Monday, August 28, 2006

Tickle me Ticklemore

Breakfast at the Steam Packet Inn. I awoke to a bright and beautiful morning. I struggled with the Power Shower in the bathroom. These things always confuse me. They're flash water heaters, so they usually scald me at first before I get the temperature right. This one proved to be no different. Plus, the shower was a hose attachment that runs off of the Power Shower unit and proved to be fairly inflexible. Then I was faced with the challenge of keeping the water confined within the bathtub. Showers are not as common as bathtubs around here, but people have been trying to make do with what they have. All over the U.K., I have found bathtubs rigged with half a glass door sticking out from the wall and only extending about two feet along the outer rim of the tub. So you're not entirely enclosed. The rest is open to the room. So if you manage to yank the showerhead hose off of its perch, you must be very careful not to get the floor, toilet, toilet paper and towels wet. My success rate is about 60% right now. I only go the floor slightly wet with this one.

All clean and ready to face the day, I enjoyed a huge breakfast in the sunny, riverside breakfast room. The tide was high, so the river was beautiful. A couple of people mentioned that these are the Spring Tides. Twice a year, they have especially high tides so the river looks really impressive. The inn served a beautiful breakfast with your choice of oak smoked haddock and eggs, smoked salmon and eggs, or the full English breakfast: sausage, bacon, blood pudding, sautéed mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, fried bread, toast and three eggs cooked any style. OJ, coffee or tea, and cereal was also included. I had the salmon and eggs. Huge portions, I was set for hours.

We drove back to the dairy where Robin was waiting. Today we're going to pick up the goats milk and the Sharpham cheese order. I climb into the passenger side of his Tata milk truck. It is made in India. In the back, there are two tanks that hold 180 gallons of milk. We're going to a goat farm outside of Buckfastleigh, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. The road follows the River Dart, heading west. We pass many pubs, ancient churches, Dartington Hall, an arts college, and eventually wind up at this immaculate farmyard with a black and white border collie barking at us. We pull in next to the goat dairy building and wait for Farmer Will to come out and fill up our tanks with fresh goat milk. On the way over, Robin was telling me stories about Will and Susie, Will's wife. Will is a gentleman farmer. He speaks with the accent of the well educated and well bred. Robin says Will went to school with Prince Charles, but he doesn't like to let that be known. He also described him as "completely tossed." We showed up to hear Will and Susie shouting about something. I'm not sure if they were angry or they couldn't hear over all of the goats, pumps and equipment in the barn.

Will finally shows up and starts pumping the milk into one of the tanks. He's a memorable figure, stocky, about 5'10" with a shaved head and full, grey beard. Will and Susie tend to their goats with loving care, rearing them in family groups in order to get good, quality milk and happy goats. They haven't taken a vacation in years. Robin has been working with them for years and both operations have grown together. I'm invited into the barn to take pictures and watch the goats get milked. The girlsall look at me with their funny looking eyes and wonder just what I am doing in their barn. Susie is busy cleaning their udders and getting the milking equipment hooked up to each doe. It's a very orderly process. I watch the milk flow from the goats through network of pipes, into the storage vats, and then into our milk truck's small tanks. The milk is literally straight from the goats. Very cool. Ticklemore picks up goats milk five days a week. This ensures that the milk is always superb.

Back we go to the dairy. The farm is about 20 minutes from Ticklemore, but today it is taking a bit longer due to traffic. Lots of cars on these roads. Kids have another two weeks of summer break before the new term begins. Families are cramming last minute vacations and Devon is a popular holiday destination. Every time I drive around the place, I realize England is a very densely populated country. You are never far from a village or a congested road. It is a very crowded place.

The milk is delivered and Ben and Nick start off loading it to make cheese. I join Sarie in the van and we head off to their neighbors at Sharpham Vineyards and Cheese. Apparently the wine industry is growing in England and with global warming, they hope to take advantage of warmer temperatures and lingering summers. Sharpham makes several soft ripened cows milk cheeses, a larger, semi firm Rustic, and they also help make Ticklemore Goat for Robin. Debbie Mumford, the cheesemaker worked for Robin for a few years before she moved down the road to make cheese at Sharpham. In order to keep up with production, she's been making Ticklemore goat for Robin for about six years. Debbie comes out to talk to us as we load up the van with cheeses for the cheese shop and for delivery to Ticklemore's wholesale accounts. We chat and I am invited to spend a day at Sharpham while I'm here. Can't say no to that invitation! I must call Debbie when she's back from vacation in Idaho and San Francisco. I told her to drop by Cowgirl.

Sarie lets me drive back to the dairy. I didn't kill us but I'm still tense from the short drive. We unload the van and I'm dropped back in town so they can pack for their trip. I grab some lunch at a cheery place called Fat Lemons and walked around Totnes some more. I find the Leechwells on Leechwell Lane. These are springs that have reputed healing waters. The wells are very old and covered with grates to keep people from climbing into them. There are colorful ribbons tied to the bars, and on the branches that overhang the trickling water. Lepers use to bathe here, to help cure their disease. The air is thick around the springs and it’s very peaceful. I can see why places like this were thought to be sacred. There are also some ripe blackberries growing just beyond the springs, along the path so I nibbled on a few. Nice and sweet. Obviously well watered.

Dinner was at a wonderful pub called the Kingsbridge Inn. This is the oldest pub in the borough. Charles II hid here in a room. Parts of the building date back to the 900's! It's been a pub since the 1500's. Low timbered ceiling and huge fireplaces give it an old feeling. The food was great. I had a goat cheese salad and fish and chips. I washed it down with a half pint of Cornish Knockers Bitter. A guy at the bar recommended it. Pretty good. Not too strong.

I leave the pub and while walking down the hill, a couple pull up in a car and stop. They roll down their window and ask for directions. They're from Brixham and don't know the roads around Totnes. I laugh and say "Neither do I!"
"Oh!" says the woman in the car. "You're an American?" "Yes, I am."
"You have a lovely accent!" She says. Ha! I was thinking the samething about her.

I will post photos in a couple of days. The dial-up connection doesn't want to load them tonight.

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