Author: Ellen Gregory

Writing fantasy fiction with coffee or red wine in hand, chocolate on the side, and a devilcat on my lap.

South West Coast Path: Mullion Cove to Falmouth

After walking from St Ives to Falmouth along England’s South West Coast Path (in Cornwall) last October, I’ve written some posts about each of the stages — mainly as a way to share photos and remember some of the detail.

This is the third post, detailing the final four days of my walking itinerary. The first two posts cover the first week (St Ives to Penzance) then the next two days of walking (Marazion to Mullion).

Mullion Cove to Cadgwith (~11 miles)

This was one of my favourite legs of my entire coast path walk, despite the fact it was also the longest at about 11 miles.

I think the favourite points were partly because of the beautiful scenery as I went around the Lizard — England’s most southern mainland point. Partly because it was very pleasant and easy walking — much of it along grassy cliff tops. And partly because I took some ibuprofen, which made a huge difference to all my aches and pains.

I felt awesome for pretty much the whole day.

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View of Mullion Cove from Higher Predannack Cliff

The first mile of the day involved walking down from the town of Mullion to the adorable quay at Mullion Cove. I took a few minutes to look around, then headed up onto the clifftops — Higher Predannack then Lower Predannack Cliff. (The image above shows the view back to Porthleven.)

From here it was gorgeous walking south through grassy fields towards picturesque Kynance Cove (which was teeming with day trippers) and its green serpentine rock.

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Kynance Cove towards Lizard Point

Unfortunately for me, the Kynance Cove cafe wasn’t open, so I kept going towards Lizard Point, another couple of miles away. Luckily there were a couple of cafes open at the bottom of England, and I enjoyed a delicious toastie with coffee at the Polpeor Cafe.

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Lizard Point (with cafes and seals)

By this stage I’d walked six miles along the path (seven in total) and still had four miles to go! The afternoon was getting on, so I couldn’t linger too long at the cafe to watch the seals before heading to Cadgwith.

This next section of the path wasn’t as spectacular, being more heavily vegetated, and I was (needless to say) extremely happy to arrive at my destination, the Cadgwith Cove Inn. Cadgwith is a gorgeous little village, with plenty of thatched fishermen’s cottages, nets and boats.

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Cadgwith – with the historical Cadgwith Cove Inn

Cadgwith to Porthhallow

Ibuprofen or no, I’d previously decided not to walk the 12 miles from Cadgwith to Porthhallow. Too far. After three days walking (two of them more than 10 miles), I was ready for a rest. However, I still needed to get to the village of Porthallow, where my luggage was being deposited and my room was booked.

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Cadgwith in the morning sunshine

It ended up being quite a fun and relaxed day. First I whiled away some time with my kindle in the very pretty village of Cadgwith. Then, a friendly holidaymaker I met the previous evening gave me a lift to the town of Coverack (eliminating seven miles walking).

Coverack is renowned for displaying a geological phenomenon on its beach; that is, it shows the exposed “moho”, which is the boundary between the earth’s mantle and crust. The Serpentine rock to the south (foreground below) would have once been part of the mantle, while the gabbro rock to the north would have once formed part of the crust. I wandered along the beach trying to identify the transition zone. Ha.

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Coverack and its ‘Moho’ on the beach

To avoid walking the next five-mile section of the coast path (which was diverted inland due to floods last year and quarries), I caught a local bus from Coverack to the nearby town of St Keverne. I chose St Keverne because the bus went there and it was only two miles from Porthallow via a well-marked pubic footpath (which also had geocaches along it). So 12 miles of walking became two miles, with extra time to grab a few geocaches. Win-Win!

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Porthallow

Porthallow was a sleepy little town with not much going on, although it is the official half-way point of the entire coast path. I had a great view from my bedroom window — I think that’s Falmouth in the distance.

Porthallow to Mawnan Smith (~7 miles)

This particular leg was something of an adventure, as it involved two river crossings and, although I was hopeful, I was by no means certain the ferries would still be running on 30 October. They were, as it turned out, but had I arrived two days later I would have been out of luck.

It was easy walking for most of the day, the path taking me north from Porthallow to Nare Point, which gave good view of my ultimate destination, Falmouth!

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Nare Point – Falmouth in distance

From Nare Point, the path turns west into Gillan Harbour (Gillan Creek) and Helford Passage.

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Heading west towards Helford Passage

Crossing Gillan Creek was the first challenge. The advertised options were wade/ford (if low tide), stepping stones (if low tide) or maybe, if you’re lucky, an on-demand ferry…

It was not low tide. Fingers crossed, I signalled the ferry. Woo hoo! It cost me five pounds, but I didn’t care. (Otherwise I would have had an extra two miles of walking and by this stage of the walk I was cutting corners wherever possible.)

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Crossing Gillan Creek

After crossing Gillan Creek, the path ventured partway around Dennis Head, before doubling back west towards Helford, where there was a more substantial river crossing. It was the second last day for the season, but Helford Ferry was still in operation and I was very relieved. Even if I was surprised it was such a small boat! (The alternative was an expensive taxi ride the long way around.)

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Helford Ferry

I sat down for lunch at the Ferryboat Inn, enjoying the autumn sunshine. Then I walked for another hour or so — first along the coast path a little way, then inland to the town of Mawnan Smith.

Mawnan Smith to Falmouth

For my final day of walking, I elected not to rejoin the coast path where I left it (south at Porth Saxon), but instead headed east from Mawnan Smith to rejoin it at Bream Cove, thereby cutting out a short section. From there it was not long before I passed by Maenporth beach, followed by the outer reaches of Falmouth, such as Swanpool and Gyllyngvase Beach.

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Falmouth coast

Needless to say, I did not walk the long way around Pendennis Point, but instead hightailed it across the narrow peninsula to find the shops and restaurants of Falmouth. As a result, my final day of coast path walking was pretty short. Not that I was complaining.

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Falmouth harbour

I wandered along the streets of Falmouth for a bit, checking out the harbour, before I found Dolly’s! Hands down, my favourite place in Falmouth. I wished I was there with friends so I could do a proper gin tasting. (It’s really not the same on your own.)

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My own heavenly haven – Dolly’s

The following morning I explored Pendennis Castle. The history of this Tudor gun tower, built by Henry VIII, and its subsequent role in the defence of England’s southern shores — as recently as World War II — was very interesting. I spent quite some time there, looking at all the guns of different eras.

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Pendennis Castle

My final afternoon in Cornwall was spent relaxing, wandering the streets of Falmouth, before heading to Dolly’s again for an early dinner. Falmouth is a lovely town. I could definitely live there quite happily!

This marked the end of my South West Coast Path walking expedition. From Falmouth I caught the (very expensive) train up to London to visit a series of friends… and after that I went to Morocco.

But that’s another story entirely.

 

South West Coast Path: Marazion to Mullion

Back in October I spent a couple of weeks hiking the UK’s South West Coast Path in Cornwall — from St Ives to Falmouth. The complete distance is 102 miles (according to the South West Coast Path website).

I wrote about the first stage of my journey while taking a couple of rest days in Penzance. (See my previous post: South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance.) Even though I was walking at the so-called “relaxed” pace, I really needed those rest days!

I started writing up the second stage of my trek a few weeks ago while still traveling, but phone blogging just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So I decided to wait until I was home to finish it — apologies if you’ve been wondering where I got to!

Since the first post ended up so big and took ages to put together, I’m going to break down the second stage into two or possibly three posts. This post covers the next two days of walking: Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles), then Porthleven to Mullion Cove/Mullion (6-7 miles).

Penzance

I didn’t do much during my rest days in Penzance. When I scheduled them, I half thought I might have taken the opportunity to do some work (me having aspirations to be a digital nomad), but in fact I was tired after six days of activity, and thankful I hadn’t committed to any work.

I walked around a little, picked up a few geocaches, and sat in cafes. It was good to rest my body — my feet especially. I didn’t get back to Mousehole or undertake any other excursions I had contemplated. Penzance is a nice town and a major centre for the region. It has good facilities and proved a good spot to chill out for a couple of days.

Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles)

I had always planned to start walking from Marazion, cutting off the 3.5 miles along the foreshore from Penzance. It was a straightforward bus ride, but then I stopped for coffee in Marazion (as you do), so I left the town later than intended.

