A visit to the Dolphin

I’m always a little wary about walking into a pub alone… silly I know, but it dates back to childhood and being told that nice girls didn’t go to pubs and definitely not on their own. However, tonight I decided to brave it.

The sun had been in and out and mostly in all day, but by about 6 o’clock it finally made up its mind and decided to stay. The fields all around our barn were bathed in that golden light that descends at the end of the day and on the horizon a deeper band of blue was beckoning me. I hadn’t been down to the sea since arriving a couple of days ago and decided with the tide up, it was time I paid it a visit.

It was almost 7pm by the time I set out for the half hour walk across the fields, through the village of straggling thatched cottages and past a ‘dangerous’ herd of cows (apparently they had chased my daughter a week or two earlier) and then down a path through the woods to the mouth of the river Erme. I reckoned it would still be light by the time I got home and I was right – just!

I had slid a £5 note into my pocket just in case I wanted a drink at the pub on the return journey… that is, if I was brave enough to go in on my own.

At the slipway onto the beach a young couple were walking barefoot across the sand and the sinking sun was glistening its rays across the rippling water of the incoming tide. Gentle rollers were crumbling onto the beach and the slate and rust coloured rocks were gilded with sunlight. I was pleased I had come down, even at the last hour. This was Devon at its most superb. After soaking up the scenery and talking to God about it all, a Fisherman arrived and then two canoeists, followed by a couple who perched on one of the rocks to watch the sun go down. It was time for me to head back before it got dark.

When I arrived in the village, I thought I deserved a drink. After all, I’d climbed the hill through the dusky wood and disturbed a dear and I’d boldly marched past the fearsome cows and all before supper.

Inside the pub was packed with diners and I shuffled my way round to the ‘locals end’ where two men had pulled up stools, one reading a paper the other engrossed in his phone. I recognised the barman from a previous visit and we chatted briefly until he plonked a welcome pint of cider on the bar in front of me. .. so far so good. No one had asked me to leave because I was a woman on my own.

A man with a ginger beard and a lumberjack shirt appeared from the side door and ordered a pint and I shuffled up not wanting to hog the bar. Then another older man with glasses jostled past and placed a plastic box on the bar beside me, while he struggled to remove a jumper. I stared at the box and then glanced round at the blackboard… ‘Fridays open mic night… fish Sundays… Mondays darts…’

I looked across at the man next to me and surprised myself by saying out loud, “Is it darts tonight?”

That was all it took… he smiled and asked if I was on holiday and I explained we’d recently moved in locally… all of a sudden the other man with his nose in the paper came and introduced himself and started chatting, then a taller man walked in who I had met at the pub once before. Miraculously I remembered his name and we began chatting about his visit to see his new granddaughter in the Midlands and then someone else was telling me about the church and the parish boundaries and another about what was going on next week and by the way, did I play darts?

I decided not to take up the offer of joining in the darts.
1. Because I had no money left to buy any drinks – although they all offered.
2. Because I am very bad at throwing – darts especially.

Walking back up the lane and the along the fields ‘home’ I was hungry but warm. I was warmed by the open friendship I had experienced in that short time in the pub. Never mind the most wonderful scenery, what made me feel most at home is the fact that I had been welcomed by some of the community and this summer I hope we will be making new friends and taking our first steps into life in Devon.

It turns out going to a pub on my own was the best thing I’ve done in a while!

 

 

 

To camp or not to camp

Camping is like marmite. You either love it or you hate it. But even if you love it, at some point you’re going to end up hating it.

Despite having dropped plastic boxes caked in grass in the garage, loaded a pile of damp clothes into the washing machine and kicked sleeping bags and airmats into odd corners of the house because I haven’t the energy to put them where they belong, I’m still feeling fairly positive about camping. The last load of washing is drying outside and when we packed up the tent it was bright sunshine, so we don’t have to wait for a windy day to air it on the lawn to stop it growing mold… such is the lot of a seasoned camper.

