The First Cuckoo

The Dukes have landed and scrunch onto our drive half an hour before midnight.  We have just spent an agreeable evening with Daniel and Christine, Nick having been smashed 6-1 at pool and I have managed to maintain family honour by beating Christine at Spite and Malice.  Not that much skill was involved in my victory!

Maddy and Andrew have come for a long weekend and during this time we make the Cap Levi walk on Sunday morning.  Despite driving through a heavy mist to Goury Harbour the coast was clear and we followed the circular route that provides a bit of everything by way of scenery.  Maddy finds many opportunities for her adventures in bird photography and we are all delighted when we hear our first cuckoo, clear and uncluttered by extraneous noise.  In the evening we are guests for a French dinner experience with Tanou and Jean-Pierre.  On Saturday Maddy and I walk La Hougue and Andrew helps Nick bring home the winter fuel.

Breakfasts are leisurely and indulgent with croissants, pain au chocolat and pain aux raisins.  We all probably eat more than we should.  Certainly the giant lunch-time pizza I enjoy before our visitors set off for their ferry might have been ill-advised for one who is counting her calories.  But Debarc pizzas are something else and every now and then irresistible.  In the evening I ate a dozen delicious ‘organic’ oysters and a huge bowl of salad, it was all I needed.  The oysters come from an oysterage where the proprietor uses the common edible winkle to keep everything clean and weed free to ensure his oysters are pathogen-free.  He uses no chemicals at all, what a marvel!

To Every Plant its Place

Returning from Cornwall we would have a couple of weeks before returning to France.  During this interval I spent a good bit of time working on the garden.  Nick completed the clearance and digging of the main border.  Once cleared I had the fun task of restocking.  I went to Homebase and bought a selection of perennials but perhaps the most pleasure was derived from replanting the plants that had been removed when we started the wall project and reshaped the garden.  Bit by bit I emptied pots, finding niches for so many plants and making up my scheme as I went along.  The last bit of planting took place in dry weather and I needed to give two good hosings.  The final tasks involved weeding the asparagus bed and sowing some pea and spinach seeds on the ground by the mint.  I completed this makeover just before we were due to board a ferry bound for France.  We will have 10 days there during which I hope to find some garden time as well as catching up with our French friends and spending a long weekend with Maddy and Andrew.  Meanwhile the newly planted garden is on its own for the time being; there will be triumphs and failures and not too many of the latter I hope.  Regardless of my intentions, nature will improvise and one of the most delightful things about this garden business is the anticipation it gives me.

Dorsetshire Gap, Dorsetshire Gap, Five mile walk round the Doooooorsetshire Gap

It was Sally’s turn to lead the village walk last Saturday and she chose a circular route based on The Fox Inn at Ansty.  We drove to Ansty passing through the most picturesque village of Milton Abbas.  The village features on many picture postcards of rural Dorset. The 36 almost identical thatched cottages were intended to house two families each. They were built from cob and previously were painted yellow, with each house fronted by a lawn; originally a horse chestnut tree was planted between each dwelling.   The church, consecrated in 1786, is in Georgian Gothic style, with late 19th-century additions.

Today the houses are white-washed, and the main street also features a public house (the Hambro Arms), a Post Office/shop, a now redundant school building, and a Weslyan chapel. In 1953 the original horse chestnut trees were judged unsafe and a danger to the houses and removed.

Leaving our parked cars at the pub in Ansty we walked down to the village hall and then turned west across farmland, always climbing, to reach Melcombe Park Farm.  Here we entered a field and walked along the woodland edge at its northern margin towards Dorset Gap.  Also known as the Dorsetshire Gap this is an important, historic track junction – once the hub of central Dorset, and is a well-known beauty spot and magnet for ramblers.  Five ancient trackways, now bridleways, with steep, narrow man-made cuttings meet at the Dorset Gap.  It was an important road crossing from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, linking the Ridgeway with the drove roads to the north.

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As we made our way to the meeting of the trackways we were able to admire views looking north and south over the Blackmoor Vale.  We turned southeast cutting through a deep cleft following a sign for Higher Melcombe.  Our way took us along the right hand edge of two fields and passing an area of low mixed relief which marks the remains of a medieval village.  Reaching a crossroads at Melcombe Bingham we crossed over passing an old public ‘phone box which is now a library/swap shot.  We headed towards the settlement at Bingham’s Melcombe!

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Here is the site of an abandoned medieval village of this name and this latter name is sometimes used to describe the church and its adjacent manor.  The manor is a Grade I listed building in a very beautiful setting with well kept grounds and a small lake.   Nearby is the bijou parish church of St Andrew’s.  The present church is thought to be 14th century but there was certainly an earlier church on the site, the records of which ‘s go back to 1150 and are held in the County Museum Library.  There is a stuffed owl perched high up on the north side of the chapel arch whose job it is to deter bats.

