Edward Explores: The Dorset Coast

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“Edward is a bear with flair. He looks so effortlessly cosy yet stylish.”

Kathryn Eastman, on Twitter

Being a bear, Edward spends a fair proportion of this time of year enjoying a long winter’s nap. Before he settled down under the duvet, however, he enjoyed a splendid adventure by the seaside. The weather was cold and blustery but dry. Well wrapped up in his woollens, Edward ventured forth on some scenic walks.

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The drive to the coast included a stop at a lovely bookshop to pick up something to read. Daylight hours are limited in England in December so there would be time between walks and dinner to enjoy a good story. Edward prefers books featuring bears but this choice kept his bearer happily occupied while resting each afternoon.

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Dinner on the first night included a delicious sticky toffee pudding – a well deserved treat. Then, having slept well in the big bed provided, it was time to set out on an explore.

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The first walk Edward embarked on was to climb Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. To get there it was necessary to follow a track that went from sea level to cliff top several times. Being a small (but perfectly formed) teddy bear, Edward was carried.

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Golden Cap was actually climbed twice as sea mist descended during the first ascent. Despite his bearers’ tired legs at the extra effort, the views were well worth the repeated exercise.

Edward also explored the remains of St Gabriel’s Church, a small building that has stood for many centuries. It fell into disrepair when locals moved to less remote locations, to work in the burgeoning industries. Edward enjoyed the peaceful ambience but worried about the lack of roof given how clouds kept rolling in.

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Edward also enjoyed viewing the various artworks he passed on the paths. Being a cultured bear, he paused to consider what the artist wished to convey with each installation. He liked the tree stump spider and the boat stack – even if he was nearly blown off the latter by the prevailing wind. The yellow blob on a rock, however, had him perplexed.

Edward Dorset tree sculpture   edward dorset boats   edward dorset art

Back at the hotel there was good food to appreciate. The vanilla cake was tasty but Edward will always prefer a rich chocolate brownie.

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Much as Edward enjoyed his latest adventure, he was happy to return home where he could be tucked up warm in bed after his sometimes damp exertions.

He wishes you all many hugs from your furry friends and the good dreams they encourage by keeping you safe from the monsters under the bed. Edward plans to snooze now until Christmas, something he highly recommends.

edward hibernates again

Book Review: The Last Hours

The Last Hours, by Minette Walters, heralds the welcome return of a highly regarded author who has not published a new novel in more than a decade. In discussing why, she said:

 “To be honest, I got to the point where I was beginning to be so stressed out and needed a break. I’m a very slow writer, and then I get stressed out with publicity and the whole business of getting a book out. And then it’s people’s expectations. I suddenly felt that I needed a life.”

Unlike her previous work this new book is historical fiction. In talking about her change of direction the author admitted she had grown tired of the genre where she made her name:

“I love to innovate and, while it pleases me greatly that I’ve helped create the genre of psychological crime fiction, I’d be going against my nature if I didn’t look towards different horizons,”

The Last Hours is the first in a proposed two part series set in and around Dorset where the author now lives.

 “Each time I leave my house, I know that somewhere beneath my feet is a plague pit,”

It offers a captivating and chilling account of life as it would have been for lords and serfs in England, 1348, living in fear of a wrathful god and facing a virulent plague that kills victims within days.

The story opens on a hot summers day in the demesne of Develish, Dorsetshire. The lord of the manor, Sir Richard, is setting out on a journey to seal the betrothal of his fourteen year old daughter, Eleanor, to Peter of Bradmayne, the son of a neighbouring lord. Eleanor is unhappy with this choice of husband and blames her mother, Lady Anne, for not securing a more congenial match. She takes out her anger on their indentured serfs, particularly the handsome bastard son of a bondsman, Thaddeus Thurkell.

