My top destinations

by Julian

It is the end of the year and since we started out in 2012 we have covered 3000 miles in Carina. I have already reviewed when things go wrong, so for balance I thought I would highlight some of the best places we have been to. I have chosen one destination in each country we have visited, though there are many other fabulous places in all five countries.

Tresco – Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England

TrescoCollageWe moored on either side of Tresco. In New Grimsby Sound on passage to Ireland and in Old Grimsby Sound on the way back. I’ve heard people be a bit sniffy about Tresco because the south end of the island is so well tended. But in fact this is one of the most stunning things about it. It is an island of two extremely different halves. Of course the views everywhere are incredible. When the sun is out the beaches have the feel of a south pacific island. The moorings are a bit pricey but it is possible to anchor. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. See the blog posts: Hungry sailors in Tresco and Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly.

Muros – Ria de Muros, Galicia, Spain

MurosCollageThe town is absolutely lovely with its old narrow streets overlooking a nice bay. The marina is pricey, but probably the best I have ever stayed in, with the office, lounge and laundry all set in an old converted cottage. It has a great family feel about it. If you love fish Muros is certainly a top destination too and we were there for the fabulous Virgin del Carmen fiesta with its waterborne parade. Despite the comments in the pilot guide about anchoring difficulties plenty of yachts anchored in the bay with no major issues. However, our best time was away from the town, when we anchored off a beach around the corner. I could walk into Muros and we could swim or row to the beach to play for the afternoon. We even collected delicious mussels at low water, whilst some locals were picking the razor clams. See the blog posts: Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven, Fiesta de Virgin del Carmen and Beach Interlude.

Culatra – Algarve, Portugal

CultraCollagePeople just anchor here and stay for the whole summer and I can see why. What a fantastic place. Away from the traffic children can run around in relative safety, they cannot go far because it is a small island. Many people just seem to hang around barbequing fish that have been collected by the fleet of small, often single person boats. There is also the community of catamarans in the lagoon, some of which are permanent inhabitants. Ferries to Olhao and Faro mean that you can get everything you might need, but it is fun to just stay on the island and meet the people, including sailors from all over Europe. See the blog posts: Have you heard the one about the Inuit family, Old cats and Arviat on the Algarve.

L’Aber Wrac’h – Brittany, France

LaberwracCollageI just love the many faces of L’Aber Wrac’h. You can moor upriver at Paluden, away from the bustling marina of La Palue, or hang out and meet the many interesting sailors (and rowers), from all over the world, passing through on their adventures. There are beautiful walks in the woods, the hills and along the beaches, with their cockle picking opportunities. Nice towns you can walk to (or catch the bus), and of course the chance to sample the delicious food of Brittany. But probably the most spectacular thing is the entrance itself with impressive granite rocks and a giant imposing lighthouse in the backdrop (Possibly the tallest in the world). It is a great staging post for an adventure. See the blog post: Brittany.

Derrynane – County Kerry, Ireland

filename-derrynane-harbourDerrynane has a tight entrance, only to be attempted in good weather, but once in you are safe at anchor, in a beautiful cove. If the weather turns bad you’ll have to stay there and wait it out though. The sort of place where you can swim from the boat to the beach, explore all around the fantastic dunes and rocks, finding a variety of interesting places to play and chill out. It has a great pub too. What more do you want? See the blog post: Dolphins divers and Derrynane.


Well that’s it for now, except to say that I would feel bad without at least a mention of some other places which could have made this list.

Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance, The Yealm and Mevagissey – England.

Horseshoe Harbour – Sherkin Island, Glandore, Crookhaven and Lawrence Cove – Bere Island – Ireland.

Camaret sur Mer – France.

Porto – Portugal.

Ria de Viveiro, La Coruña, Rianxo, Bayona (all of Galicia really) – Spain.