Leaving Bingham’s Melcombe, pausing first to enjoy the high beautifully shaped evergreen hedge and various large topiary items beside the manor house, we found a track out onto open farmland.  Crossing this we had views over the fields yet to be sown with their crop, and made our way towards a string of houses along the road which leads into Ansty and our chosen watering hole.  Nick and I had liver and mash for lunch, cooked to perfection.  This was possibly the best walk we have done with the Winterborne Kingstoners.

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Polyvalent at Polzeath

We’ve booked a holiday house at Polzeath and although the drive proves to be nightmaringly tortuous for some, because this is the first day of the school holidays, midnight finds us convened at a house which sleeps the full complement – 17.  There’s fish pie and French cheese which we eat in relay, at intervals as people arrive.  The 7 children roar around the ground floor, finally being shoved off to bed at 1a.m.  Some adults have already caved in!

On Saturday morning the kitchen is a hub.  Starting with croissants, pain au chocolat, local bread and lemon curd we each break our fast and during the course of a morning Daniel puts in a lengthy stint with the omelette pan.  Ems is in training for her half marathon, Joel starts to prepare for our Japanese feast.  The children organise a fashion show complete with make-up and then excursions are made to the beach to fly a kite, frolic in the water draining onto the beach 😦 and then repair to the house for hot showers, cookies, Madeleines, hot chocolate.  I look at the clock.  It is only 1p.m!

A pleasant interlude on my bed with my current Booker title is followed by a leisurely afternoon, the lull before the food preparation session which will be supervised by our chef for the evening, Joel.  During this lull CJ puts in the hours she needs to fulfil a working day.  Dan snoozes, Barns and Nick sort out potential activities for the week, the children visit the local shop with Ems to buy supplies for the midnight feast and then play hide and seek.

At this point my blogging schedule – if there is one – goes to pot.  On Sunday many of us walk the coast to Rock.  This is a very pleasant amble with small children and takes in cliff top, upper shore rock platform, sand flats at low water.  Arriving at Rock we find a bar for a drink and order portions of chips to dip.  Then it’s back to the house except I make a detour via the White Stuff shop to look for the dotty jumper which Anne P wants to buy but is no longer available online.  When I come out everyone has walked on so I hasten in their footsteps, as I think, but then realise that I have lost everyone.  I climb to high ground and Sam who has lingered spots me and tells me Nick came back to find me.  It takes some minutes to locate him then together we three make it back to the house.  In the event we are the first to arrive at the house as the others have stopped in The Oystercatcher to have a bevvy and play some pool.

During the week we aim to keep the children active and we also enjoy cooking for each other.  Lukie cooks a great beef and dumpling stew, CJ and Ry bbq some chicken and then she cooks us Persian lamb which is a triumph.   We loved the sushi and Teriyaki chicken Joel cooked with sous-chef help.  The treasure hunt which I have lovingly organised is well received and leads into a flash egg and rabbit hunt in the large garden.  The large garden really is a boon, the children rehearse over and over again a dance sequence that they perform just before we leave on Friday morning.

In order to relive some Cornish memories of yore we make a musselling foray to the shore one morning.  I select Constantine Bay as a likely locus for our gathering and sure enough we do find plentiful supplies on the rocks there.  Leaving the beach I notice that there is extensive algal cover of Porphyra.  I have made laverbread in the past but only with the raw material bought from a fishmongers.  But I gather some as it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity and after consulting the internet I see it is not big chore to wash and simmer the weed for a good long time after which you sieve and liquidise the resulting gleep.  I make batches of laverbread patties with bacon pieces and we eat this for breakfast with black pudding and poached eggs garnished with spinach and a basil leaf,  prepared by Dan.  This is his gastronomic contribution.  Always goes for a bit of style.

It is Barns’ and Dan’s idea to make this an electronic device-free week.  The children are allowed no interaction with i-phones, i-pads, i-pods.  They play games and the adults play with them.  Ruby notices this because she tells her father he is awesome for playing with the kids and not going on his computer!  You couldn’t ask for better affirmation.

Tide of the Century

Over the weekend of 20-21 March we were promised the tide of the century.  The low tide would register the highest coefficient for many a long year, or the lowest point below Chart Datum depending how you measure these things.  Supertides were to be worth witnessing both at high water and low.   In the late afternoon Claire, Ty and I sallied forth on Saturday and Sunday to wander the sand flats at Saint Vaast and to witness the multitudes of pecheurs a pieds.

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Where peche a pied on the sand flats at St Vaast is concerned it is all about razor clams.  I have blogged elsewhere on the subject of fishing for Couteaux and the serendipitous nature of the clam haul you might make.  Whilst I am very fond of razor clams as a comestible I like St Jacques rather more and the chance of find one or two which have been stranded by the retreating tide is much more appealing.  As luck would have it over the two days we visit the shore I find 4 live ones which is just enough to make a mouthful to enjoy as a little starter for the meal we share with the Tuttles on Sunday evening.

