Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Tordown Farm

At last some real sunshine to venture out in! This is Tordown Farm and we found it by accicent today. Just outside Barnstaple on the road to Landkey is a signpost which reads Tordown Farm Nature Trail. So we followed the signs. They lead us down three miles of single track country lanes to the Farm car park. A handwritten sign told us to report to the farmhouse which we duly did. Tordown Farm is a working farm but they offer a two mile nature trail to visitors for a donation at the Farmhouse, and Cream Teas are on offer in the dining room. The farms wife is very friendly and gave us a map and explained in detail what we had to do. But before we set off we were able to pet the farm's dogs and check out the guinea pigs, lambs, chickens, quails and an owl all kept in various enclosures in the yard.

The walk was very well sign posted with white arrows and took us through fields, over hills, down into wooded valleys and alongside streams. Many of the fields were resident to goats, sheep and cows, who all stopped their feeding to watch us as we passed. The views were fantastic. What made it even better was the fact that we were the only ones there. Apparently they are busier at weekends. After the walk we stopped for a drink then on the way to car were able to feed grass to the pony in the neighbouring field. A great find!

Monday, 29 May 2006

Westward Ho! Potwalloping

We went to Westward Ho! today to become windswept and frozen at the local Potwalloping Festival. On a day with better weather this could be a fun event with lots to entertain children and grown-ups alike. We stayed long enough to watch an Aikido display and wander round to take in the sights. There were plenty of stalls, a whole marquee dedicated to local crafts, and more market-type wares ranged along the sea front. Bouncy castles seemed to multiply in front of our very eyes there were so many, although not too many that we couldn't find the beer tent! Activities for children included a fancy dress competition, painting pebbles and designing T-shirts.

Potwalloping dates back to Victorian times when all those who lived in the parish spent some time after the Spring tides collecting pebbles that had been washed down off the ridge and throwing them back again. This protected their grazing rights on Northam Burrows, as well as preventing the Burrows from flooding. Potwalloping became something of an event with food and cider laid on as the whole community turned out. I'm told that both my Grandmothers are true potwallopers as they were born in the parish. The tradition gradually died out but the Festival was started in 1995 in order to celebrate the history of the event and it's getting bigger each year.

The best entertainment of the day was provided by my two youngest daughters Sumo wrestling in giant plastic padded suits. I laughed so much I cried!

Saturday, 27 May 2006

The Return of Warm Weather

It is amazing how the world changes when the warm weather finally arrives. This week, we got to see temps in the seventies, and I think that I was not the only one who was loving it. My little lettuce plants perked up, finally showing miniature curly leaves. The donkeys gleefully ate their way through fresh grass in front of the lodge. The resident yellow-bellied sapsucker busily called and flew from tree to tree near the lodge, so that we spotted him regularly. Everyone is feeling better, thanks to an increase in sunshine.

We had the opportunity in the last couple of weeks to meet some folks who were doing a lot of hiking in the area. Two fellows, Steve and Mike, hiked to here from Ely, following the Kekakabic Trail. They said that it was decent hiking, though there were some trees over the trail, and they also had some cold, wet weather to put up with. They stayed with us for a few nights, and were joined by two more companions. Then they took off and hiked the Border Route Trail, from Loon Lake all the way to McFarland Lake. Now that is a lot of hiking in just a couple of weeks! The two ends of the Border Route were in great shape, but the middle section was more challenging. In some places, the blowdowns were thick, and paths around them had been trodden often. In other places, there were beaver dams to cross over, with water several inches deep. The improved weather conditions also brought out the black flies and mosquitoes in the deep woods where they were, so that head nets were a welcome tool. Overall, they said that it was a good experience.

On Thursday, I did a shuttle trip for another fellow who set out to hike the Border Route on a solo journey. I met Scott at McFarland Lake, and we headed back to Loon Lake, so that he, too, could start from the same location as the other guys. We had the good fortune, while driving near the Laurentian Divide, to see a timber wolf crossing the Gunflint Trail. I was so excited! Scott had his camera nearby, and he was able to take a couple of photos. What amazed me about this wolf was his nonchalant manner as he crossed in front of us. He sauntered by, in a trot, and headed up a powerline cut. When I clicked my tongue at him, he paused to look down at us, then continued out of sight. As I mentioned during the winter, I knew that I was going to miss seeing these animals as often as we had. Maybe I'll get more chances like this one yet this summer.

