Posts Tagged ‘Northumberland’

Beautiful Early Spring Day In Northumberland

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Today, we were visiting with my parents, who live on the Roman Wall near Hexham in glorious Northumberland. 

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the first really gorgeous day of the year – the sky was blue and the sun was actually warming with temperatures getting up to 6oC , even if the snow was still lying in the shadows of the dry stone walls or the dips of the fields.

I was woken to the sound of a greater spotted woodpecker playing tunes on the trees and the metal bits of telegraph poles – the males like to call their mates by playing tunes on the metal bits as if they are calling them via some secret drum beat, and the lapwings were calling their distinctive peewit calls and gliding up and down in their intricate wavy dances through the air through the stubbly fields.

Spring will be here when the curlews can be heard in the fields and summer when the swallows finally get this far north – they’re probably already in North Africa, enjoying the sun.

I love the light at this time of the year – it has a real crispness that brings everything out into sharp relief, making the snowdrops extra bright and white. 

And the air was so still and fresh, clearing the lungs and cobwebs from this wintertime, when we have all spent too much time indoors, pushed inside by the really low temperatures.  I seemed to spend much of the time, playing football or tennis or kick-the-can with the children, which got the blood coarsing around my blood vessels.

Perfection and peaceful;  home.

Recipe For Luxuriant Chocolate Chai Latte

Friday, January 1st, 2010

The snow is still here and it’s a white and cold Christmas and New Year period.  We’ve travelled to Northumberland, my home county, where we have observed the traditional first footing in a harshly, cold and rural climate – I love it. 

First footing is a Northumbrian superstition, where the first person to cross your threshold in the New Year must be a dark-haired man (and absolutely not fair or red haired or a woman), and he must bring gifts of bread, coal and money if the family is to be lucky for the year and have food, heat and wealth during the coming year.

But we needed a way to cheer ourselves up this morning after a short walk out in the snow, and this is what I came up with.


2tbsp organic Fairtrade strong black tea – Assam or South Indian would be good*
350ml/ 12½ fl oz freshly drawn water, brought to the boil
120ml/ ½ fl oz  full/ whole milk
½tsp organic cinnamon powder
¼tsp organic allspice powder
¼tsp organic cloves powder
1tbsp organic cocoa powder + some extra for dusting
Whipped cream (optional)

Boil the freshly drawn water in a pan on the hob.  Then switch off and add the strong black tea – allow this to stew away for 5 or so minutes.

Add the milk, chai spices and cocoa and simmer gently for 3 minutes.

Pour straight into mugs or large tea cups.  If you’re feeling decadent, you can add a dollop of freshly whipped cream and sprinkle some cocoa or cinnamon over the top.

Relax, enjoy and smile.  We enjoyed our chai latte with some orange biscuits and some lemon biscuits that we had made earlier in the day.

* I used a high grown South Indian from the POABS Estates – it was a FBOPF, ie some small fannings from a traditionally processed tea.  Fannings are great for this sort of tea as they get the colour and flavour through quickly, while the sweetness of the chai tones down the slight bitterness of the leaf.

Billy Pigg And The Northumbrian Small-Pipes

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I remember hearing the Northumbrian small-pipes for the first time many years ago.  I was about 10 or 12 and we went with some of my German relatives – probably my Granny – to Wallington near Morpeth in Northumberland. 

Outside the café area , there was a lone elderly man playing a set of pipes and I remember asking my mum “what are they?”, but being German she had no idea.  So I asked someone and was told that these were Northumberland’s bagpipes.  The chap playing them was called (so I have been told by my mum) John Armstrong who came from Carrick, and was one of the foremost players of the Northumbrian small-pipes.

The Northumbrian Pipes are a very little known instrument – together with the Half-long Border Pipes – that are peculiar to the Border region.  Northumberland has its own rich heritage of clans, folk tales, dance music and folk songs as well as its very own Small Pipes.

If Northumberland was Scotland, Ireland or Wales, there would be huge interest in its heritage, but as rural society declines and the big cities and London dominates, there is every chance that these special things of England could be lost.

So it has been a real pleasure of my recent few weeks to find online archive recordings of  Billy Pigg, one of the greats of the Northumbrian Small Pipes, together with other folk heroes of Northumbrian music.  These have been preserved in digital online at Radio Farne, which is a project from the Music Information Resource Centre at The Sage Gateshead.  For a link , click Radio Farne.  Or for a less fiery and speedy style, there’s the more melodic style of Joe Hutton who can be heard playing at Cullercoats’ Bay Folk Club here in 1979 also at Radio Farne.

This is something to be truly treasured.

Find out more about the Northumbrian Small Pipes, at