The Sound of a Cock Porping

These memorable words were uttered by me during the delicious dinner that our house guests had treated us to, on the last evening of their recent stay chez nous.  Rosemary and James had taken us to the Hotel Fuchsias, an establishment we are fortunate to have just five minutes along our road.  Screw-top wines are pretty much unheard of in France and the sound of a cork as it is drawn from a wine bottle is unmistakeable and presages the deeply satisfying experience of the first sip of good French wine.  Unless, of course, the wine is ‘cocked’.  Which it wasn’t 🙂

Our guests are on their way to Mayenne, an area we had not heard of, and after people make landfall at Cherbourg we at St Vaast La Hougue are ideally placed for friends and family who plan a stay further afield in France and would like to make a stopover to see us.  Our dinner had followed a very agreeable afternoon spent at le Jardin botanique du Chateau de Vauville. 452c52c6c31516534ac43ea259824176 The garden was begun in 1947 and wanders over four hectares on a windy site within 300 metres of the sea.  Wikipedia tells me that it contains more than 900 semi-tropical species of plants from the southern hemisphere set within windbreaks of diverse Eucalyptus and bamboo. Collections include Aloe, Phlomis, Euphorbia, Hemerocallis, Agapanthus, Gunnera, Echium pininana, and  palm trees.

The gardens are one of the first destinations we visited when we first moved to France.  On one occasion we went there with Pam and Andrew Tompsett and the impression we gained from Andrew was that here was a garden in need of rather better management.  This time it was rather sad to see that the owners appear to have decided, but perhaps by default, to run with all the plants that will grow like topsy, and diversity has dropped considerably.  They are also allowing space to adventives such as Iris foetidissima.  IMG_6471 (2)40 I still think that two of the most impressive ‘rooms’ are the Bamboo Theatre and the High Forest of Palms.  IMG_6466 (2)40Throughout there are still wonderful trees there, notably statuesque Eucalyptus and interesting conifers.  Earlier in the year you can enjoy the Camellia, Rhododendron and Azalea and now it is the turn of the Hydrangea which are just beginning to flower. IMG_6477 (2)40

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There are many unusual shrubs too but the under-storey is now very depleted.  There is just one tiny colourful corner where some unusual flowers abound. It was lovely to find Bletilla in flower. IMG_6497 (2)40 I should love to try this in my garden.   I doubt the garden still boasts 900 plant species.  Even the circular lawn which used to be ringed by Agapanthus and Hemerocallis has changed shape and character and there are rather too many spiky Cordyline.  And then there are the water bodies which have been completely taken over by Gunnera.  Happily one of the ponds at Le Jardin de la Sagesse had a population of cute little frogs whose colours were metallic in appearance.  I don’t think they are native species.IMG_6494 (3)40 There are stone seats and some sculptures.  My favourite stone feature is the Green Man who is carved into the wall by the Chemin des Fougeres and whose perimeter is clad by Trachelospermum jasminoidesIMG_6482 (2)40To the best of my belief the chateau itself has not been opened to the public and remains a private residence.  IMG_6488 (2)40You get glimpses of it above the high walls and there is a corner where you can peer over a picket fence which runs along a wall by a back gate.  We’ve been visiting Jardin du Chateau on and off since we came here in 2005 and it has been interesting to observe the ecological succession that has taken place.  Aided and abetted I think by a lack of resources, human and financial, on the part of the owners to stay on the case…………… But it still makes a good afternoon outing.

 

Two Good Walks and Parting Shots

It’s to be a weekend of exercise and as much restrained eating as I can manage.  It’s a simple equation: x calories in and y calories out.  My x and y values must be equal at the very least and preferably the value of y should exceed the value of x.

