As regular readers of this blog will testify, October half-term is the usual time that the Bagnalls join the greater Badger clan for the annual Badger Moot. Descendants of Lucinda’s maternal grandfather, Grandpa Badger, flock – if, indeed, Badgers flock? – to the Dorset coast for a week of fun and frolics. This is the 13th moot and the 12th at our usual destination of Berwick Manor. For those of you that don’t know, Berwick Manor is a large manor house set on the Puncknowle Manor estate in the Bride Valley, West Dorset just north of Burton Bradstock. As this is the 13th time we have stayed here (12 moots and once for Uncle Bill’s birthday) we know it very well; it feels like home from home and it is large enough to accommodate the ever-growing clan of Badgers, we peaked at 28 Badgerettes this year.
The Bagnalls decided to head down to Dorset as soon as the Baguettes finished school, so I took the day off work to pack the suitcases and then to load them into the car – it can take a while! Thus, after picking the Baguettes up, following by a quick comfort break and loading up on snacks we were on the road by 1600 and heading south. The traffic was heavy but we kept on moving and arrived in the deepest darkest Dorset countryside just after 1900; just in time for dinner – great timing!
A late night for the Baguettes did not translate to a lie-in, the Baguettes were still up at their regular time and so after an early breakfast we headed to the usual Saturday haunt: Bridport, for the Saturday market. However, the Badger clan had descended on Dorset at the same time that storm Brian was due to make landfall. Fortunately, Dorset appeared to miss the worst of the storm, but due to the prediction of heavy rain and strong winds the local council had made the decision to cancel the market. Thus, for the first time during a Badger Moot, there was no market. A wise decision considering the Met Office warnings, but as we strolled around the streets and there was hardly a breeze and only the occasional shower it seemed somewhat of an overreaction.
Nevertheless, there is more to Bridport than Bridport market. As per previous holidays, I gave each of the Baguettes some money to spend on whatever they like, in a vain attempt to begin to teach them some meaning in money because the rule is, that once they have spent it, it is gone and thus there will be no chants of ‘I want this,’ or ‘Can I have?’ in every shop we visit.
As in previous years, the lure of Toymaster was too great and the Baguettes were pulled to its inexorable bounty. A considerable amount of time later and after squeezing an extra few coins out of Daddy the Baguettes had satisfied their acquisition needs and were happy to return home with their bounty.
After lunch we headed to another regular haunt, Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock, to see if we could see any evidence of storm Brian. Framed by the majestic limestone cliffs, the sea dramatically crashed upon the pebble beach, spray hung in the air like mist and foam was carried on the waves, dissolving long after the wave that had carried it had retreated.
We stepped out of the car and were almost blown away, although it could hardly be called a storm it was certainly windy. We headed to the beach and the wind was freaking Ezra out, so Lucinda stayed with him at the edge of the car park. I took the girls onto the beach, staying as far as we could from the cliffs we edged towards high tide. The spray blew into your face and the girls were fascinated by the foam, but I was conscious about them venturing too close to the sea. The geology of Hive Beach is dominated by a fault that runs from the car park and out to sea. It is why there is a gap in the cliffs at this point and hence the beach is steeply shelving, as a consequence the waves quickly run out of strength as they crash ashore. Nevertheless, you should never become complacent in the face of such raw power, so there was no paddling by the Baguettes. We didn’t stay too long, the wind was bitter, the spray was exfoliating and Ezra was getting more upset, so we headed back to the car for the short journey back to Berwick manor and a roaring open fire. At least there were no tumbles in the brine this year and thus no sopping wet Baguettes to carry back to the car.
Last year we discovered the Abbotsbury passport ticket, however, we discovered it a little late and ended up visiting all three of Abbotsbury’s attractions in the same day. This year we decided to take it a little more sedately. The passport tickets allows entry to Abbotsbury Swannery, Abbotsbury Children’s Farm and Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, including their fright night special more of that next time). Moreover, not only does the passport ticket in itself give you a discount by purchasing on line there is a further discount. This almost caused us a little issue. We had waited until we were in Dorset to purchase the ticket, however the internet at Berwick Manor has not improved in the 14 years since our first visit and with an entire houseful of people with smart phones, tablets and computers all vying for connection it can not cope. The telephone signal around the house (in the house is non-existent due to the thick stone walls) is voices and SMS only and so loaded webpages to book tickets was nigh-on impossible. However, as we entered Abbotsbury we also entered the 21st Century connectivity age with 4G signals aplenty. Therefore, we managed to book our passport tickets while sitting in the Abbotsbury Swannery carpark.
As you may recall from last year, Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of mute swans in the world. It has its origins in the Benedictine monastery, where the monks used to farm them for the tables of the local barons. In a genius piece of marketing the monks classed swans as fish, as they live in close association with water, and hence could be eaten on Fridays and other feast days. Apparently swan doesn’t taste very nice and it was usually the more tender cygnets that were eaten.
