A Day Hike with Mate Edu…And Lunch!

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Church From Hell

We received a welcomed invitation from our mate Edu to come for a visit & see his village of Bergara, do a decent hill hike in Oñati‘s Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park and then…lunch! So we packed up Gertie early one Saturday morning, turned on Google Maps & away we went…

The first sight we saw upon arrival at the park was this church – the Sanctuary of Arantzazu…coincidentally the architect (famous, apparently in Spain) was there that very day presenting his new book & giving a talk. It was a scary building – a perfect paradigm of what is called ‘brutalism’ architecture. It was about as inviting as a concentration camp – the inside main chapel looked liked it came from a scene in the Hunger Games.

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Da Crypt Was Creepy…

Below the church was a crypt that was decorated with dark & menacing murals. Mate Edu said they had been painted by a man who had lived in our hometown of Hondarribia for years. Hondarribia strikes us as a bright, cheerful, sunny place – not sure where all the darkness & doom came from…religion maybe?

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Da Hike…Oñati: Top Left – Sheep Traffic Jam; Wee Pony; Up Hill Slog; Mountain Plateau Pathway Conference

Edu had warned us that start of the walk (in reality, all of it) was a bit ‘tough’ and we guess that by that he meant it was a serious up hill slog for almost 2 hours (Hound #1 Billie loved all of it). Then we reached the top plateau & it was stunning – we lucked out in arriving about 45 minutes before the misty cloud descended and made any views farther than a couple of yards impossible. We were quite amused and impressed that we only heard people speaking Basque – no Español, no English and mos def no French. So we were truly in ‘Basque Land’…

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The Mountain Plateau…

We all were in need of a bit of rejuvenating sustenance other than water, and lo & behold there is a pub on the top of the mountain. We quickly ordered up some cervazas & chorizo pintxos & Edu’s favourite – caldo (warm broth) – and had a wee rest table side.

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Top O’Da Hill…a Pub! Yay!: Top Left: Siesta Sign – Matts To Borrow; Pub; Pub Dining Room; Coat Rack Basque Symbol Lauburu

The amble down the hill was moderately more pleasant than the sweaty climb up, and we were highly motivated by a luncheon booking that Edu had made which had come highly recommended by his sister. We appeared at the door of Goiko Venta right on the stroke of 3 (Spanish & lunch – go figure).

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Top Left: Goiko Venta, Gertie the Land Rover & Crew; Happy Campers on the Terrace

Goiko Venta was a step or two up from our typical menu del día establishments – we thought very high class, and possibly very high prices. But a glance at the menu revealed a €26 luncheon delight – choice made!

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Top Left: On The House Amuse-bouche – Smoked Salmon; Two Mates; Goiko Venta

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Top: Warm Duck Salad; Vino del Día; Eggplant Thing

The boys went the meat route for starters – a warm duck salad with bitter greens. It did the trick for us two and Hound #2 went her usual veggie path & delighted in the baked eggplant.

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Top: Lomo de Cerdo (Pork Loin); Steak (Entrecot); Squid in it own Ink

Everyone went their separate ways with the mains…Edu hopped on a Basque traditional dish of squid in its own ink (hard to photo correctly as it’s ALL BLACK); Hound #2 veered hard right (for her) and actually chose a savoury grilled steak; and I finished out the meat menu with a perfectly grilled pork loin with mustard sauce & puréed mash.

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Desserts – Yum!: Cheesecakey Thing with Sorbet; Warm Pear Tart with Scream

We all agreed on one thing – the desserts were all winners. A win-win all round – us, the desserts, Goiko Venta, the hike…

Muchas gracias to our amigo Edu for organising and hosting a wonderful Saturday in el campo…

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Autumn Grayling Hunting in Devon, UK

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Home Sweet Home In Search of Autumn Grayling

I had to bring my 1975 Land Rover (Gertie) back to the UK for an MOT – Spanish options looked like the proverbial massive can of worms. So to make it a more pleasurable trip (and weather permitting & it did wonderfully), I set myself up for some autumn fly fishing. Base camp for the duration was the Castle Inn in Lydford – sweet wee place that is perfectly located for many West Country Angling Passport rivers as well as Dartmoor National Park.

