An Unfriendly American Invasion

On the 23rd of April, 1778, American revolutionaries took their fight to the western coast of Britain. An audacious move.

It would have been a cold, dark evening when John Paul Jones and thirty of his men rowed into Whitehaven harbour.

Our recent visit couldn’t have been more different, with a summer sunset painting the port in soft watercolours.

Most of Whitehaven’s piers, tongues, and quays were already standing 239 years ago, and their weathered stones give the impression of age and solid steadfastness.

John Paul Jones, ‘Father of the American Navy’ was very familiar with Whitehaven and may well have walked these very routes, since it was his home port for the first season of his sailing career.  He knew the fortifications, the pattern of days, and where the watchtowers were.

In 1778, Whitehaven was the third largest port in all of England. Only London and Bristol exceeded it in size and capacity.

There were as many as 400 British merchant ships anchored there on the day American revolutionaries landed.

Their plan was to disable the port’s cannon and, while the tide was low, set fire to the ships, perhaps engulfing the town’s vast warehouses of coal, rum, sugar and tobacco.

The invaders would have shimmed up walls and across decks, feeling the effects of adrenaline, anxiety, hard physical work, and the need to go unnoticed.

Half the sailors, sent for extra fuel for the fires, were distracted by the delights of a pub and stayed for hours. (Fancy that.)  And one sailor abandoned his mates, to alert the townspeople because he didn’t want to “destroy poor people’s property.”

In spite of these things, the Americans did manage to burn one large and important ship, the Thompson,  a fine new vessel filled with coal.

Jones and his men rowed hastily to their ship, the USS Ranger, while the people of Whitehaven rushed to douse the fire before it spread beyond the Thompson.

Historians speculate that this attack on British soil fanned the fears of the British public and may have contributed to England’s losing the American colonies.

John Paul Jones became an infamous pirate and bogeyman to the British, and a brave American hero to the colonists. Such was the power of media and rumour even then.

Jones was formally pardoned by the Commissioners of the Harbour of Whitehaven on the 27th of June, 1999. Today, you’ll find a variety of pleasure craft and a few fishing vessels sheltering in the harbour.

I’ve yet to meet one American who was taught the story of John Paul Jones’ attack on Whitehaven. I’d never heard it until I moved to Cumbria myself. Curious.

So many lessons to learn from stories like this one. Not least of which is that you shouldn’t stay too long in the pub!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

 

Birthplace of a Poet

The Wordsworth House and Garden, a National Trust property near the centre of Cockermouth, is one of my favourite spots to while away a couple of hours.

The National Trust presents the house as it was in about 1770, when William Wordsworth was born there as the second of five children.

William Wordsworth is best known for I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, a poem often memorized in classrooms across the world:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

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I had garden and house almost to myself on Tuesday morning.

It’s an impressive Georgian house that stands aloof from the busy main street, all sash windows, formal garden, and solid portico.

The dining room was designed and decorated to impress. As it does, even now.

Beautiful, especially with sunlight streaming in those large windows.

There’s an approachable elegance to this house.

Jane Austen was a contemporary of Wordsworth. Can you envision her characters in these rooms?

Even as a modern day visitor, the kitchen’s crackling open fire draws you into the heart of the home. The scent is inviting too: warm spices and fresh herbs, woodsmoke and baked goods.

On every visit, there’s a tasty treat to sample. Often you’ll be offered gingerbread, oatcakes, or rum butter. Delicious.

The family’s bedrooms, though less ornamented, still enjoy the good proportions and natural light that fills this house.

Viewed through the windows along the back of the house, the enticing garden promises to be special.

And it delivers.  Such a magical feel on this summer’s day.

This garden is a lesson in restrained abundance, its carefully laid out beds filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.  New plants, like the Verbena bonariensis above (introduced in 1726), began flooding into Europe during this time period. Exciting stuff!

I could totally bore you with photos of this garden, but I will restrain myself.

You do need to see the view toward the house from the terrace above the River Cocker, though.

