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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Wet Start and a Detour

I've just spent a week in Sussex and Dorset and when I left home the weather was so bad that I decided to stay off the motorway and find my way down to Northampton on the ordinary roads. I left at 6am in pouring rain so at least there wasn't much traffic while I navigated on strange roads. On the map the route looks perfectly straightforward, on the ground it's full of roundabouts, narrow roads through small towns and a general lack of signposts where you need them most! However by 9am I was driving through Leicestershire and the rain had eased and suddenly I saw a large brown sign that said 'Bosworth Battlefield'. Working on the theory that 'I may never pass this way again' I did a sharp left turn and set off to see what I could find. It was too early for the Visitor Centre to be open when I arrived but there was a walk around the area of the battlefield with good information boards at intervals.

The Battle of Bosworth took place on the 22nd August 1485 and was the final battle of the Wars of the Roses. It changed the course of English history as the Plantaganet king, Richard lll, was killed on the battlefield and Henry Tudor became Henry Vll, father of Henry Vlll and grandfather of Elizabeth l. Above is Ambion Hill where Richard's army camped the night before the battle.

The battle standard of Richard lll which would have been flying on Ambion Hill on that fateful day when Richard was betrayed by Lord Thomas Stanley who waited to see which way the battle was going and finally committed his large private army on the side of Henry Tudor and attacked Richard and his cavalry and Richard was killed, the last English king to die in battle. His body was treated shamefully by Henry Tudor, he was stripped naked and tied to a horse and taken to Leicester where it was exposed to the public gaze for two days before being buried without ceremony at the Church of the Greyfriars. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries his coffin was dug up and his bones thrown into the River Soar. This was followed by the blackening of his reputation by supporters of the Tudor dynasty in particular Sir Thomas More. William Shakespeare's play, Richard lll, was largely based on the book written by More. During his lifetime contemporary sources suggest that he was an able and greatly loved administrator who did much to improve the living standards and liberties of ordinary people.

A cairn covers the spring where King Richard is said to have stopped to drink during the battle.

This is the board standing just in front of the spring, The Fellowship of the White Boar was the original name of the Richard lll Society

St James Church, Sutton Cheney where Richard is reputed to have heard his final Mass on the eve of battle.

The memorial to Richard lll and his followers which is on a wall of the church. A poor photograph because of the way the light was shining on it. Loyautie me lie translates as 'Loyalty binds me' and was the motto of Richard Plantagenet. The memorial was placed there by the Richard lll Society.My own interest in Richard began after I read a book called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - it's a detective novel which I have read several times and it never gets any less intriguing. However we'd better carry on to Sussex now.

I was in Sussex to do a course called Food for Free at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, it was a pleasant enough day but to be honest I can't say I learned a great deal that I didn't know already, it didn't rain anyway and we had a pleasant ramble in the woodland but other than that it wasn't very notable.One thing to do when you are out in the country is to notice not only what is available now but what might be worth coming back for later in the year - in this case the wild strawberry flowers will eventually become small,sweet fruit.

This is a fungus that grows on dead ash trees and is called King Alfred's Cakes - and they do look like little cakes left in the fire too long. They aren't edible but they are very useful for anyone who is living off the land and needs to start a fire.

They can be either brown or black and the black variety can be very useful for lighting fires because the inner flesh, once dried out, will easily catch a spark which will ignite the flesh of the fungus and, although it burns slowly like a barbecue briquette, once it has been lit you can get a flame started. It can also be used to carry as a living ember if wrapped in birch bark or fresh grass. "Oetzi", the 5000 year old Iceman who was found in the melting ice of an Alpine glacier in Italy in 1991, was carrying a piece of tinder fungus in a leather pouch. They are rather attractive when they are cut open too, the inside reminded me of tree rings.

This is burdock, most widely known in its context of Dandelion and Burdock - one of the world's most wonderful drinks in my opinion:) The root can also be eaten as a root vegetable provided you have sufficient strength and stamina to dig it up! It has several medicinal uses too.

Good King Henry is not only wild but was widely grown in cottage gardens in the medieval period and used as a potherb. It can be cooked like spinach and you can also use the stems which are known as Poor Man's Asparagus. The Henry part has nothing to do with English kings - Good Henry was a kind of Anglo-Saxon elf!

