Grande Dame goes to York

When the car pulls out of the drive at 6 a.m. I have my two young passengers in the back with their breakfast jam sandwich.  We are bound for Ouistreham, Caen, a journey that will take us about one hour twenty minutes.  They chatter away and occasionally engage me in conversation.  Ruby out of the blue tells me that sometimes she tries to imagine what nothing would be like if the universe were not there.  Wow!!

We park up outside the ferry terminal and check in and wait to board the Normandie.  This is a larger vessel than the Barfleur having two small cinemas and a small stage in the bar where entertainments are staged during the passage.  On this day there will be a quiz, a magic show, face-painting and pumpkin-carving.  It is, after all, October 31st.

Arriving in Portsmouth and disembarking we come through passport control to find waiting parents.  It has to be a quick handover as I will need to check right back in for the return crossing during which I am able to sleep in the very comfortable recliners.  We are half an hour late docking and I am a bit apprehensive about the drive back to St Vaast, not being a great night driver.  But it’s fine as I tune into a French radio station and try to follow rugby final babble.  It is 11.30 p.m. when I pull back into the drive.

We are only going to have 4 days in St Vaast before it is time to travel back to the UK for a couple of fixtures.  I am booked for an AEA conference at York University, an archaeology meeting to mark the retirement of Terry O’Connor.  And in the week that follows there will be meetings of my bridge group in preparation for our class with Barry on the Friday.  For the time being however there is a yoga class in Quettehou on Monday morning, a brief visit to see Fefe who faces a hip operation in the next couple of weeks and a brief catch-up with la Poulette.  My friend Bibi delivers the galet which I have commissioned her to paint using a photo of Fefe’s Siamese cat, Rachel.  It has turned out really well and I hope she will like it.  The tulip, daffodil and iris bulbs left over from my Winterborne K planting are potted up and I plant the Fritillary corms deeply around the bee orchid plants which have re-appeared, leaving just a few of these to plant with the ‘bees’ in our Dorset garden.  I take a few photos of the colour we are still enjoying, including the raspberries which continue to ripen and sprays of the fragrant lemon blossom.

We are weary peeps when we board the ferry on Thursday.  I face a day of scurrying before I must board an early train at Wool bound for York.  I enjoy the meeting very much and renew some connections with former ‘clients’ and associates.  Despite my hang ups over bridge, when the class with Barry is over I don’t feel too wrung out although I cannot stop yawning my head off.  On Saturday Nick and I join the village walk followed by a pub lunch.  After a very long nap I make a batch of Indian pickle and start to think about readying ourselves and the house for our departure for France, storm Abigail permitting, on Monday morning.

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When Lola and Ruby met Tobias and Agatha

Punctual and shrp at 7 a.m. the girls and I wheel our cabin bgs out of the house and across the road to Fernside Cottage.  We are greeted by Angus the Scottie dog and Molly the Minx.  (Molly is a hedgehog botherer, she often manages to nose one out late at night and one Bridge night I rescue a hapless individual and take it across the road to see if it will find our premises agreeable.  But we never see it again.  I think it may have found the escape hatch that we asked the builder to leave in the brickwork when he was building a new wall.)

So we pile into Eamonn’s car and he drives us to the ferry terminal where we will presently board the Barfleur.  Once aboard we very soon spot Briony, Dan, Tobias and Agatha – our houseguests for the forthcoming half term week.  Thanks to the little playroom and some pleasant other kids the 3 mobile children are happily entertained and Agatha sits on a parent’s lap taking it all in.

Lola and Ruby have several young Wosskow cousins so they are well versed in the ways of folk more wee than themselves.  Ruby is a keen baby-feeder and both she and Lola spend time in the playroom with Tobias where he is delighted to find a Lego tray and a large, well-provisioned kiddie cooker and where he and the girls concoct strange platters of their own fusion cuisine with assorted faux foods.