Sir Richard and his entourage travel to Bradmayne where their host plies Sir Richard with copious quantities of food and drink as he tries to relieve him of the promised dowry. Sir Richard’s Norman fighting men stand guard while his Saxon bailiff, Gyles Startout, observes what is happening beyond the manor’s boundary wall. The villagers are restless and prevented from entering. After several days their unrest turns to fear. There is news of a deadly sickness spreading from the port of Melcombe. While only the peasants are dying few seem to care but when Peter of Bradmayne takes ill the Develish men flee.

Lady Anne had long worked behind her cruel and selfish husband’s back to improve the lives of their serfs. When she hears of the sickness she recognises the danger and acts in all their interests. The entire village moves into the manor which is protected by a moat. Food is stockpiled and the bridge is burned. None know if any inside already carry the plague.

As time passes fear of sickness is only one of the challenges Lady Anne must overcome to maintain order. Food distribution must be carefully controlled and the boredom of people used to days filled with hard labour assuaged. Eleanor meanwhile is appalled that her mother has taken to dressing plainly and working with their serfs. Lady Anne has promoted Thaddeus to the role of steward and Eleanor does not feel he pays her the respect she considers her due. Believing herself above common law she seeks out vile entertainments.

Beyond Develish, villages are being wiped out by death or abandonment. Travellers pose a danger as food is scarce and symptoms of the plague take days to show. There are also lords travelling with their fighting men eager to acquire, by whatever means, anything of value left in the chaos. Lady Anne must use artifice and the loyalty of her people to keep them safe. With each success and acclaim for the brave, Eleanor grows more bitter and unhinged. Lady Anne recognises that they cannot live in this way for long, that some must venture out for news and supplies or her people will starve.

This is a broad, sweeping tale that transports the reader back to a time when few serfs would ever venture beyond the demesne in which they were born. They were property whose purpose was to be worked for the benefit of their lord. Even the gentry were tied to those ranked above them. The church was feared and sickness regarded as punishment. Lady Anne is way ahead of her time in understanding the need for cleanliness and in questioning the edicts of the clergy. She recognises that serfs who survive the plague will be few yet required to till the land. Ownership will, for a time, be in flux.

The various characters’ lives are presented in a manner that is relatable. Differences to today may be great but there are many parallels. The writing is masterful and consistently engaging. The author has lost none of her abilities to enthral her readers.

I have read many fictional accounts of plague ridden England but the breadth and depth of this one truly impressed. It offers more than fictionalised social history, it is high quality entertainment. I am already looking forward to its sequel.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Allen & Unwin.

Author quotes taken from this article: Minette Walters announces first book in decade – and retirement from crime fiction | Books | The Guardian

 

Review of The Haven Hotel, Sandbanks

My husband and I discovered the The Haven Hotel at Sandbanks when he was working for a prolonged period of time in nearby Poole and it was suggested that this would be a convenient place for him to stay. The recommendation proved fortuitous at the time, the location being a short drive or cycle ride from the centre of the town where his temporary office was situated. It has since offered us a tranquil and luxurious setting for several short breaks as a couple, as well as when accompanied by our teenage sons.

Last week we enjoyed a two night stay in a Harbour View room, with dinner in the La Roche Restaurant on the first evening. Our two sons had a basic room on the floor below, which suited their needs well. This was our fourth visit to the hotel in just over two years, from which you may rightly deduce that we enjoy the time we spend here.

We arrived early afternoon and, after an efficient and friendly check-in, were told that our room would be available in a quarter of an hour. We opted to wait in one of several, comfortable lounges overlooking the sea. The sun was out and, after the busy drive down, it was good to be able to unwind.

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Our room was as cleanly presented and well equipped as ever. Little touches such as padded as well as wooden coat-hangers in the wardrobe; a small box containing a nail file, cotton buds and cotton balls amongst the supplied toiletries; bottles of water as well as the generously stocked hospitality tray, pleased me

I was less pleased to find a set of scales in the spacious bathroom. Of course I could and did choose not to use them, but they reminded me that I should not be indulging in the delicious food on offer with quite my usual abandon.

