Barfleur Crossings and Potty Endeavours

Since March Nick and I have been living a restless life.  Never in one country for more than a fortnight at a time, with intervals sometime less than that, our weeks have been peopled with friends and family in both our countries of residence.  We like visitors, and I at least, enjoy a shifting stage on which to live my life.  Nick is less convinced so some of my exploits have been solo efforts.  Like Orkney, and my time in Godalming when I cared for Ted whilst Demi was on holiday.

With the arrival of Jenny and Lesley in St Vaast we then find ourselves at the end of our hosting activities for the time being.  When we shift our location next time we will be going to join some dear friends on their boat at Frejus with a 3-week sailing spell in view.

In recent weeks I have been crossing the Channel on the Barfleur for a mid-week interlude, in order to visit my mother, play some bridge and when I can, tidy up the garden, notably the pots.  potsIMG_6011 (2)Although the winter in Dorset was not generally severe, there were a couple of very cold snaps when the temperatures descended into the minuses and I lost quite a lot of tender plants which I had raised in St Vaast.  All the tulips and daffodils I grew in pots are spent too so they need to be placed in a sheltered place and fed.   With summer in view I need to be pragmatic.  Things in pots do well during autumn, winter (if I choose the plants wisely) and spring.  Because there is enough rain.  Trying to have summer bloomers in pots only ends in tears when the weather is dry and I am not there to water.  So my new strategy is to leave these pots fallow and set ‘arrangements’ on them.  No shortage of shells, pebbles, boulders and other objets d’art chez moi!  And if a few pretty weeds sprout around my arrangements well that’s ok.  Whilst I am at it I haul out jugs which I keep in various cupboards and create a random.JugRandomIMG_5961 (2)

On one of my visits with Mum I take some of our holiday scrapbooks.  When my children were young in the late 70s and early 80s we had a series of hols in Cornwall and my parents joined us.  BessysCoveThese were happy times of the classic seaside holiday and we made scrapbooks using pictures, bits of writing, postcards and assorted tickets, pressed flowers and the like.  I thought these would be fun for the children to look back on in adulthood and their own children love looking at them too.  That this is an activity which gives so much pleasure to my mother is a real bonus.  When we first started going to Cornwall our first couple of visits were based at Port Isaac but then we discovered Prussia Cove and we never looked back.

Two Feminists and A Man and his Woodpile

We’ve felt a bit like Mecca these past weeks with a succession of ‘pilgrims’ fetching up at our establishment.  Latest in the line of travellers are Jenny and Lesley who have come to France for a week with a stop-over at 104 at the beginning and end of their sojourn.  I am lately back from England when they arrive at our house having spent 3 nights in Carnac near the Quiberon Peninsula.  They are full of the rocks, the countryside, wild plants they don’t know the names of, the Madame who ran the chambres d’hote at which they stayed.

My role and pleasure is to welcome them, feed them and as it turns out, listen……… and listen again and then a bit more.  Jenny is Nick’s sister and they are long-standing sparring partners when it comes to social issues, politics and above all, feminism.   remorqueIMG_5962 (2) Nevertheless Lesley and I get a generous look-in when it comes to conversing.  Whilst we have our visitors Nick is on the final stages of transporting the fully logged beech tree that he and Francois cut down earlier in the spring.  All our storage allocation at the rear of the house is now full so a neat stack is  built along the wall on the front drive.  blogIMG_6009 (2)It is a pretty neat and regular structure but I learn that Nick has some fancier ideas for a wood-pile which he has gleaned from the award-winning book, Norwegian Wood.  This is the definitive handbook on the art of chopping, stacking and drying wood in the Scandinavian way.  He’d better get on with his project because where the wood is stacked at the moment the agapanthus plants, which have seeded themselves along the wall of our property are shielded from the sun and unless they receive some good light and sunshine I fear they may not flower this summer and they will be much missed.

