Sunday, 30 April 2006

62 The Bank

Today we managed to get one of those mythical items - a babysitter! So, on an evening still bathed in warm sunlight, we ventured into Barnstaple to a restaurant called '62 The Bank.' This used to be a bank, strangely enough, and is now owned by the hotel next door, the Royal and Fortescue. It's a very stylish restaurant with oak panelling and lots of plants, and its worth looking up to the ceiling if you step inside. It's domed and decorated with reliefs which have been there for centuries.

The food was delicious if slightly expensive, two courses and some drinks came in at around �23 per head. The company was fabulous and a great time was had by all. (And for those of you on conservatory-watch, my conservatory now has a roof and glass in the walls! I am a happy bunny!)

Friday, 28 April 2006

April Sentiments

This is Paul taking over the blogging reins for a single post. I'll try to follow the excellent example my mom has set thus far in weblog posting.

The spring season just doesn't feel complete without a bus trip. When April comes and goes, and the big green bus is quiet and unmoved something seems to be missing. We have felt that way for the majority of the month, enjoying the cool spring air of Gunflint Lake instead of Montana or New Mexico. Although it is beautiful here-very few mosquitoes, sunny days, cool nights-a restlessness has uprooted our thoughts. This April Bus Trip is so ingrained in our lifestyles that we just don't feel satisfied without one. That is why we started the bus up this past Sunday, after packing a picnic dinner.
We didn't go far. Instead of turning left on the Gunflint Trail we turned right and proceeded onto the End Of The Trail campground. It was a sunny afternoon and the Trail was green and beautiful, and on the way there we saw some kind of hawk soaring in the sky.
The End of the Trail means pavement, so we brought along some bikes and took those around the looped highway. There were many things to see while biking; looming trees, placid water, and glimpses of the nesting eagles are some of the things we observed while pedalling.
After our short bike ride we stopped back at the campsite to explore some. We were situated on a hill overlooking Seagull Lake, and at times during our stay we looked out to see frolicking otters. It was too bad we didn't have the binoculars at the time. After a good amount of exploring we went to a Walleye spawning area and looked around for fish. At first it was difficult to see because of the glare, but it didn't take long to spot the patient walleyes, waiting for their turn to attempt climbing the river. At places there were at least ten fish together, and some were quite large.
Soon it was picnic time, so again we went back to the camp and enjoyed a very good picnic meal. When everyone was finished eating we pulled out the Boules, a lawn game in the style of bocce, although the balls are smaller and made of chrome. Our style of playing however is slightly more extreme than your normal lawn game, going into as treacherous territory as we could find.
Finally we packed up to go home. Even though it wasn't Montana, it was still a very enjoyable and beautiful evening; complete with wildlife, good food, and boules!

Sunday, 23 April 2006


This afternoon we went swimming. There are a number of Leisure Centre's in North Devon but we prefer to go to the Ruda Holiday Park in Croyde. They have a swimming pool called Cascades with lots of slides and a big blue tube called, strangely enough, Big Blue. There is also a current stream that whizzes you around at high speed. My littlest one spent the whole hour just going round and round that bit.

They won't let you take photos inside Cascades so I had to take a photo of the ice cream shop in Croyde where we stopped on the way back home. Almost as nice as Hockings, they do different flavours and will put a big dollop of clotted cream on top for a small extra fee.

Saturday, 22 April 2006


Picnic on Exmoor. We drove out to a place called County Gate, a parking spot exactly on the Devon/Somerset boarder and had our lunch at the picnic tables there. Then, after a quick game of frisbee we went for a walk.

A narrow path took us along the top of some very steep hills and then down into the valley for a walk along the East Lynn river to Malmsmead in the heart of Doone Valley. The walk was quite tough in places and we were all puffed out by the time we got back to the top, but the scenery was lovely, we played Pooh sticks on the bridge into Malmsmead and we even managed to see a snake slithering into the undergrowth in front of us. The cafe in Malmsmead was very nice and they had a very friendly dog who brought us stones to throw for him. The children took thier shoes and socks off and paddled in the ford. Once back at the car we had a quick attempt at kite flying and then came home in time for Dr Who.

