At a Very Low Ebb – But Not Us

On the day of the very lowest springs, when you really have a sense of tiptoeing over the seabed, we go to a wonderful shore just west of Broadford Bay.  It is a particularly unbeautiful beach, more or less level, featureless and very brown.  The cobbles, pebbles, gravels, the brown fucoid seaweeds all give an impression of a dull, shadowy place.  But what marvels it reveals once you start to look.

The site is at a point where, at extreme low water, the channel between the shore and the opposing shore on the island of Scalpay is at its narrowest.  When the tide is running through narrows you get a rapids effect and lots of marine life seems to like that.  Sponges can be prolific and scallops obviously benefit from a constant stream of particulate matter to filter feed on.

Perhaps that is why we find lots of juvenile scallops: the king, Pecten maximus, the queen Aequipecten opercularis and the dainty Snow scallop, Chlamys nivea. Individuals of the former two species are bright splashes of colour at the water’s edge or seen through the shallows amongst the gravels and weeds.  The ‘niveas’ tend to attach to the undersides of large cobbles and rocks.

I saw lots of baby ‘kings’:  it’s a veritable nursery.  I know from what I learnt on my first trip to Skye 27 years ago that local scallop divers pick up juveniles and move them around to ‘nursery’ grounds of their choosing.  This simple management of their local resource makes it easier for them to exploit the scallop fishery in a sustainable way.

You can also find the horse mussel Modiolus modiolus embedded in the gravels. This is a sensitive species which has shown a decline in recent years.  Dredging for scallops has caused damaged to the seabed where they have been growing in large numbers.  Horse mussels are long-lived molluscs, it is likely they live to 50 years.  When found on the seashore they should be left well alone.

In addition to an array of molluscs, including interesting clam species which we sieve from the gravels, there are lots of sea urchins.  There are many of the small Paracentrotus lividus urchins under rocks, but there are also large individuals of Echinus esculentus amongst the kelp plants in the shallows.  These are edible, I have never tried them, the taste of urchin is said to taste like nothing else – an article in the Independent describes them as having a creamy taste with a hint of iodine.  Peter finds a perfect test of the purple heart urchin, Spatangus purpureus.  It is a prize.

We take our usual weeds to wash, and scrub boulders on the shore.  Just before we leave Steve picks up a large paired Pecten shell.  It has several interesting specimens on and inside it.  We can see the turrid, the nudibranch, the chiton, the limpet and the young scallop attached to the exterior and the interior has some small clods of sediment.  We decide to take it back and see how many species we retrieve from it as a sample of ‘substrate’.  When every last bit of sieved mud has been picked through we have a tally of more than 30 mollusc species from this single object.

On the way back to Kyleakin I am driving Peter’s car and I suddenly realise I am very hungry.  It has been wet and windy all afternoon.  We stop in Broadford and the four of us buy pies – mine is a warmed chicken and mushroom one and it is yummy.

But there is more tastiness in store when I sit down with the others to enjoy a convivial Saturday evening in over a dish of pasta prepared by Sonia and Terry.   Creature comforts abound, such a bonus when you are on a field trip!

Rain at Camas Croise

There is a bliss to be had when relaxing in a long, deep bath with a glass of wine and a view of the Cuillins.  This is my daily treat as the field trip progresses.

There has to be a flip side to the two or three hours you might spend plodding over muddy sand, or negotiating a way over weedy rocks in persistent rain and wind to get to a ‘sheltered’ place at the water’s edge (I mean a spot with a calm aspect where marine life can exist with minimal disturbance).   I have found the best way to achieve the latter without slipping is to use my stacked yellow buckets as a zimmer frame.  It is very undignified but as safe a method I can find for doing something so foolish.  All this in wet weather gear and stout wellies.

At Camas Croise we are entertained by Seb the 6-month old Labrador pup who has a fine time finding shells and tossing them about in the hope that someone will play with him.

Despite the weather we complete our tasks and as we haul our wet selves back to the car I am already looking forward to the soiree we have planned for the whole group at our house in Kyleakin.

