A trilogy of November updates end with today’s update: the 10th Annual Badger Moot. In 2004 Nick and Bonita Badger (Lucinda’s cousins from Australia) were preparing to leave the UK to return to their homeland and decided that it would be nice for the entire UK family to spend a long weekend together in deepest darkest Dorset. Nestled in the Bride valley village of Puncknowle, Berwick Manor fitted the bill as a reasonably priced house that could accommodate the family. The Badger clan enjoyed it so much that it has since become an annual event (changing from a long weekend to the full week) and Berwick Manor has served the family well over that last decade.
Unfortunately this year Berwick Manor had already been booked (which was slightly disappointing it has to be said) and so an alternative was needed to keep the tradition alive. The Old Rectory at Symondsbury ably filled the bill. Eight miles further down the A35, Symondsbury at the foot of Colmer’s Hill lies a mile or so to the west of Bridport. This eleven bedroom home is reputed to be one of the largest rectories in England and to be honest I could quite believe it for the three floors, eleven bedrooms and nine bathrooms that we hired is not the entire house for the owner lives in a separate wing.
Initially built in 1730 (although expanded in 1814) the Old Rectory is a grade II* country house and as such retains much of its original décor, with a large dining room, a library that contains a 6 foot pool table and upright piano, a breakfast room, fully equipped kitchen and a drawing room replete with a grand piano. It many ways it was far grander than Berwick Manor and the extra bedrooms and en-suites certainly helped make everyone feel more comfortable. However it lacked some of the charm or perhaps more accurately the familial atmosphere of Berwick Manor. Now whether this is due to familiarity, we know Berwick Manor inside out, or the lack of focal point. In Berwick Manor this is most definitely the kitchen and there is always someone in the kitchen whether preparing food, reading the paper or having a cup of tea, at the Old Rectory one could be completely unaware that there was anyone else in the house.
It is difficult to say which one was it better, they are different, however the Old Rectory feels more part of a community with a pub a thirty second walk away and Bridport a 30 minute stroll away. Those points coupled with the extra bedroom tips the balance, in my opinion, to the Old Rectory but not in any detrimental way to Berwick Manor and have no strong opinion as to whether it should become the new venue for the Badger Moot. We will have to see what the majority decision is.
As usual the Badger Moot began Friday afternoon, with a number clan members arriving for the official handover time of 1600. This would usually include the Bagnall sub-clan; however that was before half-term and a child of school-attending age. Although we could have written Éowyn a sick note and taken her out of school for the day, it seemed a shame to ruin her perfect attendance for the want of a couple of hours. In addition, the school was marked down in its Ofsted report on attendance and somehow it didn’t feel right to take her out for such a trivial reason. Indeed our decision bore fruit with Éowyn receiving a certificate for perfect attendance.
So with the car loaded we picked Éowyn up from school and drove the 130 or so miles to Symondsbury. We arrived in unfamiliar territory in the dark, the landmark of Colmer’s Hill hidden in the Cimmerian blanket of night and drove right past the entrance to the Old Rectory. In fairness, even in the day it is quite easy to drive past. Fortunately there was enough of a mobile phone signal for the family to guide us in and so the moot began.
The first evening meal of the week was prepared by Uncle Bill and Auntie Sally, a variety of curries and Indian side dishes and they delayed dishing up until our arrival. We had just enough time to unpack the car before tucking in.
The bedroom that we had been allocated was impressive. It was at least 7 metres by 6 metres with an en-suite shower room. It contained a four-poster bed and two single beds for the girls. Ezra’s travel cot easily fitted at the foot of our bed and there was still room for 5 tables, a large wardrobe and two settees. To say it was adequate would be a gross understatement.
I think most of the family were happy with their rooms too, and the elder cousins were happy because they got to share an attic room and a bathroom which was seconded as the obligatory Spa for the week.
A disturbed night (a template for the week) followed so the Bagnalls were the first awake on Saturday morning. We were therefore washed, dressed and breakfasted bright and early ready for the traditional visit to Bridport’s Saturday market. Very few bargains were to be had, although Éowyn and Amélie treated themselves to a small toy each and Lucinda bought herself a hat.
Saturday afternoon we decided to visit another of our traditional haunts, Hive Beach just east of Burton Bradstock. Sea spray hit you as you stepped out of the car in the car park and as you headed to the shore you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the power of nature. The sea was incredibly dramatic with waves heralding the advent of what was to become known as St Jude’s storm (a weather event that some countries would consider a squall which hit Sunday into Monday). Wrapped up with coats and wellies the girls headed to the edge of the sea, playing chicken with the waves. Confidence was high as they turned and fled each incoming breaker, but the sea is a cruel mistress and before you knew it we had three (Éowyn, Amélie and their cousin Lauren) wet children! Time to go home. Saturday night was hearty casseroles courtesy of the Swindell arm of the clan and the first fancy dress night of the holiday: Wigs and Hats.
The highlight of the evening though was to be found in the garden. Uncle John and Auntie Margaret (over from Australia) were the only named Badgers at the moot this year (although there were three ex-Badgers) but (potentially fleeing the badger cull in nearby Somerset) we were graced by the visit of a real badger in the grounds of the Old Rectory. It is quite rare to see them for us townies and so we all took delight in gazing through the window at our nocturnal visitor.
The Ilchester Arms, the only pub in the village, has a reputation for a mean Sunday lunch. At only a 30 second walk away it seemed rude not to head there for a family meal. Since there was 27 of us we had pre-booked months in advance and took over the majority of the restaurant area of the pub. Nevertheless the meals came out relatively together and it was without doubt the finest Sunday lunch I have had in many a month. (This is nothing to do with the fact that I am usually at work and Sunday lunch is usually a packed lunch or a takeaway, rapidly eaten between phonecalls and problems).
