Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Wigged Out

I just had to pop in to share a quick snap of one of the treasures that is currently putting on a late summer show in the garden at the moment.

I've been growing it for quite a few years now and feel its ready for its photographic debut as I have yet to see it in any of the UK gardens that I poke around in. 

So, let me introduce you to Hemerocallis 'Wigged Out' perhaps one of the most unusual diploid varieties of Daylily. It produces a gorgeous, emerald mop of a mad scientist hairdo in place of the more commonly seen blooms.

Click to Enlarge

On the rare occasion that it does flower, its rusty orange inflorescence isn't much to write home about but who cares, when in its place you get something so much more interesting. The shaggy proliferations that sit on top of three foot stems work great as cut flowers or as a pointing tool down at the local farmers market.

Who's ready to get 'Wigged Out'?

Monday, 18 August 2014

Wistman's Wood

"Drive towards Bovey Castle and do a right at the B3212. Continue for ten miles until you reach The Two Bridges where you'll have to hike the final hour of the journey to reach Wistman's Wood".

These were the precise instructions we received from our hosts as we left Easton Court B&B in Chagford early one morning. It all seemed simple enough. We headed South, pootling across Dartmoor whilst listening to the haunting Hawaiian soundtrack from The Descendants; a strange combination but it worked.

Our SatNav sent us on a rather adventurous route, down narrow bucolic lanes with barely enough room for our car, as prickly hedgerows scoured its sides like nails down a blackboard, Hercules began swearing like a trooper, saying something about his "Bloody paintwork", I wasn't really listening, I was already having a whale of a time.

We dumped the cat-scratched car at the remote Two Bridges Hotel and hopped over a turnstile following the signs to the wood.

Click Images for Fabulous Fullscreen Effect

Following the steep moorland of Longaford Newtake that rises up from the West Dart River, we reached the outskirts of the wood at a leisurely pace in about forty-five minutes, not so hardcore a trek after all.

You are never alone in the wilds of Dartmoor. 
There is always a set of beady eyes fixed on your every move.

On the last part of the walk you can just make out the woods, hugging the hillside on the left as you pass through the remains of Bronze Age settlements.

Wistman's Wood is one of only three remaining high altitude Oak woodland copses on Dartmoor. Growing on granite bedrock has stunted the 400 year old tree's growth, sculpting them into gnarly, fairy-tale shapes that point and beckon in every direction.

With no particular path, the only way through is to clamber and climb wildcat style.
Come on, lets go. Last one in is a raspberry.

There are many stories surrounding the origin of the woods name. In local dialect, the word 'Wisht' means haunted and legend has it, that the Devil's Wisht Hounds walk the woods at night in search of unwary travellers.
Who fancies staying up late to see the hounds?

A multitude of moss and lichen species clothe every available surface, which adds an air of magic and fantasy. From sinewy outstretched limbs right down to the carpet of velveteen boulders. 

(With Audio)

As I bounced and jumped from rock to rock, I wondered if Director JJ Abrams was still filming Episode VII of Star Wars in the Forest of Dean. I think he should down tools and get his camera crew to Wistman's Wood pronto. 

The enchanted force is strong in this one.


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Friday, 8 August 2014

Ground Control to Major Tom

Its going to be a quick pit stop today, as it has been a crazy week. I've been wearing more hats than, than.....someone who wears lots of hats!

But fear not my little Elflings for I bring you offerings of edible sunshine on this eve of weekends.

I came home yesterday after a hard days toil to find nothing but tumbleweed in the cupboards and a rather emaciated pantry. My tummy was rumbling and I began to fear the worst. I'd probably be found in the morning lying on the kitchen floor clasping a crispbread to my chest. In the middle of my drama I had an epiphany and remembered that there was actually food in the garden.

