Category: Dorset’s Golden Coast

Weymouth and West Dorset, oh so quiet Olympics?

I took friends and family to Weymouth on Saturday 28 July to see the Battle of the Winds final extravagganza of aerialists, the 2012 torches wade into the sea, the pyrotechnics and generally start enjoying Olympic atmosphere. I mmm’ed and rrrr’ed it would be a bit too crowded, but hey it’s a once in a lifetime, so off we went. 

There was plenty there, but not quite what I expected. An empty Monkey Jump Park & Ride welcomed us mid afternoon. A brand new double decker took all seven of us into town on the shiny new bypass that we are being warned not to use. Many more empty buses were waiting to Ride elusive Parked punters back to their cars.  We strolled along the spacious promenade to the Bayside Festival where our Somerset friends learned about the Jurassic Coast wonders. My kids loved being taught a few tricks by the ExtremeSports team, great guys under the tatooes and dreadlocks.  At 6.30 pm Bayside eating area had all of ten tourists having tea listening to the Acoustic Stage. At 7pm the long expected queue to get into the enclosed “Weymouth and Portland Live Site” was painfully tiny…

Great news as a visitor, plenty of space, unexpected free entry to Bayside; not such great news when talking to the locals who have invested money and worked hard for months. Why the big signs in surroundings counties of how busy it may get? Put them up when it does get busy, not before. These are the days of mobile phones, twitter, facebook, information is fast. Does St Tropez warn tourists in Lyon? NON. They let them all come, get stuck, take their money and let them queue. Tourists do come back, every year and it’s still a nightmare to get to St Trop.

Squibbers lit the Weymouth beach on 28 July 2012
Squibbers lit the Weymouth beach on 28 July 2012

I got cross with dorsetforyou. Stop caring people off I said on twitter.

“@natamagat Just informing people about changes and road closures. We want to encourage people to come down, but plan their journey 1st” they replied.

Well, West Dorset looks awfully quiet. The dreadful recent events due to floods and landslides are still fresh on people’s mind but it does not mean the whole area should be avoided. Local businesses that rely on Summer visitors need help, not scaremongering tactics.

Tell everybody how easy it is to get here (I’m told there’s even a High-Speed train from Weymouth to Bristol but it’s not advertised, go figure), that there’s lots to do in Weymouth, that Bridport has a fantastic Festival of Culture in August, that Beaminster has lots of great shops and brilliant restaurants all year round with perfect presents to take back home despite the Tunnel being closed.

Hello world, this is the year to visit West Dorset, it’s quiet and if you fancy art, culture, food (of course) oh and the small matter of Olympic sailing along our beautiful Jurassic Coast, well there are plenty of events that locals have been organising for weeks. It’s not too late to book a few days in West Dorset…

Photography on this post from Saturday 28 July in Weymouth.

 

Eolus God of the Wind under a moonlit sky in Weymouth
Eolus God of the Wind under a moonlit sky in Weymouth
Doldrum ready to intercept the winds from the Sailing Olympics
Doldrum ready to intercept the winds from the Sailing Olympics
The Battle for the Wind in Weymouth
The Battle for the Wind in Weymouth
Performing on Weymouth and Portland Live Site, 28 July 2012
Performing on Weymouth and Portland Live Site, 28 July 2012
Devon Wind machine was a cracker
Devon Wind machine was a cracker
One more full Wind Bag for Dorset
One more full Wind Bag for Dorset
robot likes the look of Event Security at Weymouth Bayside Festival
robot likes the look of Event Security at Weymouth Bayside Festiva
2012 torches into the sea for Weymouth Battle of the Winds Olympic celebrations
2012 torches into the sea for Weymouth Battle of the Winds Olympic celebrations
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Bridport Vintage Market is under threat

Bridport Vintage market has become a fun place to meet friends, hunt for a quirky object, have a bite to eat, generally soak up a fairly laid-back and bohemian yet still working class and gritty atmosphere.

Locals love it as a place to meet mates, visitors love it because they’ll meet locals.

More importantly, the St Michael’s Trading Estate, now Bridport’s Art and Vintage Quarter is not  just artists and vintage sellers…
It’s home to many businesses…

Fossils and forts: Dorset’s Golden Coast secrets

If you’re lucky enough to live near Bridport, you live on Dorset’s Golden Coast. You may not know this, indeed most people I speak to don’t seem to realise. Having said that, it’s a name that stands to reason when you stand near our coastline with its tall cliffs hiding dinosaur bones and other secrets.

