A cut above: best Christmas roasts

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Turkey is a traditional favourite but there are so many choices of meat when it comes to the festive table, and many excellent local producers

What scene depicts Christmas more traditionally than a large cooked bird being brought out to the table and carved by the head of the household?

Turkey is, of course, the popular festive choice. Tom Copas Jnr says: “Turkey is what you’re meant to have! We’ve been rearing the best turkeys in Britain for over 60 years and nothing tastes better on Christmas Day, especially knowing all the care and attention that’s gone into their welfare.” Visit www.copasturkeys.co.uk.

Walters Turkeys is a family business running since 1911 on the Yattendon Estate in the Berkshire Downs. The team are passionate about animal welfare and expert in the best way to cook and store your bird for the perfect feast; call 01635 578 251 or visit www.waltersturkeys.co.uk. Tell your butcher how many guests you have (and how greedy!) to select a bird or joint of the perfect size.

Excellent traditional alternatives to turkey include goose and duck, which are more expensive and do not give as much meat per size as a turkey. Cockerels (male chickens) clock in at about the 10lb in weight and are becoming a popular alternative to turkey. For more adventurous of home cooks there is also the three-bird roast, with a wide variety of bird breasts one inside another (such as turkey, pheasant and partridge). These have plenty of meat but need to be carefully cooked.

Hungerford butcher Christian Alba says: “In all the places I’ve worked, Christmas meat is usually turkey. But I grew up on a turkey farm, so I have beef fore rib.” Phil Currie, head chef at The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis says: “I like to use beef shin as the bone provides so much flavour which leaves you with a great sauce. For Christmas we serve it with classic bourguignon garnish and a twist with a blue cheese dumpling. It’s a great alternative to turkey.” Visit www.thegreyhoundletcombe.co.uk or call 01235 771969.

Jesse Smith Butcher & W.J Castle in Cirencester has a unique dry-aging process for its beef featuring a room lined with Himalayan salt bricks. The company, which goes back for several generations, are passionate about animal husbandry and welfare and also offer the very finest poultry, game, pork and lamb for the well-stocked Christmas larder; visit www.jessesmith.co.uk or call 01285 653352.

Recipe queen Lyn Deveson says: “I’ve always cooked turkey and a gammon; cold turkey, ham, turkey curried, stir fried, in sandwiches is a big part of the appeal. But I cooked a cockerel last Christmas and won’t go back to turkey – it has more flavour. I remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat but the French way is best; higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Good gravy makes all the difference, too!

“I also remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat, but the French way is best – higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Traditionally we cook turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon etc. with the head male at the top of the table, carving! That’s the  picture we all have in our heads and everyone wearing paper hats and pulling crackers! Because turkey meat can be quite bland, you can go to town with the other flavours. A good gravy makes the difference and thanks to chefs such as Jamie Oliver, we are learning that Bisto is not the essential ingredient but I am shocked by the number of English who still use it! The trouble is we are so spoilt nowadays and can eat anything any time of the year, so Christmas lunch or dinner isn’t such a treat as it used to be.”

Enter our competition for a Christmas In A Box foodie hamper – including a 6kg turkey!

GINspiration

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Gin is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with a wealth of interesting spirits produced right here on our doorstep. We chat to some of the enthusiastic local producers and offer up our favourite tipples!

History of gin

Gin may be one of the most popular liquors in the country, yet the colourless spirit has had to contend with a chequered history since it first landed on these shores more than 300 years ago.

Originally gin was sold as a medicine, distilled and supposedly capable of aiding kidney ailments, gallstones and gout after Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius created genever. Brits were first introduced to it when the English soldiers assisted the Dutch against the Spanish in Antwerp during the late 16th century during the Eighty Years’ War.

The armies were known to drink genever before heading into battle, and it’s thought to be the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage”. William of Orange then arrived here to rule in 1688 and promptly relaxed laws on making spirits. Gin, which starts with a base of juniper berries, gained in popularity – among all classes – with the upper classes drinking genever and the working classes making do with a new, cheaper “imitation” gin, substituting the costly ingredients with such things as turpentine and sulphuric acid.

Subsequently, gin’s reputation took a turn for the worse. In London alone, more than 7,000 “dram shops” sprang up with an estimated 10 million gallons being distilled annually by barbers, grocers and market stall holders. Gin became increasingly cheap to produce, easily accessible, little duty was paid on it and some workers were even given it as part of their wages. The 1736 Gin Act forced anyone wishing to sell distilled spirits to take out a licence costing £50.

