View from Monarch's Way

An Escape

During our walks along long distance paths in England, we’ve often merged with or crossed The Monarch’s Way and eventually, we decided to discover more about this path, which appeared in so many places.

I’m sure that at some time in my schooldays I studied the Civil War and the flight of Charles II from England, but I regret that I am woefully ignorant of the period. Following a little research (if ploughing through a rather tedious Georgette Heyer novel counts as research), I now know that after a heavy defeat at The Battle of Worcester 1651 and with a price on his head, Charles II spent six weeks hotly pursued by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces as he tried to escape to France. His journey was circuitous as he first headed north, then doubled back down to the south coast and finally across the downs to Shoreham and The Monarch’s Way is a 615 mile footpath based on this escape.

 

Monarch's Way Worcester canal

We thought this walk would keep us busy for a while, so made a start earlier this month. We walked from Old Powick Bridge, just south of Worcester, in glorious April sunshine along the banks of the Rivers Teme and Severn into the hustle and bustle of the city and then headed northwards along the towpath of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which was busy with boats, fishermen, cyclists and dog walkers. We watched the fisherman, sat firmly on their stools with their copious paraphernalia spread within arms’ reach, as they picked bait from their varied selection and then used a catapult to send it flying to the other side of the canal where their line dipped into the water. I was hoping they might mistake their packed lunch for bait and catapult a sandwich across the water or pop a maggot in their mouth but it didn’t happen. Fishing remains a great mystery to me. Leaving that canal and skirting a rather unlovely industrial area we returned to the countryside and finally walked along the towpath of the sleepy Droitwich canal into Droitwich Spa.

Westwood House, Droitwich Spa from The Monarch's Way

The following day we headed out across the fields, past the impressive Westwood House, around numerous fishing lakes, had a chat with a man about ducks as we tried to find our way out of a nature reserve, followed the footpath from the road through a gate in the wall into a private garden where it ran for about ten metres and then emerged back onto the road (which was very strange), across a point-to-point course where they were putting up the rails for the forthcoming races, past a beautifully kept community orchard and into the village of Chaddesley Corbett. For once, our timing was perfect as we arrived bang on lunch time and the pub was open; normally we arrive too early, too late or the pub is shut. After a swift lunch (we were the only customers) we headed off through more green countryside, up and along a ridge with views across Worcestershire and to the West Midlands and finally into Hagley. An enjoyable start to The Monarch’s Way.

Next time we walk the path, we have a dilemma. The first two days were ideal for us – walking through villages and beautiful countryside, exploring a small city and both days there was a railway station conveniently close to the start and finish. The next few sections of the trail are less appealing as they include miles of urban pavement walking, a long stretch of rural road walking and an area with no regular public transport. We are walking for pleasure, not through a desire to retrace the royal escape route nor to tick off a completed long distance trail, so I think we will probably skip a chunk of the trail. It feels a little like cheating but I can’t see the point of walking where I don’t want to be when there are so many places that I do want to explore.

Would you grit your teeth and do the whole thing properly or would you ignore the official trail and walk your own shortened route?

On The Farm in April 2017

It’s a beautiful spring day so come with me on a quick walk around part of the farm.

sun sparkling on water

Past the pond where the sun catches the ripples made by the wind.

ephemeral art

Inspired by The Textile Ranger’s writing about Impermanent Art, I made my own ephemeral art pieces by tying together daffodils and attaching them to trees. Oh, how funny I thought I was putting a post on Instagram of a holly bush that appeared to have bright yellow flowers on April 1st. Looking at my ‘installations’ today, they look rather more like a roadside accident shrine. This old tree has a large gash down one side with a rabbit burrow in the base.

primroses growing on the the banks of a ditch

Let’s carry on through the yard, down the track and jump into the bottom of the ditch so we can see the primroses are flowering on the banks.

