Monday, 31 August 2015

Isle Of Wonders - Discovering Purbeck

The Isle of Purbeck is not what it may seem. In fact it isn't even an island, but a peninsula creeping out the south of Dorset between Poole and Weymouth.

Just 15 or so miles from the hustle and bustle of Bournemouth, Purbeck is a world away in atmosphere. Busy beaches are replaced with quiet coves and the packed towns give way to sleepy villages.

This August Purbeck opened it's doors to the somewhat unexpected occasions of reggae parties and outdoor movie nights. I went along to see what surprises this corner of Dorset had in store.

Reggae Night In Kingston, Dorset

As August rolled into Dorset, The Scott Arms in Kingston announced their reggae and jerk party night. Kingston, Dorset would for one day transform to embody the colour and flavour of its Jamaican counterpart with rum punch, jerk chicken and reggae on the decks.

The village is famous because of The Scott Arms pub and it's stunning views overlooking the Purbeck hills and Corfe Castle. The village itself is dotted with nothing more than quaint cottages selling fresh honey and eggs and an imposing church; the epitome of British countryside living.

As we arrived the cars were mounted on any available piece of narrow road, and the music was humming. The usually more than adequate beer garden was loaded with a heady mix of families, local and an eclectic crowd drawn in for the party. Locals chatted among themselves in that wonderful way village communities do that townies don't get and the laid back vibe took hold.

Jerk was all that was on the menu, so we snaffled a seat next to a new family and ate our jerk with rice and peas, plantain and homemade slaw, washing it down with a glass of punch as the sun set. And it went down very nicely. The flavours were balanced and tasty, and whilst I would have liked a little more spice, I think it was a perfect introduction to Jerk for a Dorset village.

The party rolled into the night long after we'd left, no doubt the event of the year for this tiny nook.

Luna Cinema at Lulworth Castle

Our next exciting discovery on the Isle of Purbeck was that the Luna Cinema was bringing an outdoor movie night to the iconic Lulworth Castle in late August.

Lulworth Castle actually isn't a castle at all, and was built as a hunting lodge in the early 1600's, before being seized by the Roundheads during the English Civil War. The French royal family used it as a residence in exile in the 1800's and the whole building was gutted by a fire in the 1920's. After much restoration with the help of English Heritage, the Weld family who have owned the castle since the 1640's, opened the gates in 1998 and the castle became a top event site in Dorset, hosting weddings, Camp Bestival and now Luna Cinema. 

Approaching the castle through the gates it looked like something from a movie, with the sunset casting a vanilla speckled sky over the turrets. We and other film fans milled about exploring the castle and grabbing a burger before huddling up in our camping chairs and blankets and accepting more than our fair share of free Starbucks and cider samples. 

The movie tonight was a Sunday afternoon favourite in my family; Back To The Future! We don't get many outdoor cinema clubs in Dorset and although I've made my pilgrimages to the likes of Summer Screen at Somerset House, there's nothing like events in your own back yard.

As we settled into the movie, I realised this was probably the first time in my life I've sat silently, undisturbed by my phone to watch this movie. There were so many smaller details which I'd become blind to in the years of lazy Sunday afternoon watching. I was discovering it all over again, almost like watching it for the first time. 

Despite the autumnal chill that crept in as the moon rose, we giggled and snuggled until it was time to go home, having rediscovered a classic in a show-stopping setting.

There's loads more to discover in Purbeck too, including the stunning natural sights of Durdle Door and the Jurassic Coast, and the villages of Wareham and Worth Matravers. Have you visited any? Share your favourite Purbeck spots with me.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Saturday morning SUP

This weekend I made the most of a sunny moment in the British summer to go stand up paddle boarding (SUP). There's a new surf hire place on Branksome beach called Shaka Surf which I've passed by a few times just waiting for the right conditions to get out on the water.

Saturday morning's forecast was good all week, and when I woke up the sun was already up and shining through a cloudless Dorset sky. We zipped down to the beach just a mile away and within minutes I was out on the water as Mark relaxed on the shoreline with a book.

