There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Slaughters and the Lords of the Manor

Like Moreton-in-Marsh, the Slaughters, Upper and Lower, do not have encouraging names, but they are in fact a pair of Cotswold gems, stretched out along the little River Eye.


Lynne in Lower Slaughter
A lovely village on a dire July day 
Upper Slaughter previously appeared in this blog in 2012 when we walked through Little Sodbury on the South West Odyssey. Little Sodbury is a ‘Thankful’ or ‘Blessed Village’, phrases coined in the 1930s for settlements that lost no servicemen in the First World War. A 2010 survey established that there were 54 civil parishes in England and Wales which were so ‘blessed’, three of them in Gloucestershire (none in Staffordshire). The only village in Gloucestershire to be ‘doubly blessed’ (i.e. 'blessed' in both World Wars) is Upper Slaughter – suggesting God has a macabre sense of humour. Actually, the name derives not from death, destruction or abattoirs but from the Old English ‘Scolstre’ meaning a wet place or slough. I attended a preparatory school in Slough from 1958 to 1963. That much maligned town has changed a great deal since, but not then, not now, nor at any time in between has it ever remotely resembled the Slaughters.

Dating from 1649, the building that now houses the Lords of the Manor Hotel in Upper Slaughter, was once much smaller. Unlike Chastleton House, its near contemporary, it has been frequently altered and extended, serving for a time as a rectory and becoming a hotel in 1972. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star seven years ago and has retained it ever since.

 
The Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter
The oldest part of the building
We checked in, took a stroll, changed and arrived in the bar for aperitifs and canapés. They make a good dry martini, though not as good as the Sheraton in Hong Kong, though that may be impossible as my memory has enshrined that drink as the Platonic Ideal dry martini of which all others are inferior copies. After the unfortunate ‘drowning of the gin’ at our last wedding anniversary meal, Lynne was pleased that they left her to pour her tonic herself.

 
Our room
Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter
Canapés involved a mini-egg sized ball of smoked fish, which was good, a petite cylinder of paté shot through with hazelnut, surmounted by a little crisp disc and a nut, which was excellent, and a tiny chicken manifestation - I wish I could be more precise - which was spectacular.

The Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter
The modest original building has grown into this.
On another day we could have enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks out here, but even July cannot be trusted
We moved through to the restaurant, a newer wing at the back of the building.

Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter
The restaurant is in the extension on the left hand corner of the photo
A tiny bowl of mushroom soup arrived - there was more to it than that, the well-informed waiter talked us through the details, but his accent was thick and I did not catch it all but I thought he said something about peanuts. The mushroom flavour was intense, the texture warm and tongue-coating, and there did seem to be a peanut lurking in the depths, but exactly what it brought to the party was unclear.

Choosing from the five starters (two of which involved duck liver, not maybe as a main ingredient, but surely punching above its weight) we both selected crab. Professional restaurant critics don't do that, but I am only a blogger writing about a meal I paid for myself, and as we both fancied crab, we both had crab.

I last ate crab in a self-styled gastropub on the borders of Lancashire and Cumbria; it was utterly tasteless. The first nibble of the white meat of this Cornish crab was a revelation; it was fresh, it was clean, it was crabby (in a good way) and it tasted of the sea, a flavour echoed in the oyster cream. This was as good as crab gets. The tasty brown meat came in crisp little tubes which might once have been potato. Oscietra caviar sat on blobs of very different potato, a single fish egg on each of the four blobs. Oscietra retails at about £80 for 50 grams, at that price there should be enough on the plate to taste it, this was just wasted.

We drank the recommended wine, an Alsace Pinot Blanc. A smidgen off dry, with crisp, fragrant fruit, it was a fine partner to the crab. {David seems to have drawn the short straw here. Yes, there was very little caviar, but mine had several fish eggs on the blobs and I gathered them all up to eat together. Excellent, if miniscule. Lynne}
 
Main course menu, Lords of the manor, Upper Slaughter

From the five choices of main course Lynne had guinea fowl, while I selected pork. I was disappointed when the food arrives. The guinea fowl involved sizeable slabs of meat and a little pile of vegetables but beside it my pork looked meagre, small islands of food adrift on a vast dark plate. I was unlikely to go hungry, but the disparity between the two plates struck a discordant note.

