Snape Maltings

Beach sculpture

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Everyone seems to be writing about Snape Maltings so I thought I ought to pen somethings because it is the strangest of places.
Coming out of the wilderness of Suffolk to Snape is like travelling through the snow of Norway and finding yourself in Santa’s grotto, almost. I often think of Suffolk as the best wilderness of England. Remote coastal heaths and marshes with spectacular birds. Where else can you see a bittern and a group of bearded tits in one morning? In the afternoon you can wander around Dunwich heath and see red deer. Maybe spend a week on the Walberswick marshes looking out for barn owls or wandering along the remote eleven mile shingle spit that is Orford Ness.
Then you go to Snape to visit the The Maltings. What a strange name and redolent of music and Radio broadcasts – “Welcome to the Aldeburgh Festival and tonight’s concert is broadcast live from The Snape Maltings…” From seeing no-one to being with everyone, that is the Zen of the place. The place is packed on a Sunday afternoon. There are gift shops, book shops, art galleries and a kitchen shop so huge and throbbing with people it seems as if the entire county’s population is packed into one place. All the papers write about the lush restaurant but the Ravenous Rambler doesn’t have time for such indulgences and retreats to the tea shop. Here, buxom waitresses serve home made cakes and sandwiches with lashings of tea and hot water. The seating area is surrounded by art and photography which gives me a great feeling of inner warmth. There is seating outside too but it’s too cold even if the sun is shining.
It’s worth a visit as it is so unusual but it is being built up even more outside. The old maltings are being turned into luxury homes for the very rich who can afford an extra holiday home. Maybe just pop by on your way back home on a Sunday afternoon


A guide to British Tea drinking etiquette for Americans and other foreigners…


Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Two years service with the British Council in Botswana taught me a thing or two about tea drinking. It’s only when you go away from Britain that you appreciate some of the finer points of tea drinking habits and etiquette…
I was brought up on tea. My father brought a cup into my bedroom every morning and I would sit drinking and reading before going to school. I have kept the habit up all my life and that first cup in the morning is the best. Gradually waking up and savouring a half hour in bed reading a book and listening to the dawn chorus. The tea of the moment is black china and I have started to drink it without milk on some vague health kick that reckons that dairy products are not so good. In the afternoons sometimes I treat myself to a some fairtrade blend of Africa and India tea which taste so good with milk.
A survey in the paper this morning said that the one thing most British pack to take abroad on holiday is tea, followed closely by kettles. Yes, it is a national pastime but I feel it is a slight pity that the British don’t take the quality of the tea that they drink more seriously. Many are content to drink any old tea bag and to leave it to stew in a cup instead of using a warmed pot and fresh leaves as one should. After all making a pot is all part of the ritual as the Japanese would tell us. I have written a lot about tea (do explore my other writings!) and I am always amazed sometimes at the poor quality of a cuppa that is often served. I feel it is my duty to keep my eye on the world to make sure that standards are adhered to.

My other favourite at the moment is red bush learnt from Botswana days and made very desirable by reading the set of novels by Alexander McCall-Smith about the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Drinking the red bush takes me back those carefree days Botswana under the warm sun and dusty atmosphere of Bobonong village where I worked as a physics teacher in a secondary school. We were recruited by the British Council to bulk out the numbers of teachers in the Botswana schools. There were teachers from all round the world; India, Mauritius, Ireland, Canada and American Peace Corps.
The Americal Peace Corps could never quite understand our addiction to tea. They would call round and I would say – “Would you like a cup of tea?” “No, thanks” was the answer. But I taught them that it was not so much a matter of refreshement but more a polite way of discussing what we were going to do that day. Over the ritual of boiling some water and making the tea we could exchange pleasantries before getting down to business. Important questions like – “milk first?” and “sugar – one or two?” had to be answered. These things are important so after a while they would understand and indulged me by drinking tea whenever they called round. Another polite thing is to remember how your friends take their tea. I keep a secret book that I write down – things like ‘Fred – strong, with milk and one sugar’ so I can impress them by producing the perfect cup. Afterall there is nothing more annoying than being presented with a white cup if tea if you take it black!

