Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hogmanay 2013

We couldn't finish 2013 without something mediaeval, so here are three super Early English Gothic roof bosses from Dore Abbey in Herefordshire. We visited this former Cistercian abbey - now the village of Abbey Dore's parish church in October while in the UK. Thought to originally be from the abbey's Chapter house, they are now displayed on the floor of the ambulatory and side aisles.

Smiling face; probably of a young man
Coronation of the Virgin

Adoration of the Virgin and child by an abbot
Dore Abbey was founded in 1147 by a small group of monks and an abbot from the abbey of Morimond [Champagne-Ardenne region], one of the most important Cistercian houses in France. Most of what is left today is from a rebuilding which began in 1180.


We'd like to wish everyone who has visited or commented on our blog in 2013 peace, health and happiness in 2014. Thank you for taking the time to stop by!

photo: wikimedia commons

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Season's Greetings!

Wishing all our blog readers a
Very Merry Christmas!

 Our cats have their own decorations :-)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Grange de Meslay

Quite close to Tours, just to the north-east, lies the commune of Parçay-Meslay, a mix of wine producers and Tours commuters. Earlier this month we'd been up to Vouvray to pick up some wine for Christmas. Along the road which leads from Rochecorbon to Vouvray there is a sign pointing the way to the "Grange de Meslay", which we'd noticed on previous visits. This time we decided that, having bought our wine, we'd go and have a look. The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies so good, we hoped, for some lovely photographs.

This is what we found:

the gatehouse
A beautiful 13th century gatehouse which is the entrance to what was once a priory complex originally belonging to the Abbey of Marmoutier [Tours]. 

The scale is huge -- originally the walls encircled a complex 2 hectares in size [about 5 acres]. It was the heart of a large agricultural estate as well as the place where tithes and 'terrage' [dues paid in kind] were brought to the monks. According to the Marmoutier Abbey chronicles the barn, portico, dovecote and walls were built between 1220 and 1227. However, there already had been a priory on the site from the 11th century.

delicate finials on the gatehouse roof
The tithe barn as it stands today is a 15th century re-build. It was burnt down by Scottish soldiers in September 1422 according to the Marmoutier chronicles. These Scots formed a major contingent of the Dauphin Charles' [future Charles VII] regular army and, poorly paid, they took to pillaging on their way back from a military engagement in the north. Ten years later, once Charles had regained the throne [with some help from Joan of Arc] it was re-built.

We have yet to see the tithe barn. The complex, still in private hands, is closed to the public out of season. From Easter to the end of October you can visit it at weekends [afternoons only]. If the barn and rest of the complex is anything as good as the gatehouse it will be superb and we're looking forward to seeing it!

To the left of the gatehouse, mounted on the wall was a silhouette portrait made of metal.
Up close it looks rather like Marlon Brando don't you think?
It is, however, a portrait of Sviatoslav Richter, a 20th century concert pianist [1915-97] who founded an annual music festival at Meslay. The festival, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year is held every June. You can check out the 2014 program here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Reiver country

