Cotswold Gold

Oilseed Rape Story

Oilseed Rape Story

As soon as we arrived at Church Farm for Open Farm Sunday I was captivated.  At the entrance there were Shetland ponies and goats to pet, as well as a great display of crops and posters giving information about oats, barley and oilseed rape.  It was like the best nature table you could possibly arrange!  As a primary school teacher many years ago, I would have loved to put on a display like this for my pupils.  But even as an adult I found it fascinating.  What appealed to me most was the opportunity to learn about the oilseed rape.

I love to see the fields of gold that stretch across the Cotswold in late Spring each year.  I go out and take photographs and take the grandchildren to admire them.  I usually say something simple like, “It’s used for cooking oil”, but I honestly hadn’t a clue what really happened to those gorgeous yellow plants.

Well, having chatted to the farmer and a seed merchant, I now know a great deal more.  Rapeseed belongs to the Brassica family of plants like turnips, cabbages, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower among others.  In fact the word Rape comes from the Latin, Rapum which means turnip!  Who knew?  Natural rapeseed has been grown, and used to produce fuel, for centuries.  In fact Brassica are some of the oldest plants around.  There are records of Brassica oilseed varieties being grown in India 4000 years ago, and China and Japan 2000 years ago.   It is likely that the Romans introduced it to Britain.  It was found to be a useful ‘break crop’, which means that it keeps down weeds and helps enrich the soil in between growing other crops.  By the middle-ages rapeseed oil was being used as fuel for lamps.  But it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when steam power came to the fore, that machinists discovered its suitability as a lubricant.

During the Second World War huge quantities of oil were needed to keep the engines of naval and merchant vessels seaworthy, but because of blockades it was difficult to source from Europe and the East.  So Canada greatly increased its rapeseed cultivation.

The original, natural strains of rapeseed had been used for centuries to feed animals, but not people.  It had a bitter taste and was high in erucic acid, which is toxic to young children.  However, following research and development in Canada, a strain was developed that had low levels of erucic acid and a pleasant nutty taste, making it suitable for human consumption.  The Canadian climate was good for growing it, so in 1978 a company was set up to produce Canadian Oil, Low in Acid, hence the name Canola!  Although this was a brand name it is now accepted as a generic term for oilseed rape.

I have used Rapeseed Oil for years at home for frying and roasting food, as well as baking carrot cakes and biscuits.  It is also suitable for bread and pastries, and of course, it makes delicious dressings, marinades and mayonnaises.   A knowledgeable doctor told me years ago that Rapeseed oil is high in Vitamin E and contains less than half the saturated fat of olive oil, which helps to keeps cholesterol down.  Rapeseed oil is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 and contains no preservatives or additives, making it a healthy alternative to butter or other vegetable oils..   I buy the locally produced ‘Cotswold Gold’ rapeseed oil as it is made in small batches by methods which preserve the goodness of the oil and it is not genetically modified as some mass produced or foreign oils are.

In recent years, celebrity chefs have made rapeseed oil very popular, which is one reason why there is so much grown in this country now.  Another reason is its use in the biodiesel industry.  In fact over 60% of the rapeseed grown in Europe now is used for fuel.  This would be a worry if it was taking up land which could be used for food production.  But apparently it can be grown on ‘set-aside’ land, which would otherwise not be used.

I was very pleased to learn that not a single bit of the rapeseed plant is wasted.  Once the oil has been pressed out of the ripe black seeds, the left over pulp provides a rich feed for the animals on the farm and the rest of the plant goes into the forage which provides food for the animals in winter.

If you would like more information or facts and figures, the website ukagriculture.com  produces a wonderful poster called The Story of Oilseed Rape.  And, you can watch a short video on the oil extraction process in Ireland here on youtube.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Intricate and Artistic

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Intricate Blog

Today I went to a May Bank Holiday Fete in a beautiful Cotswold village.  On the way back I had to pop in to Ellenborough Park, which is a beautiful hotel at the foot of Cleeve Hill near the Cotswold Way.  It is a gorgeous hotel, traditionally built in Cotswold stone.  It dates back to the 16th century and it shows!  It just oozes history.  I have a soft spot for the hotel because my youngest daughter was married there in a most romantic ceremony.

In front of the hotel, facing Cheltenham racecourse, there is a magnificent life-size sculpture ~ of a horse.  It is created from what looks like bronze wire and is very intricate!