Aber Wrac’h

Brittany is familiar and strange. Bilingual signposts, as well as place names, house names, and words in Breton remind me of home and of Scotland. I recognise certain words – ty, aber, and so on. Though spelled differently, I know their Gaelic counterparts. And only a short hop across the Channel from Cornwall, the landscape, the trees, and the rocks are reminiscent of the West Country. Culturally and geographically, we haven’t travelled far.

And yet we are, without doubt, in a different country. My schoolgirl French doesn’t get me far, but I’m picking up words and phrases every day – remembering those long forgotten, and learning new ones with the help of my trusty dictionary, and having to answer Lily’s constant question of ‘How do you say such-and-such in French?’.

DSCI3693It’s the little things that put a smile on my face. The commonplace architecture of houses and shops, the lilt of French women saying ‘Bonjour’ (I fear my ‘bonjour’ sounds gruff and masculine in comparison), the remarkable taste of coffee, the middle of the day closure of shops and businesses, an oyster shell midden outside a farmhouse.

DSCI3691We are moored up the Aber Wrac’h at the little port of Paluden. To call it a port is a generosity. A collection of mooring buoys – some for visitors (of which we appear to be the only ones) and others for local fishermen – lead to the small slipway and jetty. These bring the visitor onto a quiet country road, that leads to a somewhat larger road, that leads to the town of Lannilis.

I sat in the square in Lannilis late last week, drinking coffee and feeling incongruous in my shorts, t-shirt, trainers and baseball cap, amidst the elegant French women lunching at the tables around me. Still, the waitress was friendly and patient with my first hesitant attempts to speak her language.

Later, I sat in the cool of the church and was carried back to my first ever visit to France, twenty-four years ago when, as a sixteen-year old, I spent a few weeks working as an au pair for a family near Perigeaux. Being a good Catholic girl back then I insisted, much to the family’s amusement, on being driven to Mass in the nearest town every Sunday. The wicker-seated chairs in the church in Lannilis brought me back to that time, and I had to smile when I thought about that holier-than-thou sixteen-year old and wondered how appalled she’d be by her older self!

The colours are breath-taking. The blue of the sky, the green of the tree-lined river banks, the white-gold beaches and the azure sea. There is no half-heartedness in the colours of nature here. Everything demands to be looked at and held in awe. And the birds fill the summer air with their song. There are songs I recognise and others that stop me in my tracks for their strangeness to my ears.

The girls and I have been swimming in the deliciously warm waters at the beaches at La Palue. Swimming in the sea is one of my greatest summer pleasures, but it is a delightful change to slip into the water without a moment’s hesitation or a psychological preparation for the cold. A dip in the sea off the Irish or English coast requires mental resolve; here in Brittany the early summer sea is like a warm bath.

And after the swim? Well, there’s wine to drink, baguettes and cheese to eat, as we plan our next move. At the end of each day, suntanned and heady on fresh air, we find it hard to stay awake past sunset.

Sunset and moonrise; moonset and sunrise

When we looked at the weather forecast on Wednesday we decided to go for it. We’d been hanging around the river between Falmouth and Truro for a week and there was no sign of the southerly winds abating. We’d had a lovely time – multiple visits to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, two wonderful days in Truro, and a day exploring the parkland at Trelissick House. But we hadn’t set sail from Plymouth to wile away our summer in mid-Cornwall, no matter how beautiful it is.

Throughout Wednesday we made our preparations and at 5.16pm we slipped our lines and were on our way. I made supper while Julian helmed us out of the river towards open water, and with a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise inside us we were properly on our way.

It was a delightful, pleasant and uneventful crossing. Being almost mid-summer, Julian and the girls were fast asleep long before sunset, while I took the first watch. The almost full moon rose bright to the south-east, as the sun set towards the north-west. With the moon so bright, only the two or three brightest stars shone in the sky, as it never got truly dark.

