Discovering Hidden Gems

white flowers

On an island less than 150 square miles, it’s easy to assume we’ve explored every inch. Yet I’m constantly surprised by new lanes, paths and woodland. We have our favourite haunts, always worthy of a repeat visit, but recently we’ve been seeking out some new corners. There’s no doubt that daily dog walks have added to our explorations. Now we’re always on the hunt for variety, interest and plenty of space to run.

signpost

Parkhurst Forest is far more than the typical forestry commission conifers I too often dismiss. Wandering up to the top of the hill we found big beautiful expanses of deciduous trees, views for miles across to the Downs, and plenty of undergrowth to entertain an inquisitive wet nose.

White Flowers

The heartland hills around Gatcombe are a crisscross of quiet paths, with Ransom underfoot and shoulder-height Umbellifers. We climbed a steep path and noticed the air change from heady wild garlic to salty sea breezes. Thanks to the village scarecrow festival we also met Adam & Eve, the Gruffalo, and a rather indomitable nurse on our travels.

Whilst we love the big tourist-worthy hotspots of this island, it’s still lovely to discover some unassuming, untouched corners of rural life just off the beaten track. This gentleman encourages us to plan our everyday routes with that in mind. You never know what delights may await.

buttercups

Rainy Day Office Companions

Rainy_Bikes

Some days are just plain soggy. The rain has been hammering at the window for hours. Walking the dog has been a wet affair. I’ve spent much of the day at my desk with a pot of tea by my side.

Desk_View

I’ve heard that working from home can be lonely, perhaps particularly so when the damp keeps all our doors firmly shut. But, I’m pretty happy hibernating on a day like this. After all, it’s still a hive of activity in this little room..

Mabel_Explores

I’ll admit some of us are busier than others. Mabel is a master in carrying her entire body weight in sunflower seeds across the length of the desk at high speed. Rolo offers a fine repertoire of creaky yawns, enormous sighs and full-body stretches. He’s certainly fitting more yoga into his day than I am.

Rolo_Rests

I’m settling in to the routine of self-employed life, discovering the delights and challenges of being accountable to noone but myself. Early days have involved plenty of big-sketch planning, strong black coffee and fresh air. And why not? I’m pretty sure Mabel won’t bust my ass for taking a long lunch break.

Mabel_Mouse

PS – you can catch up on my recent SaLT by the Sea work over here.

Countdown to Blogtacular

Blogtacular 2014

This time last year I had just returned from Blogtacular, brimful of inspiration, plans, new ideas. I was expecting a good time, but left with so much more, thoughts that filtered through different corners of my world and left me feeling lifted.

This year, the conference of blogging kickassery is on 13th June, just one month away. I can’t wait to meet far-flung friends in person and soak up all the colour and sunshine (there’ll be sunshine again this year, right?) I’m hoping to nab a place on the early morning photowalk and catch a word with Benjamin Hole (with his beautiful spot of Purbeck looking across to the Island we’re practically neighbours after all.)

Have you got a ticket? I’m so excited to see everyone there!

Project Dog: One Month with a Rescue

Rolo_ Fetch

I’m writing this with a dog by my feet. I’m still surprised that I’ve managed to pull it off. I can’t quite believe we found such a lovely dog (completely unbiased opinion) and also convinced someone we’re capable enough to be responsible owners. I shouldn’t really be surprised, given how many dogs are in need of rehoming. Favourable odds on finding a good’un and a rescue centre willing to entrust him to us. Still, I definitely don’t know what the hell I’m doing. It turns out there’s a fair few lessons to learn in training a dog.

Some of it has felt simply perfect from the first moment. Exploring quiet corners of the countryside, or chilling out by the fire. I defy anyone to be strict about ‘no dogs on the couch’ after the utterly peaceful delight of reading a good book with one curled up next to you.

One Month w Rolo

Out and about things feel less certain. Training classes are hilariously bad. A room full of other dogs is way too exciting and only fistfuls of chicken will keep Rolo quiet. So, we’re still seeking out quieter spots to wander. Our beautiful Northwood Park has a hidden green knoll, perfect for a long leash and a frisbee. He’s a fine catcher, mid-jump and all. He just needs to figure out that fetch is more fun if you bring it back.

wet_rolo

We still have a way to go. I’m looking forward to being able to take a calm Rolo down on the seafront. To skate. I think it might be a while…

Collecting Passport Stamps

Passport Stamps

I miss the days of cardboard covered passports, pages wrinkled and fattened from being thumbed and stamped by various customs officials. Speedy scanning with microchips just doesn’t have the same romance. On the very rare occasion where I do find my passport being stamped I get a little thrill.