Friday, 21 April 2006

Kitchen Improvements

Greg's mom, Sharlene, is currently in Alaska. To keep in touch with Gunflint Lake, she goes to the little library in Eagle to use the computer. She is learning about reading our blog, and I promised to post a picture of the latest kitchen improvements that Greg has done. While Addie and I were gone two weeks ago, Greg tore out some of the old countertops and installed this tile one. Some folks may recognize the green tiles that are also in the hall and bathroom floors in Tamarack, and the gold tiles and white tiles are from the shower in Tamarack. Good use of leftovers! This one is for you, Shar....
We got some rain last night, which is a good thing. The ground was getting dry, so this will help a lot. Addie already misses the sunshine, but we know it will return. When we were out walking two days ago, we heard our first white-throated sparrow. Greg whistled back to answer the call, and the little fellow came whipping right by us. Greg and the bird called back and forth several times, and each time, the bird would fly from one side of the road to the other. Poor little thing thought it had found a mate. We decided that it was best to keep on going rather than disappoint it even more.

Thursday, 20 April 2006


Jungleland in Barnstaple is worth a visit if you have a spare hour to kill and you like plants. It's actually part of St Johns Garden Centre. You have to go through the Garden Centre and you'll find Jungleland at the back. The walk round will only take you fifteen minutes and that's if you walk slow. But the kids love the animated cheetah who growls loudly as you walk past. There are fish, turtles, birds and chimpminks to look at too (real ones). Then there's another lovely cafe, plus, you're right nextdoor to Tesco if you need to go shopping.

I took the children here today to distract myself from the fact that my husband had taken the day off to work on the conservatory and had spent most of the morning doing somebody else's instead! It was very calming.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Ice Out on Gunflint Lake

Since long before I arrived here at Heston's, twenty years ago, there have been two rituals surrounding the retreat of the ice on Gunflint Lake. Sometime in March, an ice out pool is started. In the past, we would all chip in a dollar and pick a date that we thought the ice would be gone. The other thing has been to announce to all of our mailing list that the ice has gone out, by sending a postcard that says simply, "Ice Out!" along with the date that it went. Today the ice officially left the lake, so if you are on our list, you will soon receive your postcard in your nearest mailbox. Addie and I were working on them tonight. As for the ice out pool, this year there were no dollars involved, but we had fun guessing when it would be, just a few weeks ago, when some of our Preus neighbors were up. Congratulations to Jody! She was the closest, choosing April 21. The rest of us were no where near it, with dates running between April 24 and May 2.
It is an early ice-out, but Greg does remember that it went out one year on April 17. Our neighbor and friend Kermit Johnson, a previous owner of Loon Lake Lodge, guessed it that year. We can't remember which year it was, but Kermit passed away several years ago, so it has been a while.
I remember the first time that I won the ice-out pool, and it happened to be April 18, 1987. Greg and I were travelling in California and Arizona that year, and so Sharlene reported it to us when we called home. I was thrilled that I won. There was a tidy little sum of money there that I quickly put to good use---I ordered yarn. It was a lovely cotton, in white, pink and light blue. I was pregnant with Robert at the time, so I came home and wove a baby blanket for his arrival. We still have the blanket, and I like the story that goes with it.
Some years the ice-out process is dramatic. If the wind is blowing hard, it will push huge sheets of ice up on the shore. The ice can be quite powerful, moving rocks in its way, and even pushing over small trees. I once saw it move a rock. This is why it is so important to bring our docks in each fall. If it is an active ice-out year, a lot of damage can be done to a dock in a short time. We've seen docks lifted off their moorings, and once free, they can float or be blown to who knows where on the lake. This year it was quieter. It almost looked as though it would go on Easter Sunday. One-third of the lake was ice-free. Yesterday, it was out about half, which meant that there was open water in front of us. But when we went to the point to check on the east end of the lake, it was still socked in. This morning the ice was really black, which means that it has rotted substantially. By afternoon, the wind was blowing hard from the east, and so the large mass got to moving and breaking up. At dinner time, it was just down to just some icebergs floating around. The waves were lapping on the shore, and I even heard my first loon call.
When Robert and Paul were about four and three years old, they couldn't wait for the ice to go out so that they could go swimming again. I have a photo of them that year, standing with their backs to the camera, looking out at the lake. The ice was pulled back from shore about twenty yards, and they were ready and waiting to jump in. They didn't go in that day, but it wasn't long after that. These days, they are content to wait until the water and the air warm up---usually sometime in June---before they take that first plunge of the season.
Ten years ago, the ice didn't go out until May 16. That was a late one! Fishing season had opened the week before, but of course, no one could go out to the good fishing spots. Most of our guests delayed their plans by a week, in hopes that the lake would be clear. One of our favorite fishermen came up early, even though he knew that there was ice still on the lake. He launched his boat, went out to the edge of the ice, and drilled two holes--after all, you can have two lines when you are ice fishing!
We saw an otter sunning himself on the ice yesterday when we were checking on conditions. He looked quite content until he spotted us. Then he quietly slipped through a lead, back into the cold water. Geese have been flying overhead as they make their way home to Canada for the summer months. I am keeping an eye out for the hooded mergansers. The male is particularly striking. They sometimes come around for a week or two, before they, too, head further north. The resident mallards are back swimming in the bay.

