Sunday, 31 December 2006

The Gifts of The Season

As I look outside, just after Christmas, I realize what a huge gift it is to have even a small amount of snow. Most of the state survived the brown Christmas (although some were grumpy, I've been told), while we are blessed with just enough to make it white outside my window. Six to seven inches of snow looks and feels like a lot when there is none everywhere else. Some folks have taken the skis out, and have gone on the Lonely Lake trail, or some of the other trails. While it isn't the best skiing, it is still skiing---it is being out there on those two boards, sliding and moving along. That is good.

Sledding, too, has been possible. Our hill doesn't require much snow, as it is nicely clear of rocks and roots. Addie actually started the sledding season a couple of weeks ago, pulling out her favorite Torpedo, and carving a run down the hill. More folks have been sledding since then, and now it is nicely packed, and lots of fun.

Saturday night, we went to Okontoe and had a sleigh ride, another gift of the season of winter. Just enough snow for the Belgian horses and sleigh, just enough cold weather to keep that snow from melting and crusting up, and more than enough stars for us to enjoy in the sky while we glided along. Songs and carols filled the night as our able drivers steered the horses along the lantern-lit trail. Afterwards, it was time for the wonderful hot chocolate that only the Patten family can make that good, served inside their warm, cozy log cabin. Rosy cheeks, steaming cocoa, and lots of laughs and chatter filled the room.

On Christmas Eve morning, a Sunday this year, Greg, Paul, Addie and I were driving in to church. Four miles from home, two deer ran across the trail in front of us. This is a very common sight now, as the deer seem to have spread out their territory. But another animal sighting just a bit further along was a new one for me. Two otters were beginning to make their way across the road, until we came along and interrupted them. The first one continued on its way, leaping and hopping, as they do, then wiggled its way up the hill on the other side. The second one was scared back a bit, and stayed put. I like to think that the two caught up to each other a few minutes after we passed. The only water in the area was from the two swamps on either side of the road. Loon Lake was the nearest "big water", so I surmised that the pair was on a holiday sojourn to visit someone.

Early on Christmas morning, Greg went out the back door to retrieve something from his truck. He was greeted by our neighborhood fox, who had come by for his own gift. We had left out some food destined for the compost pile, and the fox wasn't content to wait for it to get there. Instead, he was helping himself to it, right from the stainless steel bowl. This fox is quite tame, and he must have thought that we had put out a dish full of food just for him. Greg said that he looked like he was trying to take the whole bowl away with him to stash somewhere. Not wanting to lose our bowl, Greg brought it inside to loosen up the remaining frozen food to toss back out to the fox. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Fox patiently waited until he tossed the chunk out the door, happily scooped it up in its mouth and headed off into the woods.

Finally, a long awaited moment arrived-----the lake froze Christmas night, and we think that it may stay frozen this time. A few days ago, it was ice-covered in the morning, with what seemed to be a fragile and tentative covering. It held until the next morning, when the wind came up and tore it to pieces, opening up a large lead on the Canadian side, and clearing all of the ice at the west end of the lake. The temperatures were climbing and the wind was blowing, so no ice was forming. That night, though, the thermometer started to head in the right direction, the wind calmed, and the lake started to make those wonderful ice-making noises---groans, squeaks, and grunts. In the morning, we could see that the open water was again covered, and we are hopeful that it will stay that way, and make more ice. Greg ventured down near shore, and he thought that it looked to be about two inches. We'll listen for more sounds tonight, and if it continues to talk to us, it may mean that we could try some ice skating after more cold days and nights. We are always very cautious, however, when it comes to being out on the ice. We wait and wait and wait until we are satisfied that the ice is thick enough and safe enough.

The best gift this season? Celebrating Grandma Peggy's 94th birthday, a few days before Christmas. Grandma has been living in the Care Center in Grand Marais, for a little over a year now. It is a wonderful place to live, with many caring staff members, ongoing activities, and plenty of action. During the day, Grandma's favorite spot to be is in the main room, sitting in an easy chair next to the aviary. As she has all her life wherever she lived, Grandma enjoys watching the birds, and saying hello to all of the folks who pass by. We are all blessed to have Peggy.

We would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. May this new year bring good health and hope to all. Thank you for all that you do for us and for being a part of our lives.

Thursday, 28 December 2006


Fresh air and exercise were the order of the day today. Get the kids out before they drive me totally insane. After all we haven't been out for a while. "We went out on Christmas Eve," they cried. Well that was ages ago!

So we got out the Jarrold Exmoor walks book to see where we haven't been before. Walk No 1 - Parracombe. That's not too far away, Blackmoor Gate, turn towards Lynmouth then left for about a mile. The book said 'short easy walk, some farm lanes may be muddy.' No worries, it's a nice day and a little bit of mud never hurt anyone.

Well for a mile and a half of the walk we were having a great time. The sun was shining, sheep were frolicking in the fields, the paths were easy to follow and only a little bit squishy underfoot, there were even a few tiny streams to wade through.

Then we hit the path from hell. Mud almost up to our knees and no other way through. We tried climbing the top of the hedge but that only got us so far. Children wailed, got stuck, fell down, became entangled in prickly brambles and had to be carried. But fear not, by the time we'd reached the hole in the hedge which let us into the adjacent field we were all laughing about it; which was a good job because the farmer in the farm at the end of the lane was laughing even harder when we got there.

Just to give you an idea - this was the last photo I took before my camera battery gave out. We had fun but this a walk best attempted in the summer.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Christmas House

Christmas wouldn't be complete without a visit to this house. Somewhere in between Bickington and Instow on the old Barnstaple road this house is now so famous and so popular around here that the police put cones along the roads nearby to stop people parking in front of it. When we arrived there were already at least thirty people stood around. The photo really doesn't do it justice.

At the back of his house (I'm sorry I don't know the man's name) his garage is also as well decorated and full of animated snowmen, Father Christmas's and reindeer. People who visit are encouraged to donate money, all of which goes to charity - usually the Devon Air Ambulance. In the last four years he has raised over �16,000.

My children were fascinated and didn't want to leave. The only thing that eventually got them home was the thought of checking the NORAD website to see whereabouts Santa had got to. As I write he is currently in Italy - nearly here!

Pizza Hut

After our walk we went straight to Pizza Hut in Barnstaple. This is the third year in a row on Christmas Eve. It seems to be turning into a tradition. My motto is - keep them out of the house for as long as possible. Plus if I don't have to cook I don't have to clean afterwards either. The service is fairly crap but we were in no rush. The food was acceptable and they didn't moan too much when I said 'no ice cream' so that was a bonus.

Baggy Point

Travel through Croyde and out the other side and you will find directions to Baggy Point. A narrow country lane takes you to the National Trust car park and from there you can follow the signs to a path that takes you along the very edge of the cliff for 1 mile to the aforementioned point.

It was a bracing walk today and the fear of loosing one or more children off the edge of the cliff into the freezing seas far below was a much more effective hangover cure than the traditional hair of the dog. The walk is circular and coming back we took the route that was less hazardous, across the hills.

I have spent many hours at Baggy watching my husband and others climb the cliff. I've even had a go myself. It's a beautiful place, but you might prefer it when the skies are bluer and the sun more than just a distant memory.

The Park Hotel

It's party time! We came here last night for a lovely three course meal and some dancing afterwards, but there are plenty of places around to chose from. This is owned by the Brends, and there are four other Brend hotels in North Devon. The food was very yummy, the disco good fun, and it set Christmas weekend off just right.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Atlantic Village

It's been a while since I've had anything to report. When winter hits North Devon we tend to hide indoors. Plus the looming presence of Christmas forces the inevitability of hitting the shops and drives everything else from the mind (or at least one as tiny as mine!) So today I dragged my three children around Atlantic Village, a small outlet centre just outside Bideford on the A39.

There are really only a handful of shops, but if these are the shops you like then it's worth coming here to get the discount off the high street prices. There are several clothes and lingere shops - Select, Pilot, Kangeroo Poo, Salt Rock, to name but a few. There are also camping type shops, a toyshop, a bookshop, and - this is quite important - a Cadbury's shop!!! There are a few cafe's too. At the moment there is an ice rink, although only plastic ice, not the sort of ice you can actually go fast on.

Tagged on to the side of the Atlantic Village is an attration for children called Atlantis. A rather tempting looking pirate ship is the first thing you see on approaching the complex. But the last time we attempted to go in it was rather expensive, and we ended up not bothering. They charge prices comparable with the Big Sheep, which is only just down the road, for something which is only a fraction of the size.