We are a bumper 17 on this field trip ranging from experts to novices, dab hands and new members.  We are going to start at 6 o’clock in order to cater for people with long journeys back to guesthouses.  Because of Skye’s shape, journeys across the island can easily take 2 hours.  We are keeping the meal ever so simple so its bangers and mash with green beans and I am in charge of making the largest pan of fried onions I’ve ever cooked but Rosemary and Sonia are chefs for the evening.  Afterwards we serve apple pie, ice cream and cream.    The Broadford Co-op has provided all our requirements and we work out afterwards that it cost £2.70 a head.

After the last guests have gone I stay at my microscope for a short while but I am already behind with my samples.  And tomorrow’s shore is the biggie!

Secret Seven go to Skye

So on Thursday we sally forth like so many children on an ‘igventure’ (Nick’s childhood word).  We are very gung ho, there is much banter and jokery.  We are, as a group of shellers, plainly excited about what we might find at the beach.  When Bas and I looked at the shore the previous evening the tide was in and there weren’t many shells lying around.  The only clue we have is that offshore islets and the general aspect of the shore mean it is very sheltered and marine invertebrates like that.

Rosemary has made a picnic lunch for us all which is VERY KIND in my book.  We’ve chosen a site near Plockton and we have to negotiate two gates which straddle an ancient single-track railway, and then proceed along a progressively rural track, through another gate and we can then park on the low bank above the shore.  The tide is well on the ebb when we arrive.  There is a small cascading burn which is flowing under a bridge and down onto the foreshore. This means it would be unsafe to eat any gleanings from this particular beach.

There are the usual cockles, mussels and winkles to be found, also a few oysters.  As the tide goes down we wade in the still, clear shallow water, finding boulders to roll and underneath, treasures.  I turn up a large specimen of the Snow Scallop attached to the boulder by its byssus. It is sitting alongside living cowries and a sea slug which when dark orange looks just like a dried apricot. We take numerous photos and roll the rock back into position.

The beautiful white scallop, well-named then, is restricted to the western coasts and islands of Scotland.  It lives nowhere else as far as is known.  I wrote a paper about this in 1986, my first venture into science.  Something of an undertaking at the time given my background in modern languages and the paucity of O-Level qualification I had in science.

It became quite a labour, the numerics including the dreaded standard deviations, being done by hand.  With no Internet to search out information in those distant days, it involved visits to Museums and libraries to search literature and measure shells.  Young son Dan, who was 10 at the time, clearly felt the pinch because he commented to the effect that he hoped I would never undertake something quite so self-absorbing and time-consuming again.

Before the tide turns we have taken weeds to wash and have scrubbed boulders to sample all the microscopic species we’ll never spot with the naked eye.  Sorting these sieved residues later reveals a fascinating array of tiny snails including a trio of species which look like minute whelks (less than 2mm high) with purple-ringed apertures.  These are a find.

We take all our samples away in bags and pots and then sit on the grassy bank watching the tide flow towards us and eat sandwiches, much fruit and Kit Kats.  We return to the house.  It is my turn to cook our supper so I produce ‘Christine Street’s’ curry.  We plan the next shore.

A Very Long Way North

I’m on my way to the Western Isles, sharing a car with two fellow conchologists.  It is the annual field meeting and I am returning to an island I have visited seldom.  Nick and I first went to Skye in 1982 shortly after I became a member of the Conchological Society.  It was a wonderful trip in many ways, my first experience of serious, enlightened, engaging Conchology.

We are faced with a 12-hour drive allowing for two very short stops.  Sharing the driving with Peter and Steve means that the journey is a very pleasant experience.  It is a chance to put our worlds to rights and catch up on Society business in an amenable forum and we can just enjoy the transformation which happens to the landscape as we travel ever northwards.

From the A1 we shift to the A66 and cross England from east to west.  Then we are in the Lake District with the sun on its gently rolling hills and mountains, cosying up to each other and where they meet and fold into valleys they remind me of great sleeping Labrador puppies.  The geology of the Lake District is a story of colliding continents, an event which melded two very different terrains.  The ancient rocks of the north are bound to the younger lithologies of the south: the geology of the British Isles spans an unimaginable length of deep time.

