Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum

Vindolanda was famed as the last outpost of the Roman Empire. Sited along Hadrian’s Wall, on what used to be the border between England and Scotland, this fortified settlement defended Roman-occupied England from the untamed Picts. I went in 2016 and have never gotten around to writing about it so here it finally is.

The site of Vindolanda is split into two attractions.

There’s the (enormous) site itself, where you can see the real Roman remains of the buildings that have been excavated. This is Vindolanda and to my knowledge there’s no other Roman site as extensive or as high-quality in Britain which is publicly accessible.

The second attraction is the Roman Army Museum, which is part of the same site, shares a car park etc, and has the small finds from the excavations of Vindolanda along with displays, interactive things and information explaining the written history of the time period. This is a great place to get out of the rain which is plentiful and often unpredictable in this part of England.

I really enjoyed seeing the remains of Vindolanda. Don’t get me wrong, the Roman Army Museum is probably one of the best museums (musea, if you’re pedantic) in Britain, certainly the best Roman museum, but I’m not the biggest fan of museums due to my ADHD, so for me, my favourite part was being outside and walking around amongst the remains of the buildings, getting to see what it all would have been like, and learning from the real remains. There’s a reason I’m an archaeology grad not a museum studies grad. But the quality of finds in the Roman Army Museum are excellent, it’s incredible to see such well-preserved artefacts from the time period. My favourite thing to see in the Roman Army Museum was the wax stylus which still contained writing from its erstwhile Roman owner.

You can pay separately or get a joint ticket which makes it easy to do both sites, and there are also family tickets (for up to 2 adults/3 children). 

Getting there:

Cycling/Driving: Find the A69 (the road between the A1(M) motorway at Newcastle and the M6 motorway at Carlisle). About halfway down this road, turn off at Bardon Mill toward the B6138. The B6138 roughly follows a large section of Hadrian’s Wall which is accessible from the road, so this is a good place to do some off-path exploring. However, for Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum, there are big brown tourist signs from the link road between the A69 and the B6138.

Public transport: There is a bus stop right outside Vindolanda. This is for the AD122 from Hexham to Haltwhistle (and back again). Check which direction you need (Hexham or Haltwhistle) as buses to each are hourly but both stop at the same bus stop (which is at the car park for Vindolanda). Hexham has a train station with a 30-minute journey time to/from Newcastle Upon Tyne station. Haltwhistle is on the same railway line which is the Carlisle to Newcastle line, but the line doesn’t stop at Vindolanda.

A Brief History of York (and where to find its remains)

York is a lot older than it looks. Situated in rolling plains at the heel of the North York Moors, downstream from the glacial valley of the Vale of Pickering, York seems fixed in time as a medieval city with later additions, but its past is much older than that. If you want a quick history to help you plan a trip to York, read on! This article covers everything from prehistory through medieval all the way to modern times, with named buildings/landmarks for you to find from each time period, too!

Prehistory

The city of York has a shorter prehistory than other parts of North Yorkshire, for example Scarborough. There’s nothing of it to see in the city, unfortunately, but the monolith in Rudston, near Bridlington, is one of several places in North and East Yorkshire where you can take a day trip to see some prehistory.

If you love the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, check out these 9 prehistoric day trips you can take from York.

Celtic York (Iron Age)

Nothing really remains from York’s Celtic past but we know about it from the Romans. York was located at the confluence of two Celtic tribes, the Brigantes who occupied much of what are now the counties of North and West Yorkshire, and the smaller Parisi tribe, who occupied what is now East Riding of Yorkshire.

Not much is known about the area that became York at this time, but it was probably a small settlement or trading outpost where the two tribes could exchange goods, since the Parisi’s main town was near what is now Brough, East Riding.

