Altarnun – Pausing To See More Than A Road Sign

As is often the way here there are unexpected surprises sometimes waiting just around the next bend in the road. John and I took the time to discover one a few weeks ago. For as long as John has lived in Cornwall, Alternun has been just another name on small roadside sign, one of many villages scattered just off the A-30 as it snakes it’s way through Cornwall all the way to Land’s End where it does what everything does there, it ends.

While he is often given to impromptu side trips to explore new places, John had never taken the turn to the village below. Last Christmas his cousin Mary came to stay with us for the holiday and while she was here shared a story with him about this sweet little village that had been one of her mother’s favorites. Cousin Mary if you remember is 87 and has had a fondness for Cornwall since she first came here as a child. As we were driving back from an errand in another village John saw the sign and detoured taking us straight off the A-30 to see Alternun.

We parked near the church which has an interesting history that I’ll share here in a post here tomorrow.  For now I’ll take you on a little walking tour around the village. The bridge above was built in the 15th century and is known as the packhorse bridge.

John took this photograph from a grassy patch near the village hall. The church tower is tucked just behind the trees on the left and the building in front is a row of cottages.

This sweet little bridge as I said earlier is called a packhorse bridge and not wide enough for cars.

This was taken from the packhorse bridge and that is John in the striped shirt off in the distance near where he stood while taking the second photograph in this post.

Just over the footbridge you see this memorial to those who died in several wars. In the distance you can see a row of cottages with the one on the end having a big garden. This is all right in the heart of the village which adds even more visual interest.

Here’s another view looking down the main street.

See the monument in the shadows of the right corner, this row of cottages is to the right of it.

Here is a shot of that pretty little veggie patch I mentioned.

I found this row of cottages pretty interesting. There was a small running stream right underneath the stone slate footbridges that led to each front door. I asked John if these were designed this way in order to dump waste into the stream for removal when originally built … he was not sure, but it did seem likely to us both.

This had to be one of the best looking rural phone boxes I’ve seen in Cornwall. With cell phones so accessible and in wide use the need for pay phones is not really necessary. People have protested the removal of the easily recognizable red phone booths based on how they’ve come to be symbolic images associated with the UK and while they stay in place for now, most are beginning to look pretty uncared for.

I’m not sure about this building, I’ll need to go back sometime soon to ask some questions about the history of the buildings from some locals. It was very quiet when we were there and so I came away with lots of questions and little answers.

John graciously agreed to pose next to this door so you could see how low the entrance was. No one lives here now and it could use some renovation and repair.

This may not look too odd to some of you … just and old farmhouse cottage across the street in a Cornish village in southwest England until you notice that silver thing with the bell hanging off the back end of it. Hmm … this might look familiar to any Americans reading this post.

Yep, I do believe that says U.S. Mail on it which seems so out of place in Altarnun particularly with the word cottage on the wall behind it. Someone has removed the red flag normally found on the side of the mailbox. I like the use of the bell as an alert.

If you look behind the row of cottages you can see the church on the hill. Just inside the gate is a Celtic cross said to date to the 6th century. Remember … come back tomorrow for a little show and tell as to what makes this church so special.

Our Cornish Christmas – An Open House – Part I

I wanted to throw open our doors and invite you in for a Christmas coffee and some Hello Dollies. I hope you’ll be able to stay a few minutes and say hello. I may even give a house tour if you are interested in seeing what we’ve been up to here.

This is a Christmas decoration I put together using Christmas crackers. I learned that while shopping with John for our Christmas goodies at the grocery store that when I say we need some crackers we are more likely to end up staring at an aisle filled with these than something you serve with a cheese ball. For nibbling with cheese, I now know that I should be asking for cheese biscuits rather than crackers especially at Christmas.

This is our dining area off the kitchen. I prefer the table the other way, but it makes it hard for people to sit when they have to scrunch in next to the wall. We’re planning to redo the kitchen next year once we recover from having built the extension and by “we ” I mean mostly John so this area which is part of the kitchen will look different (bigger) by next Christmas.

