Oh, We DO Love to be Beside the Seaside…

As the Jersey ferry cosies up to the wharf at Granville harbour it is a delight to see Joel running along the harbour wall waving wildly.  He’s easy to spot in his green tee-shirt.  Joel’s passion for the colour green goes beyond the more usual ‘my favourite colour is……….’  He’d see the world through green-tinted glasses.

Because I forgot to factor in the hour’s time difference, Nick and Joel have been hanging around waiting for me, with no money in Nick’s pocket.  So we sit at a bar and have a drink and an ice cream before embarking on the long drive back to St V.  We while the journey along with I-Spy, rhyming games and counting animals in the landscape.

Whilst I’ve been on Jersey the Cholsey contingent have settled into French holiday mode.  It is lovely to walk through the door and be greeted by happy children.  In addition to beach days (on one day I drive a pot of hot pasta in their favourite sauce to Anse du Hommet and share this with them all on the beach), the two older boys are taking regular trips on Aroona with Nick, Barns and Lukie.  They’ve been there and done that on the fishing front.

More exciting are the short runs out to haul up the lobster pots and the prawn ‘caissiers’ – finer mesh baskets to trap shrimps and prawns.  All these traps are baited with the residue of Nick’s mammoth fish filleting session.  During a later  filleting episode in the workshop Amelie wandered in.  “Ugh, there’s a horrid smell Grandpa.”  “That’s the fish I’m filleting, you ate some yesterday when Granny fried it in batter”.  “No it’s not, those have got eyes….”

So nothing is wasted. Once hauled to the surface, the pots have to be man-handled on board and are quite large, so they’re heavy.  We peer inside – you can count on there being small crabs called Velvet Swimmers – or ‘crabes anglaises’ which is what the French call them.   (This is not a threatened species).   And we now know how to deal with them because the Doctor has shown us.

We were sitting down to lunch one day when there was a ring at the door and Francois came out onto the terrace with a bowl of small freshly-cooked crabs.   He then proceeded to dismember one and showed us how to eat it.  Apart from the gills, carapace and the tougher bits of shell you pretty much eat the lot and they taste delicious.  Sam and Joel were eager to have a go.  Sam was very happy sucking the tender bits of crab meat out of the legs but declined the brown meat in the shell.  Joel is happy to process the little crabs for others to eat – what generosity of spirit!

On another trip one of the pots was full of spider crabs, about a dozen.  I cooked these but some of them were very light on meat.  On the final sortie to pull the pots up before we leave for our September travels there was a fine edible crab in one of the pots.  It weighed 1lb 12oz although lost some weight when I drained it after cooking, but Barns and Lukie took it back to England and it provided tea for two.

On the day Barns and Lukie go to check out the tapestry at Bayeux we take the children to Le Debarcadere for a pizza.  Grumpy Grandpa (Amelie has rechristened Nick) gives them the third degree shakedown on good behaviour beforehand.  We also sort out well ahead of time who is going to sit next to whom.  Miraculously the two older boys actually choose to sit next to Nick, whilst I get the ‘babies’.  We have a delightful lunch with them preceded by a game of lotto whilst we wait for our food.

Sam sets up a pool tournament at the beginning of the holiday.  It is only in the last 24 hours that we get round to the play-offs.  Try as Nick might to hand our heat to me, I lose and Sam plays Nick in a semifinal.  (Somehow Joel has got through to the final – bless!)  You’d think we’d manage to get it sorted, but somehow Nick scrapes through…..

One way and another we manage to incorporate fruits from the sea into many of our meals.  We have soused mackerel and smoked mackerel pate ad lib., and the children like the little whiting snippets fried in batter – even our non-piscivore Joel makes an exception for the little ‘beignets de merlan’.

Providing a platter of these to accompany our seafood extravaganza at the end of the holiday pleases Joel.  We have set out a table of oysters, whelks, prawns, shrimps, spider crab, with a bit of courgette and emmental salad, tomatoes and lots of mayonnaise and bread.  We sit in the sunshine, like so many walruses and carpenters, slurping away and licking fingers.  Dear Charlie finds it all just too much, announces he is tired and spends the next 30 minutes talking and singing to himself on a sofa indoors.  We can hear him and he can hear us.  I think he just needs time to regroup.