Only three such licences were taken, but gin’s popularity did not wane as “mother’s ruin” remained hugely popular, before a second act was passed in 1751, which raised duty, and prohibited distillers, grocers, chandlers, jails and workhouses from selling the liquor.

     

Thankfully this was the low point for gin and the spirit has rebuilt its once-tarnished reputation to become the UK’s most popular alcoholic drink. “We’re spoilt for choice with local gins here in the in Thames Valley” says Catriona Galbraith of The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis. “Our favourite is the TOAD Oxford Dry Gin, a delicious citrus and aromatic combination or the kaffir lime and lemongrass gin from Twisting Spirits, as exotic as it sounds with a hint of Asian spice notes. “We like to serve our gins simply, with either a favourite tonic from the Fevertree range and garnish such as lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, mint or basil or even neat over ice, to allow the real complex botanical flavours to come through.”

Hobbs of Henley

“There’s nothing more marvellous than a gin at 11 o’clock on the river to wake the spirits…” Indeed, back in 1870, Mr Harry Hobbs, founder of Hobbs and Sons (now Hobbs of Henley) and publican of The Ship Hotel was renowned for his flamboyant beard and nature, often seen in his punt sipping his home-distilled gin of a morning. Mr Hobbs threw parties along the riverbanks, hiring out his boats for shindigs. Now, 150 years later the family’s gin is made with local botanicals.

 

Cotswold Distillery

Cotswold Distillery uses local raw materials, traditional kit and techniques to create its handmade gin. There’s a 500-litre pot still, (only filled ¾ full to make sure the vapours get contact with the copper during distillation). Distilled with nine carefully considered botanicals, the Cotswolds Dry Gin has an aromatic twist of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, local lavender, bay leaf, hand-peeled fresh lime and pink grapefruit zest, cardamom and black peppercorn. The distillery building itself is a miniature version of what is usually an enormous plant and the shop and tasting rooms are more like a cosy Cotswolds cottage – you can sit by the wood burner to sip their outstanding natural spirits.

Foxdenton Estate

The use of British fruit combined with traditional recipes is what makes our fruit gin so quaffable,” says Nick Radclyffe of Foxdenton Estate. “There is nothing better as the nights draw in than the warming tipple of a fruit gin cocktail such as the Ping Pong.” Foxdenton Estate creates gin liqueurs with plums, sloes and damsons using recipes that date back several generations with father and son gin producers, Nick and Piers, choosing the traditional tipples they know and love. Sloe Gin, 70cl £24.50.

Young minds

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Kevin Leivers of The Naked Pharmacy explains how parents can help boost children’s mental health to cope with their learning journey at school

September summons our youngsters back to school, college and university. Increased screen time, pressure to succeed and the inability to switch off can tip the nervous system into permanent “sympathetic nervous system” mode. This is the “fight or flight” mode the body originally evolved as a mechanism to protect us from imminent danger. The anxiety response in the brain causes a cascade of hormones with wide-ranging effects such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, paling or flushing of the face, sweaty hands… The list goes on and, if left unchecked, may lead to more regular and extreme symptoms.

Youngsters who suffer from anxiety may feel abnormal and isolated. Depression is deeply personal and masks itself in varied symptoms. Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that perhaps the most effective treatment is personal empowerment of the sufferer’s own treatment. This means that they can learn to recognise and manage their symptoms, assisted by their parents.

Finding the tools that work for the individual is key to success. A regular exercise routine is both physically and mentally beneficial for health, especially within a group or team which will help reduce isolation. Regular sleep and a bedtime routine is very important, so turn off all blue light-emitting devices, avoid late food or drink (give at least two hours to digest) and avoid caffeine and sugary drinks after 1pm. Encourage children to express themselves by drawing or writing; it’s such a beautiful tool as an outlet to release thoughts.

Correct breathing is also vital. The hormonal cascade during an anxiety response causes us to shallow breathe and suck in more air than we breathe out, making panic worse.

Tony Ulatowski has used “The Big Breath” with more than 400 students in London, from pre-schoolers to secondary students, for the last year and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, teachers and pupils. He says: “One of the teachers told of a four-year-old girl with anger issues who’s learnt to take herself away, regulate her emotions and just two or three of the big breaths help her feel better.”