The two roundels of pork fillet were tender, with just enough texture and a delicate porky flavour. They sat on the sole vegetable, a couple of leaves of wilted spinach. The single cuboid of belly pork was much more gutsy, something to chew and crunch. The menu promised black pudding but I did not recognize that it in the little frustum of black jelly. The boudin blanc, though, was in a different class, in fact the best thing on the plate; despite looking like a cocktail sausage it had a beguiling porky scent and a flavour which somehow contained the taste and soul of France. The smear of pork jus was just that - if there is going to be a sauce, let's have a sauce. Overall it was a plate with some delights, but disappointments too.
 
The Old Mill, Lower Slaughter

The recommended Loire Valley Malbec (isn't Malbec known as Côt on the Loire?) was well chosen; a lightish red, but well-built and full of fruit. It was not, though, half as good as the outstanding Austrian St Laurent that accompanied Lynne's guinea fowl. I have only come across this grape once before and that was a long time ago - I wish I had seen more of it.

Lynne had a good slab of breast meat, perfectly cooked and well flavoured, but it was the ‘croustillant of leg’ that was memorable, with a satisfying crunch and a rich confit flavour. Lynne, too, had a leaf of wilted spinach, but she also had some leek, the sort of baby turnips that made you realise why all Baldrick wanted was a little turnip of his own, and girolle mushrooms, the size and shape of the plastic studs used to cover the screws in flat-pack furniture but so full of themselves they demanded to be noticed.

The pre-dessert was a thick glass bowl with a pleasant panna cotta at the bottom covered with orange-coloured granules. Mango and coconut were mentioned by the waiter, he may have mentioned freeze drying as well, though even after four courses I was no better attuned to his accent.

The strongly flavoured tiny 'micro-coriander' was probably unnecessary, but the sharp, tangy mango lingered on the tongue, and as it faded the flavour of toasted coconut kicked in. Mango and coconut are among my favourite foods and these strong flavours were just what I love. ‘I don't like that,’ said Lynne putting down her spoon. I thought she was referring to the coriander, which she dislikes, but then she said, 'The mango is too sharp for me.' ‘What a shame,’ I said, and ate hers too.

 
The village defibrillator, Upper Slaughter
Find a use for a redundant red phone box. There was no phone inside but a notice said that to use the defibrillator 'just dial 999' and added, 'You do not need a mobile signal to make a 999 call'.
The smallish pork course had the happy by-product of leaving space for cheese. I so often only have room for a dessert that slips down easily, but I had clocked the cheese trolley on the way in and judged it worthy of further examination.

Despite being over-faced last year by the cloying richness of the chocolate option at the Harrow in Little Bedwyn, Lynne backed hope over experience and chose chocolate again. If anything the Lords of the Manor erred in the other direction, but she was well pleased with her generous brick of white chocolate mousse, teamed with blobs of lavender cream, violet jelly and gold sprinkled raspberries.

On closer inspection the cheese trolley was as fine as I had thought, and made better by all the cheeses coming from Britain or Ireland. I have nothing against French cheeses – quite the opposite - but it is pleasing to know that the reborn craft cheese-making of these islands now produces the quality and variety to stock a first rate cheese trolley.

I chose four cheeses, the first two involving more than a nod towards France. Brie is a much abused word; most supermarket Brie is dull, under-ripe, factory produced and unworthy of the name. I avoid ‘Somerset Brie’, because if the manufacturers of France have forgotten how to make it, I doubt a factory in Somerset would be any more successful. I knew at first glance, however, that Simon Weaver's Brie-style cheese was something else. Startlingly white it oozed gently and the rind had cracked like ripe Brie de Meaux (a reliable name amid all the rubbish). Misshapen and slightly flattened this was no factory cheese - in fact it is made on Kirkham Farm in Lower Slaughter, solely from organic milk produced on the farm. It is also made from unpasteurised milk (and I don't know a really fine cheese that isn't). The French like to use the word ‘onctueux’ to describe such a cheese - it sound so much better than 'unctuous'. This was the most onctueux cheese it had been my privilege to eat for a long time.

