Monthly Archives: October 2013

Romance ahoy! A weekend in a Gypsy Caravan

Romantics, lovers of nature and the glorious Welsh countryside, golden scooped out bays, laden blackberry bushes and crystal clear sea views – read on.

Read on too, those who love a good nod to the environment – eco-chic-ers and glampers etc. 

A couple of weeks ago, the two of us plus hound took a trip to one of right-on eco agency Under the Thatch’s most whimsical properties – a darling gypsy caravan in an orchard (with rather luxurious barn conversion with kitchen/lounge/bathroom close by).

Under the Thatch rescue quirky, tumbledown buildings and abodes – from cottages to shepherd huts, circus wagons, gypsy caravans and even a boat – restoring them with an emphasis on local, low-impact materials and labour, and giving them a new lease of life as holiday homes. Have a browse through their gloriously gorgeous and ever-growing list of properties here

Meanwhile, here’s a review of our trip.

WE’D set out to arrive before dark.

But as with all the best laid travel plans, we’d failed, and found ourselves negotiating winding, Welsh lanes in the pitch black, me clutching two phones – one with the map open, the other featuring email directions.

Tempers fraying, remarks curt and bearing a distinct tone of warning, we barked communication while the dog whined pitifully in the back, bladder full and belly empty.

But grumpiness turned to relief as we drew down a shadowy track, finally spotting lights, and were greeted by Mandy, the friendly B&B owner at Morfa Isaf Farmhouse.

“That’s good timing,” she chirped through our hopefully wound down window, directing us to our meadow and gypsy caravan.

“I’ve put the lights on for you,” she added, and all three of us experienced the wave of relief any traveller feels on reaching their destination, unfurling achey bodies out of the car and breathing in fresh, clean night time air.

The gypsy caravan by the sea is one of Under the Thatch’s most winsome properties.

A grass-green and cherry-red, bow topped wagon, it sits prettily in its own private little meadow, with views over the blackberry-laden brambles straight out to sea.

Worries about getting chilly in September were soon put to pasture by the incredibly efficient tube heating and thick, sheep’s wool insulation. And with a high, snug bed, windows framed by patchwork, floral curtains and a heart motif that would have been shmaltzy anywhere else, it was love at first sight for us and the caravan.

The temptingly snug interior

The temptingly snug interior

The meadow backs onto a converted barn, complete with well-equipped kitchen where we rustled up a late, and very welcome, dinner, and a bathroom – which proved the only slight disadvantage; dehydrated from our long drive, followed up with a couple of glasses of red, we made it through the first night, but had to take a little night time visit to the other end of our field during the second – it is quite a serious commitment to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Waking up in the morning, the ribs of the bow-top made for such a pretty bedroom I tried to carry on dozing with my eyes open just so I could carry on looking at it – which didn’t prove very effective.

And catching September sunlight gently filtering round the curtain, the dozing didn’t last long – drawing the curtains to the view we’d missed the night before made our late arrival worth it.

Overlooking the sparklingly fresh, expansive Ceredigion coastline, the location couldn’t be more picturesque, and after a few false starts trying to find our path, we scrambled our way down to the caravan’s ‘secret cove’, a golden sweep of sand carved into the steep cliff, seemingly inaccessible unless you know the way, and half-lapped over by gloriously clear water.

The secret cove

The secret cove

We couldn’t resist a dip, and stripping down to our undies there was no chance of our privacy being interrupted – so we leapt in like seals, dragging the reluctant water-hating hound away from the seaweed she was busy killing.

September sun glinting off the glacier-blue water, smooth, silken sand, and no one but us and the hound – it knocked some tropical locations I’ve been to into the proverbial cocked hat for enjoyability and a pristine beauty that left us giddy.

A walk along the dramatic coast path took us to nearby Llangrannog, where we treated ourselves to ice creams from the practically famous Patio Cafe – they’re recommended by Rick Stein, and made for a perfect holiday treat.

And laden with produce and kindling from the nearby Llwynhelyg Farm Shop – “Oh yes, we’re a food county,” the lady behind the counter proudly informed us – we hunkered down by our campfire for the evening.

A couple of locally brewed ales and some chunky slices of Welsh fruit cake bara brith for dessert later, we tucked ourselves in for another cosy night.

The weather was even kind enough to let us enjoy another breakfast outdoors – farm eggs with local mushrooms and spinach on seedy, brown bread, before a wander over fields and through woods – it is such a pretty area.

It was with a sigh and the kind of heavy heart that means you’ve had a darn good holiday that we said goodbye to our pretty little home for the weekend.

A happy pair

A happy pair

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One from the vaults…a chat with comedian Stewart Lee

Sometimes as a journalist, you get to interview people you’re a genuine fan of, and there’s always the risk that they’ll let you down or disappoint in some way.

Although you’re there to do a job, really, you’re just like any other fan, and if someone you admire turns out to be rude, obnoxious or just…a bit boring, it can be deflating. Especially when you then have to turn it into a decent piece.

