Chestnuts, Dogs and Falling Logs

Wed 22 Nov 2017 15:37

Chestnuts and Dogs and Falling Logs

England in the autumn is a beautiful place on a sunny day. The six of us, three generations travelled in the family Citroen along avenues rich in the colours of decaying leaves to Arne, a spectacular area of typical Dorset countryside on the shores of the natural Poole Harbour. We have walked there many times before with the children and Toby, spied on the resident deer herd with its famous white stag who were in hiding on this day.

Instead we walked straight into a lovely copse of sweet chestnut trees and between us filled all available bags and pockets with the bounty to be used later in two supper dishes. Henry is still building with Minecraft and has recently added vegetables to the garden of the house he has designed. We were strolling alongside a ribbon of green seaweed in the shallow waters edge when I astonished him by saying the seaweed is edible and if his Minecraft house is by the sea he could add to his diet this way. I don’t think he was impressed.

We drove back towards Wareham and as we approached the bridge over Wareham Creek I remembered how years ago, in Missee Lee our 20’ sailing boat, Emily and I had moored just inches from the same bridge alongside the quay for our 24 hour free stay with our friends Frank and Eva who were in their Kingfisher 22 footer. It was a baking day so we stumbled into the welcoming arms of a soft leather sofa in the Quay Inn for a very welcome drink. Emily whiled away the afternoon teaching a lady how to row in our dinghy. Happy days in lovely company.

That evening we baked puff pastry tartlets and filled them with shallots, mushrooms and the peeled chestnuts all of which had roasted in olive oil, balsamic and for the last ten minutes under a blanket of brown sugar. Rob made a Madeira sauce with vegetable stock, Madeira Sherry, chopped mushrooms and a touch of marmite and we served up with an accompaniment of Mediterranean cous cous. It was a mediocre success with the children but a resounding one when Henry and Ruby were in bed and we finished off the Madeira!

Next day we drove in Gary’s car down to my Brother Robin’s farm in Devon and were so busy nattering we missed the turn off and had to detour through Launceston.

Robin has three dogs; Jack is a Jack Russell with a split personality. He is sweet with people but is a rat and a cat’s most deadly enemy. Even at eight years old he can fell both with a lightening severing of the jugular quicker than they can say “well blow me…..”

Bud and Jim are both Springer Spaniels who still enjoy a good walk despite Jim being deaf and recovering from having an infected toe removed. They lavished us with the affection afforded to long lost friends as only dogs can do, just as they used to welcome Toby when he came with us.

A while ago bro Rob took on another Jack Russell he named Max. Jack became his protector and Max was settling in as his apprentice when one day Rob was in a hurry to see the cows in. He usually put the dogs in his car for safety but on this occasion just closed them behind the gate. Well Max managed to get through and was eyeing Rob up on the other side of the road when a fast moving car rounded the bend further up the road. Although Max was on the other side of the road the driver sped up and changed direction to make sure he ran over little Max. “He made no sound Barbara, so I don’t think he knew anything and maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” I felt almost as sorry for Max as I did for Rob.

I had the joy of preparing meals for everyone while we were there in the new kitchen. The previous kitchen had been fitted out back in the 70’s by my father who installed the cupboards he made himself. The tiles on the floor were worn through and the housing for the dual oven was outmoded and defunct. The new solid oak cupboards with self-closing doors make better use of the space and the centre of the room is now a clear space giving the room a nice airy feel. Chinese slates cover the floor as they are harder than Welsh slate.

Brother Rob’s daughter in law Phillipa, who spends a day a week cooking for Rob and Christopher, had a ball throwing out masses of unwanted and unused china and knickknacks that now assist the drainage in one of the farm gateways. I like a compact kitchen, like the one on Zoonie and bro Rob has been adept over the years in making sure there is no appliance, pan, utensil, gadget or dish lacking for the visiting chef.

The Westcountry is such a beautiful place that whenever we are there we try to do as many of our favourite countryside and coastal walks as we can and with three dogs to accompany us that makes it even better. The summer had been very wet so a walk around the farm, with its fabulous views of Dartmoor, on the clay based soil was impossible as it was too muddy.

So Coombe Valley, with its hundreds of years of agricultural history was our starting point. When our children were young my late sister-in-law Shirley and I would take her James and Christopher and my Emily and whatever dogs were around at the time down one side of the valley that lies between Kilkhampton near Bude and the coast and its stream which emerges at Duckpool Bay. At the stream there is a handy bridge used for Pooh Stick games and there used to be a rope hanging from a branch that the children would cling onto as they spun out over the stream and back. Great fun and happy memories.

Taking the path on the other side of the valley we did a loop back towards the car. The leet or millstream for the watermill runs parallel with the path and seeing it reminds one of how people lived out their entire lives in this valley and its surrounds, working the local farms. Folk being christened and marrying in one of the local granite churches or chapels, their leaning tombstones reminding us that the now silent valley used to be full with the noise of cattle, rushing water, the grinding wooden wheel recently restored by the National Trust, children playing and farmers and their wives passing the years in hard toil, joy and sorrow, compared to today, in isolation.