St Michael’s Mount and Marazion

The walking out of Marazion was pretty easy, through market gardens, with views back to St Michael’s Mount. I didn’t stop to visit the Mount, having walked across the causeway last time I was here.

With 11 miles to walk — my longest day to-date — I was a little apprehensive as to how I would manage and kept an eye on the time. The first milestone was the tiny village of Perran Sands, where there was fortunately a toilet, then around Cudden Point to ‘Prussia Cove’, renowned as the former headquarters of the infamous smuggler John Carter, The King of Prussia. Prussia Cove is actually made up of several small coves, including the pretty and quaint Bessy’s Cove.

Rounding Cudden Point

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Bessy’s Cove (I think)

After 6-1/4 miles, I reached the town of Praa Sands in good spirits, with good energy, in time for a late lunch of soup and bread at a restaurant/bar called the Sandbar — which was right on the long, white beach and seemed very popular.

Although I had originally intended to take packed lunches each day, in the end I mostly relied on cafes etc when they were available. I think a big reason for this was the chance to sit down somewhere warm and comfortable for a bit. (Get off my feet!) The weather was cooler in the second week, so the chance for a hot meal and a coffee was usually too good to pass up. Soup became quite a common lunch for me, since breakfast was always so big and it was a healthy option served with bread instead of fries.

On leaving Praa Sands, I then had another 4.5 miles to Porthleven. As suggested by the guide book, I elected to walk along the very long Praa Sands beach instead of the path… which proved a little annoying as it was literally covered with rivulets of water running into the sea (which I had to jump over).

Wheal Prosper Engine House

The path got more strenuous for the last few miles. My destination, Porthleven, was visible for a very long time, but it seemed to take a very long time to reach it. This included some infuriating sections of path that traversed three sides of a square around the cliff tops… twice! (Honestly!)

I was very tired when I finally made it into Porthleven — after my longest day yet. I went straight to my B&B (Wellmore End), where the welcome was hearty and warm — and included hot chocolate sachets, which went down VERY well.

Porthleven

Porthleven is a gorgeous town, clustered around an extensive constructed cove (typically Cornish, apparently). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time (or energy) to look around. I did, however, drag myself out for dinner to a local restaurant and ate something other than pub food.

Porthleven to Mullion (6-7 miles)

After the first week of gorgeous sunshine, the weather definitely decided to turn colder in this last week of October. I awoke in Porthleven to the coldest, dreariest morning yet. This was the first rain I’d witnessed in Cornwall. There was also hail.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much chance to look around Porthleven in these conditions. I had been planning to wander around a bit and grab a few geocaches before leaving — particularly since I had a much shorter distance to walk. It was very disappointing, particularly as the rain soon eased (if only I’d waited a bit). Oh well.

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Porthleven in the drizzle

Porthleven

Although the morning was mostly cloudy, the sun showed its face here and there. I was a bit stiff and sore after the previous long day, and my energy levels seemed down — it felt as though I was walking slowly. This was frustrating, considering how good I’d felt the previous day.

Looking back to Porthleven

The first landmark was the Loe, a freshwater lagoon renowned for diverse bird life. It is also supposedly the lake into which Sir Bedivere cast Excalibur, the sword of the dying King Arthur. Since my grandfather used to tell us the story of “the lady in the lake”, whose hand came out of the water to catch the sword, this was of particular interest to me.

The Loe is separated from the ocean by a strip of sand/shingle called Loe Bar. The Coast Path forges across this bank and passes a memorial to the 1807 Grylls’ Act, which allowed bodies washed up by the sea to be buried in the nearest consecrated ground without being proven Christian.

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Looking back to the Loe and Loe Bar

Then came Gunwalloe fishing cove, where a path diversion due to a cliff fall saw me take the long way around. And then another case of walking three sides of the square around Halzephron Cliff… It was tempting to follow the more direct road instead, but I stuck to the path and was glad in the end since it was pretty.

Halzephron Cliff (behind) and Dollar Cove with St Winwaloe Church

After a while I reached Poldhu Cove, where there is an all-year beach cafe. Although I was always intending to stop for coffee and lunch, mainly I just wanted to sit down and get warm, because the day was really cold and my feet/ankles/knees were aching.

From Poldhu Cove, I had a number of options: 1) Continue walking to Mullion Cove (~1 mile) then walk inland to my B&B in the town of Mullion (~1 mile); 2) Skip the last section of coast path and walk directly to Mullion along the road (~1mile); 3) Catch the bus from Poldhu Cove to Mullion (and not walk any further).

I ended up hanging out in the drafty cafe for an hour or so and catching the bus. Somehow I managed to get deposited right outside my B&B, but I was way too early for the check-in window, so I holed up with my kindle and hot chocolate in a diner across the road.

The Old Vicarage B&B was a lovely old home, and I had a large room and bathroom with a bath. Thankfully, it was only a short walk to the nearest pub for dinner. Because of the aches and pains in my ankles and knees, I decided to try taking ibuprofen for the next day.

That’s it for now… Only four more days until Falmouth.

South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance

Hiking the South West Coast Path: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “wow” (out loud, to myself). The scenery — rugged cliffs, sweeping vegetation, sparkling beaches — is stunning. There are ancient monuments and the fascinating and forlorn remnants of tin mining days. And wildlife — seals and birds in particular (haven’t seen any dolphins yet). It’s hard to describe without veering into hyperbole.

The coast path is a 630-mile trail around the coast of southwest England. I first encountered it five years ago, when I walked the sections from Instow to Westward Ho!, then Westward Ho! to Clovelly. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return to tackle a longer section.

So here I am, taking on this solo walking adventure, which will see me complete (more or less) the stretch from St Ives to Falmouth — a total of ~103 miles.

Okay, so I hadn’t added that up until right now… 103 miles! Blimey. No wonder I have sore feet.

I’m currently in Penzance for a couple of rest days. It’s not even halfway, it turns out; but as I limped into Mousehole on Tuesday I was extremely thankful I’d allocated the break. The coast path is TOUGH! It’s very up and down, rocky in parts, muddy in parts, steep in (lots of) parts. At the end of each day my knees ache, my feet scream, and I collapse in a heap.

So two days to mooch around Penzance have been bliss. (Right now I’m in a cafe, using my Bluetooth keyboard with my phone… it’s almost like home. In the last five years England seems to have found out about flat whites!)

St Ives

I arrived in St Ives last Tuesday, after a long journey from Australia. The train ride from Paddington to St Erth seemed never ending. Then the last short train journey to St Ives followed the Hayle estuary — very pretty. My hotel (Regents Hotel) stood high over the town, giving stunning sea views.

I spent the following day exploring (geocaching) the town, completely falling in love with it. It’s a tourist mecca — but I can see why! I loved the harbour, where a couple of seals hung out near the fishing boats bringing in their mackerel haul.

Mackerel haul

Pretty St Ives (with fishermen and seals) — Harbour Beach and Old Town

A stroll about St Ives Head gave views back over the old town with its twisty cobbled streets. I had lunch at the popular Porthmeor Beach Cafe, and found truly good coffee at Mount Zion (where the owner refuses to make cappuccinos… flat whites, espresso, long black or pourover only!). I also hung out in the Cemetery for a while, looking for family names, since we hail from here (Richards, Thomas).

Another view of St Ives — Porthmeor Sands

St Ives to Zennor Head (6 miles/10km)

On Thursday I started walking. This was a “short” but strenuous stage. I encountered many people out for the day, although I seemed to be the only person staying in the village of Zennor. Most availed themselves of the bus to/from St Ives.

Along the coast path…

My approach from the start has been to take my time — take photos, enjoy the views, stop to look and breathe it all in. (I also stopped for a few geocaches along the way.)

Dog or seal?

Trevalgan Ancient Stone Circle

Stunning cliffs

I took a delicious sandwich from a recommended deli, and ate it at River Cove overlooking a beach with seals. Another Australian couple were there too — they pointed out the peregrine falcon perched on the cliff nearby… my jaw dropped. The peregrine perched there for at least 20 minutes and I couldn’t leave until it did.

