Portsmouth’s Dockyard

When hubby suggested that we visit the Portsmouth Shipyard while in England this past fall, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical.  A visit to a naval base?  My Dad worked at a naval base for years (one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in this country), so I’m quite familiar with touring historic shipbuilding facilities and what they have to offer.  I wasn’t, however, prepared for the fascinating, fun and intimidating adventure that was awaiting us.

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth

We chose to stay at a quirky little b&b along the waterfront, originally a 200-year old pub frequented by the dock workers.  The location couldn’t have been better.  We had views of the waterfront, the quay, the shipyard and the 560′ foot high Spinnaker Tower.  The weather was, what we generally refer to as, typical English … a bit grey, overcast and drizzly.  That didn’t stop us, however, from seeing all this unique little area had to offer.

Our first afternoon we visited the very touristy quay with all its fine, upscale shops and restaurants.  The next day, we took an exhilarating ride on a hovercraft, floating above the sea and traveling at 45 knots, to the beautiful Isle of Wight where we relaxed on the beach, hiked to the top of lookout cliff, ate local seafood and where I’d love to return … for more than a day.

But the reason we came here was to visit the Dockyard.  I wasn’t prepared for how pristine this working shipyard would be.  It was almost ‘elegant’ in its presentation, and a bit intimidating with its  20′ high brick walls and imposing main gate, which prevent you from seeing what lies behind the walls.

In addition to the fleets of ships and repair facilities, the entry fee gains you admittance to children’s action stations and pirate adventures, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, harbor tours, a water bus, as well as the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  The highlights, of course, are the H.M.S. Victory, the H.M.S. Warrior and the Mary Rose.  Being very familiar with “Old Ironsides”, the U.S.S. Constitution, built in 1794 and now housed at the Boston Naval Shipyard, I was most fascinated to tour the equally famous British warship, H.M.S. Victory, built for battle against the American’s War of Independence.


When you step on board the H.M.S. Victory, you get to experience the ship as it was in 1805.  Not only can you inspect every nook and cranny of this fascinating vessel, observing where the sailors and officers ate and slept, the costumed crew take on the characters and give you a very real and personal look at how harsh life was like on board as they prepare for the Battle of Trafalgar.  Of course, I found the galley and the main cabin to be the most fascinating.  Others may have been more fascinated by the cannons and the coal-fired boiler room.  All  in all, I would absolutely recommend a visit to experience this piece of history.

The entry fee alone was worth our visit to the H.M.S. Victory, but our day didn’t end there.  We took a water bus across the bay to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  Having never been on a submarine before, this exhibit was incredibly fascinating to me (and the others in our group).  The first impression for me was trying to imagine how these brave men were able to withstand the claustrophobic conditions aboard this imposing vessel.


This monstrous, grey, monolith of a ship was beyond intimidating.  The H.M.S. Alliance is England’s only remaining WWII submarine and what an absolutely incredible experience this was.  A retired submariner guide takes you through the entire ship beginning in the engine room and ending in the torpedo compartment.  He’s not only very informative, but entertaining as well, providing you with all the ‘inside’ information (including how to use the toilet flushing system*).  You have the opportunity to not only view the world through the periscope and push the horrifying ‘dive alarm’, you’ll observe how these brave men lived and worked on this undersea, iron amphibian.  Each compartment is staged to replicate exactly how it would have been during WWII, from the jacket still hanging on the peg, to the canned milk for the tea, to the photos of their true loves pinned to the wall.

In addition to the Alliance, there is a submarine museum where you can tour Britain’s first submarine, the Holland I, and learn about John Holland, who developed the very first submersible vessel.

From the Victory to the Alliance and everything in between, our visit to Britain’s oldest Naval Base, the Portsmouth Dockyard, was truly memorable.  Restoration of these vessels has been a considerable and expensive undertaking,  but so worth it.  And in order to continue the restoration, the ticket prices are a bit high, but when would you ever get the chance to experience anything like this?  I’m sure you’re thinking this would be great for kids and families and may not interest a lot of people, and I was certainly skeptical, but take it from me, you’ll never forget your visit to Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Dockyard.

