FF Cycling Hol 2010: Bath to Malmesbury

August 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, George, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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This year’s cycling holiday took me, Dick and my replica Timmy (small, plastic, attaches to bike basket and yes, utterly un-Timmylike) from Bath to Oxford, via Malmesbury, Cirencester and Burford. We decided to travel from west to east in the hope that the prevailing south west winds would help blow us some of the way back, a strategy which did partially pay off. Forsaking the Brompton (little wheels and poor luggage-carrying capacity), I loaded up the Bobbin on Saturday morning and set off from Hackney to Paddington.

It’s only 90 mins by train from London to Bath, so upon arrival I met Dick and in homage to the Kirrins we immediately went for tea and buns. We went to the famous Sally Lunn tea shop where we had half a warm Sally Lunn bun each (they are huge) with melted cinnamon butter and with extra clotted cream for Dick. The tea shop is set out over several floors and for 30p you can visit the ‘museum’ below the shop and see the old kitchen and a scary mannequin Sally. Although it’s in the cellar now the kitchen was originally at street level – I was fascinated to learn that there is in fact a whole subterranean, pre-Georgian Bath waiting to be discovered

Saturday was spent wandering the city, visiting the famous Royal Crescent and planning the next day’s route. There is no way to avoid some steep climbs out of the city and by Sunday lunchtime, a mere two hours after setting off, I was almost in tears. Being Dutch, the Bobbin has minimal gearing and it also weighs a ton, even without five days’ worth of luggage piled on the back. There was much pushing, which was almost as hard as pedalling. It was especially embarassing when groups of lycra-clad cyclists on racers sped past me, barely breaking a sweat and casually chatting to each other as they went (okay, okay, modern cycling has some advantages).

The sweeping views and eye-wateringly fast downhill bits made it worthwhile though. After an exhilarating whizz down the hill to Ford, a painful climb back up out of the river valley and another fast stretch back down, we stopped off in pretty Castle Coombe (left) for a much needed ginger beer and an ice. There are two pubs on the market place (for GB and lemonade) and there is a lady who sells tubs of ice cream out of her house by the market cross (she is also an excellent quilter and a selection of her work can be seen while you choose your flavours). Next door, another resident makes and sells gorgeous loaf cakes (banana, lemon drizzle and bread and butter) for £1.50 – money through the letter box with proceeds to charity. Cakes are individually wrapped up so are excellent to take away as provisions for later on when a touch of the bonk feels like setting in.

After Castle Coombe the terrain levels out a little: lots of winding lanes which are still up and down enough to be interesting but not enough to break your spirit. In fact, I would recommend this route [Bath-Batheaston-Colerne-Ford-Castle Coombe-Grittleton-Foxley]. We encountered very few cars, the surfaces were generally good, the villages picturesque and the countryside spectacular. On the approach to Malmesbury (from Hankerton onwards) we joined National Cycle Route 48. I don’t know if we should have tried to have followed this more on our way out of Bath, and travelled along the Roman Fosse Way, but on ‘our’ route we did manage to avoid all major roads and have some very nice stretches of cycling. In terms of Blytonia, we also passed a secret airfield (no hills shaped like Billycock hats though) and found ice cream and ginger beer (but beware! Colerne’s village shop is GB free).

Upon arrival in Malmesbury we dropped off bags and bikes and went in search of refreshment. I wish we could have tried the ‘Abbots’ afternoon tea at the Old Bell Hotel next to the abbey but unfortunately we’d already eagerly stopped at the first decent looking cafe we passed. The abbey is beautiful – part ruined, the rest very much still in use – and houses the tomb of Athelstan, first king of all England and grandson of Alfred the Great. In the graveyard lies Hannah Twynnoy (left), an eighteenth century barmaid who was unfortunately killed by a tiger (possibly the first person in England to die in this way – thanks to Anne for telling me about this).

Every year Malmesbury has a carnival and this year the town is celebrating the efforts of Eilmer, a monk who attempted to fly back in 1010. Launching himself from the abbey tower, Eilmer made it 200 metres before falling to earth and breaking both of his legs. The Athelstan Museum has fascinating exhibits on all of this and much more, including a small collection of old bicycles. It is also the first museum I’ve encountered that has a website written in the first person from the museum’s point of view. Yes really. See for yourself here.