Once through Glasgow and over the Erskine Bridge the drive along the west bank of Loch Lomond is a joy.  The day is very fine: sunny, warm, still.  The surface of the loch is glinting and almost without movement and we are lucky to find the small ‘Bonnie Braes’ café where we can sit on a wooden bank and enjoy a bowl of a truly homemade soup and half a sandwich for a fiver and gaze across at the solitary dwelling very close to the water on the east side.  Who lives there?  I think it might suit a writer.

Once you leave Loch Lomond the route takes you through Crianlarich, Tyndrum and across Rannoch Moor, over the Bridge of Orchy and all around the height and cragginess of the Highlands, so different from the sleepy mounts of the Lakes.  I have dozed on and off and when I next wake we are in the relative metropolis which is Fort William.

Thereafter we are driving through such wilderness as the British Isles have to offer.  High hills and mountains and lower slopes golden with grasses and sedges on the turn and hazily purple with the heathers.  There are familiar signposts along the way, Onich, Invergarry and on the very final stretch we come to Dornie with its famous castle. With the sun moving to the west the light casts our aspect of the castle into shade, its brooding presence tricky to photograph.

When we arrive at the house we are to share with four others, they are out walking but return soon after we pull up the drive.  The house we are going to live in for the next few days is grand.  It sits in an estate of acres which is largely woodland and has been loaned to us because one of our number is related to the owner by marriage.

There is a lovely drawing room, a library, a smaller sitting room too.  A dining room with a very large table around which we will seat 17 one evening.  I lament the fact that we will be so taken up with our purpose that I will never get a chance to relax in any of these rooms.  My time will be spent gassing around the long kitchen table “around which everything happens” says Rosemary, and I will have a slot which will be my workbench around the ping pong table in the conservatory.

But I get to choose from an array of bedrooms.  Bas, Rosemary, Terry and Sonia have chosen their ‘suites’ and the master bedroom with its four-poster and a view of distant hills is available.  No more!

There is a lamb stew on the stove and when we sit down for supper the seven of us get to know each other, there’s lots of banter and we sort out housekeeping arrangements.  We learn that Mrs MacDonald will come in for a couple of hours every day to clear up after us.  Before supper Bas, Terry and I have already made a quick foray to suss out a possible shore for the next day.  The field meeting proper does not start until Friday.

A Shopping Expedition

After a windy night we rise to a cloudy day with rippled waters. None of us fancies a swim so we up anchor and set off. We are going to cover some miles today. Initially we plan to go to Mlijna. We sail through some wind and rain and then decide we might just as well go on to Masalinica where rumour has it we may be able to order slow cooked lamb from Konoba Sescula.

We lunch underway, our usual salad lunch fortified with a mixed bean salad which is a cheering addition for the grey, less than warm weather. Nigel had proposed we divide for watches with Carolyn on lunch duty. Towards the end of the passage I take the helm for a while as we round the western end of Solta to pick up a buoy owned by the restaurant where we will eat.

Nick and Nigel have been doing some minor running repairs, Nick has been busy splicing.   They decide to adjust the rope which manages the passerelle.

But before that we have a minor incident when Nigel drops a coil of rope in 8 metres of water. He manages to retrieve it with his first dive aided by a mask and snorkel. Unfortunately he doesn’t equalise very efficiently and has to dive again to try and rectify the problem although his ears still feel strange. As it happens he then needs to be hoisted to the masthead to secure the new rope and wonders if this will be sufficient to restore his ears to equilibrium!

In due course we go ashore for our meal. Nick and I go first because the restaurant boasts internet but we find it is unavailable. We have a wine, some bread, olives, olive oil and wait to be joined. Nick continues to read The Edible Seashore which I have to review (watch this space!).  He is very taken with the book , as is Carolyn who very much likes John Wright’s style which makes the book very readable, not just a work of reference.

In due course our slow cooked lamb arrives and Jane receives her sea bass. Our lamb dish is fab. I resolve that I must try and cook this at home. It is the cheaper cuts of lamb that are used and cooked long enough so that the meat simply falls off the bone.

In the morning Nick goes into Masalinica early to buy milk and bread. I go in a bit later to use the internet at a very nice hotel. By now the drizzly murky day is clearing up so we set sail for an anchorage to swim and perhaps overnight there but the weather worsens and we decide to head for Split where we can refuel and Carolyn can disembark to search for a hotel for the first night of the remainder of her holiday which she will spend with children and step children.