Moon set

Moon set

We sailed for a while, but when the wind died completely we found ourselves bobbing around going nowhere, and we were forced to motor. Even then, the apparent wind read only two or three knots. I cruised along, feasting on Pringles and Jaffa Cakes and was much relieved to see Julian’s face appear in the companionway shortly after midnight.

I got three hours sleep and was up again at 3.15am and Julian returned to bed. A big mug of strong tea, a toasted buttered cinnamon and raisin bagel, and I was geared up for the next few hours.

In the three hours I had been asleep, the moon had slowly passed over to the south-west and the first glimmer of pinky-purple light was beginning to appear on the horizon to the north-east. Over the next couple of hours, the sky gradually got lighter, the moon set to the west and the sun rose gloriously at 5.13am.

The eastern sky just before sunrise

The eastern sky just before sunrise

As soon as the sun rose the seagulls returned, swooping low and gliding over the sea. When Julian awoke at 6.15am, I was more than ready for sleep. I crawled into bed and slept deeply until Lily woke me at 9.40am to tell me she could see France!!

And there it was, the shimmering white sands of northwest Brittany shining under the bright blue sky. Within an hour we were at the leading line for L’Aber Wrac’h, and gently motored up the river, past La Palue and as far up the river as Carina could go, to Paluden. There we picked up a mooring buoy and I promptly fell asleep in the cockpit, the sun warming me and my sunhat over my face for protection.

We’ve stayed up the river for the past two nights, and like it so much, we might stay a little longer. It is quiet and peaceful, the riverbank lush with foliage, and oyster beds exposed at low water. We’ve been basking in the sunshine, finding it hard to believe that we can be comfortably warm in shorts and t-shirts at all times of the day. We’ve gone exploring in the dinghy. Yesterday, Julian and the girls walked along a woodland path to La Palue for crepes with Nutella, and I walked to Lannili to explore. Today, we’ve taken the dinghy to La Palue. Julian and the girls are on the beach right now, and I’m going to join then in a few minutes. Life is sweet!!

The girls making their Father's Day cards and present yesterday evening.

The girls making their Father’s Day cards and present yesterday evening.

In praise of public libraries.

Libraries. Wonderful, glorious, magnificent libraries. When I was a child the library in Edenderry was a quiet hushed temple. While Mammy browsed for her books, I took myself off to the children’s section and discovered the worlds of Mallory Towers (Enid Blyton), Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery) and so many other beloved children’s authors. As the years progressed I graduated to the grown-up books, and Mammy and I would browse together, recommending titles to each other and sharing our choices when we got home.

Libraries have changed a lot over the years, partly, I guess, in response to the death grip of governments that don’t quite see their point. Libraries have diversified. They’re no longer just about books. As libraries have become noisier, librarians have grown less stern and stereotyped (Noel Whelan, God bless him, always frightened the life out of me). Since my own children have come along, I’ve been to libraries for baby massage classes, rhyme times, story times, craft activities; and I’ve used libraries as quiet places to write and to mark exams, and to get internet access. When we’ve lived anywhere for any length of time we’ve joined the local library, giving the children a varied and endless supply of books. When we’re on the move, we seek them out. Even if we can’t borrow books, we can still spend a couple of hours reading stories together.

On Saturday we took the dinghy the two miles up river from our pontoon to the City of Truro. Truro is a city by virtue of its having a cathedral and being the county town of Cornwall. It’s a lovely market town with footbridges crossing little streams and lots of locally owned cafes and shops.

DSCI3602As we walked along a busy street, I saw a sign for free Wifi and, seeing it was the public library, decided to pop in to check my emails. What an unexpected treat was in store.

At that very moment – noon – a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was beginning in the library’s garden. Library staff served a selection of delicious foods – sausages, tomatoes, home-made cakes and biscuits, all sorts of chocolate delights, and jelly – and in the garden the children could make their own Mad Hatter ears, go on a treasure hunt, and have their faces painted by the Queen of Hearts. Another member of staff called the children around her and read stories from a ‘Nursery Alice in Wonderland’.