Monday, 17 April 2006


Children need lots of fresh air and exercise after over-indulging in chocolate so today we came here. This is Instow, a small village near the mouth of the river Torridge in between Barnstaple and Bideford. It's long stretch of golden sand is a great place to blow away the cobwebs. The wind was up this morning bringing with it a wonderful smell of salt water and seaweed. The sun warmed my face and made me dream of long hot summer days, just around the corner now!

After our bracing walk we treated the children to Hockings ice-cream (made just across the river at Appledore and THE best ice-cream in the world - ever.) Then we stopped off in a pub called 'The Bar' for a drink of hot chocolate. Did I say 'over-indulgence' earlier? I don't think there is such a thing really.

Sunday, 16 April 2006


Bideford. Once known as the Little White Town on the Hill, one the of the things Bideford is famous for is its bridge. Every arch is a different size because they were paid for by the residents of the town. The bigger the arch the weathier the family.

Today we came to visit my parents. Two egg hunts, a lovely tea and a viewing of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' later, and we returned home full and with very sleepy children. And of course no Easter tea would be complete without Christmas crackers (we're nothing if not crackers in my family). If you're reading this, Mum, can I have my spinning top back?

Friday, 14 April 2006

Arlington Court

Arlington Court, once the home of the Chichester Family, now National Trust property. It lies seven miles into Exmoor from Barnstaple along picturesque country roads and around a very sharp bend known as Devils Elbow. This was our destination today. They offer different rates of admission depending on whether you want to go inside the house or not. There is a very pleasent tea room; you can sit inside or try your hand at bird spotting at the tables outside - just as long as you don't feed the peacocks.

Today we went on an Easter Egg Trail. A bit different from the usual Egg Hunt this trail led you around the gardens following clues that helped to answer ten questions about animals. We visited the Bat cave, the stables and the Victorian kitchen gardens, saw new born lambs and a white peacock. The end of the trail led us back to the shop where we had our answers checked and recieved a bag of small chocolate eggs each. (Well the children did.) We had to settle for a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake from the afore mentioned tearooms. Yum!

Thursday, 13 April 2006

Sure 'nough, I'd say it's spring!

So we were on our way home tonight from church in town, with Robert at the wheel of the car. Greg suddenly says, "Stop the car!" to which Robert immediately responds. I didn't know what to think, as there were no moose or deer in the road, no fox running by, and no strange objects on the pavement. Quickly Greg rolled down his window, and then we knew---Spring Peepers!! It was awesome. That sound is so incredible, and at times it can be quite deafening. Tonight it wasn't quite like that, but it was still magical. Just the other day, our friend Elizabeth was asking me if we had heard the peepers yet, and I said that it usually isn't until sometime in May that we do. Here it is barely the middle of April, and the peepers were singing their little hearts out. That tells me what a very early spring we are experiencing.

