Adam Bird


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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Swimming, Swans, Slides & a Swoosh!

Coastline at Portland Bill

Sometimes we forget what a truly beautiful country that we live in. We get stuck in the monotony of life, the same places, faces, commute to work, back again, routines and school runs and sometimes you need a reminder that it need not be that way. Our country has sights worth seeing, villages worth visiting and natural habitats that allow children to get up close and personal with wildlife and animals.

Last week, Stephanie, Oliver and I spent four nights in Weymouth with Stephanie’s parents, Pat and Colin. We collected tickets out of the newspaper which allowed us to apply for a five day break at any of the country’s Haven holiday parks - all for the bargain price of £9.99. With Oliver not yet in school, it was the perfect opportunity for us to take a break outside of term time for what’s likely to be the final time!

On arrival at the Seaview holiday park, after a nightmare two hour delay on the M25 we were longing for a swim in the pool, or a refreshing drink in the late afternoon sun, looking down at the water in which the name of the camp implies. We decided to take a stroll around to the sister park next door as the swimming facilities were slightly better, but having arrived late on in the day, we didn’t have a great deal of time.

View of Chesil Beach from Portland

Before we left, Oliver was talking non-stop about the things that he was looking forward to doing - swimming being one of them. But all dressed up in his shorts and arm bands, his courage deserted him when it mattered.

The last time Colin had taken Oliver swimming was in Mexico back in 2007, when Oliver, not yet a year old would quite happily sit on the edge and throw himself off for one of us to catch him in the water. This modern day Oliver, refused to get in, before relenting - just about! Only after words of encouragement and bribery forced his hand into slowly edging his way down the steps, top lip quivering with cold before finally he grabbed onto my shoulders, scared and gripping me for dear life.

We managed to end our brief swim with Oliver in the brave new territory of just about floating by himself, albeit still holding firmly either of our hands but he’d already come along way in a short space of time. Over the course of the next four days, Oliver’s progression was impressive. By the end of the week he was doggy paddling, (with arm-bands) the entire length of the 20m pool and back again. He even went as far as swimming around the rapid powered lazy river attached to a float, not bad for less than four hours work!

Portland Bill Lighthouse

There was some guilt when we saw the fear in Oliver’s eyes, swimming should be fun, which it was, but it took a little work to get there. Stephanie and I have since made a vow that we will try and take him to the local swimming pool on at least a weekly basis, so that next time we go away, he’ll hopefully be swimming rings around us both!

One of the things I was looking forward to before we arrived was being reacquainted with the beach at Weymouth, famed for it’s sand sculptures and shallow waters, Portland Bill and Chesil Beach for their unique form and setting, which evoke childhood memories of a camping trip that I spent with my own parents and was keen for Oliver to have memories of something similar.

As the weather was so nice on our first morning we decided to see the coastal sights then rather than wait till later on in the week when the weather might not be quite so good, which ultimately was a great decision in the end as we enjoyed the finest weather of the week that day!

Climbing Chesil Beach

One thing that I had not prepared myself for, was the view from the top of Portland. Maybe I was just like Oliver when I went as a child, more interested in climbing rocks and up hills rather than standing at the fence edge and nodding with admiration. Now that I am of a respectable age I looked down and appreciated the view of Weymouth Bay, the port and the view along 18 miles of Chesil beach, which curved off into the distance.

You could, if you wanted park you car at the summit of Portland island and walk around the coastal path, taking in the views and finding secret coves and sheltered bays. But with Stephanie being pregnant and Oliver being a little too adventurous with his rock climbing we found it easier to travel the coastal road by car, stopping whimsically and heading down to Portland Bill, the very southern-most part of the Island where the light houses are situated and the terrain is at it’s rugged best.

We spent a good two hours at Portland Bill, stopping for coffee at the beautifully named Lobster Pot, but spent the rest of the time climbing across the rocks looking for crabs whilst Oliver spent the entire time throwing any rock, stone, boulder back into the sea that was physically possible. We took a walk along the cliff face and watched a set of hardy canoeists setting out for an afternoon adventure, braving the waves as they crashed violently against the rocks.

Sharkey's Slide

At one point, I very nearly became another nautical statistic. Standing not too close to the edge, but close enough taking photographs of Oliver and the scenery when a big wave hit and crashed over me from the bottom down. Stephanie later commented that it was the funniest thing she’d seen in a long, long time, but I was more worried about damaging the camera and a set of soggy pants than her viewing pleasure!

Chesil Beach still on our list of things to do, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by picnicking on the beach. Oliver was once again besides himself, he was in stone/pebble/shingle heaven! Ever since he could crawl he has had a fascination with stones and as we made our way up and over Chesil beach to the other side, he gave himself just one goal - to return as much of the beach to the sea as he possibly could!

