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 Month in the Country

July slips by, days of bookish lunches (what a shock to discover we had a Leaver amongst our number), bridge, supper with local friends and Pims and Croquet one Saturday afternoon at Middlezoy.  Actually, forget the Croquet, or any garden game for that matter; it was an excuse to quaff some good drinks and eat some excellent barbecue food.

We have a long-standing agreement to receive Nick’s cousins at St Vaast towards the end of the month.  Nick goes back to play host for a couple of days leaving me to spend another week in England before making the crossing myself.  In that week there is a supper party at Canterton House where Paul, Viv, Maddy, Andrew, Lis, my sister Liz and I eat some of Viv’s delicious vegetarian food.  I cannot believe it when they tell me they may be on the move.  They have put in so much work on their house and the extensive hillside garden but they have always had itchy feet and another project awaits them on the other side of the valley.  We take a post-supper walk round the garden and admire the variety of hydrangeas that they have in flower.  My niece Lis takes a team photo.

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That night I am staying with Liz who lives on the east margin of Devon.  The next couple of days will be taken up with a visit to Reskadinnick to visit my dear friend Stella Maris.  She is very elderly now and is a fading star.  I find her comfortable in her life-long home, cared for by Rose and local support services.  I sit and read to her for a couple of hours whilst Rose is taken out for a break and to do shopping.  The book has been lent to me by Liz and is called ‘A Sting in the Tale’ by Dave Goulson and describes his ‘Adventures with Bumblebees’.  I find the low rhythm of my own voice very calming, the whole experience quietens the body.

I leave the Camborne area not long after 4p.m. and drive to Clifford Bridge where I have friends with whom I have stayed before, when breaking the journey between my Dorset village and Cornwall.  It is initially good to see them but since the Referendum things have changed, and when the conversation turns to how we all voted there is a divergence which is not easy to overcome.  I am keen to ditch the payneful discussion as soon as possible and would not want to return to the subject with them.

Leaving the next day I am planning to call in and see my mother before heading for Winterborne K.  I drive past the lovely farm shop at Morcombelake and notice that they have a display of willow contrivances on their forecourt. billandben I buy some of their snails, a couple of butterflies and a large flower thing that reminds me of ‘Weeeed’ from Bill and Ben.


A Village Week, a Falling Star and a Plethora of Shells

Arriving back in the UK on Tuesday, we drove back to our village where Book Group would be meeting in the afternoon at our usual venue, The Greyhound pub.  We discussed Driving Over Lemons, a rather lack-lustre read for me.  I was not engaged by the author, former Genesis drummer Chris Stewart, at all.  Generally his genre, sort of travel books, is not my cup of tea.  A few wasted hours then, but in the interests of village involvement I stick with it.  Bridge the following evening was altogether more stimulating and on Thursday I factored in a yoga lesson, a visit on Friday to see Mum and on Friday evening the McGoverns and Cadecs came for a curry supper.  What with the village walk on Saturday I felt back on track with village activities.  We walked in wind, rain and cold but it didn’t matter.  A decent pub lunch followed.  An optional extra on Sunday was a SSAFA curry lunch at Bryanston School.

The week that followed was largely spent out of the county.  On Monday I drove there and back to see my dear friend Stella Maris, who is a fading star.  She has been a leading light in my adventures with shells.  Now, in her 90s, she is a tired lady, destined before long to become stardust.  How lovely that she knows me, smiles with pleasure as she recognises my name, my voice.  It is just a whirlwind of a visit to the Camborne area.  I meet Pam at the cottage so we can sort out some of Stella’s collections that need to be rehomed.  This is a job she started as much as 15 years ago, perhaps longer.  In the interval she has assiduously sought out people and institutions to whom she could pass on useful objects and books.  Once Pam and I have completed our task I take her, Rose and Andrew to lunch.  We return to Shang-ri La to await the arrival of Dave Fenwick who is coming to collect some shells and after tea round table in the parlour I head for Dorset with some boxes of this and that including a small collection of Drift Seeds and Sea Beans.

