Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Cous Cous in Portpatrick

Hi all,
Have you ever been on holiday and thought this is the place for your retirement? Well, my wife and I got that feeling when we visited Portpatrick for the first time. I know a lot of people think of Devon, Cornwall or even Spain when it comes to retirement, but for us Portpatrick seems like the perfect place.

Set on the west side of the Rhinns of Galloway, the small harbour town is bathed in fresh air from the Atlantic much the same as Devon and Cornwall. But, it has other charms because although it is on the coast it has not been commercialised at all. When taking a walk around the town one becomes very relaxed, it's very pretty, but doesn't attract hoards of visitors.

I am not surprised tourist levels are low because not many people know of its existence. Actually, it wasn't always so quiet in Portpatrick because originally, this was going to be the main port serving Ireland. However, the project to build a big port was transferred to Stranraer, which occupies a better situation not far away on the east coast of the Rhinns. Sitting at the bottom of Loch Ryan the port at Stranraer provides a safe haven from even the worst Atlantic gales. And so it was that Portpatrick stayed as a small harbour town while Stranraer grew to be a big ferry port.
On our first visit to Portpatrick we needed to find somewhere to eat. Now like I've said, this is a small town and uncommercialised, so the choices were few. We didn't particularly want to eat in a pub, so we chose a small cafe in a conservatory that overlooked the harbour. See the photo on the right.

The thing is, we almost walked out after we'd sat down and read the menu, because at that time it wasn't our sort of grub. Well to be honest my wife, who is more refined than me, quite like the sound of what was on offer. I grew up in a council house and I can tell you now that goat's cheese, bean sprouts and cous cous were not on my mother's menu.

Anyway, my wife talked me into having some sort of salad with cous cous. I was partly persuaded by the elevated position of the conservatory as the view would keep us amused while we waited for the food. We didn't have to wait long and our delicious food was soon on the table and I would have to say that I was enjoying the cous cous as much as the scenery, when an almighty bang seemed to rock the very foundations of our dining room. I am pleased to report that it wasn't just me that let out a gasp of fright and that it didn't trigger off the heart attack that I was to suffer a couple of years later.

I guess we and the other diners were just on the brink of wondering what the noise could have been when our host appeared from the kitchen and explained what was going on. Apparently the bang was caused by a maroon that had been let off to tell the local volunteer lifeboat men that their services were required immediately. We all sat enthralled for the next five minutes as various men arrived at the harbour and made the lifeboat, which was moored along the harbour wall, ready for action. They came by a variety of means, some on foot, some in cars and one on a bicycle. As the crew members arrived we were given a running commentary by our host. I can't remember the actual names and I've made up the details, but it went something like this.
"That's Johhny Mcduff, he's the helmsman. He works in a local garage. Now him just arriving, he's been on the boat for over 20 years, his name is McConney and he operates the wireless. Now see that bloke with the beard arriving on the bike, you wouldn't think it, but he's a solicitor and he's the captain."
And so it went on, we felt honoured to be part of such a scene and our excitement was raised even higher when the solicitor opened the throttle wide and with its bow in the air, the lifeboat crested the incoming waves and roared out to sea. In the picture on the left, the lifeboat can be seen moored against the harbour wall.

Eventually, we got back to our cous cous, and were presently informed by our host that a ship that was taking part in "The tall ships Race" was in trouble somewhere out in the Atlantic and the brave men of Portpatrick had gone to their assistance.

Last year we returned to Portpatrick and although the town was as charming as ever, we were disappointed to find that the cafe is now a private house. Change is a funny thing; something so small can have a quite an effect on one's soul. Still the memories will be with me for life and I'll just have to find a new haven when my days of toil are done.

Here's just a reminder that more information about my books, freedownloads and writing services can be found on my website.
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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Glitch in Distribution

Hi all,

Those of you who are following my writing posts may have noticed that the content recently has concentrated on fishing and Scotland. The reason for this is that I was hoping by now to be able to announce that my new book is available from Amazon and other on line retailers, but it is with some disappointment that I have to report that some thing's gone wrong in the distribution department. I am trying to get it sorted out and hopefully my book "Writing: How to get Started as a Freelance Writer Plus a Guide to Self-Publishing & POD" will be available soon.