I just love wire sculpture, especially natural subjects like horses and hares.  I have added a link to an amazing artist in case you would like to see more. http://www.ruperttill.com/retrospective.html

Cheltenham is famous for horse racing and of course the Cotswold countryside lends itself to lots of equine establishments and pastimes.  In 2011 the centenary of the Racecourse was celebrated with a Horse Parade with a difference.  10 Life size sculptures of horses were created and decorated to reflect their sponsors.  The horses were displayed in prominent places around the town before being auctioned at the racecourse for various charities.

Thousands of pounds were raised for a variety of charities.  Indeed Ellenborough Park raised £4,800 for a local cancer charity.  If you would like to see pictures of all the horses, they are here  http://www.cheltenhamartgallery.org.uk/Docs/horse%20parade%20auction%20leaflet_toprint.pdf

A Place of Great Beauty

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Today is the anniversary of my mum’s death.  I have written before about her last week and my memory of it is still fresh.  It was three years ago on the stroke of midnight that she peacefully stopped living and went to her rest after a brief but very distressing illness.

I went to the local cemetery where she is buried.  I was inspired to write this blog post about my visit because, far from being a sad event, it was a place of such beauty that it brought me great comfort.

The cemetery is very old, actually 150 years old!  And it is huge, about 65 acres I read, and it includes a garden of remembrance for ashes.  There is also a crematorium and a beautiful old building which houses two small chapels and waiting rooms.  The building has Grade 11 Listed status because of its architectural and historical interest.  The garden is so beautifully kept by the dedicated gardeners that at any time of year there is something colourful to see.  It has ponds and a variety of shrubs and flower beds.  There are also magnificent mature trees dotted around the cemetery which are home to squirrels and all sorts of birds including woodpeckers.  The setting for the cemetery is exquisite with a magnificent view of the Cleeve Hills as a backdrop.  A stream flows down from the hills and runs through the grounds, with Cotswold stone footbridges over it.  Today the cemetery is especially beautiful as autumn is in full swing and the trees are a delight to behold.

So it is a great worry to hear on the news and read in the papers that there are financial problems at the cemetery and crematorium caused by ‘unforeseen issues’ with the reasonably new machinery at the crematorium.  These issues have left the council who run the facility about a quarter of a million pounds short of their target.

As I tidied my mum’s grave I was struck by the sheer beauty of the setting and the peace and tranquillity of her final resting place.  I would hope that these financial issues do not mean standards will be lowered or the workforce will be cut.  They do such a magnificent job in what must be a very difficult environment.  For me they manage to provide a little piece of heaven here on earth and I want to thank them and let them to know that it is a great comfort.  Thank you.

I have attached some photos I took to this post but even better I found a video of the site here on YouTube.

All of a Flutter with Real Confetti

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We took a drive out on Friday to a lovely part of the Cotswolds, the village of Wick near Pershore. I was keen to see the fields of Delphiniums at Wick while the weather was good.
Acres of delphiniums are grown by Charles Hudson on the Wyke manor Estate, which are dried and sold as natural confetti for the Real Confetti Company. Apparently delphiniums, apart from growing in a range of vibrant colours, keep their colour indefinitely once they are dried, while rose petals go brown, carnations go black and marigolds shrivel up. This makes delphiniums perfect for confetti. Being totally natural, they biodegrade and don’t litter up churchyards and wedding venues, many of which have banned paper confetti for this reason.  I was told that when Prince Charles and Camilla came out from their wedding the young royals, William, Harry, Zara and others threw real confetti from Wick over the happy couple.
The village of Wick is a delight to behold. It is really ancient and retains every bit of its character. It must be the quintessential English village with its old church, thatched cottages and beautiful manor house.
The original manor was called Wyke Manor, using the ancient spelling, and it had a very long and illustrious history. It was owned by John Nevill, 3rd Lord Latimer, involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1538. Upon his death in 1543, he willed the manor to his widow Catherine Parr. Catherine later married King Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) as his sixth and last wife in July of 1543. She was 31 years old and he was 52. The marriage didn’t last long as Henry died in 1547 so Catherine outlived him. A small piece of Catherine has returned to the Manor recently as a lock of her hair came up for auction. The hair is mounted in an oval frame on ink-inscribed paper which states “Hair of Queen Catherine Parr, Last Consort of Henry, the night she died September 5th 1548 was in the Chapel of Sudeley Castle”. The current owner of the manor, Charles Hudson, paid £2,160 for the hair, in order to return it to the manor.
Catherine Parr's Hair
After Catherine died, the estate passed to Anthony Babington, who was later executed for treason after plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I! It then passed to Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also executed.
The Hudson family have owned the Wyke manor Estate since the 1760s and the current owner is Charles Hudson and his wife, the writer Cressida Connolly. I was fascinated to learn that Cressida is an authority on Ladybird Books, which I have always rated highly.