Before we know it we are sitting down to Sunday lunch on the last day.  This is the day Amelie joined her older brothers on Aroona leaving Charlie and I to get potatoes dug and a chicken roasted.  We sit round the table in the salon sejour and a good lunch is had by all.

At the end I tell the children about the ritual we have when sailing with friends.  On the last evening over a glass of wine we all recount our ‘champagne moment’ of the passage.  I suggest we do the same thing.  The children latch on quickly.  Amelie says she liked playing on the beach best, Sam enjoyed catching the edible crab.  Lukie highlights the trip to Pointe du Hoq and mackerel fishing, Nick says how great it was to see the children enjoy their boating so much and Charlie says he liked playing on the beach with Amelie best.

Barn’s champagne moment will form the basis of the next post but first prize must go to Joel who demonstrates that he has been having lessons at Charm School when he tells us his champagne moment was meeting his Granny off the Jersey ferry.

Jersey Interlude

Not a spat of cold weather……… but a flip over the blue from Granville to St Helier.  This is a long post which focuses on my lifelong fascination for shells and the journeys I make to indulge my passion.  Let me share a quotation with you:

It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.  Although neither is to be despised, it is always better policy to learn an interest than to make a thousand pounds; for the money will soon be spent, or perhaps you may feel no joy in spending it; but the interest remains imperishable and ever new.’

from Lay Morals, by Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894.

There you have it and if you are unconvinced, read no further. Be warned, this is a long post!

I have come to Jersey to meet Paul, Rachel and Eleanor who moved here April.  They are living in a delightful house on the coast road with views across an immense stretch of shore when the tide is low.  With guidance you could walk out a mile and a half (as the seagull flies) to a point beyond the Seymour Tower, which is our destination on my first evening.  But the uninitiated would be very unwise to undertake such an excursion without a guide.

Fortunately I have one.  Paul grew up on Jersey, moved to the mainland as a student and after some years working over there (variously for the BBC and on ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ out of the Natural History Museum) has returned to Jersey with his family.  He writes for a living.

We walk out from the slipway at La Rocque to the Seymour Tower (built in 1782) where we can clamber up steps hewn in the granite to a platform where you can gaze yet further out to distant rock outcrop where on exceptional spring tides you can walk further still.  But if you are wanting to look at marine life and collect shells you’d no sooner get to that distant point than you would have to start back for the sanctuary of the upper shore.  Apart from the sheer magniture of this shore (the lowest of spring tides effectively doubles the island’s area)  the high energy here means that sand and gravel ridges and channels are carved in the sediments by wave and current action.  The channels,  which are hidden from view until you are upon them, fill up preferentially once the tide has turned and the water table is rising through the sands and gravels.

It is potentially treacherous and there have been too many tragedies over the years.  So much so that a ‘refuge tower’ has been built.  Standing 30 feet high it is like a mini-pylon made of steel and many a hapless beachcomber has been rescued by the lifeboat from its upper platform.  The tidal range on Jersey is 12m and on some tides the sea can rise 0.5 m in 10 minutes.

As we walk out over the topography of rock outcrop with gullies, larger channels, pools of standing water to splosh through, there are plenty of granite boulders scattered about but there isn’t enough time to linger and roll them to look for life underneath.  But we can stop and pick up empty shells which catch the eye.  I see there are shells of the Manila Clam which I show Paul and discover this is new information from him.

This clam, Tapes philippinarum, is a species which was introduced for farming in the UK on the basis that it could be reared in a controlled environment, but could not escape into the wild because UK seawater would never be warm enough for this to happen.  The rest is history……..!

There are populations of the Manila Clam now on the Essex and Kent coasts of the Thames Funnel, and there is a thriving population in Poole Harbour and no doubt it will eventually become as widespread as its fellow carpet clam species.

As we trek out across zones of compacted pebbly gravels, gravelly sands, sandy gravels, sands, these sediment types change abruptly and sweeping curves of stones or shells mark out where the changes happen so suddenly.  A splash of orangey brown colour is the clam Clausinella fasciata.  It is alive and I pick it up and show it to Paul.  He has not found living examples on Jersey before.