DSCI3604The garden itself was beautiful – opened two years ago by one of the girl’s favourite TV characters, Mr. Bloom. It contained a mixture of ornamental and edible plants – carrots, lettuce, chard, spinach, peas, beans, strawberries and herbs were growing in raised beds, hanging bags, and even in the drawers of an old filing cabinet. In one corner a large bug garden hung on a wall, with bricks and twigs and old odds and ends designed to attract insects to the garden. The walls of the garden were decorated with paintings and murals and, for the Tea Party, larger playing cards and other references to Alice in Wonderland were planted in the beds.

DSCI3606The girls and I had a wonderful time at the party, while Julian went off to explore the library’s collection of sailing books. When the party ended, we went to the children’s library and spent over an hour reading wonderful books – some old friends we hadn’t read for a long time and others new to us. Shortly before we left a staff member came and asked the girls if they were Lily and Katie. They had won the treasure hunt and were presented with a gorgeous knitted Alice in Wonderland doll. It was the icing on the cake for them!

Thank you to the wonderful and creative staff at Truro public library for giving us such an unexpected treat. And to anyone who thinks that libraries are an unnecessary waste of taxpayer’s money I suggest you spend a couple of hours in a local library – you’ll soon change your mind. Not only do they open up worlds of reading to children and adults, but they provide an essential space to people who want to develop skills, look for jobs, or who simply need a quiet space to think.

Learning to slow down

I hadn’t realised how manically busy the last few months of my life have been until we spent two nights at anchor in Channel Creek in the shadow of Trelissick House. Since March I’ve lived a very disjointed life, three or four days in the company of my family followed by times when Julian and the girls have been away and I’ve packed a week’s worth of work into three or four days. It’s been a schizophrenic existence, and I’ve found calming down and relaxing almost impossible. In those moments when I’ve done nothing I’ve had this uneasy guilt hanging over me, feeling that I should always be busy doing something.

I finished work, we prepared to depart Plymouth, and when we got to Falmouth we spent a day doing laundry and shopping. I could feel myself slowing down – the boat forcing me to do things at a more leisurely pace, the lack of decent cabin light forcing me to not work late into the night, and the children forcing me to move at their pace.

Moody evening skies

Moody evening skies

On Tuesday evening we motored four miles out of Falmouth to an anchorage in Channel Creek. Once we had the anchor down and turned the engine off, the silence was heavenly. Only the birds on the tree-lined river bank punctured the silence. The estuary was still as a mill pond, and even the rain was calming when it came. We were only at anchor a few minutes when two swans joined us, moving silently through the water, hoping for a free meal!

Our swan visitors

Lily taking a photo of our swan visitors

We stayed on board all day Wednesday. Julian sat in the cockpit for most of the day, sewing new jackstays and making repairs to the mizen sail cover. The girls and I baked bread and flapjacks, read and drew, ate and talked. We had no desire to go ashore or to do anything ‘productive’. That physical slowing down helped my mind to slow down too. I need a lot more of that, I think!

Trelissick House

Trelissick House

The bucolic scenery was calming too. I expected Elizabeth Bennett to come running down to the riverside from Trelissick House, and throughout the day I watched the leisurely progress of the cows in the green fields. The only excitement came on Wednesday morning when we were treated to the spectacle of a massive refrigerated ship turning (with the help of three tug boats) in the river, and we were asked by the harbour master to put our engine on, in case we needed to get out of the way in a hurry! It was quite a contrast to the otherwise rural scene.

The Summer Bay turning beside Carina

The Summer Bay turning beside Carina

We returned to Falmouth yesterday morning and the girls and I have spent two whole days in the National Maritime Museum. It was thrilling for me to see the Ednamair, to see Ellen Macarthur’s start and finish point of her world-record solo circumnavigation (what a great role model for my girls!), among so many other great things at the museum. The girls loved all the interactive exhibits, which kept them busy for hours (and they insisted on going back for more today). The volunteer staff at the museum were the kindest people imaginable, and they spoiled the girls rotten and made them feel like the most important two little girls in the world!

