Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Stratford-upon-Avon - A Shakespeare Tour

William Shakespeare tribute in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon
When my Mother suggested we meet up for a weekend to celebrate her birthday the culture vulture in me was obviously delighted when she chose Stratford-upon-Avon. It cannot be escaped that if you mention Stratford-upon-Avon the natural association is William Shakespeare. Over the weekend we made it our duty to follow the Shakespeare trail around the town.

First on the list was a trip to the The Garrick. The pub is said to the oldest in Stratford with parts of it dating from the 14th century but the building mostly dates from the 16th century. It was once known as The Greyhound but renamed after the famed Shakespearean actor and theatre manager David Garrick. In 1769 Garrick organized the first Shakespeare Jubilee and is widely credited with making Stratford-upon-Avon the tourist attraction it is today. Bizarrely it was staged 5 years after the bicentenary of Shakespeare's birth, was washed out on the second day and never had a performance of a single Shakespeare play. 
The Garrick Inn next to Harvard House
On another historical note the building next to The Garrick is Harvard House. This was the home of Katherine Rogers, mother of John Harvard the founder of Harvard University. On my last visit to Stratford it was open to the public as the Museum of British Pewter but it now seems closed.

The next morning we made the short walk to where it all began - Shakespeare's birthplace. Rather conveniently it is situated in the town centre in Henley Street; this is now a wide, pedestrianized road. Shakespeare was born here on what is thought to be on 23rd April 1564. When I say 'thought' the exhibition inside does have a lot of 'probably' and 'possibly' attached to its assumptions as to Shakespeare's activities in Stratford-upon-Avon. However, this does not distract from the excellent interactive multi-media displays.
Shakespeare's Birthplace in Henley Street
Although there has been some renovations and extensions to the building over the years it is clear that Shakespeare was born into a fairly wealthy family. His father, John, had a number of businesses on the go and at one stage was mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon. This position gave him a good standing in the town and enabled him send William to school. A workshop showing his glove making business has been set up in the house. You also get to see the room where Shakespeare was born in and a glimpse of what life was like in Tudor England.
Bedroom, dining room and John Shakespeare's glove making workshop
In the upstairs exhibition room there is a window that has been removed from the house and now set into a display case. It has been preserved for posterity as over the years visitors to the house have etched their signatures into the pane of glass. Amongst the names you can still make out a few famous fans such as Thomas Carlyle, Sir Walter Scott and Isaac Watts.
Find the famous signature
Once you leave the house there is a large garden to explore. It now backs onto a busy road but even with the large number of visitors to the property it still retains quite a tranquil feel.
The garden at Shakespeare's Birthplace
As Shakespeare fans we were in for a bit of treat as the performers from Shakespeare Aloud! were doing requests in the garden. To jolly things up we asked for something from A Midsummer's Night Dream or Twelfth Night. To our delight they quickly came up with a A Midsummer's Twelfth Night medley! Things got even better when they gave my daughter a line in their Antony and Cleopatra performance.
Shakespeare Aloud! performing in the garden
From Shakespeare's birthplace we walked to Hall's Croft. We had already bought passes at the birthplace which allowed us in to the four properties situated around the town centre. The passes are valid for 12 months so if you can't get round in one day you can go back the next day or even later in the year. After picking up various booklets and leaflets at the hotel we were able to get a number of discounts and ending up buying a family ticket which allowed our group of seven in.
Hall's Croft, home to Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall
Hall's Croft was the home of Shakespeare's eldest daughter, Susanna, who married Dr John Hall in 1607. As befitting his status as a doctor the house shows off the elegance of life as a professional in Jacobean times. There are a number of rooms set up to give an idea of the furniture and possessions of the time.
Inside Hall's Croft
Outside, the garden has a number of points where fine views of the house can be obtained.
Hall's Croft viewed from the garden
At the time of our visit the herbaceous borders where in fine flower with a a particularly good display of lupins.
Lupins in the herbaceous borders
Other points of note outside is the herb garden (essential for a 17th century doctor), rose garden and sundial. I can confirm the sundial was spot on for GMT!
Hall's Croft gardens
