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Swanning about

Swanning about

 

If you happen to be at Goring Lock around 5pm on Thursday 19 July, you’ll be greeted with a unique and quintessentially English sight – the Royal Swan Uppers at work.

Swan upping dates back centuries to a time when swans were eaten at banquets and featss. It was a way of ensuring that there were plenty of cygnets on the river to continue breeding then taking the remainder away to fatten up for eating. But controlling the swan population in this way was very labour intensive and with the increasing availability of domestic poultry in the 19th century, swans became far less desirable on the dining table.

Today, swan upping plays in important role in the conservation of mute swans. During the third week of July each year, a team of swan uppers travels from Sunbury to Abingdon in six traditional rowing skiffs. The skiffs are decorated with the flags and pennants of not just the Crown but also the Vintners and the Dyers – the three bodies which collectively own the swans on the River Thames.

The swan uppers travel along the river and when they spot a colony of swans, they call out, ‘All-up!’. The boats then surround the swans and their cygnets and carefully lift the birds out of the water. They are then taken onshore for examining and marking.

The cygnets are weighed and measured, and checked for injuries. Most injuries can be dealt with in situ but some swans may require treatment at a rescue centre. Injuries are often caused by discarded fishing tackle as well as by attacks by predators, dogs and, sadly, humans. All the data is recorded by the Queen’s Swan Warden.

Cygnet numbers recorded in 2017 were significantly higher than the previous two years with 132 new cygnets recorded on the River Thames despite an outbreak of Avian Flu at the start of the year

Last year saw a significant improvement in cygnet numbers compared to the last two years, with a total of 132 new cygnets on the River Thames. This uplift was welcomed after an outbreak of Avian Influenza at the start of the year.

‘Throughout the year we have been delighted that members of the public have kept a watchful eye on so many of the nesting swans,’ David Barber, the Queen’s Swan Marker (pictured above), explains, ‘It is encouraging to see how important the welfare of swans and their young cygnets are to so many people.’

There was a massive decline in the swan population in the latter half of the 20th century. But when lead fishing weights were banned in the late 1980s, swan numbers started to increase steadily. There are, however, far fewer breeding pairs today than in the post-war years.

Swans today face many challenges. Injuries and vandalism aside, there is a lack of aquatic vegetation, and the increase in concrete embankments and moored boats make it difficult for swans to access grass riverbanks for feeding.

As well as monitoring the swan population, the Swan Uppers invite schools along to see them at work and to educate children in the importance of river ecology and the conservation of these unique and beautiful creatures.

The Royal Swan Uppers are scheduled to arrive at Goring Lock at 5pm on Thursday 19 July. They set off that morning from Sonning before stopping in Caversham and Mapledurham. After Goring, they will travel on to Moulsford with an expected arrival time of 6pm

Saturday Stalwarts

Saturday Stalwarts

If you’ve been to Pierreponts on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll have spotted a stack of bikes outside and inside two tables full of chattering people with rosy cheeks – one lot top to toe in lycra, the other in muddy walking boots. They are the weekend walkers and cyclists, and they are just as much a part of Pierreponts as the cakes.

The cyclists

Goring residents Paul and Mark have been Pierreponts customers since the cafe opened back in 2008. Every Saturday morning, they meet their fellow cyclists in the Catherine Wheel car park at 8am then set off on a two-and-a-half-hour bike ride which always ends for them at Pierreponts.

‘It’s our spiritual home,’ Paul explains. The two men have cycled together for around 20 years, first on mountain bikes but now on road bikes. They enthuse about how wonderful the area is for cycling – quiet country lanes, some challenging hills and glorious views aplenty.

Over two decades, they have seen a huge increase in the number of cyclists on the roads in Oxfordshire. ‘We used to ride to Henley and not see another rider,’ Paul recalls. ‘Now we’ll see around a hundred or so.’

They describe their Saturday morning jaunt as a social ride, and it certainly is with around half a dozen of them usually ending up in Pierreponts for breakfast. And what’s their post-ride breakfast of choice? ‘Bacon sandwich,’ Paul responds in a heartbeat. ‘And coffee.’ For Mark it’s a bacon sandwich too. ‘And sometimes a doughnut,’ he smiles.

The walkers

As the cyclists are unclipping their pedals and taking off their helmets, another merry band is arriving to refuel – the walkers. I squeeze onto a table with Joëlle, John, Judy, Bernard, Ernst, Liz and Jo, who are all keen ramblers as well as friends for longer than any of them dares to remember.

The seven friends met through a shared love of exploring the countryside on foot. They get together every Saturday morning at 9am for a circular walk around Goring, starting and finishing at the Rectory Garden. Whatever the weather, they complete four-or-five-mile route (‘which always includes a hill,’ Joëlle adds) before descending on Pierreponts 90 minutes later for breakfast and a lot of chatter. This lot like to walk but they really like to talk!

Their enthusiasm for Pierreponts is huge, and they are all regulars – not just on Saturday mornings but throughout the week too. They particularly like coming for an early supper on a Friday evening before heading out to one of the Goring Jazz events.

