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Essentially England News, September 2008 -- Dragons, Plums and a Money-saving Tip
September 26, 2008

Dragons, Plums
and a Money-Saving Tip

Welcome to the September edition of Essentially England News!

And an especially cheerful welcome to everyone who subscribed to Essentially England News during the last month!
Here you'll find England news, site news, travel tips, reviews and our Recipe of the Month, all in one easy-to-digest email.

How often do you explore the area just off your doorstep? We had some time off work this month I had planned to put up a section about Wiltshire, thinking that this would be a piece of cake, being local and all.

But far from it. As soon as I started digging I realised that I knew very little about places just down the road. So my writing week turned into a week of exploration, from obvious sites like Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, to unexpected places like Bradford-on-Avon. And I found a score of interesting things to write about.

What's New at Essentially England?

The England Q & A section continues to expand, with a few real head-scratcher questions and some good allrounders being submitted by visitors to the site and also colleagues and family. This is becoming a real fun section that I love to play with.

As the saying goes: A glance at something may not tell the whole story. And sometimes, a question from a stranger can really make you look at familiar things in a new way. So why is English beer served warm?

A visit to the hillfort at Uffield with its White Horse and the 'world-famous' Dragon Hill, prompted some musings about the story of St George and the dragon, and how he came to be England's patron saint. If that's up your street, then read about it here.

Travel Tips and Reviews

Do you love to visit castles, ruins and grand houses on your travels, but find that the entrance fees soon add up to staggering sums? If you do, then this may interest you.

In England many historical sites – castles, houses, ruins and battlefields – are under the care of either The National Trust or English Heritage. Members can visit for free and memberships are usually for a year. So that's fine if you're living in England, but of little use to you if you're visiting from abroad.

But here's the good news:
English Heritage offer an OVERSEAS VISITORS PASS for either 7 days or 14 days duration. They come in Single, Couple and Family size and allow access to over 100 attractions cared for by English heritage for one single fee.

And since English Heritage cares for sites as diverse as Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Lindisfarne Priory, Osborne House and the site of England's most famous battle, I think this pass is an must-carry for all visitors.

Buy your pass directly from English Heritage's website and use their maps to help plan your trip!

And if you live in the UK?
English Heritage currently offer 15 months membership for the price of 12 months, so that's worth checking out, too.

Fairs, Festivals and Things to Do

We were trying to make use of the last of the good weather, so we were out and about a great deal. The beginning of the month saw the Tour of Britain cycle race criss-cross the country from London to Scotland to Liverpool. Most towns put on parties to watch the race and when we arrived in Newbury for the finish of Stage 2, the atmosphere was really electric and just right for a wonderful family day out!

Ironbridge Gorge – the birthplace of industry in England and now designated a World Heritage site – had been on our to-do-list for a very long time. And as the weather was wonderful we drove up to check it out. Mercifully, it no longer looks like it does on the famous landscape paintings done 150 years ago. Instead it's a surprisingly peaceful place, tucked away in the shelter of the hills. There are 12 museums and exhibitions as well as walks, cycle paths and the town itself – so one day is really not enough to do it justice. Fortunately, the visitors pass lasts for 12 months and you can visit as often as you like.

Check out the recreation of the Victorian village: period houses, all employees in period dress, working steam engines and all the craftsmen working with the tools and methods they would have used during Victorian times. I really need to go back and see if the carpenter has finished that rocking horse yet!

Recipe of the Month - Crumbles

This is the month for fruit: plums, blackberries and the first of the apples are all arriving in your kitchen begging to be used. And with that abundance of fruit and the first chilly evenings, my mind turns to Crumble

There's nothing more delicious or more comforting than a good crumble. Plum (actually damson) crumble is my favourite, with blackberry and apply crumble coming a close second.

It also helps, of course, that crumbles are dead easy to make and don't take up too much of your time. Assemble, shove in the oven and forget … until the wonderful smell reminds you of the delight waiting at the end of dinner.

Here's what you do:

  1. Take a pound (500g) of fruit. Wash well. Stone and cut in half if using plums. Place in a baking dish.
  2. If your fruit is very tart, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl rub together 2 parts white flour with 1 part butter and 1 part sugar until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. This can be done very quickly using a food processor or mixer.

    The actual quantities for your topping depend on the size of your baking dish. Mine takes 200g flour / 100g butter / 100g sugar.

    To make the topping crunchier, replace 50g of the flour with 50g ground almonds or 50g fine semolina.

  4. Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture and bake in a medium oven (180°C or so) for about 30 mins. It's ready when the topping is golden and crunchy and the juices from the fruit have started to bubble through the crust.
  5. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

And if this has given you a taste for English desserts, find more recipes and ideas here.

And Next Month …

October 14th is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, when King Harold died, defeated by William the Conqueror, and England changed as comprehensively as never before or since.

King Harold Day is held in a number of places around England each year, most notably at Battle Abbey in Hastings, where they're planning reenactment of the famous battle, and Waltham Abbey, which is said to house Harold's bones. And this year I'm determined to be there and check it out.

Until then, keep well and think of England…

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