Last week we headed off for our umpteenth camping trip beside the sea in Devon. What could be more wonderful? Two days before ‘D’ day we decided we couldn’t fit everything in the car plus an extra passenger and would need to order roof bars so that we could take a top box. This wonderful invention allows tall people to store beach things and anything sandy high up out of reach where they will never be seen again, until you come to unpack at the end of the holiday and discover that’s where the badminton rackets, beach ball, windbreak and umbrella were after all. The roof bars arrived and were carefully assembled, but unfortunately didn’t fit the connection with the roof box. Problem one. No time to order new bars, so alternative bars had to be purchased locally, which also didn’t fit. Problem two. Third time lucky the bars were exchanged, fitted and the box was on top and the car was ready to be packed. Another problem was the fridge. Problem three. Tents don’t have fridges unlike their superior caravan cousins. So cool boxes/bags had to be bought (and returned due to unsuitability)… We began to wonder – is it really worth it? Why are we going camping? What about air B&B?

 

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7 reasons I love camping:

  1. No housework
  2. Minimal cooking – due to limited pans and burners
  3. Waking up to blue skies
  4. Sitting out under the stars drinking… wine mostly
  5. The perfect view from the tent of a curving sandy bay and rolling waves, with an island in the distance
  6. Smelling fresh grass and BBQs 24/7
  7. Not feeling guilty about fried egg and bacon for breakfast

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5 reasons not to go camping:

  1. The possibility it may rain
  2. The long walk to the toilets in the middle of the night – or stinging yourself on nettles seeking alternative loo point by the hedge
  3. The beds – there aren’t any
  4. The cool box, that isn’t, and smells of cheese after 24 hours
  5. Filling the water bottle, carrying it up the hill back to the tent and then realizing you needed to go to the toilet
    Oh and also… leaving the Fairy Liquid beside the communal sink – returning half an hour later to find a half used Co-op bottle in its place!

On balance, I think camping is a good thing. Our children love it. We endure it and I expect we’ll be back again next year… after all there are 7 good reasons to go. And I forgot to mention the sunsets!

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scavenger season

We’re all scavengers at heart. Who doesn’t like picking something up for nothing and making use of it? I love it, as do other members of the family. And what better place to do a bit of scavenging, than on the beach?

Since we moved here the shoreline around the island has been an endless source of treasures and surprises all rolled into one. If you like collecting driftwood, shells, pebbles and odd bits of this and that blown in by the tide, you’d love it here too.

This weekend there was some major scavenging to be done. It was almost a salvage job, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s call it ‘Op Groin’ or ‘Operation Groin’ for non-military types. The start of the operation was some weeks back on another beach where an interesting piece of wood was spotted protruding from the wet sand as the sea retreated into the distance. Sunday afternoon dog walkers passed by without a glance, until someone began digging and digging and digging… without a spade too! Some time later, along time later actually, a giant oak groin/beam was uncovered and claimed by the digger. Determined not to loose his booty he hauled it across the beach into the dunes and buried it. This short sentence does not accurately describe the Herculean effort it took or the toll on clothes and hands and patience, by those of us who advised against it. Once in the dunes, photos were taken of the ‘secret’ location so Pirate-like he could return to collect it another day. End of the first part of Op Groin.

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Several weeks passed. Christmas came and went before Op Groin went into full swing again. More troops were recruited to help with the next sortie. There was some doubt about whether the buried treasure could be found, but ‘sniffer-dog-like’, the damp wood buried in the dunes was uncovered again and four healthy volunteers shouldered the weight and carried it down the beach, along the footpath and back to the recovery vehicle on the road. Success is a six foot beam drying in the garage.

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But it wasn’t all over. This beam needed other similar pieces to be really useful. Fortunately, two more likely items were spotted quite recently nearby, so this weekend Op Groin Part 2 swung into play. The battered wood was spotted quite quickly this time, not buried, just lying on the rocks. And while the storm clouds brewed overhead, I helped manhandle the pieces into the vehicle, at the same time as rescuing an old football and some interesting pebbles, before we piled into the car as the heavens opened. Two more immense beams are now drying in another outside store. Thank goodness that’s over!

