Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Butterflies, blackberries & beaches - Rame, Cornwall

Over the summer we spent some time at Cawsand on the Rame peninsular in South Cornwall.

The coast is what shapes the land on this peninsular and smuggling activity in the past has shaped the villages. The views are wonderful along the coast and out to sea. 8 miles off shore you can easily see the Eddystone lighthouse on a good day. The south west coast path winds its way around the coast and can be followed right the way around Rame head. It stretches from Minehead in Somerset and meanders all the way around the Southwest peninsular via Lands End and the Lizard before finishing in Poole, Dorset. We walked a section of it through fields being harvested and high above the beaches. Sprawling brambles live very happily in the sunshine and salt filled winds of the coast. It was a bit early for the blackberries but there were still plenty that were sweet enough to cover the children with purple staining.

On the headland of the peninsular is a small building which has served for many years as a lighthouse, warning sailors from its rocks. Although the beacon is no longer lit, Rame head still plays its part in keeping the ocean going traffic safe with a national coast watch station. These volunteers’ keep track of all vessels passing to and from and are able to quickly inform the coastguard of any issues, deal with problems and carry out radio checks. The station is open to visitors to see their work and there is a car park and flat access into the building and amazing views all round. 

The microclimate in south Cornwall makes it a great place for many animals. We saw lots of butterflies’ everywhere we went and several caterpillars including one with a wicked looking spike that was quite grumpy, trying to attack us as we watched it.  There were also some impressive looking mushrooms growing in one field and several times we saw large groups of deer.

We visited the lost gardens of Heligan, somewhere I had wanted to visit for a while. It did not disappoint. The beautiful planting, quirky features and history of the place seeped into all of us. The effort that has gone into recreating parts of the garden such as the pineapple pit show the love and care that is being poured into the recreation of this gardening community. In addition to the formal gardens (which have good accessibility for wheelchairs/mobility scooters) there are some wilder parts of the estate which are fantastic for exploring. In addition to the animals and jungle there was a large area with really helpful staff put aside for a summer den building activity. The children loved building their structure, working together and camping out inside. The story of how the gardens were lost following the conscription of the outdoor staff is truly the story of the staff of the big house and the gardens are a fitting tribute to their memory.

Mount Edgcumbe makes for a nice day out too. The house is open for visiting and the grounds are huge stretching from the hills down to the water with lots of interesting things to explore like the fortifications and follies. The sheltered deep water anchorage here is known as Barn Pool and was used by the Vikings in 997. Looking out over the Sound there is a great view across to Devonport including the listed number 1 slip. This slipway was built in 1774-5 and was then covered in about 1814. It is now the oldest covered slipway in the world. Many ships were built, then launched, from this building including Nelsons flagship the Foudroyant. A wooden boat builder is now housed in the slip.

Although we were high up on farmland above the valley it was only a short walk across the fields to the village of Cawsand and its twin Kingsand. This was once the border between Devon and Cornwall until boundary changes shifted it east to the middle of the Tamar. The pub with outside seating in the square was a lovely place to walk the dog to in the evening; at night the warmth of the lights flow over the street. At high tide the waves break over the buildings and lap at the brightly coloured kayaks leaning against the walls. Outside many of the houses are piles of buckets and sandals marking the holiday homes which probably give the village a very different feel during the winter season. Cawsand is a very popular anchorage and there were several boats swaying in the bay making the most of the summer. A ferry service runs regularly between Cawsand and Plymouth, running up onto the beach.

We spent lots of time enjoying the beaches. Whitsands have been the escape for generations of Plymothians and can be easily reached by bus from the city. Rows of beach huts line the cliff sides reached by steep and narrow paths which are not for the unfit or fainthearted. The beaches are long, clean and sandy and dogs are welcome to enjoy them all year round too. It was a lovely start to the day to paddle along the waters edge on the morning walk. Poking out into the Atlantic this part of the coast gets pounded in heavy weather and has its share of wrecks, claimed by these snaggy cliffs. We spotted lots of wildlife on the beaches too; anemones, crabs, limpets, tellins, barnacles and jellyfish amongst others. We also found some mermaids purses (sharks eggs) belonging to rays. 

The area is wild and beautiful and only a short drive or ferry ride from Plymouth. I’d certainly recommend a trip there; by land or from the sea. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

It takes a village - sailing communities

 "It takes a village to raise a child"  - Traditional African proverb

We enjoyed fresh mackerel rolls last week. The skipper made a coriander, lime and chilli dressing, fried the fish and cooked chips in our new air fryer. It went very nicely with some cider shandies. This is not a food blog though. The fish had been caught by our neighbour and was a thank you for the loan of an outboard battery. We have been part of incredible communities in the past and I admit that when we left Somerset one of my (many!) worries was that we would lose that feeling of belonging but even whilst we were cruising it was noticeable. We met people and moved on but stayed in touch with many. The community here is fantastic and we are surrounded by interesting and lovely people.