Ptolemy said York was already called Eboracum and under the Brigantes’ control by the time the Romans occupied. He may not be a reliable source since he was a Greek historian who lived in Egypt and had never been to England. His knowledge of Britain likely came from rumours and Roman propaganda, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Celtic buildings were biodegradable, made out of wattle and daub (big stick frames packed with manure reinforced with hay), so it is much harder to find the remains of Celtic settlements than it is to find Roman ones, which incorporated stone.

We get a lot of our information on the Celts from burials. The nearest Celtic burial site includes an incredible chariot burial in Pocklington, which was Parisi controlled. This site is currently being studied and they haven’t decided how to display the discoveries, yet.

Roman York

The Romans conquered Britain in AD43 after previous, failed attempts. It was 28 more years before they reached York, where they built a fort in the city of Eboracum. It was actually already a settlement (as we have just seen) but the Romans moved in and made it their own, first with a military fort, and then a civilian settlement.

Archaeologists think the Brigantes were originally working with the Romans but dissented over taxation issues, at which point the Brigantes had a short future with a lot of sharp things in it. The Romans took over Eboracum and made it a military outpost. Once the area was at peace, the Romans turned their fort into a walled city, still called Eboracum.

The Romans built the Basilica (administrative civic building with a courthouse) beneath what is now York Minster. We also have evidence of Roman baths, and some remains of other Roman sites in York, but a lot of it is probably built under existing buildings. Where a building is medieval, it is unlikely that we will ever find out what Roman things lay beneath it, because the new building has to be preserved.

Some people say the Multangular tower is Roman but actually only its base is. The council have it listed as built between 1250-70.

There are still Roman remains you can see in York. Check out this article on them!

Anglo-Saxon York

The Saxons renamed Eboracum to Eoforwic. Influences from this time include place names, such as the nearby Queen Ethelburga’s school. At the time, England was devolved into six kingdoms: Wessex, Essex, Sussex and Kent across the south coast; East Anglia, in modern-day Norfolk; Mercia, in the midlands; and Northumbria in the north. Little remains of this time. During this time, the first York Minster was built in 627. The original building was made of wood. This was replaced by the second Minster, a stone building completed in 637. This was extensively renovated in the 670s and the Minster library and Minster school were founded. This second Minster burned down in 741. Not to be deterred, the Saxons rebuilt it a third time (it was later destroyed again, by marauding Vikings in 1075).

Viking York

In 866, Ivar the Boneless brought an army of Danes to York. From East Anglia, they moved north through Bernicia and into Deira. In 875-954, the area was mostly controlled by Vikings with the occasional Saxon resurgence. The Vikings quickly established themselves in the area and while they were not even here for a century, they transformed York into England’s second largest city in that time. The old Roman wall was covered with earth and a huge wooden palisade was built on top to make it more effective at keeping people out. Viking coins were minted in York, the title “King of York” was created, and one Viking king (Guthred) was buried in York Minster, and the city was largely at peace again. The Viking rule ended in 954 with the death of Eric Bloodaxe, and the next ruler of York was an Earl, rather than a King, as the warring countries within England all became one large country. The Vikings did return and attempted to take Jorvik again but they did not succeed and the whole area returned to Anglo-Saxon rule for 110 years.

What’s left to see:

Across the river on Bishophill Jr, you can find the church of St Mary Bishophill, a 10th Century church. This is the only building left from this period.

Norman Medieval York

After the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, York suffered heavy damage during the harrying of the north, a programme aimed at subjugating the last vestiges of resistance to Normandy rule. The land around the city of York was razed, to make it impossible to grow crops there, and 150,000 people died. After starving out the resistance and paying the Danes to leave, William removed all Anglo-Saxon nobles and installed Norman rulers and York was rebuilt mostly the way it is today.

Important buildings you can see from the Norman medieval period include the Minster (current version 4.0) and the remains of York Castle (Clifford’s tower). The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens is from 1089. St Martin-cum-Gregory church, while it has been altered over the years, still has an 11th century nave which you can see from the outside. Further afield, on Lawrence Street, the 12th century tower of the Old Church of St Lawrence creates a mysterious silhouette in the churchyard of what is now St. Lawrence parish church.