We’re heading back up river this evening, closer to Truro. Now that the dinghy and outboard are in full working order, we’re looking forward to exploring Truro. It looks like we’ll be doing quite a bit of exploring Cornwall over the next few days. With persistent southerly winds forecast, it doesn’t look like we’ll be sailing south any time soon.

A storm

Our wonderful summer of sailing is now a dim and distant memory. Without my laptop and with only limited access to public computers in France, I was generally unable to keep my blog up to date during the summer. In the past week some followers have been in touch, wondering if my family and Carina are keeping well, and encouraging me to carry on writing. Oh, how I have longed to write. But time has conspired against me. I’ve taken on a new job in the Geography department at Exeter University and preparing for the start of term has been a akin to competing in back-to-back triathlons for three weeks. (Please don’t scoff, my triathlon friends!).

Ominous skies

Ominous skies

But here I am, delving into my travel journal to bring you new stories from our summer in France.

Lily and John

Lily and John

We departed Fowey, on the Cornish coast on the 2nd of August. Our destination was Roscoff, on the north coast of Brittany, and the weather forecast ‘promised’ force 3-4 winds, occasionally gusting to force 5. We spent the day preparing for our departure, our friend John fishing with the girls off the pontoon, while Julian and I got on with preparing food, running engine checks, and all the myriad little jobs that must be attended to before a long voyage. At 6pm we set out.

The water was a touch choppy as we exited Fowey, but we thought it would soon pass. I served up a potato gratin, and as we ate we began to hear thunder in the west and see flashes of lightning in the distance.

The girls were restless. They wanted to be below deck and then in the cockpit. They wanted to go to bed, and they wanted to stay up. Between serving up dinner and dealing with restless children, I began to feel seasick.

When the storm hit, the girls were in the saloon, and their behaviour changed completely. They sat calmly together, seeming to enjoy the crazy motion of the boat, and perhaps enjoying looking at the range of emotions passing across my face, as I sat in the cockpit.

The clouds grew darker to the west and the thunder grew louder, with intervals between thunder and lightning getting shorter and shorter. With Julian on the helm and John and I sitting in the cockpit, Carina was blasted by wind gusting sometimes to force 8, and sheets of rain pouring down on us. The rain turned to hail, hitting Julian in the face as he grimly tried to hold Carina.

John and I sat under the spray hood, but nonetheless got soaked. Carina was leaning hard to port, creating a pool of water that sloshed under John’s bottom and legs with each side-on wave we sailed over. I got wet from the sheer volumes of rain passing over the boat and from the waves that crashed over us. The waves pounded the boat, growing bigger as the storm passed over. The Cornish coast, moments earlier clearly visible behind us, had now disappeared into the mist and all around us was cloud and rain, thunder roaring like the gods driving tractors across the sky.

My heart pounded with fear, and the adrenelin of battling the storm put paid to my seasickness, and my nausea and headache vanished.

And then we were in the eye of the storm. The rain continued unabated, but the wind died to nothing and the sea was eerily calm. We knew it wouldn’t last. In no time we were into the other side of the storm, the waves crashing, the wind gusting, Julian akin to Ahab, rain pouring down his beard, a look of grim determination on his face. Only the girls seemed immune to it all, laughing and talking as though they enduring such conditions every day of the week.

But soon we could see the sky clearing to the west and as the wind and rain eased, the Cornish coast once again appeared behind us, and we watched the storm roll away to the east. And before long, it had passed over us, the bright skies to starboard in sharp contrast to the forbidding black to port.

