Six Go Summerly in St Vaast

Four very dear friends came to stay with us in St V.  We go back to the days of babysitting groups when we paid each other in plain postcards, each worth one hour.  In those days we stay-at-home mums would commit to sit for each other, counting on our husbands’ return from a day at the office in time to abandon our own children to their respective fathers.  We had our babies in our 20s and they are now in their 40s with their own offspring.  Now our daughters have their own careers and the couples engineer their own arrangements. Grandparents often feature………..

What we all did in St Vaast is we walked, we visited Chateau Toqueville, we bought a bit of wine, we read our books (4 of us are book groupies), we ate au bord de la mer and at Hotel Fuchsias and Nick and I feted our friends and their French opposite numbers with an evening of Entente Cordiale chez nous.  French and English banter circled the dining table and amongst memorable moments I treasure Georgy’s compliment to William when he said that William had something of Winston Churchill about him.  With his impeccable accent and affable gravitas William is a gift to Anglophiles like Georges.

On the day of departure we went to Le Dranguet where brave souls bathed after which we repaired to Le Debarcadere to complete the St Vaast experience.  Au revoir lovely people…..

36 Hours in Hackney

I don’t get to Hackney as often as I would like, nor do I manage to get to the theatre often either.  So it is with a real feeling of excitement that I bundle myself  into our car on Tuesday afternoon, our destination being a Light household in east London.   I have tickets for a double bill at the Aldwych Theatre in the Strand.  Hilary Mantel’s two novels based on the life of Thomas Cromwell have been scripted as plays.  The two full-length plays are being performed to run concurrently and on Wednesdays you can see Wolf Hall as a matinee and Bring Up The Bodies as an evening performance.  I am to be accompanied by Emma to one play and Dan to the other.  To enhance the neat symmetry I have even booked the same seats for each play at the front of the Circle.  The plays are described as ‘a familiar tale with a thrilling originality of storytelling’.   The sets are cleanly simple, the cast shifting from one scene to another by walking to a distal point on the stage, turning and re-entering in another frame.  As with the novels the dialogue imagined between the protagonists has riveting verisimilitude.

On the Wednesday I walked a good distance of Dan’s daily route into Scrutton Street with him.  We stopped at Betty’s café for coffee, then I completed my journey to Tottenham Court Road by bus.  I meandered down to Covent Garden, found a water hole for lunch which was disappointing, and, because it was chilly, I bought a colourful wool scarf to go with my new royal blue top.  I then met up with Emma for the play.  Lovely mother and daughter-in-law treat.  After Wolf Hall I killed a bit of time then met Dan in The Delauney for a light supper before the second play. I think both my guests were taken with the performances. I enjoyed every moment. Dan and I took a taxi to Betty’s for a night cap, then a bus to Downs Park Road. On Thursday morning we bade our farewells, not forgetting my beloved tabby Rooney who now lives in Hackney, and took the girlies to school before heading for Dorset.

Guests, Guinea Fowls and Giant’s Footsteps

During our week at Hutton Buschel we have enjoyed our time on the shore and in the lab.  We have also shared conviviality around the kitchen table, something that has featured in all the houses we have rented in this first week in September.  Mid-week we invite Simon, John and Ian to supper and our numbers swell to 11.  There is lots of conversation and mild debate.  Nick finds he has met his match in Ian when it comes to dialogue.

On Saturday morning we pack and vacate the house.  It has been an amenable base, despite a shortage of bathroom facilities for a group of 8 people.  But the chickens and guinea fowl have been fun to observe, all of these birds roosting in the apple tree just outside the front door.  Their low murmurings and purrings have been fun to listen to late in the evening.

We set off with some scrumped plums and some purloined martagon lily seed heads.  Before we start the haul south Nick and I swing into Market Weighton to pay homage.  This is the birthplace and home town of William Bradley, known as the Yorkshire Giant.  After some genealogical research which I have carried out with Maddy there is strong evidence, based on my grandfather’s line, that he is an ancestor.  But I have yet to confirm this.  However whilst in the area I cannot help checking him out: his wooden statue in the town, his former house which is now a gift shop, his place of burial under a section of the pews in the church, his footsteps.  At 7ft 9ins he was the tallest known Englishman until 1999.  The next step in my search for a definitive answer to my possible relatedness to this man is a trip to York to look up parish records.

After a quick café snack we resume our journey to Oxfordshire where we will catch up with the Cholseys.  They are all based at Shillingford for the weekend and we join in with some useful activities: a recently constructed wood store is filled by the collective efforts of menfolk of all ages.  Amelie introduces me to the piglets in the woods and Hug the horse.  Hug and Wolfie now live at North Farm and it must be a real plus for Lukie to have the horses on site.  Amelie helps with their care, mucking out, and is beginning to ride.  Petite, like Lukie, I imagine she has the ideal build to be a horsewoman.

With some apples and pears from the orchard in the boot, we set off for Winterborne Kingston late Sunday afternoon; soon we will be on the road again……


Highlight at North Landing

The peaceful cove beach at North Landing, set snugly within the Chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head, was to provide the sort of excitement which I hope for when recording on the shore.  The narrow beach is bounded by cliffs with many sea caves including one spectacular one on the east side of the inlet.


The beach is composed of sand and pebbles and there are rock pools on the platforms which bound the cove.  Taking a torch and a few specimen tubes I investigated a narrow cave cutting obliquely into the cliff on the east margin.  The north-facing wall offered all the geological, geomorphological and biological features I have come to associate with ‘the crevice fauna’.   I wrote about these, and figured them, in my Marine Recorder’s report to the Conchological Society for 2009.