There is also a secret building you can find if you are feeling adventurous. The Norman House is the ruined remains of a twelfth century house. Behind Stonegate, it is unmarked on Google maps. Those in the know will tell you to find an archway on Stonegate to access The Norman House. It’s actually a neat, black door, marked 52A. Presumably, this door was installed to protect the house from the local yoof and potential squatters. Info here.

Plantagenet Medieval York

The house of Plantagenet was a continuous line from William the Conqueror, but not known as such until Richard of York adopted the name. This era spanned 1216 to 1485 and was characterised by a long and bloody feud between the rival branches of the family: The house of Lancaster and the house of York. The city of York wasn’t greatly involved, the house of York was largely York in name only, but some locals do feel a loyalty to these kings – mostly called Richard or Edward – over the rival Lancastrian kings – the Henrys. This turbulent time is known as the War of the Roses, and references to this can still be seen today, as the White Rose of York is now an emblem for the whole of Yorkshire and none of the fighting took place in the city of York, which thrived and finished this era unscathed—by politics.

The Black Death In York

In 1348, The Black Death reached England and spread across the entire country before the end of the following year. It reached York in 1349. Higden of Chester travelled across the north of England and asserted that “scarcely a tenth of the population was left.” By this measure, York fared better than many nearby towns and cities; estimates suggest it lost 30-60% of the population. A more concrete number is difficult to calculate because York actively recruited more citizens from the surrounding rural lands, which added to the population.

The graveyards overflowed and plague victims were buried in huge mass unmarked graves in grassy ditches just outside the walls. An unreliable source suggests these victims were buried in the embankments, and still remain undisturbed, but this is not true. As we have already seen, the embankments cover the Roman walls (and this would be a bizarre way to bury the dead at a time when religious zeal was at its peak). It is far more likely that they were buried below ground level, perhaps where the former moat was.

In some parts of the city, houses and roads either side of the walls make it impossible for there to be undisturbed medieval burials in them. In what remains, it is doubtful the city had the space to bury around 10,000 people around the walls, which calls into question the higher death toll estimates.

Within the city, daily life was a balancing act between waste disposal and grand ideas. On one hand, St. Leonard’s Hospital was the biggest hospital in the North of England (with 225 beds compared to most hospitals having around 20) and the medieval Minster was a great Catholic cathedral. On the other, the streets were swamped with domestic and business waste and sewage, and the water was unsanitary. None of these issues are peculiar to York, however, and are representative of how people understood things during this time.

The evidence shows the presence of leprosy and other diseases in York, but largely health problems were due to poor diet, with iron-deficiency anaemia, joint problems, and rickets commonly found in skeletons from this time. When it comes to medieval hospitals, more is known about the buildings than the people or their ailments/infirmities, and St Leonard’s is no exception.

Things in the city from this time period are plentiful and include: The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall (completed in 1361), which was most recently an almshouse until 1900. The Shambles (the houses you see today date from 1350-1475), a former street of butchers. 2 Jubbergate, at the top of The Shambles, is a fantastic building from the late 14th century. York Barley Hall, a former priory which is now a museum. What you can see of York walls, the third version of the walls, was constructed during the fourteenth century with some accessibility modifications in Victorian times. You can also see the ruins of St Leonard’s hospital (destroyed during Henry VIII’s Reformation) in the Museum Gardens and even venture into its undercroft where there are some displays.

A grand example of the overlap between styles can be seen at St. William’s College, on College Street near the Minster. This impressive half-timbered building was built in the middle of the reign of Edward IV. It was the home of twenty-four priests whose job was to pray for the dead. Later, it became the home of the chantry priests of the Minster. At a first glance it looks Tudor, but the yellow brickwork belies the fact it is older.