The Saturday-morning walk is just one of nine which take place each week under the banner of Goring Gap Health Walks. There are walks to suit everyone, with different levels of difficulty and distance. The weekend walks tend to attract around 20 walkers but during the week there can be as many as 40.

The benefits of walking in a group are huge – it’s sociable, great for your physical and mental health, and it’s free too. Each walk is led by a trained leader so you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands.

Back at Pierreponts it’s time for breakfast, and the walkers feast on kippers, porridge, granola and French toast. ‘I was ill recently,’ Jo tells me, ‘and I had to miss the walks. But I really missed the breakfasts!’

For more information about the walking group, visit www.goringgapwalks.co.uk

 

Sustainability – it’s at the heart of everything we do

Sustainability – it’s at the heart of everything we do

At Pierreponts we feel very passionately about the environment and we are constantly working to make the café as sustainable as we possibly can. We strongly believe it’s our responsibility to protect the environment, both locally and on a global scale.

Here are some of the ways in which we’re working towards being the most sustainable business we can:

1. Keeping it local

We are very proud to work with a huge number of local food suppliers. Not only does this reduce the food miles it means we’re supporting local, independent businesses. And who wouldn’t want to do that? Our meat, bread, eggs, vegetables, dairy and wine come from local producers, and all our cakes are made in our own kitchen. Plus we grow our own herbs – now we’re talking food metres, not miles!

2. Reusable cups rule

If you bring a reusable cup for your takeaway tea or coffee, we’ll give you a 20p discount on every drink. We also sell a range of cups in the most beautiful colours.

Reusable cups

There is much talk of cafes using recyclable or compostable take away cups. The truth is , however, that unless you live in one of two specific areas in the country your cup cannot be recycled. Compostable cups do not compost in landfill – the conditions aren’t right for it – so we believe the best answer currently is to stop using disposable cups as much as possible. Please don’t ask us for a take away cup for your coffee if you are staying in the café.

3. No more plastic straws

Plastic straws are only ever used once yet they take centuries to decompose. So back in November we replaced plastic straws with biodegradable paper straws.

4. Recycling is king

All our waste is sorted and we recycle as much of it as we possibly can. Anything that can’t be recycled is incinerated and the energy produced feeds into the national grid.

5. Stick with the seasons

We try as much as we can to use seasonal produce in our dishes. The fewer miles your food has travelled, the better it is for the environment. Plus it will have retained more nutrients in the short time between being harvested and served on your plate.

6. Cutlery counts

We don’t provide plastic cutlery with our takeaway food. Instead we provide rather lovely biodegradable knives, forks and spoons. And of course in the café we only use metal cutlery.

7. Vegetarian options

We are consciously increasing the number of vegetarian and vegan dishes on our menu, and offer a range of non-dairy milks for hot drinks. Many people are now including less meat and dairy in their diets. and so we are happy to help. We are careful to ensure that the meat and dairy which we use comes from farms using responsible and sustainable farming methods.

8. Bag-free tea

We are proud of our huge range of teas, from English breakfast to Lapsang Souchong and everything in between. All of our blends are loose leaf as we believe they taste superior to teabags. Plus you might not have realised that many teabags contain plastic – polypropylene, to be precise – which is used to heat seal them during manufacture to make sure they don’t open in the box or your cup. All our tea is supplied by the Wallingford Tea Company – another great local small business

9. Plastic is not fantastic

We don’t supply any drinks in plastic bottles, only glass. Nor do we use plastic carrier bags.

10. This is just the start

We’re proud of the changes we’re making but we’re very aware that there’s still more we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. One of our current challenges is finding boxes for our takeaway salads which don’t contain plastic but which don’t leak. Although compostable boxes are available, these only break down if they are put on an actual compost heap.

We would love to hear any ideas you have which could help us further.

And if anyone has a use for used coffee grounds please do let us know and we will collect them for you –they are great on compost heaps, deter ants, slugs and snails, and make a great fertiliser.

A Pinch of Pierreponts

A Pinch of Pierreponts

Welcome to ‘A Pinch of Pierreponts’, our brand new blog with the latest news and updates from us. We hope it’s going to be a great way to keep in touch with you and let you know all about what’s happening in and around Pierreponts.

This is a place where you’ll be able to get to know more about what we love: great seasonal food from local suppliers; our friendly staff; and some of your fellow customers too.

We also want to tell you about some of what we believe in, including our responsibility to the environment we live in and our links to the local community.

When you’ve been in, you may have seen some of the books and crafts from local artists – we’ll be sharing more of their stories.

There’ll be updates on the latest happenings in and around Goring and Streatley, and we’ll be telling you about special events and evenings we’ll be hosting too.

We think Pierreponts is a special place, whether you come here for breakfast, brunch, lunch afternoon tea or supper on a Friday night and we hope you do too. That’s why we love it when you share the news about what a great time you’ve had. From coffee with a friend to do the day someone proposed in the café – it all happens here!

We’re really looking forward to sharing the occasional favourite recipe with you so that you can recreate the Pierreponts experience at home.

If you want to stay in touch then do subscribe to our news feed, which you can do by simply filling in your details in the box below. And please let us know about anything you’d like us to cover in future posts.

Happy reading!

Steph, Phil & the team

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