So in conclusion, go for the cheap shopping, but if you want to entertain the kids, the Big Sheep is better. I bought a last few bits and pieces this afternoon and have now nearly finished! Yippee! When do the Sales start?

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

A Rare New Year's Eve Vacancy

Though I try not to advertise too much on my blog, I am making an exception today. I wanted to let you know that we have a rare opening for New Year's Eve this year. I say "rare", because someone once told me that they heard that if you wanted to get in to Heston's on that particular holiday, you had to wait for somebody to die! Most fortunately, that is not the case this time. Rather, our longtime friends and guests, Eric and Caroline, have moved on to new adventures in Washington, and won't be joining us this year. They have been coming up for over twenty years! It is very hard to say good-bye, and we will definitely miss them around our table.

As a result, we have an opening in our cabin Tamarack. It is a three-bedroom cabin with full kitchen, bath, and fireplace/woodstove in the living room. It is one of our vintage cabins, because we think that it was built in the late 1920's. It is a log cabin in the wonderful old tradition.
Speaking of traditions, we are planning a community dinner on New Year's Eve, here at the lodge. Greek food, a la Northwoods style, is on the menu, and we invite all of our cabin folks to join us as our guests. Most likely the bread oven will be fired up to help us out in the cooking tasks. After dinner, we will have some various musical events here in the lodge, and we usually have a bonfire at midnight. It is a wonderful evening, and you are welcome to join us for all or part of it.
Call us with any questions that you might have. We are asking for a three-night minimum for that weekend. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Instant Winter---Just Add Snow

Wooo--hooo! Six and a half inches of snow...and suddenly it's winter! We rose early yesterday morning to make the drive down the Trail for the annual Northwoods Fiber Arts Holiday Sale. Addie and I were scheduled to run the project table, and we both had a few items that we wanted to put into the sale. It was snowing lightly when we left at 7:30, and about two inches were already on the ground. It continued to snow, and by the time we reached the Lullaby Creek area, things were getting pretty thick on the road. Two plows passed us, headed up the trail, so I knew that I would have better driving on the way home. It took us an hour and twenty-five minutes to make it in, and by then it was snowing really hard. I was bummed, because it looked like it must be lake effect snow, and I figured that we probably weren't getting the same at home.

The sale went well, despite the fact that it continued to snow all day. I saw a few trail folks, and Barb Young from Boundary Country Trekking told me that they had received several inches on Poplar Lake. My hopes rose a bit, and once we were finished with our errands, we headed up the big hill. It was just like driving into a snow globe. I told the kids that it felt like someone had shaken up our little globe, and plop, a bunch of snow kept falling (like way more than those globes can ever hold!). The driving was still soupy, as the plows were done and back to town before the snow quit. It continued to snow after we got home, and now everything is white and fresh, and the tree branches are laden. I love instant winter. I especially love instant winter when it isn't in the forecast, and even after we have three inches on the ground, they are still predicting flurries and one inch.

The temperature this morning was about 4 degrees when I got up. The lake was again steaming, as it had a few days ago. Magnetic Lake is frozen, and one of the bays at the west end of the lake is frozen, also. The cold temperatures that are predicted for the upcoming week should go a long way toward continuing the cool down process necessary for the lake to freeze. Both Greg and I could hear ice-making noises the other day, so it is coming along.

On Wednesday, Greg and I were gingerly driving in to Grand Marais to take care of errands. I say gingerly, because on Tuesday, we had had a spell of rain, with the temp hovering right around thirty-two. He was driving, and keeping a close eye on the road right in front of the car. I happened to look up from my knitting just at the right moment, and further ahead on the trail, I saw an animal cross the road that I couldn't immediately identify. But my mind quickly put the clues together---longer back legs than front legs, no tail---and I realized that it was a lynx. Greg slowed down when we got to the crossing spot, but the lynx must have blended in immediately, because we couldn't see any sign of it.

Now that winter is back, we hope to be hearing and seeing the wolves again soon. I saw one cross the road last week near Poplar Lake. That was exciting, but not nearly as much as seeing them here on Gunflint Lake. I'll be writing again about our encounters with them, so stay tuned.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker.....

But not quite in that order!

The Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, with lots of folks, food and fun. Though snow did not make an appearance, plenty of outdoor activities were happening. The weather was quite mild, unlike any Thanksgiving in my recent memory. This made for great hiking, as the trails have recently been cleared for the upcoming winter. Getting out into the woods was a good thing to do, following the many fine meals that we all enjoyed over the course of the weekend.

We fired up the bread oven on Friday and made a batch of ciabatta, and some potato bread with leftover mashed potatoes. Some of our guests made oatmeal bread, too, and it all turned out very well. The only challenge with the bread oven right now is how quickly it gets dark outside. Night falls so fast, we have to use flashlights to finish the baking. Pizza baking outside is on hiatus until next May. In the meantime, we will be making pizza inside with a large piece of slate as our "rock hearth". This works very well, especially if it is first heated to 500 degrees for an hour.

On Saturday, I pulled out the wax and pots, and we had an excellent day of candle-dipping. It is an all-day process, as it takes some hours to melt the wax in order to begin. I started at about eight, and by eleven, we were ready to go. In a kitchen filled with steam ( the wax needs to be melted in a double-boiler) and the smell of beeswax and honey, we cut wicks and patiently dipped until the candles were about an inch thick on the bottom. Several of the cabin guests and lots of the neighborhood kids joined us throughout the day to make their own batches. We went through at least ten pounds of beeswax and five pounds of paraffin, and we had lots of fun doing it. On Sunday afternoon, Addie and I finished up the project when we made several pairs of candles ourselves, some for gifts and some to sell at our Fiber Guild Holiday Sale next weekend.

We still had one deer to process, after a successful hunting season for Greg and Paul. So on Sunday, we sharpened the knives and set to work on butchering the meat. This is a necessary job, one that always takes me back to my anatomy class in high school. The two biggest challenges are keeping the knives sharp and keeping our hands warm. It took us about two hours, and then we were ready to package and label the meat, and put it in to the freezer. The bounty will keep us fed on good, natural meat for the next year. Some of it will be made in to jerky, but most of it will be cooked up for dinners.

Time passes so quickly this time of year....the holidays that we wait and plan for finally arrive, and then they are suddenly gone.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Wistlandpound Reservoir

Wrapped up in warm winter coats, hats and gloves we ventured out this afternoon for a Sunday afternoon walk. Head out of Barnstaple towards Exmoor and after about nine miles you will reach Blackmoor Gate, a quick right and right again will lead you down a narrow country lane to Wistlandpound Reservoir. It supplies local drinking water and there are signs up around the lake warning people not to bathe in it. The water levels seemed unusually low for this time of year.

We took a leisurely stroll around the lake and it took us about an hour. There are wooded parts, grassy paths by the water's edge, streams to play Pooh Sticks on and a jetty where you can wander down to the water and try your hand at skimming stones. We managed about two skips today and were put to shame when we were joined by a boy who managed eight or ten several times in a row.

After heavy rain it can be quite muddy in places but today it was fine and quite sheltered too. My daughters had shed hats, gloves and scarves by the time we'd completed our circuit. I, however, was glad of a cup of tea when we reached home.

Friday, 3 November 2006

New Stories at Planet Heston's

It took some time, but we're hoping that it was worth the wait! Finally, some new stories at Planet Hestons. Greg wrote up his journal from his recent trip to Alaska with Robert, and included many pictures. And we have added a true "Planet Heston's" encounter, that also takes place in Alaska. Click on the link and enjoy!

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Early Snows

Methinks that October fell off the calendar this year. Could it really have been October when it often looked like November instead? Around the tenth of the month, just in time for a planned trip to Duluth, the prediction for our first snow "event", as they called it, came over the wires. Not only was it the first snowstorm, it was also possibly going to drop eight to eleven inches on us! Way too early for that, and certainly not what I want to hear as I am about to drive for three hours. Despite the dismal weather outlook, we proceeded to the big city, and plowed our way through several hours of errands and appointments. We left for home early the next morning, while snow flakes swirled around us. Fortunately, the driving was fine, with mostly wet pavement. On the way, we took a photo of the North Brule River, as it was looking so serene in the early snows.

