The Real Spooks Of Halloween

I’m not a great fan of Halloween.


When I was younger it was never a big deal, but the global spread of Americanisation and commercial pressure seems to have propelled it high in popular consciousness.
Even where we live, deep in the heart of rural Cornwall, it’s now not unusual to see “Trick or Treaters” roaming the country lanes on the evening of 31st October…!

If you keep your eyes open though, there are many more scary, weirdly beautiful and indeed deadly lifeforms to be found around the woodlands of the British Isles.

I’m talking fungi!

These fascinating lifeforms burst from cover as the days grow shorter, wetter and before the first frost occur. I love their variety and colours, from pale ghostly white through to vibrant orange, red, blues and browns.

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), definitely poisonous!

Walking through the woodlands, I love to see how fungi magically appear from the leaf litter on the forest floor; theres a silent eeriness about them….yet at the same time a beguiling beauty.

2022 seems to have been a spectacular year for fungi.
This Autumn around Dookes H.Q. we have enjoyed harvesting a wonderful bounty of tasty field mushrooms, Agaricus campestris.

The important thing when foraging wild mushrooms is to get your recognition right. There are over 1400 different varieties of fungi found in the British Isles, some are edible, but many more are not and some are deadly if eaten…you have been warned!

Yep, definitely field mushrooms!

.

Ready for cooking.

Then, almost a quickly as they appear, their fleeting visit is over and they degrade into a wet slimy and often smelly mush…!

Farewell spooky friends, until next year!

Catch you soon,
Dookes

PLEASE do not eat any wild fungi unless your are 110% sure what it is.
Check with a real expert or better still don’t risk it, a mistake could be fatal.

The Birth of The Fine Bubbles

There’s great excitement in the vineyard this week!

The last of this year’s grape harvest is ready for gathering and it’s also time to bottle last year’s vintage of rosé wine and start it on its way to becoming “Les Fines Bulles”….”The Fine Bubbles!”

Busy days.

Early this morning Alain Beteau arrived with one of his portable bottling plants, built into the back of a medium sized lorry. Alain has four of these vehicles and he serves various vineyards in the Pays de Loire around Nantes and Ancenis. His business saves the yards from having to purchase and maintain their own bottling equipment, which for a smaller producer could be a significant cost.

Today it’s the turn of Pierre-Yves to see his lovely “Murmure” rosé receive its initial bottling and start the “Method Traditionnelle” that will turn it into a wonderful vibrant sparkling wine, “Avec les fines bulles.”

Pierre-Yves keeping an eye on things.

In essence and to greatly simplify it, the wine is bottled into traditional “champagne” style bottles along with yeast and a small amount of sugar, called the “liqueur de tirage.”

It is then stopped with a metal crown cap and returned to the wine cellar to lie horizontally for a second fermentation lasting around 15 months.

After this time, the lees or sediment must be consolidated for removal. The bottles undergo a process known as “remuage,” I think the English translation of “riddling” doesn’t quite hit the mark though! Traditionally this is carried out in special racks that invert the bottle causing the lees to settle in the extreme neck of the bottle.

The lees removal process is called dégorgement, traditionally a skilled manual process where the crown cap and sediment are removed without losing much of the liquid. Modern automated disgorgement is done by freezing a small amount of the liquid in the neck of the bottle and removing this plug of ice containing the lees, before finally adding a small amount of sugar and adding the final traditional “Champagne” type cork….and then waiting another year before it’s ready!

Off to rest for a couple of years!

This “Domaine” is a family concern where passion for the vine and it’s produce has always been central to the family. They have been here a a long time too, since 1635, so I think that by now they really know what they are doing!.

Catch you soon

Dookes

Cooking in France….again!

It had been a long tiring drive from Roscoff to the Val de Loire. OK, I didn’t make it easy by dropping in on friends across Brittany, but the last 180 miles were particularly tedious, especially the Périphérique around Nantes. We arrived at our friend Anne’s vineyard in time for aperitifs. She makes a rather special Coteaux d’Ancenis Malvoisie white wine that is….well….. to die for! It’s light, sweet, but at the same time quite forwardly acidic…all of which makes no sense at all, until you taste it; it’s heaven in a glass.

The road was telling and hurting, I hit the calvados.

