Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day 3)

June 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Timmy | 1 Comment
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Georgian market town Holt attracts lots of visitors (locals meeting for a coffee, tourists, second home owners in search of olives and harissa). I went to pick up a few supplies for my day and to have a little look around its shops which include an outpost of the Norwich art and craft shop, Verandah, and Old Town, purveyors of modern versions of old style home and workwear (stove pipe trousers, house dresses – lots of twill).

For provisions I went to the Owl Bakery and got a sausage roll, warm from the oven, and a coconut tart, which was the closest I could get to one of the Five’s favourites, coconut macaroons. There’s a tea room at the back of the bakery where I stopped for a coffee, which was much needed on what was shaping up to be a damp and misty morning. The tea room is charming without trying too hard and has booths and tables with old tea tins, metal teapots, tennis rackets and other miscellanea propped up on shelves all around. I had a good cup of hot coffee but did note that it cost more than a cup of coffee in a fancy East London cafe (this says much about the fashionable parts of North Norfolk).

My route on Day 3 was Holt to Heydon, via Blickling Hall. There are a few nasty B roads around Holt but cycle route provision means there’s an underpass to help you avoid the worst of these. Within a few minutes I was once again completely alone on a quiet road in the midst of woods and fields, on my way to my first stopping off point, Baconsthorpe Castle.

Baconsthorpe is an actual ruined castle, on the very edge of the village at the end of a long farm lane. Apart from the Tudor Gatehouse, the rest of the castle is a little Kirrin-like. Timmy and I had the place to ourselves, apart from the cawing rooks and a lot of geese (there’s a mere next to the castle). We explored a little and as it was a bit lonely and eerie we stopped to fortify ourselves with the coconut tart  –  a delicious and very restorative elevensey (is this the singular of ‘elevenses’?). As we were leaving some day trippers in a motor car turned up. Pah!

The roads around this part of the county are lovely. Contrary to popular belief, Norfolk is not flat, especially around this area which was shaped long ago by Ice Age glaciers. There were a few little climbs followed by some exhilarating downhill stretches. In Itteringham we stopped off for a ginger beer from the village post office. NB This is an excellent little shop which sells postcards, stationery, teas and ices much in the tradition of the village shops encountered by the Five.

My timings were much better than the previous day, perhaps because I decided to abandon my 20 church quest, and I arrived at Blickling in good time for a picnic lunch inspired by a meal in Five Have a Wonderful Time in which they feast on sausage rolls and strawberries. I confess my version was a little inauthentic as I opted for fresh (although rather squished after a morning being bumped around in my bike basket) rather than tinned strawberries.

After a look around the hall and its gardens, I visited its excellent and rather large secondhand bookshop. Despite trying to travel light I succumbed to two hardbacks. These were Blytons, of course: a hardback Ring o’ Bells Mystery and Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book. The second is a thing of such beauty that I will return to it in more detail another time.

Day 3 was by far my greediest day. In less than an hour I was in Heydon’s Village Tea Room and Shop (I took a longer route to avoid busy roads) with a pot of tea and a scone. Like Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich they sell lavender scones so I requested to have mine with lemon curd and cream – a heavenly although rather indulgent combination. But surely ok after all that cycling?

My destination for the night was the Stable Cottages at Heydon Hall, run by the fabulous and indomitable Sarah. I was given another cup of tea and, with the other guests, sat outside and watched the wide array of birds (woodpeckers, nutcrackers) that frequent Sarah’s garden and the grounds of the hall. Rather magically, a barn owl appeared and flew around the estate on its early evening hunt.

This was the final night of my trip. The next day I had a gentle ride back into Norwich day (2-3 hours along the Marriott’s Way, old railway track which is now a designated cycle route) and decided to round off my trip with a final cream tea, this time in the garden of the Briton’s Arms on Elm Hill. Whipped rather than clotted cream but very good nevertheless.

Tally for the penultimate and the final day: Ruined castles (1), ginger beers (1), cream teas (2), stately homes (1), churches (0).


A visit to the dairy

August 7, 2011 at 9:04 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking, George | 1 Comment
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After referring to the dairy in Five Have a Wonderful Time in my last-but-one-post, I decided to have  an early morning visit to Jones Dairy. This cafe and shop is just off Columbia Road and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

On Sundays the cafe opens at 8am – perfect for an early morning visit to the flower market before the crowds descend. There is tea and French press coffee (with hot milk if so desired); a selection of bagels with various fillings; Chelsea buns, Bath buns and, yes, doughnuts, just like the dairy in Wonderful Time (‘”I feel like having a couple of doughnuts at the dairy”, said George’).

