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Bedtime for the Boat

Today was the day for taking our little boat, the Isla Mia, out of the water and putting her into winter storage. Sadly we’ve not really used her this year. Throughout the spring we were in lockdown. Collecting the boat from where she’s stored and towing her 12 miles to her summer mooring at Alnmouth could hardly be described as an essential journey. It was therefore much later in the year that we’d planned when she was finally back in the water. Conditions had to be totally perfect to get out of the estuary as the river channel had changed position so sailing out to sea was always going to be tricky. After lockdown was lifted everyone seemed to migrate to the coast so parking became an issue. No wonder we never managed to do more.

Today there was a very high tide so K took the trailer down and positioned the boat ready to winch on to it. Son joined him to help…

… and Buddy supervised.

There was quite a lot of traffic on the river today. The sailing dinghies were racing and this rather beautiful skiff came in.

One dinghy crew were launching off the ramp and kindly lent a hand to keep the boat straight.

We watched a young girl take her paddle board out – she made it look quite effortless.

There are still quite a few boats in the water but many of the smaller ones will be brought out over the next few weeks. If we get severe winter weather boats can be torn from their moorings or damaged by debris such as fallen trees floating downstream. As the tide inched higher over the salt marsh it formed tiny islands.

A group of children were having a brilliant game of pirates. Sword fights determined which band of pirates won control of a tidal island. Actually they were using toy light sabres but that hardly matters in a game of imagination! Their dog was enthusiastically fetching a ball and digging in the mud. Every one of them was wet and muddy but they were having such a great time. They looked like they had escaped from the pages of old children’s adventure stories like Swallows and Amazons or The Famous Five series.

With Son operating the winch and K guiding her on to the trailer as the rising tide lifted her up, Isla Mia inched onto the trailer The engine at the stern of the boat adds a lot of weight so the water does all the heavy lifting work.

Eventually she was fully trailered, secured and hitched up to the car.

The backboard with tail lights was put in place and she was towed away to her winter home. Happy hibernation Isla Mia!

Do you have to make any preparations for winter?

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Knitting At The Beach Again

As autumn has arrived and the holidaymakers have gone home, our lovely Northumbrian beaches are quieter again. We were at Alnmouth yesterday for the first time in ages and it was so good to be back with my favourite knitting view of Coquet Island.

For a while it’s been too busy to find a parking space. Also, when the weather is good and the picnickers are about, Buddy the Labrador thinks the beach is one massive buffet for his personal enjoyment! Not that I really resent the tourists. They have given the local businesses, including cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels, such a boost since the COVID lockdown, hopefully enough to continue trading, so we can support them during the coming months. Not that that is happening much. We are in a local lockdown here in North East England, following a surge in Coronavirus cases, so we can only visit such places with the people we live with.

One change I did notice was that there is now a gate on the car park at Alnmouth Beach. Locals reported that a number of camper vans were “wild”camping there and leaving large amounts of rubbish behind. The same was happening at nearby Buston Links. The landowner has installed bollards to block the lane there to vehicles , which has not gone down well with people who go there to walk their dogs.

While K, son and Buddy went for a walk I got on with the brioche hand warmers I began to knit earlier in the week.

The sea was quite rough, so it was distracting watching the breaking waves. I am always mesmerised by the sea.

There were still lots of people about, but it wasn’t picnic weather so Buddy got a good run off his lead. When the boys returned at the end of the walk we treated ourselves to an ice cream from Gwen’s van. I do love knitting with a view, especially a sea view.

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Back On The Beach With The Boat

When K retired he fulfilled an ambition: he got a boat. The Ila Mia is a little motor launch. We didn’t use her much for the first couple of years but last year we acquired a mud mooring at Alnmouth, which is so much easier than launching from the trailer every time. At low tide the boat rests on the mud. We simply walk over to it, climb aboard and wait for the tide to come in. The boat floats off, we untie from the buoy and off we go!

Ila Mia comes out of the water for the winter and we were unable to retrieve her from where she is stored during lockdown restrictions. It was not an essential journey and K’s car, (the one with the towbar), needed the handbrake fixed when the garage was closed. As restrictions lifted, the car was mended and the boat was towed home for some pre-launch maintenance.

She was parked on the front lawn while the barnacles were scraped off, anti-foul paint applied and the engine serviced. Then, on a big tide, she was taken back to Alnmouth.

The launch process takes a while. The boat is towed across the hard sand and unhitched, then it’s the long wait until the tide comes in, when she can be floated off the trailer.

It’s good that she’s back in the water. We hope for some decent weather and calm seas so we can take her out, for fishing or simply to enjoy being out, watching the wildlife. We regularly see puffins, guillemots and even the rare roseate terns that breed on nearby Coquet Island.

Apart from having to wait for the tide, the other drawback at Alnmouth is actually getting out of the estuary. The river channel changes position from time to time and over the winter it moved significantly, now running all the way along the beach and out to sea at the north end of it. it looks pretty shallow too, so there will be a shorter window for trips over high tide.

It’s also difficult if there is some surf. We got drenched going out one day last year when a wave broke over the bows, soaking us both! – That was not our best trip. The spare outboard had already gone overboard in the channel when the mounting broke (fortunately retrieved later on when the tide went out) . We weren’t out for long. Despite reports of lots of mackerel, we couldn’t find any . There was a bit of a swell, which made the boat roll a bit when we cut the engines to start fishing – that left me feeling slightly queasy.

To add insult to injury, the following day K took a couple of friends out and there was no surf, a flat sea and lots of mackerel. They came back with quite a haul. That meant a busy evening of cleaning, filleting and smoking the fish. We have a home smoker, which is basically a glorified biscuit tin with a grid in it. The freezer was filled which meant that I had a plentiful supply to make my favourite smoked mackerel pate. Here’s the recipe.

Smoked Mackerel Pate


  • 2 smoked mackerel, skin and bones removed
  • a large tub of creme fraiche
  • juice and rind of one or two lemons (I like it lemony and use two)
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste.

To make it you simply whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor. Use the pulse setting until it reaches the right consistency, processing for longer if you like it smooth. It’s delicious on toast or oatcakes. I can’t tell you how long it keeps in the fridge because it never stays around for very long!

With our stock of mackerel in the fridge running low, I hope we’ll be back at sea and able to catch some more soon.!

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Cake (Not Scone) of the Week

This week we visited the Old School Gallery at Alnmouth. Situated just outside the village centre on the road out towards Foxton, the Gallery has a small cafe area. They had no scones (so not exactly a “Scone of the Week” post} but five different cakes to choose from. I think they may have a bigger menu at busier times of year. Today we were the only customers there at the time of our visit.

We had a wander round to look at the art while our cake and coffee were being prepared and there were some lovely pieces, in a variety styles and media. They included a lot of seascapes and other sea-themed pictures. Many are available as prints and there a few other items too, including ceramics, textiles, cards and gifts.

The Gallery’s Spring Exhibition is currently being prepared ready for opening on 14th Feb so we could see many of the exhibits ready for hanging. My favourite was a huge seascape on canvas – I don’t know who the artist is but it was stunning.

Our home-baked cakes were excellent. I chose the lemon drizzle (one of my favourites) and Mum had the polenta and lime cake. Both were moist, light and full of flavour. For those preferring something with icing, there was coffee cake, chocolate, or victoria sponge. We had very nice Illy brand barista-style coffee to go with it.

The only issue with visiting the Gallery is the access. They have tried by creating a ramp from one of the entrance gates into the building , but then there is a single step inside, quite steep with no handrail. Apart from that it’s quite a nice place to visit.

We couldn’t visit Alnmouth without looking at the sea, so we drove down to the beach. It was a beautiful clear day and the sea looked almost inviting.

The afternoon sun lit up the Aln Estuary and shone on the wet sand.

As we drove away we saw one of the skiffs that are based in Alnmouth. Skiff racing is becoming quite popular around British coasts and as the boats are very traditional in design, this is keeping the old boat-building skills alive. They are quite often to be seen wheeled out of the boathouse by the beach like this and I love to see them.

It has been a week of seeing old friends. On Tuesday I had lunch with two fabulous former colleagues. It was so good to catch up (and far too long since we last got together). Later on I met a dear friend for coffee. She is off to Australia in a couple of weeks and I’m missing her already. Today we saw a lovely couple who live near my Mum for the first time in ages… turns out that this lady reads my blog! I didn’t realise. It was so nice to see them both.

Have you had any reunions recently or been back in contact with people after a long time without? I’d love to hear about it.

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Escape to the Beach

It was blowing a gale last night – I was at a friend’s house for Book Club and as the wind got up we could hear what sounded like neighbours’ bins blowing over. On the way home some our Club members had to move a fallen branch off the road and even the short walk between car and house was difficult.

I was therefore keen to get to the beach this afternoon to see if the waves had been whipped up by the storm. I’d been busy doing jobs at home and I needed a break so decided to head off down to Alnmouth before it started to get dark (Of course I took the knitting)

Although it was still windy, it was blowing offshore so the waves weren’t big, though there was spray coming off the breakers.

It was bright and clear and the dog walkers were still out in force

I drove round to the estuary where we moor our little boat in the summer. It’s a mud mooring: the rope is attached to a special kind of anchor which is screwed deep into the mud. We don’t use the boat in the winter as weather conditions aren’t as good and with more storms, debris like fallen trees from upstream can float down and damage moored craft. There are still a lot of boats at the moorings though.

Thought the estuary itself is sheltered, navigating out to sea can be difficult if the waves are big at the river mouth. Today was not bad though.

The shoreline to the south was quiet enough for gulls and oystercatchers to congregate.

Do you have a favourite place to go when you feel the need to get out of the house for some fresh air?

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Searching at Sunrise

I’m not exactly a morning person, but there were rather special circumstances yesterday morning which led me to see the sun come up. Of course being late December it wasn’t that early.

I was there for a rather sad reason. We always keep an eye out for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) when we are at the beach or in our boat. We always report any sightings to add to the body of knowledge about their distribution. Over the last few days there had been a number of sightings of a pod of four sperm whales, quite close inshore. This was not good news. The sperm whale is a deep water species, feeding on squid, which again is only found in deep water. These were not where they should be. Our coastal waters are far too shallow and they would not be able to feed. They would be starving, probably dehydrated and sick. Local experts predicted that the whales would probably strand on the overnight tide and asked for volunteers to help locate them.

When whales strand, it is very very unlikely that they will be refloated and swim away. It seems that they come ashore to die. It was important to find them before the general public. After another stranding further south recently, someone turned up with tools to hack out a tooth as a souvenir. I feel they should be able to die with some dignity with bystanders kept at a distance. It is vital that as much data can be collected from the carcasses as possible to help us find out why whale strandings occur.

So that’s why we needed to be checking the beach at first light. I went to Alnmouth, but thankfully there was no sign of the whales. The sunrise was glorious though.

Volunteers searched the coastline and maintained a vigil all day, but the whales had disappeared without trace. It’s a longshot, but we all hope they’ve managed to get far enough north and east to be able to feed and survive.

Today was beautiful: sunny, calm and clear. so we headed for Sugar Sands for the dog walk. The beach is accessed via a gated farm track and there is an honesty box by the farm gate to pay your 50p car park fee (proceeds go to the local church). This allows you to park overlooking the bay.

Thankfully no sperm whales (I’ll post updates if hear anything more) but lots of birds, including cormorants, eider ducks and gulls on the water and a large flock of curlew and oystercatcher in the next field. I was checking out the eider ducks with the binoculars and saw a harbour porpoise. It surfaced three times, quite a long way into the bay before I lost track of it. Wonderful!

I did remember to bring my knitting, but didn’t do much – it’s a twiddle mitt, almost ready to cast off and embellish with buttons and beads. I’m wearing one of my Christmas presents: fingerless gloves from Turtle Doves. They are made from recycled cashmere sweaters: lovely and warm and perfect for alfresco knitting on a cold day.

Have you spotted any interesting wildlife near where you live?

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What a Difference a Week Makes

How the weather has changed since I posted this time last week in the same place. The rain has stopped and the temperature has dropped. While K walked the dog I put my knitting on a picnic table while I took photos – It was freezing, so I was soon back in the car to get on with my knitting before my fingers got numb.

The body of the poncho cape has grown and I’m really enjoying putting the different blue tones together. I’ve just joined in the turquoise colour you can see on the left – it is an oddment left over from the Valdres Sweater. The number of stitches is increasing rapidly, so I’m about to change to circular needles. You can see how this needle is absolutely crammed.

Last week’s breakers have washed up loads of kelp, The sea is a lot calmer now and it’s so good to have sunshine and blue sky. Coquet Island was clearly visible this week now the rain and fog have gone. The island is an important nesting site for the Roseate Tern – one of our rarest breeding seabirds. Other species breed there too, notably the Puffin.

Even though it was only about 2pm, the sun was very low in the sky, but then it is December. It made the Aln Estuary look beautiful.

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I really do knit by the sea!

a spot of seaside knitting today.

It finally stopped raining so I joined K and the dog at Alnmouth today. I’m not good at walking on sand so decided to take a few pics for the blog. I love to sit and watch the sea (sometimes knitting at the same time). The view changes so rapidly. The carpark at Alnmouth overlooks the beach so it’s a perfect vantage point. We love it in the winter as there are fewer picnickers (Buddy the labrador is very greedy).

The sea was rough today and the tide was in. Usually there is a good view of Coquet Island from here but the weather was too murky to see it.

Tank traps from WWII

The waves have washed a lot of sand away and the old tank traps are easy to see here. These concrete cubes are found at lots of places along this coast – they were defences against enemy landing craft, left over from World War Two. Today some children were having fun climbing on them. In summer they are a great place to dry wet swimming towels, but nobody was venturing into the water today!

I’m on the next stage of the stash busting blues project, having done lots of maths last night to work out the transition from the collar to the body and the shaping increases for the next part of the pattern. It’s pretty straightforward for the rest of it if all goes to plan, so it was bliss to just be mesmerised by the waves and get on with my knitting!