Southern Lights

The Trip

Pentre Lane, Goetre Fawr. Wales.
The road to Dave’s sister’s house.

Dave’s daughter won a bell tent, and other stuff, in a competition run by Badger Beer, which required her to go to Dorset and pick them up. The tent was pitched at Rosewall Campsite in Osmington Mills, just outside Weymouth, and the prize included three nights stay there. She was unable to make the trip, so asked Badger Beer if we could go instead, and they said yes. Thus, last Thursday we packed the car and headed down the road to stay with Dave’s sister in south Wales for a night, before going on to Dorset the following morning. Apart from the heat – 37ºc in a car with no air conditioning – and a minor, accidental diversion into Monmouth, the journey was uneventful and mostly pleasant.

On Camping

First view of the site. (The black VW van – enlarge the image and you’ll see it – turned out to be a bar!)

Having spent the morning chatting over breakfast, and playing with my favourite dog in the whole world, we arrived at the site at about three o’clock. I’ve camped in a tent only twice before: once in Guernsey in 1979 (our first night was the night of the Fastnet disaster, the tent blew away and my boyfriend at the time, Paul, had to chase it round the field in torrential rain wearing only his underpants); the other time was in Gatehouse of Fleet for one night, again it rained. Which means I have no expectations regarding campsites, and nothing to compare this one to, so I’ll just mention a few things about it and let you make up your own minds.

A bell tent at Rosewall Campsite, Osmington Mills, Dorset.
Our home for the weekend.

The location is spectacular; everyone was very friendly; the shop sold all sorts of useful stuff; and the loos were clean, never ran out of loo paper, soap, or paper towels, and had handy sockets for charging phones (as well as the usual sort for plugging in hairdryers and the like). The place was packed with tents of all sorts and sizes, from gigantic multi-roomed tunnel-like things, to just about big enough for a sleeping bag tiny. Happy families cooked sausages on portable barbecues; Cheery couples chatted over drinks after hiking over cliffs; groups of friends lounged with beer. There was a Badger Beer bar beside our pitch (you can see it in the photo of the site above), but it ran out of draft beer before we had a chance to try it. The only thing I found irritating was that the showers had push knobs that released only about twenty seconds of water, meaning you had to keep pressing. I found I could just lean my back against the knob for the most part, which at least allowed me to rinse the shampoo out of my hair properly, though this didn’t work when it came to other areas. Actually, another irritation was that there was nowhere to put your stuff while showering: no shelf for soap and shampoo, and nothing to keep your clothes and towel from getting damp. There were hooks on the door to hang clothes, but they were right in the line of spray. I took to draping mine over the top of the door, which helped.

My little home from home.

The first night was not good. We had wandered down to the coast – five minutes walk – after sorting out our beds and organising the space, and I promptly slipped trying to walk down a too steep path in unsuitable shoes (trainers, no grip) and pulled a muscle in my left thigh which hurt like hell and stopped me from sleeping. This added to the general disturbance factor for Dave. He’s not used to noise, and the site was noisy with kids running around and people generally having a good time until midnight at least. So that, and my being unable to settle, meant he didn’t sleep either.

That made Saturday a bit of a trial, so much so that Dave was all for giving up and booking into a hotel. Luckily we were too tired to look, so we stayed, and slept like babies that night. I’m not sure that camping is for us, but it did turn out to be an enjoyable experience on the whole. And all those people have given me a lot of material!

On Eating

A shack for gourmets at Lulworth Cove.
The shack at Lulworth cove where we had both breakfast and lunch.

Part of the prize was fifty quid’s worth of vouchers to spend in The Smuggler’s Inn (see header image), so we dropped in for supper on the first night, and ate burgers outside in the sunshine. They were delicious. We also had supper there on Sunday. I can’t remember what Dave had, though I do remember him eulogising, but I had the best Chicken Caesar Salad ever, and I’ve had a lot of those in my life. Also, the white wine spritzer I had was perfect. I highly recommend the place.

Although a friend lent us a single ring gas burner with a tiny kettle for morning tea/coffee, we didn’t take anything to cook with. This meant breakfast would have to come from some external source. I don’t have to eat the minute I wake, so that was unlikely to be a problem for me. Dave, on the other hand, needs to eat every half hour (or so it seems) so I was slightly anxious, especially as we woke early (I was in the shower by six each morning). Would we have to drive round looking for a truck stop? No, as it turned out, because the campsite shop had freshly baked croissants and pains au chocolat delivered every morning. Still warm. That was one of the highlights of the trip for me: sitting in the early morning sun covered in the shed flakes of a yeasted pastry; cows glazed by light on the ridge; the sea glinting below; sleep-hazed fellow campers heading for the loos in faintly crumpled Boden pyjamas. I felt like a character in a Helen Dunmore novel.