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Tuttles and Tittle Tattle

A year ago we welcomed our friends Claire and Ty to Winterborne Kingston.  We are on the threshold of another week of shared company in Dorset.  As things have worked out the four of us are able to drive over together and we will be returning in the same car in a week’s time to join the Tailles for their annual party in St Vaast.

During their stay we visited Lyme Regis, Thomas Hardy’s home ‘Max Gate’ followed by some shopping in Dorchester, Wyevale Garden Centre and the Sculptures on the Lake at Pallington.  Midweek they were picked up from TOW by Claire’s cousin who lives close by.  Whilst they were away overnight I went to visit my mother in Poole and hosted bridge in the evening.

As occurred last year, the weather was very changeable and we did our best to dodge the worst of the showers.  Our late afternoon walk around Lyme Regis was preceded by a visit to a garden we know at Morecombe Lake.  Here our friends marvelled at the views and the energy and enterprise of the owners who have put in untold hours of work to shape the hillside plot into a distinctive garden with unusual plants,  several water features and various sculptural installations which include a length of stainless steel flue-liner!  In Lyme Regis we bought some crabs direct from the boat and Nick prepared these for a crab salad.  We also squeezed in a cream tea and fish and chips at the Greyhound.

Although we are avid card-players we only managed one round of Spite and Malice.   Tempus fugit.  Come Saturday morning we hastened to Poole ferry terminal, picking up a bacon sandwich from the mobile transport café, this being our preferred option to break the fast.  Arriving in St Vaast I repaired to my bed for a rest before dressing for a party with Fefe and Francois.  There were platters of delicious and lovingly prepared canapes and later in the evening trays of sausage and pork snippets hot from the barbecue were handed around.  The bubbly flowed.  Feeling suitably festive guests began to jig around with Abba and Village People.  At some point Fefe and I cosied up to the bar for a bit of hushed gossip concerning some of the assembled and I lost count of the number of times she told me she loved me.  The feeling is mutual.

A Woody Conundrum

Paul and Viv come to stay with us at the beginning of May.  They are en route to a destination on the Cote de Granit Rose where they have rented a gite to share with one of their daughters and her family.  The last time they came to stay with us they were again en route to Brittany, to Saint Lunaire west of Dinard, where they would be celebrating the marriage of their son to a young French woman.  On that occasion they were accompanied by Hilary, a long-standing friend who is a painter.  Hilary fell in love with our house and did several preliminary sketches with a view to working a canvas for us.  We are still hopeful and waiting……………..

But things have changed since Hilary made those drawings.  One of the group of three Mimosa trees, the largest and most beautiful, which was a prominent feature in the painting envisaged, has since died and has been felled in stages.  Nick is reluctant to take the former tree right down to its stump because it is useful for the hammock.  But, coupled with the rusty coloured, diseased-looking deposit on the bark, this tree trunk is quite simply ugly.

Paul has an idea.  Let’s take the chain saw and take off some slices to expose the naked wood beneath the bark.  This done the effect is still stark and even though we hang a basket of Auricula from the top and place our lovely slate slab which sits on a metal basket thus serving as a ‘table’ for a coffee mug, a wine glass or three wooden mushrooms, we are yet a long way from a pleasing structure.  We must think on………..  The suggestion box is empty.

We take a walk each day and our first excursion takes round La Hougue.  This circular route never fails to please and is all the more enjoyable for its moments when you trace the fairly narrow fortification wall which skirts the fort and from which it is separated by a tidal moat.  One afternoon we go to Pointe de Saire.  We reach the region of the shore which I favour for shelling to the strains of a lone bagpiper.  The tides are particularly low just now and the channel which normally separates the beach at this headland from distal offshore rocks has dried out.  paintedtopshellWandering over the bed of this channel is like crunching over seabed and I see lots of painted top shells crawling about.  They feed on the sponges which colonise the boulders which normally remain submerged during the majority of low tides.  There are mussel beds on the seaward side of this outer rock outcrop.  I had no idea they were here, but something to remember for future low shore forays.