Of course it’s not the stamps, but the places themselves. The memories we collect, shared with others or thumbed through on a grey weekday back home. I swear Tom has polar bear blood in him. He is always suggesting we head North for our adventures: the Faroe Islands, Svalbard or the Norwegian Fjords. The destinations on my adventure list are a little warmer. I’m pretty sure they’d all still stamp my passport…

Cycling to India
Ever since reading Dervla Murphy years ago I’ve imagined stepping out my front door and pedalling until I reached India. I’d make up the route as I went, no time limit, simply seeing where the journey took me. I often mention cycling to India, a throwaway comment in the lull of a conversation, to cancel out the terrible predictability of the work/mortgage/train delay topics that crowd our lives. Its nothing if only mentioned; I really do have to do it. Some day.

Sailing round the Solomon Islands
Another destination inspired by a teenage read, this time from a woman who spent a year on a tropical island. It seemed hard, harrowing, barely survivable. But years later Lucy travelled back to the local community with her children and it sounded wonderful. Free, adventurous and filled with laughter. I’d have an old wooden boat, well-appointed and water-tight, to park my home on a sandy bank, meet the locals and splash through the clear shallow waters.

Hiking through Peru
Few things can compete with the view from the top of a mountain, especially if you’ve earned it through sweat and tears. I’d like to walk through the Cordillera Blanca, snaking between remote passes with map and compass in hand, nothing but me and my boots to thank for reaching the top. It’s perfect simplicity, a reminder of my tiny self and the enormity of this incredible planet we live on.

Sunset

This is an entry for Transun’s Northern Lights competition. There’s still time for you to enter too!

Pebbles In My Pocket

beach_footprints

Seizing the last of the light, we found ourselves at Rocken End, the entire stretch of pebbly beach to ourselves. The beach isn’t far from the road, but it is a twenty minute scramble from the car park through overgrown jungle-like landslip. Of course, the harder a beach is to get to the more magical it is.

With picnic dinner, coffee and a long leash for Rolo, we had the most deliciously chilled time. As we wandered the shoreline, throwing the frisbee and playing around, I collected a couple pebbles for my pocket.

sunset_jump

The last time I picked up pebbles was two years ago on a sunrise trip to Culver Cliff. Those stones stayed in my pocket through everything. In the middle of winter, my hands braced against a storm, or reaching for my keys on a grey supermarket run; every time my fingers would brush against that smooth sunny memory. So when the last one finally disappeared a month ago our evening trip to Rocken End seemed a perfect moment to hold on to.

Rocken End

Do you collect flotsam on your travels? Ian McEwan returned some rocks to Chesil Beach after the public outcry over his beach theft. I don’t think a couple pebbles sitting in a pocket will tip the balance too greatly and carrying them with me makes me happy. Surely such simple pleasures are not the worst crime.

pebbles_hand

An Easy Rhubarb Tart

easy_rhubarb_tart

When I visited Amber last week, not only did she dig up half her garden to share, she also sent me home with a bundle of freshly-picked rhubarb. Ordinarily I would make a crumble, oaty and sweet, eaten in spades with a dollop of ice cream on the side.

But I had a hankering for one of those delicious custardy tarts, that every French village bakery sells. The kind that makes me wish I was French. Turns out neither custard nor pastry is quite as straightforward as the usual chocolate chip cookies I churn out when I have a sweet-tooth.

Cakes and puddings should rarely take longer to make than they do to eat. So, I hacked together a quick and easy tart to follow my rule, and spent the time saved sipping coffee and having a natter with my mum. In case I’m not alone in the lazy-baker status I’ve jotted the recipe down below:

rhubarb_tart_ingredients

Prep pastry: Grab a ready-made roll of shortcrust pastry from the chiller at the supermarket. Lay it into a round dish, smoosh into the edges, and trim the surplus at the top (but leave a bit of wiggle room as the pastry may shrink a bit as it bakes. Prick the base with a fork and pop it in the fridge.

Bake rhubarb: chop in to chunks and put in an oven dish. Mix in ~80g brown sugar and a splash of vanilla extract. Cover in foil and bake in a medium oven for around 15mins. Then, drain and put aside the baked rhubarb.

Blind bake pastry: cover the base in baking parchment and baking beans for ~15mins. Then, remove parchment and beans and bake for a further 5mins. Once baked, wash the bottom with egg white.

Make custard: whisk ~80 caster sugar, 1 tablespoon cornflour, 2 eggs, one small pot (~300ml) of creme fraiche.

Assemble your pie: add the rhubarb first, then pour custard over the top.

Bake for 25mins. Enjoy with a cup of coffee and a gossip.

rustys_kitchen