It was my first time paddle boarding solo, but it was an amazing feeling. The slight breeze kept me on my knees as I paddled out towards the large yellow buoys which dotted the beach. It's surprising how much of a good workout paddling is, especially for the arms and core as they fight to stabilise yourself. I was certainly working off the BBQ and beers we enjoyed the night before!

As I rounded the first buoy I glanced down, and to my surprise found that in the green water loads of large white jellyfish were swimming beneath me. Not just one or two, but a consistent stream, and enough to put me off practicing my stood-up paddling skills for fear of falling in. Jelly fish are not my friends.

Instead I decided to relax for a few minutes, and laid down flat on my board briefly closing my eyes and enjoying the gentle rocking of the ocean as a jet-ski zipped past and a vintage airplane flew above en route to the air show.

Riding the wind to the next buoy I was amazed at the number of jelly fish, all appearing out of the green sea like mysterious marshmallows and passing me by without a care in the world. Excitedly, I wondered if I might see a turtle - apparently they've been spotted off the Dorset coast, attracted by the jellyfish which they eat.

Before I knew it I was getting the signal it was nearly time to go, and I practiced my paddling in the jelly fish free safety of the shallows, before we headed home.

What a way to spend a morning!

Friday, 14 August 2015

An insiders guide to Bournemouth

I'm lucky enough that I live in a UK holiday hot spot. Bournemouth is blessed with some of the best of England's weather and beaches which can turn an average weekend a mini break in an instant.

But stained with a reputation for stag and hen groups, nightclubs and nastiness, it's easy to see how you could overlook a town with so much to offer.

Here, I'll take you on a tour of some of my favourite things to do, eat and drink whilst weekending in my Bournemouth.

Art Deco styling at Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre


With 7 miles of golden beaches (4 miles in Bournmeouth and 3 in Poole) along one great stretch its easy to plan a wonderful day by the sea. Families can find parking and mini golf in Sandbanks and Alum Chine, whilst day-trippers and holiday makers flood the piers at Bournemouth and Boscombe. Stretch yourself a little further and you'll find a local crowd at the quieter end in Southbourne.

LV= operate a kids safe zone on certain parts of the beach for a little extra piece of mind, and a land train connects Alum Chine to Bournemouth Pier, and Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier.

Beach huts are available to rent from the council, and some owners also rent their huts on sites like gumtree. Expect to spend upwards of £25 per day.

Views of Poole Bay from Overcliff Drive


When it's time to seek some shade, there are some great places to grab a snack or sit down to lunch. One of my all time favourite spots is Delice de Champs opposite the Arcade on Westover Road. This french fancy is great for grabbing a croque monsieur and cafe to go, or for a delicious baguette or salad in the french themed interior.

If you're coming straight off the beach, Urban Reef in Boscombe has a small deli for hot drinks and cafes, plus a decked seating area offering a great range of light bites and drinks overlooking the sea. Grab a seat on the decked upper level and watch the world go by.

Afterwards, treat yourself to some of the UK's favourite gelato at Giggi's Gelataria. Recently expanded, Giggi is famous for their award winning gelato and authentic flavours delivered from from Italy.

Lunch Al Fresco at Urban Reef


Some say the dining options in Bournemouth are limited, but I don't agree. Bournemouth has an excellent selection of restaurants outside of the town centre, which mostly has chain's. Turtle Bay is a recent addition to the town centre scene, and it's Caribbean flair has taken off!

Outside of The Square are the tapas twins Lolitas and Koh Thai in the Triangle (the top of Commercial Road). Lolitas is a staple to Bournemouth and excellent fun if you don't mind a little 'Spanish hospitality'. Koh Thai is part of an expanding empire in the south, serving thai tapas, and proper sized meals in beautiful surroundings.

Towards Westbourne pizza lovers will be split between the authentically Italian and family run Da Mario's and the hipster friendly Baffi (Italian for moustache). Da Mario's started as a take away and has been serving the best pizza in Bournemouth for some time. They've recently expanded adding more tables. New kids on the block Baffi have outlets in Westbourne, Canford Cliffs and Southbourne and are becoming a town favourite with imported beers and a laid back vibe.

