Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Weekend in the Country

Newslands Corner, Surrey

The mud was satisfyingly squishy, the pheasant remarkably near to its source, and the family life around the Aga all that I'd been led to expect from reading English novels.

Annette Locator: Horsley, Surrey
I spent a lovely weekend in the country with Marilyn and Adam and their two boys, Chris and Luke. The hospitality at 'Brook Cottage' was wonderful, and that big Aga standing warmly in the kitchen corner produced a scrumptious Sunday roast lunch. Although of course Marilyn deserves some of the credit. For those who may not have heard of an Aga, it is a great cast iron stove which runs on gas (these days) and is kept warm and toasty day and night. It is generously endowed with cooking ovens, of varying temperatures. It was invented in 1922 by Dr Gustaf Dalen, a Swedish Nobel prize winner. People who own them become besotted addicts quite swiftly. They write in to online forums with fond stories of their stove, and all it means to them. Check out the Aga website where you can also find a list of 'famous owners' (starting with the British PM David Cameron). You might find it a bit surprising to find such reverence for a cooking appliance, but all I did was sit in front of it for a couple of days, and I'm a convert!

Saturday began with a 45 minute train journey into the wilds of Surrey, followed by an excellent coffee at The Pink-Footed Duck deli in the village of Horsely. I was given a mini-tour of Horsely (East and West), which took approximately five minutes. I learnt that the local butcher, Conisbee's, has been in business, and in the same family, for 300 years. Game featured heavily on its sign-board. I also learnt that the local manor family gloried in the name of 'Lovelace'.

St Martha's on the Hill
How to build a hedgerow.
At the delightful 'Brook Cottage' we lingered over a lunch in which cheese and wine featured; then Marilyn and I set of for a tramp in the countryside. Admittedly the weather was a little grey, but we were not actually rained upon. As far as I can recall the names of the places, we began at Newlands Corner, and walked in the direction of Albury, ending up at a Saxon era church site called St Martha's on the Hill (the present church was built in 1850 on the site of an old Saxon church). And then back across the fields. It was wonderful -exercise, fresh air, views across the Downs. We met a horse, heard partridge being shot, stomped about in a lot of mud, found a new hedgerow under construction (thereby learning a lot), and spent a few windy, contemplative minutes atop St Martha's Hill.

Excellent mud. Broke in the boots.
After this exercise, we trooped off to one the many pubs in the vicinity, this one evocatively named The Queen's Head  (which Queen? why her head? I can easily become sidetracked by English pub names). I was encouraged to try the local brew, and managed 'an 'alf'. Then to dinner - on the specials board I noticed...partridge. Local food.

Ah, yes. An English pub. Beer a bit warm, but pleasant
Shere. With stocks.
A lazy Sunday morning was spent in a nearby village named Shere (said to be possibly the most-photographed village in Surrey)...tilted tudor houses with doorways about four feet high, a stream through the middle of town (with ducks), a pub called 'The Whitehorse Inn' which still has its stocks out the front, a 12th century church (with a 1902 lych gate designed by Edwin Lutyens, of all people). The North wall of the Chancel has apertures in it. These were where an 'anchoress' named Christine Daughter of William the Carpenter, made her contacts with the church. In the 14th century she lived in a cell built against the north wall of the church, enclosed there by her own wish ('details in the church pamphlet', which I don't have, but really must find). An 'anchoress' is apparently, a woman who has withdrawn from the world for religious reasons.

I learnt this interesting stuff from a small booklet obtained in 'The Lucky Duck Tearooms', where we enjoyed a cream tea and fruit cake. There is a lot of other good stuff in there, from the Domesday book to JM Barrie and George Meredith organising cricket matches...but we had to get on home to put the roast in the Aga. Which was duly accomplished, with the aforementioned excellent results.
A new friend.
A lovely weekend in a quintessentially English bit of country. Even under the grey skies of winter it was evocative and charming. In spring and summer it must become impossibly post-card pretty. Of course, I was inevitably reminded of the typical snatches of poetry associated with such landscapes...'England's green and pleasant land', 'seasons of mists...', 'this sceptred isle'...where are they from? Blake? Keats? Shakespeare? All of the above. And if you're interested, there is a special magazine which mixes them all up:
'This England is a quarterly patriotic magazine for all who love our green and pleasant land'. I came across this magazine by chance, but it's contents sound intriguing:
All the regular features can be enjoyed in the winter issue – “Exploring England’s Coastline”, “Poets’ Corner”, “A Royal History of England” etc – but there are also a number of articles commemorating special anniversaries: the owner of an original Dunkirk “Little Ship” from 1940 tells us about his experiences, 100 years after his death the aviation and motoring pioneer Charles Rolls is remembered, and we take a walk along the cobbles of “Coronation Street” to celebrate 50 years in the company of Hilda Ogden, Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow and the rest…
Very English.

The Aga. Impressive.

Map from :

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