Archive for July, 2010

Of Ice Cream In Dumfries and Galloway

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

My blog posts about Dumfries and Galloway would not be complete without talking about Cream O’Galloway, an ice cream producer between Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright.  We seem to spend much of our family holiday centred around their farm at Rainton, where they have developed a tasteful and sustainable attraction around the Cream O’Galloway ice cream factory experience.

Cream O'Galloway Visitor Centre

Cream O'Galloway Visitor Centre

There are indoor wooden play areas for under 6s and older children, as well as outdoor climbing areas in the woods pitched at varying degrees of skill, athleticism, ranging from the simple to the hard work – I am no longer as agile as I once was so Level 4 is too much bending down, twisting and turning and scrabbling through tunnels for me; I actually do think it is easier for people below 4 foot in height as that’s the level of the holes and obstacles have been built for.  Then there are tracks for mountain biking past the wind turbine, zip wires, chutes, and a race track for go-carts, as well as nature trails and gentle ambles. 

Cream O’Galloway also have farm tours, pond dipping, ice cream making sessions (my third year in a row and this year we made vanilla, honeycomb and chocolate chip flavour ice cream) and ice cream tasting sessions as well as other nature tours later in the year when the tourists and holiday-makers become less evident.  In 2009, we bought a year’s pass and this year (2010) we got a week pass for the second week, which are both really good value and are worth it if you will be visiting more than about 4 and 2 times, respectively. 

Karting At Cream O'Galloway

Karting At Cream O'Galloway

The kids love it so we love it.  The tea could be better and after one week an alternative to burgers would be great, but we did discover the veggie burger this year which was a welcome break for meat, meat and meat.  My favourite burger is the double Mexican burger; most of their burgers I think are better as singles, but with the Mexican you can put a dollop of spicy guacamole, tomato salsa and soured cream in the middle, which is totally fabulous.  As I have already said, it is worth a trip out of your way to track down their organic, 21 day matured steaks that you can get in the cafe area before going into the main attraction.

Then, their ice cream is, also, worth a special detour to taste and savour.  Oh and everything is organic and some is also Fairtrade.

Cream O’Galloway is a really successful farmer’s diversification scheme.  The farm, Rainton Farm, is a dairy farm with a smallish herd of Ayrshire kine.  The farm went organic with the Soil Association many years ago and is at the forefront of ethical, organic dairy farming, so for example they are currently building a new milking parlour and anearobic digester, while they are the only commercial dairy herd that keeps the mother and calf together for the first 6+ months and milks the mother only once a day rather than twice a day.  The milk is delicious as it comes from a grass fed cows and an ocean air pasture, so the milk is the dairy equivalent of salt marsh lamb.  Most of the milk gets sold into one of the dairy groups, so finding its way into the major supermarkets, mixed in with other milks.

Rainton Farm Herd At Cream O'Galloway

Rainton Farm Herd At Cream O'Galloway

Dairy At Rainton For Cream O'Galloway

Dairy At Rainton For Cream O'Galloway

Some of the fresh, unpasteurised milk is taken every morning after the morning milking to the ice cream factory which is just in a small converted threshing barn.  In fact, it is remarkably small and compact, full of gleaming stainless steel machines and vats; the milk is pasteurised before it goes into the vats and ice cream machines as part of the manufacturing process.

The ice cream is tasty and there is a great range of flavours, with all of it using their organic milk (but not all certified as organic) and some of it Fairtrade as well.  Our family’s favourite flavours are:

You can get quite a lot of their flavours in some of the supermarkets in Scotland, such as Morrisons and Tesco and then loads of independent stores – use their stockist finder to locate your nearest one.

We still rank the Cream O’Galloway centre in our family top ice cream parlours as in an earlier blog.

Biodegradable Tea Bags

Friday, July 30th, 2010

It was brought to our attention recently that some tea bags are not really biodegradable as they use polypropylene glues to seal the edges of the tea bags.  This is only the case for tea bags that are heat sealed in the tea bagging process.  The tea bags used in Steenbergs bagged teas do not use polypropylene as they are crimped shut rather than heat sealed.  However, there is the metal staple in the tag which is not biodegradable on a short time frame.  The long and short of it is that you can chuck your tea bags onto your compost heap ithout any problem but you need to put your staples either into your recycling or in the bin.  In the future, we will remove the staple part of the tea bag.  Finally, you can use Steenbergs Loose Leaf Teas which comprise the majority of our range, which have no tea bags, but you have a nice tin that can be refilled with our refill tea packs that come in sizes up to 1kg, or can be recycled. 

On the downside, Steenbergs organic Fairtrade Mulling Wine sachets are heat sealed and so are not biodegradable easily as they used polypropylene in their manufacture.  We will now start looking into whether we can remove this without causing other issues, especially things that may use genetically modified corn starches.

