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.

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Boat Baby

Between the first and second stages of giving birth, the labouring woman often experiences nausea, delirium and panic. This is the transition phase, from steady but increasingly frequent and increasingly intense contractions, to the movement of the baby down the euphemistically-named ‘birth canal’. The textbooks tell you that this transition phase can last anywhere between 15 minutes and a few hours.

AGeddesI experienced something akin to this as I flew home from New York last week, and for a few days after. I had all the symptoms of the transition phase of labour – nausea, delirium, panic. Maybe it was just jetlag, but for three days I felt slightly ill, and I woke each night in blind panic, drenched in sweat, thrown awake by sleep apnoea, which only occurs when I’m feeling anxious.

I had trepidation about taking the girls out of school, despite my life-long commitment to and belief in home education. I panicked about moving aboard Carina, despite having done it twice before. I was terrified about leaving work, despite choosing a short-term contract with just this goal in mind.

Apologies for the hackneyed analogy, but I was a woman in labour, in transition to stage two of the process of birthing a new way of being (new for me, that is…I’m aware I’m reinventing the wheel here). I’m pleased to say I’ve made it through to stage two.

The girls have been out of school for less than a week, but already we have developed a tentative learning routine (I like routine…I love routine!). This week they are also taking swimming lessons each morning and we are having little adventures each afternoon.

Now that I am home from New York my work schedule has altered. For the remainder of my contract I must mark essays, exams and other assessments. So now I work to a different beat, fitting my plastic work schedule around my family, rather than the other way around. It feels good. Julian is on the boat this week – fixing, replacing, servicing, and I am clearing, culling, packing (or supposed to be – to be honest I’ve yet to do much of that). Moving day draws ever closer, the days are warming up, the sun is shining, and this Mama is ready to set sail.

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

Horseshoe Bay, Sherkin Island

About a week ago, in Baltimore, I concluded my last post hoping that we could find a nice beach to play on. And what a place we found. We motored the couple of miles across to the south side of Sherkin Island and anchored in the picturesque Horseshoe Bay. What a delight. Barely bigger than my mother’s garden in Ballygibbon, the bay was sheltered and quiet, and we had it all to ourselves. It was a glorious day and, after a quick lunch, Julian rowed the girls and I across to the little beach on the eastern shore of the bay. It was a fabulous beach, made up of large flat smooth stones that have fallen from steep cliffs over the centuries and been rubbed smooth by the sea. The beach was a sun trap and a perfect playground for Lily and Katie. While they amused themselves paddling in the water, exploring the beach and the rock pools, and having a tea party with the rocks, I read my book and relaxed in the sun. (I should mention that my long suffering husband was back on the boat fixing the broken toilet).

The little stony beach in Horseshoe Bay

Late in the afternoon Julian rowed over to the beach, and while he played with the girls and went for a swim, I rowed back to the boat to make dinner, bringing a picnic dinner back to the beach half an hour later. We had so much fun in the sun that afternoon and evening. The water was calm and clear and perfect for swimming. Don’t tell our parents, but I swam immediately after dinner, and when I eventually rowed the girls back to the boat, Julian decided to swim (maybe he doesn’t trust my rowing?).

Horseshoe Bay

Days like these have been few and far between this summer, but thankfully they’ve been more frequent these past few weeks.

Schull to Long Island

Cottages on Long Island

Beach days have been few and far between this summer, so when they come we have to make the most of them. On Saturday morning, Julian and the girls had lots of beach fun on a tiny beach beside the harbour in Schull. On Sunday morning I discovered a wonderful farmer’s market where I stocked up on local produce – Gubbeen cheese, ham and bacon; fresh fish off the boat; and fruit and vegetables from a market gardener whose van was bursting at the seams with the best of the season. We’ve been eating like kings ever since!

My family and our boat

Due south of Schull Point is Long Island. On Sunday afternoon we made the short trip across to an anchorage on the north side of the island, and took the dinghy to shore to a deserted pebble beach (now that schools have re-opened for the autumn term, all beaches are deserted!). What a find. The smooth pebbles were comfortable underfoot and the beach was a treasure trove of natural and man-made detritus. The latter was somewhat depressing, and the girls are well versed regarding all the plastics that can kill their favourite sea creatures. There were lots of plastics to see on this beach. However, I was also curious as to why there were so many bras and knickers lying around – Julian said he’d leave me if I checked to see if any were my size (sometimes one can take beachcombing a little too far). The natural detritus was equally exciting. Like all children, mine love looking for and collecting shells, and this beach was covered with huge shells of all sorts of sea creature, including crabs and lobsters. We haven’t found shells this large on our travels before, and the girls used a giant crab shell to scoop up water to pour over themselves and their unsuspecting (and not very impressed) parents.