Today, this stately Georgian house is peopled by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and volunteers. In the kitchen, in the garden, at the harpsichord, in the shop and in the café – these folk bring a moment in history back to life and welcome you to enjoy it.

Their sense of humour is also appreciated.

A delightful place to visit.

Peace,

Herdy Girl

National Cream Tea Day 2017

Today is Friday and, more importantly, it is National Cream Tea Day here in Britain. Though it is only a minor holiday, I feel that failing to celebrate it would be rude.

The precise origin of the cream tea is unknown and disputed, especially between the two most south-westerly counties in England, Devon and Cornwall. Historians in Devon claim to have found proof of monks serving bread with clotted cream and strawberry jam amongst the eleventh century manuscripts of Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey. Definitive proof?  I think not.

I’m of the mind that, in a land blessed with good dairy cream and glistening berries, the combination of baked goods with cream and preserved fruit was eaten long before someone thought to write down the fact.

Besides, look at the variations between cream teas: Whipped double cream or clotted cream? Fruited or plain scone? Jam first (Cornwall) or cream first (Devon)? What type of jam? Tea in cups or tea in mugs?

Oh my…  There isn’t even agreement on how to pronounce the word ‘scone’. Should it rhyme with ‘gone’ or with ‘throne’?  A study by Cambridge University tells us that if you’re from The North (orange) it’s the former, which is the pronunciation I notice used by most Cumbrians.

Map showing that British pronunciation of scone is probably related purely to geographical location, as released by Cambridge University.
Image: Cambridge University

Some folk in Cornwall would say a cream tea should only be enjoyed with a traditional sweet bun called a Cornish Split, not a scone at all.   (See! It’s almost as contentious as barbecue!)

At least aficionados can all agree on one thing – Cream Teas are delicious. Make that two things – it has to be served with tea. (This is where Tavistock’s 11th century claim really fails. No tea. Sorry, Devon.)

In honour of this most delicious day, Best Beloved and I are heading to one of our favourite local spots, Syke Farm Tea Room, also home to the delectable handmade Buttermere Ayrshires Ice Creams.  (Post code CA13 9XA.)

Syke Farm, in scenic Buttermere.

Syke Farm is a working farm in Buttermere, and is owned and run by a local family.  At milking time you can watch the red-brown and white Ayrshire cows (of ice cream fame) going to the barn to be milked. And there are sure to be farm dogs around and about. Or sheep. Or chickens.

A convenient stop for walkers and day-trippers.

They offer seating inside and out. Today was a bit cloudy, so we chose inside and upstairs.

It has been a long week, and we’re ready for a relaxed bit of caloric intake!

Our view before the room filled.

Syke Farm Tearoom is dog friendly, has a wood-burning stove downstairs, and serves a good selection for breakfast, lunch and in-between times.  And the ice cream selection is ever-changing and really good.

They’re often busy, but always friendly.

They even let me take a fresh-from-the-oven photo!

Ahhh, the cream tea.  Not afternoon tea.  That is an altogether different affair requiring dainty sandwiches and pastries.  No, not today.

Today, this:

Today’s cream tea is a lightly fruited scone, clotted cream, raspberry jam, and a bright cup of loose-leaf tea.

Clotted Cream is made by heating whole milk, then letting it rest until cooled clots of cream collect on the surface and the liquid drains away. It’s considered clotted cream once there is a golden crust above and thick, silky cream below. You’ll find it rich and almost-buttery.

Testing Devon vs Cornwall styled scones.

I do have a personal preference for my cream teas. Plain scone. Cream on bottom, if clotted, or on top, if whipped.  As for jam I like something with a sweet-tartness, say damson or a sharp raspberry.

Personal partialities aside, both BB and I really enjoy the cream teas at Sykes Farm Tearoom. Especially when there is a sofa free to lounge upon, as we swirl the cares of the world away with tea and scones.  Happy days.

My half of the scone. Nearly finished off!

Right.  Cream tea enjoyed, now we’ve got to do a bit of moving about.

Happy Cream Tea Day!

Peace,

Herdy Girl