Saturday, 14 October 2017

Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin

They're not from Jerusalem and they're not artichokes but they are very easy to grow, so surely a worthy addition to our veg garden. What I hadn't realized before planting them is that they're in the Sunflower family, so they just grow... and grow... and grow., then a pretty little yellow flower appears at the top.

One online article I read said that they were ready for harvesting when the leaves began to die. I found myself willing them to wilt but they just kept on growing – and there's only so much waiting that a girl can take.
The time had surely come to start digging.

I chose one of the taller plants and set to work with a spade. From that one tuber, planted in the Spring, I unearthed 10 new ones, and that is by no means exceptional. A Wikipedia article states: Each root can make an additional 75 to as many as 200 tubers during a year.  For this reason, it is important to resist the gardener's natural urge to move Jerusalem Artichokes to a different part of the garden every year, rotating them along with all the other vegetables. The same Wikipedia article has this warning: Because even a small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground the plant can ruin gardens by smothering or overshadowing nearby plants and can take over huge areas. Thankfully, our artichokes are in a small area of the garden that's bounded by concrete paths, so hopefully they'll stay where they're wanted.

So having picked them, what next? There are some nice-looking recipes for soup and purée but we decided to make a gratin. For a while now I've been thinking of opening a category on this blog for Angie's Recipes... so off we go.

1. Put a heaped deserts spoon full of plain flour in a bowl and add milk to make a thick paste.

2. Stir in a whole tub (284ml) of Elmlea Double Light. Eschewing real double cream is my one concession to Slimming World though at a thumping 700kcal (350 for each of us) it's still a diet buster. Add a heaped teaspoon of grainy mustard, followed by more milk if it's looking a bit treacly. I aim for the consistency of single cream.

3. Roughly peel the artichokes and place a few in an oven dish. Pour in some of the Elmlea mixture, then another layer of artichokes and more Elmlea. Keep adding layers until everything's in the dish, then top off with grated cheese. Parmesan would probably be perfect. I use Grana Padano from Tesco and honestly can't tell the difference. And yes, I did say that this recipe was diet buster!

4. Place in the oven at about 220°C for 20 minutes or so.

5. Eat your fill, but do remember that Jerusalem Artichokes have something in common with baked beans.  That's right... they may make you fart!

Artichoke flowers are so romantic!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Free Entry

The enlightened folk of Manx National Heritage have a splendid reciprocal arrangement with several other heritage organisations, including The National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland and (would you believe it?) the Cayman Islands.

This was a lovely surprise. Though I knew my little Cadw (Welsh Heritage) card gained me free entry to English Heritage sites, I hadn't expected to use it on the Isle of Man – but use it I did!  All these turned out to be 'free'....

The Laxey Wheel

Rushen Abbey

Castle Rushen (Castletown)

Peel Castle

The House of Manannan

Cregneash Crofting Community
Manx sheep at Cregneash
There were others that we could have visited, but these were more than enough to keep us content for a week's holiday. How much did we save?  Well here are the entry fees for the two of us:

Laxey Wheel  £16
Rushen Abbey  £16
Castle Rushen  £16
Peel Castle  £12
The House of Manannan  £20
Cregneach  £12


Cadw membership for a couple of senior citizens cost £31.50 this year, so we are nicely in profit... and will be for a couple of years to come, even without planned visits to Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle. Moreover, I can honestly say that I would not have wanted to miss visiting any of these, despite the mist and rain that is all too noticeable in some of my photos.

I said in my last post that this would be the last one from the Isle of Man, but since then I've thought of at least one more. However, before I extol the delights of Spooyt Vane, Glen Maye and Niarbyl, I'll enlighten you about things closer to home.  Stand by for a tall story.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Dhoon Glen and the Manx Electric Railway

Yes, it's another post inspired by my recent holiday on the Isle of Man. One more after this, then I'll find something else for my loyal reader to digest.

I like the Manx Electric Railway; indeed, I like it a lot. It may lack the nostalgic appeal of the island's surviving steam railway, but the ride is much more exciting, especially if, like me, you take it in one of the open 'toast rack' carriages. As you can see, there's a refreshing lack of 'Health & Safety' features on them, whilst the views they afford are wonderful.

It would have been fun to ride the railway from end to end (Douglas to Ramsey) but on this holiday we contented ourselves with boarding at Laxey for a ride over the summit and down to Dhoon Glen station – arguably the most scenic stretch of the line. The next 3 pictures are from S-'s video, so not quite as sharp as my usual ones...

Leaving Laxey, one gets a lovely view of the valley with its ex-Cornish Snaefell Mine waterwheel. Then, emerging from a short cutting, the line runs for several miles along the clifftop.

Here we are nearing the summit of the line, above Bulgham Bay. After this, it descends to the head of the Dhoon Glen, where my next adventure began.

I lifted this photo from the Manx Official Visitors' Website. I hope they don't mind. Despite having cameras that would hold hundreds of photos without filling their memories, I never take enough.