On Wednesday Nick and I slip down to Clifford Bridge to say with our very good friends, Bas and Rosemary.  Bas and I have plans to work through his shelly queries, gleanings from the hauls of seabed sediment that were taken during boatwork which took place during the field trip to North Wales.  I took three of these dredged samples back to The Old Workshop to process, sieve, sort, identify.  I think Bas must have worked through at least ten such hauls.  There are lots of specimens to look at because Bas is nothing if not meticulous.  This is a man for whom the maxim that ‘the best is the enemy of the good’ could be a blessing and a curse!


During our visit we give a day to walking the land around Haytor, taking in the famous granite tramway and some exceptional Hut circles in the neighbourhood of Hound Tor.  It is quite a long trek, intermittently uphill and downalong and we feel virtuous when we return to Mill House for lunch and a short nap for me and Rosemary.  Our treat is to eat at the very special Old Inn at Drewsteignton.

On Friday morning we cannot tarry for long.  There is just time for me to spend an hour or so working through a few more of Bas’ samples before we have to leave for Winterborne K because I have a special family party to prepare for on Sunday 21st.


Barrows and Bluebells

Maddy and I went walking last week.  Armed with my Explorer Map sheet 117 and an AA book of Dorset walks, which effectively provides 50 crib sheets for walks of 2 – 10 miles in length, we set off to walk the route Nick and I intend to take the Winterborne Walkers in May.

We parked at the picnic area just north of Turnworth and walked east then south to the woodland at Bonsley Common.  The bluebells are just beginning and I think they will be in full flower on May 7th.  The information board at the picnic area tells us later that these are some of the finest bluebell coppice in Dorset.  There are barrows in this landscape and also wood anemones, a sure sign of the longevity of this woodland.

We turn down across some farmland to gain the road into the ancient hamlet of Turnworth.  There are a few houses, all brick and flint and of the same vintage.  The church of St Mary’s is bijou with some interesting features including a lovely owl corbel which my niece would love.  In the graveyard there are Andrew’s family ancestors.

We press on through the village and strike off west along a bridle path.  This takes us past Turnworth Farm with a view of Turnworth House as we descend to a track which takes us past Okeden House, a rather attractive, beautifully proportioned building with a portico in attractive fretwork giving a slightly oriental feel.  As we turn up a steep track which sets us on the final leg of our course, we turn to face downhill and walk backwards, which makes the going easier and perpetuates the view.

Crossing a rape field we cut through to an area known as Ringmoor.  Here, to the trained eye, is the ground plan of a Celtic farmstead and field system; a barrow with banks and ditches  It’s an important Dorset site, and as you take in the 360 degree view from this high topographical point, you can see why it would have represented sanctuary.  In additon to depressions which represent ancient ponds, there is a natural pond nearby, an indispensable amenity for a Celtic community.

We now join the Wessex Ridgeway path for the descent to the picnic area.  The views continue to impress whilst in nearer view there are Buckthorn shrubs in full flower and stylishly carved fingerposts.

During the walk we probably took a couple of wrong turns but nothing to deflect us from the prescribed route.  I’ll need to rewalk the second half to make sure there is no dithering on the day.

Back home we have a bowl of soup then Maddy is off to do her Census work and I go to Homebase for sweet pea canes, thence to the quaintest plant shop/nursery called Digwells at Red Lion Cottage in Blandford.  It hides along one of the coaching alleys that leads off Market Square.  They have such a lovely selection of unusual plants, things you won’t find in Homebase.  I buy two little Acer and a couple of Auricula in colours I do not have.  Digwells is a find.

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Hopping from One Hill to Another…

All too soon it is time to descend from the clouds and return to our Wey valley home.  Alex and Sarah slipped away very early on Sunday to return to Hackney.  When Nick and I presented for breakfast they had been on the road at least 2 hours.

It’s always good to make something of Sunday lunch and today we have a good excuse as Nick and I are going to celebrate a wedding anniversary.  Rob and Rosie have chosen a restaurant in Ilfracombe which will do very nicely.  Backed by Damien Hurst and owned by Simon Browne, The Quay sits right on the harbourside.