We are now walking over a zone of gently rippled coarse sands and there are scattered articulated pairs of assorted bivalves, notably juvenile dog cockles (Glycymeris glycymeris).  Also pretty in pink are Tapes rhomboides which I think Eleanor will enjoy.  The opened joined valves are like little butterflies.  On arrival Eleanor had showed me her terra cotta pot of shells, and crab and lobster pieces.  She is a 5-year old beachcomber and is obviously learning fast.  She has found a shell of Bulla striata which is an exotic species……

Our shore walk has a mission.  Paul has mentioned that there is a population of Mactra glauca, otherwise known as the Five Shilling Shell on this shore.  To quote him from his book on Channel Island Marine Molluscs “This was once a highly prized specimen amongst conchologists and received its common name from its market value”  It seems that early collectors would part with this sum (25p in modern currency) to add the shell to their natural history cabinet.

He quotes a well known English conchologist, Marshall, who said in 1897 “The Jersey habitat for this fine shell is situated in a dangerous locality in the south-east part of the island,  and should not be negotiated without a local guide or fisherman. ” Fascinating to me is the fact that, to judge from the description of the original locality,  although occasional specimens may turn up in suitable habitat on the island, the  principal population of this species has persisted as a discretely localised colony at exactly the same site for a very long time.  What is it that holds this large showy clam species to the locality and what prevents it spreading further on this shore and round the island?  You can read more about this species and a whole range of British marine shell species in Paul’s new book, British Shells.

We find some nice examples of the species but cannot tarry.  The tide is going to turn and we don’t want to be refugees to this shore!  By the time we get back to the slipway we work out we have probably walked 2.5 km.

On Thursday we are going to visit a rather special site on the island.  Paul has found two tiny Red Data Book snails living together under slabs and in shingle beneath a craggy harbour wall.   The site is unusual for a number of reasons and we need to do some work to find out why the snails live there, and then write a paper about it.

We are picked up later by Rachel and Eleanor who have had a slightly frustrating afternoon.  ‘La Ferme’ which is a farm which has Open Days wasn’t open so they went to a Maize Maze instead.  But it has meant a lot of time in the car.  We drive to Gorey Harbour and look at the beach beneath Mont Orgueil Castle.   We do a little potter on the shore – a delicious experience with a bacon sandwich in one hand!

Friday we are going to continue the search for tiny rare snails.  Dead shells have turned up in shellsand drifts in St Aubin’s Bay,  which is a very wide arc and we make for the western end.  Rachel delivers Paul and I close to the harbour itself.  I stare down onto the mud below.  Boats are sitting askew, abandoned by the receding tide and there are shallow drainage channels where freshwater is running across the muds.

The walls themselves are large regular blocks of  thick granite with brown seaweeds attached and some Lichina pygmaea growth at the margins of the blocks.  There is no chance of finding anything by way of loose slabs to remove and inspect.  At the foot of the walls there is mud with occasional deposits of rubble and pebbles.  Along the inner side of the left hand wall as you look in through the narrow harbour entrance there is a culvert-type feature with a ‘floor’ of small cobbles.  Under these there are snails: Hydrobia ulvae, Littorina saxatilis, Cingula trifasciata. There is no sign of any Red Data Book snails.

We’ve looked elsewhere for suitable upper shore habitat but nothing is evident.  Paul shows me a shallow shell-rich ridge bounded on one side at the water’s edge with a scattering of dead shells (mostly cockles and slipper limpets).  The other side is a steep sloping eroding edge, thick with shells which Paul believes are building up within the ridge to give it its height.  Here’s a place for the shell collector.  Its a place of deposition for shells from several habitats within the bay, to judge for the meli- melo of species: Gibbula magus, Angulus squalidus, Loripes lucinalis, Pandora albida, Mangelia brachystomia, Jujubinus striatus.

At six o’clock we join Rachel and Eleanor who are waiting in The Salty Dog.  We’re going to eat supper there and we have a delightful meal.  Eleanor tackles Moules frites, a sure-fire hit with many young children, and tucks away rather more little mussel bodies than she did the previous time.  The best bit is dipping the chips into the creamy soupy marinade the moules were steamed in.  The adults start with a spicy crisp salad of beanshoots, cucumber, slivers of red onion and shavings of green papaya with a light dressing of sweet chilli, and some prawns. Paul and I follow with a velvety red Thai curry of king prawns and steamed rice.  The hot coconutty sauce wraps itself around the rice which I add to the bowl bit by bit and it is so flavoursome.  Rachel chooses a grilled black bream and the fish looks so good.

