In her bestselling book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben talks about her Secrets of Adulthood, namely the lessons life has taught her. Gretchen's list includes both supremely simple items and some that are more profound. Within it I found numerous lessons I related to, including ‘People don't notice your mistakes as much as you think', ‘What's fun for other people may not be fun for you - and vice versa', 'If you can't find something, clean up' and 'Bring a sweater'. I enjoyed coming up with my own list and one of the first to spring to mind was ‘Always take the time to explore your own backyard'. I can even pinpoint exactly when I learnt this valuable lesson.
You see, I spent the first 25 years of my life living in the beautiful English county of Dorset but it wasn't until Bradt Travel Guides asked me to write the book Slow Dorset that I took the time to really explore the county. For those first 25 years I had spent much of my time planning to discover faraway places and overlooked what was right in front of me. To be fair, I was following the example set by my adventurous parents - when I was 7 years old they took me out of school for a 6-month ship voyage around the world, and even short breaks, like half-term, were invariably spent in Europe.
By the time I started researching the first edition of Slow Dorset back in 2011 I had been living in Australia for nearly a decade. Returning as a visitor and one tasked with researching what makes Dorset special opened my eyes to what a fabulous place it is to explore. I saw more of Dorset in the six months I spent researching the book than I had in the previous 35 years and I gained a new appreciation for the place I still refer to as 'home'.
I swore I would never make the same mistake again and that I would always make an effort to really get to know the area where I was living. And while I can't claim to have done everything there is to do within easy reach of my base of the past 15 years, just outside Canberra, Australia, a day trip to the NSW coastal town of Narooma earlier this year reminded me of the value of exploring your own backyard.
Narooma is around a five-hour drive south of Sydney and three hours from Canberra. We set off from our house and within 90 minutes we had our first glimpse of the sea, a sight which always seems to flick an internal relaxation switch. We made our customary stop at the Bodalla Cheese Factory and Dairy Cafe, which serves some of the best lactose-laden treats you can imagine, including superb milkshakes and a delightful, award-winning cheese laced with Tasmanian pepperberry.
On a dairy-induced high and having stocked up on picnic ingredients we continued on to Narooma. The name 'Narooma' is derived from an aboriginal term for 'clear, blue waters', which gives you a clue as to part of the appeal, and the sea here is protected by a marine reserve. Wildlife thrives in this safe haven. Fur seals are almost always to be found sprawled casually on the rocks of the breakwater, like hursuit Boticelli nudes. That day, I watched as the seals periodically slid from their rocky sun loungers into the water where they glided through a series of synchronised swimming moves. Curious pelicans were quietly spectating, and I half expected them to hold up score cards as the display finished.
The boardwalk along the coast is another highlight of this small town. The water is so transparent that as you look down it’s like snorkelling without getting wet. My husband, son and I walked slowly, mesmerised by the underwater activity just beneath us - an octopus deftly overturning rocks in search of tiny sea creatures, diminutive fish darting backwards and forwards, and, near the tables where fishermen gut their catch, half a dozen giant rays scavenging for fish scraps, swirling around each other like dark, gloomy, Halloween-inspired dodgem cars. The boardwalk leads to a beautiful waterside park and a sheltered beach with safe swimming, perfect for children. It was here that we chose to settle down for our picnic, a fitting end to a memorable day of simple pleasures. Narooma really is a magical place but it doesn't seem to known it - it has an unassuming air about it and thankfully it doesn't attract the crowds of better-known coastal spots.
I’m always amazed just how much one can fit into a single day. On our spontaneous day trip to Narooma my family spent valuable time together and made some incredibly special memories. We have since relocated to the UK but we did so knowing that we had made the most of our time living near Canberra, that we had got to know the wider area and what makes it distinctive. So, while we all enjoy planning our annual overseas holidays and our once in a lifetime trips, it is worth remembering that happiness experts tell us that what we do every day makes more difference to our happiness levels than what we do once in a while. So, I entreat you, next time you have a free day, make it a day to remember and explore your own back yard.
I was excited to receive the draft front cover for edition 3 of Slow Dorset (Bradt Guides). Dorset looking stunning as ever in this photo and inspiring me to get on with writing the text, which is already well underway. I welcome your ideas for elements to include that help give Dorset its distinctive character and embody the ethos of Slow. Feel free to send me your suggestions for accommodation, restaurants, food producers, artisans, walks, rides or anything Slow... at email@example.com.