This was a Christmas floral arrangement I made for the table. The batik on the wall was the largest “art piece” I shipped over and I was so glad to see it arrive in great condition. I bought the batik on a trip to Bali in 2002 and it was something several people wanted me to leave behind so they could have it. The crystal candlestick holders are very special because they belonged to my good friend Patrice’s mom, Marilyn and Patrice gave them to me when Marilyn died a few years ago.

Here is a slightly better shot of the batik.

You can see my Angel bowl that my daughter painted years ago looking down over our table. I hand carried it on my last flight from America. As good as my shippers were, I didn’t want to risk this special gift from her.

Here’s the other side of the space above … where my ingredients wait on the counter (work top) to create our Christmas dinner.

John made all these cabinets and built some more to hold my good china that made across the ocean in perfect condition. If you look at the countertop you can see a large bread bowl and a rolling pin. Both were made by my great grandfather Harper who was a blacksmith and a carpenter. I used the rolling pin when I made these yummy cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and made a few extra for some of my neighbors. It was only my second experience baking with yeast and it held a few surprises.

The bubbling over piece was not one I’d anticipated would keep happening.

But the yield was marvelous as you can see below and this is just what I gave away. We which really means, I ate a bunch of them as well. I forgot to photograph the finished product, but you can go here to see Pioneer Woman’s rolls and her recipe which I followed.

Additionally, I made a sweet potato dish that once you’ve had it, all others pale in comparison. I even brought back the same canned yams I normally use from America, carrying them over in my suitcase. I thought this two pound can would be enough. Hah!  The measuring cup was only half full …

… which left me doing what you see below … cooking more sweet potatoes.

What you see here is me using my computer to follow Pioneer Woman’s cornbread recipe so I can use it in my cornbread dressing which came from her website too. That’s my grandmother’s mixing bowl you see there and if you look back by the computer you can see Miranda in a photograph taken in Paris when we were there for the millennium new year … a whole different story to come later.

My daughter Miranda is the child in the leather coat with the bag over her shoulder queuing for the her first visit to the Louvre.

Next on my list was a recipe we make at Christmas which needed raspberry gelatin and this looked like the Jello gelatin boxes back in America with the exception of being a different brand name. Plus, I knew that what I know as Jello they called Jelly so I thought this one be one familiar thing to work with even if the packaging was different. I set the water to boil and opened the box expecting to find a package of powder to dissolve and was surprised to find …

this … I had about a half second where I thought, what am I supposed to do with this? As John would say when I say something a little different because it’s an American thing, ” I worked it out.”

This is the first deep dish pumpkin pecan pie I ever made. I was so proud of it and it tasted as good as it looked. Well, …

… for a slice or two until it slipped from my hands and fell onto the floor making a nasty mix of broken glass and pie. I was so sad and slightly angry that I had not had a chance to fully enjoy my pie made with pumpkin mix brought from America. You can’t buy it here and I was really bothered by the fact that it was all wasted. So taking my last can of pumpkin and what remained of my pecans, I made …

… this!

Which looked like this when it was done and …

… like this just before I had the first piece. Mmm!

Maybe you remember John’s cousin Mary… she was visiting this past summer with her brother Michael when he suddenly had a heart attack and died. It was a sad time for us all. I wrote about it here, here, and here, if you’d like to learn more about her sweet brother.

This is what our guest room looks like now. I still need to build the padded headboard, but since Mary was staying with us for Christmas I had to save that piece for the new year. Do you remember back when I was reworking the curtains and the duvet and making the pillow shams and the bedskirt or dust ruffle … if not you can go here to read about it.

That’s all for now, have another cup of coffee and I be back with another plate of Hello Dollies and some more pictures in part II.

Making Mary’s Magnificent Cheese Ball

John’s cousin Mary has come to spend Christmas with us arriving late last night at about 11:00. While John was pouring her a glass of wine, I got out the cheese ball that I made the night before which interestingly is called Mary’s Cheese Ball. It’s another recipe from my step-mom Cullene and one of my favorites to make this time of year. I promise you that cheese ball will stand out in a crowd of Christmas party trays and people will be asking you for the recipe once they have a bite or two.