On Saturday morning there is time to look on the shore immediately below the Chambers’ home.  There are some pools at the top of the shore which never drain at low water, so the range of small sea beasts you can find in them is varied.  We manage to find some rarities: a cushionstar and a chiton.  It is an auspicious end to my sojourn on this busy Channel Island.  Next time I come I hope it will be with Nick on Aroona.  We have yet to make a ‘petit voyage’ on Aroona, so bringing her back to the Channel Islands where we bought her seems a good idea.

(Thanks to Paul for allowing some of his photos to be added to the Gallery)

Holiday Gallery

The days speed past and are filled with simple, traditional pleasures.  Time on the beach, at the ‘park where the sand is’, at the top of the tower on La Hougue.  A visit to Pointe du Hoc is an opportunity to tell Sam and Joel about the significance of this Second World War site.  Then there are fish to catch, blackberries to gather and ice creams to consume.  Best of all the weather is fair!

Amelie wants a Badger

Saturday is fine, sunny…. and it’s market day.  ‘Youppy’ as the French say.  The market is seething with populace and you have to be really patient about making your way along the packed thoroughfare.  It’s August so there are lots of flowers to buy.  Fresh flowers, bouquets of flowers to dry, bunches of Hydrangea stems in a wonderful array of colours, also to dry.

The usual suspects are all present and correct and there are stalls selling painted tiles and pottery, remaindered books, bags, leather goods and a small stall displaying pictures of shell collages, watercolours of shells, and pieces of driftwood with a shell painting too.  I chat briefly to the stallholder and she tells me she has collected all her raw materials from local beaches.

I buy vegetables, saladstuffs including the biggest cucumber I have ever seen and some beautiful multi-coloured  peppers which I will eventually have to cook after we have enjoyed their still life in the fruit bowl.  I have taken my Hampton Court Flower Show foldy trolley to the market for the first time and it is a ‘boom’ as a cleaning lady once said.  I wheel it back laden with my goods.

In the afternoon Nick continues with his resting regime, I weed the two flowerbeds which bound the lawn area with the rear gravels.  I have brought plants over from England to plant up these beds.

For supper I cook a dish which has lain dormant in my repertoire for a very long time.  This will make quite a good counterpoint to the luxury-item lobster eaten the evening before.  We are still working through the lamb in our freezer.  The good thing about buying an animal is that you get all the different cuts of meat.  This has included the breasts of lamb, one of which I have defrosted and Nick has boned.  I make a garden herby sage and onion stuffing, spread this over the boned meat and roll and tie it.  Slow roasted we then enjoy it with mint sauce, potatoes, broad beans and peas, all from our garden.

On Sunday Nick is no longer in purdah.  This is lucky for him, and also for Francois, his doctor,  since Francois is keen to go fishing with Nick to chase some sea bream.  They leave at 10 a.m. and must be back before the harbour gates shut at 3.30 p.m.  When they do return the ‘dorade’ have been elusive but the men have some mackerel and whiting, and we get out the smoking box.

The imminent arrival of JACS notwithstanding, we are invited over the road for apero at 7.15 p.m. which is a welcome chance to touch base with the Poulets.  They are over-run with young people, friends of their sons.  Some of these young have competed in a local ’round the island race’ which involves running over the oyster park causeway to Ile Tatihou, round the island perimeter and back across the causeway during the low spring tide.  It is 8km and the winner has achieved it in a cracking time.

It’s difficult to tear ourselves away but we do so and are indoors no more than perhaps 5 minutes before we hear the familiar scrunch of tyres on our front gravels.  Barney, Lukie and JACS have arrived for their French fortnight.  The children spill out of the car, hugs all round and as I help a barefoot 3-year old Charlie across to the front step into the porch he looks up and says “I came to this house yesterday.”  What he is telling me is that he knows he has been here before – in fact his last visit was in October 2008.  That’s a child’s memory for you.

Through the house and Sam immediately homes in on the hammock.  With much excited shouting the children find the various mobile toys they remember: the red and yellow plastic car, the tractor, the bicycle with stabilisers, the child’s wheelbarrow.