Peche a pied is a more popular pastime in France and better regulated when it comes to minimum sizes.  Tableau de synthèse  Helpful information appears in the La Presse.

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And card rulers are available at Tourist Offices.  There is no excuse for ignorance!

A Fishbox of Irises

Our five weeks in France see me spending as much time as I can find in the garden.  There is so much to do, so many possibilities and ideas buzzing in my head.  All of these imaginings must be contained within a framework that is practical, manageable, able to be maintained.

The major project was to dig through the upper part of the main flower border, close to the BBQ.  Various plants have been put in this bed since we arrived in St Vaast and some have thrived but in reality there was no real method in the madness, and so some plants were rescued and potted up to wait in the wings, others having languished and then disappeared.  Hellebores do well in this particular bed and the invasive white Allium that Bas and Rosemary gave us on the occasion of their first visit has rampaged throughout.  Most of these are pulled out and into the cleaned bed I plant out the potted Hellebores which have been biding their time through the winter. DaffiesHeader

Now that the dwarf iris are over the daffodils come into their own.  We have several varieties that continue to bloom year on year, these bulbs having been the gift of the Tompsetts.  #

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The primroses are now showing their true colours and cowslip plants appear around the Mimosa but not yet in bud.  I’m having mixed success with the Camellias, there is one very poorly plant which I would really like to move, but where? I planted the Melianthus major, gift of brother Paul, and divide the clump of Dietes bicolor, sufficient to give away 2 clumps, and bring home enough to make 6 plants more.  The Dietes grandiflora we bought from Hardy’s plants in Penzance and which has been divided is planted in the long border.  Self-set foxgloves are lifted and planted in the grass beneath the Mimosa. My last task is to assemble the pots of Iris that I have over-wintered.  I plant the various varieties in the two fishboxes of compost which have lain fallow.   This may be successful in the short-term and who knows, the plants may well thrive contained in this way…… Before we leave St Vaast I picked bouquets of daffodils for Fefe, Anne, Christine and Genevieve.

A Basket of Bottles and a ‘Resto à Plusieurs Etoiles’

When we walked into the house at Rue Maréchal Foch just before the Cholsey arrival it was such a pleasing experience.  Anne G had been right through our house from top to bottom, going into neglected corners and it felt wonderful to start our next sejour with a clean slate.  There are friends to catch up with and there is going to be plenty to do in the garden.  But first we received Claire, Carl and the children.  After they left my remit was divided equally between the paper on Dog Whelk Purple Dye I need to write for the Molluscs in Archaeology volume to be published by Oxbow and post-winter remedial and replanting work in the garden.  One little chore I completed was the washing of my old bottle and shell mug collections which live in the little office.  Most of the freshly washed bottles were crammed into my grandmother’s old shopping basket – a nice little assemblage.

Having shaken off the cold I picked up from the children I arranged to see Caroline who is recovering from surgery and follow-on treatment for a cancer.  We met through yoga and have found interests and enthusiasms in common.  She is a keen gardener, patchworker and collage artist.  She has introduced me to a magazine, la Hulotte, in its own words: c’est la revue qui vous raconte  la vie des animaux sauvages, des arbres et des fleurs d’Europe.
À la fois amusant et très rigoureusement documenté,  le journal le plus lu dans les terriers émerveille aussi bien les enfants que leurs parents.   Une véritable petite encyclopédie des bois et des champs,  introuvable en kiosque ou en librairie.  What makes this periodical special for me are the engaging and humorous line drawings that illustrate the periodical freely throughout, yet the science is accurate and accessibly presented.

We spend much of our grown-up time eating with friends.  An impromptu Saturday night supper with the Poulets at la Bisquine is followed by a meal chez Bougouin, then we enjoy another eat out with the Poulets and their sailing friends at La Pantagruel where we eat deliciously tender meat, then an evening with some S&M with the Tuttles.  We entertain the Tailles to Sunday lunch and the Lerminez and Tenorios to a supper evening.  Bibi Halle is another new friend thanks to yoga, she is an artist whose speciality is the painting of birds on galets.

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The pinnacle of gastronomic pleasure is reached when we have lunch on the Monday just before we leave France.  Francois Taille cooks us  t h e  m o s t  d e l i c i o u s meal with salmon egg and chicory canapés and a dish of raw lobster eggs as appetisers, followed by buttered asparagus served at perfect tepid temperature with home-made mayonnaise or a light mousseline made with the egg white.  Grilled lobster is placed before our eyes (and mouths) after which we must do justice to fresh fruit gateau.  All of this enjoyed with Fefe, Claire and Ty as lunching companions.  A very hard act to follow……………..