Use my fishing rod – Challenge No 19

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When Chris and I moved to a rural village in the Weald of Kent almost 5 years ago I expressed to Chris an interest in taking up fishing and before I knew it a rod and equipment appeared as a present which was very thoughtful.  However, at that point I had thought living in the country would be quiet, idyllic and there would be plenty of days to fill…..how wrong could I have been.  Country living is fabulous….but full to the brim with things to do and so I have, as yet, not quite got around to starting fishing.  I therefore added it to my 50@50 challenge list to kick start me, and then sought out someone to teach me.

And, rather bravely I think, in stepped Dan, a great friend from the village who kindly gave up his evening to explain to me the rudiments of fishing and how to set up my rod.  And wow what a great teacher; he was patient, funny, encouraging and within five minutes we had our first strike.  Firstly we tried a rig set up with the bait on the bottom ( excuse me if my terminology is not quite right) and we swung rather than cast to get into a close position by some reeds.  On this occasion I landed a 2-3lb carp, we were up and running and we were all stunned at how quick we had caught a fish.

We were fishing at Shirkoak Fisheries which is a fabulous, family friendly establishment and tranquil and beautiful this evening.

http://www.shirkoak.co.uk

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Dan then showed me how to set up my own rod with a float and hook.  We used sweetcorn as bait and once more I was off, side casting as we did not need to be too far out (the lake is well stocked so ideal for beginners) and also because whilst a lovely evening the wind was getting up.  After a few false strikes, I began to realise the difference between a nibble, the wind moving the float and a proper bite!! I then caught a small mirror carp which Dan explained how to let out some line, play the fish, give it time to wear itself out and then reel in.  It was so exciting and when I had landed the fish it was beautiful.  In the water they can look quite dull, but once pulled from the water their scales shine iridescent in the light…quite stunning.  I wanted to be able to take the hooks out properly and I was showed how to do this causing as little damage as possible.

We then moved onto surface fishing where you throw quite a bit of bread onto the surface (once the Ducks had gone) and then secure a largish piece on your hook and place it near the bait on the water.  So many carp came to the surface then it was hard to concentrate on which was your piece of bread as my eyes were darting everyone…..and this is when it happened.  I actually have a fishermans tale about the ‘one that got away’…..the ‘big one’.  I struck and could tell instantly that it was large as the rod bent and I needed two hands to just hold it.  I let out some line and it swam close, left, stayed still then thrashed to the right, I began to bring it in but I think amateurishly too soon as…….snap…..it was gone.  My arms were aching and the adrenalin was genuinely flowing.  It was certainly this big!!!….please visualise my arms stretched out to their extremity 😉🎣🐟 and whilst disappointed it was gone, I had enjoyed the battle ; 1-0 to the ‘beast of Shirkoak’.

We carried on, enjoying some food, good conversation and a drink or two and I managed to land 9 fish in total in 3 hours. Thanks go to Chris our official photographer, bag carrier and occasional landing net attendant.  Near the end of the evening Dan and I even managed to have a catch on each rod simultaneously which truly was the icing on an already delicious, if somewhat fishy,  cake.

Thanks Dan for passing on your obvious love of fishing, your enthusiasm and knowledge.  I love that you know so much about the fish, what is best for them, how to handle them and a general respect for nature ( ensuring we don’t litter etc) all of which I really respect.  Please excuse the pun……but I am hooked….and already I now have a fishing date with my son lined up so no excuse to stop now.  Especially as It would seem I have been interested for quite some years ( My brother Paul, my sister Nicky and me….worrying that this is black and white!!!!)

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Kayaking the Dordogne – Challenge No 50

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So, at last, I hear you say….something approaching a proper, physical challenge.  And you would be right, when my friend Megan did this last year she thought to herself this would be the perfect challenge for Claire, a physically demanding three hour kayak, balanced out by the stunning scenery along the Dordogne (and the assistance of some of her rather gorgeous family  if things got too much) and a tasty Fench picnic.  I jumped at the chance but sometimes things are just not meant to be….