Of Meat In Dumfries And Galloway

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

21/7/2010 – I am sitting here at a table overlooking a glorious lake; not some picture postcard view across Lake Como in brilliant sunshine, but a grey, overcast day with some low lying wispy clouds moving slowly across the conifer plantations opposite me as I look across Loch Ken between Castle Douglas and New Galloway.  Soaring up in the sky there is a red kite, and sometimes you can even see ospreys around here.  I am watching my son sailing with what little wind there is over the loch.  It is your normal British style holiday – activity by the water, or over the dales or over climbing frames.  In the background, I can hear screams of fun and joy as four families battle it out in the laser quest battlefield beside us.  But at least it is currently dry, but probably will start to rain when I go out kayaking this afternoon.

Boats On Loch Ken

Boats On Loch Ken

So I turn my thoughts to other hidden foodie secrets of this wonderful part of Scotland.

Firstly, one that isn’t worth it.  Castle Douglas bills itself as a foodie town, but it’s all a bit of a let down, so other than a decent butcher (Hendersons – good for sausages), a goodish deli/chocolate shop (In House Chocolates) and Tesco, don’t get overexcited about the hype.

However, on Saturdays in Gatehouse of Fleet, they hold a small farmers’ market with a bigger one on the first Saturday of each month.  Last Saturday was the smaller version and it was belting it down when we were there with a few others.  Jen Hen’s is a stall that sells eggs – surprise, surprise – from a flock of mixed hens on a farm near Tongland.  Then, there’s Wigwam Bakery, which was the reason I was here bright and early, as last year when I pottered down the hill, her small selection of beautiful hand-baked goods had all been sold.  I was especially after her Roman Spelt bread and Maslan Bread (a mix of 50:50 white to wholemeal bread using a rye sourdough base), plus she does a goodly variety of other breads, including one called Aphrodite with seeds and things.  Susie had a great selection of sweet baked goods and people were busy trying to get her delicious chocolate cake, while I went for two of her cookies that are a health meal in themselves, packed full of amazing seeds.  You can tell she has a reputation as the locals all queue from her stall early and even on that bitterly cold Saturday.

Then, there was the mobile butcher’s shop, Wullie’s, which is the shop for Wm. Lindsay in Creetown.  I bought some lamb chops from Willie, but really was there to ask him about salt-marsh lamb as I had spotted last year (and this) a flock of sheep on the salt marshes beside Creetown.  Sure enough, he gets 6 lambs every year “for the English” in mid August, but told me he preferred the “blackies from the hills” which he gets in late August/ early September.  I said I would ring him in August about the salt-marsh lamb, so I will keep you posted if I succeed with that.

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Other than that I had been hunting around for decent meat, which there is little to come by at this time of year, what with lambs being out of season.  The two places I have found good meat are Barstobrick Farm Shop and Cream O’Galloway.  Barstobrick is a fairly soulless site with an equestrian centre, some walks and holiday cabins, plus a dreary cafe and farm shop; however, they do sell their own meat within the farm shop.  It is Aberdeen Angus beef, reared on the farm and slaughtered at their own butchery.  Robin & Hilary Austin then let the meat mature for 21 days before it is packed and sealed and frozen on site.  They sell fillet and sirloin steak, as well as beef sausages and beef-burgers.  We went for the sirloin steak (£24.99/kg), which had great marbling and a lovely deep, brown-red  hue.  We tasted it that night, fried simply in butter to medium-rare and eaten with new potatoes and runner beans; it was deliciously meaty with a sweet hint of grassiness, while your knife just glided through the meat with no problem.  They were really good and worth the visit to this otherwise unprepossessing place.

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

At Cream O’Galloway, they butcher some of their Ayrshire dairy herd for meat for their burgers that they serve within the cafe area.  They are delicious burgers (as well as organic) and are made on site; I have had pretty much every type of burger they do over the last three years, with my favourite being the double Mexican burger, where I put a mix of the guacamole, soured cream and salsa between the burgers and then enjoy.  They use decent bread rolls for the burgers, overcoming one of my major bugbears about many burger joints in the UK.  Sometimes, hidden between all the pots of organic ice cream (I’ll talk about those in a separate blog), you can get a few fillet steaks (or other cuts) in one of the freezers before you go into the main activity centre.

We bought a couple of fillet steaks that had a deep red-brown colour and were decently marbled; they were also nicely thick at about an inch or so.  They cost £30/kg and are worth every penny.  We lightly fried the Cream O’Galloway fillet steaks (sold as Rainton Farm which is the name of the farm while the brand I am using is strictly speaking for the ice cream).  We ate them with new potatoes, broccoli for the kids and tomato salad for Sophie and me.  They were heavenly: and were perfect “melt in you mouth meat” as our daughter called them – you knife just sliced through as if you were cutting through silk, and the taste was a rich, luxurious, umami taste of healthy, well-reared meat; you got the sweetness of the organic grass together with the pure salty air off the Solway Firth.  Everyone’s plates were quickly emptied to sounds of “more please?”, but as for Oliver there was no more to be had, except that we had scoffed it all.

