Looking for somewhere nice to sit?

In amongst all the terrible news this week, it’s good to remember that most people just want to live peacefully and well – in the broadest sense – so I enjoyed coming across a great new site called A nice sit down. It’s simple and it’s sweet. Upload a photo of a public bench you like, add the coordinates and pin its location on a map. You may like the bench itself, or you might love the view it affords, but it’s a great way of sharing a simple pleasure with others.

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I took a few more photos of my favourite benches today, but I was using a wide angled lens and hurrying a bit, so they aren’t as good as I’d like. The above is one of my favourites, although being stone and a bit mossy it can take a moment or two to realise that you are looking at a seat. It would also be a little cold and damp to sit on in most weathers! I expect that in the past it had a wooden seat attached to the top.  I also took a photo of a bench near St Andrew’s Church, sat on by David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in the first series of Broadchurch, but I may have to retake it… not up to my usual standards!

Please do get posting your bench photos at www.anicesitdown.co.uk. We’ll be able to see the network of photos grow, and who knows? It may prove to be a good way to plan your next expedition into the British countryside, or discover a new place in your home town.

The bench above is on one of my favourite walks in Clevedon, Poet’s Walk. I love the fact that the walk is on a proper pathway, so you don’t have to get too booted-up as you won’t get too muddy even after heavy rain, but you are also far away from traffic and noise. You can properly enjoy the views and the wildlife, while knowing that you are having a gentle work out getting up and down the fairly steep paths. The only way to get properly fit is to find an exercise that you enjoy and therefore want to do. I’ve explained this all much better in my short Kindle book, A beginners guide to walking for pleasure, available on Amazon.

A final self-promotional plug is to say that a lot of my Clevedon and other photos and art are available through my RedBubble shop at http://magsart.redbubble.com Please do have a look – your support is hugely appreciated!

Safe cycling, safe walking, safe motoring. What’s the answer?

Shared use of roads by cyclists and motorists and of paths by pedestrians, cyclists and (sometimes) motorists is an issue that won’t go away in the UK these days.

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I’ve just read an online news snippet about BBC presenter Jeremy Vine being stopped by the police for cycling at 16mph on a path. His quote is “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.” Local papers here in North Somerset have had a series of quite emotional letters from outraged pedestrians, who feel they are being pushed off the paths by cyclists; outraged cyclists, who feel that their lives are at risk if they are forced to cycle on roads and would like to be able to cycle on paths without being criticised; and outraged motorists, who cannot bear the fact that they sometimes have to slow down when there is a cyclist on the road.

The problem is that roads in the UK are often quite ancient, having developed from lanes where occasional horsedrawn vehicles made their slow and steady way between farms and settlements. Other than in new town developments where there is space to provide separate lanes for motor vehicles and for cycles, our roads are often narrow to begin with and then further narrowed by being lined with parked cars. All forms of transport are pushed into close and dangerous proximity.

We are all at risk. Far too many cyclists are killed on the roads – even one death is too many – but there are risks for pedestrians when people cycle on the path, much as cyclists would like to believe it is a risk-free activity. I know this to be true because as a small child I stepped out of my garden gate while waiting for my parents to go shopping and was knocked flat by a cyclist who was moving fast and couldn’t stop in time. I ended up in hospital having a head injury stitched, and the cyclist ended up in shock/trauma/guilt.

The best solution is sadly unachieveable in the short term: to have dedicated cycle tracks everywhere there are cyclists.  Much credit needs to go to the many organisations working to get safe cycle routes established, but there are planning issues in establishing route and usually funding issues too,  so they cannot be quickly built. In any case, they usually run between towns, so they rarely address the problem of how we can all safely share roads and paths in our towns.

I believe the short term solution arises from increased awareness, consideration for others and training.

Cyclists need to develop and use the same observation and anticipation skills as advanced mtorists – look to see what is happening around you and what think about what might reasonably be expected to happen next. If you are cycling down a residential path, anyone could step through a gate at any moment. If there are tall fences and hedges either side of a gate, you may not see someone until it is too late. If there is an adult with a pushchair ahead of you, they might have a toddler you haven’t seen, who might run in front of you. A person walking in the same direction as you may have sight or hearing problems, and may not be aware of you, even if you ring a bell at them.  If the route runs beside a beauty spot, people might stop suddenly or step to the side to look at the view, or to take a photograph. If you are approaching a corner, anything could be out of sight on the other side. Pedestrians are unpredictable – they veer across paths to head for a shop, pub, toilet, a chat with an old friend or to take a seat, so when pedstrians are about, you have have to expect the unexpected.