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The West Country Angling Passport scheme is awesome – if you do not know about or have not used it please give it a try. The scheme makes loads of UK rivers available to fish at a very affordable price – use or lose it as they say. It needs your support – get going folks!

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Beautiful Waters…River Lyd, Devon

My first day on the water was on one of my faves – the wonderful River Lyd in Sydenham. Flowing though an amazing Elizabethan estate, the river is chocka with fishable varieties of fish – brown trout, grayling, sea trout and even the odd salmon. I hooked & landed 17 brownies and I saw 3 massive sea trout feeding side by side. One leapt clear out of the water to snatch a floating caddis fly and was an easy 6-7 pounds and beautifully coloured,

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River Lyd Brownies…

My second day put me on the River Tamar on the Netherbridge Court beat. I have fished this several times before and it is minutes away from the Ham Mill, Netherbridge and Druxton beats. All are a great day of fishing….

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River Tamar – Netherbridge Court Beat

While getting my Land Rover MOT’d I timed it perfectly with the Frome Farmers Market and picked up some tasty Somerset salami and rich Glastonbury hard goats cheese. A fly fisherman has to eat and this hit the nail on the head.

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Fly Fisherman’s Lunch Supreme

Though I was mostly in search of grayling, my first day was 100% brown trout…second day put me back on track and brought this wee beauty to the net. It is an autumn fish with colours to match.

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River Tamar Grayling – Sweet

My 3rd and final fish was again on the River Tamar but on the Druxton Beat. I have also fished this before and it has some sweet water but a good chunk of it is dead slow pools. Not my cup of tea…that said, it was good for 8 solid fish – 3 grayling with one to 12″ and 5 brownies. A good day had by all…

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River Tamar, Druxton Beat & Grayling to the Net.

Fly Fishing The Pyrenees

As I may have mentioned in my previous blog on fly fishing in Spain, the season is or can be a short one. With that in mind & fall / winter quickly marching in, I decided I really wanted to have a go at some of the high mountain rivers in the Pyrenees. A wee bit of research and I was in touch with Chema @ Danica Guides. And as luck would have it, he and his lovely wife Marta also run the phenomenal La Casa del Río hotel. So we were off…FYI – this blog post will be more pictures & less text as I was also blessed with an ace photographer as well as a professional trout guide!

Anywhere is a long drive in my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie) so we tried to make the most of it and stopped off at various sites for a look see and often a cold cerveza. Hound #1 requires a few piss & poo stops so we pulled over at this lovely looking reservoir where quite a few folks were either having a dip (it was a warm one) or fishing. Litter is a big problem in just about every place we have lived, but I think sometimes Spain is vying for the global championship.

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Contrasts…

The very final stretch of our travels presented the Land Rover with a wickedly winding gorge road that paralleled the Ésera River the whole way – sometimes several hundred yards/metres above with shear drop offs that gave Hound #2 the willies.

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Scary Gorge Drive…

But we made it safe & sound and received a warm & wonderful welcome at La Casa del Río….we were most def ready for a beverage or three, some comestibles and a good bed!

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Estupendo!

A sign I like to see upon arrival! And BTW, La Casa del Río is also very dog friendly which gets a solid 2 thumbs and 1 paw up from this crew.

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Good Sign To See…

The weather could not have been more co-operative and we awoke our first morning to a stunningly sunny, bright blue sky day…and a estupendo breakfast which was exactly the food fortification we would need for our full on day of activities.

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Two Brothers From Different Mothers….Guide Chema & Me

The river water in the high mountains of the valle de Benasque is stunningly pretty – clear as the water that I find in my home rivers in New Zealand. But the fly fishing style is a bit different than most of New Zealand fishing as these rivers are quite bouldery with small pools of pocket water. It can be difficult wading at times, and much of the actual fishing is dapping a dry fly with a nymph dropper on the water surface with very little fly line out, mostly leader.