Just down the road from Hall's Croft is the Avonbank Gardens. On the entrance gates we noticed a listing for a number of free open air performances of Shakespeare's works by various different theatre groups. Throughout the summer a temporary wooden stage becomes The Dell. As luck would have it the afternoon performance was about to start. Rather thoughtfully the RSC even set out a number of blankets for people to sit on. We were treated to a fine interpretation of Venus & Adonis by the Playbox Shakespeare Young Company. Two free live Shakespeare performances in one day!
Playbox Shakespeare Young Company performing Venus & Adonis
A walk through the Avonbank Gardens leads you to the Royal Shakespeare Company. From there you can make your way up to Chapel Street to Nash's House & New Place. The two names do actually point to two different properties. New Place was the last house Shakespeare lived in and indeed died there in 1616. After Shakespeare's death it was passed to his daughter, Susanna, who moved there from Hall's Croft. Subsequently it was then home to her daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth's first husband, Thomas Nash, owned the house next door to New Place – Nash's House. Thomas Nash died in 1647 and in his will tried to leave New Place to his cousin despite the fact it actually belonged to his mother-in-law. Elizabeth remarried two years after Nash's death but remained childless thus making her the last direct descendent of William Shakespeare. 
Bronze sculptures in the gardens depicting Shakespeare's plays
After Elizabeth's death in 1670 New Place was returned to the Clopton family who originally built it. By 1756 it was owned by Rev. Francis Gaswell who was starting to lose patience with the number of visitors coming to pay homage to Shakespeare. Gaswell damaged a mulberry tree in the garden, said it have been planted by Shakespeare. This angered the locals of Stratford-upon-Avon who smashed the windows of New Place. Afterwards Gaswell put forward plans to extend the garden which were rejected but his taxes were raised. In his fury he demolished New Place in 1759 and was forced to leave town.
New Place gardens with the Guild Chapel in the background
The remains of New Place can be seen in parts in the grounds of Nash's House. Several archaeological digs over the years have unearthed some of the foundations and remains of New Place. One of 20th century additions is the knot garden laid out in traditional Elizabethan style. 
Elizabethan style knot garden
The next day we went to Holy Trinity Church. It is situated on the banks of the River Avon, not far from Avonbank Gardens and Hall's Croft. Although it is known for its links to Shakespeare the church has a history dating back before his time.
Holy Trinity Church
Shakespeare's birth date is recognized as the 23rd April. This is because the records at Holy Trinity has his baptism registered on 26th April 1564 and babies in those times where baptized within a few days of their birth. It is likely Shakespeare worshipped there as a child due to his father's status in the town. His marriage records are unclear as his banns were said in a couple of churches. What draws visitors to the church is its location of Shakespeare's grave. Holy Trinity is a fully functioning church still and access to it is free but you do need to pay to go down to the chancel where Shakespeare is buried. This is included in the admission for the Birthplace Trust Pass. In the chancel are also the graves of his wife, Anne Hathaway, his daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr, John Hall and Shakespeare's other son-in-law, Thomas Nash.
Shakespeare's grave
Even if you are not a Shakespeare fan the church has a number of other notable features. There is a fine collection of stained glass...
Fine examples of stained glass in Holy Trinty
...plus also 15th century misericords.
Some of the 26 15th century misericords
I've been to Stratford-upon-Avon several times and never failed to be delighted by it. With the 12 month pass it will certainly tempt me back especially as I picked up a leaflet for The Stratford Christmas Festival.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

National Gardens Scheme - Barlborough

National Gardens Scheme - Open Weekend at Barlborough, Derbyshire
Whilst I have written about my garden on this blog once thing is for certain – show garden it ain't. Keen gardeners can admire the splendour and big budgets at the RHS shows at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park but in reality our own modest plots are never going to come up to scratch. Thankfully there are a number of dedicated gardeners across the country who not only lovingly tend their gardens to expert standard but are also willing to open them to the public for charity through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS).

A rare chance to see what lies beyond the gates
This year the famous 'Yellow Book' produced by the NGS lists over 3,700 gardens which open to the public in 2013. The money raised through admission tickets, refreshments, plant sales and other other activities goes towards the national nominated charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices, Carers Trust, The Queen's Nursing Institute, The Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Fund (Perennial) and The National Trust. Fund raising for local charities is also permitted. So when my friend Christine asked if I could help out running the tombola stall at her garden I jumped at the chance.

