Pure Vermont Maple Syrup

Pure Vermont Maple Syrup

Do you know about maple syrup? Vermont is famous for it. You see farms and smallholdings with ‘maple syrup for sale’ everywhere in the Brattleboro and Dummerston townships.

Apple books

 Apple books for sale at the Farm Shop

You can also buy it at the Scott Farm, Dummerston where the Landmark Trust USA have their offices. I always like to visit the farm and shop as it is a pleasant walk along the quiet, dusty road from Naulakha/The Carriage House.

Scott Farm Shop

The Scott Farm Shop

I wrote about my previous visits to the farm and Landmark Trust offices here.

LMT USA Office

Landmark Trust USA Offices at Scott Farm

Ladder instructions

Ladder Instructions Notice in the Offices

On Dummerston Road

Just beyond the Scott Farm is an old sugarhouse. It doesn’t look as if it used any more although there’s a decent wood pile alongside.

Maple Syrup door

In order to try to find out more about the life of Emily Dickinson I took with me the novel “The Sister” by Paola Kaufmann. I found this excellent book a lighter read than perhaps a serious biography (and certainly a lot lighter to carry than Lives Like Loaded Guns the biography by Lyndall Gordon). In an early chapter Lavinia describes a local expedition to collect maple syrup (this was in northern Massachusetts in about the 1850s). I reproduce these paragraphs here :

“The history of the maples is a beautiful one. Throughout the summer, and thanks to the sun that for so many hours bronzes the tree canopy, sugars begin to accumulate in the leaves, which later are converted into sap, amassing like treasure in the trunks of the trees. This is the sweet soul of the maple. Towards the end of the summer and during autumn, the maple sheds these very leaves that have acted as sponges, soaking up sunlight. These leaves – some reddish, others yellowish – fall with the first frosts. Then, sweet soul of sap, protected behind layer after layer of living tissue; dead pulp and bark, remains intact, becoming sweeter and sweeter while the snow builds up on the dry, dead-looking branches and against the sleeping trunks; and the farmers keep the surrounding area clear so that should a tree fall it should not damage one of the young maples.

Maple leaves?

Then spring arrives, and thanks to the sweet sap hidden away on the inside, the maples return to life; the new shoots appear timidly to greet the sun that slowly grows more and more yellow, and this is when the work of the sugar-maker really begins: the maple harvest. Sometimes, if spring comes early or if winter has not been too severe, the operation begins in the middle of February, but normally the maple harvest is during March, although there is no one simple precise sign: the time is usually called the “sugar season”. Some believe that the sugar season is announced during the day by the crows, unable to wait in silence for the arrival of warmth.

The sugar-men know exactly where, amidst the dense woodlands, the edible syrup is to be found: it takes 40 years for a tree to grow from planting to sugar production. The men head off to these places with the sledges, as snow is still thick in the drifts, armed with wooden pails girdled to perfection with metal rings. The night before the first harvest they hang these pails outside the cabins full of hot water, then cold water, so that the slats swell into each other, helping to seal them. And they go, with their sledges, their pails and their tools, to bore into the maples a hole no more than three inches wide, three feet up, like a small wound through which the soul of the tree willingly bleeds. The healthiest and largest of the maples will tolerate up to three of these holes, and the sugar-men try never to wound the tree twice in the same place, always allowing wounds of the previous year to scar over completely. The pails hang from the spouts and they are left to collect the clear sap that drips down, slowly at first, then as time goes by, much quicker, until there is none left. When the pails are full, their collective contents are poured into enormous boilers, and either fires are lit in special spots in the forest, or the pails are carried to the cabins, where a more industrialized system helps to evaporate the water from the sap. In the forest, when the harvest is small, the dense liquid is poured into metal receptacles that are placed like gigantic kettles above the fire, boiling the syrup. And when it is at the right point, it can be thrown onto the snow, where the syrup acquires its wax-like consistency. If two drops melt as they fall, it means that the syrup is ready to be jarred.

And in this way, each spring, pails are hung from their small taps, and the maples, day after day, continue with their slow and sweet bleeding.”

I usually buy a couple of small bottles to pack in my suitcase and give to our sons. Like liquid gold it is probably just as heavy.




Emily Dickinson Museum : The Homestead and The Evergreens

The Emily Dickinson Home

This year we made our third visit to Brattleboro, Vermont and on each visit I have wanted to make the trip an hour south to Amherst where the former home of the poet Emily Dickinson is open to the public as a museum. Amherst is an attractive College town – five in all in the area – with some interesting shops and plenty of eateries.

