The Vikings and the City of York

I was looking for some inspiration to write about and my grandson mentioned that he was playing a video game about Vikings.  He wanted to know if Vikings played any part in the culture of England.  Well, there it was, the inspiration I was looking for.  Vikings and the city of York.

I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, ‘I have no interest in Vikings’.  And when you think of Great Britain, you might think of Queen Elizabeth, Buckingham Palace, Cornish Pasties, Afternoon Tea, even Harry Potter, but Vikings?  I doubt it.  In fact, I’d be quite certain Vikings don’t  come to mind at all.  But they were a critical part of the creation and the culture of Great Britain.

Vikings, also known as Norsemen, came from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, around 800 A.D.  Why they came to Britain, no one is really sure.  They had all the rich land they needed for their growing population in these Scandinavian countries.  But they came, nonetheless.  Some historians believe it was because of overpopulation in their country.  Others think it was to acquire wealth and power, all of which was happening throughout Asia and Europe.  Britain had already established a very lucrative trade with other countries and the Vikings knew this.  Britain was also within a reasonable journey by sea, and, as an island, could be easily conquered.  The attraction to conquer this wealthy and powerful land and leave the threat of their overreaching local chieftains could possibly have been the driving force.

The Vikings did not come peaceably.  They came to conquer and control, which, according to world history, was apparently the thing to do at that time.  Charlemagne had conquered Germany.  The Muslims took control of Spain.  Now the Norsemen were coming across the sea to take over Britain.

The first raid was in 793 A.D. where they plundered a monastery on the tiny island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. (The Lindisfarne monastery will be a topic of discussion on another day.)  The Vikings quickly learned that monasteries were an easy target.  Most of the monasteries lined the coastline  and were manned by unarmed, unprotected monks who chose to live in remote, isolated areas.  Also, monasteries were keepers of great wealth, from silver plates and bowls to gold chalices and crucifixes, to elaborate manuscripts and bibles, not to mention stores of wine and fine textiles.  The Vikings hit the jackpot!  And so began the siege of monasteries by the Vikings throughout Scotland, Ireland and northern England.

Setting up a vast trade network from Dublin to Istanbul, the Vikings devised a scheme where, after plundering the monasteries of their priceless goods, they would sell these irreplaceable items back to the church.  In effect, creating up a very profitable blackmail operation.  Over the next hundred years, their massive fleets began arriving along the coast of Britain.  Now known as the Great Heathen Army, under the leadership of the fearless Halfdane and ruthless Ivar the Boneless, they marched across the land taking every city and defeating every force used against them.

With their newly-gained wealth, the Vikings or Norsemen continued the takeover and started to send for their families. They saw potential in colonizing this land, and established settlements.  It is estimated that, at this time, around 200,000 people left Scandinavia and settled in, not only Great Britain, but also parts of Russia, Iceland, Newfoundland and even France and Italy.  These Scandinavians were not learned men.  They were warriors, explorers, skilled craftsmen, boat-builders and traders, farmers and fishermen. They were not historiographers and left very little in written form of their activities.  Thankfully, other countries documented their arrival, take over and unrelenting tyranny.

Over the next three hundred years, the armies continued to raid and loot, destroying the large regions of the country and forced the English lords to begin collecting money for them.  This became, in fact, the first known universal tax in England.  The Vikings settled in Ireland as well as England establishing colonies throughout each country, but when they captured York in 867 A.D. (Viking name of Yorvik), they decided to make that city their capital, thus beginning the Viking Age.

Let’s fast forward a thousand years to 1972.  That was the year when Lloyds Bank in York decided to excavate.  It was a small dig led by the York Archaeological Trust.  Findings from this dig showed layer upon layer of organic remains from clothing and shoes to preserved seeds and plants, to human and animal bones and building materials.  All undeniable proof that an ancient civilization lay below the surface.

Over the next five years, the excavation site grew and grew.  With the help of students from all over the world, and even inmates on day release, professional and local archaeologists uncovered the most remarkable discoveries about the Viking Age.  From this site, we learned how the Viking people lived … what they ate, what they did for a living, what goods they sold.  Over 40,000 artefacts were found and catalogued.

What we learned from these important findings was how much the Vikings contributed to the culture of Britain … things we take for granted even today.  The most notable was with language.  Many names, towns, roads, etc. originated from the Norse language.  But it was more than names, commonplace words that we all use today are full of Norse words.  (See below).

Of course, the Vikings weren’t all warriors … although quite a few were.  Most were actually just ordinary people, like you and me, who spent their days taking care of their farms and families.  Quite a few intermarried with the British and eventually assimilated within the culture.  All of this we learned from this incredible excavation.

But now the question was ‘what to do with all this information and these historic objects’.  The obvious answer was to create a museum, but the York Archaeological Trust wanted something more.  They wanted a heritage site where visitors could interact with their findings.  What they came up with has been a masterful way of showcasing the Viking story.  They created a ‘Disneyland-like’ attraction where visitors would sit in moveable cars which would then travel around a reenactment of a Viking village, giving the visitor an up-close example of Viking life.  I know … I know … it sounds as if it could be a tacky, childish amusement park ride.  But …

… after three years, utilizing the experienced talents of designers, architects, sculptors, taxidermists, leather workers, silversmiths, and construction experts, The Jorvik Viking Center opened.  This is a world-class interactive museum experience, which I highly recommend.  However, it didn’t stop there.  Research continued and has fueled an expansion of the Viking Center.  With state-of-the-art technology, you can now travel back in time to a more authentic experience, and then fast forward to the excavation site as it was found in 1976.  This experience, in addition to a new gallery displaying the artefacts found at that excavation, putting them in context to how they would have been used, makes for a total immersion in the Viking way of life.