It continued to snow for the next three days. How odd it seemed to me to see this much snow falling so early in the fall. I believe that if the ground had been cold enough, we would have ended up with between six and eight inches. But most of it melted, with only about three inches to show for it. Since then, we have had many days of flurries, and some warmer days. As a result, there are only patches of snow left here and there. Until yesterday, that is, when the afternoon was filled with large white flakes drifting down, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. At times, we couldn't see Canada, and that is a sure sign that it is snowing hard. The wind has been blowing strong for about two days now, and the lake is cooling off, too. My guess is that we are in for an early winter, but what do I know! I hope that we are, and that we don't have a November thaw that takes us in the opposite direction.

Sharlene had some excitement at her bird feeder a week ago. She spotted a cardinal helping himself to some of the black sunflower seeds. She called us to let us know, but he didn't fly this way until about two days later. Some of the neighbors saw him at their feeders as well. Sharlene called our local birding experts, Ken and Molly Hoffman, to see if anyone else had reported a cardinal this far north. Ken told her that she was the first to confirm a sighting up here on the Gunflint Trail. For a few years, the cardinals have been coming to Grand Marais, and recently they have begun nesting there. But until this sighting, no one had officially reported cardinals up here. While it was exciting to see this, it is a bit disheartening, too. We all were in agreement that it is another sign of our warming climate that these birds can now be a part of our neighborhood.

On our trips to town in recent weeks, we have been seeing deer activity on the Trail. They are in more places than ever seen before. We had one the other night that seemed determined to run right in to the car, but fortunately we were spared. The widespread sightings lead us to believe that the deer population is not only thriving, but increasing. The bad side of this is that we don't see as many moose now. The two can't co-exist very well, so as the deer become more prevalent, the moose find other areas to inhabit. The months that we spot the most moose are now beginning---November and December traditionally are the times when I frequently encounter them all over the road. We'll see as these weeks progress how many we come upon---and we will keep our fingers crossed that they move steadily and quickly out of the road!

We have a resident fox in the neighborhood lately, too. Yesterday, Paul and I were outside and we saw him at the base of the cedar tree near the workshop, looking up. High above him, a squirrel was certainly vocal in expressing his disapproval. If that fox could climb trees the way the squirrels can, I think that we would have seen quite a chase. Greg and I had seen the fox two days earlier, sitting near another tree, hoping the squirrel would come back down. And someone told me over the weekend that they saw the fox with a squirrel in its mouth---they have to eat, too. You win some, you lose some.

Speaking of squirrels, in September, some of our guests got to see an albino squirrel----too cool! He regularly came up to the porch railing at White Pine cabin to feed. Janelle was kind enough to share some pictures with me. Here is a view of the little guy--

Deer hunting season begins this Saturday. Already, Moses and Jethro are sporting their blaze orange collars. It is very easy to spot them, and they don't look much like deer. They seem to tolerate this bit of decoration each year. We've pulled out our own wardrobes of blaze orange, too. It is a good idea to wear it when out walking, so that we can be seen.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Barum Gate, Barnstaple

Situated at the entrance to Barnstaple this is the first thing that greets you as you turn off the A361. It is a Travel Inn and Brewers Fayre. The kids love it as there is an enclosed playarea out the side entrance of the restaurant where they can come and go at will, safely viewed by parents through the windows. So to console ourselves after our disappointing visit to the Honey Farm we decided to lunch here (well my husand did - I comfort shop, my husband comfort eats.)

They seem to change the menus quite regularly so the ploughmans lunch I was looking forward to wasn't something they did anymore. The chicken and leek pie I had instead was very nice, although I'm not sure why it needed to be square. The children enjoyed their meals, and only the littlest one ordered chicken nuggets and chips. My husband was disappointed and vowed never to come here again. Don't listen to him, he didn't read the menu properly and ordered the vegetarian burger by mistake! That's fate telling him he needs to be more careful about what he eats.

Quince Honey Farm

It was cold today and threatening to rain. So we decided to visit somewhere indoors. None of us had ever been to the Quince Honey Farm in South Molton before so we decided to give it a go - the leaflet looked quite inviting. We won't bother again - I'm afraid it's the one place on my blog that I have to advise against. The building itself is cold and uninviting, reminiscent of a Victorian mental institution, high ceilinged and echoey. The girl behind the counter in the entrance was miserable. And the cost was not the same as on the leaflet, �3.95 adults, �2.95 children. It most definately wasn't worth it.

Inside you are supposed to be able to look down on the working factory through the glass ceiling above it. It wasn't working. I thought at first it was just our fault for being stupid enough to pick a Saturday to visit, but reading the information on the walls around the museum it seems the honey production only happens during July, when the main hives are actually on the premises. November to Easter only the shop and cafe are open. So why charge full admission price at the end of October when there is nothing going on? It's a rip off.

The only thing interesting to see are the hives behind glass; these are many and varied but honestly, once you've seen one load of bees in honeycombs you've seen them all! PLEASE DON'T GO HERE.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Barnstaple Library

During school holidays there is always something for children going on at Barnstaple Library. They have themed days (pirates just recently), arty things to do, special holiday book stickers to collect, and today Kit Wright the poet.

He was available earlier in the day too, but this afternoon at 4.15 he gave a talk and read some of his poems to a set of children who had all achieved success in Book Track. This is a scheme where children are challenged to read and then discuss with a librarian 100 books. There are badges and stickers to collect along the way but upon receiving your gold badge you are invited along to meet an author and he/she presents you with a special certificate.

My eldest daughter was presented with her certificate today, although in true teenager-fashion she refused to stand up and collect it when her name was read out. She did let me take her photo with Kit Wright afterwards though, while he was signing a book for her.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Lets Go Superbowl

Another birthday party at another venue in North Devon that's not my home - excellent! Walk away from the mess and leave it for someone else to clean up. Today it was my youngest's birthday party. She wanted to go bowling - I have no idea why. So we booked two lanes for twelve children of various sizes from 4 to 13.

The place was packed, mostly it seemed with other birthday parties. We were advised to turn up 15 mins early to sort out shoes and things and it turned out there weren't enough shoes of the right size and the people on our lanes before us were in no hurry to get off, so we waited 25 mins before we actually started play. Not impressed with that, or the fact that they lost one of my daughters candles (we had to provide our own cake) so she only had 5 to blow out instead of 6.

Still the kids had a good time. There are other things to do here including the Megazone (a laser shooting game) and an extensive arcade. You can find it at the Barnstaple end of the duel carriage way, next to the Barnstaple Hotel on the Pottington Industrial Estate. I advise booking in advance.

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Watermouth Castle

I couldn't get a good photo of the castle so this is my family having fun on one of the rides. Well once they'd stopped screaming for fear that Daddy might capsize the boat that is!

The reason I couldn't get a good photo of the front of the building is that it was covered in marquees. That was because there was an event on called 'It's our Coast' organised by North Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There were stands from just about every organisation you could think of to do with the coast from the Royal Marines to the Surf Life Savers. Some of them were interactive for the children and others were just giving out information. We liked the one where you had to identify the trees from samples of their trunks and photos of their leaves. We weren't very good at it though. The presenters of the BBC Coast programme were there too but we didn't get to see them - by then we were too busy inside the castle grounds.

Watermouth Castle is a Family Theme Park. Inside are lots of displays about life in the building during Victorian times, as well as a model train set, some very old but playable amuesment slot machines, a scary dungeon and a great set of fairground mirrors.

In the gardens behind the castle there is even more to do. The grounds have been divided into zones named Merrygoland, Gnomeland and Adventureland. In these you will find wet rides, fairground rides, adventure golf, a maze (strangely with no centre), Mystical Water Gardens, a shadow room, a very long tube slide and lots of small fat men in funny hats (they're mostly all plastic too). We were there for nearly three hours today and didn't have time to do all of it. The bargain of the day was that entry was free, although we did have to pay �3 per child for unlimited access to the rides. Normally it's �10 for adults, �8.50 for children. If you're interested you'll find it on the coast road between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin.

Saturday, 30 September 2006

Fall Colors and Clouds Abound

For a season that started out looking like it would fly by quickly, this fall really has proven to be a colorful one. With the dry weather, it appeared that the leaves would turn early and fall quickly, but not so. We are seeing our peak color right now, and the landscape is a variety of yellows, oranges, changing greens, and some browns and reds. It is a visual treat. Despite the cloudy days, it is very bright out there.

