Whispering Grass

Why do you whisper, green grass?
Why tell the world what ain’t so?
Whispering grass, the trees don’t need to know…

So wrote Fred & Doris Fisher (father and daughter) back in 1940. The song was made famous by the Ink Spots that same year and infamous by Windsor Davies and Don Estelle in the British sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum in 1975… their version of Whispering Grass was top of the UK charts for 3 weeks in June 1975… Lovely Boys!

Whispering Grass

Whispering Grass

I love the susurration tall grasses make when blowing in the wind… but there’s a whole different song there ;)

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St Mary Magdalene church, Launceston

The Parish church of Launceston, formerly the county capital of Cornwall, is St Mary Magdalene. The church lies below the Norman castle featured in my previous post, which guards the approach to Cornwall over the River Tamar. St Mary Magdalene is famous for its stunning carved granite façade, but I was first attracted by its bell tower and clock.

St Mary Magdalene bell-tower and clock

St Mary Magdalene bell-tower and clock

I think the clock face could do with a little TLC, but it is interesting nevertheless… it is early Georgian and painted timber.

Clock Face

Clock Face

The church, which dates from the early 1500s in its current form and is built of moorland granite, seemed to me to be quite imposing… I loved the Gothic feel of place. John Betjeman said of it “St Mary Magdalene’s church becomes a medieval triumph of Cornwall” and who would argue with that? Not me for sure, especially when the clouds moved on and sun shone brightly.

St Mary Magdalene Church

St Mary Magdalene Church

Gracing the outside of the east wall is a carved figure of Mary Magdalene with her ointment pot alongside. She is shown ‘creeping to the cross’, something sinners, including ex-prostitutes, were expected to do on Good Friday. A local tradition in Launceston is to throw a small pebble over one’s shoulder which, if it stops on her back, will bring good luck.

Mary Magdalene Detail

Mary Magdalene Detail

I must admit I was tempted to chuck the house-brick, but decided I’d better not! :lol:

The decoration around the outside of the church is nothing short of stunning and I could easily fill a book with photographs depicting the stonework. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the band of masons who decorated the walls. Tucked away, almost completely out of sight between the church and the vestry is this wall:

Decoration

Decorated Wall

I think it is nothing short of a travesty that later builders have been allowed to erect in such close proximity almost completely hiding this glorious work. Thankfully no-one has been allowed to abuse the interior.

The church, which is 103 feet long is built on the usual Cornish lines and with eight continuous bays. The Gothic chancel screen is sure to catch your attention, but be sure to look up… the roof is decorated with carved angels.

St Mary Magdalene, Interior

St Mary Magdalene, Interior

The carved pew-ends and the choir-stalls are delightful and have marvellous carvings in the ‘art nouveau’ style with representations of flowers, fishes and small animals. The pulpit is said to be the best in Cornwall, and is thought to be pre-Reformation… I can’t really comment on that having not visited all the churches. What I can tell you is that it is painted black but with gold details and red and green ribbed stems.

If you are ever in the area make sure you visit Launceston and take a look at St Mary Magdalene for yourself. :)

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Launceston

It hardly seems possible that 3 weeks have come and gone since we got back from our short stay in Devon; talk about tempus fugit. I suppose I really should have posted this before now, but as I haven’t I’d better stop waffling and get on with it!

In all the years I have been visiting Devon and Cornwall and driving back and forth along the A30 I had never ever actually stopped off at Launceston with the exception of a brief break to refuel. For me reaching Launceston on my way west meant I had left Devon and reached Cornwall, this despite the fact I knew full well the actual border was a couple of miles down the road at the River Tamar. I was always eager to hurry on into Cornwall and reach my destination rather than take my time and explore. On this visit I put that to rights.

Launceston is a town, ancient borough, and civil parish in the east of Cornwall; Launceston is also correctly known as The Gateway to Cornwall given it has straddled the main route-way into the county since ancient times.

Launceston Castle

Launceston Castle

Dominating the town is Launceston Castle, one-time seat of the Earldom of Cornwall.

Launceston Castle

Launceston Castle

Built by Robert, Count of Mortain and half-brother to William the Conqueror, the castle is of Norman motte-and-bailey design and stands at the highest part of the town. I believe I’m correct in saying the castle was the site of the Cornwall’s earliest mint, operating since middle of the 10th century.

Launceston Town Gate and Castle beyond

Launceston Town Gate and Castle beyond

Walking down into the town from the Cattle Market car park you find yourself greeted by a view of one the town gates with the castle beyond.

Town Gate

Town Gate

The gateway is well worth a look… it even has a rather interesting small shop in the tower above the roadway accessed by the stone steps to the right of the image below.

Town Gate

Town Gate

The centre-point of the old Market Square is the memorial; the square is still used as a marketplace and there are shops surrounding the open space.

Memorial in the Town Square

Memorial in the Town Square

Like many west country towns, Launceston’s streets are narrow and filled with interesting shops selling all manner of items… there are also a huge number of charity shop outlets here.

