i do like to be beside the seaside …

                    Nothing like a few days by the sea to blow away the cobwebs.

Charmouth is easily one of my favourite beaches. Though, having said that, I’ve only ever visited in the winter months when, despite the steady stream of fossil-hunters and dog walkers, it’s probably much quieter than it is during the summer holidays.

The weather forecast for the weekend was terrible and the clouds looked pretty forbidding at times, but the rain held off and we managed to spend both Friday and Saturday by the sea – three hardy souls actually swam. Naked. Not me, though.

Lyme Regis for wave-hopping and crashing about on the shingle…

               … and Charmouth for fossils and chips – but not together.

Our lunch on the beach at Charmouth was one of the best picnics I’ve ever had: loads of buttered slices of bread from home which were then stuffed with chips from the cafe.

Incidentally, the cafe, which is run from an unpromising-looking large, green Portakabin-shipping container type affair, produces the best tea imaginable: hot and strong and served in large china mugs which they let you take with you while you search for ammonites and trilobites. Delicious hot chocolate too, according to the children.

And then back to base, where fortunately there was a large boot room  …

This is just the tip of the weekend’s footwear iceberg, which comprised walking boots, trainers, slippers, daps*, clogs, crocs etc. I could go on, but it’s enough to say that there were seventeen of us in all (toddlers to forty-somethings) and the weather was uncertain.

I am now dealing with a different sort of iceberg – a damp, muddy, gritty heap of clothes.

* Daps – Bristolian / West country term for plimsolls.

phew!

Life seems to have gone up a gear over the last week. The lovely James came to stay last Wednesday and over the course of three days (with a break in the middle because James went off to a wedding in Devon) we managed whistle-stop tours of two spa towns -

Bath …

and Cheltenham …

ticked off three house recces and took some supplementary shots for a shoot we did earlier in the year. All very satisfying. Or at least that’s how it felt until I remembered that half term starts tomorrow and the house is a tip and the cupboards are bare.

PS Laura’s loo is on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, Channel 4 this evening at 8pm

yeo valley organic garden

So the soil arrived late on Monday afternoon, on the third attempt. The sack is currently upside down in the road, and I am hoping that it won’t rain too heavily between now and Saturday, which is when I’ll be able to start shifting it down to the garden. I couldn’t bear it if it was all washed away down the hill by a river of rainwater. Mustn’t think about it. Better to think about how the bottom of the garden will look when the soil is in and I have replanted everything I had to dig up to make way for the new beds and pond.

And with that in mind, I’ve been looking through the photographs I took three weeks ago when I visited The Yeo Valley Organic Garden (links to their site here and here) on their last open day of this year (next year’s season is a little longer, with visits from April 25th to October 29th). The two image above are from the cutting garden which I imagine is all but over now, though the beds filled with dahlias and cleome were still looking strong.

Although I love seeing gardens in high summer, I find I learn more from visits made when gardens are just waking up or heading into decline – spring and late autumn. It’s easier to spot the plants that might help hold my garden together during the lean months when most of the stars of summer are dormant or dying.

At Yeo Valley Organic Garden I was particularly struck by the huge drifts of echinops and verbena bonariensis, which were threaded through with lower growing grasses such as stipa tenuissima and ribbons of sedum and echinacea.

              Now all I have to do is work out how to make it work on a far tinier plot…

I’d really love to visit this garden again during the winter; I imagine that it will still look stunning. It’s a shame that this isn’t an option, though I expect low visitor numbers at that time of year make it impractical. I must add that as well as the gravel garden and the cutting garden there is a large meadow, which looked completely magical even on an overcast day, a formal garden – the bronze garden – with a large pond, and much else besides. Oh and a lovely, lovely restaurant selling the most delicious cakes.

balloons

Yesterday evening saw the second of six mass ascents for the balloons participating in the 34th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (there are three early morning flights and three evening flights, with night glows on the evenings in between). It is an incredible spectacle, made more exciting by the fact that you never really know until the last moment whether or not it will happen – poor weather conditions have conspired against the event in the past. But yesterday was warm and still and very clear. Perfect.

In the past we have been able to watch the balloons glide by from the comfort of our garden, but yesterday we realised that what little wind there was would carry the balloons up and away towards Weston. Luckily, Brandon Hill, one of the best vantage points in the city, is not so very far away. So we packed a picnic and raced off, making it just in time.

Once the balloons had floated off into the sunset it was time for the obligatory downhill roll

                                                    and modelling cherry earrings.

swinging in the rain

This weekend’s incredibly muddy walk: Abbot’s Pool, just along from Leigh Woods.

There is a large lake, a smaller pool and several little water falls, but best of all a very high tyre swing. This is the one walk the girls are always up for, come rain or shine.

a shaggy dog story

A year ago today we drove to Wales to collect Sybil. She was tiny and incredibly
sweet and, as far as the girls were concerned, it was love at first sight.

Although I found her comic appearance endearing, I admit it took me a little longer to feel that I loved her – Joe even longer still. But one year on, she’s very much part of the family. She is also very naughty. So far she’s eaten shoes, attacked my bulbs repeatedly, gnawed a pat of butter, wounded countless Sylvanians and destroyed four dog beds.

As you can see, each one is diligently eviscerated and it’s pretty exhausting work.

Of course digging is what terriers love to do, and Cairn Terriers are no exception.

going, going, gone!

This hasn’t been a great year for balloon spotting. Usually, by mid-summer, we’ve spent many an evening watching balloons glide across sky, sometimes directly overhead, on their way from Ashton Court to Bath. But not this year. According to the man from Bristol Balloons, the weather has been against them and the wind direction all wrong, so that the flights were going too close to the airport.

But in the past two weeks the balloon sightings have been closer to their normal levels for August (seven on Friday evening, presumably balloonists gearing up for next weekend’s fiesta). So last Wednesday we took the dog and the children up to Ashton Court for an early evening walk, in the hope of a balloon sighting. We were in luck.

It’s an extraordinary thing watching a balloon take off. First there is a lot of faffing around as acres of fabric are unfurled across the ground. Then the bottom of the balloon is held open and hot air blasted inside so that it gradually inflates. The whole process looks impossible: the fabric ripples and collapses, rises up and deflates again. Then suddenly the balloon is full – has ballooned, even – and the basket, which until this point has been lying on its side, is righted, and you register how very tiny it is and how it looks exactly like an old laundry basket. With holes in. Windows apparently, but holes nonetheless. Next there is frantic shouting from the balloon gang, ropes held tight, and spectators told to move back and passengers to step forward.

And finally, silence. It was a thrilling and magical sight watching the balloon gently rise from the ground. And then I caught a child’s voice calling out “bye bye mummy!” which I found heart-wrenching – pathetic, I know.

Anyway, time for me to post my farewells too. We are off to France today and I should really be packing, but I can’t seem to find the enthusiasm for it despite my mounting excitement at the prospect of sun, sea, and delicious cheese …

which brings me to my final, and entirely unrelated photograph – unrelated to the balloons that is. In the general pre-holiday tidying up I realised that I hadn’t got round to posting a decent photograph of the cheese dish that in our house serves as a butter dish. Here it is. I bought it a couple of years ago for £2 on the Gloucester Road where charity shops outnumber all other forms of shop, including estate agents. Apparently the Gloucester Road has more independent traders than any other high street in Europe.

And with that startling fact I’ll say good bye.