Sunday 30 April 2017

The Priory Church of St Mary and St Hardulph

 The Priory church of St Mary and St Hardulph is somewhere that I have known from childhood. Dominating the landscape for miles around, it sits astride Breedon-on-the-Hill, straddling the borders between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. It's commanding postion attracts all passing attention as it must have done for centuries.
Indeed, it shares this high spot with a beacon belonging to the national chain 
 a quilted machine embroidered panel hanging inside the church
360º views from the church grounds
The church has undergone several reincarnations over the centuries, but bits of the original Saxon and Norman church can still be seen. However, the greatest treasures, which have luckily survived its many vicissitudes, are the Anglo Saxon sculptures inside - Anglo Saxon sculptures are as rare as hen's teeth.
Simon Jenkins in his book England's Thousand Best Churches says 'they are perhaps the most impressive English figure sculptures of their time' and they have been described as the stone equivalent of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Originally this hilltop was home to an Iron Age Fort constructed in 300 BC, but evidence of Stone Age man has also been found here in the shape of a polished axe dated to 1000 BC. In 675 a Saxon Benedictine Monastery was built within the fort, but Danish raiders, who sailed up the river Trent, destroyed the monastery in the c9th.
As we approached the entrance door I felt a sudden panic thinking that the church might indeed be locked due to the treasures within, but with a gentle twist of the handle we found ourselves inside. 
Simon Jenkins suggests that this carving appears to show a leg descending, but I see it representing two amphoras of wine, a fish, and the box possibly contains the host (bread)!

Influences from Celtic art can clearly be seen in the curious stone carved animal figures
this lion like figure with an owlish face is known as the 'Anglian Beast'
is this a cheeky little devil peeping out from a joint in the masonry? 
A figure giving a Byzantine blessing and flanked on either side by saints
The one to the right has a rather comical pointed moustache and beard

These men appear to be swinging censers
Many of the friezes intertwined with vines, leaves, and scrolls would have decorated the outside of the original Saxon Monastery
Sadly the most beautiful of all the sculptures cannot be seen. It is high up in the church bell tower hidden behind a firmly locked door, but with the advent of modern technology in the form of 3D computer aided imaging an exact replica has recently been made using identical stone
A wonderful carving known as the 'Breedon Angel' -  considered to be Angel Gabriel - but why is he looking so glum! The use of the third finger and the thumb to give the blessing is of a Byzantine tradition as are the delicate folds of his gown.

Thursday 27 April 2017

The Bramley Apple Story

I never imagined that I would return home from our short road trip and write a tale about the humble Bramley apple, but so often you come across the unexpected when you are out and about exploring?
Over 200 years ago in 1809, Mary Ann Brailsford, a young girl living in the small town of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, grew the first ever Bramley apple tree from a pip she had planted in the family's garden. She sowed several pips from apples already growing in the garden and one of them years later produced the Bramley apple we know and love today.   
Southwell is a fine honey coloured small stone town, and apart from being home to the first Bramley apple tree, it is also home to what is said to be the best kept secret amongst England's 42 cathedrals - Southwell Minster. It is a Romanesque gem - this photo was taken over six years ago with my first ever digital camera
In 1856, Henry Merryweather, a 17 year old youth came across a gardener in Southwell carrying some of the apples, and enquired as to where they had been grown. By this time, the garden containing the apple tree belonged to a butcher called Matthew Bramley.
Mr Bramley agreed that Mr Merryweather could take cuttings from the tree and grow them at his family's plant nursery, provided that they were given the name Bramley's Seedling. In truth, perhaps, the name should really have been Mary Ann's Seedling! but by this time the little girl was long gone.
Today there are now more than 300 Bramley apple growers in England.
It is universally acknowledged that the Bramley cooking apple is the perfect apple for pies etc - in my own humble opinion the Bramley reigns supreme

On our first night away we stayed at a very contemporary hotel situated within Nottingham University's campus, strangely called 'The Orchard' with a restaurant called

Being of a curious nature I was interested to discover more.
In 1991 the original Bramley's Seedling apple tree in the Southwell garden was under attack on two fronts - old age and honey fungus.
Biologists from the University of Nottingham saved the tree from the fungus and it still continues fruiting to this day. But they also ensured the future of the Bramley apple, by using modern biotechnology methods to clone the original tree, thereby preserving it's unique fruit.
Now, 12 of the cloned trees are thriving and fruiting in the Millennium Garden at Nottingham University Park behind the hotel. This guarantees that future generations of gardeners will have access to the original form of the "Bramley's seedling", even after the ancient tree inevitably stops fruiting. 
The Orchard Hotel thus pays homage to the Bramley Apple by naming it's restaurant 'Bramleys Brasserie', which happens to serve delicious food too!!!