Bags are unloaded, and after deliberations it is decided that the children will each have their own room.  Charlie goes in the child’s twin bedroom, Amelie in the mauve ‘princess’ room, Joel and Sam each have one of the bedrooms on the top floor.  Although it is 8.30 local time when I serve supper the children are able to eat their pasta with their favourite creamy red pesto sauce (Barilla) outside.  Getting the children to bed is a protracted affair but eventually the adults can sit down to a plate of risotto topped with crab.  We wash it down with some bubbly to celebrate the beginning of hols.

On Monday I have booked myself out between 10 and midday.  Claire and I are going to have our quality time and walk from Pont de Saire to Pointe de Saire via the beach and are going to return through the village to the car left at the bridge.  We are on a rising tide as we walk past the houses that front the beach.

Some have gardens running down to the shore.  We have visited one of these houses when the Newbys were staying a couple of summers ago.  It is owned by a Parisienne who holidays herself in the larger adjacent house, which is separated by a large lawn from the house she lets.  Some of the decor inside the rented house is nicely dated, shabby chic and tending to Art Nouveau.  I loved it although I could see that the very dated kitchen and bathroom fittings had their drawbacks from a holidaymaker’s point of view.

At the Point we sit on the rocks to eat our fruit.  I look down and notice some thin white ‘calcareous’ discs in the runnels between sand ripples. They are misshapen ovals with surface ornamentation.  I speculate that they are internal shells of seaslugs or pteropods otherwise known as sea butterflies and gather a sample in the pot I have in waiting.  They appear to be molluscan first for me.  I’ll need to go onto the internet to run them down.  I search for images but can find nothing like them.  It is only when I wake the next morning that it suddenly comes into my head that they were fish scales!

We walk back through Jonville to the parked car.  There are some lovely houses: we have already seen many of them facing the shore with a fantastic view of Ile Tatihou and La Hougue.  This will be an ever-changing vista with the seasons, overlaid by the day-to-day weather patterns and modified by the effects of the tides as they ritually conceal and reveal the familiar features of the shore bounded by Jonville, Ile Tatihou and St Vaast.  Then on larger timescales there are the changes to the shore configuration brought about by mass sediment movements caused by storms and currents.

Our conversation ranges over a wide range of topics and we are talking about the need to move house at some point later in life.  I mention the comment made to me by a friend, who observed that from his experience many older people leave it too late to make the necessary move in retirement years.  Too late to reap benefits and too late to start a new phase of life.

But it can be a wrench to leave a familiar home of decades.  Claire says that of course there is a sense of loss but whether we like it or not losing things, people we love is what we must expect in the coming years – especially for people of “our age”.  It is an insightful observation. Moving from a much-loved family home to something more practical is part of this separation/loss process.

There is a coastal route round the Cotentin peninsula. Claire has a publication about it.  She is keen to walk some more and so am I.  If  Ty and Nick will do the honours in terms of a walkers’ taxi service, I think we might be in business.

Our walk complete we come back to find Nick and Sam at the house.  Nick has made a swing for the children who are out walking with Barney and Lukie.  In the afternoon Nick takes Barns, Lukie, Sam and Joel fishing but it is lumpy and they do not catch anything.  I stay at the house with Amelie and Charlie and we have ‘3-in-a-hammock’ stories and play on the wheeled toys on the terrace.  Charlie is particularly taken with the child’s Triang replica metal “wigglebarrow”.

For supper we all have sausages and oven roasted vegetables together.  We sit round the table outside and suddenly Amelie says “I want a badger”.  Bemused, the adults look blankly at each other.  Then I notice that Amelie is looking at Joel and that he is wearing a small green metal disc, which tells us all that he is 6, pinned to his tee-shirt.

Transition

We’ve seen a barn.  It might do.  But the thought of marketing our home of 30 years is terrifying.  Mainly because it means a huge life laundry is on the cards.  If I’m not careful.  Parting will be no sweet sorrow but of tragedic proportions.  In my mind……….  I’ll put this thought aside for the moment……

Nick came back from Norway after a week of fjordic fishing.  It had been quite an experience being above the Arctic Circle with a 6-man fishing group – all rather younger than Nick.  They were fishing from “large aluminium bath tubs” with an outboard engine in water up to 500m deep.  This is particularly difficult when you only have 300m of fishing line – but “great fun”.  Nick’s leg rather restricted his fishing ability as it mostly had to be done sitting down whilst all the others stood up.  As a result he saw lots of lovely fish being caught but was not so successful himself.  The best fish seen on the trip was a 51lb cod caught by Pug.  A share of this fish is now in our English freezer as Nick was given the job of filleting it.