The Quay Restaurant and White Hart Bar is a culinary expedition by Damien Hirst and has been open for 4 years.  It is home to “a unique and substantial collection of the artist’s works with the Harbourside room dedicated to the Pharmacy theme and many other examples throughout using butterflies, fish and shells.” Click on the link above to get a flavour….

There are tasty things on the menu and included under main courses is the roast of the day at an everyday price.  We all opt for this, Rosie and I choose some crab claws to start.  It is a wet and windy day so the view through the windows shows a sea crashing against the rocks below.    Inside we can enjoy the circular plaques along the gallery in which we are eating.  These are painted in an assortment of paintbox colours, exotic shells are glued to the surfaces.   The effect is naive and very beautiful because shells can’t help themselves.

Back on the hill and time to rest…………

In the evening we eat up some soup for supper and play Scrabble.  We are getting along quite well until Nick blocks what I believe to be my only avenue for the round.  He tots up his score with glee and I smoulder.  It is then that I utter the words which bring the house down.  ” I do wish you wouldn’t be so unpleasantly triumphant….”  Whichever way I look at this after, I have to conclude I am a damn poor loser.

And so to bed and in the morning to rise and pack bags.  I have a number of plants to round up including two small orchids I bought in Value House in Barnstaple for £4.  I also bought various other bargains like planting bags for saladstuffs and the like, some miniature mousse moulds to make ‘amuse-bouches’, a job lot of small daffodil bulbs, a huge stainless steel lidded pan for cooking crustaceans (a snip at £8) and several Princess sticker books for the royal trio.

After breakfast we must get on the road.  So it’s a photo call in the courtyard and fond farewells till the next time.  On the way home we are going to detour to visit brother Paul and Viv who live on another hill near Lyme Regis.

Activities: a Mixed Bag

By Saturday the clearance operations started by Rob and Nick are well under way.  They have felled some medium-height leylandii bushes which were part of a screen for the garden shed.  But they were also obscuring a view into the top of the field where the climbing frame is, and beyond.  This cuts both ways, when you are standing in that field looking down to the house you can see it clearly through the long straight trunks of several mature trees which have now an identity of their own.  You also get a view east across the valley to Bratton Fleming.

As lower growing shrubs and ground cover are cleared other features are revealed.  What appeared to be a bank between the original garden and the field is actually a dry stone wall, probably of some maturity.  There was already a heap of assorted slabs and rocks in the top corner of the field, this has now been tidied up and a containing wall set around it.

Meanwhile Rosie and I take ourselves into South Molton where we wander through the covered market and also look in several of the arty-crafty gift/homeware shops along the main street.  Inevitably I buy some plants although I am trying to resist the temptation and rationalise what I already have in England and France. It really is a delightful centre and I am surprised that such a small town supports so many shops of that kind.

Before we drive back to the house we stop at the local health shop, Griffins Yard, which has a fine stock of wholesome foods.  I need to buy some fine oatmeal but end up buying several kinds of lentils – I love cooking with these, they’d be one of my Desert Island foods. We’ve overrun lunchtime so when we get back we make some sandwiches and 6 of us eat them in the warm sunshine on the lawn.

Work continues outside but Rosie and I have labour of a different kind.  The crab and lobster need dressing.  We tackle the crab first and because it is really no chore at all we sit at the kitchen table and take our time retrieving every last fibre of white meat from the inner carapace.  The lobster is altogether more straightforward and at the end of it I am surprised by the quantity of meat we have from it compared to that from the crab.  It’s been a useful exercise in itself – I have always assumed you get more from a crab than  a lobster, the difference is that there is more brown meat in the former.  As I shell the prawns Rosie rustles up a cream tea.

Later on we arrange the seafood on a platter and make a salad.  But before we sit to eat it we have a laverbread tasting.  The recipe is simple: you mix ¼ cup of oatmeal with one cup of seaweed.  It doesn’t look quite enough oatmeal so I add a bit more.  Seaweed is salty I think so don’t add seasoning.  Wrong.  The first ‘cake’ I fry in bacon fat is too bland so I season the rest of the mixture before shaping it into patties and frying them. Before we sit down in style to our seafood meal we eat the laverbread in the kitchen with a glass of champagne.  Everyone likes them.  They are quite ‘sticky’ as you might expect, the sensation in the mouth is not dissimilar to potato rosti when it is made with grated potato, as I was taught by a Swiss friend.