Today on a cycle along the beach keen eyes spotted a mast leaning at an odd angle from the shore. We headed over, careless of brambles and mud, wondering what a large boat could be doing so close in. It was a sorry sight. A large, rather lovely yacht was marooned on the beach, lying on its side, all out of sorts its hull imbedded in the sand. We later discovered that this yacht was swept ashore just a few hours after Op Groin had ended. Now, that would have been a very big salvage operation. Fortunately for the owners our prime family scavenger had returned to London by the time the boat appeared. No one’s too clear about the law of salvage, so we left the boat safely in the hands of a couple of frolicking seals.

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As for Op Groin, thankfully the operation didn’t leave any casualties, apart from sore shoulders, and one day the wood drying in the garage may be turned into a beautiful table or a bench or even a bed… we can but hope.

Which shoes?

The big question is which shoes? You may smile, but it’s an important one for today.
Today I have to be smart. I have to be professional, but not flashy. I have to be comfortable, able to walk without tripping over or dying to slip off my heels. I also want to feel good.I’ve spent the past two years mainly in flip flops or no shoes at all. Court shoes and heels practically never made an appearance. I remember trying a pair on in preparation for a big posh day and thought my feet would explode. Lately, I’ve been alternating between slippers and wellies or walking boots. 
Yesterday I enjoyed a very muddy wet run to the beach and back. My trainers have never looked so black – but I loved it. It was a fantastic feeling splashing through standing water in the tracks, jumping between mini lakes and the banks and finally giving up on trying to stay dry I ran straight through the flooded marshes to the shoreline, cold water creeping through my socks and squelching (delicious word) in the bottom of my shoes. There’s something invigorating about running through mud and water and laughing or singing and looking forward to the shower when you get home.

But today it is suede court shoes on my feet – now much cleaner than they were yesterday. Today I must be careful not to ladder my pale stockings and I must sit in a more ladylike way – no tucking my feet up under me or stomping through puddles – these must be given a wide birth. Today I am on a top secret mission to the big city.

The interview looms. Ssh! The outcome may dictate which shoes I’ll be slipping into in the months ahead… 

   
 

sea addict

I have to confess. I’m addicted. I can’t go a day without it and I’m afraid I may get a little shaky if I don’t see it. I didn’t realise it could be so addictive or I’d have been a bit more careful. Photographs don’t do it justice – they don’t capture the smells and sounds that make it such a wonderful ‘drug’.

I never imagined moving to live beside the sea would be so delicious and leave me craving for a sight of it every day. This afternoon I ‘ran’ to the beach (not the kind of running you do when being chased by hungry lions – just the kind that keeps pace with a slow cyclist). I knew it was going to be beautiful when I noticed golden blades of grass casting sharp shadows on the sand in the dunes. A bright white sun was starting to slide towards the horizon across the channel lighting up the ripples in the muddy coloured sand as the rays danced across the water. There were shallow dark pools on the wide expanse of empty beach. In the distance a solitary sailing boat bobbed mid channel and high up in the distance a flock of migrating birds swooped and swirled in a cloud, before disappearing out to sea.

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This is a special place. The only sounds were some strange sea bird noises and what I think might have been baying seals on the sandbanks. This afternoon it was as quiet as a nature reserve. I had the beach to myself. The light was unreal in a golden ethereal way. It felt like it was going to be the kind of night for smugglers to pull up their boats and haul their contraband up the beach…the kind of night for stories and secrets to be shared around a fire on the cool sand while the waves creep closer.

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I’m not sure how or why I’ve developed this addiction to ‘see the sea’ over the past few weeks. I could also describe it as a love affair because no matter what the state of the water – dark and stormy, grey and choppy or calm and blue – I can’t help but love the view. I even love it when the tide is out and messy dark green sea plants are left exposed, with the channel a remote blue strip beneath the boats. There is a reassuring rhythm to the tides. I’ve been waking up trying to remember what state the tide will be at – we can’t go far around here without noticing if it’s in or out. Now we’ve stuck a tide chart up in the kitchen and most days someone checks out the tide times and heights.

The sea here gives me a sense of space and freedom as its wide-open skies wrap around the island. It’s a sea of possibilities. A reminder that there are so many stories out there as people set sail or launch into open water – a lone fisherman inspecting his nets, an anxious sailor battling against a retreating tide, or a man on a motorboat heading into the deep. It’s a place of inspiration too. There are mysteries here to unravel and stories to be told… even crimes to be solved. I’m going to indulge my addiction for now. After all it’s not expensive or unhealthy and I have a suspicion the sea has something to tell me. And most of all – we live here…

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Blackberries and a beach

What makes you smile, even when things go wrong? For me, this weekend, it was unending hedgerows of blackberries and a beautiful beach.

Moving house and moving countries was always going to have its moments. We’d anticipated some of the problems including parting with the wrong stuff for 6 weeks going by container ship, collecting the cat from Heathrow, buying a new car and sorting out phones and internet. It turns out there was more…

No sooner had we set off on the journey south, in a packed car to our new island home, when the phone call we all dread came saying our daughter had been in A&E after miraculously surviving being hit by a bus. Still, it was an emotional call as everyone was in shock and suddenly life felt very fragile and the worries of removal vans and packing boxes seemed less significant. What you need most in those situations is just to be able to give someone a hug – distance and circumstances have meant the hugs will have to wait till this weekend. Just before we left for our flight back to the UK we also heard the sad news that a friend who had been ill had died quite suddenly. It made me realise our lives are in God’s hands and each day is precious – none of us know what’s around the corner or what the next day will hold.

And just as we were settling in, amassing our list of ‘army quarter’ deficiencies – from a faulty cooker to windows that don’t close – the next little hiccup occurred. The cat, who has already survived being abandoned as a kitten, being hit by a car and now flying 5 hours from Cyprus to Heathrow with other orphaned pets, worked out how to unlock the newly installed cat-flap. Our plan to keep him in at night had failed and he was on the prowl in the dark in a strange new country. We thought he had worked out how to find his way back to the house after his first night escapade on Thursday, but the next day he didn’t appear or the next. A weekend that should have involved relaxing and exploring with the family became a search and rescue mission. Search parties were dispatched from dawn to dusk, armed with cat treats and torches. ‘Missing’ posters were printed and distributed door to door. On Sunday afternoon we were beginning to feel as if something bad had happened and we might have to adjust to life without our strange sandy cat. So we headed for the beach around the corner on paths lined with blackberry bushes and I thought about baking a crumble on a happier day and basked in the sun in the shelter of the sand dunes.

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A little while later there was an urgent call that a sandy cat had been spotted near the road by a wood. We raced to the spot and tramped through undergrowth spotting a pair of wary eyes and a sandy tail hidden in the long grass. Was it Simba? We couldn’t be sure. The cat didn’t respond to our calls and moved further away. We couldn’t get close enough to be absolutely sure it wasn’t him and wondered what had made him so frightened. We tried to approach from the other side of the wood and as I crunched through deep undergrowth and trampled down waist high nettles, I thought about snakes and what might be underfoot. But this is England now – not Cyprus! The abandoned cat eventually disappeared deep into the undergrowth and we had to abandon the quest. We decided to leave food and water and a box… just in case and return the next day. At dusk we made a final sortie along the beachside path, through the boatyard and back by some large houses at the edge of the airfield. Our voices were growing hoarse with calling out and listening in case he was trapped somewhere. Just as we were about to cross the road back to our house we heard a faint cry. A fluffy bundle appeared from the bushes and the cat that was lost was now found.

We’re not sure what has happened to the cat in the woods, but people say he lives in a nearby barn. So we’ve retrieved our food bowls and box and left him to it. I’m hoping our dramas are over for a few days. Our cat is sleeping safely on a chair by the window and apart from nursing some giant mosquito bites we’re all in one piece. This weekend the whole family arrive, our ‘walking miracle/accident victim’ included. We’re looking forward to blackberry picking and I’ve even found an old apple tree nearby so blackberry and apple crumble is on the menu. That’s something to make me smile.

When only soup will do

There are times when only soup will do and yesterday was one of those days, but no matter how many mountain cafes and restaurants we searched in, strangely it was the Argentinians who came to the rescue. As usual, it’s a bit of a tale…

I should have known it would be an odd kind of day, when I found myself abandoned on a deserted beach for half an hour that turned into an hour and a half. Someone else was very busy with vital work involving suits and tailoring and I had pebbles to collect. So as the car pulled away and watches had been synchronized to advise he would be back in about 25 minutes max and my phone had battery, I stepped onto the deserted cliff flanked beach where waves higher than my head were rolling in with a roar. “Don’t go swimming,” he’d shouted as he drove away. The water was a clear turquoise blue, but I wasn’t tempted. There seemed to be no-one at all on the beach which stretched invitingly in both directions. At my back were sandy banks held together with scrub and pampas grass, with not a home or house in sight. Reddy brown sand gave way to coarser granules higher up the beach where a fascinating number of amazing multi-coloured pebbles were scattered. No time to loose! With eyes scanning the ground I hunted for a few more perfect pebbles to add to the growing collection in the house. I was quite content, warmly wrapped in my duvet jacket and a woolly hat against the cool breeze, stooping down to examine another possible heart-shaped pebble. I stood for a moment watching the waves crashing in and looked further down the empty beach towards the cliffs at the far end. It looked like there was something moving in the distance or was that just the light playing on the shade between the rocks? I looked harder and began to see a figure – yes, it was definitely someone walking and now I could make it out properly, I could also see them bending down and searching the beach from side to side.

Question: What is scarier than a deserted beach? A deserted beach with one other stranger on it, walking towards you.

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I reached into my pocket and glanced at the phone, calculating my lift would be back in about 15 minutes. How long does it take to kill someone and bury the body? A little longer possibly…so the ‘dangerous’ stranger was doomed to a life behind bars, once I was dead. I carried on walking anyway, because you never know he might have a dog and all would be well.

Why is it Ok to chat to strangers when they have a dog, but we stay well away if they are alone? I couldn’t see a dog and began to wonder what this person was collecting or searching for on the beach. Just when I had formulated the conversation in my head, about how my ‘martial arts trained husband’ was about to return any minute, I noticed another figure further behind the first one, also searching. At this point I was relieved. A man on a walk with his wife, also picking up pebbles…still I didn’t feel like making conversation and so turned to walk back in the other direction. The pebbles in my pockets were growing heavier and I wondered how many extra stone I was carrying. One particular pebble, a small incredibly smooth egg shaped brown stone, was clutched in my hand. Earlier on I had fancied myself as a bit of a ‘crackshot’ – David against Goliath – hurling a stone straight at my would-be assailant’s forehead. The fact that I can’t throw further than I can spit, didn’t deter the plan and I turned the stone over again against my palm. There is something soothing about stroking a smooth stone and feeling it warm against your skin. After turning into a pebble filled sandy corner lined by pampas grasses, when I eventually headed back along the beach, both the other beachcombers were nowhere in sight. Either they had left, or they were waiting in the bushes to attack me and steal all my pebbles. I decided they’d probably gone and after discovering the tailoring was taking longer than anticipated and I had at least another half an hour to kill, I headed towards the cliffs at the far end of the beach. I was so much happier having the whole beach to myself – it was safe to sing.

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Emptying my pockets into the floor of the car a while later, I felt a whole load lighter as we wound our way towards the mountains. I was quite hungry and a couple of ginger biscuits and a banana, just didn’t hit the spot…what I fancy, I thought to myself, is a nice bowl of soup.

But it was never going to be a day where things went to plan and as we arrived at the sought after winery, we found it closed. The wine-route village didn’t quite have the appeal we were looking for and although a walk on some of the tracks through the mountains was suggested – I could see the sun beginning to drop and could only really think that right now, I’d love a bowl of soup. One mountain café with a roaring fire looked promising, but, “Sorry, no soup today.” We’ll try the village down the road, we thought. It was almost dark when we arrived to the twinkling lights of the small town nestled between the mountains in a steep valley, where the rush of water could be heard at every corner. We wandered up a narrow cobbled hill, with ancient wood-framed houses on either side, after a path by the river proved impassable and we stopped again at another little café where a lady smiled and welcomed us in… “Soup?” we questioned hopefully. She shook her head and suggested coffee. We turned sadly away. No-one seemed to serve soup anymore, but what else would you want on a winter’s night, when you’ve had no lunch?

