Sunday, 2 December 2018

The past two months in 60 seconds

Ok, well not really 60 seconds. But in the numerous weeks since my last post we've been very busy jaunting here, there and everywhere. So here goes for a brief rundown... excuse the mediocre quality of writing - I have done this in a rush!

An amber world here at Frensham Heights

In the latter half of October we made the most of the beautiful autumn weather by exploring yet more of the neighbouring county of Hampshire. We ventured back to the Basingstoke canal, with the aim of checking out Dogmersfield Park. It's a Grade I listed 18th century manor house that has recently been converted into a luxury hotel, part of the Four Seasons chain. 

It was a pleasant 5km stroll from the village of Odiham along the canal, before finally reaching the hotel which is set in rolling hills. We didn't go inside, but wandered around the grounds. We took a different walking route back to Odiham and then enjoyed our customary reward - a lovely pub lunch.

The benefits of choosing a less popular walking route, on a slightly chilly day
- blissfully quiet!

Whilst ambling along the canal we came across this little fundraising initiative -
homemade lemonade, brownies and even doggie treats, yours for a donation.
It was for a student raising funds to travel to Nepal

Oh, poor Ted! No longer allowed treats, so giving them up for a charitable cause

The spa wing of the Four Seasons Hotel at Dogmersfield Park - set in the old stables

In the grounds are a walled garden and the oldest dovecote in the county of Hampshire

Our lunch venue after the walk - The Waterwitch pub. Very cosy!

That same weekend I finally managed the long awaited testing of a piece of baking kit, purchased six years ago. The catalyst for me using the Angel Food Cake tin for the first time was my offer to make a birthday cake for our friend Steve, whose special day was being celebrated at the home of friends Josie and Matt who live up the other end of the campus from us (in Roberts House, where we lived in 2009-10).

Angel Food Cake is a very particular type of American sponge which uses about a dozen egg whites (no yolks... what to do with 12 eggs yolks when you don't eat crème brûlée, custard or mayonnaise?!). It's essentially an incredibly light meringue sponge. The specialised cake tin has a removable base with a funnel down the centre. You are expressly forbidden to grease the tin - and in fact you're advised to wipe it down with white vinegar to remove the merest trace of any oil or grease. This is because greasing it impedes the sponge rising up the tin during cooking.

Once the sponge is cooked you immediately turn it upside down (still in the tin), to allow it to cool with ventilation, and so that the sponge doesn't deflate. The tin has special little feet to allow for this, though I'll confess the actual upturning was a nerve-wracking moment. 

Even if I do say so myself, I did a sterling job for a first attempt at this tricky piece of baking. The internet and cookbooks are full of tales of disaster where the sponge didn't rise, it stayed wet inside, it developed cracks etc. I spent at least an hour researching tips on recipe blogs and YouTube, before settling on exactly the right kind of high protein flour, type of sugar and so on.

Five hours of labour but it was very well received, and now I have this recipe in my repertoire, should it ever be required again. And in cased you're wondering, I did manage to use up about half the egg yolks in a recipe I found for chewy, chocolate chip cookies.

The finished product, covered with an Italian Meringue, raspberries, and shredded coconut hauled all the way from Oz by Lesley Williams as you cannot buy it in the UK - PLUS a marvellous raspberry filling between the layers

I used my compatriot Donna Hay's recipe. 
She says to cut the sponge into FIVE layers.
Five layers, be b*ggered!
It was tricky enough doing three and there was no way 

I was risking all those hours of research and labour by having five 
incredibly thin layers fall into bits

In the final week of October we had a long awaited weekend away with friends Roy and Tracey, who had generously invited us as their guests to stay in the gatehouse of Sudeley Castle in The Cotswolds, not far from Cheltenham.

Our stay at the Gatehouse gave us free entry to the castle and its grounds, and on the first morning we spent several hours exploring it thoroughly, before wandering around some of the nearby villages, downing cocktails at a pub in Broadway (the best espresso martini I've ever had - Roy and I had two!) and finally dinner at an Indian restaurant.

The main castle building dates from the 15th century, and Henry VIII's sixth wife, Catherine Parr, is buried in the chapel. This castle is one of the few in England still used as a residence (by the Ashcombes), and it has featured in a few high profile events - celebrity weddings etc (Liz Hurley's 2007 wedding as an example). For you P G Wodehouse fans, Sudeley is widely credited as being the inspiration for Blandings Castle in his novels.

