Friday, 28 February 2014

Belfast Foray

I ventured into town this morning, paying a brief visit to House of Fraser, at Victoria Square.

A black quilted jacket by Barbour, called Liddesdale, caught my eye so, trying the garment on for size, I made a few enquiries on the iPad, before making the purchase.

Thereafter I enquired at the Linenhall Library to see if they had any images of the Annesleys' lake-side summerhouse or Moorish Tower at their former Castlewellan demesne.

Alas, I've had no joy, as yet; however, they very kindly offered to take my details and said they'd have another look.

So far, PRONI has been - let us say - unhelpful.

At Marks & Spencer's food-hall in the basement, I bagged three Gastropub meals, viz. Lasagne, Shepherd's Pie, and Rich Beef Hash.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

McCutcheon's Field

I was out with the National Trust Strangford Lough Group of volunteers today. We met a place known as McCutcheon's Field.

This comprises several acres of coastline at Brigg's Rocks and close to Sandeel Bay, in north County Down.

There's a holiday park here called Windsor Caravan Park.

Today we were clearing gorse in the area.

The remaining gorse stumps were coated with a powerful herbicide called Grazon.

There are stonechats and greenfinches in the area.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Black Balsam

I spent a most relaxing and interesting time with my cousin and Jenny, his wife, in Crawley, West Sussex, a mere fifteen minutes' drive from London Gatwick airport.

On Thursday evening, having dined at Goff's Manor, we walked the short distance home.

In the dining-room, Peter asked me if I'd ever heard of a traditional Latvian liquor called Riga Black Balsam.

My cousin has visited Riga several times.

Black Balsam is a herbal liqueur made with many different natural ingredients mixed in pure vodka, giving a 45% abv (90 proof) drink.

It can be had as it is, on the rocks or mixed with schnapps, aquavit, or vodka, or warm, in tea, coffee or black currant juice, or mixed with soda water or a soft drink, or in any variety of cocktails.

It is also occasionally enjoyed as a topping on ice-cream.

The drink itself is black and very bitter, but with a distinct sweetness.

The traditional recipe was created by Abraham Kunze, a pharmacist living in Riga, and is based on a composition of 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries prepared in oak barrels.

It is sold in ceramic handmade flagons.

Over time, Riga Black Balsam has been acknowledged also internationally, as it has received more than 30 awards at international fairs.

Black Balsam is also used in traditional medicine. It is considered to be a good cold remedy and is used to treat digestive problems. It has been made in Riga since the middle of the 18th century.

According to legend, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, became ill during a visit to Latvia, but was cured after drinking Riga Black Balsam.

We all had a measure of this spirit, which tasted, to me, like a strong cough mixture.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Excess Baggage

The flight I took from Belfast City to London Gatwick airport was with Flybe.

They presently use Q 400 Dash 8 aircraft on the route.

It was entertaining to observe some passengers struggling with what were obviously over-sized baggage in their efforts to squeeze the cases in to the overhead compartments.

I suspect that a percentage of passengers check in online and agree to the terms of agreement, including requisite baggage dimensions onboard.

One passenger held everybody else up by taking three of four minutes to insert her case in to the locker.

Should such passengers who blatantly misuse airline regulations be penalised?

It's clearly none of my business; though, were I do bring a bulky case onboard, I wonder whether I'd get away with it.

Complimentary Drink

I've arrived at London Gatwick airport and have managed to get through Security. Ha!

The beady Belmont eye spotted an island premium gin and vodka bar in the departures retail area.

Making a rapid beeline to the counter, I asked politely if I might sample the Tanqueray Ten.

They serve a small measure with ice, lime, and tonic water.

I'm off to a jolly good start.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Goffs Manor

My cousin Peter and his family live near Goff's Manor, a 16th Century listed bar and restaurant located on the edge of Crawley, West Sussex.

It is one of Crawley's oldest buildings.

Originally called Goffs Park House (Goffs Hillhouse, as it was known), it was built in 1882 for the Sussex banker and landowner, Edwin Henty; though the original building dated back to the 16th century. 

My cousin and his family are fortunate to be within walking distance of this fine establishment.

The manor-house is notable as having been the residence of the actor, Peter Vaughan, who played the character 'Grouty' in the BBC comedy series, Porridge.

Goffs has an olde worlde ambiance, with carpeting, old wooden beams, tartan carpet in a section of the dining-room, and courteous waiting staff.

