A Politically Incorrect Interlude

Halloween weekend proved to be a busy one for us.  On Saturday I trekked to Theydon Bois for the twice-yearly British Shell Collectors’ Shell Show.  I wanted to catch up with one or two luminaries in our fraternity (step up Mr S. Peter Dance) and sweet-talk a fellow collector into retracting a request to remove some of his data from a digital database.  Mission accomplished and I returned in the evening with two prizes about which more, anon.

Nick’s friend Nigel came to WK for the weekend.  Whilst I was transacting in Essex, they walked a particularly punishing length of the Dorset Coast Path between Lulworth Cove and Kimmeridge.  I walked this stretch in late July 2009 with my friend Rollo, see this blog Jurassic Hike. Over a carvery in The Greyhound we hatched our walking plan for the morrow.

On Sunday despite misty moisty weather we sallied forth on a second stint of coastal walking.  This time we parked one car at Ringstead and then drove to Melcombe Avenue where we left the second car and set off.  We walked the beach wall out of Weymouth then struck up the road at Overcombe, pretty soon finding the trusty acorns which point the way.  I cannot pretend that we had stunning views of blue and green vistas.  At times the mist reduced visibility markedly. Special care was needed along parts of the path where erosion is particularly active along the leading edge of the clifftop.

By means of fingerposts and cute little dumpy milestones looming low ahead of us along our route we found our way easily enough.  Towards the end of our stint we met a straggle of some fifty walkers, participants in a Police-sponsored 17-mile walk.  Windy it may have been, but not sufficiently severe to disrupt a sailing race in Weymouth Bay.

Our way took us over open swards, along treacherously muddy narrow tracks flanked by twiggy shrubs and at one point through a verdant glade of Iris foetidissima and Hart’s tongue fern, with bracket fungus on a fallen tree.

Nick and Nigel ranted and bantered along the way.  Neither is particularly mincing with their words and we allowed ourselves the airing of inappropriate opinions which dissipated unheard by other human ears, into the coastal mists.

We may not have had spectacular views (as the slideshow attests) but the sound of the sea as it rushed to meet the shingle shores and limestone cliffs was a constant and welcome companion.

We picked up the car at Ringstead and drove back to Osmington Mills where we lunched in the Smugglers Inn.

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It’s that Half-Term of Year

Boarding the train at Waterloo on Saturday evening Nick and I were happy in the knowledge that we would be returning to a warm welcome from JACS, who had arrived at TOW during the afternoon.   Indeed we did and we spent most of the following week caught up in assorted activities.

On Sunday we all drove to Portland to look at various sites designated for the 2012 Olympics.  Sam’s holiday task is to make a themed model.  We take photos and a couple of days after, Sam settles with Nick to produce the goods.  It being very windy we climbed over the Chesil Bank to gaze at the sea.  Nick found an old fish-box which provided fun as an improvised sledge on the shingle.  Barney and the children flew his kite until the wind strength made it problematic.

After, we drove to a suitable vantage point on the Isle of Portland to gaze down at the Chesil Bank as it curves westward to Lyme Regis, before heading out to the Bill to gaze at yet more turbulent seas as they beat against the limestone platforms and cliffs there.

Joined by Claire on Monday there were further excursions to the Tank Museum and the Empire at Poole where we saw Johnny English Reborn – Tintin being outvoted by Rowan Atkinson’s hapless spook!

Overall the weather was grey and rather wet, with one or two brief sunny intervals.  Cue rainbows, seven of which Claire and Joel chased on Monday afternoon when they were out and about.  Indoors we baked and crafted, played Mastermind and read Lucy Micklethwait’s books over and over.  There was never a dull moment.

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Experimental Translocation in the interests of Marital Harmony

Waving R and R on their way, there’s just time to buzz around the house for a tidy up, then down to Weymouth to collect Mum for a lunch date. We sit in The Lobster Pot on Portland Bill, with Christina, and watch the Portland Race, particularly racy on this windy day and we enjoy a crab salad.

A bit later Mum and I call in at the Cafe Oasis at the Overcombe end of Greenhill Beach, where we enjoy a bargain mug of tea, gaze out towards the factory ship anchored in Weymouth Bay, and I give my mother a mini crash course in the ways of my still new iPhone and Facebook.

Mid-week finds Nick and I boarding a ferry at Portsmouth for a quick visit to St Vaast spanning three days. Regular visits to the house are needed to progress the work that still needs to be carried in the matter of our dry rot problem. We are presently surprised to find that all the remedial work needed to address the infernal fungus has been completed. It is now a matter of reinstating our home.

