Saturday, 20 April 2013

Friday lunchbreaks should all look like this

Well, everyone needs to grab some fresh air with their Friday lunchtime sandwich, and I'd spent the morning wading through a pile of marking, so I deserved a break....
Solent Meads beach is just the best. Leading up to the beautiful nature reserve at Hengistbury head, and flanked by sand dunes, it is wilder and emptier than any of the other beaches in the area. Just don't tell anyone else...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A new arrival in Stanpit........

While walking in the marshes two days ago, I spotted a heavily pregnant chestnut mare by the water's edge. Seeing her made me smile, she reminded me so much of how I felt when I was close to my due date for my two 'babies'  - fat, tired and fed up!  I pulled out my iphone to take a snap but, at the click of the shutter, another pony, a black male, which was standing on the beach behind us, pricked up his ears, and immediately trotted over to stand protectively by her side.
 It was a touching moment that stuck with me for the rest of the day, so when I came across them again yesterday, I was so happy to see that the pair were now accompanied by a tiny, wobbly, new born!  They were too far from me to capture them on the rubbish iphone, but this morning I woke up thinking about them and, as soon as I could, I grabbed my camera and long lens and went over the road to find them.
So, here he/she is, freshly hatched, and constantly chasing its weary mother for milk. All together now....aahhhh!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A capsule wardrobe for living by the coast!

We will have been living down by the coast for four weeks tomorrow. That's 28 days already - days when I've gone to work, done some browsing around the shops, been for muddy walks, seen friends, spent a cultural day in London and so on. Yet, I've just realised I could could probably count the different items of clothing I've worn on one hand or, ok, two hands if you must make me count my wellies too.
When we first arrived at the cottage, it was our bedroom that took the longest to sort out, mainly because we just couldn't find enough storage for all of our clothes. As part of our downsizing prior to the move we impulsively gave up a fabulously large vintage chest of drawers that, I now realised, held a huge proportion of our wardrobe.  And so I found myself reduced to one narrow hanging space and 1.5 small drawers (Simon having the other 1.5). Even sneaking into my son's room and securing myself some hanging space in his wardrobe didn't solve the problem, so I was reduced to stuffing as much as possible into cardboard storage boxes, and ramming them into the base of my wardrobe.
However, since then, something strange has happened. Maybe it's because I can't actually SEE any of my clothes anymore, maybe it's because I'm no longer surrounded by anyone in enviably gorgeous frocks, maybe it's the cold weather, or maybe its because I don't know anyone here, and therefore don't care so much about what I look like, but  I've found I actually don't miss my wide range of dresses and tops. In fact, I have found it fantastically liberating to get up and put on essentially the same items every day.

Your Capsule Coastal Wardrobe
So, as far as I can make out after 27 and a bit days in Dorset, this is all you need:

Cabbages and Roses Fisherman's jumper
One pair of jeans - skinny (better for ramming into wellington boots and rolling up when the weather warms up and you can go paddling)
One pair of leggings  (At risk of sounding all yummy mummy, the Boden ones are the BEST EVER!)
One cosy fisherman style jumper - big enough to go over layers (Celtic Sheepskin/Seasalt/Cabbages & Roses)
One tunic - for 'smarter' days (Joules/All Saints/Seasalt)
A couple of longsleeve white t-shirts  (I love White Company's layering ones, but H&M budget ones are great too)
A pair of fantastically comfortable Sheepskin boots (I haven't taken off my Celtic Sheepskin black lace -up ones since I bought them) or, in summer, flip flops.
And good pair of long wellies.
Oh, and a leather jacket and a parka (a hood is a must!)

Of course, in theory, that means I could now empty the wardrobe of everything else, but lets not be rash. Surely even a Coastal girl might need a pair of heels and a party frock one day??!!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Spring finally comes to Avon Beach

After a morning of sitting inside and marking, I needed a lunchtime walk as much as Hamish.

I still can't quite believe that the beach is on my doorstep - especially today, with the sun shining and the sky not completely shrouded in cloud. It actually feels as if Spring might, finally, have arrived.

