North York Moors Dark Skies

When we first moved here, we couldn’t believe the night skies especially on a moonless night. One summers night just after we’d moved in, Jackie saw 2 shooting stars from our bathroom window at 3am. A few minutes later, she’d woken Ian up and bundled him down to the courtyard to see the stars and the most spectacular milky way.

7 years on, we still don’t take the skies for granted. Last night we sat in a friend’s garden hoping to spot some barn owlets fledge, and whilst they were a no show (although we could hear them down the lane) watching the stars come out as the sun set was just wonderful. This image was taken from the courtyard of the Long Barn

 

 

The North York Moors hosted a zoom conference call this week to update local businesses on all things Dark Skies. Of the various calls we’ve been on, without doubt this had the absolute best title of “Astro-Tourism”.

Our favourite 5 facts were:

1. 80% of people in the UK live under light polluted skies, seeing very few stars and never seeing the milky way.

2. The North York Moors have some of the darkest skies in England; we see thousands of stars compared with a handful in towns and cities.

3. Autumn is the best time to see the Milky Way, Winter for sparking star clusters and Spring for planets and galaxies.

4. Our dark skies are really good for nocturnal wildlife like owls and moths.

5. There are lots of apps which can help you identify the best time to look upwards (and also what you are looking at)

When we set up the Long Barn, we installed as few outside lights as we could to minimise light pollution. Which means on the right night, it is the perfect place to wrap up warm, take a seat in the courtyard, gaze up and watch the most amazing stars.

If your stay at the Long Barn coincides with a good time to star watch, we’ll tip you off so you can sky gaze in comfort. We’ll even share with you our favourite Whitby Mulled Gin Recipe which is just delicious.

We’ll also let you know about the various dark sky events which take place during the year from the Dark Skies Fringe festival  in October to the main festival in February. As well as when to look out for the meteor showers; we’ve got the dates for the remainder of 2020 in our diary.

For those of you super keen to find out more, we recommend https://darkskiesuk.org/ and https://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/discover/dark-skies.

 

 

Sloe gin and other treats

Sloe Gin and other treats

We’ve been staking out where the best sloes are for several weeks; luckily some of the best ones have been in the hedgerows surrounding the chicken run.

When the berries have a bloom on them (in bright sunshine they look almost metallic purple) they are ready. If you squeeze them, they have a little give. Take care when picking, the sloe bushes have lots of spikes on them.  Lots of recipes suggest that you wait until the first frosts which help to split the skins. We’ve found that if you leave it that long (especially as our winters have got milder) you either find the birds have got them, or the farmers have destroyed the crop when they cut the hedges.

Our tip is to freeze them once picked to simulate a frost which means they will then steep better in the gin. However careful we are, we always end of with a fair few sloe leaves in our bag of sloes. Pick these out before washing the sloes; it’s easier to do this with dry sloes than with wet ones. Pick out any wizened sloes that you may have picked by mistake. Then wash the sloes and stash in your freezer until frozen.

There are loads of recipes online; we’ve settled on this method over the years. We don’t bother pricking the sloes as they’ve been frozen, and so as they thaw, their skins burst. If you want, give the frozen sloes a bash with a rolling pin. We put frozen sloes, sugar and gin in a kilner jar, but any big jar or bottle will do.

 

The proportions we use are 500g sloes to 250g sugar to 1 litre of gin. We don’t think it matters particularly if you use caster or granulated sugar. We tried it one year using a sugar syrup but felt it just diluted the gin. We also use supermarket branded dry gin, rather than anything posh. We then give the jar a good shake and put in a cool dark place. When we remember, we give it a shake – more frequently in the first week or two. We leave it for 2-3 months and then sample it.

We usually make the gin in September, so tend to sample it just before Christmas. We then either leave it another month or two, or strain it through a sieve, and decant into clean dry bottles (usually the ones the original gin came in) We don’t like it too sweet, but at this point, if you wanted to add a little more sugar, do and let it steep for longer.

The sloe gin is ready to drink from now on. We think the longer it is left the better it tastes – ideally for another 12 months. But if you can’t wait, it will still be delicious. It’s now part of our winter routine, there is something cosy about lighting a fire, drawing the curtains and watching Strictly with a sloe gin in hand.

