A Walk in the Life: Dunston, Lincolnshire, UK

A few weeks ago we decided to try out another of the Visit Lincolnshire Stepping Out walks, in the village of Nocton. I really enjoyed getting to explore the beautiful village of Nocton as well as the surrounding countryside. So once I got back from my Easter holidays we decided to head out to the neighbouring village of Dunston and try the walk there. During our visit we were lucky enough to see the beautiful blue haze of bluebells carpeting the woodland floor!

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Dunston Village Walk

This walk starts from the Red Lion Pub car park, Middle Street, Lincoln, Dunston, LN4 2EW accessed via the B1188 Lincoln Road. There is plenty of free parking behind the pub as well as along the nearby Fen Lane, which is really easy to find off the main road through the village. From the centre of Lincoln it took around 15 minutes to get there by car.

Off we go…

1. From the car park of the Red Lion Pub in Dunston, follow the road right down Back Lane, heading left towards the village school. Immediately after the school, look for a way marker pointing right down a tarmac path.

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2. Turn right here and follow this public bridleway between tall hedges until you see a way marker leading off to your right (Look out for hedgerow birds flying back and forth here. We saw a very hungry blackbird with a beak full of juicy worms!).

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3. Turn right and follow this footpath with Nocton Cricket ground on your left (We saw tons of different species of butterfly here, landing on the hedgerow flowers and shrubs).

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4. As the path reaches the steep banks of a reservoir, follow the way markers left through an area of woodland. Continue through the trees until you meet a T junction, as the path joins a tarmac lane (Here the walk shares a similar route to the Nocton Village walk which I wrote about a few weeks ago!).

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5. Turn right onto this lane and follow it through Burton Plantation (Look out for bluebells and cowslips as well as plenty of wild garlic covering the woodland floor). Continue straight on into Grotto Holt.

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6. Follow the path through Grotto Holt until you see a way marked path leading off right. This path offers a shorter route, re-joining the walk between points 8 and 9.

7. We decided to continue on the longer route and followed the track straight on until, just before a metal gate, the way markers lead right (We stopped here to look out over the farmland beyond and watch the pheasants running alongside the woodland).

8. Take this restricted byway through an area of woodland and continue on with Nocton Wood on your left (When we visited the wood was full of beautiful bluebells and birdsong). Keep an eye out for a way marker leading off to the right across open fields.

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9. Turn right onto this path and follow it over the fields towards the village of Dunston (As we were walking across these fields all we could hear was the beautiful sound of Skylarks hovering above us. It was really amazing to get to see so many flying about the open farmland). A way marked track leading off right is the point at which the shortcut described in Point 6 rejoins the walk.

10. Continue straight on over two wooden foot bridges, until you reach the houses at Dunston (We saw plenty of pheasants running around the fields, as well as buzzards flying high above us characteristically hovering and diving to catch food).

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11. Follow the way markers left, along a grassy track until you reach Willow Lane. Follow this left and back to the car park.

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This walk is 2.8 miles/4.5km and takes around an hour to complete at a leisurely pace, however it does have a short cut which you can take to decrease the original walk. This walk is a little short for me, so if you prefer a longer walk it may be worth thinking about extending this walk by combining it with with the nearby Nocton Village walk, as the routes briefly link. Despite that, I really enjoyed this walk as it offers great views of the surrounding countryside and farmland, as well as the opportunity to explore the village of Dunston.

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Throughout the walk we saw a good variety of woodland, hedgerow and farmland wildlife, including: Great/Blue tits, gold finches, blackbirds, butterflies, skylarks and pheasants. Before we started the walk we stopped to watch a flock of ducklings which were swimming in the stream as well as running back and forth across the quiet lane – needless to say they were very very cute! I would definitely recommend this walk, especially now all the spring flowers are blooming 🙂

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A Walk in the Life…

A Bake in the Life: Coffee and Walnut Cake

When I first knew I would be going to university I remember reading countless articles designed to prepare very excited and slightly terrified new undergraduates for one of the biggest experiences of their lives. One thing that they all had in common was a section of tips offered by current and graduated university students. One tip that has always stuck with me was the following:

‘The best way to make new friends is with food!’