Our trip suffered numerous setbacks which were totally out of our control (personal sorrow, freak meteorological flooding and,the French being the French, various strike actions) so our new challenge became….just to make it to France!!

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I have known Megan for about 20 years now as we met when our children were at St Philips playgroup and we are both ‘cup half full’ people so hit it off instantly.  Therefore even though we had to shorten our trip and ditch the kayaking ( the Dordogne was flooded so not allowing kayaks on the water) we both still knew we would have a great time…which we absolutely did.

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We were staying at a beautifully converted house, near the town of Gourdon and a five minute walk away from Megan’s brother-in-law and his family who were extremely hospitable, beautiful people. Megan also had family and some other friends staying with us so there was a ‘party’ atmosphere which was wonderful.  We ate at a fabulous restaurant which only opens when pre- booked and all the courses included fresh herbs or flowers from the small but brilliantly packed restaurant garden.  We had a pizza chef come in his van to the house and cook what are undoubtedly the best pizzas I have ever eaten, to celebrate Megan’s brother in laws birthday ( duck pizza being a speciality of the region..inspired) and a bar-b-que, like no other…where the mushroom starter had been foraged, the meat cooked were huge steaks which I don’t even know how to describe and the fish was fresh and fabulous, all washed down with wine and merriment.

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However, there were two particular highlights to the trip.   Firstly, we had an amazing day trip where Richard (Megan’s son) kindly drove us to visit beautiful towns like Domme, La Roque Gageac ( where we looked at the doomed kayaks and I dipped my toe in a swollen and very fast flowing river) and the stunning Rocamadour.  I had no idea how breathtaking the scenery would be.  And the icing on the cake was a boat trip as promised…however this was rescheduled to Gouffre de Padriac, a subterranean river ( 103 m below ground ) which opened into the most awe inspiring cavern imaginable….you can undertand why they call them underground cathedrals. As the last visitors we had the pleasure of enjoying it’s majesty in silence for a while which I will not forget for a long time.

http://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/mobile.php

The thing I enjoyed most though…France itself.  Where we stayed was rural, tranquil and idyllic.  I sat in the garden watching more butterflies than I have ever seen in one place, buzzards were flying low overhead; there was birdsong including cuckoos, hummingbird hawk moths in the sweetest smelling honeysuckle and….wait for it….I saw Hoopoe!!  Poor Megan had so many conversations interrupted by me jumping out of my chair to look at something or other…..she had great patience with me.  In addition the surrounding area and towns are beautiful, the food so tasty and it is packed with things to do.  So Megan we may not have kayaked on the Dordogne but you gave me something much greater….a whole area of France to re-visit, and explore (Carcasonne especially), new friends and wonderful memories 🇫🇷

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Attend a flower Show – Challenge No 17

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As I approach the ‘two months to go mark’  the challenges will now be coming thick and fast so expect to be overloaded with blogs until completion date.  It’s all so exciting at the moment and my life is quite a whirlwind hence this blog being written a tad after the event.  This 50@50 challenge was a personal one.  Most/some of you will know that I love gardening (probably when I have been boring you about it lol) but I have actually only ever been to one garden/flower show and that was many years ago, before I had the bug, when my father-in-law, Colin, and his wife Tina, took me to Hampton Court which was amazing.  Approximately 15-20 years has passed since then and I have followed Chelsea on the TV and intended to go, but never quite got around to it….until this year!!

I took advice from friends who had been and got there early ( I know, very unlike me!!), so I  was queuing at  7.45 am for doors opening at 8am.  I then headed straight for the 26,000 hand made poppies which were in the front of the Royal Hospital.  It was visually stunning, each individual and personal poppy made a moving tribute; but collectively it had such a strong impact.  I was glad I was able to enjoy it peacefully and reflectively.