Back at the Marina Nick and Nigel start some maintenance. We are eating spaghetti Bolognese on board. Towards early evening there are flashes of lightening and thunder. In our safe haven we experience and witness a serious thunderstorm. With the rain beating down on the deck above us we watch the last 2 episodes of Tinker, Tailor….

On Monday Jane has a brainwave. Why don’the girls go into Split for a bit of sightseeing whilst the boys carry on with their good works. So we catch a bus to the waterfront and fall into a café for coffee.

We are approached by a young girl, a student from Zadar in agronomics she tells us, who tries so hard to sell us table linen. They are worked in embroidery and crochet and rather pretty but I tell her that I have more than enough lovely tablecloths from Mum and Dad’s days in Hong KIong.

None of us buys anything although I do see how an engaging streetseller who draws her victims in by involving her mother and grandmother in the story of her products can wear her potential customers down to the point where they end up buying something against their will! It’s a skill I imagine she has honed over the season.

We spend the rest of our time in Split in the Diocletian Palace precincts, wandering the alleys, taking photos, and I somehow end up buying a great pair of trousers in one of the boutiques. With a 30% reduction the already reasonable price approaches a bargain. The fabric is linen, bronzey colour with just a hint of metallic sheen and the garment is effectively a full length divided skirt. It will get dressed up and down over the years.

The end of passage evening is convivial. We have scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with Muscat grapes and White figs bought from Split market. Nigel is in a particularly good mood and we girls think he must have had a beer or two to get him through an afternoon with Stalin, but I am assured that their only poison was tea!

It rains in the night and in the morning Nick and I trudge to the bus-stop. But things pick up because we emerge on the roadside just as a bus is approaching and it makes an unscheduled stop to scoop us up out of the gutter.  We are homeward bound!

Starry Stari Grad

We find a charming anchorage for a swim and lunch at the southeast end of Solta although the experience is blighted by a plague of wasps who we are only partially successful at distracting with a dish of marmalade.  Finely chopped with a shallot and some mint, parsley and basil, I create a squid salad with the evening before’s left-overs.  

Driven away by the wasps we press on to Luka Tiha on the north side of the deep inlet on the northwestern end of Hvar where we find anchorage. There is a slightly undignified moment when a British vessel off to our starboard accelerates alongside then accuses us of racing them to their spot.  Nigel deals with this succinctly and firmly.  We get there first!

We are eating on board and I am chef.  Coq au Vin simmers away on the hob, a busload of potatoes are boiled and some are mashed; others are kept for potato salad.  Green beans also accompany the meal.  Jane who is vegetarian has smoked salmon with a spoonful of the Coq gravy on her mash!  Carolyn says it is the best meal she has eaten since she arrived in Croatia.  She, Nigel and I talk late into the evening and we are all rather later rising in the morning.

We all have a swim in the still, sun-bathed waters of the embayment then breakfast on the bows.  Nigel is not one for tarrying and we are soon up-anchored and on up the inlet to view Stari Grad on the large island of Hvar. The Cruising Companion says it is an interesting place to visit with several attractive buildings.  Jane and I who are on a photography mission at the bows think this rather an understatement. 

This is the site of the ancient Greek colony of Pharos founded in the 4th C BC.  It is claimed that some of the early Greek walls have been incorporated into modern buildings.  There is a museum, an art gallery.  The water front is charming.  There are no large yachts moored but small local craft are strung out along the quay enabling a good view of the buildings along the harbour from the water.  Nigel asks if we want 30 minutes ashore but I’d want at least 3 hours as I think there’d be an internet café to seek out.  In the event we motor idly down to the busy part of the port, turn and saunter back. 

The water is so clear we can see the cause of occasional disturbance at the surface of the water ahead of us.  A group of young bass (they are known as ‘school bass’) are encircling and jabbing at a larger school of silvery slivers of fishy life.  It is clear the bass are working in cooperation. 

We leave Stari Grad for our next destination and Nick tries to spin for a few fish whilst we are underway without success.  We make a lunch stop along the north coast of Hvar and take a dip first.  After lunch there is a landing party composed of Nick, Carolyn and I. 