Lunch with a peregrine falcon

In the afternoon my boots started falling apart. Literally. They were old and I suspect the adhesive had degraded — meaning the soles sheared clean off both boots. I finished the walk gingerly, after taking an alternative path (shortcut) that cut off the final route around Zennor Head. Luckily they didn’t fall apart completely!

At the iconic Tinners Arms pub (where I stayed) I enjoyed a St Ives gin (or two) with tonic in the late afternoon sunshine. I ate dinner in the pub, while chatting to locals. They have folk music there on Thursday evenings, but unfortunately I crashed into bed instead.

Penwith Peninsula Ancient Stones walk (7 miles/12km)

Now, a dilemma. I had arranged for a car to take me onto the moors today, intending to visit some of the ancient stones and walk back to Zennor for a second night. But my boots were dead. I did, however, have my trail runners as a backup, so resolved to keep to the plan and see how they went.

The car took me to Lanyon Quoit, where I clambered over a stile into a field. And immediately my shoes and feet were wet. Not good. The quoit was cool, though. Dated to neolithic times, Lanyon Quoit is one of the best known monuments in the area.

Lanyon Quoit

I then followed a designated route around the moors that took me next to the Ding Dong Mine Engine House (Greenburrow) — its hilltop tower visible for miles around.

Ding Dong Mine — Greenburrow engine house

Next my walking route took me to the neolithic or bronze age Boskednan (Nine Maidens) Stone Circle nestled in the heather. I actually met two different groups of people here and had to wait until they left to take my photos. The circle was quite difficult to capture in full.

Boskednan/Nine Maidens Stone Circle

The Men Scryfa (written) stone stands alone in a field, accessed by a stile. There was more damp grass to traverse (my feet were pretty wet and cold). The stone has writing on it (dated 6th to 8th C AD): RIALOBRANI CUNOVALI FILI (of the Royal Raven, son of the Glorious Prince). It is thought to commemorate the death of a Celtic royal soldier.

Men Scryfa stone

The Men an Tol (stone with hole) is another of the best-known prehistoric monuments on the moor. Apparently holed stones are very rare in Cornwall and it’s likely this one had a specific ritual purpose.

Men an Tol

At this point, I will mention the awesomeness of the British OS Maps App! I downloaded this onto my phone before I left home, and it shows all the tracks, monuments, places of interest etc. It ALSO shows you where you are using GPS. I have used this frequently this past week when figuring out my route. I love it. (You have to buy the maps, though.)

My next stop was the summit of Carn Galver — where there was a geocache. I also managed to stumble and rip my hiking pants while scrambling over rocks. The weather for this day was mostly overcast, although the sun came out a few times.

Carn Galver summit

I was delighted to find the Rosemergy Farm tea rooms open when I descended from the moor. This meant hot coffee and a cream tea! After that I trudged/squelched back to Zennor (couple of miles) where I dived into the shower.

Random standing stone (with hens)

Zennor to Pendeen

Instead of walking this leg (approx. 7-8 miles), I went to Penzance to buy new boots. The bus timetables weren’t friendly, so I caught a taxi there, then a bus straight to Pendeen, once my mission was accomplished. I could have possibly returned to Zennor and walked, but wasn’t sure about the lost time. My walking pace is proving to be slower than I expected. I also thought I should break in the new boots a bit first…

I was sorry, though, to miss Pendour Cove, which birthed the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor.

Once in Pendeen, I checked into my room at the North Inn and then went exploring (geocaching). It was another gorgeous day and, although I missed the coast path leg, I enjoyed my day and got up to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch. (Had a good view of the path I had skipped.)

Pendeen Lighthouse

The path not travelled

Then I climbed the hill behind the town, where some interesting sights awaited…

Looking down over Pendeen and Boscaswell (beyond)

Bathtub graveyard

By the end of all this I was pretty weary (!) and availed myself of the bath in my suite. So far this has been my only available bath — I’ve wished for one since!

Pendeen to Sennen Cove (9 miles/15km)

Finally back on the coast path! This has been the longest (and possibly my favourite) leg so far. First was the four-mile section to Cape Cornwall, past the fascinating remains of Geevor, Levant and Crown Mines. Geevor has not been closed all that long (1990) and is now a working museum with underground tours. Both Levant and Crown are mostly beautiful ruins.

Geevor Tin Mine

Remains of Levant Mine

Crown Mine (near Botallack)

After leaving the mines, I arrived at Kenidjack Castle, an Iron Age fort. I sat here for a while admiring the view, which included Cape Cornwall. It also happened to be near a geocache, so I clambered down to retrieve it. (I also picked up a couple earlier in the day.)

At Cape Cornwall, the seasonal snack van was still open, so I grabbed a light lunch, plus coffee and cake. To my amusement and delight, this was served on a tray using china crockery.

Cape Cornwall

Then it was another five miles to Sennen Cove, past Ballowal Long Barrow and numerous mine shafts. This was fascinating, since some of the shafts were fenced and signed, but others were not!

Warning: Danger of death!

The walking for this day was rated “moderate”, but I found it just as difficult as the first day. The last couple of miles heading towards Sennen Cove were not hard walking, but I was fairly shattered. At one point, I just sprawled on some grass and rested in the sun for a while, trying to gather my reserves for the last push.

It didn’t help that my B&B was in Sennen village at the top of the hill, with no nearby eating options. My room was also tiny. This was my least favourite accommodation — despite there being nothing intrinsically wrong with it — and I went to bed at 7pm without dinner. (I was just too tired and footsore to get myself anywhere else.)

Sennen Cove to Porthcurno (6-7 miles)

Another “moderate” day of walking, a bit shorter. I had loads more energy at the end of the day, but my feet were still sore!

Soon after leaving Sennen Cove (where I grabbed a couple of geocaches), I stopped to look at the cliff top Maen Castle, which overlooked the fascinating wreck of the RMS Mühlheim (2003). There was a geocache here too.

Wreck of the RMS Mühlheim

I continued along a beautiful stretch of the path to Land’s End, which is a popular route with day walkers. Lands End itself was surprisingly deserted. I had been hoping to find the restaurant open, but I guess I was too early in the day. Instead, I had to make do with a kiosk that served the worst “coffee” in the history of ever. I also picked up a pre-made wrap to eat later for lunch.

Heading towards Lands End

After Lands End, more walking over and around cliff tops with interesting rock formations towards Porthgwarra. I stopped to eat lunch overlooking Carn Guthensbras, near the holed headland (which I totally missed), before heading down to the cafe and a much better coffee — and cake! Any excuse to rest the feet.

Interesting rock formations

Near my lunch stop

Onwards then for another hour or so to Porthcurno,which is famous for its open air Minack Theatre built into the cliff. You can’t see it from the the path, unfortunately, so I missed this too.

There’s a perilous descent from the entrance of the Minack Theatre into Porthcurno by way of cliff stairs. In Porthcurno, I stayed in the delightful Seaview B&B not too far from a pub — where I had a cider and a chat with the proprietor (and later, dinner).

Porthcurno to Mousehole (7 miles)

This was the final leg of the first stage of my walk, and I was feeling pretty well ready for my Penzance rest days! The trail for this day was rated “strenuous” but felt similar in difficulty to the previous “moderate” sections.

Leaving Porthcurno and Minack Theatre

The Logan Rock

It was yet again beautiful walking on leaving Porthcurno, with views across fields of the Logan Rock, which I elected not to visit. (By this stage of the walk I wasn’t taking many diversions.)

The path passed high and low (i.e. up and down) through scrub, gorse and woodland areas. The small fishing village of Penberth was deserted when I went through (although thankfully there was a toilet).

Penberth

Down… to Porth Guarnon (I think)

Through patches of scraggly forest

Tater Du Lighthouse

This section of the path was far less populated than other sections I’ve walked — possibly not such a popular stretch for day walkers; although I did encounter some here and there. There were a lot more wooded sections too.

At Lamorna Cove there was a cafe where I had soup for lunch — with coffee, of course. Quite a few people lurked here, enjoying the sunshine. I stayed for about an hour to gear up for the final stretch of the week.

And then I only had two and a half miles to go. I had always intended to catch the bus to Penzance from Mousehole, which I reached at about 4pm. It’s a quaint village. I would have liked to wander around a bit, but I was pretty weary by this time and looking forward to having a couple of days break.