This used to be a working dairy with eight milking cows occupying the space now used for the cafe (pictured below). Every six months the cows would be exchanged for cows fresh from the Welsh hills. Sadly there are no longer inner city cows here (although this is probably good for them), so the cafe and shop do not supply their own milk, cheese, cream and ice cream in the style of the Blytonian dairies featured in the Famous Five and the Five Findouters stories. However, the shop does stock a range of English and Welsh cheeses, English honey, eggs, fresh bread, Welsh cakes (75p each), lemon, orange and limecurd plus packets of quality tea and coffee. It’s perfect for provisions, especially if you happen to be staying in a gypsy caravan nearby, along with a fire-eater, knife-thrower and bendy man who appears to be made from India Rubber. Perhaps this is not too outlandish for Shoreditch?


July 31, 2011 at 9:48 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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‘”Do you want to take some of my home-made jam with you?” asked the farmer’s jolly, red -faced wife, when [the Five] paid her for their tea. “Oh yes, rather!” said Dick.’

– Five Have a Wonderful Time

This week I made my first ever batch of jam. It was borne of necessity – a punnet of strawberries got rather squished on a bumpy bicycle ride home – but turned out rather well and I got to eat the fruit of my labours (sorry, couldn’t resist the terrible pun) for breakfast this morning, as you see on the left.

As Lucy H Yates points out in her Country Housewife’s Book (first published in 1934 but reprinted by the lovely Persephone Books), ‘merely to boil fruit and sugar together does not make Jam’ [with a capital ‘J’]. She continues: ‘It is rather necessary to state this somewhat emphatically, as there are people who never reason about things and content themselves with following an old custom, or some haphazard idea of their own and still expect results to turn out all right. Making jam, however, is a scientific process as well as a real test of skill.’

Sadly I am indeed one of the people she refers to and my jam making was a spur of the moment midnight endeavour, not carried out with due care and scientific diligence. Strawberries don’t have much pectin (the stuff that makes jam set) so despite adding some lemon juice my jam is still a little on the runny side. I also added my sugar too early, as, in Yates’ words: ‘It is the fruit that requires cooking not the sugar‘. While I thought it tasted quite good, and feel quite proud of my little pot of jam, I will try to follow Yates’ advice more closely next time round. I have some gooseberries waiting for the jam-making treatment and by all accounts these are much easier to turn into jam (they’re naturally high in pectin). An update will no doubt follow but in the meantime here are some methods, tips and recipes, courtesy of The Country Housewife’s Book.


Make the pan hot and pour in a little water first; then put in the fruit, stirring frequently to keep it from catching, keep stirring at intervals all the time it is cooking until it is reduced to a pulp and seems to be evenly cooked. For stirring purposes use a large wooden spoon, preferably one that is cut across in a slant, as this pushes the pulp about better than a rounded one. Usually it takes about half an hour’s gentle boiling to reduce fruit to the right stage before adding sugar to turn it into jam.


The more rapidly jam or jelly boils the shorter time it will need to remain over the fire; during the time it is boiling attention must not be relaxed and stirring must be constant. Rapid boiling for half an hour will cause less wastage than slow boiling for an hour which so many think to be necessary. With rapid boiling the colour is kept bright; with slow boiling it is darkened.


[…] quantities can be halved or further reduced by dividing them in the same proportion. The amounts here named would not be more than would be gathered from the average country garden at any single picking, but the small-holder need not be deterred from using a recipe by thinking she is under the necessity of keeping exactly to the quantities named. Provided she keeps the same proportions she may reduce the amounts as much as she pleases, and similarly she may increase them if blessed with a very prolific garden or orchard!


The total time required for making fruit into jam or jelly has not been stated in the following Recipes, but only that for boiling after the sugar has been added. The reason for this is that some fruits take longer to cook to a pulp, others quickly break up and become soft, and the jam-maker is the best judge, or will be after she has gained a little experience. Roughly speaking, however, half an hour’s boiling is sufficient to cook the fruit thoroughly well.


Jars for holding the jam or jelly should be made as hot as they can be handled by warming them in the oven (after they have been washed and polished). They should be filled to the brim with boiling preserve and can be covered at once if standing on a tray or table where they can remain until cool enough to handle.


3 lbs small ripe red strawberries;

1 pint red currant juice;

3 lbs sugar.

If red currant juice is not obtainable, use the juice of 3-4 lemons, or a proportion of ‘Certo’ [a pure fruit extract which I see is still available], and rather less sugar.

If desired to keep the berries whole do not boil more than ten minutes from the time the sugar is added.

To prevent the berries rising in the jars let the jam cool down before putting into pots.

Goose-berry juice will do instead of red currant if more convenient to obtain [sadly not, I fear].