Descending Dhoon Glen is not for the faint-hearted... or rather, coming back up isn't – a 590ft climb in 2 miles. We had, however, been forewarned by a cheerful soul in the pub at Laxey, who told how she had enthusiastically clambered down to the beach before realising, with mounting dread, that she'd now have to climb back up again! I'm pleased to relate, though, that when the time came I shot up it like a young 'un. All that weight loss and walking exercise is still paying dividends.

This is the Dhoon Glen's lovely waterfall, which rejoices in the name Inneen Vooar (Big Girl). Locals will tell you that a young girl once drowned in the pool at its base and that her ghost still haunts the place. I lingered for several minutes, drinking in the scene, but she didn't make her ghostly appearance.

On a happier note, the 19th century poet T.E. Brown was inspired by Inneen Vooar's splendour to write this, though you'll see that there has been a change of gender!...

Leap from the crags, brave boy. 
The musing hills have kept thee long 
but they have made thee strong 
and fed thee with the fullness of their joy 
and given direction that thou might'st return 
to me who yearn 
at foot of this great steep. 
Leap! Leap! 
So the stream lept 
into his mother's arms
who wept
a space

Two big girls! One would have looked more sylphlike had she not wrapped her coat around her middle.

Finally, here is Dhoon Bay.  According to that visitor website, Dhoon Bay, with its amazing rock formations, pebble beach and solitude makes it a perfect destination to explore, relax or even enjoy a peaceful picnic, listening to the sounds of the sea.  I'm not sure that 'perfect' is a word that would readily spring to my mind, but it is a tranquil spot, where one may summon ones energy for the return journey. It's also an excellent place to skim stones across a flat calm sea.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Steam and Horse Power from Douglas

There was a time when Mann resembled a big boys' train set, with lines circling the northern half of the island and reaching down to the south. Little wonder, then, that it became the inspiration for Revd Awdry's Isle of Sodar, home to Thomas the Tank Engine and his many friends. This map isn't quite complete, as there is also a horse drawn tramway that runs along Douglas promenade to the terminus of the Electric Railway.

As the Isle of Man's popularity as a holiday destination fell and road transport improved, the network was gradually torn up, but it is still possible to travel by rail most of the way from Ramsey in the north to Port Erin in the south, and taking in Snaefell on the way.

I've already written about my trip on the Snaefell Mountain Tramway. So for starters this time, join me on the island's only surviving steam-hauled railway, between Douglas and Port Erin.

Douglas Station used to be very grand indeed but with the loss of the lines to Peel and Ramsey it's been cut back to two platform faces. Despite this, it still has a 'main line' feel to it, dwarfing the little narrow-gauge engines and coaches.

That's our engine – No.12 Hutchinson – at the coaling stage. Every few minutes the safety valves would open, sending a woosh of steam skywards.

If you really want to see a railway, don't ride on it! The best views are to be had from the lineside, though I rather like this snap from S-'s video of the journey. It was taken just after leaving Santon.

Here is Hutchinson at journey's end, Port Erin, drawn up rather incongruously in front of a security fence. They're rebuilding the last bit of the line here, so our carriages had to be propelled by hand into a bay platform, so that No.12 could be released.

'Hats off' to the good people of Port Erin, for on arrival every train passenger was given a colourful leaflet, detailing the attractions of the little coastal town. Despite a fine drizzle blowing in from the sea, the beach looked inviting enough, though parts of town had clearly seen better days.

We found a pleasant beach-side cafe for coffee and cake then, eschewing Port Erin's remaining pleasures, headed back to Douglas on the next train.

A ten minute walk from Douglas Station brought us to the Victoria Pier end of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway. This time there was no difficulty in taking photos – you just hop off, snap your photo, and hop on again.

It was only after returning home and reading about this tramway, that I realised how lucky we were to get a ride on it. Wikipedia informed me...
    In January 2016, Douglas Corporation announced that the tramway had run for the last time the previous September and that they had closed it as it was not financially viable. The tramway had made a loss of £263,000 in 2015.
    After an online petition attracted more than 2,000 signatures, the operation of the tramway was taken over by the Isle of Man Heritage Railways division and has continued in the 2016 and 2017 summer seasons.

I hope they keep it going, as it is rather a splendid way to travel the length of Douglas's grand promenade.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

You ain't nothin' but a Hound Dog

Facebook certainly has its uses, particularly when it comes to tracking down special interest groups. "How lovely it would be," I mused, "to spend an evening of my holiday strumming and singing with an Isle of Man ukulele group. Surely there must be one.

And yes, there was – The Ukes of Mann. Bernadette was listed as the group's Facebook admin person, so I sent her a message, asking whether they were meeting while I was on the island and, if so, whether I could join them. Sadly, though, Bernadette explained that her group wasn't currently functioning but she would see whether the Peel one was. She also kindly admitted me to the Facebook group so that I could respond to any replies. Out went the message and a few hours later back came the reply: "Not at the moment Bernadette. Lots of things going on. Holidays, allotment, weddings etc."  Bother!