I rushed barefoot out across the crispy fried lawn and fell to my knees in front of rows of tomato plants festooned with clusters of delicious rubescent baubles. Raising my arms aloft to the skies, I gave thanks to Gaia (and to Hercules for watering and weeding) for I would be but a withering waif if I had not been granted such gracious gifts. Oh what a tomatoey (!) feast we had.

In fact the tomatoes are pretty much all that is left this year. The blessed slugs and snails have been having a field day this summer, storming through the garden, decimating every luscious edible leaf I had planted. Rows of Courgettes, pumpkins, marrows and lettuces disappeared overnight, even radish tops were chomped and scalped.

So I rolled up my sleeves and stepped up my game. I bought beer by the barrel load and set up booze traps all over the garden. I even sent Hercules out in his Batman pyjamas to do night sentry duties, checking under each and every leaf.

We seem to have reduced the mollusc populous to a minimal and with my Buddhist neighbour Katie, also on duty (who eradicates all her snails betwixt two bricks, whilst chanting that they return to the earth in the form of something less gooey), we seem to have it under control.

Look at that a whole post from nothing more than a bowl of toms.

As you were Elflings.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Dancing Across Dartmoor

I love playing at being town mouse one minute and country mouse the next. Our recent sojourn in the south west was filled with opportunities for me to get out of my wingtips and into my hiking boots, in order to go stomping across this beautiful country of ours.

The trip was planned with a route that crossed both Bodmin and Dartmoor, enabling us to jump out of the car at a moment's notice, to scramble up hillsides and tors, to view the lay of the land and to breathe in the calm and serenity that surrounded us.

Please Click Images to Enlarge

Farmers have rights to graze their animals on the open moors that surround their farmland.
Rough grasses and heathers are top of the menu for todays lunch, ladies. Nom, Nom, Nom.

These three herberts called dibs on this magnificent view. As I approached with my camera, the mean looking gang leader in front told me to either 'hoppit' or get my ass kicked and I wasn't taking any chances. 

Dartmoor Ponies can be seen roaming at will on the moor, although much like their woolly neighbours, they are not wild and are owned by farmers. In the 1930s there were estimated to be 25,000 compared today to only 5000.

Constant nibbling of the grassland gives certain areas of the moor a velvety green carpet effect.

Here you can see one of the many Tors or granite outcrops that characterise Dartmoor. They become a major attraction every May, when several thousand young people, descend upon them, to take part in the ten Tors challenge.

The main objective of the event is to test endurance, navigation and survival skills, requiring participants to visit ten Tors, whilst battling harsh elements over a 34 hour period.

Make yourselves comfortable, why not.

The moor gets its name from the two rivers, East Dart and West Dart which converge to become a single river at the tranquil oasis that is known as Dartmeet. I traversed the meeting point back and forth in true monkey fashion by leaping across the huge boulders strewn the length of its crystal waters.


Who's up for a swim? Last one in is a ninny.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Breakfast at The Wolseley

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so you might as well make an occasion of it every now and then. The Wolseley is my place to go to when I'm in need of morning sustenance, something more than my usual fayre of desiccated chipboard and vapid crispbreads, something that will get me through the day, whilst I am trip-trotting around town.

"Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life," writes A. A. Gill in his book, 'Breakfast at The Wolseley'

(Click Images to Enlarge)

We were in fact up with the larks, to see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy but after spying The Wolseley from across the road I simply couldn't walk past. It calls out to me you see, like the dawn siren, sitting atop a rock of Eggs Benedict, within a demitasse of foaming espresso, luring me in to feed.

The Wolseley was originally born as the grand car showroom for Wolseley Motors in 1919, going on to become the No.160 Piccadilly branch of Barclays Bank from 1927 until 1999, then becoming a grand European styled cafe in 2003.

Renown for being Lucian Freud's favourite dinner venue, I glanced across to table 32 wondering what he might have ordered tonight. In my head I pre-ordered the Coulibiac of Salmon for him, we then opted for the Full English, with lashings of Americano before crossing the road to waddle around the Royal Academy.

