Although I do travel, my bucket list never seems to go down. One line crossed through, another 10 added. Getting a glimpse of a region, a country, a culture leads to me finding 10 cities or experiences I want to go back and see! Dorset is one of those. I had never been there – so much still of the UK to discover! Waiting for the train to coast on the station platform at Waterloo, I felt that wonderful freedom I used to experience at a child when the summer holidays started. Christmas plus Summer in a way. That’s the Dorset effect. This little adventure was organised by Dorset Tea – how can you truly understand a brand if you do not see what or in this case “where” inspired it? 3 hours later, we arrived in the countryside and walked down a path lined with wild flowers. Welcome to Glampotel. A clearing in the woodland opens up onto not tents, no, my friend, we’re not camping. We’re glamping. These are canvas cottages – elevated from the ground (to get away from humidity), a little terrace with a BBQ, as big as a hotel room inside (bigger even than some I have stayed in), a real double bed, a stove to warm up the place (or your kettle), a private shower outside, sheltered from view and with fantastically comforting hot water. If sleeping bags aren’t your thing but you’ve always fancied enjoying the outdoors, this is the perfect option. There is no need to bring anything, to think of anything (like how to choose the right generator for camping). Comfort AND magic AND nature combined!
We quickly put our bags down, try the bed (could not resist, amazing mattress, sweet dreams guaranteed) then go and meet Lisa from Dorset Tea for teatime. Tamed curls, striped shirt, an irresistible Inès de la Fressange elegance, lots of anecdotes about the region and yet aware of the latest London trends – she will be our guardian angel for the coming 24 hours.
Keith Spicer, the founder, starting blending his own teas in his kitchen in 1939 – lots more experience and expertise than I expected! Given the cheerful, vibrant packaging, I had assumed it had only been a few years on the market. In 2009 was created their Golden Blend signature, an ode to the beauty of the region in the sunshine… A line of herbal teas was then added – natural, almost juicy in taste – and I’m quite a fan of the Ginger with Sunshine Lemon and the Cool Camomile (I have stayed away from camomile for years – always reminds me of dried hay. But this one has lemongrass and raspberry too, brilliant!). Have a look at the palette of colours once brewed below.
The brand is launching a new campaign this summer #caddycamping or take your Tea Caddy camping. There will be special tins made (look out for them) and of course, the idea is that the perfect cuppa doesn’t necessarily belong to your sofa. Go out! Have a picnic! And yes, at that very moment, enamel mug in hand, the air filled with the scent of an Earl of Dorset tea, slice of tea and apple cake in nearby, sitting in the grass among hundreds of daisies… it made sense. Happiness can be as simple as that.
Let’s jump in the mini-bus – there are still a few hours before dinner, let’s go for a ride, see a few of those amazing bays, picturesque Weymouth, the Portland Bill lighthouse…
From the terrace of The Cove House Inn in Portland, we chat happily, G&T or Pimm’s in hand, soothed by the waves in the background. What a sound, the oh-so-transparent water rolling over millions of pebbles along the Chiswell beach. We’re told they get smaller and smaller as you go along the coast, being dragged along by the swell.
Dinner is only a 10 minutes’ drive from there – we’re going to the Crab House Café, known for its fish and seafood dishes. Such a cute place, little boats turned into a hut or welcoming flowers, seaside theme inside, collection of sun hats to try if you are sitting outside. You can see the live crabs and lobsters waiting to be cooked in the kitchen, the oysters kept in fresh water to balance their saltiness. What shall we have to celebrate? Prosecco? Wine? A house stout with delicate coffee notes? I could not resist the scallops served with samphire nor the sea bass, so juicy, cooked with grapefruit and coriander, the skin grilled and salted to perfection. The menu also has a cheeseboard focusing on Dorset specialties: Coastal Cheddar (with salt crystals forming naturally during maturation), Dorset Blue Vinny (finer marbled veins than Stilton, more intense too), Cranborne (melt in the mouth), Driftwood (a goat’s cheese, shaped as a log, rolled in ash, slightly lemony). Highly recommended!