Ask me to ride three to four hundred miles on a motorcycle and i’ll say “OK”…ask me to do it in a car and i’ll likely yawn!

Dookes don’t do cars!

Sunday morning dawned bright, sunny and warm.

I was still feeling yesterday’s miles, plus the effects of quite a lot of Calvados the night before!

Mrs Dookes and I wandered into the pretty village of Oudon and it’s Sunday market.

The Château du Oudon.

Un Marché le Dimanche matin is quite unusual in France and although this isn’t a big one it’s a good one. My mate Olivier was there with his olive stall, yeah, I know, “Olivier des Olives”!!!

I wandered over to Olivier as Mrs Dookes disappeared into her favourite patisserie adjacent to the market.

“Ça va Gallois? “Oui, ça va! Et tu?” “Ça va bien.”

Oliver paused to serve an annoying couple who were allowing their young daughter, of perhaps 10, to choose their olives. Maybe these, perhaps those…what do they tase like? Oliver was patient for a while, then just exclaimed “Ills ont tous le goût d’olive!” “They all taste of olive!” Father then decides and they go away happy!

I feel compelled to buy some saucisson from my friend..”Sanglier, noisettes, et bleu d’Auvergne!” Olivier exclaims, he knows me well!

Olivier looks around and produces a small bottle of Calvados, the Normandy apple brandy.

“Un pour la route eh?” One for the road indeed! The Calvados is rough, warm full of apple flavour and awakens my taste buds.

“Ok mon amis, maintenant tu vas cuisiner pour nous, le suis occupé”

“OK my friend go cook for us, i’m busy at the moment.”

“Cuisine une de ces recettes bâtardes de Normandie que tu et Floyd aime tant!”

“Cook a dish from those bastards in Normandy that you and Floyd like so much!”

We smile at each other. It”s been 13 years last Thursday that Floyd toddled off this mortal coil. I miss him dreadfully.

“OK mom amis, pour tu et pour Floyd!”

I scurry around the marché gathering the ingredients. A poulet jaune, fed with corn plump with yellow fat, haricot verts, carrots, a spaghetti squash, juicy pink garlic and as a surprise and only because a lovely lady is selling it, fresh Gnocchi: Floyd would approve. Oh and a rather special vin blanc du Chinon, one of my favourite Val du Loire wines.

Once back at our cottage I set about preparation: Floyd had a view that cooking shouldn’t be about being tied to the cooker and that the process should allow time to relax and enjoy the moment…so after prepping the chicken we went for a petit promenade along the banks of the mighty river Loire before returning to enjoy the meal and a gin and tonic before!

“Pour un Gallois tu cuisines comme d’un Français!” “For a Welshman, you cook like a Frenchman!” Oliver exclaimed. After a lot of wine and Calvados….that’ll do for me!

Et maintenant, le fromage!..cheese!

Oh…. and a bit more Calvados! I love this country and it’s people.

Here’s to you Floyd! I miss you.

Salut!

Dookes

Moor Wandering

Yeah, I know….”Where the heck have you been Dookes?”

When I took on the whole, “I’m retiring” thing, I thought that it would lead to sunlit uplands, keep that thought, time to do things as and when I wanted, lots of “free” time and a general slowing of the pace of life.

Let me tell you, forget that thought, even if you are only mildly toying with the idea of retirement!

When I was a young Dookes, just starting out in my working life, I remember various retired members of staff dropping by to say hello to their former workmates and the common theme always seemed to be “I don”t know how i ever had time to go to work!” Young Dookes thought this was extremely funny and that these old timers had somehow lost the plot with their transition into retirement…little did i know!

Now please don’t misunderstand me, i’m not complaining and yes retirement is great. The hours are certainly good, even if the pay isn’t quite what it was previously, but sunlit upland nirvana and time to do my own things whenever I want it certainly isn’t!

I’m always so bloody busy! I guess thats a direct result of being one of those people that finds it hard to say “No” if someone asks for help! Which kinda explains the lack of blog activity….

Certainly one great advantage of retirement is the ability to do things without much forward planning. A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Dookes decided to take a week off work; yes Mrs D is still working. On the spur of the moment, grabbing a window of nice weather, we decided to head for Dartmoor, only 30 minutes away from Dookes H.Q.