Cloudy days seem to be the norm, ever since the day of the evacuation, two weeks ago. Those fires didn't stand a chance against Mother Nature's way of recent days. It has been cloudy, rainy, and much cooler than I remember last September to be. The forecast changes on a daily basis, and it seems that this period is so unsettled that it is hard to pinpoint and predict anything with hope of it even being close to reality. Despite the cooler temps, the lake trout haven't been cooperating enough to come in to shallower waters. Today is the end of the season for them, so they can all swim safely off to their spawning season. But watch out come this winter---there will be holes in the ice, and lines dropped ready for the trout to come along hungry!

It is officially moose hunting season, which happens in early October when the moose rut is on. I have only seen one moose lately myself. He was standing on the Trail, near the Poplar Lake Fire Hall. It happened that there was a large sandwich board sign on the road, indicating that the fire hall was the location for current fire information. The moose was standing right near it, calmly looking in both directions at the traffic (did his mother teach him that?), waiting to cross the road. Of course we didn't have our cameras with, but it was a fun sight to remember.

The other day, Paul was up collecting mail at our mailbox, when he heard an unusual snort. A few years ago, when we had a bear hanging around regularly, we learned that donkeys can make a rolling snort to scare away intruders. But this was a new sound, and it turned out to be Jethro. He was standing tall, with his ears pointed straight up. He was looking south of the pasture, which is uphill towards the ridge behind us. Paul looked, and sure enough, there was a moose standing at the edge of the septic field. He didn't see any antlers, so he figured that it must have been a cow. He came down to get us, and when we got up there, Jethro was still standing guard, and occasionally snorting. The moose was already gone, though, so we didn't get to see her. Moses was thrilled to see us all, and thought that we must have brought treats. He was oblivious to the moose, it seems. I guess since he has scared away bears, he doesn't think too much about moose.

We've been seeing several deer in the neighborhood as well as all along the trail. I brought Addie up to the end of the trail this morning, and there were a few sprinkled out along the trail, and then on the return trip, I saw two fork-horn bucks on the side road. It seems early for them to be hanging around, but I am guessing that that is who ate the last of my broccoli plants sometime in the past day. I'm really glad that they didn't find it any sooner this summer. Surprisingly, I was mostly pest-free in my gardening attempts.

One day last week, I went for a drive up to Thunder Bay with my good friend, Gerrie. It was a beautiful ride, and the leaves were in excellent form. The high hills around Grand Portage were a wonderful blend of yellows, oranges and deep greens from the coniferous trees. There are several rock outcroppings, views of some islands, and of course, the big lake, too. If you have not been up that way before, it is a good drive to take, no matter what the season. I find it to be yet another of the many faces of Minnesota, a state that has an incredible range of landscapes.

The word lately from Alaska is that there has been some snow falling in Fairbanks already. Robert was headed out today to get a couple of heaters for his truck, so that it will start for him in the cold and snowy months ahead. I'm glad that we still have fall to go through, because I am not yet ready to face snow. At least, not until the firewood is cut, split and stacked. That is next week's job---it's that time of the year.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Westward Ho! Rock Pooling

Westward Ho! is one of the best places in North Devon to go rock pooling. It is easily much better than the aforementioned Instow. I came here today with 33 children and it was altogether a much more enjoyable experience than the time I spent at Instow with only 5 five year olds. From the slipway at Westward Ho! you turn left along the beach to find the rock pools and there are lots of them. We spent an hour here and the children caught crabs, prawns, blennies and many other creatures of interest. Not many of them came back with dry feet. One girl was heard to remark that this was her best school trip to date, and many others agreed.

Our experience after lunch was not nearly so pleasant. Turning right from the slipway will lead you along the beach for as far as the pebble ridge goes - it goes a long way. Eventually you will reach a concrete track which leads you over the ridge and onto Northam Burrows which, along with Braunton Burrows on the other side of the estuary, has been declared and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), it being the only place in England to grow a certain type of grass.

We had lunch at the Visitors Centre, then followed the sand dunes along the edge of the golf course until we reached the coast. Here the children valiently began to sketch the landscape amidst the angrily swirling sand. We had encountered the tail end of Hurricane Gordan which wasn't due to reach us until the following evening. It certainly felt like it (although there may be worse to come). Several sketch books blew away never to be seen again. Fighting our way back into the full force of the wind was, how can I put it - an 'interesting' walk. None of the children now wish to become desert explorers. I am still finding sand in places I never even knew I had!

Monday, 18 September 2006

A Look at our Fire Truck

Good Monday Morning! After a wonderful birthday party last night, I have the morning update on the Famine and Red Eye fires. The forest service reported that they have several new crews on the fire, from Wyoming, Texas, Michigan and Minnesota, of course. They will be able to do some air suppression, and they have crews on the ground who are starting to dig fire line around the perimeter of the fire. Someone asked if everything is under control. The reply was that the steps toward control are such: initial attack, containment, control, and finally, mop-up until it is out. Currently, the fire fighters are in the second phase, and they hope to have some numbers later today as to how much containment has been achieved. I think it is fair to say that while the fire itself is not under control, the response and work effort are definitely under control. Things are moving forward, the weather is cooperating, and life is moving along mostly as usual. That means that Paul and Addie Will have to continue their schoolwork today, unlike on Friday afternoon after the evacuation order was called!

Friday afternoon was a little strange. We had been having a wonderful time on an absolutely beautiful day, making pizza in the oven outside, when a Gunflint Lodge employee informed us that the evacuation had been called. We were puzzled, and turned on the radio, to hear the official order. You know that radio test of the emergency broadcast system? Well, we heard that, and then a recorded voice verified what Adam had already told us. I went to Birch cabin to let the folks know, and while we talked, I told them that I really didn't know what else to say, since I had never been evacuated before. They began to pack up, and I went back to the lodge to answer the phone and keep out of trouble, as my dad always says. Greg and Paul sprung into action, and immediately fired up our fire truck. They brought it down to the dock, and soon the pumps were running and Paul was spraying water on the trees and sauna. Addie was helping me in the store. When the sheriff came by, we had our first indication of exactly where the fire was burning, and it was then that I knew that we would be okay staying for the night. It was also at that point that we learned it was a cautionary, rather than a mandatory, evacuation. As our other guests came in off of the lake, we told them all that we had learned. Some of them decided to stay for the night, and others chose to leave. The largest factor we were dealing with then was the smoke, and most of those who left did so because of that.

By five, the evacuation/fire truck prep had quieted down. We gathered at the bread oven and started to make pizza in the oven again, for ourselves and guests for dinner. It was a great evening, too, as the smoke wasn't too thick, and the pizzas tasted great. One of the oddest parts, though, was the total quiet. We could hear the airplanes in the distant south, but there were no boats on the lake, and almost no road noise. When we heard a truck coming down the road, we were surprised. Turned out to be the Forest Service. Then our neighbors Tim and Mo came to bring us the produce cooler, and to join us for dinner. We sat out as the darkness fell, and it was a nice evening.
Greg is shown here testing the spray from the fire hose.

Well, now it is Monday evening, and I am finally getting back to finish this post. I can give you the evening update for the fire, too. The day was cool and drizzly, and many planes flew over our lodge. Each time I ran out with the camera, they went by too quickly. I'll try again tomorrow. The report tonight put the acreage for the Famine fire at 4044 acres, and the Red Eye fire at 1792 acres. The Famine fire is considered 5% contained. The good news continues. This week sounds like we will continue with cooler, wetter weather, but there may be a warm-up after that. We continue to be vigilant with our use of campfires and the bread oven, and we hope that everyone else out there is cautious, too.

I'm working towards answering my emails--thanks for writing to us! I should be able to answer in the next day or so.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

The Missing Photos

Last night, the internet wouldn't let me post the other two pictures that I wrote about, so here they are today.
This is looking down the lake to the west on Friday afternoon.

And here is our beach, just a few moments later, as Greg, Paul and Addie came back home. In some directions, the sky was clear, and in others, it was definitely not.

Today it is again overcast, warm and humid. We haven't received any new reports yet, but when we do, I will post again.

The best thing about today is that it is Addie's 15th birthday. Happy, Happy Birthday, Addie! She told her Papa this morning that she is halfway to thirty! How's that for a startling thought at 7:30 a.m.? We will celebrate later today by taking a picnic to Addie's special birthday spot on the other side of the lake. We've been doing this since she was three, and through the years have taken some interesting presents over ahead of time. One year, she found a bicycle in the woods. Another year it was a fairy dollhouse. What will it be this year?

The forecast is taking a decided turn towards colder weather, according to the reports. The equinox is coming up in a few days, so I suppose it is time for fall to kick in to high gear.