Mousehole

It’s now the end of my second rest day (this post has taken me quite a few hours to compile on my phone!) — tomorrow I head off along the path again. It will be a bus to Marazion, then walking to Porthleven and the longest distance yet at over 10 miles. Gulp.

There’s more to say, but phone blogging is a bit limited, so this will have to do for now. I still have almost 60 miles to walk in the next 6 days… reckon I’m gonna feel it! (And there’s always the bus!)

I’ll be back with a report on the second half of this expedition in another week or so.

3 Dec: I’ve edited this post a fair bit. Corrected some things, added some detail and tidied up the formatting.

One and only timer shot of me on the coast path!

D&D Chronicles: The Colossus

ZILLAH

Despite our so-called victory, it takes a few days for the revolution to build. The quadrant leaders are all reluctant to commit — wanting detailed plans and still more demonstrations of our strength. They are scared and self interested, demanding assurances of victory before lending aid.

But how can we plan a revolution — let alone assure victory — without knowing what our resources are? We are visitors to this accursed city, yet they provide no insights. It’s both frustrating and infuriating.

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Planning the revolution

In the end we decide we cannot depend on anyone other than ourselves. But as soon as we declare our intention to attack the gates, Orral says the tunnel people will lend aid. Well and so.

We will attack in two days time at midday during the Festival of Elloran.


The day of revolution comes at last. The Council has withdrawn all forces behind the walls of the Bastian. The town is holding its breath as we march towards the gates, people joining us as we move through the streets at the head of a growing throng. The tunnel people are carrying large nets and assorted weapons. Other townspeople are joining them.

The steel and coal quadrants hold back, still not committing. Cowards.

We arrive at the gates. All is quiet; the wall crawlers and guards on the wall watch and wait.

Our plan is simple. Attack, defend and await the Colossus. Fen has learnt a new protection spell and cast it upon each of us. Blaze has brewed more healing potions. We are as prepared as we can be. It feels sorely inadequate.

Blaze and I commence by warping some of the crawlers. Alix sets a blade barrier along the top of the wall. Then the gates open and the first wave of Council forces emerge.

It’s a phalanx of automata and elite guards. The guards peel off right and left — I lose sight of them quickly. The automata keep coming, surging towards us, three abreast. Nightshade stands on my right, Blaze on the other side of her. Together we meet the onslaught of these magicked machines.

The automata keep on coming and coming and coming. No sooner do we hack one into oblivion than it gets dragged back to make room for another. And another. These are the ‘guardian’ class automata Orral told us about. The toughest, meanest, hardest to defeat. I know not how many I’ve destroyed, only to face the next.

I cannot see what is happening elsewhere in the battle. Every so often I hear a loud cheer from back in the town and the air is filled with the ringing of steel, the scent of blood. Some of it’s my blood, and that of my companions. None of it belongs to these cursed automata.

They keep at us. I keep swinging until I’m not sure I can take much more. My vision is swimming and my arms feel about to drop off.

But we’ve achieved our first aim. Ahead, still within the Bastian, but lumbering ever closer, is the Colossus. The Eye of Varrien smoulders like an ember in its forehead, casting a reddish glow over the swarm of wooden machines in its path. It moves at ponderous speed, inexorably closer.

FEN

I’ve never seen anything like it. The bodies. The blood. And yes, the heroism.

Alix swept the wall clear of enemy troops with a wall of her own, one of flashing blades. Then the enemy flooded from the citadel, and my compatriots met them in the street, shoulder to shoulder. A constant stream of soldiers and automata came upon them, to be hacked down mercilessly.

I ran my magics down to empty, expended all my healing potions, keeping my colleagues in the fight. My chief offensive act was a fireball, to deter what I perceived to be a mage attempting to raise dead soldiers. I shudder to think of this unnatural act. Stopping it merited the destruction wrought by my spell.

At one point, our flank was threatened, and here I was able to lend support, in the form of a stinking cloud to slow the enemy advance, and then with swings of my club until reinforcements put the foe to flight.

How valiantly the city folk fought. One lane was so covered in dead and wounded, I could not see the flagstones. What an appalling waste.

NIGHTSHADE

I can feel the energy of my goddess running through me. After all the deceit and betrayal on the part of my former comrades – the ranger killed me; she shall regret her treachery – the cleric finally succumbed. Varrien is too powerful for the homely shield of Shadrath to ward against for long. The world shall soon know just how powerful she is. All shall soon know her wrath … and, if they are meek, her generosity.

It was a mighty battle. We marched straight up to the gate of the citadel quarter, full of half-hatched plans and bravado, and the elite guard came out to meet us, in league with the cursed automata as expected. But we held the line, drawing them in twos and threes down the narrow street and despatching them thus. From the bellowing and sounds of clashing iron around us, all of Tel Marrenor was up in arms. The tunnel people had birthed their ridiculous revolution at last, though I cared not for the outcome so long as it kept busy the extra swords and machines which might otherwise be troubling us.

Then the Colossus began to move.

We were still fighting automata and not yet ready to face such a foe and so, as soon as I caught glimpse of it I cast a sleet storm in its path. Thank Varrien for my newly acquired spells!

And thank Varrien too for her tightening grasp upon the cleric’s will. I had seen for days how troubled Alix had been, how carrying the Eye vexed her, and it must finally have proved too much. In the heat of battle, I heard her call my name. A desperate plea!

I turned and there she was, running toward me with arm outstretched and in her hand … the blessed gem. Freely, she gave it to me, pressed it into my palm and closed my fingers around it. It felt like a key slotting home after too long an absence. It felt like my heart could beat again.

I don’t remember too much of what happened next. The Colossus was upon us and we fought, maces clashing against stone. I don’t think I was hit; if I was, my goddess cast her benediction over me and I felt no pain. All I could think of was the second Eye, that bright red beacon in the monstrosity’s head. It filled my vision, and my soul.

Then the Colossus was slain, crashing to the cobbles with such weight the earth beneath us trembled, and I ran. Faster than I ever have. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Zillah move as well, but my feet were swifter. Goddess-touched.

And now I have them both, the blessed Eyes of Varrien. I can scarcely believe it! At long last this ungrateful world will know its end.

ALIX

What the hell have I done?

I suspected for a while that carrying the Eye would have some effect – I had seen it when Cal carried it and couldn’t doubt it after seeing Nightshade altered – but I really thought that having it sheathed in silver would keep me safe.

I didn’t count on the subtle probing every single minute of the day, nor the more direct thrusts at my will as the golem came closer and closer. Shadrath, help me hold! I kept pleading in my head, but someone else was whispering and She was starting to entice.

We had to fight. We had to stop the automata and keep the citizens motivated. We had to back each other and stay up… and all the time, She was calling.

Tickle, probe, thrust. The golem arrived, bearing the other Eye. Another tickle, another probe and bam! My resistance was gone. I had to get to Nightshade. I knew with bone-deep certainty we would all die if she didn’t get the Eye I carried. Rise, Varrien!

I reached Nightshade, screaming “take it!” and holding out the glove. We were both still in battle, but for a second she had room to move. She reached out and scooped up the Eye, just as the golem fell.

As Zillah and Nightshade raced to tear the Eye out of the golem’s head, I couldn’t turn away. Couldn’t decide who I wanted to win. Zillah clambered atop the golem on hands and feet. Nightshade, on the other hand, tripped along its length as if she was skipping in a meadow. Zillah stumbled, slid back, leaving Nightshade to reach the Eye. She bent, prised it out, stood, an Eye held aloft in each hand.

I wanted to scream with glee. Then Shadrath himself smacked me on the side of the head and my mind cleared.

Now… Now Nightshade holds both Eyes. The battles have stopped. There is smoke in the air and blood on the streets and the sounds of people in pain and dying.
And Nightshade has both Eyes.

My God will have to come here now. One day soon, he and his brethren will have to call us to account. I should have let us die. Instead I gave her the Eye. And look at her now. Jubilant.

Oh, my God, what have I done?

FEN

Now the real battle begins. Both Eyes are in the hands of Nightshade, a servant of the dark goddess, and the flail is many weeks of travel away. If the goddess is summoned before we retrieve the holy weapon, what hope do we have of saving the world?