Tudor York

The Renaissance in Italy spread to England by the reign of Henry VIII, with ideas such as humanism which would shatter the philosophy underpinning the state. The Reformation and subsequent swinging pendulum between whether the monarchy expected the population to be Catholic or Protestant in any given year caused deep rifts between people that probably began the decline of faith in Britain. Whether this was good or bad depends on your point of view.

Vernacular buildings (houses, shops, and other small projects) in Tudor York were timber-framed, with the wooden beams exposed on the outside of the building. The first floor often projected further into the street than the floor below, and many Tudor buildings were famous for their black-and-white effect between the dark timbers and the white daub between it. The roofs had a steep pitch and leaded glass windows, to avoid Henry VIII’s glass tax. Some buildings were brick-built rather than timbered.

You can see Tudor buildings in York at King’s Manor (the king in question being Henry VIII), A home built in the reign of Henry VII at 31 North Street (designated “Church Cottages” but this name isn’t findable on Google). 7, 8, 12, 12a, 41 and 42 The Shambles are also from the same time period as are 85-89 Micklegate.

For Elizabethan-era buildings, Mulberry Hall on Stonegate is exactly what people imagine when they think of Tudor buildings. Heslington Hall (about 2.5 miles out from the city centre) is a grand example of “high architecture” of the time, but you can’t go inside as it’s part of the University of York’s admin buildings. King’s Manor is older, more accessible and very impressive, situated between the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery.

After the Tudors

The House of Stuart ruled England from 1603 to the eighteenth century, a time of great turbulence. During the Civil War, York’s walls had to defend the city as it became a Royalist stronghold, with the ousted King Charles even holding court in York after London became untenable. Soon, Republican forces marched on the city and laid siege to it. The Royalist army based at York burned the east side of the city down to buy time keeping the Republicans out. The city was badly damaged by the siege, which is why there is a sudden shift from ancient monuments to modern buildings in the east.

Financially, York struggled during this period, especially as the many soldiers in the city were waiting on back pay. A gunpowder explosion in 1684 destroyed York Castle, leaving only what exists today. This ended York’s military power for the time being.

There are a few Jacobean buildings, from the reign of King James I/VI, which look identical to the Tudor style but more dowdy. Examples include St Anthony’s Hall (also known as The Hospital of St Anthony) on Peasholme Green; 28, 30 and 32 Coppergate; the Dutch House at 9 Ogleforth; 35 Stonegate.

Eighteenth Century

After the repressive Puritanism and troubled times of the seventeenth century, the eighteenth brought back abundance, optimism and refinement to the city. The glass tax had been abolished and windows became ginormous. Ceilings also got higher, as new building methods using fired bricks transformed architecture and design. Buildings became light and spacious.

In York, the century began with the debtor’s prison opening in the severely-damaged York Castle in 1705. In 1740, York finally got a hospital again – the first since St. Leonard’s was ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The industrial revolution of 1760 largely bypassed the city. Where other northern towns such as Leeds and Bradford were transformed during this time, York was already a profitable city, its residents were largely gainfully employed in skilled industries which couldn’t be streamlined by factories yet, and only a handful of factories appeared over the next century and a half.

Barely touched by time, York’s city centre remained the same as ever, adding grand buildings to the streets but no slums or factories. Science came to York, and one notable scientist was the astronomer John Goodricke, the namesake of one of the University of York’s colleges.

19th Century

The first factory industry to come to York was in 1824, when the York Gas Light Company, who made lights powered by gas, founded their factory in Layerthorpe. Nothing remains of this. An iron foundry was set up inside the walls at Dixon’s Yard, Walmgate in 1837.

In 1829, tragedy hit the Minster when an arsonist motivated by religious delusions set fire to the building. The choir and the roof of the nave (the main length of the cross-shaped Minster) were severely damaged. Another fire in 1840 completely destroyed the roof and extensive repairs had to be made.