We had been planning to cross to St Vaast on the 5th, but we needed a day in Dorset to look at the house I had seen advertised on the internet.  It is far too soon to be thinking about moving……….. in my mind.  We met Stuart and Angela for lunch in the village pub after we had viewed the barn.   Stuart is very clued up about property in Dorset and his input was much appreciated.

We drove back to Godalming and it was all systems go to get our things assembled, the car packed, and various neighbourly matters dealt with.  We are getting good at this necessary preamble to a Channel crossing but when it is an early start it is always stressful squeezing in the last minute bags and other items.  Not to mention the cat who must not be allowed to escape, having been kept in overnight.  It was raining as we trudged up and down the front steps.  When we got away Nick was under a storm cloud all of his very own.

The crossing was a bit rocky but I know I have a good pair of sealegs now so I don’t get sick.  We were greeted at 104 by Marian, Katharine and David who have been staying here this past week.  We sat down to a bread, cheese and pate lunch in the kitchen.  Shame it was not fair enough to sit outside so Marian and I lingered at the kitchen table and caught up on news.

Nick and David disappeared and spent the afternoon dealing with all sorts of ‘hardware’ matters.  Such as our TV.  We can now watch television, dvds and recorded films and use our computer without having to tinker with leads and sockets.  David is an ICT technician and works in Tyneside servicing all the hardware in the local primary schools, which means he is VERY CLEVER with computers.  Every family should have one, in fact we are lucky because we have several in our clan.

Katharine is a zoologist, fluent in French (which proves useful when she later accompanies Nick to the doctor because he is worried about his swollen foot and she can report back to me exactly what the doctor said!) and is currently working as a research assistant on an oak tree project further south in France.  It’s good to catch up with these young and I am able to unite Katharine with my truly home-spun, hand-knitted chunky cream woolly jacket which I can safely say is unique.  That, and the set of Dickens which belonged to my father and his brothers.

Before he leaves David asks us ‘Are we sure we are happy for him to simplify our codes and passwords on our Orange Livebox and wiring etc etc’.  I mean, is Bill Gates a wealthy man?!

We are taking this particular satellite of Planet Bradley out to supper and we opt for Au Moyne de Saire as they always treat us well.  This is a happy choice on all fronts, not least because we find the butcher opposite open so we can buy the breakfast black pudding and eggs to scramble, which we had given up on as St Vaast butchers evidently close earlier.

Before I go to bed I have to try and unscramble the curry soiree I have planned for Friday evening.  I have been trying to introduce the Poulets and the Tuttles chez nous.  Anne has sent me an email asking if we can schedule the following week as she has family staying.  I phone Claire and discover her life is a house of cards, with visitors almost wall to wall and then she has to go back to Paris, and I am planning to go to Jersey for three days.  In the end we abandon an attempt to get together this time as the Tuttles and Lights will have guests in the forthcoming two weeks.  Claire and I settle on a plan to walk together on Monday.

In good B&B style I get up in good time to cook breakfast.  We wave Marian and co off earlyish Friday.  It’s been good to spend time with them.

Nick has a very quiet day on the sofa with his foot elevated.  In fact he sleeps most of the day.  He is catching up on so much lost sleep whilst he was in Norway.  It was almost always daytime.  Katharine has told me that Francois had said Nick must stay indoors for the next two days.

I make the huge chicken curry with the ingredients brought from England.  This will now be frozen and wait in the wings for the postponed soiree.

There are some gardening tasks…..  in fact lots to get through in the next fortnight.  Whilst staying with Charlotte I bought 5 plants for a fiver.  Two pots contained 3 butterfly delphiniums between them and the other 3 pots were stuffed full of Primula denticulata.  When I have divided all the plantlets and potted them up I find I have 18 new plants which cost me £3.