ZILLAH

The worst has happened: the two Eyes brought together. We strove to prevent it; yet somehow it seems as though it was always inevitable. I feel helpless, gripped in a relentless tide I cannot control. At least it is almost over.


One gets the sense this campaign is almost over.

What will Nightshade do with two Eyes of Varrien? Will we be able to stop her from resurrecting the evil goddess?

We are about to find out.

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Fen), Kirstyn McDermott (nightshade) and Lita Kalimeris (Alix) for contributions.

So… geocaching is my new hobby

This past weekend I headed down to my parents’ beach house on Phillip Island (with my cat) to get away from it all. My intention was to spend some time writing, as well as read and walk along the beach and generally relax. Most of this I could in theory do at home, but there’s something about escaping one’s everyday environment (and all the things on the to-do list) that makes the near two-hour drive each way worth it. The wood fire is nice too.

Lucia_PhillipIsland

It wasn’t until I got down there that it occurred to me I could also log some geocaches.

Geocaching is something I have been gradually getting into. It started for me a year ago, when I nagged my friend into finally taking me out for the day. It’s a global (secret-ish) activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden… pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well.

Normal people (who the geocaching community call muggles) have no idea there’s a disguised mint tin hidden under the seat in their local park… or a plastic box shoved in a hollow log. But finding these caches (without being noticed), signing the tiny log inside, and then logging them digitally using the geocaching app or website, is the ultimate goal. There are no prizes as a general rule, no real competition. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

So that’s geocaching 101 (of sorts). For more information visit the official geocaching website, where you can sign-up for free and get in on the fun!

After our first day out a year ago (when we logged 12 along Scotchman’s Creek in Melbourne), I found a few caches on Phillip Island. One took me to the local cemetery, which I hadn’t ever visited in all the years I’ve been spending weekends down there. It turned out to be a real highlight.Cemetery-PhillipIsland_1

Then I didn’t do much geocaching (or in fact any) until my recent trip to Broome in July. Still using the free subscription, I identified three that looked worth finding and, accompanied by a few family members (notably some of my nephews), I hunted them down, including a couple near Cable Beach, where we were staying. It gave me an extra thrill to find some so far from home.

It reminded me how fun it is.

So, when I recently spent a few days in Kyneton with friends, I decided to see what geocaches were to be found in the area… Not many (if any) for the free subscription, it turns out.

Determined, energised, and with a heightened sense of anticipation, I signed up for the premium subscription, which provides access to additional caches. (It’s only about A$50 a year.)

It’s opened up a whole new world. Literally.

The caches in and around Kyneton were fun — they were my first multi-caches, where you have to gather information to decipher a code to find the GPS coordinates of the actual cache (termed ‘ground zero’ or GZ by the caching community). With a few friends, I did three multis all told, plus several others.

My favourite of the weekend was again to be found in a cemetery — the Carlsruhe Cemetery. I loved it purely for the location — historic graves with Hanging Rock in the distance. In the late afternoon sunlight, the place was gorgeous.

I think I will make a point of hunting down caches in cemeteries.

Which brings me back to Phillip Island and this past weekend (when I was supposed to be writing). Turns out there are heaps more geocaches in interesting places on Phillip Island available to premium subscribers. Turns out there are several along the beach west of Cowes, along which we walk every single time we visit.

In truth, I looked at all the new ‘premium’ island caches available to me and nearly hyperventilated with excitement. Check this out:

geocaches-PhillipIsland

The yellow smiley faces are the ones I’ve found so far. There are enough caches here to keep me going for a while — even discounting the ones along the road (which I have little interest in).

I found one along the beach between our house and Cowes, but another eluded me. The next day I headed in the other direction to Ventnor and had a better return of three. It was in fact the first time I’d ever walked all the way around to Ventnor, and by the end of the return hike (in the rain) I was a little weary! But this only highlights what’s good about geocaching — taking you places you haven’t been before.

Ventnor_PhillipIsland

On Monday, I drove down to Pyramid Rock (south coast), where there is a cache, and another a half-hour walk away on Red Bluff — one of my favourite places on the island. There were too many people (muggles) around for me to hunt for the Pyramid Rock cache, but I hiked up to Red Bluff and found that one easily.

RedBluff_PyramidRock_PhillipIsland

That was my last one for the weekend — I found five in total, leaving plenty for next time.

I only just logged my thirtieth cache on the weekend, so I’m still very new at this. But it’s swiftly becoming my latest obsession… I figure it has at least one benefit in getting me out and about into the fresh air, and eventually heading off to places new.

I’ve already been looking at the international options for when I next go travelling. (squee!)

Even though it took me a while to get going after signing up, I have a feeling my geocaching activity is starting to ramp up. I guess the real test will be once I’ve found all the local ones — both near home and on Phillip Island.

But I like to think geocaching will inspire me to take off with intention to new places on a semi-regular basis. I’ve already found (both in Broome and Kyneton) that it adds a new dimension of fun and exploration and adventure.

And those things are what I’m all about.

In the meantime, there are a couple of local caches that currently have me stumped…

D&D Chronicles: In which we start a revolution

ZILLAH

In the morning, we await the fallout of last night’s raid.

I still feel queasy at the memory of throats slit in the dead of night, guards cowering against walls in their sleeping garb. There was nothing noble or honourable about such activities, even if they achieved our objective.

Not long after midday, we’re summoned by Orral, leader of the tunnel people. With her, shouting and spitting, are two of the quadrant leaders from the city above. They inform us the council of mages has retaliated by rounding up 20 of the populace for execution. And not just random city-dwellers: the family and friends and allies of prominent people.

The quadrant leaders are furious… furious and afraid and even more antagonistic than before. I feel awful. Most of us feel awful — except Nightshade who is denouncing them for cowards and fools and asking them whether they want to be free of oppression or not?

Much as I resent it, she has a point. A bloodless insurrection is impossible. If we are to rouse the people against oppression in order to secure the Eye of Varrien, there will be casualties. Many of them. I just wish it wasn’t so.

Nonetheless, we resolve to rescue the captives. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, Orral’s people bring in news: where the captives are being held, how many guards, the suspicious movements of mages. We’re sure there’s a trap involved. Doesn’t matter. We come up with a plan of sorts.

Rescue attempt

Late that night, we go out into the city once more. The tunnel people guide us through the maze of tiny streets to the Old Castle wall. All is quiet, still, as we launch our plan.

Blaze and I cast spells on the castle’s wall defences — magical boxes of wood and steel on rails that hurl missiles at attackers. We warp the wood in an attempt to deactivate them. Meanwhile, Alix uses her magic to build walls across the road, aimed at slowing the ‘automata’ — fiendish machines on wheels that patrol the streets at the mages’ bidding. And Fen… Fen lumbers forth under the cover of invisibility and makes a hole in the castle wall.

It all happens quickly, going more or less to plan, and we’re inside the Old Castle.

The stone corridors of the castle are also silent and still. We’re either being remarkably silent, or there’s no-one here. I fear the latter, but there’s no time to stop and ponder. Every moment we delay gives the automata more time to arrive…

The stairs lead down to the basement. I see the ambush and am ready when they attack. There are only two guards and we defeat them easily enough. Behind a locked door with a grille is a corridor with cells. The captives huddle behind bars, calling for us to help them.

Still no guards have come.

Leaving Nightshade and Blaze, I run up to the first level, past Alix at the top of the steps, to find Fen. He comes when I call softly, and I send him down to use his magic to unlock the door and rescue the prisoners.

Unease makes me stop beside Alix and guard against attack. Why has no-one come? Where is the trap?

Down below, there’s a massive explosion, so huge that a wave of heat slams up the stairs, followed by tongues of flame.

big-bang-422305_640

Oh blessed Emrys, no.

I hurtle down into the smoke and dust and heat and fire. My companions are picking themselves up off the floor, slapping at the flames on their clothes and swearing. A massive fireball. I’d recognise this aftermath anywhere.

Strewn about the cells are the charred corpses of the 20 people we were intending to rescue.

Fighting in the streets

For a moment, I’m too appalled to do anything other than stare, my gut churning. Appalled that we fell so easily into this trap. Appalled at what the mages have done. I don’t know how we’re going to face the quadrant leaders now. They’ll never support us.

But there’s nothing we can do about any of it. We need to get out of here.

