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.

Friday, 21 July 2006

More info on Cavity Lake fire

Our Cavity Lake fire continues to burn, but fortunately not as wildly as in the initial days. The winds have moderated considerably, and this is very good news for everyone. Yesterday, the winds were from the northwest, 5-10 mph, with gusts up to 17 mph. Today, the wind is supposed to be continuing from the northwest, again at speeds of 5-10, with gusts to 15 mph. Contrast this with the 15-20 mph winds that we had over last weekend and in the early part of the week. When things are calmer, the teams are better able to fight the fire. We have four Army National Guardsmen staying in a cabin right now, and they told us last night that the last two days have been much better in regards to working on the fire. Each nugget of good news like this certainly helps.

Thanks to both the Internet and our local radio station, WTIP, we can get quite a bit of coverage on the latest news of the forest fire. Each day, the radio station has an interview with a Forest Service spokesperson. This representative gives the daily report of fire size and the strategies that the fire fighters are using to work on the fire. He/she also answers questions from the interviewer and from anyone who calls or emails the station with a question. This report usually happens on the Morning Calendar show at 9 a.m. and again on the Evening Calendar show at 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you want to listen in, WTIP has an internet streaming connection. Go to and click on the dancing moose. That will take you to the web-stream connection. It helps to have faster internet than we do with our dial-up.

My other source for information is the website I gave the other day, The maps are updated regularly, and daily they post a report on the size of the fire, where the work was done the previous day, and what the strategy for the coming day will be. They have also added some image galleries, if you want to see pictures of the fire. This site really helps to give me solid information about the fire. I find that it helps to balance out the newspaper articles that I am reading.

It has come to our attention that various news media sources are saying that the Gunflint Trail is going to be evacuated. Someone told us that while he was visiting Philadelphia, the news report he saw said that they might even have to evacuate Grand Marais! Mike knew that this was a little far-fetched, since the fire would have to travel fifty miles in order for this to be a reality. I thought that it might be a good idea for me to write a bit about what has been said up here regarding evacuation. At this point, no evacuations of the Trail have been ordered. There have been escorts for campers on the lakes where the fire is actively burning. The Incident Command Team (those in charge of planning how to manage the fire) have set up what they call Trigger Points. These are lines drawn on the maps that indicate where the fire would have to reach for the sheriff to call for an evacuation. I learned yesterday that the fires are still a mile and a half to two miles away from these trigger points. They are mainly in areas that were prescription burns in the last several years. The fire has reached the edge of some of these areas, and the fire is slowing down, just as the management team had hoped it would. As the Guardsmen put it, �The prescribed burn areas are holding.� These areas are also better for actively fighting the fire's progression.

In the years since the blow down, several local agencies have been putting together evacuation plans in the event that someday they would need one. It is similar to the way the public health departments have been working with Homeland Security to put plans together for the possibility of a future terrorist attack. It is much better to be prepared, than to scramble together a last-minute plan when the need is imminent. These evacuation plans include roughly five zones on the Gunflint Trail. At any given time, only two zones would be called upon to evacuate. The plan was designed this way to accommodate the fact that there is only one road out, the Gunflint Trail. Rather than have everyone leaving at the same time, the plan organizes the zones to leave as needed, again with only two at a time being required to go.

Safety of our guests is always our first priority. I remember a conversation I had with Greg in March, long before this fire began. I told him that it is my job to make sure that everyone is safe. (Maybe it is the mother hen in me.) I take that very seriously, and on a daily basis, forest fire or not. In the years since the Sag corridor fire in 1995, and the blow down, in 1999, I have put a lot of thought into what we should do in the event of some large event or catastrophe, such as a fire or storm similar to the one in �99. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have not had to use these plans, and we are also grateful for all the work that the various agencies have done these last seven years to be as prepared as they are today.

My brother just called to say that he heard on a Twin Cities TV station this morning that the Trail may be evacuated today or tomorrow. Greg put a call in to the Cook County Law Enforcement agency to verify this. The dispatcher told him that this is not true. Our Law Enforcement people will be the agency that orders and facilitates any evacuation. Any recent TV report of evacuations is made up. At a meeting Greg attended yesterday, he learned that on some TV newscasts, video footage of the fire was being shown and reported, while a little headline scroll on the bottom of the screen reported the evacuations happening in Lebanon. Could this be how rumors get started?

