Some might say it’s foolhardy to be writing a blog on the 1st of April but hey ho this is being posted after midday so believe what you will!
March brought another eclectic mix of topics and travels. Standing in the jockey’s weighing room at Epsom Downs Racecourse I could almost imagine Frankie Detorri celebrating after another famous victory. My visit to meet general manager Simon Durrant was fascinating research for a behind-the-scenes feature about not only Surrey’s but the world’s most famous flat race, The Derby.
Another trip into the unknown, although it felt like an altogether more covert operation, took me to Europe’s first wasabi farm. I’m giving nothing away by saying that Hampshire’s remarkable spring waters have worked their magic once more. And having been known for so long as the capital of watercress, there’s definitely another green revolution underway. My thanks to Tom Amery of The Wasabi Company for showing me around (thank goodness I packed wellies) and for entrusting me with a wasabi plant of my own – fresh wasabi is a revelation, trust me.
While I was prepared for getting my feet wet, down on the farm, it was a nice surprise, to see the sun returning this month. And writing-up a feature on beaches in the south certainly put me in a holiday mood. As I discovered though, you don’t need to take a week’s holiday – some of the best sandy spots are right on our doorstep, it’s just a case of thinking outside the box. Coastal areas could be getting some competition from riverbanks, ponds, even pop-up city beaches when the bucket and spade brigade set off this summer. All will be revealed inside the next issue of parenting magazine Baby Surrey / Hampshire / London.
Us Brits seem resigned to braving the weather whatever’s thrown at us. Which this month has certainly meant plenty of the wet stuff. And that’s just as well, because the more I explore some of the local towns, villages and countryside in pursuit of a story, the more I love what I see.
A visit to Southsea never fails to impress and certainly, in my eyes, this Portsmouth suburb gives its big brother a run for its money. How many places are there, where street after street can boast independent shops that seem to be thriving? Whether it’s bookshops, antique emporia or vintage bazaars, they’re here. Add-in a huge range of eateries serving-up dishes from across the globe, a slice of history at some fascinating military museums and, of course the good old seaside. It’s a winning combo and hopefully a few more people will be inspired to head down to the south coast after reading my Spotlight feature in the March issue of Hampshire Life.
A bit closer to home, well virtually on my doorstep in fact, are the Hindhead Commons. In years gone by this tract of ancient heathland was renown for being besieged by highwaymen, and, more recently, had been blighted by the A3 trunk road. Thankfully now, one of the National Trust’s earliest acquisitions has been returned to its gorgeousness. My article on the Commons for BBC Countryfile magazine’s February issue looks at how walkers, 4×4 drivers and nature CAN live in harmony.
However, if the recent tempests have left you feeling decidedly bedraggled, Surrey now has a brand new indoor attraction. I’m keen to give a shout-out for the WWF’s new Living Planet Centre in Woking which opened its doors to the public for the first time last weekend. The four interactive zones that make up the WWF Experience, give a unique insight into the natural world and there’s no need to wear wellies!
If there’s one word that sums up the stories I’ve been focussing on during recent weeks, then it would be ‘courage.’
For the past 11 months I’ve been following the highs and lows endured by one amateur sportsman as he attempts to complete a year’s worth of challenges. This is no walk in the park mind. We’re talking about some of the most arduous events in the UK running and cycling calendar – from the physically punishing Iceman and Tuffman duathlons to all-out endurance events like the Brighton marathon and Snowden’s Man vs Mountain. Did he make it? And in the process raise much needed funds for the charity Operation Smile? Mark Johnson’s inspiring story is published in the January issue of Outdoor Fitness.
Doubtless the impact of World War One will touch us all strongly in 2014, so it was a privilege to look into the role of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital on behalf of Hampshire Life. Who’d have thought one of the largest and most important hospitals in the world once stood on the banks of Southampton Water? Yet if you scratch beneath the surface, a visit to the Royal Victoria Country Park today provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. For their invaluable assistance on the research front, a special shout-out goes to the Army Medical Museum in Aldershot (who supplied the wonderful archive photography), historian and author Philip Hoare and to the descendants of former artist and soldier Paul Smyth for sharing the tale of one man’s war with me. Humbling.