Mackerel - before and after

Our neighbours include 20 foot fishing boats, 40 foot power boats, 60 foot sailing boats and everything in between. We meet people with hugely different backgrounds and experiences but the sea is a great leveller. It is a pleasure to spend time together; putting the world to rights on the pontoon or over a cup of coffee, sharing experiences and tips, skills and resources. Some neighbours we live with year round, others we only see in the summer or on odd days when they come down to enjoy their boats, others are people who are just passing through.

We were shocked by sad news from a couple who we originally met in Quiberon (France) several years ago and have spent time with since, here in England. Their boat is now for sale, a sign reminding us all to enjoy life when we can as you never know what is around the corner. Another couple have just returned from an 18 month cruise and it has been good to catch up again.

There are others that we have met on line rather than in person and have a different sort of fellowship with from America and other places. I know that I have mentioned Women Who Sail before but really it is the most supportive group you could ever wish for. We even recently had a small meet up in person in Plymouth. There are many groups around such as Kids4sail that are great for information and support.

Looking out at the Marina from land

This week there was awful news of a family boat being lost in French Polynesia. The outpouring of practical, emotional and even financial support given freely by the community was incredible. Many people do not realise that there are many families, couples, single handers and others living on boats. This can be an issue for people setting out on a new adventure and facing the concerns of family and friends. To many it seems an unusual and even strange life but to thousands it is our normal. We know that we are part of something much bigger and are certainly not alone in living this way.

What about the sock? Well, the laundry is somewhere that we often meet up with people and communal washing machines are the start of many a conversation. This sock came back with our washing the other day and was obviously far too small for any of our crew. It has been returned to the laundrette to hopefully be reunited with its other half but it was a small reminder of just how interlinked our lives are. How we are all just living our lives, doing washing, looking after the children and going to work; the same as any other community.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Getting a passport for the sea dog

The sea dog became just a little bit saltier last week when he picked up his first passport.

Some of you will be aware that Britain has very strict rules about the import of animals and of course we do not know yet what will happen in the future as anything everything to do with us and mainland Europe is currently ‘under discussion’ because of Brexit. Passports can be obtained for dogs, cats and ferrets; other animals have different guidance. Horses have a similar scheme but I’m yet to meet a cruiser with a pet horse on board.

Getting the passport done in Plymouth – an ocean city with a constantly changing population - was easier than last time having it done in a small Somerset village. It is important to check with your vet before booking the appointment as not every vet does passports. It may also have helped that this time we had more idea what was needed from experience rather than just internet research. Our vet is part of a group with practices dotted around the outlying towns and a main animal hospital in the city itself so we were sent there to make sure that it was a correctly certified vet who carried out the vaccinations. Apparently the dog was slightly reluctant to go in. Maybe he remembers the last time that he went there and left feeling rather sore in a delicate place after a minor op.

You really need to start planning as early as possible. The dog needs to be at least 15 weeks old and be microchipped. Rabies and tapeworm treatment are the two biggies that they are mostly worried about and the timings of the vaccination followed by the blood tests to check it has taken have to be right. You have to have the original document to show on demand but it’s a good idea to have a photocopy or scan just in case something happens to the original. Whilst the rules can be a pain I’d also rather not see rabies in this country which sort of makes it more reasonable jumping through the hoops. For tapeworm treatment it has to be done at least 24 hours and no more than 120 days before (re)entering the country. The tapeworm treatment has to be approved for the country you are coming from.

Having a passport for the dog means that we will be able to take him to mainland Europe without too much hassle. Coming back is slightly trickier. All animals have to be imported through an official channel such as an airport or ferry terminal. This means that we couldn’t just pop over to France for the weekend on the boat with the dog without him then having to go into quarantine when we got back. If travelling with someone else through an official entry point whilst you move the boat, they have to get to the country no more than 5 days before or after you and have your written permission.

We’re not shipshape enough for popping anywhere for weekends at the moment anyway but its nice to have another thing ticked off the list moving us towards throwing off the ropes for some more trips on the water.

I wrote before about travelling with our old dog, you can find that blog here

There is a pet travel scheme helpline 0370 241 1710 (available Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm UK time (closed Bank Holidays))

There is also loads of information on the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad/pet-passport

Friday, 23 June 2017

Authors for Grenfell Tower

You may have heard about the awful loss of life in the recent London tower block fire. It was a tragedy that has affected many people. Several different fund raising things have been set up, amongst them this on-line auction. Various authors, editors and agents have donated promises which you can bid for including books, meetings, critiques and even the chance to name characters. Have a look and see if you can help this worthwhile cause.

Click below to go to the web page:

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Learning to read for fun

"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo 

The latest survey by the National literacy Trust shows record numbers of children reading for enjoyment. This in some ways is in stark contrast to the idea of teenagers glued to digital screens and is great news. There are so many great books out there and with the apparently unstoppable rise of young adult fiction maybe that is why more children are finding things that they enjoy. If everything you read is either too young or too old for you you’re not going to stick to reading but finding things that resonate with you will build a love of reading that will hopefully last a lifetime.

In hindsight, the best things we achieved with home schooling were to give the children a thirst for knowledge and a love of books. We were all excited when the youngest took those first steps of reading independently. A love of reading is not just a pleasure in itself but an open door to access the writing which makes up our everyday world. Making decisions on who to vote for, reading the pilot book before arriving in a new port, communicating on social media, all rely on our ability to read.