We row across the narrow tract of water separating Phillipides V from the limestones dipping into the sea.  The limestone is extremely karstified leading Carolyn to suppose it might be a volcanic rock but it is just the erosion of wind, rain and sea, aided by the biodegradable actions of the simple, invertebrate, animals living on the rocks which are bathed by the tides. 

Once landed you need to pick your way carefully over the tops of the limestone blocks which are reminiscent of the limestone pavement of the Burren in western Ireland.  Nick wants to check out a sizeable white object he thinks might be a fender – it isn’t.  I’m looking for small treasures amonst the detritus, much of which is wood.  There are boards and a panel from a boat bearing flaky traces of a rich blue paint.  In places it looks like lapis lazuli.

Our overnight stop is the picturesque Vrboska.  It is situated in a valley and is crossed by a bridge at the head of the inlet.  There are typical coastal village houses and some Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings.  It has a famous fortress church.  The enthusiastic harbourmaster has encouraged us to moor off the town quay rather than use the marina.  This is a happy choice as we sit in the cockpit people-watching with impunity.  By good fortune our choice of restaurant for the evening also offers internet which will be free if we eat there.  I could not recommend the Mediteran Restaurant too highly.  We had a wonderful meal, made memorable by the charming brothers who attend to us, and utterly delicious by the 4 different vegetable dishes to accompany our protein.  Nick and I had rare fillet steak, Nigel and Jane chose Bream and Carolyn had roast pork.

 The following morning Carolyn and I walked up to the restaurant to claim our free internet time.   The others walked out along the north side of the Vrboska inlet.  Late morning we drop our moorings and head for the island of Zecevo to anchor for lunch.  We notice there is a plethora of rather brown naked bodies strewn along the shoreline and later read in the Cruising Companion that this is a Nudist’s island.

 We cross to the island of Brac and follow the coast east to find an overnight anchorage.  The wind comes up rather rapidly and is northeastern so we search hard for a haven for the night, eventually finding good shelter at Uvala Luka near Povlja.  This is the safest and most sheltered anchorage in the Bracki Canal.  We eat on board – Nick’s omelettes, sautéed potatoes, beans and then settle down to watch 2 episodes of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  It is great to view something we remember from our salad days, that has stood the test of time, with some of the best actors of the time: Alec Guiness, Ian Richardson, Ian Bannen, Bernard Hepton, Hywell Bennett…. Sadly with us no more.

Stalin and Genghis Khan have Frank Exchanges of View

We are afloat again, by kind invitation of  Nigel and Jane.  Carolyn Mary, Jane and I fetched up at Split airport on Sunday morning and bundled ourselves into a taxi for the 10 minute trip to Marina Kastela where Nigel and Nick were waiting to welcome us aboard Philippides V. (Nick and Nigel met about 3 years ago when they were part of a crew for Verity’s passage across the Mediterranean to Valencia for the Americas Cup.  They were paired for watches, thrown together in adversity when the Skipper exerted his authority and prevented them going ashore in order to save sailing time, and whiled away much time debating many issues from their diametrically opposed political standpoints).   

 It is brightly sunny but there is a katabatic wind blowing of the mountains which rise steeply behind Kastela Gomilica.  At times rising to blasts of gale strength, this is the Bora, a contraflow to the Sirocco which blows up from Africa bringing Saharan sand with it.

 Kastela, so says the Croatia Cruising Companion, is one of Croatia’s best kept secrets.  It is a huge bay with seven established villages which grew up in the 15th and 16th centuries, each with at least one castle.  We are north and west of Split and the marina is one of Croatia’s newest.  We are going to hole up for a day, catch up on sleep, drink wine, sleep it off some more and I can finish my book The Outcast by Sadie Jones which has been an excellent read. 

 Mike on Verity  phones us in the afternoon, as a result of which we make a dinner date with them for Monday at Trogir. We are already booked to eat ashore on Sunday evening – it is a no-brainer when it comes to choosing what I will eat.  Fried squid with some shared fries and a mixed salad washed down with the local Grasevina wine.  This never tastes better than when eaten in a Mediterranean setting.

 After breakfast we sail south from Kastel Gomilica to a headland west of Split then sail through a cut towards the east end of Otok Ciovo.  Ciovo is joined to Trogir by a drawbridge and there is prehistoric and Roman settlement evidence on the island. 


