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Archive for the ‘In The Moment’ Category

The response to my last post was at once astonishing, heartwarming and more than a little worrying. So many kind words, so much unconditional support, not even a hint of the hard time I was giving myself, that I feared might come my way. And so many people who have clearly experienced similar feelings and issues themselves.

THANK YOU to everyone who has sent kind words and thoughts, recommended reading, shared experiences, or contacted me to ask how I am and if you can help. It’s been humbling and uplifting.

More than 3 weeks on, and I’ve been riding the clichéd emotional rollercoaster. In the immediate aftermath of my diagnosis, I felt a wave of relief, of validation. It was official: I had permission to feel shit.

Too good to be true?

Then for a few days in that week I felt really good. I went cycling with friends, twice. I did yoga and played my French Horn every day, went for Autumn walks, talked with friends. But then I felt like a fraud, because I felt good. How can I be off work when I feel this good? How can I have depression? The tablets don’t kick in for a few weeks, apparently, so am I making it up?

But then we went for dinner with friends on Saturday, and I didn’t enjoy it. The food and company were great, but by the end of the evening I wanted to run away. A recurring symptom of my particular depression is an anxiety about being around people, even good friends. I want to curl up on my own at home, where it’s safe and I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. I’ve found it hard to explain exactly what I’m feeling, what I’m anxious about, which again makes me feel other people will dismiss it. I’m desperately sure that I’m bound to disappoint people, either for being depressed, or by not being depressed enough, or in the right way.

Don’t ask me…

The next week was a blur and chaotic. For more than 2 days we had British Gas men in the house ripping out the decades-old boiler and installing a new one, and our daughters were both on 1/2 term, meaning I didn’t have anything like as much time to myself all week. And what was hard was anything where I had to make a choice, or a decision, let alone anything more distant than something like What’s for lunch?  More complex projections were nearly impossible: What do you want for Christmas? What time do we need to leave on Monday? Which fabric do you like for the new chair cover?

Ups and Downs

Week 3 was mostly fantastic – a long-awaited trip to Amsterdam was our best family time in more than a year, despite the long and occasionally fraught travelling. We loved the city and had an amazing time, walking miles every day, revelling in art and architecture, bitterballen and stroopwaffels.

Last weekend we visited Rachel’s mum in her care home; the first time I or our daughters had seen her in a few months. She’s very frail and her mobility is really poor. Normally I’ve been able to almost dissociate myself from the emotions of this, helping her calmly in and out of the wheelchair or car, keeping conversations going. But this time I just couldn’t. I had flashbacks to Dad’s last weeks, worries of my own illness, almost overwhelming, and this lasted almost right through Sunday at home.

On Monday I started back at work, doing 1/2 days. Everyone has been terrific, and for a while it was great to be taking a step back towards normal. But every morning I’ve felt a pang of being clearly not normal. I’ve been (rightly) kept away from the day-to-day complexity of my normal clients: if I find it hard to think about lunch, their needs would not sit well with me…

While I exchanged banter with colleagues I worried again they would think me a fraud (he seems fine). At the same time I was anxious about completing even a relatively simple task, to the extent that when I got positive feedback I almost wept with relief. I’ve been anxious about going to make tea in case someone innocently or kindly asks “how are you?”… my worries being around people are still real. I want to explain myself, but (as this rambling proves) nothing’s clear-cut or straightforward.

Yesterday I got home feeling wiped out, exhausted, jittery. I had a nap and woke up with a fear that felt like it might paralyse me: I simply couldn’t haul myself out of bed. Today I’ve not been at work and have had a day more like that first week; yoga, the gym, time to myself. Again the lifting of any serious responsibility or decision-making is a significant thing. Even the smallest issue where someone else might judge me or have their own opinion is a challenge at the moment. I find it hard to think clearly, and just want to retreat into watching a film, where I can lose myself and shut out the world.

A first step?