As we travelled we tapped in to their loves; the things that they saw around them. We found books about the places we visited and the things we saw. We enjoy reading and the children saw us sat with books. We talked about stories and read books out loud together. By using kindles we were able to obtain books quickly on top of the other books that we already had. Family brought books to us when they came to visit. Book swaps can introduce you to books you may never have come across and social media makes getting recommendations easier from contacts on facebook to suggestions on Goodreads.

Recommendations from the same article in The i , June 2017

Obviously there is still a long way to go before there is a fairness and equality for all children to be able to unlock reading. And not every child will enjoy it. Not everyone likes sitting down with a book the same way that not everyone enjoys going walking or shopping or sky diving. There is so much out there; graphic novels, magazines, short stories, poetry, anthologies, novels, the list goes on. The important bit for our children is to ensure that they have the chance to explore reading, to decide for themselves, to make sure that they have seen and had access to texts of a rich variety. Then we will have given them the chance of that precious gift of reading. 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The refit (part seven)

So, how is the boat work going? Well, for many reasons work had to slow right down over the winter but now things are definitely moving again.

The galley (kitchen) is one of the biggest projects on the go at the moment. The units are growing. Mark is building them from scratch using two layers of 10mm exterior ply with 4mm oak veneered ply on top which has been well oiled with Danish oil. They include big cupboards spaces, plate and wine racks, drawers and the new hob is built into the work surface. As well as being bigger which means that we can fit more than a couple of pans on at a time, it has been moved to allow for better ventilation. There is 20mm Celotex insulation on the wall covered with more plywood which has been painted a lovely blue.

Bags of sand weighing down the drying layers
Plans for shelves

 We did experiment previously with bathroom/kitchen paint as it is designed for high humidity areas and is much cheaper than specific marine paint. It was worth trying but didn’t last and ended up coming off in peels. The new shelving and edges are white oak which looks lovely finished with (even more!) Danish oil. There is a shaped fiddle (raised edge) all along to allow for rough weather in harbour and movement whilst travelling.

The walls are bluer in real life!

The main table in the saloon (living room) was a bit of an experiment for us last year. Having always had a fold down table that meant we could completely clear the floor, we found ourselves leaving it up more and more often as the children grew and their needs changed. They were more likely to be drawing or doing something on the table than spreading train tracks over the floor. Mark created a solid table with a sliding, opening leafed top. After using it for a while we found that it was not as stable as we had hoped and was taking up too much room beside the chairs making it difficult to get in and out. Taking off the leaves, moving them off centre and shaping the ends made it much better.

Spring cleaning has been well under way, pulling things out of dark corners and wiping everything down as the winter damp dries out. We have had very little rain so far this year which has given us a chance to dry out many things. Other random bits have been done too in different areas of the boat.

One of our old folding chairs - now resprayed

Working on an old wooden boat is far from glamorous and certainly not easy. It can be frustrating at times and often feel like 'one step forwards, two steps back'. It is our home though and the Skipper is certainly working on it.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Adverbially challenged - taking part in a writing challenge

A fiendishly clever idea. To helpfully raise some cash for a charity and enjoyably play with words. Chris has cleverly orchestrated an anthology of wittily written prose. Writing two of the tickly little pieces helped keep me busily entertained over the chillingly long winter. Speedily buy the book – please! Thankfully, me.

I was ticking along nicely with NaNoWriMo back in November last year and was 45,836 words in when life got in the way. I didn't manage to get back to writing for a while after that even though there were projects sat looking at me, waiting for my attention; my brain was having none of it. I started looking around for something just to spur me on.

The annual 50,000 word writing challenge

The answer came in the form of an old family friend. Chris and I grew up together in a town on the coast of the Bristol Channel. He runs a website full of information and competitions and generally aims to support and help out people who enjoy writing. The gauntlet was laid down to write a short piece (90 words) using as many adjectives as possible. It was fun to play around with different ideas and actually break all the rules. Mike's Not-Entirely-Serious Wantonly-Rule-Breaking Adverb Writing Challenge (to give it it's proper title) was certainly an interesting challenge.  Chris’ challenge was much bigger – to wrangle those pieces into a book and then take it to market. Not something he is a stranger too as this is far from his first book. This is the second volume of adverb laden prose and contains gems from a wide range of people.

Once upon a time, home was a town on the Bristol Channel

Not only was this a kick to get back writing again and a chance to find out more about self publishing but also a chance to raise money for a great charity. For each book sold a pound will be donated to First Story. This is a charity that matches talented professional writers with schools in low income areas. Bringing the opportunities and challenges of creative writing to children can be life changing. The affect on confidence, communication and just the general thrill of writing and freeing their creativity has a hugely positive impact on the children.

It has been fun to be involved (admittedly in a very small way) in this project/book and it is great to have something positive come from this winter. If you are interested in joining in any of the many writing challenges then have a look at Chris' website, if you are keen to support First Story then please buy the book , thank you.