puglian vendemmia

Having relished our English Autumn, we had a lovely trip to Puglia in half term and it was wonderful to see Italy at a time when the olives are being gathered. There are bags of walnuts and almonds outside every village shop and the trattorie all feature wild mushroom dishes.

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Our holidays over the last few years have mainly been British seaside bucket and spade fests, partly because flights in school holidays are so expensive and also because we’ve loved finding hidden Welsh coves and Dorset crabbing spots. Discovering somewhere completely different, leaving our abundance of apples to explore Baroque towns and rural areas with olive nets laid in readiness under ancient trees was such a different treat.

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We stayed at Casa Cicerali, a beautifully restored stone farmhouse with a wonderful wooden decked pool overlooking olive and almond groves. In between Ostuni and Cisternino, two little hill-top towns that were great to explore and buy delicious provisions from, it was also a 20 minute drive to some lovely Adriatic beaches. It wasn’t hot, but being hardy English girls (and the Adriatic sea was distinctly warmer than the Welsh sea that we’re used to) Ruby and I swam in the sea and Ruby made trulli sandcastles.

casa cicerali

Casa Cicerali has been restored by an English family whose modernist white house somehow fits into this valley of vines and olives perfectly. Their girls go to school locally, they were so welcoming from offering to cook us supper for our first night (a baked pasta dish with Italian sausage, home-made bread and brownies – all delicious), lending us buckets and spades and leaving a large jar of their own almonds which we scoffed throughout the week. We could pick any fruit from their trees too (Quince and Persimmon during Autumn).

casa cicerali pool

It was great to have a local family give us ideas for exploring the area, and their recommended local village restaurant was amazing value. Wonderful and abundant antipasti left us hardly any room for the delicious wild boar and cardoncelli mushroom ragu with pasta. Thank goodness for the walk home to let it go down – through little country lanes that gave us great glimpses of the orti (patches of land where the villagers grow olives, almonds, fruit and maybe a few vegetables).

We shopped at the local market for food, coming home with squid, sausage,lentils and tomatoes to cook and eat on our lovely terrace.

nov 2015 179nov 2015 180Exploring the Baroque streets of Martina Franca, Ruby discovered a florists shop where all the flowers and bouquets were made from candy, chocolate and almonds. Then we got caught in a rain storm and drank far too many strong espressos and ate nutella pies while we sheltered in a bar.

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Now we’re home to English rain and copious apples and quince in place of prickly pear and persimmon. I’m loving the large bowl of almonds we brought home from Casa Cicerali on our kitchen table. They remind me of our great holiday every time we get out the nut crackers.

 

cardigan bay hols

Kayaking in a sheltered bay, spotting dolphins and scoffing delicious food at the pizza tipi are some of the things I’ll remember from our recent hols.

We stayed in Newport, a lovely laid-back little place on an estuary in North Pembrokeshire. You can cross the estuary at low-tide (as long as you’re happy to paddle up to the waist) to reach a long windswept beach with great waves for jumping and sand dunes to picnic in.

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I loved the arty/foodie/slightly bohemian vibe and the variety of beaches from sheltered coves (great for paddling around in our inflatable kayak) to vast, white sandy expanses perfect for kite-flying.

We stayed in Carreg Las, a gorgeous Georgian house that we all wanted to move into permanently. It had a light-filled kitchen that was perfect for lingering over coffee in the morning, scoffing bara brith from the nearby bakery and playing games in the evening.Carreg lasAnd the simple but stylish decor with slate/stripped wood floors, pale greys and creams and splashes of colour from Welsh textiles or local art was lovely.

Carreg las bunks

It inspired some art of our own – necklaces made with shells with holes and worn with PJs!

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Our first night treat meal at Llys Meddyg, a restaurant with rooms with a passion for foraging and local rooms was delicious – we ate in the very family friendly and relaxed garden restaurant that opens during the summer.

One morning we climbed Carningli, the hill that rises above Newport and grazed on whimberries as we walked. I can’t wait to return!

