Hint of Mint and a Gin Clear Experience

CJ, Ted and I took our preprandial walk along the sands below our hotel.  We all love this early morning fixture.  I do reflect that notwithstanding the good fortune of having a home by the sea it is the moment of stepping out of the front door and onto the beach which makes the experience special.  Ted has been finding the occasional sea snail washed up on the sands.  It is the same species each time, I need to find out what it is.  He finds one this morning.  

After breakfast we are going to drive to Llandudno beach and spend the morning there before going to Cape Town to do Table Mountain.  First we must pass by the Pik and Pay to buy a bucket and spade.  It is a fabulous day and arriving at the beach we hire some umbrellas and beach chairs and set up our little camp fairly high up on the shore.

The rollers are tumbling in, there is surf.  We will be tempted to the shore a bit later.  There is a nice little splash pool and Nick and I fool around making a string of mini-castles with moats to be fed by overflow from the standing water nearby.DSC01064 (2)IMG_5674 (2)

We munch on Droewors and other South African dried meat delights, crisps.  An ice cream vendor passes with his freezer box from time to time and on one round we buy something.  I choose a mint chocolate icecream, something I have not eaten in decades.  In this fashion lunch time comes and goes.

Venturing to the shore I cannot resist the feel of the icy frothy water round my ankles and calves.  There is a very strong undertow and coupled with the vigorous waves and the swirling surf I need to brace myself to stay upright. IMG_5669 (2) Ted goes in further and is joined by his mother.  Ted finds a stipe of kelp which he enjoys waving around.  DSC01076 (2)The sea really does feel cold but the clarity of the water, gin-clear, like liquid glass overcomes the chill factor and the pair of water-babies that they are, spend some good time jumping the waves and trying to time it just right such that the whole body is not drenched each time.  IMG_5685 (2)One wave manages to trip Ted up and he goes under. DSC01096 (3) It is a shock but he recovers from the shock and indignity and it can be filed away as a useful experience.IMG_5690 (2)

If we are going to get to Cape Town in time to go up Table Mountain we must leave the beach, although we would have happily spent a day there doing beachy things. DSC01095 (2).JPG Piling into the car we head for Cape Town and the road that winds up to the point where we will take the Aerial Cableway. IMG_5693 (2) We do not have to queue for long and we are soon being borne aloft.  The ride only lasts five minutes and we reach the summit which is 1,089 metres above Cape Town.  TableMountainSummitWe are drawn up into the small atrium which serves as the station. IMG_5700 (2) Once you are up on top of the world you can sit and soak up the commanding 360-degree views of Cape Town, Table Bay, the nearby peaks of the surrounding mountains and the rest of the Table Mountain National Park, a World Heritage Site.IMG_5698 (2) It is renowned for its flora, said to be the single richest floristic area in the world. There is a lot of fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants. There are also plenty of Cape Hyrax (rock badgers), lizards, insects and birdlife.IMG_5720 (2)IMG_5711 (2)

The plan is to eat in the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.  We do a quick change in our capacious vehicle then head out into the network of malls and pedestrian precincts.  Charlotte and I seek out shops that might sell a scarf that I saw in one of the shops adjacent to the Table Mountain ticket office, but failed to buy because I did not have any rand on me at the time.  Ted is also due for a treat, a Lego one and he finds a kit he will go on to make single-handed.  After this little bit of retail activity we rejoin Ry and Nick in Quay 4 for a drink then go on to Karibu for dinner.

Swimming with a pair of Jackasses

IMG_5577 (2)resizeAfter our first night in South Africa we set off from the hotel with a full and varied day ahead; we will enjoy some wonderful experiences.  As we leave Hout Bay and start the drive southwest around the coast, with cliffs on our landward side, we can look back into Hout Bay.  IMG_5581 (2)resize

We follow the headland round until we are below Chapman’s Peak and have a clear view of a long stretch of pale sands on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula.  This is Noordhoek which means ‘north corner’.  Noordhoek itself is a small scattered community of nice houses, often with sea views and has a large horse population as riding on the long sandy beach is a great attraction. Many artists live in Noordhoek.  We stop here and walk across the sands to the shoreline.  Ted finds a wide shallow pool at midtide level.  IMG_5588 (2)resizeThe breakers are beautiful as they roll onto the fine sands to dissipate, sweep clean and level the pristine surface of the beach.  And we are the only people on this beach to enjoy the expansive sunlit sands. Ted and I find random ‘detritus’: small bleached bones, a bird beak, large mussel shell clackers.  IMG_5610 (2)resize

We bundle ourselves into the car and continue our route to Kalk Bay.  Here the Perrymans will refind a previous haunt, The Brass Bell, a lively restaurant with a sea frontage in this quirky, arty harbour village.  There is a plunge pool and a roof restaurant.  We install ourselves where we can look down into the transparent waters of the intertidal and have a good view of the trains as they roll past.  IMG_5623 (2)resizeWe have a drink and a lunchtime bite then CJ, Ted and I leave the men to start up a conversation with adjacent diners whilst we do a quick tour of certain art shops to scout for pictures.  The Perrymans have some wall space to fill and they like to buy African.  We do see a very beautiful canvas of a rocky, kelpy seascape close to Hout Bay but it is possibly just too large to go on the chimney breast which CJ has in mind.  I buy a few cards and a bracelet with bone pieces which I will go on to wear during the holiday.

