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October 24, 2014
THE BOUNTIES OF AN ENGLISH AUTUMN
When one of England's most famous landscape gardens, Stourhead in Wiltshire, is on your doorstep, you would be foolish not to take advantage. As a rule, I head over there every few weeks or so to walk its paths, admire the plants and trees, and revel in the beauty of it all. At this time of year, though, it gives me particular pleasure. As late summer gives way to autumn, the gardens' colours take on a wonderfully splendid russet hue - a gift to the rows of photographers that line Stourhead's paths in search of the perfect image of the changing seasons.
I'm usually there with my camera, too, snapping merrily away. But this year, I was distracted from the fantastic views by the abundance of sweet chestnuts that lay on the ground and before I knew it, photographs were forgotten, the camera was back in my pocket, and my rucksack was filling up fast with autumn's bounty.
Sweet chestnut trees (not to be confused with horse chestnuts, of course) were popular with England's 19th-century landscapers, presumably explaining their abundance at Stourhead. Once extracted from their spiky green carapace, they are brilliant if you cut a little cross in them to stop them exploding, and then cook them dry in an oven or boil them briefly so that they soften up. Peeling them is an unavoidable chore, but in my mind, you can't beat getting something for nothing - even if it does involve a bit of hard labour.
Posted by Sue at 16:38:20 on 24/10/2014
October 17, 2014
AWARD-WINNING IDEAS OF WHAT TO DO IN THE HOLIDAYS
With school half-term holidays looming, and stormy weather on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to that all-important question of how to keep the kids entertained. Board games can last only so long and no parent worth their salt wants them to be glued to a TV or computer screen for quite that long. So when I saw that the Dorset Tourism Awards had announced its results this week, I went straight to the list of winners for some much-needed inspiration of what to do and where to go.
Not too far away from home is the winner of their Larger Attraction of the Year award, the Tank Museum at Bovington. Let's just say that we're no strangers at this supersized exhibition of large military vehicles. It is been a firm favourite with my kids since they were old enough to tell the difference between a Churchill and a King Tiger. And even though they are older and wiser these days, we've found that it is still a good way to while away a wet day in October. Even better, we feel like we've done something vaguely educational - what with all the historical facts taken in along the way.
Winner of the silver award is Kingston Lacy in Wimborne Minster. This is one that we haven't done before, so it is surely going to be a winner. Kingston Lacy is a stately home owned by the National Trust. Built to resemble an Italian palace, it seems like there is plenty to see inside the house, from the odd painting by Rubens and Dyck to ancient Egyptian artefacts. An autumnal walk in the Japanese Garden might also be in order, followed by tasty treats in Kingston Lacy's cafe.
Joint second is Moors Valley Country Park and Forest in Ashley Heath - another place I've not been to or even heard of, so plenty of scope for adventure. As an outdoor experience, it is, of course, dependent on weather. That said, pick your day carefully and it sounds like there can be few better places to enjoy the changing of the seasons. My kids are way too big to want to follow the Gruffalo trail, but they'll no doubt be more than happy to to get on their bikes or have a go on a forest segway.
Finally, in third place is Swanage Railway, down on the beautiful Dorset coast. Steam railways are usually a winner with everyone - come rain or shine. This one, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, is no exception, taking its passengers on a six-mile scenic route that passes close to Corfe Castle and finishes on the beach at Swanage.
Now that I've perused the list, I do feel fairly prepared. There are plenty of good suggestions, without having to travel too far. Bring on the holidays.
Posted by Sue at 12:12:32 on 17/10/2014
October 10, 2014
REMEMBERING THE LIFE OF A TRUE ADVENTURER
Earlier this week, I was pleased to see that the daily Google Doodle commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thor Heyerdahl. This Norwegian-born ethnographer and adventurer-extraordinaire died in 2002 but - quite rightly - his exploits live on much longer. Heyerdahl will, of course, be best remembered for his Kon-Tiki expedition, an epic journey that took place in 1947. Heyerdahl took on the vastness of the Pacific Ocean with little more than a balsa wood raft, a strong sense of adventure and a double dose of courage.
As history tells us, Heyerdahl didn't sink, thank goodness. His narrative of the voyage is one of those unforgettable books, the sort you find hard to put down. It is been translated into 72 languages and was made, in 1951, into a documentary film. The voyage itself had a serious side, of course; it was intended to show that sailors from ancient cultures did exist and could have made the same journey with similar equipment.
Whilst the Kon-Tiki expedition is Heyerdahl's most famous, this eternal adventurer made many other trips to far flung places during his lifetime. In the 1930s, he travelled to Polynesia as part of his honeymoon and gained inspiration for his future work. In 1970, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a reed boat named Ra II, intent on proving that similar voyages could have been carried out way before Columbus even dreamed of setting sail to the New World. In 1977, in another reed boat, known as the Tigris, he attempted to sail across the Indian Ocean.
If you happen to be in the Norwegian city of Oslo
over the coming months, you can pop into the Kon-Tiki Museum, which celebrates Thor Heyerdahl's life and adventures with a new, upgraded exhibition, as well as a series of lectures and films. Not least, you will get to see the famous raft at close quarters. To all intents and purposes, it looks like something that could have come straight off a Hollywood movie set. It is hard to imagine it being used in anger, so to speak.
Indeed, Heyerdahl's exploits all sound as if they were something that emerged from a scriptwriter's pen. Even at the end, when he was in his eighties, he was planning to return to the Pacific for one final trip - to uncover a giant pyramid in Samoa.
Posted by Sue at 14:32:27 on 10/10/2014
October 3, 2014
ON THE TRAIL OF CITY ART
In a few weeks' time, around 50 statues of Paddington Bear will pop up all around London. They'll be turning up in all sorts of places, from shops and museums to parks and other iconic London landmarks. Those following in the bear paws of Britain's favourite Peruvian book character will be ably assisted by a map and a sound knowledge of Paddington's favourite places. It certainly sounds like fun - I might even be tempted to head to the capital myself. A misspent childhood spent reading Michael Bond's books has left me with something of a soft spot for this furry character.
The Paddington Trail will do much to celebrate culture and art in London - it will also help to promote a new film about the bear and, most importantly, raise funds for charity. Other similar trails have been created in recent years, all with considerable success. In 2010, in the West Country city of Bath, the Lions of Bath created quite a stir. Two years later, to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, 60 Swans of Wells graced the streets of this historic Somerset town. This fabulous public display featured five-foot high sculptures, all created by local artists. But perhaps the best known is Gromit Unleashed - a trail of eighty Gromit (of Wallace and Gromit fame) works of art that famously hit the streets of Bristol last summer.
This latest in city art trails won't just feature Paddington in his familiar duffel coat and I'm not sure there'll be a marmalade sandwich under his hat. He will, however, be there in many guises, from Paddington Sparkles to Paddingtonscape and even Paddington Shakesbear. Naturally, the latter will be standing next to the Globe Theatre.
Posted by Sue at 18:40:03 on 3/10/2014