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A Beauty of a River

One of the things I had to learn when I moved from New Zealand to the UK and now Spain is that the trout are damn quick on the take. It is a common piece of advice or practice in New Zealand that when you see a trout take the fly, you need to say “God Save the Queen” (or the real Kiwi phrase – “Bloody Hell – a fish”) so as not to strike too early. Not here…

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Small Pocket Water Fishing…Small Fish

On numerous occasions during my two days of fishing with Chema we had some challenging boulder scrambles and tricky casting perches.

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Tricky Waterfall Climb…Then Trickier Perch

As the first day wound down to a close, Chema took me to a section of the Ésera River lower in the valley where it flattens out a bit and looks a bit more like your normal river. We stayed at it until dark or I was unable to see the fly and were rewarded with some very solid hookups & fish!

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Best Catch of the Day…and Night.

As I mentioned above, the quality of the river water struck a New Zealand chord with me as did much of the flora and fauna (of which Chema was supremely knowledgable)…just a wee squint of my eyes and I could have been fishing one of my fave rivers Down Under.

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Fishing for Trout in Hobbitt Country…

And Hound #1 is a faithful wee boy – it’s just that rivers and fast moving & sometimes deep water is not really his thing. So he and Hound #2 joined us for a wonderful lunch each day for a chance to recharge the batteries and then they were off to hike the valley & mountains.

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Hound & Fisherman….

We also greatly appreciated the fact that besides giving me 2 excellent days of fly fishing in the Pyrenees, Chema organised the day’s activities to easily include Hounds #1 & #2 in the fun. Muchas gracias…

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Happy Pyrenees Crew – Perfecto Weather!

Halfway through the second day I, by George, think I got it, the pocket pool fishing & it was fun…

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Pool Pocket Fishing…

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Just One More…Please.

Cornwall Fly Fishing Adventure – and Food Too!

We took a chance and booked a wee cottage (Pixie Cottage) in Crossgate (just outside of Launceston) for a week at the end of September for (a) me to finish out the fly fishing season on the River Tamar; (b) for Hound #2 to hopefully snag some boogie board beach time on the Cornish Coast and (c) Hound #1 (Billie) to have another Billie Holiday.

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By lucky coincidence (ahem!), one of our favourite local independent wine merchants, the Yapp Brothers in Mere, were having their annual Autumn tastings and it was only a modest detour on our way to Pixie Cottage. It has been a while since we have attended a decent vino sampling & this ticked more than the most boxes. The Yapp Brother’s wines on offer were predominately French (their speciality since 1969) and all excellent, with our 2 faves being the Domaine Py AOC Corbières: 3ème Cuvèe Blanc 2012 (white) and the St. Chinian Magali 2010 (red).

Rant break: These small, independent wine stores are such fantastic repositories of wine knowledge and offer up a far more interesting selection of winemakers than the Big Boy Supermarkets, but even as I write this, they are under threat which is very sad news for anyone who gives a hoot about wine. It seems that in a very short time & not too distant future the English retail wine world could very much be like Henry Ford’s Model T – you can have any colour (wine) as long as it’s black (it’s on our supermarket industrial wine stock list). They are Starbuck-ing our wine options. And it’s not like the Big Boy Supermarkets don’t already scarf up a decent chunk of your vinous dollars as they reportedly account for more than 70% of all wine retail spending. Support your local wine shop – fast. Ranting all done…

In addition to the wines on offer, the Yapp Brothers enlisted the help of some of their foodie friends, Godminster Organic Cheddar and Chesil Smokery in Dorset. And if a caffeine hit was required before the drive home, Claude the Butler was on duty. So since we were now all stocked up wine-wise for our week at Pixie Cottage, we needed some lunch…

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On our ‘to do’ board at home we’d pinned an article from one of the weekend rag’s magazines on what to do if you found yourself in the Somerset Levels. Well we were, so we made a zig-zag-backcountry-lane detour to the glowingly written about White Hart Inn in Somerton. Somerton is a sweet village and this pub (and inn) is a perfect match. The White Hart prides itself on being a pub (there is a restaurant too) in all the best senses of that word – welcoming everyone, including dogs, warm atmosphere & affordable food & drink. It takes seriously the mantra of supporting local producers whether you are talking food or drink. After a good scan of the menu (provenance of suppliers are included FYI) we opted for light bites – Hound #2 gravitated to the ham sandwich with chutney (£4.75 – when’s the last time you saw a pub sammie for less than a fiver?) and Hound #3 felt the wood fired pizza would hit the spot (£10.95). Correcto on both accounts…

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Wood fired Pizza

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House Cooked Ham & Chutney Sandwich

Our hunger pangs satiated, we got back on the road to make a pit stop @ the Lifton Farm Shop for some provisions (the sweet corn was the best we have had this summer) before our scheduled arrival time @ Pixie Cottage.

