Had it not been for the stepping stones I would not have attempted the bouillabaisse.
The weather was not great for Tom & Amy’s visit but we did get out. We took them to Lerryn on their first afternoon – with added entertainment in the narrow, twisting lanes on the way. Once there, we walked over the Elizabethan bridge and took a stroll along the river through Ethy Wood. The tide was high, the stepping stones were hidden, but they were in my thoughts.
It was a very different walk from when Bernie & I strolled here in April. The trees are obviously in full leaf now; there was no sun and no clear blue sky. The wood was still beautiful – and still deserted – but with a slightly mournful, haunted atmosphere. Tom spotted egrets on the river, just as B & I did previously. We walked further this time and tried to decide what settlements we could see in the distance. I’m not sure that we ever reached real agreement on that one.
By the time we were back opposite the village the tide had turned and the stones were high and dry. The notion had already entered my head that maybe – just maybe – I might cross them this time. The men went first; I gave Amy my phone for safe-keeping, and I followed. After just a few stones I changed my mind. Amy was behind me offering patient encouragement. But I really had changed my mind. Then it came to me that the prospect of turning around on one of these stones was even more fear-inducing than carrying on. There was nothing for it but to press on. The gaps between the stones were a great deal larger than they had looked from the bank. And the stones were sloping; almost none of them were level. Tom – from some distance ahead – assured me that I had now negotiated all the widest gaps. He lied. But I had no choice but to carry on, very slowly and hesitantly – and grumbling very loudly the entire time.
Only when I finally reached the far bank did I actually look up – and notice the exceedingly patient couple waiting to cross in the opposite direction. They were so kind, and had been holding back their two beautiful dogs who were mad keen to splash across the river. “We thought them hurtling past might unsettle you,” the lady explained with a smile.
It’s fairly clear from the photo, but I shall point it out anyway: although the river is reasonably wide, at low tide it is no more than 6 inches deep. And although the stones are not sitting flat, they are all steady and they’re all large – some, I would suggest, are big enough for two people to stand on. So I wish someone could explain why I am so terrified of something that I know, rationally, can cause me no harm. The worst that could happen? I might get wet. You would think I was on a tightrope across Niagara for the fuss I made.
However – I did it. I crossed the river; I used the stepping stones. I didn’t bother focusing on what a spectacle I must have looked or how foolish I am. Instead, with Amy’s encouragement, I congratulated myself. This also prompted me to acknowledge the descent to Lantic Bay from just a few days ago: now that really was a respectable achievement. I am proud of conquering the cliffs; I’m more …. squirmily embarrassed about conquering the stones.
But a mindset had been established. And thus – in this mood of “I can try new things even if they scare me” – I decided to choose the bouillabaisse.
It was the following day: the first day of July – and we made our first visit to The Old Ferry Inn at Bodinnick. This small, sleepy village rises steeply from the waterside. The car ferry docks here: for centuries this was the main southerly route through Cornwall. There has been a crossing of some description since the 14th century and probably an inn has been on this spot since then. The present incarnation dates back to the seventeenth century. The inn looks out over the car ferry, and over Ferryside, with views of the Fowey estuary beyond, and then Polruan and Fowey.
This was the inn where Daphne ate lunch with her mother and sisters as they drove into Cornwall on their property-hunting trip in 1926. They had just embarked on a search for a holiday home. The girls went exploring, climbed into the neglected old house they could see across the road (bottom-right in my photo, with the lawns), and a new world opened for the young Daphne.
The inn is a rambling place: passageways and extensions leading away from the small bar at the front. You can feel the age: what history it must have seen; what stories it could tell. The walls were filled with old photographs. Faces from the past.
We took a wander out to the terrace to breathe in the views. Sadly, it was really too cold and windy to eat there comfortably: we repaired to the bar and studied the menu. And there was bouillabaisse.
I had told myself when we knew that we were moving to the area, that I must be braver and try more fish. I like fish. But I don’t like it to look like a fish: heads are out; and I don’t like bones. And anything remotely connected with tentacles is a complete non-starter. Things involving shells are …. alright. Not great, but acceptable. Bouillabaisse, of course, is a well-known fish stew, originating from the regions of the Mediterranean. I’d heard of it often but never considered trying it. What better occasion – in an old seafaring pub with a locally-renowned chef in an area abounding in fresh fish – and with Tom & Amy for support? Tom decided to go for the bouillabaisse too. Amy regressed to her childhood and chose a fish finger sandwich. And B, as is generally the case, was happy with a burger.
There were no mussels for the bouillabaisse, we were told after we’d ordered. There had been no mussels in the morning’s catch; they would arrive for the evening shift. Chef would give us prawns instead. Mussels would probably have given more flavour but… this was really all about the experience.
And an experience it was. I had not anticipated crab claws. There they were – a pair of claws for each of us, nestling in the broth. And a range of implements to deal with them. I hadn’t been prepared for claws in my soup. And I’m sure one of mine had an eye on it. It didn’t of course, but dear me – it certainly looked like it was looking at me. The claws had to be cracked: prized apart at the joints – picked up and broken open. Oh my! It should be fairly apparent that I’ve never eaten crab or lobster before: not actual crab or lobster that still looks like what it is. Amy was horrified and very thankful for her fish finger sandwich. Together, Tom and I went in….
We did it: we cracked the claws; we finished the bouillabaisse. It was good. Tastier had there been mussels I think, but good. And fresh from my experience of crossing the stepping stones, I mastered the crab – and the pick to hook out the meat. If I can clamber down a goat’s path and cross a river 6 inches deep, I can conquer a crab’s claws, right? Interesting how the mind works…
I’m not sure it was worth the effort if I’m honest: a lot of palaver for a small amount of crab meat that was ok, but really – nothing special. Fortunately, the bar was empty whilst we were figuring out how to tackle the crab claws – even the barman had retired politely. There was no one to hear our hapless remarks and squeals as the joints snapped. In fact, the banter and squealing became part of the fun. It was certainly a memorable meal!
Apologies to Tom, for making him humour me with the crab claws. Highwayman? Adam Ant? Maybe I just wanted to distract myself from the fact that they were really crab claws…
Would I have bouillabaisse again? No. Especially after I read up on it the following morning and learned that often it contains conger eel. There is no way I am ever going to risk eating eel. I thought about the other fish in our bowls; I convinced myself that none of those pieces could possibly have been eel. I shall move oknowingly n from that possibility.
Eating the bouillabaisse was a very tactile experience. And it was fun. I’m glad I tried it. But once is enough.
Once home again, we played cards. Tom and Amy taught me gin rummy. I love card games but I’ve managed to miss this game my entire life and I’ve always wanted to be able to play. We played gin rummy accompanied by gin and tonics: another new experience. Would I repeat this one? Oh yes, as often as you like!
Outside, July offered us heavy grey skies and squally showers. Not the best of weather to usher in this month of summer. But a good day nonetheless.