We return to find the men being thoroughly chatted up, extract them and then take the car to a place called Simon’s Town where, at Boulders Beach, there is a wild penguin colony.  IMG_5645 (2)resizeIt is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders (540 million years old), from which the name originated. The penguins settled there in 1982. WP_20170328_16_23_43_Pro (2).jpgYou can observe these birds (Spheniscus demersus) at close range, as they wander freely.  IMG_5656 (2)resize From just two breeding pairs in 1982, the penguin colony has grown to about 3,000 birds in recent years. IMG_5651 (2)resizeThe penguins are best viewed from Foxy Beach, where newly constructed boardwalks take visitors to within a few meters of the birds.

At a small beach adjacent to the main penguin colony site we swam and were joined by a few penguins in the water!  WP_20170328_16_18_53_Pro (2)What an experience.

Calamari at Chapman’s Peak

Driving broadly southwest out of Cape Town we are heading for Hout Bay.  We are booked into the Chapman’s Peak Hotel, which will prove to be ideal on many fronts.   capetown_map

Our route will take us along the coast road, along frontages with some very smart properties at Bantry Bay and Camps Bay.  I notice that there are extensive kelp beds and it seems that, unlike native shores in the UK, the kelp is visible throughout the tidal cycle.  We arrive at the hotel and check into our rooms.  We have views from the balcony into Hout Bay.  The restaurant is well-known for its Calamari, and has a large terrace with  views across the bay, beach and valley. Calamari at The Chapmans Peak Hotel was voted “one of top 20 things to do in Cape Town”. Seafood platters and steaks are also popular items.  We ordered Calamari for dinner that first night; it was the best we had ever eaten.

The following morning Charlotte and Teddy knocked on our door and suggested we pull our curtains.  Behold a sandy bay, with a few walkers enjoying the early morning tranquility of a sparsely populated beach.  CJ, Ted and I went down to the coffee shop, bought a carry-out drink and walked the sands as a pre-breakfast treat.  There was an isolated rock just offshore, with large blue sea anemones attached but which was encircled by a potentially treacherous moat, masked as it was by the turbid water.  Too deep to approach that morning I intended to investigate on another occasion.  Were the anemones this species?7108177501_dd402cf00d_zblueanemone

Ted and I walked barefoot at the water’s edge, watching the wavelets as they came, gobbling up the sand grains, and scrabbling up the beach.  I am minded now of John Betjeman’s poem ‘Beside the Seaside’:

And all the time the waves, the waves, the waves
Chase, intersect and flatten on the sand
As they have done for centuries, as they will …
When England is not England, when mankind
Has blown himself to pieces. Still the sea,
Consolingly disastrous, will return
While the strange starfish, hugely magnified,
Waits in the jewelled basin of a pool.”

Nick watched us with his camera from the balcony of our room ……..DSC01241 (2)resize

At breakfast we were greeted by the owner of the hotel, Carlos, who has been in business here for fifty years.  He tells us that his calamari is world-renowned, that the Clintons visited the hotel specifically to dine on it some years previously.  The roads round about had to be closed off during their visit, apparently. 17554087_10154263567936126_3834364302247283591_nHoutBay

Before we head off for the day some of us check out the outdoor pool, it’s a bit chilly!

Razor-clamming Days

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

Twilight at Sunset and a Falling Star

The last full week of January would be busy.  On my list I wish to make a visit to Stella in Cornwall.  Wrapped into that journey will be an errand to be carried out on the beach at Fistral Bay, an overnight stay with a nephew by marriage who lives close by.  I will drive back to my home in Dorset via the village of Hawkchurch on the east margin of Devon to spend a couple of days with my sister.

So I sally forth, as I do, on Monday just before lunchtime.  I am rather later than I had intended as I wish to catch a falling tide at Fistral Bay at the end of the afternoon.  When I make the long drive to Cornwall on my own I like to take an easy-to-handle sandwich to eat as it helps to break up the monotony.  Unfortunately the bread makes me sleepy and I must pull over to rest my bleary eyes.  Just under half an hour later I resume the journey and drive to Atlantic Road, Newquay where I leave my car in the first carpark I see.  Unfortunately it is not the nearest in terms of access to the shore by a long chalk, and I needs must ask an itinerant who is sloping along the cliff path plugged into ear-phones and his rolling gait, and demeanour when I speak to him, tell me he is within a gnat’s whisker of being spaced out.  He is on the way to the Spa to buy some tinnies he tells me.  But he is amiable enough and helpful.  It takes me a good quarter of an hour to gain the sand dunes which back the wide sandy bay with its rock platform well exposed on the northeastern margin.

