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  • Martin Castle

"That is very fine; but it is impossible to make the men perfect" - IKB

This is the SS Great Britain and as you can see, this man perfectly caught a bit of his thumb in the photograph!

You may remember (Welsh Cake Synchronicity), that part of my family hails from Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire (but only just as it is right on the border with Somerset), which is a very pretty little town to the south-east of Bath. As well as my family a plethora of rugby internationals were born there, as was Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the shrapnel shell. Nip over the border into Somerset and you are in the county where i spent many holidays. My dad's youngest sister married Alf, who worked for the Western Region of British Rail and so so lived in a number of places along the lines of the Great Western Railway. Two of those places were in Somerset - Lower Weare (near Cheddar) and Weston-Super-Mare. They were great places to have holidays as a youngster - all that sand and all those caves.

A few years ago I attended a heads' conference in Bristol so had time to look around the city and came across the SS Great Britain in her dry dock. The ship was designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built by ship builder William Patterson. The work took 4 years and was carried out in a specially constructed dry dock at the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol harbour.

When she was launched on 19 July 1843, she was the largest ship in the world and the first ocean going iron-hulled, propeller driven steamship. After sailing more than 1,000,000 nautical miles, she spent over 80 years in the Falkland Islands. In 1970 the SS Great Britain was returned to Bristol and to the same dry dock where she was built. I was told that she could only be floated out on the highest of tides at her launch and equally high tide on her return - returning on the same day, same tide 127 years apart. The ship has since been carefully cared for and you can now see her looking like she did at her launch and she's certainly worth a visit - a real piece of innovative engineering. 

When not in the caves, on the, beaches or at Holimarine learning to swim on a stool, Bristol was the big city day out - the Clifton suspension Bridge and Bristol Zoo of Johnny Morris, Animal Magic and white tigers fame.

IKB has a connection to another of my places, Portsmouth. He was born on 9 April 1806

in Britain Street, Portsea, Portsmouth, where his father was working on block-making machinery (making pulley blocks for the Royal Navy).

He was named Isambard after his father, the French civil engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, and Kingdom after his English mother, Sophia Kingdom. The block-making machine and the building the machines were housed started the age of mass-production using all-metal machine tools and are regarded as one of the seminal buildings of the Industrial Revolution - it has a beautiful symmetry too.

So, I feel that i can claim Somerset (a tiny bit anyway). I remember my aunt cooking a meat and potato dish that wasn't shepherd's pie (a favourite in our house) as the potato was laid across the top in slices. I think it was probably lamb, so Lancashire hotpot!

My take on it is to use pork - a Wiltshire product - and cider - a Somerset product.


Bristolian Hot Pot


800g/1½lb diced pork shoulder

500g/1lb potatoes – preferably Maris Piper, thinly sliced

(Optional: 2 white Jerusalem artichokes, thinly sliced – be warned they make you fart)

2tbsp Sunflower/rapeseed oil

2 sticks of celery, chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

2 large white onions, roughly chopped

4 carrots, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

A small bunch of sage

2 Pink Lady apples, peeled & chopped

A bottle of Somerset cider

600ml/1 pint of chicken or pork stock

Kale to serve


1. Pre-heat your oven to 180c/350°f/gasmark 4.

2. Add the oil to a heatproof oven dish on a medium heat and sweat your chopped onion, carrot & celery until translucent, then add the Pink Lady apples. Season with salt and pepper and add the sage – crush it between your fingers first.

3. Add the tomatoes, let them cook out for a few minutes, then deglaze the pan with a couple of glugs of cider before adding the stock and leaving the mix to simmer.

4. Add the pork to the pot. Give it a good stir. Leave to further simmer and thicken up whilst you prep the topping.

5. Layer the potatoes and artichokes on top of the pork and stock mix. Season well and bake in the oven with the lid on for 1½ hours.

6. Remove the lid and brush the topping liberally with butter or oil and return to oven for another 15 minutes without the lid, for that all-important crisp top layer.

7. Whilst the hotpot is crisping up, you can prepare the kale by steaming it on the hob and seasoning.

Best enjoyed with the remainder of the cider.

Originally from Wriggle Magazine Bristol 2018

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"Persephone - in Greek myth, goddess both of the underworld & of spring; dread queen of death as well as renewal. Abducted by Hades, then tricked into spending six wintry months a year in his realm...

"Proserpine", by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874), Tate Gallery

ps: The works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; Rossetti, burne-Jones, Holman Hunt, John Millais et al - are among my favourite artists.


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
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