Finding shelters

And then there was the day we had a picnic.

The weather has been, for the most part. “Sunny, with cloudy periods”. On one particularly sunny day, we decided to have a picnic.

There are wonderful local foods available here. Right up the road from the cottage, there is a good independent grocery that carries a range of local cheeses and specialty items. I loaded up with some Cornish “Crumbly” cheese (nutty and a bit cream/dry), Cornish Blue, roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, olives and a loaf of crusty bread. We got some locally smoked wild salmon, a little bottle of Cornish apricot Mead and headed for a rocky beach just east of Looe.

The sun was baking hot as we arrived. We settled into a sheltered rock face, kicked off our shoes and started to unpack the picnic. Admittedly, there were some clouds in the sky, coming in fairly quickly, but they seemed to fit into the idea of “ … with cloudy periods”.

We had just tasted the Mead (very yummy, tasting of sunshine, perfect for a picnic) and served up first helpings of fish and cheese when the rain started. There was really no place to take cover, and it looked like the rain would be over by the time we packed everything up. So all we could do was to try and save the bread from getting too soggy and the Mead from getting watered down while we kept eating.

The rain let up after about 15 minutes. We were pretty wet, but clean and happy. The hot sun came out, we packed up the sodden remains of the picnic and walked the hills to dry off before heading back to the cottage.

Amanda at the Sodden Picnic

Our little cottage has no view of anything at all. It is a cute place, but it easily drives us to cabin fever. So we have adopted another “lounge” overlooking the sea for our early evening pre-dinner drinks.

Just around the bend from West Looe is the small community of Hannafore. Sitting high atop the ocean cliffs, with spectacular views, is the Hannafore Point Hotel. Large overstuffed couches sit beside the full-length windows of the bar. With few customers, we have the place entirely to ourselves. We settle in with books and glasses of wine to watch the sunset. A good, dry ending to the day.

Tim in our adopted lounge

A fashionable picnic

The weather was very blustery on Tuesday when Maddy suggested a picnic lunch. But we are hearty Canadians, and we gamely headed out to Victoria Park, near Chisenhale Dance Studios, where Maddy was working for the day.

Maddy has one of those great picnic backpacks with a full set of glasses, plates, cutlery, napkins, picnic blanket – it is one of those things that makes you wish you went on more picnics. For our lunch she made a wonderful Thai Noodle Salad, and we brought a mixture of olives and marinated vegetables. With a flourish, she pulled a bottle of chilled Cave (sparkling wine) out from the thermal section of the backpack. This is a girl who knows how to picnic!

Given the weather, it was not surprising that the park was practically deserted. Aside from a rather nosey squirrel and a Magpie (neither of whom liked olive pits, which is all we were sharing), we had the place to ourselves. It was a wonderful lunch, topped off with delicious coffee from a silver thermos. The weather may not have been inspiring, but the mood was perfect.

Maddy needed to work for the afternoon, but she directed us to Camden Town in search of a backpack for Tim. Built around canal trade 200 years ago, Camden Town today is a warren of shops – eccentric, extreme and surprising.

Part of the area is built on an old stable, used for housing the horses that pulled the barges. Hence the wonderful large bronze sculptures of horses everywhere as a nod to the history of the area.

Amanda with a bronze work horse of Camden Town, shod by a bronze blacksmith

Tourist shops are mixed in with craft stores, “head” shops, vintage and designer clothes. Camden Town is famous for its clothing and accessories and is known for alternative fashion: Burlesque, Goth, Fetish, 50’s Rockability/Psycobilly, Punk, Cyber/Clubwear, Elegant Gothic Lolita (I am not making this up!), DYI/Cartoon, Hippy/Ethnic. It was hard to know where to start!

