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!

 

 

 

Remember Remember

Damp sparklers and soggy rockets! That’s what the weather forecaster said last night and it looks like it might be true. The skies are grey and the kind of fine misty rain that England does so well looks set to stay. It’s a day for sitting beside a log fire (if you’re lucky) and making soup and mugs of hot chocolate after a walk with the dog – or cat in our case. He proved himself ‘more dog than cat’ by joining us on a walk beside the sea the other day. The problem is he’s pants at fetching sticks and won’t swim out when we throw stones in the water.

Although it’s November 5th and the mantra is “remember, remember”, I’m trying hard not to remember balmy clear nights with fireworks and entertainment in Cyprus last year with no rain to dampen the party spirit. Instead I am cheering myself up with thoughts of train journeys and pop-up cafes.

The other week I discovered a little gem at the local train station in Emsworth. Arriving with time to spare at this quaint Victorian station, which has a Railway Children look about it from the platform, I thought it would be too small to have a café. But a blackboard just inside advertised coffee and cakes at Carriages. I wandered in to the former waiting room which has been transformed into a Cath Kidston style café with spotty plastic table cloths, bunting and pot plants, all in pastel shades of pale pink, yellow and duck egg blue. I was so surprised about it not being ‘Costa’ or another chain that I wondered if they’d even have takeaway cups. No fear, there was a smiling barista happy to help and a row of tempting cup cakes lined up along the counter. We chatted about her new venture to acquire the empty rooms and start up a traditional café on the platform. I was only sorry there wasn’t time to sit at one of the pretty tables to soak up the café charm – another day hopefully. Standing on the platform a cup of latte steaming in my hands I felt so pleased that there was somewhere like Carriages and that a couple of people could still start up a ‘business with a soul’ in this little community. I’m sure it makes commuting a happier experience.

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I met another bit of beautiful British entrepreneurship a few days later after a walk along the cliffs in Dorset. It had been a sunny afternoon, one of the last warm autumn days as it turned out, and we’d enjoyed a picnic with a panoramic view of Harry’s Rock with Poole and Bournmouth in the distance. We decided to wander down to Studland beach before heading home and I was wishing I’d packed a thermos of tea or coffee. I needn’t have worried. At the bottom of the lane just beside the beach was a little shack with it’s blackboard sign for tea and coffees propped up outside. It was almost 5pm but the café was still serving tea and not just tea, but tea in proper mugs that you could enjoy on the picnic benches overlooking the beach. At the top of the slope leading onto the sand beside a beach hut was a large container filled with buckets and spades and beach toys. Instead of a price for hiring or buying, there was a little notice which said, ‘please borrow and return – we like recycling.’ I was impressed and touched all at the same time. This seemed like a local family offering a brilliant service for visitors and locals alike. A young girl from the cafe was tidying up the buckets and spades to pack them back in the beach hut and I helped pick up a few left on the shore. There is something special about letting people borrow things without a charge and it was incredibly refreshing and simple. It made me want to live somewhere like that, where it isn’t all about money and charges.

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Although we may have to contend with soggy sparklers and a smoking bonfire tonight, at least there’s plenty of tea and other charming seaside cafes to seek out in the future. I’m looking forward to sampling many more. There should be a ‘rough guide to UK seaside cafes’ – now there’s a thought…

 

A walk on the wild side

I may not have been living on berries or catching crocodiles to cook over a fire, but I have been doing my own foray into the wilds of Cyprus.

It started with a couple of nights ‘wild camping’ in some sand dunes overlooking the sea. As the track proved impassable without a 4×4 we had to lug water, tent, food and cooking stuff some way up a sandy bank through dunes and then discovered our lack of wooden sand pegs, so scoured the area for rocks large enough to weigh down the sides of the tent. Camp set, I asked the inevitable question….”Do you know where the toilets are?” A line of trees and shrubs was pointed out, but there wasn’t a loo seat in sight.

I’ve never been a scout or a guide, or even done Duke of Edinburgh treks, so the idea of digging a hole for some serious toilet business was fairly alien… but needs must! As I squatted in the bushes I stared up at the hill beyond and noticed a little cave with a meshed off rail just above me – hang on, was that someone with binoculars peering down through the trees? No, probably just a goat or a donkey…

Later, after toasting ourselves on the beach and cooling off in the sea, it was time to put our cooking stove to the test and light the lanterns. After lighting the new gas lantern we admired its glow for a few minutes, only to watch it flicker and fizzle out. Oh dear, we hadn’t checked the bottle or bought a spare, let’s hope we fair better with the stove. Eating outside beneath the stars, enjoying a glass of wine or two ( yes we even took real glasses!) was magical and I forgot all about the trek through the dunes in the heat and the open air toilets.

About 3am in the morning I woke up in a tangle and stumbled from the tent – not even bothering to walk to the ‘toilets’. The sky was dark and there was no moon in sight – all around was shadows and the sand felt cool against my bare feet. Lying back in the tent a few minutes later I heard a rustle and imagined someone snooping around the food bag, possibly attempting to run off with our milk. More rustling. “Did you hear that?” I whispered to the sleeping form beside me. He hadn’t, but he was listening now. We both heard the loud braying of a donkey not far away. I wondered if someone might be out there, or perhaps it was a goat, in which case it would eat all the bags and towels as well as the food. Maybe it was a fox or a wild dog. The rustling started again and I lifted my head to the source, where someone’s feet were rustling against the entrance of the tent! Time to sleep!