A healthy diet including “live” foods, vegetables and fruits is hugely helpful; 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. A study from New Zealand in 2017 found depressed patients significantly improved on a modified Mediterranean diet. There are also some natural supplements which are safe, effective, non-addictive and adaptogenic that provide an evidence-based approach for mood imbalance and anxiety in children and teenagers. One of the most widely tested is the ancient spice saffron. Saffron targets the gut as well as the brain.

Dr Paul Clayton, Fellow at The Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, believes saffron should be considered in place of current therapies. He says: “By targeting core aspects of mood and anxiety, saffron works far more rapidly than the pharmaceuticals, which shoot at the wrong target. Saffron restores normal nerve function; if you have chronic inflammation, the “brakes” are put on a few key processes. Moreover, it acts very fast (hours, not weeks or months), has no withdrawal symptoms, no side effects, and is safe to use with children.”

Visit www.thenakedpharmacy.com or email info@thenakedpharmacy.com or call 01483 685630.

Did you know?

1 In the UK 16 million people experience mental illness.
2 Three out of four mental illnesses start before the age of 18.
3 10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness.
4 Three out of four young people with mental illness are not receiving treatment.
5 The average wait for effective treatment is 10 years.
6 Suicide is still the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
7 People with severe mental illness die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.

Acting up

The Boost! School of Acting team believe taking part in drama-based group activities can help develop social skills and reduce anxiety. They offer Saturday morning lessons in Oxfordshire for 4-6-year-olds and 7-10-year olds in Clifton Hampden and Monday morning sessions for pre-schoolers in Didcot. They also want to start a new group for teenagers – parents and teens themselves who might be interested, please get in touch! Visit www.boost-drama.co.uk

Key Player

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will show audiences a different side of himself this month. He chats to Peter Anderson ahead of his Maidenhead piano show

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will showcase his love for classical piano music, motivated by his desire to open the genre up to the masses. Audience members can look forward to beautiful music (with the occasional mistake), some interesting stories and a sprinkling of his trademark impressions…

So where does Alistair’s love of classical piano come from? “I grew up with classical music,” he says. “I can remember the Peer Gynt Suite from when I was about five. Then when I was in my teens I heard some piano music on the radio; I asked my mother what it was and she told me Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. When I said I really liked it, she said she had a record of it and we listened to the whole concerto.

“With this concert, I hope to bring my love of classical piano music to a wider audience by playing about 18 short pieces and in between talking about the pieces and the composers who wrote them. There are many lovely composers for the piano whom not many people have heard of and I’d love to change that.

“One of the pieces I play is by John Field, one of the best Irish composers of classical music. During the show, there may be the occasional laugh, but this is me trying my best to play piano, not emulating Victor Borge or Les Dawson!”

I guess one of the scariest moments for an impressionist must be coming face-to-face with someone you impersonate? I wonder whether Alistair fancies meeting one of the classical composers… “Now there’s a question! I think some of the composers were a little terrifying. I think Tchaikovsky described Rachmaninov as 6 feet 6 inches of Russian gloom. John Field is someone I’ve studied and his music is good for beginners to learn. Then there’s Debussy and Grieg both of whom had a vast knowledge about piano playing.”

Alistair McGowan – Intoduction to Classical Piano is at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Saturday, 11th August. For more information or to book please visit www.norden.farm/events or call 01628 788 997.

Drink quench marks

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Our beautiful part of the world is full of fantastic food & drink producers. We uncork some of our favourites to enjoy this summer…

If summer joy could be encapsulated in a sound, surely it would be the “pop” of a perfectly chilled bottle? And when you’re uncorking the fruits of your own labours, success is sweet indeed…

“This land is a b***** to cultivate,” says Henry Laithwaite as he stands on the undulating Chiltern slopes alongside his wife Kaye. “It’s so flinty that the harrow kept breaking when we started working the soil, which inspired our name. But it is a very special spot.”

Indeed, this beautiful Thames Valley terroir is one of the many magical ingredients (along with lots of hard work) which have helped conjure up the lush velvety blushing fizz we uncork and sample in Harrow & Hope’s adjoining state-of-the-art winery. This non-vintage brut rosé, made exclusively from pinot noir grapes, won a gold medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards. Produced using traditional methods and the precious fruit from these relatively young vines, Harrow & Hope’s sparkling wines are flying the flag for the Great British food and drink revolution. Visit www.harrowandhope.com

Here at Round & About Magazine we are passionate (not to mention greedy and thirsty) supporters of local pubs, restaurants and producers. After all, anyone working in the food & drink industry will know all too well that it takes a lot of hard graft to create the perfect recipe for punters to enjoy.