Back in late October, on leaving Edinburgh, we headed for Chester to see an old university friend. We took the A702 via Biggar to link up with the M74. This road takes you through the more northerly end of the Scottish Borders, or 'reiver country'. It is stunning countryside and hopefully you can get an impression from the photographs below.
From about the late 13th to the early 17th century it was a pretty lawless place. Families raided on both sides of the border and as long as you didn't endanger family or alliances anything was acceptable. Due to their 'skills' border reivers were quite highly regarded as soldiers, although their allegiance could be suspect. Families would have relatives on both sides of the border and changing sides in conflicts between England and Scotland was [often] not an issue.
Sheep and cattle spent much of their time trotting backwards and forwards along the hills as they were rustled hither and thither. Houses were torched and it was frequently quite bloody. Along with the rustling, blackmail flourished as an enterprise and many became rich. Feuds between families, both across, as well as on the same side of the border, abounded.
For the common folk this 'reiving' was a nightmare and they often constructed simple homes made from turf as they were so frequently destroyed that it made no sense to construct them from anything more durable. Richer families built 'bastle houses' or peel towers. Both were made of thick stone walls with a minimum of wood so they could withstand being torched [laying siege took too much time]. Livestock would be kept safe on the ground floor and the inhabitants would barricade themselves on the floor above. Rides [as raids were called] could vary greatly in size, sometimes the group was small, at other times it was huge with 1,000 or so taking part.
With all this raiding going on they did set up a framework for law and order.  There were Lords, or Wardens of the Marches [East, Middle & West] on both sides of the border tasked with keeping the peace, but as the very families who were Wardens were also from reiver clans or families the system varied in its efficacy. Peculiarly Border Laws were created to deal with the raiding. For example, under these laws a person who had been raided had the right to mount a counter-raid within six days, even across the border, to recover his goods. This was known as a 'Hot Trod'. It had to proceed with "hound and horne, hew and cry", so that it openly announced its purpose, to distinguish it from unlawful raids proceeding covertly.

I [Antoinette] first encountered border reiving in Dorothy Dunnett's six-part 'Lymond Chronicles' set in the late 1540s/1550s. Dunnett expertly blends historical accuracy, real historical characters with great fictional characters. Events sprawl across Europe from Scotland, England, France and Russia to Malta and Istanbul. I found them a brilliant read and have, from time to time, re-read all six books.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Once more with feeling!

This weekend Charnizay had another 'big day'. It was the official opening of our new Salle de Spectacles. Last January the mairie had held the traditional New Year's reception in the Salle but at that time it wasn't quite finished. You can read about that and the history - it was originally a 'grange aux dîmes' [tithe barn] - here.

On Saturday things were a little more formal. Marisol Touraine, our most important local big-wig, was the guest of honour; she's currently Minister of Social Affairs and Health. Two children stretched out a ribbon in front of the entrance doors and Marisol dutifully cut the red, white & blue ribbon with a pair of scissors [kitchen variety - large orange handles :-)] which were offered on a cushion.
Beautifully serried glasses and finger food with attentive listeners behind
The minute it was done the inhabitants of Charnizay surged forward to get inside as a cold wind was blowing and nobody felt like hanging around. Even the greetings with the traditional 2 kisses amongst friends and family were peremptory as everyone hurried in.
Inside a trio of good young musicians played 50's style jazz on the stage and the tables bore glasses of pink or white fizz and beautifully presented canapes.
Musicians played 50's style jazz [phone camera; apologies for the quality]
The kitchen has now been kitted out, the stage has curtains and the final finishing touches to the exterior, including a bit of landscaping, are complete so all is now done. The maire, Claude Villaret gave a full accounting of the costs and subsidies in his speech. That done the local big-wigs of the Communauté de Communes de la Touraine du Sud and Conseil Général had their say before Marisol Touraine closed the speechifying. All fervently expressed the hope that the salle [which is large] will form a focal point for larger events to be held by the communes in the area. We really hope so, as the whole has been tastefully done and is, in all honesty, far too large a venue for a village of just 500 odd inhabitants.

Once the speeches were over and people were busy chatting and enjoying the food & drink, the children who had held the ribbon came round and gave each person a tiny snippet as a charming little memento.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Starlings and sheep

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to catch quite a murmuration of starlings just where our lane joins another before it continues up to the main D road. We stopped to watch the arial ballet and listen to the 'woosh' of their wings. They danced in the sky whirling up and then down before swooping to briefly settle on the large oak, electricity wires and harvested sunflower fields before rising up to repeat the whole procedure.

Dancing over the fields
Heading to settle in the tree

Off again
We've also had the sheep 'visiting'. Earlier this year the farmer whose field is on the east side put his sheep out to graze there. This was a 'first' for us as in the three years we've lived here he's just cut the field several times for hay in the summer. A simple single [temporary] wire fence was put up to keep them from wandering.