I suppose I should've expected something to go wrong because the rest of the self-publishing process went as smooth as clockwork. If the book is made available before the end of this month it will have only taken 9 months from blank page to publication. I think that's pretty good as it can take longer to have a baby, and by comparison, writing the book was completely painless. I believe it's possible to write and self-publish a quality book in less than three months, if you get stuck in.

I know lots of people say they want to write a book, and they probably could. However, any would be author should not underestimate the commitment that is required. Writing a book isn't for the faint hearted; you can't do a bit then leave it for a while because if you do, it will never get finished.

I have written four books in total and I can tell you that the only way to write one is to have some discipline. Whether you do it part time or full time is of no consequence, but you must get stuck in and write every day. When I wrote my first book, I set myself a minimum of 6000 words a week and wrote for two hours almost every night. I kept a spreadsheet so that I could keep an accurate tally of words produced and used it to charter my progress. I am pleased to say that every week I hit my target and most weeks I surpassed it.

So if you want to write a book there is absolutely nothing stopping you, all you need is will power. Sit down every day and write until it is finished, don't go back and start editing it because you will lose the flow. When the book is completely written you can edit and proofread it until it is perfect, but finish writing it first.

My first non-fiction book, "Fishing: Learn from The Tips and Laugh at the Tales" is available from amazon etc and a free sample download is available from my website.

I hope the distribution problem with my writing book is sorted out soon and will let you know via this post when it's available. For those of you who are interested in Scotland my next post will be about Port Patrick, which must surely be one of the most picturesque harbour towns in the Rhinns.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Ugliest Fish

Hi all,
I managed to find time to get my rods out again last week and I'm pleased to report that I had a good day's sport. However, one of the fish I caught was the ugliest fish I've ever seen. I've included a photograph so that you can see what I mean.
The sad thing from my point of view is that I couldn't even recognise the species; this is especially embarrasing seeing how I not only write about the subject of fishing, but have also written and published a book on the subject.

I know some fisheries are stocking their waters with some exotic fish like ghost carp so perhaps it was one of those. I've never seen or caught a ghost carp so I guess I can be excused for not recognising one of them. The thing certainly looked ghost like to me.

Parts of it also looked sort of gold fish like, especially where the colouring wasn't faded. If it wasn't a big goldfish or a ghost carp, then I guess it could've been a very ugly orf. I know that some waters stock this species and indeed I caught one of them back in the 60's from a lake at Woburne Abbey. This was the same day that Edgar, my brother, hooked me through the cheek with a size ten. I was only a lad at the time and because it was a barbed hook (they all were in those days) I was taken to the doctors to have it removed. But, that as they say is another story and one that I may tell you about in a future post. Anyway, back to the the ugliest fish in the world. If anybody reading this post can identify the fish concerned perhaps they'd let me know what it is and I'll pass the information on to those who are as ignorant as me.

Having told you about the ugliest fish ever, it might also be worth mentioning that during the same session, I also caught a fish that I think is strikingly handsome. If ever they had a miss world contest for coarse fish, I'm sure this one would take the crown. Most anglers have there favourite species, and I'm no exception, so in my next fishing post I'll give you a run down of my top ten.

Here's just a reminder that a free sample download of my book, "Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales" is available from my website. You will also find there, information about my book which deals with becoming a freelance writer and self-publishing. Click here to go to the the website.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Logan Fish Pond

In my last post about Scotland we visited the spectacular Mull of Galloway with its light house, sea views and a cliff top cafe. If I've whetted your appetite and you do find yourself in the area, there is one place that you really shouldn't miss. Not far from the tip of the Mull of Galloway you will find Logan Bay, and a small attraction called Logan fish pond.

Logan fish pond, is something that contemporary chefs would be proud of. In 1788 the laird of Logan, Andrew McDouall had a brain wave. He decided to take advantage of a blow hole in the rocks that was found on the foreshore of Logan Bay and over a period of twelve years he employed a gang of workmen, armed only with hand tools, to excavate a pond out of the solid rock. The project was completed in 1800 and a variety of sea fish were introduced to their new home. Once in the pond, they were fed and lived quite happily until their day came to be chosen for the table. The sea water in the pond was kept clean and changed automatically by the tide twice a day, and the laird who lived nearby was guaranteed a supply of fresh fish.

Visitors to the fish pond can now enjoy the small gift shop and buy bags of food to feed the fish. It's quite magical to see big sea fish darting up for the food. I'm a coarse angler so not very good at recognising sea fish, but when I visited I think I saw, cod, pollack, wrasse and a turbot. As well as the fish in the big pond, there are also some aquariums where the visitors are allowed to touch the inhabitants. My wife picked up the starfish you can see on the right, but being a bit of a sissy I declined.

After visiting the fish pond we had a short walk along the beautifully sandy beach! Now, you may have noticed that I finished the last sentence with an exclamation mark and I'll explain why. My wife and I like to stroll on quiet beaches and pick up anything we find interesting; a pretty shell, an oddly shaped or coloured pebble and that sort of thing. Anyway the first time we found ourselves in Logan Bay, we thought we'd discovered a beachcomber's heaven. All manner of flotsam and jetsam was washed up the beach along the high tide mark. In fact there was so much stuff on this beach that after picking my way through some of it, I asked a local what was going on and was surprised by his answer. Apparently, across the sea in Northern Ireland, they have a rubbish tip that is situated near the coast and the wind blows lots of the rubbish into the sea. In turn, the prevailing tides takes all this crap out to sea and dumps the stuff in Logan Bay. Suddenly, beachcombing lost its charm and I don't think it will ever be the same again.

I think it's a disgrace, especially when we read in the papers that people are being fined for discarding their cigarette ends. To let all that rubbish enter the sea and allow some of it to foul one of the most beautiful areas of the country is criminal. By the way, I'm not defending those who drop their fag ends, I deplore any type of litter, I'm just making a comparison.

Anyway, I had the pleasure of visiting Logan Bay again this year, a photo of the harbour can be seen on the left, and was extremely pleased to find that the beach was as it should be. I don't know if it was down to the wind, tide or if it had been sorted altogether, but I was pleased to find that the beach was rubbish free. We also had a nice walk along the harbour wall and watched a flock of gannets as they plunged like darts into the blue sea in the middle of the bay. And so concluded another enjoyable visit to the Mull of Galloway and Logan Bay.

Here's just a reminder that if you want any further information about me, my books, or my writing services please click here.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Ffestiniog and the Demon Driver

Hi all, the photo above is a view of Barmouth, taken from Fairbourne.
Okay, it's time to carry on with the trip to Ffestiniog to do a bit of fishing. The first question you might ask is why anyone living in Staffordshire would want to go all the way to Ffestiniog to do some fishing? Travelling seventy odd miles to wet a line in a remote area of North Wales, could seem a little eccentric.

The answer is simple, and I'm sure that anglers old enough to remember split cane rods will still be feeling the pains of the closed season, a time when fishing wasn't allowed anywhere. It wasn't too bad during March and April because it was still a bit chilly in those months, but once May arrived and the sap started to rise, the need to go fishing bought on a bad case of cold turkey. So our trip to Ffestiniog was like a drug, we needed to feel the pleasures of the rod and couldn't wait until June.

We wouldn't be catching coarse fish, because the lake in Ffestiniog was trout only, but we would be allowed to use our coarse fishing tackle and coarse fishing bait.

Three of us set off early one morning and I would like to report that the journey was good and the scenery splendid. However, the trip for me was a nightmare. A friend of a friend called Dave had offered to do the driving and at the time it seemed like a good idea to accept. If only I'd known that he drove as if he was taking part in the Monte Carlo Rally (if you can remember split cane rods you will also remember this annual event too). It was flat out all the way, late breaking and overtaking at inopportune places. By the time we got to Festiniog I was suffering from nervous exhaustion and my arms were aching from having to hang onto the back of the passenger's seat. My Friend Paul, who sat in this seat seemed to take Dave's driving in his stride; perhaps he was either used to it or there againn he was probably numb with fright.

It didn't help that we went thirty miles out of our way. Each of us assumed that one of us knew the way and Dave being Dave just put his foot down and headed for Wales. Those of you from Stafford will know that to get to Wales you first go to Newport. Dave the driver did this, but then went straight on when a turn to the right would have been favourite. Because we were travelling at such a speed we were in a little village called Knockin before anybody thought to consult a map and we realised that we were well off course. Anyway we had a laugh at the sign over the village shop which is aptly called "The Knockin Shop," and then returned whence we came to pick up the A5.

Now I don't want you to go running off with the idea that I don't like speed because that isn't true. I'm as happy as the next man to be going fast; I just think that speeding is okay if done in appropriate places. If I tell you that I was once the proud owner of a Ford Capri you will understand that I know all about speed. It's a shame about that car, but when I married for the second time, my new wife and I couldn't afford to run two cars so I gave my beloved Capri to my son. He kept it for a few weeks and then traded it in for a Citreon that had suspension that he liked to play with. I can remember him showing me how he could raise the suspension on one wheel and lower it on the other. Now that isn't what I call a good swap and I still haven't got over it.

Anyway, we were soon walking around Ffestiniog lake looking for a suitable spot to fish from. We went over the dam wall and across to the far side opposite a strange building that had huge pipes coming out of it. The landscape around the lake was like a moonscape. There wasn't a blade of grass to be seen anywhere. The whole lake was surrounded by banks of loose rocks which varied in shape and sizes. Actually these rocks came in handy because after tackling up with a ledger rig and casting out it became apparent that the rocks could be put to good use. I built a nice little rest for my feet and a table for my coffee that was so skillfully built that a stone waller from Derbyshire would've been proud of it.

I was pleased to see that Paul was following suit and also building a table whilst keeping one eye on the tip of his rod. The three of us sat in a line contented to be fishing even though after an hour we hadn't had a bite between us.

Having not taken part in the table building stakes, Dave the demon driver, decided he'd move further along the bank and left me and Paul to enjoy the spot we had originally chosen. I guess it came with the impatience of being a fast driver, but the last time we looked at Dave he was wondering off up the bank to try his luck with a fly rod.

After another half hour of nothing happening and a similar period of nothing happening again either, there was a sudden roaring noise and water started pouring out of the pipes on the funny looking building opposite. We didn't know it at the time, but it was all to do with the lake being part of the Hydo-Electric generating system. Apparently they let the water out of a lake on the top of the mountain in the daytime and this is used to generate power. Then at night, when the cost of electricity is lower, they pumped the water back up to the lake at the top again. How this is commercially viable is beyond me, but that's what they do.

I suppose we were amused to begin with especially as we'd never seen water flowing so fast. But it all turned sour when we realised that the water was coming up the bank towards us and in no time at all it came up to my newly built footrest. We had to move our kit further up the bank and our lovely tables were soon under water as well. In fact we were so busy trying to keep ahead of the tide we had forgotten about Dave the driver and turned around just in time to see him trying to retrieve his tackle some of which was floating about on the waves.

The waters carried on rising for the rest of the day and we didn't catch a fish between us. But it didn't matter, we'd had a nice day out and had a good laugh and sometimes that's better than catching a netful of fish. In fact we finished up fishing at Ffestiniog again the following year, but that as they say is another story. I endured and survived the white knuckle ride back to Stafford with the aid of some liquid refreshment, but if Paul ever offers to take me on a trip with Dave behind the wheel, I'm afraid I'll have to decline.
Here's just a reminder that if you are interested in a free download of my book about fishing please click here