Foodie Heaven

Gone are the days when farm shops were little more than a garden shed by the side of the road or in an unused corner of the farmyard, they have become ‘destinations’ and the Ludlow Food Centre is the Queen of all farm shops.

Two miles north of Ludlow, on the A49,   the Ludlow Food Centre is owned by the Earl of Plymouth and sits on the Oakly Park Estate (once owned by Clive of India). It is a treasury of fruit and veg, jams, breads, juices, and numerous specialist foods but, more important, it showcases local produce claiming that 80% of the products on sale come from Shropshire and its neighbouring counties.  Not only that but it also claims that half of all the delicious food for sale is actually made in its own kitchens (wrapped around the shop and open to inspection through big glass viewing windows).

I love the Ludlow Food Centre and spend way too much money in there every time I stop to shop (it is rather pricey).  However, it isn’t the whole that I want to put in my curiosity cabinet. Rather, I would like to place two items:  their marmalade and their Eccles cakes.

The marmalade, one of the foodstuffs made on the premises, quite rightly is an award winner.  I didn’t know that there were awards for marmalade until I purchased a jar of Lady Windsor’s Rich Seville Orange Marmalade for my mother and found that it had won a number of prizes  at the Dalemain World Marmalade Awards  (not the only awards won by the Centre but surely the most whimsical).  The marmalade is really dark, really rich and as my mother says ‘gooey’ – not sure what she means by that, but it’s what I call proper marmalade – bitter and thick cut.  Definitely something special.

The other item to add to the cabinet are the Eccles cakes.  Baked in their on-site kitchens too, these were the best Eccles Cakes I have ever eaten.  I suspect the pastry could have been a little lighter but I like a solid Eccles Cake.  The filling was as generous as its overall size and juicy with a flavour of caramel and orchard fruits but not too sweet.

The shop isn’t the only attraction on the Bromfield Village site – there is a restaurant, an elegant hotel, ‘The Clive,’ a village store, post office, garden centre, something to do with bikes and a playground.  Not quite the farm shop of old, but it provides local, seasonal and fresh delicacies all the same.



Some enchanted place


Places that lie in the ‘between’ are believed, by some, to be magical;  where the veil between worlds is thin and, therefore, more likely to be subject to the whims and vagaries of ‘faerie’.  It might seem a fanciful idea but one I wholeheartedly believe when I am visiting Stokesay Castle, in Shropshire.

Situated in the liminal lands between England and Wales, Stokesay is a relic of a long forgotten world.  The medieval fortified manor house is now home only to the birds and bats, but is one of the best preserved examples of a building of this kind in the country. It was built by one of the richest men in England at the time, Lawrence of Ludlow, in 1291 and, with only a few changes since then, including the addition of a timbered gatehouse and a panelled solar (or living room) in the 17th century, it has remained largely unchanged from when it was first built.

I am sure that Stokesay Castle could provide an interesting lesson in what life was like in the middle ages.  The octagonal south tower is a fantastic example of typical medieval castle building with its thick walls,  narrow staircases, and arrow slits and the Great Hall’s ceiling timbers ably demonstrate the art of medieval carpentry.  But it isn’t this, for once, which I find so enticing about Stokesay.

The castle and its setting are simply enchanting.

Surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire Hills, and, sitting right next door to a picturesque church and graveyard, the grey stone and timber building feels as though it has had its roots in this land forever.  The traditional English country garden inside the inner ward and planted in the now dry moat soften the harshness of walls built to defend and their scents and sounds conjure drowsy, lazy summer days.

The woodwork is faded and sagging, but the jettied windows on the South Tower allow this castle to step right out of the old fairy stories.  Inside, there is an old timber staircase, still as it was in 1291, a little worn from generations of feet and hands climbing their way to bed.  It is a real privilege to place my foot and my hand where the original carpenter so carefully crafted a structure that was still going to be used seven hundred years later.

On the later gatehouse, Adam and Eve stand comfortably alongside a fierce dragon, and inside the Solar, the canopy over the fire is intricately carved – unnecessarily so, but what a wonderful reminder of an age when a craft like this was not just a niche hobby and a testament to an age where belief in something less rational was prevalent.

It’s not the grandest of buildings, it’s not the oldest.  But it is a place where enough of the world’s modern trappings fade away (I wouldn’t want to give up the tearoom, after all) and I am left with the wonder at the beauty of the place and the sense of being bewitched to ‘somewhere else’.  I can readily believe that I crossed over the veil into the summer lands and I would be very happy to step over again.

My Cabinet of Curiosities

I have an IKEA display coffee table in which I keep displayed all the little oddities I collected when I went on my Lord of the Rings pilgrimage to New Zealand.  Visiting in 2013, they were just finishing up the films and not every location had been entirely cleared.  I was lucky enough to find a whole display case worth of treasure – including gravel from the Ford of Bruinen, a piece of gaffer tape from Edoras, the charred fragment of the burning Rohan village and a leaf from Lothlorien.

These might seem like a whole load of detritus to some people, but to me these are treasure.  They remind of the amazing time I spent in New Zealand and they tie me to two of my greatest loves, Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Peter Jackson’s opus trilogy based on the book.  They are worth more than gold although I don’t expect many people to understand how shells, and old twigs and ticket stubs could possible mean so much.

However, not all my treasures in life are easily picked up, transported home and put into a cabinet of curiosities.  Many of the things that I hold as precious are intangible – a feeling, a taste or sound –  and, unless I take some action, they get lost (for example, I couldn’t remember that there is a Jesse window in Ludlow’s St Lawrence’s Church although I have visited it twice previously!)  I don’t want to lose the ephemera from my life.  I want to keep it safe like that piece of conglomerate I found at the top of Mt Sunday, the location of Edoras in the film.

So this blog is just a digital version of the cabinet of curiosities – a collection of bric a brac, thoughts and feelings, images and moments from my life.  Feel free to have a browse.  You might find some things that you consider trash.  You might find something of interest.

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