21 August 2011


It's Jam Central in our house at the moment. After a flurry of activity in early July, when it was a daily race between me and the pigeons to see who could get to the blackcurrants first, the allotment has been a fruit-free zone.

Sudenly everything's ready at once - the autumn raspberries, (don't they know it's still August?) plums and two sorts of apples are all begging for attention.

Rasps and plums are easily dealt with - jam, chutney and my all-time favourite - raspberry gin. Just stuff equal quantities of ripe raspberries and white sugar into an empty bottle and top up with gin. I like 200 grams each of fruit and sugar to a litre of gin but you can add more sugar if you prefer it sweeter. Turn every few days until the sugar has disolved then put away in the dark till Christmas. Strain out the bleached raspberries and top up the raspberry liquer with sparkling wine - it's better than any Bucks Fizz or Kir Royale I've ever tasted.

Ok - it's not Christmas but what the heck....

The apples are more of a problem. I inherited two apple trees when I took on my allotment. One is a Cox and the small, sweet, eaters keep well both on the tree and stored in the shed. The other is a nameless nightmare - huge, bright red apples that turn from tongue-puckering to cottonwool in your mouth in the space of 24 hours. Horrible. The only solution is to cook them and after filling the freezer with enough stewed apple to keep us in crumble till Easter I turned to the Cottage Smallholder for inspiration. Fiona Neville's recipes always work and her chuck it in and taste it methods are close to my own heart.

I stewed 2 kilos of apples, washed and chopped, with the bad bits cut out but the skin and pips left in, with about half a litre of water and 2 chopped chillis.

Makeshift jelly bag

When the apples turned to mush I strained them overnight and the following day boiled up the resulting juice with sugar.

The juice was cloudy but it cleared ok

Most recipes call for equal measures of sugar to juice but these apples are really sweet and I was after a savoury jelly so I added about half sugar to juice and boiled it for a good 20 minutes. It was a bit trial and error but it worked and I'm left with half a dozen pots of spicey, appley jelly to eat with cheese or cold meat or stir into curry and chilli con carne.


Horrible apple tree I think you've just redeemed yourself.

13 August 2011

A Tale of Two Railways

Merrygill Viaduct spans Hartley Beck in Cumbria. Ribblehead it’s not. Merrygill is a mere 9 arches on the disused Stainmore Railway but still it makes for fine walking on a summer’s day.
Merrygill Viaduct

We went up on Tuesday, travelling from Saltaire on the Settle-Carlisle line. The train was packed, mainly with walkers using this fantastic way to get out into the Western Dales. At Settle, Horton, Ribblehead and Dent – off they piled, heading for the hills in the sunshine.

We stayed put and enjoyed the ride all the way to Kirkby Stephen. The station is remote, a good mile and a half from town, but a newly constructed path keeps you off the busy road.
Traffic-free  - hurrah. Tarmac - boo
We were heading for Stenkrith Park and the start of the Northern Viaducts Walk, a section of the old Stainmore Railway which has been restored for walkers and cyclists by the Northern Viaducts Trust.

The view from the footbridge at the start of the Viaducts Walk

Our route took us along the railbed, past platelayer's huts and the site of the signal box, until a privately owned section forced us to detour via Hartley village.

Old signal box
Although parts of the disused Stainmore line are walkable, including the wonderful Smardale Viaduct, now a Nature Reserve, there are still gaps.
Eventually the Trust hopes to fill those gaps and complete the route from Newbiggin-on-Lune to the site of Belah Viaduct, in it's day the highest railway viaduct in England, making almost eleven miles in all.
I hope that they do. The best railway lines are the ones that are open and working like the Settle-Carlisle but if that's not possible then let's at least preserve something of our railway heritage and enjoy these paths through the countryside.

1 August 2011

The end is nigh

David King, Dave Shaw and Roger Clarke arrive home

Last week I joined these three lovely chaps for the last few miles of a 210 mile walk. Two of them, Roger and Dave had walked from New Lanark in Scotland to Saltaire in West Yorks on a route of their own devising. David, the 3rd musketeer, provided sterling service as a baggage carrier, accommodation seeker, occasional walker and general cheerer-upper when the going got tough.

All three are keen historians and wanted to celebrate the two World Heritage sites of New Lanark and our own Saltaire by attempting, in their own words,

“A 200+ mile walk/run/stroll/limp through beautiful countryside, reflecting on the lives and achievements of Robert Owen and Titus Salt. Was it worth it? Yes! Do it again? Yes! An increased appetite for walking? Yes! Nice meeting other travellers along the way? Yes!”
Roger happy to be back in Yorkshire
Also coming to the end of his own personal journey is Mike Brockhurst, the Walking Englishman, who has just 100 of his 1,000+ miles to go and is expecting to reach the Lizard on Aug 9th. Remarkable.
Mike Brockhurst - the Walking Englishman
All these walkers worked out their own routes, picking bits of established paths and veering off as the mood took them, altering the way to suit the weather, the terrain and anything they fancied seeing along the way.

And that’s how it should be. One of the joys of walking, especially multi-day walking, is the freedom to go where we want, when we want and not be judged.
So, in answer to the person who asked why we called our route “A” Dales High Way not “The” Dales High Way. It’s because the route in the book is only one way to go –  alter it, add bits, take a detour - but above all, make it your own.

Don't you just love allotments