It’s not all coastline though. The countryside is also hiding a few secrets in its soil. Bronze age forts turned Napoleonic watch towers… who would have thought I’d ever write about that?

If you fancy a few more details you can read my blog post on the Bull Hotel website:

Dorset’s Golden Coast

Basket beauties in Bridport

When tutor Andy asked what type of basket we’d like to make, I can’t say I’d given it much thought before I started the willow weaving course. A last minute booking for a workshop in Highway Farm B&B in Bridport meant I had just turned up in my cotton shirt; and clearly an empty head. Thankfully owner Pauline took pity on me and lent me a fleece.

I racked my sleepy brain for inspiration and a little light came on when I saw a beautiful platter Andy had made. A woman in period costume was picking flowers and putting them softly in a lovely flat basket. The romantic image from a period film seen years ago came flashing back. I knew what I wanted to do.

It quickly transpired that everybody else was doing a properly woven basket and I wasn’t. Virgo Vicki was making a waste paper basket (as a Virgo would), Experienced Ellie was weaving a blackberry beauty, Friendly Florence was longing for a log carrier, Mum Mel was going to fashion hearts for her daughter’s wedding and Chatty Charlie kept changing her mind.

They started weaving a round base in a circular ‘under-and-over’ then added a dozen stiff spokes at regular intervals for the sides. Friendly Florence put the contraption on her head and took a model pose. She wouldn’t have been out of place at Bridport’s Hat Festival. She may have found it a bit inconvenient to circulate around the market with 2 metres long twigs around her head but it was a good giggle around the barn.

Who would have thought basket weaving could be dangerous though? There I was concentrating on my over-under-over-under-ouch-oops, sorry! I had poked Chatty Charlie in the eye. Thankfully, she was able to finish her basket, the only one with a prison-window-with-bars type handles under the rim; rather than the large over the rim number that you rest on your arm; or the two small handles for heavy loads. Once you start looking into willow baskets, you wouldn’t believe the possible permutations.

And once we started weaving our willow baskets, there was no stopping us either. Except I was getting hungry. Pauline had told us to come and have lunch around one-ish and we were getting closer to two-ish. The soup and homemade bread went down a treat among chatter and laughs. Big house down the road being sold, content and all, Hat Festival update, Andy’s moving malarchy and Pauline’s new blog stories. Pauline, if you read this, you did promise a recipe for your pudding…

As for my fancy flower friend (I refuse to call it a trug, ugly name), I am over the moon with the result. I took home a basket like I’ve never seen before and have been looking at twigs from my hedge trimming this weekend in a new light: under-over-under-over.

What shall I make next? Well… since you ask. Pauline does a weekend workshop for hazel garden furniture. I’m on the waiting list hoping someone will change their mind.

Update: Experienced Ellie made a horse’s head the next day, have a look here.

The inn down the lane

From nouvelle cuisine to a country pub down a tarmac lane so remote, it has grass growing on it. The sun is shining so we decide to drive around West Dorset lanes just for the sake of the views and find the Three Horseshoes Inn just around lunch time.

Pub with rooms. The menu is more gastro than old boys’ local and they’ve run out of Bath chaps and Hooke Farm trout. No matter, I fancy a Blue Vinney ploughman and the husband goes for battered cod with triple cooked chips. Yep, good ol’ fish and chips for lunch. Takes all sorts.

We can hear children as we sit down on the terrace with wide green views. You’d think they are just behind the wall, a perfect demonstration of how sound works in amphitheatre. A few minutes later, the school below starts work again for the afternoon so the only sounds left are the birds, the wind in the parasols and a distant dog listening to himself. Otherwise you’d wonder whether there’s much life around.

When my square wooden platter arrives I pull a face. There’s a heap of thin and pretty greenery on the edge and I am wondering how to eat this without half of it ending up on the floor. It looks like young sweet pea shoots and tastes delicious. Brain figures that fingers are de rigueur. If the man in the nice restaurant in France (many years back) thought it was OK for me to eat with my fingers because chefs don’t like plates coming back with food, then why not?

Apart from the juicy shoots, there was a large chunk of blue veined Dorset delight, some very light and airy home made bread and two chutneys. The first was classically vinegary with soft fruits -no crunchy out of a jar sharp stuff here-  the other more of a compote that has not reached mushy state so the soft bits of fruits have a gentle texture. This one would have probably complimented a Farmhouse Cheddar better, Blue Vinney being a bit stronger it overtook the palate (ok, killed the fruits if you prefer).