I took this advice to heart and I moved into my first student flat with a large pile of carefully decorated cupcakes which I offered out to my new flatmates – much to their appreciation!

A few years down the line…

Nowadays I’m fairly well known for the abundance of baked goods that will be forced upon you when you visit my house. I know not everyone is Mary Berry when it comes to baking but even this recipe is so simple anyone can make one, and I promise your new and old friends will be forever thankful! One of my most tried and tested cake recipes that everyone seems to love is a traditional coffee and walnut cake. This recipe comes from my mum and is one of my favourites 🙂

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Coffee & Walnut Cake

You will need:

For 1 two layered sandwich cake:

8oz/225g Butter (and a bit extra to grease your cake tins)

8oz/225g Self Raising Flour

8oz/225g Caster Sugar

4 Beaten Eggs

2oz/55g Chopped/Broken Walnuts

5 tbsps Cooled Coffee (Made from 1tsp coffee and boiling water)

For butter cream icing to fill and top the cake:

7oz/200g Icing Sugar

2 tbsps Cooled Coffee (Made as before!)

4½ oz/125g Butter

Walnuts to decorate the top of your cake

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Let’s get started!

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
  • Grease and line cake tins with grease proof/baking paper – so after all this hard work you can get your cakes out in one piece!

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  • Make up coffee and allow to cool. It is important to ensure the coffee is completely cold or else when added to the mixture it may cause it to curdle (however, if this does happen don’t worry too much as it should be okay after you add some flour!).

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  • Beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy.

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  • Beat 4 eggs (I usually just use a mug/measuring jug).

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  • Add to the butter and sugar mixture slowly to prevent curdling.
  • Add cooled coffee mixture, flour and walnuts and mix thoroughly (any curdling should be sorted by now!).

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  • Pour half of the cake mixture into each sandwich tin.

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  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown (If in doubt push a cocktail stick into the centre of the cake and if wet continue to cook until it comes out clean).
  • Leave cakes to cool in tins for 30 minutes then remove and cool on wire rack.
  • Prepare butter cream icing by beating together butter and icing sugar until smooth and creamy.
  • Add a tbsp at a time of cooled coffee until icing is a thick but easily spreadable texture (If possible allow the icing to cool and thicken up in the fridge for 30 minutes).
  • Once cooled place the first cake onto a plate and smooth over half of the icing.
  • Place second cake on top and smooth over the rest of the icing.
  • Decorate with walnuts however you like! Whole, crumbled or maybe if you are feeling fancy with chocolate covered coffee beans!

This is probably my favourite cake to bake and eat, as not only is it delicious but makes me think of home 🙂 Beating together the sugar, butter and eggs first ensures a very airy sponge and gives that beautiful light texture. I like to add broken walnuts to the cake mixture to add some crunch throughout the cake, as well as decoration, but you can leave this out if you want. My mum also sprinkles broken walnuts on top of the filling before adding the second cake on top which I really enjoy.

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You can of course just make a single cake by halving all ingredient amounts and only applying butter cream icing to the top of the cake, or scrap the icing all together and simply sieve over some icing sugar. Whatever you decide to do just make sure to enjoy a piece yourself before you give it all away! 🙂

A Bake in the Life…

A Day in the Life: Newark Park, Ozleworth, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, UK

While I was home for Easter, myself and my family visited a National Trust house and grounds that we haven’t been to before in the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire. As I mentioned in my Charlecote Park post we have been to most of the houses and estates that are nearby in Oxfordshire so it was great to explore somewhere new! With 450 years of history, Newark Park has been home to many families who have all made modifications to the lodge, resulting in the house seen today.

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Originally much smaller than today, Newark started life in 1550 as a hunting lodge. After Protestant Nicholas Poyntz married Catholic Joan Berkeley in 1527, he used his connections with Henry VIII to obtain stone from the recently dissolved nearby Kingswood Abbey and built Newark House.

In 1593 Sir Thomas Lowe bought the house. Several modifications were made to the lodge by his son Sir Gabriel Lowe – enlarging the lodge by building a matching block to the west and adding a long ceilinged gallery on the top floor running north-south. Although the central staircase which joined the two blocks can no longer be seen, the top floor gallery can still be partly seen inside the house.