Us three adults were cold and wet, and took turns going below to change into dry, warm clothes. But that was the end of the stormy weather. I saw one more flash of lightning at about 3am, when I was at the helm, but with the exception of hard leaning all the way to France, the rest of the twenty-two hour sail passed (generally) without incident.

John certainly received a sailing baptism of fire!


DSCI0274 Our friend John joined us on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday we set sail for Fowey. With calm seas we had time to get in a spot of fishing on the seven hour sail, and caught eight mackerel for supper. Lily, Katie and I spent the next morning playing on the beach, and at 5pm we set sail for France. It was a memorable trip, which began with a huge thunder storm, and the winds kept us on our toes for the entire 22 hours of hard leaning to port. The girls were great, sleeping through the night and enjoying the storm.DSCI0314

We arrived in Roscoff tired but very happy with our accomplishment. We spent two nights in Roscoff, enjoying good food and wine, and catching up on lost sleep. We departed Roscoff yesterday for L’Aber Wrac’h farther to the west. It was a slow trip, battling wind and tide, and we didn’t reach our destination until after dark.DSCI0332

We’ve had a lovely day today, wandering along country lanes, swimming in the sea, and searching  for cockles at low tide. If my writing seems stilted then this French key board I am using is to blame. The is so much I wanted to write, but it has taken me half an hour to get this far, with half the letters in the wrong place for me. I’ll leave you with some photos….

DSCI0342Cockle pickers near Landera this afternoon.DSCI0344






Julian amidst the cockle pickers.DSCI0347






Julian and the girls searching for cockles.DSCI0351




Katie, Lily and Uncle Cockney having some thinking time on the beach.

2012 Highlights

We’ve almost reached the end of another year, and some of us may already be regretting giving ourselves over to mince pies and mulled wine so early in the Christmas season. It’s a time of year to reflect on what’s past and to look forward to the future. I’ve picked out ten of my highlights of the year – in vague chronological order:

1. Lily’s Birthday, Dawlish

March 27th on the beach at Dawlish

March 27th on the beach at Dawlish

Lily’s third birthday was celebrated on the beach at Dawlish. I took the day off work, packed a picnic lunch and our swimwear, and we spent the day playing, building sandcastles, splashing in the waves, and generally having big big fun. What could be better than a day on the beach with my two favourite people?

Strolling in Lanzarote

Strolling in Lanzarote

2. Easter in Lanzarote

We spent Easter in Lanzarote with Julian’s mum and my mum. What a week. Sun, sea, swimming pools. Two grandmothers to spoil the girls, leaving Julian and I free to go SCUBA diving for the first time in almost five years. What bliss to be under water again.

Moving Day

Moving Day

3. Moving Day

On the 9th of May we said goodbye to dry land and moved aboard Carina. Land-lubbers no more. Only thirteen months since that fateful Good Friday in 2011 when we decided to give it a shot, and here we were living on our own boat. I was filled with excitement, pride and joy on what we had achieved and what we hoped to achieve.

In lieu of a Falmouth photo I give you twenty toes

In lieu of a Falmouth photo I give you twenty toes

4. Cosmopolitan Falmouth

For five days we berthed at Falmouth Yacht Haven. The place was a United Nations of bohemian self-sufficient live-aboards in fantastically equipped home-made or altered sailing boats. Each day we met interesting neighbours from Germany, Italy, Canada, Ireland, the US, newly sailed in from Ireland, Bermuda, the Mediterranean. Lone sea-farers, couples with young children, boat-loads of friends. What a treat.

View from the highest point of Tresco

View from the highest point of Tresco

5. Tresco – twice

We visited the Isles of Scilly twice this year, mooring either side of the delightful island of Tresco. Azure seas, golden sandy beaches and bizarre rock formations formed our backdrop and our playground. We swam, we explored, we played, we ate good food, we met Dick Strawbridge! I can’t sing the praises of the Isles of Scilly highly enough.

