A Staff Residential trip to York this month included a visit to the English Wine Project at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire.
Interest in English wine has never been so strong with around 400 vineyards producing still and sparkling wine across the UK – from as far north as Yorkshire, and all the way down to the Kent coast.
Kieron Atkinson is the Founder of the English Wine Project, and he gave a short tour of operations at the vineyard, which included the obligatory wine tasting session.
Kieron oversees the development of the wine product, having planted a third more vines on the existing site at Renishaw. This has increased the yield with a red grape variety, Rondo, producing some tasty rose and red wines.
A tour of the vineyard followed where we learned about the fruiting seasons, cycles of vines and some tips on growing grapes (you can get a hefty punnet from Aldi for a decent price so don’t bother). Having grown to optimum plucking state, the grapes are always hand-picked.
Renishaw Hall has been the home of the Sitwell family who have lived here for nearly 400 years. Keen collectors and enthusiastic patrons of the arts, the most famous of the Sitwells was the literary trio of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell (yes, really). They all played a significant role in the artistic and literary part of the last century, no doubt propping up their literary aspirations with the odd drop of claret now and again.
Dame Edith Sitwell was a grandly eccentric poet and novelist whose literary merits often played second fiddle to her general nuttiness. Edith did not actually consider herself to be eccentric: just that I am more alive than most people – I am an unpopular electric eel in a pond of catfish.
‘Still Falls the Rain’ may be considered her most famous poem but ‘Came the Great Popinjay’ is worth a whirl for its intriguing meters – it’s not very often you get Uganda, Handel and Civets all in one go.
Came the great Popinjay
Smelling his nosegay:
In cages like grots
The birds sang gavottes.
Was named sweet Amanda,
She danced like a lady
From here to Uganda.
Oh, what a dance was there!
Long-haired, the candle
Salome-like tossed her hair
To a dance tune by Handel.’ . . .
Dance they still? Then came
Blew out the candle flame
With civet breath.
A Traditional Afternoon Tea was served at Betty’s Tea Rooms – we had jam sandwiches and a Penguin each.
Actually, it wasn’t the traditional afternoon tea I’m used to but a refined Edwardian custom as proposed by the (probably quite lardy) seventh Duchess of Bedford who needed to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner by stuffing her face with sarnies and scones.
Thus we indulged in freshly made finger sandwiches, sultana scones, and dainty handmade cakes, all served on an elegant little cake stand with pots of tea and coffee brewed up in the best china and silverware.
The tea rooms, artfully designed with interiors inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner, are quite a draw for tourists where polite queues line up outside to partake in a spot of tea-taking.
These traditional afternoon teas have been served up since the 1920s when Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont arrived in England to build up his own business, and opened his first Betty’s in Harrogate.
He had originally planned to head for the resorts of the south coast but got the wrong train and ended up in Yorkshire. He quite liked it so he stayed.
Fortunately, in accordance with the Duchess of Bedford’s prescribed regimens for afternoon tea, we had been shored up sufficiently enough to last until dinner in the Refectory Kitchen & Terrace at the Principal York Hotel.
The following day, it was onto the Jorvik Viking Centre for a bit of intellectual pillaging.
Between 1976-81 during a good dig around, archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik. The remains of 1,000-year-old houses, Viking-age timbers and various objects and artifacts from the excavations are on show at the centre, either in display cabinets or below shoe-level thanks to a glass floor.
A ride experience ushers little peopled capsules through an updated historical interpretation of the Viking city with impressive reconstructions from the age including flora, fauna, breeds of animal, natural dyes – and even the smells and sounds of the era.
Animatronics provide a key emphasis on Viking authenticity with clothing, facial features and speech being meticulously researched to offer a telling insight into the lives of people who lived through Viking times.
There was also a particularly scary dog.
York has walls. And a walk along the fortified perimeter walls provides a good elevated view of York. Since Roman times, York has been defended by walls, and has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England.
From various vantage points along the wall can be seen the impossibly intricate York Minster, a Gothic-style cathedral built on a scale that knocks most British cathedrals out of the park.
It costs a bit to get in. There’s no ‘suggested donation’ here, just a stern demand for an entrance fee and, if you try to slip into the Evensong in the guise of a worshipping public, you must commit to the entire performance or frocked bouncers will bar you from entering.
Lounging outside the front entrance is a statue of Roman Emperor Constantine – it was in York where he was hailed as Emperor of the Roman Empire in AD 306.
York has some serious back-story.
Budding arsonist, Guy Fawkes was born in York, and baptized at the church of St Michael le Belfrey next to York Minster (seen at left).
The Shambles is a general term for the maze of twisting, narrow lanes, which make York so charming. It also provided inspiration for some of the Harry Potter film sets – hence the proliferation of Harry Potter stores at one end of the twisty lane. It is arguably the best-preserved medieval street in the world, and was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086.
There is a shrine dedicated to Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles. She was caught hiding Catholic priests, which in sixteenth century York was a serious offence. Her sentence was to be ‘pressed’ – with the door of her own house laid upon her and huge stones piled up on top to squish her.
It was the last time she played ‘hide and seek’ and often wished she’d hid behind the curtains instead.
Soon it was time to sit back, relax and appreciate York from a different perspective with an afternoon Cruise on the Ouse.
The River Ouse was already carrying visitors long before the arrival of the Vikings, and York owes its existence to this one. When the Romans constructed a fortress above the River Ouse, it provided an ideal defensive site that over time brought both invaders and trade to the city.
A Mink provided a little diversion for some as it was seen scampering away under the shored-up riverbank.
A steady course was steered through the heart of York, with the knowledgeable captain alerting us to fascinating facts about various buildings, bridges (apparently the Blue Bridge is so-called because it’s painted blue) and other historic sites that we could hardly see from our riverine viewpoint.
As usual, Titchwell served up a great day’s walking and birding for the West Midland Bird Club. This famous Norfolk reserve rarely fails to deliver and in amongst the usual pick ‘n’ mix of waders and water birds were Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Pink-footed Geese, Little Stint, Red-crested Pochard and Ruff. A Great White Egret settled itself down amongst the reeds and a Bittern flew past. Marsh Harriers played their part in the general pageant, and there was the usual compliment of ducks, geese, herons, plovers and swans.
There was no partridge, no pear trees either but we did get great views of two Turtle Doves – a rare sight these days.
The first Flat Disc Society evening of the film season was marked with a triple-bill of films starring new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker.
First up was Dust, a bizarre short film also starring Alan Rickman, where an unusual-looking man follows a woman and her daughter to their home and breaks into their house.
Then an episode of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror: The Entire History of You. Is it possible to remember too much?
The main feature was Venus, Jodie Whittaker’s first lead role alongside Peter O’Toole, Leslie Phillips, Richard Griffiths and Vanessa Redgrave. Written by Hanif Kureishi, Venus concerns an elderly actor (O’Toole) who finds himself increasingly attracted to his friend’s grand-niece whilst finding himself in deteriorating health.
All good stuff!