Driving along Britain’s motorways, often you could be forgiven for having little idea where you are. There are places like Mill Hill on the M1 or Bury on the M66 where you find yourself rushing obscenely close to people’s homes but often the road runs through cuttings with no view of the surroundings.
Somewhere in Yorkshire on the M62 I spotted a sign ‘River Calder’. There was no other sign of the river; its bridge was barely discernible (to me at least). Although the car is king, for the present at least, there was a nod to the original power of this landscape: the water that formed it and powered the first factories along its banks.
Downstream at Castleford the Calder joins the Aire:
The Castleford lasses are bonny and fair,
For they wash in the Calder and rinse in the Aire.
When I first heard that rhyme, no sensible lass or lad would put a toe into the rivers, heavily polluted as they were by all those factories. Today the water is cleaner, the fish and wildlife are returning, but bathing might be a colder experience than many lasses would go for!
There is another River Calder across the hills in Lancashire; this one spends its whole life in Yorkshire.
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 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.
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?