This week… chimney tops, ration books and guardian angels

Every September heritage houses, museums and other buildings throw open their doors to the public. Entry and tours are free despite the work of many of these organisations being independently funded, so a donation is welcome. The nationwide Heritage Open Days festival closes today and I took the opportunity take a peek behind the scenes over the nine-day event in Winchester. Here’s what I discovered.

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These are a few of my favourite (autumnal) things

The early mornings are now cooler but by late morning the light mists burn off to reveal the atmospheric, pale autumn sunlight. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn colour, with a promise of blazing reds and burnt oranges soon to come. In the UK you need to pace yourself though because spring is a long way off. Celebrating the changing seasons is a form of mindfulness or meditation. Taking things slowly, enjoying the simple daily pleasures of changing landscapes and seasonal food, autumn is a time of year to truly indulge the senses.

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Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan

If you have never read Wilkie Collins’s novel Woman in White written in1859, I urge you to remedy the situation before you visit a new exhibition opening in February. (So, no excuses, you have plenty of long winter nights to catch up). It is a wonderful Victorian tale of intrigue surrounding a mysterious woman lost in London and dressed entirely in white. A new exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts also aims to ‘cherchez la femme’, in this case the flame-headed Joanna Hiffernan, through the work of American painter and printmaker, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903).

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Exploring Britain: Cowdray Heritage Ruins

The history of one of the most important early Tudor houses in the UK is threaded through a Civil War, Henry VIII’s Reformation, and a devastating fire which all but destroyed the beautiful Cowdray House in 1793. This week I joined a tour around the ruins and ventured up the 70-odd spiral steps of the Kitchen Tower, the only part of the building still intact. Walking in the footsteps of history is always a slightly spooky experience and brings out the goosebumps.

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This week… pottery, postcards and rats

So, in the UK someone appears to have switched off summer, and in the cold rain temperatures have dropped dramatically. Of course, being British we staunchly hold on to the hope that the sun will come out again before autumn sets in but the mood as I write feels like the dog days of summer. I’m craving a bowl of warming homemade soup (broccoli, pea and pesto, thanks for asking) so there’s definitely a slight shift to the earth’s axis. Ahem.

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This week… olives, growing, buying and cooking

There are a few basics in the kitchen that are really not worth stinting on. Single-estate coffee, honey and olive oil being in the top ten. The cost may be a little higher but a little goes a long way and quality over quantity is the rule. This week a common thread in my inbox has been olives, growing them and eating these delectable little fruits.

One of the first fascinating facts about olive trees is the remarkable age they are able to grow to and especially compared to mere human beings. It’s awesome.

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