On the first day I drive Briony and Agatha together with Lola to Bayeux where we view the Tapestry about which Lola has learned at school.  Portable audioguides in several languages are provided as part of the entrance ticket and they have children’s versions of the narrative too.  Meanwhile Nick takes Dan, Tobias and Ruby out on Aroona to see if they can catch a few mackerel, which they do not, but the children are allowed to motor round Tatihou at the wheel.  Everyone is satisfied with their outing.

Mid-week sees yet another exceptionally low spring tide so whilst the Brickells take themselves off for a family day during which according to young Tobias they have ‘the time of their lives’, the girls and I converge on the St Vaast sand flats with Claire, Emma and Matteo.  Very soon language barriers are overcome with Emma and Lola choosing to name films that they have enjoyed.  But the best icebreaker takes place at the top of the shore where a crab hunt allows for some key lessons in beachcombing, how to pick crabs up so that they won’t nip, that the dead crabs they find scattered on the shore are really ‘outgrown overcoats’ and that you always reroll boulders doucement so that you don’t crush the beasties that live beneath.  The afternoon passes very pleasantly with the children marvelling at the scraps of marine life that they notice.  Squat lobsters for example.

AS with the Cholseys so with the Hackneys, friendships are established and the children want to meet up soon so we invite the Tuttles to 104 the following day.  The Brickells have already left in the morning so the Tuttles come over for a soiree where a beef stew is preceded by a game or two of Sardines with counting to 50 in French and English.

On the last full day of Lola and Ruby’s visit the Tuttles must return to Paris and we drive to the lovely craft shop near Cherbourg to buy some creative materials for them to take home, then double back to the Piscine de Collignon for a couple of hours of aquatic frolics.  Back at the house it is with a real sense of weary that I feed the girls, get them to bed and assemble their belongings to pack their cabin bags.  I do not get to bed as early as I would have liked which is regrettable as the morrow will be a verrry loooong daaaaay.

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Two Weeks at WK

After our busy weekend Nick high tails it to St Vaast and I face a fortnight of life as a singleton.  I plan to achieve a lot.  Two forthcoming weekend activities have shaped my decision to stay put, even though I have not been to France since the end of August.  I hope to make some progress with shell curation, and I have a backlog of blogs to write.  I’m going to make Piccalilli, spiced pears for Christmas, pear chutney.  I make two batches of fish cakes, green and red Thai, for forthcoming entertaining.  On the first weekend I take in a Conch. Soc. meeting, staying at Godalming to have some Perryman time before they fly out to South Africa.

With the second weekend looming I finally manage to get outside to get through tasks I want completed before going out to France to join Nick.  After the success of the parrot tulips I bought last autumn, I have ordered some more, also packs of mixed Iris reticulata. There are lots of lovely coloured cyclamen on sale at Homebase, so I buy some polystyrene trays of plants for the wooden plant troughs.  They look really good along the side passage.

I end up working against the clock because early Friday afternoon I must lock up the house and make for Whitchurch Canonicorum where the Bonhays Meditation Retreat Centre is hidden away.  I have booked a place on Pam Steele’s weekend retreat.  It is going to be a time of yoga, meditation, calm and delicious vegetarian food. Blog-RoseHipsEvie the Cook provides such tasty food with her use of spices.  There is a small swimming pool and I find the whole experience thoroughly restful and undemanding.  If I don’t come home feeling entirely at one with everything then it is entirely my own fault ;)

When I leave Bonhays at 4 on Sunday I must drive back to the Old Workshop to prepare to receive my two sons, a friend and two grandaughters who have had a weekend of climbing.  We share a large chicken hotpot before the men head off leaving a mountains of dirty dishes, and the girls and me to get our acts together so we can get up early on Monday ready for Eamonn who will drive us to Poole ferry terminal.  We enjoy the ritual of Lucy Micklethwait’s art books on the waterbed.  (We still have two of the original four left after Dan has reversed over a bag of uneaten picnic, a carton of orange juice and books for the girls to enjoy whilst they waited their turn at the rock-face!)  I settle them then scuttle round so that all we need to do is get up and dressed for the off.  It is the midnight hour before everything is done.