The view from behind the houses on the other side of Stanpit
When you leave our house on Stanpit, you can dip off the main road, and walk behind the houses opposite ours for a short stretch. I feel incredibly happy to be living in our simple little cottage, so I can't believe that the people who live in these houses can EVER have a bad day!

Their back gardens not only back onto water, but look over it to Hengistbury Head, and the beach huts on Mudeford sandbanks. The buildings insurers must get a migraine just thinking of the flood risk, but I would happily pay any premium to wake up to that view, and be able to wander down the garden and pop a kayak in the water. In fact I stood, enviously, for a minute or two, watching as a girl did exactly that. Simon and I HAVE to get some sea kayaks soon! (If anyone wants to recommend some particularly stable designs, I'd be grateful..)

As Hamish sniffed around the boats, I breathed in the fresh salty air, the bright nodding daffodils, and the birds soaring on the breeze, and just SMILED!

We had all our new neighbours around for drinks on Sunday, and they generously let me pick their brains for new local walks and places to see. I now can't wait for the weekend, to get out and explore a bit more. Maybe I'll even remember to take out my camera and be able to post something better than an iphone snap!

Avon Beach this afternoon - is that blue sky??!!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Doing our bit for the Dorset wildlife

Caught out by the spring tides
We definitely feel closer to nature living here.
The sea and salt marshes change daily according to the weather and tides - so much so that, when a friend came to visit the other day, we were completely caught out by flooding on my usual stroll through the nature  reserve. I was loudly blaming the rain for the extra  inches of water swishing around our wellies, until a passing local gently reminded me that it was actually the result of the spring high tides and, yet again, I was exposed for the ignorant city dweller that I really am.

We are also going to have to invest in a bird book that is a little more detailed than my 1960s illustrated Observer book of birds. The marshes opposite the house are inhabited by all sorts of beautiful birds that I really should know the name of, and I have already suffered family humiliation after calling the Brent geese cormorants (in my defence, I didn't have my glasses on..)!

Stephen the frog
Still, I at least did my bit for the local amphibians when, after our sheds were demolished last weekend, we found a rather unhappy homeless frog trying to seek some shade.
My stepson named the frog Stephen, and pointed out that, unless we did something about it, Stephen was soon going to end up being preserved Pompeii-style in the wave of cement that the builders are due to deposit in his patch next week.
Heart strings duly pulled, I braced myself for trying to capture Stephen in a small plastic tub so we could take him somewhere safer. Stephen turned out to be relatively obliging and hopped in to the tub I put in front of him, only making a short wave of protest with one 'hand'/'claw' (?!) when I tried to put the lid on.
Convinced that the stress of the whole episode would probably kill Stephen off anyway, my stepson and I then legged it across the road and into the nature reserve, holding the little plastic tub out in front of us, like some sort of bizarre bouquet. We carefully selected a sheltered spot close to the water that, to our uneducated minds, looked like the sort of place a frog might be happy, and then lifted the lid. Stephen, amazingly, hopped happily out and was immediately camouflaged in the reeds.
We strolled back home, smugly congratulating ourselves on the success of our mission, only to meet Simon outside.
Well done, said Simon, "I look forward to watching Stephen attempting to cross this road, as he tries to find his way back home."
So, now I need an Observer Book of Frogs too - just to quietly reassure myself that a homing instinct is completely out of the question, and hopefully before the builders arrive.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Breezy Sunday lunch at the Beach Hut Cafe, Friars Cliff

After a morning of shifting sheds to make space for the studio/office we are planning for the garden, Simon was craving a local crab sandwich so we headed to the beach. Our local sands are Avon Beach, but a short stroll along the prom takes you to Friars Cliff, and the lovely Beach Hut cafe. The cafe is only tiny, but bright and cheerful and does a great all day breakfast, as well as crab sandwiches, all served with a fabulous view of the crashing waves.

We had Hamish the dog with us, so we had to sit outside with the wind nearly blowing us sideways, but a huge pile of chips and a frothy coffee or two kept us warm.

The cafe has won awards for its homemade produce and made it into the Guardian's Top 10 of beach cafes in the country, but it remains unpretentious and inexpensive - I think we could be spending a lot of our Sundays here from now on..