After supper 4 of us play Scrabble.  The previous evening 7 of us had played a game which was new to Nick and I.  Each person writes the names of 7 well-known people on slips of paper.  These are then put into a hat.  There are 2 teams and the names are drawn out successively.  There are 3 rounds using the same named slips and you have 45 minutes per round to do as many names as you can.  In round 1 you have to describe the person to your team-mates until they guess the name.  The names go back into the hat.  In round 2 you draw again and have to mime the person whose name is on your paper slip.  In round 3 you again draw a name slip from the hat then choose one word to help your team guess the name.  By this stage it obviously helps if you have a good memory!!  The points for each team are then totalled.  A lot of fun.

Friends in High Places

We set off on Wednesday morning after a protracted search for Nick’s mobile phone………… which never did turn up.  We drove to north Devon, to the home of long-standing friends.  Friends made during the days of pre-school children.  Teachers both, they are now retired and living in the lovely house they owned all through their time at Charterhouse.  It was a wonderful retreat for them and their family along the way, but now they occupy this house full-time and the house is flourishing.

Built from the 15th century it is an Open Hall House (a house consisting of a single storey hall with two storey domestic ranges attached to either one or both ends), sitting on top of a hill near Bratton Fleming.  To stay with Rob and Rosie is to enjoy hospitality of the warmest kind.  They hone these skills from time to time when they receive Bed and Breakfast guests in the bijou barn in the grounds. They have some of their children staying, and two grandchildren too, so Nick and I are invited to sleep in Rosehill Barn.

I’m keen to see the garden: the courtyard, the border round the lawn, but most of all the vegetable garden, with its associated greenhouse  into which much enthusiasm is invested.  During our stay we enjoy home grown produce: for one meal we have a panache of the last-of-the-crop vegetables with the smoked haddock pie one evening, the final pickings in these clement October days.

Rob and Nick spend the first day of our visit modifying the second compost bin into a triple-chambered model.  (Nick and Rob constructed the bins in July 2008).  In order to do this they first need to take the car into Barnstaple to round up their timber.  This involves driving the streets to find discarded pallets outside commercial premises.  Of course they ask first before they make off with their booty.

During the course of the afternoon the pallets are unpicked and new struts are fitted into the original structure.  Alex helps with this.  We are all outside variously building bins, weeding, dismantling bean frames or swinging on climbing frames.

On Friday Francesca, Poppy and Charlie must drive home.  Poppy and Nick have struck up a friendship:  he likes making up stories, she likes listening.   They sit at the kitchen table playing out their double act, whilst preparations for the journey home are made.

Another double act has been under way.  Alex’s wife Sarah likes doing cryptic crosswords and she and I have managed to complete the Indy puzzle the day before, so we are keen to buy the paper later when we go into Barnstaple for lunch and some shopping.

A table has been booked at The Custom House where there are good light lunching options.  After there are things to buy: wonderful local cheeses from a small shop in the street running alongside the covered market and we also want to get some seafood for Saturday evening.  Although it is well into the afternoon the small fish-shop, in the same parade as the cheese shop, has just what we need.  We buy a lobster, a brown crab and some prawns for a platter.  We are just about to pay for this when I spot some plastic bags with black contents.

I think it might be Laver, and it is.  This is a seaweed, Porphyra umbilicalis, which you can collect on many rocky shores in the British Isles.  I’ve eaten laverbread once before, when a fellow conchologist gathered some on a field trip and cooked it for a group of us as an appetiser.  I’m keen to have a go at making some so we buy a bag for the princely sum of £3.  Our total bill is £20 which is a real bargain.

We still haven’t managed to buy an Indy when we drive out of Barnstaple at the end of the afternoon, but third time lucky when we try at the petrol station on the way out of town.