 

The Bull Hotel Bridport, a review

We turned up at The Bull  with sandy trainers and a distinctly windswept (yes, scruffy) look after a blustery walk along the crazily dramatic Jurassic coast from West Bay to Hive Beach. Our welcome was warm and despite the gorgeous Georgian meets contemporary chic style of The Bull, it felt so relaxed that we forgot our unkempt appearance until the vintage mirror in our room offered a reminder.

Bull Front Gold

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It had felt very indulgent walking the coast-path on our own. Ruby was having great fun staying with her grandparents and cousin in a caravan nearby and we were having a lovely treat on our way to collecting her. Child-free, we walked at our own pace, enjoying the views of the crashing waves and not having to think about offering encouragement/food bribes. Although after a few steep climbs, I dd need the lure of tea at the lovely Hive Beach cafe and ice-cream from the equally tempting Watch-house cafe on the way back.

At first it also felt quite liberating not having to fill my pockets full of the pebbles, shells, sticks and feathers that I’m normally begged to transport home – towards the end of the walk of course I was starting to feel that something was missing and had to stash a few treasures to give my waterproof its more naturally weighed down feel.

A long, peaceful soak in the wonderfully deep, roll-top bath in our room at The Bull was of course perfect afterwards, especially with some restorative Neals Yard seaweed bath soak.   There are several lovely complimentary Neals Yard products left for guests and they’re in refillable bottles, which fits in nicely with The Bull’s enthusiasm for recycling.

Each of the bedrooms at The Bull is unique in feel and style, furnished with an eclectic mix of Designers Guild wallpaper, local antiques, Parisian flea market finds, Farrow and Ball paints and contemporary art by local artists. Lovely Egyptian cotton bed linen too.

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207 Rooftops Double bed the bull

Our room felt like the boudoir of an Indian princess. An Indian princess who had moved to Bridport and been influenced by its bohemian Georgian charm. The Fuscia Flock room has a 6ft mahogany poster bed, a carved armoire and gorgeous flock wallpaper. Double doors open onto a decadent large bathroom with a rolltop bath in the centre of the room and a.chaise.

A Grade 11 listed landmark, this old coaching inn has been welcoming guests since the 16th century. The Venner bar, a cool place for pre-dinner cocktails or opulent den for drinking into the early hours, was named after an accident at The Bull in 1685, when Colonel Venner shot a Mr Coker through the window. Something about the opulent colours, Georgian meets shabby chic style and lavish  furnishings (the Venner bar is decorated in walnut with gold-plated furniture and vintage mirrors) is crying out for rakish behaviour.

Venner Lloyd Mixing

 

Venner Dirty Cow sign

Instead we opted for pre-dinner table football. In the Ostler Room, a cosy den with lots of board games and a wood-burning stove for colder months. I was thrashed, but with lovely food beckoning from The Bull’s restaurant, I didn’t mind. Well, not too much.

The restaurant has a more muted decor, but the same great combination of laid-back feel and excellent service that I loved about The Bull generally. Lots of the food options are bistro type favourites and the emphasis is on making the most of excellent seasonal ingredients from the local countryside and the sea. We tried both: scallops with spinach and hollandaise followed by West Bay plaice with seafood sauce and samphire for me, while Guy had salt and pepper squid followed by Rib Eye steak with red wine sauce. Everything was delicious so we were glad that our hunger after coast path walking meant we had room for desert. An oozingly decadent chocolate fondant with clotted cream ice-cream for me, the local cheese board for Guy.

Good, local ingredients cooked simply but with flair in the sort of environment where you could choose to dress up but feel equally comfortable in jeans after a day at the coast – my favourite sort of eating out.

A wander around Bridport was definitely needed after our meal, but I have to admit we managed to find room after a walk for a Somerset Cider brandy, sipped in the courtyard at the back of the Bull. In the evening, fairylights entwined with the bunting add to its charm. During the day, I loved the flowers:

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Ruby and my niece Gracie were keen on this area the next morning; they were also quite partial to Bridport’s very charming pet shop.