Emily Dickinson Homestead

On the Friday of our stay I drove myself back down into Massachusetts. The museum was easy to find and I was able to book onto the second tour of the day : Emily Dickinson’s World a 90-minute guided tour of both the Homestead (Emily Dickinson’s house) and The Evergreens (Austin and Susan Dickinson’s home). This constitutes an in-depth focus on Emily Dickinson’s life and family and the major influences on her writing. Includes the parlors, library, and the poet’s bedroom at the Homestead; the library, parlor, dining room, kitchen, maid’s room, water closet, nursery, and “Emily Room” at The Evergreens.

Emily Dickinson room

The Poet’s Bedroom is currently under renovation

As I had just missed the first tour by a few minutes I decided to buy the tour of the grounds which is an audio and self-guided.

“Grounds of Memory: a guide to the Dickinson landscape” The audio tour of the outdoor Dickinson grounds (duration of full-length tour is 60 minutes; visitors may tailor the tour to fit their needs) Explores Emily Dickinson’s fascination with the natural world and her family’s deep interest in the land and  includes eighteen stops outside the Homestead and The Evergreens. Stops may be visited in any order. Each stop offers a 2- or 3-minute narration and at least one Dickinson poem appropriate to that stop.

Narrated by poet laureate Richard Wilbur
Voice of Emily Dickinson provided by poet Mary Jo Salter

The Flower Garden

 First three stops are at the Flower Garden

Flower Garden and Home

The Ornamental Flower Garden and the Homestead

Main St and Amherst

Main Street looking towards Amherst


The West Bedroom (1st floor, RHS) was Emily’s

The Evergreens

The Evergreens – built by Edward Dickinson as a wedding gift to his son and daughter-in-law on their marriage

The grassy path

The grassy path between the two homes – “Just wide enough for two who love” (ED)

Here is a brief biography of the poet but the tour really brought to life her life and the lives of her family in particular her sister, Lavinia, her mother and father and her brother, Austen and his family.

EMILY DICKINSON was born in Amherst at the Homestead on December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters.

Her lively childhood and youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and several key encounters with poetry. [She was not always the recluse that many choose to characterise her - at one  time she called herself The Belle of Amherst.] Her most intense writing years consumed the decade of her late 20s and early 30s; during that time she composed almost 1100 poems. She made few attempts to publish her work, choosing instead to share them privately with family and friends. In her later years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens) and close friends, and health concerns occupied her.

With a few exceptions, her poetry remained virtually unpublished until after she died on May 15, 1886. After her death, her poems and life story were brought to the attention of the wider world through the competing efforts of family members and intimates.” [source]

This was a house visit par excellence. The 90 minute houses tour was filled with interest and insight into the lives. The Dickinson Landscape self-guided audio tour complete with poetry readings added to almost complete immersion into ED’s life and thoughts. Our house guide was entertainment herself and added poetry quotations and a quick ‘class’ in the importance of word choice in a ‘schoolroom’ – in which we all participated. No photography was allowed in the house but the tour was such fun and so informative that I will forgive them for that. Having visited the home of a poet I had barely heard of I came away feeling as if I met her myself. Well done, Emily Dickinson House Museum!

On leaving the Museum I couldn’t resist a quick visit to another nearby museum – almost from the sublime to the ridiculous – The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. A purpose-built centre devoted to the art of contemporary children’s book illustrator Eric Carle. We still have a very dog-eared copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar at home.

Picture Book Art


Carle Museum

 The Eric Carle Museum

The very hungry caterpillar

This is what a Very Hungry Caterpillar looks like!

And finally, the next day we both made the journey back down to Amherst, enjoyed a decent lunch and I tracked down the Dickinson graves in West Cemetery where there is also a Community History Mural featuring characters from the Amherst story from all fields of experience (farming, literature, domestic life, education, military, industry and economic life) and including, of course, Emily Dickinson herself.

Dickinson family graves

The Dickinson Graves in West Cemetery, Amherst

Emily Dickinson grave stone

Wording on Emily’s Gravestone

History Mural West Cemetery Amherst

The Amherst Community Mural, West Cemetery

Emily Dickinson on History Mural

Emily Dickinson (Lavinia behind) on the Community Mural

Jervaulx Abbey – Thornton Steward – Cover Bridge Walk

Historic, tranquil, beautiful

It’s nearly 40 miles to Jervaulx Abbey near Middleham, North Yorkshire and Thursday morning dawned rather grimly with rain and dark clouds. It seemed a long way to drive in order to get soaking wet all day.