I stayed with Peter and Jenny several years ago.

We ambled over to Goff's and ordered a round of drinks when we were seated at our table.

My cousin and I ordered the Steak & Tanglefoot Pie (British Pie Awards 2010 Champion), Braised British steak & velvety gravy made with award winning Tanglefoot ale, served with buttered mash & vegetables.

Jenny had the skewered salmon with a medley of vegetables.

For pudding, Jenny and I had the creme brûlée; my cousin, the treacle tart.

The truth is that we all enjoyed it. My steak pie, in particular, was filling, tasty and lean.

I think we were all struggling by the time the pudding arrived and I felt full when I finished it.

All in all, a civilised spot in a fine setting beside Goffs Park.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


We visited a National Trust property near East Grinstead, called Standen, this afternoon.

It took us about thirty minutes to reach Standen from Crawley.

This West Sussex country house was was built in the 1890s for James Beale, a prosperous London lawyer, who had another home at Holland Park, London.

The house was designed by Philip Webb and William Morris.

Margaret Beale was a keen gardener and kept a garden diary for many years.

Standen is one of the few Victorian houses owned by the National Trust.

It was bequeathed in 1972 by Miss Helen Beale.

Later we had afternoon tea in The Barn, which included some moist fruit-cake and ginger-cake.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I spent an hour or so at The National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, viewing the Tudor and Stuart galleries.

Above is a fine portrait of Queen Victoria, Empress of India.

Sir Hans Sloane Bt

St James's

The prospect this morning towards St James's Palace.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tasty Sandwiches

Merely a very quick note to say that the Ham Hock sandwiches were utterly delicious. They cost £3, though I had a voucher for 75p off.

It's quite some time since I enjoyed such tasty sandwiches.

They were Tesco "finest", by the way.

Rapid Refresher

Having a snack in the lounge bar at Belfast City Airport: Wiltshire cured ham hock, extra mature cheddar, onion and ale chutney, free range egg mayonnaise, on oat and barley bread; with a modest restorative.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Divine Worship

Chapel of the Resurrection: February, 2014

I motored across the city of Belfast this morning to the former memorial chapel of the Chichesters, Marquesses of Donegall.

It is located at Innisfayle Park, en route to Belfast Castle.

The glorious little chapel is derelict today, though it appears to be intact - outside, at least. The roof seems to be in good condition.

Afterwards, I drove the short distance to St Peter's parish church, on the Antrim Road.

I attended divine worship and listened to a heartening sermon by the Rector, the Rev Brian Lacey, whom I met afterwards.

I told him of my passion for heritage and my interest in the Chapel of the Resurrection.

St Peter's has a side chapel dedicated to the Chapel of the Resurrection, with items formerly belonging to it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

One Match Belmont

Belmont is battening down all requisite hatches this evening; and, moreover, might even indulge in oriental cuisine.

Belmont GHQ is slightly depleted re the old heating oil. A refill has been ordered forthwith. 

The hearty fire invigorates the soul on a late winter's evening.

One enjoys a welcome early weekend restorative.

Radio Ulster Concert

The weather was so dreadful last night that I wondered whether to cancel my concert at Belfast's Ulster Hall.

It was a BBC Radio Ulster concert, being broadcast live at 8pm.

However, the elements were resisted, I found a parking space on Bedford Street, and ventured in to the Hall after seven o'clock.

The house was full. I found my usual seating area upstairs at the balcony overlooking the orchestra.

It was splendid to see all the familiar faces in the Ulster Orchestra again: Bandanaman, and Hairy Biker (both violinists); the principal trumpeter; the fellow who leads the oboists; the lead flautist.

Ioana Petcu-Colan
The beautiful Associate Leader, Ioana Petcu-Colan, with a red floral decoration in her hair, can just be seen in the photo, to the left of the conductor.

One of the violinists seems to live quite near me, because I've seen him strolling past Belmont GHQ occasionally.

A variety of romantic pieces were played - being Valentine's Day - with excellent soloists, including two sopranos, a pianist, and the superb Tamás Kocsis, whose rendering of Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasy was simply divine.

Mulholland Grand Organ

The concert culminated with the powerfully romantic Romeo and Juliet overture, by Tchaikovsky, played magnificently by our Ulster Orchestra.

How fortunate we are to have such outstanding talent.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Molly's Yard

I was at another reunion last weekend, this time on the Malone Road, Belfast.