Launceston Shopping

Launceston Shopping

Walking around the little streets I was impressed by the number of quite individual shops around the town and the way chain store outlets had, for the most part, been restricted to keeping within the main architectural style.

Launceston Shopping

Launceston Shopping

I also liked the way some official buildings had been constructed using the same type of stone that was used to build the castle.

Castle gateway with council offices beyond

Castle gateway with council offices beyond

I’m sure there is far more to Launceston than the few highlights I’ve listed here, but I don’t want to spoil it for you… make the effort to stop off there and take a look around yourself. ;)

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Piri-piri chicken – it’s easy

All this wonderful weather we’ve been having here in the UK has inspired me to play with the barbecue… not that I need much inspiration because we do love barbecued food here in the Usky household. :)

Anyway something that has become a firm favourite over the years is Portuguese Piri-piri Chicken. For years I used a propriety marinade and was always a little disappointed by the taste until I found a great recipe for making the marinade yourself… never looked back because the flavour is far more authentic and so much tastier.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • fresh red chillies (vary the number depending on how hot you want it – I use 12)
  • 1 tbsp garlic, crushed and fine chopped
  • 1 tsp salt flakes
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tbsp smoked paprika
  • 100ml/3½fl oz olive oil (I use extra virgin, but you don’t have to)
  • 50ml/1¾fl oz red wine vinegar

I grow my own chillies and use a mixture of fresno and jalapeno to get the flavour and heat I desire. I have also used birdseye chillies and that works just as well.

Fresh chillies - fresno and jalapeno

Fresh chillies – I use fresno and jalapeno

To make your marinade/sauce

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Place the chillies on a roasting tray and roast them for 10 minutes.
  2. Cool and roughly chop the chillies. Place the chillies, garlic, salt, oregano, paprika, olive oil and vinegar in a saucepan, and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool, then blend it to a purée with a blender or food processor. You can store this in a lidded container at room temperature; it will keep for about a month. Shake well before using.
  4. Place the spatchcocked chicken in a sealable plastic bag. Add half the piri-piri sauce, spreading it evenly over the chicken. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

You can cook this in the oven, but if you prefer to barbecue as I do you’ll  definitely want to spatchcock your chicken… there are plenty of videos on YouTube that will teach you how to do this, but basically it means taking out the backbone. I use a pair of kitchen scissors for this as that is the easiest way as far as I’m concerned.

Spatchcocked Chicken

Spatchcocked Chicken

Some people don’t like chicken skin and you can remove it, but if you’ve got yourself a good quality fresh chicken I suggest you leave the skin on… it protects the tender flesh and adds a whole bunch of flavour.

Coat the chicken with your piri-piri marinade and allow it at least 45 minutes to an hour to flavour the meat before cooking… if you want a really deep flavour, marinate the chicken overnight.

I cook my piri-piri chcicken foil wrapped in a Weber kettle barbecue over indirect heat for 20 minutes each side, then open the lid, remove the foil and place the chicken over direct heat for a further 10 minutes basting with the marinade and turning frequently to avoid the chicken burning… you should end up with something looking remarkably like this :)

Barbecued piri-piri chicken

Barbecued piri-piri chicken

Traditionally piri-piri chicken is served with chipped potatoes and salad, but since you have the barbecue lit why not try grilling some slices of courgette and onion? It works well, believe me. There’s nothing like a little variation in your food. :)

The served dish

The served dish

 

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Making molehills out of mountains

The distinctive rocks known as the ‘Bude Formation’, covering much of north Devon and northernmost Cornwall, are best exposed in the magnificent cliffs and are best viewed from the sea. However there is one quite stunning location where the results of the forces of nature can be equally enjoyed from the landward side; Widemouth Bay, Bude.

The Upper Carboniferous rocks at Widemouth Bay are mostly from the Bude Sandstones and Crackington Measures (Carboniferous). These have been heavily deformed, with upright folds in the north and more horizontal folds in the south. The exposures in the northern end are typically buff-weathered sandstones, siltstones and shales from the Bude Formation that was deposited about 300 million years ago.

Part of the Bude Formation at Widemouth Bay

Part of the Bude Formation at Widemouth Bay

My photograph really doesn’t do them justice since the formations at Widemouth Bay really are quite stunning for anyone with an interest in geology. As I understand it the Bude Formation became folded some 5-10 million years after it was deposited, when Africa and Europe, riding on separate tectonic plates, collided. This occurred near the very end of ‘Carboniferous time’. The collision folded and uplifted the sediments of the Cornubian Basin, forming a mountain chain that ran east-west across Cornwall and Devon. The uplift led to erosion, mainly by rain and rivers, of the younger deposits from the top of the Bude Formation, exposing it as we see it today. In other words, the Bude Formation was once in the core of a mountain range that has since been almost entirely eroded away! Amazing when you think about it in those terms.

Widemouth Bay is well worth a visit and not just for the rocks, toward the northern end there is a large, sandy bay is marked on maps as Widemouth Sands that is a haven for castle-builders, surfers and kite-boarders alike, but don’t just take my word for it, go have a look for yourself.