But that’s no long-term solution, so I’ve booked a first session with a new counselling service next week. I honestly can’t easily rationalise what’s behind my symptoms; there’s so many potential factors, from work to family, my own health, my Dad’s death, Rachel’s mum… so hopefully they might nudge me into some clarity. And maybe my serotonin levels will start to rebalance soon. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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When I first started writing What I Reckon, I didn’t want it to be a grown-up version of a teenage diary. You see, I’ve written one of those before, and it lasted into my 20s. In recent years my time has been more pressured and my posts less frequent but more reflective of challenging circumstances: the bleeding-heart liberal remembering that not everyone is like him, that he, his friends and his parents are decidedly mortal, that shit happens.

And yet I’m writing now because I’m not just angsty, or Moody, or ranty.

I’m depressed.

I have a doctor’s note and a prescription and everything. I was diagnosed yesterday by my GP with the use of a simple self-assessment questionnaire.

PHQ9 self-assessment mood depression questionnaire

Answers on the right-hand side of the grid probably mean you should talk to someone…

7 out of 9 of my responses were in the shaded boxes. 3 were in ‘nearly every day’. In case you’re interested, my scores were 2,2,3,2,2,3,3,1,0.

 

A heart that’s full up like a landfill…

Unlike a pulled muscle, I can’t pinpoint which straw broke the camel’s back. When did I tip from tired into empty, from merely stressed into actually depressed? Perhaps like the frog in a pan of water, it crept up on me. But this has been coming: an ex-boss described 2015 as my annus horribilis but, to be honest, 2016 and 2017 haven’t been a walk in the park. I know my Dad’s passing is a significant part of this, but it’s definitely not the whole story.

 

…but now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured…

The net result of this has been a huge slump in confidence. I don’t think I’m very good; at my job, at being a Dad, or a Husband or a Son or a Brother.  I’m afraid that I’ll make mistakes, or just not help. I’ve wanted to avoid people, because I don’t want to have to tell the truth when they ask “how’s things?”. I avoided cycling on several occasions precisely because I thought I’d be ‘worse’ than I was in the Spring, and look! I was right!

And I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be good again.

And this feeling comes and goes. Last Thursday it swept over me in a wave just by getting Help! coming over on bloody Spotify shuffle while I was walking to work, and left me struggling all day. It was triggered a couple of weekends ago by seeing my Dad’s greenhouse and veg beds empty and bare, when at this time of year they should be groaning with produce. I get a kick whenever I say “Mum and Dad’s house” like I have done for decades and then realise it’s not, not any more.

 

I’m surprised you’ve been doing so well for so long…

Several people have said this in the last couple of weeks, and I want to believe them. Part of the problem at the moment is that I know what people say makes sense, I think it’s true, but I don’t get the emotional kick that tells me I believe it. It’s as though they’re speaking about someone else. I’m pleased that ‘Chris’ (if that’s who you’re referring to) is good at his job, or is a good son helping his Mum, but that’s not how I feel.

 

It will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end…

My colleagues have been fantastic, despite my ongoing fear that I might now be tainted goods, fragile, vulnerable. It was my boss who reminded me of our company’s policy with Lifeworks. A short confidential call with them put me in touch with a counsellor who, last Friday evening, suggested I should speak to a GP. So now I’m signed off work for a fortnight, with a week’s holiday to follow.

I’m hoping to make this time as positive and proactive as I can: exercise, fresh air, time doing nothing. I’m taking medication to help rebalance my chemicals and boost serotonin. I’m expecting to be taking these for at least a few months.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

When I started writing this post, I was hesitant: why write this at all? But then I learned that today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day, and reminded myself that talking is important. So I’m going to hashtag the sh*t out of this.

It is ok not to be ok.

This is far more common than we think. My elder child has had mental health issues, some (but by no means all) linked to having Aspergers-Autism: these have included self-harm. My wife had post-natal depression that rendered her convinced she was a terrible mother and afraid to leave the house.

Please be kind to yourself and each other.

 

 

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You have glaucoma in your left eye.