Our hole in the wall is now guarded by four automata. Taking a chance these are the same automata previously guarding the two entrances, we run to the back exit. It’s clear and we dash out into the streets of Tel Marrenor.

Of course they’re waiting for us. Missile-hurling wall crawlers drive us into the waiting ambush of guards. Four of them, weapons drawn.

Well, this at least is an honest battle.

My focus narrows to the guards before me. Beside me is one of my companions. I’m dimly aware of fighting going on some way behind. But the guards keep coming. And coming. Alix’s impressive blade barrier carves through an entire unit at once.

The town nearby is on fire. I don’t know how this happened, but the people are pouring out into the streets, yelling and weeping. Children are screaming. Smoke is making the air hazy and hard to breathe.

Some of the wheeled automata glide out of the smoke, bouncing across the cobbles. They bear steel blades that sweep and slice. I switch to twin maces, all the better to hack at these contraptions of wood and steel.

daleks

Based on the DM’s description, we imagine the automata to be something like daleks… Except made largely of wood, with blades. And they don’t fly.

By the time the immediate threat is dispatched, I’m breathing hard. Then Fen rushes over saying some of Orral’s people are nearby, bringing word of a large contingent of automata nearly upon us. It’s time to flee. Looking back towards the castle, I see the mangled wreckage of several automata. Doubtless Blaze’s work.

Bring on the revolution

Orral’s bouncing off the walls when we return. Crowing with excitement, she rattles off the numbers of guards and automata we’ve apparently defeated this night. It seems such a victory has not been seen in many a long year. We’ve made our statement. Convinced the quadrant leaders that we mean business.

The revolution has finally begun, she states triumphantly.

Although she and everyone are horrified about the murder of all those innocents, they seem to apportion no blame to us.

We know better.

FENFAREN

I have seen cruelty. The animal being slowly sucked down by the bog, the crushing death in a constrictor’s coils, the frantic wait for the spider. Firbolg disembowelled in battle by rakshasa claws, burnt by their fireballs. But never have I seen such calculated cruelty as this. The trap, the explosion, the innocents burned to death in their cells. All for what? To send a message?

The message is one that says this reign of terror cannot be allowed to continue.

Unbelievably, the citizens of this place agree. Despite our sense of abject failure, clever politics has pulled a victory from the ashes.

But what cost!

The town alight (my own part in that kept hidden in a cloak of shame and silence), innocents dead. Their faces haunt me. My clumsy frame, my slow wit, unable to save anyone. It’s like I’m back in the swamp again, good for nothing against the forces we face. Not a true firbolg, not a true mage.

Nightshade is right when she says more people are going to die, caught up in this grand quest, a firestorm of destruction. Such is the price of saving the world.

The mages await with their colossus, and I’m consistently reminded that the mage whose place in this party I have taken would have been eminently better suited to the task. What to do? There is nothing else to do, but continue. To the death.


That was certainly an epic raid and battle. More to come from the streets of Tel Marrenor soon… (Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

Mixadventures with poached chicken and other stuff

I’m pretty excited about this latest mixadventures post, because I feel as though I’ve stretched myself a bit. Not in terms of difficulty (not at all — all these dishes are soooo easy). But most of these “new” dishes I would never have attempted (or bothered with) in the past.

In short, I feel as though I am really making progress in my mission to cook more food from base ingredients.

I’ve had a lot more head space (and time and energy) for cooking in the past month (since a large work project came to an end). I’m still doing my experimenting mostly on weekends, because I invariably need to shop for ingredients. But I am slowly expanding my pantry stores and getting a feel for what I need to buy regularly.

And, just to reiterate, I’m still sticking to simple projects — because I’ll never be someone who wants to spend days (or even hours) in the kitchen on a regular basis. And I’m still only cooking for one. But I’m getting such a thrill from producing delicious homemade food when I need to take a meal or a cake somewhere, and enjoying the meals I cook for myself as well.

Here is all the new stuff I’ve produced since the previous post.

Chocolate custard

I’ve become a fan of cooking custard in the Thermomix. Using the automated setting, it’s basically a case of throwing in ingredients and pressing go. It takes just 8 minutes to cook a thick, creamy custard… for chocolate custard you just add cocoa.

mix_choc-custard

Chocolate custard is an awesome option for those nights when you just need a quick chocolate pudding (and you can’t be bothered getting too elaborate). I mean… 8 minutes is all it takes! (Yeah, OK, you still need to wash up, but you can do that later…)

Confession: This isn’t actually the first time I’ve made chocolate custard. It was, in fact, the third thing I ever made in my Thermomix. But it’s so good it’s worth repeating.

Tomato ketchup

I grew up with homemade tomato sauce, but never had any desire to make my own until recently. My mother often makes sausage rolls for family gatherings (the kids, ahem, love them) and now she’s started making sauce again to go with them. I took a look at the recipe in the Thermomix basic cookbook and it looked easy enough, so I began obsessing over needing to make it too. Maybe I got inspired by my successful foray into beetroot relish.

Anyway, I asked my mother to look out for cheap bags of tomatoes. The stars aligned and the tomatoes came when I had a free weekend. A few hours later I had homemade ketchup! Oddly enough, I don’t actually eat tomato sauce all that often, so I don’t know why I was so intent on making it. Nonetheless, it was yummy with (bought) sausage rolls.

Boiled eggs

Told you I was keeping to simple things — and it doesn’t get much simpler than this! Since I work from home, I’m often looking for something nutritious, quick and tasty for lunch. (OK, confession: I’m trying to get into the habit of eating more often at home and not in cafes all the time…) I sometimes cook eggs (poached or scrambled) … then one day a couple of weeks ago I decided to test out the Thermomix method for boiled eggs.

Basically, you throw (er, place) the eggs into the simmering basket and heat/boil/steam them for a time (depending on size of eggs and how hard you want them). Apparently you can easily do 12 eggs at once in the simmering basket (rather just the four), and twice as many again if you put them in the steamer/Varoma.

Although it’s undoubtedly more energy-intensive to cook eggs in the Thermomix, compared with the gas stove top, there are two distinct advantages: 1) I was able to disappear back to my computer for the 13 minutes of heating and cooking, and 2) there was no washing up whatsoever.

Pictured above is a delicious combination of soft boiled eggs with avocado on (bought) toast. Absolutely divine. Today I cooked more eggs and ate them with a smear of avocado on two of my latest batch of potato/vegetable cakes. Noms!

Healthy nut slice (gluten free)

One recent weekend I had three social engagements requiring me to contribute food. My D&D crew got soup for dinner, my mum got the torta caprese as a birthday cake… which left me wondering what to make for the third event. I was meeting a group of women for afternoon tea. Half of them are gluten-free and I’ve made the torta caprese for them before. But this time I wanted to make something new.

mix_nutslice

I thought, being afternoon tea with many things to choose from, a slice would be ideal. So I hit the Thermomix recipe community, which I’ve found very useful for things like this. In the end, I found this healthy nut slice, which turned out to be pretty amazing. It’s simply nuts, seeds, dates, maple syrup and macadamia oil — blitzed and then baked for 20 minutes. It’s delicious and healthy as well. So good!

Poached chicken

I was so excited to try this recipe. I got it from a cooking class I attended last week (more on that in a moment). I’ve never poached chicken before — never even considered it — but this recipe looked super easy and tasty. I often wish I had some cooked chicken on-hand to use in meals. Sometimes I buy a cooked BBQ chicken for this purpose, but making it myself has got to be better.

Again, it’s really simple in the Thermomix. I used rosemary and sage as my herbs (with onion and garlic), and chicken breasts because I couldn’t get hold of thighs. The chicken was cut into chunks and placed in the simmering basket, immersed in the broth. It only took about 20 minutes cooking time in total. And, oh my goodness, did it smell amazing!

Then, when the chicken is cooked, you strain and retain the stock for use in other dishes. I immediately made a vegetable soup using about half the chicken stock, instead of the usual vegetable stock. I served the soup with toast and some chunks of the chicken thrown in for protein. Yummy dinner. I think I’ll use the rest of the stock (now in the freezer) in a risotto… or maybe a pasta sauce.

