Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Doom Bar

The legend of The Mermaid of Padstow has it that, having been accidentally shot with a crossbow by a local man who was out hunting seals, a mermaid used her dying breath to place a curse upon the town. A storm raged for three days and nights, and when the townspeople awoke on the fourth day an enormous sand bar lay stretched across the mouth of the Camel Estuary, preventing ships from entering or leaving the harbour.

Over the course of the past 500 years the golden sands of the Doom Bar and the headlands and reefs on either side have seen the demise of over 300 ships.  Whilst you'd be forgiven for presuming that the treacherous nature of the mouth of the Camel Estuary gave rise to the name "Doom" Bar, it is actually derived from a corruption of the word "Dun", or dune, meaning sand.  
You see, there are few safe refuges for ships along the 75 miles or so of the North Cornish Coast between St Ives and Bideford, the majority of the coastline being high granite cliffs fronted by narrow beaches regularly pounded by the North Atlantic, and in a storm Padstow often appeared to mariners in distress as somewhat of a false friend.  With a shallow sand bar stretching across the mouth of the estuary and the large headlands of Stepper Point and Pentire Point both hemming in approaching vessels and providing shelter from the wind, many captains and their crews had to swim for, or lost, their lives having run aground.
These days the navigable channel to Padstow, which is dredged and maintained by the Harbour Commission, lies on the eastern side of the Estuary (the right hand side in the image above) however through much of the Eighteen hundreds it lay to the west, with the Doom Bar sitting on the Daymer Bay side.  This caused such difficulties to approaching vessels that a part of Stepper Point was quarried away (visible in the photograph) to allow ships to fill their sails and make a good run at the 220 metre wide channel.  There are still rusting capstans on the ledge under Stepper Point that were once used to winch ships alongside and in to safety after the pilot gigs had rowed out to offer them a line..

Such a lot of stories for such a small patch of water, encircled by the sea, sand and slate.  On a calm summers day when walking the low tide beaches on either side of the estuary it's hard to imagine that such a huge number of ship's skeletons lie buried beneath your feet.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

There's No Such Thing As A Seagull

My Dad corrects me every time I use the word "seagull".  There's no such thing as a seagull.  In Europe there are over twenty species of gull, with the herring gull being the most prevalent.  Large and noisy, they nest in colonies on cliffs, islands and rooftops and these days are just as often seen scavenging on landfill sites and school playgrounds as they are dive-bombing tourists for their chips and pasties in seaside towns.  They are opportunistic scavengers (politely called "omnivores") and refuse comprises up to half of the bird's diet, rather than herrings as the name might suggest.  We had one swoop from our rooftop onto the table alongside our barbeque last week and it left the three freshly caught mackerel alone and instead went for and then promptly dropped a shrink-wrapped packet of bacon, illustrating an unfortunate evolution in diet.  Scavengers or not, the herring gull is a symbol of the coast and I can't think of a better soundtrack to time spent beside the seaside.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tea Tea Tea

“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
Rudyard Kipling

Until recently, if I went into a coffee shop I was there exclusively for coffee.  That was until I was persuaded to order a chai tea latte and was instantly transported back to a trip that I took to Sri Lanka a few years ago.  Chai is just the Hindi word for tea (which can be served black or with milk and sugar), whereas what's served up in coffee shops over here is actually Masala chai…kind of curried tea.  
Back in the 1830's the British East India company started to become concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea production which accounted for the majority of it's trade.  They began to encourage colonists to cultivate the assam tea plants that had grown locally since time immemorial and between 1870 and 1900 the consumption of Chinese tea in Great Britain dropped from 90% to just 10%, replaced by tea from British India and British Ceylon.  Despite this, tea was not consumed as a recreational drink on the Indian sub-continent until the Indian Tea Association (which was British owned) started to promote it and persuaded Indian industrialists to provide tea breaks for their workers. Chai vendors (chaiwalas) took the British mode of drinking tea and increased the amount of milk and sugar, then added various spices to flavour it further and masala chai is now widely consumed across the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world.


To make a chinese whispers version of chai tea, try this recipe:

  • 1 x  395 can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • A pinch of pepper
  • A small pinch of garam masala
  • 1 star anise
Mix all of the ingredients together in an old jam jar and allow it to sit for a while, ideally overnight.
Make a mug of strong black tea and dollop a spoonful or so of this mixture in and stir well.  There's no need to add milk or sugar, and you can adjust the taste to suit by adding more or less of the mixture.

Last winter my good friend and bang-tidy professional shutterbug David Williams took off to India for a while on a bus-man's holiday to shoot photos.  All images on this blog post are his handy work and obviously he retains full copyright over them, so please don't pinch and repost them without asking.  I'm very grateful that he let me publish them here, and I hope that you have enjoyed them.