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Rainton Farm steaks are one of the best meats that I have ever come across and if you can ever get close to the Gatehouse Of Fleet area, I urge you to make the detour, as this is one of those amazingly awesome food sources that you stumble across once in a while.

Of Cheese In Dumfries And Galloway

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

(19/7/2010) Up the Water of Fleet, you get to Cairnsmore of Fleet Nature Reserve and the Clints of Dromore, which is not only a wonderfully romantic name for some hills but also a decent-sized hill that you can walk up in no time, or along and around, getting towards a beautiful brick old railway bridge called the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct that seems sort of out of place up here, but it was about a mile east of Gatehouse of Fleet Station and appears in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey book “Five Red Herrings”.  “Five Red Herrings” looms, also, over the drive between Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright as it was somewhere along that road that the dastardly murder took place amongst the fictional artistic community of the area; it is a good, light read, even if not here best novel.  Up on Cairnsmore of Fleet, you can see a wide variety of birds, including peregrines, if you’re lucky, and adders basking in the sun.  The other things you see around here are sheep and Galloway cows.   This brings me on to cheese.  (Sorry that was a bit of a strained intro).

I had always wanted to visit Loch Arthur Creamery at Beeswing near Dalbeattie.  Don’t you love the quaint name of the place – is it a bee’s favourite style of music or a part of bees?  Loch Arthur Creamery is part of the simply awesome Camphill Village Trust, which follows Steiner ideas and seeks to create places for those with disabilities to live a normal life and not be hampered by people like you and me.  So here at Loch Arthur, they run a farm and make, inter alia, organic biodynamic cheese, as well as running a fabulous shop.  You are greeted by a wondrously colourful display of fruit & veg, which in an area that seems curiously devoid of decent vegetables, and so seeing us resort uncomfortably to the delights of Tesco in Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright, was a blessing and made me smile.  Then in the shop, they have a good selection of organic ambient foods and chilled meats and cheese.  We also bought some locally made spelt and seeded breads, as well as being tempted by the chocolate and orange cake that literally came out of the oven as we were there and was still deliciously warm; the cake was to die for – rich and chocolaty with a subtle hint of citrus.  Perfect.

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

But we were here for the cheese.  They make this on site; in fact we could see them washing down the factory through a clear window behind the counter.  They have a cheddar-like Farmhouse Cheese, as well as their little stars (in fact roundels of cheese) called Crannog.  Crannog are 10cm in diameter and have a white waxy exterior and the cheese inside is creamy-white and slightly soft like a chilled butter.  We bought the standard cheese and a green peppercorn cheese, as well as their hand-churned butter.  Both were wonderfully creamy and had that sweet, earthy taste that comes from cheese made from milk that is produced naturally from rich, organic grass, and which is faintly reminiscent of a good Wensleydale.  Somehow high street, mass-produced cheese seems more fatty and greasy with none of the flavours or tastes that should come through from the field, i.e. just texture and then…nothingness.  We also enjoyed the delicious rich and creamy butter that when eaten on good, wholesome spelt bread was a meal in itself; industrial food just does not have this body or richness, as I suppose stuff is taken out to help processing, improve consistency and functionality (my absolutely, most hated food term).

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

The other local cheese is Cairnsmore cheese from Galloway Farmhouse Cheese at Millaires, Sorbie by Newton Stewart.  They have organic cheese made from cows, ewes and goats milk, but as they have a sheep them I reckon that the ewe cheese is their love.  We bought the cheese as quarters off a larger block.  The cheese is a cream colour with a good, flaky bite and none of that yucky, plasticky, greasy texture from industrial cheese.  The cheese has a delicate earthiness that’s less intense that the Loch Arthur Creamery cheese, but seems a bit sweeter and with a delicate salty, peatiness coming through.  I liked the cows’ cheese a lot, but the ewe cheese had a lanoliny richness that felt slightly akin to a cross between manchega and parmesan cheese, but with a creaminess and more depth of character.

The tasting notes from my notebook were:

  • Standard Crannog – soft, velvety, with smooth but earthy cow’s taste that you don’t get with high street cheese – a certain comforting taste of sweet grass, reminiscent of fresh smells and tastes of dairy behind Broomley School in Stocksfield (long gone as now a housing estate) or from dairy farms in Bavaria on hols years ago.
  • Green Pepper Crannog – as Standard Crannog, but light, frivolous warmth of pepper offsets bitterness of earthy, cowiness → delicious.  A truly great, old fashioned real cheese.
  • Cairnsmore Cheese (ewe) – strong texture with some crumbly flakiness.  Creamy with rich taste and light but definite sweet earthy flavour and a damp, peaty taste and a sea-like saltiness.  Great.

