Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Brightling Folly...

A walk around Brightling taking in the Follies of Mad Jack Fuller (John Fuller, 1757-1834, local Landowner, MP and supporter of the Royal Institution), a very pleasant (if cold and muddy) day with friends. The walk was led by Andrew who was our very able guide with a steady supply of both jokes and local history.

View over Blackbrooks

Starting off cold but sunny we soon warmed up as we got walking and got to grips with the mud. Well, I say got to grips, we were sliding about all day in the stuff. Parts of the walk were an absolute quagmire and I’m surprised nobody went head over heels at any point. This photo gives the merest hint of the mud that was to come. Note I’m lagging behind everyone else with a camera as usual!

Mud at Little Worge Farm

The first of the follies. The Obelisk (otherwise known as the Brightling Needle) is 65 feet high and (apparently) the second highest point in Sussex. Some claim it was built to celebrate Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (1805). Other say it was Wellington's victory over Napoleon (1815). However, with no inscription on the monument it will probably remain a mystery.

The Obelisk

Note the clouds that are starting to come in as I looked back en route to the next folly. Thankfully the heavens did not open but it did bring bad portents about the weather to come.

The Obelisk

The second folly. The observatory was built as a working observatory complete with camera obscura. However, it is now a private residence so no other views. Of note J M W Turner, yes, the Turner of “The Fighting Temeraire” fame (see Wikipedia: J.M.W.Turner) was a visitor in his younger days…

The Observatory

Onwards, this strange contraption is a covered conveyor belt (part of a gypsum operation) as we came through the woods. Also came across some interesting tree roots…


Tree roots

Out of the woods and it was starting to feel properly cold now. Biting wind and some fine snow visible in this shot towards Darwell Reservoir.

Darwell Reservoir

Time to shelter in the Third folly - The Tower. Many rumours about what Mad Jack was supposedly watching from here including to watch out for Napoleonic invasion, watching the local railway being built or to keep an eye on his workers restoring Bodiam Castle. However being built after Napoleon’s Waterloo but before he bought Bodiam or the railway building none of these are likely. I doubt we will ever know. Another mystery…Anyway you look at it there is a good view from the top window which Donna is looking out of here.

The Tower

Next is the strangest folly of all to my eyes. When walking through traditional country villages coming across a church is normal. Coming across a church with a pyramid is not, especially when it turns out to be a mausoleum! 25 foot high it was built in the churchyard of St Thomas à Becket, Brightling, in 1811, 23 years before his death. It used to be rumoured that he was entombed in full dress, sat at a table with chicken and wine. Sadly this proved untrue as restoration work in 1982 found him to be buried conventionally within the pyramid.

The Pyramid

The Pyramid

From here we started to loop back towards the start but there are 2 further follies. Next was The Temple. A small rotunda atop a small hill. Again rumour abounds as to Mad Jack’s use for it...the hollow base might have been used to store food and wine, a place to gamble with cronies or a romantic place to woo the ladies…

The Temple

Finally, the Sugarloaf. So called as it is a similar shape to the conical loaves sugar used to sold as it was built for a far more prosaic purpose. Having made a bet that he could see the spire of the church in Dallington Fuller returned home to discover that such a feat was not possible. In order to win the bet he had his men construct this edifice in 2 days in order to resemble to outline of the church spire. 35 foot high and 15 foot across at the base it is now hard to believe that it was converted into a 2 storey house in which people lived up until the 1930’s! The windows are now all bricked up bar one as it became a machine gun post during WW2 to defend against invasion. Certainly not a standard pill-box…

The Sugarloaf

All in all an excellent day out with friends. Now, did someone mention fun...


Friday, 18 January 2013


... hanging around at the local RSPB reserve (Fen Drayton Lakes) yesterday hoping to see a starling murmuration which never happened. Did get a few wintery photos though...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Date and Walnut loaf (with added chocolatiness)

Confession time - I’ve changed a Mary Berry recipe! I hear sharp intakes of breath up and down the land as I type this, but, I’m baking it so what the hell. Like many (I suspect) amateur foodies I have a collection of cookbooks. Sometimes I will actually follow the recipe, but, more often than not I will go fiddling with it in some way. In other words I use them for ideas and inspiration.

This bake started off as the Date and Chocolate Loaf in the Mary Berry Baking Bible (ISBN 978-1-846-07785-2) but I decided to substitute Brazil nuts for Walnuts (well date and walnut is a classic combination) as well as adding some extra demerara sugar to the mix for a bit more toffee richness.

Anyway - how to make it. Stone and chop the dates and then place them in a bowl with the boiling water and leave them to soak. While they are soaking break up the chocolate and melt this gently in a ban marie along with the butter.

Next break up the walnuts - easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put them in some strong foil and just give them a quick bashing with a rolling pin. Keep a small amount back to sprinkle on top of the cake.

Now (once your chocolate has all melted) it’s time to bring stuff together. In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarb. Beat the egg into the milk and then stir this into the dry ingredients well. Continue mixing while adding the nuts, dates (and the water they soaked in) and chocolate/butter mix.

Once well mixed pour it into a lined 2lb loaf tin and then sprinkle the top with the left over nuts and plenty of demerara sugar. Place in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about an hour and 10 minutes in my oven. Once a skewer comes out clean remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack.

150 grams stoned dates
150 mls boiling water
150 gram plain chocolate (use a good one 70% + cocoa solids)
40 grams butter
150 grams walnuts
225 grams plain flour
40 grams caster sugar
10 grams demerara sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg
150 mls milk

My only other comment (word of caution?) is that with all the demerera sprinkled over it the top gets quite a crunchy glaze. Tastes lovely when eaten but makes it quite hard to slice as the top breaks up a bit under the knife. Doesn't necessarily look so pretty when sliced. However, it was unanimously declared delicious and 10 hungry walkers can't all be wrong can they?

Finally, I'm going to enter this for Alphabakes. Hosted this month by Caroline of Caroline Makes... (as well as Ros The more than occasional baker) the letter is D. D for Dates.