4 lbs damsons

4 lbs sugar

1 ½ pints water

Wash the damsons and put them into the preserving pan with the water and cook gently, stirring now and then, until the fruit is well broken down. Remove stones as they rise, but they will not readily come to the surface until the sugar is in and has boiled up. Boil, after adding the sugar, until a little shows signs of setting. Judgement is the best guide, while stirring and clearing of stones should be continuous.


Do not add the sugar until the fruit has been thoroughly cooked […] On attention to this point depends the flavour, the bright colour, and the setting of the preserve. Over-boiling after the sugar has been added is the reason why jam candies on the top, is treacly in texture and dark in colour. Boiling sugar so quickly passes from one stage to another, from a thin syrup to a thick one, and from that to a caramel, that all cooking should be done before any sugar goes into the pan.

[P]revent any check to the boiling such as takes place when sugar is added cold to boiling fruit. After weighing out the amount required according to the weight of fruit used the sugar should be spread on trays and dishes and set in the oven to become quite hot.

Margate Photo Album

July 23, 2011 at 10:33 am | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking, George, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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The trip to Margate was good fun. The town was much as anticipated – run down in places (very run down) and very much on the up in other parts. The most visible sign of this is the brand new and proudly modern Turner Contemporary gallery, built on the seafront in the spot where J M W Turner used to stay. The Old Town too is a thriving cluster of shops, cafes, galleries and pubs, and there are also some nice things a bit further afield too.

The Turner Contemporary is a real shot in the arm in terms of Margate’s revival. Exhibitions will change on a six-monthly basis and next year will see a major exhibition of Turner paintings which will hopefully draw visitors from far and wide. The inaugural exhibition is a group of specially-commissioned works inspired by Turner and Margate, focused around a work by Turner himself: The Eruption of Souffrier Mountains, in the Island of St Vincent, at midnight, on the night of 30th April, 1812.

This piece (below) is by Daniel Buren. It is actually two floors high (this picture was taken from the first floor balcony). As you enter the gallery it fills your vision and floods the room with glorious yellow light, capturing something of the visual and emotional impact of Tuner’s famous sunsets. Thursday was a gloomy day but the yellow and different shades of grey looked good together.

In the evening we drank perry in The Lifeboat Ale and Cider House and had impressive Indian food at The Ambrette (delicious spiced local crab). We stayed in the beautiful Reading Rooms, a new-ish B&B in a Georgian townhouse in Hawley Square. Words cannot describe its loveliness. Here is a picture of the exquisite breakfast served in my exquisite room: fresh fruit salad, toast with cream cheese, cinnamon and honey (plus extra toast and jams), tea and freshly squeezed juice. It’s like a very sophisticated version of the breakfast the Famous Five enjoy so much in Five on a Hike Together [NB more traditional FF fare such as porridge, bacon and eggs and sausages is also available on the Reading Rooms’ extensive breakfast menu].

Fueled by breakfast we set off to explore some of the local independent shops (my favourites were crafty place Blackbird; the Pilgrims Hospice Charity bookshop in the old Midland Bank; and R G Scotts – old furniture, crockery, vintage maps etc) before braving the strangeness of the Shell Grotto (£3 entry). This underground network of passages, with 4.6 million shells lining its walls and ceilings, was discovered in 1835. Everything about it is a complete mystery – it is not known when it was created or by whom, or what the various symbols depicted on its walls actually mean. It’s very dank and slightly sinister – Anne would definitely not like it and I suspect George and the boys, and even Timmy, would get the willies too.

After this we needed some fresh air and a nice cup of restorative tea. We found it in Batchelor’s Patisserie, pictured below and (as I liked it so much) in the first photo of this post.

Batchelor’s is a proper bakery and cafe with original Formica fittings and display cases full of amazing treats. We had an old school cheese quiche and salad for lunch but you can also get sausage rolls, soup and sandwiches as well as cheese and fruit scones, fresh doughnuts, Congress tarts, various slices, cheesecake, coffee cake as well as a selection of fancy French macaroons, petit fours, Kentish ice cream and even home-made jam to take away. They sell a wide range of loaves too, and almost everything is made on site. Batchelor’s even has a proper 1950s style coffee machine and serves up a quality cappuccino. It reminded me a bit of the dairy/cafe that the Five frequent in Five Have a Wonderful Time where they get addicted to the doughnuts and ice cream (‘”Timmy’s silly over those doughnuts” said George, “he just wolfs them down”‘).

The sun finally came out late on Friday morning and effected an incredible transformation on the town. Although much of it is still rather desolate – the old lido is deserted and empty for example – the sun brought people out onto the golden sands and the view from the Nayland Rock shelter, where T S Eliot gained inspiration for ‘The Wasteland’, was decidedly cheery.