Really we have come to this shore because Paul fancies a bit of shelling and in particular he would like to find a wentletrap, I think because they are beautiful and scarce.  In the event wentletraps are not to be had but he and Viv make a collection of selected shells from this locality and this will be used as an assemblage to compare which what they might collect in Brittany.

The walk to the Point is made from the Pont de Saire and after our foray we amble back along the upper strandline,  which has shelly drifts, to pile into the car and head for home.  We have an invitation to aperos with the Poulets, which is a pleasant social interlude, to wrap up P and V’s visit.  The following day they head for Brittany with not just their souvenir shells, but the rules and scoresheets for the card game Barbu which Nick and I are reliably informed will greatly please our niece who loves playing cards, and so do I.

The Grandeur of Granite: Rocks which Rock and don’t Roll

Our short week in Scilly is drawing to a close.  I’ve not rated St Mary’s very highly during past visits.  It is the largest and most populated of the islands with an urban centre attached to the harbour at Hugh Town.  It lacks the wild rugged ambiance of the other islands.  At the time of our visit the island is getting ready for an invasion of folk who will be coming

map_stmarysfor the annual gig-racing festival.  Something like 150 gigs have been transported to St Mary’s in the preceding weeks and stored in fields prior to being brought down to Town Beach by Hugh Town from where the boats will be rowed to their starting buoys for the race back.  Around 4000 people mill around Hugh Town and its pubs during the weekend.  We are due to leave on the Friday when the event kicks off with the veteran’s race in the evening.  But on the day we are on St Mary’s there are gigs and crews very much in evidence and we get a flavour of what is to come.DSC00308 (2)

Our mission of the day is to walk round the Peninnis headland.  We make a circuit of The Garrison and across the top of Porthcressa Beach to approach the headland.  BlogIMG_4072 (2)Around the cliff top there are some very fine examples of granite tors and rocking stones.  We complete our circuit with a wander round the cemetery attached to St Mary’s Church in Old Town, final resting place of the late Harold Wilson.  We cross over the island to regain Hugh Town where our senses of smell draw us to a pasty shop and afterwards we have a hour or so before we are due to take our boat back to Tresco.  I find my way into a show selling sailing clothing and treat myself to a couple of things that I will enjoy taking to Fefe and Francois’ boat for our Mediterranean experience with them in June.

And so to Bryher

I think Bryher is my favourite Scilly island.  For one thing it’s a nice shape to negotiate.  You get dropped at one of two quays on the eastern coast. map_bryher It is a short hop from Tresco and during exceptionally low Spring tides you can cross on foot.  The island is 2 km long and 1km wide at it’s broadest point.  Easily circumperambulated in a day with plenty of time to stop, linger, look.

The so-called settlement at Great Pool / Hell Bay Hotel is the westernmost in England. The centre of Bryher is mainly low-lying with arable fields, pasture and housing with a shop, a café and Island Fish.  The latter is a small shack-type establishment where you can get freshly-made crab sandwiches or a lobster salad with change from your fiver or tenner!  On the west side is the Great Pool overlooked by the Hell Bay Hotel and in the south are sandy beaches, a common feature on the island, Rushy Bay being an example. BlogIMG_4018 (2)

Setting foot on terra firma Nick and I strike uphill, westwards.  WNickLobsterSalade pass Island Fish thinking to buy a crab sandwich but in the event the proprietor is out of crab but can offer us a lobster salad.  Although strictly a take-away establishment we are able to sit at the small table outside to eat, and enjoy our lovely little salad with the pot of tea she makes for us as a friendly gesture.  With that wonderful feeling of having eaten some food of the gods we set off and crest the ridge of the island then we vere north slightly to follow a track which skirts fields and which then loops round to take us Great Popplestone where we enjoy some mazes more modern than that of St Agnes.  There are also a few discreet cairns at the top of the beach there, each composed of a single boulder upon which a slightly smaller one is placed and so on………..  There is also a composite one.

