Posts Tagged ‘Camping’

At the end of May we made our now annual pilgrimage to the Jurassic Coast. At once inspirational and calming, this has fast become one of my favourite places in the UK. We camp at the Golden Cap in Seatown, just a few minutes walk from the pebbly beach, the SouthWest Coast path, and the fabulous Anchor Inn, with possibly the best beer garden in the world…

Sunset Golden Cap Seatown Anchor Inn

We were only there for 3 days, but we managed to enjoy a lot of things, namely…

  • 2 breakfasts at the Watch House Café in West Bay
  • Watching the children somersaulting down the steep beach at West Bay
  • Having a whale of a time at the brilliant West Bay play park – far too good for kids
  • Walking up Thorncombe Beacon for lunch at the fabulous Down House Farm café
  • Having salted caramel icecream and making sand castles on Lyme Regis Beach
  • Stovetop coffee in the quiet of the early morning, sat in the sunshine, revelling in the view
  • Making s’mores on the Barbeque. I’m not a fan of marshmallows, but toasted and squished between homemade oat cookies, I’m prepared to be converted.

Perhaps best of all is the experience of  Wessex FM – which we perhaps cruelly rename Toilet FM. It’s the background music in the wash blocks and communal facilities, and it’s completely predictable. It seems to be set about 15 years ago. The playlist below pretty much sums up every tune I heard in the 3 days we were at the site. Disclaimer: I have left out Uptown Funk as the only current track.

Let’s hear it for the boy
You can’t hurry love (Phil Collins)
Candle in the wind
A view to a kill
Always on my mind (Petshop Boys)
We built this city
Sex Bomb
Don’t leave me this way (Communards)
A kind of magic
Wake up! (Boo Radleys)
Hungry like the wolf
There she goes (The La’s)
Oh what a night!
Get into the groove
You give love a bad name

And what’s not to love about that?


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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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We were first bitten by the camping bug a couple of years ago, and this year our summer is punctuated by several trips (long weekends in the main) to new and familiar sites. Last week we spent 4 nights at Norden Farm just outside Corfe Castle in Dorset. If life really is a journey and we can learn something from every experience, allow me to share…

My daughters are freakin’ brilliant kids. I love them to pieces. This trip reminded me just how much (as if I needed reminding). More details to follow below…

Dorset might just be my new Devon/Cornwall. Much as I love that Southwest peninsula, we’ve spent this break in the ‘Isle’ of Purbeck and a week in West Dorset this year, and I’ve really loved it. Studland Bay is a simply gorgeous beach, and the whole Jurassic Coast is full of surprises, delights and treasures…

Lulworth Cove on The Jurassic Coast

Lulworth Cove

There is almost nowhere cosier in the world than the four of us under the duvet in the early morning.

Camping is definitely at its best when you let your body clock slow down and you simply exist in the moment. Things take longer, so let them. You’re at the mercy of the weather (more of this too!) so just go with it. If there’s a queue for the washing up facilities, don’t panic. You’ll get it done soon. I really wanted to spend more time at Studland Bay, but the brevity of our stay and the unseasonal weather conspired against us. So now I just want to go back…

Camping is about walking, not driving. I really liked the proximity of this campsite to Corfe Castle. From zipping up the tent we could walk up the hill to woods that surrounded the site, and barely 15 minutes later we were rewarded with a stunning view of this amazing ruin.

Corfe Castle

We coined the phrase ‘snobservation‘ during this trip (it was new for us). In a large campsite like Norden Farm, with so many strangers living in close proximity and relatively cramped quarters, most with their children, and lacking solid, insulating walls, it’s difficult to avoid family arguments or particular styles of parenting…

…my empirical evidence from last week would suggest that siblings between the ages of 3 and 13 can play well together for between 48% and 81% of the time. But they do spend most of the rest of the time screaming; at each other, at their parents, at the world. Or at least it seemed that other children scream, and their parents often scream back. Without meaning or wanting to sound smug, I am genuinely proud of my girls for the way they don’t scream or yell or bellow over trivial matters. Of course they quarrel and squabble and sometimes shout at each other, but they also apologise and forgive. For a 9- and 5-year old they seem pretty emotionally mature <end of smugness>.

Having previously experienced pretty fantastic weather on our camping breaks, we were brought down to earth by Dorset in August. The forecast had been OK for most of the week, but it mostly turned out to be breezy, not-that-warm, and cloudy with intermittent drizzle and showers. We still managed to do most of the things we wanted to, but then on Thursday the bland predictions of ‘heavy rain’ came true with a vengeance. It started raining in the early hours of the morning, but by breakfast time it was a constant downpour. As fair-weather campers this was not what we signed up for. We had planned ahead for this and pre-booked cinema tickets, but as we left the site and drove to Poole, conditions seemed to get much, much worse.