Barnstaple Fair

Barnstaple Fair dates back to the time of Athelstan in AD930 and was given its Charter in 1852 It begins on the Wednesday nearest to the 16th September each year and lasts for 4 days. It is hugely popular and children of all ages talk of nothing else from the minute September arrives. A traditional ceremony at the Guildhall opens the Fair and a white glove garlanded in flowers, symbolising the hand of friendship, hangs from the Guildhall window for the four days the fair is in town.

The fair is a meeting of three travelling fairs and so many rides are duplicated. It is always crowded and as well as traditional rides such as the Big Wheel and the Galloping Horses there are thrill rides like Freak Out, stalls where you can chance your arm at winning huge cuddly toys or goldfish, plenty of rides for small children, candy floss stalls, and fortune tellers.It has also become a tradition in recent years that the final day of the fair is marked by fireworks. These begin at around 8.15 and can best be viewed from Barnstaple Bridge.

Our children were given a spending limit and we stayed until they'd reached it, which was just about the time they started to wilt. The rides were quite reasonably priced this year. Having expected them to be about �4 a go (listening to rumours and based on the fact that the prices always go up on the Saturday) we were quite pleasantly surprised to find that most were �2.50 and childrens rides only �1.50.

So, we have reached Summer's end and I must now turn my attention to things which can be done in Autumn and Winter with failing weather and the closing of seasonal attractions. Keep tuning in!

Barnstaple Carnival

Usually held of the third Saturday in September, Barnstaple Carnival coincides with the last day of the Fair and is when you know Summer is truly over. It starts in the Civic Centre car park with the crowing of the Carnival Queen at 5.30, then travels along the Strand and round Barnstaple, although the route is prone to change from year to year. It is one of the largest carnivals in North Devon with carnival queens, floats, majorettes and marching bands travelling in from places as far away as Bude in Cornwall. There are also many individual and group entries who walk the route in costume. The best we saw this year being Fred Flintstone and family complete with a very authentic looking car.

Hundreds of people line the route, sometimes three or four deep, and good places go early. Money is collected in buckets by people walking alongside the floats, all going to good causes. In times gone by spectators threw money onto the floats but this is now discouraged; presumably A&E no longer wish to be indundated by fancy dress clad persons sporting coin related injuries. This years carnival only took 45 mins to pass us, my children of course ran out of coins to throw much earlier than this. Then we headed across to the Fair.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Fire Update and maybe a picture

The weather cooperated today, by sending us a bit of rain, some higher humidity, and lighter winds. Although we haven't had any official words on it, I expect that the Famine Lake fire probably didn't move much further north. We heard lots of aircraft throughout the day, and guests who arrived to check in said that they saw water drops as they travelled up. The new incident command team is in place, and information and maps are making their way to us here on the south shore of Gunflint Lake. You can view much of this information, too, by visiting the MNICS website, at, and clicking on the current fire information button.

I learned that one of the reasons that the evacuation was called yesterday was because if the wind had moved ten degrees more, the fire would have missed a swamp and headed into more favorable fuels. That would have caused it to burn hotter and faster, and with the wind, it easily could have pushed up to the Gunflint Trail. The fire moved quickly on Thursday, and with similar weather conditions on Friday, it was reasonable to assess that the fire was behaving in the same fashion as the previous day. The smoke was so thick, it was very difficult to see the front line of the fire. The sheriff felt it was necessary to call the voluntary evacuation, so that is what he did. It makes sense to act on the cautious side of things. When they were able to finally fly under the smoke column, they learned that the fire actually was still a good mile or so south of where they thought it was. That was a big relief. We're all very fortunate up here for the lucky breaks that we have gotten.

Some of our guests who checked in today were actually on a BWCA trip this week in the area that the fire was burning. On Thursday night, they were on Long Island Lake. They didn't really camp though. Instead, they spent the night watching the fire, as it had reached the south shore of the lake, approximately a half-mile from where they had stopped for the day. They were at a campsite, keeping an eye on the fire and taking turns snoozing a bit. The fire was at times an orange glow, other times they could see trees torching, and they said it was very loud. At about three in the morning, they decided that it would be better to be in a different location on the lake, because the fire seemed to be coming closer. So they loaded up their canoe and pushed off to go across to an island campsite instead. When they turned on their headlamps, they could see a white cone of smoke and ash in front of them. By morning, they had adjusted their travel plans, so that they came out at the Cross Bay entry point, near Round Lake. Although it was most certainly an interesting experience, they said that it was one that they would rather not repeat.

Now, for some pictures and an update as to what we were doing this past week: Thursday afternoon, Greg and I were on our way home from Duluth. I had heard that fires were burning in the area, due to lightning the week prior. I had been keeping up-to-date with them, mainly through radio reports. We were riding in the blue Toyota, which doesn't have a radio, so I was unable to hear any fire updates that day. But as we came up the trail, we could see smoke columns rising, so we knew that something had changed. As we passed the mid-Trail and Iron Lake areas, the smoke column cleared, but we could see another one up ahead, and we wondered if it could be something left over from the Cavity Lake fire. But as we approached Loon Lake, we saw that it was much closer than Seagull Lake. We stopped near the Schmidts' place, our good friends, whose driveway is pretty much straight south of our lodge. And we could see that the fire was straight south of where we were stopped. We took a couple of pictures, before heading the rest of the way home. When we got here, ash was falling from the sky.

An email told me that the smoke we were experiencing was from the Red-Eye fire. But we realized the next day that the two columns we saw were from the Red-Eye and from the Famine fires. And it was most likely the Famine fire that was sending the smoke our way. After the evacuation stuff took place, Greg and the kids went out on to Gunflint Lake, and they took some pictures from the north side of the lake. They could see lots of smoke in the sky above the ridge. Sometimes it would settle over us, and then other times it would blow on by. The lake looked like copper, much like it had the day the Cavity Lake fire had gone wild in July. The sun was glowing red, as it shone through the smoke. But for whatever reason, we happened to be smoke-free at that time, as shown by this picture of our beach, taken as they returned to this side of the lake. The smoke has been more prevalent than during the Cavity Lake fire. But then the wind will switch, it will all clear out, and once again I am smelling that sweet Northwoods air.

On a different note, some of the best news of the day was that Robert called us. He made it safely in to Fairbanks yesterday, found his good friend Ben, and is starting to settle in. He said that the drive from Eagle to Fairbanks went fine, and that it was very beautiful, thanks to lots of color change taking place up there. We told him of our excitement down here. I don't imagine that he is missing us too much yet, as he starts out on this exciting new adventure in his life. Greg has told me some good stories of his trip up there with Robert. Hopefully, those stories will soon make their way to this blog.

Famine and Red Eye Fires

Life here at Planet Heston's sure has been hopping lately! I have hopes of posting a longer note, with pictures of our current events, but for lack of time at the moment, this will be brief. As many of you have heard, we had thunderstorms a week ago, with lightning that has started some fires in our area. Specifically, two fires are currently burning near us, the Famine fire and the Red-Eye fire. The Famine fire is closer, about four to four and a half miles south of us. The fires are within the BWCA, and are not burning in blowdown. We haven't had much rain, unfortunately, so conditions are dry.

The Famine fire is directly south of us, and on Thursday it made a strong move to the north, due to south winds blowing. On Friday, the fire didn't really move much, but the smoke made it look like it was closer to the trail than it actually was. Since the fire had pretty much stalled on its own, the firefighting aircraft concentrated their efforts on the Red-Eye Lake fire to the east. Later, they were able to put a lot of water on the Famine Lake fire, and that helped to slow down the front line.

Today, we are expecting cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity levels, conditions that are much more favorable for slow fire growth and increased fire-fighting efforts. Rain is predicted over the next few days also, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that it arrives soon.

Yesterday, the sheriff issued a precautionary evacuation. The area that this covered extended from the west side of Iron Lake to the Gunflint Narrows Road, which goes in towards the Gunflint/Magnetic narrows. This evacuation was called in the event that if the fire had reached the Gunflint Trail, then it would not be possible to leave should someone choose to do so. All other areas of the Trail remained open. People who were travelling on the trail at that time were stopped, and if they were residents or if they had reservations at a lodge, they were allowed to proceed. This was a voluntary evacuation, and some of our guests chose to leave at that time. We stayed, as did some of our other cabin guests.