The Harbour View rooms overlook the Sandbanks Chain Ferry and offer impressive views of the coastline as it enters Poole Harbour. On previous visits we have enjoyed watching the many boats as they sail in and out. On this occasion the water was perhaps a little choppy and sea traffic was minimal.

On one previous visit we upgraded to a Sea View room which offers, as the name suggests, a more encompassing  view of the English Channel. As a writer I value the chance to bathe in visual stimulation and would therefore recommend this upgrade in warmer weather. Last week it was rather too cold to spend long on our balcony and the Harbour View room sufficed.

The boys’ basic room lacked a balcony and looked out over the car park. It was, however, clean, bright and spacious with a well equipped bathroom, the same hospitality tray and a small fridge. Their television did not appear to be working when we arrived, but this was quickly sorted by a member of staff as soon as we reported it to reception. All of the staff that we encountered during our visit were unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful. My boys particularly appreciated the free WiFi that is available in all rooms.

Having settled in and enjoyed the provided refreshments (my younger son particularly appreciated the hot chocolate and selection of delicious biscuits) we ventured out to explore the surrounding area. The location of the hotel is a definite draw. It has direct access to a sandy beach, which can be followed all the way to Bournemouth and beyond. For those willing to get in the car it is a short drive to many places of interest, such as Corfe Castle which we have visited in the past. On this occasion we preferred to explore on foot.

On the first evening of our stay my husband and elder son made use of the well equipped hotel gym while I accompanied my younger son to the swimming pool. Despite the incoming rain he enjoyed a good number of lengths of the outdoor pool before retreating to warm up inside. These facilities are all part of the Harmony Spa that hotel guests may use.

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Having worked up an appetite we tidied ourselves before making our way down to the restaurant for dinner. The quality of the food is another aspect of The Haven that tempts us to return time and again.

My husband and elder son started their meal with mussels, a rare treat as I have an intolerance for shellfish so do not offer such delicacies at home. They declared them delicious, perfectly prepared. My younger son started with a tasty soup and I with the pate. I found my choice rather bland but acceptable.

For main course my husband and elder son chose the sea bass, my younger son had duck and I ordered the beef. Although the others were effusive in their praise of the various dishes offered (there was much sharing and tasting going on) I did not fare so well. Portions of the beef were served rare which I cannot stomach. My family polished off my meal for me and scoffed at my inability to appreciate such a perfectly presented treat.

For dessert my husband and elder son had a sticky date pudding which they both enjoyed. My younger son ordered cheese, which he shared, and I chose the chocolate torte. Had I read the description more carefully I would have realised that this was a creamy concoction, not what I had in mind. I gave it to my boys and it was appreciated as intended.

Most dishes on offer are freshly prepared and menus change regularly. I cannot fault the quality of the food, the service or the ambiance of the restaurant. My family enjoyed their meal and it is nobody’s fault but my own that I had made too many poor choices given my personal preferences. I did not raise any issues with the staff at the time and would continue to recommend La Roche even if I did not enjoy my eating experience on this occasion as much as on previous visits.

After a good night’s sleep in the spacious and comfortable bed I awoke ready for my breakfast. This is mainly self service from a wide selection of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cheese, sliced meat, fish and pastries, along with the usual variety of hot offerings. Staff will also take orders for freshly prepared kippers, smoked haddock and poached eggs. We all found plenty to suit our individual preferences and left replete.

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After a day spent hiking along the coast we ate at a local restaurant on the harbour before returning to the hotel for our second and final night. Although the hotel was busy there was little noise apparent when in the rooms.

We had until 11am the next day to pack up, and could have continued to use the hotel facilities had we wished. However, the sun was shining so we opted to enjoy another local walk before bidding a reluctant farewell.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to return again soon. My younger son is determined that we should go back in the summer, that he may walk from his room to swim in the sea.

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