Friday, February 15, 2008

Kent - Garden of England

Kent is sometimes referred to as the Garden of England because of the pretty countryside and picturesque villages and homes with well tended and beautiful gardens. This is perhaps due to the rich, nutritious soil that provides farmers with plentiful crops of barley and rape and orchards full of fruit. But for centuries, Kent was known as one of the leading counties for its hop fields and, by neccesity there were many oast houses. Some have been lost to the ravages of time while others have been maintained and converted from their original use to private homes.

During the mid 1500s, hop fields flourished in Kent and the production of beer increased providing a lucrative market for farmers for many centuries. Even as late as the mid 1950s, migrant workers arrived from London to harvest the hops and earn the much needed extra money in post war England. The days were long and hard in the hop fields as the vines were pulled from their overhead string lacings and placed across canvas bins. Then the men, women and children went to work, their nimble fingers separating the hops from the leaves in quick, fluid strokes. Once picked, measured by the bushels and recorded, a tractor-drawn trailer deposited the hops at the oast house where they were dried and the process of beer making beer began.

There are ten chapters in Extraordinary Places...Close to London dedicated to the county of Kent including: Royal Tonbridge Wells, Ightham, Cobham, Rochester, Chilham, Leeds Castle, Westerham, Chiddingstone, Biddenden and Pluckley. They offer stories of our past from the Black Prince at Ightham Mote to the ghosts of Pluckley said to be the most haunted village in England.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Tower of London's Raven Master

Yeoman Derrick Coyle lives with forty other Yeoman Warders in the Tower of London and has the unique assignment of Raven Master. He does not necessarily believe the legend that if the feathered residents left the Tower, then England would fall. But, on the other hand, he is not taking any chances. “The only time the Tower has been without the ravens" protection was during the blitz of WWII, and London was heavily bombed”, said Coyle. Now we keep at least six ravens at the Tower and a couple in reserve – just be to be sure!”

The ravens at the Tower are known to be particularly mischievous and will swoop down to take a ribbon out of a girl’s hair and then strut around the inner castle walls mimicking the voices of those around them. They are fed extremely well with approximately 6 oz of raw meat a day and a bird formula biscuit soaked in blood.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to get the ravens into their cages at night, but I have a little trick, said Coyle. “There is a pecking order so to speak, and the dominant raven will challenge me sometimes. I simply get the light behind me, pull out my cloak as though I have wings and the raven thinks I’m a large bird and retreats to his cage” Coyle said with a smile.

There have been some escapees from the Tower. Hugine took advantage one day of a warm, wind updraft and sailed over the Tower walls. He was found walking in the middle of a busy street in London. When shoppers realized it was a raven from the Tower, they completely surrounded the bird until he could be taken back home. This situation obviously caused a tremendous traffic jam, but the motorists in London were wonderful and very understanding. Were they just being kind or were they reminded of the ancient legend and they were not taking any chances?