Although sunny, it wasn’t as warm as perhaps we would have liked with a brisk sea breeze meaning that everyone was in need of a coat, whilst Oliver and I warmed ourselves up by running up and down the huge banks of steep pebbles which at every step we’d collect more than our fair share in our shoes, making for extremely uncomfortable climbing. But the best part of all was listening to the waves come in, crash against the stones, before recoiling back out to sea, dragging with the water the noise of a million stones rocking back and forth.

Oliver's Gorilla Friend

We’d had our fair share of walking so far during our first day and although Oliver had enjoyed himself hugely, he wouldn’t give up on his one big dream. The huge “curly whirly whirly” slide he had seen on the internet. Everywhere we stopped he would ask us “are we at the indoor play centre yet?”. So much for trying to include Oliver in our planning! By showing him things on the web before we left we didn’t realise that they would stick so firmly in his mind!

We set off to find Sharkeys, the indoor play area right on Weymouth harbour so that he could experience first hand the large “curly whirly whirly” slide which managed to live up to such high expectations - the look on his face was worth the entrance fee alone. You go all that way, to a different place, a change of scenery, but it’s the same pleasures that keep him amused.

There was one draw back to having such beautiful, if not windy weather. It wasn’t until we got home and sat down for dinner that we realised our faces were all still rather warm. I looked myself in the mirror and looked stupidly back at myself, a bright red face, with white “panda eye” marks where I had been wearing sun glasses all day. Stephanie, red as well, but distinctively more noticeable with her bright white eyebrows which glow in the dark, much to her embarrassment. But the blushes went to Pat, my dear mother-in-law who wears her hair with a fringe that comes down over half of her forehead. The sun had given her a nice toastie shade, all except for the patch of skin under her hair which was all nice and sheltered from the warmth. This became known affectionately as Pat’s ‘swoosh’, the piece of fringe that swooshed down across her head, which she would either have to brush the other way to give her a nice all over tan, or keep concealing her unique white patch.

Lulworth Cove

If we thought that the weather was going to hold out in time for us to tan over the white bits we had all made for ourselves we were in for disappointment. The following day was overcast and threatened rain. The only way to brighten up the day was for a dose of laughter, always the best medicine. Who better to make us laugh than a range of primates at the nearby Monkey World? If you ask Oliver what his favourite part of his week was, he’ll tell you about the monkey with the tongue. A gorilla which walked around the enclosure, ignoring us gawping through the perspex window waving stupidly and pulling faces until when, reaching Oliver he stopped, cocked his head and looked Oliver square in the eyes. Oliver, pushed his face up close to the screen and started pulling faces, poking out his tongue and rolling his head from side to side. Much to Oliver’s hilarity the gorilla started doing it back and mimicking Oliver’s actions. Oliver couldn’t stop laughing and was going on about it for the rest of the day. Certainly made our day too that’s for sure.

Seeing as we were in term time, Monkey World was fairly quiet, which allowed us to see the all the sights by early afternoon, leaving us with some more needed time to explore further the Jurassic coast for which this part of Dorset and the UK is famed for. One of the biggest tourist spots is Lulworth Cove, a perfectly rounded cove which sits by another picturesque village of the same name. Although the weather has been seasonally warm for April and May, the water takes time to warm up, so paddling in the bay was a brave as I would venture. Plus, it was also remarkable hazardous, particularly with a four year old boy throwing all manner of rocks, stones and boulders only inches away.

At this point, I was struck, not by Oliver throwing stones, but one of those long repressed childhood memories. Standing by the water with Oliver, reminded me of standing next to Dad on a similar stretch of water. Just as Colin did when he joined us and started to skim stones. He was knocking on the eight, nine and ten bounces whilst I was lucky to get just two or three. I remember thinking as a kid that you needed to be an adult to do this right, which I found out to be untrue, you just need to have a technique, which once again I find myself lacking. Still, there is plenty more time for me practice until Oliver realises my skimming shortcomings, if not, he’s still got either Grandad to show him how it’s done!

Feeding Gerbils at Abbotsbury Farm

After another busy day on our feet we were all desperate to get back and put our feet up, maybe get some fish and chips as we were all too tired to cook!