We tasted the cheeses on their own and on plain oatcakes from M. Corson (Bakers) at Castle Douglas, with and without butter from Loch Arthur Creamery.  These oatcakes were simple with a good oaty flavour and a decent bite to them and none of that soft, crumbliness that you often get; oatcakes should be quite tough and be able to last aeons.  Another local maker is Cairnsmhor Fine Foods in Dalbeattie but these were a bit crumblier and saltier, which would probably work better from most people, but I preferred the tougher, simpler ones from M. Corson (Bakers) which is on the High Street in Castle Douglas – I guess that’s the puritan in me coming through.

Of Fish In Dumfries And Galloway

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Cairnsmore Of Fleet

Cairnsmore Of Fleet

(17/7/2010) We are on our annual family holiday, which as for the last three years has been in Dumfries & Galloway near Gatehouse of Fleet; no overseas travel or glamorous trips for us – in fact, the Steenberg family has been holidaying around here for many, many years with my childhood spent around Gatehouse of Fleet and at Rockcliffe while my father would stay around Castramon Wood (see note i below) around the second world war.  It is a part of the world that time, and the scourges of modernity, have passed by with its untouched and beautiful valleys and hills, full of ancient woods and gushing, roiling streams with brown, peaty water.  It is part of the world that has hardly changed since it was immortalised in John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps”.

There are red squirrels feeding off the bird feeders outside the kitchen window, as well as a family of six baby jays – I do not think I have ever seen so many jays in one place ever before as they are usually the bossy, but pretty, crow that spoils the feeding party around a bird table.  Oh and there are loads of sheep; black faced sheep in the hills and others on the salt marshes near Creetown, with magnificent, one-and-a-half foot long twisted horns on the tups.  But it is quiet and there is no light pollution and still very few people; it’s a bit like North Northumberland, a place where people drive through on the way somewhere else, so leaving it unspoiled.  Real, ancient Britain.  Here, people drive on to Stranraer and to Northern Ireland or the Isle Of Man or on to the Highlands and Islands, while in Northumberland it’s a journey through to Edinburgh.

There is, also, a lot of sea.  And so fish.  In Kirkcudbright Harbour, it is good to see a proper working fleet of fishing boats, as well as the Solway firth still full of traditional fixed fishing nets along the shoreline and a few fisherman still fishing with coble and nets.  Both of the latter are types of fishing stretching back to the Vikings and beyond.  On 14th July, even the Queen and Prince Philip came to see the fishermen in Kirkcudbright which is famed for its scallops, visiting on a rainy thundery afternoon between visiting Dumfries and onwards to Edinburgh (for the annual dinner of the Order of The Thistle and to award the Duke Of Edinburgh medals last week).

Fishing Boat In Kirkcudbright Harbour

Fishing Boat In Kirkcudbright Harbour

Traditional Fishing Nets In Solway Firth

Traditional Fishing Nets In Solway Firth

The Queen Visiting Kirkcudbright in 2010

The Queen Visiting Kirkcudbright Harbour Square

In the harbour square at Kirkcudbright, there is a fishmonger and grocery shop, attached to a traditional fish and chip shop called Polarbites.  The fishmonger side is good for vegetables (there are not actually that many decent places for veg around here), as well as selling great scallops, prawns, salmon and Loch Fyne kippers amongst other things.  On one day, we bought Loch Fyne kippers, prawns and some salmon steaks, which I poached in rosé wine and we all ate with new potatoes and freshly picked salad leaves from friends of ours who live in the middle of nowhere outside Dalbeattie. 

Traditional Fish And Chips At Polarbites In Kirkcudbright

Traditional Fish And Chips At Polarbites In Kirkcudbright

On 15th July, we supped on haddock, chips, mushy peas and a seafood platter (battered prawns, scallops, squid, cod and potato wedges) at Polarbites, and it was a feast of fresh fish tastes and good batter.  It was welcomly warming on the cold, damp first night of the Kirkcudbright Summer Festivities, where Scottish music and dances are performed every Thursday evening in the Harbour Square to the glorious backdrop of MacLellan Castle and the Harbour.  I love the sound of a proper marching pipe band and the Kirkcudbright & District Pipe Band is really good and is growing in popularity, now even boasting a full youth band this year for the first time.