Another variation of this tipple is to make it with vodka and damsons. It’s a similar process – freeze the damsons, mix them with similar proportions of vodka and sugar as the gin. We think it’s a slightly smoother drink and is particularly delicious with a small square of 70% dark chocolate.

For other options, a google search will reveal all sorts of sloe gin cocktails you can make, from a Sloe Negroni to Sloe Gin Fizz. We just might try a few this year, and report back.

This year seems to be a great year for sloes in the North York Moors. Hopefully you will be able to track some down wherever you are and give making your own homemade sloe gin a go.

Castle Howard

We’ve decided to be local tourists during these strange times and check out places we can then recommend (or not!) to guests. This week we visited Castle Howard, a stately home which is 15 miles south of us. We’ve been there many times before, from visiting the wonderful Yorkshire Arboretum to Christmas Fairs in the main house, the latter with stalls run by the poshest people we’ve ever met.

Castle Howard isn’t a castle (we had fun explaining this to an American friend who wanted turrets and battlements) but it is a really iconic building having featured as the fictional “Brideshead” in both the TV and later film remake of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Its construction began in 1701, and it took over 100 years to complete.

 

We’ve never had a good wander round the grounds; we also wanted to see how they were operating in COVID times. It was easy to book on line; you choose a 30 minute time slot to arrive (they are pretty relaxed if you are early or late) and can then stay as long as you want in the grounds. Just quote your ticket reference number at the ticket office, pick up your map (along with some tips from the helpful staff) and set off.

It cost us £12.95 each to have access to all the grounds and gardens (there are group discounts for families and concessions) To visit the house costs extra; it’s not yet 100% open so we’d recommend checking out what is open when booking to decide if it’s worth the additional cost.

 

We really enjoyed our visit and spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds; we could have easily spent more time there.  There is a real variety of landscape to wander round from woodlands, to lakesides to more formal gardens.

Plenty of folk were there with picnics and the size of the grounds meant that it didn’t feel swamped with people at all. There were a number of coffee stops around the grounds; our tip would be to avoid the one at the entrance, and make for the quieter ones inside. Or bring your own by making a quick detour to Malton to pick up your own picnic. You can also buy provisions from the Castle Howard Farm Shop; they have a good deli section as well as a butchers.

Castle Howard would be a great place to go as a multi-generational family. Included in the price is an adventure playground and a new tree top attraction, Skelf Island, perfect for kids. Along with the Farm Shop, there are also several gift shops in the grounds and there is also an excellent nursery selling a good range of plants. Much of the grounds and gardens near the house are accessible for wheel chairs.

Most of the estate is dog friendly; all that they ask is that dogs are kept on a lead at all times. They even offer free bones to doggy visitors from the Farm Shop.

So whilst it may not have the turrets and battlements of a castle, Castle Howard is well worth a visit.

Autumn at the Long Barn

 

We can feel the arrival of autumn everywhere. There are hints of the colours to come in the countryside, greens turning to golds, oranges and russet browns. The heather on the moors has already turned purple, and the bracken will soon start to change.

 

Berries are starting to arrive in the hedgerows, along with rose hips and hazel nuts. Wild apple trees are groaning with fruit this year on the bridleways around the village. As you’d guess from our village’s name “Appleton le Moors” in days gone by it was famous for its orchards; fruit from the area was sent off to London when the railway came to Kirbymoorside.

Foraging begins in earnest from now on. We are already scouting out the best places for sloes for our sloe gin. One year we got some damsons from a neighbour that made the most delicious damson vodka; it’s a favourite winter tipple, especially when paired with a square (or two) of 70% dark chocolate. We’re keeping our eyes on the ripening elderberries as we plan to make elderberry and rosemary jelly this year; it’s perfect for a Sunday roast dinner, or for giving homemade gravy extra depth. It’s a recipe thanks to Izzy in Cumbria who is our guru on all things jelly and jam making. Her mantra of “don’t squeeze the bag” is much muttered at this time of year in the farmhouse.

Delicious earthy and comforting dishes start to appear on pub menus. Whether it’s delicious game at the Star at Harome or a pie at the Moors Inn, comfort eating starts here. The farm shops and weekly markets are full of fabulous local harvest produce.

