Monthly Archives: November 2012


The Cotswolds, those rolling, dry-stone-walled hills about two hours northwest of London, are rightly regarded as quintessential England.

Ancient villages built from the local, soft, honey-coloured limestonesuch as Broadway, Chipping Campden and Stow-in-the-Wold are world famous. But there is a price to


pay for world fame. Sometimes that great photograph of the antiquated inn can’t be taken. There are just too many tour buses in the way.

However, undiscovered Cotswold villages, with true local character, still exist. Examples are: Stanton, Snowshill, Bisley and Bretforton. The last lies between the town of Evesham and the steep western edge of the Cotswold Hills where much of the local, honey-coloured stone is quarried.

The documented history of Bretforton dates back over 1,200 years to a Saxon deed of 714 AD. The Saxons called the village Brotforton, meaning “The ford with planks”, possibly a reference to a ford with a footbridge along side of it.

The two focal points of Bretforton are Saint Leonard’s, the parish church, and the pub, the Fleece Inn.

The church is the oldest building in Bretforton, the original stonework dating from the 12th-century. The chancel was probably built between 1282 and 1295. The transept chapels were completed in the 14th-century, along with the west wall, which was probably rebuilt to replace an earlier wall. The north wall of the north aisle was rebuilt in the 15th-century along with the tower, although the internal stone of the latter appears to be earlier.

Interesting sculptures in the church include some that are clearly of Celtic significance, but their relationship to the Christian church is a mystery. Of uncertain date is the remarkable piece of sculpture representing the legend of St. Margaret. She was swallowed by a dragon, but clung fast to her staff bearing a cross, which split the dragon and the saint emerged unharmed.

Outside the church the gargoyled waterspouts of the tower consist of three shaped as demons, bat-like with their claws, wings and crumpled faces. Inexplicably, the gargoyle on the SE corner is a lion.

The Fleece remained a farmhouse until 1848 when Henry Byrd, whose family had occupied it for 400 years, sold the farmland and procured a license to sell beer and cider. Until well into this century, both brews were produced in the back kitchen.

Henry Byrd’s great-granddaughter, Lola Taplin, ran the Fleece single-handedly for the last 30 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 83, leaving the Fleece to the National Trust on the condition that it would continue to be run as an unspoilt country pub. The interior remains very much as it was during the 1800s.

There are three principal rooms at the Fleece, the Brewhouse, the Pewter Room and Dugout. Artefacts in the Brewhouse include the wooden malt shovel hanging by the fireplace and the harvest barrels on the main ceiling beam. The latter were used to take cider to the workers in the fields during harvest time. Also hanging from the beam are fine examples of early pub measures in brass and copper. During Queen Victoria’s reign strict laws were passed regulating the quantities of liquor served in licensed premises. This collection carries the Victorian calibrations, stamped to verify accuracy.

The repeated chalking of the joints over hundreds of years to ward off witches and evil spirits produced indentations in the flagstones of the Brewhouse. All entries to the home had to be protected. Charms were hung over doors and windows and each day circles were chalked on the hearth to prevent entry via the chimney. Circles, which have no corners in which evil spirits can hide, have always had mystical significance and are also symbolic of the “all seeing eye.”

Opening off the Brewhouse is the Dugout. Originally the farmhouse pantry, it contains a coffin-like table with a hinged lid. Dough would be placed inside the table, free from draughts, to rise before being baked into bread.

The Pewter Room houses an extensive hoard of pewter that local legend claims was left by Oliver Cromwell in exchange for gold and silver plate taken to pay the parliamentary armies. 

The Fleece Inn, Bretforton

Originally the Pewter Room was the farm kitchen and several large roasting spits hang over the fireplace, together with the pan used to catch the fat dripping from the meat. These spits would rest in the dog irons on either side of the grate. The clockwork jacks which rotated the spits were stolen when Lola Taplin died. The small boxes of various shapes were used to store candles. In the back of the settle are two small compartments where shoes could be kept warm and dry.

In the grounds of the Fleece stands a large round stone, a relic from an early cider press. There are also several “straddle” stones. These mushroom-shaped stones are common throughout the Cotswolds and were used to support platforms on which grain was stored. The overhang of the mushroom prevented rats and other vermin from reaching the food.

The Fleece is a full-service public house serving complete meals and snacks with an extensive wine list and a good selection of local cider and real ales. For more information about the Fleece, check the pub’s website at


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Yucca Spikes a Healthy Interest


Did you know that a substance found in fresh flowers from the yucca plant combats some strains of melanoma in test tube studies and in mice? Although the effectiveness of yucca with human melanoma has yet to be proven, this often overlooked ornamental shrub is medicinally useful in a number of ways.