The Bull and the Heifer near the mouth of Bantry Bay

The Bull and the Heifer

6. The Cork and Kerry coastline

West Cork and South Kerry have been a part of me for as long as I remember. Holidays with family and friends bring back so many good memories. But I never saw them from this angle before. Wow. The cliffs and islands as one turns into Glandore/Union Hall, and again at Baltimore; majestic Mizen Head; delightful Crookhaven; The Cow and The Bull and The Heifer. This awesome coastline lifted my spirits and filled my heart with wonder.

bolt7. BOLT!!!!

On a warm summer’s evening in August, Julian and I went to the pub in Baltimore, leaving the girls aboard Carina with their granny. Shortly before 9.45pm, the revelers out on the street packed into the pub. About 200 people were squashed together, standing on tables and chairs, all eyes on the small television mounted on the wall near the bar. We screamed, we yelled, we clapped each other on the back. We hugged complete strangers. And for 9.63 seconds we all belonged to each other and a lanky cheeky Jamaican belonged to us all. I’m welling up just remembering it.

View of Sherkin Island from Lott's Wife

View of Sherkin Island from Lott’s Wife

8. Horseshoe Bay, Sherkin Island

On a warm September day, Julian rowed the girls and I from our anchorage in Horseshoe Bay to a small deserted stony beach. The only access to the beach was by boat and ours was the only boat in the bay. The girls played, I read a book, we collected rocks. In late afternoon, Julian re-joined us, and I left him with the girls while I rowed back to Carina, made dinner and transported it in pots and pans back to the beach. It was one of those perfect sunshiny days that stay with you forever.

Certainly no Royal Navy photos...anyone going shopping?

Certainly no Royal Navy photos…anyone going shopping?

9. Royal Navy

Let me first say I’m a pacifist, and no fan of the military. In early summer, as we were departing Plymouth, a Royal Navy frigate overtook us with all hands on deck standing to attention. It was a magnificent sight. But when they saw our little girls waving at them, the entire crew – I don’t know – 100 sailors – all waved back. I was touched. As we sailed back into Plymouth in late September, three Royal Navy high speed inflatables overtook us. All the sailors waved at us. But the crew of one inflatable diverted from their course, and sped in circles around Carina to the delight of both the girls and us. Simple, thoughtful gestures that made our children happy.

Lily and friend at Hallowe'en

Lily and friend at Hallowe’en

10. Hatton Country World

My final highlight of the year was a trip to Hatton Country World in Warwickshire with Lily, Katie and my father-in-law, Barry. What a great place. The very best soft play in the whole world – for adults and children; goats, sheep, pigs, guinea pigs, reindeer, a donkey all to feed and stroke, and more indoor and outdoor activities for children than your mind could comprehend. My only complaint – one day was not enough. We might have to go back again over Christmas.

Wishing you all a peaceful and merry Christmas, and best wishes for a 2013 filled with joy, love and – what else? – adventure xxx

Hungry Sailors in Tresco

My mother chastised me yesterday for leaving cliff hangers at the end of my blog posts, but then never getting back to them. It’s a time thing – or a lack of time thing. She was referring in particular to our brush with culinary celebrity in the Isles of Scilly, so it’s time I told that story.

View across Old Grimsby Sound

The weather was wonderful when we arrived back at the Isles of Scilly. We were less tired following this passage than we had been on the journey to Ireland. But because of the weather we decided to stay on the islands for a few days, to play on the beach and explore Tresco Island again.

Lily and Katie at King Charles Castle

There was a food festival on the Sunday, showcasing local beef, seafood, cheeses and drinks. There was a bread making workshop, wine tasting and cocktail making. We partook in very little of this, and what we did we looked on from the sidelines. But it was enjoyable, and there was a great sense of fun about the day, especially once the wine and cocktails got flowing.

When we climbed to King Charles Castle, Julian and I both oohed and ahhed over a very pretty wooden cutter moored in New Grimsby Sound. By the time we had walked back across the island, the cutter had moved to Old Grimsby Sound and was one of only two boats there – the other one being Carina.