I also find time to test out the hammock, which Barney and Nick have strung underneath and within the Mimosa.  It is a truly shady nook and not only comfortable to read in, but also to doze……….. perchance to wake and watch butterflies flitting round the shrub in my view.  Oh the humble buddleia: it seeds itself in the most barren of sites and is not highly regarded but it is a honey pot for butterflies.  I watch Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks.  It is a long time since I have seen this quartet of beauties together.  I know them well because my father used to take me butterflying in Hadley Woods when I was young, as his father had in turn taken him as a boy.  We’d no more dream of taking children butterflying now than fly…………..

In the evening Nick and I sit outside and share the lobster Daniel has obtained for us.  It is a fitting start to our August in St Vaast.

Jurassic Hike

I broke my left wrist just over a year ago.  I skidded on scree on the Dorset Coast Path and put my hands down to break the fall.  Snap!  Only minutes before, Rollo and I had been discussing the merits of buying walking poles like the ones wielded by walkers we had passed that day.

We have our walking poles now but we have only just managed to book time to resume where we left off.  We have been partly constrained by a) the fact that our next stretch takes us over the Army Ranges at Lulworth and access to this land is restricted at times other than weekends and the summer holiday period, and b) we are set on walking the route in its correct sequence.

I’ve driven to East Chaldon to stay overnight.  By the time Rollo and I are ready for delivery to Kimmeridge the following morning it is 10 o’clock.  Terry is driving us to the cliff top and on the way we pick up two hitch-hikers who are going to walk the same stretch.  And by the time Rollo and I have got our act together and are posing by the signpost ready for the off,  this couple has already reached the first crest as you start to leave the wide sweep of cliff top that arcs round Kimmeridge Bay.

As we trek round towards the lower slope of Tyneham Cap we can look back and see Broad Bench and Long Ebb rock platforms slightly exposed by the tide.  We probably take a wrong turn here because the track we choose takes us very close indeed to the cliff edge, but the yellow posts which mark out the coast path were not clearly placed.  We’ve actually avoided a short steep climb but there is more to come……

The track along Gad Cliff is easy, with views of the village of Tyneham to our right, and we soon come to a steep descent into Worbarrow Bay, passing a pretty bay (Pondfield) east of the headland known as Worbarrow Tout.  I eat one of my hard-boiled eggs with a white bread roll.  (I am getting over a minor gastric upset so walking on a minimal plain diet).  Rollo tucks into her “delicious” smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber roll.

Climbing out of Worbarrow Bay means the first of two killer ascents.  But first we have a short discourse over a large toadstool which might be a Horse Mushroom or a Yellowstainer.  We have bitten off – not the mushroom but the hill – and it is a long hard chew to struggle to the top.  Fortunately it is not hot, though windy, but it is tiring work for us both.  Once at the top we draw breath in Flowers Barrow and enjoy the views north to Lulworth Castle.  A large blue marquee is still visible, a remnant of Camp Bestival which took place at the weekend.

We make our way along the cliff and reach Halcombe Vale which will take us down to the small beach at Arish Mell.  It is worth stopping to enjoy the views across Bindon Range.  Lulworth Camp lies at the western edge of the army land.  It is tough on the leg calves as you descend to Arish Mell; sadly we cannot explore this small beach because the army restrict access at all times.  There is a small slipway and Terry tells us later that the army uses this beach for joint exercises with the American military.

Now we have a slog ahead of us.  Rollo is not even sure she wants to take the coastal climb up to Bindon Hill.  There is a slightly inland option to Lulworth Cove which, for coastal walkers, probably ‘counts’. But I point to a place on the lower slopes and suggest we get to this point and review our options.

We never have this debate but each retreat into ourselves, draw on inner resources and, not wishing to sound too much of a drama queen but sounding like one anyway, we battle to the top.   I flop down in a grassy knoll, strip some layers off and eat my second egg and roll.  I was not so blinkered that I had not noticed a clump of dainty harebells, like so many dancing fairies, on the track as I reached the summit.  I go back to capture this image.

The coast path now traces the Chalk scarp as it arcs south towards Mupe Bay.  There is a steep, treacherous clamber down a track, partially stepped.  But the steps are more hindrance than help as many of them are falling away.  A descent ought to be lighter on the legs but it is steep and unstable underfoot.  Oh to be like the kids who, earlier, had dashed past us on the track down to Worbarrow, like so many young mountain goats.