Sheep invaders
Last week the sheep were back, minus the wire fencing. Niall kept an eye on them during the day. Oddly enough they kept themselves pretty much in the field and hardly strayed over onto our property - just a little bit - for the odd nibble around our trees. The were very skittish and bolted back down into their field whenever Niall went out to the barn or woodshed. However, he did manage to sneak a few photos of our interlopers.

Just a nibble here and there

Friday, 15 November 2013

A great watering hole

One of the nice things about being back in the UK is going to a pub; a proper traditional pub with real ale, nice food, no canned music or fruitmachines and a warm welcoming interior. We have several favourites in Edinburgh and usually end up visiting at least one for a meal or drink in between seeing family and friends.

Photos of Cumberland Bar, Edinburgh

This photo of Cumberland Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor 

Two of our favourites are the Bailie in Stockbridge, where we met a very good friend for a meal and the Cumberland Bar in the New Town where we had a drink after our tour round Arthur's Seat.
great real ales and lovely wood bar
When we got to the Cumberland it was mid-afternoon and very quiet; there were just a few people in. The bar person was able to tell us about the guest ales she had on tap and we also ended up having a chat about the challenge to create a lower abv ale which still retains taste -- something which drivers would appreciate. She had one on tap and kindly gave me a sample. It was lovely and it made a nice change to be able to have a half rather than the ubiquitous diet coke which I usually have as the driver. The pub has recently changed ownership and she was full of ideas of how she wanted to develop the ale selection which changes regularly. The plans sounded good so we hope she realises them.

Back in the late 1980's we lived in Edinburgh and this was one of the pubs we used to visit regularly. Then it was called The Tilted Wig. It has always had a nice beer garden -- a rarity in Edinburgh and thankfully, when it became the Cumberland it retained its nooks and snug as well as the larger room with an open fire which give it, we feel, a lovely atmosphere. The only downside of going to the Cumberland is that it can be busy; especially during the summer. It has a claim to fame as it was immortalised in the 44 Scotland Street novels written by Alexander McCall Smith.

Oddly enough a friend of ours who lives close by to us here in Touraine was also in Edinburgh at the same time. Chatting to her at work after we came back I found out that she too is a fan of the Cumberland Bar and had popped in for lunch while on her visit. Small world :-)!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembrance Day

Dore Abbey, Welsh Borders, October 2013

Anthem for Doomed Youth

                                            What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
       Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle  
                                             Can patter out their hasty orisons.
  No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
               Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—  
                                             The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
       And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

                                              What candles may be held to speed them all?
       Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
                                              Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
       The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
                                              Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
                                              And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
                                                   Wilfred Owen

Friday, 8 November 2013

Here be volcanoes

Edinburgh is a city of amazing green spaces and they really define and enhance the urban landscape. Some of the more well known are: the area round the university known as the Meadows; Princes Street Gardens between the Old Town perched on its spine and the New Town; and, at the eastern end of Princes street, Calton Hill, which offers an amazing view over Leith and the Firth of Forth to Fife. Most well known are the more rugged and extremely imposing Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags which together form part of a brilliant recreational space called Holyrood Park.