Simon Weaver Brie
Isle of Avalon, confusingly made in Surrey, is based on the recipe for Port Salut - the favourite French cheese of people who do not like French cheeses. All the rind washing and extra maturing this was subjected to certainly improved it, but it never got far enough away from Port Salut for my taste.

The third cheese, a softish ewe's milk cheese with a slightly crumbly texture, was pleasant without being exciting, but my fourth choice took me back to the heights. Admiral Collingwood is a semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk in Northumberland. It is matured for seven months and the rind is washed in Newcastle Brown Ale. I used to drink Newky Brown in my youth, but gave it up long ago, now I have found the perfect use for it. It is claimed to give the cheese a unique tangy aftertaste - it does and it is wonderful.

 
Admiral Collingwood
Doddington Dairy, Northumberland
Back in the comfy seats in the bar we had a so-so cup of coffee, petit fours - nicely made sweeties - and an excellent glass of Calvados. And so ended this year's wedding anniversary dinner, and a fine dinner it had been, too. It was expensive, as such meals are, but then this is Michelin starred cooking and the high points were high indeed – as they should be at this level. There were a couple of disappointments too, as we have learnt to expect at one Michelin star level - there are two and even (should I ever be able to afford it) three star levels above this.

 27/07

Restaurants do not win Michelin stars for their breakfasts, but it is interesting to see what they do. Cereals are just cereals, but the fruit juices were fresh. Lynne had fried eggs, two of them cooked in a neat and tidy ring in butter, she prefers oil but that is a matter of taste. My scrambled egg was excellent, though not quite up to the standard of the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill (though that is beginning to take on the same mythical stature as the Hong Kong Sheraton martini). The mushroom - (half?!) a large field mushroom this time - had almost as much power as the girolles, and the bacon was of the quality you should expect in such an establishment. I hoped the black pudding would make up for one of yesterday's disappointments but although this time it was a proper slice, it had too much cereal and not enough blood and spice - I suppose that is what you get for eating black pudding this far south.

Moreton-in-Marsh, Chastleton and Adlestrop

Lynne and I were married on this day in 1975.

It has taken us 40 years to get from this…

Wedding Day, July 1975

To this…
 
Us in 2015
Is it time we talked about the elephant in the room? It seems to be creeping up on us.



This year our annual wedding anniversary glimpse into the world of fine dining took us south into the Cotswolds.

Moreton-in-Marsh
We stopped for a light lunch at a cold and rainy Moreton-in-Marsh. The town was called Moreton-in-the-Marsh until 1930 when the ‘the’ was unaccountably removed - though even locals often re-insert it in conversation to make it easier to say. With or without its article, the name suggests a grim sort of place but, of course, it is not.  It is a typical Cotswold small town, built entirely of the local stone which is routinely (and a little tediously) described as ‘honey-coloured’ and ‘mellow’; there is even a house called 'Mellow Stone Cottage'.

Curfew Tower, Moreton-in-Marsh
It is full of square Georgian buildings occupied by banks, younger and older buildings (it is not always easy to tell) housing antique shops, cutesy tea houses, artisan butchers, serious cheese shops and solid-looking, dependable pubs, the sort that have been there for years and are not likely to close down any time soon.
 
Tea House, Moreton-in-Marsh

We had a half pint of Hobgoblin Gold and shared a ham baguette in one such pub, the Redesdale Arms, built in 1650 of ‘mellow Cotswold Stone’ (I quote their website).
 
The Redesdale Arms, Moreton-in-Marsh

The 2nd Baron Redesdale, of Redesdale in the County of Northumberland, forsook the frozen north for the gentler climes of the Cotswolds where he brought up his son and six daughters. Each of the daughters achieved a measure of fame, eminence or notoriety under the family name of Mitford. The Mitford sisters are all dead now. Diana, the last of them, died in 2014 and was the only one who did what the daughters of aristocrats are supposed to - marry another aristocrat. As the Duchess of Devonshire she lived at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire (where else?).