But the Weekday Wanderers were not deterred and we met as usual at 9am at The Grove Church Car Park and two cars – eight of us in all – set off northwards. The rain had stopped and I lead a very successful ramble:

Jervaulx Abbey – Thornton Steward – The Cover Bridge

“Easy walking  – no hills. Field and riverside paths plus a pleasant walk through parkland at Jervaulx. Distance – 7.5 miles. Car parking at Jervaulx (£1 in honesty box)”

Jervaulx ruins

The Abbey Ruins

I had for a long time I had wanted to do this walk – always attracted by abbey ruins and other features of the landscape. I copied the walk from a book of walks from the library over a decade ago and unfortunately did not make a note of the title and author. Some of the features had changed slightly – a hedge was now a fence and a stile now a gate – but the bulk remains the same and the route was easy to find.

a bit of blue sky

A Glimpse of Blue Sky

We always take it upon ourselves to do a “recce’ or “walk out” in advance of leading and I was only able to do this with a friend in August. Believe me the weather on Thursday was a huge improvement on The Saturday in August when we got soaked to the skin.


At Jervaulx we took the public footpath signposted To the Abbey but kept straight on through the park and fields of sheep to the lodge and gates at the far end. There we joined a small, quiet lane that crosses the River Ure (the river of Wensleydale) at Kilgram Bridge just after which we diverted from the lane to cross fields to arrive at Thornton Steward.

R Ure at kilgram bridge

River Ure at Kilgram Bridge

thornton steward

What a lovely and kind village Thornton Steward is! In August as we lunched on the village green the heavens opened and we rushed to the nearby bus shelter. There we found a bag of fresh damsons with the message – Please take these – free to good cooks – or words to that effect. We took them, shared them and left a message of thanks in the village noticeboard. There we read :


So we noted the Institute and the benches outside and decided that this was the perfect picnic place for the October walk.

TS Villag institute

Thornton Steward Village Institute

Teas inside

Please make your own teas

Ramblers Relief

The Ramblers’ Relief was also very welcome!

Sited around a small village green, the village enjoys a wonderful southerly aspect with views across the broad valley to Jervaulx Abbey, Ellingstring and Witton Fell. Sheltered from the north by the higher land towards Finghall, it is surrounded by fertile farmland including the interesting Manor Farm and Danby Hall.

St Oswald's

The small ancient church is situated on lower land a quarter of a mile away, and centuries ago may have been in the centre of the original settlement. The recently discovered thirteen hundred year old graves to the west of the present church suggest ancient settlement in the area.

The church

The “neat, Gothic structure” dedicated to St. Oswald was part of the [Ripon] Diocese and in the patronage of the Bishop of Chester in 1823. The Reverend John Ewbank lived in the fine vicarage in the village, and between 1917 and 1953 the ministry of the blind Reverend Swayne was well known throughout the Ripon Diocese. This church is one of the oldest and most attractive in the country, abounding in history and interesting architecture. The surrounding area is preserved for wild plant and animal life and is a haven of peace and solitude.

Fort Horn

Fort Horn

In 1815 the school was erected by Captain George Horn, Esquire, [builder of the folly, now a private dwelling, Fort Horn] when the population of the parish was two hundred and sixty five. He was the wealthy “gentleman” of the village and provided a neat School House for John Story the schoolmaster, and an endowment of ten shillings per annum for the education of the poor children of the parish.” [source]


Danby Hall

After make use of facilities and leaving our donations we headed west out of the village down the private track that leads to the ancient church and thence across the parkland of Danby Hall and out onto quiet lanes which eventually cross the River Ure again and soon after the River Cover (hence, the Cover Bridge). Bothe rivers join to become the Ure and we followed its banks for the final stretch back to Jervaulx Car Park.

River Ure near Cover Bridge

River Ure at The Cover Bridge

River near end of walk

River Ure near the end of our walk

OS Sheet 99

OS Sheet 99

On our walk out we had ice creams at the nearby Brymor Dairy but the majority vote was to head to Masham and the Theakston’s Brewery Visitor Centre where we actually sat outside in the warm sunshine at the end of a most enjoyable and varied walk.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and Home

GH Blue Plaque

In the 28 September Arts and Books supplement to The Independent on Sunday I was pleased to read about the imminent opening in Manchester of the former home of Elizabeth Gaskell – more commonly known as the novelist Mrs Gaskell. Her Cranford books have been serialised on TV recently. But there is much much more to Mrs Gaskell and her writing than this rather cosy drama portrays. I recently read “Ruth” and for a novel written by the respectable wife of a Unitarian Minister it is really quite an eye-opener but an excellent read. Read a resumé here. In addition two excellent miniseries of her books ‘North and South‘ and ‘Wives and Daughters‘ were first broadcast on BBC TV in 2004 and 1999 respectively.

