It would be tempting to look back on the summer and feel that one was short-changed. It seems that the annual heat-wave occurred back in April-May when we struggled to keep gardens watered, and spring plants which are unadapted to water shortages, alive. July and August were indifferent months in terms of good weather. Nevertheless nature has been bountiful in fruit yields. Then again my tomatoes are now rotting. You need optimum weather conditions to get the most out of your crops but some foodstuffs are indifferent.
The littoral zone of a beach is the area of shore that is subjected to exposure during the twice daily cycle of tides. Plants and animals living in that zone are adapted to extremes of heat, cold, drying out and immersion. Barring drastic events such as oil spillages life ticks by, you could say at a steady snail’s pace.
Nick and I headed for Ringstead one sunny afternoon when guilt at having been housebound by chores and computer-based activities drove us outside. You have to pay a hefty toll of £5 to use the private road which gives you the right to park close to the shore.
The bay was beautiful in its tranquility and sparsely populated state. We walked west towards the headland. I poked around in rock pools on the limestone platform and found snails in repose in crevices and amongst tufts of algae. It occurred to me that I had never tested the palatability of Osilinus against that of the traditionally eated winkle Littorina littorea. I collected both, cooked them separately and subjected them to a taste test. There was a slight difference in flavour but the Littorina won hands down because they could be removed from their shells with a pin much more easily.
Then again, I know a verge where Boletes grow. We first collected some in 2009 when Nick spotted them whilst we were parked up at garage on the A3 buying a newspaper. They were growing beneath a group of small pines and silver birch. Returning to Winterborne the other day I pulled in at the garage to check for the mushrooms. There were many large, overly-ripe adults to be found on our original plot, but also a flock of the young toadstools under some distal pines. I collected these, noting that there was a mature Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) growing amongst them.
Back in Dorset I unpacked the car and it being a whole two days since I had logged on, opened up my machine. On Facebook I found a fresh post from Kitchen antics with a posh recipe for mushrooms on toast which I followed, with some minor modifications. They were delicious!
Athelhampton is a Grade I listed 15th-century privately owned manor house in 160 acres (647,000 m²) of parkland, five miles east of Dorchester. The house is inhabited and is also open for public visits.
Being on our doorstep the house makes a handy venue for a day out for Mum. She and I met Liz in the car park there for lunch. They produced an excellent crab salad for me, a wild mushroom risotto for Liz and a chicken salad for Mum. Afterwards, Mum and I walked round the grounds and looked over the house. The West-Wing gallery is dedicated to Marevna who was a prolific artist who worked in numerous styles during her lifetime. When her daughter Marika moved to Athelhampton with her husband Rodney Phillips, Marevna moved as well and spent several years there and produced many works with inspiration taken from the local area. Examples of her work hang in the gallery at Athelhampton.
The young guide gave us some interesting snippets of information, showed us the secret door and staircase from a drawing room to the library above, and on being questioned about a flight of stairs that had been cordonned off, showed us to the top floor where there is a 50-seater cinema. They show a selection of of classic and modern films from early autumn to spring. When Nick returned from France I booked us in to see Out of Africa. We had a curry at The Martyrs Inn beforehand. A Monday evening excursion which made a great start to the week.
As a tail-piece to the Hackneys’ hols, an unscheduled ride on a relay truck fetched them up in Winterborne K. A tired exhaust and an exhausted tyre contrived to ground them on the lane coming up out of Prussia Cove. Safely delivered to us they were able to hole up whilst the Calibra was fixed. Dan had an appointment in Liverpool which necessitated a 5 a.m. start on Friday and whilst I drove to Cholsey to collect Charlie, Ems and the girls spent the day at TOW with Nick. Charlotte drove Ted from school at the end of the afternoon, and arrived just ahead of Charlie, me and a consignment of F and C.
After supper on Friday the children played with bamboo staffs outside and created another Mouse Restaurant 🙂 They found my horde of scarves, hats, gloves and played winter-time. Lola and Ruby both tried on my vintage smocked frock, one of a pair made in Hong Kong for Christina and me. They were made in the 1950s, hand-stitched, for best. After a night-time tub and stories the children went to bed like lambs.
