Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In The GreenValley

I've been so busy the last couple of days that I haven't had time to sit and write, Thursday was one of those days - a real struggle from start to finish though everything worked out in the end, Friday was just busy, busy. Now the weekend stretches ahead of me and hopefully I can write quite a bit. There are all sorts of ideas buzzing round my head. But for now the story of the rest of the weekend in Wales.

On Friday evening the group of 10 plus our leader met for drinks and got to know each other a little before sitting down to an early dinner. Afterwards at around 7pm we moved to a small conference room and Stuart and Gilly arrived in period costume and with great quantities of period clothing of all kinds fom underwear to heavy coats and cloaks. Both were so interesting and so knowledgeable about the subject that I was totally engrossed and was quite startled when another lady, obviously rather less enthralled, remarked that it was 10.30pm and time we were going to bed! I think Stuart could easily have talked on all night really. I could have listened to him as well. Next morning after breakfast we set off in shared cars to the farm which was a few miles outside Chepstow. We eventually stopped near the top of a steep,narrow,winding lane and parked the cars on a small grass verge before walking about half a mile up a track to the farm itself, stopping along the way to speak to the Tamworth pigs in their field. Actually they are a Tamworth/wild boar cross which makes them as close to the pigs of the 1620s as possible. Tamworths are the traditional cottagers pig and my favourite breed,I love their colour and they are usually quite friendly.After gathering in the small yard just by the farmhouse we had a short introduction to the history of the farmhouse and its restoration. Then as it was a hands on weekend we were straight into the various tasks involved in preparing our period style lunch. The open fire was already lit and the first tasks were to set a ham joint to boil in a pot of water over the fire and then put a joint of pork to roast on the spit in front of it.

We then went into the dairy to learn how to make butter, this is something I've always wanted to try. There wasn't room for everyone at once but eventually we all had a go at churning using a wooden churn about two feet high which stood on the table. At first it was easy but as the cream thickened it became really hard work to keep the paddle moving at the slow rythmic pace which was needed. Eventually the texture changed again as the buttermilk started to separate out. Once all the buttermilk was poured off the butter had to be squeezed with paddles to make sure every possible drop of moisture was removed. Then it was back to the kitchen to make bread for the butter to go on.
Of course it isn't possible for eleven people to all make bread at the same time so we split up and some were basting the pork while others were collecting fruits, herbs and salad ingredients from the garden. I collected and chopped the herbs to be rubbed on the gammon joint before it was enclosed in a pastry case and there were gooseberries to be made into a pie. Pastry making was another job to be done but I didn't do that as I was kneading the bread - a really therapeutic thing to do especially as I was able to work outside. So the morning passed with various interesting tasks and eventually the bread was ready to go in the bread oven where Gilly had lit the fire some hours previously so that it would be hot enough. The ashes are raked out as quickly as possible, a quick wipe round with some damp rags tied to a stick and the nine loaves went in before too much heat was lost. The doors consisting of two flat pieces of stone were well sealed with handfuls of wet clay. When the bread was baked the pies went in and while those were baking we made a salad and a sauce for the pork. Then it was time for lunch outside sitting in a shady part of the garden, The pastry - made with wholewheat flour was awful though the contents were good, don't know whther this was the flour or a certain lack of skill on the part of the pastry makers! The bread was pretty good as was the butter and the roast pork and its sauce were absolutely gorgeous and the salad was fantastic - it tasted as good as it looks. It included redcurrants, rose petals, borage flowers, pot marigold petals, raspberries and all sorts of other interesting herbs and leaves from the garden. In the afternoon we were shown the other buildings outside - the stables where the big working horses would be kept and the cow shed/hayloft where the cattle were kept during the winter months and of course the privy. The farm has no electricity, plumbing or water laid on to the site so the toilet facilities consist of the privy - a wooden frame with wattle and daub walls , a thatched roof and a piece of sacking for the door!! It's one thing I didn't take a photo of and I can't think why I didn't. It was actually much better than it sounds. Stuart and Gilly also showed us the garden in detail explaining exactly what is grown in the way of herbs, vegetables, soft fruits etc. Everything that is grown in the garden is true to period including some wonderful red gooseberries and red and white currants.
In the afternoon I'm not that sure what the others were doing but I chose to work in the garden along with a couple of other ladies which was a real pleasure even though it was very full of weeds. Since the people involved with the farm can only go at weekends, and the main task at present is restoration of more of the buildings plus building field walls and laying hedges, the garden tends to be fairly low on the list of priorities. The afternoon was hot and sunny and the farm is far enough off the beaten track that there is no sound whatever of traffic, all you could hear was the buzzing of bees and other insects among the flowers. Absolute bliss! I was very reluctant to stop and return to the hotel but we had pleasant evening chatting about the day's events.

This is the cowshed with the hayloft above it. I love this building.

Here are the stables which stand at a right angle to the farmhouse on the left hand side.
On Sunday morning we returned to the farm for a walk round the orchards and the fields. The hay had recently been cut and was ready for turning so that the underneath which was still damp was flipped over and open to the sun. All the genes of my 'ag lab' ancestors came to the fore and I turned out to be really good at doing it, the little flip with the hay rake came to me easily and I found the slow,rythmic action very therapeutic in much the same way as kneading bread dough.

This is the hay meadow after we had finished turning the hay.

The tour of the orchards was really interesting as all the varieties of fruit that are grown were available in 1620. Some of the old varieties have wonderful names - Cornish Aromatic is a lovely one, and there are Costard apples, Warden pears and Black Worcester pears and there are also damsons, medlars,and quinces. This is a Black Worcester pear, they are apparently very rare now. The fruits would be harvested in the autumn and stored in the apple loft which is one half of the upper storey of the farmhouse. They would need to be checked regularly and any that were going rotten taken out before they could turn the others. Some varieties of apples and pears would last well into the New Year.
It was sad to have to leave such an idyllic place but having been there I can now watch my DVD of Tales From The Green Valley and really know what it is like and, unlike most other people, know exactly were it is!


plainandsimple said...

This is great Rowan. Thanks so much for this...however, I'm ever so slightly jealous!

Remiman said...

This was certainly worth the wait.

Your attention to detail paints a picture of the bucolic days gone by. The photos set off the story perfectly.
I would love to be there.
I for one, am happy you persevered to complete the Opus. :-)

Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

What an intersting time you must have had! Thanks for sharing it, Rowan. I like the colour of those pigs too, never seen such before. Beautiful pictures! Any places you go....please show and tell :) I`m loving it.
My Mum used to make butter when I was a kid. We lived on an English country gentleman farmers estate and my Dad was the head herdsman. The butter was for the gentry that owned it and the workers. I remember how the cream used to rise to the top of the milk jars. Blackberries and pure cream. MMMMMM.
I think my childhood is part of the reason I`m so fascinated with the aristocracy etc. Would always take the newspaper up to the maids after school from the bottom of the lane.
It was so boring then. I learned to love books LOL
But now it brings fond memories.


Ancestral Celt said...

I'm so jealous. I wonder if its still around and if visitors are allowed?