This morning, it is cloudy, and hazy across the lake. We are hearing some aircraft, and so we know that they are once again working on the fire. If you have plans up the Trail, we recommend that you call ahead for conditions, and then make decisions based on what you are learning from the people who live here. I will post more later on today, including some pictures, but for now I have to go clean cabins. I just heard that the local radio station, WTIP, will have a fire update at noon today. If you read this before then, you can go to and click on the dancing moose to webstream. Then you can hear the information live. Greg is at the daily briefing as I type, so he will have information from that, which I will summarize also.
Thank you for your calls, and for checking in with us via the blog. We really appreciate all of the support. Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, 12 September 2006


This is the other end of the beach from my last posting about Instow and the other end of the season too. There is a car park behind the sand dunes at the estuary side of Instow and from there you can follow a rickety old track to the Cricket Ground. The beach is accessed from a path either side of here and is well away from the one used by most visitors. Perhaps this is why DAISI (Devon Arts In Schools Initiative) decided to use it as the location for some art in nature work - less innocent members of the general public to disturb.

This is where I went yesterday and am only just recovered enough to write about it today. I came with my youngest daughter in my role as Mum, and so was only given five five-year olds to look after - believe me this was enough! There is a reason why I chose to work with older children! The beach was very nice though and there are even rock pools you can mess about in. A little known fact that managed to surprise many locals when I mentioned it.

Sunday, 10 September 2006


Having survived the night and packed up our tent we decided to pay a visit to nextdoor Ilfracombe. Ilfracombe was once a thriving Victorian holiday destination and is still popular as such. It has fallen into decline in recent years and is starting to look a bit shabby but still has something to offer the passing tourist. The harbour is pretty and is surrounded by plenty of nice pubs, cafes and gift shops. There is also the Landmark Theatre, known locally as Madonna's Bra because of the twin conical shapes of its buildings.

We went today because we happened to be nearby and to buy some seaside souveniers for my display at work; but we also decided to visit The Chocolate Emporium, a chocolate museum, shop and cafe in the High Street, as it had been recommended by a friend. It seemed to be the only shop to be shut on a Sunday but it looked very nice from the outside! You will have to wait for further details in a later posting I am afraid.

Colorful Days, Cooler Nights

Last spring, I remember saying more than once that everything seemed to be happening about two weeks early. Should I be surprised then that the leaves are also now turning early? We are not to the peak of color yet, but I definitely see change on the Canadian side of the lake sooner than I did last year. Most of the underbrush is bright with color: yellow grasses, golden bracken fern, bright orange on our moose maples. The New England asters are a shade of light purple, which contrasts well with the other colors. The birch and aspen are just beginning to show some change. And to go with all of that, the sky today is a lovely blue. We have defiinitely turned the corner into fall, as the night temperatures are down in the forties. The days warm up to the fifties and sixties, as long as the sun is shining, but once it goes down, things cool fast.

Despite the cooler times, my tomatoes are still very green. They are just cherry tomato plants, but I am surprised that most don't want to start to show even some orange color on them. At this rate, I will be picking green tomatoes to bring in and wrap in newspaper. I did finally get a small flower on one of my eggplants, but the warm weather that it needs is a thing of the past. It was a fun experiment nonetheless. The basil was prolific, and I have picked it to put up into pesto, for a small burst of summer flavor once winter has set in. We had patchy frost on Friday night---I noticed some on the dock and on the roof of the studio cabin. None of the plants got hit, but certainly that could happen almost any time.

The fishing should pick up for trout, now that the nights are colder. I've been told that they are seeing many on the depth-finders, but the fish are unwilling to bite. The bass, on the other hand, are still biting and still fighting. No sign of walleyes since mid-July. Where do they go?

With Greg in Alaska, the donkeys are depending on me and Paul and Addie to answer their calls for room service. Moses won't usually sing for me, like he will for Greg, but ever since he started receiving oats as a supplement to the hay, he will call for me twice a day. Addie fed both Moses and Jethro one evening, shortly after Greg left, but she didn't know about the plan to feed Moses his oats, too. By nine that evening, he was singing to me, and I figured out that it was because he was expecting something. I find it funny that a donkey can learn something so quickly as he has. On sunny days like today, he is sitting up in the pasture, soaking up sunshine. Life isn't too tough, I guess.

After six days of driving, Robert and Greg pulled in to Alaska on Wednesday night. They had several days where they chose to drive five hundred miles or more. Once they got to British Columbia, they slowed down a bit, so as to enjoy the scenery and to do some hiking. They called one evening after spending several hours on a hike up to a glacier. They never did reach the glacier before it was time to turn around and come back down, but they really enjoyed the trek. They drove up through the Yukon Territory, visiting areas that Greg had been through twenty years earlier with his good friend Art. The fall colors are at peak there right now, and Greg has been taking many pictures.
Tomorrow, Greg flies out to Fairbanks, and Robert will stay behind in Eagle, to join the kids and teachers there for a trip down the Yukon River to an old mining camp. They will learn some history, do some exploring, tour the dredge, and do some water sampling. He is having a great time meeting up with the friends that he and Paul and Addie have made up there in this last year. After the trip, he will load his truck and make the drive to Fairbanks, to join up with his good friend Ben. Soon the snow will start to fall in those areas of Alaska, and he needs to drive out soon, or he won't be taking his truck with him!

The bread oven is still going, at least once a week. Fresh ciabatta and wood-fired pizza are always on the menu. It all tastes even better because we eat it outside.


I don't know why but last thing Friday night I thought it would be a really good idea to go camping. I think it was the prospect of a beautiful weekend and a vain attempt to prolong that summer holiday feeling. Anyway, we searched the internet, found a good campsite, packed the ca and off we went.

It was a lovely campsite, and very busy too, excellent views over the sea as you can see, and we were lucky enough to find quite a level pitch. This is North Morte Farm Holiday Park in the tiny village of Mortehoe nestled between the bigger holiday towns of Woolacombe and Ilfracombe.

We arrived at around 5.00, set up the tent and cooked our BBQ (once I'd been down to the shop to buy the matches I'd forgotten to pack.) Sitting in the sun and drinking cold beer was lovely.
Then the breeze began to pick up and by 8.30 had turned into a howling gale. By 9.30 it was gusting so strongly I began to wish I'd packed a pair of shiny red shoes to click three times. Unfortunately my husband refused to listen to my chants of "There's no place like home" so we just had to go to sleep hoping that we didn't wake up under a pile of canvas, half way down the cliff or actually in the sea.

You can probably guess from the fact that I'm posting this that I lived to tell the tale, but it was a very noisy night. I can thoroughly recommend camping anywhere in North Devon, especially somewhere with fantastic views, but do check the weather forecast carefully first.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Broomhill Hotel Sculpture Garden

Summer holidays are now definately over, doom and gloom settles as I return to work. Still, we were broken into it gently by a visit to Broomhill. This is a place frequented by teachers undertaking training. Today we learnt the finer points of watercolour painting on very wet paper.

This is a lovely place to visit if you are into art. Head out of Barnstaple towards Lynton on the A39 then turn towards Ilfracombe on the B3230 and its about a mile down a leafy country road. Entry into the gardens is �4.50 for adults and �1.50 for children. The hotel also does fantastic food for residents and non-residents alike (this is why teachers really come!)

The gardens stretch on for quite a way, easily long enough to walk off whatever delights you sampled for your lunch, or that extra dollop of cream you had with your cream tea. There are hundreds of scuptures to look at, ranging from the weird to the wonderful. The most famous is the giant red shoe which meets you at the top of the drive. Some are quite hidden away, so you have to keep your eyes peeled. Inside the hotel is an art gallery, entry to this is free, and there are even scuptures in the loo!

Friday, 1 September 2006

Horse Riding

September has arrived. Winter wends its way towards us. And although you can feel it in the air first thing in the morning by lunch time today it was boiling hot again. Thank goodness for that as we'd booked to go horse riding and it would've been miserable in the rain.

There are plenty of place to go riding in North Devon. They all charge pretty much the same at �18 an hour per person, but some insist on you having lessons before they'll let you out in the big wide world. We went to Kingsland Stables in Woolsery (Woolfardisworthy as the sign reads). They offered us a deal on a family of five at �70 total. They were very friendly and great with the kids. We went on a two and a half mile ride down country roads and along a woodland track. It was very pleasant.

Horse riding - ahh! One of those things every little girl wants to do - until they actually get on the back of one and realise its not all its cut out to be. My littlest one was moaning of a sore bottom by the time we got off! She loved feeding the horses some carrots afterwards though. And actually they all want to go again now! Bums recover easily obviously - well young ones do anyway! I can't say the same about mine.