It’s the second Saturday in the month and with typical village rigour this means it’s a day for the Winterborne Walkers.  Sheila has planned us a route that starts from The Woodpecker pub in Charlton Marshall.  The walk makes a circuit back to the pub and will start with a bit of a climb to Spetisbury Rings then loops round taking in Crawford Bridge and a lovely little church with Medieval wall paintings,  tucked into a secluded corner of countryside.  The beautiful of Crawford Bridge (listed as a scheduled monument in 1955) gives us a wonderful view of clear water, swans including a family with five fluffy pale mink-coloured cygnets, and a heron.  IMG_6433 (2)40

Later we arrive at the St-Mary-the-Virgin Church at Tarrant Crawford.  This simple church dates back to the 12th century, and is all that remains of a wealthy Cistercian nunnery – the 13th century Tarrant Abbey – to which it may have been a lay chapel. Our way takes past several water bodies and across a raised path with railings which incline pleasantly outwards.  The environs appear to be part of a large landscaped garden but although we have passed several residential properties it is not clear to whom this garden might belong.IMG_6451 (2)40 As we continue we also get a second sighting of a swan family below a small bridge, Aand as we watch the birds it is fascinating to see that the young mimic the body posture of the adult who appears to be in charge.  Must be the mother……..IMG_6442 (2)40The walk route we have taken is very agreeable and later when I surf to look for a particular bit of information I come across this website, which describes several walks taking The Woodpecker as the starting point.

The following day we have planned to walk with Maddy and Andrew on Portland, at Church Ope.  As a spontaneous and last minute decision son Dan and Jake had booked into The Old Workshop overnight with a view to climbing at The Cuttings on Portland.  Unlike a lot of Portland, the limestone walls at The Cuttings are not natural; as the name suggests, they are the remains of an old railway cuttings. The railway itself, which serviced the island’s quarries, is now long gone, but it has left a crag with easy access.  Dan and Jake head off after breakfast to stake their claim and we rendez vous with M and A in the carpark opposite the Museum at 11.

We walk along the cliff top, following the track of the old railway until we can progress no further, our passage being prevented by The Verne.  Instead we clamber down onto the area known as Penn’s Weare, as described by the blogger on this website.  The topography is undulating but a bit craggy too and the area is popular for those who like to go bouldering.  This is a lovely area to walk, the flora is wonderful and diverse.  I see several spent ‘flowerheads’ of a Broomrape and eventually find one in perfect condition. There are 200 species of Orobanche so I feel I have little hope of identifying my specimens although there is one species O. hederae which parasitizes ivy exclusively and there was certainly some ivy around.  IMG_6464 (2)40 The tiny florets of Pyramidal orchids are just beginning to open. IMG_6457 (2)40 We continue until we come to the cliff top on the eastern margin of Church Ope Cove.  We scramble down a narrow steep track with my enemy ‘scree’ very much in evidence.  Thank goodness for my walking pole which gives me a third leg.  And for the hand of Nick.

The steps up from the cove are a bit taxing but welcome…………….. calories out.  The four of us head for the Cove Inn at Chesil where we order lunch (calories in and too many!) and are shortly joined by the climbers.  Dan treats us all to lunch.

The following day is a busy one, I must prepare the garden for our leave of absence (which means moving a number of pots to sites where they will not bake), drive into Dorchester to collect a couple of items, visit my mother.  Nick adds a bit more wood to the pergola he is constructing in the garden.  In the afternoon Joy and Tricia pay us a visit and I must abandon them to Nick.  We are getting dab hands at this commuting business.  Just before supper and with the early evening sun smiling down upon the garden, I take a few photos.

We go to bed not too late and rise an hour earlier than we normally do in order to leave the house feeling calm and collected.  We achieve this.

 

Chickens, Piglets and Deer

It was with a great sense of relief that I found the passports tucked out of sight in my kitchen.  Apart from the gross inconvenience of having to get replacement passports for all four of us, being unable to travel (at least Nick and me, since the Tailles would be able to travel on their Identity cards), we would have missed the banquet planned for other Francois’ 60th.  Anne had planned a meal at home, to be cooked by a young friend of their son, who has trained as a chef and is about to open his own restaurant in Cherbourg.  In the event it was a truly delicious meal with turbot for the main course and two twists on an old theme which were inventions of Brice.  One was the mini Croque Monsieurs that Brice made in canapé form, the other was the fried potato cake that contained a raw oyster in the centre.  This accompanied the turbot and was possibly a bit rich, but then the whole meal was a gastronomic indulgence for which much dietary compensation would be required in the ensuing days.  Typically, the dessert course was not skimped.  There were two gateaux both heavenly.  The only ‘mouche dans la pommade’ was the apparent inability of Mr Picky to compromise his extreme pickiness to the extent that he would at least go through the motions of tasting food he never eats, whether on the basis of taste or principle.  Plates of good food were sniffed, grimaced at and went back to the kitchen virtually untouched.  He cooked his goose that night with his hostess and also with this one.