Dartmoor is the highest and biggest upland area in Southern Britain, covering 368 square miles and has been protected as a National Park since 1951. The landscape consists of moorland with many exposed granite hilltops known as Tors. It provides a wonderful habitat for wildlife. It’s hard country, with bogs and cliffs to test the adventurer that sets out to explore, add into the mix classic mountain weather changes and it can be dangerous for the ill prepared.

The highest point is High Willhays, 2037ft above sea level and on a clear day this peak is clearly visible from Dookes H.Q. and is somewhere I had been promising myself to visit for a long time.

High Wilhays.

Parts of the moor have been used as firing ranges since the early 1800’s so whilst the public is granted extensive land access rights on Dartmoor, its always essential to check if the military are going to be active where you plan to wander; fortunately for us they weren’t!

West Mill Tor (Left), Yes Tor (Right).

Dartmoor is known for it’s Tors, high hills topped with outcrops of bedrock granite, which are usually rounded and weathered formations. The Tors are the focus of an annual event known as the Ten Tors Challenge when around 2500 people aged between 14 and 19 hike for distances of 35, 45 or 55 miles between ten tors on varying routes. For our day out we weren’t looking to top Ten Tors, just a couple of the big ones!

On West Mill Tor, looking North East.

Over the past few months the UK has been experiencing abnormally dry weather and the infamous bogs of Dartmoor have certainly dried noticeibly, not good for bog dwelling animals or plants, but it certainly makes the life of a walker a lot easier.

Bog cotton dancing on the breeze.

What a glorious day we had. Starting from Meldon, we skirted the reservoir, with worryingly low water level. We started climbing and headed for West Mill Tor, one of the Northern most peaks, where we paused to take in the view, before turning South West to Yes Tor for a lunch break. After lunch we followed the plateau South to High Wilhays before cutting back across the contours towards the reservoir and our starting point.

Yes Tor

Great to be back on high ground again, good to be writing too, even if this isn’t very good, but hey I’m out of practice…!

Summit Cairn on High Wilhays.

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Through Others Eyes (Showing AGMA around)

OK, Dookes is bad…no posts for ages, again!
No excuses, other than life stuff constantly getting in the way…

Over the years, blogging has given me many great experiences and the opportunity to make many “on-line” friends. Some I communicate with on a regular basis, though few as much as the legendary AGMA, that’s “Ageing Gracefully My Ass” in case you were wondering!

It was an absolute delight earlier this year to hear from AGMA and learn that she and husband “Hubs” had decided to come visit Cornwall as part of one of her famous round Europe dashes! Would Dookes be available to show them around his part of Cornwall?
You bet I would!

Regular blogonaughts will know that Dookes lives in the far South West of the United Kingdom in the fair Duchy of Cornwall; a rocky, windswept, at times sunny, but ruggedly always beautiful place to live!

Sometimes though, just to keep things in perspective, you need to look at it through other’s eyes and realise just how lucky you are to live here!

Amongst places that AGMA wanted to visit was Tintagel Castle the world famous legendary birth place of King Arthur; yes him of Round Table fame!

Mrs Dookes and I have a bit of history with Tintagel so it was a pleasure to show AGMA and Hubs around the place and tell them of it’s history and legends.

The medieval ruins of Tintagel Castle

To stand on Tintagel’s island mount and look out at the wild Atlantic Ocean with AGMA made me so very grateful to live here and call this land home.

I’m pleased AGMA and Hubs enjoyed their holiday in Cornwall, we were delighted to meet them, show them around and welcome them, albeit briefly, into our lives.
We hope to see them again before too much longer!

Oh yes, before I forget. AGMA was insistent that she met my beloved Harls…no problem, you weren’t going to leave without saying “Hi” to her!

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, Happy St David’s Day

Y Ddraig Goch, The Red Dragon

Bore da pawb. Heddiw yw Dydd Gŵyl Dewi, y Diwrnod Cenedlaethol Cymru.
Dymuniadau gorau i chi i gyd!

Good morning everyone. Today is Saint David’s Day, the National Day of Wales.
Best wishes to you all, from a rather dreary Cornwall!

All is not gloomy however, despite the dreadful events unfolding in Ukraine, daffodils, the national flower of Wales, are in bloom and with a freshly picked bunch on the table next to me, its like the sun has come into the house as well.

The world is a sombre place just at the moment, so it’s nice to have something to cheer me up!