And to think this Viking experience is available to you in the medieval city of York is a real treat.  From the many medieval carvings, to The Shambles, the City Walls, and the Micklegate Bar, I believe the 2,000 year old city of York is the most photographed city in all of Great Britain.  It has won so many awards … in 2007 York was voted European Tourism “City of the Year”.  In 2010 York was voted ‘safest place to visit’ and in 2018 it earned the title “Best Place to Live” in Britain.  When you combine the city’s heritage, architecture, hi-tech and lo-tech experiences, destination restaurants, and, of course, combine that with the Jorvik Viking experience, I have no doubt you’ll agree that this city is worth visiting.

And, maybe the next time you think of Great Britain, you might actually think of Vikings!

Some Viking words we use today:
Arm: Arm    Bag: Bagg  Cake: Kaka  Child: Bairn  Club: Klubba  Die: Deyja  Egg: Egg  Fellow: Félagi  Freckle: Freknur  Guest: Gestr  Husband: Húsbónd  Knife: Knifr  Knot: Knutr  Lad: Ladd  Law: Lagu  Loose: Lauss  Mistake: Mistaka  Plow: Plogr  Race: Rás  Raise: Reisa  Rot: Rót  Saga: Saga  Same: same  Scarf: Skarfr  Sky: Ský  Slaughter: Slahtr  Steak: Steik  Sick: Syk  Sister: Systir  Take: Taka  Troll: Troll  Trust: Traust  Ugly: Uggligr  Valkyrie: Valkyrja  Viking: Vikingr  Want: Vanta  Weak: Veikr  Window: Vindauga

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References:  HistoryHit, Jorvik Viking Centre, About History, History.org, Wikipedia, Nordic Culture, Trip Savvy,
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Happy “WOMEN’S CHRISTMAS” or “NOLLAIG NA MBAN”

Celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on January 6th, is Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan as it is called in Ireland (pronounced Null-ug na Mon).  Some of us might know this date as the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when Christians believe the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child.  But in Ireland, especially in Cork and Kerry, this day is also known as Women’s Christmas.

Although it began in the 18th century, the tradition of Women’s Christmas is still strong in western Ireland.  Irish men, realizing the hard work it took their tireless spouses to organize the meals, the gifts, the decorating and the get-togethers with family and friends, took on all the household duties for the day – cooked, cleaned and looked after the children.  The mothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters then left all the chores behind and went out to celebrate.  For some it may have been a house party or a quiet tea with friends.  For others, it may have been a night out at a public house.  Some choose to exchange gifts, others not.  One thing was for certain though, and that is women were expected to rest.  An article from the Irish Times in 1998 joked that even God rested on the seventh day, Irish women didn’t stop until the twelfth!

There’s also another very old Gaelic saying: “Nollaig na bhfear, Nollaig Mhor Maith, Nollaig na mBan, Nollaig gan Mhaith” … which, if taken literally, means “Men’s Christmas is a fine big Christmas, Women’s Christmas is a no-good Christmas”.  Perhaps a little ‘mean spirited’, but I think there may be some truth to it.  Even today, leading up to Christmas, women have been budgeting, baking, wrapping, roasting, decorating and negotiating each and every aspect of the holiday season.  After all the days of celebrating, every woman should get to go out for a wee celebration of her own.

Celebrating Nollaig Na mBan at Peter Devine’s Irish Pub.

According to Irish scholar, Alan Titley, the long-standing tradition of Nollaig na mBan was very common in the west of Ireland. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas they spent it on themselves.”  Men would brave the unknown and look after the home and children while women would steal away for a few hours in each other’s homes or the local pub to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Interestingly, it was only after 1958 when women were allowed to go into pubs in Ireland without the accompaniment of a man.  Before then, January 6th was the only day of the year when women were allowed into pubs.  Previously, a woman had to be chaperoned by a man, be he husband, brother, father or uncle.  And God help those who may have dared to enter this male-dominated domain without a chaperone.  Their reputation was sullied forever.  But one day a year, on Women’s Christmas, they would enter this domain unaccompanied and without shame.  Together these hard-working women would pool the few shillings they had been saving and, sitting in “the snug,” they would drink stout and eat sandwiches. 

Why have I not heard of Women’s Christmas before?  I’ve since learned that it is followed in parts of Scotland, Canada, Australia, and Puerto Rico, wherever large groups of Irish have emigrated.  But why hasn’t this tradition been adopted here in the U.S.?  We are working as hard as ever.  We may be better educated than we were 100 years ago and we may not be cutting the turf, or slaughtering the chickens, but we don’t stop from morning til night.  Many of us are single parents, raising a family on one income.  Or perhaps we’re taking care of sick or elderly family members while having an all-consuming career.  It is a fact that working mothers spend more time on work, household labor, and child care than fathers.  I think its about time we strengthened this important Irish tradition, which celebrates women and all that we do.

Let’s get together … sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers … all the women in your family, your town or workplace.  Gather together and celebrate Women’s Christmas!  It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.  It just has to be!

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References:  Wikipedia, IrishwomenonCovington Travel, Ireland Fun Facts, The Independent, Irish Central,

 

DUNDEE CAKE

I know, I know … Fruit Cake, the most hated cake in the world!  I’ve heard all the jokes . . .

“only good as a door stop”
“found one in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible”
… “advice is like fruit cake, something everyone gives, but no one wants
… “a cake made during the holidays that’s heavier than the oven it was baked in

but I LOVE fruit cake.  There I said it!  And this Scottish classic is one of my favorites.  Why?  Because it is made with sweet, thick orange marmalade, giving it a wonderful orangey flavor.  And to be an ‘authentic’ Dundee cake, the marmalade should be made with Seville oranges from Spain.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seville, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the over 40,000 orange trees which line the streets.  At times, the trees are bursting with so much fruit, the streets are just littered with these brightly-colored orbs.