This was our home for a few days - The Gatehouse at Sudeley Castle
(L-R: the author, Kevin, Tracey and Roy)

The Knot Garden at Sudeley Castle

Banqueting Hall ruins at Sudeley Castle

Delightful cottage with espaliered vine in the little village of Stanton

Fresh fruit and veg in Broadway

A gorgeous Autumn sunset over Winchcombe

Combined café, general store and post office in Guiting Power - one of the cutest Cotswolds villages

Our final morning was spent at the truly lovely National Trust property, Snowshill Manor. This place is set in gorgeous rolling hills, and has quite a chequered past in terms of ownership. Most famous is the last owner, Charles Paget Wade, who handed over Snowshill to the National Trust in 1951. He was an architect, artist-craftsman, minor poet and a collector of beautiful objets. His collection (approx. 22,000 items) is still housed in the manor and this makes for a very interesting, and unconventional, NT property. I loved it. The grounds are particularly beautiful - not terribly large, but filled with orchards, stone walls, dovecotes and various cute cottages and outbuildings.

Even if we hadn't entered Snowshill Manor, it was worth the drive there - unbelievably cute villages with chocolate box cottages surrounded by glorious woodland and neat farms.

The Manor House at Snowshill

That blue is a colour featured at Snowshill Manor - it's known as 'Wade Blue'
after former owner Charles Wade who used it on walls, windows and furniture,
as well as collecting objects in the same hue 

Fancy a delicious Hens Turd?

More Wade Blue - this time in the form of a gorgeous tea service,
just one of the thousands of treasures collected by Charles Wade.

I could happily have stolen this lot away...

Some of the storybook cottages in the area surrounding the Snowshill Manor estate -
looking gorgeous even after summer's flowers have mostly departed

An unsual cottage near Snowshill Manor

This is a close-up of the vine in the photo above, featuring the Wade Blue painted window 

Ivy-covered cottage in the village of Stanton.
We visited specifically because my mother's maiden name was Stanton.
It is a truly lovely village, I am happy to report.

Designed by Capability Brown and completed in 1798, 
Broadway Tower offers amazing views over The Cotswolds and beyond

Late October brought a visit from friends in Australia, Rod and Colette, and we enjoyed showing them around Farnham as well as the school, with the obligatory pub lunch of course.

In the final days of October we walked from our house across farmland and bridleways to Dockenfield, with the intention of revisiting The Blue Bell - another of those pubs we used to frequent when we lived here in 2008-09, but which has changed hands at least four times since then. It was a truly glorious day, there was hardly anybody in the pub so we got a prime spot in front of the fireplace, and it was lovely to retrace familiar walking routes.

The hearth at The Blue Bell in Dockenfield

Kevin ensuring the ales on-tap are up to standard

Looking back towards our place

View across Frensham

Thought 'the Land of Nod' was just an expression for going to sleep?
Nope - it's in Surrey, just 9km south of us!

Sunset from our garden

Also in late October we squeezed in a quick trip to nearby Chawton House, which I have featured in previous blog posts. This property was inherited by Jane Austen's brother, and for many years Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother were housed on the estate (just down the road in the village) in a cottage which is now the Jane Austen Museum.

We have visited 'the big house' at Chawton several times, but the opportunity to see it at night, and decorated for Halloween, was too tempting to pass up! 

It was a chilly night and the mulled wine we were offered upon arrival was very welcome.  In the candlelit interiors it was easy to imagine Jane swishing along corridors and sweeping upstairs in her evening attire, perhaps nestling into a corner to jot down a few notes for the next novel.

Toffee apples and candlelight in Chawton House

A blazing hearth at Chawton House

And so to the first week of November, which in the UK is of course marked by Guy Fawkes Night - festivities traditionally take place on the fifth of November, but are often moved a few days earlier or later for the convenience of celebrating on a weekend. 

Frensham Heights School always puts on a good turn for this event - with a gigantic bonfire and a pretty impressive fireworks display. This year was no exception. Oh, the convenience of just strolling up to the other end of the school for an event!

The beautiful orangery at Frensham Heights, looking particularly fetching -
all lit up on a chilly autumn evening

That bonfire was SCARY...

Main House ablaze with lights for Guy Fawkes Night

We were blessed with fine but chilly weather in mid November, and with the autumn foliage at its peak we drove the short distance to Hindhead where we strolled around The Devil's Punchbowl, a natural amphitheatre of extraordinary beauty. It's also a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Looking at it now, it's hard to believe that only a few years ago, the A3 (a major road from Portsmouth to London) ran right through this beautiful area. Thankfully, as part of a much-needed road widening for the A3, and partly in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, the decision was taken to build the Hindhead Tunnel. The old section of the A3 was returned to nature and you can see it in the second photo below.

A palette of autumn colours at The Devil's Punchbowl, Hindhead

Yours truly and Kevin - selfie with former part of the A3 in the background...
now returned to nature, thanks to the development of the Hindhead Tunnel

Wild ponies!
A delightful surprise on our walk around The Devil's Punchbowl

Don't worry, this blog post is coming to an end soon - I promise.

