Back in the U.K. for Summer…Sort of.

Last Hoorah in Hondarribia…

We said adiós with heavy hearts to our home of 2 years Hondarribia…and of course all our great mates. We had a week or so of farewell get togethers that ranged from an evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro to a menú del día with our sweetheart Itziar to a grand lunch @ with Gloria & Bernard @ Andoni’s (and Carmen) Txoko (cooking society). Hondarribia & Spain will be an experience that will be very hard to beat…

Back in the U.K. – Effing Cold!

We boarded the Bilbao-to-Portsmouth ferry on time post a nerve-wracking traffic jam that Hound #2 skilfully avoided by using  her Google map skills to route us through a wee fishing village – phew! Onto England…and as we disembarked in the Land Rover, England greeted us with its typical weather – pissing rain, windy as and effing cold…more like winter than effing August!

Frome’a A Pop’n! New Places Round Every Corner! – Sam’s Kitchen & the Rye Bakery Where Billie Found A Bean Bag…Loves Bean Bags!

We spent our first 4 nights camping in our old village of Frome, Somerset as Hound #1 Billie had an important vet appointment (1 of 4) to gear up for his return to New Zealand. We greatly enjoyed our return to Frome despite the wintry weather conditions as it has truly begun to blossom with new establishments popping up around just about every corner. One of our favourite morning coffee spots was the Rye Bakery which inhabits, quite stylishly, the vast insides of an old church. An amazing space that has seen some serious investment….

We also checked out Sam’s Kitchen Deli which has a truly stunning fit out & space…but we were not so impressed with the coffee in terms of quality and price, but could easily see enjoying a glass of wine or two in the 2nd floor bar & just walking the world go by, up St. Catherine’s Hill.

Fox & Badger @ Wellow – Awesome Lunch! Top Left: Bacon & Pea Risotto with Seared Duck Breast; The bar; Grilled Fresh Mackerel with Potatoes & Horseradish Cream Atop Chard

As we wrapped up our brief stay in Frome & prepared to head for Totnes for a month in an AirBnB cottage, we decided to indulge ourselves for having camped in wintry, wet conditions with a lunch @ our fave pub – the Fox & Badger in Wellow. We have never been disappointed in a meal here and this time was no exception. Exceptional quality at a more than fair price! If you’ve never been, GO!

Home Sweet Home for a Month – Totnes, Devon

We settled into our sweet AirBnB cottage late in the arvo with a cracking evening forecast ahead weather-wise. If you ever need a perfect place to stay in Totnes that is centrally located & comfortable as then check out this place. We ended up in good-vibe Totnes because my old Land Rover needed some TLC by my Devon mechanic Kevin prior to shipping to New Zealand. And Devon in August is or can be a serious challenge accomodation & price wise. But this ticked all the boxes!

Top Left: Best BLT & Avocado Sammie @ Rousdon Bakery; Venison Burger @ The Green Dragon Pub; Landcombe Cove – Stunning!

We have had sporadic stretches of an English summer & when we do, we leverage our time & our Secret Beaches book to the max. This is an excellent informational source for secluded, unpopulated beaches – a necessary bundle of information when you live in jammed to the gills England.

Top Left: Pigs Nose Pub – A Real English Pub; Macely Beach/Cove; Coastal Fields on Walk to Macely Beach

We got lucky with another forecasted, semi-summer’s day so made a plan to walk the track along the River Dart (below) to the village of Ashprington. An excellent walk was had by all and is a favourite activity of Hound #1, Billie. Hard to beat the Devon (or Dorset) countryside with rolling hills, mucho greenery & woods and a sweet river…and the pubs! Ashprington is home to the Dunstan Arms and we had a stunner of a lunch (and a pint or two).

Top: Dart River; Billie Waits for the Pizza; Lunch @ Durant Arms in Ashprington…Rabbit Rillettes & Toast Points & Cornichons.

Top: Billie Plays Hard With Toy Gift from Mate Gorka in Hondarribia; English Summer – Needs a Fire!; Another Gift from Gorka – Txakoli Vino!

We felt that after a few weeks in the village of Totnes that a day out in the Big Smoke of Exeter was in the cards. We had a few shopping missions to accomplish that could not be satisfied in Totnes, so on the train we hopped, Exeter bound.

