Glamping in a Yurt – challenge No 36

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This girl don’t camp!!!  However I realised that I was missing out on so many of the things I truly love by not. Such a dilemma….until the wonderful glamping revolution took over and since them I have just not quite got around to doing it ( as with sooooo many other things); hence the addition to my 50@50 list.  There was also some strong resistance on the part of Chris who said unless I added it to the list he would not do it with me…..but I am now wondering if that was a bit of reverse psychology…he is sooo cunning 😉.

It was a last minute booking so whilst there was not a yurt available we booked a bell tent.  The site we stayed in was amazing and I have attached the link below. If you want true luxury,  check out their new treehouse…OMG!!!

http://www.mallinson.co.uk/glamping.html

I defy anyone NOT to have a great time at this place.  It was tranquil, our tent was secluded and after the best nights sleep I had had in months we rolled back the tent flaps and I gazed out over a sea of green.  The trees were busy with birds ( tree creepers and robins) and the pond had a moorhen scuttling across it and huge, diaphanous dragonflies flitting over it too…..a true Eden.  Our Bell tent was so comfortable with a king size bed, it had a wood burner inside and a bar b q/fire pit outside, table and hammock.  The site was cleverly laid out so it felt so quiet, even though we were only a very short distance from the main cooking tent, communal fire pit and wash facilities.

What could be better?…well the fact that we were in Dorset; one of my favourite counties and it meant we could head off and explore the Jurassic coastline.

I felt completely re-energised after our two day stay…our first night was spent chatting in the communal area with a father and son who were on the woodworking course making chairs (such an amazing bonding experience for them, that this was their fifth year I think they said, making various, progressively harder objects).  However the second night we spent by ourselves with the local cider (honesty box for all drinks from the fridge….refreshingly trusting), beer and port  and a bar of chocolate, by our tent and with a great fire..chatting, laughing, reminiscing and pinching ourselves at how lucky we were to have found this stunning site.

We are complete glamping converts.  Having found this amazing spot we now know that the setting is equally as important as a comfy bed….somewhere in some woods for us where we can have a midnight shower under a canopy of leaves with the Stars twinkling for lights and feel immersed in nature….it won’t be long before we are back!!!

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Watch a sunrise and /or sunset and sleep under the stars – Challenges No 25 and 12

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So it may be a bit late in the day but I decided to actually look up the definition of the word challenge and amongst other things it is this, according to my pocket Oxford Dictionary ( a 21st birthday present which I cherish and still regularly use)  :-

“a call to take part in [something] demanding or difficult and stimulating” 

And these 50@50 challenges easily fall into that remit!! Because….I have NEVER slept out under the stars…usually a nice comfy bed in a hotel for me, I most certainly have NEVER been for a wee outside and, as most of you know, I HATE getting up early so have seldom seen the sun rise.  Yet this is at total odds with the nature loving me who wants to see and experience as much as I can.

So, when Debbie suggested that as part of her ‘ connecting to nature’ challenge to me we were going to sleep out over night up on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire, in a bivvie (whatever that is…although I do know now!!), and that we would then get up to hear the dawn chorus (4.38 am) followed by watching the sunrise (5.18am) and morning meditation my heart leapt whilst my stomach churned…..was I up for it??

ABSOLUTELY.  We headed out after our lovely willow weaving day, where my fellow weavers had done their best with their oohs and aaahhhs about sleeping on the Moor ( a spiritual place full of unusual people, noises and rituals….. thanks ladies!!) to make me a tad nervous. If Debbie had not known what she had taken on before, she certainly did when it came to packing and she had to give me a step by step guide of what things were ( I might add I was very concerned when the matting looked remarkably coffin shaped) and how to pack them.  That done we headed out to the Moor, past the sign forbidding camping and fires

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( she made me break the law too 😱) and headed past the Nine Ladies Stone Circle.

http://www.peakdistrictinformation.com/visits/stanton.php

It was about 9.45 and at half light, one night after a full moon, when we began to hear strange, guttural sounds coming from the direction of the stone circle, accompanied by our own nervous semi-giggle/WTF utterances.  It was then we saw two half naked men in the centre of the circle sparring…relief together with confusion washed over us (and thoughts of primitive sacrifices, gladiatorial fights, a scene from Women in Love, and maybe that this was their own challenge crossed my mind)….the scene was similar to this photo below which I found on the Internet