Thursday, 31 August 2006

Sailing through August

From sailing into August, to the fall winds now blowing, it has been quite a month. This is a favorite time of the summer for many people, so my first question is, Why does it have to go by so quickly? Just when we were warming up and having a really good time, the wind changes and everyone heads home to go back to school and work. I love all four of the seasons, but it would be really nice if time slowed down just a bit. I am, however, still taking time to smell the roses on our rosebush whenever I walk by.

The Cavity Lake fire ceased to be an issue in early August, when the crews were able to declare it 95% contained. The whole operation was a marvel, and we so appreciate all the hard work put in by the crews. We got to meet some wonderful people, from the personnel who came each day with updates, to the folks who stopped in just to see us at the end of the road. They all were very dedicated to their job of keeping us all safe and managing the fire in the forest. Our hats are off to them!

Once the fire was no longer a constant presence, we went back to summer as usual. The weather this month has been just like it should be in August---warm days and cool nights. The mosquitoes cooperated on schedule, and have mostly disappeared, with a few strays ones in the evenings. Now that our nights are routinely getting in to the fifties, those stragglers won't be here for long. The stars have been bright in the sky, and I even heard some reports of Northern Lights. Unfortunately, I missed seeing them, as I was already asleep. That means that I also missed any campfire activities that were happening.....Guess I'm just getting a little too old!

Our pizza gatherings this month have been pretty amazing. Thursday is our usual day for making bread and pizza in the outdoor oven, and we invite guests and friends to join in. I like to joke that each week I get to roll in dough, as I am out at our big table, rolling the crusts to throw in the oven. Then everyone else steps up and puts the toppings on, Greg bakes them again, and out comes the most delicious pizza this side of Lake Superior. Twice this month, we fed over fifty people! We didn't even begin to count how many pizzas went through the oven. We just kept rolling dough and tossing them in. It has become a great tradition for all of us here at Heston's.

The birds are quieter, as usually happens this late in the summer. I have been hearing more chickadees, and they seem to be singing those songs that I hear in winter. We had opportunity to watch some young ones, earlier in the month, that seemed to be new at flying. They were perched atop the hop trellises, and would do short flights and little hops from the pole to the wire. They looked to be full-size, but were still fuzzy. Since they don�t fly south, I think that they will be fine, as young as they are. We still have a few hummingbirds coming to the feeder, getting ready for that big flight south.

While the birds get ready to fly south, our son Robert is preparing to go north. He is headed out today, bound for Alaska. He finished his high school work recently, and though his diploma isn�t quite �in hand� yet, he is ready to strike out on his own. Last year, when he was visiting Alaska with Greg and Paul, Greg told me that Robert might not come back home then. One of our early rules, however, was that you can�t leave home without your diploma. So he returned, stuck it out to the finish line, and has another year under his belt. It is a bittersweet day for me, as this is what I have wanted for him, and yet, it is hard to let him go. But as I�ve been saying for most of the summer, �It�s time for that boy to go!� He is so ready to travel, work in new places and meet new people. Greg is taking the first part of the journey with him, with plans to drive across Canada and into Alaska together, and then Greg will fly back from Fairbanks in mid-September. Not long after that, winter will be setting in up there, so Robert has packed plenty of warm clothes and blankets.

Addie and I will hold down the fort again, this time assisted by Paul, while Greg is gone. Once again, I don�t have a lock on the garbage shed. We haven�t had any bears in there yet, but as soon as they know that Greg is gone, they�ll probably come running! Fortunately, I know a solution if that is the case---I�ll call Tim to come and help me set up another steel cable/come-along barrier, and that will keep me one step ahead of the bear. Stay tuned�..

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Lynton and Lynmouth

20 miles out of Barnstaple, where Exmoor meets the sea, you will find the sister towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Like salt and pepper, or Sooty and Sweep, they come as a pair; so much so that the signpost as you enter the area reads 'Welcome to Lynton and Lynmouth'. When you get to the village of Barbrook you have a choice of routes into Lynmouth, a one mile descent down a 1:4 hill, or a 3 mile scenic road around many twists and turns and through pretty woodland. We took the shorter way today.

It was a cloudy day and Lynmouth was crowded with grockles. Parking was nearly impossible but we found somewhere in the end and then made our way into the centre of the town to find somewhere for lunch. The Corner House was very lovely but very expensive at �4 a sandwich. Still, we were indoors for the only time that it rained.

After that we visited the Exmoor Brass Rubbing Centre. Free to enter but an average cost of �3 per brass rubbing. After a wander round the shops we made our way to the Cliff Railway, pictured above. It has been running since 1888, is water powered and rises 500 feet up the cliff and into the town of Lynton. A return journey cost �2.75 per adult and �1.75 per child. The children loved it and the views out over the bay are fantastic.

In Lynton we had a cup of tea and an ice cream (no Hockings - they don't travel out this far, but they were locally made and very nice). I bought a very nice fluffy pink jumper, made by a company called Weird Fish - who knew there were clothes out there not made by Next?

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Barnstaple In Bloom

The sun peeked intermittently out from between the clouds today. I took advatage of a non-sunbathing day to do a spot of shopping.

Everywhere you look Barnstaple is gearing up for its annual Britain in Bloom entry. It has been a winner on no less than three times in the last ten years, in the category of Best Town, and has gone on to win World In Bloom Best Town.

In the photographs above you can see the Albert Clock, also known as the Four Faced Liar because none of its four faces ever says the same time as any one of the others, and the Heritage Centre. The people with their backs to the beautiful flowers are looking at the Millenium Mosaic, telling Barnstaples history since it began around 900AD.

Croyde Beach again!

Compare the difference between this photo of Croyde and the one taken in June! Croyde yesterday was heaving. Grockles (tourist to you), school holidays, and extreme heat have combined to make it full to bursting. Just look how many people are in the water! Even the car park was nearly full. Prices, by the way, have jumped to �4 per car.

The water was refreshingly icy, and the children would have stayed in it for hours if one of them hadn't fallen over and got a mouthful! We did get a nice wave from those lovely men in the yellow helicopter though.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

RHS Rosemoor Garden

Rosemoor Garden is just outside of Great Torrington. We went there for the first time today, although my children have been before with school and grandparents. It's reasonably cheap to get in: �5.50 for adults, �1.50 for children. But this weekend the children were free as they were having a Family Event Weekend.

The gardens are massive. There are formal gardens, woodlands, cottage and herb gardens and much more. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be quite so big. And we didn't get to see everything today because we were so busy taking part in the specially organised events.

The Family Weekend was sponsored by ING Direct so there was a fair bit of in-your-face advertising going on, but the kids didn't really notice. There were storytelling sessions, where a strange looking gnome told stories, did magic and made balloon animals; there was a craft workshop, the children painted a paper plate; moving statues, bird of prey, a bee-keeping stall and chickens with newly hatched chicks. We also went to listen to extracts of 'Alice in Wonderland' as told by Alice where the Queen of Hearts turned up, towering over everyone in stilts, and enlisted the children to play croquet by being the hoops and the hedgehogs!

At other times of the year I understand they have different events and other workshops for the children to take part in - origami, card-making, etc. The only word of warning I would give is that the restuarant is very expensive, so take a picnic lunch, there's plenty of places to sit and eat.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

North Devon Show

This is essentially an agricultural show where local farmers, craftsmen and small businesses get to show off their wares. But it is a very popular event locally and there is plenty for the children to do.

The show takes over several very large fields and fills them with marquees, show rings, stalls and fast food wagons. One corner of the show is devoted entirely to entertainment with fairground rides and bouncy castles gallore. A favourite with my children today was the giant Mickey Mouse inflatable slide. It wore them out too, so I loved it!

In the show rings there are displays from local children's organisations (we saw gymnastics today) show jumping, dog trials, cattles shows and more. Marquees house a local Food market, craft stalls, beer or are devoted entirely to animals such as goats, poultry or alpacas (strange animals which had been shaved and looked somewhat like a cross between a dwarfed giraffe and a poodle.)

Sunday, 30 July 2006


Every good town has one and Barnstaple is no exception. We went there last night for a drink or two with some good friends to celebrate my husband's birthday. If you're wondering about the name it comes from Barnstaple Pannier Market which is in the street just opposite, panniers being the large baskets they used to store the produce in.

Our Weatherspoons serves the best plate of Nacho's this side of the M5, a visit isn't complete without some. I'd like to recommend the Tex Mex platter but we ordered one and something completely different arrived. None of us noticed until the food was nearly all gone. Copious amounts of beer, vodka, red wine and the Weatherspoons equivalent of Southern Comfort later and we all managed to stagger out and find our way home.