We were shown how to hot smoke fish on an open fire using a couple of baking tins and a tray from a disposable barbecue. You shave half a dozen slivers of wood such as apple, beech, hazel, or oak into one of the trays,put the fish on the grid over the top and season it, then put the other tray over it. Do NOT use woods like yew, pines or horse chestnut as they are toxic, you really do need to know what you are doing when using wood for anything like this.

Put the lot straight onto the fire and put a big rock on top to keep the lid on, leave it for 10 minutes or so and...

...smoked cooked fish. Very nice it was too. Afterwards I went back to where I was staying and went to a local inn called the Keepers Arms to eat a beautiful steak closely followed by a beautiful creme brulee! No foraging required!


PAT said...

As always, interesting and informative. You do this so well, Rowan!

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Sounds like you enjoyed the trip Rowan. I certainly enjoy reading about what you discover. Looking forward to the next installment!

Kim said...

Oooh, yummy that fish looks good :) I didn't know you could use King Alfred cakes in that way, thanks for the tip :)

Kim x

Wanda said...

I always learn something as well make English History much more interesting than my memory of it in school...I believe I may have an enormous Burdock plant growing by our small bridge...I will have to research.

Thimbleanna said...

Wow Rowan. I love your 'I may never pass this way again' attitude -- spur of the moment decisions are often the most exciting. Thanks for sharing your trip and class with us!

Tea with Willow said...

Thanks so much for sharing this post Rowan, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading all about Richard III ... must pay a visit to Bosworth, as I don't live too far away from there.

I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip!

Willow x

Gracie said...

Thanks again for the interesting history lesson, as always.
Gracie at

Rosie said...

Oh, Rowan, thanks for this - as your know I'm a Richard 'fan' - it's been about 4 years since I visited the Battlefield site and it had changed so much since my earlier visits - if you ever get a chance to go back the Visitor's Centre is great inside. 'The Daughter of Time' was the first book I read too and my first copy was loaned out to so many people it fell apart and my second well thumbed copy is still on my book shelves and re-read occasionally:)

My husband has one of those little 'tinder' fungus things in his fossil and flint tools cabinet. I can't remember where he found it:)

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Rowan
The battlefield is one of our regular haunts, it's right on our doorstep. The weird thing is, when you were there, so were we!

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

what a wonderful adventure rowan!
i was reading a leaflet about the W & D as it is not that far from us, just the other side of portsmouth.

cannot wait to hear about dorset!

Mrs Boho said...

Lovely photos as always. Medieval history is my favourite ...
Shirl x

Derrick said...

Hello Rowan, Nice to have you back! I enjoyed reading all about Bosworth and Richard. I daresay Richard did get a bad press but I don't think he was completely blameless in usurping his own nephews! We can never know.

Do you listen to Radio 3? As part of their poetry season, there was a reading this morning which mentioned Nigel Kennedy playing Lark Ascending and it reminded me of your site. It's nice to be here again

Julie said...

What an interesting post, Rowan. Thanks for the info on Richard III. Although I was an English lit major I only took courses in Shakespearean comedies and tragedies so the histories are unknown to me. And my pesronal knowledge of the English kings seems to start with the Tudors. I just finished a book called "The Sixth Wife of Henry VIII". Not a very good book but now I can keep the six wives straight and have an image of each one in my head.

PS - Also cool info on the "first BBQ briquettes".

Sheila said...

It's refreshing to read that you are not averse to an unplanned side trip. I've come across some of the most interesting places that way.
I think we are having the same weather here, it's been raining nonstop, and is expected to continue. Too bad the course was disappointing, but you had to go to find out. I loved Dandelion and Burdock too, I think the closest thing here, (but not as good) is probably root beer.

Janet said...

I always learn something when I visit you! This post is jam-packed with history and information. I'm saving the bits about the fungus to share with my son.

And you had the perfect ending....creme brulee!!!

PG said...

Ah, that's what those fungi are! Seen them about, next time I'll take a couple for fire lighting. Have you been listening to The Daughter of Time on Radio 7? I've been engrossed, having not read the book, and it has beautiful theme music (The Princes in the Tower by William Walton)

Anonymous said...

I thouroughly enjoyed this post - because it reminded me of a visit to Bosworth, where I meet the parish hippy vicar who made a significant spiritual impression and I wonder if he's still there - and, I struggle with Shakespeare! In 2002 I saw a production of R III twice because I wanted to conquer my ignorance, of Shakespeare and history but I didn't get very far because the costumes were Edwardian and that confused me even more! And I get upset about those two little princes in the tower... But thank you for a fabulous post all the same :-)