Well, it has been a while since I managed to write a blog post. So long, in fact, that the time has come to start work on the third edition of Slow Dorset! I am very much looking forward to beginning my research next month. If anyone has any ideas, or knows of a business in line with the Slow Travel and Slow Food ethos, all suggestions for inclusions in the next edition are welcome. Please email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was delighted to be asked to contribute to Deepest Dorset, a book that seeks to provide an insight into the character of this wonderful county. Deepest Dorset is sold in support of local charities. The book is available to purchase from www.deepestbooks.co.uk.
We are in the final stages of the ninth edition of the Bradt guide to Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. I have been pulling together some photographs for the book and found some lovely ones from my last research trip, which bring back some fantastic memories.
I am currently researching one of my favourite projects, the Bradt guidebook to Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. This will be the fifth edition of the book that I have written. I love returning to the islands on my research trip and seeing what has changed. You might be tempted to think life doesn't move very quickly on a tropical island - not so in the Mascarenes. There is plenty of updating to do.
Here is a sneak peek at the cover for the ninth edition.
This competition has now closed, and I am looking forward to judging the entries.
Bradt Travel Guides is running a competition to win some fabulous Dorset prizes: a two-night break at The New Inn, Cerne Abbas and an ‘Udderly Delectable’ meatbox from The Udder Farm Shop. To enter, you just need to send them a description of your perfect day in Dorset in up to 500 words by 30 June.
This is my idea of a perfect day in Dorset:
As the darkness recedes I begin to make out the comforting and familiar landscape of the Blackmore Vale. The neat hedgerow-lined fields and ancient trees are the key elements of a scene which has been unaltered for centuries. I hear the cows mooing in the distance, and I imagine they are exchanging the daily gossip on their way into the milking parlour. The clouds are beginning to glow orange as I start my walk up Duncliffe Hill, through some of Dorset’s finest and most ancient woodland. Some of the trees here are believed to be a thousand years old. I catch sight of a roe deer grazing on the edge of the wood, and a little while later a fox glares at me before hurrying to cover. The rising sun illuminates the carpet of bluebells and intensifies the unmistakable scent of wild garlic. The lighting is perfect for photography and I get some good shots before I walk back down the hill and head to my favourite farm shop for breakfast. I have been overseas for months and one of the things I’ve missed most is bacon traditionally cured in Dorset, so I savour every mouthful.
I fancy some sea air, so I take a drive south through the centre of the county. En route I pass Dorset’s most famous resident – the 180-foot chalk carving known as the Cerne Abbas Giant.
In Lyme Regis I stroll along the beach in the sunshine, watching out for fossils as I go. I find a dainty, perfectly formed ammonite, and tuck it into my pocket as a memento of the day. At a nearby farm shop I buy the ingredients I need for a picnic, all sourced within a 10-mile radius of the shop, including some delicious Portland crab. I drive along the coast through the unspoilt Bride Valley and my heart sings as I reach the hill above Abbotsbury. It’s a glorious view – Chesil Beach with the Fleet Lagoon behind it, watched over by St Catherine’s Chapel, which stands alone on a hilltop. From the village I walk up the hill towards the squat, 14th-century chapel, built of golden stone. St Catherine is the patron saint of spinsters so, like so many girls before me, I pop inside and say a quick prayer for the ideal husband to come along. I enjoy my picnic on the hillside overlooking the Fleet. It’s a clear day and I can see the Isle of Portland in the distance.
I continue eastwards, stopping off at picturesque Durdle Door, which lies on one of my favourite stretches of the South West Coast Path. I arrive in Corfe Castle in time to take some photographs in a beautiful evening light. Then it’s off to the pub for dinner, knowing I have a comfortable bed waiting in a nearby B&B.
There is only one thing that could have made this day more perfect – the miraculous appearance of that elusive, ideal husband.
- See more at: http://www.bradtguides.com/articles/dorset-competition/#author
I am delighted to announce copies of Slow Travel Dorset, edition 2, are now on the shelves in all good bookshops. Bradt Travel Guides is offering 25% off when you buy the book via their website: http://www.bradtguides.com/shop/series/slow-travel-guides/dorset-slow-travel-pb.html
Spent a fascinating evening getting some tips from Australian landscape photographer, Paul Kowalski. Paul has a gorgeous gallery in Bungendore, a small country town near my house in Australia. Paul specialises in panoramic landscape photography and you can see some of his amazing work at www.paulkowalskiphotography.com.
I've always loved photography but an evening with Paul certainly re-ignited my eagerness to get out into the landscape, make some memories and capture them with my camera.