Category: jurassic 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

Living in an AONB, child friendly?

“They’re not allowed to go down this hill, it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” said the National Trust volunteer to my children. Mountain boarding down the steep hill by Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock did not go down well this weekend.
“Go on mate, you go and tell them to stop having fun” said the husband. “I will” replied the man his hand on the gate, adding “If we let them do it then there will be loads of them. And it’s wet, so they’ll do some damage, they’ll make a path and it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” – in case I didn’t hear that the first time round.

“I know it’s an AONB. We live in an AONB, most of Dorset is an AONB, does that mean they can’t mountainboard anywhere? And it’s dry actually.” I added, throwing my hands up in the air in despair. “I don’t get it but if that’s the way you feel, by all means go and ask them to stop doing their sport.” and I walked off in a huff towards the Spring Tide Festival.

I know I shouldn’t get cross with the man, he is a volunteer and does what he has been asked to do by the powers that be. Who makes these unwritten rules anyway? What’s the logic behind forbidding children to ride down a hill that only cattle, walkers and dog owners use.

Especially when there were no cows, walkers or dogs at the time. Another woman -who explains she used to look after the car park- chimes in “It’s also part of the Jurassic Coast here”. I know! A World Natural Heritage Site listed by Unesco, looked after by The National Trust here in Burton Bradstock and other parts of West Dorset. I am a National Trust member so agree with the work they do but…

Should we live in West Dorset as if it was an old fashioned museum where people need to whisper and “Do not touch”?

The National Trust have been trying to shake their image of old houses and mothballs. Just look at their marketing: families, walkers and youth on their front covers. That’s the way it should be. The National Trust is for all of us, children included.

Who do we keep our national heritage for?

NT do a great job in West Dorset looking after a large part of our amazing coast. Still our Jurassic Coast crumbles and falls. Nature does that, not children.

On the other hand, it was OK on the same day to have dozens of cars and vans come to a Food and Craft Festival. Now, don’t get me wrong, Spring Tide is a great festival. I have been a regular visitor to the event ever since it started, stocking up on fantastic food.

Today, I thought I’d take my kids. In fact they came -with their boards- a couple of years ago and it wasn’t a problem. Thing is, there’s only so long my children will spend in a tent filled with food whilst I chat to stall holders and spend money. Mace the Bodger is great but my kids have watched him turn his green wood many times, he’s even taught them. Ben and his local National Trust team are brilliant but my boys’ interest in fossils is minimal unless they’re on a beach hoping to find a hidden treasure.

View FROM Burton Bradstock

If you stand on top of that forbidden hill, you have a magnificent view towards Golden Cap and Lyme Regis. At the forefront, a car park and a cafe with a plastic canopy. Some might say these are an eye-sore. Now again, I have nothing against The Hive Beach Cafe. They are a renowned West Dorset eaterie that champion local food, equally sought after by seafood seeking weekenders and grey haired locals after a cuppa, an ice-cream or fresh crab. If you’re a non-smoker you’ll love the fact that smoking is even forbidden outside. Being the baddy that I am -irresponsible mother of mountain boarders and a smoker- I was told off last year for lighting up on the open terrace. What a bad family we are.

What I want to understand is this: if it’s ok to have car fumes and plastic canopies on National Trust Land, why are local members of the Trust (via a family membership) not allowed to enjoy a harmless sport on the side of an empty hill. If you don’t know what a mountain board is, imagine a skate board with bigger wheels. Imagine a kid with lots of padding and a helmet in case they fall, as it is a bit of an extreme sport when they get serious. When I say harmless, I mean harmless for the hill. We went on a dry day, there would have been no wedges of soil unearthed. The volunteer was worried they would create a path. There are paths already, created by walkers, many with dogs, some leaving fouling behind. In fact there is one of England’s most popular Coast Paths a few yards away. Thousand of people have treaded its soil, along the crumbling coast. There are ‘off-paths shoots’ everywhere close to eroding cliffs; were they created by weird sports people or kids?.

It is a privilege to live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It beats cities any day in my books. It is our duty to look after our corner of the world for our descendants.

How do we ensure our future generations want to help preserve it, love it and respect it?

