Family Camping in Dorset 2013

Over the last three years, the family holidays have been spent in french campsites. These are pretty excellent in many ways, particularly for the children who love the swimming pools and water slides. The adults enjoy the wonders of french food and I for one just love searching out the best boulangerie’s. What we didn’t do was bring our own tent as (a rather posh) one was already set up and ready for us. It even has a fridge!

All things being equal, we may have carried on going to France for years to come. That is until our eldest child started school and we were confronted by the doubling of the cost in July and August. What to do?

Family Tent
We wanted to keep all the things we liked about camping in France but do it a bit cheaper. This meant two things – buying our own tent and holidaying in the UK.

I’ve owned and been interested in small, lightweight tents for many years and it has been particularly hard to change my priorities round from the needs of mountain camping to family camping. My thinking on tents has traditionally been, how light, compact and windproof a tent is rather than how much space, headroom and number of bedrooms there is. Every part of me railed against the weight and size that family tents just come in. Luckily Deborah, my wife, was there to overrule me when it mattered.

Dorset Camping Trip

We were in the shop and there were two tents on special offer. I was all ready to go for the snug, though (to me) still roomy Outwell Nevada when ‘the authorities’ (Deborah) stepped in and made us get the much bigger Outwell Cleveland. I was very skeptical about it at the time, but the value of a big space has been proven to us now. Go big, but beware that the  packed tent bag more or less fills the boot of our smallish car and weighs almost 30kg!

Eweleaze
After trawling the Cool Camping website extensively we settled on a campsite in Dorset (near Weymouth) that seemed to fit the bill. Eweleaze farm is only open for one month a year but they really aim to make the most of it.

It is situated right on the coast (with beach access) and is spread over several fields. They have a variety of farm animals wandering around and best of all an on-site bakery, patisserie and cafe. I can’t say that the coffee was anything special but the croissants and fresh bread were top-drawer and a definite bonus!

Dorset Camping Trip

There were a million kids, with an informal congregation point of ‘the hay bales’ in each field. There is no playground but this doesn’t seem to matter that much and most children just made their own fun. The only slight downpoint to the place is the precarious, steep single track that you have to drive down to get to the campsite. If you have a sports car, this is not the campsite for you.

Dorset Camping Trip

We had one day of rain but were otherwise fairly lucky with the weather which is obviously quite crucial when camping. I’d also say that there is lots of things to do in the area. Weymouth is lovely if you want a proper town and a sandy beach. There are a number of forts and castles around if that is your thing plus boat trips and walking.

Dorset Camping Trip 2013

Summary
Contrary to our worst fears we thoroughly enjoyed our week of family camping in the UK. The kids had a wonderful time and still talk about it months afterwards and though not totally relaxing the grown ups had a good time too.

See all the photos from the trip on flickr.

One year of mud and press ups

One year ago I was feeling that I had lost my mojo for fitness and was almost ready to concede that that was how things would be. The towel was in my hand and about to be thrown in. I made half hearted attempts at the occasional run and did (and still do) about an hours walk every day to work. I needed a shake up.

Today, a year on, I’m feeling really good, have toned up a little, lost a bit of love handle and am still raring to go. Where has this change come from? From the slightly scary sounding ‘British Military Fitness’ (or BMF) that is where. For me the military bit is the only thing that made me doubt going for it as I wasn’t really after a super macho shouting thing, which is what I presumed I’d get. To be fair, what you do get is fantastic motivation and encouragement to push yourself just that bit further than you thought and this is great.

Over the last 12 months then, I’ve found myself running round parks, doing all sorts if seemingly strange exercises, challenging myself but having a huge amount of fun doing it. I find it quite difficult to articulate to people who haven’t been exactly why I actively enjoy doing press ups in the mud or holding a plank for several minutes on a cold, dark winters evening. A lot of folk that I tell this to are, not unreasonably, horrified at the prospect. If only I could get them to try?

BMF is not free, however, and at £50 a month is about the same as most gym memberships. This does entitle you unlimited sessions at the 20 or so parks in London and the dozens more around the country and if you so desired, and had the energy for, you could go several times a day, all week. For me, this is a great deal and the fact that you do all this outdoors is a huge bonus. I don’t hate gyms, but I would rather be outside.

I am now exercising three times a week, two BMFs and a 25 min jog but feel that I could do more if I had time. I’d especially love to add a swim in somewhere but praps I shouldn’t be greedy?

In a year my personal fitness has come a long way but at the moment I feel that I’m still some way from my peak and as a 40 year old that sounds good. I’m certainly the fittest I’ve been in many years and long may it continue!

Upnor Castle

On what promised to be a cool but otherwise sunny November day we felt the need for a family trip. We didn’t want to go for the whole day, just a couple of hours and didn’t want to travel too far from our SE26 home turf? Upnor Castle might be the answer – it is situated on the west bank of the Medway, opposite Chatham and only a 45 min drive according to the TomTom.

The ‘Castle’
Situated in the very twee little village of Upnor (clapboard buildings and cobbled street), Upnor Castle is an Elizabethan Gun fort, built to protect the ship yards and port at Chatham. It was enlarged and updated several times over the years, but was only seriously tested in battle once, failing rather miserably.

Upnor Castle

The Dutch ‘Raid on the Medway’ in June 1667 is (very arguably) England’s greatest naval defeat ever. Almost the entire fleet was concentrated in the Medway, alongside the major ship building centre of Chatham docks. King Charless II (and the country) was broke and literally couldn’t afford to maintain the fleet, indeed most sailors hadn’t been paid for months and in some cases years.

Upnor Castle

In what was still a highly audacious move, however, the Dutch sailed their own fleet through the difficult shoals of the Thames estuary, destroying forts as they went. In an effort to stop them the English ended up scuttling many of the own ships in order to either block the Dutch passage or stop them them being towed away. At least 13 major warships (and many others) were lost by one means or another and others destroyed on the stocks. Most humiliating though was the capture of the flagship ‘The Royal Charles’. The King immediately sued for peace with the Dutch.

Upnor Castle

Upnor castle did take part and fired it’s guns at the marauding Hollanders, however, it seems not to have been decisive. The castle itself was never captured or even seriously damaged. Afterwards it was used as a barracks and a powder store it seems.

Visiting
These days it is a nicely looked after English Heritage property. The castle itself is more or less complete which means that you can go up all the towers and look out the windows. The kids had good fun just running up and down and were delighted to find a ‘dressing up box’ and try on some clothing.

Upnor Castle

There is no proper tea shop here which is a shame, but there seems to be a booth to get a hot drink and a biscuit.

Summary
A good venue to have a look around for an hour or so and would make a great double header with Chatham Historic dockyard across the river (or Rochester Castle).

See all the photos from the trip on Flickr.