I think I’ll be poaching chicken fairly regularly. Squee. But I suspect I’ll end up with more liquid chicken stock than I know what do with. My freezer is only so big…

Varoma cooking class

As mentioned, I attended a cooking class last week. This was focused on using the steaming function of the Thermomix, known as the Varoma. Although I have used the Varoma before, it was fabulous to gain new ideas and recipes. In the class, they made a range of different foods, including a chicken tikka curry, a souffle omelet and steamed date/toffee puddings (all yum). I am particularly looking forward to attempting the steamed pork buns!

mix_cookingclass

Also…

As usual, there are a number of recipes I’m making regularly — especially soups and the flourless almond chocolate cake, torta caprese. I’ve also made second batches of bread and potato/vegetable cakes. My second bread attempt was much better than the first, since I used the right flour. Below is just one of my recent soups (left) and my second homemade bread attempt (right) as toast.

I also made my second batch of vegetable stock paste. That’s right, it took me all that time (over a year) to use up the first batch. The vegetable stock paste is a wonderful flavour base for just about anything. So fragrant. So delicious.

And that’s all for this update… If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me through quite a long post. Not sure what’s next, but it’s bound to be yummy!

A week in Broome

Before I went to Broome a few weeks ago, I was secretly wondering what exactly I was going to be doing.

I know plenty of people who’ve been to Broome and they all had a great time; but the focus always seemed to be the beaches. Sure, I like a good beach — for walking along. And I supposed it would be nice to get away from a Melbourne winter for a bit. I was vaguely aware of something to do with pearls… and knew Broome is considered the gateway to the Kimberley (Australia’s stunning northwest). But I still wasn’t sure what there was to actually do in Broome.

Obviously, if left to my own devices, I probably would never have gone to Broome. (Which would have been a huge mistake.) But, luckily for me, my parents generously arranged for us all to go on a family holiday — all my siblings and their spawn — and they picked Broome.

I should have realised there would be loads of things to do, because this was my parents’ sixth visit.

By the time we headed over there, though, I didn’t care what we would be doing. The weather apps said it would be 30 degrees C in Broome and I was ready for a break, having just finished four months of a big work project. Frankly, I had images of lying beside the pool in the shade, sipping gin and tonics, while reading.

Needless to say, this did not happen.

Some readers might be wondering at this point why I didn’t simply do some research. But I’m not a huge pre-planner when it comes to travel. I like to discover a place when I get there, allow it to unfold around me. This adds to the adventure and helps me stay in the moment, rather than try to do everything.

Having said that, it’s fortunate my sisters did some planning on my behalf. There are a number of day trips and half day tours you can take for various activities, but you need to pre-book these early to get a spot. In the end, I rocked up with two things pre-booked, and that turned out to be perfect.

So… what did I do (I hear you ask)? I’m going to have a go at including everything in one post. It’s probably going to end up long, with lots of photos (hopefully not too many words). Let’s go!

Cable Beach

We stayed at Cable Beach, which is renowned for being long (Wikipedia tells me 22.5km) and white and beautiful, with amazing sunsets. I visited a few times (but not to swim) and found a couple of geocaches stashed in the dunes.

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Horizontal Falls

One of my pre-booked trips was a day trip to the Horizontal Falls, which are in the beautiful Kimberley region of Australia. They are a natural geological and tidal phenomenon, where the tide level changes faster than water can flow through two narrow channels. This differential results in abrupt changes of water level on either side of the channel — and makes for a fun ride in a boat! On this day we travelled by 4WD “bus” up to Cape Leveque, seaplane and boat. To cap it off, I splurged and went up for my first ride in a helicopter too. Awesome day!

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Hovercraft ride to dinosaur tracks

The second of my pre-booked excursions took us by hovercraft to view some dinosaur footprints — or tracks (I’ve just read on an expert site). Apparently Broome is a fantastic location for dinosaur tracks and all the global experts go there to study them. The ones we saw are in fact a dinosaur trackway — multiple tracks — of an adult and a junior sauropod. Really interesting. (Read more here.) The hovercraft ride itself was a highlight for me… We later saw different dinosaur tracks at Gantheaume Point — these were three-toed therapod tracks, where are completely different.

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Pearls

Most people probably know (or are vaguely aware) that Broome evolved around the pearling and pearl shell (for buttons) trade. It was established in the 1880s — which is pretty early for Australia. There’s plenty to learn about the early pearling industry and, of course, pearls to buy. I had no intention of buying anything pearl-related, I truly didn’t. But by the end of trip a pearl somehow appeared around my neck. Oops.

pearl

Family bonding

Because my entire family was all together (all 17 of us), there were many opportunities for sharing adventures and experiences — such as visits to a crocodile farm, night market and Broome’s famous “picture garden” (open air cinema). Some of my nephews were introduced to geocaching too. We stayed in four self-catered units in a low-key resort, allowing the kids to come and go between units and many shared meals.

Random pics from Broome

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Stuff to do next time

There’s still PLENTY to do if I ever make it to Broome again. I didn’t spend a great deal of time in the town of Broome. I didn’t make it to the museum, or on a whale watching expedition. As for the Kimberley… I didn’t even scrape the surface. I think you need a slab of time to do the Kimberley effectively, but otherwise I can see myself taking another week in Broome, when July in Melbourne gets all dreary and I need a dose of sunshine.

D&D Chronicles: Into Tel Marrenor

Oh, the excitement! This picks up a few minutes after the previous post left off. Nightshade has been a bad bad girl and Zillah is pissed…


ZILLAH

Nightshade’s corpse lies broken at my feet. Red eyes stare blankly out of her pale, leathered face that looks months dead rather than minutes. I try remember what she used to look like — before the zombie virus, before the mummy rot, before the Eye. Back when she was my ally, if not my friend; a fellow ranger of Emrys pledged to heal the forest. It’s almost impossible to recall.

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She was easier to kill than I expected. But I suppose with three of us laying into her… I shudder, rub at my face with the backs of my hands, not willing to sheath my weapons just yet. Blessed Emrys forgive me.

Alix does sheath her weapons and drops to her knees. I leave her to retrieve the Eye from the intimate place Nightshade has been keeping it. She has silver gloves for the operation.

Fen is cowering over by the wall, understandably horrified at what we’ve just been forced to do. But then he says something and I realise there’s a hole in the brickwork… and another brick is wobbling amid puffs of dust. A voice comes through the hole — words I don’t understand — and Fen is talking to it.

It’s not sounding hostile, but we can take no chances. Fen seems keen to stay and chat, but as soon as Alix is done I sling Nightshade over my shoulder. I have one last thing to try before I will give up on her completely.

We head back through the portal and close it behind us. Oddly enough, the unpopulated city of Reyim Baal has started to feel familiar, secure, safe. It’s somewhere I can pray to my god without being interrupted.

Kneeling beside Nightshade’s corpse, I pray to Emrys. I beg him for forgiveness at taking the life of a companion. I entreat him to forgive Nightshade, once his daughter, for turning from him. I ask him to save her soul, cleanse the darkness from it, to make her his daughter once again.

And, after a time, Emrys speaks to me. I hear his voice in my head and heart, telling me gravely he cannot command Nightshade’s soul.

My head drops.

But, he says, he will bring Nightshade back to us, if we desire it, for he believes we will have need of her.

Now I am crushed.

This was not a circumstance I foresaw… That we would need her despite everything. She’ll be angry, antagonistic. It’ll be worse than before. Our terrible actions and her understandable rage, all for nothing.

But at least she won’t have the Eye any more.

Taking a deep and despairing breath, I nod and give him thanks, trusting my god to know what is best.

Beside me, Nightshade stirs, her red eyes flashing.

Tel Marrenor is not what we expected

[Several hours later…] We’ve returned through the portal to Tel Marrenor. For forty years, the city has been cut off from the rest of the world, lost in the midst of a magicked, impenetrable forest. No-one in. No-one out.

Until now.

To our astonishment, it is not an abandoned, overgrown city of undead, but a bustling city oppressed by a tyrannical council of Vhadrim mages. Far from being secreted in a dragon-guarded chest somewhere, the Right Eye of Varrien casts its fiery glow over the city from the forehead of a giant golem (known as the Colossus), which stands upon a tower known as the Bastian. The Eye’s power is controlled by the council.