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Viper’s-bugloss

Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss or Blueweed) is a species of Echium native to most of Europe, and western and central Asia. It is also common in North America.

Described as a flamboyant plant, the viper’s-bugloss seems to belong to a hot far-away country. With rough, blue petals and red stamens that flick like tongues, its hard not to think this plant’s snake-like appearance contributed to its name. In fact, it was once used as an anti-venom for bites from the spotted viper. Neat, huh?

Viper's-blugloss (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s-blugloss (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s-blugloss or Blueweed (Echium vulgare)

Blueweed (Echium vulgare)

Blueweed (Echium vulgare)

With its upright spikes of blue flowers in dense clusters, hairy stems and narrow and pointed leaves, Viper’s-bugloss seems to attract huge numbers of bees and butterflies… that would make it a very welcome plant in my garden.

 

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Tilly’s luxury BedBox

So I got my Washburn back from TC Ellis Guitars this morning all reworked and nicely set-up and of course just had to get it out of the case, plug it in and give it a little play… I didn’t even think about it as I left the plush-lined case open on the floor…

Is anyone watching?

Is anyone watching?

Tilly obviously did however and proceeded to make herself at home!

Is my BedBox now :)

Is my BedBox now :)

D’you think I’ll ever get it back?

Will I ever be able to use it again?

Time will tell!

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Little gems

One of the things I loved about wandering on Bodmin Moor recently was coming across the occasional orchid growing amid the marshy grasses… I only photographed a couple of varieties and really should have spent more time on hands and knees capturing these little gems.

Click the images for a larger view and enjoy these stunning little flowers. :)

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A river runs through it

River Torridge at Bideford

River Torridge at Bideford

Make Bideford your base and you’ll be ideally situated for exploring North Devon and Exmoor, but Bideford has more going for it than that. To start with Bideford is a historic port town spanning the estuary of the River Torridge; it is also home of the Grenville family, who were so influential in British history.

The Grenvilles were lords of the manor of Bideford; they played a major role in the town’s development over the years and were instrumental in the development of the port into a major centre of trade. Admiral Sir Richard Grenville, cousin to Sir Francis Drake, is probably the best known of the Grenville clan, although his father Sir Roger Grenville was the Captain of Henry VIII’s Mary Rose when she sank in Portsmouth Harbour in 1545.

Richard began his career as a 20 year old member of parliament, but turned to soldiering and distinguished himself in the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian’s war against the Turks fought in Hungary in 1566.

In 1569 Grenville arrived in Ireland where, among other things, he served as Sheriff of Cork.

In 1574 Grenville submitted a proposal to the Privy Council to take a single ship to plunder Spanish treasure ships and plant colonies in South America and from there to sail across the ‘South Sea’ in hope of finding a short cut to the Spice Islands and ‘terra australis incognita’.

In 1585, Grenville was admiral of the seven-strong fleet that brought English settlers to establish a military colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of modern North Carolina in North America. He returned to Roanoke in 1586 to find that the surviving colonists had departed with Drake. Grenville left 15 of his own men to defend Raleigh’s New World territory.

In 1588 Grenville again distinguished himself, this time in the fight against the ‘invincible’ Spanish Armada.

In 1591 Grenville was appointed Vice-Admiral of the Fleet under Thomas Howard and was charged with maintaining a squadron at the Azores to waylay the return to Spain of the South American Spanish treasure fleets. He took as his flagship HMS Revenge, a ship of new design, later considered to be a masterpiece of naval construction. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson in his work The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet romanticised the last of Sir Richard Grenville’s battles: “Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one“, Grenville was said to have wished to blow up his ship rather than give up the fight.

But enough of Grenville’s personal history. By the 16th century Bideford had become Britain’s third largest port. Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although, contrary to popular belief, he was not the first to import tobacco to England. Bideford was heavily involved in the transport of indentured servants to the New World colonies and was also heavily involved in the Newfoundland cod trade; some 28 Bideford vessels with a combined tonnage of 3860 tons were involved in this practise in the year 1700.

East the Water is less commercial than the main part of the town on the west of The Torridge and is well worth a look. I particularly enjoyed the waterfront.

East the Water

East the Water

A bridge spanning the River Torridge and connecting the East and West of the town was said to have been built out of timber in the year 1286. In 1474 the original structure was replaced by the masonry arch bridge, known as The Long Bridge, seen today.

The Long Bridge

The Long Bridge

 

West Bideford retains many charming aspects from its past, including some very narrow streets, alleys and wynds. Something else I found charming was the number of independent shops that have survived in the town. Oh yes there are some chain stores, but even they have, for the most part, retained the traditional flavour of the town.

Shopping in Bideford

Shopping in Bideford

Shopping in Bideford

Shopping in Bideford

Bideford also has a few remarkable administrative buildings; the Town Hall in particular caught my eye.

Bideford Town Hall

Bideford Town Hall

To appreciate Charles Kingsley’s description of “The Little White Town which slopes upward from its broad river tide” make sure you approach this ancient port and market town from “East the Water” and cross the ancient Long Bridge which spans the River Torridge… you’ll be glad you did. :)

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