In two separate endeavours, Mary Tuke and Joseph Rowntree, whose families were well-acquainted, opened grocery stores in the 1820s. Mary Tuke developed a successful family cocoa business which was bought out by Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862. When he got into financial difficulties, his older brother Joseph Rowntree invested, paving the way for York’s main industry for the next hundred and fifty years—confectionery.

A second confectionery company—Terry’s, of the chocolate oranges—predates Rowntree. Terry’s was founded in York in 1797, by Bayldon and Berry. Joseph Terry, Berry’s son-in-law, took over the family business in 1821 and, with his qualifications and experience as a pharmacist, created fruit sweets, candied peel, cough sweets and other medicinal sweets. Later, his successor, son Joseph Terry Jr, launched a line of cocoa products. The famous Chocolate Works on Bishopthorpe Road beside the racecourse dates to 1923, and you can still see it today, although it closed in 2005 when production moved abroad.

Other major developments to York in the nineteenth century include the railway. The line was first constructed in 1842, but the station, with its famous late Victorian architectural style similar to the old St. Pancras Station, was not built until 1877.

Industry wasn’t the only thing that transformed nineteenth-century York; between 1829-1851, the cholera epidemic plaguing Britain also deeply affected York. You can visit the York Cholera Graves on Station Road, in a graveyard just outside the walls en-route to the railway station. The outbreak was so severe, and people were so afraid of it, that the city stopped funeral processions taking place along narrow roads, in an attempt to halt the spread. Outdoor funerals were also mandated. These measures caused an uproar amongst people at a time when giving people a “proper send-off” had become almost an art-form and very specific etiquette and customs were usually observed. Fear of contagion caused widespread anxiety, which led to rioting, and in some cases, angry, frightened citizens threw coffins of the deceased into the river.

Where to see York’s nineteenth century past

The Terry’s confectionery shop is in St. Helen’s Square, opposite Betty’s. The business inside it has long-since changed to a high street store, but the building still has a fresco between floors two and three which says “Terry’s” on it. The Cholera Graves are still maintained by York Council and are beside the walls, across the road from the Memorial Garden on Station Road. The railway station is also on Station Road (funnily enough), and if you ascend the bridge between platforms, you can get a good view of the original construction of the roof.

Of the factories founded in the nineteenth century, only one building remains—the Nestle factory, formerly the Rowntree factory, out in New Earswick. However, the “Morrisons Chimney” (real name: The Destructor) still stands, alone and without any context or even a memorial plaque. It was the 55m high (180 feet) chimney stack used as part of the incinerator for destroying the city’s waste.

This area was still the old city tip a hundred years later, in the 1990s. The chimney was situated near where the city’s small, original power station was built, but the power station, and most of York’s industrial heritage, was destroyed in the early 2000s. It seems very ironic that York should know the value of the past better than anywhere, and yet they so readily threw an entire chapter of theirs away to make room for a shopping park on Foss Islands Road/Jewbury.

Modern history

York’s modern history is easy to spot because it really stands out among the backdrop of the mostly historic buildings! From the car park on Stonebow which is a controversially ugly example of 1960s brutalist architecture (and which isn’t a listed building, despite rumours to the contrary), to the war memorial and memorial garden near the train station, the past hundred-and-twenty years did not leave York untouched.

Weekly writing prompt challenge: History

Choose an object at random and write 100 words imagining its history.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Easy Patatas Bravas style Mediterranean potato recipe

I love doing fried potato recipes. This is like patatas bravas but a little different. Instead of being fried potatoes with a separate dipping sauce, this puts everything together during the cooking process. It’s a one-pan recipe that’s quicker and easier than a “traditional” patatas bravas recipe. Oh, and it’s vegan and delicious served with Spanish chicken (or tofu)!

As you will see from the photos, it’s not very photogenic. But I strongly believe that some of the most delicious food doesn’t photograph very well, and that there are a great many beautiful looking dishes on Instagram that would be absolutely disgusting to actually eat. It’s also not very spicy (but full of flavour) making it a perfect recipe for younger children, people with dentures and fussy eaters, too! Just put it through the blender before feeding to little ones who don’t have all their teeth, yet.

