Day 14, Monday 23 December 2019
An early start this morning to get over to the Severn & Wye Smokery at Westbury-on-Severn for breakfast – and well worth the early start it was too.
Severn & Wye Smokery
I can’t remember how I came across this place – probably on Instagram – but it’s one that was on my list for a foodie must-visit.
The Severn and Wye rivers are known for salmon and eel, and this smokery does a fabulous job with both.
Smoked eel is one of those things that you either love or you hate. These days I’m a fan, but it wasn’t always the case.
When I was a kid growing up in country NSW Mum took us eeling a few times. We’d cook them in tins over the open fire and they always tasted of the sump-oil that the tins had originally been used for. I only ever tried it the once (the eel not the sump oil, of course) and gagged on it.
Many years later (in 1995) we were on our first trip to England and in Gloucester visiting Grant’s relatives. His uncle ordered a serve of jellied elvers as a side to his fish and chips and mushy peas. Ugh. It was years later that I learnt that these were actually a local delicacy.
It wasn’t, however, until I was in Queenstown on a lake cruise and was told about how the eels in Lake Wakatipu actually come from Tonga – and return there to die – that I realised there was something a little bit interesting about these slithery creatures. (If you’re interested, I wrote about it – and my theories on the subject – here.)
Anyways, scientists believe that all the eels in the Severn, in fact all the eels in the Eastern River of North America and the rivers of Eastern and Western Europe, come from a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle – and return there to spawn and, following which, to die. Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up; that is, however a post for another time.
Little known outside the West of England, the Severn elver run marks the ultimate stage of a stunning natural exodus, where millions of young eels wriggle from the salt waters of the Atlantic up into the fresh of the Severn. Their ultimate aim is to find the perfect muddy patch of river, a place to call home for the next few years.Tom Parker Bowles, “The YEar of eating dangerously”
Many of these young eels consider the Severn to be a bit of an eely des-res and stay – hence why Severn & Wye Smokery exists right here.
These days I quite like smoked eel – especially as a canape with beetroot and horseradish – but not for breakfast. I chose the kedgeree – and it was the best one I’ve ever had. It’s made with Severn & Wye hot smoked salmon, smoked MSC haddock, tomatoes, spinach, flaked almonds, and a poached egg.
Grant had the house-smoked kippers, with some eel on the side; and Sarah chose the eggs benedict with house-smoked salmon. For the useless book of knowledge, the kippers are so good that it’s Severn & Wye kippers that are served at Fortnum & Mason.
Also here is a fish market, gift shop (where I picked up a few bits and pieces to put under the Christmas tree), and a “chef’s larder” which had me wishing we’d brought an esky or cool bag with us.
This part of the trip was an especially sentimental one for Grant with lots of family connections. His grandmother used to live here and there’s a memorial to his father in the little cemetary on top of Churchdown Hill.
Known colloquially as Chosen Hill, there is a Roman Well up here; a 12th-century church, St Bartholomew’s, that sits nicely at the top; and about halfway down is a tree and a bench-seat where my husband’s parents did much of their courting in the early 1950s. Around it is a bluebell wood and some lovely nature walks.
Today was (relatively) clear so we could see for miles – across the Severn Vale into Wales, to the Cotswolds, Gloucester, Cheltenham, the Malvern Hills and into Worcestershire.
We went to find Mussel Well and the Roman “steps” and the trig point, but the path was ridiculously muddy – mid-calf deep muddy – so we abandoned the whole idea. From what I’ve read though, a faery funeral procession was once spotted coming through the entrance of the Iron Age ramparts and disappearing into the hillside at an ash tree by the Well. Maybe another time.
When we were last here, back on that first trip in 1995, I remember thinking that Gloucester Cathedral was the most impressive church I’d ever seen.
The interiors are awe-inspiring…
– and the Cloisters were used as a setting in the second Harry Potter movie.
As for the windows…check out these pics.
Just outside the Cathedral is the little building that inspired Beatrix Potter’s Tailor of Gloucester. While she was inspired by the little building in College Court beside St Michael’s Gate, she was actually staying in a house near the village green at Churchdown at the time.
When we were here last time there was a pub in town that we lunched at almost every day: the Fountain Inn. It’s changed a little over the years, understandably so, but thankfully hasn’t been poshed up.
According to my 1995 travel journal (yes, I was keeping one all those years ago) a ploughman’s lunch or a bowl of chilli cost us £2.75 back then. Today my stilton and garlic mushrooms set us back £5.95 and Grant and Sarah’s share plate £8.95.
After lunch and a little shopping, we called in on Grant’s uncle and cousins to say hello and headed back to Tetbury where H&J had found their way back from Glasgow and to their Air BNB just down the road from ours.
Time for some shared pizzas at The Priory before they had to head back to Heathrow to pick up the rest of their party for Christmas.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!
The above is an extract from my travel journal…