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So I now have to apologise to the weavers as they were right…it was a place to behold strange sights.  We walked on and tried not to disturb them and headed for our camp.  I cannot thank Debbie enough for what followed. She had previously found a great site (the entrance to which was marked by the carnage of a bird kill the previous night…not prearranged by Debbie I hasten to add), under a circle of birch trees and which already had a stone firepit made.  She had put walking sticks at the moor entrance which had still been there and collected firewood which she had stashed off the ground in the nook of some branches to dry….it was perfect.  We set up our bivvies ( which are waterproof covers for your sleeping bags thus negating the need for a tent), laughed, reflected, lit a fire, shared a cider, laughed some more and went to bed hoping the forecasted bad weather would stay away……..and with me still refusing to have a tinkle in the dark undergrowth.

As I lay down and looked up the leaves on the trees were swirling rhythmically, an ethereal mist formed over the top of the braken and swept coolly over my exposed face….not scary but magical. I will skip over my fidgeting and snoring as I am sure that only enhanced Debbie’s experience to no end, along with me asking loudly “are you awake?” as I wanted her to see the full moon as it cast its glow on us through the trees.  That was some time after 1am and it was then that Debbie’s keen ears heard voices…and approaching people walking through the moor and undergrowth…at that time of night and with the stillness we had no idea how close they were to us but the sounds finally subsided so we guessed they had moved away.  The mist had also gone and the movement in the trees reminded me now of my childhood kaleidoscope, constantly changing and lulling me off to a comfortable, deep sleep.

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Debbie awoke me and the birds started to joyously sing…note to self…learn bird songs!!! A curious robin came to investigate, a peacock called ( reminding me of home) and it was then time to temporarily abandon our camp and go and see the sunrise from the top of the moor.  When you witness this it is easy to understand why so many cultures worship and hold the sun in such high regard, why poets and lyricists write about it and how dependent our lives are upon this simple act….I felt humble as I basked in the increasing and dazzling warmth……yet inspired too.

We found a rock with a ledge and Debbie, an experienced yoga instructor, led us in a meditation which I choose to keep private.  We walked around the moor, past Rapunzels castle and other significant features, witnessed the skyline coming to life, enjoyed seeing both the moon and the sun up together and then ventured back to camp for a ‘nice cup of tea’, before heading off.

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Some statements are well over used…but this genuinely is an experience I will endeavour never to forget….it was a Challenge, an adventure, life affirming and absolutely worth losing a nights sleep in a comfy bed for.  I am slightly ashamed to say it…but I felt brave.  Thanks Debbie for such an uplifting experience.

Hahahahhaha…and yes…I even had a wee in the undergrowth !!!

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Kayaking the Dordogne – Challenge No 50

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So, at last, I hear you say….something approaching a proper, physical challenge.  And you would be right, when my friend Megan did this last year she thought to herself this would be the perfect challenge for Claire, a physically demanding three hour kayak, balanced out by the stunning scenery along the Dordogne (and the assistance of some of her rather gorgeous family  if things got too much) and a tasty Fench picnic.  I jumped at the chance but sometimes things are just not meant to be….

Our trip suffered numerous setbacks which were totally out of our control (personal sorrow, freak meteorological flooding and,the French being the French, various strike actions) so our new challenge became….just to make it to France!!

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I have known Megan for about 20 years now as we met when our children were at St Philips playgroup and we are both ‘cup half full’ people so hit it off instantly.  Therefore even though we had to shorten our trip and ditch the kayaking ( the Dordogne was flooded so not allowing kayaks on the water) we both still knew we would have a great time…which we absolutely did.

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We were staying at a beautifully converted house, near the town of Gourdon and a five minute walk away from Megan’s brother-in-law and his family who were extremely hospitable, beautiful people. Megan also had family and some other friends staying with us so there was a ‘party’ atmosphere which was wonderful.  We ate at a fabulous restaurant which only opens when pre- booked and all the courses included fresh herbs or flowers from the small but brilliantly packed restaurant garden.  We had a pizza chef come in his van to the house and cook what are undoubtedly the best pizzas I have ever eaten, to celebrate Megan’s brother in laws birthday ( duck pizza being a speciality of the region..inspired) and a bar-b-que, like no other…where the mushroom starter had been foraged, the meat cooked were huge steaks which I don’t even know how to describe and the fish was fresh and fabulous, all washed down with wine and merriment.

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However, there were two particular highlights to the trip.   Firstly, we had an amazing day trip where Richard (Megan’s son) kindly drove us to visit beautiful towns like Domme, La Roque Gageac ( where we looked at the doomed kayaks and I dipped my toe in a swollen and very fast flowing river) and the stunning Rocamadour.  I had no idea how breathtaking the scenery would be.  And the icing on the cake was a boat trip as promised…however this was rescheduled to Gouffre de Padriac, a subterranean river ( 103 m below ground ) which opened into the most awe inspiring cavern imaginable….you can undertand why they call them underground cathedrals. As the last visitors we had the pleasure of enjoying it’s majesty in silence for a while which I will not forget for a long time.

http://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/mobile.php

The thing I enjoyed most though…France itself.  Where we stayed was rural, tranquil and idyllic.  I sat in the garden watching more butterflies than I have ever seen in one place, buzzards were flying low overhead; there was birdsong including cuckoos, hummingbird hawk moths in the sweetest smelling honeysuckle and….wait for it….I saw Hoopoe!!  Poor Megan had so many conversations interrupted by me jumping out of my chair to look at something or other…..she had great patience with me.  In addition the surrounding area and towns are beautiful, the food so tasty and it is packed with things to do.  So Megan we may not have kayaked on the Dordogne but you gave me something much greater….a whole area of France to re-visit, and explore (Carcasonne especially), new friends and wonderful memories 🇫🇷

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Go to Brighton to see the starling murmurations – Challenge no 31

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Well I won’t beat about the bush, this was an unexpectedly moving experience and whilst cliched, I just don’t care, my heart soared with the birds.  

Some years ago I was sat in the garden around dusk and watched the 20+ starlings in our garden dance around the tree tops, swooping, moving on and eventually landing in their chosen roosts, it was mesmerising behaviour and when I later learnt that huge groups or murmurations ( the collective noun for Starlings, sometimes also known as chattering, affliction or scourge) of Starlings collected at Brighton pier I decided to check it out…..but never quite did.  So this is how it appeared on my 50@50 challenge list.

It turned out to be one of those special days, the ones you don’t have high hopes for.  I had researched when was best to see them but found very little on the internet about it apart from one post years ago dated February so that was the month I earmarked to do it.  The weather was supposed to be Ok so I decided the shopping would be good if nothing else!!  As I don’t drive I took the half hour bus trip to the station, waited 45 mins for the connecting train and spent 1hr 45 on the scenic trip through Romney Marshes and on to Brighton….but it was sooooo worth it.  I shopped for a bit in the North Lanes and then headed down to the pier (avoiding the donuts, ice creams and chips due to the silly losing weight Challenge I set ☹) but the fair ground was going. I have to say I love the Carousel, loads!!! So imagine how pleased I was when they said I could go on it, even though no-one else was there…my own private swirl around…winding back the clock, the music filling the air…pure nostalgia and I loved it.  After that I left the pier and went to wait, with little expectation as all I had seen thus far were gulls and oyster-catchers; but from nowhere 20 starlings appeared over the water!!!

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If I tell you I was thrilled with 20 you can imagine my feeling as more, more and yet more groups of starlings joined the flock to make one massive murmuration.  They split into two groups straddling the pier but on one side were much closer to the water so I swapped to that side and at times as they approached the air darkened and you could hear their beating wings.  They flew low to the water so they were lost from sight momentarily then emerged and would rise forming DNA strand-like shapes, then switch direction and deploy an invisibility cloaking system so again you would hardly know they were there.  It was impossible not to gasp with wonder and marvel at the genius and beauty of nature.  

As the light faded the Starlings began to swoop closer to the Pier and sections would split off and head under to their roosts, this was repeated and the numbers depleted but this was then replaced by the cacophony of chirrups from under the pier…and here I left them….elated!!

This took place between 4-30-5.30pm on Friday 26th February.

There were very few people watching this spectacle and I just wonder…why?  It was great, heart warming entertainment, free to view and I will certainly be heading back again but with my camera next time!!

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