With the official easing of Covid restrictions in England from Monday, July 19th, I found myself looking back on life in Dorset during the lockdowns and restrictions. I spent the first UK lockdown in my native Cornwall, tucked away in a little village by the sea and the safety of the house I grew-up in. The sun shone, the trill of birdsong and the steady woosh, woosh of the waves were the loudest sounds. We found food parcels from neighbours, swinging from our doors, that we saw as we gathered on Thursday nights to clap for the NHS. We bought the freshest produce, monkfish, mackerel, muscles, lobster and crab, from the fisherman who suddenly could no longer sell to restaurants. I left bags of groceries on the path to my pregnant sister’s house, as she waved and cried softly at the family she could not touch. I waved to my granny through her window, I waved through my phone screen at my other sister and her young family, two little boys whose whole world had shrunk to the size of the garden and were too young to understand why they stood on their own doorstep, hundreds of miles away and clapped on Thursday nights. And, I waved every evening through my phone screen to the boy in Dorset that I fell in love with, just a few short months before the world shut down.
This was how I was introduced to the tantalizing beauty of Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck. When I look back at that times I was in Dorset – the times Lockdowns hit just as I’d arrived, the times when the guidelines had eased and hope was in the late summer air, the times I was able to explore with a local expert’s eye and note every place I would go when the world opened once more- inevitably those weeks and months and days have cobbled together in a bizarre timeless patchwork of memory. Time has been an elastic and stretchy thing. Time halted for us, moving with the seemingly glacial pace of a Winter that wouldn’t let go and yet snapping backwards and forwards with an alarming speed, almost as if no time had passed at all. It was when I scrolled through my phone, looked back at the photographs we had snapped, thought about the walks we had taken, the games we played, the foods we foraged and feasted on, that the time laid out like a recipe book of the best Dorset adventure.
With all tourist attractions closed, I was treated to an experience of Dorset guided by locals but still seen through the eyes of a tourist. An insight to an insider’s knowledge, with the excitement of an outsider’s perspective. Brigerton had landed on Netflix and I had consumed it, along with most of the nation, with the same gluttony I had gathered local fruit from the Purbeck trees months before. As we walked along the Swanage seafront, the waves lapping on a shingled shore, the winter sun inviting families to run along the beach with dogs digging for victory, it felt as if we all could have belonged to any age, era or time. Swanage has a feel of vintage holidays. From the arcade, amusement park, Victorian pier, fishing boats and beautiful wooden beach-huts painted like the ice-creams of childhood. I took my boyfriend’s arm and to his utter bemusement, asked in my best Daphne Brigerton voice if he would like to promenade with me?
The Isle of Purbeck is home to some of the best produce in the South West. From the award-winning Purbeck Ice Cream – available to buy at the Dorset Adventure Park – The Purbeck Cider Company, Swanage Bay Fish, The Salt Pig and more, you are guaranteed a great culinary experience with fresh local produce when you visit Purbeck. I heard so much about the fantastic dining experience of restaurants like Shell Bay which overlooks Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour and was awarded as one of the top three seafood restaurants by The Sunday Times. It is top of my list to book when I next visit Dorset, and it should absolutely be on the top of yours too!
However, with restaurants closed for the majority of my time in Dorset and the necessity we had to socially distance as much as possible, I was introduced to the delights of foraging in Dorset. As a Cornish girl, I have grown up picking and munching on gorse flowers, primroses, zesty sorrel, wild fennel and muscles. Mackerel was handed out along my terrace most summer evenings by the local boys who would fish off our village coastline. Yet, Dorset has its own secret delights. A tapestry of tastes waiting to be experienced. In the late summer, we picked pockets full and overflowing with plums and pears, which we baked into tarts. From May through to September, we were able to pick and gather wild samphire along the Purbeck coast. A perfect pairing with fish, this fast growing and sustainable plant (when picked correctly) provides not only a great salty taste, it is also absolutely packed with nutritious vitamins. From September to April, we were able to forage for local oysters. Often collected along tidelines in bitter weather, battling the elements, this activity takes an expert eye. I was also introduced to the world of mushroom foraging, another activity only to be attempted with an expert. Mushroom patches are such closely guarded secrets that I met people who were the dearest and closest of friends, yet there was a code of silence where neither would disclose their place of offering. As bizarre as this may sound, it actually serves to save the wild mushroom from being over-picked. Instead, there is a quiet balance of foragers only taking some mushrooms and leaving enough for nature. It is an ancient act of balance.
The Isle of Purbeck is one of those rare places that offers you an abundance of beautiful woodland walks as well as dramatic coastline vistas. With the Water Park closed over lockdown and missing the fun of swimming in the lakes and the fun of the mud trail, we took to the local landscape to be our amusement park. Dorset Adventure Park is in the perfect location for a Purbeck holiday because it is so close to many of the beauty spots of Dorset. The picturesque village of Corfe with its majestic castle crowning it, is a stone’s throw away from the inflatable water park and the aqua park is definitely a perfect entertainment choice when looking for Durdle Door things to do! I can now testify that an accidental mud run in the woods is not as much fun as the muddy assault course specifically designed at the water park. Luckily, the local woodland offers great trails for more serious runs and walks. Breathe in the refreshing scent of the pine trees as you look out over the scenery, seascape and beauty of Purbeck.
The lakes at Dorset Adventure Park were still and peaceful over the lockdowns. Lily pads sat floating on the edges, dragonflies bobbed from lake to lake as the still waters waited for visitors to return. Now, the lakes are active once more. The inflatables are up, the wipeout course is back to screams and shrieks of laughter, and the dragon flies continue to bob from lake to lake. Thankfully, the lakes will now only be silent and still when the seasons change, as in nature, when the balance and harmony continues on and everything hibernates only when it is supposed to.
Words and photos by Olivia Lowry.