Kirkcudbright Pipe Band

Kirkcudbright Pipe Band

Galloway Smokehouse Near Carsluith

Galloway Smokehouse At Carsluith In Dumfries & Galloway

But the best fish experiences are from two fantastic smokeries on the road between Gatehouse of Fleet and Creetown.  We went for a short trip to both – the first is the Galloway Smokehouse which operates a fantastic fishmonger as well as smoking fish, seafood and some meats on site, and the second is the Marrbury Smokehouse at Carsluith Castle, which is at such a romantic location beside this simple, small castle overlooking the sea across to Whithorn that it ranks as one of my favourite places for anything anywhere.  My daughter and I bought various things including smoked wild salmon from both, as well as kippers from Marrbury SmokehouseEn famille we did a taste test and, while both smoked salmons were of great quality, the Marrbury Smoked Salmon is a damn fine smoked salmon and won hands down, having a deep orangey-pink hue and a delicious, dry and rich meaty taste, made of fantastic chunky pieces of muscle giving a great texture and a delicate smoky, piney-junipery taste.  The smoked salmon from the Galloway Smokehouse was a bit sweeter, slimier and the colour pinker and less orange in colour, with much smaller muscle structure and so a soggier, softer texture, but still way better than your usual, mass-produced stuff that you find on most supermarket shelves.  We also did a taste test on the kippers and we think that the Loch Fyne Kippers and those of Marrbury Smokehouse are up there amongst the best I have ever tasted (those from Seahouses are still, for me, the epitome of smoked kippers).  Costs are £51/kg for the Marrbury Smokehouse Wild Smoked Salmon and £50.00/kg for the Galloway Smokehouse Wild Smoked Salmon, and that extra £1 is worth a million.

Marrbury Smokehouse At Carsluith Castle

Marrbury Smokehouse At Carsluith Castle

Scottish Smoked Salmon On Spelt Bread

Scottish Smoked Salmon On Spelt Bread

Scottish Kippers From Loch Fyne

Scottish Kippers From Loch Fyne

Also, I love the commitment and love that goes into the Marrbury Smokehouse.  Vincent Marr goes out in his coble and nets the wild salmon himself from pools between Newton Stewart and Wigtown, then he smokes the salmon and other things himself (allowing no-one else into the smoker, except his wife sometimes) to his own special recipe; the ingredients include salt, whisky and juniper smoke whereas the Galloway Smokehouse also uses some sugar syrup and an oak smoke rather than juniper.  This means that his smoked fish and seafood is only available in small quantities, with no corners cut, but on the downside there is no-one to pass his expertise on to.  He has a step daughter who lives in the Cayman Islands, which will not help us for the future.  It’s a hard life that few will really want to follow in the future.

If you can get hold of smoked salmon or other things from either of these smokeries it is well worth the effort, but go for the Marrbury Smokehouse out of preference as it’s worth going that extra mile.  I will retry the salmon poached in rosé wine again when back in Yorkshire, as I reckon that it would be great finished off with a pink peppercorn sauce, don’t you think?

(i)                  Castramom Wood is an ancient woodland on a steep slope on the east bank of the Water of Fleet.  We always imagine it full of tigers to urge the kids along through its dense bracken.  Castramom Wood is chock full of old, native trees like mighty oaks, birch, mystical alder and ash and there are charcoal burning stands at various points through the woods.  This is an old, spiritual wood with a great, life giving aura.

Walk In North Yorkshire – Battle of Broughbridge

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

I have a confession to make – I am not a big walker that likes to conquer hills and mountains, even if I know I should be striding forth across moorland and up mountains.  I am not a walker that goes into the hills for the beauty of nature; I get that beauty all around me from the wonders of trees and flowers through to birds, insects and even ants – these are all amazing species that look good and have amazing science behind them.  I like to walk for a purpose, to find something out, to seek out interesting places; I am in awe at those who do long, difficult walks, but that’s not for me, perhaps I am simply too lazy. 

So as well as looking for the confluences of some of our local Northern rivers, I am seeking out some of those battlefields that shaped Britain as it is, or perhaps England more so.  What I like about battlefields is that fact that they are really nonexistent, they need to be conjured up in the mind as all you get when you find the site is a field, and often a flat and boring field.  However, there is little genuine interest in how England then Britain was forged as can be shown by the fact that the memorial for the Battle of Boroughbridge was moved in 1852 from Boroughbridge and now stands proud, but forgotten, in the village of Aldborough just outside of Boroughbridge.

Memorial To Battle Of Boroughbridge

Memorial To Battle Of Boroughbridge

The Battle of Boroughbridge was in 1322 and was important for two reasons: (i) Sir Andrew de Harcla, King Edward II’s commander, defeated Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and his rebel barons, cementing the power of the Crown over the Earl of Lancaster, the second most powerful baron in the country and perhaps at the time the richer person; (ii) it was the first battle to show the power of the longbow in battle, as well as mainly using foot soldiers rather than mounted warriors.  While the former point is generally the one cited in history books, it is the success of using archers that perhaps had the greater impact for England with one of the first great battles in the English memory bank – the Battle of Crécy – happening just over 20 years later in 1346.