Busy late October afternoon at the bottom of Arthur's Seat
The whole of Edinburgh is built upon the remains of ancient volcanic activity. Arthur's Seat, like Castle rock, is the remnant of a volcanic core, while Salisbury Crags is an ancient igneous intrusion. The hills which have gradually become part of greater Edinburgh, are also a legacy of this volcanic activity.
Dramatic ruins of St Anthony's chapel above St Margaret's Loch. Holyrood Park
These open spaces are extremely popular and actively used by locals and tourists alike. It isn't unusual to see plenty of people walking, jogging or cycling on an ordinary weekday in the middle of the afternoon. Even at the end of October on a day with blustery showers, the parking lot at bottom end of the Royal Mile just beyond the garden wall of Holyrood Palace was pretty full and there was a continuous procession of people climbing up the path to Arthur's Seat. So well used are Arthur's Seat & Salisbury Crags that wardens have to close paths from time to time to allow them to recover from their intensive use.
Dunsapie Loch, round the back of Arthur's Seat. You can just make out a tanker on the Forth beyond.
Edinburgh is perched on these remnants of ancient volcanoes and lava flows because of their strategic value. It is at this point that, to the south, the barrier of the Pentland Hills comes closest to the Firth of Forth and the outcrops form an natural barrier.  From the top of Arthur's Seat you have a fabulous 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Even lower down you are still able to see landmarks which are miles away.

View towards Dunbar. Traprain Law [lone hill] in the far distance on the right [17 miles].
Looking east along the south coast of the Firth of Forth towards Dunbar just proves the point.

click on the photos to enlarge

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Edinburgh Birthday

While we were visiting family and friends in Edinburgh recently, Niall celebrated his birthday. It frequently falls in the autumn half term break so, as last year, he was able to celebrate it in his home town; much to the delight of his mum.

Naturally a birthday calls for cake and Shona, Niall's sister, bought a great one, entitled "Farmyard Stack". This seems to be a new trend in cakes and we thought it was great fun and probably quite simple for you bakers out there to do something similar if you fancy having a go. Inside was a simple Victoria sponge cake with jam, so apart from the icing it was light, ...... oh and tasty!
Moo, Baaah and Oink - all very yummy!
Unsurprisingly many of the gifts were books and music Niall requested, However, Shona in a 'tour de force' of inspiration found "the" gift of the birthday: a Man Tin!! Brilliant! Niall even forgave her the traditional silly socks--crocodile ones this year!

A fully kitted out Man Tin
All in all we had a super time and it was so good to catch up with everyone! Even the weather wasn't too bad; in fact we had odd moments of sunshine and generally the temperatures were very mild for late October.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Edinburgh in late October

We're in Edinburgh for a few days visiting family and friends before we head south to meet up with other friends in England.

Today the sky was a bit wild. Bright autumn sunlight alternated with dark pewter-y skies so that one minute the city was lit up and the next plunged into gloom.

Edinburgh Castle seen from the Liberton area of the city which lies to the south of the Old Town. In the hazy distance you can just make out the coast of the Kingdom of Fife.

The Scottish Parliament with the Nelson Monument and the National Monument on Calton Hill just poking up behind.

Looking west/northwest towards Edinburgh Castle and the ridge of the Old Town from near Salisbury Crags.

As ever click on the photos if you want to see a larger format.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Jelly, pears & millet

It's been a bit hectic at Chez Charnizay. Work has invaded with an increase in assessments and papers to mark before the Toussaint break as well as other necessary things on the home front such as having the boiler serviced before the winter.

We've also been busy in other ways. Kind friends in the village gave us a large bag of apples and some quinces so over the past weekends I've been making jelly. We also had some fruits from our own quince tree this year - there weren't many but those we did harvest were lovely and unblemished .
Some of apple jelly to the left, quince jelly to the right & poached pears in the large jars
In total I got 8 jars of apple jelly and made two kinds: four jars of classic apple with just a pinch of ground cinnamon, and four to which I added a mix of spices. It was a little bit of an experiment. I added 2 star anise, a cinnamon stick as well as 3 cloves to the roughly chopped apples when I boiled them. It seems to have worked fairly well. The colour is a little darker and the flavour is less overtly 'apple'. In both cases I used a standard jelly recipe and added a very generous teaspoon of lemon juice. I wanted the quince jelly to have just a hint of star anise, so I took a different approach.  I added 1 star anise together with the sugar to the quince juice and left it in for a few minutes as the liquid began to boil but then took it out. I am really quite pleased with the result. In all I got 4 jars of jelly from the quinces. Thank you to Pauline & Tim for spare jars!

