Monday 27 August 2018

The 'Matthew'

At 70 feet long, designed and built in Bristol, and with a well chosen crew of 18, the 'Matthew' sailed from the mouth of the Avon on the 20th May 1497. 
Above is a conjectural reconstruction of the 'Matthew' which John Cabot sailed from Bristol in search of new lands. 
At the end of the c15th knowledge was scarce, it is difficult for us today to appreciate or comprehend just how ignorant and illiterate the majority of people were. Nevertheless, even from humble beginnings great persons did emerge.
Giovanni Cabboto - John Cabot, was born in Genoa in 1450, the son of a spice merchant. By the time that he was 11 years old his family had moved to Venice, and there the young John worked in his father's shop. However, during his mid 30s he spent several years learning to became a skilful mariner. Knowing that spices came from the East, and that it was possible, though not proven, that the world was round he was convinced that by sailing westwards he could explore and tap into the riches found in the orient.
In 1495 Cabot came to Bristol hoping to find a sponsor for his voyage and was introduced to a group of merchants who were keen to expand their trade.
Impressed by Cabot they arranged an audience for him with King Henry Vll in London, and on 5th March 1496, Cabot secured letters patent from the King (a letter of authority to make a voyage and claim lands on behalf of the monarch).
Thirty-four days after sailing west from Bristol, Cabot sighted land. The exact location is disputed, but it is thought that it could have been southern Labrador, Cape Breton Island, or mainland Nova Scotia, but many consider that it was 'New-Found-Land'. When Cabot went ashore, he reportedly saw signs of habitation but no people. However, he returned back to Bristol along with several pieces of evidence from his voyage amongst which was a needle for making nets, a snare for catching animals and the complete jawbone of a whale. Cabot had not discovered a passage to Asia as was his initial intention, but instead discovered a continent - a continent that most of the world had no idea existed.
Cabot set off again the following year in February 1498, but this time he had five ships and 200 men. His intention was to continue westward from his first landfall until he reached the island of Cipangu (Japan). Several weeks later one of his ships, which was badly storm damaged, limped into coastal waters off Ireland. However, Cabot, and the other boats were never heard of again, and it was presumed everyone perished at sea. 
It was a lovely sunny afternoon to walk along the water front whilst passing some interesting vessels on the way - this canal boat has been decorated in an Art Deco design.
you can take a trip on a ferry, 
 or visit a really great ship, a jewel in Britain's maritime history, built to great acclaim in 1843. She returned back home to the dock of her birth almost 50 years ago having lain on the seabed for 33 years, some 8,000 miles away.
Having now been fully restored to her former glory, we had no time for a visit as our granddaughter had invited us to her home for supper. The story of this great ship will have to wait for another visit.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
and Quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crabapples, dewberries, 
Pineapples, blackberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather, 
Morns that pass by, 
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces, 
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy."
August heralds baskets laden with fruit from our gardens. Now is the time to pull up a comfy chair, sit back, read a good book, and simply enjoyπŸ’πŸ‹πŸ“πŸŠ

Thursday 16 August 2018

Blenheim Palace

John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, defeated the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The English name 'Blenheim' is a derivative of Blindheim, a small Bavarian village that lies on the left bank of the River Danube. The Franco/Bavarian army and the English army met on the banks of the Danube, and the ensuing battle took place in and around the village. 

To show her gratitude, Queen Anne gave him the ruined Royal Manor of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, along with £240,000 with which to build a house to commemorate his achievements. 

Sir John Vanbrugh, aided by Nicholas Hawksmoor, 
 designed and built Blenheim Palace between 1705 and 1722. It represented the beginning of a new but short lived style of architecture, known as English Baroque. 
The Grand Bridge 
The landscaped park designed and created by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was considered to be 'a naturalistic Versailles'. Vanbrugh's elegant bridge spans the Great Lake and Queens Pool, and enhances Brown's surrounding landscape with a scenic driveway.

Heading inside beneath the grand entrance portico, I suddenly spotted these eyes looking down.
Painted by British artist Colin Gill in 1928 they depict the bright blue eyes of Gladys Duchess of Marlborough. Gladys was renown for her good looks and exceptional blue eyes. The brown eyes are those of her husband, the 9th Duke.

The Great Hall
The hall, which stands a remarkable 67 feet high, is made out of locally quarried Oxfordshire limestone with exquisite carvings done by Grinling Gibbons and his assistants

The ceiling was painted by Sir James Thornhill in 1716 and shows the 1st duke offering his battle plan to Britannia, surrounded by allegorical figures. 

A series of nine large silk tapestries in three connecting State Rooms depicts all the victorious campaigns of the 1st Duke of Marlborough - this last tapestry shows the final French surrender to the duke (seated on the white horse) at Bouchain in France. Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace, said that the 1st Duke's battle manoeuvres shown within these nine tapestries reveal his military genius, and said that the Battle of Blenheim completely changed the 'political axis' in Europe at that time.

A marble statue of Queen Anne dominates the end of the library.

To the rear of the house is a water garden laid out in the 1920s by French architect Achille DuchΓͺne in a c17th Italianate style with detailed parterres and fountains. 

Steps lead down from the water garden to the water terrace where various paths then meander off through Brown's landscape and around the side of his great lake.

This obelisk fountain was carved in Gian Lorenzo Bernini's studio and was gifted to the 1st Duke in 1710 by the Spanish Ambassador to the Papal Court in Rome. It is a one-third scale marble copy of Bernini's Fountain in the Piazza Navona, Rome. It depicts the four great rivers of the world at that time - the Nile, the Plata, the Ganges, and the Danube, each one being represented by a symbolic figure sitting on rocks beneath the obelisk.

The obelisk at the other end of the water terrace was created to bring symmetry to the one created by Bernini.

This wall of caryatids linking the terraces was carved on site by French sculptor Jules Visseaux. The head and torso of the male caryatids was modelled on one of the palace's gardeners, who happened to walk by one day as Visseaux was working. 

Walking around the lake reveals just how green our landscape was during last May. 

Our final destination was a lovely walk through Brown's landscape and along the side of his lake to the Cascade. It was originally built as the overflow when Brown dammed the valley to create the Great Lake, and Queens Pool.

Blenheim became a World Heritage Site in 1987, in recognition of the quality of the architecture by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor and Brown's landscaping. The house and the 2,000 acres of parkland and gardens are all Grade l listed.

Sunday 12 August 2018

A Feast of Figs

Lots of figs in the garden are now ripe, so along with making jars of Confit de Figues - delicious on fresh crusty bread or as an accompaniment to cheese, we can once again enjoy a tasty summer fig dish which I tried last year after seeing it on Lorrie's blog. 
Fig and Blue Cheese Tart 
I use freshly made bought sheets of puff pastry placed on grease proof paper, score around the edge and then fork the middle in preparation for the topping.
Set the oven at 220C, 450F or Gas Mark 8
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 red onions
4 or 5 fresh figs
English Blue Stilton cheese, 
but any blue cheese you prefer
rapeseed (canola) oil
balsamic vinegar
5 teaspns sugar
slice the onions then gently cook in the oil until they are translucent. 
Add the sugar and a large tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Keep stirring until all of the liquid is absorbed and the onions have a jam like consistency - let the mixture cool. 
Layer the onions on to the pastry, top with the sliced figs, and finish off with pieces of blue cheese on each figs.
Cook for 20mins then enjoy hot or cold.
Quick, easy and tasty
Fortunately more figs are still growing and ripening.