There followed some days of energetic gardening.  In my quest to shave a kilo or two before my walk with Lis in September I need to up my exercise.  Walking is good but I can find that boring unless I have a companion and a good route.  Active gardening gives the added advantage of bending and lifting which is good for my flexibility too.

At the end of the week Anne and I board a ferry for our appointment with Kim.  With Saturday to spare we drive down to Lyme Regis which Anne instantly likes and after to Hawkchurch where Liz is ringing for a wedding.  We watch the wedding party as they exit the church then repair to Parricks for a cream tea.  This is a bit of an indulgence because I am expecting Cybs and Jean for a curry supper at TOW after their willow day making obelisks and mini-hurdles.

And so we do our Piglet day and it is rewarding and quite intense.  I hesitate to say it is ‘fun’ because it is taxing but satisfying and there is always a sense of working against the clock.  At the end of the day we do end up with our individual and very respectable piglet.  I feel that now my first ever weaving, a badger, will be recognised as such when set aside his future garden companion.

On Monday I must put Anne on the ferry because I am staying for some Godalming days.  During this time I will have lunch with Vikky and with Sonia the following the day.    It is really good to meet up with Sonia after too long an interval and I am so surprised when she tells me, just before we part, that she has had a major illness to overcome.  Which she has, and courageous she has been.  My penultimate engagement is to attend Ted’s Sports’ Afternoon and this is followed with ‘The Weekend Starts Here’ at the Withies.

The timing of my spell with Ted has worked well.  I return to Winterborne ready to do the third day with Kim that will be required to put the finishing touches to my deer.  I stow the animal into my car and drive to Sandford Orcas.  I find I have arrived half an hour early so Kim takes me for a short walk further down her lane to show me some willow sculptures which she had started, but not quite finished, and which she has inserted into gaps in the hedge.    During the day I weave in extra sticks that add bulk to my animal, form to the legs and the distinctive features that will define my creation as a ‘Roe Doe’ 🙂

I had already earmarked the early days of June for some political activity and for a catch-up with bookish friends.  There is a Splinter lunch at Jan Drew’s and the Shaxsons come for coffee the following morning.  My principal mission though, is to do a bit of volunteer work for the Lib Dems ahead of the General Election on June 8th.  I deliver leaflets in my village and gain a huge respect for postmen who have to run the gamut of so many nasty letterboxes with stiff, tight-arsed, grabby brushes in the aperture which mean you end up scrumpling your stuffer as you shove it through.  On the two days before GE day I work out of the Lib Dem office in Yeovil and spend some of that time delivering leaflets with Paddy Ashdown and on the day I conduct some ‘knocking up’ over the ‘phone and this is my first experience of canvassing.

The following day I am sorry that the excellent candidate for Yeovil was not successful.  I did learn during the course of my phone calls that several staunch Lib Dem voters would be voting Tory in this instance in order to stop the Labour Party gaining ground.  In the event they, and people like them, were not successful because the Labour party made a surprise comeback, only just failing to obliterate the Tory overall majority and certainly wiping out their hopes of being returned with a bigger mandate.  Up yours Theresa May!

 

 

 

 

A Time for Reconnecting and Saying Goodbye

A couple of days after our return from South Africa Nick and I drive to Bath to meet up with one of Nick’s long-standing and very good friends.  He and Nick worked together, in the sense that John as a lawyer worked for companies that employed Nick over a period of years.  Think the old Stalin and Genghis Khan joke and you have their political standpoints.  The last time Stalin took on Genghis Khan was when we sailed with Nigel in Croatia…………  Ostensibly we are meeting in Bath so that we can eat fish and chips at John’s favourite chippie.  But first it seems right that we should sing for our supper so we meet at the gates of the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden with a view to walking. DSC00010 (2)40 It is a beautiful 18th century landscape garden with one of only four Palladian bridges of the Prior Park design in the world.   The garden was created by local entrepreneur Ralph Allen, with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and the poet Alexander Pope.  The garden is set in a sweeping valley where visitors can enjoy magnificent views of Bath. Restoration of the ‘Wilderness’ has reinstated the Serpentine Lake, Cascade and Cabinet.