Night has fallen already – we’re going back to our canvas cottages, lighting dozens of candles. Such a romantic atmosphere! Thunder in the background. I can precisely remember the first drop, rolling down the side of the tent… then another, another, a rain orchestra, each cancelling one of my thoughts… I closed my eyes for what I thought was a second… when I opened them again, the sun was already shining. I lit the stove, put the kettle on, ignored the chairs and sat on the floor, watching the glow of the fire right there in front of me, sipping on my first cup of tea. Commuting? London? From that moment, both seemed completely alien concepts.
Have you ever had breakfast by the seaside? Right on the beach? It’s a memorable experience – every day should start like this… Lisa and The Girl outdoors were a lot braver than I was and went swimming. I sat down comfortable against a rock with West Dorset Foodie, listening to the seagulls, the hurricane stove crackling, the kettle simmering. Never was a cup of tea so enjoyed, especially as it came with almond and marzipan croissants!
What a Friday! It had only started though. We then joined James Feaver of Hedgerow Harvest, our foraging guide. Dorset Tea worked with him before launching their herbal collection. They wanted the recipes to reflect the Dorset countryside hence their Foraged Fruit, Wild Mint, Blackberry Syllabub flavours, all inspired by plants and berries collected during a stroll! Today brings a twist though, we’ll be focusing on the seaside. And well, some elderflower as it was along the path (great in cordial, champagne, fritters, ice-cream!).
So what did we find on Ringsted Bay? Seaweed, of course. First an impressive Sweet Kelp, a good meter long, also called Poor Man’s Weather Glass (the way it reacts to humidity helps you guess whether rain is on the way). It’s great in miso soup. Did you know there are hundreds of different types of seaweed? Only a few are dangerous and they grow so deep they will never be in your way on the shore. So go on, give it a try, taste it straight from the rocks! Although do cut them with a pair of scissors to leave the roots a chance to grow again.
We tasted the green gutweed, the pepper dulse (like a mini-fern and yes peppery), the dulse (hand shaped), the bladder wrack (like bubble wrap and you can pop it), the sea lettuce, even sea spaghetti… some will be great marinated, others as salad, or dried and sprinkled over a dish. Carrageen replaces gelatine (and actually is the base for agar used by vegetarians). Interesting how quick you can develop an addiction to this. And once you start looking at it, it really has a beauty of its own, an incredible palette of greens, browns, reds… A few more surprises: James had left a basket between the rocks a couple of days before and came back with a velvet crab (see the slightly red eyes?) and a blue lobster!
It’s getting close to lunch time so we start tracing our steps back, focusing on the vegetation succeeding to grow through the pebbles – the yellow long horn poppy is not edible but the sea kale was a Victorian favourite and was used as you can guess as a vegetable. The tiny white blooms prove delicious too, a curious mix of honey and cabbage. Such a rich coast! Want to know more? Click here >> Hedgerow Harvest for seaside foraging or English Truffles to be even more surprised.
We’ve built up quite an appetite. Thankfully, inspired by our bounty, James has already prepared our beach picnic. Lisa starts collecting drift wood for the stove. Such a different but very, very satisfying lifestyle. We cheers with elderflower champagne and Japanese Knot Weed cordial (who needs London eccentric pop-ups? We have it all here!) then dig in. Miso sprinkled with seaweed and wild garlic, frittata made with potatoes, garlic, sea beet, home smoked mackerel and served with sea lettuce as well as a salad of sea spaghetti and carrots… Dessert is an elderflower pannacotta using Carrageen as gelatine. Add a few Dorset Tea cuppas. Let’s pretend we’re on a deserted island and not leave, shall we?
Back at the station, collecting poppies and buttercups, nostalgia hit me. I’d rather go and have a look at that little wooden church we talked about and challenge my vertigo on the Smuggler’s path. Another time, Dorset forever. I found comfort in sipping Strawberry and cream tea on the way back, another Dorset Tea flavour that should be quite a hit for Wimbledon…