Roll up! Roll Up! Homemade prizes on the tombola
Everybody seemed impressed with the range of prizes we had on offer. All the prizes were homemade and Christine also used a variety of ingredients from the garden for the lavender sugar, rose sugar, elderflower cordial, blackberry and apple jam and rhubarb mini loaves. Over the two days the tombola plus the sales of the seeds donated by Dobies of Devon raised £186.

Dahlias and some of the lavender used in the tombola prizes
Many of the gardens that open through the NGS do so by themselves. In Barlborough the whole village gets involved over the weekend. The parish church of St. James celebrates its Patronal Festival with a flower festival. Throughout the village are a number of scarecrows made by various local groups plus the Derbyshire tradition of well dressing. For the NGS there is a whopping six gardens that open and all for the bargain price of £5.

Scarecrow made by Barlborough School Club
Each of gardens that open in Barlborough are different. Christine and Vernon at The Hollies took up the challenge of turning an usual suburban layout into a hidden rural haven.

A hidden rural enclave and a RHS Chelsea gnome!
The plot where their house now stands was once part of the large garden of the house that stands at the front. For most people the long and narrow strip down the driveway would have been simply bricked over but Christine and Vernon have used every space available to them. Ornamental flowers are planted between a number of fruit and vegetable varieties.
Don't brick over all your drive - there's valuable planting space to be gained
At the back of the house are beautiful views across the fields. In this limited space the levels have been raised to increase the amount of planting space available.

If you run out of space move upwards
Run out of planting space? You need to start container gardening. Even the smallest garden can fit a few pots in. Herbs and salad leaves are particularly good for this type of gardening and of course provide tasty food. It may seem hard work when it comes to watering but container gardening is great exercise and makes you appreciate the rain even more!

Herbs and salad leaves make great plants for container gardening
As we were so busy I didn't have much chance to look around the other gardens – the only downside to being a volunteer! However, I was able to sneak a last minute look round Clarendon. My son was quite enchanted by the resident chickens and enjoyed walking over the bridge with the pond underneath. My daughter had a quick game of croquet on the immaculate lawn. All year round interest is provided by the wide range of conifers.

Where does the secret path at The Hollies lead to?
I arrived home on the Sunday evening with a rather nice feeling of accomplishment. This was compounded when I received an email later that night with the news that an amazing £3,321.30 had been raised for the NGS. If you missed it this year we're already planning for 2014. In the meantime there are plenty of other NGS gardens to find near you.

8 Years ago this was rubble and weeds...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Banana, Almond & Maple Syrup Cake

Banana, Almond & Maple Syrup Loaf Cake
It's not often that there are bananas at JibberJabber Towers which would make themselves fit as one of the ingredients to this recipe as my son is the original monkey boy when it comes to eating them. However, a weekend away and I cam back to the horrors of all horrors – blackened and overripe bananas. I say horror as the smell and even the thought of overripe makes me feel all sorts of things which should not be described on a cookery blog. My Nan used to have a Jamaican friend who told her that bananas are best eaten when they have black spots on them. Nan said that as Harry came from where they grew bananas he should know best. My senses remain to this day unconvinced.

The 'horror' of overripe bananas
This recipe is one I have adapted from a Be-Ro book. I made it first last year and found a major fault in it as it asked for the nuts and fruit to be put on top at the start of the baking process. I was a bit unsure when I read the instructions and my instincts were right – the top was completely crozzled. The original recipe called for different sugar, nuts and fruit. I didn't have any of these in stock and since this is designed to use up ingredients that otherwise would be thrown out I didn't go out and buy them but instead substituted with what I had at home. My almonds were whole but I put them in a bag and gave them a whack with a rolling pin to turn them into 'chopped'.

As the cake uses maple syrup I am putting this forward for this month's Feel Good Food at Victoria's A Kick At The Pantry Door.

Equipment: 1 2lb/900g loaf tin, greased and lined or use loaf liners.