A few months ago I had a routine eye test at our local opticians in Tetbury, part of which was the normal visual field test. I stared into the eyepiece, waiting for the machine to whirr and flash a series of tiny pinpricks of light, to which I would respond by clicking a button whenever they appeared. All-so-normal, until it seemed my left eye wasn’t quite so good at noticing the dots. This was unexpected, and very different from just 12 months earlier, so the optician asked me to repeat the tests. The results were the same.

I can still sense the whirring of the machine as it flashes lights that I ought to be able to see. There’s a rhythm to it that I can recognise. With my right eye there’s a regularity to the button clicks as the lights register in my brain. For my left eye there are gaping silences where clicks should be. I’m staring, squinting, aching to see something that means I can click. I’m tempted to cheat. The test takes longer as the machine gives me more chances, makes the lights brighter, trying to understand what’s there and what’s not there for me. And while I know it’s only minutes it feels much longer. I sense the nurse knows what the silences mean: this isn’t normal.

Visual Field Tests Glaucoma

This isn’t mine… but it’s sort of similar

 

And so last week, after further tests, a precautionary MRI scan and a couple of months of eye drops, I sat with the consultant as he confirmed the inevitable, and talked about my glaucoma.

There are fairly significant differences in the visual field tests in your left eye, notable damage to and thinning of the optic nerve…

…but your IOP (intra-ocular pressure) is normal, much lower than often is the case with glaucoma…

…you’re really quite a lot younger than the typical progression, a bit of an outlier on that graph…

…nothing on the MRI scan, so we can definitely rule out anything like a tumour pressing on the nerve…

…there’s no increase in your pressures since taking the drops, no real progression since the last tests (3 months ago), so that’s pleasing…

…you probably won’t notice anything different, until you do bump into something (joke)…

…playing a wind instrument like an oboe or French Horn can cause spikes in IOP, although I’m loathed to tell someone who loves playing music to stop…

So the long and the short of it is that I’m now taking daily eye drops (painless, no hassle at all), and will have repeated tests every 6 months. And that’s it.

Except…

The following day, at my regular orchestra rehearsal, I was acutely conscious of sensations of ‘pressure’ when playing, especially loud and high notes. We’re playing Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, which has plenty of loud and plenty of high, especially for 1st/3rd horn. In fact there’s mostly a lot of notes that are both loud and high, in rapid succession, in violently percussive chords and fanfares. In exercise terms it’s high impact, like running up and down stairs. I could feel the impact inside my head, around my eyes, behind my eyes, in ways I’ve never actively noticed before. And all the time I was thinking

Should I be doing this? Am I risking my sight?

There were moments when I wanted to play quieter, or stop. There were moments when I didn’t want to play my Horn any more, at all, ever again.

Apparently the mean time for progression from early diagnosis to loss of vision is more than 20 years: for normal tension glaucoma and for younger (under 60) patients it’s even slower than that. So I’m probably being over-sensitive. But if the visual field loss starts in my right eye, I’ll have to tell the DVLA. And then I’ll have to be reassessed for driving.

So.

I’ll take the drops every morning, and play 4th horn instead.

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If this is a mid-life crisis, I’m quite enjoying it.

I took part in my first Obstacle Course Race (OCR) in 2013, as a group of colleagues ran the Tough Mudder event. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, so did it again last year, but a combination of TM’s openly-relentless commercialism and injuring my foot just 3 miles into the 12 mile run left me somewhat deflated.

So I pledged to renew my enthusiasm and entered a ‘smaller’ event (there are tons to choose from all over the UK), which had received excellent reviews, and looked quite a lot like Tough Mudder, but without quite so much running, and lots more obstacles. I tried to corral a team of colleagues, but through a toxic combination of inertia, personal circumstances, illness and plain laziness I arrived at the RockSolid Race just outside Exeter last weekend, running solo…

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015

That’s what I’m going for…

Nobody does #rocksolidrace alone…

I was more than a bit nervous beforehand, as I struggle on obstacles like Monkey Bars and the 8-foot walls. But the RSR team have a great social media style which is a million miles away from the testosterone-fuelled corporate behemoth of Tough Mudder (more of which later). This event is friendly, it seems organised for its runners.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Twitter

And of course they’re right. Around the course people help each other (like in TM) over things and through things. At every 6/8-foot wall around the course, the volunteer marshals were brilliant, all chipping in to give people a boost up. The final wall came about 3/4 of the way through, so everyone is knackered when they reach it, but the lady manning the obstacle (surely no more than 5’3″ herself) cried

No one walks around my wall…!

…and insisted on giving a boost to anyone and everyone who needed it, no matter what their size.

The clue’s in the name…

If I wanted to run 12 miles around a muddy wood, I could do that quite easily close to home. But I don’t, I want obstacles, and the 10km RSR course included 38 obstacles, which I Reckon is a great ratio. I was running on the 2nd day of the event, meaning there’s a lot more mud. 1,200 people have churned up the tracks already, so what was simply a steep hill on Saturday becomes a treacherous slide on Sunday. And I love it that way. The RSR obstacles are a brilliant mix of natural terrain, ‘created’ terrain and man-made monsters.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Course Map

OK, so this is really small. What it should label is MUD, HILLS, COLD WATER, and STUFF TO CLIMB OVER or THROUGH

There were huge piles of hay bales, tyres or logs, walls and A-Frames, tunnels, cargo nets, logs to carry, and a cruelly-twisted uphill sack race, cunning in its simplicity but agony on the legs.

#bemoremud

Best of all, there was a lot of mud and a lot of water. Our first taste (literally) of the former came early in the race (#6 on the map above, innocuously titled “River Run”). I’d assume this meant splashing through a stream, or something. When I reached the bank there was carnage. To reach the stream we had to cross a small ‘pool’, maybe 4m wide, but the ‘pool’ was in fact a sticky swamp, full of waist-deep, thick, sucking mud. How my trainers stayed on I’m not sure. This is probably the closest to drowning in quicksand I hope to experience. I ended slithering across the surface like a worm, until I got hauled out by someone standing on firmer ground. Later we crawled through muddy pools where the water was thick with mud and weeds, and it did not smell pretty.

It’s March and I’m running knee-deep up a river, but at least the water is clean…!

Did I mention how cold the water is in March? Blimey. I was grateful for the chance to run between obstacles to get my circulation going. The course had most of the mud in the first half, and most of the ‘cleaner’ water later, but there was a lot of this too. Crossing a lake via huge unstable ‘stepping stones’, wading through chest-deep water, a skip full of ice-chips, more (clean) streams to run and crawl through, a fantastic slide into another lake, followed instantly by a 12-foot leap into the other side of the same lake. It was relentless but brilliant.

Rocksolidrace Exeter 2015

Bruised but not broken at the finish…

By muddy runners for muddy runners…

I Reckon RockSolidRace is a far better event than Tough Mudder. It has more, and more varied obstacles. It doesn’t have some kind of overweaning adolescent need to promote its Toughness or Bigness or Whatever three times a day. It feels closer and smaller (because it is), but best of all, is the feeling while you’re there, at the event, that the race is organised by runners for the people taking part. A few comparisons…

  • I booked this 3 months in advance, paying £46. To enter the TM August event today would cost me £95 + £7 booking fee.
  • RSR charges £5 for carparking, while TM charges £10 (or even more in 2015)
  • The car park at RSR is a couple of minutes from the event, unlike my 2 experiences at TM where we were at least 15 minutes away
  • Bag drop is just £1 with staff on hand to supervise and secure your belongings, carkeys etc. TM cost £3 and felt much more like a free-for-all
  • Spectators can see RSR for free and many seemed to bring their own picnics. This year at TM spectators have to pay £10 each (+ booking fee), or £20 if you turn up on the day, and last year were actively discouraged from bringing their own food
  • RSR offers free hot showers and decent changing facilities. This is a complete God-send…
  • One of RSR’s sponsors, Tideford Organics, gave out delicious free soup for all the runners afterwards. Other food was available for less than £7…
  • The bar stocked ale, lager and cider (unlike TM which was restricted to sponsors’ brands) and cost £2-3.50 , not £5 for an alcoholic ginger beer.
  • I like the finishing token better…
RockSolidRace dogtags

Better than an orange headband…

TM seems to have examined every opportunity, every moment to charge money/generate revenue, and gone ahead. I’m sure this makes them very successful, but I Reckon it doesn’t make for a great experience. Last time left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, and not just from the mud.

I loved my first RockSolid Race, and I really hope to be back next year. If you’re thinking of giving Obstacle Course racing a go, definitely consider this one. In fact, if you only want to try one event, definitely go Rock Solid.

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More moments of human experience are recorded every day than in entire decades in the 20th century; or something like that. I made it up, but it’s mostly true. The ubiquity of digital cameras and phones mean we snap and share more trivial, routine and everyday occurrences than ever before. Apparently Facebook’s photo library was 10,000 times as large as the entire Photo Archives of the US Congress more than 2 years ago! In my own experience, we have countless more pictures of our younger daughter (born November 2005) than our eldest (born June 2002).

Compare and contrast these well-known pictures of the crowds in Rome, awaiting the announcement of the new Pope, from 2005 and from earlier this year.

St Peter's Square new Pope announcements 2005 2013

Spot the lone phone in 2005 (bottom right)

I’ve experienced the same phenomenon at events from school nativities to a Radiohead concert. It seems we would rather concentrate on holding our phones steady, out in front of our faces, than actually using the senses with which we were born. Are we so obsessed with recording every experience, as if not recording it would mean it somehow hadn’t happened?

During our holiday to France in July/August, we visited one of the more spectacular natural sites I’ve been privileged to experience; the Gouffre de Padirac. Located not far from the river Dordogne, in an area blessed with more than its fair share of natural beauty (especially subterranean!), this is properly breathtaking. I’d read on Tripadvisor that photos inside the caves are not permitted, and many reviewers bemoaned this, complaining about how it’s mainly a scam to encourage visitors to buy the ‘official’ pictures that are taken during the visit to the cave (like you get at many theme parks and other attractions).

And while I have some sympathy for that cynicism, I applaud the policy. The approach to the caves is impressive enough. For a start, it’s a massive hole in the ground that is largely unchanged since the caves were discovered. What those people must have thought is beyond me, as it’s genuinely awesome.

gouffre de padirac from the surface

a long way down, and this is just the ‘entrance’

…and from the bottom of the stairs!

gouffre de padirac

Using my iPhone panorama…!

As soon as you descend into the tunnels that lead to the caves proper, photography is banned.

This means visitors have to be present, be there in the moment and use their actual physical senses to experience and remember the journey through the caves. We have to concentrate to take in the majesty and grandeur, the sheer scale of a 94m high cavern, whose ceiling is barely visible, yet even there it’s 10m below the surface. This cave is taller than any building in Bristol…

If we were waving our cameras and phones around, we would surely miss the details and natural intricacy of the plate-like stalagmites, the delicacy of the light and shadow, the reflections off the river and pools along which we travel through the caves. The lights from countless phones were a blessed omission from this natural wonder, not unlike the days in 2010 when an Icelandic volcano erupted and caused the grounding of flights across Northern Europe, resulting in clear blue skies with no aircraft tracks.

My photos of the entrance don’t do justice to the reality, but they’re infinitely better than what I could have achieved inside the caves. Instead, I shared my daughter’s approach: walk slowly, look all around, all the time, breathe in the air, remember the coolness compared to the midsummer heat on the surface, marvel at the glory of nature. She loves taking ‘mental pictures’ to remind her of what she’s seen. As she walked through the caves I could hear her muttering “click”, “click” to herself, and I smiled.

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You’ve loved something for a long time, it’s important and familiar to you, you think you know it inside out, and then it surprises you.

This has happened to me twice in the last month, in very different ways, but both have thrilled and moved me. The more recent was a week ago, when as a wedding anniversary treat to ourselves, we went to see a performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall in London, as part of the annual BBC Proms summer season of concerts.