The walk is more of an amble than a walk as it is very short, so I actually augmented it by doing it in two stages.  The first part was a walk along the north side of the Ure, where Harcla was positioned and then I drove a short distance and walked along the south bank and towards Aldborough, where the memorial is located.

For the first section, you go over the bridge in Boroughbridge, and just before you get to the roundabout, park your car in a car park just by the river.  From here, you walk back towards the bridge and then pause to look at the bridge as this is the position of the original wooden bridge, even if it is not the actual one; we are standing where Sir Andrew de Harcla would have stationed his pikemen, mounted knights and perhaps 2000 archers to stop less than 1000 attempting to come across.  

On the opposite side of the road and just before you go over the bridge, you cross over and go through a gate onto Milby Island.  Milby Island is not a natural island, but was created when a short strech of canal was built to by-pass the Ure at this stage, carving out a section of the earth to become Milby Island. 

It is a short pleasant stroll amongst the sycamores and hawthorns to Milby Lock at the tip of the island, however before you get there and about 500 yards in, you can look across to a beech tree that I reckon is the line across which Lancaster tried to ford the Ure.  The usual local historical view is that the point at which Lancaster and his troops tried to ford the River Ure is further on at the tip of Milby Island, which then of course was not an island; as you can see from the photo, the anglers were out in force having a fishing match this Sunday morning.  I crossed over the lock and walked a short bit further along the river and looked back at the Ure and Milby Lock before retracing my steps.  For variety, I then walked along the north side of Milby Island beside the canal that was dark and shaded in the sunny light, and then after passing several narrow boats, walked up some steps and came out opposite the car park.  A motor boat had passed by in the canal, chugging along to the lock, while the narrow boats here were a little bit bedraggled compared to the brighter and happier looking ones that I had seen recently at Ripon.

Fishermen By Milby Lock on River Ure

Fishermen By Milby Lock on River Ure

Milby Lock In Yorkshire

Milby Lock In Yorkshire

Boroughbridge Canal In Yorkshire

Boroughbridge Canal In Yorkshire

For the second part of the walk, I drove to a gate beside Boroughbridge Primary School and walked down to beside the river and then walked along the Ure and into Aldborough on top of the local flood levee.  At the start of the walk, you can walk down to the river’s edge and try and work out for yourself where Lancaster and his troops would have attempted to cross the River Ure.  My favourite point is somewhere between the copper beech tree and the tip of Milby Island, however we will never know for sure. 

River Ure Crossing At Boroughbridge

River Ure Crossing At Boroughbridge

In Aldborough itself and by the village hall, you can see the original memorial to the Battle of Boroughbridge that used to stand in Boroughbridge.  As I walked, I was amazed to be the only person out and about for a walk here, but the sand martins were flying around, as was an oystercatcher.  The fields were beginning to turn to a golden yellow and the elder flower were out in the lane coming into Aldborough – I must collect some and make some elderflower cordial.

The backdrop to the Battle of Boroughbridge was fairly simple – Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, who was also the King’s cousin, had fallen out with King Edward II because of his weak rule (he was eventually deposed by his wife Isabella in 1327) and his favouritism for Piers Gaveston at Court.  In fact, Piers Gaveston had been granted land all over England including the Manor of Aldborough just beside Boroughbridge.  Along with many others, Lancaster had forced King Edward II to banish Piers Gaveston in 1311, but he returned from France in 1312, so Lancaster and his army attacked King Edward and Gaveston at Newcastle, defeated them and the King went south to raise and army while Gaveston fled to Scarborough, where he surrendered to the Earl of Pembroke.  On his journey with Pembroke, however, he was captured at Oxford by the Earl of Warwick and taken to Warwick Castle; then on 19 June 1312, he was taken to Blacklow Hill and murdered.  King Edward II swore vengeance on all those implicated in Gaveston’s murder, which included primarily his cousin, the Earl of Lancaster, who was also the second most powerful person within England.

In the period from 1312 to 1322, the differences between Lancaster and the Crown widened as King Edward led a failed campaign against Scotland in 1319.  In November 1321, Lancaster mustered a large force at Doncaster and pushed south, however Edward crossed the River Severn and succeeded in obtaining the surrender of several marcher lords and then one of Lancaster key retainers, Robert de Holland, switched sides to the Crown.  King Edward advanced northwards and after a stand-off at Burton Bridge on 10 March 1322, he was forced to retreat towards Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland.  Before he get get there, however, Sir Andrew de Harcla coming from the north was to block Lancaster’s retreat northwards at Boroughbridge.