At the cricket field, the Tresco and Bryher eleven took on the Truro doctors, from Cornwall. We went along to watch and quickly discovered we were in the midst of the filming of the ITV television programme, The Hungry Sailors. Not owning a television, we were unfamiliar with the programme, but very familiar with its charismatic and distinctive looking co-host, Dick Strawbridge, he of the walrus mustache, a former winner of Masterchef and host of various environmental and foodie programmes (we have yet to shed our 21st Century middle class obsession with extravagant one-up-manship cooking and celebrity chefs).

The man with the walrus mustache

Dick and his son, James, sail around the south coast of the UK in their wooden cutter, seeking out local foods and local food heroes, and then, of course, doing a little cooking themselves.

Wait! A wooden cutter? Could it possibly be the one moored next to us? Of course!

So, for this show that we accidentally walked in on, Dick and James made rival sandwiches for the cricket teams, and the teams then had to judge which sandwich was the tastiest. We got talking to Dick and the film crew about sailing and food and children, and Lily and Katie joined the cricketers in tucking into the sandwiches. Julian suggested a punchline for the end of the show, and I’m sure Dick wondered why Julian hasn’t yet quit sailing and take to the comedy circuit!

I’ll certainly be watching the programme when it’s aired next March, although I’m sure they’ll edit out Lily crying – partly because she wanted a sandwich but mostly because Katie bit her!! And I just have to see if Julian’s punchline was put to use.

Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly

We departed Falmouth on the morning of July 21st, sailing west. Our destination was Newlyn, but as we were unable to contact the harbour master, we sailed to Penzance instead. Early on we were joined by two dolphins, and then three, and for about an hour they played close to us, sometimes leaving us and then returning again. As we got closer to Penzance the majestic monastery on St. Micheal’s Mount came into view.

St. Micheal’s Mount.

The tiny harbour at Penzance is only accessible at high water, after which time the harbour gate closes. We rafted against a lovely large wooden boat, which in turn was rafted to a large working boat. It was an adventure getting the girls across the boats to shore, but well worth it for a walk along the promenade to watch lots of swimmers racing in the crystal clear waters. The next morning the water was flat calm and the scene was enchanting.

Penzance Harbour early morning

Early morning

Because of the restricted opening of the harbour gate, we left at 8am, but merely went around the corner and picked up a mooring buoy, sitting in the morning sun enjoying a cooked breakfast under the watchful eye of St. Micheal’s Mount.

Early morning St. Micheal’s Mount

Following a hearty breakfast we set sail for the Isles of Scilly. It was one of our best days sailing yet. Good winds and a hot sun shining down on us. The coastline along this final stretch of mainland UK is beautiful, with quaint villages such as Mousehole and golden sandy beaches dotted all along. Just past Lands End we passed a basking shark – yet another wonderful animal to add to the girl’s wildlife spotting book.

After a great sail the Isles of Scilly came into view.

The Isles of Scilly from the deck of Carina

We moored in New Grimsby, between the islands of Tresco and Bryher. There were a few other boats around, and we enjoyed dinner in the cockpit, watching the sun set and a new moon rise.

Lily at sunset

The next day was spent in glorious sunshine. First we went to the beach and swam and played. And then went exploring the beautiful island of Tresco.

New Grimsby Sound from Tresco

Moored yachts in New Grimsby Sound

We went exploring along the coastline, Katie in the back carrier, and Lily being a wonderful explorer, battling her way through ferns that were taller than she was!

Carina moored under Cromwell’s Castle

We walked from Cromwell’s Castle to King Charles Castle, the highest point on the island. The scene was awe inspiring and the castle was the perfect playground for the girls.

View from Cromwell’s Castle

We departed the Isles of Scilly early next morning – destination Ireland. But that’s a story for my next post!