In two years’ time the 1920s Dreamland Amusement park will be restored and re-opened so hopefully this will add further to the re-invigoration of Britain’s oldest seaside resort. I will almost certainly go back but am now looking forward to more Kentish fun with next month’s cycling holiday which kicks off in Margate’s neighbouring town of Broadstairs…

As sweet as…Sweet Williams

May 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The concept of seasonal eating is now wildly popular and my local Farmers’ Market is currently well-stocked with asparagus, bright red strawberries and other delights. English flowers should not be neglected from lists of seasonal pleasures either and these beautiful Sweet Williams rate highly on mine (yes, I do have actual lists, I’m that sort of person). I always look forward to their first appearance and find they are as redolent of late spring/early summer as English strawberries and a glass of Pimms.

Other pleasures that are not seasonally-tied include my current Famous Five, Five Have a Wonderful Time (should I mention I am reading a grown-up book too, the excellent Romantic Moderns, by Alexandra Harris?). Anyway, in FHAWT, the Five are staying in old gypsy caravans near Faynights Castle and having some trouble with the ‘fair folk’ who are not taking kindly to the children’s polite, middle class ways. Characters include a fire-eater, a bendy ‘India Rubber’ man and a chap with two large pythons, one of which will go on to place a crucial part in the rapidly unfolding mystery. And gypsy girl Jo has just made a surprise appearance. Hurrah!

There is some quality eating and drinking going on too, so more of this in due course. Meanwhile I am pleased to report that the simile ‘as blue as cornflowers’ has turned up (see two posts below). Double hurrah!

‘”There’s the sea! Oh what a dear little bay!” said Anne, in delight. “And isn’t it blue – as blue as cornflowers. We could almost bathe.”‘


November 23, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Posted in Fashion, George, Julian | Leave a comment
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As the evenings draw in and it gets steadily colder and colder, it’s good to have some warm and cosy nightwear – for sleeping in of course, but also for those days (generally Sundays) when getting dressed is just one step too close to leaving the house. According to George, pyjamas are the only way to go, as poor/irritating (delete as applicable) Berta swiftly discovers after arriving at Kirrin Cottage in the middle of the night in Five Have Plenty of Fun:

‘George got out of bed, still looking very mutinous. She watched Berta shake a night-dress out from her night-case and pursed up her lips. “She doesn’t even wear pyjamas!” she thought. “What a ninny!”‘

Too right George! But what pyjamas should one wear? Well, as Eileen Soper makes quite, quite clear, it’s the classic blue & white stripe (occasionally, if certain editions are to be trusted, there is also scope for red & white stripes).

I purchased a fine pair recently from Jack Wills. Promisingly, the company cites ‘British military history, British sporting traditions [and] British country pursuits’ as its design inspiration but normally I would not shop there, being about 10 years too old for their clothes (there is a sister brand, Aubin & Wills, which aims for a slightly older audience). On this occasion, however, I followed the siren call of a Sheringham cable knit cardigan in the window and before I knew it was in the changing room trying on these beauties (left) instead. They are heaven in pyjama form, made from soft brushed cotton and sporting pockets too.

Now, you wouldn’t really think that pockets would be useful in nightwear but, if like George, you are kidnapped and need to throw the contents of your pyjama/dressing gown pockets out into the road to leave crucial clues as to your whereabouts, they can come in extremely handy. For my part, I will not be taking Timmy out for midnight walks (plastic Timmy is thankfully low maintenance), tackling crooks (I hope) or visiting Tesco in mine (apparently a Welsh branch of Tesco has instituted a ban on shoppers wearing pyjamas) but instead I will be lounging about the house, firmly avoiding adventure of any kind.

Fun at the Fair

June 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Fun and Games | Leave a comment
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Carter’s Steam Fair is in town! In short, it is an amazing traditional fun fair, complete with dodgems, swing boats, gallopers, and retro amusements which only take old money. It’s just like the type fair the Five would go to, although unlike Faynights in Five Have a Wonderful Time, in that there are no pythons, fire-eaters or dodgy criminal types.

We went last night (the fair is part of Victoria Park’s ‘Paradise Gardens’ weekend) and had a thoroughly super time. I got to ride on a black galloper called Stan, ate candy floss and had my fortune told by Old Betsy (she looks like she puts lithium in her tea –  or at least she would if she wasn’t an automaton). There’s also a coconut shy, dive bomber, utterly terrifying ‘steam yachts’, and the obligatory hook-a-duck stall, as well as a beautifully restored 1954 Morris ice cream van where the Five could conceivably buy ices for themselves and Timmy (although as we are often told, Timmy doesn’t really savour his ice cream – he just wolfs it down in one go).

Coconut shy

Ice Cream vanOld Betsy

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