Sometimes referred to as ‘bitter orange’, the Seville orange originated in China and was among the many foods and spices traded along the spice route.  These trees were eventually cultivated in Spain and Portugal around the 10th century.  Interestingly, these oranges aren’t really eaten in Spain.  More than 15,000 tons are shipped to Great Britain each year.

How did the oranges end up in Dundee, Scotland?  Because of a storm at sea!  A Spanish cargo ship carrying goods and produce crashed into the rugged coastline in Dundee.  Among the many goods on the ship were oranges.  The oranges were ruined and couldn’t be sold, but a local  merchant, James Keiller, bought the load at a discounted price.  Keiller already sold jams in his shop and incorporated the oranges, fruit, pith and peel, into the recipe.  Food historians say it was his mother, Janet Keiller, who then took the marmalade and used it in a fruit cake, now known as the Dundee cake.

Keiller was the first to successfully commercialize his brand of marmalade using these bitter oranges and is responsible for the popularity of Scotland’s sweet breakfast treat.  When the British Trademark Registry Act came into existence in 1876, Keiller’s Dundee Orange Marmalade was one of the first brands to be formally registered.  In the 1920s, Keiller’s was purchased by Crosse & Blackwell, a name with which most of us are familiar.  That company was then sold to another very familiar name in the jam and preserves industry, Robertson’s.

Other historians say the Dundee cake is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s who didn’t care for traditional fruit cakes with all the glacéd fruits and cherries.  To please the Queen, her royal baker then made a cake which only had raisins, almonds and the bitter Seville oranges.  But the timelines vary too much for me.  The Dundee cake is made with orange marmalade which seems to have been created 100 years after Mary Queen of Scots would have enjoyed it.  Although marmalade has  been around since Roman times, it was almost always made with quince and honey, as a way of preserving the fruit.  The name “marmalade” actually originates from the Portuguese word “marmelo” or quince.  Believed to be the first published recipe for orange marmalade was found in a cookbook written by Eliza Cholmondeley in 1677.

However this spice cake came to be, by the 19th century, the Dundee cake was served in tea rooms across Great Britain and was the dessert of choice for  Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.  As with many ‘historical’ foods, an application has been filed by Dundee bakers for protected status for this spice cake with the EU.  The bakers’ hope is to keep this centuries old cake from becoming a cheap imitation of the original.  Let’s hope the rights are granted.

If you’re a fan of OUTLANDER, I’m sure Claire and Jamie would’ve eaten a few of these almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during their time at Lallybroch.  I may not be a time traveler, but I am a fruit cake lover.  And, if you are too, I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this classic fruit cake over the holidays.  Its perfect with a steaming hot cuppa!!

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References:  Walkers, Wikipedia, Food List, 196 flavors, IFoodTV, Daily Record, Scotsman Food and Drink, Andalucia
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THE MOULD RUNNERS

I believe most of us have a few cherished heirloom plates, bowls or cups in our cupboard which may have been handed down from loved ones, or which caught our eye in an antique shop, or even a thrift store.  From the shelf they call out to us with their beauty, their intricate design or depth of color.  We turn them over to inspect the maker’s mark.  Who was the potter?  When was it made?  Could it be a highly-desirable collectible?

Admittedly, I have also sold quite a few pieces on EBay, but I also have quite a few pieces with which I will not part.  Do I bring them out when guests come over?  No … but I love to display them, inspect them and wonder what story lies behind their manufacture.  I conjure up images of a romantic industry of rugged, muscular potters, each in their drafty factories, sitting at their wheel throwing  on a rough ball of clay and shaping it until the clay morphs into the symmetrical shape the potter had intended, creating the stunning pieces we have come to revere.

What I’ve never thought about was how could these individual potters produce thousands of pieces of pottery, in the over 300 factories located in the six-town area which made up the “pottery district” of Stoke-on-Trent.  It had to have taken hundreds if not thousands of people, working continuously, to keep up with the demand of the Victorian era.  Who were these people?

Burleigh Ware Factory, Middleport, England 1888

Sadly, the majority of people who worked in the potteries were children.  Some as young as five or six … with most children in the area employed by the age of eight.  Why?  Because children were cheap.  Most of the factory owners saw nothing wrong with children working to run errands, carry raw materials, and provide power for the potters machines.

Of course, adults were employed too by the factories, quite often the children’s parents.  The adults were paid on a ‘piece-meal’ basis, which meant their earnings were dependent on how many saleable pieces they actually produced, but not the children.  The children were the ‘batters’, the ‘jiggers’ and worst of all, ‘mould runners’.

For individual pieces, a typical potter or thrower would need three helpers … one to actually turn the wheel, one to cut the clay into the right-size balls, and another to carry the finished pieces to the stove or kiln where they would be fired.  As the demand grew, more and more pottery was made using molds.  The plate-maker or presser would press the balls of clay into a plaster mold while it was spinning on a ‘jigger’ wheel.  The plate-maker also required three helpers … a ‘jigger’ turner, a ‘batter’ to prepare the clay, and finally a ‘mould runner‘ who would take the plaster molds, each with clay plates on them and then run the molds to the stove buildings.

The young boy would place the molds on the shelves in the oven rooms, and then pick up two dried molds with plates on them and run back.  This would continue for 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week, with Sundays off.

Many of the children worked much longer hours because they were expected to be in the factories before the adults arrived in order to have the fires lit, the water brought in, and the clay ready for the potters.  Working a 72-hour week for an eight or ten-year old was commonplace.  And many employers saw nothing wrong with this.  Let’s not forget that, at the end of the day, the children then had to walk home, sometimes two to three miles.  Because of the long work days, children could not attend school, most never learning to read or write.  If they did, it was through Sunday school.