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* Just for fun:   How to Use the Submarine Toilet Flushing System:  After entering, close door “A”

  1. Open waste tap “B” and flush tap “C” with lever “D”, causing door “A” to be blocked.
  2. Open cover “E”.
  3. Move lever “F” to “use”.
  4. Use lavatory “G”.
  5. Open waste tap “H” and flushing tap “I”.
  6. Move lever “F” to “flush” position (do this more carefully the deeper the submarine is submerged) until compartment “J” is barely filled.
  7. Open shut-off valve “K”.
  8. Move lever “F” carefully to position “eject”.
    Compartment  “J” is filled through “K” and “L” with air from the 12 ATM system.
  9. Move lever “F” carefully to the “air waste” position. In this position, the air flows out of compartment “J” through valve “M” to the foul water tank and on to the battery compartment through pipe “O”.
  10. Lever “F” stays in the “air waste” position when the lavatory is not in use.
  11. Close and lock taps “H” and “I”.
  12. Close lever “E”.
  13. Close taps “B” and “C” with lever “D”.

Note: If these instructions are not followed exactly as above, the contents of the toilet will spill out over and up and down the closet. If you are so careless, you clean it up!

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References:  Historic Dockyard, Boston Navy Yard, HMS Victory, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Wikipedia, John Holland

A Medieval Inn ….

We just returned from a trip to the U.K. where we had the opportunity to stay in a 14th century medieval inn, the Shaven Crown, for a couple of nights.  Overlooking the village green, the Shaven Crown Inn is located in a quaint little village called “Shipton-under-Wychwood” * in the picturesque Cotswold district of England.

The-Shaven-Crown 6When you approach the Shaven Crown Inn you are immediately transported back in time … to 14th century Medieval England with flashes of Excalibur, jousting knights and coats of armor.  The architecture is solid, heavy, grey … made of timber, adobe, stone and slate.  And as you step through the arch into the inner cobbled courtyard with its massive double wooden doors, original hand-forged hinges and bolts, you know this building has tales to tell.  The Great Hall is a magnificent beam-laden Tudor room with an impressive staircase leading off to the bedrooms on either side. I’m certain the large central fireplace provided the only heating source for this great room at one time, and was also the cooking center where heavy, cast-iron cauldrons were hung with soups, where bread was baked, and game was roasted.

Intrigued by the uniqueness of this building, of course, I had to do a little research.  Little did we know that the Shaven Crown was one of the ten oldest inns in all of Great Britain, and has been documented as having been built by Bruern monks in 1384, specifically for what it is now, an Inn. No Inn could be complete without, of course, its resident ghost; and this one is no exception. From its monastic days, Brother Sebastian is said to be the ghost that haunts this venerable old hostelry.

Originally called ‘the Church of St. Mary’, Bruern Abbey was founded in 1147 by the Monks of Waverly in a remote, bucolic area just outside of Wychwood Forest.   The name, Bruern, comes from a French and Latin word meaning ‘heath’, a large, uncultivated track of land.  The monks, who then became known as the Bruern monks, built a small monastery to live and worship, to farm the land and raise sheep. Over the next hundred and more years the monastery grew and flourished, providing employment for hundreds of lay workers.  After the monastery, came a grand Abbey, then a chapel for the lay people.  A school was built, as well as a manor house, a convent for women, a mill, a tannery and many out buildings.  The farm provided not only for the monks, but for the surrounding villages.

Rendering of a Medieval Monastery Village

Rendering of a Medieval Monastic Village

Then in 1384 the monks of Bruern Abbey constructed their last building, the Shaven Crown Inn, specifically as an Inn to house poor pilgrims and travelers.  During these Medieval times, monasteries were not only part of the religious, economic and social fabric for the villages, they provided important centers for the poor and the needy, as well as resting places for travelers.