The Bridge In Boroughbridge From the North End Like Harcla

The Bridge In Boroughbridge From the North End Like Harcla

Having spent the night in Ripon, Harcla marched his force towards Boroughbridge, where they set themselves up on the north side of the River Ure.  Harcla put pikemen and knights on the north end of the bridge, which in those days was narrower and made from wood but still at the same location as today.  Then somewhere between half a mile and a mile downriver, Harcla positioned pikemen in a schiltron formation at a ford across the River Ure.  Both positions were supplemented by archers beside each crossing.  In total, Harcla is recorded as having 4,000 men, but it is likely that this figure has been inflated over time.

Lancaster’s plan was to attack with his smaller force using cavalry to cross the bridge, however it is unlikely that mounted cavalry could have crossed the bridge in numbers.  Sensing this, many of his men disappeared in the night and come the morning, Lancaster was quickly defeated and surrendered.  Lancaster was taken to Pontefract Castle and executed, together with many of his followers.  King Edward remained very unpopular, was usurped by his wife and finally killed in 1327 probably by suffocation although the more popular account is that of Thomas de la Moore that records:

“On the night of 11 October while lying on a bed [the king] was suddenly seized and, while a great mattress… weighed him down and suffocated him, a plumber’s iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his anus so that it burned the inner portions beyond the intestines.”

I Don’t Know

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

I had recently found that our children, as well as some colleagues at work, would always answer questions “I don’t know” or “Don’t know”, whether it’s the answer to “What do you want for supper tonight?” or “What did you do at school today?”  So I have bought the web domain www.idontknow.co.uk, but the irony is that I don’t know what to use it for.  At the moment, it is being redirected to www.steenbergs.co.uk, but better thoughts and ideas would be gratefully received, e.g. for a childrens’ clothing range or a website that asks those questions you don’t know the answer to.  Yes, I know those have already been done and that’s why we’re not doing them, but there must be something to build in that space…

Two Books For All Environmentalists

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

I have just finished the second of two books that are must-reads for those interested in our planet.  They are Nigel Lawson‘s “An appeal to reason – a cool look at global warming” and Bjørn Lomborg’s “Cool it – the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming”, both of which are very much in the skeptical to anti-climate change camp.  It is important that you read all sides of an argument to be sure that there is nothing that you have missed out nor that you simply are self-justifying your position by selective reading of information and data, so there’s something healthy about reading such diatribes. 

If you don’t have the fibre to read both, then Nigel Lawson’s book is shorter, tauter and much better written.  Bjørn Lomborg’s book does not match the hype, blurbs and comments on the book; it was a really slow and boring read and I almost gave up as it had no real forward motion to its argumentation, ranking as one of those smarmy, smartass sort of books that are basically dull – a bit like your classic Booker Prize winning book that you can really do without reading, as it makes you feel intellectually inadequate as you just don’t get why it is meant to be a good book in the first place.

Both books are unconvincing, and wrong, in their attempts to refute the science of climate change or global warming; both basically misinterpret weather for climate, using the short term vagaries of weather to try and undermine the longer term patterns of climate.  Then, they simply state a truism for the rest of their books, being that people must make a socio-political and economic decision on how to address the issues that may arise from global warming and climate change.  Well, that’s clever, but not worth the fancy intellectual credibility that they have been afforded.

For me, there does need to be a greater collaboration between scientists and people on these issues and a deeper explanation of the science and potential issues arising from climate change, together certainly with a whole lot more openness.  The two camps slugging out each side of the global warming debate need to be ignored and the conservatively-minded, prudent and slightly humdrum people like me, who occupy that big bulge in the middle ground of socio-economic thinking, should be allowed to come to their own conclusions on the priorities of each country’s socio-economic development over the short-, medium- and longer terms.  Leaving it to the intellectuals on both sides will simply result in a huge muddle like everything our lords and masters ever touch – money wasted on grand schemes that spend our money on their individual desires to be written into the history books.  A nervous shiver runs down my spine every time I hear politicians dreaming of how much money they can spend and commit for climate change projects, potentially one of the biggest attempts to transfer current and future wealth from the pockets of ordinary people in the developed world to infrastructure projects and to provide aide to other countries.

Let an honest debate begin, with honest science and sensible criteria rather than the garbage that has been, and continues to be, spouted by the media and the political oligarchy.  We do have a little time, so let’s have some quiet, calm thinking time as the sums and impacts of addressing climate change are life changing for the economies of the world, so must not be imposed by ukase.

And please stop damning all people all the time, as an ennui has set in about environmentalism, especially climate change, as we – the people – are sick of being stigmatised and blamed for leading lives that are better for us, yet are told that we are simultaneously destroying the planet; it’s become like a collective guilt complex that ignores the great heap of good and goodness that ordinary people do every day for the planet, for themselves and for others.