I was joined by an old pal and we got a cab to Molly's Yard, that celebrated dining establishment which is also renowned for its micro-brewery and fine ales.

I had reserved a table for 6pm, which allowed us plenty of time to dine before the Reunion began at about seven-thirty.

Incidentally, I've written a bit about College Green House, the mews of which are now Molly's Yard.

I have to admit to a fondness for Molly's. It's quite an intimate restaurant, especially downstairs in the less formal dining-room, which has a bar for patrons.

On this occasion, we ate upstairs. We were the first to arrive, though the room filled up remarkably swiftly thereafter.

Although we were offered the wine-list, we decided to opt for a premium gin, viz. Monkey 47 blend, which I'd never sampled before.

It costs about £8 for a measure (35ml in Ulster).

The staff are very convivial, prompt, enthusiastic and eager to please.

The first starter to catch my beady eye was the Seared, hand dived, scallops with crispy Clonakilty black pudding and celeriac & almond purée, which I ordered.

My chum had the Confit duck leg with red cabbage and finished with a vanilla jus.

My scallops were simply divine, with a bite like a marshmallow. They were surrounded by a luxuriously silky sauce.

The black pudding complemented it impeccably. What a great culinary partnership.

We both ordered the Smoked sea bass with lemon roast baby potatoes, wilted spinach and a dill bacon and cockle velouté as the main course, with a side order of Buttery Mash.

This course comprised two fine fillets of fish surrounded by the vegetables and yet another exquisite sauce.

Sea bass truly is a noble fish.

We both decided that we were now gastronomically satisfied enough for coffee; not ordinary coffee, though.

Molly’s Cup ~ a blend of Amaretto and Cointreau with Jameson’s whiskey and coffee, topped with fresh cream.

It's sweet and sublime.

I relished it, as was the case the entire evening.

Our bill was somewhat inflated by the drinks bill, hence the balance of £102. 

Molly's, however, is an extraordinary and special establishment, dare I say the best of its kind in the city of Belfast and beyond.

I look forward to my next visit which, I hope, shall be soon.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Brackenber Dinner

Brackenber House

I called for a cab from Belmont GHQ at about six-fifty last night. Valuecabs have arrived promptly - if one requests a cab immediately - in my previous experience.

I waited till ten past seven before calling them and speaking to an operator, who told me they were running late. Blast.

It eventually arrived at almost seven-thirty. The Old Boys' dinner was at seven forty-five.

At least the driver took me to the Club itself, where none other than Paul, Lord Bew, was alighting.

We exchanged greetings, I strode up the stairs, and proceeded to relieve myself of a layer of clothing, viz. the overcoat, scarf, gloves, and whangee umbrella, which I hanged from the inside arm of my overcoat.

Gordon Harvey, who always does a superb job at organizing the Dinner, was on hand to greet Old Boys and I handed him my remittance.

I have to confess that I am very fond indeed of the Ulster Reform Club. It is one of the few remaining genuine Victorian gentlemen's clubs.

The opulent interior has changed little: Thick carpeting, oak panelling, fine plasterwork, a sense of grandeur and well-being.

Several pals have urged me to consider joining, though I wonder how often I'd actually spend there.

On arrival in the main bar, I met Michael Elliott, who immediately offered me a drink; and he was slightly surprised when I asked for a fizzy water.

"Are you sure"? I was indeed minded to be more careful with the old boozy intake last night. I've been endeavouring to moderate it.

I'd normally drink gin quite happily all night long, though we shall see how long I can sustain this new regime.

In fact, the sum total of my drinking last night consisted of one large glass of rather agreeable red wine and a small gin (I didn't finish it).

THE MEAL was delicious as usual. It was held in the Antrim Room on the second floor. There were about fifty of us.

The dining-table was traditionally set, with heavy cutlery, white table-cloths and monogrammed crockery.

This room has a wonderful old grandfather clock which chimes beautifully, not to say delicately and melodically, every quarter-hour.

We began with gateau of hot-smoked salmon, tomato and prawns, served with a home-made horseradish mayonnaise and freshly baked wheaten bread.

This I devoured with gusto. It tasted as good as it read on the menu.

Our main course was an very generous joint of lamb shank, slowly braised with vegetables and red wine; with Chef's selection of fresh market vegetables (cabbage and carrot).