We’ve allied ourselves with the “tunnel people”, who live beneath the city and seem to have formed some sort of resistance group. They have a few renegade mages among their number, along with established channels of communication with the leaders of the various quarters in the city. They are excited to see us — the first visitors from outside in decades. Naturally, they see us as a route of escape, so they’re being helpful, if cautious.

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They know why we’re here. Their oracle predicted our coming. In fact, according to the oracle, many of our assumptions (and dilemmas) have proven unfounded. It seems we’re going to need the Left Eye to obtain the Right, and it seems that Nightshade is probably the one who needs to wield it.

It figures.

Nightshade is now all smirking and smug, while I feel distinctly chagrined. She would have been more cooperative, I’m sure, had we not killed her and removed the Eye from her possession. Especially if we’re simply going to return it to her… eventually. (Since Emrys brought her back, she has been mouthy and obnoxious as expected, but so far the geas Alix placed on her is holding.)

Probably not the best plan

[Midnight…] We get our first good look at Tel Marrenor under the cover of darkness. Gil, a youth with the tunnel people, poles us down canals lined with close-packed buildings of three or four storeys, the whole bathed in the scarlet glow of the Eye. Creepy.

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We’re headed for the city’s “old castle”, now a barracks for the human forces of the council. We’re going to creep in and kill as many as possible before reinforcements arrive. The aim is to send a message to the rest of the city that we are serious in our intent. We hope to win support from those living in the city and organise a rebellion.

I don’t know if this is a good plan. Certainly we need to start whittling away at enemies, but I’ve never been one for slitting throats of my fellow humans while they sleep.

It starts off well, if you could call it that.

Gritting my teeth, I remind myself I’m trying to save the world… but surely there’s another way than this? Too late, it’s done. My dagger drips with blood.

I’m actually relieved when they wake, alerted by a fumble or a clank of armour. I care not. A scream, and sounds start to come from the chamber across the corridor. Others arrive and there is fighting in the hallway as well.

In all, we kill at least ten of the guards, maybe more, before the gong sounds. We take that as a call for reinforcements. There’s a lot of yelling among us. Fen looks distraught as he stares at the corpse of a child sprawled in the corridor. Nightshade is yelling something about not wanting anyone to see us. In the end, we flee before reinforcements can arrive.

Gil is waiting at the place we specified and we escape without further incident. But my heart is heavy, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve done more harm than good this night.

FENFAREN

There is a bog in the swamp not far from our settlement that we know to give a wide berth. It’s deceptively placid. Dangerous. Occasionally, we would hear the cries of a trapped beast, and if wholesome, some of the hunters would lasso it and try to pull it clear. It wasn’t unusual for the flesh to yield before the morass would give up its prey.

I know how those trapped beasts must feel.

When the humans arrived in the forest, it was as if a season was changing. They put flight to the rakshasa, they slew the dragon. Lo, we were unchained! And I, barely a member of my own people, saw a chance to be something more than the “mumbler” of ineffectual magics. These humans were trying to save the world! Could there be any greater purpose? I was humbled to be counted worthy to join their number, even though I realised, for perhaps the first time in my life, that it was my magic that was valued.

But now…

They are a fractious lot. Two from the north with many deaths of friend and foe behind, and so many horrors weighing upon their shoulders. The paladin, trying to find his black-and-white way in a world of grey. And the undead, slain by its companions, then brought back, all because of a gem.

I feel the confusion dragging me down. How I long for the forest, where at least I knew my place, even if it was not much place at all. Better than this mire, surely.

Oh, this night, this midnight raid on unsuspecting soldiers as we try to find a way to recover the second gem from the face of the colossus. It will be bathed in blood. We will be bathed in blood. If we survive.

To do my part, I thought I should wield the knife. Creep into that darkened room filled with the unknowing breaths of the sleeping guards. And strike.

I shudder still.

Perhaps it was that voice of Emrys, god of forest, who sent my blow astray? Some zephyr of conscience.

And then … and then the child. The noise, the fear, the confinement and the darkness. So far from my world. A strange land, and now I feel I am a stranger, too. An instinctive reaction was all it took. I look at my hand in the moments when I am alone and recall the feeling of the power it unleashed. A word, a gesture, a concentrated thought. And the child running for the door, to raise alarm, I thought, as though alarm had not already been raised. My power, unrestrained, devastating on one so young, so innocent. And her blissfully unaware mother, still sleeping on the other side of that door as her child lay slaughtered…

I am aware we are fighting for the fate of the world. I understand this is war. But at what point do we become that which we are fighting? Or are we fated to take upon ourselves such soul blight, in order that the world can continue to sleep lightly? And not a one here in whom I can confide. Who I can ask to provide me with clarity. I am not the firbolg for this job, and yet, I am the firbolg that finds himself here. Emrys save me. Emrys save us all.


Poor Zillah — so conflicted. And poor Fen, so out of his depth! (Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

Things are starting to come to a head. I have no idea what’s going to happen next…

D&D Chronicles: The treachery of Nightshade

ZILLAH

I’m going to kill that red-eyed, zombie bitch, Nightshade.

My fury and frustration are like a hot wind. I want to scream and yell. I want to storm out of the temple and never return. I want to ram my sword through Nightshade’s throat.

We’re in the Temple of Death in Reyim Baal, staring at the portal Nightshade has just closed from the other side. She’s locked us all out of Tel Marrenor, the lost city where the other Eye of Varrien is believed to be hidden.

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All of us except Fen, that is. Maybe he can talk some sense into her on the other side. Alix and Blaze are wearing expressions similar to mine. Since Nightshade is carrying one of the Eyes already, this leaves her free to find the other without interference from us. Then she’ll have both of them. Fuck.

We’ve known her allegiance has shifted. The Eye of Varrien has corrupted her and the Goddess of Destruction has Nightshade in her clutches. I fucking knew she was going to do something like this, but we still couldn’t stop it. This is shit.

Hindsight

It’s not like we even wanted to go through the portal to Tel Marrenor yet. We’re not ready. Since losing Squirrel we’re lacking someone who can detect traps and unlock doors. We’re going to need a rogue to survive Tel Marrenor, which is the city in the broken forest no-one has been able to reach for over two decades.

The plan was not to tackle Tel Marrenor yet. The plan was to stop by Reyim Baal and check whether the portal to Tel Marrenor actually worked and then seek more information about Varrien at Terras Arnor — and a rogue.

Hindsight is brilliant, right? In hindsight, we should have:

1. Told the cleric of Elloran and his cronies who came for the Eye in Kham Jhara exactly where Nightshade was carrying the cursed stone and let them retrieve it. We were supposed to hand it over to them anyway. In one of the great ironies, they resurrected Nightshade months ago as downpayment. We should have just let them have it and trusted the Elloran/Kaltan/Phanator/Testerris posse to defeat the group from Varrien, who somehow managed to track down Nightshade and declare themselves her protectors. Besides, I never wanted to take the Left Eye anywhere near the Right Eye.

2. Enlisted the services of a rogue in Kham Jhara. So what if we’d ended up paying them for a whole bunch of extra weeks? It was naive of me not to realise the prospect of Tel Marrenor being right there would prove too much. I can sense some of the others want to go through now and get Tel Marrenor and the Right Eye over and done with — despite the fact ‘we’ are still carrying the Left Eye and have no idea what will happen when they’re brought into proximity. Oh yeah, and we have no rogue.

3. Not let Nightshade anywhere near that portal. In fact, we probably should have brought things to a head in Kham Jhara when it became clear she’d corrupted by Varrien (see point 1). But I thought between us we’d be able to… manage the situation. It is, after all, four against one. Until Nightshade actively acted against us, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Blessed gods, I am so stupid.

This is it

I’m staring so hard at the dull, not-glowing portal, I’ll probably give myself a headache. If Nightshade doesn’t open it, we’ll have lost Fen as well. We’ll have to leave here, go to Tel Marrenor the long way, hack through the forest, most likely die…

The portal changes, glows like it’s been activated again from the Tel Marrenor side. I’m not sure whether Blaze or me reacts first — we’re both through that portal quicker than a sneeze, Alix close behind.

The underground room is unchanged — dim, brick walls, no doors or windows. Musty with moisture and moss.

Nightshade waits, sword drawn.


Sigh — not sure what’s going to happen next, but it’s likely to be exciting!