Chalgrove Gin

Gin has seen a surge in popularity and there are some interesting local producers in this spirited part of the world. Chalgrove Artisan Distillery use juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamon and black peppercorns, honed in an alembic copper still, to create their OX44 Gin; visit www.chalgroveartisandistillery.com.

Did you know gin started out as a medicine (it was thought to cure gout and indigestion)? In the 18th century, alcohol was safer to drink than water and gin was cheaper than beer; it was untaxed until the government cottoned on, sparking hooch production. Much of the gin was drunk by women (with historians blaming it for child neglect and citing wet nurses giving gin to babies to quieten them), landing many in debtors’ prisons or the gallows, or driving them to madness, suicide and death (hence the term Mother’s Ruin). However, these days it’s a more joyful summer spirit, and can even be considered a beauty tonic…

Young In Spirit is the world’s first company which combines spirits with pure collagen. Oxford “gintrepreneurs” Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick have earned attention from Vogue and The Daily Mail, among others for their Collagin; www.collagin.co.uk.

The artisans at Toad in Oxford craft gin, absinthe, vodka and rye whiskey worth a shot – and there’s a new cocktail bar at Bicester village; www.spiritoftoad.com. And Mr Hobbs Gin, part of the Hobbs of Henley Experience, has launched two new fruit flavoured gin liqueurs; Rhubarb & Ginger and Raspberry & Elderflower www.mrhobbsgin.co.uk 

Is beer your tipple? Hoppy bunnies are spoilt for choice. For tours, tastings and hearty ales, check out Witney’s wondrous Wychwood Brewery (www.wychwood.co.uk). Cirencester’s Corinium Ales (www.coriniumales.co.uk), Chipping Norton’s Hook Norton Brewery www.hooky.co.uk. A passion for good beer and social justice fuel Botley’s Tap Social, where the team offer live music and street food every Friday and Saturday in August as well as the monthly comedy night and reggae night, www.tapsocialmovement.com. Ciderniks near Kintbury has been making natural ciders, pure apple juice and cider vinegar since 2003; www.ciderniks.com

Spice up your life…

Variety is the spice of life and there are so many restaurants to enjoy this summer. Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar (the father of Benares in London and Sindhu in Marlow) hosts Indian nights in August at his divine Hawkyns in Amersham; www.hawkynsrestaurant.co.uk. The Bottle & Glass Inn in Binfield has made a splash, gaining a nod from Harden’s Guide and a Michelin Plate; www.bottleandglassinn.com. For summer dining in style, check out The French Horn in Sonning (www.thefrenchhorn.co.uk), The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row (www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk) and The Nelson in Brightwell Baldwin www.thenelsonbrightwell.co.uk. Feast on fresh Lebanese and Middle Eastern delicacies (many vegan or veggie) including colourful salads and wraps at Comptoir Libanais in Oxford’s Westgate; www.comptoirlibanais.com
We also love the rustic summer vibes of The Highwayman (www.thehighwaymaninn-checkendon.co.uk). Cheers!

So, we’d like to know what’s your favourite pub or restaurant and why? Join in the conversation and comment below.

Summer favourites from Paul Clerehugh

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

We chat to Paul Clerehugh, the star chef of The Crooked Billet and London Street Brasserie…

Q. What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“ My Vogue Speed Peeler, for planing Reggiano curls from a parmesan wedge. It produces perfect courgette, daikon and carrot ribbons and peels a waxy charlotte in seconds… I could even shave my legs with it.”

Q. What are your favourite al fresco summer dishes?
“Shaved courgette and parmesan dressed with thick green olive oil. Or else rotisserie spitroast chicken, loads of herbs, garlic and lemon. I’m also partial to a Mr Whippy with local raspberries and monkey blood.”

Q. Which are your favourite local suppliers, producers or farm shop?
“Blue Tin Farm Shop at Keepers Cottage in Ipsden. Great produce, a great smoke house, great providence and I fancy the farmer’s wife…”

Q. What’s your favourite summer veg, fruit and drink?
“Runner beans, tomatoes and Barbara Laithwaites’ Stoke Row English sparkling wine. I also love an ice-cold Dandelion & Burdock.”

Visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk  or London Street Brasserie

Hooked on Peter Pan

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Journey to Neverland thanks to an open-air musical production of Peter Pan by the Immersion Theatre team, writes Peter Anderson

Once again, the theatre’s artistic director James Tobias combines with composer Robert Gathercole for this latest adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s iconic story about a boy who never grew up.

“I’m incredibly excited to continue expanding Immersion’s portfolio of work,” James tells me. “Peter Pan is shaping up to be another
larger-than-life summer treat for families of all ages, complete with all the ingredients that make an Immersion show such a uniting, and above all fun family experience.”

So, what you need to do is follow young Peter, as he guides Wendy and the Darling boys on an awfully big adventure as they think happy thoughts and fly high to Neverland. Once there, they will meet a collection of well-known characters, from Peter’s friends – the Lost Boys, his close friend the cheeky Tinkerbell, and then of course there is the hilarious Smee and the most feared villain of them all, the evil Captain Hook. Filled with catchy music, heaps of audience interaction (oh yes there is!), and a laugh-a-minute script makes this a hilarious and exciting musical about the boy who never grew up, one where every member of the family will be hooked!

Speaking of Hook, Thomas Cove who plays him says: “It’s such a pleasure to be teaming up again with James Tobias and the great people at Immersion Theatre. It’s not often that chances to play such an iconic character like Captain Hook come along, so as soon as the casting came up, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. The team who have been assembled truly bring this timeless story to life. The show is packed with Immersion’s trademark high-energy, fantastic entertainment for all ages, and the beautiful open-air venues we’ll be visiting will be in for a treat.”

The performances are outside, so audience members can take their own picnic, chairs or rugs, and drinks will be served during the interval. After the performance you may also have a chance to meet members of the cast.

Peter Pan will be performed on lawns, in our readers’ areas on the following dates:
Wednesday 8th & Thursday 9th August in Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, Surrey.
Friday, 10th August In Langley Park, Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Monday, 13th August in Shaw House, Newbury, Berkshire
Sunday, 26 & Monday, 27th August in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

For details and tickets, visit www.immersion theatre.co.uk

Peter Pan by Immersion Theatre

Peter Pan - Coming soon to a venue near you!

Peter Pan opened this weekend and has already been wowing sold out audiences so be sure to HOOK your tickets now!https://www.immersiontheatre.co.uk/outdoor-peter-pan-2018/

Posted by Immersion Theatre Company on Monday, 2 July 2018

Summer favourites from Atul Kochhar

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

We asked Atul Kochhar the twice Michelin-starred chef, and owner of Benares in London, Sindhu in Marlow and many other restaurants, about his summer favourites

Atul Kolchhar
Atul Kolchhar

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“I wouldn’t be without a wok or a karahi. A slightly heavier wok is best as you can stew, braise and fry. It’s a good idea to season a new wok before using it for the first time; Put plenty of salt in and heat then take a kitchen cloth and rub the salt all over the sides and base, wash with weak soapy water and dry.”

Q. What’s your fave al fresco dish?
“Anything I can do on the barbecue, meat, vegetables or fruit. You don’t need to add lots of spice; keeping it simple with salt, pepper and lemon juice is ideal. Try to retain the juices as much as you can by grilling on a high heat so the food seals quickly and retains flavour.”

Q. Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant?
“I love The Footman in Mayfair where, once in a while, I go for a pint with my team. A great place.”

Q. What about a fave farm shop or supplier?
Laverstoke Park Farm [in Basingstoke] does the best cheese, especially buffalo mozzarella.”

Q. Which British summer produce do you love?
“Early this year I made a pact with the family to spend less time travelling and more time at home so I’m mostly in the UK. Strawberries are my favourite. Chard and rhubarb I love, too, especially at this time of year. Chard is best blanched quickly, used in the same way as spinach. If I’m cooking a chicken curry I’d add the whole leaf to the pot – which makes it slightly salty but amazing, since it absorbs all the juices. The eating is fantastic! If you’re a vegetarian chard is a great option.”

Visit www.atulkochar.com

Woodland Wonder

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Woods are amazing. They’re where imagination takes root. Where a love of nature grows and thrives. And they’re the lungs of our county. They are also the best place to escape to, and shrug off your cares. The Japanese have a name for it; Shinrin-Yoku, which, poetically coined, means “forest bathing”. Living in this part of the world, we’re spoilt for choice, so we have teamed up with The Woodland Trust, a charity that exists to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future. They focus on improving woodland biodiversity and increasing peoples understanding and enjoyment of woodland.