This is a massive piece. Titled “Resurrection”, it is scored for a huge orchestra including an additional offstage brass section, two solo voices and (only in the final few minutes) a big choir. Performances usually last around 90 minutes, so it can be a feat of concentration and endurance for both players and audience alike. Rachel and I were both lucky enough to play it at university. In my final year, I played 1st horn, and it was probably my finest moment as a horn player. The final chords and audience reaction from that night in March 1992 are and always will be (one of) my ‘happy place’ moments.

Mahler 2 was also one of the first pieces to make it onto my Desert Island Discs list I did a couple of years ago; and while other choices might change with time, I can’t see this being displaced. I saw it performed at the Proms many years ago with the National Youth Orchestra. As is their want, they employed an enormous orchestra and choir, which made a superbly epic sound.

Last week, the surprise for me was not the scale and volume of Mahler 2 was, but its intimacy.

The Royal Albert Hall is a massive space. A huge dome of a hall, it holds almost 6,000 people, and there’s probably nowhere in the audience that gives a ‘perfect’ experience. You can be a long way from the stage, meaning you get nicely balanced sound, but you miss out on the immediacy of the performers and conductor, who seem to be tiny figures in the distance..! Alternatively, we sat in the reasonably high-up Circle, in line with the middle of the orchestra on stage. We were behind the 1st violins, facing the cellos: we could see amazing personal details in the performers’ faces, witness the physical efforts involved, and had a clear eye of Mariss Jansons the conductor. It was wonderfully intimate, but the sound balance was definitely different from what was broadcast on Radio 3.

The offstage brass were clearly playing somewhere quite close to where we were sitting, so instead of  a distant presence, they were up close and personal. When the mezzo-soprano soloist makes her limpid, beautiful entry in the 4th movement, we struggled to hear her at first as she was directly below us, facing away. And overall, some of the epic wall of sound that the brass can create felt diminished from our position.

On the other hand, the dramatic strings opening of the symphony was astonishingly intense: we could see clearly the focus, concentration and violence of their bowing. The detail in the woodwind scoring was crystal-clear, and the early choir entries were breathtakingly precise, as we could hear them breathing as one, then barely making a sound. It was a privilege to be able to see the communication between the conductor and the orchestra. And I had a terrific view of the French Horn section.

The performance was outstanding; the final 3 movements (more than 45 minutes of epic music that truly encompassed Mahler’s aspirations to contain the entire world!) were played without a break. For something I have loved for more than 20 years it was breathtaking. It surprised me at moments I didn’t predict, small moments of detail from individual instruments that I’ve not noticed before, or simply a slightly different way of playing the notes that I had thought I knew very well from start to finish.

The final chords didn’t overwhelm me as I had expected, but instead midway through the marathon final movement… The music seems to stop, when the trombones and tuba play a quiet, very low chorale. They’re joined by pizzicato strings and the trumpets, the music builds to a stunning climax with the full orchestra and the French Horns soaring above the sound with a fabulous fanfare, schalltricter auf!

(watch from 7’00″…)

This provoked not just a gentle tear escaping from my eye, but tingling right across my neck, back and arms, and spontaneous sobs that I could barely stifle. It took me a couple of days to fully ‘process’ the experience, but it’s something I won’t forget for a long time.

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What a difference a week makes. Last week I seemed to be carrying the weight of the world around with me. A few days in Dorset with my family, lovely friends and lots of sunshine and I’ve rediscovered all sorts of simple pleasures. Or rather, I’ve allowed those simple pleasures to re-establish themselves.

On The Beach…

Golden Cap sunset Seatown Beach Anchor Inn Dorset

We went camping in Dorset, to a site a couple of hundred yards up from Seatown Beach in Dorset. We’ve visited the area before, but these three days turned into something special. Seatown can’t really qualify as much more than a hamlet, with maybe a dozen houses, a campsite, a beach carpark (field) and a pub. The beach itself is made up of millions of tonnes of pebbles, so isn’t really conducive to games or sports (besides fishing), and it shelves pretty steeply, so not exactly child-friendly for paddling. But we loved it.

As the high tide recedes, we simply threw stones into the water and marvelled at the different types of splash; kind of like the story that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow – we cut our cloth etc… Even better, we simply sat and listened to the shimmering sound each wave made as it pushed up and sucked back millions of pebbles a few feet at a time. Eleanor described it as

…the sound of a thousand maracas…

which almost brought a tear to my eye. Stick that up your knowledge-based-curriculum Michael-bloody-Gove.

At low tide, a series of streams appear in the steep slopes of the beach, as a river finally finds its way through the pebbles and into the sea. This proved excellent fun for children of all ages, trying to diver the course of these channels, attempting the impossible by hauling larger stones to create dams, marvelling as the force of the water broke through every man-made barrier. Then, before we left the beach for the day, we gathered up bits of driftwood for our campfire brazier.

And all the time, just yards away, is the fantastic Anchor Inn. We had lunch in the sunshine and supper in the fading glow of a sunset here. The food is great – I especially recommend the crab baguettes. The local Palmers Ale from Bridport is smashing, the staff were all great and the setting is among the best I’ve ever enjoyed. Watching the sunlight shift shadows across the cliffs and the light change almost every moment as the sun descended behind The Golden Cap was fabulous.

The South West Coast Path

South West Coast Path Seatown Dorset Golden Cap Thorncombe Beacon

From the slopes of the Golden Cap to Seatown and Thorncombe Beacon

Apart from the pub and the beach, the other Best Thing About Seatown is the fabulous walking right on your doorstep. We climbed the Golden Cap on Thursday, and went East towards Eype on Friday. Neither of these is more than a few miles there-and-back, but the climbs are steep, the views breathtaking (and let’s not forget we had two young daughters with us). I love the way the Jurassic coastline undulates so dramatically, how the path ahead (or behind) is visible for miles as is climbs grassy cliffs and plummets through gullies.

Thorncombe Beacon Jurassic Coast West Bay

From Thorncombe Beacon to West Bay and Chesil Beach…

The real treat was our second walk up to Eype and specifically to Down House Farm. I’m reluctant to even mention this gem of a place, as I’d like to keep it as secret as possible for the next time I return, but frankly I’d like to help them thrive. The café is outstanding, with wonderful cream teas and cakes, but also lovely salads and light lunches, and a fabulous (non-alcoholic) ginger’n’apple punch. Their courtyard is idyllic, a real sun-trap with amazing views. On our way there we took a “wrong” turning across Eype Down and into the woods that cover the hillside above the farm. We kind of got lost wandering around the interlinking paths within the woods, but also were completely spellbound by the seemingly never-ending swathes of bluebells. If you’re ever in this area in May, you simply must see these woods – they’re beautiful.

Eype Down Bluebells Woods Dorset

Camping Lessons (2013)

I’ve talked before about camping as a learning experience, and this time was no exception. Here are a few nuggets…

  • Our Ikea Stovetop coffee pot is a tremendous camping accessory. Proper coffee in the morning is a delight.
  • Combine that with my new tip for continental camping breakfasts, and you’re in glamping heaven. Take a  wide/shallow pan with a lid. Line the pan with a sheet or two of foil, and get it good and hot. Either on a very low heat or even turned off, you can warm croissants and pains au chocolat in the pan with the lid on (check them frequently in case they burn). Classy stuff, and almost no washing up.
  • Braziers are better than barbeques. Just cook your burgers in a pan, and have a proper fire instead.
  • Wessex FM is a radio station I wouldn’t have believed still existed until I heard it. It was on constantly in the washing-up and toilet blocks, and alongside the ubiquitous Maroon 5, Emili Sandé and Daft Punk, there was a truly classic list of oldies, including If I Could Turn Back Time, Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Easy Lover, When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)… I almost felt like I was at a wedding reception; in 1994.

All this, and I’ve not even mentioned terrific fish & chips on the beach in Lyme Regis, Purbeck ice cream, and the quiet joy of my phone battery dying, meaning I was cut off from the hourly chatter of online news. I do love Devon & Cornwall, as we’ve been there many times, but this stretch of Dorset coastline is closer to us, less crowded and ‘spoiled’, and, most importantly, I feel happier, calmer, better for having been there.

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