We decided to tackle the Sugar Loaf today. Being the lazy walkers that we are that didn’t mean walking all the way up from the A40 – it meant driving up to the National Trust car park up on Mynydd Llanwenarth. It’s half term so the car park was almost full and there were dozens of assorted people and dogs everywhere, including lots of children who were showing off by running up slopes while we straggled and struggled.Michael taking a breather
The views were every bit as good as we’d expected and we could actually see the Bristol Channel off to the east. To the west, across the Usk Valley, Mynydd Llangatwg and then Mynydd Llangynidr ( the latter dusted with snow) and even Pen-y-Fan poked its head up behind M. Llangynidr.
It was worth the hike to get up amongst the skylarks, which are the most gorgeous sounding birds. They look as though they’re a pretty golden colour in the sunlight and I was a bit disappointed when I looked them up in a book to see that they’re a fairly boring, mottled, brown in reality. Skylarks like open countryside rather than fields and their party trick is to fly almost directly upwards, hover in the air for several minutes, and then descend vertically – singing all the while. Sort of like a musical Harrier Jump Jet of the bird world. Not entirely surprisingly – because people will eat anything – skylarks used to be considered a delicacy in this country and records of their market price go back to the reign of Edward I (1272-1307). Also not entirely surprisingly, they are still eaten in France.
Listening to the skylarks
Sugar Loaf – or Mynydd Pen y Fal to give it its older, Welsh name – is just a smidgeon short of 2000 feet, which means from the top you can look down on Ysgyryd Fawr, the other side of Abergavenny. Although the sun was high in the sky it was quite chilly and there were icy puddles along the way. But who cares about the cold as long as the sun’s shining?
Having had our exercise for the day we drove down past the Sugar Loaf Vineyard and made our way home. After a cup of tea and some Breconshire Fingers (a type of flapjack, recipe below), Michael adjourned to shed village in the garden to get on with some wood-turning. When we moved here we had one shed and now, somewhat disturbingly, there are three:
I hope the empire building stops there…but at least we get some goodies:
We’re not in Cardiff any more, Toto…turning pens, making sausages, what next? Talking of which, the machine was out of the cupboard again this week. As we’d bought half a lamb from the local butcher we decided to use the breast to make sausages. Instead of the usual lamb and mint we took an alternative route and invented lamb tagine sausages: lamb and apricot with Moroccan spices – and Welsh leeks. And very nice they were, too.
The recipe for these was a bit hit and miss ( in other words we made it up as we went along) but here’s one I can write down. I found this recipe for Bysedd Brycheiniog (Breconshire Fingers) ages ago, and I can’t remember where I got it from but I’d copied it into my recipe folder. It’s the first time I’ve made them and they were very easy, so here it is.
175g chopped dates
2 tbs honey
8 tbsps water
2 tbsps lemon juice
2 level tsps plain flour
125g brown sugar
125g self-raising flour
175g melted butter
Grease and line a 18cm square baking tin
Put the dates, honey, water, lemon juice, and plain flour in a pan.
Bring to the boil then cook gently for 5 minutes before leaving to cool.
In a bowl mix the sugar, self-raising flour, oats and butter.
Spread half the oat mixture over the base of the tin and press down firmly.
Cover with the date mixture, spreading it evenly, then put the rest of the oat mixture on top. Press well.
Bake at 180 for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Allow to cool then cut into fingers.
I think I may try making these again but use cooked apples instead of the dates, because they’re a tad sweet. They’re a bit like a sticky toffee pudding flapjack, so just the thing after a walk – or even as a snack while you’re up on the hills.
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Before I go just a note that today is the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mary I of England at Greenwich Palace, which was also apparently called the Palace of Placentia. I have no idea why it was called that, but stranger things have happened. She was the first English woman to rule in her own right rather than as a Queen Consort, and oh, boy, did she do awful things with her power! God knows how many hundreds of people were sent to gruesome deaths by Bloody Mary in the five years she was queen; she began her reign by executing various nobles who had been involved in the plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and continued by having hundreds of ‘heretics’ burned at the stake for converting from Roman Catholicism to the Protestant faith. She married Philip of Spain, had one (if not two) phantom pregnancies, took England to war against France (but then, who didn’t?) and died childless and hated by her subjects in 1558. I suppose that as the product of a dysfunctional family such as the Tudors it was par for the course that she’d be a bit of a monster.
She probably ate skylarks.