Friends Susan & Simon kindly gave us some pears from their orchard and I poached them in wine. They'll make lovely eating when the winter weather sets in. I poached half the pears in white wine with vanilla and star anise. The other half were popped in red wine with vanilla, 5 cloves and a cinnamon stick.
Harvesting the millet

Harvesting: up close the machine is huge!
Eric has been very busy in the large field to the north of us last week. In the space of 5 days he harvested his millet, ploughed the field, prepped it, drilled it with seed for a new crop and lastly drove over it on a quad bike with some kind of mini hopper. As a result it is now all ready for winter. We have no idea what he has planted, but we'll will look forward to identifying it once the first shoots show themselves.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

La Vieille-Église, Cravant

Not far from Chinon, tucked away up a small valley to the north of modern day Cravant,  lies the vieux-bourg complete with its ancient church. The nave is formed by the original 9th century Carolingian church. It underwent two extensions. The first took place in the 12th century when the apse at the east end of the original church was opened up and the building was extended to create an apsidal choir and then secondly in the 15th century a south transept chapel was added.
Looking east down the Carolingian nave to the apsidal choir
The building is a lucky survivor. The village of Cravant moved to its current location in 1863 and built itself a new church. Hence its old church, dedicated to St Léger, became redundant. It escaped demolition and was put up for sale in 1865 when it was bought by the 'Societé Archéologique de France'. It is now owned by the Association 'Amis du Vieux Cravant'.
12th century apse: you can just see the little angels painted [much much later] on the rounded vaulting
We visited the church in September during the 'journées du patrimoine' on a day when the rain was teeming down. There wasn't a soul in sight, but the door stood open so we made a dash for the entrance and had a look round. On that day entry was free; normally there is a simple "turnstile/pay as you enter" system in operation.
Grotesque, possibly a harpy on a capital
Inside you can see that the Association has a continual struggle to keep damp and other ravages of time at bay. Nevertheless, there are some lovely things to see.
Merovingian pillar
The stars of the show are the two Merovingian pillars [Merovingian period: mid 5th - 8th century] which frame the entrance to the choir and pre-date the earliest part of the church. They are carved with lovely knotwork patterns. The first mention of these two pillars is in the 15th century when a porch was built which ran the length of the exterior of the south side and incorporated these two pillars as the supports to frame the entrance. It was removed at the end of the 19th century.
Merovingian pillar on the left, sarcophagi bottom right
In the 15th century lady chapel [south transept] is a partial wall painting, somewhat naive in style, depicting figures venerating the Virgin Mary under a sky of eight-pointed stars.
15th century wall painting: venerating the Virgin Mary
The Carolingian nave houses a collection of sarcophagi from around the Touraine region, other odd items and a cabinet with some lovely bits and bobs of sculpture.

Sadly no photos of the exterior as it was raining far too heavily to get the camera out. An interesting way to spend time on a very "driech" afternoon.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Katinka collects walnuts

We've a Blogger friend who is partial to walnuts, but never gets to collect the nuts off her own tree at their little house. As we have quite a few trees and are usually innundated with  nuts we offered to get a box to her. We'll post it when we're over in the UK on a family visit later this month. So that's the plan.... though the box might be slightly smaller than at first anticipated.
Walnuts on the tree by the kitchen door
This year the squirrels have been more assiduous in eating the ripe nuts which have, so far, dropped leaving us with a wee fight on our hands. The good news however, is they are steering clear of the big tree by the kitchen door which still has plenty of nuts on it.

We've just started collecting and this morning Niall had a look for the nuts that have dropped. Naturally Katinka decided to help.

Enough said......

Oh what's in here?

This is a 2 paw job.

Ha! Gotcha!

Slighty played out

Quick wash in the box to finish!

She then settled on the layer of nuts already in the box for a nap..... sigh!