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The wonderful grandparents deserved a couple of hours of coast path walking too. I felt that our roles had reversed when, after a leisurely breakfast I enjoyed the grandparent style treat bits with the girls (hot chocolates and bus ride to West Bay, where I can recommend the harbour for crabbing) knowing that I was going to have more selfish time later.

After the breakfast I’d had, my selfish time was definitely going to be more coast path walking.

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My eggs benedict were lovely but faced with the sort of breakfast sideboard that is meant to give you variety from which to choose, I’d foolishly seen it as an invitation to try lots. Well, the bread was warm, freshly baked, the apple juice local and the raspberry jam home-made – how could I not sample them?

The coast path walking was also very necessary given that we wanted to try The Stable in the evening too. An award-winning cider house at the back of the Bull (across the courtyard garden, which is the original stable yard), ‘Dorset style pizzas’ are served here and, on the evening we ate and drank here, the atmosphere is great. It seemed to be the sort of place where locals gather around the refectory style tables over a local cider or two to share a pizza or tuck into a pie.

The Stable

We were unsure about the idea of scoffing pizza without red wine and also quizzical about the idea of a Dorset pizza. I was soon a convert. According to The Stable, Dorset style seems to mean using organic British flour and a sourdough base and using great local ingredients such as artisan cheeses, smoked ham, great bacon, smoked mackerel. Not all at once of course.

My slow-cooked onion and local goats cheese was yummy, especially with the cider tasting board we shared. Well, there are 50 types of cider, perry, apple and pear based drinks here, surely we would’ve been foolish not to sample a few.

Cider Tasting Board 2 the bull

 

And although a hawaiian would never normally be a pizza I’d consider, the fresh pineapple and good, local ham did tempt me.

Hawaiin on board the stable pizzas

 

Believe it or not, there are lots of other things to do here as well as eat though. Bridport is such a vibrant place – a great mix of properly rural little market town (and it’s a great market, lots of local produce but vintage goodies too) with a great arty, bohemian vibe too. Second-hand bookshops, near enough for me to pay a pilgrimage to River Cottage, lots going on but just behind the bustling streets there are wooded areas. Very close to both the sea and wonderful rural valleys too. How appealling!

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Guy caught 17 mackerel during our short stay here too, so he obviously had favourable feelings about the place. And of course The Bull, just to confirm the feelings we already had about the friendliness and service here, immediately offered to put them in their fridge for us until we left and added lots of ice when we did.

Definitely keen to return here, and would love to bring Ruby next time. The hot chocolates were rated highly by Ruby and Gracie and I have a feeling that although The Bull is a wonderful place to stay for a couple, it would be fabulous for a family stay too. The owners have 2 small children of their own and have made lots of efforts in the details (organic baby food and biodegradable nappies are available) but also in their general approach to make this a welcoming sanctuary for children as well as parents. There are colouring things available at mealtimes (we managed to amuse ourselves without them) and flexible dinner times. I imagine Ruby wouldn’t let me have quite as much time in that gorgeous roll-top bath though.

Thanks so much to The Bull for our very lovely stay.

 

rock pools, winkles and crab linguine

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We were very lucky to spend ten very lovely days at the start of the summer holidays in our friend’s 1960s beach chalet, which sits in beautifully wild isolation, nearly at the end of the Llyn peninsula in Wales. A stream runs through the garden and steps lead down to a wonderful horseshoe bay with great rock pools.

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Most days were spent on the beach (nearby Whistling Sands was our favourite) where Ruby made witches’ brews and witches’ soup full of dragons claws and pottered about in rock pools that were teeming with life. The sand was full of life too, full of worm casts (we dug for lug worms for fishing bait), snail trails and Ruby trails.

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When I talk about ‘beautifully wild isolation’ we could walk around the beach to a pub, very convenient. We visited the gallery at Llanbedrog in a spendidly gothic building with a great cafe featuring lots of local ingredients. On the only cloudy day we set off on a long coast path walking adventure to the end of the headland where we enjoyed the wonderful views of Bardsey island, and realised as we ate our picnic that one of the rocks was actually a seal.