As I look out my front window, it is a clear sunny day. We had a cool night, and the morning temp here was 57 degrees. Great sleeping weather. If you have plans to come up to the Trail, I�d say to come on up. If you have concerns, call your resort or outfitter, to get the frontline story of how things are. We want everyone to be safe and we want everyone to have a good time. Give us a call up here for the real story.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Nightlife on Gunflint Lake

Amidst this talk about the forest fire, I do have a light-hearted story that I want to tell you, too. It has to do with some nighttime entertainment that occurred here on Gunflint Lake about two weeks ago. Robert and I were the only ones home that evening. Greg was across the lake, visiting with friends, and Paul was out, too. We got a call at 10:30 p.m. that two certain donkeys had been spotted on the Mile O' Pine Road, and were they really allowed to range that far? Sort of like, "It's ten-thirty---Do you know where your donkeys are??" Now Robert and I were none too pleased, as we both were of the mind that it was bedtime. No chance for that with the news we just got.
We fetched the two ropes that would be needed, hopped into the car, and slowly drove up the road. I am always concerned in these cases (yes, this wasn't the first time we got that kind of call) that Moses and Jethro will take it upon themselves to travel down someone's driveway, and I won't find them right away. Fortunately, this wasn't the case. About a half-mile down the Mile O' Pine Road, we found the pair of Houdini break-out artists, as Greg likes to call them. I got out, hitched them to their ropes, and started walking them home. Robert turned the car around and drove on back.
I had told Robert that I planned to walk the road the whole way, as it was too dark to take the donkeys down the powerline trail. As unhappy and frustrated as I was, I have to admit that it was a very nice night. The stars were out, and I could see well enough from the lingering sunset to make my way along nicely. There was one thing I didn't plan on though.....and that was the very tall grass that the donkeys discovered as we traipsed along. It didn't take long for one to stop. Then the other one did, too, but on the other side of the road. I pulled, prodded, whined and coaxed, but nothing worked....not when faced with lush grass like these donkeys found. Donkeys are smart. They knew that they were bigger than me, and that if they wanted to stay, then the decision was made. Still, I continued to try, and I did my best to keep my frustration to myself. A donkey knows when you are upset, and they dig their heels in even deeper. Some people call this being stubborn, but experienced donkey people know that it is just self-preservation and perseverance on the part of the donkey. Ha! they thought. We've got her now. For my part, as I pulled and coaxed, I felt like I must look really ridiculous, as though I were dancing with donkeys, of all silly things! My young neighbor Nikki came driving by, and offered her help. That was very kind of her, but I told her that the guys back home knew where I was, and that surely one of them would soon come to rescue me.
Shortly after, Robert came walking up the hill, and he was able to take one donkey while I took the other. Moses wasn't too thrilled to be trudging on back, especially after I started to discuss the possibility of barbecue with him....It's probably a good thing that they can't understand too much English. A half-hour later, both donkeys were back up in their pasture, gates were closed, and I told them that they were confined to the donkey hoosegow until further notice. Who says there isn't much in the way of nightlife here on the Trail?

More reports from Gunflint Lake

It was another interesting day on Gunflint Lake. As I mentioned yesterday, we have been pretty fortunate to be smoke-free for the most part. This morning, I was wrong. An inversion caused the smoke to hang close to the earth, and it traveled quite a distance. When I got up, I couldn't see Canada. Usually that only happens in the winter time, when it is snowing quite hard. It is different than looking at fog, too, which has more of a translucent quality to it. This was just opaque white. We heard that it traveled as far south as Tofte, and by late in the day, a friend called from Two Harbors to say that they smelled it there, too. For us, it was mostly cleared out by ten, with just a lingering bit through the rest of the day. This evening, the winds blew gently from the south, and so most of it has passed into Canada, at least for a little while.

The fire has grown, and is now in the vicinity of about 16,000 acres. So far, it still is burning entirely within the BWCA. The weather today was a bit kinder to the fire fighters, in that the wind was decreased considerably from some of our previous days. The rest of the week, however, may not be so good, as the winds are predicted to be increasing in speed and switching around. We are keeping an eye on things on a day by day basis while hoping for the best.
The sky continues to fascinate us, with the mix of clouds, smoke and sun. Tonight, the sun was a big red cherry as it began its descent behind the curtain of smoke. It splashed a slice of red on the water, and a loon swam through it while we were watching. I looked up and saw a heron flying overhead---a rare treat for me, as I almost never see them on Gunflint Lake. Robert remarked that it looked tired, and we wondered how far it had traveled.
Our friend Sue up at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters has some excellent photos and descriptions of the fire happenings from her side of things on her blog, . She is definitely a lot closer to the fire than we are, and I appreciate being able to read her perspective on things. Stop in at her blog if you get a chance.
Thank you to everyone that has called or emailed to check up on us and how things are going. It is so helpful to us to know that you all are thinking of us and sending good wishes our way! We really do appreciate it.
On a personal note, Addie and Sharlene landed in Duluth this evening, and will be on their way up the Trail tomorrow. Our neighbor Marcia remarked to me the other day that she certainly hopes that the time didn't go as fast for Addie as it did for us down here! It is true....the six weeks really seemed to travel by quickly. Addie said that she had been very busy, with work, service projects and fun. It was a really good experience for her, and I will try to get her to sit at the computer long enough to share a bit of it with you.