8oz (225g) Self-raising flour
¼ tsp (1.25ml) Bicarbonate of Soda
3oz (85g) Unsalted butter, softened or baking spread
4oz (110g) Demerara sugar
2 Large eggs
3 Large ripe bananas, mashed
3oz (85g) Almonds, chopped
2 tbsp (30ml) Maple syrup


½oz (14g) Flaked almonds
½oz (14g) Sultanas
1 tbsp (15ml) + 1tsp (5ml) Maple syrup


1. Grease and line a 2lb (900g) loaf tin
2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
3. In a large bowl mix together the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
4. In a separate bowl cream together the butter and sugar.
5. Add the eggs one at a time and beat them in. Add a little of the flour if required.
6. Add the remaining flour, bananas, almonds and maple syrup. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined.
7. Pour into the prepared tin and cook for 45 minutes.
8. After 45 minutes check the loaf to see if the top is cooking too quickly. Cover with greaseproof paper if it is.
9. Mix together the flaked almonds and sultanas with the 1 tbsp (15ml) of maple syrup. Spoon over the top of the cake.
10. Drizzle over the remaining 1 tsp (5ml) of maple syrup, cover again and cook for a further 15 minutes.
11. Leave for 5-10 minutes in the tin before taking out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Origins of Yorkshire Day

Fountains Abbey - One of the jewels in Yorkshire's historic crown
It can only be right that England's largest county should have it's own day to celebrate its greatness. In these days where for PR reasons national days are made up on a whim it is quite reassuring to know that Yorkshire Day will be 38 years old this year on the 1st August.

Fine Yorkshire produce
Since 1975 the Yorkshire Ridings Society has organized gatherings up and down the county as a reason to show off all that this wonderful about 'God's Own County'. In 1974 the Local Government Act 1972 came into force and with it a complete overhaul of administrative authorities in England and Wales. Many parts of Yorkshire were moved into Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Country Durham and the newly formed Cumbria (formerly Cumberland and Westmorland), Cleveland and Humberside. There was also the creation of South Yorkshire which meant the abolition of the Yorkshire Ridings.

The Winter Gardens in Sheffield, now in South Yorkshire
The Yorkshire Ridings date back to when Scandinavian invaders came to conquer parts of England. The Vikings called it 'Thrething' while the Danes knew it as 'Thridding'. Both of these mean a third part which is why there was the North, East, and West Ridings but no South. What is known as the City of York today was a county in itself.

York Railway Station at night
So disgruntled was the Yorkshire Ridings Society at the changes to their beloved county that they instigated the first Yorkshire Day on 1st August 1975 as a way to keep the traditions and customs of Yorkshire alive. The date of 1st August was chosen as it was on this day in 1759 that the Battle of Minden was won in Prussia in what is now part of Germany. Soldiers from the 51st Regiment, which became the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, picked symbolic white roses from bushes near the battlefields as a tribute to their comrades who had been killed.
Goathland Station, North Yorkshire Moors Railway, featured in Heartbeat (Aidensfield Station) and the Harry Potter (Hogsmeade Station) films

Year upon year more events have been staged across the county. For the third year running Wentbridge House, near Pontefract, will be running their free event in aid of Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The event runs from 12 noon to 7pm so there will be plenty of time to try one of the fabulous menus that has been developed for Yorkshire Day. Take your pick from lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. In between you'll be spoilt for choice for things to do. A perfect day out for all the family and a fitting way to celebrate Yorkshire Day!

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Wentbridge House. The thoughts, words and photographs are my own.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Courgette (Zucchini) & Lemon Muffins

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Courgette (Zucchini) & Lemon Muffins
In this extreme hot weather that has overtaken the country it can be quite a task to keep the garden looking good and all the plants alive and well. We have a particular problem as the majority of our fruit and vegetables are grown in containers. In fact some like the radishes are grown in whatever packaging that happens to arrive at JibberJabber Towers!

Radishes grown in polystyrene box
This proves you don't need a large space to start growing your own produce. A few packets of seeds, a suitable container and some compost and you're ready to go. If you are still a bit unsure head over to the Westland site for some expert advice and tips.

Despite the sunshine not everything is ready to eat yet. The French beans have raced up the bamboo poles but are only just flowering. The first of the tomatoes have started to develop but are still not ready to eat. 