Of course, there were  many other dangerous jobs being done by young children in the potteries including carrying 60 lb. baskets of clay up to the workshops … or working in the 100 degree oven rooms … stacking the earthenware to be fired and then bringing it out again when finished … but the most dangerous of all jobs at the factories was dipping the fired pots into the liquid glaze which contained raw lead.  Needless to say, mistakes by tired children happened often.  But these would not be tolerated … the children would be beaten, or not allowed to take their meal breaks.

I’m sure , by now, you’re asking yourself how could the parents allow their children to work under these circumstances.  Because poverty was everywhere and families needed every penny they and their children could earn, regardless of how dirty or dangerous the work.   And ‘pennies’ were just about what they did earn.


During Victorian times, children not only worked in the potteries and factories, they worked in the mines, as chimney sweeps, as ‘ratters’ and even as ‘pickpockets’ as we’ve learned from Charles Dickens novel, OLIVER TWIST.  In 1840 a commission was set up to inquire into the state of employed children.  Adults and children were interviewed by the Commissioner in 1841 as were employers, religious leaders and school teachers.

This is an interview with Robert Hood, age 10:

“I run moulds for father; have been employed three years for Mr. Hood.  I cannot read; I cannot write; never went to day school ; I go to Sunday school. My father is a saucer- maker; he is always in work; don’t know how much he gets a week; but I get 3s.

Have no mother. Have one sister and one brother. My sister stops at home to look after house; she cannot read. My brother goes to school, but he is young yet. I go home to breakfast, and have milk-meat ; and go home to dinner, when I get bacon and tatees.

I like my work very well; would like to work in the warehouse better, cause they are paid there for working till nine, and I am not; I think ours harder: and get so much a day. I am always very tired when I go home at night, get my supper, and be glad enough to go to bed. 

‘Tis very hot in the mould-room, and a good deal hotter in summer; it makes us sweat, and we drink plenty of water. I catch cold very often, but have never been laid up with it. Father flogs me some-times, if I let go a mould or break a saucer ; nobody else. Master is very good to me.”

Reformers like Lord Shaftesbury were very worried about children at work, and he, and other politicians tried to change the laws in the “Factory Acts” so that children under nine were not permitted to work, and that they must have schooling.  But potteries were not classified as factories until the 1860s.  Unfortunately, changes did not happen as quickly as they should have and as recently as WWII children under the age of 16 were still finding work in the potteries.

So, the next time I pick up that Wedgewood, Burleigh Ware or Royal Doulton figurine or plate, I’ll be thinking about the young boy or girl slogging away in the potteries for pennies a week to bring home to their families, for their not having the opportunity to go to school, or even to play with other children.  I won’t romanticize about brawny potters creating magnificent pieces of porcelain, but rather the “mould runners” without whom I wouldn’t be holding that plate.

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References:  Wikipedia, BBC – Staffordshire Potteries, Fun Kids Live, The PotteriesVictorian Children

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GINGERBEAD – THE RECIPE

Just a few months ago I posted a blog titled “Gingerbread“.  In case you think I might be losing my mind, I’m not (hopefully), this blog is about making (and eating) Gingerbread.  If you want to know the origins of how this exotic spice became such an important part of the culture in Great Britain, please click on this link … GINGERBREAD.  It will give you all the background you’ve ever wanted to know about ginger and the making of this confection.  Meanwhile, I’m actually making my own moist, dense, rich ‘GINGERBREAD‘.

As always, before making any recipe, I go through all my cookbooks (of which I have more than I can count) as well as check all the internet foodie blogs to find the ‘best of the best’ recipes.  Some recipes were more like a light, fluffy spice cake with cream cheese frosting.  Not what I was looking for at all.  What I wanted was an old-fashioned, dense, rich cake-like bread.  It should be easily held in your hand, not requiring a plate.  It should be packed full of peppery ‘ginger’ flavor … not cinnamon, cloves or allspice.  It should be moist … not dry.  And, most of all, it should be delicious.

I’ve tried more recipes than I want to admit.  And culled from a few different recipes, here is MY favorite by far.  It is quite easy to make, but it’s not for the timid.  It’s for ginger lovers everywhere.  If you want more or less ginger, feel free to adjust the quantities.

GINGERBREAD
Bake at 350°  Makes one large round bundt pan, or two or more loaf pans.

3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup cane syrup, or corn syrup or honey
1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground ginger (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup full-fat milk
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

About an hour before you want to make the Gingerbread, combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:  Cubed butter, vegetable oil, water, molasses, brown sugar, golden syrup or honey.  Simmer over low heat until the butter is melted, the sugar has dissolved and everything is well combined.

Cool completely before adding this mixture to the dry ingredients.  It should be just warm to the touch.  If you want to cool this mixture quickly, set the pan into a bowl of ice water.

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare your baking pans – a large round pan, or as many smaller pans as you’d like.  Grease well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients:  flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, ground ginger and cinnamon.

In a separate, smaller bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, milk and grated ginger.

When the syrup mixture has cooled, add it slowly to the dry ingredients.  Blend well, but don’t beat.  Then add the egg/milk/ginger combination to the batter.  Again, be sure to  blend well, but be sure not to overbeat the batter.  Low speed on an electric mixer is fine.  You don’t want to build up the gluten.

Pour the batter into the greased pan(s) and bake.  Depending upon the pan size and shape, it could take between 45 and 60 minutes.  Check for doneness when a tester comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Then put on the kettle and don’t be afraid to dive in.  It freezes well if you want to wrap it tightly in foil.  Or it will keep nicely in the frig for a week, wrapped in cling film.

