Monthly Archives: July 2013

Love that Lavender

Lavender

Lavender

Who doesn’t adore lavender, that lovely eradicator of the blues, anger and insomnia?

It is generally accepted that the word “lavender” stems from the Latin lavare, “to wash,” because the Romans used the herb extensively in their baths. But in early Latin, lavender was known as livendula, meaning “to turn blue,” from the same root as our word “livid.”

Lavender has long been used in love potions. Still today, the primary market for lavender essential oil is in perfumes and cosmetics. It is also used to scent love notes and clothing. Tucked in your chest of drawers, it makes an effective moth repellent. Ironically, despite its romantic associations, during the Renaissance it was believed that lavender worn with rosemary would preserve a woman’s chastity.

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History-haunted Hever

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

When American multi-millionaire William Wardorf Astor purchased the 500-year old Hever Castle in Kent, England in 1903, the place was little better than a picturesque ruin.

Built in 1270, Hever Castle was bought by Geoffrey Bullen in 1479. Bullen was a man of humble origins who was to climb the social ladder to become the Lord Mayor of London. One of his grandchildren was the ill-starred Anne Boleyn, the change of surname being part of the social climbing strategy. It was under the ownership of the Bullens that Hever experienced its Gothic drama.

Two years after Anne’s birth at Hever Castle, Henry Tudor, 18, succeeded to the English throne as King Henry VIII. He secretly married Catherine of Aragon, the 24-year-old widow of his elder brother Arthur. Their marriage – a true love match by all contemporary accounts – produced only one child from eight pregnancies. That was a daughter, the future Queen Mary I.

Anne Bullen spent much of her time at court, pushed forward by her ambitious and domineering father. When she was seven she traveled to France in the train of Henry’s sister Mary Tudor, who was to marry King Louis XII.

By the time Anne was 18 she was back at Hever Castle and the unwilling recipient of the attention of Henry VIII who was by now desperate for the male heir that he believed Catherine could not give him.

King Henry, a Catholic monarch firmly married to Queen Catherine, first proposed marriage to Anne in 1527. Anne responded with a letter that said: “Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of my own unworthiness and also because you have a Queen already. Your mistress I will not be.”

The Pope refused Henry’s request for a divorce or annulment.

Undeterred, Henry dramatically removed England from the jurisdiction of the Pope, created the Church of England with himself at its head, dissolved the monasteries and set the reformation in motion. All for the love of Anne Bullen of Hever Castle.

In January 1533 Anne (already pregnant) and Henry were married, although another six months would elapse before Henry’s divorce from Catherine would be finalized under the rules of the new church. Anne changed her name to Boleyn to accord with her new dignity and she was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey on June 1st 1533. Her baby was born on September 7th, but instead of a son it was a girl: the future Queen Elizabeth 1.

The castle was then appropriated by Henry and in 1540 he gave it to yet another of his wives, Anne of Cleves. Within six months of this marriage they were divorced. Anne retained ownership of Hever Castle for another 17 years.

On the death of Anne of Cleves in 1557, Hever Castle was bought by the Waldegraves and prospered with the fortunes of that family for 160 years.

In 1963, Gavin Astor, the grandson of William Wardorf, opened Hever Castle for the first time to the public.

William Wardorf had spent a small fortune in the restoration of the castle, including the construction of an authentic Tudor village containing more than 100 rooms

The fascinating attractions of Hever are too many to list, but a few should be mentioned. The library, for example, is one of the finest examples in Britain of the cabinetmaker’s art. The bookcases and paneling are made from a South American wood called sabicu, which is harder than ebony and so dense that it sinks in water.

The 12-hectare (30 acres) garden should not be missed. It was created by the Astors from marshland and rough meadow in 1904-8 and is now at full maturity. Of special note is the Italian Garden, which contains sculptures and statues dating from Roman times to the Renaissance. William Wardorf Astor had collected them while he was the American Minister in Italy.

Behind the Italian Garden is the Pavilion Restaurant, a licensed, self-service restaurant serving hot and cold meals. The King Henry VIII Inn, opposite the main entrance to Hever Castle, is also open for morning coffee and good pub food at lunchtime. The Anne Boleyn Restaurant is open for dinner.

Hever Castle is near the town of Edenbridge in Kent, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of London.

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Your Indoor Herb Garden

Indoor_herbsGoverning a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.” In this quote from his 2,600-year-old Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu is extolling the wisdom, “Let it be.”

The same sagacity applies to growing herbs. In the garden, with a few tender exceptions, herbs are a low-maintenance delight. Pest and drought resistant, many of them thrive on neglect.

Sadly, this is not the case indoors, where these rugged outdoorsmen turn delicate and demand attention. But they’re worth it. To be able to make an herbal tea with fresh mint or to add fresh chives to your soup, salad, or sandwich in the middle of January is a joy deserving of a little effort.