A Day Out in Exeter…

We were able to tick a quite a few boxes in Exeter – I succeeded in replacing my about-to-disintegrate Levi jeans & Hound #2 raided all the Op Shops (Charity Shops for non-UK folks) nabbing some books & DVDs. We also managed a quick squizzy of Magdalen Road, foodie central for Exeter.

Thurleston Beach, Devon…

We were gifted with another stunner of a summer’s day…only problem it was a Bank Holiday Monday. Hound #2’s whole family has a genetic aversion to doing anything on a Bank Holiday, especially going to the beach. But we sort of devised plan which was to leave super early, get a swim & beach time in and do a coastal walk to the village of Bantham to the Sloop Inn pub for at least a pint & maybe lunch…crowds dependent.

The beach was awesome…until the hordes horded in. General theory is that any beach you can drive to & has a cafe or beach bar will have a tsunami of folks by lunchtime. And it always strikes us as funny or strange that if you are only willing to walk 10-15 minutes farther along you will almost always find a near empty, secluded beach.

The Sloop Inn was also awesome – we knew nothing about this pub but we dodged another Bank Holiday bullet by arriving a bit early when no one was there (yet) & placed our food & drink orders & grabbed a table in the empty garden courtyard.

The meals were stupendous and exceptionally well priced…wish it was our local!

The Sloop Inn, Bantham, Devon: Smoked Mackerel Salad & Local Mussels in Cream/Butter Sauce – Superb All!

Well, as we count down the days to our New Zealand return, frantically ticking off dozens of boxes of things to do with Billie the Jack Russell, my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie – going to New Zealand!) & us and all our stuff, we have this (below) to return to…a massive slip – the backyard is now ever so much closer to the back door. Happy, happy, joy, joy in our wee casa in Lyttelton :-(.

Welcome Home…

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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.

National Trust’s Killerton House & Farmers Market

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In our efforts to visit as many accessible Devon farmers markets as possible, the super combo of a visit to the National Trust’s Killerton House and a farmers market was a no brainer decision. It is a small market as they are working hard to replace several producers who have left due to work & time contraints but what is there is very good.

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The Hounds Stroll the Market

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Cheese Please!

Two great locally farmed meat folks were on hand – West Kidland Farm & Burrow Farm. We chatted with Catherine (red haired one in photo below) from West Kidland Farm about her lamb (Lincoln Longwool) which she swore was the the ‘best in Devon’, so we snatched a beautiful rolled shoulder (being weighed in the photo) which is one of our favourite cuts. It needs to be cooked slow & low to let it tenderise but we feel it is the cut that tastes the sweetest. West Kidland is a family run farm and Catherine calls herself an ‘accidental farmer’ as it was her parents that bought the farm 9 years ago to accommodate their fast growing menagerie of various animals. She moved in with husband Nils to help out and the rest is history. Besides the luscious lamb, West Kidland Farm also has rare breed Berkshire pork, Dexter cattle and a mix of chickens, ducks and geese on offer.

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NB: Food Hound #2 has a guilty pleasure – diet coke!!!

Burrow Farm is a fascinating tale – Neil & Sally Grigg had never farmed or raised cattle before but were keen & undaunted to take on the tenancy in 2007. Six years into the ‘experiment’ they have successfully established a pedigreed herd of Red Ruby cattle, opened their Red Devon Beef Farm Shop and a bed & breakfast. Phew! Just recently they won the National Trust Fine Farm produce award for beef – seems they took fine to farming.

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Isca Ales were also on hand, unfortunately for them 10 o’clock in the AM is a wee bit too much south of noon for a bit of beer tasting. But they are local & looked damned good.

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Pies, Pies, Pies

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A Plethora of Piscine Pates..

So folks, the Killerton House Farmers Market is this Saturday – JUNE 15th!!! If you don’t find something to tempt you at the market (unlikely) then you can grab a coffee & cake @ the cafe, sniff your way round the 2nd hand book store, peruse the National Trust shop or just simply enjoy a stroll around the stunning grounds and gardens – much of it dog friendly as Billie the Jack Russell will attest.

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Miller’s Farm Shop, Kilmington, Devon

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Miller’s Farm Shop is our true local – just a hop, skip and a jump through the back lanes & a scary crossing of the A35 and you will find yourself, as the web site proudly proclaims, somewhere ‘absolutely splendid’. We love farm shops that are seriously food focused (e.g., Washingpool) and Miller’s is mos def in that category. It has a tiny amount of kitsch (we actually found some super Land Rover cards there) but that, thankfully, is kept to a bare minimum so that the food component shines.