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 Ruby and I spotted another seal while exploring the fabulous rockpools at Porth Colman and of course found lots more ‘treasure’.

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And we wandered round the beach at Porthdinllaen, picking up lots of shells on the way, to Ty coch Inn, the pub on the beach. Could totally understand why this has been voted one of the top 10 beach bars in the world, it’s a great place to sit outside with local cider or beer, some freshly caught and cooked seafood and enjoy the sea. The bar would be such a cosy place to hole up during a wiinter day too, watching a stormy sea from a comfortable seat by the fire.

Mostly though, with hardly any mobile phone signal, no TV and no broadband, we settled into a lovely routine of pottering around on foot from our chalet. It felt as if we were in a very relaxing bubble of honeysuckle and foxgloves, driftwood beach-fires for toasting marshmallows, very sandy sandwiches on the beach, Roald Dahl and rock pools.

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We gathered winkles from the rockpools below us and boiled them before dipping in malt vinegar.

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Once again our fishing, however, was a bit too sustainable (we fed the fish lots and left them all in the sea) but luckily, last time we visited we’d been given the number of Huw the fish. Aberdaron bay is a great place for crab and lobster and as it was the freshest ever and very reasonably priced, it seemed crazy not to try both. One day, we came across Huw bringing his haul in at Fisherman’s cove, an hour later he turned up at our chalet with crabs for us. The crab was sweet and delicious, and such an easy holiday supper eaten simply with salad, lemons, and bread from the bakery in Aberdaron.

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With crab to spare, the next day I cooked crab linguine – the cooking is minimal, so it was perfect for a summer evening by the seaside. The only cooking is of a pan of pasta, otherwise it’s really more a case of assembling a few good ingredients.

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Crab Linguine

Enough for 4 people

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons maldon sea salt

1 red chilli

Roughly 200g white crab meat and 100g brown meat, or your preferred white/brown mix

100 ml extra virgin olive oil

juice & zest of 1 lemon (good with lime too)

400g linguine

Start cooking the pasta as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, bash the garlic and salt together in a pestle and mortar (I used a rolling pin with no pestle & mortar in a holiday kitchen). Add the seeded and chopped chilli and crush this too. Tip in the crab meat, lemon juice & zest and olive oil and stir with a fork. Taste for seasoning and to see if you want to add more lemon or lime juice. Mix with the cooked pasta, crack over some black pepper and enjoy. At home I would add a handful of parsley, rocket or landcress from the garden to this at the end too but it’s still lovely without.

And sorry about the pics, I think I was a bit too relaxed by this stage of the holiday!

 

 

Mazzard Farm

Ruby and I are both agreed, there is something magical about the woodland and rivers of East Devon. All those treasures to be found, streams carving their way though lush growth to be explored, dens to be made.

We started our Easter holiday with a long weekend at Mazzard Farm.

Courtyard + geraniums

Very close to the Jurassic coast, a weekend by the seaside appealed. But so did the 17 acres of orchard, garden, play area and woodland at Mazzard Farm. Very lovely woodland too; soon to be carpeted with bluebells, it offered Ruby more immediate delights. She loved finding animal tracks, discovering dens made by previous visitors, but her favourite thing was the rope bridge across the stream which she crossed and re-crossed endlessly.

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I particularly relished walking through the woods at dusk, loving that mellow time as the light starts to fade. It felt as if all the woodland creatures were waiting for us to head off to our cottage so that they could come out to party.

When we first arrived the rain was lashing down, snow was falling back at home, and rivulets of water ran down the lane to Mazzard Farm. But we found Jacqueline had already lit our woodburner and left us home-baked scones. Our cottage was very cosy, with lots of natural materials contributing to the warm feel. Perfect to come back to for hot chocolate after outdoor adventures.

Pippin livingPippin cottage sliding doors (2012)

Not that the weather dampened the ardour for beach fun of our 5 year old true Brit on holiday.