After the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, the land (and thus, the swannery) were bought by Sir Guy Strangways and it remains under the stewardship of his descendants today.
We left the car, safe in the knowledge that our online purchase was complete and headed into the swannery. We arrived thirty minutes or so, before feeding so there was plenty of time to have a nose around the gift shop, do a few circuits of the pedal go-kart track and get lost in the maze before heading to Europe’s largest lagoon and the feeding area of the swannery.
The Baguettes could not wait to feed the birds and were among the first children to make their way through the gate to the swans. Each child was given a bucket of grain and a scoop to throw their feed into the fleet. Mute swans are big birds and even though the Baguettes are not the smallest of children the swans must look huge to them. Thankfully, there was little aggression from the birds, I suppose they know that there is food aplenty and there are not raising cygnets that require defending. They are just there for the grub!
Sunday was our day to cook for the family so after the swannery we made our way back to Berwick Manor via the supermarket with supplies to cook for the multitude.
Since 2013, another tradition was begun, and that was to visit my first cousin once removed, my Auntie Margaret and Uncle Ray on the Isle of Portland. A short trip down the B3157 – the Jurassic Coast Road – is usually a pleasant drive with glorious views of Chesil Beach and the Fleet lagoon, indeed it is one of my favourite roads to drive along. However, this drive was somewhat different. Storm Brian and blown through and the still, moist air had become conducive to the formation of fog. As the coast road itself, overlooks the sea it also has the perfect conditions to encourage fog formation and the two world collided with a peasouper along the journey. Therefore, we arrived at Auntie Margaret’s a little later than we had planned.
Auntie Margaret had a big box of Lego and paper and felt-tip pens for the Baguettes to play with until lunch. After an unsuccessful game of twister, Auntie Margaret suggested that we visit the D-Day museum in Portland. I was a little sceptical as to whether the Baguettes, or indeed Lucinda would enjoy it. Unbeknownst to me, Lucinda was harbouring the same misgivings. There was no need to worry, however, we couldn’t get them to leave.
Castletown D-Day Centre, grew out of one man’s collection to become a fully immersive visitor experience that tells the story of the men, vehicles and equipment of the 5th US Corps & US 1st Infantry Division as they embarked onto the ships and landing craft that would carry them from England across the Channel to the invasion beaches of Normandy in 1944. Portland homed the US troops in the Second World War, and so it is right a fitting that there is a museum that honours, not only their memory but the people of Portland who welcomed them into their community.
Split over two levels, it contains among other things, a full-sized replica Spitfire, a Sherman tank, a B.S.A. motorbike and sidecar combination, an army ambulance and a jeep. The girls were particularly taken by the Bofors anti-aircraft gun. They enjoyed turning the handles that rotated the body and raised and lowered the cannon and that was the real beauty of the centre: you were allowed, nay encouraged, to climb aboard, dress up in the military uniforms and generally fully experience the exhibits. There were a variety of guns to hold and fire, and equipment packs to wear and helmets to don. Even Lucinda thoroughly enjoyed dressing up and operating the equipment. Second, only to the anti-aircraft gun, in captivating the Baguettes attention were the two World War II phones that worked across the site. Even though all you could do was talk to each other, for some reason they still found it fascinating.
So from an attraction that we thought would struggle to charm the Baguettes thoroughly bewitched them to the point that we were on the verge of physically dragging them out of the centre, so that we could take Auntie Margaret home before making our own way home. I think that we forget how busy the Baguettes are and, considering that Auntie Margaret had heart surgery last year, how physically exhausting a day with them can be. So, I am sure that Auntie Margaret looked forward to putting her feet up as we drove off the island.
It was now approaching dinnertime and the rest of the Badger clan were heading out for a pre-booked meal. We had already decided against attending the meal before the week away, as the Baguettes prefer to eat early and so we knew that Monday night was the night that we had to make our own arrangements for the evening meal. You may recall that for Amélie’s birthday, we asked her where she would like to go for a birthday meal and she replied with the Toby Carvery. For Éowyn’s birthday, we asked her the same thing, and she had asked to go for a Chinese meal, but we hadn’t managed to squeeze that visit in before heading to Dorset. Therefore, it seemed to be an opportune time to honour that promise and thus we headed to Dorchester and a Chinese meal that came highly recommended via Tripadvisor.
After eating far too much Chinese food we headed home. The fog had returned and now it was dark. Thankfully, we know the roads very well and headed through the country lanes by intuition more than following the road signs. We arrived back before the rest of the clan had returned from their meal. Indeed, the only others in the house were Kate and Nolan as they, too, have young children, so after putting the Baguettes to bed we at least had some company in the big empty house.
That is probably an opportune moment to end part one. There are plenty of photos on Flickr if the ones below do not satisfy your photographic needs and I look forward delighting you with the second half of the 2017 Badger Moot.
Peace and Love