Afterwards we head back into the city for our date with Seafoods Traditional Fish and Chips.  We are a bit early so we find a bar and order the cocktail of the day.  It was over-priced and over the top and I cannot remember the ingredients although sitting here at the screen at something short of 5 p.m. I could really fancy one now.  The fish and chips lives up to expectations and we drive home after a spell of quality time with good friends.

The ensuing week is social because we have been away and have friends to reconnect with.   The day after our F&C moment we host a Bookish Lunch at TOW with the Shaxsons, Celia Cas and Jan D.  At the end of the week we do a Jigsaw Evening in which the McGoverns participate.  It’s the Bookish jigsaw, the fun bookshelves with Pun Titles.

There’s more Bookish stuff the following week when Chrissie hosts our soup lunch and chat.  Fellow conchologist and garrulant (you read this word here first) comes to visit on Tuesday.  We talk shells all day.  He lives in Lancashire and seldom travels south and is staying with mutual friends near Wimborne.  He invites us back for a curry at their home on Friday and we engineer that we can accept this on the basis that it will be an early meal and we will be done and dusted in time to pick up Anne P from Poole as she arrives from Cherbourg ready for our willow workshop with Kim.

The day after Ian’s visit I get up early to drive to Cornwall for the funeral of my dear friend Stella Turk.  It is a humanist ceremony which I so connect with.  No singing of hymns in thin reedy voices but readings and tributes from friends and family.  The wicker casket sits before us in the airy chapel perched on a hill and I look through the windows out onto the landscape that Stella knew so well because her cottage is a stone’s throw from where we are sitting. StellaTurkCrem There are many attendees and I meet up with some friends and associates from my marine biological recording days, Richard Warwick, Keith Hiscock, some great and good from the Cornish Wildlife Trust.  They all look so much older, I suppose they think the same of me.  Pam T finds me and points out Jayne Herbert, she who has compiled a selection of Stella’s verse and printed a few copies.

I am cornered several times and by the time I can escape so has Jayne.  We later establish contact via email.  We may collaborate on getting more of Stella’s verse into print.  For the time being Jayne has a page devoted to Stella’s poetry on her website.  At the end of a long day I drive back to Hawkchurch where I am fed and have a chance to catch up with my sister.  Before I leave the next morning we walk a bit in the private woodlands owned by her neighbour.

 

Flight to Tau

It is an hour’s drive to the small airport where we will board a flight for Madikwe Game Reserve in North West Province.  How low-key and civilised is the check-in and ‘boarding lounge’ procedure!  So relaxing.  The ‘plane we will fly in takes perhaps a dozen passengers and the flight, always giving a good view of the ground below, lasts about an hour. IMG_5830 (2)40

As we approach the runway at Madikwe I look down hoping to see some wild game in the sprawl of bush country.

Once landed we are met and greeted by Mike Rae, our game ranger for the week, and what a charming young man he is.  There is affection in their mutual greeting and I quite see why the Perrymans choose to book him for private drives.  Ted is very fond of Mike but it is a year since he saw Mike and it will be during the course of the week that he gradually drops his natural reserve.  He rides shotgun and chats away to Mike during the drives and what a good ‘spotter’ he is.

We set off for the Lodge and before long I am over the moon to see zebra, giraffe, kudu, impala.  

And then we get a sighting of elephant, those majestic giants.  It is thrilling and Nick and I click away with our various devices.    Charlotte reminds us to take time to look first, take photos after.  Ultimately, after the holiday is over and I settle down to write my blog I will spend so much time dipping in and out of different folders to find relevant images for my posts.

Arriving at the lodge is such an excitement.  The entrance passage with a small shop to the left gives out onto a large high-ceilinged atrium with comfortable sofas and chairs and an open fireplace where a fire will be lit a bit later in the week when we have a deluge.  We are welcomed by Rebone dressed in such an elegant African outfit with matching head-dress, this being the first of several outfits I will admire during the week.  IMG_6064 (2)

We are shown to our chalet for the week, a comfortable room with bathroom, outdoor shower and wooden verandah on short stilts which sits at the edge of the waterhole.  IMG_5851 (2)40

A few animals are wandering around the far shore. 

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It is lunchtime so we go to find our table on the outdoor decked platform of the restaurant and sit next to the wooden railing and gaze out over the water at a basking croc on the far bankside.  There are weaver bird nests suspended from the trees which have their feet in the water along side the water lily type plants below.  It does not get much better.