After much walking and exploring we found just the right kind of backpack for Tim. I may just have to go back for some of those fetish leggings…

Canoeing on the Loire

On Saturday, we got up early to put the finishing touches on a picnic (little sausages, a cooked chicken, breads, melons, tomatoes, wine, coffee and left over birthday torte) and went to rendezvous with 15 of Peta and Bryan’s friends  near Marcigny beside the Loire river. A canoe rental business is housed in an old stone house, with immaculate patio, beside a huge old barn. The barn is filled with life jackets, bidot (plastic bins to put our belongings in) and all manner of plastic canoes, kayaks and paddles. We all climb into a small bus, pulling a stack of canoes & kayaks, and are driven 10 kilometers up river where we re-grouped, only to find that we were 1 canoe short.

Somehow, this became a problem of les Anglais et les Canadiens who were clearly being difficult. Everyone else had what they wanted, what they had ordered. The fact that they were just quicker getting to them didn’t seem to be understood. Various options were proposed, most of which would have meant that we were paired with other couples or going individually in kayaks (we had 1 extra kayak). After 20 minutes of wild gesticulations, we persuaded the group to go on without us.

Looking downstream from our starting point

Peta, Bryan, Matt, Tim & I waited for a canoe to be brought to us, while les Françaises headed out into the river.

About 30 minutes later, the bus showed up, with a new load of canoeists. We grabbed a canoe and the 5 of us headed out onto the river.

The Loire is stunningly gorgeous and surprisingly unspoiled and undeveloped.  There are no motor boats, no docks, no yahoos on jet skis. This is picture perfect farming landscape. Cows come right down to the river to drink, and urinate. Egrets parade on the banks. Storks nest high in the trees. Fish almost jump into the canoe while distant church bells toll.

We are paddling downstream, with help from the current that occasionally rouses itself to move briskly. The river is mostly very shallow, and we must watch for shoals that cause us to run aground. But that is about as hard as the paddling gets.  Tim & I put on our best Canadian form. We have a reputation to live up to.  We are representing all of Canada! But somehow using plastic paddles in a plastic moulded canoe doesn’t evoke the same elegance of a cedar strip and we slow our pace and ignore our style, laughing at the wonder of floating down the Loire.

Matt in his Kayak
Tim & Amanda. Note the yellow moulded plastic canoe.

After 1 ½ hours of gentle paddling, we arrive at the picnic place. The rest of the party have only just arrived and are amazed that we caught up so quickly. We beam as we unpack. Suzanne and a couple of the other wives arrive with the lunches. They don’t join us on the river, preferring instead to be responsible for the food preparation and clean up. We spread our blanket under the shade of the trees and begin the feast.

The picnic begins

All food and drink is shared. But the way it is shared is that you put some of what you have brought on your own plate and then carry the rest of it around to each cluster of people, offering them little bits. The same is done with the wine, beginning with the white, moving to the rose, and finishing with the red. Different reds for different parts of the meal. Christian brings us some exquisite chèvre, but is dismayed that we only have Bourgogne to drink with it. He returns with a half bottle of Cote du Rhône, insisting that we keep it for the chèvre.

Bryan and Matt rest after lunch
Tim has a rest after lunch

We are replete.  We doze.  Eventually we gather up our things and head out for the second leg of the journey. It is bright and hot and still, but it is good to be moving again. We are among the last of the group to head out, and we weave in and out of the other canoes until we eventually find ourselves in the lead, skirting the occasional rapid with humour, if not grace.

I was asked at lunch if I found the river wild. “Sauvages”. I almost cause an international incident when I reply “non”. I am told indignantly that the Loire is the last wild river in France. Bryan intervenes and explains that Canada is “très sauvages”, and everyone laughs and nods in agreement. We are asked if we have a lot of caribou where we live. We try to talk about the deer and for some reason I bring up the word moose — wherein follows a long discussion about what a moose is. If there is a French word for moose neither Peta nor Bryan know it, and we leave the French increasingly bewildered. It is hard enough for them to believe that we are from Canada and not from Quebec, but now we are talking about some kind of mythical beast. Clearly, we are lost causes.

Not particularly wild. Could it be more bucolic?