But then another message appeared on the group's page:

I contacted Millie to offer my services as a novice Ukulele tutor... and to my delight she accepted. With Millie's help I found a shop in Douglas to photocopy some simple music and on Tuesday evening four brave pupils and I gathered in Millie and Graham's lounge to tune up our ukes, drink tea, eat chocolate biscuits, learn three chords and play You ain't nothin' but a hound dog. And oh what fun we all had!

Graham, Millie, Christine and Karen
I was extremely fortunate to learn the ukulele at Matt Stead's wonderful evening classes in Ross. Unfortunately for this little group, no-one seems to be offering anything similar on the Isle of Man, but perhaps some other experienced player will find the time to help them along. I do hope so. Christine has ambitions to play her uke at a folk festival in Ireland... and why not?  Go for it, Christine!

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Laxey Wheels keep turning

No holiday on the Isle of Man would be complete without a visit to Laxey.  Not only is it the starting point for the Snaefell Mountain Tramway (my previous post) but it's also home to the famous Laxey Wheel. 

More of the latter in a moment, but first I was surprised to be greeted to Laxey with a fine sight, guaranteed to warm the heart of this Cornish girl — the Cornish cross of St Piran flying high and flanked by two (slightly lower) Isle of Man flags. Dismissing the thought that they'd heard I was coming, I decided to investigate.

It turns out that a 50ft water wheel, constructed for Snaefell Mine, fell into disuse in 1908 and was sent to Blisland in Cornwall where, for many years, it powered a china clay slurry pump. By the 1950's the wheel was out of use again and was acquired by the Trevithick Society. Eventually all agreed that the old wheel should be returned to the land of its birth and in 2006, after a lot of fundraising and dedicated hard work, it turned again. If you're interested, you can read the full story here.

"Presented by the Trevithick Society as a gift from the people of Cornwall
to the people of the Isle of Man." 

Grand though the Snaefell Wheel undoubtedly is, she is but a baby in comparison with her famous cousin, a little further up the valley.

This is Lady Isabella, Laxey's enormous 72 footer — the largest working water wheel in the world. Everything about her is impressive; not least the climb up the spiral stairway to the top, from where there are fine views back down towards Laxey. It pays to have a head for heights, though.  One guy I met up there was looking decidedly ashen and wishing he was back down at ground level. 

The white stone viaduct carries a drive shaft to transfer the action of the water wheel to a pump at the far end... 

a l-o-n-g way away.

I wasn't in the least surprised to discover, when gathering information for this post, that the Laxey Wheel has been immortalised in song. Here's the first verse and chorus:

When Laxey was a mining village many years ago,
there were 600 miners working under Captain Rowe.
The bottom of the mineshaft was below the water line
so they had to build a wheel to pump the water from the mine.

And the Laxey Wheel keeps turning, turning, turning,
in Lady Isabella's memory,
and while the water flows
the Laxey Wheel still goes
and the Laxey river runs down to the sea.
(Stuart Slack)

Now that would make a very good song for a Ukulele group to sing and play.  Stand by for my next post!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

5 out of 7 on Snaefell

It's holiday time at last and here I am, writing this on the Isle of Man, where I arrived on Friday afternoon aboard the super-fast catamaran ferry Manannan. Here she is in Liverpool, the night before, looking something like an inter-galactic spaceship in a sci-fi film.

On the way over I got chatting to a couple who used to make the journey on the old ferry, when the crossing took 4 hours.  The lovely Manannan raced over in just 2¼ – though there was the inevitable hanging around beforehand... checking in at least ¾ hour beforehand and waiting for the ferry to disgorge it's in-bound load.

High on my list of objectives for this holiday was the ascent of Snaefell. A few of my friends have been there but unluckily found the summit shrouded in mist, so I promised myself that on the first clear day, up I would go.  I didn't have to wait long as yesterday's weather forecast was excellent.

Veteran of many a mountain climb I may be, but decided to do this one the easy way – by mountain tramway from Laxey. To preserve my honour, though, I would walk back down to Laxey.

On these exposed stretches of the line they take down the overhead wires every winter to avoid ice damage, so Wikipedia informs me. The same article says that the tramcars are fitted with Fells Braking Equipment, which explains the third rail in the middle of the track, though another article says that they hardly ever need to use it, due to extra braking equipment that they now carry on the roof. So now you know.

Here is our tramcar (No.1) at the mountain top terminus...

and here's little me near the summit. That's Laxey in the sunshine at the bottom of the valley.

This was the nicest of the views, north east with Ramsey in the distance. A little to the left I could clearly see Galloway (Scotland) and to the west could just about make out the Mountains of Mourne (Ireland). Indeed, it is said that one may see seven kingdoms from Snaefell — those of Man, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Neptune and Heaven. Unfortunately, gathering clouds to the east blotted out England and Wales but despite the grey clouds over my head, I'm claiming the other five. 

On the way back down I snapped No.1 crossing the famous TT Course at Bungalow. Only two days earlier this spot would have been packed with spectators for the last of the season's Classic TT races. Now, all was peaceful... the way I like it.