Hambleden shop Review

St Mary’s Church, Hambleden

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Out on one of my bike rides, the Ravenous Rambler stopped at the Hambleden shop for tea. The village is one of those quintessential English villages. A dog sleeps in the middle of the road, there is a an old well by the tree in the centre of the village square and there are delightful old brick and flint cottages all at odd angles around the village. There is a little bridge over a stream from where you get a good view of the allotments that are a blaze of colour with flowers and vegetables growing together. The church and pub complete the scene. The place is a much used film location; 101 dalmations, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Midsomer Murders to name a few.
Just down the road is the River Thames and Hambleden Lock. Jerome K Jerome wrote “…the rather uninteresting river residence of my newsagent – a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who may be met with about these regions, during the summer months, sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to some old lock-keeper, as he passes through”. He was writing about the owner of the large newsagent chain of WH Smith. The estate was owned by Henry Smith’s family since the 1870s but sold recently. The most notable resident was Lord Cardigan who was born in the manor house and led the famous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.
There are seats just outside the shop and its a great place to take some time out and sit to have some tea or an ice-cream. They serve the tea in a china pot with milk in a jug on a silver tray. It was wonderful tea and I had some locally made carrot cake that was superb. The best thing about this shop is the locally sourced products. There is a good selection of meat and vegetables as well as all the usual provender of a local shop. There is a constant stream of locals, some with children stopping by for a chat and an ice-cream. Several builders and other tradesmen stopped by for some refreshment as well. You can sit and people watch all day. A delightful child was eating her ice-cream and asking her mummy questions like – “ Mummy, how are houses built?” and “Mummy, how are people made?” The latter question she cleverly avoided.
Hambleden is the centre of some of the best walks and cycle rides in the Chilterns so I do commend it as a refreshment place.
5 stars.

Tea at Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Castle

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler managed a short visit today to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. This is one of my favourite places. I used to be a fan of the writings of Harold Nicolson when I was young and am now a fan of Adam Nicolson.
It’s a castle that exists in ruins. There is a tower and some of the old walls and a moat. The gardens are the most beautiful in England. There are formal sections and a rough hewn meadow towards the back leading to the moat, where there are bee hives and a dovecot. There are surprise views and long vistas with a statue placed at the end point. In the distant is the Weald of Kent. A perfect place you might think for a ramble and to dream, sketch and write. It would be if the tea arrangements were satisfactory but I have to report that there are some failings.
Fisrt, let me explain that there is a formal restaurant where I am sure they serve tea in china pots. It was just after lunchtime so I headed for the coffee shop and picked up a slice of unnamed cake and a cup of tea. I was shocked that they served the tea in a cardboard cup! They didn’t have red-bush tea so I settled for the normal English blend. Milk was added for me from the plastic bottle. I had put the cake on a china plate but this was substituted at the till for a polystyrene plate. I found somewhere outside to eat and drink – there were some shady seats but I sat by myself on the grass looking out to the house and watching the swallows take long sweeping dives in front of me. The tea tasted OK at first until I had drunk half of it to discover that there was a tea bag in the bottom so the last half was too strong to drink. How standards have slipped.