Ingredients:

150g potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cherry tomatoes

A handful of fresh thyme

2 tsp paprika

1/2 onion diced

1 pinch garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Peel and dice the potatoes and put in a pan to boil with a pinch of paprika. When the potatoes are done, drain and put aside. Wipe out the pan with some kitchen roll and use again

Chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters

Tear the thyme to release the flavour

Put the olive oil into a pan and add the onions. Fry until they turn transparent

Add the rest of the paprika, the tomatoes and the thyme

When the tomato skins are beginning to separate from the centers, add the boiled potatoes and stir well. Cook on a medium/low heat until the tomatoes are disintegrating.

Serve immediately.

I saw another recipe for patatas bravas and it was literally terrible. It involved so much salt (over a tablespoon for 2 portions of food) I think it would have made anyone very sick, and it also called for cups of olive oil! It claimed it was an authentic recipe but I think the “Chef” got it from a before-scene on Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares.

After reading that recipe, I knew I had to invent my own potato recipe and share it with you because there aren’t enough good patatas bravas recipes (and other interesting potato recipes) around.

Easy Spanish tapas style olives and cashew nuts (vegan)

With the weather so warm, little tapas dishes are perfect for picking at when you don’t have an appetite for a big, heavy meal. It got to 33.5 here this afternoon, so since this isn’t an air-conditioned country, we’ve been eating big salads for lunch and trying to graze through the evening.

This olive and cashew nut recipe is peanut free as my child has a peanut allergy. It only uses three ingredients and is SO easy to make! It’s a great addition to a dinner party or just a nice snack for summertime comfort food. If you prep this alongside your main meal it can share the oven heat so it’s more environmentally friendly. No oven? Microwave for 30 seconds instead (although this will result in softer nuts)!

Ingredients (serves 1-2 as a snack depending how hungry you are):

1/2 jar of olives (I use garlic stuffed olives as these are my favourite)

1/2 cup cashew nuts

1/2 tsp paprika

Mix everything up in a bowl then pop in the oven for 5 mins until nuts are slightly golden.

Serve with other Mediterranean favourites such as patatas bravas, pasta aglio olio, spanish chicken (or tofu) or a big old Greek gyros.

Installing a high raised bed: Garden update

I’ve decided to put in a high raised bed on one side of the back garden. We are still working on the drainage problem and I will write a lengthy article about this once it’s all sorted. Part of my waterlogged clay drainage plan is to build a high raised bed (30cm tall by 2m wide by 1m deep) which can accommodate a whole load of the displaced soil from other areas of the garden (it should take about 0.6 metric tons of soil, if you put those measurements into a calculator).

This came about because we have about 3 tons of soil that’s been displaced from digging 50 metres of drainage trenches around the garden. The soil type we have is heavy clay soil, and although we have a south-facing garden, the fence at the bottom is 4 metres high so that part of the garden is in shade for most of the morning, and even in this heat (I measured a 45 degree ground temperature two days ago) the clay soil just can’t dry out because behind the 4 metre high fence is a huge garden whose ground level is 2m above our ground level.

This means all the water from their garden comes to ours. Their garden is the lowest on their street (the street goes uphill from there) so we’re getting water from about 20 houses percolating into our back lawn.

It’s squelchy.

Even with the drainage ditches (which have created a beautiful stream water feature in our garden), it’s too waterlogged to grow anything useful or interesting. And I can’t have a pond and a water garden because I have a toddler (and will soon have 2 under 2) who can drown in an inch of water.

So instead I’m building up. The positive about clay is, it’s fantastic for holding nutrients in the soil for plants. It’s just the drainage that’s an issue. So I’m making adjustments to the soil (more on that later) to make it drain better.

The plan is to grow onions over winter in this raised bed, or to plant green manure (to fertilise it naturally), and dig that in, ready for squash or pumpkin planting next year.

