Those Lazy Hazy Crazy days of Summer

IMGP3687English weather is always unpredictable and as the saying goes, “Two days of sunshine followed by a thunderstorm”. Well, so far this Summer, that adage is proving to. be reasonably accurate.

In the UK, August has traditionally been the main holiday period as it is the month when the best outdoor weather tends to come in more prolonged sunny periods. Whether people travel abroad or holiday remain in the UK on a Staycation as it has come to be known, August is the month which families look forward too a well earned break. Schools also have their extended holidays during this time and the start of the month frequently sees weekend traffic jams as the nation moves en-masse  to their chosen holiday destinations.

Now that I am retired, my wife and I are fortunately no longer restricted to the more popular holiday periods, but that does not stop us making good use of fine weather to take trips out on a visit or a picnic. The South-West of England where we live has always been a popular destination for holiday makers, particularly with its many fine seaside resorts, beaches and spectacular scenery. It is still possible however to find less crowded and peaceful locations and out trip this week to Stonebarrow Hill on the Dorset Coast is one of them.

IMGP3711Stonebarrow Hill is a 148 metre high plateau sandwiched between the small coastal town of Charmouth and the well known Golden Cap which is the highest hill in the spectacular Lyme Bay. The land is owned by the National Trust and forms part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast and the Coastal Path. Parking and access are free but if not travelling on foot, it does require motoring up a very steep and narrow lane that twists and turns and which is one vehicle width only. This means some give and take negotiation is necessary in the event of encountering on coming traffic.

The plateau is traversed along a unmade road but with ample parking for cars, and the sides slope down steeply to the sea far below.. The views are breath-taking and it is possible to see the entire sweep of Lyme Bay on a clear day.

The video below is a 360° panorama of just one part of Stonebarrow Hill.

April 2016

Stonebarrow

Spring has sprung and the grass has ‘riz’, I wonder where the fairies is?, as my dear old mother used to say.

Well Spring is certainly now here, and the daffodils brought on a month early by a mild winter are still in bloom. I like daffodils and after a drab winter even if it was mild, they do add a welcoming touch of colourful freshness to the environment. The fields that abut our home are also full of new born lambs at the moment. It is amazing to watch how such creatures so frail at birth, have found their legs within minutes as they first suckle from their mothers. It only takes about two weeks for these new born lambs to “gang up” together with other lambs and go chasing around the fields in groups. The moment one of their mothers moves though, the group breaks up as they go scurrying back.

Easter, now already come and gone was not particularly welcoming to those seeking a long break away after the long indoor months. Rain and wind just about sums Easter up and true to form, as soon as the holidaymakers had returned home, the winds abated and the sun came out spreading its first noticeable but much looked forward to warmth of the year.

Fortunately I am now retired and as such,my wife and I are no longer tied to routines governed by early morning alarm clocks, commuter rush hours or daily routines. It is nice when the weather suddenly turns into a fine day to be able to say on the spur of the moment, “Let’s Go”. We tend to avoid going out much during Bank Holidays as we tend to find everything is a bit of a crush when millions of other people are intent on doing the same thing during their brief public holiday break. But then being retired, in it’s own way, every day is now something of a holiday break providing good use is made of it.

One such day occurred last week and on the spur of the moment we decided to go on a picnic. Out chosen destination was Stonebarrow Hill on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast which is about a 50 minute drive from our home.. Stonebarrow as everyone refers to it locally is open countryside owned by the National Trust of which we are members. It consists of a 148 high metre hill with fields rolling down to the sea. It is also adjacent to the renowned flat plateaued Golden Cap Hill which is the highest point of the large bight of coastline that forms the extensive and sweeping Lyme Bay. Stonebarrow is something of one of the National Trusts “hidden in plain view” gems.

Stonebarrow Hill is accessed by the aptly named Stonebarrow Lane which starts just before entering the small coastal town of Charmouth. Motoring skills come very much to the fore when driving up Stonebarrow Lane. It is very steep, Normally first or second gear only.for a considerable distance. The lane is narrow with insufficient room for two vehicles to pass, so a bit of give and take using depressions in the hedgerow is essential when encountering oncoming traffic. The upper sections of the lane fall away to a deep ravine type hill as well. The effort is well worth it for the spectacular view from the top. Although National Trust property, there is no charge for access or parking.If you have a pair of binoculars or even a telescope, they are well worth bringing.

The lower half of the land is part of the Coastal Path between Golden Cap and Charmouth and occasional hardy walkers can be seen traversing it. It is also a very dog friendly area and our Labrador “pup” Lou Lou now 18 months old and fully grown enjoyed racing up and down the slopes as she stretched her youthful limbs letting of steam in the process.

The drive to Stonebarrow is quite pleasant too. Either via the A3066 from Crewkerne through the charming small town of Beaminster nestled in the northern Dorset hills, and with its narrow roads and market place, or back via the B3165 north of Lyme Regis towards Crewkerne once again..

In all it was a sudden and unexpected day out but one that holds the promise of many more such days in the forthcoming months.

March 2015

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Burton Bradstock

With the infamous Ides of March fast approaching, the past week has proved far from any ominous omens, quite the reverse. The last few days have regularly alternated between wet and welcome warm days as Winter starts to give way to Spring. The warm days are almost like the tendrils of a yet unborn Summer stretching backwards in time to act as an advance messenger of leisurely outdoor days that lie ahead.