So... the last couple of weeks of November have been particularly frantic, with me heading into London twice in the space of a week, and meeting up with a former work colleague at the Winchester Christmas Market. It was in fact supposed to be three trips to London within a week, but I ended up having to dip out of a special screening of my all-time favourite film Der Himmel über Berlin at the BFI, having succumbed to a slight cold. The train services into London have once again been very unreliable, with one of my recent trips taking me 2.5 hours. It just didn't seem a good idea.

I met up with gig-buddy Roy Lathwell to see Gary Numan perform at the O2 Empire Shepherds Bush. We saw him back in 2015 for a very rare performance of his 1980 album Telekon, but this time he was performing mostly his more recent albums, and accompanied by The Skaparis Orchestra which gave his music an added dimension. It was a great concert.

I stayed overnight, and the next day I was well and truly overcome by the Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate, the ticket for which I'd purchased months before. Burne-Jones is my favourite Pre-Raphaelite painter, and to move through so many rooms filled with his dreamy, richly coloured, romantic pictures was inspirational. I spent a couple of hours drinking it all in.

The O2 Empire Shepherds Bush - venue for the Gary Numan gig

Pre-gig espresso martini 
(with fabulous art deco styled interior of the Dorsett Shepherds Bush reflected
in the mirrored coffee table)

Interior of the O2 Empire Shepherds Bush theatre - opulent early 20th century music hall glamour

Amazing light show at the Gary Numan concert

The Tate

The Tree of Forgiveness (1881-82)

The Perseus Room

Portrait of Baronne Madeleine Deslandes (1895-96)

The Briar Wood, part of The Briar Rose series (1874-84)

The cupola at The Tate

Four days later I was back in London, this time accompanied by Kevin, for our annual Kate Bush evening at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. This is one of the best nights in our calendar each year. Three tribute acts and a DJ get the crowd fully immersed in Kate's music from the past four decades. Some people dress up as Kate, or as characters from her videos. Everybody sings along. It's like being part of a very exclusive club.

We stayed up way past our usual bedtime, stumbling back to our overnight digs after 2am.

Warming up for a big night, with a Bloody Mary at The Black Dog pub in Vauxhall

The always entertaining Rose Garden

Mandy Watson, key member of Kate Bush tribute band Cloudbusting.
Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow - unbelievable!

The video below is a short burst of the final chorus of The Hounds of Love. Those of you who know Kevin's voice might recognise his enthusiastic participation, particularly the bit where he comes in a bit early on the 'throw them in the lake!' section (and that's his arm punching the air right at the end of the video). LOL.

And finally, the following day we travelled over to Holland Park to visit Leighton House Museum, the former home of Pre-Raphaelite associate Frederic, Lord Leighton. Even if that name is not immediately familiar to some of you, you will surely recognise one of his best known paintings, Flaming June

A bit of a loner, and a 'confirmed bachelor', his house is a superb tribute to his many and exotic travels. You're not permitted to take photographs inside (dammit) but take my word for it - The Arab Hall, in particular, will transport you to somewhere exotic and Middle Eastern. Photos don't really do it justice - gorgeous peacock blue tiles saturated with colour, elaborately carved screens, a gilded ceiling and a spectacular, golden, crown-like chandelier. The house is filled with works from Leighton's contemporaries including pottery by William de Morgan, textiles and papers by William Morris, and paintings by Watts. It is a glorious place.

Exterior of The Arab Room with its tiled cupola

*Phew* - reading back over that lot, I'm exhausted!

December will disappear in the blink of eye, with multiple social commitments each week until we head off to Slovenia a few days before Christmas - including what is becoming an annual event at our place as we host festive drinks on the first evening of the winter term break.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for snow in Ljubljana, and looking forward to exploring that city where we'll be based, as well as a day trip Lake Bled and Bled Castle. Ljubljana's Christmas Market regularly features in the list of the best European Christmas markets. Then on Boxing Day we take a train to Vienna where we'll spend a couple of days taking in that very sophisticated city.

Once again I am struck with the conviction that moving back to the UK was absolutely the right thing for me - there are so many cultural opportunities here in the Europe. Travelling to hundreds of different cities in dozens of countries is possible within just a few hours. Moving around will, of course, be less easy once Brexit takes effect - and many of us are still hoping for some kind of last-minute miracle to prevent this disaster from occurring.

Autumn sunset in our garden

The road leading to the school - an absolute glory in autumn

It's timely for me to wish you all a very happy festive season, though I might squeeze in another post between now and when we head to Slovenia.

I hope Christmas is merry and bright, wherever you are.  

Until next time,
- Maree  xo