In 1790 Reverend Clutterbuck, who inherited Newark from his Godfather James Clutterbuck, set about modernising the house. Externally, Clutterbuck added battlements and a Gothick portico to the new south front, as well as landscaping the surrounding grounds. Internally, the changes were more radical and demonstrated a classical style, including the production of a new central hall.

In 1898 the Clutterbuck family let the house to Mrs Annie King, who made Newark into a home for herself and her children. She added a servants’ wing to the north of the house and her youngest daughter, Alice lived here until her death in 1949, when Newark Park was bequeathed by the Clutterbuck family to the National Trust.

From 1949-1969 the house was let as a nursing home until in 1970 Texan architecture Robert Parsons visited Newark Park and seeing it’s potential decided to take on the tenancy. Tenants Robert Parsons and Michael Claydon conducted a lot of work to make the house livable again, as well as modernising it by filling the rooms with art and furniture from around the world. From 2001 The National Trust began directly managing the house and garden, with the final tenant Michael Claydon moving out in 2011.

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Newark Park Grounds

Typical of many historical properties, entry to the house and gardens is along a winding drive through open grassland. This offers beautiful views across the surrounding woodland and down into the Ozleworth valley to the Mendips beyond. Once parked, visitors can follow a track from the car park through the surrounding grounds and gardens to the house and walled garden.

When we visited, national trust volunteers were dressed in traditional clothing from throughout Newark’s long history, with several taking the personal history of particularly prominent individuals. We were greeted by a gentleman who told us that there were guided tours of the surrounding grounds and gardens, and that the next would begin in 10 minutes. We decided that this would be a brilliant way to get a good introduction to the house and grounds before we explored on our own so we waited around in the nearby garden.

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Our guide was a very enthusiastic, welcoming and knowledge lady who took us from outside the house, down the landscaped drive through the lower garden, ponds, summerhouse and peacock tree before heading back up to the house for a final tour of the walled garden. Overall, it took around 45 minutes to an hour and gave a whistle-stop tour of the beautiful surrounding grounds and gardens, including the history of and changes made by Newark Park’s many residents. I particularly enjoyed hearing about ‘Spike’ the gold gilded dragon weather vane who was used as shooting practice during the lodge’s hunting days and the unusual carved gateposts which resemble wood from a distant but are in fact stone.

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Newark Park House

Once we had finished this tour we decided to explore the house. On entering the house you immediately find yourself within the central hall created by James Clutterbuck in 1790, with several rooms leading off. The kitchen can be found downstairs to the left, just below the sweeping staircase. On the ground floor make sure to explore the dining room with it’s William Morris ceiling paper and model of Newark Park, which really helps you to understand the changes made to the house over the years.

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As you move upstairs, it is hard to miss the beautiful stained glass windows which let in the sunlight. Definitely take time to explore the first bedroom on the left, especially the four poster bed and historical window in the modernised bathroom. Following the staircase up another floor, you find yourself on a large landing where the size of the original hunting lodge can be observed by the visible brickwork.

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In the back right corner of this landing you will find a small wooden staircase which takes you up to the final floor. Look out for the intricate tiling behind a tap and basin on the stairs before you enter the first bedroom on your left. This room was one of my favourites, in particular the assortment of historical artifacts and garderobe found behind a curtain at the back left hand corner of the room! I also really enjoyed seeing the portrait stilettos in the bedroom next door, the beautiful views out across the grounds from the landing windows and the art exhibition in the fourth room.

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I really enjoyed my visit to Newark Park! If you have time I would definitely recommend taking the garden tour as it gives a really good introduction to the history of both the house and gardens. If not, then a quick walk around the lawn, walled garden and house are enough to see some of the beautiful artifacts and history of Newark Park. There is plenty of room to enjoy a picnic or piece of cake and cup of tea on the lawn, and I would recommend having a play of the lawn games available (Bowls, croquet and chess when we visited).

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 …Just watch out for peacocks!

A Day in the Life… Continue reading

A Year in the Lab: Running New Bacterial Plugs and Preparing for Bradford Water Collection

Monday 7th April 2014

This week started with the preparation of my new plugs from last week, ready to continue perfecting PFGE settings. The plugs were incubated in 0.1 x wash buffer for 1 hour. This was then removed and replaced with 1 x NotI buffer for another hour with gentle agitation. This was again removed and replaced with 1 x NotI buffer and NotI restriction enzyme, incubating overnight at 37ºC.