All week, I have been blogging in my mind, so to speak, noticing all sorts of things to write about. Unfortunately, I have been so busy catching up on things from being gone last week, that I haven't had time to actually get it all written and posted. But when we heard the peepers, I know that I had to write.
Addie and I got home on Sunday night, and it was quite noticeable that the snow had been disappearing in our absence. Greg said that although it had been sunny all week, the temperatures hadn't warmed up much. It seems that was all he needed to say, because the very next day, it got up to sixty or so, and boy, did that do a number on the snowpiles. We have been working at Cedar Point every day, and I have been walking the path along the beach to get there. I have been, quite literally, watching the snow melt. On Monday, it was still two to three inches in many places, not to mention the huge piles and drifts in the shaded areas. Today, I realized that the stuff on the ground is pretty much gone, and what remains are the piles in the ditches and in the deep shaded areas. The lake is looking very dark---grey and black, mainly--as the ice deteriorates and rots away. Near shore, it is melted back a foot or so. I put my guess on ice out at April 28th this year, but that prediction was made two weeks ago. The North and South Brule Rivers on the trail went out this week, and I've heard tell that it is usually about two weeks later that the lakes go. It is always fun to watch and see how closely these old sayings play themselves out. I'll keep you posted.
Greg woke me up at five the other morning, as he heard one lone wolf howl. Unfortunately, he didn't howl again, and that may be it for us for the wolves this year. As I mentioned a month or so ago, I will really miss hearing them and seeing them on occasion. It has been an incredible year of sightings.
We've seen eagles and seagulls, and today our neighbor Tim said that he heard a duck. The duck didn't sound too happy, though, likely a bit alarmed that there is not a lot of open water for him to settle on to. The birds have been quite vocal, including the lovely winter wren. This little bird has a most beautiful melody that it belts out repeatedly when we are out walking or working. It makes me smile when I hear it. Our owl is still calling through the night, and sometimes into the day as well. I certainly hope that someone comes along to answer his call soon----we can never have too many owls out there, and new owlets are most welcome.
Work is progressing nicely at Cedar Point cabin. We put a new coat of varnish on the logs and walls and ceilings of the living room and kitchen today. The whole time that I was scrubbing in preparation for the varnishing, I was looking forward to seeing the wood with the new finish. I was not disappointed. It has a beautiful golden glow to it now, and it makes me understand the word "patina" better. Though it is a lot of work to keep up the older cabins, it is rewarding, too. I was thinking that Cedar Point must be close to sixty years old by now, and with this new work, it should keep on going for at least another sixty. I'll post some pictures soon of the latest changes.
It was nice to go away last week, but it is always great to return to the Northwoods. I feel so fortunate to be able to live and work up here. Thanks to everyone who reads what I write here in this blog. It feels like a privilege to be able to share it with you.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Playtime Adventure

Today I've been out for coffee/hot chocolate with my friend. Where do you go for coffee in North Devon when you have children? Well to one of these soft play/ ball pit areas of course. There are millions of these in North Devon, well a fair few anyway. This is Playtime Adventure, the best one in Barnstaple. It has very well thought out security to stop your little darlings escaping and plenty of tables and chairs for grown ups to sit and chat at. They even offer you the daily paper to read if you happen to go there on your own.

My children are all now completely worn out. I, on the other hand, am completely relaxed. Hopefully I will get some uninterrupted sleep tonight - it will make a nice change.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006


Bideford. A small market town ten miles out of Barnstaple. It used to be part of the main route in and out of North Devon but is now bypassed thanks to the building of the new brigde seen here in the distance.

We came here today for my nephews birthday party. Mostly it rained but the sun finally came out towards the end of the day. We had our fill of birthday cake then travelled home with a car full of balloons and those horrible party blower things that make very loud noises. Deep joy!

Monday, 10 April 2006


There are blue skies over Barnstaple again today. There is also a chill wind such that I began to wish I hadn't put away my winter boots in favour of bare legs and little shoes. So we didn't stay out for long.

Barnstaple is the biggest town in North Devon and people travel in from all the local towns and villages. Many years ago a railway linked it to the outlying settlements but now the only rail line left takes you to Exeter, and the other lines have become cycle tracks. The High Street, as you can see, is pedestrianised, but traffic in Barnstaple is a bit of an issue to put it mildly. This is being dealt with by the building of a new downstream bridge and bypass system.

Nevertheless, Barnstaple is still a favourite destination for all in North Devon who wish to partake of that most popular of hobbies - shopping!

Saturday, 8 April 2006

First Post

The dark and dreary winter days have finally given way to spring and the skies over North Devon are blue. Hooray! After many long, cold winter months with nothing to do but hide from the weather I can finally look forward to getting out and about.

This morning I ventured as far as the end of our road and found the neighbourhood cats sunning themselves on the roofs of cars. My husband made it as far as the back garden and managed to unpack our conservatory roof - a first step towards actually building it. Double hooray!

So, in anticipation of a glorious summer to come, I will attempt to keep this blog updated with news of all the things that happen in and around this peaceful part of the world, and all the places there are to visit in it. Beaches, moorland, towns and villages - sooner or later you will find them all here.