In the afternoon we are booked for our first game drive and an exciting sighting has been doing the rounds on bush radio so lunch is gulped down and off we hurtle and bump our way in the truck to the far side of the Reserve.  The prospect is a rare one, a pack of 14 wild dogs has been spotted.  On our first day, on our first drive, we would have a sighting the like of which the Perrymans have never had in all their safari trips to Tau. DSC01578 (4)40

The wild dogs in the park suffered a catastrophic decline owing to disease and the pack is only just now recovering.  This is my first experience of what it is to drive to a location, cut across the bush terrain to find a suitable place to park, switch off the engine and watch.DSC01582 (3)40 We are probably there for an hour.  Periodically Mike will start the engine and shift position.  Other vehicles are in the location.  Eventually the dogs muster and start to move on down the track.

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There is news of another sighting.  A pair of mated lions have been observed and we pay them a call.  We sit and watch; the lions are utterly laid back and barely give us attention.  IMG_5896 (3)40

It is a long way back to the lodge and we see White Rhino, black-backed Jackal …………… and birdlife which Nick will come to enjoy more than anything.  Nightjars spring up from the track as we rush towards them and a Spotted Eagle Owl glides overhead and lands in a tree on the lower slope of the Tswene Tswene mountains near Tau.  Heading for ‘home’ after the afternoon drive, arriving at the driveway lit by lamps to guide us to the entrance, I come to love this moment of the day.  My mind is full of images, wildlife lore and the magic of the African bush.

We have dinner in the Boma, Mike sits at our table.  I start with marrow-bone soup, then steak, Gemsbok, lovely vegetables.  (This is what my notebook reminds me but these few words do not do justice to the variety and deliciousness.  Before I settle for the night I must spend some time editing text for the troublesome chapter in the forthcoming Molluscs in Archaeology volume.  There is an absolute howler in the figures and an endnote needs to be written.  There is also some bad science in a chapter I am co-authoring which is not my fault.  But it needs to be addressed.  Drafting something that will not be so convoluted as to confuse the reader even more, needs care.  And so to bed.

 

Feast and Family

Tuesday morning finds us in the dining room of the main house at Val D’Or ordering our breakfast.  A tomato and mushroom omelette has become my standard fare.  All this gourmandise must come to an end when we get back to England.  I am already aware of an expanding waistline. 

With our bags packed and loaded into the vehicle we head back to Cape Town and to the airport.  We are going to take a flight to Johannesburg to meet up with Ryan’s family.  We are crossing the lunching hour so we settle in Soaring Hawk Spur Steak Ranch, a carnivore’s delight.  I have developed quite a taste for peri peri chicken livers so I take the opportunity to order it yet another time, only to have my head blown off.  I am very fond of chilli and have a high tolerance but there are limits.  I won’t be ordering it again in a hurry!  Ted chooses a florid dessert, which evidently is much to his liking!  IMG_6775 (2)40.jpg

It is a short flight and once arrived we pick up another hire vehicle and drive out to Ruimsig where we are booked into the Afrique Boutique Hotel .  A sloping driveway takes us to the entrance to the hotel and we enter a building whose décor, ambiance and views suits us very well.  Nick and I have a suite which incorporates a bathroom area, all laid out in open plan.  Privacy will have to be booked with each other in advance!  There is a bottle of fizz and Quality Street chocolates, IMG_5807 (2)40a lovely retro touch and it rings the changes from the nougat that we have often found on our pillows elsewhere during this stay.

The Perryman clan are going to come to the hotel for dinner and they duly arrive.  Nick and I are meeting up with Des and Ron and meet for the first time Ryan’s sister Belinda, his brother in law John and their son Aidan.  The buffet meal is excellent and I could drown myself in the large tureen of creamy mussels 

The following day we are invited chez Perryman, a short drive to their home at Witpoortjie near Roodepoort and where we are given the mother of all stomach-stretching braais.  

It is a very convivial occasion we eat far too much and I end up having to leave some of my meat which pains me to do so.  It is a good family occasion and we return to the hotel for another night and tomorrow the best part of my South African adventure will begin.  I already know in advance it will be the best bit, fulfilling as it will, one of the items right at the top of my bucket list.