On the beach here Nick lingers to take photographs of beach birds and I notice interesting patterns of stranded shells and also the fine and glistening quality of the sand.DSC00243 DSC00241 (2)

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We call in at Hell Bay Hotel and spend a happy hour in their lounge over a good cappuccino and the daily papers.  DSC00229 (2)Continuing around the coast we pass the western flank of Sampson Hill and suddenly happen upon a host of golden daffodils and a beautiful vista thrown in.

The meander round the rest of the island takes us along the southeast coast then by some leafy tracks and under leafy bowers to reach the quay where I gaze out over crystal clear water towards Cromwell’s Castle and from which we will be picked up and whisked back to Tresco.10BlogIMG_4065 (2)


I Stagger on St Agnes

Full English, Smoked Haddock, a Kipper…… it is not an easy choice at breakfast time.  I choose the Full English and am not disappointed but already know what the following morning’s choice will be when I see Nick’s kipper which is proper.

We board our boat for St Agnes and as we walk up from the quay we glance at a sign outside the Turk’s Head inn which invites us to order our lunchtime pasty to avoid disappointment.  map_stagnes

It is low tide and the boatman tells us that the bar which connects St Agnes with Gugh will be exposed throughout the duration of our time on the island so we cross the sandy ridge and follow the coast round Gugh. 1BlogIMG_3969 (2)  The coastal granite structures are striking indeed and later in the week John will tell me that the tors on the Penninis Headland on St Mary’s are held to be some of the best examples of weathered granite outcrops in southwest England.

Having completed part of the circuit we recross the bar and find ourselves at the Turk’s Head just before 1 o’clock when we have an appointment with a pasty.IMG_3977 (2)

After our pasty and a pint we start our circuit of St Agnes, walking south a bit then turning west towards Higher Town.  Before we reach the centre we take a track south which leads down to Wingletang Down and the coast at Horse Point.  It is then a matter of following the coast right the way round to rejoin the Quay at Black Point

During our walk Nick photographs birds and takes a panorama view at St Warne’s Cove.  DSC00180 (2)

At every turn there are different vistas to enjoy and at Troy Town we find the famous maze.  Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, or variations on that theme.  It is presumed that this is because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. IMG_0234 [1233958] IMG_3993 (2)Continuing around the island we loop Periglis Cove with its short causeway to Burnt Island.  There is a small water body with resident geese, with goslings, and walking round the track which skirts the pond I stumble and fall but thankfully no damage is done.  It is then just a matter of walking around the sea wall at Porth Killier, site of former settlement by Bronze Age people who left, inter alia, large middens of limpet shells.  I worked on these shells in 1998 which were excavated as part of a watching brief prior to the construction of the sea wall, and this is what I wrote as an introduction to my Report to Cornish Archaeological Unit based at Truro. 

As part of ‘a well integrated land/sea subsistence economy’ (Bell 1984), Scillonians from the Bronze Age onwards were gathering food from the sea shore. Limpet shells, often in large quantities, are found on most settlement sites in Scilly from the prehistoric to the Post-Medieval period (Ratcliffe & Straker, 1996). Previously there have been 2 studies (from Scillonian middens) of limpet shells – which usually make up the bulk of any domestic midden – Halangy Down (Townsend 1967) and Samson (Mason 1984). Evidence from a site at Porth Killier suggests that heavy exploitation of marine resources took place in the Bronze Age (Ratcliffe & Straker 1996). During 1996 excavations at Porth Killier took place prior to construction of a sea wall. Within the prehistoric remains present a substantial shell midden was identified, from which samples were taken and have been analysed for the purposes of this report. Prior to these excavations carried out by Cornish Archaeological Unit, eight bulk samples were taken from six of the layers exposed at Porth Killier by Vanessa Straker in September 1989. The shells from these samples also form part of the marine mollusc analysis described in this report.