Post-holiday Scorecard

July 19, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Travel | 1 Comment
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Days away: 4

Cream Teas: 2

Ginger Beers: 2 (1x alcoholic)

Ices: 2

Secret passages discovered: 0

Smugglers apprehended: 0

Two Cycle to Mersea Island

June 5, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Anne, Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Julian, Travel | 1 Comment
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Bicycles, an island, ginger beer. Pretty FF, huh? Yesterday I went with my friend Mike, hereinafter referred to as ‘Julian’ (apologies, Mike), to Mersea Island, Essex. We caught the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester, a journey that takes just under an hour. NB the London to Norwich train is good for bikes as you can put them in the guard’s van rather than awkwardly propping them up in the carriages.

I always thought that Essex was pretty flat but that’s actually not the case. To get onto the Mersea road you have to cycle up a massively steep hill to the centre of the town. I thought of Anne’s dilemma – to cycle painfully and slowly to the top, or to get off and push (Reader, I cycled slowly and painfully to the top). After this the road gently undulates all the way to the sea, with a few long slow hills that keep things interesting and challenging. This was my first long-ish distance ride on the Brompton and I confess that it was pretty hard work. Having wheels the size of jam jar lids means you have to pedal almost constantly and I felt very much like Anne as Julian sped off ahead with minimal pedal revolutions. If I was George I would have sulked.

A bike, a map and a ginger beer

When we were halfway there we paused for a brief rest and an extremely refreshing ginger beer (Enid definitely got that one right). Sadly this meant we weren’t quite ready for another stop shortly afterwards when we passed Butterfly Lodge Dairy and Farm Shop, home of delicious sounding Caprilatte goat’s milk ice cream. There were several other pretty looking places to stop off along the Mersea Road – the Peldon Rose, a fifteenth century inn complete with duck pond and climbing roses, and just after this, a farmshop advertising local asparagus and Tiptree strawberries. By this time, however, we were determined to reach our destination and kept on cycling.

Mersea is connected to the land by a long causeway called ‘The Strood’. The Strood offers expansive views of the mudflats and surrounding countryside, and the road surface is dotted with clumps of seaweed because at particularly high tides the Strood gets flooded and the island is cut off from the mainland.

Mersea Island Sparkling Wine

Our plan was to head to the Company Shed for lunch – an amazing seafood place where you have to take your own bread and wine – so we made a brief diversion to the Mersea Island Vineyard and picked up a bottle of local sparkling white. The Shed gets very busy at lunchtimes so it is best to get there 40 minutes or so before you want to eat, put your name down for a table and then pop off for a walk or a quick drink in the local hostelry (the staff at the Shed are very lovely and will keep your wine cool in their fridge). You help yourself to glasses and a corkscrew from a shelf in the corner and then choose from an impressive selection of hot and cold seafood. I had some grilled tiger prawns with salt, herbs and garlic mayonnaise and Julian ordered some glorious scallops with bacon and roasted vine tomatoes. We also shared a salad and selection of crevettes, smoked mackerel pate, dressed crab, peeled prawns and smoked cod’s row (the entire bill came to just under £30 – an absolute bargain). A lot of food admittedly, but well-earned after all that cycling, especially with the return journey still to come. The Famous Five’s huge appetites suddenly seemed completely understandable.

‘Ginger Beer is Back’

May 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games | 1 Comment
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… according to this article in the Daily Mail. Apparently nostalgic, recession-weary and health-conscious Brits are turning to the old-fashioned and naturally brewed drinks they enjoyed in their childhood – things like Dandelion & Burdock, traditional lemonade and ginger beer. Supermarket sales have risen by 5 per cent in the last year and various brands of properly alcoholic ginger beer have also appeared on the market. In the past home-brewed ginger beer could be as strong as 11 per cent. Soft drink brands like Fentimans are around 0.5 per cent (the fermentation process naturally produces alcohol) and alcoholic ginger beers such as the Scottish Crabbie’s are around 4 per cent.