The lamb was simply sumptuous. There was abundant lean meat, too much for some diners, in fact.

Not for Timothy Belmont, however, the Old Boy with hollow legs. I'd deliberately brought along the Number One ancestral nose-bag, and it was firmly attached for the duration of this culinary feast.

Pudding consisted of baked lemon tart with raspberries, raspberry sorbet and coulis; followed by tea or coffee. This dessert was also, unsurprisingly, jolly good.

After dinner, Robert Curran rose and treated us all to a witty and nostalgic speech, largely ad libitum, recounting his schooldays, the characters who taught at dear Brackenber, and journeys to the Falls Municipal Swimming Baths and the odd bit of verbal abuse from uncouth youths (our uniform was - let's say - conspicuous, being scarlet in colour.
Bob spoke of Miss Zena Rankin, who once endeavoured to teach me French. He reminded us that Miss Rankin was governess to the Henderson brothers at Hillsborough Castle (Brum and Bill Henderson lived there while their father, Commander Oscar Henderson DSO CVO CBE RN, was Comptroller and Private Secretary to the His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland, the 3rd Duke of Abercorn).
Later, we retired to the bar again, for another good old chin-wag. It rained heavily outside, though the Club has a spacious terrace or kind of veranda where patrons can enjoy a smoke or even enjoy the weather on a fine summer's day (!).

I called for a taxi on my mobile phone at the entrance hall, where arrived fairly promptly before midnight, though they advised me that it would pick me up at Kelly's Cellars, an establishment in Bank Street.

It was delightful to see so many of my old school pals once again.

Does anybody have a photograph of Brackenber House, preferably colour? Probably not. It was unlikely that school-parents would have taken a photo of the school.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Old Boys' Dinner

The old black Oxfords have been dusted and polished. I think I shall wear the dark grey worsted three-piece lounge suit.

Incidentally, the shoes are over thirty years old.

Tonight the annual Old Brackenbrian dinner takes place at the venerable Ulster Reform Club, Royal Avenue, Belfast.

This function was formerly held at the school, though, alas, Brackenber House was demolished several decades ago.

I am eagerly anticipating the reunion with many old boys. I have no idea what is on this evening's menu, though it proved to be most enjoyable last year.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

I spent two hours at PRONI this morning. I cycled there in the trusty two-wheeler and parked it directly opposite the record office.

I timed my visit well, because PRONI doesn't open to the general public until 10am.

The purpose of my visit was to locate photographs of the Moorish Tower at Castlewellan demesne.

This little gazebo was built in 1884. This fact I can confirm, because I did see two photographs of it during construction in November, 1883.

Much of the Annesley photographic collection is Closed; that is to say, not for public consumption.

Although I searched six albums, the completed tower was not there, alas.

However, I have completed an official form, seeking permission to view more of the Annesley family albums.

EXTRAORDINARILY ENOUGH, a very large pane of glass shattered about thirty feet from me on the first floor Search Room.

I was at a computer and heard a pop or bang, not really loud at all, I suppose about 11 o'clock or thereabouts.

I have no idea of the cause. Perhaps it was caused by my glaring at it (!).

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Ring Stuck?

Here's another clever technique for removing a ring when it gets stuck on your finger:-

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Castlewellan Park

Castlewellan Greenhouses

I have spent a marvellous day at Castlewellan Park in County Down.

This demesne was formerly the seat of the Earls Annesley who, with about 25,000 acres, were the third largest landowners in the county.

The main purpose of my visit was to discover the Moorish Tower, a gazebo or folly to the west of the lake which afforded a commanding prospect and would have been conspicuous when it was built.

I had some difficulty in finding this gazebo, which is now concealed amongst undergrowth and forestry; in fact I walked round the lake twice before I was directed to its location by a ranger.

I intend to write a separate article about this folly tomorrow.

I AM delighted to see that the greenhouses within the walled garden have been restored.

I gather that £200,000 has been spent on this project.

The interior features await restoration, presumably in another phase; though there used to be a delightful water feature and running water in a rockery within the main glass-house.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Premier Shot

A shooting party held at Glenarm Castle, County Antrim, ancestral seat of the Earls of Antrim, in 1998.

Lord Antrim's son Randal, Viscount Dunluce was hosting the shoot on the estate with guests including David Cameron; Ned, Viscount Cranborne; the Hon Christopher Brooke; Charles Moore. 

First published in May, 2010.