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I spent the rest of the day continuing to work on preparation for my PCR, focusing specifically on preparing reagents and conducting a temperature gradient using my CTX-M Bla genes primers.

Tuesday 8th April 2014

Today began with collecting the bacterial plugs from incubation, removing the buffer and enzyme then incubating the plugs in 1 x wash buffer for an hour with agitation. This was then removed and replaced with 0.5 x TAE buffer. While they were incubating in TAE I prepared and poured a 1% agarose gel.IMG_5085

This gel was then loaded with the plugs and an appropriate PFGE ladder before running overnight using the following settings:

  • 20 hours
  • 1% agarose gel
  • 0.5x TAE
  • 14ºC
  • 40-100 switch intervals per second
  • 6 V/cm
  • 30 minute stain, 10 minute destain

I decided to run this first gel of the week using the same settings as my last most successful PFGE gel, in order to visulise whether this new batch of plugs contained a more appropriate amount of bacterial DNA.

I spent the rest of the day beginning to comprise a list of reagents and materials required for my next water collection in Bradford, after my Easter holiday. Including: Autoclaved Duran flasks, gloves, water collection rod, tryptone water (TW), lactose peptone water (LPW), LB broth, MLSA + CTX, nutrient agar and nutrient agar slopes.

Wednesday 9th April 2014

Once my PFGE gel had finished I stained it for 30 minutes, destaining for 10 minutes before viewing under UV. The resulting gel was very disappointing demonstrating very light bands for the Escherichia coli bacterial plugs and none at all for the ladder. Based on my experience I knew that there was definitely a problem with the run and not just with the new bacterial plugs. I therefore decided to dismantle and clean all components of the PFGE CHEF-DR II unit, as well as replacing all 0.5x TAE buffer used.

I then prepared and poured another 1% agarose gel. This gel was again loaded with the plugs and an appropriate PFGE ladder before running overnight using the same settings as yesterday:

  • 20 hours
  • 1% agarose gel
  • 0.5x TAE
  • 14ºC
  • 40-100 switch intervals per second
  • 6 V/cm
  • 30 minute stain, 10 minute destain

I spent the rest of the day preparing all the broths required for my next water collection: Tryptone water (TW), lactose peptone water (LPW), LB broth. These were all prepared as before, combining appropriate reagents with distilled water, adjusting the pH, decanting into glass universals before autoclaving. Finally I collected together gloves, water collection rod and autoclaved 2 empty Duran flasks.

Thursday 10th April 2014

Today started with removing my PFGE gel and staining it for 30 minutes. I decided to hold off destaining and just view it straight away under UV based on the lack of stained bands yesterday. The resulting gel was my one of my best so far, demonstrating very clear bands for the ladder as well as both Escherichia coli bacterial plugs (E.5 and ATCC 25922). When comparing the two bacterial plug banding patterns you can clearly see the differences in band size and amount, indicating that the samples are different strains.

PFGE Gel

Staining and band clarity was still a little dark/blurred in places indicating slightly too much staining/DNA. I decided to destain the gel for 10 minutes to see if I could improve this, however it made little difference when re visulised. For my next gel it would be interesting to see if using less plug and destaining for 15 minutes would improve the band clarity.

Once finished I continued preparing all the agar plates required for my next water collection:  MLSA + CTX and nutrient agar. These were all prepared as before, combining appropriate reagents with distilled water before autoclaving. When the agar had cooled enough to pour, CTX was added to the MLSA and then all plates were poured aseptically.

Friday 11th April 2014

I finished off the week by making nutrient agar slopes as before, combining appropriate reagents with distilled water, heating until combined, decanting into glass universals and autoclaving. Once autoclaved the universals were then sloped and until to cool allowing the formation a sloped surface for inoculation.