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Up a Hill, then a Musical Italian Feast

With disarming rapidity a village walking year has turned and it is our turn to find ourselves converging on the Village Hall car park to assemble a small group of walkers.  We scoped this walk a few weeks back in hot weather and found Hambledon Hill a trial.  This second Saturday in October the weather is cooler and thankfully dry.  On his occasion I enjoy the walk much more and the pub lunch we have organised goes down well with the group.  After our meal I do a quick change as we are next on stage in Wallingford at the pub for The Little Green Chef’s inaugural charity dinner.

What a star Joel is, he is cooking a 3 course Italian meal for some 50 people in aid of the Children’s Ward at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.  He has a chef from the pub’s kitchen to help him and an army of young helpers.  The evening goes with a swing aided by the various friendly musicians who have been signed up for the gig.  Joel makes an amazing sum of money and the feel good factor hits the ceiling.

The Lights repair to North Farm for the night, where 6 adults and 6 kids pack themselves in like sardines.  On the morrow, after a logging session, an orchard raid and Sunday lunch Nick and I head for home.

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A Place of Spiral Stairs and Pelican’s Feet

Thursday would be my last day of the field trip.  A very special event would be taking place in Welwyn Garden City the following day, a day of homage to a time of my life and the characters who populated that era.

I had hoped to stay at Bryn Engan in order to work my samples and get as much processing and curation achieved as I could.  But this was the day for boatwork; Bas, Simon and Nick would be joining a local skipper to carry out some grab sampling offshore.  So I agreed to ‘lead’ the planned excursion to Shell Island, at Mochras.

In retrospect this place is a bit of a misnomer.   enhancedshellislandinternet2Agreed there are plenty of shells to be had but the site is sprawling and it is not clear just where the island of shells is.  I wish that I had looked at a more detailed map beforehand, and an aerial shot or two.  More correctly it is a peninsula access to which is made possible via a causeway across the River Artro estuary when the tide is out.

We paid our dues to the owner of the campsite there and then parked our cars but I think we did not find the most propitious carpark for our purposes.  We clambered down the dunes to arrive at a fairly bleak sandy shore, with a boulder bed immediately adjacent and sands stretching away to the south.  ShoreMochrasEschewing the high strandline I walked down to the water’s edge and proceeded to track that line south as the tide ebbed.  I found very little of anything.  Perhaps most notable were the darkly orange valves of Callista.   PelicansFootInternet After speaking to a dog-walker I discovered that I was right off track, Shell Island was to the north by the headland I could see, where I would find ‘thousands’.  Arriving at this point I met Terry and Sonia, and later, just as we were leaving, Paula.  They had been picking their way over a thick line of shells at the top of the shore.  These were dominantly cockles and common intertidal gastropod species but Terry had some 36 species including Aporrhais pes-pelicani  Internetepitonium_wentletrap_species_08-06-12_1and Paula was able to find two species of Epitonium (wentletrap).  These two shells are beautiful in their own right but are also blessed with elegant and descriptive common names.  It is evident why the Pelican’s Foot shell should be so named, but the common name for the slender turriform shell of the Wentletrap, most like a steeple in shape, is more obscure.  The name derives from the Dutch Wenteltrap, or indeed the German Wendeltreppe, a spiral staircase.

In the absence of rough weather for some weeks, and given that we were at the end of the summer season when numerous holidaymakers would have trampled the shore we were picking over dregs.  Tom Clifton had previously mentioned finding Trivia shells washed up in their thousands on strandlines.

