Monday, June 19, 2017

The busy life of coots

I have a fascination for water birds. I love watching the swans, ducks and coots in the harbour as they go about their busy lives. They live in a community like us only in their own parallel world and the moment I stop to just watch and stare (a bit like the watery version of smelling the roses) I become transfixed by their activities. Watching the mums teaching their chicks to feed; seeing group conflicts being resolved; laughing as they dash across the harbour after some titbit; being amazed by their swift and graceful diving skills when they disappear below the surface after a submarinated snack.

A swan family on the Canal de L'Escaut in France

At the moment, I have a coot couple as tenants on my rowing boat - or maybe I should say squatters as they didn't ask if they could occupy my property, they just moved on, built a nest and proceeded to multiply. But I love them and find them a constant source of entertainment when I'm cleaning on board.

They're pretty smart, actually. The nest is positioned in the corner at the stern of the boat, which happens to sit under the stern of my barge. They've clearly chosen this spot as it's nicely protected. When it rains, they are under cover and when it's very hot, they have some shade. The nest itself is a masterpiece of recycling, compiled as it is of bits of plastic, old packets and twigs to keep it all together.  Mr Coot spends days selecting suitable decor to bring back to his wife, often to have her reject his offerings as unsatisfactory or not in keeping with her design plan.

The Vereeniging's stern; my rowing boat's stern sits under it
The only problem arising from all this is that Ma and Pa Coot have become singularly (or maybe doubly, seeing as there are two of them) attached to their home and woe betide anyone who comes near. Mostly, it's only me, and I'm sure their possessiveness is just as much about protecting their developing family as it is about defending their nest.

The thing is I have no intention of disturbing them. It is of course very inconvenient as I can't use the boat until they've finished with it; neither can I empty it of rain water. Fortunately, it hasn't rained much in recent weeks, so it's not been a major issue yet, but I've been missing out on some fun spuddling, which has made me sigh once or twice. But despite my good intentions, Mr Coot is determined I am evil incarnate; an intruder of ill-intent and he treats me accordingly.

Whenever I am outside, cleaning the exterior, he charges over from wherever he's been in the habour, his wings beating an angry tattoo on the water. He is all aggression, mean eyed and menacing; ready to attack my evil broom as I dip it into the water. It's too funny. He follows me around the barge and pecks at the brush fiercely when I lower it for a rinse. As for my water bucket, that is an obscenity up with which he will not put. I'm just glad I don't need to get down into the water too. I think I'd be mincemeat if I tried.

Mrs Coot is more docile, thank heavens. When she is taking a break from her nursing duties, she also follows me around, but as long as I stay away from her nest, she just observes me with mild interest. I'm sorry I will miss the babies when we go faring, but I'm sure there will be plenty of birdlife to observe along the way. Ducks, coots and water birds are part of life on rivers and canals and I can rest safe in the assumption they will be living equally fascinating lives wherever we go. I'd love to know if they quack with a different accent, though! Have a good week everyone!

Baby coot, nothing more cute!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Preparing to go

In the coming two weeks although I'm not exactly sure when, Koos and I will be setting off on another adventure. The reason I'm not certain of the departure date is that much will depend on the weather. Our aim is to head north and from there, into Germany. But that will mean crossing the mighty Westerschelde, the tidal estuary that leads from the Channel (or Het Kanaal, or La Manche, depending on who's talking) to the huge harbours of Antwerp. I will admit to being terrified of this prospect and Koos has promised me that we won't do it until it is like a millpond, which could mean waiting a while. 

Terneuzen is under the sattelite icon. We have to
head for Hanweert, a distance of about 25kms

You might well ask why I am terrified. Well, there are several reasons: one is that it is essentially the sea, with waves and currents that inevitably make me sea-sick; the second is that the last time the Hennie Ha did this crossing, the steering broke - I really dread this happening again as you might imagine; the third is that it is a very busy shipping lane and if anything, but anything, happens to Koos, I am neither licensed nor equipped to deal with such an emergency. That said, I have a deal with myself that every year I do something that scares me, so I guess this is it for this year. And it's a biggie. The photos below are of barges and ships that come from the Westerschelde through the locks at Terneuzen on their way to Ghent.


A barge entering the harbour and locks at Terneuzen from
the Westerschelde

The Westerschelde - otherwise known as the sea


Sea-going ship on the Terneuzen-Gent Canal

Tugs needed to guide the ship safely through

I love these tugs!