 

paigles

Further down the track, the paigles (or cowslips) are just coming into flower. Unlike the primroses, the paigles grow alongside the track.

blackthorn blossom

Around the farm, the field boundary hedges are filled with a froth of white blackthorn blossom, which we hope will develop into sloes this autumn. I’m not sure how we’re going to reach the sloes so high up in this hedge around Gardeners Field.

spring growth on Christmas trees

Dropping in at the Christmas Tree plantation we can see the new growth on the Norway Spruce trees. I’ve read that these spruce tips can be eaten in a multitude of ways but have never been sufficiently tempted to try any of the recipes. One year I made Christmas Tree Gin that smelt just like pine scented disinfectant, which was rather off-putting. We still have half a bottle left, which doesn’t appear to be improving with age.

Bees and honeycomb in fallen branch

Before we head home, there’s just time to check the bees in the fallen tree branch.  There have been some fairly cold and miserable days since it fell and as the bees were very exposed, we were worried they might perish but I’m pleased to report that there are still lots of live bees in situ. This is the top layer of the honeycomb, which you can see is open to the elements. Underneath this top layer are more bees but I wasn’t going to get any closer to see if I could get a photo.

Another beautiful spring day on the farm in Essex.

 

Forage, cook, eat

spring undergrowth

If you drive along English country lanes at this time of year, it would be easy to dismiss the green blur of the verges as simply boring grass. But slow down to a walking pace and in amongst the different types of grass you can see so much more. The first leaves of cow parsley, a forerunner of the frothy flowers that will line the roads in a few weeks vie for growing space with the bright green new growth of stinging nettles; a mouse scuttles through the undergrowth to safety and a frog sits motionless, blending into the undergrowth until it suddenly catapults into action; cleavers and speedwell spread outwards beside the first flowering primroses.

jug of wild violets

Best of all, nestled in the undergrowth, are beautiful violets, their colours ranging from white with the merest hint of violet through to a deep, rich purple with the colour offset by their shiny green leaves. Turn off the road and walk along a public footpath and you’ll probably find even more. Just now, there’s enough violets to put in a small jug on the bedside table but before long there’ll be plenty to make a small batch of violet syrup or violet liqueur.

Nettle, cheese and chive scones

Naturally, there’s no shortage of stinging nettles and this is an excellent time of year to use them. At the weekend, I snipped off the heads of a few nettles to make scones. There were comments around the table that normal people don’t eat nettle scones or, for that matter, the violet infused milk jellies that we ate for supper. But why don’t we eat more nettles? They’re abundant, they’re free and are right on trend as foraged food but without the poisoning worries of foraging for fungi.

Nettles cut for the kitchen

Use the top six or seven leaves of a young plant and cut them straight into a colander so that you don’t have to handle them or wear rubber gloves to avoid stinging your hands. Rinse the leaves, picking out any insects or stray blades of grass you may have inadvertently cut and tip the leaves into a bowl. Pour on enough boiling water to cover the nettles and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish out the wilted leaves, which will no longer sting and squeeze out the excess moisture. Apart from Nettle Soup, which everyone seems to have heard of but I think is slightly overrated, you can use nettles to make a hedgerow pesto, green soda bread or as a replacement for spinach in many recipes. Or try the Nettle Scone recipe below. Eat them warm, spread generously with butter.

Go on, live a little dangerously.

Nettle Scones

how to make nettle scones

To make Nettle Scones:

225g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

60g butter, cubed

Tops of 7 or 8 nettles wilted and drained as above

1 tablespoon of chopped chives

40g strong cheddar cheese cubed or grated

2 dessertspoons plain yoghurt

Milk

 

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter.

Chop the nettles and add to the bowl with the chives and cheese.

Stir in the yoghurt and enough milk to bring the mixture together in a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and quickly pat into a round about 4 cms thick. Cut into 4 (or 6) wedges and put them close together on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Brush the tops with milk and bake 220C for about 15 minutes when they should be risen and golden. Wrap in a tea towel and transfer to a wire tray.

Best eaten warm.