I straightaway headed to the house website and read this :

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 – 14:30 to 16:00

Book Launch: Carolyn Lambert ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction”


Join us for the launch of Carolyn Lambert’s new book ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction’. Lambert explores how Gaskell challenges the convention of the Victorian home as a place of safety in her novels. In particular she illustrates her theme through the importance of homelessness in Gaskell’s work. Lambert’s book draws not only on the novels but also Gaskell’s letters and non-fiction writings and has recently been shortlisted for the Sonia Rudikoff Prize for the best Victorian book by a first time author.

A tour of the house and refreshments are included in the ticket price. Copies of the book will be on sale at a special price.

Gaskell House

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester

So I booked a ticket for the talk and for the train and yesterday set off for Manchester. I’m afraid I don’t find Manchester any easy city to get around. Perhaps I don’t know it well enough. I eventually found a bus that would take me to Plymouth Grove and which  dropped me off outside number 84.

Welcome to Gaskell House

Carolyn’s talk took place in the Gaskell’s sitting room – yes, the very room in which Charlotte Bronte hid behind the curtains in order to avoid being seen by guests! Photography is allowed and we could sit on the comfy chairs, sofas and chaise longues. I was told that items covered in perspex were original to the house and had been gifted or lent by various donors or galleries and the rest of the furnishings and fittings were either of the period and style of the house during the time when the Gaskells had lived there or were reproductions.

Sitting room

The comfortable, relaxed sitting room

Carolyn began her talk with a resumé of Mrs Gaskell’s life. I have lifted this from the House website :

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was born in 1810 and lived at 84 Plymouth Grove with her family from 1850 until her death in 1865.

“To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood…” Wives and Daughters

She was born as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in London in 1810. A year later, on the death of her mother, she was taken to live in Knutsford, Cheshire, with her aunt, Hannah Lumb. The arrangement was a happy one – she was to refer to her aunt as “my more than mother” and was to use Knutsford as the inspiration for her fictitious town of Cranford. Knutsford also became ‘Hollingford’ in Wives and Daughters.

In 1832 Elizabeth married William Gaskell, the assistant minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester. Their third home was a large house near open fields – 42 (now 84) Plymouth Grove. Here they grew flowers and vegetables, and kept a cow, pigs and poultry. The House was always bustling and the family entertained a stream of visitors, including many eminent people. Gaskell connections included such people as the Wedgwoods, the Darwins and the Nightingales, but girls from the Sunday School also came to the house regularly, as did William’s students and fellow clergy.”

She then went on to discuss some of the aspects of home touched upon in the Gaskell novels as well as in Mrs Gaskell’s own life. (Interestingly, she was a keen traveller and some years spent only half the year at home). The home in the novels symbolises security, it’s where relationships develop, it’s a place for creativity and self-expression. But she also wrote about homelessness and the role of servants. Elizabeth Gaskell was ambivalent about Manchester and was torn between family and a longing for the rural environment. Her large house looks rather incongruous these days amidst modern buildings and areas of wasteland on Plymouth Grove but when she was living and writing here it was rural area and the house had a long garden stretching back down Swinton Grove but now built upon by flats.

There wasn’t time in the end to do the full tour – so I will have to return on another occasion and make a more full report of the house but I did peep into ground floor rooms :

Dining Table

The Dining Room

Gaskell writing desk

Mrs Gaskell’s Desk at one end of the Dining Room

William's study

William Gaskell’s Study

William portrait in study

William Gaskell

and refreshments were served downstairs in the basement tea room and bookshop (new and secondhand).

Tea room

The Tea Room

Pertinent quotations from Mrs Gaskell add a touch of humour

Quote 1


Quote 2

And in the Ladies Loos :

Ladies' quote

As the instructions for finding a bus that would take me back to Piccadilly Station didn’t work out I was thankful for one thing about Manchester – taxis with lights were easy to hail and thus I made my way back to the train and thence to my own home in comfort.

GH Rear view

Rear of Gaskell House




The Carriage House

The Carriage House

This September just past we made our third visit to Brattleboro Vermont. We stayed again in a property that had once belonged to poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling and which is now owned and run under the auspices of The Landmark Trust USA. The house is on a much smaller scale than Naulakha and sits on the same driveway a little way down from that grand, commanding house.