I have recently been told that the house which is now on the Wyke Manor Estate was partially rebuilt in the 1920s in the Elizabethan style.  I am grateful to Paul, a resident of Wick, for this update.

The people of Wick that I met were absolutely lovely and pointed me in the direction of the shop at the back of the manor house. This is not like any shop I have ever seen before. It is literally a part of the stable block and there are children’s bikes scattered all over the yard. Inside the ‘shop’ a lovely young lady, who must have the best job and workplace in the world, was boxing up exquisite dried petals into pretty boxes. Along one wall is a vast array of open boxes each containing different coloured dried petals. The smell and colour and atmosphere is hypnotic. I felt as if I had walked into a fairytale. Honestly, if you get the chance you just have to go along and experience it.
Well I spent so long soaking up the atmosphere that it was getting decidedly overcast by the time I headed off to the actual confetti fields. But I rushed to get as many photos as I could before the light failed, the heavens opened and I got soaked! It was definitely worth it though. Enjoy my photos.

The Cuckoo Returns

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Children back to school
Spring holiday is over
The Cuckoo returns

This morning I heard a nearby cuckoo for the first time this year from my garden in the UK. It is amazing to think that many of these cuckoos have wintered in the Congo, having endured tempestuous weather in Europe, flights over the Sahara desert, and droughts in many places, since leaving the rainforests of Africa. They arrive in the UK between the end of March and mid-April. As everyone here knows, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then abandon them to the care of the resident bird. Once hatched, they take over the nest, being so much bigger than their host. They especially like the nests of meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. This is a bit worrying for our local garden birds as we have a few Dunnocks as well as lots of Blue Tits, fat pigeons and some Robins.
The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. Because of their sleek body, long tail and pointed wings they can be confused with kestrels or sparrowhawks. The male and the female are similar and the young cuckoos are brown. Cuckoos are in decline so I suppose we have to protect them even though we don’t like their squatting habit!
They do of course herald in the spring and for that we are truly grateful
Links you might find interesting:
http://www.arkive.org/cuckoo/cuculus-canorus/
http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

NaPoWriMo 6 ~ A Good hare Day

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For NaPoWriMo on day 6 there was a simpler challenge than Saturday’s thank goodness. We were asked to look out of a window and write a poem using what we observed. Having to be always contrary I decided to look into windows instead.
This is because I went to Cirencester to see the March Hare Festival.

A dreary day in the Cotswolds,
Wind blows and cold rain drizzles down
Stone cottages are looking weathered and worn,
Daunted daffodils and bluebells bend low
Agitated pheasants scurry, flapping over Ermin Way,
Committed we continue, to Cirencester for the day.

Like Brigadoon this market town appears out of the mist,
One of those magic moments, a place by angels kissed.
A colourful celebration reflecting local life is underway;
A Festival of March Hares, some dazzling some restrained,
In windows, doorways, churches and shops creatively displayed

Cultured, cosmopolitan and colourful vignettes,
Cameos of ancient times are captured in mosaic,
Homages to industry, hospitality, trade and faith
Veterans of two world wars amusingly portrayed
Childhoods caught in acrylic, nature, myths and legends true
Captured by artistic celebrities, dignitaries and ordinary people too

Visitors and residents alike, excited and involved
Chat, sharing what they have found, advise, inspire, enthuse
Pubs overflow with merriment, cafes are buzzing too
Music pours from the Brewery Arts, crafters’ skills on show
Working in glass and gold and silver, in wood and pottery and silk,
Local artists interpret the world in paint and pen and ink.