Paying close attention to some of the special needs of herbs grown indoors will help you to enjoy them all year round.

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The Herbs Less Harvested

 

Usnea

Usnea

The doctor tells his flu patient to take two acetylsalicylic acid tablets and call him in the morning. “Do you mean aspirin?” asks the patient. “That’s it,” replies the doctor, “I can never remember that word.”

This joke pokes fun at the propensity of professionals to gild their lilies of advice with a complicated vocabulary. “For every complex problem,” wrote H.L. Mencken, “there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” For example, taking aspirin to relieve flu symptoms.

We are all familiar with common cold and flu preventives and remedies, such as adequate sleep, low stress, and sufficient amounts of vitamins C and D. If we still fall victim to the bug there are those noble soldiers, echinacea; astragalus; ginger; medicinal mushrooms (reishi, maitake, and shiitake); goldenseal (especially effective for sinus infections); and chicken soup.

But the herbal compendium is rich with lesser known herbs that will have you back on your feet in this freezing, sneezing season, or better yet, will shield you from the viruses in the first place.

Yarrow Willard, a clinical herbalist in Cumberland, BC, emphasizes the synergistic properties of herbs. He analogizes herbs to a warrior tribe fighting to protect the village, which of course, is your body. Yarrow recommends the following herbs.

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London’s Hampstead: Ponds, Pubs and Poetry

John Keats

John Keats

In 1816, although only eight kilometres (five miles) from central London, Hampstead was enough of a remote, rural village for poet John Keats (1795-1821) to write the following about a visit there:

“To one who has been long in city pent,

‘Tis very sweet to look into the fair

And open face of Heaven.”

Keats House

Keats House

John Keats soon moved to Hampstead and lived there for four years, leaving only when his rapidly failing health forced him to seek warmer climes. Keats House is now one of the many attractions of this scenic little London suburb.

A recommended walking tour of Hampstead would start at the Hampstead underground station, on the Northern Line, the line shown in black on maps of London’s underground railway system.

On leaving the station, turn left down Hampstead High Street, the main shopping street with many interesting boutiques and restaurants. The signs to Keats House will direct you down Downshire Hill, past rows of fine Georgian houses. Take the right fork at Keats Grove, past St. John’s Church, an attractive, white, 19th-century church with a portico and domed bell turret. Keats House is down the road on the right, next to the Keats Memorial Library, containing some 8,000 volumes about the poet.

The collection includes just about every book ever written about Keats, his family and friends, along with a selection of periodicals containing reviews of his works and those of his contemporaries.

Strolling up the garden path to the front door you will see a plaque on your right marking the spot where Keats wrote his beautiful “Ode to a Nightingale.” The mulberry tree on the front lawn probably dates from Stuart times and must have been quite large when Keats composed poetry in its shade.

Inside the house, of particular interest is the Chester Room, containing a series of display cases housing the main Keats collection. Notice the life mask of the poet by Benjamin Robert Haydon, made while Haydon was painting Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. Keats and another friend of Haydon’s, William Wordsworth, both appear in the crowd scene on the right of the picture. Other interesting exhibits include Keats’s writing desk; his inkstand with the bust of Shakespeare; his copies of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, with the manuscript of the “Bright Star” sonnet; the only letter from Keats to Shelley, dated August 4, 1820 and his anatomical notebook which he kept as a student at medical school. In another showcase is Keats’s heavily marked copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, one of his favourite works.

Keats House is open in Summer, Tuesday to Sunday, 1pm–5pm and in Winter, Friday to Sunday, 1pm–5pm.

On leaving Keats House, proceed down the hill towards Hampstead Heath. Turn left up Willow Road towards New End Square and Burgh House, your next stop on the trail. Burgh House was built in 1703 during the reign of Queen Anne and is now used as a community centre, local museum, art gallery and study centre. On the ground floor is the pinewood paneled Music Room, used for concerts and recitals. Hampstead’s history from prehistoric times to the present is vividly portrayed in the museum. Burgh House also boasts a bookshop and a licensed restaurant.

Hampstead has been a magnet for creative people for over two centuries and within a block or two of Burgh House have lived: Edgar Wallace, D.H. Lawrence, Compton MacKenzie and artist John Constable.

Food & DrinkUpon leaving Burgh House, stroll down Flask Walk and, if thirsty, drop into The Flask and drink in the ambience of a genuine Victorian pub. Once back on Hampstead High Street, cross over to Church Row, an elegant 18th-century terrace of brown brick houses where George Du Maurier and H.G. Wells once lived. At the end of the row is the Church of St. John-at-Hampstead, where the artist John Constable is buried.

Northwards is Holly Walk with its pretty 19th-century pink and yellow washed cottages. Continue up across Mount Vernon Junction along Hampstead Grove and note on your left the elegant wrought iron gates of Fenton House.