It’s very simple. ( Large recipe located at the end of the post )

You mix some finely chopped green peppers along with crushed and well drained pineapple … I chop my pineapple to be sure it’s small enough. ( I’m serious about the well drained part … you don’t want to have soggy balls.)

Then add some onions that are chopped very small.

I prefer a spicy seasoning mix like the Spicy Season – All above instead of a seasoning salt as the recipe calls for. I am not loyal to a brand yet but I look for one with less salt and no MSG.

Mix all your ingredients well. ( Don’t forget to add a portion of the pecans to it )

Put down some foil with a bit of plastic wrap on top then sprinkle some of the pecans into the center and add a bit of the cheese mixture.

Then I sprinkle a little nuts around the sides and over the top and use the plastic wrap to work it in gently.

My picture isn’t the prettiest, but it’s going to taste good.

I like to make different sized cheese balls so I have plenty of fresh ones ( that look pretty) when people stop by.

Uh oh!   Looks like there’s enough for one more.

And there you have it, a tower of Mary’s cheese balls almost ready for nibbling. I like to give these a day to develop the best flavor. It’s one of those things that after a couple of days the flavor just gets better. I serve mine with crackers, but sometimes after Christmas I spread it on my leftover turkey and use it in a sandwich.

Please let me know if you give it a try. I already know what your family and friends will say about it. Last night was no exception as my new British family munched it up and said several times how much they liked it. I’ll be back in a little while to show you what else I ‘m working on. Dare I say there may be more than two or three posts today.

What Remains


1948 Bringing In The Milk

A young boy about 7 or 8 walks with his little brother as they follow the tall man into the garage to see what waits inside. Watching intently, he listens as his cousin seventeen years his senior explains patiently and carefully that the boat they’re standing in front of is a varnished, clinker built, sailing dinghy. The boy has never seen one this close before, but he knows from the excitement in his cousin’s voice that this is very special to him. He listens and tries to remember as this kind man takes time to explain the purpose and names of the riggings and fittings. His little brother fidgets beside him too young to absorb much of what is being said. Only 3, his brother won’t remember this day, but later he’ll help his older brother as they build the first of two dinghies when they are only 9 and 13. When they’re grown men, they’ll each buy their own sailboats, but still sail together at times, as they explore the Cornish coastline not too from the Bristol Channel where they first rowed the dinghy they built together as children.


Two Lads In The Dinghy Built In 1956


John Winchurch 1956

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy With David

It’s this early childhood memory that John will recall 6o years later when he stands before about 30 or so of his cousin Michael’s family and friends as they gather together to share stories of this erudite man whose sense of humor generally made him the life and soul of any party. After his memorial service, they’ll all gather round to look at the photographs that various people will bring to share. Most will contain images of Michael, some from 50 years ago like the one below when he served as best man at the marriage of John Collins and his late wife.

Michael J. Bench - Best Man- 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

Michael J. Bench - Best Man - 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

After sharing his childhood memory of Michael, John will listen with great interest as John Collins, the groom above tells him how he met Michael when they were architecture students and how together with another friend they’d bought the dinghy that Michael had shown the boys in the garage all those years ago. John Collins will say he was interested to hear the dinghy mentioned during the memorial service and he how he can’t quite remember what happened to it. He’ll also add how it came to be in that particular garage when the three of them owned it jointly. Being students still, Michael was the only one with a place to store it and so it was there… tucked in the garage of Michael’s parents, Auntie Millie and Uncle Horace when John and his brother David visited the Bench family around 1948.

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

This picture probably more than any other reminds me of the day and how in the end what remains are the memories and stories we share. Michael was well loved and there were many conversations as we talked and talked lingering even as we moved towards our cars reluctant to have the day be at an end. Mary was not really interested in being photographed as so many of us are particularly as we get older, but this sweet photograph of her alone is one I just had to share because with her brother Michael’s recent death and the loss of their younger brother two years ago, in their circle of three, she is what remains now.

Mary Bench Levack

Mary Bench Levack