Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Time and Tide

Time and Tide
November 2016

My visit to North Norfolk included a trip to see the sea, and by coincidence our arrival at Walcott coincided with an unusually high tide.

The sea was just a couple of feet beneath the main walkway and for the first time ever there was no sand to be seen.

Instead small sharp waves were smacking up against the sea defences and throwing up sheets of spray, which offered an unusual action photographic opportunity.

Monday, 21 November 2016

North Walsham and Dilham Canal update

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Update
November 2016

The diminutive and remote North Walsham and Dilham is one of the unsung hero's of the restoration world. Rarely has so much been achieved by so few and its always interesting to visit the middle pounds where the channel has been extensively dredged and Bacton Wood Lock restored to a near workable condition.

Ebridge millpond

Its a year since I last visited the Ant valley but a sunny if somewhat frosty morning encouraged a visit and the prospect of some good photos.

Boating on the North Walsham and Dilham - starts in a small way!

I started at Ebridge Mill where the mill pool was brimming full, and the shimmering water was playing host to an enthusiastic model boat club. Their remote controlled sailing boats were darting in and out of a buoyed course against a backdrop of the mill building wrapped in polythene as conversion to housing proceeds.

Bacton Wood Lock

Then it was on to Bacton Wood Lock where the channel from Whitehouse Common Bridge has been fully dredged and two huge pontoons sit, waiting for their next job. The last time I saw the lock is was stark and new, but the brickwork has now mellowed and there it sits complete with upper gates waiting to hold back the weight of a top pound in water.

The last stop was at Royston Bridge where a small convoy of diggers sit in between jobs. The main channel has seen no action over the last year and reeds have grown in its bed, but the team appear to have been working on the adjacent river bed which currently carries the waters of the River Ant. The plan appears to be to block the exit from the canal bed to the river and force the water to flow down the canal to Bacton Wood Lock and the adjoining mill, but I suspect that the Environment Agency is involved and setting up obstacles to ensure the water balance of the area is not adversely impacted.

Canal bed above Royston Bridge

And so the track stands ready and waiting to be re-watered, and when it is the team will just need some bottom gates and they will be ready to establish a trip boat which would be a major tourist attraction in what is a popular holiday area.

Keep going guys - its looking good.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Albert's washday blues

Albert's washday blues
November 2016

One of the thing I love about sharing my discoveries on the blog are the responses I get and the fresh insights, which add snippits of information which would otherwise be lost forever.

Riverbank above Horstead Lock

This weekend I am visiting my mother in Norfolk and my journey to her home took me through Coltishall, where I spent my childhood. With the sun setting there was just time to stop at Horstead Mill and grab a photo under the stand of beech trees which grow along he riverbank just above the lock. Its one of my favourite spots and is an area where I spent many happy days during the summer holidays in the 1970's.

As I stood on the lock I looked over the water meadows towards the old Salvation Army building in Coltishall (now a tea room) and saw the huge willow tree which reminded me about some recollections made by a local resident I vaguely knew in my youth.

Way back "in the day" the garage which stood on the island in the middle of the village was very different and consisted of a set of sheds out of which a car and cycle repair business operated. This old Central Garage was run by Mr Albert Deacon, who retired with his wife to a bungalow in Westbourne Road. I dont think I knew Albert but I did know his widow with whom I struck up a real friendship, and most Sunday evenings would see me heading off to her house where we watched programmes like Triangle, The Brothers and, I think, Cilla!. My parents didn't have a TV at the time so this was all heady stuff for a teenage lad, aided and abetted by some rather big slices of cake. 

 Albert's clothes line

Anyway, I digress. Before they moved to their retirement home they must have lived close to the garage because they had an allotment on what is now a triangle of common land behind the petrol station. The allotments had sheds and washing lines and the story goes that Doris's washing post snapped dropping all the laundry on the ground. Without and delay Albert sought out a suitable branch of a willow tree, cut it down and rammed it into the ground as a replacement post.

Sadly the allotments are long gone, as are the Central Garage workshops and both of the Deacons, but the post lives on. The branch took root  and sprouted into the 80ft tree which dominates the common today. So, next time you refuel your car in in the village, look over towards the water meadows and offer a nod of appreciation to Albert's living memorial.

Richard - thanks for this little nugget.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

An appealing prospect

Apples galore
October 2016

My visit to Moseley Old Hall included a wander in the orchard where their collection of historic fruit trees were carefully labelled.

Apples are a more diverse species than dogs, with different types cross pollinated and grafted by generations of gardeners to achieve fruit which are prefect for their uses. This diversity has resulted in literally hundreds of individually recognised species, all lovingly maintained in specialist orchards in the south of England.

Apples themselves come just a handful of strains in Asia, mostly in the Eastern Turkey to Kazakhstan area and than brought back by explorers and crossed with crab apples.

Its therefore impossible to catalogue all the apples we  could encounter but I thought it would be interesting to record the more unusual ones I find and the following are to be found at Moseley Old Hall, near Wolverhampton:

 Autumn Pomain

 Court Pendu Plat

 English Codlin

 Golden Harvey

 London Pippin

 Non Pariel

 Norfolk Biffen


Sunday, 2 October 2016

The weird and the wonderful

Moseley Old Hall
October 2016

I received a copy of the regional National Trust briefing recently and noticed that Moseley Old Hall near Wolverhampton was holding an apple pressing open day. Interesting.

Fruit for sale

Now I have to admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed. I was expecting to see big volumes of local apples being processed in an ancient press but in reality it was a puny modern press set up on the lawn and being fed a slice or two of apple and extracting a mere egg cup full of juice. Kids stuff.

That said, Moseley Old Hall is a property with an amazing collection of interesting fruit trees. So, accompanied by a rapidly recovering Mrs T we took a stroll round the gardens under a gorgeous blue autumn sky and this is a sample of what I found:

The magnificent Medlar

At one time you would have found a graceful Medlar tree on most gardens, but these days they are few and far between. Its country name is "Cats Arse" fruit on account of how it looks, and therein lies its problem.

The story goes that the Victorian ladies were offended by its appearance and as a result they either erected screens around the trees, or more usually chopped them down! 

These  are odd fruit to work with as they remain solid and unyielding till November when they start to blet (which is a nice way of saying "goes rotten"). You have to let the fruit go mainly soft before you can use its flesh, normally by cooking it and making Medlar Jelly, but they used to scoop out the soft flesh raw and enjoy the distinctive caramel / apple flavour.

Its also said that the Medlar is like a fallen woman : It reaches perfection at the exact time it succumbs to terminal corruption.... 

And in this comment it highlights another snag with the mighty Medlar. The window of opportunity to use is is ridiculously small - just a few days. little wonder that you don't find Medlar jelly on supermarket shelves! 


Another unusual fruit tree which can be used to make a lovely fragrant jelly. The quince looks like a nobbly hard pear but has a fluffy down on the skin. Its a fruit to be harvested in October and for us it is the core ingredient of Quince-essentially Christmas, a Quince Jelly with added seasonal flavourings like cinnamon.

There is also its smaller domestic cousin Japonica. The hard fruit can be found in many garden hedgerows but in our experience the resulting jelly is not as clear as that made with the larger ones. However, the taste is identical.

If you were a child you would expect to find this soft fruit growing on a bush, but in fact they grow on tall trees. 

This height makes collecting the raspberry like fruit a bit difficult. The berries are here and there all over the tree and ripen at different times so actually getting them when ripe is a challenge. If you can access a tree and afford the time to pick its crop you will be rewarded with some superb soft fruit in August to September.