It was clear the rain was falling much more quickly than the drains could cope. Main roads were awash, fast becoming barely-passable fords. In fact, 2 weeks’ rainfall was delivered in just a few hours and parts of Bournemouth were suddenly under water.  We went to see Studio Ghibli’s latest work of wondrous beauty, Arrietty, which we all loved. On emerging from the cinema it was still hammering down with rain (in fact I’d flinched several times during the film as I could hear the rain on the roof of the cinema), and we were increasingly nervous. What would we find when we returned to the campsite?

Well, our tent is fantastic. Not a leak, not a drip. Only a couple of instances of condensation resulting in tiny splashes of water in a couple of corners.

And then, what a difference a day makes. Friday dawned bright and sunny, clear and calm. We indulged in a tremendous breakfast and learned (again) that proper food cooked and eaten outside simply does taste better. The morning was so sunny that the tent even managed to dry out completely before we had to pack it away.

Camping Breakfast of Champions: cheese omelette, bacon roll, baked beans, tea.

I’m not a completely fair-weather camper any more. I can cope just fine with less-than-perfect conditions, but I definitely don’t want to do Thursday again. Roll on and fingers crossed for our trip over the Bank Holiday next weekend…

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It’s almost exactly 19 months since I opened this WordPress account and started blogging. Recently I suggested to another blogger that for his 100th post he should list 100 things he had learnt since starting his blog. He gamely accepted the challenge, so some similar list is the least I can do…

So, looking back so far, a ‘York Notes’ version of What I Reckon (May 2009 – December 2010)