By telling them they can’t use it for their sport whilst their parents and grandparents fill it with car fumes and we all look at huge petrol tankers up and down the Coast? I’m not suggesting motor cross competitions along the South West Coast path or car rallies up and down the West Dorset lanes. My kids love downhill biking and mountain boarding. They may look like scary bikers with their full face helmets and padded bodies but I cannot believe the looks of suspicion from several people this weekend.

How old are these kids? 11, 12 and 14.

Maybe we should leave everything absolutely untouched. But let’s remember, this hill -as the rest of the Chesil Beach Coast- used to be a forest before our ancestors turned them into fields. The damage of evolution is not a recent thing. Let’s bear in mind both Dorset AONB and The National Trust talk about healthy living and sport. Quite right too; our western kids may be the first generation that die younger than their parents due to a lack of sport (and poor diet).

So who makes these rules of what sport can be enjoyed where on National Trust, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Unesco listed parts of the world?

Heaven forbid we might stray from walking or maybe cycling on cycle lanes. I wonder, would our Mesolithic ancestors -who used to have huge festivals a few miles away at Hambledon Hill- have a problem with a few children enjoying the side of a hill at seemingly high speed?

I have a feeling they’d think it’s a great idea. With a few rules of course: don’t frighten any cattle, stop when you see a walker, respect your elders, behave responsibly and go and have fun. If only.

Huge festivals at Hambledon Hill, Dorset, a very long time ago…

If cows don’t mind kids, why should people?
(taken in 2010)

Friendly cows in West Dorset

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…

Artists at work in Bridport, West Dorset

poste en français

Spending a couple of hours chatting to artists at St Michael’s Studios today in Bridport was fun. Artists studios in Bridport and the surrounding West Dorset villages are open to the public for the week, a great opportunity to discover new talent or have a look at more established artists’ new work.

It’s always inspiring to look at art but I find the people behind the paintings, the photography or the montages equally interesting. That’s what I love about the idea of Open Studios. Seeing the artists working is quite a mixed feeling. On the one hand it’s fascinating to see the image slowly -or quickly- appear on paper, canvas or screen but on the other there is a certain feeling of intrusion.

Some are happy to keep on working, clearly in their own world, their mind inside the canvas, others would rather chat and feel a bit awkward at having somebody looking over their shoulder, and I can’t blame them. The art on show is very varied and I only saw a tiny part at St Michaels’. There are 58 venues in all and 100 artists. Pottery, textiles, furniture, woodcraft, jewellery, millinery, sculpture, digital art, screen printing… Something for everyone?

__________
Philomena Harmsworth working during Bridport Open Studios 2011

Artist at St Michael's Studio, Bridport
Copyright Nathalie Roberts

Bridport Open Studios’ 2011 launch

Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios is becoming quite a busy affair if the launch at the Bull Hotel yesterday was anything to go by. It was a really pleasant evening filled with artists and art lovers. All the local artists who take part in the Bridport Open Studios submitted three 6×9″ artwork which was displayed along the long walls of the Ball Room with prices almost as eclectic as the art on show.

Affordable art
Having said that there was nothing above £90 so it was all affordable, even from more established artists like Kit Glaisyer or John Boyd. Many artists were there which was great for buyers who could have a chat with them and for artists who could tempt the art lover to come and see larger work in their studio in the coming week.

How did Bridport Open Studios start?
I had a chat with Caroline Ireland who started Bridport Open Studios in 1999. Back then, she knew there were a fair few artists working locally but there was a lack of outlets for showing their work and coordination was needed to reach out to the public. A few posters around the town, some meetings, a lot of hard work and the annual event was born. It gets bigger every year attracting more and more artists and art lovers.

This year, the team who organise the Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios was headed by fellow artist Philomena Harmsworth who directed the 10 day long event. With 58 venues, some with several artists, the usual August Bank Holiday weekend was getting too short if you wanted to see all the local artists studios (or even half!).

 7 year old art lover invests in an original watercolour
My favourite part of the evening, apart from chatting with several artists and friends, was to see seven year old Sarah proudly hand her £2 pocket money to buy an original work of art from Sheila Edmunds. Sheila is part of ‘Spectrum’ a collective of talented amateur artists who will show their work in the Friends Meeting House in South Street on Saturday 21st. As for little Sarah, she was very happy with her watercolour of a dog that she tells me she will hang in her room.

Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios, 21-30 May 2011.
Brochure with participating artists’ addresses available from Bridport Arts and Crafts, tourist information centre and many shops around Bridport or online:

Sarah buys a watercolour at the Bridport Open Studios

Fungi foray frolic in West Dorset

A fungal foray with John Wright is not mushroom hunting as I know it. Childhood memories of my mother’s picnics and my father whistling to keep hunters away are miles from a day at the Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset.

There are similarities of course. Baskets, knifes, eyes to the ground, a reassuring smell of decay when the nose gets closer to the undergrowth and that warm feeling of joy when a mushroom is found. Or a toadstool.

The point of taking part in a foray with Mr Mushroom himself is to learn. There were a few newbies like me and a few reoffenders who clearly thought it was worth re-foraging with Mr Wright. The world of fungi is a vast underground world where the initiated want to learn more and the foodies don’t want to go home empty handed.

Our foray was at the Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset, part of a Nature Reserve where the fields have never seen fertiliser, where the preservation of our local ecosystem is not a fashion. A very special place not just for the lucky visitors but also for the underworld. The 75 different types of fungi we found in about four hours should prove my point. Only one do I uncompromisingly know, a very exciting one at that, a chanterelle.

Our first lucky find in the hedge outside Kingcombe Centre was tall, thick stemmed, white with a greenish cap. It brought a big smile to John’s face as he dug it from the ground, bag at the base and all. He proudly showed the group and introduced us to the one mushroom you should avoid at all costs: The Death Cap. Need I say more. Not as pretty as its red and white cousin that fairies are keen on but more dangerous.

Of the remaining 73, I had come across a few but could sadly name none fully. English name or latin name. A beautifully fat boletus find was quite exciting. Being red though, it was totally the wrong colour for supper but perfect for a photo opportunity. John obliged by holding it up against the cloudless blue sky.

I still don’t know the difference between a toadstool and a mushroom. I might be the proud owner of a signed copy of the River Cottage Handbook No. 1 (John commented that he was honoured to sign his ‘Mushrooms’ book for a Française, cheeky charmer) but to me, they’re still all Champignons. All 4,000 species that you can find in Britain.

I learnt lots of interesting facts about fungi. For a start, they are the reproductive organ of a world that lives underground. From there, inevitable sexual innuendoes follow. How about the nipples on the magic ones that can take you to seventh heaven or leave you sorely disappointed and a carefully pronounced volva at the base of the hard stem of the Amanita phalloides. I’ll leave it at that, not my forte, I was brought up by a Catholic mother who was master picnic organiser but stayed away from such language. John on the the hand was far more masterful with his words, let alone knowledge, and had us giggling throughout the day.

A few titbits I gathered were of far greater interest. The reason mushrooms are often found at the edge of a wood or near a car park is not, as I thought, because mushrooms need a bit of sunshine to warm their caps but because the organism that lives under the ground is suddenly worried that the environment it is thriving in is running out. Time to reproduce and out come the fruits for spores -babies in the making- to be scattered, and for animals to pick, munch or nibble.

Of far more interest for my stomach is that the mushrooms my family still hunt for, once the first rains have blessed the sunny South of France and its pine and oak forests, can be found in this country. The Saffron Milkcap. For once, the clue is in the Latin name: Lactarius deliciosus. I found one years ago, somewhere in the South West and John confirmed you can find them in this country. I wasn’t dreaming after all.

Should I tell you where? If a delicious mushroom is to be found, should its location be shared? Well, here is one thing the French and the English have in common. My Dorset farmer friend and his father don’t share their secrets for Field Mushrooms hotspots with each other. My family don’t divulge their pine forest autumn picnic locations to all and sundry.

It looks like I will be spending the next few years hunting in pine and oak woods of Dorset to leave my children our own little mushroom secrets. I’ll be thanking John for renewing my love of the forest undergrowth, his little book in my basket, keeping away from beautiful white tall mushrooms with a volva.

John Wright shows off the Death Cap:

John Wright's Death Cap

Photogenic Boletus:

Beautiful boletus

Kingcombe Centre courses:

http://www.kingcombe.org/courses/intro.aspx

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.