 I just hope there will be another smally like us doing the same crossing. It would be great to have some company of the same size! After that, we will go through the locks at Hansweert, into the Kanaal door Zuid Beverland and then into the Oosterschelde. This too is a wide water, but it is only semi-tidal as it is protected by the amazing Delta Works project, meaning that it is not a sea lane. The Oosterschelde is actually my favourite place in Zeeland. I love its mud flats, oyster beds and sea birds. It is home to wonderful wildlife and it has a feeling of remote wilderness that appeals to me immensely. We will enter it at Wemeldinge and cross over to the lock next to the name Reimerswaal. We will then follow the canal up between Brabant and Zeeland.

The Oosterschelde


Koos at the end of a jetty on the Oosterschelde

The Zeelandbrug, a five and a half kilometre bridge
over the Oosterschelde

After this will come my nemesis in the form of the Hollandsch Diep (you see where I'm going with this), the third of the wide waters and the one on which the Vereeniging broke down in 2003 and before that, Koos' Luxor was nearly driven into the rocks during my first ever trip with him. After that, I can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief as we'll be back on normal rivers and canals as we head towards Utrecht and the north.

The Hollandsch Diep - we will enter it from the canal
at the bottom left hand corner and leave it at Willemsdorp
As you might imagine, there is a part of me that would much prefer to be going south to France, and indeed, if the weather turns bad, we might do that anyway, but I love the idea of going through Utrecht, a truly beautiful Dutch city, and travelling north to Groningen, which is where the Hennie Ha, a Goningen Snik, comes from. We will then head east into Germany and see what to do then when we get there.

Much of this plan is flexible and who knows, we might end up in France anyway, but that's the beauty of living in this part of the world. The whole of  Europe is just a canal or river away. Whichever way we go, there's still a lot to prepare for and I'll be sure to keep posting! The Hennie Ha will doubtless produce a few more stories for you all!

The Hennie Ha in Belgium last summer
Have a lovely week, allemaal

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: FARING TO FRANCE ON A SHOE by Val Poore @vallypee

Absolutely thrilled by this wonderful review of my Shoe..

Many many thanks to Terry Tyler!

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: FARING TO FRANCE ON A SHOE by Val Poore @vallypee: 5 out of 5 stars On Amazon UK HERE On Amazon.com HERE On Goodreads HERE How I discovered this book : I got to know Val Poore on Twi...

Volunteers for the summer

The first months of this year have been tough for all sorts of reasons that there's no need to go into here. Then quite apart from losing friends and seeing changes that we'd rather not have in the Oude Haven, there have also been international events that have shocked and saddened us all. I think it's enough to say I am looking forward to faring forth in a couple of weeks for a good long break. This year we aren't going to France (although a part of me wishes we could do that too); this year we are heading north and east. The original idea was to go to Poland, but I have just three months in total, more than I can really afford but less than we need (as we've now discovered). However, not long ago, we watched a film about a young couple who cruised from Poland to Amsterdam and back. It took them seven months...so we gulped, re-grouped and made a new decision. We would still head that way, but probably stop in Germany...somewhere. In truth I'd love to go to Belgium and France again, but sometimes it's good to 'ship' out of my comfort zone!

Anyhow, what will happen at home while we are so long gone? Thankfully, I never tell anyone where the crumbly cottage is, so I hope all will be well, and I hope that my daughters will make use of it while I'm away too. That said, my garden is likely to get neglected for much of the time, so I decided not to plant my usual array of annuals this year: no begonias, no geraniums, no bizzy-lizzies (or whatever they are called). I've let my garden do its own thing this year, and guess what? It's as if it's decided to put on its own show. This climber, the name of which I've never known, has bloomed properly for the first time ever. Isn't it lovely?


And then the foxgloves are putting on a wonderful show of their own. I never know when or where they will pop up, but this year, they are adding colour to my little patch at just the right time.





When they have gone, hopefully the hollyhocks will be in bloom. Being my favourite flowers of all, I'll be sad to miss them, but I know they'll be a gorgeously colourful display - as always. 


Anyway, in anticipation of our departure, we did a test run today in lovely warm sunshine. The Hennie Ha ran well, although there are a couple of niggles that need to be sorted out before we go. Next weekend I will start preparing and stocking up ready for the journey. We'll still have to improvise with showers and washing, but that's okay. I just loved our pared-down lifestyle last year, and now I'm really looking forward to faring forth to the north. Hey, maybe that's the title of a new travelogue? Now there's a thought - perhaps not going to France won't be so bad after all :)

Have a good week everyone.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sheeple

I think it's quite possible that by now most of my blog pals know I have a special fondness for sheep. I've loved them ever since I kept a small flock of Jacob sheep centuries ago (well it was in the last century) in my life prior to leaving the UK in my youth. Jacob sheep are highly intelligent and very canny. They like nothing better than outwitting their owners - well at least, that was my experience. Mine had great personalities as well, especially my grande dame of the flock, Emily. She was a very special character and led me a merry dance on many an occasion.