Fentimans was established in 1905 and used to brew its ginger beer in ‘Grey Hen’ stone bottles (above left) before the company closed down in the 1960s in the wake of supermarket competition. It was re-launched in 1988 by Eldon Robson, great-grandson of the original founder, Thomas Fentiman. While the company’s drinks are no longer sold in Grey Hens, the aesthetic of Fentiman’s preserves the spirit of its Victorian/Edwardian roots. Its brews are now sold in attractive brown glass bottles, and the company has also launched a series of promotional cards based around the slightly naughty Victorian parlour game of ‘furtling’. What exactly is furtling, I hear you ask? Follow this link to find out…(NB this is probably not a game that Julian, Dick, George and Anne would play on rainy afternoons, but who knows?).

Lashings of ginger beer… scones

March 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | 2 Comments
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Like Sherlock Holmes’ “Elementary my dear Watson”, the phrase “lashings of ginger beer” is never actually used in the stories it’s so synonymous with. As previously noted, the Famous Five only ever enjoy lashings of treacle and of hard-boiled eggs (although not together; that particular combination would challenge even their relatively open-minded tastebuds). There are no ‘lashings’ per se of ginger beer – just vast amounts of the stuff, taken at any time of day [‘Lashings of’ is such a great phrase I’m afraid I overuse it a little, but let’s think of posts with this heading as a loosely thematic series rather than a sign of my lack of imagination].

Taking the cousins’ GB fetish one step further is Dan Lepard’s recipe for ginger beer scones, published in the Guardian magazine a few weeks ago. This uses ginger beer in the dough mix, as well as ground ginger and sweet stem ginger. I felt it my duty to try it out and report the results to any aspiring Aunt Fannys or Joanna the Cooks out there, so last week I whipped up a batch and forcefed them to my housemate and work colleagues.

Here is the recipe:

It makes around 16 scones.

425g plain flour
50g icing sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
2½ tsp baking powder
200g crème fraîche
1 large egg
100g chopped glacé or stem ginger (and a little bit more than this would not be a bad thing)
150ml ginger beer
Milk, for brushing the tops

Put the flour, icing sugar, ground ginger and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl or jug, beat the crème fraîche, egg and glacé ­or stem ­ginger with a fork, then stir in the ginger beer. Pour this into the ­dry ingredients and ­gently combine. You should now have ­a very soft and extremely sticky dough.

Generously flour your work surface and tip the dough on to it. Sprinkle plenty of flour on the top and pat it out with your hands to 2-3cm thick. Using a pastry cutter, cut the flattened dough into circles and drop onto a tray lined with a sheet of baking parchment. Brush a little milk onto the tops of the scones to help them go brown.

Put into an oven pre-heated to 220°C (200°C fan-assisted)/425°F/gas mark 7 and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the scones are brown on top. Leave to cool on a rack.

The scones are best eaten warm from the oven. After they cooled down they took on a slightly odd texture that I wasn’t really in to – not quite scone, not quite bun. They also seemed to be the tiniest bit rubbery. Verdict? I would prefer to eat real scones or sticky ginger buns a’la Mrs Sanders but these are worth trying once for their novelty value. Wash down with tea or, if you are a true devotee, a glass of ginger beer.

Lashings of ginger beer…

July 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Julian | Leave a comment
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I’m currently reading Five Run Away Together (courtesy of the lovely Julie, thank you Ms G), a book that contains a fair amount of ginger beer consumption. According to Blyton expert Norman Wright, the phrase ‘lashings of ginger beer’ never actually appears in any of the Famous Five books (although ‘lashings’ of hard-boiled eggs and ‘lashings’ of treacle are enjoyed in Five Go Down the Sea and Five Have a Mystery to Solve, respectively). Unofficially though, lashings of GB certainly get consumed in outing number three.

When the nasty Stick family take over Kirrin Cottage, the cousins run away to Kirrin Island. Before setting off, they raid the larder and come across the Sticks’ own personal stash of GB. ‘”All bought out of my mother’s money!” said George. “Well, we’ll take the ginger beer too. It will be nice to drink it on a hot day””. The GB makes an appearance at most meals, even breakfast. As Julian remarks, “ginger beer is a gorgeous drink – it seems to go with simply everything”.

Spurred on by the current glorious summer weather, I’m attempting to make my own ginger beer. I got a bit carried away, assuming I would need lots of fresh ginger, but apparently a little goes a long way. It has now been grated and added to hot water with lemon, sugar, yeast and cream of tartar. Now it needs to sit around for 24 hours while the yeast gets to work…

Lashings of fresh ginger

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