Click on this to go straight to the Beach Hut Cafe site for more info

Thursday, 4 April 2013

We've given the Stanpit exterior a bit of a makeover, with a bit of help from local company Farrow and Ball of course!

Thanks to Simon's hard work over the Easter weekend, our Dorset pad has now got a smart front door, and a new gate too.

The door was a rather bright turquoise when we moved in, but  a coat or two of Farrow & Ball's Downpipe has added a touch of coastal chic!  Just the window sills to paint, and a new house number to put up now.. (sorry Simon!)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Stanpit Marsh - a nature reserve walk with a smuggling past

Yesterday Hamish the dog and I headed through the recreation ground opposite our house and into the Stanpit Marsh nature reserve for the first time on a very cold, but sunny day.

Stanpit was listed in the Domesday book as Stan Peta, meaning two estates with meadows, and the marshes were produced by the Rivers Stour and Avon meeting the saltwater of Christchurch Harbour. It's now one of the largest salt marshes in the country and a site of Special Scientific interest with 14 rare or endangered species of plants growing there (so be careful where you plant your boots!).

I haven't seen my camera since the move, but this view has pushed me into emptying all of the cupboards again to try and find it.. An iphone just doesn't do it justice!

Stanpit Marsh is so much more beautiful than its name implies.
It has been maintained to protect the birds that like to nest in its reeds, and the firmer ground is grazed by ponies, so you need to keep dogs on a lead.

Follow the lovely circular stroll from the recreation ground through the marshes and along the river, looking out over Hengistbury Head and the Mudeford Beach Huts one the way out, and Christchurch Priory on the way back. You will cross Baileys Bridge, which takes you over Mother Siller's Channel, named after 18th century smuggler Ma Seller, the landlady of the Ship in Distress pub (see yesterday's post). The channel used to lead to the back of her pub so it was a useful 'trade' route!

The walk only takes half an hour or so but be sure to take your wellies at the moment!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Exploring our new local pubs in Christchurch

What is it exactly that makes a pub 'good'? Pubs live or die by their reputations, but what are the key ingredients for a pub's success? For me it needs to be simply decorated (more spit and sawdust than fancy wallpaper), to have a friendly buzz, a spare table or bar stool, and to feel intimate, welcoming and cosy. Oh, and maybe some live music now and then.  Is that such an unusual wish list?

Having spent the past five years living in suburbia where even the nearest gastropub was a car drive away, Simon and I were quite excited about moving to an area with not one, but three pubs within a ten minute walk. One of them, The Ship in Distress, is almost outside our front door, and has an intriguing history as a bit of a smugglers' den, so I was especially keen to check it out, but no one locally seemed to share my enthusiasm.

"The Ship in Distress? Mmm, it's in distress," said our Czech dog walker, Magda. Admittedly, she is employed to work in the Nelson down the road on a Monday night, so maybe she was going to be a little bit biased, but a couple of others seemed to agree with her.

So on Friday night, I suggest instead that we start at the Nelson, which is renowned for its Thai food (I'm not sure Horatio had much of a taste for a green curry and chicken satay, but I could be wrong.) Encouragingly there was a bloke with a beard and a guitar setting up in the corner when we arrived and the place was absolutely buzzing, but after just a few minutes of queuing at the bar and then fighting through the crowd to find a table (opposite a row of flashing games machines) we realised that everyone there was already plastered. And not just quietly inebriated, but staggering, hugging, shouting, swearing drunk. Something to do with it being Good Friday and the first day of the local beer festival apparently, but after an hour of watching the guitarist battling with an unappreciative audience, we'd had enough.

From the bluster of the Nelson, heading into The Ship in Distress was like finding a calm port after the storm. It may have lacked a fancy wine list, but it wrapped us up in a cosy, spit and sawdust welcome. Before we'd even ordered our drinks, we were invited to join some locals at the table, and didn't re-emerge again until midnight, after being invited out onto their fishing boat, and for more drinks the next night too. Now that's what I call a good pub!

The Ship in Distress on Stanpit, near Christchurch has a sea food restaurant and features in Alistair Sawday's good pub guide. 01202 984966.