In the garden there are many plants still in flower and one bearded iris has decided to have an autumn fling. There is plenty to do there and by now there has been a significant reappearance of bee orchid leaf rosettes. Having mapped this year’s plants at seed-head stage, it looks as if this is a resurgence of existing plants. But there seem to be some new ones too.

Nick and I have come to an agreement. He needs to mow the lawn and I want to protect my bee orchids against the unforgiving blade of the mower. We have agreed that we must try and create some distinct swarms in the lawn which can be mown around, so I start to translocate outliers to pre-existing groups. It involves taking a clump of turf one spade’s width square by one spade’s spit deep. This way ensures that orchid roots remain encased in moist soil during the translocation. It’s a tedious process but by the time we are wrapping it up at the house on Friday, some 18 plants have been moved in this way. My farewell task is to take the camera round my October garden.

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A Good Dose of Friendship

We have friends who are walking the Southwest Coastal Path.  They have been covering about 50 miles in two tranches per year, since 2004.  The path is some 630 miles and they are nearing journey’s end.  Having worked their way onto ‘our patch’, and not having seen Rob and Rosie for at least two years, we asked to join them on one of their current days’ route marches!

And so we convened in the car park for the Swannery at Abbotsbury.  (We had met up the previous evening  to join them and their walking companions for dinner at Perry’s on Weymouth Quay.)    Today we are going to walk the eleven miles to Ferrybridge at Portland Harbour.  Our way takes us along the landward bank of the Fleet .  The Fleet Lagoon is 8 miles long and is home to a wide variety of wildlife and is protected by both National and International law.  I’ve had a long association with the Fleet (since 1986) having found a minute Wildlife & Countryside Act-designated marine snail which lives interstitially in the shingle, my find confirming for the first time a previous record for the species 100 years earlier.

But today it’s not about molluscs, rather a chance to get some fresh air and exercise, and have plenty of time to catch up on each other’s news.  Rosie and I touch base on a range of subjects and it is extremely propitious that we all find ourselves at the Moonfleet Manor at coffee time, a Georgian hotel overlooking the Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon.

Moonfleet Manor is part of a small chain of hotels which specialises in catering for families with young children.  At lunchtime, should you walk through the restaurant, you are quite likely to find very young guests in high chairs who have been served double boiled eggs with dipping ‘soldiers’.  The first thing you notice when you walk into Reception is the graded row of small sized wellies standing to attention, waiting for young feet to borrow them.

Before we get too comfortable on the capacious, period sofas in the day lounge at Moonfleet we must press on, stopping not long after for a sandwich and KitKat break.  It is at this point that Felicity inadvertently drops her camera, but she only discovers the loss two miles further on, so must retrace her steps to search for it.  Whilst four of us press on to Ferrybridge, she and John add another 4 miles to their walk.  Completion of the day’s route is timely for Nick and I and fortunately there is an inn at Ferrybridge.

The following day is Saturday and Dick and Eileen come from Surrey for an overnighter at Winterborne K.  We eat dinner in and on Sunday, after a late start, we take a short walk at Ringstead Bay where we enjoy watching kite-surfers, before repairing to The Crab House Cafe for lunch, as it happens, at Ferrybridge.  One of the dishes of the day is a platter of five fishes – whiting, pollack, John Dory, red mullet, sardine – roasted with tomatoes and herbs.  It is served in its cooking pan straight from the oven.

We must not tarry as Rob and Rosie are coming to spend the night with us before returning to Devon.  We have a brief overlap, the turnaround before the Hunters return to Surrey, and Rob and Rosie move in.  We eat supper and everyone being tired we turn in not too late.  I have a successful convert to the waterbed in Rosie!

We are Shellshucked!

………… so we spill out of our cars on Inishnee and haul our buckets onto the terrace outside the cottage’s kitchen.  First we enjoy sorting the catch into species.  We have 21 Pecten maximus, 67 Chlamys varia, 38 Ostrea edulis, 1 Crassostrea gigas, 31 assorted clams and about a gallon of Mytilus edulis. 

Preparing shellfish is time-consuming.  All the shells need to be scrubbed clean and the mussels and small scallops need particular attention as they are steamed in their shells.  We shuck the king scallops carefully because the shells will we used for collections and garden edging.  The assorted clams need to be halved carefully so the meat can be laid in half-shells to be grilled as ‘palourdes farcies‘.