 We motor and sail along the south coast and find an anchorage between the mainland and the islet of Fumija.  We’ve passed some remote landscape with no anchoring possibilities on the way and sailed past hermit buildings next to the Church of Our Lady of Prizidnica clinging to the cliffs.  At the headland at the western end there is a shoreline campsite and 2 anchorages.  Where we drop anchor I suffer a swift bracing swim in choppy water with so much movement I almost feel seasick.  After a salad lunch I snooze.

 We meet up with the Derricks and some other sailing friends of theirs and eat out in the evening.  I start with a ‘scampi’ (prawn) risotto and have a meat platter.  It is a convivial occasion.

 In the morning before we begin our passage there is a trip to the market where we buy basic salad stuffs, eggs, and wonderful figs at £2 a kilo.  The mint we want for our Pims costs us £1 for half a dozen sprigs snipped off a large pot plant on one stall. 

 We are going to aim for Drvenik Veli island.  Verity is also planning to anchor here for the night.  We stop for a swim and salad lunch on the way and then press on, arriving mid afternoon.  We are going to eat ashore again with new crew on Verity so a table for 9 is booked at the Taverna Cantina. 

 What should be a pleasant evening is somewhat tarnished by the aggressive Maitresse D’ who ‘sells’ us a “Kwality” white and red wine for openers.  When we enquire about the price it’s way above the cost of the ‘open’ wines we normally choose.  When we want to re-order we ask her for her open white and she comes back regretfully and tells us, sadly, she sold her last bottle to the neighbouring table.  As we can’t have her Kwality wine at a reasonable price we say we’ll go with more water.  Minutes later she returns to tell us that fortunately she found a bottle of the Debit white in the kitchen!

 I choose an octopus salad to start which is the best I’ve ever eaten.  It is warm and contains broad beans and herbs.  Because I can’t have too much seafood and there is a dwindling choice of main courses at the end of the season, I go with fried squid and a platter of freshly grilled squids arrives to be shared by the 5 of us who have ordered it.

 For most one squid is enough so I do something I rarely do, and our hostess duly obliges by wrapping our leftovers in foil for us to take back to Philippides V.  After we have paid our bill we are presented with 9 glasses of a herb and fruit liqueur which we are told is a recipe of her father’s grandfather.  It does have a medicinal flavour and is obviously strong.  I sip some of mine but the other ladies cannot handle it.  I am mildly disapproving when they tip it on the containers of plants at the end of the table!!

 On Wednesday we are making for Otok Hvar.  On the way Stalin and Genghis Khan take a helm each and prop up the bimini as we sail along the seaward coast of the island of Solta. 

Making Jam, Marking Time

Home to a flurry of activity.  I find a message from my friend Lis to say that their damson tree has gone into over-production and, as in previous years, we are welcome to go and gather some fruits from the lawn.  We have a small window of opportunity whilst they are at the house.  It is good to catch up with Lis and Charles, my unofficial twin, and I come away with 15 lbs of the small, ripe, deep purple plums.

But first I must make some rhubarb and ginger jam with the last picking of St V rhubarb.  When made it looks and tastes like marmalade, quite unlike the green low-sugar batch which I made in France with crystallised ginger and which had to be kept in the fridge.  I’ve already exhausted my small stock of preserving jars so beg and borrow jars from Lis, who even empties her fridge of jars with a spoonful of contents left in them to help me out!

I use 6lb of damsons to make 10lb of jam.  Finding myself slightly short of granulated sugar I make up the quantity with demerara and am amazed the taste pervades the finished product.  But it sets beautifully and I glow.  Not having made jam for a long time it is a satisfying feeling to know that I have a stock of jam to offer allcomers at St V with their morning baguettes.  The remaining damsons are combined with apples, onions, dried apricots and spices to make chutney.  This has always been a good standby (cheese platters at St V!) and by the time all my preserves are potted I can label them with my customised Fuchsias labels and range them along the Welsh dresser, feeling very provident.