The Church of England, at that time, was very rich and very powerful.   Enter King Henry VIII. (I’ve written about him before … see “From the Wine Trail to the Whisky Trail“.)  Henry was a man of many appetites, not only food, but women as well.  Henry was first married to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and a powerful woman in her own right.  Their marriage produced one child, a girl, named Mary.  Henry was desperate to have a son who would be heir to the throne. He became infatuated with Catherine’s hand-maiden, Anne Boleyn (perhaps you’ve heard of her), and they began an affair, from which she became pregnant.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Hoping for a son, Henry appealed to the most powerful ruler of all Europe, the Pope, to get an annulment from his marriage to Catherine in order to wed Anne**.  He was refused.  Despite the Pope’s rulings, Henry and Anne wed in a secret ceremony and the Pope retaliated by excommunicating them both.  This angered Henry so much he decided to break England away from the church completely … and in 1538 King Henry VIII began what was to become the “Dissolution of the Monasteries”.

Now with a vendetta against the church, King Henry VIII began his strategy to break that powerful relationship between Rome and England.  The Church held large, valuable tracts of land and buildings, paying little or no taxes to the landholders or the government.  Henry started slowly so as not to cause an uproar among the local townspeople and began crossing the country, confiscating the property and buildings of the smaller, less powerful monasteries.  Then he began taking larger, more important houses and holdings, systematically closing, selling or dismantling monastery after monastery.

King-Henry-VIII-Dissolution-Monasteries

King Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries

This was devastating to the villagers and to the travelers and pilgrims who depended upon these community centers.  Not only was there the great loss of the monastery as the center of the social and economic life of the village, monasteries housed great libraries with invaluable collections of manuscripts and paintings.  Henry didn’t care.  He may have begun this destruction as a way to control the Church and its holdings, but now greed took over and he wasn’t about to stop.

It took over four years, but during that time more than 800 monasteries were destroyed, home to more than 10,000 monks, nuns and friars, and their lands and treasures taken for the crown. King Henry VIII, now the self-declared Head of the Church of England, took control and sold the monastic lands for such bargain prices that if you could afford it, you found a way to buy it.   Not everyone was against this.  The wealthy were able to grow their own estates by purchasing large tracks of land.  The middle class merchants, eager to become wealthy landowners, purchased the smaller tracks of land.

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Courtyard at the Shaven Crown Inn

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in October 1536, Bruern Abbey and its buildings were destroyed.  Today there are no visible remains of the original Abbey.  The Shaven Crown, however, was not destroyed and remained under ownership of the Crown.  In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I (King Henry VIII’s daughter by Anne Boleyn) used it as a royal hunting lodge, but then decided to give it back to the village, with the condition that it be turned back to an inn; the proceeds being used to help the poor.

Over the years, the Inn fell into disrepair, but in the early part of the 20th century the Inn was sold into private ownership.  The new owners purchased the Inn just two years ago and have returned it to its original grandeur.  The Bruern monks would be very proud of the Shaven Crown Inn if they could see it today.  Bold, gracious and grand, the Inn remains to welcome all for many more centuries to come.

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* With a population of 1244
**Anne gave birth to a little girl, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I.  But, Henry got tired of Anne as well, and with trumped up charges of adultery against her, he had her publicly beheaded at the Tower of London.

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References:  Shipton-under-Wychwood, Abbeys of England, Britain Express, Victoria County History, The Shaven Crown Inn, Wikipedia

Treacle Pudding

Hubby wanted “treacle pudding”.  I know it’s available in some international markets sold under the U.K. brand of Heinz in tin cans, but I don’t want to open a can.  I want to make Treacle Pudding.  What I was not sure about was what exactly is “treacle”?  I looked in the grocery stores and couldn’t find it.  I asked family and friends.  They’ve never heard of it.  I checked all my cookbooks and there was no recipe either using it, or for it.  Even hubby wasn’t sure what it was or where you bought it. How am I going to make this classic English dessert if I don’t have any treacle?  Time to go online and do a little research.  Here’s what I learned . . .

When sugar cane is harvested, it is crushed to squeeze out the juice. That juice is then boiled down (very similar to making maple syrup).  Depending upon how many times, and for how long the juice is boiled, will produce the depth of color and flavor of the syrup. The syrup can range from a light golden color and flavor, to a medium amber color with deeper flavor to a very dark, thick syrup with almost sweet bitter flavor.  The first boiling produces golden syrup or light treacle, similar to honey in color.  The second boiling produces treacle, which we call molasses. The third boiling produces ‘dark treacle’ which we call blackstrap molasses.