[By the way, I find it highly ironic that I sound like the smartass fool in this blog post, having accused Bjørn Lomborg of the same about his book “Cool It…”]

Pierre Hermé’s Recipe For Raspberry And Chocolate Tart

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Pierre Hermé continues to inspire me. 

For me, I spent last Saturday in the perfect place – in the kitchen, listening to sport on BBC Radio 5 on our digital radio and baking.  It was the turn of Hermé’s Raspberry And Chocolate Tart.  The end result was sheer perfection – bittersweet flavours from 72% cocoa dark chocolate  from Trinatario cocoa beans (a natural cross between the traditional Criollo and Forasteros cocoa beans), with the succulent, melting richness of the chocolate filling that only just holds itself together; these are balanced against the tart, fruitiness of raspberries.  What is perhaps even more amazing is that it is actually really quite simple to make. 

I don’t have much more to say, except just make it for someone special and wow them, but make sure it is for someone you want to impress.

For the crust:

Prepare and bake a 22cm / 8¾ inch tart shell from Sweet Tart Dough, cooled to room temperature per previous blog

For the filling:

55g / ½ cup ripe raspberries
145g / 5oz bittersweet chocolate (I used Green & Black’s dark cooking chocolate)
115g / 4oz unsalted butter, chopped into cubes
1 large egg, at room temperature, stirred lightly with fork or whisk
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature, stirred with a fork
2 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat oven to 190oC / 375oF.

Sprinkle the raspberries into the cooked tart crust.

Baked Tart Pastry With Raspberries

Baked Tart Pastry With Raspberries

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over boiling water and carefully melt the butter separately in a pan.  Allow them to cool to a touch warm temperature or 60oC / 104oF.

Using a small hand whisk, gently stir the egg into the melted chocolate; don’t be vigorous as you are not trying to get air in, just to mix thoroughly.

Pouring egg into melted chocolate

Pouring egg into melted chocolate

Mixing eggs into melted chocolate

Mixing eggs into melted chocolate

Next, add the caster sugar and stir that in.

Finally, work in the melted butter.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the raspberries in the tart shell.

Pouring chocolate ganache over raspberries

Pouring chocolate ganache over raspberries

Bake the tart for 11 minutes.  This gives you a tart that is still a bit wobbly in the centre.  Leave to cool on a rack.  Serve warm after settling for about 10 minutes or cool and have cold.  I actually prefer it cold and a bit more dense the next morning – great for breakfast on a Sunday morning!

Raspberry & chocolate tart just out the oven

Raspberry & Chocolate Tart Just Out The Oven

Serve with extra red raspberries and/or cream or crème anglaise.

Raspberry & Chocolate Tart With Raspberries & Cream

Raspberry & Chocolate Tart With Raspberries & Cream

Recipe For Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

We have been asked for some time whether we could source a pomegranate molasses and I am nearly there on that.  One of our current suppliers, who is based in Beirut in the Lebanon, sent us a sample of Concentrated Pomegranate Juice which is the same thing as Pomegranate Molasses, or so I am told.  It has a lovely deep, licquorice colour and a sweet and sour, tangy sort of taste.  I thought that this would give a great flavour to barbecue sauce, being less acidic and tart than adding vinegar.

Here’s what I came up with, and it’s been tried and tested, and wolfed down, by two very appreciative children, who are the meanest and harshest food critics by far.  This is a less sweet sauce than the one I posted last month and I prefer it.

Ingredients

1½ tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2tbsp agave syrup*, honey or golden syrup/corn syrup
1tsp smooth mustard, ideally an English Mustard
1 garlic clove, chopped finely and crushed
¼tsp sea salt
¼tsp coarse ground black pepper
¼tsp paprika

8 chicken drumsticks

1.  Prepare all the barbecue ingredients and mix together thoroughly.

2.  Pour the Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce over the chicken drumsticks and leave to marinade for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

Marinading Chicken In Axel's Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce

Marinading Chicken In Axel's Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce

3.  Put the oven on at 180oC / 350oF.

4.   Bake the chicken drumsticks marinaded in the Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce for about 30 minutes in the oven until crisp and cooked right through.  Enjoy immediately with potatoes and vegetables or a salad.

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

5.  If using to cook on a barbecue proper, mop the Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce over the meat in the last 30 minutes of the cooking time.  If you add it on any earlier, the flavours will be overpowered by the barbecue aromas and the tomato and sugars will go beyond caramelisation and burn to black cinders.

* I like agave syrup as I find it less sickly sweet than many other liquid sweeteners (even though technically it is sweeter than sugar), but you can use any of the other ones mentioned as they all give the same flavour profile to the sauce, plus caramelise decently while you are cooking the chicken legs.