Being quite pregnant, a very raised bed is great because it means less bending over to work with my plants. I used offcuts of recycled wood and built each side separately (long sides are 2 metres by 30cm, short sides are 1m by 30cm). Once each side has been made, you can nail them together using square chunks of wood in each corner to give them stability and strength.

First of all, I prepared the site by laying down some thick (but not waterproof) weed control fabric (aka weed proof membrane) to kill the grass and weeds that were already here. The membrane stops the sunlight getting to the grass and it dies because it can’t photosynthesize.

There was a lot of moss in this area and weed control fabric isn’t much use for that. However, iron sulphate works well for moss. Usually, iron sulphate is used to acidify soil (to make so-called ericaceous soil, suitable for erica, heather, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, citrus plants and other acid-needing plants). Since moss thrives in waterlogged alkaline conditions (especially in shady areas), acidifying the soil can help with this.

My problem with this method was, when the soil is this waterlogged, all that will happen is the water will dilute the iron sulphate until it’s not very effective (any pH of acid or alkaline can be neutralized when diluted with enough water). We would need to drain the area before using that remedy on the moss. Instead, I dug over the whole area after removing the weed control fabric so the moss was dug into the soil. It needs light (even a little bit) and oxygen to survive so this was another effective way of getting rid of it.

The wood needs to be thick enough to hold a ton of soil and remember, that soil will be wet, which will shorten the life of the wood if it’s untreated. However, untreated wood is better for your plants because the chemicals from treatments can leach into the soil. With a large bed this is less of an issue.

The structure was easy to make and here’s instructions, if you want to make one, too.

Instructions for making a high raised bed:

You will need:

6 pieces of wood (length 2m, width 2cm, height 10cm)

6 pieces of wood (length 1m, width 2cm, height 10cm)

4 square corner posts (length/width 5-ish cm, height 30cm)

12 screws or nails

Method:

Step 1: Attach 3 pieces of 2 metre wood to 2 of the square corner posts, using one corner post at each end of the wood. Repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of 2 metre wood and the other two corner posts. These are the two long sides of the bed.

Step 2: Attach 3 pieces of 1 metre wood to one square post at the end of each long side. These will make the short sides of the bed. Repeat with the final 3 pieces of 1 metre wood. See diagram above (the green lines are the square posts and the grey dots are nails or screws).

Step 3: Put your bed where you want it. That’s it!

Once the whole structure was complete, I sited it in the ground. I left a 6-inch (15cm) gap between the end of the bed and the fence, to protect the fence and to ensure better drainage from the higher garden behind ours (I don’t want their garden draining into my onion bed haha). In the images below, the bed isn’t in its final resting place, yet.

Because I used recycled wood, one of the long sides has an extra piece of wood nailed on the inside that doesn’t appear on the plans.

Next, I filled it with soil. This soil was all extra stuff from digging drainage trenches all around the garden, so if we didn’t find a use for it, we would have to figure out how to dispose of it, which seemed weird, because it’s soil.

The soil needed to be adjusted to it useful for growing plants, which involved adding sand and manure. The sand will improve drainage and the manure will increase the nutrients available for plants. You can’t use just any old sand, however, and there are several ways of adjusting soil.

You also need to take care not to use the soil too soon after you’ve made adjustments to it, because the repaired soil needs time for its structure to change after you’ve worked on it. I’ll go into detail on how to adjust your soil in another article.

I removed the turf all around the bed, too, and replaced this with gravel for better drainage and access to the bed. Clay soil suffers badly from compaction when it’s waterlogged, and walking on it will literally damage the peds (the individual cells of soil) by making them platy, so they can’t absorb water, which makes the waterlogging worse.

Compacted soil also makes it hard to grow anything. You can see this out and about if you’ve ever walked past a farm gate where cows have stood around, compacting the soil with their hooves. In summer, when that soil dries out, there will usually be a bare patch around the gate where things don’t grow so well. Compacted soil can produce dangerous conditions around farm animals (especially cows) as their feet can get stuck in it and then they might get injured.