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Crossgate and Netherbridge Pools on the River Tamar & Pixie Cottage

Pixie Cottage was everything we expected and it suited the 3 Hounds to a ‘T’ – Billie absolutely loved the massive lawn to bounce around in and Hound #3 could not believe the River Tamar ran right past the property – score –  with 5 different fly fishing beats on the River Tamar within walking distance of Pixie Cottage and Hound #2 was a hop, skip & a jump to the Cornish Coast! So with the weather more than co-operating, fly rod & boogie board in hands, a bit of river thrashing & wave whacking was in order.

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The Harris Arms has kept coming up in our epicurean readings for not only a great reputation for its food, it is also quite renowned for its wine list – in fact, named the Best Wine Pub in Britain for 2013 we will have you know. We had a fun, down-memory-lane chat with Rowena (owner with partner Andy) who had spent time in our home space of New Zealand learning how to make wine in Gisborne. And more vinous fun was had perusing the multitude of empty, excellent bottles decorating the various nooks & crannies – someone’s had loads of fun.

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Classy Beverages

Hound #2 made an early decision to go a wee bit lighter on her main to leave enough space for something sweet (Baked White Chocolate Cheesecake – £6.95) & picked the Tomato & Basil Soup  (£4.95).

Alex had Soup du Jour - tomato & basil....she was saving room for dessert.

Tomato & Basil Soup

Hound #3 had no such plans for a sweet finish and hesitated not a nano-second for one of his perennial, palate pleasers – Duck Confit (£12.95). The Duck was served with a flavour bursting, awesomely Autumnal accoutrement of Chorizo & Bean Ragout with a side scoop of Mash to soak up the au jus. This was SO GOOD I had to get the recipe…find it below.

So as the UK starts to feel truly autumnal (rain, wind & cold), anymore Cornwall adventures will be put on hold till the weather comes right again….

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Duck Confit with Chorizo & Bean Ragout on Mash

Chorizo & Bean Ragout 

Soak dried Haricot Beans in water (keep in fridge) overnight.

Cook the beans in fresh un-salted water (not the water you’ve soaked them in) until they start to split.  Strain them, refresh in cold water to stop them cooking and then strain them until they are pretty dry – if you have a vac pack machine you can vac pack them, then refrigerate and they’ll keep for a week or so.  If not, keep them in the fridge, in a closed plastic container, for a few days (they will go off quite quickly) but you can cook them the day before you want to make the sauce. 

Dice chorizo (mild or hot to your taste).

Make red wine sauce as follows (this is the simple way to do it without making your own beef stock).

I suggest that you get hold of the stock ingredients from Essential Cuisine they make really great stuff.

1 litre of beef and chicken stock mixed together 50/50 (1/2 tablespoon each of stock powder).

1/2 bottle for strong red wine (Argentinian Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon).

2 x banana shallots skinned, halved and sliced.

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Crushed clove of garlic (skin on).

Put the stock and all the other items into a large pan and reduce by about a third.

Add some Essential Cuisine Concentrated Veal Jus – 1 tablespoon – you will have to stir really well into the simmering liquid as it takes a long time to dissolve.

Reduce by a further 20% approx.

If you make a mix of 1oz butter and 1oz flour in advance (soften the butter so you can mix the flour and then harden in the fridge) you can then dice about half of this and add to your sauce whisking vigorously until it’s dissolved.

Cook the sauce at a simmer for about 10 minutes to cook off the flour – this will, with luck, thickens the sauce.

Taste and season to your taste.

You should then strain through a fine strainer into a plastic storage tub.