It's been a good week for spotting moose, too. On a trip to Duluth, we saw two "teenage" moose on the Trail. One was in a pond, but the other was on the road, like a new teenage driver. Those young guys are all long legs, and they don't quite know what to do when a car comes along. Fortunately, we knew what to do, and I just stopped to let him find his way to the roadside and off into the woods. On our way home that night, near Lutsen, we got to see a nice bull in a pond off the highway. He was munching away on the grasses, oblivious to the traffic. He had a small set of antlers that were rich in velvet. I don't often see bulls in the summer--more likely the cows and calves. We should get some glimpses soon of baby moose, as they follow their moms and seek relief from the heat and bugs in the roadside lakes and ponds.

The trout have been biting well for some folks. We got a report today of a 36" laker caught and released! I saw the photo of it, and as soon as the fisherman gets home, he will send me a copy of it to post here. It looked like a beauty. The bass also have been biting. The Cross River Bridge opened as of last night for walleye fishing. With any luck, I may get a chance this week to go over there and wet a line. It's a good place for me to try to fish, since I can drive there and I don't have to operate a boat and fish at the same time--something I am not very good at doing!

The days are so long now, as we approach the solstice. It is after 9 p.m. and the sky is still a beautiful pink and lavendar from the sunset. It's the best time of the year.

Monday, 22 May 2006

Theatre and Cinema

Barnstaple has both a cinema and a theatre and this weekend I spent some time in both. The Queens Theatre has had quite a face lift in recent years and now sports plush seats and a cafe/bar. I went here on Saturday to watch my daughters in a ballet show, but am-dram is not all they host; a lot of shows are touring productions with some quite big names and they have musical events too.

The cinema has also greatly improved in the last ten years. It has one of the largest screens in the South West with comfy seats, surround sound and a cpacity of around 250. There are three smaller screens downstairs and a small bar. They are very quick to get all the new releases and they have an online booking system which is so easy even I can manage it.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

The Catch of the Day

Despite the cold and the wind, our dedicated fisher-men and women arrived on Gunflint Lake last weekend ready to hit the water. Every year seems to bring us the same weather forecast, so these folks always come prepared. Those who go for walleye often fish at night, which means even more layers of clothing to wear. Some folks used to bring snowmobile suits to go out there for the late night forays. Fortunately, the excellent fabrics we have available now mean that it is easier to stay warm and comfortable while pursuing our favorite pastimes.
I only heard a few boats go by at 10:30 p.m. before the midnight opener. The wind was strong, so that probably kept some boats at home. Sharlene used to tell me about what a sight it was to see, down in Little Gunflint Lake, with all of the lighted bobbers floating on the surface, each one waiting for the hungry walleye to come along and pop the bait into its mouth. I still haven't made it there to witness this, some twenty years later. But I have gone fishing at the Cross River at night, and seen the lighted bobbers there. I wonder what the fish think of those?
Early reports were spotty, but by the end of the weekend, we did have some stories to tell. The walleye were biting fairly well, and not just during the night. One couple went home with close to their limit, while others generally had at least some in their coolers. The trout were a bit slower, with reports of both 20 feet and 72 feet for their hang-outs. The water temp in the big lake started out at 41 degrees on Friday, but had warmed to 47 by Tuesday.
My favorite story is about our friend Remy, who is five years old. Remy went out fishing on Saturday night with her mom and her grandpa. She is the fourth generation in this family to fish on Gunflint Lake for opener. Some of my favorite stories about spring fishing are from her grandpa. They went out to try their luck, and sure enough, her mom caught a walleye big enough to be kept. Then Remy had her turn. She got a big bite, and started to reel in. It wasn't long before she was worn out and had to hand the rod over to mom. Her grandpa got the net ready, and then had a chance to see the fish. It was a nice one, and he quickly netted it, and brought it in to the boat. A six-pound walleye---definitely a keeper! Remy watched as her grandpa put the fish on the stringer. She hollered with dismay when he tossed it back overboard---"Papa, don't throw my fish back in to the water!" He explained that it was still there, just tied to the side of the boat to keep it cold. They started back for the cabin, and every few minutes she would give out a direction. "Papa, check that line, make sure my fish is still there!" When they pulled up on shore, Remy took the stringer and ran up to the cabin. She burst inside, dragging the fish behind her, to show her dad, her grandma, and her little sister Morgan. (They tell me that the floor needs washing after that! It's worth it, just for the picture of it in my mind.) It always makes my day when young kids catch nice fish like that. On Sunday morning, Remy let us weigh the fish and take some photos. Nice work, Remy!