Monday, 17 July 2006

The Hot Days of Summer

The heat of summer has finally arrived, much to my happiness and unfortunately, Greg's chagrin. I always say that I need a bit of this spike in temperatures because, mark my words, it will be cold again soon. Winter will be here before we know it, and this will only be a memory.

Of course, the weather in itself really isn't our big news right now. No doubt you may have heard that there is a forest fire burning in the BWCA, not far from Seagull Lake. Named the Cavity Lake fire, it started late last week from a lightning strike. The fire was spotted on Friday afternoon by a Forest Service air employee, out on a routine check for fires. Within a half-hour, they had called in air support in the form of water-dropping planes to begin work on the fire. Unfortunately, over the weekend, the weather was doing some funny things with wind, and the high temperatures were not helping. To top it off, fires burning elsewhere in Minnesota were of higher priority, as they were burning much nearer to homes and people. So the fire ended up growing.

The good news is that in the last several years, the Forest Service has been preparing for the possibility of a fire much like this one. I went to the website to see what they had posted about the fire. I downloaded the location map of the fire, which also showed the location of all of the previous prescribed burns that had been done, beginning in 2002. The Cavity Lake fire started west of these prescribed burn areas. It is totally within the Boundary Waters, and the objective is to keep it in the BWCA. The Forest Service has many tools to accomplish that. Some of those are the traditional methods of fire-fighting---the use of aircraft and personnel to work on setting up containment lines, and dropping water on the hotspots. In addition, the prescribed burns are another tool. Because of these old burns, those areas are now not likely to burn in the same way that the wildfire is burning. The fuel loads have been significantly reduced, so the fire can't burn as strong there. There are also lakes along the way that will slow the fire down.
We have been seeing the smoke columns in the sky at the west end of Gunflint Lake. On Saturday morning, we experienced some smoke in the air, and falling ash. A switch in the wind cleared it out. Since then, the winds have been kind to us, and the air has been clearer. We did see some spectacular color in the sky yesterday. The sun was shining through smoke and clouds, casting a golden orange light everywhere. To the south, a bank of clouds was passing by. The lake looked like liquid bronze, from all of the unusual light reflecting off of it. I've never seen it that color before.
We are grateful to the Forest Service and the Minnesota DNR, for the outstanding job that they have done in recent years, and for all of the work that they are currently putting in, to keep this fire in a manageable situation.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Pilton Green Man Festival

Pilton Festival is held on the third Saturday of July and draws thousands of visitors into this normally quiet suburb of Barnstaple. The festival is opened with a parade which starts in the centre of town and makes its way across to Pilton Street complete with Morris dancers, the Pilton Worm, several loud bands and local school children dressed as trees.

Twice during the day you can see the Pageant of the Green Man, a symbol of nature and fetility, in the grounds of Pilton House. There are three other stage areas where live bands play, plenty of strategically placed beer tents, stalls along both sides of the street, two pubs and the local chippy all doing a roaring trade. There are also more than enough bouncy castles and fairground rides to keep the children busy and empty your pockets.

We arrived at 12.00 today and didn't leave until nearly 5.00. The sun was blazing, and sitting on the grass in the grounds of Pilton House with a mini-picnic (scrounged off a good friend) and a nice cold beer was just perfect.

Monday, 3 July 2006

The Big Sheep

The Big Sheep is in Bideford, just over the new brigde and straight over the roundabout. It's been getting bigger and better each year. This is Ewetopia, one of those ever-popular ball pit and death slide room, except that this is more in the way of a very large barn than a room. When it first opened ten years ago all they had was a small ball pit - how things change!

As well as this there are plenty of outdoor attractions; duck trials, sheep races, sheep sheering, lamb feeding, pony rides, horse whispering, dog trials, pot making, trampolines, and more. There's enough to keep you busy all day, and for the cost of a family ticket you'd need to go all day. A standard family entrance will set you back �30. It is a good day out though and they offer you discounted tickets if you return up to a week after your first visit.

We went down for the evening, just to do Ewetopia, as you can hire the play area out privately from 6.00- 9.00 after the attraction has closed to the public. This is popular with schools, and in our case ballet schools, as a treat for the children or to raise some money for school funds. It was a bit like sitting in a sauna but we survived and our littlest one finally got brave enought to come down the big death slide by herself.