Up a Country Lane. Jan. 30, 2019
We’ve had a lot of snow lately, and it has kept me cooped up indoors. As I sit by the window, I let my mind drift to wonderful memories. I have had some exciting adventures, and thinking about them brings a smile to my face.
Among those was a trip to Scotland and England with my sons Jeff and Bob. The year was 1994, and I was doing genealogical research. One of our stops was the town of Oxford. It is north of London, and the home of an ancient, famous university.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast within walking distance of the interesting places in the university area. Staying in someone’s home is very comfortable. Over a shared breakfast in the dining room, you can meet other travelers and become better acquainted with your hosts.
Little details are so interesting. One was that toast is served standing upright in a toast rack. I’m told that keeps it crisp until someone is ready to butter it and enjoy with the English breakfast of eggs, ham, fried tomatoes and baked beans.
Oxford University is made up of many distinct colleges. We discovered New College, built with colored stones in the 1400s. We stopped by St. Edmund’s College with its medieval hall. I was interested in retracing the steps of Methodist founder John Wesley who attended Christ Church College as an undergraduate and Lincoln College where he was a teacher.
In the center of the university is the Bodleian Library, one of the greatest book collections on earth. Nearby is Blackwell’s Bookstore, reportedly one of the largest in the world. We wandered about looking at books on many subjects, some of them hundreds of years old.
When we weren’t walking through the colleges or examining books, we were enjoying music. We heard an all-Mozart concert was in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater. This wonderful egg-shaped building was designed in 1664 by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The Oxford Concert Orchestra strings played first, then a pianist playing a Mozart concerto. At intermission, stage hands turned the piano on its side and carted it out a side door. Bob had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and came back to report he saw the piano disappearing down a narrow cobblestone street. “Looks like somebody just kidnapped the piano,” he said.
We had also attended musical events in London. In Westminster Abbey, we had heard an organ performance on the great instrument that ushers in royal weddings, coronations, and funerals. We sat near the high altar and, as the music swelled to the vaulted ceiling, the deep bass chords resonated past us, echoing among the crypts and memorials on the floor and walls of the abbey.
On our last night in London, we had dinner in Covent Garden at a restaurant called Rules. Established in 1798, it was a favorite of diners including Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, and many of the royal family. Its dark wood-paneled walls were decorated with portraits of some of Rules’ famous customers.
All too soon it was time to leave. As the plane lifted off to carry us back to America, I thought of all the places we had seen and people we had come to know. I already was yearning to return to this enchanted land of my ancestors.
I also realized that my mind was full of pictures that will never fade – the coastline of Scotland, the mist coming off the sea, the purple heather blooming across the fells, the black-faced sheep and the black Galloway cattle with white bands around their bellies.
Beside the door of one of our Scotland bed and breakfasts, the host had left a sign, “Haste Ye Back.” Today as the snow is keeping me from doing much, that is what I am doing as I haste back to Scotland and England in my memories.
We visited Joan Birkby, a distant relative, at her home in Pontifract, England. She shared her favorite recipe for Yorkshire pudding, a local favorite.
Joan Birkby’s Yorkshire Pudding
1 cup plain flour
½ pint milk
Mix flour and salt in bowl. Make a hollow depression in the flour and break eggs into it. Stir with wooden spoon. Add liquid gradually until all the flour is mixed in. Beat well. Add remaining milk. Beat well. The more air you get in, the better it will rise.
Put some fat in pudding tins or muffin tins (roast beef drippings work best). Heat tins in an oven at 450 degrees. When fat is smoking hot, pour batter into each tin about half full. Return to center rack of oven. Cook about 20 minutes.
For a variation called Toad in the Hole, put a small ball of ground sausage each tin and bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. Pour Yorkshire pudding batter over the sausage until each tin is half full, then return to oven for 20 minutes.