I then decided to test my previous extracted Escherichia coli bacterial plasmid DNA for purity using the NanoDrop2000 (ND). Nucleic acids absorb strongly in the UV region of the spectrum, showing a characteristic maxima peak at 260nm, while proteins are visible at 280nm. Conventional spectrometry requires a fairly large sample, using the ND allows testing of sample volumes as low as 0.5μl, which helps to avoid this drawback.

nanodrop2000spectrophotometerNanoDrop2000 from Thermoscientific (Bioresearch Online, 2013)

Once cleaned a 1μl drop of sample is pipetted onto the pedestal and tested using the appropriate software. The software calculates: DNA in ng/μl, A260, A280, 260/280 and 260/230. This can then be confirmed through manual calculation. Pure DNA has a reading of approximately 1.9, pure RNA approximately 2.1 and pure protein approximately 0.6. A reading of 1.75 indicates that there is approximately 50% DNA and 50% protein.

As I thought, my samples demonstrated mixed purity, ranging from very pure to inadequate. This highlights the main drawback of conducting plasmid isolation via alkaline lysis – variable purity. I hope that this problem will be rectified by using the QIAcube, which conducts plasmid isolation automatically and therefore improves purity.

Next week…

I will be spending the next week back home for the Easter holidays. When I get back I want to carry on finalising settings for my PFGE by using less plug to reduce the amount of DNA present on the gel and adding a smaller ladder to help determine the size of the smaller bands visible. Hopefully the QIAcube will also be fixed and I can then perform plasmid DNA extraction before beginning PCR. I also want to move onto collecting water samples from Bradford, processing these and looking specifically for antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli in order to create a similar collection to Lincoln. 

A Year in the Lab…

A Bake in the Life: Feta, Rocket, Red Onion and Tomato Quiche

I am a massive fan of cheese, and one of my absolute favourites is feta! I really like it’s salty taste when crumbled over fresh salads and stuffed inside pasta, so I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like in a quiche. I decided on combining it with another favourite flavour of mine – rocket, as well as roasted red onion and tomato similar to my Roasted Tomato, Red Onion, Basil and Mozzarello Quiche.

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Feta, Rocket, Red Onion and Tomato Quiche

You will need:

For the shortcrust pastry

6 oz/175g Plain Flour

2½ oz/75g Chilled Butter

2 tbsp Cold Water

For the filling

5 oz/150g Cherry Tomatoes

1-2 tsp Olive/Sunflower Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 oz/50g Feta broken into small pieces

1 Small Thinly Sliced Red Onion

1 Egg

5 fl oz/142ml Double Cream

Handful of fresh rocket, and a little to sprinkle over the top of the quiche

Let’s get started!

  • To make the pastry, combine the flour and butter using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add 2 tbsp of cold water and begin to pull the mixture together into a ball, if needed add the final tbsp to form a soft dough.

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  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface large enough to line a 20cm/8in flan tin. Press the pastry gently into the tin ensuring it lays smoothly against the fluted sides.

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  • Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.
  • Place the cherry tomatoes and red onion in a small roasting tin, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper before placing on the lowest shelf in your oven – to slowly cook.
  • Once chilled, line the pastry case with foil and fill with baking beans (If you don’t have any you can always use rice, beans or pulses – as long as they are dry and heavy enough to prevent the pastry from puffing up!). Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans/foil and continue to bake for 5 minute to dry out the centre of the base.

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  • Keep a close eye on the tomatoes/onion, and remove once the tomatoes start to pop open and the onions caramalise.

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  • Beat together the eggs and cream before seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Once the pastry case has cooked, sprinkle half the pieces of feta over the base, then top with the tomato/onion mixture and sprinkle over the rocket.

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  • Pour over the egg/cream mixture until it just reaches the top of the pastry case, and finally top with the rest of the feta.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is set and appears golden brown.
  • Leave the pastry to cool in the tin, then remove onto a serving plate and top with fresh pieces of rocket.
  • You are all done! 🙂

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I really enjoyed the combination of salty feta cheese, peppery rocket, sweet tomato and onion! I decided to top the final quiche which a few ripped sprigs of rocket, but you could always leave it plain or add your favourite fresh herb. I will definitely be making this quiche again 🙂 

I know I keep going on about it but, if you haven’t made your own shortcrust pastry before I would absolutely encourage you to try, as it always makes me feel like a cooking pro and it tastes amazing. Once you start making your own shortcrust pastry, quiches and tarts it’s hard to stop!

A Bake in the Life…