 

 

 

An Oasis of Calm

Nestled between towering mountains in the beautiful Cape winelands lies the magnificent Franschhoek Valley. It is reputed to be the food and wine heartland of the country with its splendid wine estates and top chefs create world-class cuisine. The scenery is breath-taking on a grand scale.

Spectacular vineyards cover the mountain slopes and the valley, settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots, who brought with them their age-old French wine and food culture.

Arriving at Val d’Or Wine estate we are drawn into a beautiful and tranquil setting at the foot of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains.  The reception area of the main house is pleasantly cool as we check in.  IMG_5797 (2)40We are shown to the villa, a serene and spacious building looking out to the vista of Groot Drakenstein Mountains on the other side of the valley.DSC01417 (2)40 Nick and I have a calming green bedroom which acts as a conduit to the hues of the foliage of plants, shrubs and trees and to the lush lawns of the garden outside our French doors.  The grounds are laid out to lawn, flower borders, shrubberies with two ponds adjacent to a swimming pool.  We are going to ‘eat in’ so Charlotte and Ryan drive along to Franschhoek to buy meats for a braai and salads.  We have the bubbly that we bought at Vergenoegd.  In the mellow warmth of the early evening, we eat by the pool. DSC01419 (2)

We wake on our first morning in this idyll and since we are in wine country a winery visit or two must be made.  But first we walk up to the main house to eat omelettes.  DSC01449 (2)40Thence into Franschhoek town which strikes me as oh so French and I then learn that the town’s name means ‘French Corner’.  Here there are lovely shops including several art galleries.  Teddy poses with another outside one of them.  IMG_5756 (2)40

In one of these the Perrymans find a pair of pictures which are, in fact, photographs with much of the detail stripped out.  One is of elephants, the other is a hippo.  They will sit very happily alongside other Africana that they have in their home in England.  In the same shop I see a occasional table which I like very much, made as it is out of plate glass shelves and driftwood.IMG_5761 (2)40

We have a drink in the bar which is the old Railway Station then visit La Motte which is one of the wineries on the main road into the town.  IMG_5782 (2)40Seated at hand-made tasting tables, a welcoming tasting counter or on comfortable sofas, visitors have an unimpeded view of the working and maturation cellars through large glass panels.  We paid a sum to taste seven different wines, probably drank far too much of each and ended up ordering two of the whites and one of the reds.  IMG_5766 (2)40Forty-eight bottles between us.  A bonus was that we could pay in Euros, which gave us a cheaper price and the wines could be delivered from Germany to France.IMG_5778 (2)40

Back at the villa we rested and then spent some time around the pool, accompanied by the lovely dog, Bagel, who belongs to the owner of the estate.  In the evening we went to a restaurant in Franschhoek specialising in South African cuisine.  Aptly named Ryan’s Kitchen the establishment rates no. 2 out of 51 on Trip Advisor.  Ever intrigued by new dishes I chose the Prawn Tapioca “Pudding”, prawn crackers, chopped chives, charred lemon gel to start with.

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I think I am probably one of the easiest people to feed that I know, but I did have to admit to myself that I found the frog-spawn appearance and imagined consistency a bit unnerving!  I know I am on safe territory when I choose Roast Duck Breast, Honey and Dukkah glaze, spiced chocolate & cashew nut puree’s, roast Kohlrabi for my main course.

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The following morning we must check out and return to Cape Town to take a flight to Johannesburg.  IMG_5792 (2)40The next stage of our holiday is going to begin.  Before we leave Val D’Or I take a walk around the grounds and take some photos.  IMG_5748 (2)40The most appealing area is focussed around the pond where there are numerous weaver bird nests suspended in the trees.  DSC01427 (2)40

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With my passion for basketry in all possible materials I find the bird-made structures beautiful.  I’d willingly give one houseroom.

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It’s time to give thanks and move on………………

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Close Encounters of the Elasmobranch Kind

We have to check out of the hotel in Hermanus very early.  We don’t even get breakfast because we are due to check in at 7 in the morning for our day with Shark Diving Unlimited run by Mike Rutzen who has spent more time free diving with Great White Sharks than any other person on the planet.  He is also one of only 3 people who are able to read and respond to Great White Shark body language.  It’s this respect and love he has for these animals, which he aims to share with his guests.

