After a warm welcome by the head of Reception, members had a short period to enjoy a cup of tea/coffee at their on-site Café. We then went of a 45-minute guided tour of the gardens adjacent to the manor house. The tour guide, volunteer Rosemary, gave us a most informative narrative of the background to the development of the gardens and an introduction to the many American plants and trees displayed in it. The tour was briefly interrupted by a short rain shower but fortunately we could resume the tour soon afterwards. One small part of the garden incorporates a reduced size replica of the gardens at George Washington’s home Mount Vernon. There are also a number of head-and-shoulder sculptures of famous American persons as well as Sir Winston Churchill located along one of the pathways.
Members were then free to have lunch and start their own tours of the museum in the manor house as well as the special exhibit entitled ‘Dress to Redress’ – Exploring Native American Material Culture. The on-site Garden Café offered a wide variety of snacks, light meals and hot and cold drinks at very reasonable prices. This was well supported and appreciated by our group.
The museum turned out to offer a very wide selection of artefacts and displays covering the development of the United States from its very beginning. There was a very well-illustrated history of the evolution of the country from its very early colonial days. Displays also covered the two primary conflicts during those early years of the War of Independence and the Civil War. The conflicts and sometimes poor treatment of the Native American peoples was also covered with reasonable sensitivity.
There were several rooms in the manor house that have been laid out with authentic period displays using internal panelling brought from genuine American period homes as well as appropriate furniture so that one moves into the actual room environments that reflected various types of housing common to various parts of the States. There was also on display a selection of the museum’s huge collection of American quilts.
The general reaction of most members was that the museum offered a much more varied display of the history of the USA through artifacts and information than had been expected. It was infinitely more than a display of American quilts and stitch craft items as was thought to be its main focus. The visit therefore proved to be highly informative and very enjoyable.
This was another very successful sell-out visit for the Questers Group, who once again enjoyed hearing our Blue Badge Guide David Richards share some of his comprehensive knowledge about the city he so clearly loves. This new tour was entitled ‘Wizards, Witches and Wiltshire Folklore’ and explored the history of each of these subjects, commencing from the very start of the city construction around 1220, with the cathedral following on a year later utilising stone originating from the old Norman building at Old Sarum.
The Bishops had complete control within the confines of the new city, and it was no surprise to learn that severity of life varied over the years according to which Bishop held office. There was common belief in the supernatural combined with sorcery and witchcraft which culminated during the 16th and 17th centuries with the hanging of 5 so called witches. Many lesser sentences were handed out at the same period with up to 3 days in the pillory, which was a far more unpleasant experience than many imagine, and often resulting in broken bones from heavy stoning. The courts also issued many lashing sentences. We passed by some of the places where the ‘witches’ lived and the sites of long gone courts.
Because perceived medical wisdom was limited to activities which were painful, ineffective and expensive; local knowledge of herbal remedies became increasingly valuable and if a person lived long enough, they gained more knowledge of these remedies. Therefore it is not surprising that the church sometimes felt threatened by these practitioners and did nothing to prevent their persecution.
Some old and often incredible beliefs and wise sayings were explained which gave us some idea of the darker side of medieval life and which forms the basis for some folklore, no doubt still repeated in the more remote areas of the county. There are many ley lines in the area, and close to the cathedral we passed over one. To prove it, David produced a couple of dowsing rods and we watched them twitch and converge at the line. Having watched him, we were given the opportunity of trying a little dowsing for ourselves, and most of us succeeded! David Rogers was in his usual sparkling form and he provided a most entertaining and informative illustrated walk. The visit ended with an enjoyable snack at a nearby pub.
Dodging the sleet squalls, our guide took us into the glasshouses where some of the herbs and spices used in the distilling process are grown, the remainder coming from selected growers around the world.
We then had our opportunity of seeing and smelling the 10 "botanicals" with an explanation of how it is the vapour from the botanicals that makes the gin lighter and different from other varieties. The cost and noise of having a bottling plant at the Laverstoke site means the concentrated spirit is transported by road to Glasgow where the alcohol content is reduced before it is bottled in the distinctive blue rectangular bottles. In 1998 Bombay distillery was acquired by Bacardi and since then the visitor center and other improvements have been made
Click/tap any picture to enlarge it
We moved on to tunnels described “as a bit of fun” where Sandy was experimenting growing red and white grape varieties that could harvest 2 or 3 years earlier than conventional vineyards.
The strawberry plants here were only a few weeks old, Sandy explained how he could tell the size of the crop from the emerging flowers.
Finally to the ripening strawberries where we sampled different varieties and noted the names so we could identify them in Sainsburys, Waitrose and Aldi.
There is an Automatic tilting system that makes harvesting easier and allows the pickers to use 2 hands
An enjoyable and fascinating visit and well worth the 2+ miles walked. We thanked Sandy for his time and he thanked us for coming with a large punnet of fresh strawberries for each of us.
Some facts about the farm
Both bumble and honey bees are introduced to the tunnels at the appropriate times to assist pollination.
All the plants are grown in containers off the ground and fed with nutrients from the extensive irrigation system. Sandy is experimenting harvesting the strawberries using a robot. He is also working to produce a snack product to make use of the small fruits not suitable for the supermarkets.