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Ruby still enjoyed the beach delights of Budleigh Salterton beach and Jacob’s Ladder at Sidmouth and was determined to have an ice cream at each. We noticed she didn’t have her normal problem of ice cream running everywhere. It was frozen solid. The sweet temptations of Taste of Sidmouth ice cream parlour delighted all of us – Ruby loved the fab choice of ice-creams handmade on the premises while we opted for excellent warming coffee. While we were reminded at the Creamery (another wonderfully traditional ice-cream parlour) in Budleigh Salterton, as we shivered over ices that ice-cream, “was in fact originally a winter confection.”

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This area seemed to offer us a great combination of outdoor family adventure and foodie delights. There’s the lovely river Otter to explore; Ruby loved running along the path that snaked alongside its sandy banks near to Otterton Mill, delighting in finding ‘islands’ and steps for fish to leap up. And we all enjoyed warm drinks and lunch at Otterton Mill, a working watermill which uses it’s own stone-ground flour in the bakery/cafe. I was really interested to find that the organic wheat milled is an old variety (Maris Widgeon) which we’d seen growing at Tamarisk farm in Dorset last year.

Having ventured to the seaside from our landlocked home in the Cotswolds we had to have our fill of fresh fish and seafood too. The Old Watchhouse Fish Shop in Ottery St Mary had a fantastic selection of fish caught from Lyme Bay that morning (all using sustainable methods too, nothing caught by trawler here) and we couldn’t resist a crab, apparently from nearby Beer and very tasty. Otter Produce a few doors away is a traditional greengrocers where we found a great selection of local salad crops and veggies, so we were able to assemble a simple but delicious feast back at Mazzard farm.

Great to see that Ottery St Mary is having a food festival in June – it’s one of those unassuming little towns that still has an excellent collection of independent shops, many stocking fabulous local ingredients. Christopher Piper is a great wine shop that even stocks Dorset vodka made from cow’s milk, and Rusty Pig has an amazing selection of charcuterie and every sort of piggy foodie treat you can think of. Having tried making my own air dried ham,  salami and chorizo I must admit I had covetous thoughts about the temperature controlled area for curing.

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Run by Robin Rea who has been both a chef and pig-keeper for years (he still runs pig courses at River Cottage) Rusty Pig uses well-reared pigs from Robin’s own and other local smallholdings and offers piggy picnics, weekend evening feasts combining home-made porcine delights with local/wild seasonal food and great weekend breakfasts. We found out about the breakfasts too late and I’m still mad that I missed out on a brilliant brunch for £8. Absolutely everything made at Rusty Pig from the ketchup to the bacon, sausage, black pudding and home-baked sourdough bread. Next time!

It turns out that Sidmouth beach isn’t just a place for 5 year olds to potter with a bucket, it’s a great source of razor clams too. Rusty Pig had them on the menu and after a rainy day indoor swim, we were ravenous for razor clams at the River Cottage Canteen at Axminster. Followed by mussels and leeks in cider and chips with aioli for me, slow- cooked lamb and focaccia for Guy. All washed down with delicious local cider of course.

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We didn’t explore too far afield as for us there was so much fun to be had without straying too far from Mazzard farm. Without using a car, there’s plenty to do, from climbing East Hill, exploring the woodland and pottering around the children’s fort and teepee. In sunnier weather the hammock in the lovely orchard beckons and there are some great barbecue areas.

Mazzard Farm - hammock1 There are lots of children’s toys to help yourself to and Ruby loved scooting around the safe courtyard area.

entrance to courtyard

In the laundry room, there’s a little ‘honesty’ shop with eggs and home-grown/home-made produce from Mazzard farm in season plus a freezer stocked with tempting pain au chocolat, croissants and sausages from a neighbouring farm. A 5 minute walk takes you to a small farmshop with a selection of home-reared meat and fruit/vegetables.