The micromolluscs which inhabit the zone of the shore, known as the upper- and supralittoral, have been an ongoing interest of mine since the mid-80s.  Some of the members of this microfauna are rare and elusive but I have developed a nose for them.   With sustained searching in the cave, involving close examination of the fractures and fissures in the Chalk with a torch beam I managed to find a handful of specimens of Otina ovata,  an air-breathing snail with a shell length of 2-3mm.

Before I leave the shore I investigate an adjacent cave whose small entrance belies the dimensions of the cave within.  It opens out into a wide, high-ceilinged gallery.  Initially confronted with gloom, you are then aware of a source of daylight round the corner of the small entrance chamber.  This is coming from another entrance at right angles to the access point on the upper shore.  The second entrance gives out onto the sea-facing lower shore kelp zone.  The floor and walls are evidently subjected to high wave action, being more or less smoothly worn and bare of life.  You can only appreciate the dimensions of this cave by searching for the human figure, dressed unhelpfully in greyish blue,  in this photo:


Subsequently I learn it is the first record for the east coast of Britain in 100 years.  That’s what biological recording is all about.


Filey Brigg and Hayburn Wyke

Field work continues with a brand new shore each day.  Filey Brigg is a long narrow peninsula on the North Yorkshire coast.  Its steep cliffs are 20 metres high and consist of a variety of Jurassic rocks containing fossils of dinosaurs and ammonites. In 2001 the substantially complete skeleton of a plesiosaur was found by an amateur collector, Nigel Armstrong in the Speeton Clay.  The well-preserved skeleton was removed from the clay in one block weighing about one and a half tons. The skeleton was identified as being that of an elasmosaur, a long necked plesiosaur of which there are several types and the Filey specimen is about 140 million years old.  As we scramble over the large blocks on the north side of the Brigg trace fossils are conspicuous and abundant.

Ian finds the tiny sea slug Limapontia capitata in the grazed green algal turf at the top of the shore.  He is a very competent ‘finder’.  At Hayburn Wyke later in the week he uncovers a young lobster in the kelp zone of the boulder shore.  You can’t help admiring the brilliant Prussian blue carapace of the live animal.  There are still quite a few people who believe the animals sport their red colour in life.

Talking of red we have a great treat in store when we leave the shore.  We trawl ourselves up the cliffs and wooded slopes above Hayburn Wyke to rejoin our cars parked at the Hayburn Wyke Inn.  Just before we leave the woods to cross the fields we come across a clearing with a cluster of Amanita muscaria, Fly Agaric.  Continuing on our way we repair to the Inn for welcome refreshment.



The Mind Boggles

There is one feature that will unite the Jurassic coastal sites we visit during our week in the Scarborough area.   There will always be a walk down to the shore and a bit of a puff back to the cars.  The first beach we visit is Boggle Hole at the southern end of Robin Hoods Bay, an SSSI known for its fossils.


For us it offers a wide platform with shallow terracing which allows us to range over the shore and down to the kelp zone in search of marine life in general and molluscs in particular.  Paula Lightfoot is a whizz at finding nudibranchs.  We all tend to acquire a penchant for particular molluscan groups and she has a knack for spotting the tiniest jelly blobs which do their nudibranch thing when you place them in seawater, opening their ‘petals’ like so many bright aquatic flowers.  We score at least 8 species of sea slug on this shore and will go on to record them at every site we visit.  Although we all take our own pictures, Sonia could be viewed as the official photographer.  With her camera ever at the ready she finds old friends and makes new encounters in the marine life at our feet.  She snaps conchologists at work, and captures the magnificence of the coast we are working along.  She generously shares her photos with me and they provide a wonderful record to look through after one’s time on the shore of the day is over.


With samples in our buckets we haul up the slope as far as the Youth Hostel stopping for a beverage and thence to the lab to sort, stabilise and examine.  Here is an opportunity for us to see how painstakingly Ian Smith retrieves minute specimens from the weeds and hydroids he collects, the care he takes in housing his specimens in small tubs and stowing them in the fridge, so that they might make the perilous journey back to Stockport to await their moment of fame before the camera.

All Set Fair for Scarborough

Saturday morning and there is much scurrying around at The Old Workshop.  We face a 6+ hour journey north and would like to arrive no later than 6pm and preferably earlier.  We are pretty much used to leaving the house to her devices when we travel, but this time there will be guests in our absence; Ted is bringing his parents and South African grandparents for a long weekend.

The trip is uneventful and at last we find our way to Manor Farm in Hutton Buschel, a rather smart village just off the York-Scarborough road.  Here we will share a week with friends with whom we have had similar sojourns at the beginning of September in such spaces as Skye, Pembroke, Roundstone, and last year in an NT lighthouse at Hartland Point.  Theoretically it is all about seashores and in practice we enjoy a week of lively conversation and gastronomy.  We like to cook, and it is my turn on Saturday evening.


We are not required to present ourselves at the lab. in Scarborough until Sunday evening so a walk in Raincliffe Woods allows us to stroll and catch up with each other. The area is a mixed woodland area designated as Planted Ancient Woodland, and combined with Forge Valley Woods is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  There are fungi about, notably Russula, my favourite toadstools not least because they provide an opportunity to search for the Lemon Slug (Malacolimax tenellus) a fungivore with a rather limited geographical distribution in the British Isles.  Anyhow I do not find it but it is an excellent photo opportunity which I seize.

After supper Bas, Terry and I drive over to the lab to catch up with the other field trip participants and meet Paula Lightfoot, our convener.