Night times on a caravan park are what you make them. There is a full schedule of cabaret, children’s entertainment and disco’s late into the night. But with the park barely full and a lot of older people enjoying the early season peace and quiet the night time entertainment was lacking in atmosphere despite the hard work and enthusiasm of the entertainment team. Instead, we stayed until nine each night so that Oliver could see and join in with the kids show before passing through the fun-zone on the way home. The fun-zone is an area which consists of all manner of arcade games, penny machines and slot machines. If you were lucky, or spent a rather large amount of money all your game winnings were converted into tickets which pumped out of the machine bases in return for a prize which you exchanged at the kiosk. Despite Stephanie’s unbelievably lucky jackpot win on a penny machine which she would never repeat again even if she played until she was a hundred, we ended the week with a paltry 300 tickets. Enough for a small rubber insect, creature type thing the glows when you shake it, scant reward in the end for all the investment we put in!

Whilst others partied, or sat and watched football in the bar, or had an early night in the caravan, we, once Oliver was tucked up in bed, would get the cards out, as would the tea and coffees and Pat’s home baked biscuits for sustenance - who said that we lead exotic lives?

Feeding Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery

With the evenings being low key affairs we were afforded more time in the mornings to pack a picnic, have a hearty breakfast and plan for the full day ahead.

Our last full day in Weymouth and there was still plenty for us to do, it was just a matter of finding something suitable for all of us. Luckily, we chose right again and visited Abbotsbury. A little village towards the northernmost point of Chesil beach. Here they had a children’s farm, which gave Oliver a chance to get up close and personal with a varied range of farm animals. It was another place, like Monkey World that had a children’s play area bringing his unique slide count up into double figures.

Although the farm was good fun, it was only part of a potential three stop itinerary, second on the list was the Abbotsbury Swannery, unique in global terms for being the only place that you can walk through a colony of nesting swans. It was also another piece of well organised planning that saw us arriving on the stroke of midday, feeding time, which allowed Oliver and the other young children present the chance to feed the masses of swans on the freshwater lagoon. It is actually a sight worth seeing, you lose count how many birds there actually are and that they are so beautiful to begin makes it that extra special.

We decided that the third attraction on the Abbotsbury passport we’d miss out, the gardens, which would only be ruined by Oliver trampling over the well manicured flower beds and other exotic shrubs. Instead we travelled along the coastal road to Bridport, stopping once again on the opposite end of Chesil Beach for our picnic before heading on again.

Chesil Beach

Now, not so long ago I wrote about Follow that Fire Engine and their epic road trip and how there are famed and respected roads that evoke a romantic notion of the all classical road trip. The B1357 from Weymouth to Bridport would not have looked out of place on any part of their epic journey. Meandering up and down, through trees, fields and blind summits, whilst the view of the sea is always on your left, or right depending on the direction of travel. At certain points you’ll be going up hill to come to a layby at the top. It’s always worth pulling in for a look as you’ll certainly never be disappointed. The below image is a small version of a panorama I took at the top of one such hill. Click on it for a high-res colour version which will give you a much better understanding of the scenery which we tried to absorb and take in.

Click for high-res version

Five days is never enough time for a break away, but you’ll be surprised how much you can squeeze in with a bit of planning and common sense. We wanted to visit Paultons Park, the latest big thing in the UK theme park industry with their new Peppa Pig land for the children. But rather than waste valuable fuel travelling too and from the park from Weymouth we decided to stop off on the way home instead.

After a big build up before hand “Oliver! We are going to see where Peppa Pig lives” it ended up being somewhat of an anti-climax. On arrival at the park, we walked in the direction of Peppa Pig and all of her friends, but stopped off to ride some of the other attractions beforehand. Some of these were quite adventurous, especially for Oliver who has been growing in confidence on a daily basis. By the time he had arrived on his first Peppa Pig attraction he was asking to get off before it had finished as it was “boring”! Which sums up really what Peppa Pig world is all about. It is really beautifully done and the land looks bright, appealing and there are a good range of attractions, but for a four year old boy, the attractions were a little too tame. Maybe they would have suited him more twelve months ago, but kids are braver than we sometimes give them credit for.

I started this blog by stating how sometimes we get bogged down in the monotony of our surroundings and don’t see them for what they are. Familiarity breeds contempt and all of the usual cliches apply. Far flung holiday destinations are all fine and well, they give you life experiences and the weather is nearly always guaranteed to be good. But a lesson that Stephanie and I learnt is that is possible to have a great time, on a modest budget and give Oliver a chance to do some new and exciting things.

Pauntons Park

A final word if I may, to my in-laws, Pat and Colin. A thank you for the invite, for allowing me in particular to relive some childhood memories, to be a kid again and for letting me share some of those memories with Oliver, whilst of course creating plenty of new ones. A great break isn’t all about the destination and the weather, it’s about the people too - until next year!

* If you are on Facebook, you can see some more colour photos of trip here and here.


Emma Wilson said...

Lovely black and white photos...

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