Just far enough away to be buried in the Cotswolds countryside is Chastleton House. Walter Jones came from a family of prosperous Welsh wool merchants but made his pile in the law. In 1604 he bought the Chastelton estate from Robert Catesby, shortly to become the leading conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot, demolished Catesby’s house and built the present Chastelton House. Walter Jones had every hope that he, or his descendants, would become at least baronets, but building the house turned out to be the high point of the family's fortunes.

 
Chastleton House
 Their finances took a serious hit when Arthur Jones, Walter’s grandson backed the wrong side in the civil war. He escaped with his life, due to the quick thinking of his wife when parliamentarian soldiers came to arrest him after the battle of Worcester, and went into exile. He was able to return only after payment of a substantial fine and when the restored monarchy failed to show its gratitude by refunding the money, the descent into penury amid grand surroundings began. It was slow, inexorable and extraordinarily long drawn out, the family finally relinquishing ownership to the National Trust in 1991.

The Great Parlour, Chastelton House
As they never had the money to extend or remodel the house, or even afford much in the way of new furniture, the National Trust inherited a time capsule of Jacobean life. They decided not to attempt to restore the house to a former glory it never had but to conserve it as it was. It is thus a somewhat down-at-heal time capsule (insofar as a capsule can wear out footwear).
 
The Long Gallery, Chastelton House
At 22m the longest barrel vaulted room in England
Unusually photography is permitted inside, though flash is not, so taking pictures in focus required a steady hand.
 
The Fettiplace Room, high status bedroom
Chastleton House

The distance from the basement kitchen to the dining room on the far side of the house is striking - they could never have eaten hot food. The large high-ceilinged rooms must have made it almost impossible to heat the house never mind the food, and with oak panelling round so many of the walls, winters must have been cold and dark.

Kitchen, Chastleton House

Outside in the stable yard is a second hand bookshop with a somewhat cursory Wolf Hall exhibition. I have read the book but not seen the television series in which Chastleton played the title role, as well as Thomas Cromwell’s childhood home in Putney. Hilary Mantel’s historical research was meticulous but the television producers were more cavalier as the house was not built until 65 years after Thomas Cromwell was executed.


 
Stableyard, Chastleton House
It is only a few minutes drive from Chastleton to Adlestrop.

I do not know when I first encountered Edward Thomas's poem, but it was longer ago than I care to remember. It probably stuck in my memory because of the name, Adlestrop, which at first I believed to be made up. It took me longer to appreciate the poem as more than a piece of pastoral fluff, but I have gradually come to see the point - except for that clunky last line. Adlestrop is right on the boundary of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire (and Warwickshire for that matter) but did he have to crowbar in this geographical factoid?

Adlestrop

Yes. I remember Adlestrop
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat, the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
 
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire
Edward Thomas

Adlestrop, pop 120, is real enough - a line of Cotswold stone cottages, all beautifully kept with cottage gardens and hanging baskets full of flowers - but the station, a victim of the Beeching axe in the 1960s, no longer exists. The station sign and one of the benches were saved and now sit in a bus shelter on the edge of the village.
 
Adlestrop station sign.
The plaque by my left elbow is a copy of the poem

Thomas’ train stopped in Adlestrop on June the 24th 1914. The date the poem was written is unknown, but it was published in 1917, the year Edward Thomas was killed in action in the Battle of Arras. The contrast between the rural idyll of Adlestrop and the hell of northern France is extraordinarily poignant.

Edward Thomas was there on a very different day from us. His sunshine was our rain, on a day which was colder than any July day I can remember.

We drove on through Stow-on-the-Wold and towards Bourton-on-the-Water, turning off towards Lower and then Upper Slaughter, two more Cotswold gems, the latter the home of the Lords of the Manor Hotel and Restaurant, our destination for the wedding anniversary meal, and the subject of the next post.