Pizza at Baffi with a glass of red.


Bournemouth isn't just a stag and hen mecca; there's plenty of places to enjoy a few drinks or a dance without being hit it the face by a blow up whatever. 1812, within the Royal Exeter Hotel has a good bar and happy hour. Live music is on most weekends and it counts as your daily slice of history as The Exeter Hotel encompasses the building which founded Bournemouth in 1812.

Gay bars are to be found in the Triangle, along with not-specifically-gay Smokin Aces, with a team of talented barmen and women who'll mix you just about anything you like with style and expert knowledge.

Back in Westbourne, recently opened Renoufs offers cheese, charcuterie and wine flights to anyone lucky enough to get a seat. The wine flights are a particular favourite of mine, allowing you to try 3 wines at a time in smaller doses.

Happy Hour at Smokin Aces


The Pavillion and BIC are the resident concert and exhibition centres and an Odeon and ABC cinema run on Westover Road. On summer evenings you can enjoy candle lighting in the gardens (Wednesdays in August) and Family Fiestas and Fireworks on Fridays (July and August).

The Oceanarium is perfect for a cooler day with the kids. The ticket lasts all day and you can meet the new penguins, coo over the otters and watch the turtles being fed.

Happy feet at the Oceanarium

No matter how you decide to spend the day in Bournemouth, I hope you have a wonderful time, and please share your favourite spots with me.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Sail Back: Marmaris

Marmaris in Turkey will always hold a special place in my heart. It was where I spent my first long holiday alone without my parents. Granted I was 20 years old back in 2009, but my holidays had always been family affairs, and the occasional day in Cherbourg and a long weekend in Barcelona can't really count.

July 2009

Marmaris was a world away from the relative security of fly and flop holidays to Spain in my childhood years, made clear by the long journey which saw us arriving at Ceylan Apartments with the breaking dawn and before the first of the days call to prayer.

Marmaris Old Town

Nestled beneath the hills above it, Marmaris is similar to many resorts, with a wide sweeping bay dotted with restaurants and finished off with a marina. We were here for some sun, and it was guaranteed with the mercury hovering at about 35c most days. Mostly we enjoyed relaxing on the beach whilst kind staff brought us chilled beers and cocktails.

In the evenings, we ran a gauntlet of Maitre d' all making various offers and telling us about the freshness and quality of the food in their restaurant. As our first experience like this we were unprepared and likely made a few bad food choices. I do remember each restaurant tended to dish out a kind of dried bread with what I can only describe as curry butter; it was simple and tasty and I wish I knew more about it. Our hearts were won by the man who simply said "I say nothing". Get me a table!


The beach was popular for watersports due to the size of the bay and space available on the public beach. As soon as we spotted the parasailing boat we knew where the day would take us, and a few hours later we were soaring above Marmaris with spectacular views of the bay. The following day we'd have some fun on the ringo being dragged behind a speedboat whilst we clung on for life!

Of course no trip to Turkey would be complete without exploring the old town and bazaar, and after a pick about the narrow market, we were lured up to a bar by weather worn signposts which boasted panoramic views over the marina. We weren't disappointed, and loved finding a little peace and quiet - we were the only ones there after all!

Seeking out hidden treasures

Marmaris also had everything else a couple of twentysomethings might want from a holiday, some we explored, some we didn't. Boat trips and belly dancers made for a great day and night out, but we stayed away from the nightclubs favouring  poolside fun with the reps and a laugh at the karaoke singing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. I figured I had nothing else to loose as I'd already done a drunk Macarena after a fishbowl. Oh and, fishbowls.

Looking back at this first trip now, I can see where so many of our holiday trends have come from. Trends like looking out the hidden gems, boats and watersports, and good times. We were pretty broke, packing our own cereal into our hold luggage, and gladly accepting the free bread from the shop opposite our apartment to make sandwiches with to save money. But we has a great time exploring a new country just the two of us, and that's become the habit of a lifetime.

Ringo fun!
Other blogs from the Sail Back series: