Tag: Dorset’s Golden Coast

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

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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.

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.