Yesterday morning dawned still and warm and after breakfast we had a slow but delightful sail in amongst the islands that lie between Long Island Bay and Roaringwater Bay, accompanied by the, now almost ever present, dolphins, cormorants, gannets and fulmars. A mist descended as we neared Sherkin Island, but we were soon in Baltimore, a much quieter and more peaceful place than it was on the bank holiday weekend! We returned here to fill up with water, re-fuel and wash the boat. While Julian got on with those chores, Lily, Katie and I walked to Lott’s Wife, the beacon at the entrance to the harbour, picking a large bag of blackberries along the way. Up at Lott’s Wife, we sat in the mist, surrounded by a herd of young heifers and bullocks. One brown and white bullock was particularly curious and Lily made friends with him. I was so pleased to see this – little Lily and a big bullock face to face having a chat with one another! There was a time, only a few months ago, when she was scared of even the tiniest dog.

Today is promising to be another fine day, so we’re making our way back around to the other side of Sherkin to go ashore on a sandy beach we spotted yesterday.

 

 

Dolphins, divers and Derrynane

The Cow, one of a series of bovine rocks at the mouth of Kenmare Bay

At some point during my mid-teens, my family started to holiday in Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry. We’d load up the car for the six hour drive from Edenderry, and for a week in August the four of us would, if the weather permitted, drive out to Derrynane for long days on the beach, and evenings back in Waterville where it took little convincing to get Daddy, otherwise tee-total and very pub-shy, to come with us into Mick O’Dwyer’s pub where he could look at all the Gaelic football memorabilia on the walls. One year, my friend, Niamh, and her boyfriend joined us, and we got up to all sorts of devilment – and I still have the photos to prove it. Our last family holiday to Waterville was in 2004, when Daddy had been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few more months left to live. My godmother, Catherine joined us that year, on what was a poignant and emotional holiday, as we all knew it was to be our last as a family.

These fond family memories is one reason why Derrynane is my favourite beach. Perhaps my fondest memory is of the time I was rescued by an over-zealous black Labrador. I didn’t ask to be rescued, or need to be rescued, but I suppose it speaks volumes for my swimming style that the Lab thought I did. There I was, having a leisurely swim in the calm sea when the Lab came splashing into the water from the beach, his owner shouting at me “He won’t hurt you. He’s just trying to rescue you”. And sure enough, he swam straight for me, gently took my wrist in his mouth, and led me back to shore. If I wasn’t in danger of drowning before my rescue, I sure was during its execution, as I lost control from laughing so much. The Lab deposited me on the beach, and returned to its owner with a look of “See…I rescued another one” on its face. The owner was profoundly apologetic, but I assured her I didn’t mind, and indeed had found it a rather pleasant experience.

All of this is by way of explaining why I was so eager to bring my husband and daughters to this wonderful beach. Down a single track road, that passes the home of one of our great nationalist leaders, Daniel O’Connell, the golden sandy beaches resting at the bottom of rugged grey mountains. At the western end of the beach, a series of small islands are accessible by foot across the golden sands at low tide. The largest of these, Abbey Island, contains the ruins of an old abbey, and even today the dead are carried across the sand at low tide for burial in the island’s graveyard. The water here is always calm, sheltered and warm, and ideal for swimming.

So we spent two days there, the four of us playing on the beach, swimming in the water, and enjoying soup and toasted sandwiches at the pub up the road.

The Cow and The Bull

Our sail to Derrynane took us past the islands the Cow, Bull, Calf and Heifer, near the entrance to the massive Kenmare Bay. From one side of the bay we couldn’t see our destination on the other side (it was a misty day). Kenmare Bay – and Bantry Bay which we visited a few days later – is rich in marine life. As we sailed along, on one of the most enjoyable sails so far, we watched masses of gannets dive bombing the sea for food, fulmers swooping low, and other birds I unfortunately couldn’t name. And where there are lots of seabirds feeding, other animals can’t be far behind. And sure enough, we were soon joined by a large pod of common dolphins, leaping out of the water around our boat, and riding on our bow wave. At one point I saw the fin of a shark in the water. Alas, I don’t know which species, but it looked like it was feeding. On our return journey back across Kenmare Bay a couple of days later, Julian saw a fin whale, but he didn’t reveal himself again.

The Calf

From Kenmare we returned to Bantry Bay and a few nights on a mooring buoy in Castletownbere. Lily had her stitches removed and we bought some locally produced sausages. From there we sailed up Bantry Bay with more gannets and dolphins keeping us entertained on the passage. We met my mother in Glengarriff for a couple of days. But Glengarriff deserves a post all of its own.