OK, brief history lesson then:
Dewi Sant/St David was born towards the end of the 5th Century in the region of West Wales known as Ceredigion. Whilst alive he built a reputation for his preaching, teaching and simple living amongst the Celtic people. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosin, which became an important early Christian centre. Dewi died on 1st March 589 and was buried in what is now known as St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire where his shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage.

For centuries 1st March has been a national festival in Wales with parades, concerts, poetry readings and of course traditional food all being enjoyed. Around the country not only will you see the flag of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) being flown, but also the flag of St David, a simple yellow cross on a black field.P1030045

Today is also the time when Welsh exiles around the world remember ‘The Land of My Fathers’ and try to ease the sense of “Hiraeth” that yearning homesickness tinged with grief, nostalgia, wistfulness and pride in our identity that we often feel.

I imagine that many Ukrainians are feeling something very similar today too…

In these increasingly dangerous times, as if the world hasn’t gone through enough in the last few years, have a lovely day and in the words of St David:

“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mean bywyd.” “Do ye the little things in life.”
(And maybe offer up a little prayer for peace too!)

Hwyl fawr!
Dookes

Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m Gwlad.

High Places

Regular visitors to this site, my Blogonaughts, will know that every now and then Dookes gets an urge to stand on top of a mountain or a hill, safe in the knowledge that the only thing above is the vast expanse of the heavens.

I’m not sure exactly when this feeling, call it a habit if you like, began. What I can report though is that when the feeling creeps up on me it can be all consuming and totally irresistible.

Which is what happened earlier this week.

We were just preparing our evening meal at Dookes H.Q. when I received a message from nephew Darrell, “Would you like to go up on the Moors tomorrow with the dogs?”

Diddy in her element.

Now apart from it being really nice that my nephew and I enjoy time in each other’s company, it didn’t take a second to say, “Yes, yes, yes and let’s go to the highest point….!”

I’ve written before about Bodmin Moor, it’s one of Cornwall’s designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The two highest peaks in Cornwall Rough Tor and Brown Willy, 420 metres (1,377 ft) above sea level, dominate the landscape to the North. The landscape here is testimony to thousands of years of human occupation, with the remains of Bronze Age hut circles, Neolithic enclosures and mysterious stone circles.

Brown Willy

The Moor is a remote, bleak, grass and heather covered upland with an underlying geology of hard granite. It’s hard country, not as high as my beloved Welsh Mountains or the Alps, but you don’t want to be caught out here in bad weather or with the wrong gear, the Moors can be brutally unforgiving.

Showery Tor

I love the place
I love the way the wind sweeps in unchecked from the Atlantic.
I love the hard ancient rocks that stand witness to the passing seasons of man.
I love the smells of peat and heather.
I love its babbling water and clear open skies.
I love its stark brutal beauty.

I love how I feel my spirits lifted after a day in it’s sanctuary

The Wild Atlantic

Catch you soon,
Dookes

PS Thanks Darrell for a great idea!

Leaning on Gates

I like space.
Space to think, space to breath, space to enjoy life and space to take in the view.
I’ve never been a town or city person, those built-up places make me feel closed in, trapped, suffocated; yes I know that some people thrive on “City Life,” but it’s not for me.

Dookes H.Q. is in the middle of North Cornwall nowhere and recently I’ve begun to appreciate my local field gates.

I lean on them….quite a lot!

The roads and lanes of North Cornwall are delightful, often narrow, frequently bumpy and normally bounded by high banks and hedges. Gates give a glimpse from those roads across wonderful countryside and tantalising views of the sea. The trouble is that when I’m travelling on either two or four wheels I never seem to stop, but when I’m walking things take on a totally different perspective.

Life at Dookes H.Q. is often dictated by Working Cocker Spaniels, wonderfully busy little dogs who live life to their fullest and effervesce with boundless energy….which means walks, lots of walks!

Smudge

That’s where gates come in handy.

They have become places to pause.
Places to welcome the dawn.
Places to see the Moon rise.
Places to contemplate.
Places to be thankful.
Places to feel renewed.

….and also just somewhere for an old geezer to lean on and get his breath back after keeping pace with his four legged friend.

I love gates.

Catch you soon,
Dookes

Ring Out Solstice Bells 2021

Best wishes to you all on this Winter Solstice Day!