When I lined up Stewart Lee, a comedian known for his dour observations and cynical attitude, I was a bit worried he’d be thoroughly bored by an interview, but in fact, he turned out out to be one of the chattiest, friendliest folk I’ve ever interviewed.

I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for well known people with apparently sullen public personas to turn out to be the most generous and funny interviewees. I interviewed fearsome Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood once, and steeled myself to be put down with a drawling ‘this is a complete dis-AS-ter darling,’ before he slammed the phone down and flounced off. But he turned out to be thoroughly loquacious and charming, hilariously catty, purring delighted insults about his onscreen enemies, but you got the feeling it was all in good humour and he was nothing but polite to me.

Anyway, there are enough people around who aren’t bothered about being particularly engaging in interviews, so it’s always a pleasure when a conversation you can see going horribly wrong turns out to be the opposite.

I love the way Stewart talks about his relationship with comedy – like being in love with someone but being annoyed by it at the same time, and trying to childishly deny it – and if you’re a fan of the man, have a read, he’s really quite wonderful.

You can read my interview with Stewart, which was published in the Echo on February 18 all the way back in 2011, below, or in PDF form here: Stewart Lee

FOR a comedian who claims to ‘not have any jokes’, Stewart Lee has certainly done alright.

The adulation he received from critics and fans is matched by the number of people who just don’t get him and are left baffled by his deadpan delivery and lack of punchlines.

But for a man who co-wrote Jerry Springer the Opera, directed the Mighty Boosh’s first live show and has established himself as a cult figure on the comedy scene, he’s not too bothered about those who don’t embrace his deconstructive approach to the game.

Stewart boasts a collection of bad reviews on his website, including the one from the Sun we’ve used as out headline,  and has even savaged himself in a negative self-penned review in Time Out.

“It’s a practical consideration,” he says, explaining his exclusive approach.

“I’d like to be able to carry on working until I die, and the couple of times I did reach a mass audience, the response from the tabloids was so hostile it meant I was unable to work.”

Because of these bad experience, he actively discourages mass interest in his comedy and prefers to carry on appealing to a smaller but loyal crowd.

Stewart caused a tabloid storm by saying he wished Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond has been decapitated in his horrific crash.

He then brushed off the comments, saying ‘it’s a joke, you know, like on Top Gear.’

But the Daily Mail didn’t share his reasoning, that if the presenters of the hit BBC show were able to brush aside outrageous remarks as ‘jokes’, then he could too.

He adds:  “TV pays less than what people would expect and I feel just about adequately compensated for the inconvenience of being recognisable to a small amount of people.

“Unless I was able to live in a gated community in the Yorkshire Dales, I wouldn’t want to be more recognisable.”

Stewart always wanted to be a writer – but admits that he had no idea how to approach comedy.

As a youngster in the early Eighties he wasn’t inspired by what he saw, but everything changed when he encountered self-dubbed ‘anti-comedian’ Ted Chippington, famed for his listless monotone and onstage air of boredom.

“The idea of stand-up didn’t exist,” explains Stewart. “Apart from folk singers like Jasper Carrot or Billy Connelly, or Oxbridge satirists like Rowan Atkinson.

“There was working man comedy, where it was all Pakistani immigrant jokes, or ultra-left wing stuff. In 1984 I went to see a band called the Fall and sometimes comedians would go on before bands.

“I saw a comedian, Ted Chippington. He didn’t have any jokes at all, he just had really long, monotonous things and he seemed to enjoy annoying the audience. I had never seen anything so exciting.

“To be a comedian you didn’t need to be happy or look like you wanted to be there – or have any jokes – I thought I could probably do that.”

But for a comedian, Stewart seems to be a reluctant one. His offbeat style sees him avoiding mainstream comedy circuits and panel shows.

“It’s a bit like being in love with someone, but it annoys you,” he says.

“So you try and deny it. I think I’ve spent 23 years trying to escape it, by doing it in a really weird way.

“I’ve avoided all the venues you’re supposed to play. I’ve got no jokes and you don’t see me in panel games. Yet somehow I’m still a comedian.

“If you try and eliminate every possible support and you’re still doing it… I suppose that means that’s what you are.”

Stewart says that having kids has altered his performances, although he’s unlikely to start cracking jokes on how amusing children are.

He says: “What had changed is about a year ago someone said to me ‘you used to be really tightly written and now it’s much looser’.

“I tried to pretend that’s a positive direction I’ve deliberately taken, but in fact I used to sit at home writing it all out. Now it’s quite hard to do that, with childcare responsibilities like giving them a bath. I tend to work out shows onstage now.”

But has the presence of children in his life changed Stewart’s cynical view?

“I’m not the kind of person who’s going to write a show about how funny children are,” he says.

“I’m quite cynical about the world, I’ve always hated everything, and I still am, I still do.

“But you’ve got to hope that things will get better. You have to have a frustrated idealism, because you want them to have a good life.”