I’ve come to collect some Glycymeris shells, Dog Cockles, the large, showy white clam shells with a chestnut-coloured chevron pattern and which were so popular with the ancients.  They collected the pleasing round shells as talismans, as pendants to string and probably for a range of other purposes for which we can only guess.  In life the robust clams inhabit coarse sand and shelly gravel.  The species is edible and is offered for sale in France under the name ‘Amande de Mer’ meaning Sea Almond.  ese were not collected for food; their worn, beach-abraded condition sometimes with a natural hole worn at the umbo, as they are excavated at archaeological sites, testifies to the fact that they were picked up as dead shells.  Will I find any today?

Right at the top of the beach, in the upper shore sand churned by many footprints and not washed by the tide in recent days, the first shells I find are two Dog Cockles, each holed.  I am much relieved.  I need these shells to create a figure for one of the chapters I have contributed to a forthcoming box, Molluscs in Archaeology, to be published by Oxbow.  The sun has only just set and the light is fading.  I give the search a good half hour and collect x whole or nearly whole shells of which y bear a hole at the umbo.

I had arrived on the beach in the late afternoon as the sun was making hste to sink behind the distant Pentire headland.  In the twilight I allow myself time to look around and appreciate this place.  There are plenty of late afternoon walkers, many with dogs.  In the distance I can see lots of figures surfing.  A couple of youngsters catch my eye.  They are standing on the open wet sands, talking.  I love their stance, the body language I imply.  I hope they have not a care in the world.  The young are our investment for the future.  Luckily my mobile phone has charge; I take some photos, they turn out really well.IMG_5440 (3).JPG

Clutching my bag of shells I find the track down which I came to access the beach.  At the top I have two options.  I can retrace my steps across the golf course or I can hang a right and walk along a track at the top of the dunes towards the street-lit headland to the south west.  I’ve been walking a while and asked a couple of walkers if I am going the right way.  They seem to think I am.  Then I spot a chap in a hooded anorak sitting on a bench gazing out to sea.  I ask him the way and discover I have chosen to take myself well out of my way and it will be a longish walk back to my car.  It’s clear he is not entirely sure which carpark I used.  In the end he offers to give me a lift.  I don’t hesitate for long, he is pleasant and I see he is a decent and mature man when he takes down his hood and I am going to give good human nature the benefit of doubt.  We talk and it turns out he has a daughter in archaeology, he knows about Littorina, he is interested in landscape, the environment.

Gaining my car I phone Richard and Anne Oliver who live in Redruth and tell them I am on my way.  They are giving me B&B and I am going to take them to dinner at the Penventon Park Hotel which is some 200 metres from their house.  Anne greets me and we get to know more about each other over coffee.  I hear about the work she does in social services, she is a jigsaw fan  When Richard gets back we go to dinner and have a delicious meal in the spacious and slightly retro dining room of the grandiose hotel.  I have a jolt of uncertainty as we are shown to our table.  Piano music greets the ear and I see that our entertainer is a woman in a backless and flesh-coloured dress.  For a fleeting moment I think she is naked!

The following day I go to see my friend Stella Maris.  She lives in one of Cornwall’s Secret Places.  She is in her early 90s and her health started declining rapidly about three or four years ago.  These last years are years I don’t believe she would have wished for herself.  I feel this to be so because we talked often.  Now she is bedridden, has dementia and has all her personal needs met by carers who visit several times a day.  Her life-time companion, Rose, shares the cottage with Stella and is kind, solicitous and, with the help of carers and friends, keeps their boat afloat.  This seems fit because for the majority of their shared life it would be Stella who kept house for them both, who occupied herself with all their day to day routine as well as carrying on with her own work in biological recording.  Rose would spend hours in her ivory tower, working on her botanical books.  She has several to her credit.

Stella is a star whose light is dimming, slowly and inexorably.  Each time I see her she is diminished and I marvel that, given how little she eats, she yet has reserves to hang onto her life.  I have brought a book to read to her, Hare by Jim Crumley.   Stella says very little these days but I can tell that the reading gives her pleasure.  I guess this is the comfort of a human voice, and one, in truth, that she knows well.

 

 

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

razorclamprep-2

At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

A Day with Simon and the Pieman

And so it begins.  The annual jamboree with my clique of CS friends has come round all too quickly.  Which means in the blink of an eye, not that it is a chore.  At least I hope it will not be.  This September we might have to cope with an elephant in our midst.  Wait and see.