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From there I went to the Pavilion which was virtually empty so I strolled around enjoying the variety of exhibits.  Particular highlights were the florists entries ( I surprised myself here) which were carnival themed, but to me looked more like stunning tribal headdresses, such intricate work,  vibrant colours and amazing flower combinations.  I also decided that irises and clematis were the flowers/plants I most wanted to take home and put in my garden and the protea would be my exotic choice.  Below is the link to this year’s RHS plant of the year, and I am afraid I disagreed with the judges verdict…by far the most stunning flower in my opinion was the chrysanthemum ‘ Rossano Charlotte’ ( see photo below) although I would be very happy to have the winning clematis in my garden any day of the week.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/2016/Articles/chelsea-plant-of-the-year-2016

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It was by now mid-morning, the sun was shining and so I stopped for a pick-me-up pimms and did a bit of gardening celebrity spotting before heading to the main show gardens.  I could go on endlessly here and wax lyrical about plants, sculptures etc but will instead condense it to this:- (although I will add that I did no research before I went so each garden was fresh to me which had both positive and negative results)

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  • my favourite garden was the Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital (photo above) which gave me goose bumps when I laid eyes upon it, before I even knew anything about it.  It was tranquil, spiritual and used trellis with patterns and holes to give height and form but without feeling enclosed.  The sculptures were vast but blended gently within the foliage and planting which was not crowded or false and together this achieved a real garden with a sense of serenity; and I am still in awe, I have no idea how it was done….skill and vision beyond words.
  • my other favourite was The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, (photo below) which initially I was not fond of but which drew me back later again and again, each time trying to understand it a bit more. It was not my traditional style but I ended up loving it.
  • my least favourite was ( sadly as I wanted to like it) Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrods Eccentrics British Garden….everything I hate in a garden…novelty, mechanics, all about the build rather than the plants = yuk!!!
  • my favourite planting scheme was purple and white with a hint of orange…I may have to find a corner of the garden to experiment with this.
  • best part of the show other than the gardens – by far and away it was the sculptures…I felt I was at an art gallery.  They were truly amazing and at every corner…how I wish I had the spare £10-100,000 they cost ☹️
  • wish list…. Affordable sculptures, clematis, and seating (which blends rather than stands out and entices me away from the weeding).

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It was an amazing day where I met interesting enthusiasts to chat with ( even though I went on my own), it provided me with enough inspiration for another 5-10 years and had constant surprises like the pimms tents at every corner, the music in the park, the artisan shops, and my favourite batik artist selling her work (Jane Hickman).  I ended the day with a ride on a red double decker bus back to the station and once home I shared my photos (another great thing was that this is a photographers dream to visit) with fellow enthusiasts. The latter has had a rather splendid result ………..I already have tickets booked for RHS Chatsworth 2017 (and lovely company to attend with….thank you Debbie and Nicky) which means I could not be happier.

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River Thames Boat Cruise – Challenge No 35

imageWell this idea of setting myself things to do this year is already turning out to be such a great idea!!  I have wanted to go on a cruise up the River Thames for years but because I live in Kent and it’s virtually on my doorstep I, like many others I am sure, never quite got around to doing it. For instance, I have been on a cruise up the River Seine in Paris and across the fjords of Norway, but not the Thames.  

So this week I rectified the omission. My daughter, Kate, knowing I wanted to do this decided to treat me for my birthday ( which made it even nicer).  We embarked at Greenwich and took a leisurely trip up the Thames, which derives its name from the Sanskrit Tamas, meaning dark, as the water is often so dark in colour (there are other possible reasons but I like this one).  The weather was great and a with a drink in one hand and camera in the other it was such a great way to see London from a completely different perspective. It became so clear how important the river was in the past, with so many of the buildings we passed being wharfs ( now luxury apartments).  We arrived at The Houses of Parliament in time for Big Ben to strike 12 (which I know means we were indulging in a wee tipple a bit early – but it was a treat!!) and as we passed Tower Bridge on our return the barriers rose which was a real spectacle to behold.  It was good to see all the pleasure, leisure and working boats, together with the police and naval boats too.  

I would recommend anyone to take this trip, Greenwich was a great start/stop destination as the market has good street food and stalls there and the Cutty Sark in dry dock is impressive.  The day also provided me with a list of other places ( including numerous pubs ) I would like to see. Top tip = booking online in advance gave 50% discount and bring a cardie as it gets chilly 😄

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