Stewart Lee

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Small is Beautiful…a Kenyan safari with a community message

Seeing as I took my Kenyan childhood home and the tragic events that recently unfolded in Nairobi as inspiration for my last blog, I thought I’d post up a piece I did earlier this year about an interesting little enclave.

Slightly off the tourist trail, LUMO Community Wildlife Sanctuary has been a favourite of mine for a while. Tiny in comparison to its famous Tsavo neighbours, the reserve is community owned, and fascinated by the implications of that, I went to find out a little more about its story.

The article was published in Ndege in their March-May edition this year (2013).

You can read it in PDF form here: Tsavo_Feature or below:

WHEN you think of a Kenyan safari you probably think first of it’s famous plains, the majestic Masai Mara or romantic Tsavo.

But as ideas around tourism and conservation shift, there are other options, hidden gems and smaller, community minded reserves with big plans.

Nestled snugly between the borders of Tsavo East and West and neighbouring Taita, LUMO Community Wildlife Sanctuary may not have the big name draw of it’s better known cousins, but there’s a lot more to it than it’s relatively modest borders suggest.

Community owned and run, the reserve was formed when three ranches, Lualenyi, Mramba and Oza, decided to pool a 46,000 hectare sprawl and dedicate it to conservation, officially registering as a trust in 2001.

A wildlife corridor to it’s larger neighbours it’s teeming with game, but for many visitors it’s appeal lies in it’s community ethos – and ambitious plans for the future.

For Iain Leckie and his wife Helen, when the chance to take on the reservation’s lodge Lion’s Bluff on a 25-year lease came up, they didn’t take much agonising.

“We’d been camping here for years as it was well within reach of the coast, where Helen runs an eye clinic, for long weekends,” explains Iain, a genial host – as many glowing reviews on Tripadvisor attest to.

“So when the place came up I already understood quite a lot about what we were facing.”

The community owned lodge supports LUMO’s projects as it earns money from the lease, seperate bed night charges and an overall percentage.

“There’s a huge passion there,” says Iain. “The real reason we went for the long lease is because we want to be in this area for the rest of our working lives.

“It’s a forgotten little part of Kenya and even though places like nearby Salt Lick Lodge have been there since the early Seventies, somehow it’s been taken off the tourist map.”

Iain and Helen overhauled the lodge completely, giving it the rustic, boutique feel it now has.

Walking along winding, wooden walkways above the dramatic sweep of the bluff, up to the open sided restaurant or along to the twelve timber built rondavels where bedrooms with wooden four poster beds sit, it’s won itself plenty of fans.

Most of the staff live locally – many are shareholders – and most of the food is grown nearby, while the reserve provides other employment with rangers working alongside Kenya Wildlife Service to keep poachers at bay.

Run by a board of nine directors, three from each ranch, it has big plans for the future to offer the kind of employment opportunities that are only just creeping into the rural area.

Sanctuary manager Oscar Wadero originally left the area to work in the hotel business in Tanzania, but returned to take on the position, marking a huge development in prospects for talent in the area as management and skilled jobs are created.

His interest in conservation dated back to childhood and he was delighted he could combine his passion with his professional management expertise – and return home.

Oscar sees the community’s involvement, working hand in hand to support themselves and conserve the wildlife, as the best way to instill a similar interest in youngsters who may in turn plough their skills back into the project in future years.

“When it comes to conservation I think it has to come from someone’s heart,” says Oscar. “It has to be a passion.”

Iain adds: “This is why LUMO’s so important, if it can create the income and the atmosphere where youngsters can get educated and get qualifications here then in time we’ll have real skills in the area.”

Where to Stay:

Lion’s Bluff

WITH huts decked out with rustic, handmade furniture, each with their own private balcony, you won’t feel intruded upon here.

Wooden walkways lead to the restaurant and bar, with breathtaking panoramic views – which on a clear day include Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro.

You’ll get a warm welcome with helpful, friendly staff and there’s plenty to do – whether it’s bird walks, night drives or Out of Africa style bush breakfasts where you’re greeted with champagne.

Cheetah Campsite

IF you prefer safaris stripped back – or don’t have the budget for luxury – you won’t compromise on the view.

Perched down from the main lodge, it’s perfect for a pre-campfire sundowner, and you may even get an elephant wandering by.

There are basic but clean kitchen, toilet and shower facilities and you can hire tents, bedding, cooking stoves and kitchen equipment.

For Lion’s Bluff and Cheetah Camp visit: http://www.lionsblufflodge.com

Tsavo Volunteers

IF you like your experiences abroad to do some good, check out the grass roots organisation that sees projects bridging the gap between community and conservation.

You’ll patrol the reserve, release animals from poacher snares and work in schools.

 Visit: www.facebook.com/pages/Tsavo-Volunteers/194978920522523

What you’ll see:

 Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Lion, an abundance of the usually elusive lesser Kudu, swathes of buffalo, impala, hartebeest, dik dik, klipspringer and water and bush buck. And if you’re lucky, there’s a pair of leopards with cubs.

© Jonathan Marsh

© Jonathan Marsh

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