Dense, gingery and moist.  I love this Gingerbread warm with a dusting of powered sugar and a big mug of tea!   This is perfect for the holidays.  Keep one on hand ready to serve for anyone who drops by … or just make to enjoy all by yourself!!
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THE PILGRIMS … THE PLANTATION

I’ve visited the Plimoth Plantation many times, but it had been a few years since my last visit.  Recently, having been housebound because of Covid, all of us needed a bit of stimulation.  So after picking up the grandkids, off we went to experience, once again, the living history museum replicating where the Pilgrims first settled.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the pioneers who came to America for religious freedom, its a fascinating tale of how people, feeling so strongly about their need to make their own decisions, felt forced to leave the only country they had ever known and a life where everything was very familiar to them, and risk everything for what they believed.  Their journey, however, was far more difficult and complex than we were taught in school.

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In England in the late 16th century, a group of people, who had finally come to the decision that the Church of England was not a true church, banded together and formed a “separate” congregation.  Then, after years of persecution, in 1608 (twelve years before sailing for the new world), more than 300 of these Separatists left England and settled in Holland, a much more religiously tolerant country.  But, as foreigners, regardless of their wealth or previous positions, they were all forced into accepting the most menial of jobs and living in squalid conditions.  Prejudices against this group were evident everywhere.  Even more abhorrent to these Separatists was the fact that their children were becoming “Dutch”.

These people were families, laymen, farmers with no prior experience for what lay ahead.  What they did have was a powerful connection and belief in God.  Going to the New World was not, however, going to be as easy as they originally thought.  They needed a strong leader, a sound ship, an experienced captain and crew, and funding.  Also, negotiations had to be made with England giving these settlers the right to establish a colony in a world which England had already claimed.

Now ready for their adventure, in May of 1619 the Separatists began preparing for their voyage.  After accumulating all the necessary provisions, fishing supplies, tools, clothing and food, on three different occasions they were duped by ‘carpetbaggers’ who took advantage of their naivety.  After months of disappointment and frustration, running out of resources and time,  they somehow continued to forge ahead.

Finally, in July of 1620, leaving many of the original Separatists behind, the remaining Pilgrims sailed from Holland to Southampton England, on board the Speedwell.  This ship proved to be ‘as leaky as a sieve’ with water spouting through every plank.  Many of them had, by this time, lost everything and were willing to abandon their quest.  After trying three more times to set sail, they put in at Plymouth as the Speedwell went in for repairs.  The weeks turned into months.  Time was running out and if they didn’t leave immediately, they’d have to wait until Spring.

Then finally on September 6th, after twelve long years, having given up on the Speedwell and now on board an older, much-smaller, cargo ship known as the “May floure“, 50 of the original 320 Separatists, along with 52 others, set out for the two month, 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Although our visit to this historic re-enactment village was much-needed, it was both a good and disheartening  visit, as the effects of Covid were evident everywhere.  Yes, it was still the authentic reproduction of the first village the Pilgrims had created when they came to start their new life in America.  Seven timber-framed, thatch-roofed cottages on either side of the dirt road, each encased by a roughly-hewn wooden fence surrounding their modest kitchen gardens.  But, everything needed a little bit of love, as the homes, the grounds, the gardens were all showing signs of wear and tear.  Since Covid, attendance is practically none existent, and the subsequent lack of income is starting to show.


The characters are still authentic in their dress and their interaction with visitors.  None were ‘tripped up’ when we asked about current events.  But there were just a few.  In the past, each tiny cottage would have had a ‘goodwife’ preparing a meal at the open hearth, or tending to the kitchen garden, eager to share with you their recipes or what herbs were best for chilblains.  Children would have been tending the pigs, or rolling barrel staves down the hill.  The men would have been standing guard at the fort, or mending the thatch on a roof.  It was truly an interactive experience.

Now the houses are roped off . . . no entrance allowed.  You may ‘look’ in, but not enter.  Just six short months ago, visitors could go into each home, sit on a chair by the hearth, sample the homemade butter, learn how to card wool.  The children could put on period clothing, lie on the straw-filled mattresses, climb the rickety ladder to the loft.  Visitors once came from all over the country, and the world, to experience how these pioneers lived and survived in the 1600s.  For some, they may never get the chance to visit again.  What a shame, it can’t be experienced the way it was meant to be.

Erinn sewing homesite

The Wampanoag village is still there, in its entirety.  Here, you can enter the mat-covered wetu (house), and the bark-covered nush wetu (large house) where an entire family would live.  And, a male member of the Wampanoag tribe was in full dress, busy burning the inside of a pine log to create a mishoon (canoe).  He was lean, proud and eager to answer any and all questions and share unknown facts about how his ancestors lived at that time.  But … the mask!  It was so distracting … and so difficult for the little ones to hear and understand.  Was it really necessary?  I guess so, but the few visitors who were there were very respectful, keeping the required distance from each other.

Plimoth Plantation really can transport you back to another time.  It can give you an appreciation of what life was truly like for these brave people.  I know there is an aggressive campaign to raise funds for the recent restoration of the Mayflower II, the on-going educational programs, as well as to help cover the ever-increasing operational costs.  I’m also aware that the museum is growing and wants to provide new residences for interns and a research center, but it just seems to me, that the main attraction “The Plantation” is being neglected and perhaps care and attention should be given to it before some of these other projects.

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References:  History, MAYFLOWER by Nathaniel Philbrick, Ancient History, Plimoth Plantation,

LAPSANG SOUCHONG

Lapsang Souchong, the tea that infuses fear and terror into the most seasoned tea drinkers.  But why?

This time of year my tastes change and I begin looking for deeper, darker, richer flavors – regardless of what foods it might be.  Light, refreshing salads are gone from my table to be replaced by hearty soups and stews.  The seasons have changed.  The sun sets earlier and earlier every day.  The days are cooler and quite often damp and at night I just want to curl up with a good book, a blanket  . . .  and a cup of Lapsang Souchong!