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Spring Chores

It's the week of opener, and we are busy polishing, shining, and pounding, depending on the task at hand. I am stealing some moments from my cleaning to catch up on things at the desk. Addie is out washing windows--she even volunteered for this! Too cool--what a good kid. When it isn't raining, Robert is working on some new parts for the docks. Greg continues to put in the flooring at Cedar Point. The birch looks so good, I can't imagine that it will actually be better with a finish on it. And the oak in the bedrooms is full of character. It's always exciting to see changes like this.
It has been raining, that is for certain. I checked the rain guage yesterday, and we had received one inch. Today, the guage is at one and a quarter, and it is still raining. Wow! That is good news for the forest, of course, but also for the lake. It is coming up to the level that we usually like to see in the springtime. When the ice went out on April 18th, Addie asked how soon we would be putting in the docks. Repair work aside, I said that it would be shortly before opener. Experience has taught me that if we put the docks in too early, and then the lake level rises, we have to pull them closer to shore. The downside of that is that someone (and it has been me before) has to actually get in to the cold, cold waters to attach the chain to the dock frame. Not a pleasant time of the year to be dunking in the lake!
With the rain comes cooler temperatures, but that doesn't seem to be hindering the wave of green that continues to blanket the landscape. I enjoy seeing the growth in pine trees in various places on the Gunflint Trail. Even before the blowdown in 1999, there were tree-planting gatherings on the Trail. Hedstrom's Lumber Mill in Grand Marais kindly gives away seedlings each May, to homeowners and organizations to plant. We have picked up trees from them for several years. I remember when Addie was about four, the Gunflint Trail Association had a service project of tree planting in the vicinity of the Northern Light Lake overlook and lake access, in the highway right-of-way. We brought all three kids along to plant trees with us. That was ten years ago, and those trees look to be anywhere from six to ten feet tall. Since the blowdown, many areas on the Trail have been re-planted, and it is so gratifying to see these young trees each year, growing taller and stronger. We may not see as many magnificently tall pines as in the years past, but fortunately the trees do continue to grow in our forest. This Friday, Greg will again pick up his seedlings, and we will be planting more little trees on our land. Many thanks to Hedstrom's for this gift.

Pinkworthy Pond

Back onto Exmoor today for a three mile round trip to Pinkworthy (pronounced Pinkery) Pond. The walk up to the pond is pleasant enough, and we had a lovely sunny day for it. The pond is actually a seven acre lake made by John Knight in 1830 when he built a dam across the River Barle, no one knows why.

Once you reach the pond you have a choice of routes, right takes you along the Chains or left half a mile to the Tarka Trail. I wouldn't recommend the latter. I walked it today with 30 children and it is very marshy. There were quite a few wellies which stayed in the mud while thier owners feet marched on. Still, following the stream through the tunnel under the dam was quite an adventure, as was finding sheep skeletons and hundreds of tadpoles. And not an ice-cream van in sight!

Sunday, 7 May 2006


This is Appledore, a quiet village on the banks of the River Torridge and home of the oft-mentioned Hockings ice cream. It used to be a fishing village, its narrow streets meandering down the hill towards the Quay. The Quay now has a brand new flood defence scheme and the thin and twisting roads hidden behind it house art galleries and curiosity shops.