The Trust has renovated the old cottages up to modern sanitary standards and let them out to holiday makers all year round. We went down there one Christmas to the smell of woodsmoke, the colour of Christmas lights and today’s generation of children having a great time welly paddling in the ford outside the thatched cottages just as they did in pastimes.

The last part of the walk would take us back up the road and as we had brought neither collars nor leads (!) hubby Rob went up to get the car while the boys and I went to explore the old dairy and shippen where the cows used to be milked.

Verdant grass and wild flowers grew everywhere and the field disappeared up the gentle slope of the hill. The boys were busy sniffing, Jack helping the other two in their investigations. There was a padlock on the shippen door but further inspection revealed the lock was not closed. The boys were with me as I pulled the door back, some interesting smells making their nostrils twitch.

I was amazed, the stalls were intact and there was just a light scattering of hay and other natural detritus over the floor and in the drainage channel. Alan who lead the construction of bro Rob’s new kitchen told us the waterwheel and farm buildings were restored a short while ago and looked as if I had just encroached upon the place in between milkings. I wondered if the site was used for educational purposes.

On a clear blue sky day such as we had the whole area is now exquisitely pretty, the once worn paths and work areas now a verdant carpet of green grass, nature’s brown field site.

Robin, Rob and I spent an evening with Robin’s oldest son James and his wife Philippa and their 4 year old daughter Poppy, Charlie the gentle Huntaway cross Collie and Alfred and Jake the guinea pigs. They have all recently moved into this roomy house in a typical Cornish village with a pleasing outlook across the valley to a fine wooded hillside.

Poppy was delighted with her vocal kiwi soft toy, just the right size for her little hand to clutch and squeeze. Alfred and Jake rested upon my lap while James, torch in hand went into the back garden to fetch them some fresh dandelion leaves. These enthusiastically consumed they both settled down for a snooze.

We were chatting about this and that when I felt a warm, moist feeling spreading over and down my leg. I knew the situation could be contained until we got home and the family enjoyed the historic event, you can hear them in years to come, “Remember when Alfred peed on great aunty Barbara, Poppy?” It wasn’t until I got up to leave that two little pointy bullets fell onto the floor from Jake’s environs. “Got with both barrels!”

Our days with Robin were either exquisitely lovely or bitterly cold, but that’s life eh, the rough with the smooth. We took the dogs as far as Jim’s recovering paw would allow and also re-visited Widemouth Bay where lots of families were relaxing on the wide expanse of sand at low tide, on the last day of the school holiday. Robin had a virus and was struggling between spells helping Christopher on the farm and collapsing into his chair for a rest so sadly he didn’t join us.

On our drive back to Broadstone, just behind Poole where Gary and Emily live, we stopped at West Bay. I wanted to show Rob the area where Broadchurch and a previous series with Nick Berry were filmed. We had coffee and cake in The Watch Tower Café on the beach and wandered around the not so old quay, “Would we ever bring Zoonie in here, I don’t think there would be enough water at low tide so it would be a quick stopover with a tricky exit.”

Halloween as a commercial festival has grown in the two years we have been away. Emily took the children off so Henry could join his cub pack and they all went for a torchlit (if they worked) scramble over Badbury Rings, a hilltop site of human activity since the Iron Age, and probably much earlier.

They all turned their sparklers in fiery mini circles at the end and arrived home exhausted. "They went at such a pace mum I could hardly keep up!” “There was a disgusting smell in the car on the way back, I think one of them trod in some dog poo.” Three out of their four wellies required the granny with a loo brush treatment, but small price to pay for teaching youngsters not to fear the dark.

Rob and I enjoyed doing what we could around the house, re-upholstering the dining seats, after finding B&Q were selling stapleguns for which neither they nor anyone else had any staples! Fixing a broken bedhead support, that was easy, the chap at Dreamworld just gave us a new one and Rob adjusted it with a saw to the corect length.

Just before we left for Oakham tree surgeons turned up at the house and gave us a very entertaining time. The one surgeon sprung up the trees one by one as if being chased by a bear. Branches small and not so small covered the lawn and when safe another chap sent them through the mincer, reminded me of the odd fictional media murders where it wasn’t wood chips that flew out the other end.

All the while Merv has been keeping us informed of Zoonie’s condition in a very light and humorous way. I’ll paraphrase a few of his repeatable comments, “I noticed under your radar up the mast what appears to be a surveillance camera? I’m guessing these cameras are all over Zoonie inside and out! Are you watching my every move?? Gees talk about MI5.”We have just the one camera, to Merv’s relief, designed to assist forward vision around coral reefs and coral heads.

Merv delights in giving Zoonie’s bow thruster a run to prevent weed build up, “Love that bow thruster – contemplating hauling her out and transferring the entire thruster to MP (their yacht Meridian Passage) but the queen bee (Jeannie) said it would strain our relationship with the Zoonies, so I just content myself with a few short bursts when the engine is running – nice!”

Not at all happy with the idea of being surveyed, Merv comments “I shot the camera out with my AK47, sorry about the mess to the rigging and the mast!”

Lastly I can report, as many of you have asked, that Zoonie’s engine is in fine form, Merv tells us “Gees she’s frisky in forward gear at 5000rpm, a real test for the mooring lines as she attempts to mount the dock!!!”

What would we do without friends?

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