At exactly 15:59 GMT today the polar axis of our Planet Earth will have be tilted at its farthest away from the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere, giving us our shortest day of the year and marking the beginning of astronomical winter. This makes me a very happy Dookes, for though the days will be colder, they will also start to get longer!

Of course if you live South of the equator the reverse applies.

For my previous posts about the Dookes take on the Solstice please click here.

This year we have been doubly treated as there was a full “Winter Moon” last weekend.
For us Celts, with a feeling for the natural cycle of life, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The Winter Moon rising over a cold Cornish landscape.

In accordance with the old ways and as a Druid, I’m off to garland Dookes H.Q. now…and raise a glass to the setting sun.

In the meantime, however and whatever you are celebrating have a really good one!

“Ring out these bells,
Ring out,
Ring solstice bells”

Catch you soon,
Dookes

Remember Penlee, 40 Years Ago.

Jutting out into the wild North Atlantic Ocean the County of Cornwall is indelibly linked to the sea. 

Nowhere in Cornwall are you more than 20 miles from the coast and on the edge of the Ocean lie numerous villages whose existence is based on either fishing or trade.

Strong amongst those villages is the tradition of saving lives at sea.

Around the Cornish coast can be found lifeboat stations where, crewed by volunteers, stand tough vessels ready to be launched at a moments notice to assist those in distress on the Sea. Lifeboats at Bude, Padstow, Falmouth, Fowey, Lizard, Sennen Cove, St Ives all have distinguished histories and can list many brave and tragic events in their roll of honour; but in Cornwall the most revered name is Penlee.

Forty years ago today, 19th December 1981, the crew of the Penlee Lifeboat answered a call to a vessel in distress.

The brand new MV Union Star on passage to Ireland from Holland with a cargo of fertiliser was in difficulties. She carried a crew of four, plus her Captain Henry Moreton, his wife and two teenage daughters.

At 18:00hrs Falmouth Coastguard received a distress call from the Union Star; her engines had failed and would not restart. Hurricane force winds were blowing the disabled vessel towards the treacherous and unforgiving South Coast of Cornwall.

In the small and picturesque fishing village of Mousehole, (pronounced Mowzull), population 600, the crew of the Penlee Lifeboat were put on standby; twelve men volunteered and eight were selected by Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards.

A Royal Navy helicopter was scrambled to assist the drifting merchant ship, but so strong were the winds, over 90 knots, and so violent the sea at 18m metre waves that it was unable to undertake any rescue operation.

At 20:00hrs the Penlee lifeboat was launched, the Union Star was now just two miles from the treacherous coast.

The lifeboat was named “Soloman Browne” and was a 14 metre long “Watson Class” with two powerful diesel engines giving a top speed of 9 knots.

The Soloman Browne

For 30 minutes the helicopter crew watched as the Soloman Browne made numerous attempts to get alongside the stricken merchant ship.

“We’ve got four off.” Radioed the lifeboat to Falmouth Coast Guard.

Ten minutes later, the lights of the Soloman Brown disappeared and nothing more was heard.

The helicopter returned to base to refuel and took off again, whilst lifeboats from Sennen Cove, Lizard and St Mary’s were launched to help their colleagues.

At dawn the Union Star was seen capsized and on the rocks at Tater Du, just a few miles from Mousehole and debris from the Soloman Browne began to wash ashore.

The wreck of the Union Star

Within 24 hours the small and stunned community formed another volunteer lifeboat crew.

Coxswain Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Gold Medal for Gallantry and the rest of the crew were awarded Bronze Medals. 

Lieutenant Commander Russell Smith, the pilot of the Sea King helicopter, said:

‘The greatest act of courage that I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the Penlee crew.They were truly the bravest eight men I’ve ever seen, who were also totally dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the RNLI.’

Every year on 19 December, the Christmas lights at Mousehole are dimmed between 8 and 9pm in memory of the 16 people who lost their lives, leaving just an illuminated Cross and two Angels shining down across the village and out to sea.

Remember them with pride and gratitude that volunteers like them still go down to the sea in boats to save lives:

  Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards

  Second Coxswain and Mechanic James Madron

  Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman

  Emergency Mechanic John Blewett

  Crew Member Charles Greenhaugh

  Crew Member Kevin Smith

  Crew Member Barrie Torrie

  Crew Member Gary Wallis.