We arrive and find an array of good things to eat, such as mushroom and egg muffins,  before we embark.  We head out to sea; it is a 15-minute run out to the cage which will be attached to the side of the boat and which will accommodate 7 shark observers at a time.  The cage looks robust enough although the mesh seems quite large to me.  As I struggle into a wet suit for the first time in ages I am still allowing myself the option to duck out at the last minute!  DSC01348 (2)40The skipper explains the drill and I naturally step back when he calls for the first trippers to volunteer to enter one of the small compartments in the cage.  He says that if he observes anyone putting their hands outside the cage……… as if!…………. the boat will turn round and head straight back to the port.

The sharks – Great Whites of course – are drawn into the environs of the boat with tuna head baits.  These are attached to a rope and cast out then hauled towards the boat as the shark approaches.  DSC01350 (2)40 Fairly basic stuff.  A 3.5 metre female comes within our influence and stays with the boat for the duration of the trip.  All those who want to experience the thrills get two turns in the cage.  When the moment comes for me to take my turn it is easier to clamber into the cage than lose face and dip out.

The technique is simple enough and as the shark comes close to the cage and swims past it, the occupants of the cage are instructed to duck below the surface.  We hold our breath and sink down, viewing the shark through a mask as she passes along the cage.  She is very close. DSC01381 (3)40 Perhaps my best view and experience is when I am slow to duck, getting a chance to see the shark at the surface as she makes to grab the bait.  Exhilarating has to be the word!

Charlotte has opted not to dive on this trip and she sits up top with Ted, camera in hand and gets a bird’s eye view of the show.  The boat’s skipper is a competent man, he directs the proceedings and also records the experience as a video.  DSC01410 (2)40When we get back to the office there is coffee, and more of the food to be enjoyed and whilst we eat Mike processes and edits the video.  We then sit down, there and then, to relive our own close encounters.

After a super thrilling morning we pile into our vehicle and head for the Franschhoek area.  We will stay here for two nights before heading back to Cape Town to take a flight north.

Runner Ducks and Robben Island

At the end of our first week we check out of Chapman’s Peak Hotel which has served us really well.  Great breakfasts, if a little slow and relaxing evenings in the verandah restaurant eating seafood and always, in Ted’s case, rare red meat.  We are now to head for Wine Country via Hermanus where we have an overnight stay with an exciting booking for the following day.

Our journey will take us past the Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and it is here that we stop to find something to eat and drink.  The formal restaurant is fully booked but this does not matter because there are tables and benches and an open grassy area with filled sacking bales to sit on. DSC01313 (2) There is a small market with some fast food outlets serving South African specialities, such as Potjike for example. DSC01311 (2) Nick and I have a plate of this and we all drink fizz.  Whilst we are there we witness the wonderful spectacle of the Indian Runner Ducks setting off to work._The_ducks_parading_-a-17_1460715828275 (2)  The image of a vineyard that most of us have is perhaps neatly trellised rows of lush green vines with their leaves gently waving in the wind.  We will see these when we arrive at Franschoek.  This wine estate is different however because each day a veritable army of ducks is set loose amongst the vines for farm work. 33338E2700000578-0-image-a-22_1460715847705DuckParade (2) This work consists of picking off snails and other pests which can plague the vines.   A byproduct of this activity must inevitably result in adding to the fertility of the soil.  These ducks have been carrying out this service in the vineyards since 1984.   By now the estate has its own breeding programme for the birds.  Unsurprisingly the name of the company is Runner Duck Wine.

So we spend a very happy interlude in the sunshine.  As well as feeding ourselves we are able to buy a bag of food to feed the ducks 🙂  DSC01321 (2) We buy a bit of bubbly to take with us and then rejoin the main road that will take us through to Hermanus.  Originally called Hermanuspietersfontein, but shortened in 1902 as the name was too long for the postal service, this is a town on the southern coast of the Western Cape. It is famous for  whale-watching and is a popular retirement town. The whales can be seen from the cliffs in the town centre as early as June and usually depart in early December. They were once hunted in the nearby town of Betty’s Bay, but are now protected to ensure the survival of the species.  We are booked into the Harbour House Hotel which has a lovely position on the seafront although the rooms we are allocated are not particularly well positioned to enjoy views and such like.  But we are only here for one night and it is late afternoon when we check in.

