Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Devil in the Detail

The Curiously Named, Cheesefoot Head
Not much happens, in the foraging vein, during the Winter months, but we still love to get outdoors when we can.  The children and I went for a walk around Cheesefoot Head in December and had a lovely time scrambling up and down the banks and exploring the woodland.
The Devil, Recently
One place that I have always wanted to visit is the Devil’s Punchbowl. I had seen it it many times, normally when stuck in the traffic bottleneck of Hindhead on the  A3. Now though, the busy London to Portsmouth road has been diverted through a tunnel, which means that the scenic area can be returned to something like its original beauty. The landscape here is actually a valley and not a “bowl” but this fact does nothing to diminish the staggering nature of this place.
When I suggested the Devil’s Punchbowl, my daughter asked why I always took them to places with evil names - we walked to the Hell Stone in Dorset last Summer and the year before we found the Deadman's Plack. I explained that remarkable places often have curious names. To be honest, I simply love maps and enjoy walking; so I frequently gaze at Ordinance Survey maps, hunting for wicked names or stunning ancient contours, where we can have a little adventure.
There are various legends attached to the Punchbowl, including an argument between Thor and Satan; the village of Thursley (named after the Thunder God), lies nearby. It’s always good to have an ancient story to engage the nippers with on the journey and there is a conveniently grisly tale attached to the A3 at this point. This involved the murder of an unknown sailor in the 1700’s and the subsequent punishment of three perpetrators. They ended up hanging from a gibbet atop the appropriately named Hurt Hill. 
Fortunately, the grim remains have now been replaced with a granite monument and some nice laminated signs. The original engraved marker-stone still stands though, detailing where and when the crime occurred. The unfortunate sailor’s gravestone can be seen in the Thursley churchyard, if you are curious enough.
Muddy Hell!
Some friends came with us, bringing Mungo, their lovely dog. Mungo kept my son constantly entertained by enthusiastically fetching every stick he threw, and the two of them were scampering back and forth throughout. We walked a fair way around the busy edge of the “bowl”, before stopping for a picnic and finally cutting back down through the valley along a lovely quiet sandy path. The thin, Winter sun was shining on us for so much of the walk that we ended up carrying the kids coats - you would not have guessed that it was mid-January.
The final part of our journey was more challenging and involved negotiating a very steep and slippery hill, which was covered in storm smashed trees and damaged fences. There were no casualties but the dog, and everybody else, did require hot baths that night.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Winter Warmers

Happy New Year Readers.
Lighting Over the Itchen River
The weather here has been relentless and unforgiving; we did manage to enjoy the storms in Devon after Xmas but beyond this we have been largely confined to quarters.
A Huge Beech Tree - Blown Down on Cheesefoot Head
After bottling up another batch of Elderberry Port, and with Sloe and Medlar wine currently on the go, I took the opportunity to test some of the adult drinks we had created this year.
Storm Waves in Hope Cove
Here then, is a quick round up of the fruity flavours that I have experimented with over the last year.
Elderberry Port, Medlar & Sloe Wine, Cider
  •       Elderflower Champagne. It took two attempts and some exciting explosions but we had great results in the end. Lessons learned for next Spring/Summer. Plenty of Elderflower Cordial to keep the kids happy throughout the year.
  •       Mulberry Gin. Definitely dangerously delicious! I had to fight the children for the Mulberries.
  •       Blackberry Vodka. What’s not to like?
  •       Raspberry Vodka. A nice contrasting compliment to the other fruit liquors .
  •       Cherry Brandy. I think this still needs some tweaking or perhaps I just don’t like it very much.
  •       Cider. 11 Gallons this Autumn and it tastes much nicer than last year. We will be made some Mulled Cider and mince pies for Christmas parties. Lots of Apple Juice for the children too; I think pasteurisation may be called for next time.
  •       Medlar Wine.  Currently bubbling away nicely, last year’s batch is not bad at all.
    Medlar Wine 2012 Vintage
  •       Elderberry Port. Recently bottled, very successful in previous years.
  •       Sloe wine, still busy fermenting in the demi-jon.
  •       Sloe Gin, a plummy favourite that makes a popular gift. Also a great nip for those cold winter nights.