For those who decide to do without a car altogether, if you travel to Mazzard farm by public transport, Ruud will meet you at the nearest train station and there’s a reduction of £50. Creating lovely, luxurious holiday accomodation that has as positive impact on the environment as possible seems important to Ruud and Jacqueline, who moved here several years ago from Guildford with their two daughters. The cottages have been converted using sustainable methods, with wood from a sustainable source, thermafleece wool insulation and recycled bricks. Heating (underfloor heating in the cottages is so snug on cooler days) and hot water is provided by a biomass boiler that is fuelled by locally sourced wood pellets. Soaps and shampoos are not just environmentally friendly but made either by Jacqueline or by a lady in Ottery St Mary.

Wildlife is encouraged here and there’s a blackboard in the laundry room to add sightings: bats, owls, badgers are common. Ruby and I were able to add deer as we saw two in the orchard just behind our cottage one morning.

In between all this lovely outdoors fun, we did find time after one bout of beach-combing for a pub with pool table, beer and crisps too. We all enjoyed it and it reminded me of a great long weekend in Wales last year. We returned with photos showing our lovely times playing in rockpools, walking coast paths and generally exploring our beautiful natural surroundings. Ruby took her own camera and it was only when we returned home that we noticed her pictures showed a different story:

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She does have some pictures of chickens and woodland this time although incriminating pics of the pub do feature. But I think we all left Mazzard Farm feeling that we’d had a really lovely weekend of adventures, punctuated with lots of delicious food. And we were all keen to return soon for a summery week to explore this great area in more detail.

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Oh and thanks to the Mazzard Farm menagerie, Ruby now wants a goat.

 

We stayed as guests of Mazzard Farm and would like to say thanks lots to Ruud and Jacqueline for great, friendly hospitality and a really lovely weekend.

 

 

Dorset holiday

Stayed at Burton Bradstock, a little village by the coast in Dorset.  It has a pebbly beach that was great to play on during the day but almost better in the evening when it had a laid back feel as families gathered to fish, play and cook tea over campfires.  And the wonderful Hive Beach café for great seafood, coffee, cake, ice cream and all sorts of tasty temptations. Nearby is Bridport, a  Georgian market town where rural make do and mend meets bohemian.

Dorset holiday

Dorset holidayThe food was fantastic. Memories for me include the sweetest, juiciest scallops cooked perfectly at the Hive beach café for brunch with crisp bacon, egg and rocket, the mackerel we smoked on the beach, and the sweet, sticky chilli crevettes from the wood-fired oven at the wonderful Watch House café at West Bay. Guy would probably say the sausage sandwiches (our own sausage from home) we had on the beach, the freshest squid bought from the fishmonger at West Bay, definitely the mackerel and the pizzas at Town Mill bakery in Lyme Regis. For Ruby it’s the crisps and ice-creams!

But we all loved our beach meals. Really simple but in a fantastic setting, as relaxed as is possible without scoffing in bed, and with the freshest fish. It started when we picked up crab, a loaf of bread and a bag of cherries at Bridport market on the way down and scoffed the lot as soon as we got to the beach. But tea on the beach was even better. Squid just bundled in a bag with a squeeze of lemon, olive oil, chopped garlic and barbecued. With hunks of bread from the wonderful Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis and forkfuls of salad. The next night we took the old bread bin that Guy made into a smoker to the beach and did hot-smoked mackerel. Delicious.

Dorset holiday

Foraging wasn’t quite as successful. The fish seemed a bit reluctant to come near Guy’s line . Totally sustainable, our fishing style seemed to be more about feeding the fish than ourselves. So I was pleased to spot sea kale in abundance along the coast path as we did a 3 mile potter to a pub. I’ve never seen Ruby so excited by the prospect of eating cabbage. But when I consulted John Wright’s ‘Edible Seashore’ book I found he described it as having “the flavour and texture of a damp, thick face flannel.” We decided to give it a miss.

Dorset holiday

So we ‘foraged’ in the fishmongers in nearby West Bay, in the brilliant Modbury farmshop (an organic dairy farm with Jersey milk, home-grown veg, locally reared meat etc) and at the fabulous Town Mill Bakery.

We found natural clay on the beach that Ruby loved modelling, loved the playground made of rope at West Bay. And Ruby asked, “At night time, Mummy, does the sea stop?”

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