Further down in the village the restaurants looked less inviting, with rows of plastic chairs and big glass windows. The problem was, I was pining for a cosey English pub with a fire. Beside a waterfall around the corner we spotted a promising timber-lined restaurant with red and white checked table clothes and little candles. A blackboard outside said: ‘Homemade soup’. As we creaked open the latch a handful of people were sat eating round a table at the far end. Are you open? we asked. They shook their heads – “We’re closed.” With sinking hearts we headed back into the town and into one of the modern restaurants, where soup was on the menu. After having to sit further from than the fire than we wanted, it took an age for the owner to come and take an order for his special homemade vegetable and beef soup. Only to return a few minutes later to say the soup was finished, but they had some special milk soup, if we fancied that. We didn’t. So, we smiled politely and left, shrugging on our coats and stepping out into the night, where it was raining ever so lightly. Do we really have to have soup? Of course not, let’s just get a beer in a bar with a fire. The problem was, the special Mill restaurant, where we had booked a table and that was famed for its beautiful rainbow trout, wasn’t open until 7.30pm and we had an hour and half to spend somewhere – preferably not sitting in the car. A little bar, more suited to summer visitors with rattan chairs provided us with beers and nuts…but someone was restless and we wandered out into the night again to search the cobbled streets for that perfect old bar with a fire. It was 18.50 and we were looking longingly into the cosiest restaurant with a wood lined ceiling and a fire in one corner. The sign on the door said it didn’t open till 7pm. A man appeared in the doorway and took pity on us – we could have a drink, but no food could be ordered until 7pm. Thank goodness there was room in this inn for two strangers.

As he welcomed us in, I glanced up at a large board with a horse’s head which said ‘Argentina – Cyprus’, and I wondered. The man turned out to be the owner and proceeded to seat us right next to the open fire and tell us about his wonderful wines from Argentina. He was an ex Argentinian army officer married to a Cypriot who he had met while serving with the UN in Cyprus. As he wandered off to pour wine – an Argentinian Malbec, where the grapes are ripened by wind from the hills and the desert – we gave each other a warning glance. We’ll say we’re Dutch right? Don’t mention Maggie Thatcher or the Falklands and definitely don’t say you’re in the army…ssh he’s coming back.

A little later his smiling dark haired wife brought us a menu and we debated about eating here instead of our trout restaurant…knowing steak would be on the menu, but we were a little uncertain about how welcome British guests really were in an Argentinian restaurant. “We’ll say we like Madonna”…I glanced down at the Argentinian icons on the place mats…”don’t you mean Maradonna?” I said. “Him as well!” Looking down at the menu, we noticed soup. It was tempting and it was 7pm. Surely there was time to enjoy a soup starter here, before moving down to the Mill for our main course? After many hours of looking forward to it, our soup arrived, complete with crispy herb croutons and it was all we’d hoped for and more – delicious, warming vegetable soup. But just when we were thinking reluctantly of leaving, the couple re-stoked the fire, drew up their chairs and began to tell us about the restaurant, their other home in Nicosia, their dog Beethoven, who had sadly died after a long illness, the holiday they had enjoyed at a beach we knew well….the conversation flowed, another complimentary glass of wine was placed in front of me as I wasn’t driving, homemade pate and toast was brought out for us to taste and then mouthwatering home made chocolates. Meanwhile, the couple eating a full steak meal on the other side of the restaurant was ignored until they were practically walking out of the door. We felt warm, welcomed and as we headed out into the night, pretty full! We had assured them we would return in the summer to sample the delights of their roof terrace.

A little later, our fresh trout in garlic and lemon sauce was delicious – but the soup – well of course, nothing compares to soup on a cold winter’s evening, especially when you’ve waited all day for it and nothing else will do.