Now a National Trust property, Fenton House is an attractive, redbrick, Queen Anne house, once the home of Philip Fenton, a wealthy merchant. The interior is authentic, early 18th-century, with fine furniture and an extensive porcelain collection. The most important feature is the assembly of early keyboard instruments, kept in good playing condition by visiting music students who give concerts here. Outside is the walled garden with terraced walks, a sunken garden and orchard.

Just beyond Fenton House is Admirals Walk where you’ll find Grove Lodge, the house in which John Galsworthy wrote The Forsyte Saga.

Continue uphill until you reach the Whitestone Pond, London’s highest point at 133 meters (437 feet), believed to be the site of one of the Armada beacons. On the left, the large, white weatherboard building is Jack Straw’s Castle, once a pub, now converted into residential flats, and once the gathering point for supporters of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Take the right fork down Spaniards Road to the Spaniards Inn and Tollhouse. This weatherboard inn stands on the site of a house that belonged to a 17th-century Spanish ambassador. It was here that the Gordon Rioters stopped in 1780 to ask the way to Kenwood House, but their revolutionary zeal withered under the influence of excess ale.

Kenwood House

Kenwood House

Follow the footpath off Spaniards Road across Hampstead Heath to find Kenwood House. Lord Iveagh bequeathed this beautiful Adam-style house to England in 1828. Kenwood contains paintings by: Gainsborough, Stubbs, Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, Turner, Romney and Reynolds. There is also an extensive collection of 18th-century furniture, jewellery and shoebuckles. During the summer music recitals are given in the Orangery and evening concerts are held at the lakeside. Also in the grounds is Doctor Johnson’s Summerhouse, brought to Kenwood in 1968. Lunches and afternoon teas are served in the Old Kitchen and Coach House.

Make sure you leave time for a stroll on the heath itself. Comprising of 324 hectares (800 acres), it is just slightly smaller than New York’s Central Park (843 acres). With heathland, hills, ponds and pathways, for walking, kite flying, swimming and picnicking, it has been the playground of north Londoners for over 150 years since it was rescued at the eleventh hour from the greedy hands of developers. Detailed information about Hampstead Heath can be found on the website: http://www.hampsteadheath.net/.

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More Nutritious than Spinach!

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

You have a choice. You can be a horticultural extremist, using toxic chemicals to botanically cleanse your yard of the pesky dandelion, or you can thank the universe for this abundantly free harvest of nutritious food and medicine.

Or you could go a step further and plant a crop. Just think of the fun you’ll have when you calmly announce to your neighbour that you’re about to do just that.

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Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

As the most spectacular monument to the Roman Empire in Britain, Hadrian’s Wall portrays a stark image of a remote corner of an empire fraught with conflict.

The wall runs across the narrow neck of England, over hill and dale from the mouth of the Tyne River to the Solway Firth. Building the wall was a massive engineering project. For more than 250 years it stood as Rome’s northern frontier. In places the wall is very well preserved. In others it has withered into the landscape. Some parts have been plundered for building stone so that nothing remains.

It was the Roman emperor Hadrian who ordered the wall to be built. He came to Britain in 122 AD to initiate construction and brought over his friend Platorius Nepos as governor to take charge of the project.

The Romans had been in Britain for 80 years, but total conquest of the island eluded them. Hadrian decided to abandon further attempts at conquering the barbarian northern tribes and opted to mark the boundaries of the empire with an artificial barrier where no natural ones existed. Such an obstacle would not stop a determined army, but it would impede the movement of men and carts.

A section of the wall would run to the north along an existing road now known as the Stanegate on which there were already forts. From what is now Newcastle to the River Irthing it would be a stonewall with parapets. From the Irthing to Bowness it would be made of turf. In front of the wall was a ditch, except where the crags made this unnecessary. Every Roman mile there was a gateway, guarded by a little fort called a mile castle, holding perhaps 12 men. Between these were observation towers or turrets holding about six soldiers.

While the wall was being built, and Nepos was still governor, it was decided to build large forts on the wall itself at regular intervals. These projected to the north to facilitate the deployment of troops into hostile territory.

Hadrian’s Wall has become a highly popular hiking venue for locals and visitors alike. The preferred section is the 20-kilometer stretch between Sewingshields and Greenhead. Public trails are well marked, but most of the land is privately owned so rights of way must be followed. Much of the trail is rough so suitable footwear must be worn.

Most of Hadrian’s Wall is not well situated for public transport. A bus service runs from Newcastle to Carlisle, taking visitors within walking distance of the wall at several points. Trains also run between these cities. Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle stations serve the central section of the wall, but both entail a five-kilometer walk or taxi ride.

If visiting by car, most of the major sites along the wall are on or near the B6318, the old military road. All the sites are well sign posted. For more information visit the official Hadrian’s Wall Country website.
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