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As it is our local, we have been to Miller’s numerous times and everything (veggies, deli products, meats, cheeses, etc) always looks top notch and the service is excellent too – we’ve never been there when someone has not offered us assistance or insightful advice as we wandered the aisles. It is really nice in this day & age of overbearing, impersonal Big Box Superstores that you get to experience a family run business started in 1985 by Malcom Miller & is today absolutely chocka with his kids.

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When you first walk in you are in the full on veggie section which has all the usual suspects but also a few nice twists. Need some seriously hot chillies? The Habaneros are here. Recipe calls for a bit of fresh lemongrass? Miller’s has got it. And we also like the fresh looking (vs. tired Tesco’s), well priced, rightly-sized herb offerings.

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And if you are tired of Tesco’s Finest or your local CostCutter plonk, well Miller’s has a decent selection of good quaffers at a fair price. And if beer or ale or cider is more your thing, you’ll be alright at Miller’s as they carry a good selection of local beverages.

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We are huge fans of ethically raised meats and it pleases us to no end that Miller’s has a very good offering. We have used the Otter Valley Poultry free-range chicken on several occasions with superb results. And it is wonderful to see the Wyld Meadow Farm meats on offer as we first encountered them at the Bridport Farmers Market and were suitably impressed with an amazing Sunday roast of rolled lamb shoulder.

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And the deli & larder side of things is not at all forgotten at Miller’s Farm Shop. If you are short of spices or need the odd condiment or your olive oil is low or you are craving some great pasta tonight – it is here at Miller’s. It is really nice to see quite a few items that you will not or ever see in Tesco’s, which appears to be mostly fixated on making you buy Tesco home brands. It has been one of our small surprises since moving back to the UK that our specialty food goods choices seem to have been far more extensive, half way across the world in Australia, than here.

Keep up the great work Malcom & Crew – we’ll see you soon.

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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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River Cottage: Pig In A Day

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WARNING: If you are vegetarian or vegan or just generally against the eating of meat, the following post and pictures may not be to your liking…may be a good time to leave. 

A very generous Hound #3 procured a full day course at the River Cottage Cookery School aptly titled a Pig in a Day for Hound #2’s birthday. This is a porker of a day for anyone who wants to demystify the art of butchery and gain hands on experience, or build up their confidence to tackle the world of charcuterie.

The day began at 9:30AM with a tractor ride down a steep & winding lane, past River Cottage HQ and the Cookery School’s old barn home (destroyed by fire but being rebuilt) to the ‘temporary’ tent headquarters. Though it is a tent, it is a damn fancy tent with a full on commercial kitchen, dining room & bar & cookery school instructional classroom.

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We were greeted with piping hot coffee & tea, juices & amazing duck rillettes on house-made English muffins – awesome savoury start to the day. Laid out on a sizeable solid wood butcher’s block was the English Large White Pig. Our instructor, Steven Lamb (Head of Events), told us that River Cottage had been struggling to find a source of organic, free range pork ever since their original primary supplier outside of Dorchester, Dorset had stopped rearing them as it was not economically feasible.

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This course is mos def hands on. Steven Lamb solicited (and sometimes made) folks to jump right in during the butchering sessions & grab a knife or saw and work through the various pig sections to extract the tenderloin, the loin (our lunch), the chump, etc…until all bits & bobs (including the head) were accounted for.

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Besides the butchery session, we were also treated to a variety of methods on what to do with the various cuts of meat. We have always been fascinated with the world of charcuterie (preserved meats) but a wee bit timid in attempting it solo, with no instruction. A bit like mushroom foraging – we would not want to make a simple mistake using a book & end up in the A&E.

So it was immense fun to jump right into the making of everything from bacon to prosciutto to sausages & chorizo. It is a small wonder that fresh meat, packed in a seasoned salt cure for a few weeks & then hung to air dry for months & months could end up as such a scrumptious taste treat. The only other natural thing we can think of that gets better with age is wine – not a bad complement to some damn good, home made charcuterie.

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Included in this awesome day is a delicious lunch – we had the roasted pork loin with great au jus & savoury potato cake & fresh garden kale. And dessert (see below) was a stunner too – all washed down with a couple of decent biodynamic / organic tempranillos.

If you are tempted to attend this course – HURRY! They are tres popular and get booked out in a nanosecond…check the course calendar & get yourself to a Pig in a Day! You will come away with your brain hurting with so much new information.

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