Thursday, 25 February 2016

Agglestone and Old Harry

It had been quite a bad week for us. Both children had gone down with a virus, which rather spoiled the school holidays for them. We had a couple of sleepless nights ourselves nursing the sick. 
Then, just as I was planning my birthday day out, I started to feel a bit poorly too. We were all a little run down; I wasn't quite laid low like the kids but I wasn't my normal perky self and my energy was quickly sapped.
However, we were not going to let a little virus stop our fun, I just had to moderate my ambition somewhat. I didn't go out with friends Saturday night, I got an early night instead and had a bit of a lazy Sunday morning. Then we fearlessly set out for Studland in Dorset, a beautiful stretch of coastline with miles of soft sandy beaches flanked by extraordinary white chalk cliffs.
Of course when visiting the beach in February in the UK you are not going to be packing swimming costumes and sunglasses, especially if you are not quite feeling yourself. The fringes of the Isle of Purbeck, as this area is known, are wonderful but they are only a tiny part of the appeal of the fantastic landscape. It is an absolutely fascinating place geologically and, as a result, historically.
I planned two short walks to exciting places, Old Harry chalk stacks and the astonishing Agglestone; I hoped that everyone, including myself, would be able to cope. Old Harry was first and it was blowing a gale when we tried to step out of the car in the National Trust car park. We started from the sandy beach but after a short while my daughters legs were going a bit wobbly, so she begrudgingly decided to turn back with Mum. 
No, You Cannot Walk Down There, Even If You Are Very Careful!
My son, who was now recovering, soldiered on with me and we were rewarded with the sudden and quite shocking view over the end of the path. He was permitted to carefully creep a lot closer to the edge than his Mum would have ever allowed. Having said this, neither of us ventured down to the very end of the suicidally sinuous path, that would have been highly irresponsible.
Pepped up by fresh air and the exhilaration of peering over the edge of the world, we set off down ancient holloways and across the sodden heath to hunt down the simply brilliant Agglestone.  We even spotted a group of Apple trees on our way.
From our first distant glimpse of the rock my son simply did not believe it, and thought initially that it was a tree. Later he said it looked like a giant broccoli stalk (it does) and renamed it the Brocclestone.
"The Brocclestone"
The Agglestone used to stand straight up but it did wobble and eventually it fell over, about 100 years ago. However, even lying down it is still a truly weird and wonderful piece of multi coloured, rippling rock. 
It does look alien, as if an asteroid dropped from space or a flying saucer landed and became fossilized. It sits atop its own special hill, standing out in the landscape as if deliberately placed there.
Many visitors have carved their initials and names in the soft sandstone around the base and it would be simple to say that this is a bad thing, but you can easily see the temptation. We decided to climb the Agglestone, it would have been a shame to get all that way there and not show our fascination for this beautiful geological beast in some significant manner.
We had to squint to stop sand blowing into our eyes and cling on like limpets to prevent ourselves being swept clean off. I let my son go first, he's a very good climber but I stayed very close behind him. We did quickly gain the summit without any trouble, then scrambled back down and victoriously squelched our way back to the girls.
We arrived in Studland via the millionaire's row of Sandbanks, a short-cut around the gigantic natural harbour of Poole but we returned via the ancient towns of Corfe and Wareham, tipping our caps to the castle on the way and stopping for well earned fish and chips in Southampton.
Because it was there! (Sandbanks in the background)

Friday, 12 February 2016

Early Spring? Make Mulberry Gin!

I found a big box of frozen Mulberries in our freezer yesterday. I gave a couple to the children as a chilly treat and then remembered that we had recently consumed the last of our super tasty Mulberry gin during the Winter nights. It was clearly time to create some fresh supplies.
My brother had given me a bottle of gin for Xmas and I was going to save it until the Summer months, but this seemed a project worthy of breaking that pledge. The decorative bottle that we had dispatched over Christmas was undoubtedly cute, but actually quite small, or so it seemed once we got a taste of it.
I filled too jars with the fruit and steeped it in gin; it soon took on a glowing ruby red hue. Normally when making liquors, I add a bit of sugar to help the process but Mulberries are so sweet, it did not seem necessary. I will test it in due course, just to be sure...
Spring seems to be arriving a full month early here in the UK. Plum blossom is blooming all over the place, snowdrops daffodils and crocuses are all flowering at the same time bringing a cheery flourish to the gloomy weather we have been experiencing.
Does this mean the Plums will be ripening a month early? Will they fruit before the Cherries? Perhaps February or March will turn dramatically colder and ruin the early harvest. Who knows? All we can do is wait and observe the changes as they occur. I remember a bad year for Cherries that I put down to high winds during the blossom season deterring pollinators.
Meanwhile, we can simply enjoy the florid display, allow it to lift our hearts and hope that it heralds a good Spring, warm Summer and prolific Autumn.