Tea is the new coffee

Tea at the Apothecary

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Have you ever sat in Costas or one of the new coffee chains and decided that actually the coffee you are drinking is ..well…awful. I certainly have although I like coffee when I make it and in spite of all their publicity it really is not very good. OK, try the tea. This is just as bad because they just don’t know how to make tea.
This is where my big idea kicks in! I see a whole new genre of excellent tea shops. Not the ones we find left over from Victorian Britain with lace table clothes and frilly cushions everywhere. Although they are good in their own way and certainly, if you want somewhere to take your granny they are perfect. I am thinking of something different. A sleek new modern metro-sexual tea bar but serving tea in china pots with lashings of hot water to top up with. Plenty of tea choice and served with love and affection in warmed pots and boiling water – French people take note! Coffee would be a second option – the poor relation maybe.
There is the question of food. We have to offer something and maybe quiches with small salads for the lunch people. Toast with marmalade or honey for breakfast and elevenses. In the afternoon – more toast and jam with maybe some cakes. I think the Ramblers Tea bar should be open into the early evening for the office workers who don’t want to drink alcohol. Maybe toast and hummus. (You see – I like toast!)
What sort of tea would be on offer? Maybe a pot of Earl Grey or Black China and like Mma Ramotswe of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, red bush tea is a must. We will be able to sit in quiet contemplation, thinking about life and drinking a nice cup of red-bush. Bliss. I can see business people having meetings around the pot savouring the Orange Pekoe. If there is music (and I can’t quite make my mind up about this one) it would be classical.
Countries of the world might follow our lead. The Americans have never understood our love of tea since they threw it all overboard in 1773 at the Boston Tea Party! What a way to spark a revolution. The British would much rather sit down and put on another brew and talk about it.
The Chinese invented the drink of tea and it has been found in tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty around 206 -220 BC but, according to the Tea Council, it really took off in the Tang Dynasty 618 – 908 AD). It was adopted by the Japanese soon after and they developed the wonderful tea ceremony. It was Dutch traders that brought the idea of tea to Europe and then it spread to England. It was a popular drink in the coffee houses of the big cities where perhaps much business was carried out as is the case today. I bet they were a little more stylish with making and presenting their brews though.
My favourite place for tea at the moment is Egypt. They have adopted the idea of tea from the British and do it rather well. The Winter Palace hotel on the front at Luxor has a shady balcony where you sit in peace watching the throngs below, drinking tea from a china pot and eating rather nice cakes. You can imagine being Inspector Poirot on a new case getting the old grey cells fired up on a brew of First Flush Assam.
Tea is also better for you. Victoria Lambert was writing in today’s Telegraph about the health benefits of the cuppa and quotes the American Health Foundation. They say that regular tea-drinkers show less risk of developing heart disease. Apparently the flavonoids have an anti-oxidant effect like fruit and vegetables. Watch out for drinking tea with milk though as there is evidence to suggest that the milks stops the flavonoids working. There still seems to be a lot of research to do before the jury comes out – better put the kettle on whilst we are waiting!

Jetboil system review in the Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire dales

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

In a recent expedition to the Yorkshire dales, helping out on a Duke of Edinburgh Gold trip, I tried out my new Jetboil system. It’s fast, its efficient, it’s compact. The 1L beaker holds the burner and gas cylinder. It all fits together and self lights. Due to the cosy cover and heat distribution system it boils the water fast. I loved it on this trip where I would wake up and put on a brew to make a nice cup of ruibos tea.
We had extreme weather – sleet, snow and rain. The going was tough but the tough just got going leaving me sitting drinking tea and contemplating my excellent lightweight tent and cooking equipment.
There is a larger saucepan which is jolly handy for cooking up dinner and uses the same burner. It has a non stick surface so after we made our tuna fish curry I left it soaking and in the morning the residue just lifted off. Both the beaker and the saucepan have a neoprene cover that helps keep them warm and saves fuel. There are a variety of other accessories on the website.
Highly recommended. You can buy one at the Ymzala Book Shop

Zen and the art of tea drinking

Camping kettle
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Tea is simple yet complex. On the one hand a cup of flavoured hot water and on the other hand something that caused wars and world trade. For me though it is a way of life. The start of every day has to begin with the mighty brew of life just isn’t worth living. I am writing this with a mug of the steaming variety at my elbow. Even when I travel I take an electric element and mug so that I can brew up in the hotel room or a gas burner when camping. I have a special insulated mug with a lid when I am travelling so I can sip along without it getting cold.
My life changed in Botswana when I discovered red bush tea and I am so happy that there are major imports now to the UK, largely the result of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Ma Romotswa likes her red bush tea and it was this literary influence that causes the people of Britain to sit up and take notice. They put the lids on their Earl Grey and Yorkshire tea and started to try out the red bush variety. I like it black and the good thing when you camping is that you drink it cold. At home, I keep a pot going most of the day and just top it up with hot water. It’s good for you as there is no caffeine and its good for the mind because it helps you to think. My current favourite is Dragonfly tea and they do several varieties.
Sometimes, in the afternoon I like something a little stronger and my current favourite is Darjeeling. We also have some black china which is good in the morning – it really wakes me up .
My favourite tea shop for a posh tea is Fortnum & Mason although I also like the little cafe at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Not so much for their tea and cakes but for the sketching opportunities.
My favourite country to travel to for tea apart from Botswana, obviously, is Turkey where they dish out free tea in little glasses wherever you go. It is sweet but refreshing.