Once on the flat we have reached Mupe Bay which is a sheltered embayment facing east.  On the descent we had wonderful views of the beach with its classic beach cusps.  The strip of limestone ledges which projects eastwards at the southern margin must add to the shelter.  The water is so clear you can sea the cloak of brown Fucus seaweed fronds afloat on the tide.  This would be a great little rock platform to work on a low spring tide.

As we start the final stretch Rollo notices a large mushroom in the long grass.  It is a fine Parasol Mushroom although a bit beyond its sell-by date.  The path now takes us due west across more or less even ground for another kilometre.  I truly sense the meaning of being on one’s ‘last legs’.  I have said to Rollo that the stretch we have walked today is one that I would not walk again for pleasure.  The book of words states that the 7-mile tract from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove is the most demanding section of all.  ‘All the hills are extremely steep and the path is often narrow and difficult to negotiate.  It is a remote and very beautiful area and limited access has created a natural haven for nature.’

Yes, all of the above.  It is a walk that should have lasted about 4 hours and we have taken 6 to complete it.  The view of Lulworth Cove from the cliff top is welcome but we still need to trudge through the shingle of the horseshoe cove.  There are plenty of folk about; late afternoon strollers, families who have spent beach-time here.

There is just a short walk up the narrow lane from the foreshore to the carpark where Terry is waiting for us.  I think he is a bit shocked to see me in such a wilted condition.  But I’ve been short on fuel, short on sleep and worst of all, caffeine-deprived all day!  After a pot of coffee, a bath and later a curry, I’m sorted.

Bocketts Workout Session 2

JACS came to stay for four days.  I had my activities and menus prepared, including a visit to Bocketts Farm.  On the day we had set aside for this visit the weather was atrocious.  But Bocketts has a large covered area where there is a Soft Play network to play through,  including some netting walkways across the main gallery, a large slide and an area of pens which contain ‘tame’ farm animals like sheep, goats, cows, llamas (!) who are willing to be stroked – in exchange for food.

So in the expectation that the heavy rain had set in for the day Nick and I set off with four excited children strapped into their Zafira.  We arrived, were obliged to park in the upper carpark because it was evidently busy, and made our way down to the large barn.  The children spent a good hour playing on the large padded climbing frame structure which is typical of the genre.  How we grandparents would have loved to have such a facility to take our own!

The older children had several goes on the slide as well and after an hour it seemed the right time to go and find some lunch in the Tea Room which is housed within one of the other barns.  The older boys had egg, beans, sausages, Amelia and Charlie had a ‘Happy Meal’ which comes in a cardboard box with a sandwich of one’s choice and Nick and I had a jacket potato with Coronation Chicken.

Fed and watered, we proceeded to the penned animals to administer to them.  I bought a bag of food pellets and asked for extra bags to share the food out amongst children.  My 75p worth of animal feed went a long way.  Sam and Joel were very resourceful and gathered up all the pellets which had been dropped by children feeding the animals.  Consequently they never ran out of food.  Feeding activities were brought to an end when one of the goats Sam was feeding decided to take the matter into his own mouth and snatched the paper bag, scoffing the contents.

Amelie and Charlie were enjoying a session on the tractors when we noticed that the sun had come out.  Just in time for pig-racing.  This must be regarded as a Bocketts highlight.  As spectators line up round the fenced circuit you can hear squealing, and battering on the ricketty wooden door of the low shed where the six piglets are confined.  The visitors are invited to cheer for their favourite:  will it be Curly Sue……… or Lester Piglet?

The pandemonium in the shed reaches a crescendo and the piglets are released.  Four of us are based at the lower corner of the track which traces three sides of a square.  Sam and Joel are at the finishing line, where, surely, there must be a trough – or maybe six troughlets – of something worth running for!  With much squealing the piglets streak past us and pelt up the hill, their pink piggy bottoms rocking from side to side.

The sun stays out long enough for the contingent to enjoying the outdoor play facilities which include a large tractor which entrances Charlie and a maze for the older ones.  It is approaching six 0’clock when we leave.  Once home tiredy ones are bathed whilst I rustle up mini toads and a bucket of gravy.  Tomorrow is another day.  And Saturday is spent at West Wittering, blogged by chezperryman……….