Often working to deadlines several months ahead of publication dates, it’s still a surprise to suddenly see a flurry of articles appear in quick succession. Usually it’s a case of grabbing the latest copy off the shelves and rushing home before taking a peek at the final layout and any subbing. On the latest trip to my local supermarket however, I couldn’t help myself. Four articles published in three regional titles – Baby Hampshire: sledging; Hampshire Life: Winchester’s choristers and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip; Surrey Life:– Painshill Park‘s Crystal Grotto, were all on display in a single display. Apologies to my fellow shoppers for pulling my trolley up short and whipping out my camera phone, I just had to capture the moment!
Who’d have thought it? We got the Indian summer that’s on our annual wish list. One man who’s really appreciated the warm weather is Hampshire’s very own Beaulieu Beadle aka artist Stephen Turner holed-up in the Exbury Egg and its environs for another 9 months. Skyping Stephen for the first time it was great to share in some of his ‘experiences’, including watching moths swimming and making his first pot of Exbury conserve from hedgerow pickings. I’m looking forward to the next instalment in a couple of months from now, meanwhile the live web cam and Stephen’s blog are well worth tuning into.
Also enjoying some mellow fruitfullness is the team at Dorking’s Community Orchard. My piece on their first harvest made the front page story of The Surrey Hills Magazine.
Staying on the theme of reviving a bygone era, this year’s Heritage Open Days were a great chance to discover some of the hidden gems in our neighbourhoods. The revitalisation of The Farnham Pottery was a revelation, with both established artists and beginners taking advantage of the courses and facilities on offer. My paltry attempt at fashioning a clay house number won’t win any awards But I enjoyed making it.
Taking a heritage walk with a Godalming Town Guide gave even the locals something to talk about. Who’d have thought this sleepy Surrey conurbation harboured so many hostelries on the once busy London to Portsmouth stagecoach route? Or, that it could have genuinely been called an industrial town in former times?
Having enjoyed a couple of events at last year’s Guildford Book Festival the dust covers are off for 2013’s celebration of all things literary. Judging by the ticket sales so far, I can see I’m going to have to get my skates on if I want to bag some front row seats for the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Matt Dawson, Joanna Trollope et al. Thanks be that sun bathing is no longer a distraction from more meritable pursuits.
There was excitement at the beginning of the month with the publication of two new features. For fans of Downton Abbey – in fact anyone who wonders what some of our local landmark buildings look like on the inside, is a piece I wrote on Surrey’s Byfleet Manor. Home of the lovely Julie Hutton, the Manor is rented out to film crews for location shoots and stars as the Dower House. Read the article at The Guildford Magazine.
This was closely followed by another of my ‘Top Tens’ for the Baby Surrey/Hampshire/London series. Everyone enjoys a visit to the park and whether you live in the town or the country there are some hidden gems. In fact, a reader has already sent in a letter of congrats to the editor on discovering a park near to her house, that she didn’t know existed. It’s nice to be of service! Thanks must go to the Forestry Commission Alice Holt for supplying some great pics. Read the article at Baby Surrey.
Getting out and about this month I squeezed in a press launch and a private view in one day. First off was a trip down to the New Forest to see the inaugural launch of the Exbury Egg. Once in position on the Beaulieu Estuary it’s going to become the workspace of artist Stephen Turner for the next 12 months. Seeing the beautifully crafted, environmentally friendly Egg up close was pretty impressive. I wouldn’t mind spending a few months responding to the local environment myself – especially as it comes equipped with a hammock and solar shower!
Next stop: final year degree shows at the University of the Creative Arts Farnham. Anyone who thinks students spend their time in bed or the pub should take a look at the fantastic work on display. I sat through part of the showreel from the animation course and was blown away – they certainly give Nick Park a run for his money. Textiles and glass were also stunning, it’s enough to make you want to enrol immediately.
I can’t sign-off this month without giving a shout-out to the crew at The Fish Society who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, on copywriting and SEO, since the beginning of the year. We’re about the embark on an exciting new PR campaign. Watch this space!