This week the Bramley apple blossom was picture perfect in the university orchard

Thursday 20 April 2017

British Treasures No. 5

 The Coronation of Henry IV of England from the c15th manuscript of Jean Froissart's Chronicles
Princess Blanche was the eldest daughter of King Henry lV, she was the sixth child of seven. After Henry's accession to the English throne her father wanted to make important alliances in order to maintain and legitimise his rule. A suitable ally was King Rupert of Germany, who also needed to legitimise his rule too, and so a marriage was arranged between Rupert's eldest surviving son Louis and Blanche. The marriage contract was signed in 1401 and part of the bride's dowry included what is now the oldest surviving royal English crown. The marriage took place the following year in Cologne Cathedral when the bride was 10 years old. Despite the political nature of the marriage it was said to be happy. Blanche gave birth to a son called Rupert named after his paternal grandfather when she was 14 years old. Aged just 17 years and pregnant with her second child she died of a fever in Alsace.
Princess Blanche's exquisite dowry crown is now kept in the Munich Residenz.  Made of gold, enamel, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls it is considered to be one of the finest pieces made by medieval gothic goldsmiths.
The crown is first mentioned in a list of 1399 recording the movement of royal jewels in London. It is listed as being amongst a group of jewels that had belonged to the deposed King Richard II of England. It is, therefore, known that the crown was not specifically made for Blanche. 
Princess Blanche stands poised between her husband Louis lll and his second wife Matilda. At the time of this painting in 1435 Blanche had been dead for 26 years - her presence and countenance in the picture are symbolic of her death with eyes closed and hands crossed
I am heading off for a short break to visit some places of British historical interest
 One is a curious little building I long to see covered in symbols which conceals hidden messages 
Taking a final look back at our Spring blossom as I leave
soon the petals will float away like wedding confetti on the wind 

Monday 17 April 2017

Nut Roast & Chocolate Nut Lava Cake

I am not a big meat eater so was pleased to see a nut roast recipe from Margaret.

I discovered that Lidl sell 200g packets of the recommended selection of mixed nuts so two packets were required
4 shallots, thyme, sage, mint - I have plenty of herbs growing in the garden, but if you don't have access to fresh use dried
400g can of chopped tomatoes, drain away the juice
3 eggs, beaten
150g of strong cheese
1 veg. Oxo cube or a teaspn of bouillon powder
1 teaspn lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
toast the 250g of nuts in a dry pan being careful not to burn
Put the nuts, herbs, shallots, cheese and Oxo cube in the food processor to blitz until the mixture still has texture but is not pureed
combine the mixture with the drained tomatoes, beaten eggs, lemon juice, and ground black pepper
Place in a parchment lined loaf tin and cook for 45mins at 180℃ or fan oven 160 until golden brown - leave to cool in the tin
Serve either hot or cold
With the leftover nuts why not make a Cake. I found this easy recipe from a Turkish Airline inflight magazine whilst returning home from Cyprus.
 Chocolate Nut Lava Cake
75g chopped pecan nuts (I am substituting with the leftover mixed nuts)
100g dark chocolate
115g unsalted butter
175g sugar
75g plain flour
2 large beaten eggs
small teaspn vanilla extract
Break chocolate add butter and melt very gently in a bain marie. As soon as softening, remove from heat
add sugar,
then beaten eggs,
stir in flour and chopped nuts
Bake at 180℃ or fan oven 160  for 30 mins  

As indicated by the word 'lava' the cake is 
chocolatey and gooey inside     

eat it as it is or serve as a dessert topped off with cream or icecream