Lyle's Golden Syrup

Lyle’s Golden Syrup

“Golden Syrup” is produced by the Abram Lyle & Sons company and sold everywhere in the U.K.  In the U.S., however, it did take a bit of hunting, but I found it.  I also found out it is available through Amazon, but, honestly, who wants to wait for a UPS delivery before making dessert.

Now to find a ‘good’ recipe for Treacle Pudding.  After looking through all my English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh cookbooks, I found ONE recipe.  Thank you Paul Hollywood!  But why, if this dessert is so popular can’t I find more than one recipe?  It seems this dessert isn’t as popular as hubby had thought. More research has shown that it’s a regional favorite, only popular in northern England and Scotland.  Okay, back to the “world wide web”.

Recipes appear to be either the very same, copied from website to website, or completely hard-to-understand.  What exactly is a 900ml pudding basin?  And do I really want to use suet?  Or a splash of brandy?  No, I don’t think so.  This is suppose to be a nostalgic, humble steamed pudding made from flour, eggs, butter and this sweetener they call “treacle”.

My first attempt was a simple recipe from the BBC FOOD website, very similar to Paul Hollywood‘s.  Quite basic.  Nothing I couldn’t handle.  Throw everything in a bowl, mix and steam for 1-1/2 hours.  But when I unmolded it, the whole pudding fell into a big, soggy heap. Undercooked and cloyingly sweet.  Back to the “world wide web”.

My second attempt was just a little more complicated, beat the butter and sugar til fluffy and add eggs one at a time.  The ingredients were just about the same.  Steamed for 1-1/2 hours, and when I unmolded it, it looked fabulous.  But, it was very dry and not very sweet at all.  Okay, let’s try once more.

Here’s the one we liked . . .

TREACLE PUDDING
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons golden syrup (light treacle)
1 stick butter, softened (plus more for greasing)
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (treacle)
3 large eggs, room temperature
grated lemon peel

 First get a very large pot with tightly fitting cover.  Put a saucer, ramekin or something in the bottom of the pot so that the bowl you are going to steam your pudding in doesn’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot.  Fill the pot halfway with water and bring to a boil.

While the water comes to temperature generously grease a large bowl, 4 cups or more, in which your pudding will cook.

 Pour the Golden Syrup into the bottom of the bowl.  Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a mixing bowl beat the softened butter with the sugars and molasses (treacle) til light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well.  Add the dry ingredients and grated lemon peel and blend til well combined.


The batter should be like thick pancake batter.  If it’s too thick, add a bit of milk to loosen.  Pour the batter into the bowl. Take a piece of aluminum foil and wrap it tightly around the bowl.  This needs to be sealed tight so that the moisture doesn’t get in when boiling.

 Place the bowl into the pot, setting on top of the saucer or ramekin.  I used a steamer basket, which worked beautifully.  Make sure the water comes up to the middle of your pudding bowl. Cover the pot and steam for about 1-1/2 hours.  The water should be a soft boil.  If the water isn’t hot enough, the pudding won’t cook.  Check the water level every now and then.  You don’t want the water to boil away.

After 1-1/2 hours your pudding should be done.  Carefully remove the bowl and lift the foil.  With a cake tester, puncture the the pudding to see if it is ready.  If the tester comes out clean and dry, the pudding is ready.

Carefully run the tip of a knife around the top of the pudding, then place a plate on top of the bowl and invert. Pour a bit more Golden Syrup around the top of the pudding and serve warm. Traditionally this dessert is served with custard, but we like vanilla ice cream with ours.

 Sticky, sweet and gooey, everyone will love this humble, old fashioned dessert.

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References:  Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Wikipedia, BBC Food

Armed and Ready

We just returned from a week in northern England.  During our quick visit, we attempted to consume as many calories from English sweets and savories as we possibly could manage.  From Cornish pasties to Eccles cakes, we sampled, critiqued, analyzed and devoured all our favorites (and some which weren’t).  Now armed with quite a few interesting English bakery cookbooks, I am ready to proceed.   Cheese and onion pasties here I come!

book_puds