After lunch was the traditional post-lunch slump so we were glad that before we had headed down the road to the pub we had actually ventured out of the village. The weather was still in its threatening phase but dry nevertheless. We therefore decided to take the girls down to West Bay. Primarily for them to play in West Bay Play Area and for us to have a mooch around the West Bay car boot sale. The car boot sale was very disappointing, just a handful of stores but the girls thoroughly enjoyed the play area. Éowyn made a little friend named Tia and played nicely with her until we dragged her away to have a look at the sea. Like Hive Beach the day before the low pressure heading our way was travelling across the Atlantic churning up the sea culminating in dramatic waves crashing against the shore. This time there were no heroics and no damp children to take home.
Sunday night was the second of three fancy dress nights planned for the week, ‘A onesie/ pyjama party’. As I don’t own either I decided to go for a onesie, quite a nice one, from Next. I didn’t realise how popular onesies are. There are a plethora of designs (most bought for the party were amusing) and indeed Lucinda had difficulty buying one for her as most were sold out in her size! After wearing one for the evening I can see the attraction, especially if you live in a cold house, they are extremely warm. A little too warm for me!
With the media hype surrounding St Jude’s storm we were half expecting total destruction when we woke on Monday morning. Yes, there were individual tragedies around the country but the effects in Dorset consisting mainly of a lot of leaves and small branches in the road. Therefore we decided that we would take advantage of a bonus day and again head for another of our usual haunts: Lyme Regis.
Lucinda and I are big fans of Lyme Regis and with its sandy beach it is an excellent place for the girls to play and make sandcastles. So after a tour of the town and a quick toasted teacake we headed to the beach. As we wandered down the front, watching the waves break over the Cobb we randomly picked a spot on the sandy part of the beach for the girls to play. Then one of those quirk of fates occurred, sitting not 20 feet in front of us on the beach was Tia and her family, the little girl that Éowyn had played with at West Bay Play Area the day before. Éowyn, Amélie and Tia played together on the beach very nicely, however Tia had sea interface error and as she was due to go to the cinema later that afternoon her mum had to run off and buy a new set of clothes. She wasn’t the only one in the shop either, it seemed to be a very common occurrence, bonus time for the children’s clothing department!
Tuesday saw a departure from our usual haunts and instead we headed to Portland (Dorset not Oregon) to visit my mom’s cousin Margaret and her husband Ray. My mom and Auntie Margaret were close when Auntie Margaret still lived in West Bromwich and growing up we saw a lot of Auntie Margaret but it wasn’t until my Nan’s funeral the previous Thursday that I had seen them this century. It seemed to be a shame to be so close to them and not pop over to introduce them to the latest members of the Bagnall family.
We had a fantastic day on Portland. Éowyn and Amélie made themselves at home at Margaret and Ray’s and were on their best behaviour entertaining us all. Before the rain swept in we paid a visit to Fancy’s Farm, which if you ever find yourself on Portland you should visit. It is a community farm and is free to enter (although donations are welcome) and kids (and big kids alike) will enjoy feeding the animals. Éowyn was a little nervous of the animals and was shamed into feeding some of them by her little sister. Amélie showed no fear at all, even when feeding Harvey the shire horse that dwarfs me and whose head alone was bigger than she was. Amélie also held a guinea pig which Éowyn reluctantly held afterwards, just to show that she wasn’t scared. We returned just before dark, in time for the evening meal and the third, and main fancy dress night of the week. The theme this year was 70’s and 80’s.
As you can see from the photos, once again everyone took the theme to heart. Again it was the brainchild of Adam and Lucy and Zoe and Steve. The evening meal was suitably fitting to the era with Cordon Bleu Chicken, Spam Fritters, Potato Croquets and Spaghetti Hoops for main course and Viennetta, Arctic Roll and Black Forest Gateau for desert all to a 70’s and 80’s soundtrack. For some reason I felt very comfortable in my flowery shirt and bell-bottom jeans. Once again the family owe a big thank you to the organisers, it was great fun.
Wednesday saw the Bagnalls chilling out at the house. This was in part to the fact that neither Lucinda or I had had a full night’s sleep all week and in part due to the excitement of the girls by having their cousins on tap all week and journeys across the Dorset landscape. Also it was our turn to cook the evening meal.
The house was hired from Friday 25th October to Friday 1st November but Friday 1st November was the day that we completed on our new home (see the following update) and so we had decided that we were going to leave on Thursday night after the evening meal. Therefore we didn’t want waste the day. Earlier in the week a number of the family had headed to Cerne Abbas to solve a treasure trail. Everyone said how much they enjoyed it and so we thought that it would be a fitting end to the week. Plus I have always wanted to see the Cerne Abbas giant so what better excuse?
The treasure trails are great fun, you have to eliminate suspects in a fictional murder but following the trail and solving clues. The trail took us all over Cerne Abbas culminating at the Giant viewpoint. It was great fun and we got to see far more of Cerne Abbas then one would normally of a day trip to a town. There are a large number of these treasure trails as you can see from the website and I would heartily recommend them.
So ten Badger Moots have come and gone and new members have been added to the clan (myself and our three children included) let us hope that this is a traditional that continues for at least another ten years.
Peace and Love
PS: Sorry for the longest write up in this site’s history, to recompense you for the lack of photos in recent updates here are 33!