Category: tourism

January 2013, a winter to remember?

Went down to Beaminster this morning, few people around but all said “hello” in a cheery way.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” they said.

Julia, Beaminster Square
Julia, Beaminster Square

“I remember the winter of 1963” said an old boy. Does make me wonder, come Monday will we feel the same?

Hilltop, drift and horizontal snow
Hilltop, drift and horizontal snow

It was easy enough to get down, carefully. Driving back up however, was a different story.

Driving back up?
Driving back up?

So the car got left at the bottom of the hill, and the shopping was carried up.

Carrying shopping
Carrying shopping

Well it is beautiful and lots of fun was had by many today. I just went around with the camera…

Winter woods in West Dorset
Winter woods in West Dorset

and loved every minute of it!

snow settles in a triangle
snow settles in a triangle

Hope you’re all enjoying your winter walks.

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

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

Richard Guest’s Augustus in Taunton… one to follow

I remember the first time I ate Richard’s food. He’d been Head Chef at the Four Seasons restaurant in Park Lane for Jean-Christophe Novelli and they’d just opened Maison Novelli in Clerkenwell. I’d met Richard socially a couple of times, had never heard of Novelli and had spoken food (pretty rare in those days with a normal English person). I just had to try this funny, approachable Northerner’s food. It was the best I’d eaten in London and totally on a par with what I had enjoyed in France, when my father treated us to Michelin stared restaurants.

For clarity’s sake I must tell you that Richard Guest and his wife Vicky are now friends of mine. So let me stick with some facts: After a YTS apprenticeship in York, Richard’s first kitchen was the Savoy’s in London in 1990, then Novelli’s Four Seasons (Sous-Chef, 93-96, Michelin Star), Maison Novelli (Head Chef, 96-99, Michelin Star, 3 AA rosettes) then Castle Hotel, Taunton (Head Chef, 99-2010, Michelin Star, 3 AA Rosettes). If you don’t already know Richard, that should give you an idea.

I equally enjoyed W8 (another Novelli venture) and was delighted when Richard and Vicky headed for the West Country. The Castle Restaurant did not disappoint as far as the food was concerned. I did find the atmosphere a bit too cold. Whilst I don’t like loud guests when tucking into my main in a posh restaurant, feeling the need to whisper is not conducive to fully appreciate the wonderful fare on my plate. The dining room was just too old fashioned for me. Its recent closure therefore did not come as a surprise. It is understandable that the establishment is concentrating on the Brazz with new chef Raftery. I have no doubt they will do well with another great chef.

So what about Augustus then? 

Richard does fine dining well, his recognition proves it. What he has always loved though is ‘simple’ food that highlights the produce of his great suppliers and changes with the seasons. Whilst he’s never said so, I imagine that when you have an absolute passion for the joy you create, heading a kitchen that feeds dozens of people in the space of three or four hours must take its toll. I always compare chefs to artists. They create inspiring compositions for all the senses. Once on a conveyor belt, the soul gets lost.

In fact, Richard would totally disagree with me. He does not like the “airy-fairy French guys romanticising about food”  to quote his book Jam with Lamb. Well he is a no-nonsense Northerner. I have airy-fairy tendencies, French or otherwise.

My husband and I -and many other friends- have been trying to get Richard and Vicky to join the Hix, Riverside or Wild Garlic of West Dorset and the constant sprouting of good gastro-pubs our area is enjoying. Unfortunately for us but understandably, Richard was keen to work with suppliers and a business partner he knows well and trusts. So he opened Augustus in Taunton with front of house Cédric Chirrosel, former Castle Hotel restaurant manager. It was always going to be called Augustus, after Roald Dahl’s character in Willy Wonka.

The Courtyard on St James Street is a great setting for a bistro. We parked a few steps away, the sun was shining, the outside tables were full, wine was flowing and the atmosphere was positively European. The inside is small, simple, comfortable and welcoming. Cédric is attentive, informative and helpful; Richard is nowhere to be seen, kitchen and small team oblige.

I’m not a food critic so I’ll be brief on food description: a meltingly delicious starter of Goats Cheese croquettes on a crunchy mix of salad and vegetables, a perfectly cooked main of lamb with a just-so creamy potato gratin and a ratatouille that made me think I was in the South of France. I know many people believe that Michelin is a load of rubbish. Having said that, once you have experienced fine dining of a high standard, your brain remembers it. Anything after that can be good, few will be brilliant. It’s about the small details, the subtle tastes that surprise you for being put together yet complement each other.

A few tender yet crunchy baby broad beans were a surprising firm bite in the middle of the soft salad leaves; mixed with goats cheese croquettes, it just worked. It’s about the total attention to detail, perfect seasoning (which I find really hard to achieve myself let alone find in a restaurant), trustworthy suppliers, absolute love and belief in what you create. I’ve gone all airy-fairy again. In his Jam with Lamb book written five years ago, Richard says it’s about the right produce at the right time. We know that’s true.

Richard Guest wanted to open a bistro called Augustus. He just got distracted by a few Michelin stars on the way but Augustus is here and well worth a visit; Taunton is not that far after all…

Voulez vous visiter le Dorset?

If a French persons wants to visit Dorset and speaks English, they’ll be fine when they try and find information on the net. Just about. But what if a French traveller prefers to search for his holiday on the net in French? After all, it’s pretty likely. He may write ‘visiter dorset’ on google.fr. He’ll find this site (Pardon my Franglais) in 5th place before visit-dorset and dorset-newforest.

South East equals South West?
When I searched ‘visiter angleterre dorset’ dorset-newforest came first, tripAdvsior second, South-East Visit England third. I know, non sensical: South-East is not a typing error on my part. Pardon my Franglais comes 8th. Destination Dorset is not on the first page. I didn’t bother with the second page, most Google searchers don’t.

Attitude problem?
To think that Pardon my Franglais has been created for my random ramblings, does not get updated regularly, does not get many hits yet gets views from French people searching for a holiday in Dorset (and how to eat cheese in England) confirms something I already knew. English speaking people have a language attitude problem. I should know, I’ve lived here for over 20 years now.

English, the only language in the world?
If England is finally going to invest time, money and effort into tourism to show the rest of the world what a beautiful country this is (and what an outstanding county Dorset is), it may be time you lovely Brits realised that not everybody speaks English.
You can convince yourself (and many French speaking people) that your language is the first in the world. After all, Americans have done a good job of imposing their cinema even in France or insisting on international meetings begin held in English (how fair would you find them in French?) but that does not mean that they (and you) have succeeded in killing the other main languages altogether.

Who is losing out?
Is it not a shame to miss out on a huge market of French speaking (and Spanish speaking) potential customers? The only time British people speak to me in French is when they’ve had a few drinks. The other thing that often comes up after a few pints is how the British had a great empire (unlike the French of course). Living in the past does not always help the future.

Welcome, bienvenue, willkomen, blablabla
When will tourism professionals realise that languages are an important part of a service like hospitality and tourism? From the web searches of potential clients to the welcome of the staff. How nice is it when you travel and the waiter greets you in English? Do you take that for granted?
I am yet to go to a restaurant in England with my French speaking father and get any help from a waiter in translating a menu for him. I find my dictionary heavy in my handbag and waiting for my phone to connect and give me the answer really frustrating.
When in France, if I have to translate for my husband, there’s a good chance I’ll get some help if I get stuck, sometimes without asking.
When in Morocco, they’ll try in both languages, for good measure.

Food for French thoughts.