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31 December: Lichen

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At the top of Saint Thomas’s Hill, behind the University, the old road dips down and climbs again to Blean Church, far enough from the main road to grow this bed of lichen on a tombstone. On a grey day it glows.

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A grey day in Canterbury

As I was walking home, the Sun was finding it difficult to break through at a quarter to nine this morning, but there was autumn colour nonetheless. We are in the city centre, at the site of a corn mill that burned to the ground eighty years ago. Top picture is looking upstream; the cathedral is behind the houses on the left; the building on the right, obscured by trees, was once the Dominican Priory.

Looking downstream, the steps, right foreground, take you across the main river over the sluice gates that control the flow – still vital when there is too much or too little rain. The old bridge is called after St Radigund, a princess-abbess from the so-called dark ages when so many noblewomen found openings for themselves and others to be something other than wives, mothers and domestics. There is a pub with rooms called the Miller’s Arms just visible behind the trees to the right. They fed us well the last time we visited.

The fifteen minute mixing

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The recipes for sloe gin are many and various and often vague; I went for a simple version with quantities that made sense, rather than ‘just cover with sugar …’ and  so on.

Essentially though, it is sloes, pierced with a fork, sugar and gin shaken up together. After some family consultation I added two scraps of cinnamon stick.

We’ll see. All is sealed in a Kilner jar which has to be agitated frequently.

Maybe we’ll take a sip at Christmas, while the sloes will make a fine marinade for the family meal.

The fifteen minute forage

 

A warm October evening, and Mrs T and I felt lethargic. Time for a walk? Indeed there was, so up Abbot’s Hill we went. Autumn colours showing themselves, but what about the sloes? Mrs T made sloe gin last year, and the family enjoyed it, Mrs T excepted.

There they were on the old hedge, and I had a bag in my pocket. In a quarter of an hour we culled sufficient to our need – and I was delegated to make the gin this year. We slightly overshot our target of 1 lb or 450gm.

On the way down we gathered in the first dozen or so chestnuts: there’s a little squash waiting to be stuffed; a few mushrooms will help. Mists and mellow fruitfulness anyone?

Killers

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

(Another day at the same place.)

The Pilgrims’ Way.

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Join us on a walk in Kent in mid September.

The road name Pilgrims Way appears in various places around Canterbury. This one, six or seven miles west at Chilham village carries the pilgrims’ scallop shell badge as another reminder of the ancient ways that led to Canterbury and beyond, to Rome or Compostella or even Jerusalem.

Clearly the only way from here is upwards!

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The second picture, taken by the Pilgrims Way just beyond Chilham, shows the first view of Canterbury Cathedral in the distance. The discerning eye – meaning one that knows what to look for – will spot the Bell Harry tower almost dead centre behind the trees that follow the downward slope left to right.

The sight must have put a spring in the pilgrims’ steps, and no doubt they were further encouraged by a long drink in the inn whose wall appears in the first picture. As Chesterton once said, Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.

We walked rather less than ten miles on this occasion, but we agree with GKC!

Thank God for hospitality, wherever we find it.

Hops

 

Kent is famous for hops, and next weekend is the hop festival in nearby Faversham. We have a bine growing over the willow arch at the Glebe garden of L’Arche Kent in Canterbury. L’Arche is a community of people with and without learning disabilities. I enjoy the hops in their natural glory as well. With some care and attention they should be producing really useful amounts in years to come.

And maybe that’s true of all of us too!

 

The community of gardeners

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Where the council took out an ailing cherry tree in the next street, they left a void. One neighbour offered a hazel, and another cuttings of hydrangea. With a little tlc they are thriving, but the annual flowers have not enjoyed the dry summer so much. Other neighbours have offered their outdoor tap for watering, saving yours truly a few yards carrying watering cans. Someone else has promised daffodils which can go in next month.

Today I was tackling some of the weeds which have sprung up between the annuals from seeds that have lain dormant for years; fat hen, various docks, sow thistle, dandelions and their friends and relations. Mrs H stopped by: ‘I might have known it was you. Thank you for doing this.’ And just when I could get no more in the bucket, a professional gardener offers to empty it into his van and ‘save you carrying it around.’

All very encouraging! I’d best keep up the good work.