  1. Aiming to post 2-3 times a week is a noble aim, but not at 600 words a time.
  2. It’s about people (not data segments or clusters or whatever).
  3. Don’t try and surf if you can’t easily and smoothly stand up from lying prone on solid ground.
  4. Fish are friends, not food.
  5. Sometimes sitting down with an icecream is more fun than flying a kite.
  6. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
  7. The smell of Birds’ Custard makes me think of Sunday lunch when I was a child.
  8. Businesses should stop centralising and get closer to their local communities.
  9. Dr John Mislow was a friend of mine a long time ago. His death at 39 is a tragedy.
  10. Arthur Honnegger’s ‘Pacific 231’ is a brilliant evocation of the power of the steam train.
  11. I really don’t want the BBC to tell me what other people reckon about the news. I want the BBC to tell me the news.
  12. Advertising can sometimes produce very moving, powerful campaigns for good.
  13. There’s skint, and there’s middle class skint. I know which I am, and I am grateful.
  14. The Wire is the best TV series I’ve ever seen, even better than Mad Men.
  15. The menu découvert at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is expensive, but astonishingly good value.
  16. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
  17. Man on Wire is a fantastic biopic, documentary and heist movie all at once.
  18. The Merlin Entertainments London Eye is a stunning way to see London, but it was also a soulless corporate experience for me.
  19. Stuff takes longer when you’re camping, but in a good way.
  20. Marketing is usually the application of common sense.
  21. U2 are a brilliant band, and their live shows are tremendous.
  22. One of the best things about my week is listening to Filmspotting.
  23. Most products can be easily and almost instantly substituted for a functionally identical alternative. The difference is in design, experience and how it makes you feel.
  24. Margaret Thatcher was wrong. There is such a thing as society, and it’s not David Cameron’s ‘Big’ version either.
  25. This American Life, presented by the peerless Ira Glass, is a marvellous radio show.
  26. Queen were a terrific band, and Freddie Mercury the greatest front man of all-time.
  27. The mound above Tarn Hows is a wonderful spot to have lunch, looking across to the Langdale Pikes.
  28. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a masterpiece.
  29. Social Media isn’t complicated. It’s a conversation. Be interesting, and listen to what other people are saying.
  30. Revolutionary Road has much to praise, but ultimately I found it hollow, considerably less than the sum of its parts.
  31. The problem with most brands is that they want to talk about themselves all the time.
  32. Andy Goldsworthy is a tremendous ‘natural artist’.
  33. Sometimes my iPod shuffle command seems to know what it’s doing, and creates playlists of real beauty.
  34. The PCC  seems pretty toothless to me.
  35. Watching a film on a train can be dangerous. It can leave you utterly unprepared for the real world at the end of the journey.
  36. Orange seems to take me for granted. And yet I stay with them. What does that say about #23?
  37. The end of The Graduate is the least triumphant happy ending in cinema.
  38. A Gary Larson cartoon and a Jack Johnson quote have driven more traffic to my blog than any other post…
  39. Real mail is at least as important as email.
  40. I wish I was half as cool as Christopher Walken.
  41. If you want me to care about you’re supposedly trying to sell, at least pretend like you care about me.
  42. There’s something very empty about the same sort of people drinking the same drinks sat at the same tables listening to the same music in ‘chain bars’ all over the country.
  43. Did I mention that The Wire is the best TV ever made? Ever.
  44. The opening paragraph of Jim Crace’s Quarantine is as good as anything I’ve read in years. The rest of the book is pretty darn great too.
  45. Bono learnt a lot of what he knows from Freddie Mercury, except the bit about not taking himself too seriously.
  46. ‘Company Policy’ is usually the death-knell to allowing staff to treat customers decently
  47. Men, as a rule, hate indiscriminate shopping.
  48. Anyone who thinks It’s a Wonderful Life is schmaltzy sentimentality run riot hasn’t been paying attention.
  49. In Rainbows is as close to a perfect album as pretty much anything I’ve heard.
  50. Everyone wants to be where someone loves them best of all…
  51. I got tired of writing about poor customer service, because it doesn’t seem to change anything.
  52. Corporate car adverts need to be less boastful about how good their cars are, and pay attention to #41 above…
  53. Let us all be Dinosaurs and Lovely Other Dinosaurs together. For the sun is warm. And the world is a beautiful place.
  54. The Cluetrain Manifesto is as relevant now as when it was written 11 years ago.
  55. I need to review my old posts more often – several video embeds are now defunct…
  56. PT Anderson is a brilliant director, probably the best around.
  57. I laugh more in an episode of Green Wing than in a whole series of most comedy shows.
  58. John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road is a fine film, but not quite a masterpiece.
  59. Keeping a written record of significant experiences is a lovely way to remind myself that my life is pretty darn fine, actually.
  60. Many businesses swing wildly between a plan based on pie-in-the-sky assumptions with no foundation, and analysis-paralysis.
  61. BBC 6Music packs in more variety in a day than most commercial stations do in a month.
  62. I hoped the UK General Election in May 2010 would lead to positive change. I was half-right.
  63. Devon and Cornwall have beaches to rival anywhere in Europe.
  64. Many of my favourite songs are under 3 minutes long; perfectly-formed pieces of beautiful art.
  65. I truly hoped the Conservative / Lib-Dem coalition would be a progressive force for change in UK politics. I was naive.
  66. 2 of my Top 3 films of the last decade are not in English (City of God and The Lives of Others).
  67. Sometimes traffic to my blog comes from the most unlikely sources (Lady Gaga?!).
  68. Cate Blanchett is one of the most interesting actresses working today.
  69. Companies need to care more about their agencies.
  70. Uncovering decades-old diaries can be both uplifting and uncomfortable.
  71. When you are dancing and laughing and finally living, hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.
  72. Usain Bolt is a greater role-model and champion than any English footballer.
  73. The salaries of the 24 players in England’s dismal World Cup squad would pay for over 3,300 British Soldiers.
  74. Martin Luther King never spoke in terms of SMART objectives.
  75. Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows…
  76. Volunteering for The National Trust enables me to meet great people and do some good. Nice.
  77. (Despite the doping scandals) The Tour de France is a sporting spectacle like nothing else.
  78. There is no political violence, only criminal violence. But this can be state-sanctioned too.
  79. Natwest Bank’s ‘Helpful Banking’ campaign is depressingly cautious and underwhelming.
  80. Gifford’s Circus is brilliant old-school entertainment.
  81. I am incredibly proud of the way my 5-year-old daughter deals with her  nut allergy
  82. Anvil! The story of Anvil is as wonderful a love story as you’ll ever see.
  83. There is nothing worse in life than being blind in Granada…
  84. Roald Dahl is my favourite author for children.
  85. Does our ability to overcome nature make us immune to its danger and challenges?
  86. It’s really important to believe in your own abilities: you can be better than you’re currently allowed to be.
  87. The 24-hour-news cycle means we make mountains out of molehills and forget very quickly.
  88. Easyjet are not as bad as they’re made out to be.
  89. The Bugle is the perfect antidote to the 24-hour-news-cycle
  90. The shared experience of the Twitterati watching Strictly Come Dancing or X-Factor proves that appointment TV viewing is not dead.
  91. The Cove is a brilliant and shocking documentary that does for (part of) the Japanese fishing industry what Jamie Oliver has tried to do for battery chicken farming in the UK
  92. There is such a thing as too much choice.
  93. Long live Jesse Smith’s Butcher in Tetbury and all those like it.
  94. Movember is a terrific charity, and it brought our team at work closer together. The power of the Mo is real…
  95. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is another near-perfect album.
  96. I grew a moustache and I liked it (for a month anyway)
  97. I’m a French Horn player and proud of it.
  98. I’m also proud of this blog. Thanks for reading.
  99. Struggling now… as it’s nearly Christmas, can I point you in the direction of my recipe for a lovely festive season?
  100. Trying to plan ahead with posts, especially when my blog is reasonably wide-ranging in scope, is important. I get distracted easily and lose focus. Outlining is important, and writer’s block is real.