The tomatoes still need to get a bit bigger and to ripen
One thing that has grown well this year are the courgettes. So much so that some of the pots have had to be banished to outside of the greenhouse. 
We've gone courgette crazy!
Of course once you have successfully grown all this wonderful produce the problem is what can you make with all of it. I like to grate courgettes and quickly cook them with olive oil and garlic. They also go well as an extra vegetable in a tomato sauce. Alternatively you can try them in a sweet recipe. As ever my solution for any anything is bake it in a cake! I use the fine grater attachment on my food processor to prepare the courgettes. By mixing the yoghurt with bicarbonate of soda and then filling the cases to the top the muffins have a soufflé style top to them. Obviously this does mean they will stink but they still taste great.

Makes 12

Equipment: 12 cup muffin tin and paper cases.


½ tsp (2.5ml) Bicarbonate of soda
10 fl oz (280ml) Low fat natural yoghurt
10oz (280ml) Plain flour
2tsp (10ml) Baking powder
6oz (170g) Caster sugar
1 Large Courgette (about 10oz/280g), finely grated
6 tbsp (90ml) Oil, sunflower, vegetable or corn
1 Large egg, lightly beaten
Zest of 1 Lemon
½ tsp (2.5ml) Vanilla extract


1. Put the paper cases into the muffin tin.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
3. In a small bowl mix together the Bicarbonate of soda and yoghurt and leave to one side.
4. In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking powder and sugar.
5. Into the bowl add the courgette, oil, egg, lemon zest, vanilla extract and yoghurt mix.
6. Quickly combine the ingredients until mixed and then spoon into the cases. Fill up to the top.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes until the muffins have puffed up but have cooked through.
8. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Westland Horticulture. The words, photographs and recipe are my own.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Yorkshire Day Thursday 1st August 2013

Yorkshire Day in the grounds of Wentbridge House
I moved to Yorkshire 16 years ago and one thing that has always struck me is the diversity in the people, land and dialects. From the southern boundaries with Derbyshire, where I live, up to its northern tip by County Durham you'll find valleys and hills, waterfalls and coast, miles of agricultural land and heavy industry. Often proclaimed by its proud residents as 'God's own County', it seems only fitting that it should have its own day to show off its greatness. 

Since 1975 Yorkshire Day has been celebrated throughout the county on 1st August. The date was specifically chosen because on 1st August 1759 soldiers from regiments based in Yorkshire placed white roses alongside fallen comrades on the battlefield of Minden in Germany as part of the seven-years war. The Yorkshire Ridings Society decided to hold the first Yorkshire Day as a protest against the re-organization of counties and administrative areas under the Local Governement Act 1972 which came into force in 1974. Over the years the day has changed from campaign to celebration.
Plenty of Yorkshire produce to celebrate
This year Wentbridge House near Pontefract will be hosting their third annual Yorkshire Day on Thursday 1st August. It's free entry for everybody and also free parking. Open from 12 noon there will activities and stalls to keep young and old entertained. For the kids there is face painting, Punch & Judy, Teddy Bears Picnic and an animal petting farm.
Lots of fun for the kids
The local emergency services from West Yorkshire will be coming to show off one of their fire engines and the amazing skills of the Police Dog Display team. One the chosen charities this year is the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, so they'll be on hand to tell you about their important life-saving work.
The vintage cars interest all ages and sizes!
Enjoy some traditional Yorkshire games and see how well you do at welly wangling and flat cap flinging! There will also be a chance to try and buy some fine Yorkshire produce with chef demos and wine tastings planned. If you want try some of the delicious meals that Wentbridge House are known for don't forget to book your table for Lunch, Afternoon Tea or Dinner with their specially created Yorkshire Day menus.

A fine display of wonderful Yorkshire cheese and butter
This year's other chosen charity is Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. There will be a chance to appreciate some of the beautiful countryside with a guided walk around Brockdale. For those less energetic grab a seat to watch the birds of prey display.

So come and celebrate Yorkshire Day in style at Wentbridge House and remember you don't have to be from Yorkshire to join in!

I was asked to write this post to publicise Yorkshire Day at Wentbridge House. As a long-standing Yorkshire resident I was happy to oblige. Photographs in this post are used with permission and feature previous Yorkshire Day events held at Wentbridge House.