Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

On being a tour guide for the day

Did you guess who Friday's visitor to PPP-HQ was? 

Here are some more clues . .  .

The Very Important Garden Blogger is passionate about vegetables

'Does not do flowers' (you must know by now!)

And has a naughty sense of humour . . .  Oooooo Matron!

Yes, it was indeed Matron of Down on the Allotment who arrived on my doorstep not long after breakfast on Friday morning. After a cuppa and a chat (about veg seeds) Matron joined me to tidy up the hen house and collect the eggs; then we had a tour of my plot – I'll let Matron tell you more about that.

We then jumped in to the 'tardis' and took a scenic route through 'hare country' to Saffron Walden and Audley End House. Matron wanted to see the walled vegetable garden, a showcase for Garden Organic's Heritage vegetables and fruit. The greenhouses are under wraps for repair and there were few vegetables to be seen, but with no leaves to cover the branches the expertly trained and pruned fruit trees and brushes were works of horticultural art.

 My particular favourites were the criss-cross living trellis of old apple varieties.

And the fan-trained pear trees along the high garden wall.

After a quick look in the stables, we were in need of a warming lunch – we headed straight for the Housekeeper's Room for big bowls of broccoli and stilton soup.

We were lucky that our visit coincided with a re-enactment day in the Service Wing.

 There was laundry hanging up to dry . . .

The Dairy Maid was shaping freshly churned butter into pats and pressing them with beautifully carved moulds . . .

And in the kitchen "Everything but the squeak" of a pig was being made into pies, brawns, roasts and jellied stock; presented just as it would have been in the 1880s.

Later in the afternoon we drove to Cambridge; it was fun being a "tourist in my own town" as I waited on Garret Hostel Lane Bridge for Matron to take the iconic tourist shots of the river and bridges and punts.

Along The Backs another iconic Cambridge view is changing . . . trees were being felled behind King's College. But before you throw up your hand in horror, it's all part of a grand plan called The Backs Landscape Strategy, if you follow the link and download The Backs Landscape Report, you'll find a fascinating history of how the land beside the river behind the central Cambridge colleges has evolved over the centuries. Many great landscape architects produced plans and ideas of how it should change, some plans were implemented others weren't. Cambridge University is 900 years old and it sees time in bigger chunks than the life-span of one generation.

You may be surprised to learn that the primary reason for Matron's visit wasn't vegetables, or dogs, but to hear King's College Choir sing in the Chapel – Matron is also passionate about music and in particular choral music.

Not many people realise that anyone can go to Choral Evensong in King's College Chapel, it takes place on most days during the university term times and it cost nothing! You just have to turn up about 15 minutes before the service and join the queue at the door.

Once inside, we took our seats just a few feet from the choir stalls; the light was fading outside and as it did the colours of the huge stained glass windows softened and dissolved into blackness leaving the chapel lit by dozens of candles. The choir quietly processed through the archway under the organ screen and took their places . . . then the service began. We, the congregation, each had our laminated service cards with very precise instructions when to stand, sit, kneel, turn to face the altar. It was a well rehearsed operation – they've done it many times before – just for a few centuries.

Our eyes became accustomed to the darkness so we could see the lacy fan vaulting high above and the choristers' faces as they concentrated hard on following the music . . . 'Erkenne mich, mein Hüter' by Bach; the responses set by Byrd; Psalms 86 set by Atkins and 88 by Colborne; the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis again by Byrd; and finally the anthem 'In the midst of life' by Purcell.

It was sublime! It was like a meditation, so relaxing and uplifting. Where else can you just walk in for free and hear a 45 minutes of the best choral music in the world!? Just marvelous!

So, how do you follow that then? We met Cliff in The Eagle, one of the oldest of Cambridge's many pubs – frequented in the past by RAF pilots in WWII and Watson and Crick when they were mulling over the structure of DNA; and had a drink before walking around the corner to Fitzbillies for supper . . . which definitely didn't disappoint!

Celia, with thanks to Matron for an excuse for a great day.


  1. Lovely photos; I thought the garden was the Botanic Gardens in Oxford at first. I am going to put Cambridge on my map for the future after seeing these.

    Ah, if only I had my butter like this instead of out of a plastic carton.

  2. It sounds as though you had a lovely day. I've never been to evensong at Kings but used to go to it in St Johns regularly when my friend was studying there (about 28 years ago now?!). We had a lovely trip to Cottenham and found the veg stall too. Had a little drive around for nostaglia as well!

  3. I think you did all my very favourite local things in one day! Next time I have a free day I shall ask you to plan my itinerary ;-)

  4. What a lovely photographic record of a great day out.
    (Just noted the captcha below that I have to negotiate before I can post my comment- rather appropriate I think!
    'Sowing acdamp'
    Have you sowed your acdamp yet?!!!)

  5. I'm wondering if I can manage to squeeze in a quickie to Cambridge...I haven't had a Fitzbillies bun for four decades!

  6. You are a very fine tour guide, Celia. I clicked over to have a look at Matron's site, and became even more restless in my status as a city apartment dweller, where even the window sill garden opportunities are challenged by the hissing nearby radiators.

    I so loved those intertwined fruit tree branches!

    How I would love to wander into Kings and hear that music. I've been lucky enough to have been there a few times around midday and enjoyed some practice sessions. (The Christmas Eve BBC broadcasts of the Lessons and Carols annually bring my eyes to tears.)

    I mean to also send you an email.


  7. Well of course I'm green with envy now! I haven't had a holiday or any kind of break in a very long time and I long for a day such as you describe. I shall just have to live vicariously through your wonderful post, and maybe pop a bit of choral music on the i-player x

  8. I feel a day out in Cambridge coming on. I'll pop back to this for a guide when I do.

  9. Anything post which refers to kitchen gardens makes me happy and this one was really lovely.

    You always make me feel as if I should be living where you're living.


    ps The cheque's in the post and I've linked to your blog tonight.

    Sorry I've been so scatty. Things have been hectic here too.

  10. Sometimes the only way to see your local area is through the eyes of a visitor, otherwise we never get round to it! I've always wanted a walled garden with peach trees trained up red brick, beautiful!
    P x

  11. What a fantastic day. I might have to fit a visit to Cambridge into my plan to drive the huge number of miles from north wales to Essex to see Beth Chatto's garden. you have really whetted my appetite!


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