Monday, July 30, 2007

Ghostly Ruins

Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

The Guinness Book of World Records (1998) has Pluckley in Kent as being “the most haunted village in the country.” There are perhaps 12-16 ghosts that are said to appear in and around the village depending on who is telling the tale, but the village has a rich history beyond the ghosts.

At least 50 men from the village participated in the Jack Cade Rebellion of 1450 when the rebels, unhappy with the taxes imposed upon them, met with King Henry VI and their leader, Jack Cade. The meeting did not go well and it is reported that Cade's men killed at least 100 of the King’s men. Later, when the rebels were rounded up, most were pardoned for their involvement and returned to the village unharmed, but others were hung, drawn and quartered.
In 1610, two local men, Martin Davye and Thomas Fell had an argument that spilled into the churchyard. Davye struck Fell who later died of his injuries. Davye was charged with murder but claimed “benefit of clergy” which meant that he could read and write Latin and was therefore considered an educated man. He escaped the hangman’s noose because of his status in the community, the sentence being reduced to manslaughter.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Biddenden Twins

An Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.
(Photo: Biddenden Village and church in Kent).

The surviving twin said, “As we came together, we will also go together.” Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst were conjoined twins born in the village of Biddenden in 1100 and there they died 34 years later. On their death, they bequeathed 20 acres of land to the poor of the village and began an unusual custom that is still recognized today.

There is no grave for the Biddenden Maids in All Saints’ churchyard and little is known about the twins except their legacy. They were joined at the shoulder and hips, a rare occurrence in conjoined twins. It would have been a difficult existence for both the girls and their parents, dealing with the everyday duties and responsibilities of life. However, the family must have been financially secure because on the death of the girls, they allowed their daughters to donate 20 acres of land to the churchwardens and their successors. The acreage was used to graze cattle and raise crops, the money from which would be distributed at the discretion of the churchwardens to the poor in the village. When one of the maids died, the surviving twin appeared resolute in that her time had come as well; she lived only six hours without her beloved sister.

The ancient custom of baking “Biddenden Maids” cakes began after their death but the actual date is unknown. In 1646 and again in 1747, molds for the cakes were found in the village. These molds show the twins’ shoulders linked almost as though they are embracing each other. They are dressed in the fashion of the day with wasp waist lines and crinoline skirts, obviously with many petticoats. On the front of one of the twins’ skirts is their birth date of 1100; the other skirt has the date of their death, 1134. The depiction from the mold became the symbol that is on the village sign today.

By all accounts, the churchwardens managed the bequeathed land well and provided enough money for the ingredients necessary to bake the cakes. The original cakes were made from a simple recipe of flour and water, which must have yielded a bread-like product. They were approximately four inches long and two inches wide with an effigy of the girls imprinted on the top. The cakes and a serving of cheese were given away after the church service on Easter Monday at the discretion of the churchwardens. As word spread about the curious custom, hundreds of people visited the village at Easter time causing such a disruption in the church that “…the conduct in the church was so reprehensible that the church wardens had to use their wands for other purposes than symbols of office…”

Monday, July 23, 2007

An Unwritten Understanding

Over the past 40 years, I have camped in various campsites in Spain, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, and in the U.S.

Years ago, camping provided an inexpensive holiday where my children could run freely and enjoy the surroundings which sometimes included a park or pool. At the end of the day, a quick shower, supper round the fire, a card game and put the kids to bed was my idea of a good day.

Nowadays, camping has taken on a whole new dimension for me. I love to wake in the morning to the birds, the mountains and the sound of a river flowing nearby. I love to have my first cup of coffee and literally “drink in” the beautiful surroundings of Colorado. It’s not about the financial rewards anymore but the pure pleasure of enjoying nature.

However, I have noticed a few changes in the camping public. Families still arrive late in the day, Mom and Dad looking tired and ready to crash for the night. The children are still the same and leap out the car or campers as soon as the vehicle has come to a standstill. I’ve noticed an increase in dogs on the sites (something different from years ago) sometimes as many as two or three to a family! Needless to say, the children soon make friends with other kids on the site, and run off to play in the park or ride their bikes exploring the campground.

There is one thing about camping people that hasn’t changed: the respect campers have for privacy and belongings of others. Campers will nod as they walk around the campsite, but otherwise keep to themselves. When leaving the campsite for any length of time, chairs, coolers, bikes, clothes, etc. are all left behind in the certain knowledge that they’ll still be waiting for them on their return.

At the Sugar Loafin’ campground in Leadville, Colorado, I was recently reminded of this honesty. I lost my gold and silver necklace, and after searching in vain, I decided to ask at the campground office to see if anyone had handed it in. To my delight, a fellow camper had done just that.

Friday, July 20, 2007

True Grit Cafe

One of the first scenes in the movie True Grit starring the legendary star John Wayne was filmed using this natural brick wall as a backdrop. On the wall is written: Chambers Staple & Fancy Groceries Fruit & Vegetables.
The proprietor of the True Grit Cafe in Ridgway, Colorado, has cleverly incorporated the wall into the restuarant. I was told by the staff that the "hanging" in the movie took place in the park across the street. For John Wayne movie buffs, one of the last scenes in the movie is John jumping on his horse with some spectacular rock formations. That location is ten miles west on Last Dollar Road at a place called "Mattie's Ranch."
The small town of Ridgway began during the railroad expansion during the late 1890s. There are a few shops worth visiting and of course visitors can expect a great meal in the True Grit Cafe. The menu is varied with country style food and served with all the trimmings. John Wayne memorabilia covers the walls. The park across the road has plenty of trees and is a good place for a picnic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Terracotta Artist in Orvieto, Italy

Every time I walk into my kitchen, I see my terracotta souvenir from the workshop of Alberto Bellini. I chose a piece that suited my needs, but there were so many beautiful pieces on display in his shop that it was a hard choice for me to make.

Alberto Bellini is a young artist crafting unusual works of terracotta art that appear almost magical or mystical in nature. His studio and shop in Orvieto, Italy, is full of his terracotta sculptures, plaques and figurines. Some appear to be romatic in nature (man and woman embrasing) while others seem to have a medieval theme with hooded indivuals hunched over books and other items.

It is fascinating to watch Alberto at work in his studio at: Terracotte Artistic, Piazza De Ranieri, Orvieto. Tel: 349 3156502.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


The early trappers and frontier men devised a unique way to advertise the location of the rendezvous point when selling and trading their animal pelts and other goods. The men would shoot their guns (sometimes a hundred in number) simultaneously into the air. This caused a cloud of smoke “gun smoke” that could be seen for miles and would indicate the location of the meeting place.

The trading of animal pelts, whiskey, tobacco and the companionship of ladies led to several days of merrymaking. At this time (circa 1850) it was said the buffalo was so plentiful in Colorado that a herd would take three full days to pass through the rendezvous point, but that gunfire usually encouraged them to move on.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Death by Chocolate

One of my favorite places to visit in Colonial Williamsburg is the Trellis Restaurant. It was here that I celebrated my recent birthday. I had a wonderful dinner and then ordered the famous dessert -- it was a special treat and one I highly recommend.

Following is an excerpt from the Trellis Restaurant web site.

"Marcel Desaulniers, executive chef and co-owner of the Trellis Restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, has been named in Food and Wine's Honor Roll of Chefs and Cook's magazine's Who's Who of Cooking. In 1988, he became the first chef from the South to be honored by the James Beard Foundation as a Great American Chef. He has been inducted into the American Academy of Chefs and the Honor Society of the American Culinary Federation, and he is on the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America. In addition, the Trellis Restaurant has won Restaurant & Institutions magazine's prestigious Ivy Award."