At the weekend we go to dinner with Vikky and Udo and on Sunday to the Wings and Wheels air show at Dunsfold.  I am seriously impressed with the flight of the Vulcan and the show the Red Arrows put on is incredible.  Most memorable for me was to watch them process along the runway almost nose to tail for take-off.  Something civilian aircraft are not allowed to do.  On the ground they are small and elegant craft.  In the sky the precision of formation is breathtaking.

On Monday we are Grand Force and go to Hackney garden and put in a day of toil.  At least Nick does.  I nibble at the edges of the existing flower bed and tidy it up.  They start to dig a complementary flower bed on the opposite side of the steps, Dan, Nick and Charlotte.  I have ideas, I think a deep purple to black, and cream, and green-flowered selection of perennials would look good with some of the nearly black and cream tulips we have at Godalming.   I’m thinking dark helleborines and lime green ‘red hot pokers’, Euphorbia…….

On Tuesday we go up to London early evening for Kathy and Robert’s  Ruby celebration at the Oriental Club just off Oxford Street.  Our erstwhile neighbours who moved to Bristol nearly 20 years ago are throwing a dinner party which turns out to be delightful.  The setting is gracious and civilised, the meal is good, I find I have an engaging dinner companion and before we have to rush for our train Nick manages best part of a game of snooker, partnering Clive who flattened Nick at squash in their only ever game about 20 years ago.  I dare say we all look a bit older but we are all just the same people as we remember each other.

We get a train at 11.45, get home and at 4 a.m. a taxi comes to pick Nick up for Gatwick and his flight to Croatia.  I sleep blissfully on.

In the days that follow I visit my mother and get a lot of stuff done in the house, and garden.  I plant out the Primula which have given generously of themselves since the spring.  Some go into the fern garden, others in a long wooden planter at the front.  Also, because I will be having a visitor on Saturday evening, I weed our frontage and steps.  Carolyn Mary is coming to sleep overnight so Jane can pick us up at 3.15 for our 6 a.m. flight.  A trio of ladies bound for Croatia.  (I’m now the proud owner of a Netbook, a ‘baby’ as my friend Bas calls his.  But I’m not sure if I will get near the Internet to blog whilst I’m away, gloom….)

I am more than usually organised before a trip.  Factored into the countdown have been arrangements for Dan and Ems to borrow one of our cars because theirs died 100 miles short of Penzance.  They have gone to Prussia Cove and even hours in after their arrival,  their excitement at being at this very special Cornish haunt is evident from their Flickers and Twitters and Facebook posts.  The Porth en Alls estate seems unchanged, untouched by a need to upgrade, improve, modernise.  The Coastguard cottages look exactly the same as they did more than 20 years ago when we went as a family.  But they evidently have Wireless!

West Coast Sandy Antics

Well this is it, the last post from August in St V.  We’ve pretty much covered the activities in previous pages although I might have forgotten to mention scrumping apples and greengages from our neighbour’s overhanging branches and I don’t think this counts as theft, even if I do get out a small pair of steps very early one morning and lean as far as I can over the wall to gather the fruits!

I should also have mentioned that not content with stringing up a swing for the children Nick went on to even greater things when he constructed a seesaw out of materials in the workshop: offcuts of oak left over from the making of the pergola, an old joist from the garage, plastic waterpipe and electrical conduit.  The pivotal component, quite literally, was a short length of stout yellow plastic tubing which acts as fulcrum.  Its a self assembly piece of kit, a big boy’s building blocks, which can be magicked into existence and dismounted for storage.  The kids loved it.  Whether a slide can be made quite so cheaply is another matter!

On the day they all brought home the spider crabs someone had to stay at home and cook them.  Well, who else was it going to be?  The rest of the gang drove across to the west coast where there are vast expanses of sand at low tide and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, it opens up a range of possibilities….

What took place was by all accounts exhilirating.  The keenest of participants returned to the house dusted from head to foot in sand and smiling from ear to ear.  The kite which tows the cart is about 8 feet wide.  First you get the kite aloft and when it is flying high you seat yourself on the cart, tug the kite downwards and it then pulls you along.  A pair of strong arms is a requirement and the fun to be had a reward.


Sam and Joel each had rides, the younger two were content to play around Nick at the top of the beach.  Lukie, photographer of the moment, was on hand to capture the images which tell their own story, below.