Preparing the oysters is a veritable chore shared by Nick and Sonia.  Forcing one’s way into an oyster via the ligament region requires teeth-gritting determination.  It is a dangerous business.  Nick is using his folding knife and delivers a wound to his finger when the knife snaps shut.  (Note to self to include an oyster knife in my field trip kit-box).  Fortunately first aid kids belonging to seasoned field archaeologists are on hand and special materials are applied and the cut heals without a murmur.

So what we did is we laid out platters of opened oysters to start.  And we flash-grilled the small clams with a dressing of butter, parsley, garlic – this is ‘farci’ or stuffed clams.  We had prepared, in advance, a liquor to steam our mussels ‘marinieres’ .  We had also chased some bacon snippets round a pan ready to receive the steamed small scallops.  And we had chopped garlic and root ginger to saute the king scallops.

We ate the oysters and clams and they were good.  Then we steamed two large panfuls of mussels which we ate and they were good too.  And then we cooked both kinds of scallops and they were very good indeed.  We ate this delicious shellfish with Irish Soda bread, and we drank some wine.

This feast was real ‘degustation‘ .  A French word which seems to have no direct English translation and is an altogether more pleasant experience than it sounds to the English ear.  Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.   Exactly so!

I’d like to leave it there but I should add a cautionary note.  You cannot go to any shore and collect willy-nilly without a thought for the health of the shore and its waters.  You need a fully marine environment which receives regular flushing with clean seawater.  Collecting molluscs from the shore to eat, especially oysters and mussels which are filter feeders, has an element of risk.  You cannot tell by looking at the shellfish, although your nose will be a useful indicator if something is amiss.  Any bivalve that you collect should be able to ‘clam up’ if you try to pull the valves apart.  Any bivalves that do not demonstrate the muscle-power to remain firmly closed before they are cooked should be discarded.

Get yourself a useful handbook such as The Edible Shore by John Wright.  This is an invaluable guide to collecting a fabulous range of food from the seashore and there is plenty of helpful information to make sure you collect safely and responsibly.  Caveat comedor!

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A Rare Shore

During our Connemara week we surveyed some shores with evocative names: Mweenish, Lettermore, Gorteen Bay….  We found richness in numbers of invertebrates and rarity of species.  But we were knocked sideways by a shore in a very sheltered location which shall remain nameless to preserve its mystique and bounty.  It is axiomatic that the most beautiful beaches to walk may yield nothing in the way of shells and other rejectamenta, and rather mucky-looking gravelly muddy bits of coast may reveal a fantastic array of marine life when the tide recedes to uncover something of the seabed.

So it was when we drove north from Roundstone to record a shore which was reached by a tortuous route.  As the water ebbed we found mussels, clams, oysters in profusion and scallops aplenty.  It was thrilling, wading about in the shallows, stooping to collect the shellfish for our communal cooking pot.  The six of us staying in Island Cottage pooled our catch, and when we got back to base we took a deep breath and began to prepare the ingredients for a seafood fest…………..

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Connemara Companions

It’s that time of year again, the Equinox, when low-tiders’ thoughts turn to shores and field work.  The Conch. Soc.’s annual marine meeting took place in Connemara.  Six of us shared a cottage on the island of Inishnee, near Roundstone.  This area has found recent fame, thanks to Monty Halls and his tv programme Great Irish Escapes.

We converged at our base over the weekend and on Monday we drove north to Doonloughan for our first rendez-vous with the other participants. We parked on the new pier, littered with crab pots, and dropped down onto the beach.  It was a fun shore to work consisting of sands and gravels with scattered rock outcrop resulting in channels and runnels.  In places the narrow gullies and the drainage to low water, resulted in stretches of fast-moving water.  Some filter-feeding marine life loves the rapid flow with its suspended particulates.  Like the variegated scallop Chlamys varia.  The French call these ‘petoncles’ and they are sweeter than the larger St Jacques if you can gather enough to make a mouthful or two.  We were to see lots of these during the forthcoming week.

We were joined on the shore by a group of French fishers.  They were wielding serious shrimping nets and waded around in the slightly deeper water sweeping, apparently randomly, and filling their keep nets.  The French woman I spoke to said this was their third visit to the site and that they found the best strategy was to sweep below the floating kelp blades, under which the prawns lurk.

While seasoned conchologists splashed around in the shallows working the shore, Sonia took photos of the searchers and of some of the animals we found under rocks.  By her kind permission the slide show below gives a flavour:

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