Harpsden & Peveril Woods

Harpsden & Peveril Woods is an 18-hectare area that has been designated as “ancient semi-natural woodland”, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Area of Conservation and has Tree Preservation Order work. This site, next to Henley Golf Club, approximately a mile south of Henley-on-Thames, and within the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has a 50-year management plan with the minimum of silviculture intervention in place.
Harpsden & Peveril Woods is dominated by mature beech, pedunculate oak, ash trees and sessile oak. Also hazel, holly, field maple, rowan, wild cherry all present.

The majority of the land of this wood was acquired by The Woodland Trust in 1991, after the Great Burns Day Storm of 1990. There were a lot of wind-blown trees, and these gaps are being filled with younger trees of a variety of species.

The Woodland Trust says there will be a loss of ash through ash dieback disease, which is very likely to occur in the next 10 years and this will add further gaps to the mature tree canopy. Over time this wood is likely to become more of mixture of beech, oak, birch and sycamore.

The open canopy gaps have allowed other flora and fauna to flourish. There have been 40 recorded species of flowering and uncommon plants strongly associated with old woodland including bird’s nest orchid, narrow-lipped helleborine, green-flowered helleborine, cow-wheat, goldilocks and the yellow bird’s nest. The deadwood habitat is also very rich, and this wood has been noted for its diversity of fungi. In a fungal survey in 1999 recorded 171 species of which nine are rare.

Penn and Common Woods

Walk back in time in Penn and Common Woods, once home to Iron Age smelting, a Roman settlement, a wood-turner’s workshop for High Wycombe’s chairmaking businesses, and even an army base during World War II.

You can find this place, which is at the very heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to the amenities in the village of Penn Street, near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

These woods today have taken their shape as a direct result of its rich and changing history. For those interested in archaeology, there are a number of features to look out for which point to the wood’s past, such as banks, ditches, pits and dells.
As well as providing a home and source of income for individuals, Penn and Common Woods has had an interesting history of wildlife. Wild boar, wolves and deer roamed the wood in the Middle Ages, and there are still roe deer to be seen today.

Medieval farmers would bring their cattle, horse, sheeps and pigs to graze on common ground. The Woodlands Trust has reintroduced cows to Penn Wood to maintain open pasture by trampling down thickets and fertilising the ground, encouraging a vast array of flora and fauna back.

Penn Woods is renowned for its rich stock of ancient woodland. Over much of the site the canopy is dominated by broad-leaved tree species including oak, beech and birch – some of which are over 200 years old. However, there are also areas of dense coniferous plantation and open pasture.

The range of habitats here supports a diversity of species adapted to completely different ecological niches. This can be illustrated by the rare butterflies and unusual beetles. A survey in 2000 discovered 10 nationally scarce beetles.

Overhead a wide range of birds can be spotted including brambling, tawny owl, cuckoo, garden warbler, red kite, kestrel and buzzard.

Puttenham Village Walk

The Puttenham Village Walk (3miles) Leg 1. Follow the signs for a footpath, you’ll pass a cottage, keep left round the corner, down steps to a bridleway, then turn right (you’ll see yellow arrows, follow them). Pass through some swing gates, over stiles and a flat bridge towards a large metal gate, which, leads you to Puttenham Lane. Turn left, pass through a kissing gate, into the meadow, keep left and follow the winding path steeply uphill. In the distance, you will see Puttenham Priory on the right. At the final stile, continue ahead to a T-Junction in the village. (On the right is St John the Baptist – well worth a visit.) Reward yourself with a pint and lunch.
The Culmill Circuit (7½miles) Leg 2. From the village head towards the North Downs Way. It’s a five-mile straight walk, with a few twists and turns, but you will have a fine view of the Hog’s Back. This path will take you towards Totford Wood to meet a junction with fields. Look out for the yellow arrows, that will guide you through an area called Payn’s Firs. Look out for the little fairy house in the trees. Go right on the road. (If you need a toilet break head towards St Laurence.)

Next the trail is a zig-zag, starting from the left towards Binton Wood. There are lots of chestnut trees here. Stay on the path, following the green-and-white signs, past beautiful, tall pine trees, to a place known as Culver’s Well. The track runs through open woodland of Crooksbury Common, and onwards to the timber works, keep an eye out for the vehicles. You’ll get to a crossing. On the otherside is Britty Wood.