To make the Ragout, just bring the sauce up to a gentle boil & add the bean and the chorizo and hey presto you have the red wine sauce with chorizo and haricot bean ragout.

The Fountain Head Pub, Branscombe, Devon…

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It was a mildly dreary day so what better thing to do than head out for a Sunday arvo pub lunch. We really like the picturesque village of Branscombe and have popped into the wonderful Masons Arms on several occasions – once just prior to Christmas when there were twice as many dogs as folks…our kind of pub. So on this Sunday, we made the decision to visit Branscombe’s other pub, the Fountain Head.

A word of caution – if you visit the pub’s web site, do not let the photos put you off a visit as they did us (versus making our regular stop at the Masons Arms) because they do not do justice to the pub’s character nor the excellent quality of the food & drink. We can empathise with just how hard it can be to decently capture the interior of such a graciously, old pub. The Fountain Head dates from the 14th century so you know we be talk’n old and it has not got a jukebox, nor a gaming machine and is wonderfully devoid of the big flat screen TV. It does have open log fires, dog-friendly slate floors with well polished patina and a mos def cosy vibe.

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The pub’s web site advertises “home cooked food at prices that won’t break the bank” and that is pretty much spot on. Hounds #2 & #3 were not famished so we didn’t go for the enticing main specials. Instead Hound #3 decided on the cauliflower cheese entree. For £6.50 this was a seriously sized starter and delicious with the subtle touch of mustard seeds in the cheese sauce.

Hound #2 went for the home cooked honey roast ham & mustard on granary bread for a very reasonable £4.50 and it was all washed down with very local Branscombe Vale Brewery ales.

Speaking of ales, the Fountain Head hosts a beer festival each year and this year’s takes place from Friday June 21st to Sunday June 23rd so put those dates in your calendar for what we are sure will be a grand time. And once (or if) the Summer actually arrives, you might want to give the Fountain Head’s Hog Roasts & Music night a whirl. Maybe we will see you there….FountainHeadSammie

Hound #1 was most welcome in the Fountain Head pub but fancied doing his well practised ‘indognito’ act which, as this picture will give evidence, he’s an ace at.

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And if you do decide to pay a visit to the Fountain Head or Masons Arms pubs, don’t miss the opportunity to have a wee stroll about the village and check out the stunning local church.

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The Lord Poulett Arms, Hinton St. George…

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Being it was Hound #2’s birthday which coincided with a brief break in the otherwise dismal weather, with the sun shining & blue skies overhead and the snow beginning to melt, we toddled off to Hinton St. George to pay a visit to the Lord Poulett Arms Hotel & Pub. This came highly recommended by our Medbury mates Ruth & Simon so our anticipations were running high as we pulled into this picture perfect Somerset village.

It is always nice to see such a well preserved & authentic wee town that has a pub in the same vein. It is a bit disconcerting these days to come across so many cookie cutter pub chain imitations that when you stumble into the real deal it feels like home. The Lord Poulett Arms has character in spades with the desired modern amenities in fine form.

This is not the kind of pub where you should look for a £5 lunch or dinner meal – the exceptional quality of the food at the Lord Poulett Arms is well worth the prices asked. So good in fact, it has snared a number of accolades including National Dining Pub of the Year from the Good Pub Guide, Sunday Times rated it 9/10 for food & service and the Observer labeled it the “best Sunday lunch in the West Country”.

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The lunch menu is kept simple (5 starters and 6 mains) which is what we like to see – rather they do a few things extremely well than many things mediocre (a prevalent curse of many eating places today). Started with the roasted butternut squash soup with sage butter and Wookey Hole Cheddar croutes (£5.50) – perfect for the winter’s day. For mains, Hound #2 opted for pheasant breast Kiev and mash with savoy cabbage and truffle sauce (£14.00) and Hound #3 (not as ravenous) selected the day’s special of a tender roast beef BAP with mustard, fries & a side salad (£8.50). Both were super, but wanted to pay special tribute to the roast beef BAP – the meat was very tender (have had a few grisly ones lately) on a house-made bun with some of the best fries in recent memory. All washed down with the help of some Otter Ale…we will be back with friends & family in tow.

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