The husband enjoyed his triple cooked chips and battered cod. The cod portion was large enough and the batter was a bit on the heavy side but the chips were deemed delicious. There is a price to pay for triple cooked chips at lunchtime and I can hear the husband snoozing. You can’t beat a Ploughman in a country pub. And as country pubs go, this one sure has the location, a great terrace with half a dozen tables, the pretty church next door and new owners.

Our terrace neighbours said: “Very pretty but I wouldn’t want to live here; silly little roads”. Fair enough, this is a place you come to because you like being remote. No marquee, no sea views, just an inn and a village. The Jurassic Coast may be down the lane, it may as well be abroad. That’s why I liked the place.

Ploughman: £7

Battered cod + triple cooked chips: £11

Three Horseshoes Inn, Powerstock

Fun family day in the woods guaranteed?

“You are your own health and safety” says BBC Master Craftsman Guy Mallinson. Music to my ears. “Place your body sideways otherwise you’ll chop your arm off or cut yourself in half” says bodger Mace Brightwater; that got the kids listening. Despite dealing with blades that make a steak knife appear blunt our family day trying our hand at green woodworking was one of the most relaxing experiences we’ve had in a long time. Warmer than finding fossils on the beach in Normandy  (no fire to warm us up there) and far more rewarding than a day on a beach in the South of France.

We have a tangible memory of our day in the midst of Dorset in the shape of two rounders’ bats for the boys and two wooden spatulas, although they’re a bit square and I’d far rather use spoons but hey I do use them and remember. As for the bats, what can I say? Proud gushing mother says they are beautifully unique. Which they are, full stop. Whether they’re any good I have no idea -French people don’t play rounders- but the boys seem to think they’re great.

So how did we actually make these? Tricky to explain; I did not actually make one myself, my artistic side was too busy taking pictures and my motherly side was so proud to see my eldest son enjoying a pole and lathe far far more than a computer game let alone a book that I simply did not interfere. Nothing to do with the fact that when I tried to strip layers of wood I did not do as well as I thought I would. My romantic notion that ‘if I love arts and crafts then surely I’ll take to it like a duck to water’ was knocked on the head. As my eldest was a natural -Guy did say, so must be true- I thought I’d let him get on with it whilst I just got on with what I do best, look around.

Concentration on people’s faces, my 10 year old son and his father crafting together, kids chatting with their parent, tools borrowed from a neighbour, getting help, asking for advice, proud smiles, giggles when it went a bit pear shaped. I kept being distracted that day. Thing is, once I was no longer making a bat I had no particular reason to listen. So when the birds twittered, I heard them; when I got a bit chilly, I warmed my hands on the open fire and when my son was using a new tool, I studied his hands with my camera.

The setting in the middle of the woods is tranquillity personified. It is so quiet that Mace thinks a pole and lathe is loud when it gets going. He asks us to listen to the noise it makes to ascertain whether it is working OK or not, “if it isn’t, it makes a racket” he says. I was waiting for a loud background noise but you can tell that some of us live in a town whilst others are more used to woods and seaside. This townie found everything oh so quiet and peaceful. The children want to go back for more and their father was the last one to leave. “He’s in the zone” says Guy. My zone had kids trying to catch ducks eggs on a tiny island in the middle of a pond, the sound of a Scout father saying he would recommend the course to his Scout friends, the smell of woodland mixed with smoke and fire, the feel of a perfectly smooth rounders bat made out of sycamore.

It’s not perfect mind. Half way through the morning when I realised that I wasn’t going to get to do much woodworking I did feel a bit put off. I’d spent over £200 on the four of us for the day. On top of that our shaving horse was broken so we could not start straight away. I was getting a bit fidgety and began to think that frankly these things should be checked first. As Mace got a branch, fashioned a footrest and repaired the horse in minutes and as we borrowed each other’s cheap tools (weirdly the expensive ones were in sufficient numbers), I realised that actually the whole experience is not a race or a competition and the most important part of the experience is to slow down, concentrate, observe and simply enjoy each other’s company. And learn a little something on the way. At £55 per person for a day, it’s not a cheap day out but it sure beats a day on a sunny beach and that’s a lot more expensive to guarantee.