As Saturday was a bit of a washout for us, it having been preceded by the night from hell, we were back at the site by late afternoon, and really didn’t fancy the thought of trying to spruce up and go out for supper somewhere. But Rosewall came to the rescue again. At about five-thirty a stall of cheery hipsters popped up near the shower block, with a portable wood-fired oven, and made pizzas to order for ten quid a pop. I’d have preferred mine a little crisper, but the topping – the usual tomato, Serrano ham, and chilli oil – was great. (We did have a very nice brunch earlier in a place in Dorchester, but I can remember nothing else about it.)

Sunday was a much better day, we slept from about half-past eight on Saturday and woke at about half-past five with eager palates, and were ready to go adventuring before the shop opened. Thus we didn’t bother with croissants and headed straight for Lulworth cove. We arrived so early that nothing was yet open, except for a shack (see photo above) right by the beach that did take-away food, and Lavazza coffee. It was doing a roaring trade, but its card machine was broken and one needed cash to buy. We, so used now to not carrying cash, had eleven pounds between us (it was all Dave’s, I’d left mine in the shorts I’d worn the day before). Not all the prices were detailed, so we couldn’t work out what we could afford. Thus we told the woman behind the counter, who I assume owned the joint, of our predicament. She asked us what we wanted, we told her, she gave us the price. It was two pounds more than we had.

Now, there was a cash machine in the visitor’s centre, but that didn’t open for another two hours.
‘Give me what you’ve got,’ the woman said, ‘and if you bring the rest later, great, if you don’t, you don’t.’
So I had this:

Possibly the best bacon roll in the world.

We returned later, with the two quid, and a rather lovely fossil as a thank you gift. While we were there we had lunch: spicy bean-burger for D, which he declared fantastic, and a crab and lobster burger for me, which was another highlight of the trip. It was moist and crumbly, with lots of salad and a marvellously delicate pink sauce. Marie Rose?

At some point during our ramblings we get a craving for ice-cream. There were plenty of options, half a dozen places we could get it from, but we chose a café called Jake’s. D had Rum & Raisin, and Mango (two huge scoops), and I had Coconut, and Chocolate (ditto). I often regret having ordered chocolate ice-cream as it can be a bit feeble. More sugar than cocoa. But this was lush with cocoa solids: dense, dark, and creamy. And perfect with the coconut. Bloody yum!

We did mean to have a Dorset Cream tea at some point, but didn’t get round to it, though at a beach shack at Abbotsford (on Saturday) D had a tiny pot of strawberry and cream ice-cream made by a Dorset firm, which he felt ticked that box to his satisfaction.

The Wow of the Land

Lulworth cove is my new favourite place. It has everything I like: a beach; cliffs; amazing light; lots of places to eat; and people with buckets and spades. We spent all Sunday there wandering and browsing, and passed this millpond several times:

The fuzzy brown blobs are moorhens and ducks (can’t remember what sort)

We also took a boat trip to the Durdle Door, where we were told about the geology of the Jurassic coast.

This turned out to be rather more exciting than expected. A wind got up, rocked us like an over-zealous nanny, and gave us all a good splash. I had a ball.

Getting choppy
A passing ship.

The day before we’d visited Chesil Beach

but I was so tired after that aforementioned sleepless night I could have been anywhere and, when, later, we went to Portland Bill – where the limestone for St Paul’s Cathedral came from, I didn’t even get out of the car. But I’d say both these places are well worth a visit, and hope to go back when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

The Wildlife

We were hoping to see adders and the Lulworth Skipper, we didn’t, but we did see a Marbled White, which got Dave very excited.

In fact, while lounging on top of a cliff at Lulworth, we saw hundreds of butterflies, and at some point a dragonfly the size of a haggis flew by.

If I Had to Choose One Thing

I wouldn’t know where to start. How do you choose between a crab & lobster burger; Thomas Hardy’s cottage;

How I want this garden…

warm pains au chocolat for breakfast; spectacular scenery; and a fossil shop? It’s impossible.

The kitchen of Hardy’s granny, where we were given chunks of warm soda bread and told about historical baking techniques.

But on reflection I’d probably say the people. The volunteers at Hardy’s cottage were incredibly warm, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. We chatted with one woman about his writing for ages, stopping only to give the people who came in behind us a chance. And, of course, the woman behind the counter at the Lulworth Cove food-shack (I don’t know if it has a name). Our experience of Dorset would have been much poorer were it not for her, and we’d probably have had to leave Lulworth to find an ATM, and not returned. So, yeah, she is my choice for highlight of the trip.

The End

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