On Friday we crossed to the small island off St Vaast, known as Tatihou. It is no more than 28 hectares in area and offers a sanctuary for birds, grazing for sheep whose meat is sold in local butchers, some restored historical buildings including one of the famous Vauban ‘pepperpot’ towers, and a maritime museum whose exhibitions change every 18 months or so.
The former ‘lazaret’ which was used as a quarantine during the plague of the 17th century is now a small field centre which runs week-end residential courses on intertidal biology, seafood cooking, astronomy. The small subtropical botanical garden in the walled grounds of the buildings forming the field station and museum is only managed to a level which prevents wilderness taking over. Before we crossed in the 54-seater amphibious boat for which we had prebooked tickets, we ate lunch in La Marina. Rosie and I chose salads, hers was a pretty Salade Nordique.
We climbed the tower and enjoyed the view. There are small exhibits in the chambers of the former subterranean powder magazine. In the gardens the most spectacular botanical display was a large clump of Echium fastuosum. I have 2 single Echium growing in my garden and I’m not sure if they are pinnata or pininana. They have survived the winter and I think they are going to be huge.
We decided to walk back home across the oyster park rather than take the boat, which overtook us as it trundled over the causeway which the low tide exposes. The exercise allowed us to buy gateaux at the boulangerie with a bit of self-justification. We sat in the sunshine on our terrace and shared a taste of each kind of French fancy with some good English tea. Another marriage made in heaven.
In the evening I cooked another house special, fish pie and in view of a busy day planned for the morrow we were not late to bed. The market was busy: Gosselin were offering a champagne tasting of Veuve Cliquot, we also tasted some local Cidre Bouché, a sparkling cider which is used for a local speciality, Kir Normande, where Crême de Cassis is added to it instead of the more usual wine or champagne. We looked inside the Aladdin’s Cave which is Gosselin and bought some bits and pieces. I never cease to be fascinated by the array of preserves: so many jars of fish and seafood soups, patés, terrines and every conceivable sweet conserve including a jelly with violet petals.
Back home we had lunch outside and the plan had been to visit the botanic garden in the grounds of the Chateau de Vauville. But when I proposed we abandon this idea in favour of staying at home to prepare for supper guests, it was met with immediate agreement. However Nick did do the Voie Vert walk with Rob and Rosie whilst I tidied up at the house.
Supper was a joint enterprise with Rosie piercing the leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic, Rob peeling the potatoes and making a mint sauce (which Anne later pronounced to be un délice) and I prepared the other vegetables and made a homegrown rhubarb, raspberry and lemon crumble. Anne brought some home made mini goats cheese and cherry tartlets and some lengths of chorizo sausage roll which she snipped into bite size pieces. They also brought a cast iron crêpe skillet like the ones Daniel uses for limpets as a bouquet for the hostess. I had said I was looking out for a second hand one. They are so kind. I managed to cook the lamb without overdoing it, although I think some of the diners might have liked it pinker. It was, as always with the Poulets, a convivial evening.
On Sunday Nick, François and Daniel took the boat Aroona out for a fish. Rumours had it that there were cuttle to be fished just outside the harbour. This expedition had been planned with some subterfuge around the coffee table before dinner. François then announced during the meal that he needed to take Nick to the hospital to get his gout-ridden foot some proper attention amd the round trip would take two hours so he would surely be back by 11.30 am.
Something about the emphatic way François explained this rang bells of suspicion in my head, and when I glanced at the expectant expressions on Nick’s and Daniel’s faces, the Euro dropped. In the event they were back the sooner as no cuttle were biting. Rosie and I had been gardening. We all changed quickly to walk down to Fuchsias for lunch.
We ate off a different set menu this time. I chose a seafood gratin with a scoop of creamy oyster soup served in its shell on the side. I followed this with sea bream fillet on a cake of soft, grated waxy potatoes (a sort of under-done rosti), broad beans and sautéed peas. Nick and Rob chose stuffed mackerel to start and pork cooked en trois façons. The meals were as beautiful as ever………. During coffee Rosie and I walked through the garden towards the annex so she could see some of the exotic plants and the extent of the rooms available at the hotel.
There was a beautiful plant climbing up a sheltered wall which my knowledgeable friend Andy in California tells me is a Clianthus puniceus, native to New Zealand where they are endangered in the wild. I am immediately reminded of parrots when I stop to photograph it, so am all the more amused to find it has three common names: Parrot’s Beak, Parrot’s Bill and Lobster Claw. In view of the plant’s location I think the latter most appropriate.
Back at the house we all need some quiet time, and I sleep soundly for two hours. After a reviving tea we find our way outside where Rosie sets to to weed the beds which form a boundary between the lawn and the gravels by the back gate. She has now created a clear space for me to plant out annual poppies and empty some of the smaller pots of plants which will not survive if we get a dry spell during the remainder of May. Meanwhile I tie up bunches of the thyme which I have cut off an old leggy plant which has to come out to clear the plot for fresh planting.
On our last day we had planned to walk between Gattefille and Barfleur but it is raining and in any event it takes us all morning to complete shopping and other tasks before going to get Plat du Jour at Cafe de France in Barfleur. There is a Marmite de la Mer which contains a medley of seafood (oysters, mussels, cockles, squid, prawns) and fish (tuna, salmon, pollack, red gurnard) and dices of floury potates in a spicy Indian-style curry sauce. Perfect for a cool, wet spring day.
Back at the house and there is easy time for Rob and Rosie to round up stuff, pack their car, and we sort loose ends like the visitors’ book, and surf the internet. All too soon it is time for them to wend their way. We have had a wonderful time with them, a perfect combination of outings and time spent at the house and in the garden. What a joy to have visitors who like to work in other people’s gardens!
As they pull out of the drive I am already thinking about our next reunion to be spent with them in Devon ………. the last pages we had drawn up on my laptop were about Lundy, in order to lay first plans for a trip there with them in October.