In a garden, the main issue with compaction around walkways (where you’re not growing your flowers or vegetable crops anyway) is that it looks really unsightly. It also usually produces a very sticky mud that attaches itself to your shoes and refuses to let go, resulting in lots of scrubbing to get them clean!

Overall, then, soil compaction is not great for a number of reasons, and it’s best to avoid it wherever possible.

Switching the turf for gravel around this bed should also reduce the chance of excessive grass/weed growth around the edge of the bed, which has been a problem with my much smaller (120cm by 120cm by 15cm high) bed which is currently housing most of my crop for this year.

Also, the gravel looks pretty and will mean I can work on the bed without having to wear wellies to keep my feet dry!

So there you have it, that’s how we changed this dark, squelchy corner of the garden into a large high raised vegetable bed.

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Crackle

What crackles? How does it feel to touch something as it makes that noise? What is the texture of a thing that crackles? Write 100 words about crackle!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompts challenge: Hair

Okay, a light topic after last week’s! Write 100 words about hair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Power

Okay, it’s another big concept this week. What will you come up with? I’m looking forward to finding out!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Spaghetti with crab and yellow pepper recipe

Two days ago, I bought some cut-price crab that was near its use-by date. I’ve never had crab before so I wasn’t sure what to do with it or what it tasted like. I opened the packet and immediately the strong seafood smell hit my nose. It reminded me of salmon, a little. Or very strong lobster.

I looked online for crab recipes but I didn’t have any of the ingredients for the ones I found. Also, a lot of them required white wine and I’m non-alcoholic at the moment due to being pregnant so I needed an alcohol-free no-wine crab recipe.

I decided to cook it with spaghetti, but you could use linguine if you wanted to be more traditional. Or any pasta you have in your house. If you prefer a sweeter pepper, red pepper or orange pepper would also work (bell peppers, not capiscums).

Even once it’s cooked, the strong crab flavor is very apparent, and this recipe is perfect for seafood lovers looking to mix it up when it comes to their crab.

This was quite a hearty dish that I think would be very warming on a cool autumn day when the temperature starts to drop and the evenings are drawing in.

So here’s my spaghetti with crab and yellow pepper recipe. Serves two very big bowls!

Ingredients:

150g spaghetti

120g crab meat

1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp diluted tomato puree (diluted 1:1 with water) Substitute with undiluted passata or plain tomato pasta sauce if that’s what you have.

1 tsp garlic

Pinch chilli flakes

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

A chopped yellow bell pepper

A sprinkle of basil

Method:

  1. Cook the spaghetti as you usually would. Should take 10-14 minutes depending on the cooker and pan. Fresh spaghetti takes more like 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the centre stalk and seeds of the yellow bell pepper (I do this by drawing a circle around the top with a knife then pulling on the green stalk). Chop bell pepper into roughly 1/2 inch squares (or leave bigger if you prefer).
  3. Put the olive oil into a pan and start heating it.
  4. Add the bell pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes then turn heat down to a simmer.
  5. Add the lemon juice and stir in.
  6. Add garlic, chilli flakes and basil. Mix well in pan.
  7. Add the crab meat. This shouldn’t be cooked for too long or it will become stringy.
  8. Add the tomato puree, mix thoroughly.
  9. Drain the spaghetti then mix it into the pan with the sauce. Serve.

To make this meal extra-special, you could make a garlic baguette to accompany it. For best results, don’t reheat the crab (it’s quite delicate), so scale down your recipe for the number of people you’re feeding. If you don’t have a big appetite, you could probably get 3 servings out of this (or 4 if you wanted 2 adult portions and 2 child-sized ones).

Veganize this meal by substituting silken tofu for crab and adding a handful of shredded seaweed and a tiny splash of soya sauce to keep the sea taste.