Saturday we converge on a very pleasant converted barn near Bantham.  Seven of us will share this abode for a week.  There is an adjacent building that goes with the property, a games room which will serve very nicely as a lab.  Nick and I arrive first to open up and bag a room.  We leave the lovely master suite for one couple on that basis that one of them is convalescent.  There are three other rooms with beds to sleep six people.  Although all rooms on a sharing basis are equal, clearly some rooms are more equal than others.  Nick and I have a couple of hours before anyone else arrives which allows me to make a start on the turrid material I have brought to curate.  These are from Stella Turk’s collection and will be useful, even though many of them have no locality data, because turrid specimens are few and far between.

Gradually the others arrive.  Hail fellow and well met.  We all move into our rooms and I serve the assembled a fish pie for supper followed by a plum tart.

On Sunday we are going to North Sands Bay, Salcombe which is the shore below the Winking Prawn café.  Once parked I need a comfort break so Nick and I repair to said Whistling Whelk so I can use the facilities and take in a flat white.  It is then time to hit the shore and I follow the cliffs on the left hand side of the bay and make for the lowest point on the shore.  There are a few shady recesses with weak crevice development which might be hopeful for the usual suspects but although there are plenty of winkles about it is not a propitious habitat.  cupcoralretracted  caryophyllia3By the time I reach the waters edge, if I look around towards the outcrop on top of which is perched the old Fort Charles, there is enough shore to start turning stones and rolling boulders.  Time flies when you are engrossed in staring at the undersides of rocks on a shore.  Together with the rest of the group which includes Simon the Marine Recorder we plodge around in the shallows and together manage to compile a respectable list of mollusc species.

Reaching the law of diminishing returns Nick and I eat our sandwich on the beach then repair to our car in the carpark of the Wisecracking Wentletrap.  After I process the small amount of rockscrubbings and weedwashings and sit down to compile the joint list on paper we have recorded 64 species of mollusc and one Devonshire cup coral……….. and still counting.  Whilst restricting myself to the amount of weed etc that I take back to the lab., I do collect some cushion stars (Asterina gibbosa) to see if by any chance they will be harbouring one of the tiny mollusc species.  When I get back to the house I put these little treasures into a shallow dish of seawater to see what if anything might crawl out.  After my picnic lunch on the beach Nick and I drive back to the house so that I can start to process my samples.

Peter the Pieman is in charge of supper.  That’s great, I can just get on with my stuff and after we have eaten I can barely stay awake and after a fruitless attempt to interact with the internet (it is suffering from too many residents and not enough go-go juice) I go to bed where I promptly fall asleep in front of the printed word with my glasses on my nose.

 

 

An Elephant called Brexit

If only packing clothes, assembling collecting kit, provisions, wine and all the other preparations needed to close down one’s base in order to establish another temporary one could be seamless. And without contretemps.  It seems that even after 48 years of marriage it is not to be.

So we get up on Friday morning early and stow the car, lock our front door and set off.   At least the morning has gone smoothly.  Five minutes into our journey I realise I have not brought quite enough of my current medicaments.  If that is the only oversight I will be pleased indeed.

Before we fetch up at our holiday house at Bantham we are calling in to see my sister who has a consultant coming to advise on the installation of a borehole and Nick is going to help Liz with her decisions.  It is a big step but a necessary one since the fouling of her water supply by a local farmer with his accidental polluting spillage on his land.  After the meeting Nick and I have some spare hours so we drive into Lyme Regis where we have to call in at a shop to change a tee-shirt.  Lyme is very busy, lively, with tourists, and the sun is shining.  We think it would be a great place to bring Martine and Alain when they come to see us.  We did indeed come here with Claire and Ty earlier in the year, on a wet May afternoon and the place was still steeped in atmosphere.  I discover a second hand bookshop down by the Cobb and whilst Nick plods up the hill to collect our car I indulge myself for half an hour and find four additional Booker nominee titles to add to my collection.  Turns out that the book shop, called The Sanctuary, is also a B&B.sanctuarybookshop1

We hope to call in and see Paul and Viv but they are not at home so we drive back to Hawkchurch where Liz will cook us an amazing supper of Escargots aux Cepes.  It is a confection of snails and wild mushrooms and consists of garlic and parsley buttered escargots removed from their shells which are lightly stewed with a tasty melange of fungi.  Liz has gathered Chanterelles from her private source, up her lane, which it seems no-one else has noticed.  Together with her own dried Cepes the fricassee is then placed in a flaky pastry base and topped with a coil of pastry to form a cap.  Well it is beyond just tasty.

In the morning Nick and I must rise and shine and head for Bantham to open up the house for the others.  Our task this week, inter alia, will be to ignore the elephant in the room as far as is possible.

 

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.

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)

BlogIMG_4047 (2)9BlogIMG_4054 (2)

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)