In recent years there has been a spate of large ceramic or stone objects appearing in towns and cities of the UK. Having mentioned it to my daughter last night I know that they have been seen in the USA too. The first time I came across it was when my grandchildren, Ben and Rosie went to London and were photographed alongside large colourful elephants. Wallace and Gromit were in Bristol recently too.
Next I heard of a Gorilla festival in Torbay and Exeter. There was also a festival of decorated horses in Cheltenham in honour of the races. Now there are 5 foot tall hares in Cirencester.
Why hares you might wonder?
Well Cirencester was a very important place in Roman times. It was called Corinium and had very good road links to the rest of the UK, such as Ermin Way and the Fosse Way. In 1971 during an archeological dig in Beeches Road near to the River Churn, a Roman mosaic was discovered depicting a hare. The original is now on show in the Corinium Museum. Hence the theme of hares for this festival. There will be about 50 hares around the town eventually. Most of them will be 5 foot tall and decorated by local people including schoolchildren, members of the public, celebrities and artists. All of the large hares are named to reflect their sponsors. One of the most beautiful hares is on display in the Corinium and it is named Tess.
Apart from the large hares there are lots of smaller hares dotted around the town and there are prizes for discovering and photographing them. I think I will have to go back as I only found 10 large ones! I did however find the solid chocolate one which weighs 10kg in a lovely little chocolatiers called ‘Lick the Spoon’.
The festival does have a serious purpose which is to boost trade and tourism in the town. Judging by how much money I spent yesterday they are going to be very successful!
They are also aiming to raise the £50,000 needed for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to begin to develop the Green Hare Churn Walkway around the River Churn in Cirencester. This new trail project will involve schools and community groups and will have lasting benefits for residents and visitors alike. The hares will be auctioned off at the end of the festival to raise the funds.
I hope they do well as we had a wonderful day, and we will certainly be going back. The Festival of Hares is on until 14th September and is well worth a visit at any age. To give you a helping hand I have listed the names of the hares that are on display at the moment and where you can find them. Tomorrow there will be more as phase two will be hidden around the town! Some of them are in schools which won’t be open now til after the holidays.

Bare Hare at the Agricultural College
Harry, King of the Hill at Kingshill School
Mr Harebushes at Organic farm Shop, Burford Road
Via Albatine at Whiteway Workshops
Harebelle at the Twelve Bells
Flame, The Phoenix Wayfarer at Phoenix Way
Hareoh the Phareoh at St John Baptist Church
Whare’s Davey in Davey Law Offices
Haretherop in Waterstones Bookshop
Harriet in Mistral Clothes Shop
Harold O’Hare in Zippy Pix Photo Shop
Hartley in 51 Dyer Street
Harrison in Hampton’s Estate Agents
Daniel George in Bishop’s Walk
Hopportunity Hare in Cirencester opportunity Group
Corina at the Corinium Hotel
Tess at the Corinium Museum
General Lievre at Gardiner Haskins
Harelequin at Beeches House
Miles, the Millionhare at Limes hair Company
Wooly Jumper outside the Fleece
Madame Butterfly at McGill’s Chartered Accountant
Hicarus at Cotswold Airport
Eostra at Rendcomb College
Sign the Hare at Bingham House

NaPoWriMo 4 ~ Lune

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Today we were prompted to write a Lune
This is rather like a Haiku which I normally write but instead of 5/7/5 syllables it takes the form of 3/5/3 words.
My attempt is a bit of a cheat as it is both a Haiku and a Lune!

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature

The weather is so beautiful today, the cloud of pollution has lifted and the sky is clear. Obviously the charm I wrote yesterday for NaPoWriMo worked and dispelled the toxic smog!
Spring is such an exquisite time of year in the Cotswolds that I just have to quote Thomas Traherne, the 17th century Poet and Mystic

“Heaven! Is not that an Endless Sphere
Where all thy Treasures and thy Joys appear?
If that be Heaven it is Evrywhere

Taking a walk near The Manor by the Lake today all I can hear is the song of the birds. I feel the warm sun on my face and a soft breeze blows through the trees. A confused woodpecker is pecking at a flagpole on top of the old manor house, which has just been converted into a boutique hotel. Ducks are swimming purposefully on the lake to distract me from their island nests. There is white blossom on the trees. Magnolia is in full bloom and the ground is strewn with daffodils. Just metres away in one direction, is the new ASDA superstore, and in the other, is the litter strewn A40. But here, by the lake, nature’s treasures fill me with joy and I am in heaven.

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature