Countryside

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Every year, my dearest magical friend Craig and I have our annual day trip to the seaside.This year, as we both turned 30, we decided to ramp up the activity a little and go away for a day and a NIGHT! This meant we could travel a little further afield, and so we chose to zoom off to Norfolk. We both crawled out of heavy busy work weeks, and were in need of coffees the size of our heads at the thought of the long journey stretching out ahead of us. I picked up a car picnic of cherries, crisps and fizzy percy pig tails and soon our zip car (named Charlize!) was heading the right way from London. The journey took about 3 hours; mainly because the one road that takes you in and out of Norwich is currently being expanded. That’s great news for future visitors, but less great for people who want to drive down it now and its single carriage is packed with road works AND slow moving tractors. We also hit the tail-end of hurricane Bertha, which made for some tricksy driving conditions.

We stuck to our California road-trip specialist subjects (Craig driving, Me navigating) but this time my role extended to passing him water and also pouring crisps into his crotch (!) so he could chow down and keep one hand on the wheel. Some things you really can only do with close friends, and this is one of them. There was a reason we chose Norfolk, and that’s because it’s where Nick & I are getting married next year. Craig is (among other very exciting roles) chief of decoration, as I really don’t have the first clue and he made his music-festival-30th look so chic. So our first stop for the night was my Gran’s house, in order for Craig to recce the venue and start making some plots and plans. As soon as my Norfolk-based family hear there might be fresh meat in the vicinity, they flock down, so Craig spent the first night having an official “induction” which involved a frantic card game of Racing Demon with my cousin, aunt, uncles and gran. At 95, my gran still thrashed all 3 generations of us.

After an epic sleep (there’s definitely something in that Norfolk air) we started the day in the best possible way. Home-made ginger cake for breakfast, followed by a lesson on the spinning wheel, which Craig previously thought only existed in fairy tales.

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Then it was time to take a scamper around the grounds where Nick and I will be getting married. I won’t include too many photos because, well no-one wants too much of a spoiler before the big day surely. The sun was shining and the flora and fauna were in fine form; we’d be so lucky to get a day like that. I picked an apple that was as big as my entire face, and I reckon will be enough to fill a pie. There’s something so enchanting about this place!

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After another slice of cake, and an hour or two of my gran telling us incredible childhood and war stories; it was painful to tear ourselves away but we really did have to get a wriggle on and do what we came to do… see the sea! Also, thanks to Craig for being my stylist for the weekend. I had stupidly forgotten a spare tee-shirt so he kindly leant me his I <3 LA one which fitted a little too perfectly and is currently being held hostage. Not quite sure I am ready to give it back! The drive from Norwich to Cromer took about an hour. My gran was born in Cromer, therefore it’s a place I visited tons as a child but haven’t been to since my teens. I stuck to tradition, and we parked on the road my gran was born on (which is also handily free parking; therefore more money for tat from the tourist shops). I had a good peer at the house where my life-idol came into the world, the original name “Yerbury” is still etched into the gate, which is also my mum’s middle name in honour of it.

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Our first effort to fully de-Londonify ourselves was to head out towards Over Strand, where the beach is nestled next to miles of wild scrub. I love that Cromer has shingles and pebbles, but also soft sand and rock pools. We walked as far as we could see, stopping to scavenge for shells and to hunt for anemone. It was amazing how quickly we left the chaos of the town centre behind and were soon alone with the lapping sea and ramshackle abandoned beach huts.

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I don’t know how we manage it, but every year our day trip takes place in a different month and a different day, but whatever the weather forecast (usually beefy thunderclouds or remains of hurricane) we get tropical temperatures. As we stared out to sea, I felt the most at peace since I came home from travelling. You don’t need to get on a plane to find that sunny sweet spot when we get summers like this. The one thing I haven’t missed about UK beach offerings though, is these pests. Creepy wormy weirdos!

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After a good dose of salty air and stomping around, we headed back to dry land to explore the pier. Cromer is the only pier in the UK to still have a regular Pier Show, although we weren’t organised enough to catch it. We also discovered that the thing to do at Cromer pier is to go crabbing! Every inch of pier-side was packed with families who were hanging fishing rope off the edge, with bacon on the end to tempt crabs into the nets. The unlucky crabs are then collected in a bucket in order to show off to everyone else how many have been snagged. I wasn’t sure what the point was, so asked a local man who recoiled in horror when I asked if he ate them (Cromer is famous for it’s crab!) but these were just little nippers and he told me they catch them for fun, but they are all chucked back in the sea at the end of the day.

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By this point in the day we both had a hive-mind desire for one thing, and one thing only. A GIANT fish (and chips). We found somewhere called the No.1 Fish & Chips, so we figured that must be the best in town and we were not disappointed. We tucked into the feast whilst gazing back out to sea and with sand between our toes; which I swear improves the taste by 80% at least. It’s so special when you have a friendship that never suffers an awkward silence. Even after spending 36 hours together back-to-back, we were nattering none stop. It feels like we never run out of conversation, I guess because we are at that age were lots of big life things are happening; which need endless analysis – in between chip mouthfuls.

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After a doze in the sunshine and a stop off at the amusements and funfair, it was time to bid Cromer farewell. I was tempted by the teacups but have learnt from sickly experience that swirly-round-&-round rides do not mix well with having just eaten a giant fish dish. This has definitely been one of my favourite day trips of all time; as the town and beach were just the right amount of buzzy Vs busy; and there seemed to be an infectious good mood in the air. Almost everyone we passed smiled, said hi or just looked happy with life. This is something that is sorely missing from the London rat race sometimes! This, coupled with my gran’s endless wise sage advice and life lessons, left us both really inspired and feeling zen as we headed back to the M11. I say this every year, but I really need to do this more often. A day at the seaside felt as good as a holiday.

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If you’ve never visited Norfolk, I highly recommend it. And if you have, but never went to Cromer, then do that too! Just remember to pack your sunglasses.

Read all about or previous day trips here:

2013: Rye & Camber Sands

2012: Reculver

2011: Isle of Purbeck

2010: Eastbourne

 

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Me and my day trip buddies had planned this trip months in advance, picking a day at random and scribbling in our diaries on the train home from the seaside in April. This time we wanted to take our day-trip relationship to the next level. We were ready to commit, we were ready to invest seriously. We were ready for… BENSON! (our street car hire car) We made a shortlist of potential locations and after lots of umming and aahing, Ali came through with Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. As the day approached, England was in a pretty good state of affairs. Blistering heat and glorious sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Until you reached our day-trip day on the five day forecast for Dorset and the summary was “Chilly, with beefy rainclouds“. Luckily, like with many things (eg. the time bbc weather told me Bestival would have a mini-heatwave. In reality there was a freak storm, followed by a typhoon, followed by people being airlifted to safety from the knee-deep mud…) they were wrong. And thus followed… the day of perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 After a 3 hour drive and listening to Go West a few more times than necessary, we boarded the ferry that took us from mainland Dorset onto the peninsular . Our first stop was Corfe Castle which is a quaint little chocolate box village with a beautiful ruined old castle sat overlooking it. It’s apparently what Kirrin Island in the Enid Blyton books is based on, which made the fact we climbed up to the top for some jolly wholesome exploring and picnicking even better. Ali had made the most amazing picnic – to make sandwich bread you buy a Tiger loaf, empty out the middle and then fill it with your favourite fillings (more the merrier, I think we had cheese, ham, pickle, tomato, black olive spread & hard boiled egg!) then when you arrive at your munching location you can just slice it and ta-da instant, perfect sandwiches. We had a flask of ice tea and punnets of huge strawberries and raspberries. We met some mountain beasts (ok, brown sheep) and moseyed around the village shops before getting scared because it appears their thing is scarecrows and pretty sinister looking ones at that, with pipe-cleaner glasses. I have an irrational fear of scarecrows and it was beginning to feel like we were in the Wickerman, so made a hasty exit.

 

Isle of Purbeck was enchanting because we kept stumbling across incredible things when we least expected it. For example we pulled into a standard looking Co-op to use the cash point and behind it we found this vintage steam railway that looked straight out of a film set. By now we were getting itchy beach feet and the sun was like nothing else. Total Hawaii weather. We pulled up at a random path that looked sandy and started trekking towards what we hoped was a beach. 20 minutes of walking barefoot on scorching sand, through ferns & forests and past lakes and not seeing a soul… we spotted the sea! And white sands! And… a large angry looking naked man! 

We had managed to locate the ‘famous’ (apparently) nudest beach, and boy was it busy. We had no option really but to skulk along the dunes, trying to keep our eyes on the horizon, but the naked people seemed very keen to run past/towards us and I definitely saw more wobbling male genitalia in that 30 minutes than my entire life up to that point. We paddled past the nakeds and towards a more clothes-friendly part called Shell Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main aim of daytrips is always to sample the local fish and chips, and we found a place in Swannage that definitely fitted all my requirements called ‘The Fish Plaice” and with a surly 12 year old looking waitress who we had to practically use brute force to get to actually acknowledge our presence and take our order! The fish was lovely but the batter was greas-ee. A chocolate milkshake and OD on tartare sauce helped. Also +points for the 20p bread and butter slices on the side. For pudding? A polystyrene pot of shrimps from a kiosk on the pier, that scared Craig so much that if I chased him with them he screamed a bit.

 

The sun finally set and on route home we stopped at a pub in Wareham to laze in their beer garden and eat homemade Dorset apple pie with cornish clotted cream. Even the 4 hour journey home (big bad motorway accident, boo) and then the fact I missed my last tube and had to stomp my sandy feet through the mean streets of Bow at 11.30pm couldn’t wipe the fresh-air smile off my face. The phrase ‘staycation’ used to filll me uncertainty, but I really doubt you could find prettier places across the whole of Europe as the Isle of Purbeck. I’m sure we only scraped the surface and I’m already plotting my return.

We only have one more day-trip of the summer left, before Ali abandons us for a life of Fika and Ikea homeware in Sweden in August, so any location recommendations welcome.

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I’ve escaped London for the rest of the week to hide at home in Yorkshire. Being a ratrace-face is starting to give me burn out so there was only one option, hit the woods and walk and walk until I was hopelessly lost.

 

 

 

As well as a good fish & chips and a good cup o’ tea, I really miss WOODS. Where are the woods in London? I don’t understand. There are plenty of good parks, yes I can vouch for that. Granted; there’s lovely heaths, there’s a pretty awesome river and riverbank. There’s boating lakes, there’s urban farms and there’s some super hills (Primrose Hill is the place I run to the second the sun puts its hat on). All these things are fine and dandy but I want treeeeees. I want dense fairy tale forest with moss and gnarled roots reaching for your feet as you wander through. I googled London Woods and it produced quite a lowely list of 15, most of which on further inspection contain the words small, former or previous and so I guess don’t actually really exist anymore. I think the best option looks to be Queens Wood particularly appreciating this line in the review …the wood has no park or playing fields but does sport a children’s adventure playground built on top of the plague pit. (!) so I might venture out there when I’m back in the smokey city.

 

 

To satisfy my lack of woodland woe I ventured out to Hardcastle Craggs near Hebden Bridge. I arrived at about 11am and it had been raining all morning, that constant drizzle that makes your face and hair all dewy. Luckily I was really protected by the canopy of new leaves for most of my walk so could just enjoy the beautiful freshgreen rainy smell and use it as an excuse to don my wellies and jump around in the river. It also meant I could take some photos without the sky giving my camera a shower. The walk was about two miles and I only bumped into two other people and a giddy spaniel! I saw lots of unseasonal robins, a tree-creeper, a dipper, a beautiful yellow wagtail and a bunch of ants eating bilberries. My favourite spot of all was this little chap. He looked extremely happy mooching along the damp bark.

I love the eerie mist that hangs around deep inside woods and the mysterious way that everywhere you look can shift and sway and look the same as the place you’ve just come from. I think everything can be put in perspective by getting deep down into nature and listening to the peace and quiet

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There are many things I love about London, but one of them is escaping it.

My grandparents like in Norfolk, in a converted barn in the middle of meadows and countryside as far as the eye can see. My granny is called Lesley, she is 91, and she can still move faster than me. She refers to 70 years olds as ‘ancient’! She refuses to eat anything that isn’t homecooked (mostly by her – she says  the key ingredient to any cooking is love. Ah.), she survived bowel cancer in her 80s when everyone was busy clucking and talking about her ‘good innings’, she has the most incredible stories and she is still head over heels in love with my Pa despite being together since they were 13 and 15. My Pa is called Pat. He likes to wear a flat cap, his favourite colour is purple and he can still completely destroy me at cards. He has Parkinsons disease, which causes him to shake. It also makes him sleepy and confused. Conversations can quickly go off on a tangent, snippets of something he has read or seen on the tv or ancient memories suddenly bulldozing in and making no sense to anyone else. We can be sat in silence and he’ll suddenly grab my hand and say How many people does it take to look after that lion do you think? and I’ll say Oh I’d imagine two or three and then he is happy, and falls asleep again. I have no idea which lion he is talking about.

I love them both ferociously and I know that it’s so precious to have living granparents when you are an adult, that I do try to visit as often as possible. Not that it’s a hardship for me mind; nonstop homemade soup, clambering around fields and gardens in my wellies looking for bugs and treasure, swimming in their ramshackle old pool, reading lots, sleeping lot and ODing on good, clean country air.

I can’t wait to go back again, it already feels just like a nice dream with work and the central line and Starbucks and smog looming tomorrow.

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