Our daffodils have now started to appear and grass that has been lying dormant for months has begun to stir. It is almost like a slumbering giant has awoken as the emergent Spring shakes off the remnants of Winter.

We took the opportunity last week on the first really sunny day to go to Burton Bradstock in Dorset. This is part of the Jurassic Coast which provides a good vista of that huge bight of the South Coast known as Lyme Bay. From Burton Bradstock it is possible on a clear day to see all the way from Portland Bill to Exmouth and even Torquay. This view always conjures up in my mind that just a few miles beyond that distant coast likes both the mysteries and beauty of Dartmoor.

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A distant Golden Cap

Nor far beyond nearby Bridport lies Golden Cap, the flat topped hill that dominates this part of the coast. Golden Cap like much of this coast belongs to the National Trust which should help preserve the beauty of this area for future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

It was also the opportunity for our new puppy Lou Lou now some five months old to see the sea for the first time. One never quite knows how a dog will react to this new environment for the first time. As it turned out, Lou Lou appeared quite indifferent apart from when an incoming wave suddenly took her by surprise as it swirled around her paws. Finding she could rapidly dig holes in the wet sand appeared to be more enjoyable to her.

I also took the opportunity to drive to West Bay on the way home as I had not seen it for some time. West Bay might be better known as the location of the TV series “Harbour Lights” that was screened some years ago. It is a location I have always liked for its unspoilt  non-commercialised appearance but I found a new monolithic block of residential apartments built directly alongside the harbour does little for myself in enhancing the ambience of this small seaside town.

November 2013

It’s been a number of months since I last updated my site mainly due to the glorious summer we have enjoyed. As an active retired person it would seem a shame to waste opportunities for outdoor activities. Following an early holiday in Spain, this summers weather has proved one long opportunity for visiting and exploration.

One little gem my wife and I came across almost by chance was a medieval National Trust property called Great Chalfield Manor near Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire. The manor house originally built about 1465 was a moated property with part of the moat still surviving. The estate itself goes back to Norman times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as the property of Ernulf de Hesding, Comte de Perche. It was quite surprising when we were told by the N.T guide that through entrepreneurial skill, at one time the estate covered about 50 percent of Wiltshire and 25 percent of Somerset. Apart from the buildings the garden is also well worth a visit on a warm day with one noticeable feature being four tree houses enveloping pathways. The tree houses were each grown from four yew trees that merged into each other and then hollowed out on the inside. The small local parish church of All Saints which can only be accessed from the forecourt of Great Chalfield Manor is also well worth a visit .


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I find one of the simplest but nicest summer time pleasures is to go for a picnic in the country as a way of relaxing. Although we tend to go to various locations often seeking out new places there are two locations we hold more dear in our heart. Both are on Dorset’s Jurassic coast and both are National Trust Land. One location is Burton Bradstock and the other is Stonebarrow adjacent to the well known Golden Cap. Excellent views of Lyme Bay are afforded by both locations and I usually take a good pair of field glasses with me for viewing water-borne activity in the bay itself.

Bristol Garden Zoo proved to be another delightful excursion on our summer itinerary. It’s somewhere I have always wanted to visit but for various reasons getting there has always eluded me. We did look at going “green” on our travel to the zoo using a combination or rail and bus travel. However the high price of even off-peak rail travel and inconvenient train times meant we drove there in the end at a fraction of the time and cost it would have otherwise taken us. How on earth the Government expect people to use public transport while at the same time it presents discouraging and deterrent obstacles to its use I shall never know.

The zoo itself I found to be quite relaxing and well laid out as we ambled at our whim hither and thither to and from the various enclosures. I was impressed by the layout of the Water World and its seals and sea lions. A meandering pathway has been built spanning the enclosure from above before eventually doubling back under the water through a plexi-domed tunnel allowing good views of the seals from all aspects of their environment. I also found the butterfly house quite stunning with butterflies of all sizes in vivid and ornate colours. I was advised by one of the keepers the natural life cycle of the butterflies once they have emerged from their pupae varies between three to four weeks. This means the zoo has a large and on-going import programme of various pupae to keep the butterfly house stocked all year around.

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We are also fortunate enough to watch the annual International Air Day at R.N.A.S Yeovilton from the comfort of our garden made even more pleasurable this year by the heat wave conditions prevailing at the time. For my wife and I it is also a day for enjoying the company of a large group of friends invited to visit us on the day as I play Mein Host with lashings of food and drink freshly cooked on the barbeque.

The Air Day is always provides a fine example of flying skills in both modern and historic aircraft and this year was no exception. Some of the aircraft in use were the latest Apache and Lynx Wildcat helicopters as well as the ever reliable Seaking helicopter soon to be phased out by its replacement the Merlin also at the Air Day.

The Red Arrows display team opened the show arriving out if the blue to the second to provide a stunning display of tight formation flying and aerobatics. Traditional favourites from the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also provided flying displays and I always find the deep throated roar from the Hurricane and Spitfire mellowed by the drone of the Lancaster bomber in some way comfortably reassuring. Another popular favourite was the much loved Vulcan bomber which sends vibrations reverberating through the body as well as the renowned Swordfish that proved so decisive at the Battle or Taranto and the sinking of the Bismarck in WWII.

An estimated crowd of 35,000 people attended the show with contributions to charity coming from the proceeds.

I have added a selection of photographs below which I took from my garden.

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