Have you ever been camping  . . .  especially in the Fall?  Is there anything more comforting and inviting than a campsite on a cool October morning when someone has just started the fire for breakfast  . . . or in the evening after a day of hiking and the smoky fire just envelops you.  You can’t help but be drawn to it.  The billows of heady, smoke that comes from a fire is so welcoming.  That same smoky flavor gets imparted into our food (and sometimes into our clothing) and we love it.  So why then do so many tea drinkers say “no thank you” to a cuppa Lapsang Souchong!

Lapsang Souchong … I just love the name!  It’s exotic, unique, rhythmic.  The name comes from the Chinese Fuzhou dialect combining “la” or “pine” and “sang” or “wood” with the size of the leaf, “souchong“, which is the largest or  third leaf in a fine pluck.  The trade name for this tea then became Lapsang Souchong or “smoky, piney large leaf” tea.

This  dark, rich black tea is said to have originated in the Wuyi Mountains of China, as so many distinguished teas have.  The legends about how this tea originated are many.  The one I like most says that during the Qing dynasty in the early 17th century, the Wuyi area was overrun with Manchu soldiers who were terrorizing the local villagers.  The tea growers were already selling teas to the Dutch by that time.  Gathering all their belongings to flea this invasion and not knowing how long they were going to be gone, the farmers quickly dried their tea leaves over open fires in order to speed up the drying process.   Throwing the tea leaves into sacks, they were then able to bury the sacks of teas to keep the soldiers from getting them.  When the farmers returned to their village, they found that their teas were dark and had a smoky flavor . . . ruined, or so they thought.  But to their surprise, not only did they preserve the tea leaves, the Dutch buyers actually liked the flavor better.

The truth, however, is that the Dutch had been importing Lapsang Souchong or bohea tea since long before then.  By the time the East India Company began trading in tea, Lapsang Souchong, was already being drunk in Europe . . .  and happened to be Princess Catherine of Braganza’s favorite tea.  It was, in fact, this Portuguese Princess who is credited with making tea the sought-after beverage of aristocrats in England.   Catherine had grown up drinking tea in Portugal, and in 1662, when she was betrothed to British Prince Charles, along with her other possessions was a chest of tea.  Then, as Queen Consort of England, she helped promote tea into upper-class society with her much-sought-after afternoon tea parties.

Loose Leaf Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong is available everywhere, on supermarket shelves, through Amazon and from your local tea purveyor.  If you are still unsure about whether or not you might like it, do yourself a favor and invest in the best quality you can find.  There are  ways to produce Lapsang Souchong, which I really don’t want to get into, using artificial smoke flavorings and additives, but you can still find high-quality Lapsang Souchong made the traditional way . . .  in China, in wooden smoking sheds.

After plucking, the large leaves are heated and rotated every 20 minutes until they are pliable.  They are then rolled and, after panfrying, are placed into wooden barrels and covered with canvas, until they are copper in color and have a pleasant fragrance.  The next step is to spray the tea leaves with water, place them into baskets over smoking pine fires to dry and absorb the smoke flavor.  Controlling the withering, oxidation as well as the amount and timing of smoke is critical to producing a great Lapsang Souchong.  A tea which I love.

In the culinary world, the complex piney flavor of Lapsang is a great flavor enhancer.  Add it as an ingredient in marinades or in your next dry rub for meats or fish, or toss a teaspoon into a pot of stew.  The richness and depth of flavor it imparts is wonderful.  Even vegetarian recipes can benefit from a bit of Lapsang Souchong.

Here are a couple of ideas for you.  For a dry rub, mix one tablespoon salt, 3 tablespoons each of brown sugar, paprika and Lapsang Souchong with 2 teaspoons black pepper and ground cumin.  Grind them all in a mill and keep in a closed jar in the cupboard until you’re ready to use.  Or try infusing olive oil with this tea to be used in marinades or to dress vegetables or fish – 2 teaspoons crushed Lapsang into 4 oz. of olive oil, let sit for a week or two and then strain out the tea leaves.  Wonderful!

But, of course, I divert from what is the best way to experience this dark, piney, smoky-flavored tea and that is in your cup!  Steep with boiling water for approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  No milk, no sugar, just hot, comforting and wonderful!!  And should you want to experience this full-bodied brew for yourself, I can recommend the following tea purveyors:

The Larkin Tea Company
Mrs. Kelly’s Teas
The Cozy Tea Cart
Upton Teas
The Tea House

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References:  Wikipedia, Vicony Teas, Boston Tea Party, New World Encyclopedia, Greenhalge,

A STOVE, RANGE, HOB, OR COOKER?

Whatever you call it, you can’t live without it … and we just got a new one.  But, I had no idea it was going to be such a challenging purchase.  Assuming you have a specific size and know you need it to be fueled by gas or electricity (or do you want duel-fuel), you then have to decide between a cooktop, built-in, free-standing, drop-in or slide-in range.  Now, if you want an electric stove, do you want coil or induction?  If its gas, how many btu’s do you need?  How many burners?  A standard 4 or maybe 6?  Or how about a built-in griddle that doubles as two burners?

Then, of course, comes the design … do you want the controls in the front or the back?  Or would you prefer a touch screen?  What about baking … conventional or convection?  How many oven compartments do you want?  Do you want them to cook at the same or different temperatures?  Do you want a broiler drawer, warming drawer or storage drawer?  What about a temperature probe?  And we haven’t even started to talk about finishes …

It was so confusing … but what I really wanted was a classic, cast-iron English AGA cooker.  I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with this icon of a cooker.  For over 100 years, the AGA has commanded attention in most English kitchens, from the largest manor houses to the more modest cottages.  Chefs including Marco Pierre White, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry wouldn’t think of cooking on anything else.  Jamie Oliver said AGAs “make people better cooks”.   Food writer, William Sitwell, said using one was a “much more natural way of cooking”, and actor Gerard Depardieu describes his AGA simply as “fabulous”.