Back at the Inn and suitably refreshed we repair to the bar where we compare notes on our respective days with John and Jenny before supper. IMG_4009The following day Nick and I will plan to spend time on Bryher, possibly my favourite island of the group based on my visits to Scilly so far.  Mike and Carolyn plan to visit Bryher in the morning and the Abbey Gardens in the afternoon.



Twenty Minutes in a Twin Otter

It takes less than twenty minutes to hop across from Land’s End to St Mary’s Island in Scilly.  This trip was planned back in the autumn when Carolyn confessed to never having visited the Isle of Scilly and that this was a destination on her bucket list.  And so it was that the Derricks and we agreed a five-day slot into which we squeeze as much island discovery as possible.

Our friends picked us up from Winterborne K on Sunday morning and we drove to a small restaurant in Okehampton to break our journey and have some lunch.  Onwards to Penzance and the hotel that Nick and I have stayed at before.  We enjoyed a pleasant stay, with a good dinner, comfortable room and hearty breakfast.  Carolyn drove us to Land’s End airport where I spotted a former geological colleague from Royal Holloway College, John Mather and Jenny.  They will be staying at the New Inn too.  We boarded our flight.  I have not flown in such a small aircraft before, one in which the cockpit is open and enables the passengers to watch the pilots at work.  I felt safer in this little ‘plane, flying at a height at which you do not feel you have lost touch with land.  I had great views of the Cornish mainland as we left the coast, and of the Longships group of islands with its lighthouse, just over 1 mile offshore.  These rocky islets, together with the Seven Stones Reef and our destination, the Isles of Scilly which are approximately 28 miles southwest — are part of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature.

Landing on St Mary’s was a hairy moment, IMG_3891 (2) not for any reasons of risk or safety, but because the little ‘plane is able to take off and land over a relatively short distance and as we approached the runway a substantial rock outcrop rose to greet us through the little window and as we sped past it, the wheels bumped gently onto the tarmac and we had arrived.

We were taxied to the port where we boarded a boat which delivered us to Tresco.  A wagon ride to the New Inn…….. and we had arrived.  The Inn is largely unchanged since we were last on Tresco, the atmosphere is at once lively (one has the bar and restaurant staff to thank for that) and calm and restful too.

During the afternoon we walked north from the Inn along the coastal path which takes us past Cromwell’s and King Charles’ Castles, J8 tresco.map2 then you clamber up track and over to the east side by Piper’s Hole.  You can follow the path round Gimble Porth and over the Point to reach the Island Hotel complex.  IMG_3923 (2)We meet up with John and Jenny Mather along the way.  Pressing on towards Old Grimsby you pass houses with gardens containing flowers just a bit too tender to find on the mainland and the Echiums are in full and glorious flower. IMG_3948 (3)IMG_3936 (2) Turning inland our way takes us past the school and the church, to eventually drop us onto the lane which leads down to the Inn.

Before supper we settle at a table in the bar and play a game of Barbu.  We are so absorbed by our game, and have not mastered the house drill for ordering food at the bar, such that we risk missing the boat for our evening meal.

When we go to bed we have chosen our destination for the morrow and will be picking a boat up at New Grimsby to take us to St Agnes and Gugh.



Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca): The miraculous multipurpose sea herb

The Forager's Year

Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca)

Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) has an essentially pan-global distribution, is thoroughly palatable and very good for you. If you live near the sea you probably live near it and yet you probably haven’t eaten it. In Australia, it is not eaten now and the evidence is pretty strong that it was not eaten in any great amount by early settlers (despite a strong seaweed eating tradition in the UK and Ireland from whence settlers and convicts generally came) nor by Aboriginal people (for whom there is well-documented use of bull kelp (Durvillaea potatorum) in Tasmania but not much else).

There was a time nearly twenty years ago on an 11 day wilderness walk on New Zealand’s Stewart Island when on very light rations (due to a food packing glitch we discovered 2 days into the walk but pressed on through)…

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