It’s a great time to plan a trip out to the coast as well; drive over the Moors taking in the big skies, and head to one of the lovely fishing villages or beaches. We especially love the walk along the sandy beach from Sandsend to Whitby; in winter, it has a special magic and without the summer crowds.

There is a hint of wood smoke in the village air as house fires are lit and we all begin to hunker down. Misty mornings make for perfect walks, the woodland trees start to look spectacular as their autumnal tints arrive. Some of the most spectacular sunsets can be easily seen at this time of year. After sunset, on a clear moonless night, look up and you’ll see the Milky Way.

We think autumn is a fantastic time to visit the Long Barn and truly escape to the country. There are so many walks from the door; from woodland to rolling dales to moorland, each showing their autumnal changes and colours. Wrap up warm and you know you are coming back to the cosy Long Barn heated with the biomass boiler; use the changing season as the perfect excuse to light the log burner and relax. Or on a bright sunny day, wrap up with a throw from the barn and have a coffee in the courtyard – the grasses come into their own at this time of year

Try some of our home-made sloe gin from the welcome hamper. And check out our little honesty dresser in the West Barn….there might just be some elderberry and rosemary jelly to buy.

 

Kala King

 

In this week’s blog, we’d like to recommend another catering option for your stay in the Long Barn. Kala King lives in a nearby Hutton Le Hole and is a woman of many talents. We first met Kala when she was selling her delicious chocolates at a local farmers market; Ian then did a chocolate making course with Kala purely in the line of research for Long Barn guests. The chocolates he made were delicious especially the passion fruit ones.

Kala is an artisan chocolatier and pastry chef, running chocolate workshops as well as making exquisite chocolates and patisserie. All the Belgian chocolate Kala uses is made using 100% sustainable cocoa. If you buy some from her (Kala also sells on line) for every pack you purchase, a part is reinvested in the farmers and their communities through Cocoa Horizons Foundation. Kala also makes delicious cakes and deserts, perfect for a special occasion.

Kala regularly runs chocolate master classes or can run a bespoke course for you and your group in the Long Barn.

Kala also cooks authentic “home style dishes” from the East which she can drop off at the Long Barn for you to serve yourselves with at your leisure. We have had a tiffin delivery of her food to sample some of her dishes and it was delicious.

We asked Kala a few questions for this blog:

What made you decide to become a maker of chocolates and patisserie? I’m passionate about food and always have loved cooking.  My passion for chocolate started when we lived in Venezuela for 7 years whilst my husband Peter was posted to work in the oil industry in Caracas.  It all started with a day trip to a cocoa plantation and loved the still traditional way of cultivating and drying cocoa beans.

Of all the chocolates you make, which is your favourite? I love anything that contains loads of different nuts and texture.  We make our own praline with cashews, pistachios, almond, brazil and macadamia.  This is to ensure all the different nuts are roasted with sea salt before adding caramel.  We are also able reduce the sugar content so it is not as sweet 

Tell us about the chocolate courses that you run? I always believe in sharing the knowledge I’ve gained over the years with others.  Our courses are suitable for anyone that has not worked with chocolate as we go through each of the process together.  We create the different varieties of ganaches, method on how to work and decorate polycarbonate mould and most importantly on how to temper chocolate. Obviously at the end of the workshop, you get to take home all the chocolate created on the day.

Where do you get your inspiration for your chocolates and patisserie? Mainly from nature, the colours around me, the unusual combinations of flavours I constantly encounter during my travels and simply working with the most freshest ingredients.

How would you describe the food you can cook for Long Barn guests?  They are mainly the food I would cook for family and friends.  I’m an avid believer of if you don’t like what you eat than don’t feed others with it.  Honest wholesome food and ingredients from local suppliers as much as possible.

 What are your most popular celebration cakes? The naked cake made with Italian meringue buttercream with lots of summer berries.

Favourite restaurant or pub? Personally, I can’t really say there’s one real favourite. I’m happy to eat a simple fried egg with sausages but they have to be made with the best eggs and sausages. It can be a glass of orange juice but it has to be freshly squeezed rather than from the bottle. 

What would your perfect day in North Yorkshire look like? Blue sky in the day time.  Stars at night with no wind and a fire pit.

So whether it’s a chocolate making course, a delicious special occasion cake or desert or a tasty family meal, Kala is here to help us make sure your stay is as perfect as possible.