Although the AGA has been a British icon for decades, it was invented and originally manufactured in Sweden.  Its inventor was a Swedish physicist, Dr. Gustaf Dalén.  Dalén was a brilliant, self-taught inventor who began his impressive career managing the family farm.  His first invention was a machine to test the quality of milk.  That invention alone caught the eye of others who encouraged him to get a formal education.  Gustaf went on to earn a Masters and subsequently a Doctorate degree, earning a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1912.

Gustaf Dalen, Managing Director of AGA – 1926

Gustaf became employed by the Svenska Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator company in 1906 and within three years became Managing Director.  Dalén worked exclusively with a highly flammable and sometimes explosive hydrocarbon gas.  This hydrocarbon gas produced a bright white light perfect for illuminating lighthouses.  This important safety device for the fishing and shipping industries led the way for similar products for lighthouses . . . the Dalén Light, the Sun Valve and then the Dalén Flasher, a device which created a small pilot light, reducing gas consumption by 90%.  These inventions were a huge success and AGA lighthouses were mass- produced and sold all over the world.

Unfortunately, in 1912 during a test for one of these highly-flammable devices, an explosion occurred which caused Gustaf to lose his sight.  This physical setback did not deter him, however.  Over the course of his lifetime he had over 100 successful patented inventions . . .  his most memorable was the AGA cooker.

Although there were many styles of British ranges being used, from wood to coal fired, they tended to be dirty, time consuming and, occasionally, dangerous.  They had ovens to bake in and hot plates to simmer things on and they kept the kitchen toasty warm.  For proper venting, the ranges needed to be installed into a fireplace opening.  The biggest disadvantage was soot falling down the chimney into the food, and the amount of work it took to clean them.  The range had to be cleaned every day, carefully removing the ashes and cinders, which were still combustible.  The oven had to be swept out, and any grease which splattered needed to be scraped off.  The flue needed to be cleaned constantly.

Gustaf’s wife, Elma, was in the kitchen cooking on a typical soot-producing, dirty and sometimes very dangerous coal-fired range.  Realizing that this was not only dirty, dangerous and incredibly time consuming to use, Gustaf began conceiving a new style of cooker.  He wanted one that was clean, easy-to-use, economical and not at all dangerous.  Using the principle of heat storage, Dalén combined a heat source, two large hotplates and two ovens in one cast-iron cooker.  In doing so, he invented a range that changed the lives of cooks not only in Great Britain but all over the world.

AGA cooker. Circa 1939

Originally manufactured in Sweden, the AGA cooker wasn’t introduced to England until 1929, but it didn’t reach its height of popularity until after World War II.  During the war years, the British government used AGA cookers in feeding centers, hospitals and munitions factories, and the public fell in love with them.  After that, the demand for these cookers skyrocketed and manufacturing moved from Sweden to England . . . where they are still made today.

Over the years, as with other ranges, much has changed.  Today, depending upon the model, this massive beast of a cooker can have from two to six oven compartments, and from one to two hot plates on top (or the hob).  It is available as gas-fueled or by electricity.  You also have as many decisions to make as I’ve had to make in purchasing my new not-AGA range.  But, whichever size, model, color, options, etc. you choose, you can be sure you’ve made a lifetime purchase.


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References: Wikipedia, Cosi, House Logic, Victorian Decorating, 1900s, AGAliving,
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BLUE WILLOW

Do you have any “Blue Willow” dinnerware in your cupboards, or maybe tucked away in the attic?  The “Blue Willow” pattern in dinnerware is one of the most popular patterns ever produced.  At one time, most every household in the U.K. and U.S. had a set.  Early on, it was used only for special occasions, but then as pieces were lost or broken, damaged or chipped, it ended up relegated to the kitchen cupboards.  I know, growing up, we had a set (and I still have a few cups and saucers in my attic).

This dinnerware was not delicate porcelain or bone china, but a more sturdy, mass produced ceramic ware, with an infinite number of pieces, from salt and pepper shakers and gravy boats, to butter dishes, creamers, pitchers, teapots, etc.  Today, Blue Willow dishware continues to be very popular, but now as a highly popular collectible … even Martha Stewart boasts of having a cupboard full of antique pieces.

Although called “Blue Willow”, this nostalgic dinnerware was not always made in ‘blue’, occasionally it was also made in red or brown.  I’m sure you’ve heard the term “blue plate special” typically used in diners to indicate a great meal for a low price.  Yup, Blue Willow was the plate!

I actually remember “dish night” at the movie theaters.  A very popular promotional event where movie theaters would give away a dish to get theater goers to come in on a slow night.  If you went to the movies often enough, it was possible to collect a complete set.  In the 1970s supermarkets used this same type of promotion with “Blue Willow”, giving away a different piece each week based upon how much money you spent.  Before long, you had the complete set.  Blue Willow wasn’t the only pattern given away.  Another very popular chinaware was various scenes from Currier & Ives, as well as Blue Liberty.

You may have pieces of Blue Willow and love the detailed Asian pattern, but do you know the romantic legend behind the design?  Simply put, it is the story of a beautiful daughter of a powerful Chinese Mandarin.  The daughter fell in love with her father’s clerk, but the father felt the young man was not worthy of his daughter and erected a fence to keep the two apart.  The young man came by boat and found the young woman on a bridge looking for him.  The couple escaped and settled on an island.  The father eventually found them and ordered the young man killed.  Upon hearing this, the young woman killed herself.  The gods, touched by their love and devotion, transformed the couple into doves and they flew off into the sunset. (The original legend follows.)

Neither the pottery, nor the design, however, was made in China.  The pottery originated in the UK in 1779 by Thomas Turner at the Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire.  Turner, a creative artist, designer and engraver, took over the pottery factory in 1754 and made it into a well-respected manufacturer of fine china, specializing in finely detailed blue transferware on white plates.