In the evening we go to a local restaurant, La Pentola, which is boasting Abalone on its menu.  You only eat the foot of an Ormer but it costs us an arm and a leg to do so!  And it is a delicious treat.  I am not surprised that abalone is offered for sale around these parts, although I understand there are fishing restrictions.  Driving along the rocky coasts there are extensive kelp forests and what is interesting to me is that you can see the fronds at all states of the tide.  Around the UK you only see stooped kelp fronds floating at the surface at low water spring tides.  They are called forests because in a sense the kelp stipes are like the trunks of underwater trees.  The kelp species common to the Cape Peninsula and the west coast of South Africa include Sea Bamboo – Ecklonia maxima, Split Fan Kelp – Laminaria pallida, and Bladder Kelp – Macrocystis angustifoliaabalone kelp forest The kelp canopy provides an important habitat for thousands of species of fish, invertebrates and other seaweeds. Kelp species are tough and resilient, and stretching into the sea, often for many kilometres, they help break the great force of the waves offering protection to the nearshore ecosystem.  Ormers can hunker down amonst the hard substrates on which the kelp stipes are attached.

I saw bleached, dead ormer shells on the beach by the small coffee shop on the southeast end of Robben Island when we made a day trip of pilgrimage.  A couple of Asian boys had picked up one or two as souvenirs to take away after we had made a stop by the coffee shop.  There were hundreds, thousands of shells cast up.  As we were loaded back onto the coach to complete the tour of the island the guide refused to allow them to keep the shells, which seemed churlish although I am only too well aware of the restrictions around taking live ormers.

Before we had left the Cape Town area we had made a boat trip to Robben Island.   It is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  And with good reason.   Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid.    The island is situated in Table Bay, easily visible from the peak of Table Mountain.  It’s name is Dutch for ‘seal island’ and it is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. ( Not surprising then that empty shells and other rejectamenta are washed up onto the almost flat shores.)  The island is effectively a living museum and every year thousands of visitors take the ferry from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town for tours of the island and its former prison.

 

My first Baboons in the Wild – Ba-boom!

We’re still at Chapman’s Peak which means we still have our lovely beach walk to enjoy.  Ted finds yet another snail low on the shore.  We stop and watch it rebury itself.WP_20170401_09_47_39_Pro (2)

Today we are going to go to Cape Point, and on the way we will go to Simon’s Town for lunch and to browse the little market there.  Lots of purveyors of glass bead work.  Ted buys a   I am very tempted by the little nodding guinea fowl but resist.  We find a seafront restaurant and on our way to the table I notice someone eating a plate of large mussels.  The green-lipped kind.  They look wonderful in a creamy sauce so that is what I choose.

On our way to Cape Point we drive across the extensive Nature Reserve and it is here that Nick and I get our first sighting of baboons in the wild.  They are going about their business on the open ground to either side of the road as we drive past.   There will be more wildlife before the day is out.

Arriving at the car park we have two options: we can climb the slope to Cape Point and the lighthouse there, or, we can walk around the coast to the Cape of Good Hope.  The former is a promontory at the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula, which is a mountainous and scenic landform that runs north-south for about thirty kilometres at the extreme southwestern tip of the African continent. The cape is located at about 2.3 kilometres east and a little north of the Cape of Good Hope on the southwest corner. Although these two rocky capes are very well known, neither cape is actually the southernmost point of the mainland of Africa; that is Cape Agulhas, approximately 150 kilometres (93 mi) to the east-southeast.  We opt to walk the route to the Cape of Good Hope which looks as if it will be scenic and will give us a good walk.  It really is too hot for me to climb.

For much of the track there is a wooden boardwalk which makes it a friendly path to travel.  There are spectacular views around and notably a beautiful sandy beach which is virtually deserted.  Along the way we see mongooses, a pair of Gemsbok, a pair of Ostrich and later, up by the carpark, we see Hyrax.  We climb up to the highpoint and survey the surrounding sea- and landscape.  It is very beautiful and remote.IMG_5733 (2)

We drive a different route back to Chapman’s Peak.  Our way takes us through Scarborough and Kommetjie.  IMG_5737 (2)It has been a warm day, a bath is very welcome and we dine at the hotel.  I expect I chose Calamari again 🙂