See a model village in a model village in a model village!

Who doesn’t like a good model village? But what about standing next to your hotel room in a model village. Or better still seeing a model village in a model village in a model village in a village. If you head to the model village in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds that’s exactly what you can do.

Standing next to our dormer window hotel room of the model Dial House Hotel

Standing next to our dormer window hotel room of the model Dial House Hotel

This particular model village doesn’t contain the global wonders of the world, all in one convenient spot. So don’t expect to see Big Ben next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a waist high version of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. No instead this model village … is of the actual village that you’re actually in!

We headed to Bourton-on-the-Water as part of a romantic break in The Cotswolds which also included horse riding, duck racing (watching – not riding), cream tea eating, “pottering”, but best of all visiting the model village. In fact it was so good I went twice in the same day!! The model village is a 1/9 replica of Bourton-on-the-Water built in local Cotswolds stone, was opened in 1937 and is the only grade 2 listed model village in the country.

The model River Windrush

The model River Windrush

It’s a very twee thing to visit but equally quite wonderful, and the perfect thing to do on a Summer’s afternoon in the British countryside. There’s even the River Windrush running through the village with this shot above showing off the effort they’ve made to get the bushes to look like trees that would be 9x bigger in real life! So apart from soaking up the painstaking attention to details what fun things can you do when you’re in there?

Take some low shots to re-inact actually being at ground level. Find your hotel and then get your girlfriend to stand next to your room so she looks like a giant. Then try to capture the exact same shot in real life later that afternoon with your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend in the same spot. We stayed at the delightful Dial House Hotel which commands one of the best spaces in the village, is neatly set back off the road with copious grounds behind it. Our room was up in the roof overlooking the river and here’s our model/real shot that we tried to line up as best we could.

The view of the model Dial House Hotel and real Dial House Hotel

The view of the ‘model’ Dial House Hotel and ‘real’ Dial House Hotel

 

The view of the 'model' Croft Restaurant and 'real' Croft Restaurant

The view of the ‘model’ Croft Restaurant and ‘real’ Croft Restaurant

Get down low on the floor and take pictures your friends might think are ‘real’ shots when they are not. So here’s the Bourton-on-the-Water Post Office in the main High Street. On busy days there are always going to be people in the background so these guys in the background kind of give the game away 🙂

The model or maybe the real Bourton-on-the-Water post office

The model or maybe the real Bourton-on-the-Water post office?

If you want to blow your mind away go to the part of the exhibition next to the exit as that’s where you get to see a model village in a model village in a model village in the village. The smallest of the model villages gets a bit unrecognisable but it makes you think how much smaller they could actually go!

The model village in the model village in the model village in the village

The model village in the model village in the model village in the village

It was the perfect way to while away an hour and more information can be found on their webite at http://www.themodelvillage.com/

Want to make some sloe gin?

I’d never heard of sloes until a friend mentioned them while we were out running through the Hertfordshire countryside. Up until that point I’d been more preoccupied with the blackberries you can eat straight from the hedgerows instead.
So what are sloes? Well they’re the berries of the hawthorn shrub, traditionally used in Britain to make “cattle-proof” hedges … so “wild” fruit with a helping human hand. On their own sloes taste particularly bitter, but when added to gin and mixed with sugar …. 🙂
Sloe berries close up

Sloes berries close up

There’s a lot of mixed opinion out there regards how you should best make sloe gin. Essentally it’s pick sloes, add to gin, mix in some sugar and then wait 3 months!
    1. Should you pick them after the first frost?
      Traditionalists suggest waiting for the “first frost” but Jamie Oliver’s blog post simply suggested picking them when they were “ripe and ready”; when you can pop the berries easily between your finger and thumb. The first frost might simply not coincide with when they’re ripening! Generally wait until they’re bigger, riper and softer and not small and harder. Even then the “bigger” ones tend to be higher up out of reach of course unless you can find a secret, unknown bush.
  • Should you prick the skins or put them in the freezer?
    Pricking the skins allows the juices to flow out of the sloes when immersed in the gin. However adding them to the freezer overnight stimulates the “first frost”, and expands the fruit so when they defrost the skin will have natually split essentially doing the same thing. I pricked the odd one that hadn’t split with a cocktail stick.
The defrosted and split sloes

The defrosted and split sloes

  • Should you add caster sugar before or after?
    Some say before but others say you don’t know how much you’ll need until you actually taste it, so it’s better to sugar it to taste using a syrup mixture at the time of opening. However I added mine before so the sugar could help allow the full flavour to be extracted from the sloes. Why does this have to be so confusing?!
  • How much caster sugar?
    One blog suggested two big spoonfuls. Not too useful when they didn’t specify the spoon size! Other recipes I saw suggested 225g … which is a lot … and the amount I used for my 1 litre bottle.
Sloe gin ready to be made

Sloe gin ready to be made

  • How long should you leave it before you drink it?
    Some say a minimum of two months is needed for the drink to mature (so just in time for Christmas) whereas others specify a minimum of 3 months, while yet others suggest the longer you leave it the better (like years)! I’m having one mid Feb (a 4 month wait) and saving the other bottle for next Christmas.
  • What type of gin to use?
    Another bone of contention. 1 liter of gin will actually make 2 liter bottles of sloe gin as the sloes take up half of the space. Some websites say cheap gin makes cheap sloe gin, but others say the tastes of the sloes is strong enough to overwhelm the flavor anyway. You decide. I went somewhere in the middle with a bottle of Gordon’s London gin.
So the actually picking part. My friend Jake and his little daughter took me to a particularly fruitful location in-between Hitchin and Pirton in Hertfordshire where the south facing side of the footpath had allowed the sloes to fatten up in the sunshine, with the best bushes being in natural dips where they had been better watered too.
Take along a strong carrier bag or better still a big Tupperware container with 450g being about right to half fill a 1 liter Kilner bottle when you get back home. As it’s never easy to determine weight when standing without scales on a footpath I picked a bit extra just in case and needed up with 1.2kg!
Once back home optionally sterilise your airtight bottle(s) (I used Milton baby sterilising tablets) or alternatively swill it out with boiling water (careful here as bottles can crack) and then half fill them with the defrosted fruit (about 450g).
Sloe gin completed

Sloe gin complete and ready for the 3 month wait

Once sloes, gin and sugar have been added together (I found the order of sloes > gin > sugar worked best followed by a final top up of gin) shake for half a minute and then lay on its side in a dark cupboard. Then every other day give a little shake and twist 180 degrees for 2 months. Then strain the sloe gin through muslin into another bottle come drinking time in case the old maggot, stalk, leave is still in there.
So if sticking to the first frost approach then the start of November looks a good time to go picking. If keen to get going now, pick them and simply stick them in the freezer overnight. This will simulate that first frost, split the skins, and once defrosted will allow them to release more of their juices come the actual gin drinking time.

In summary:

  • Pick 450g sloes when ripe and ready
  • Stick in freezer for the night
  • Sterilize a 1 litre bottle
  • Allow sloes to defrost
  • Prick any that haven’t split
  • Half fill the bottle with the sloes
  • Add the gin
  • Add 225g of caster sugar
  • Top up with some more gin
  • Shake
  • Store horzontally in a dark cupboard
  • Shake slightly and turn 180 degrees every couple of days
  • Wait 3+ months
  • Strain and drink … the part you’ve been waiting for! 🙂