Nick had gathered some horse mushrooms from a stretch along the road to Poole. We ate these with a hearty cooked breakfast on Saturday before Emma set off for London. During the day Ted and Charlie played; they invented their games with an assortment of props: Playmobil figures, blankets, floppy woolly hats. They were golden. Charlotte worked pretty much all day and I pottered in between laundry, catering, and time at the computer screen.
On Sunday the wild weather subsided enough to take the boys to the coast. We drove to Lulworth and walked down to the cove and spent an hour on the shore, doing beachy things. We ate a late lunch of fish pie before Nick drove Charlie home and Charlotte and Ted took to the road a bit later on. It was a weekend well spent.
The Hackney contingent had a week booked at Prussia Cove at the end of the school holidays. After a summer of very mixed weather things could have gone either way. They drove down on a warm sunny Friday and arrived in time to have some good beach time. Sadly the weather deteriorated ,and on the rainy Tuesday of their holiday week I drove down to Prussia Cove early in the morning, for a day and a sleep-over.
After a brunch cooked by Dan we piled into my car and drove forth, to Porthcurno for a spell and on to St Ives where we ate an early evening meal before returning to the cottage. Despite the overcast windy, wet conditions Lola, Ruby and I enjoyed an encounter with the waves at Porthcurno.
The cove at Porthcurno is deeply embedded in my Cornish psyche. The coarse sand is made up of crunched up shell and microscopic shells. The water is crystal clear, even when it is tumbling the sand grains in the rollers that crash onto the beach. After twenty minutes at the ever-morphing water margin I could so easily have stripped to my costume for a swim. But to the leave the little girls behind would have been a betrayal. We had fun!
My St Vaast days are drawing to a close this time round. On Sunday I set up my stall at the Vide Grenier on the quay and sell English things to French passers-by. Most entertaining for me is to eavesdrop English customers as they assess my goods, share their thoughts and then barter with me in their French which is more heavily accented than mine. Only occasionally do I give the game away…….. although they may guess I am a compatriot but do not say.
Before my ferry at the end of the week there is yet more packing up to do. I promised myself no self-indulgent agonisings over the dry rot saga. Suffice to say that yet two more rooms must be cleared and partially gutted in order to root out the pernicious mycelia and mushrooms. Nick is staying on into September in hopes that he will see the builders and the rot treaters back onto the premises after the August shut-down.
Every few days Nick takes Aroona out for a spin and brings some fine bass ashore. We now have several fine fish stowed in the freezer – which we sincerely hope the builders will not inadvertently defrost as they did last time – and have gifted several in our neighbourhood. We took one to our neighbours – over whose property the builders will have to trespass in order to treat our ‘pignon ouest’ – and Roger returned the next morning with a crate of pears.
As so often happens with gluts one can feel overwhelmed. Pears are notorious for their tendency to go sleepy if kept too long so off I go googling and pull up recipes for Pears poached with Vanilla, and Spiced Pears in Red wine. Now safely stowed in that freezer for winter puddings. Our French friends are big on puddings.
It is time to ready my parts of the garden for my departure. Which means putting potted stuff in shelter. There are a few baby Echium plants left over from the Vide Grenier; I managed to sell a number of offspring from this year’s monster for a Euro each.
On the final afternoon Tanou and Jean-Pierre call round in the afternoon with their grandchildren Anton and Esther. Nick met Jean-Pierre over the rail of his boat and subsequently we were invited to an evening event in their garden. We have seen each other erratically since and I finally got round to phoning Tanou to arrange to meet for lunch. We were treated to the most delicious fois gras (made by Tanou’s sister in the Perigord) and Muscat wine chez eux before we walked to Le Debarcadere.
We invited them round to view our ‘chantier’ which is French for building site. We then sat in the garden drinking tea whilst the children played on the range of outdoor toys which have languished in the absence of little Lights to give them an airing. It was a very pleasant interval to wind up my stay this time. We parted with promises to dine together next time, and I am to be invited to join the Reading Group locally, about which more in the future.
Meanwhile a set of closing summer photos: