Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Thurso River Nightmare

My posts on salmon fishing in previous years have been exuberant affairs fuelled by good catches of fish under favourable conditions, notably a good flow of water in the Thurso or Wick rivers.In the run up to my week on the Thurso beginning on July 15th, I watched with horror as the river level and catches fell sharply through June into July when heat added more fishing misery to the drought. As the week began, only Beat 2, nearest the sea was recording small catches of the fish who come and go with the tide into the lower reaches of the river.
    Standard tactics for low water require small flies and early mornings before the sun gets on the water. Beat 5 was my Monday territory including the Island Stream shown above. Under normal good fishing conditions, only the green island in the distance is visible so all the extra 'islands' reflect the drought. I fished the beat without success until the sun was well up before giving in to the conditions. I repeated the exercise the following morning on Beat 3 before giving up for the week faced with even more sterile conditions on the higher up beats. The Thurso is fed from Loch More above Beat 13 and the picture below left shows a vast shore which is normally deep under water. In the picture on the left, the river shows her bones at Westerdale. Fingers crossed for my next week in September.

     The following week I was invited to fish with friends on the Alness, about 80 miles south of Wick. It was suffering from the drought but still seemed to have a better flow of water than the Thurso. The fishing was unsuccessful but the saving grace was the scenery and the streamy boulder strewn water providing plenty of lies for fish. It's marked down for a revisit under better conditions.

Novels by Alan Calder

The Glorious Twelfth

 The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon 


Monday, 22 July 2013

John O' Groats Update

The Natural Retreats development of chalets and self catering appartments at John O' Groats is almost complete. The effect on the overall ambience of the northern outpost is very positive both visually and in the Tripadvisor reviews of guests who have already stayed there. I really like the brightly painted wood and serrated roofs of the old hotel extension, contrasting with the stark white outline of the nineteenth century building with it's eight sided tower, copied from the original built by Jan De Groot to make his many sons feel equal. I'm sure that Jan, the Dutchman after whom the village is named will be smiling in his grave. Seafarer Jan was given the franchise to run a ferry to Orkney by James IV in 1496. His descendants carry the name Groat. I was pleased to discover recently that an Isabella Groat is my GGGrandmother.

 The chalet and apartments are now complemented by a new upgraded cafe/restaurant, The Storehouse and Natural Retreats have provided a new high speed launch for wildlife cruising, especially round the island of Stroma to the north. The harbour remains the base for the Orkney foot ferry seen here overtaking the Gills car ferry against the background of the south end of Stroma. John O' Groats remains a Mecca for the walkers and cyclists who want to cover the length of the British Isles.
The moors around the north have an exceptional crop of bog cotton this year to the point where it looks as though it could be harvested. This shot comes from the road between Freswick and John O' Groats.
Needless to say given the long hot dry spell, the salmon fishing is a disaster- more later.

 Novels by Alan Calder
The Glorious Twelfth


The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon 



Monday, 15 July 2013

French Holiday 3 - Beaujolais and Burgundy

Julienas is typical of many villages in the Beaujolais, nestling in a valley surrounded by vines. Its a pattern that repeats all the way down to the south of the region. We stayed at Chez la Rose, a Logis in the village centre. It was a real find and we talked to other guests who had been using it as a stop over for years. The room was excellent and the food wonderful. There is an added bonus for walkers with a map from the hotel. Four different 8-12 Km walks start and finish in the village centre. We did the Circuit de la Montagne de Remont in about 2 hours giving us great views of the surrounding areas. I know that Beaujolais wine has a mixed press but the dark side of it's reputation is based on the banality of Beaujolais Nouveau. Single village Beaujolais in good years, eg 2009 and 2011 is not only excellent wine but very good value red when you think of the prices being charged in Burgundy just up the road. We bought halves of Domaine de la Combe Darroux, Julienas that we tasted at dinner. Further south we bought some 2011 Chenas at Chateau de Chenas as well as their gold medal winning Thesaurus, 2009 veille vignes wooded cuvee.
Where the Beaujolais ends in the north, the Maconnais begins. Just off the Macon-sud interchange it's a stone's throw to the cave at Vinzelles with it's enormous range of whites from the area. It has all the Pouilly villages and districts plus Saint Veran. We got a nice mixed case. Going deeper into the area took us to the village of Fuisse and the Burrier cave. Again the selection was vast but we concentrated on his excellent
classic Saint Veran. We tasted expensive wooded offerings that were.....not nice! Our next move took us north to Puligny Montrachet, pretty near the top of the tree for white Burgundy. We stayed with Celine and John Nicholls at Domaine des Anges in the central square for the first night and at Hotel Chouette round the corner for the second, both highly recommended. Again walking and wine was the theme. John kindly introduced me to local producer of village Puligny Monrachet, Alain Chavy before we struck out to Auxey Duresses to find the cave of Michel Prunier where we'd bought his veille vignes cuvee on an earlier visit. A quick stop at Wine Society favourite, Henri Prudhom followed by a visit to Mersault finished our tour .
 We then did a fantastic walk all the way up through the vines, first the village wines then the Grand Crus on the slopes. Near the top we caught sight of a horse and plough being used to turn the ground between the vines. At the top we were rewarded with a view of St Aubin on the other side of the slope where the wines are mercifully cheaper. On the way back we passed  a sixteenth century oratoire that commemorates the couple who owned the vineyard then. 

We dined at the Hotel Montrachet and next night had the tasting menu at Olivier Levevre's establishment. Both were excellent. Our overall impression of the Burgundy whites that we tasted was that they all seemed a bit too acidic and weak on the 'butteriness' that we expect and hardly value for money, but it's nice to have some in the cellar. Below is the total of our wine purchases on the trip, another reason for having a sturdy Volvo.
We were highly amused to hear every day from the French that 'pas de problem' has been systematically replaced by 'pas de soucis' so 'no worries' has translated well into the French vernacular, doubtless to the chagrin of The Academie Francaise, guardian of the language.

Novels by Alan Calder
The Glorious Twelfth published by Museitup
 The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon

Saturday, 13 July 2013

French Holiday 2 -The Vaucluse


From our base in the medieval hilltop village of Sablet, we have easy access to most of the Vaucluse wine villages. One of the key objectives of our visit was to do a recce for a wine walking holiday with friends in 2014. The first task was to find a suitable base for about twelve people. Trawling the net threw up a number of chateaux and hotels that might be appropriate but one stood out, Chateau Juvenal at Saint  Hippolyte le Graveyron, conveniently sited  on the road between Beaumes de Venise and Caromb.

It ticks all the boxes on accommodation, food etc and makes good wine as well in the Ventoux appellation. We can now plan the details from a long list of walks, restaurants,wine tasting opportunities, cooking classes and other outings.
On Monday morning we went to Bedoin market, which seems to get bigger each year that we visit. It has all the usual Provencal products and was less crowded than I remember it in the school holidays. Bedoin is the main launch point for the trip up nearby Mont Ventoux, especially for the hordes of cyclists who punish their way up to the limestone capped top of the 2000m high icon.
 During the week we tasted wine at a number of properties, focussing for a change on the delicate whites as opposed to the beefy reds which I tend now to buy en-primeur from the Wine Society. The whites are made from viognier (good examples of 100% cepage from Ferme St Pierre at Flassan and Chateau de Trignon in Gigondas.) Otherwise most of the whites are blends of local grapes, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Clairette, Rousanne, Marsanne and Bourboulenc. Good examples were tasted at Domaine le Clos des Cazaux at Vacqueras, Domaine Saint Gayan Sablet blanc and Mourchon, la Source from Seguret.
We didn't entirely ignore the reds. We particularly like the Vacqueras from Les Amouriers, both Signature and Geneste cuvees. We also liked the classy but expensive Moulin de la Gardette Gigondas at their cave in the centre of Gigondas next to the Cave des Vignerons where you can taste the output of almost every property.
On the restaurant front we found some good new addresses. In Le Barrou we enjoyed lunch at L'Entre Potes, the bistro attached to the classy le Gajulea next door. Out on the Plan de Dieu near Cairanne we found the newly opened Coteaux et Fourchettes. Excellent value with a wine shop attached. Across in Carpentras, Chez Serge delivered an excellent lunch. The restaurant is conveniently sited across from the Platanes car park. We first met Serge by coincidence in a vineyard in the Languedoc. He's a larger than life character who has made a considerable reputation for himself.

One of the highlights was visiting the artist Marysia Donaldson at her lovely home near Tulette. We rented a holiday property from them a few years ago. I was able to present her with a copy of my first book, The Stuart Agenda, which used her house for a scene and mentions a painting by her late husband, David Donaldson, a portrait of the Queen in Holyrood Palace.
We did a nice walk up from Suzette, another charming village, higher up at the back of the Dentelles. We enjoyed coffee in it's only restaurant, Les Coquelicots. At the end of the week we looked forward to stopovers on the return journey at Julienas in the Beaujolais and Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy.

Novels by Alan Calder

 The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon  www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005BJ3GNI


Monday, 1 July 2013

French Holiday- Going South to Sablet


Having lived in France in the 1980’s and taken annual holidays there every year for nearly twenty years, a four year gap except for a winter visit to Paris left us with withdrawal symptoms. Our two week break in France consisted of one week in our favourite area, the Vaucluse or at least the part that has a view of Mont Ventoux, bounded by a two stop journey south and a more leisurely return taking in the Beaujolais and Burgundy wine areas. We left Yorkshire fairly early to catch a midday tunnel crossing, giving us time to visit the Crystal d’Arques factory shop to replenish our stock of wine glasses. Our first stop over was at Le Sapinière, a Logis in the village of Wisqes, just off sortie 3 on the A26. It was our first visit there. The rooms were reasonably priced and the food excellent so we used it on the return journey as well.
     Our second night was spent at the upmarket Beau Rivage in Condrieu on the Rhone South of Vienne. For dinner we had the tasting menu with wines included, giving us the opportunity to taste a number of expensive and marvellous bottles. We particularly enjoyed the tartare of dorade and the langoustine set on a bed of tomatoes and peas, dressed with vinaigrette of mango pulp. On the wine front we were particularly impressed by the white Saint Joseph. In the morning we consulted the Concierge on wine addresses. He advised avoiding the expensive big names around the village. and directed to the property of Stephane  Montez, Domaine de Monteillet, at the village of Chavanay, a few miles to the south.



The property is set high up on the lip of the Rhone valley with a great view of the river and one of the many nuclear power stations that adorn it. We bought some of his petit Condrieu as well as some 2011 white Saint Joseph. We then hurried down the left bank to get to the Cave at Tain L’ Hermitage before the midi shutdown. We bought some more white Saint Joseph and Saint Perray. Rejoining the autoroute at Tournus we reached our objective at Sablet, a classic fortified medieval village in the late afternoon. It consists of three concentric levels of houses leading to the church at the top. Our apartment was comfortable and well equipped, with good internet connection and British TV via satellite. The restaurant that we remember in the village has been modernised to serve pizza, tapas etc so we searched out a new one, Les Abeilles (The bees), on the edge of the village. It turned out to be pretentious and expensive- we were stung!

Next morning we rose early to walk in the cool, leaving Sablet for the vines of Chateau de Trignon, one of our favourite Gigondas makers, passing Domaine de Gayan and enjoying the marvellous view of The Dentelle peaks on our circular walk back to the village for breakfast.
To be continued.




Novels by Alan Calder
The Glorious Twelfth published by Museitup

 The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon  www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005BJ3GNI