I couldn't choose between these two photos whilst capturing the front elevation of the building. I love the first image but when the traffic lights turn red outside the Ritz Hotel, they release a throng of tourists and these four dapper chaps doing their rendition of the Abbey Road crossing. I love it. I love London. I love you all. Good Morn!

160 Piccadilly

Friday, 18 July 2014

Great Fosters

When it was suggested that we pop out for a spot of lunch on Friday, I didn't need asking twice.
I knew the perfect place within striking distance, that had long been on my hit list.

Great Fosters is an immaculately preserved grade one listed building set amongst 50 acres of incredible gardens and parkland in Egham, Surrey.

Built in 1555 and used as a Royal hunting lodge by Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and the Wizard Earl - Henry Percy, Great Fosters has remained a stately home for a plethora of nobility. The house is now a prestigious 43 bedroom romantic luxury hotel. Sympathetically converted in the 1930s and possessing a wealth of beautiful architectural detailing including the rare oak stairwell, stone mullion and transom windows, Jacobean fireplaces and the notable wicket door through which you enter the property one person at a time.

The ornate, dark plasterwork ceiling of the main hall
owes its rich burnished patina to centuries of log burning fires.

The Tudor Room is one of two restaurants at Great Fosters and offers exquisite dining in a modern British style with a soup├žon of Asian and Gallic influence, served by an incredibly dedicated team that excel in the art of discreet service.

Head Chef Nicholas Chappel joined The Tudor Room earlier this year, direct from L'Ortolan where he maintained a Michelin star during his four year residency.

After warming up with a couple of Mai Tai's on the terrace we were led into The Tudor Room by our host.

To begin, an Amuse Bouche of  Cucumber Gazpacho with Radish & Olive Gel

A first course of Goats Cheese Mousse, Green Tomatoes & Sorbet

(Via Instagram)

and Tuna, Sesame, Watermelon & Seaweed

(Via Instagram)

When the main course arrived I had no inclination other than to chow down so there is no photographic evidence of the deliciousness that was...

Goosnargh Duck, Gooseberries & Ginger
Rump of Lamb, Tomato Jam and Gem Lettuce

A pre-dessert of Mango & Coconut 'Egg' realigns the palate in preparation for
a dessert of re-imagined genius by Sous Chef David Balastegui

Peach Melba, Champagne & Raspberry Sorbet

To finish 
Euoropean Cheeses with Figs, Cherry Compote, Membrillo, Champagne Jelly & Great Fosters Honey

Coffee & Petit Fours
I'm still dreaming of the Strawberry & Black pepper pate de fuie and Lime leaf Macaron.

After being rolled out into the open air, like a pair of Oompah Loompahs, we were given an escorted tour of the kitchen garden glasshouses to see where they grow a multitude of heirloom vegetables, salad leaves and herbs that supply the hotel. A leisurely walk was a welcome idea after such a feast.

W H Romaine Walker and his partner Gilbert Jenkins worked together in the 1920s to establish the exceptional arts and crafts gardens within the grounds. 

With their clipped yew hedges, elaborate topiary and intricate formal parterres, they offer the most gracious setting for a romantic wedding and an idyllic place for visitors to relax in privacy.

In the summer months, Afternoon Tea is served on the terraces overlooking historic gardens and the tranquil Saxon Moat which dates back to 500AD. 

What better view could you ask for whilst nibbling on cucumber sandwiches, than watching swans glide elegantly under a Japanese bridge that is gently clothed in perfumed wisteria.

One of the four secret gardens at Great Fosters oozes a magical charm. Within its walls lies a small plaque that only adds to its beauty but I'll leave that for you to discover for yourself.

Can you believe that Great Fosters is only 30 mins from the Central London.
Its my secret new favourite place to escape to.
Lets just keep it between the two of us though.

Stroude Road
TW20 9UR