Leg 3 (2½miles). The route goes up through pines, beeches and a coppice. Then it’s downhill into a beautiful area of silver birches. You come to views of Cutmill Pond, this used to serve an iron mill in the 16th century. Pretty soon you’ll pass Rodsall Manor, with its proud stone eagles. When you see the steps on the left, you’ll be back at the car park.

Stratfield Brake

Stratfield Brake, OX5 1UP, two miles outside Kidlington, is really family-friendly. The Woodland Trust began managing the 18.5-hectare site from 1997 after establishing a lease with the site’s owner, Oxfordshire County Council.

The wood is made up of a mature wood, a young wood and a wetland area. This wood contains tree species such as oak, field maple and elm, as well as many bird species such as tree creepers, rooks and woodpeckers. Old oak trees provide habitats not just for birds but also fungi, mosses, insects and bats.
Sadly, at the moment, access is restricted to the mature woodland area in response to the presence of a disease called acute oak decline, which affects native oak trees, leading in some cases to their death. The disease poses no threat to either humans or animals, but it may be spread through movement of bacteria picked up on visitors’ shoes and clothing or by vehicles. Therefore, on the advice of Forest Research, the Woodland Trust has temporarily closed Stratfield Brake’s mature woodland area to the public.

There’s still plenty to observe at Stratfield Brake this summer including the meadows and the wetland. Just park near the sports club and follow the signs to the wood. There are four entrances to the site from here, creating a network of 1.5miles, buggy-friendly surfaced and unsurfaced paths in Stratfield Brake, which are level and have no width restrictions (but can get muddy in wet weather).

One short loop of surfaced path leads to a bird-watching area overlooking the wetland. All year round it attracts all sorts of birds – you might be lucky to hear the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers high in the trees. There’s a good chance you’ll see mute swan, tufted duck, heron and coot and, if you’re lucky you might spot a rarity such as a little egret. This small heron is hard to miss as it has whiter than white plumage.

Stratfield Brake is also a good place to join the Oxford Canal towpath; a 4.7-mile (7.6km) circular walk using the footbridge to Yarnto, developed by local Ramblers for the Canals & Rivers Trust.

Visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk for more woodland walks. Please remember when setting off for a walk, to take a compass, a good map, a bottle of water and a snack.

Live & Direct

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Historian, broadcaster and TV presenter Dan Snow tells us more about his upcoming History Guy tour…

Q:What will you be talking about in your show? “A large chunk will be about local history, with direct relevance to the place we’re in…”

Q: Do people want to recount their personal histories, too? “Yes, they often want to tell me all about their family or the part their family played in history, such as a soldier in the First World War. A huge number of people tell me stories about their ancestors. They’ll say something like ‘My father was the first black RAF pilot’. Listening to them, you realise how many firsts there are.”

Q: Is your hope that you can captivate audiences with your infectious enthusiasm? “Yes! History is not all about dead kings, old libraries and dust: it’s everything! It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and why we are who we are and why we are speaking English and why it’s acceptable for women and men to mingle together. I hope people walk out of the theatre saying that they had a really good time. I also hope they leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world. I just love this country – there is so much character and history here. Wherever you go in Britain, there are so many stories.”

Q: What do you think are the benefits of studying history? “It’s very good for your mental health to go to these places. When I went to Odiham Castle recently it was a beautiful sunlit morning – not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. Being a historian is a lovely job, but we can all do it at any time.”

Q: Tell us about your channel, History Hit TV. “Life is very exciting at the moment. Our podcasts have a million listeners. I love doing the podcast because of its simplicity and speed.”

Q: What you do in your spare time? “We go on holiday and visit historic sites! The kids are more manageable when you’re doing stuff with them. Having them around the house in winter is brutal. Looking around Winchester or Basingstoke is great fun. Walking around the Roman walls of Chester is a really good day out. You’re a better parent if you take your children to these historic places; it makes better citizens. We’re also on the water all the time. I often row with the kids near our house.”

Q: Did you inherit your love of history from your family? “Yes. My dad is fantastic on the heritage side. I inherited that from him. He has relentless energy. Also, my Welsh grandma, Nain, was a huge storyteller. She taught me to give history a human element and to bring it alive. I hope my history is real and vivid because of her.”

Enjoy Dan Snow: An Evening with “The History Guy” at The Swan in High Wycombe on Thursday, 7th July. For tickets, visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk or call 01494 512 000.