Thomas Turner by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, circa 1790

This particular Chinese-inspired design was created by Thomas Minton on copper plate.  The original of which is on view at the Coalport China Museum in Shropshire.  The intricate image needed a romantic legend and so the story of the two star-crossed lovers was created.  The pottery became a huge success and wanted by everyone.  By the end of the 18th century, not only the Caughley Pottery Works made it, but several other English potteries.  Since that time, it has been determined that there have been over 400 manufacturers of Blue Willow worldwide … and still available today.  Take a look at Amazon!

If you have some of original English-made Blue Willow, it does command a hefty price at auction.  Weather you are buying or selling, turn the piece over and take a look at the potter’s mark or back stamp. There are many sites which will give you information on each mark, and if the piece is in good condition, with no chips or glazing, you may have yourself a little treasure.

~~ The Willow Legend ~~

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang, who, while he was attending to his master’s accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.

The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin’s estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water’s edge. One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water’s edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.

She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.

However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se’s room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se’s father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.

The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se’s father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned. Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky.

 

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References:  The Willow Collection, Home & Garden, Country Living, Simple Most, Food Notes, Wikipedia

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THE LAND ROVER

What a great name!  It tells you everything you need to know … for outdoor people everywhere, to go anywhere, at any time, over any sort of terrain.  And, if you are British, you either own one or you’d like to own one.  Well, my hubby doesn’t own one, but has always wanted to.  So, when I saw the Land Rover Experience while perusing activities available to us while in the U.K., I immediately booked it.

If you are unfamiliar with the Land Rover (which would surprise me), let me just say that it is probably, except for perhaps the Rolls Royce or Aston Martin, Britain’s best known automobile.  Marketed as the “go anywhere option for the farmer, the countryman and general industrial use”, it is and has been, since its introduction in 1948, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite vehicle.  Not only is this the Queen’s favorite car, it has been a favorite of other royals as well as well-known political figures and celebrities from Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Sean Connery and Paul McCartney.

Although Queen Elizabeth is not, by law, required to have a driver’s license, she did learn to drive in 1945 as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she trained as a mechanic and military truck driver.  For official engagements, she often rides in the backseat of her custom-built Bentley, but her vehicle of choice is her Land Rover.  On occasion, the Queen can still be seen navigating the streets of London, or cruising across the fields of her Balmoral Estate in her 2015 Land Rover.

Queen Elizabeth II driving a Range Rover at the International Carriage Driving Grand Prix.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

This boxy 4-wheel drive, off-road icon was actually inspired by the then American Motors Corporation’s Jeep.  The AMC Jeep, created in 1940, was designed to be an off-road army vehicle specifically to be used in WWII.  It was so popular, the Jeep became even more in demand after the war.  Designers everywhere loved the basic utilitarian look of this vehicle, calling it a “masterpiece”.

Land Rover on Jeep Chassis 1948

Maurice Wilks was chief designer at the Rover Company, a British car manufacturing company known for high-quality vehicles.  Maurice’s brother, Spencer was managing director.  Inspired by the American war vehicle, on his farm in Anglesey, Maurice and Spencer built a prototype in 1947, using a Jeep chassis, and military surplus supplies from the war.

I don’t think I need to go over the Land Rover‘s unique features and specifications, nor do I think I need to cite all its military capabilities and its combat tours with not only the British Armed Forces, but also the Australian Armed Forces.  You might be interested to know, however, road accident statistics show the Land Rover to be one of the safest cars on British roads.  But, what I do want to talk about is the Land Rover Experience.

It is one thing to buy a Land Rover.  It is quite another to know how to drive a Land Rover.  Established in 1990, Land Rover organized a network of centers throughout the world to help customers learn how to get the most out of their vehicles’ on and off-road capability.  Not only do they instruct customers in driving their cars, they also offer a fun, exciting adventure in off-road driving for those of us who do not own one of these all-terrain automobiles.

We booked the experience in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire.  Pulling up to the castle, there they were, a fleet of white vehicles all lined up and ready for you to take out.  After all the necessary paperwork, licenses, waivers, etc., we were introduced to our co-pilot and handed the keys.  Our personable instructor could not have been more experienced or a better host.  Fully versed in all the vehicles capabilities, off we went onto Mother Nature’s “track”, with our qualified co-pilot up front, hubby nervously driving and me tucked safely away in the back.

Starting the drive, you’re taken in by the beauty of the area, from dense, lush forests to open fields and pastures.  You can spot deer who perk up when they hear the automobile coming.  Pheasant and grouse dart across the terrain.  It’s quite beautiful.

The terrain was, however, challenging to say the least.  With typical British weather, the recent rains had certainly added an element of breath-taking moments, negotiating the rivulets that ran through the forest.  There were times I was sure, while balancing on a rock, that we were going to topple over, but the automobile took on each obstacle with the tenacity of a warrior.  If you want to pull over, take photos, swap drivers, that’s not a problem.  It’s your day to enjoy.  Now let’s be clear, this is not a ‘test drive in the hopes that you are going to purchase this car’ ride.  This is a bonafide adventure course with an experienced instructor who, with his guidance, takes you over some of the most difficult terrain you’ll ever come across while driving.  It was exhilarating, challenging and so much fun!

This British icon has always been ‘a car of the people’, from Royals to the dairy farmer and there are very few vehicles which can actually wear that title.  If you are traveling in England and looking for something a bit different to do, I  recommend this experience to everyone.  We chose North Yorkshire for our drive, but there are other centers around the country.  And, they offer half-day to full-day experiences.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely!  And now I’ve learned that Land Rover offers the Land Rover Experience here in the States, as well as longer adventure travel packages.  From the warm welcome to the confidence boosting off-road driving challenges, I couldn’t recommend this unique adventure more.

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References:  Jeep-Wikpedia, Cheat Sheet, CNN, LandRoverUSA, Yorkshire Experience, Wikipedia Rover,
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