against as we picnicked. The local sheep were interested. Picnics mean tasty snacks, perhaps. They organised a mass silent and peaceful demonstration for food. We resolutely ignored them, and finally they mooched off to nibble at their pastureland once more.
The morning had been all uphill, which meant the afternoon was all downhill (well done, John!). Soon we were at the reservoir again. A fine day’s walking was had by all. And my jobs remain uncompleted.
Since writing my last post, I’ve discovered that my friend Janet Willoner has written a wonderful piece describing a murmuration of starlings, in Melissa Harrison’s equally wonderful anthology ‘Winter’. Here’s the link.