Naulakha from Carriage House

Naulakha from The Carriage House

Here is the description of it from the Landmark Trust USA website :

When you stay at this Landmark, you’ll awaken wonderful memories. Formerly this was the barn where Rudyard Kipling’s carriage was kept, then it was converted to housing for his staff. This beautiful smaller example of the tones, designs and appointments of Naulakha, accommodates 4, has one bathroom, a complete spacious kitchen, and beautifully landscaped lawn area where you can relax in an adirondack chair or picnic in the shaded backyard.

Adirondack chairs

The view NH from those chairs

The View from the Chairs : New Hampshire

 From the patio outside the kitchen, there is a stone pathway which will lead you from the lawn area to the barn where Kipling’s horses, Nip & Tuck, were stabled.


 The Barn

This property is super comfortable, nestled in among the trees, and banked by perennials. You’ll feel a certain sense of having lived in a cabin in the woods, with comfort.”

Sooooo, comfortable :

Sitting Room CH

The Sitting Room

Carriage House Kitchen

The Kitchen

Desk. Carriage House

Desk at rear of Sitting Room

Carriage House bookcase

One of the Bookcases

Kipling still predominates on the shelves but I read and enjoyed :

Who lived here book

Who lived here?

vermont Feud

Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont Feud

American Outhouse

The Vanishing American Outhouse

RK picture

Rudyard Kipling was keeping a watchful eye on us!

Stake Moss – A Dalesbus Ramble

Take a brisk walk across the top of Wharfedale to follow the Roman road down into Wensleydale.
Start: Causeway Moss Road Junction 12.10
Finish: Bainbridge approx. 15.40
Distance/Grading: 7 miles / Moderate
TRAVEL: Outward: Bus 800 from Leeds (09.50), Horsforth (10.10), Guiseley (10.22), Ilkley (10.45) and Grassington (11.35).
Return: Bus 800 to Grassington, Ilkley and Leeds for onward connections.
Walk Leader: Jim

Just the job after a wedding on Friday and family party on Saturday! I just needed to get out and enjoy a brisk walk after all that high living.

Gilbert Lane

Gilbert Lane at the start of the walk

Eight of us got off the bus at Causeway Moss Road Junction not far from Buckden but the bus took the strain of the climb so we only had a bit of additional uphill on Gilbert Lane before we reached the summit of Stake Moss. Then we had a steady tramp along very clearly marked track to Busk Lane from where we were soon steadily descending along Carpley Green Road and into Bainbridge which is clearly still resting on its laurels after the early July successful hosting of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France.

Buckden Pike

Buckden Pike from Stake Moss

Typical view

Typical Yorkshire Dales View between Wharfedale and Wensleydale

Our track

Our Track on a lovely October Sunday

To Carpley Green

We leave the main byway and head towards Carpley Green

Sheep on a wall

Sheep on a Wall

Descending into Wensleydale

Descending into Wensleydale

Carpley Green and Addlebrough

Carpley Green Farm and Addlebrough Ridge


Semer Water


Askrigg in Wensleydale


Beyond the two stone walls are the earthworks of Virosidum (Roman Town)

Wensley Walling

Dry Stone Wall Wensleydale Style


Baa Baa Black Sheep

Descending into Bainbridge

Descending into Bainbridge

Bainbridge Signs

Bainbridge Welcomed Le Tour

Sheep on penny farthing

TDF 2014

Rose and Crown Bainbridge

The Rose and Crown, Bainbridge – no time to visit as our bus was due!

Three weeks in New England on Instagram

Just a few days ago we returned from our holiday in New England. When I’m away I try to post each day on Instagram so the family can see where I am or where I’ve been and what I have seen. I’ve been busy since I got back so here’s a selected taster from that trip and soon I’ll be back with some detailed posts. But it’s been a “proper” holiday lounging about, reading and enjoying the relaxation.

Our cosy Cape Cod Cottage in East Falmouth

The Island Queen to Martha’s Vineyard

Seen on the Chappaquidick Ferry- a reminder of our next trip

Woods Hole Marina and Oceanographic Institute

Little Libraries always catch my eye

End of Season Sand Sculpture, Barnstable, MA

Connecticut River Vermont/New Hampshire

The Carriage House near Brattleboro VT

Eric Carle Museum, Amherst MA

Vermont Maple Syrup made here

Vermont View

LL Bean, Freeport ME “We never close