I hope I can continue to feel proud of this for another 100 posts, and that you can continue to find it interesting. Thanks for reading and supporting my little blog.

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I started this blog 12 months ago this week. At that time I was very anxious that it didn’t turn into some kind of mid-life version of a teenage diary, ranting and rambling about What I Reckon,  and had concerns that no-one would read it.

I’m fairly happy that neither of those things have happened. I know that my audience is small (but I like to think at least a teeny bit devoted!?), and I’m also delighted that they’re spread around the globe. I know that a handful of my posts have attracted most of the visitors, through their bizarrely high rankings in Google. If you don’t believe me try Googling…

“I got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell”… (page 2), or

“it’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win”…(page 1!)

I have Lady GaGa to thank as well. A few months ago she tweeted that very Bruce Springsteen lyric without any further explanation to her gazillions of followers. Many of them doubtless pasted the line into Google and somehow stumbled across my piece about small-town communities in Northern England. Oops – the power of the ‘long tail’ of Search Listings…

So, one year in and going strong. I’m very proud of some of my writing. I’ve had a couple of film reviews ‘published’ on LeftField Cinema and I still enjoy reading older posts. So much so, that after a year and 60-odd posts, this is my first cheat, my first ‘clips show’ with a few links back to (ahem) unfairly neglected posts that for whatever reason haven’t been as widely read as I might have liked.

“me and my important thoughts”
The inspiration for What I Reckon – the terrific Mitchell and Webb sketch that is years old but still a frighteningly accurate parody of ‘interactive news’.

“and they say that we’l have fun if it stops raining”
We got lucky last year, in that our first family camping trips (with a borrowed tent) were blessed with fine weather. This coming weekend we’re going to buy our own tent, stove, tables and so on. We are definitely fair-weather campers, but this is surely the kiss of death for the British summer…

“it’s not going to stop”
My last post listed my favourite films of the past decade. P.T.Anderson featured twice in the Top 10. He’s a fantastic, daring director. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

“take a step outside”
In 2008 I spent a tremendously wet and almost as rewarding week volunteering with The National Trust in The Lake District. 12 strangers coming together to do Just A Little Bit of Good. I’m volunteering again for them this summer, clearing and maintaining the Jurassic Coastal footpath in Dorset.

Normal service will resume next week. If anyone wants to ‘get me started’ on something, I’ll do my best to oblige. Leave me a comment and I’ll see what I can do. That aside I do have tentative ideas for future posts about BHAGs, Cate Blanchett, Retailer Marketing, Sunset Boulevard, Experiential Marketing and Angelina Ballerina. Oh yes.

Thankyou for reading.

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In what was perhaps the antithesis of our corporate experience on The London Eye last week, we spent a much simpler and cheaper weekend camping at The Cotswold Farm Park . Apart from a trial run in the garden, this was our first camping trip as a family (we used a borrowed tent & stove) but all round it was a success, and we’re planning the next weekend away already.

Based on this one experience, here’s a few things I’ve learned. Think of them as the ’12 Essential Tips for A Great Weekend Under Canvas’. Or don’t (I’d prefer that actually). Anyway…

  1. If a pan watched won’t boil, a pan on a camping stove in a strong breeze with no lid on definitely never boils.
  2. Picnic rugs on the floor make your tent a home.
  3. Packing the car is important. HA! I told you so.
  4. China plates & mugs and real glasses make a difference.
  5. You’ll always wish you’d brought something you forgot. The best you can hope for is that it’s the frisbee, not the matches or loo roll. We forgot clothes pegs.
  6. It’s not difficult to eat really well. With a bit of advance planning, we had fresh trout from a few miles away at Donnington Trout Farm, wrapped in foil with lemon slices and barbecued, with potato salad and a mustard & chive dressing. The next night we had burgers with blue cheese and bananas with white chocolate buttons, also wrapped in foil and barbecued to a gooey sweet mess.
  7. It will be hotter / colder / wetter / windier than you expect. In our case, all of the above…
  8. No matter what level of Camping Pro you might be, there will always be something that someone else has that you immediately covet. It could be a plastic cricket set, a kite, a wind break, funky fairy lights…
  9. Stuff takes a while longer when you camp. But that’s a good thing.
  10. Your body clock changes very quickly. We went to bed very early and got up early, but this meant we were on a fabulous nature trail by 8am on Sunday morning – spotting wildflowers and butterflies, dodging very large bulls.
  11. It won’t all go back in the car the way it went in.
  12. Try to see the camping experience in the same way the children do. Our girls and the kids in nearby tents simply ran up to each other, introduced themselves and asked ‘do you want to play?’. They didn’t form  judgements based on the tent, or the car parked alongside, or whether the family were caravanning geeks.

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