Jacob ram, courtesy of David Merrett, picture sourced from
Wikpedia

As a result, I love the fact that at the crumbly cottage, we often have sheep in the field at the back of the house. I don't have to care for this flock, so I don't know if they are naughty at all, but they too have real personalities and Koos and I love 'chatting' to them in 'baar' language. What saddens me is that we never see any lambs. I can see when the ewes have been covered, because they have coloured patches on their backs, but where they go to have their babies remains a mystery. I don't even know who they belong to; I never see the farmer tending to them, but they come and go and I miss them when they aren't there. Some of you might remember that last year, we had a solitary ram in the field of which (whom?) we became particularly fond. To my shame, I've forgotten what we called him now, but he loved having his head scratched and whenever he saw us, he would dash over to the fence for some good communing. Then he too disappeared, presumably to mix duty with pleasure by getting lusty with a flock of ewes (maybe that's where the word lewd comes from...haha).

This year's sheeple have been in the field for a while now, and a couple of weeks ago, there were visitors at the house next door who brought three children with them. It was delightful to see the youngsters interacting with the sheeple. I thought how good it was for them to have this opportunity and time to see that sheep, and all other farm animals too, are not just dumb creatures with no intelligence put there for our convenience; they are sentient beings with likes, dislikes and obvious emotions.  Here are a few photos I took of the kids feeding our ovine friends with 'snacks', most of which were weeds and grasses they'd gathered, but it didn't matter to the sheep. They enjoyed the attention anyway!





And sorry for the plug, so if you don't want to see it, look away now, but if you happen to be interested in my own and very real adventures with sheep, especially Emily, they are all here in my semi-autobiographical novel, How to breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics. While the story itself is fiction, the setting and all the animal incidents are true! Oh I had so much fun, I did...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Better late than never : Four days in Faro

Lat weekend I didn't get round to writing a post, but I think I can be forgiven as I was in lovely Faro in the south of Portugal. I went with a very good friend of mine, Marion. We have known each other for as long as I have been here in the Netherlands but this is the first time we have been away together.

Back streets of Faro

A cosy corner in the old city

We had a lot of fun exploring and walking the city and then taking trips out of town. On one day, we headed east to Olhao and Tavira. Olhao wasn't all that exciting (for that read disappointing), but Tavira was gorgeous with a wide river running through it, a castle on the hill and plenty of white-painted charm. I loved it and had to lurk round the river of course.

Tavira

The church on the hill in Tavira. I was standing on the remains
of the castle walls

City walls and urban homes are indelibly welded together
Looking across the Gilao River


Looking downstream on the Gilao River
We had two more days after this on one of which we went to Estoi, a village just inland from Faro, where we found this lovely old palace which has now been converted into a hotel. The rest of the village was rather clearly shut except for one café occupied by a group of English people having lunch. They told us they lived in Estoi and could thankfully tell us how to reach the palace as there didn't seem to be any clues left for Joe Public. Even the bus stops were a learning experience as the bus companies only have a sign on one side of the road. You have to know that you need to stand opposite it on the other side and we were ticked off by the driver for waiting a few metres too far from the spot.

The Palace of Estoi

Palace grounds and buildings
The following day, we took the bus to the beach and walked to a point beyond which there were no tourists or sunbathers at all (always a good goal). We both paddled in the sea, pleased to know we were treading the waters of the Atlantic - I can't even remember the last time I had my toes in such western waters. It was a glorious day; hot with a brisk breeze and much to my shock, my feet and legs caught the sun. I had a rather uncomfortable night coping with sunburn on my shins, toes and ankles. I can hear you saying 'that'll learn you," can't I?


On our last day, we did a boat trip around the islands off the coast. Faro is bounded by an area of natural beauty with a lagoon, mudflats and sandbanks. The boat toured the islands and the skipper, Claudio, pointed out which birds, waders and crabs it was home to. It was great to see all the birdlife, and I must say that Claudio was pretty easy on the eye too, so we didn't mind looking at him either...haha. One island is completely uninhabited with the exception of an old man (in his eighties) and his dog (said by Claudio to be about two hundred years old), the only humans and animals permitted to live there. There was also a lighthouse island where we stopped for a look around. The whole tour was a lovely end to our trip and a very welcome dose of sunshine despite my fried toes.

Old huts on Desert Island

The one and only lighthouse

Faro castle seen from the water

Our charming and rather dashing skipper,
Claudio