Yesterday, not content with wild camping we ventured on a canyon walk up a spectacular gorge. Having parked the car in a restaurant car park called The Last Castle, we set off in the blazing heat of early afternoon against my better judgement. Wild living is all very well, I thought, glancing back reluctantly at the inviting chairs surrounding stone tables under a canopy of vines overlooking the sea, where the smell of barbecued meat was wafting towards us. But we were intrepid hikers intent on conquering the gorge. Some time later, after stops to re-tie boots and re-apply sun cream, the towering gorge began to close in on us and the path grew narrower. Menacing black birds were flapping their wings loudly as they flitted between nests in the cliffs high above. Water was splashing gently over the rocks and as we clambered over giant boulders, there were giant tree roots overhanging the path and water drenched moss on the damp stone walls beneath. The cliffs were lined with ridges in amazing curves and shades of sand, pink and even green in places. Around one corner a giant boulder was suspended over our heads bridging the gap between the sides of the narrowing gorge. Munching on an orange and sipping cold water beside a boulder in the dappled shade of some trees clinging to the cliff side, I knew why I like a taste of wilderness. We were all alone in a beautiful place. The only sounds were the gentle gurgle of the stream and the chirp of the birds overhead. I hope heaven is a wild place too.

But an hour or so later, after a hot slog back up the hill, sitting in The Last Castle, with a cool breeze on our faces, a cold beer on the table and the view of the sea spread out in front, I thought heaven might be a mixture of wild and wonderful. Because we all need a little luxury after a walk on the wild side.

 

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Follow that goat

I think that maps are overrated. For one thing they can be misleading and often give a false sense of security. I’ve had maps which I have followed religiously and yet still found myself miles off route. And this has nothing to do with my map reading, but is entirely due to careless map drawing. So, yesterday on a little trek through the Troodos foothills, I was skeptical about the accuracy of the maps posted at the start of the trail.

After a shaky start when two of our band of three thought the right direction was on the opposite side of the road, we admitted our error and paced off down the tarmac to the correct path a few hundred yards in the other direction. Point of clarification: I didn’t have my glasses with me, so took myself off map reading duty for the day.

Error 1 seemed to occur when we turned right up hill on a promising track that eventually came to a dead end. But we ploughed on. I was convinced the track had just become overgrown and it would magically appear through the steep undergrowth. A lot of sheep tracks later and we were half way up a steep hillside, with no way to go but up and no path in sight. After a rather hairy and what seemed like bramble and rock filled route, we spotted the track we had been seeking half a valley away. Luckily it wasn’t long before we stumbled on our original path which had wound its way up the hillside sensibly. We let out a cheer for paths and thought how good they were. Even when it was hard going, two of us were saying gratefully, “well, at least it’s a path.” We didn’t know what lay ahead!

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A little while later at the top of a lot more hills, lunch was a sumptuous affair and there was even a bench to sit on with a panoramic view and a shack with a window (in case it was raining!). From our viewpoint we heard the tinkle of bells and in the distance what looked like a herd of sheep, running along a grassy ridge parallel to ours. That we decided would be our route back. There was a problem however, because there was no direct path connecting us. The map was consulted and it was decided we would follow a riverbed down a valley which, quite simply, would connect us with the path we were seeking and our ‘shortcut’ back.

The herd of white sheep, who turned out to be a species of giant goat, suddenly appeared ahead of us on the path. Veering off Kamikaze-like into the sheer hillside either side as soon as they spotted us. We wondered later which route they had taken and I thought it was a shame they hadn’t hung around a bit for us to take directions. But I’m afraid goats are like that…very hasty!

We headed off optimistically across some medium height undergrowth following our leader. The goats had made it somehow, so how difficult could it be? Ten minutes later he was beating back the Mediterranean jungle with his feet (where are walking sticks when you need them?). The trees and bushes were getting larger and more dense and there was no path in sight.

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Spring in Cyprus means the snakes are just waking up from their long winter sleep. So I did a bit of calling out to let them know we were coming, “Snakes! calling all snakes!” Because we didn’t want to step on their heads or anything. The mention of the ‘snake’ word added the extra adrenalin needed to pick up speed and find the path ahead as quickly as possible. So no matter how many fallen trees trunks had to be clambered over or under, there was no turning back.

The result of all this trekking through undergrowth was that my carefully epilated legs now offered a good base for a game of noughts and crosses with the pattern of scratches left from brambles. Eventually we found a dried up riverbed heading down an overgrown valley which we stumbled our way down. Between the sliding bed of rocks, the bramble strewn hillside and hidden holes and ditches, it was amazing we made it out at all. When we did eventually find a path, someone made a tentative suggestion about going in search of another path on the other side of the valley. But having found our way back no one was keen to return to the ‘jungle’ – let’s not push our luck, miraculously we had survived without twisted limbs or snakebites, despite our best efforts.

Along the track we discussed which route the goats might have taken and we noticed signs of them on the ground with hoof marks and other smellier offerings visible to the discerning tracker. They had definitely passed this way.

Next time I think taking a goat with us could be a lot more useful than a map!