Looking back in my field notebooks I see that I made a field visit to Mochras when I was in the area on a geology field trip in April 1991.  Unfortunately the habit I developed later of writing notes of the site, where I searched, how I sampled etc had not then kicked in.  However I have a long list of species, many of which are recorded as having been seen alive.  I suspect I carried out a weedwashing exercise for microspecies, I evidently searched the saltmarsh area as I recorded Limapontia depressa, Retusa obtusa and Hydrobia ulvae and I found fourteen infaunal clam species alive.  Maybe I found a good place of deposition where fresh shells were washed in and dumped by the tide.  What is interesting though is that I did not see Trivia or Epitonium :) 


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Of Driftwood and a Tidal Lagoon

Traeth Crugan is a quiet beach situated between Llanbedrog and Pwllheli. The beach is mostly coarse sand and small shingle backed by boulder clay banks with agricultural land behind.  crugan2InternetWhen you arrive at the shore when the tide is high, as is often the case, the nature of the beach and its sublittoral remains to be discovered.  This is the site for the day but some of our number have another expedition in mind first.

A splinter group :) have driven to Abererch railway station to meet up with Tom Clifton in order to walk the strand westwards to the headland at Hafan Y Mor, also known as Penychain.   SearchingForTimberThis is a point of deposition for driftwood.  In the past Tom, who has made a unique and special study of shipworm occurrences in timber washed up around Anglesey and the Lleyn, has found some of his best samples of here.  Some of is samples have been very large, possibly struts from piers, necessitating the use of ropes to haul the wood along the 2-3 miles of beach back to his parked car.  So we join the beach by the Abererch Sands Holiday Park near the station and trudge east seeing little in the way of beached wood.  BeachedTimber1 But, as we reach the headland we start to find accumulations of smaller pieces of driftwood on the strandline and then we happen on a very promising trunk with boreholes.  Out come the bow saw and the hand axe and Tom, Nick and Simon set to.

BeachedTimber4Sadly when the log is sawn through it is clear that the boreholes were not made by shipworms but another organism whose traces in the timber we do not recognise.  Nevertheless we have had a demonstraton of the technique by the master and it has been his pleasure to make this expedition, it having been several years since he has carried out any marine fieldwork.

So we trudge back to our cars and drive to Traeth Crugan to join the others.  The tide is ebbing well now and before long there is a shallow lagoon to wade around, where dead shells are lying on the pebbly sands. Tapes aureus  and Gastrana fragilis are locally common here, occurring elsewhere around the coast of the British Isles at widely scattered localities.  Paul Brazier, who works for Natural Resources Wales and is a long-time acquaintance of mine snorkles the lagoon and Paula Lightfoot has also donned her diving kit so she can collect some sublittoral weed samples for Ian Smith who needs a good sample of living Pusillina inconspicua for DNA work in association with people at Cardiff Museum.

Once I can cross the lagoon and gain the platform on the seaward side I wander over this reef, suddenly becoming aware of the numerous Gibbula magus snails  gibmagsInternetcrawling over the substrate.  Hundreds of them.  Tom is taking another trip down memory lane.  He discovered this site during his days as area recorder and he joins me near low water.  Blog-TraethCrugan1

It is very evident when the tide turns and I recross the lagoon to join Nick.  When we leave the beach I am slightly concerned that Ian is still working along the far margin of the lagoon and his routes of access to the main beach seem to be disappearing under the rising tide.  I am also more than a little concerned that he is on kitchen duty for his Pasta and Broad Beans in tomato sauce.  Yet again our redoubtable Marine Recorder will be one of the last to leave the shore.

Nick and I follow Tom in his car; he has a more efficient satnav than we do and we are still finding it tricky to get back to the house after our daily excursions.   Blog Simon on shoreBack at the house there arrives a moment when the resident cooks realise that if people are going to eat at anything like a reasonable hour, and we have invited other field trip participants to eat with us, a nettle needs to be grasped.  Eschewing some aspects of Ian’s recipe we concoct a Pasta and Broad Bean dish with Pesto, preceded by Sonia’s Butternut Squash and coconut milk soup.  Ian arrives just as we are about to serve the pasta, full of embarrassment and apologies for having timed his fieldwork badly and spent the past hour driving round the lanes searching in vain for the house.  I can identify with him, if we had not been able to follow Tom Clifton back to the house I think Nick and I might have gone astray.

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