I came down to visit my Grandad who had a superb view from his upstairs sitting room of the many sailing boats coasting up and down the river in the breezy sunshine. And I didn't even have to phone him up to get him to let me in.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Spring Rain

The spring rains have finally arrived, which pleases many of us. After the snow melted and the ice went out, it was feeling very dry in these parts of the woods. Until the leaves are fully out, also known as spring green-up, the forest is drier and more vulnerable to fires. That is why there is a spring burning ban and we are not allowed to burn brush.
It started on Sunday, but was only a gentle rainfall. The good thing with that is that most of it was soaking right into the ground. On Monday, we had several hours of grey clouds, but no moisture. Now that is just plain frustrating to me, as I want to see productivity if it's not going to be sunny! It did finally start raining, and at that, it was a harder rain than the previous day. Tuesday we had more, and it has been raining on and off today already. I also know that it rained in the night, as I can hear it on the metal porch roof, right outside my window. The only bad thing is that my rain guage still isn't out there, to measure this. Each year I have to put it in a spot that Moses, the donkey, won't find it. He likes to knock things over, just to be a troublemaker. The measuring tube of my guage is glass, and is not easy to replace. So for now, I am content to just know that the rains have started, though I can't say how much we have received.
The rain has been assisting green-up nicely, as the leaves are really popping now. The aspens are sporting the chartreuse green I am so fond of this time of the year. I can see swaths of it on the Canadian shore, and it looks wonderful. It does feel like we are about two weeks ahead in our spring happenings.
I got organized and put lettuce seeds in the ground recently. Thanks to the rain, these are starting to sprout. Usually any garden around here has to survive without me......Unlike my children, the plants don't remind me that it is time to be fed! I had better improve on that this year, though, as Greg has built the first of two raised beds. Where the chicken run used to be, a new cedar raised bed garden now stands. Imagine the good soil we had to put in there. I have more lettuce seeds and some kale started in there, with plans to try some other vegetables as soon as we are past the frost season. In Duluth, my grandmother always said to wait until Memorial Day, which at that time was May 31. It isn't easy to wait, when the weather is as beautiful as it has been this past April.
As Paul wrote, we had a wonderful picnic at the End of the Trail campground recently. Something that he didn't mention is that while play Boules, I lost my ball. If you are up in that area, and happen to come across a chrome ball about the size of a baseball, somewhere around campsite one and the landing, I'd love to have it back.....I'll even trade it for a loaf of ciabatta from the bread oven!
Speaking of the bread oven, this past weekend, we hosted the annual retreat for the Northwoods Fiber Guild out of Grand Marais. On Saturday, we fired up the oven for our dinner. After baking and feasting on ciabatta, we pulled out the pizza ingredients. Imagine the colorful---and tasty---creations that these ladies came up with! It truly was a feast for the senses. With the warm weather, it is pizza season once again, and we are certainly glad of it.
One last important note: We have yet to go for a boat ride, but our friend Harvey did recently. He told us that the beaver dam in Little Gunflint is pretty much gone at this time. That is very good news for anyone wishing to travel by boat into that lake, and beyond. Those busy beavers often work hard enough to shut down the channel into Little Gunflint, so that even in a canoe you might have to climb partway out to pull your craft over the dam. In those times, it is impossible for a boat to get through. It's a good start to the season to be able to motor right on through.

Monday, 1 May 2006

Westward Ho!

The weather man said it was going to rain today. What does he know? So when I got fed up of painting skeletons onto black jumpsuits (Don't ask!) we all jumped in the car and went down to Westward Ho! Westward Ho! is the only place in the country to have an exclamation mark after its name and was named after the book written by Charles Kingsley. It is a very popular resort in the summer although this early in the season it was quite sleepy and uncrowded. It is most famous for its pebble ridge which, as you can see, stretches on and on.

We went for a stoll along the sands and a spot of rock-scrambling over the giant rocks placed against the sea wall as a defence against storm waves. We sat on the sea front and ate fish and chips straight from the wrapper, followed by the obligatory Hockings ice cream. I'm beginning to spot a theme in my posts and it's not actually things to do in North Devon. An awful lot of my life seems to revolve around food!