They are a child-friendly pub during the day with a special area for families and I can recommend the roast dinner on a Sunday. So far we've always got what we ordered there.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

The Milky Way

Travel out of Bideford along the A361 in the direction of Cornwall and after about 9 miles you'll reach The Milky Way. It's another one of those farms-converted-into-theme-parks, like the Big Sheep. Inside is the obligatory soft-play and death-slide area, but there is more too it that this. There are displays of historical farm equipment, archery, dodgem cars and a ride/experience called The Clone Zone which claims to be scary but didn't worry my five year old as much as the plastic spider we have at home. A pet's corner, where you can go and feed the lambs and goats, is actually a huge barn where today there were also vintage motorcyles on show. Opposite the bikes are small pens holding two or three sheep or goats. These you are allowed in and all of my children had great fun petting the animals who are quite tame and friendly (more than you can say of my children at times!)

Two cafes offer fast food and traditional food but this is not one of those places that serve overpriced rubbish and force you to eat it. There are plenty of picnic areas scattered around and they don't mind you bringing in your own food. A hand stamping system allows you to go in and out to your car at will.

Outside attractions are the Bird of Prey centre, mini-golf, a train ride, a maze (although this is still growing) and another play area. The Bird of Prey display is outside in nice weather but there is also an Indoor Arena where the birds are flown on days like today. They also have a ferret show.

Thursday, 27 July 2006


Saunton beach, about 2 miles out of the village of Braunton, is a popular destination for tourists and locals. Car parking, at �4 a time, is fairly expensive, but worth it if you're going to spend all day there. The sands stretch out for miles and there are plenty of sand dunes for the children to play in when they're fed up of making sand castles. There are also rock pools and a couple of caves in the side of the cliff to explore.

Facilities include a toilet block, showers, shop, ice cream kiosk (not Hockings I'm afraid) and a cafe/bar. The beach is privately owned and the owners decided recently that they would not employ life guards so it's not quite as safe as next-door Croyde, but that hasn't seemed to deter anyone. The car park fills up just as quickly as it used to so it's wise to get here early.

We took a risk today and didn't arrive until 2.00. A rather nice young man waved us into a spot with his yellow flag and we found a spot on the sands which was wet enough to build sandcastles on but not so wet that we couldn't sit down. Sixty-five sandcastles and one sand-car (which rather more closely resembled a boat) later and my children decided it was time to make the long trek to the sea. Well two of them did. Grumpy teenager decided it would be more fun to lie about and listen to something vaguely musical on her MP3 player.

We played 'Count the dead crabs' on the way down to the waters edge then decided there were too many of them to bother. The water was lovely and warm and the waves not too high. Just right for us but annoying for the surfers. Half an hour later we made the long trek back up the beach and warmed up in the sunshine. A great afternoon.

Point of Interest:This was the beach where Robbie Williams filmed the 'Angels' video.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Rain and bears and berries

A wonderful thing happened on Sunday: We got nearly two inches of rain on Gunflint Lake. Some guests from drier parts of the state said that it was great to hear and smell rain again. We're told that Seagull Lake got anywhere from 0.6 to 1.0 inches of rain. Although it was not as much as us, it still has made an impact on the fire. Initially, the crews said that it had slowed the fire, and of course, that in itself is a good thing. But in the last couple of days, they have seen improvement enough that when the information officers arrive, they are always smiling. The fire is 35% contained, and they have been able to do some direct suppression efforts. They also plan to do some fire line explosive work, to further contain the fire perimeter, particularly on the west side. I heard that there is very little active torching, instead more smoldering and smoking. Hot spots remain, and so it is not time to become complacent. Rather, it is a time to work on areas that can be safely reached, and get the containment line in place. Thank heavens for opportunities like this.

The rain also helped the raspberry crop a bit. I went picking on Thursday, and the harvest was adequate for a pan of my favorite raspberry bars. But things were looking sparse and dry at that point. The moisture that came down Sunday improved things. That afternoon, I scavenged the bush right outside our backdoor, and the size and plumpness had already improved. Today, Sharlene and Cousin Cheryl (currently visiting with her husband Joel, from Tucson, Arizona) got several more, and these berries were a nice size. There is hope on the horizon, and for the thimbleberries, too. We took the berries from today's pickings to make a delicious reduction sauce to put on top of bear roast. What a feast.....bear meat roasted with onions, carrots and beets, topped with a berry sauce, is an incredible Northwoods delicacy. We have had it with blueberry sauce in past times, but I really like the raspberry. Something about bears and berries....

Someone recently commented about needing a thimbleberry pie recipe. We haven't really used an official recipe, but I will try to come up with something on paper and post it here later in the week. I have a recipe for raspberry pie, and as I recall, I think that we modified that one. So stay tuned and I will post it shortly.

Greg went swimming tonight, and decided to find out what the water temperature really is. He got his special thermometer that he uses for brewing beer and brought it down to the lake. 72 degrees is what he reported. That's warm water! I saw that the air thermometer read 79 degrees at mid-afternoon, so there wasn't much difference. Addie has been swimming on a regular basis since she got back from Alaska. It is one of the things that she really missed while she was gone from here. Up in Eagle, the kids go swimming in a small creek, I am told, but the water is a lot colder.

Though Joel wouldn't necessarily agree, the mosquito crop is on the decline. I don't think anyone is sad about that.

Saturday, 22 July 2006

A New Website for Information

Today has been a calm day, both here at Heston's and on the fire. The information folks who stop by, and who speak on the radio, have said many times in the last couple of days how helpful it is while working on the fire to have days like these: cooler and with light winds. This gives them excellent conditions for getting ahead in their efforts. As a result, the eastern side of the fire is holding well in the prescribed burn areas, and today they were able to send several ground crews in to further secure this line. The north side is also holding, and so the folks on Seagull and Saganaga are feeling considerable relief at this news. The fire is still progressing to the west, but slowly. Today, we were told that it moved only about a quarter of a mile. This is further in to the BWCA, where it is more difficult to work. But it also means that it is further away from people and structures. So as of today, the objective of keeping the fire within the Boundary Waters is still being accomplished.

The new incident command team has taken over. This team was brought in because of the complex nature of working on a fire of this size and in an area like ours. Since the fire is burning within a wilderness area, the methods by which to fight it are different. With air crews and ground crews going in, and several different areas being worked, it is no wonder this is considered complex. Keeping in mind that safety of all personnel is the top priority, imagine the coordination of managing these crews, knowing where they are at all times, assigning the jobs to be done, monitoring the weather conditions, dealing with any unexpected situations, and then getting everyone back to camp at the end of the day. "Camp" is a tent city that has been erected in one of the gravel pits near Seagull Lake. Semi-trucks brought in tents, kitchens and showers. I understand that it is quite a sight to see. I don't know about you, but I find all of this fascinating. I am continually amazed and impressed with all that is being done to work on the fire.

The new team also brings with it a different website. For current information on the fire, visit . On the homepage, click on the link for the Cavity Lake fire. As with the other site I mentioned recently, this site will provide current conditions, fire facts, maps and pictures. I find that it is one of the best ways to keep up-to-date. Greg has been attending the daily briefings up at Seagull when he can, and he gets a lot of information then, and has an opportunity to ask questions. Several of our neighbors go to these meetings, and it is a good moment to support each other during times like these.

We got a bit of rain yesterday, and it made the air smell sweet. More importantly, it helped to raise the humidity, which causes the fires to burn with less intensity. It helped my garden, but I still needed to water it today to keep things lively. Our lettuce has been abundant, and each day we pick some fresh leaves for salad at lunch. The warmer temperatures have brought flowers and little green orbs to my cherry tomato plants, and I have been able to harvest summer squash and zucchini, as well as basil. I know that for most folks, these are generally things that are pretty easy to grow, and really nothing to write home about.....but for me, this is the first serious gardening I have been able to do in about sixteen years. So I still get excited about it. I've heard that old joke about having to keep you car locked during zucchini season, so that you won't end up with a carload of freebies. No worry on that here. We're keeping up with what we have, and I'm on the look out for new zucchini recipes. It's been fun, and will continue to be so, as long as I can keep the critters at bay. I also realized that in one way, we have finally put the donkeys to work---by utilizing all of the manure that they have been producing. All is well.

To everyone who has emailed, called, or just reads this blog and sends prayers and good wishes our way.....we can't thank you enough. We feel quite blessed.