Plants of the genus Yucca are native to the Mojave Desert in the American Southwest. Also known as soap tree or soap root, yuccas were helpful to early settlers who learned from the First Nations people of the region that the steroidal saponins in yucca root (not to be confused with cassava, or yuca root) make an effective foaming shampoo or soap.

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The name Armagh derives from Ard Macha, or “Macha’s Height”, after the fabled pagan queen, Macha, who, according to legend, built a hilltop fort here 2,500 years ago.

For contemporary Christian Ireland the historical significance of Armagh is centred on the fact that, in the 5th century AD, a missionary from England named Patrick chose the settlement as a base from which to propagate the new religion of Christianity.


Navan Fort

The nearby Navan Fort had been the royal capital of the renowned kings of Ulster for over 700 years. The epic Ulster Cycle tales recall their heroic deeds and battles with their traditional enemies, the people of Connaught.

The name Navan – also known as Emain Macha – also derives from the legendary queen. While pregnant, she raced and won against the horses of King Conor before collapsing and dying while giving birth to twins (Emain in Irish). Because of this act, the warriors of Conor were cursed to suffer her birth pangs when Queen Medb of Connaught attacked Ulster during the Cattle Raid of Cooley (Tain bo Cuailgne in Irish).

The Cattle-Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúalnge), customarily set in the 1st century AD, is the central epic of the Ulster cycle. Queen Medb of Connaught gathered an army in order to gain possession of the most famous bull in Ireland, which was the property of Daire, a chieftain of Ulster. Because the men of Ulster are afflicted by the debilitating curse, the seventeen-year-old Cuchulain must defend Ulster single-handedly. The battle between Cuchulain and his friend Ferdiad is one of the most famous passages in early Irish literature.

The Navan Centre, which opened in the summer of 1993, tells the story of Emain Macha, using state-of-the-art computerized audio-visual equipment to bring Irish mythology and archaeology alive.

After seeing the multi-media show in the centre, visitors are encouraged to walk up to the Navan Fort and view the drumlin, or mound, where recent archaeological excavation has uncovered the remains of one of the most impressive early Iron Age structures in Europe. This is a temple, circa 100BC, which, evidence indicates, was deliberately burnt down soon after its construction. Archaeologists are currently trying to determine if this bizarre practice involved human sacrifice, as was indicated by some of the Roman Caesar’s writings about the early Celts and their priesthood caste, the Druids.


St. Patricks Trian Armagh

Also in Armagh is St. Patrick’s Trian, an innovative complex detailing the evolution of religious beliefs in Ireland from pre-Christian times to the present. In the same complex, “The Land of Lilliput” celebrates Jonathan Swift’s association with the city with a three dimensional interpretive area based on Gulliver’s Travels

In addition to its reputation as the ancient ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, Armagh today is a major educational, sporting, historic and religious centre and one of the premier tourist destinations of the Emerald Isle.

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Nature’s Answer to Stress



American comedienne Lily Tomlin once said, “Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with with.” In other words, except for psychopaths, we’re all subject to stress to some degree or other. And there’s no questioning the fact that we live in stressful times. According to studies at the US National Institutes of Health, approximately 90 percent of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by stress.

But what exactly is stress? According to stress expert Hans Selye, M.D., in his book, Stress without Distress, “Stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.” Selye goes on to emphasize that stress is not something to be avoided. Actually, the total absence of stress would denote death. A healthy level of stress can be very energizing. Indeed this is the physiological role of stress; to trigger the cliche “fight or flight” mechanism our Paleolithic forebears needed to find an intruder or run from that sabre-tooth tiger. The fuel for the “fight or flight” reaction is cortisol, a corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland. It increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.

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A neural pathway to peace

The Saltspring Centre

Your cell phone won’t stop ringing and those emails, each demanding an immediate response, keep piling up. You become an adrenaline and cortisol factory and that malevolent duo of stress hormones is further fuelled by that double-double you gulped in the car. “The brain is a wonderful organ,” wrote American poet Robert Frost. “It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

We live in hectic times. According to studies at the US National Institutes of Health, approximately 90 percent of all illnesses are caused or aggravated by stress. And stress annihilates brain cells. Little wonder we are increasingly turning to Eastern contemplative traditions to assuage the slings and arrows of anxiety. By a wide margin, yoga tops the list of Eastern meditative practices in North America. According to NAMASTA, the North American Studio Alliance, 1.4 million Canadians now practice yoga, an increase of 45.4 percent from 2003. Furthermore, the Print Measurement Bureau, a Canadian non-profit agency measuring consumer behaviour, reports that about 2.1 million Canadians say they intend to try yoga within the next 12 months.

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