If it is dangerous for a cyclist to use the road and they switch to a path, they need to be aware of all the potential risks. While they are unlikely to kill someone if they hit them at 16 mph (unless the person has a weak heart and dies of the shock, or has brittle bones so sustains life threatening injuries in the fall, or falls badly and suffers a fatal head injury) the pedestrian can suffer nasty injuries. They can also get a fright from having a cyclist whizz past them at speed, and for the elderly or infirm this can make getting out for a walk a trial when it should be a pleasure and a health-giving activity.

To return to Jeremy Vine’s point ( “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.”) I think that most reasonable people, including most police officers, wouldn’t expect to enforce a 5 mph limit if the cyclist is on an empty path with excellent all-round visiblity and there are plainly no pedestrians anywhere near. However if there are, or might be, pedestrians around they must be given priority on the path, and cyclists must make sure they can move out of the way or stop quickly if needed. Logically, that means going slowly, and a 5 mph speed limit sounds about right.

Road Safety training is generally available. If you aren’t confident about cycling safely, or feel that as a driver you need more training on how to safely  interact with cyclists on the road, make enquiries locally to see what is available for you. You can also get plenty of hints and tips from revisiting the Highway Code.

I walk everyday, drive occasionally and would love to cycle more. I really hope we can all work together to make sure we can use our roads and paths safely and enjoy getting out and about.

 

Time travel in Clevedon… bringing the past into the future

I’ve written about the charms of Clevedon many times: how the Victorian features of this peaceful seaside town have been preserved and are here to be enjoyed today.  We’re just back from a walk along the pier, to see the works that are in progress, and that has reminded me that I should have blogged about some of the developments that are underway here.

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The photos show the work at the pier on the new visitor centre and tea rooms. Not the huge building swathed in red mesh on the left – that’s the conversion of the old hotel into flats. The pier development will fit neatly into the ramp beside the old toll house. The work will mostly be underground, and will provide a large room with views under the pier to see the structure including Brunel’s old railway tracks, that were recycled into the pier arches, and of course views across the rising tide. We had a great chat about the work with one of the pier trustees, who was on hand with the plans.

The pier is worth a walk at any time, but will be even more enjoyable when the work is done. We are currently season ticket holders, and will be looking out to buy shares when they become available in the new year to raise the last of the funding needed.

At the other end of the bay, near the Salthouse and Little Harp pubs, the Marine Lakes are also going to be refurbished and restored. These are the Victorian swimming, boating and crabbing lakes, which have fallen into disrepair over the years. Although they are still used almost every day, they look a bit sad and the work, which will include improved seating and terracing and huts to change in for swimming, will bring them back to life.

And in town,  things are happening at the Curzon Community Cinema. From what I hear a new cafe/restaurant is on the way, and they are planning to open up the upper floor boxes and balcony in the auditorium. We already love the cinema and it will be fantastic to have further improvements. These should secure the cinema’s future for many years to come.

So what all these developments have in common is that they are breathing new life into much loved and rare historical places; keeping the essence of them true to their past but fitting them for a long future. Locals and visitors will have the pleasure of authentic Victorian buildings and amenities, but will be able to enjoy them in a way that fits right into modern life.

Hurrah for Clevedon, and for all those involved in these projects.

Maybe we’ll be able to tie the whole thing together by providing an authentic transport solution for the sea front (and shopping areas). Victorian trams, horse drawn coaches, early 20th Century buses … I wonder what might be possible? It would be fabulous to have most of the cars removed from the sea front, and to give visitors and locals alike a fun alternative service. Any ideas, anyone?

 

 

 

So here’s what we’ve learned about being Airbnb hosts…

We listed our spare bedroom on Airbnb at the very end of September 2014, to test how much interest there is in accommodation in Clevedon. We’ve lived here for over two years now, and know of two hotels in town and a few established bed and breakfast establishments. Was this enough to meet demand, or was there space for some amateurs?

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Really, having missed the summer season, we weren’t expecting many bookings at all in 2014, but as the room was ready we decided to go through the listing process anyway. It wouldn’t do any harm! Much to our surprise (and delight) we have had a steady stream of bookings ever since, and they are only slowing down now because the room is unavailable for December and early January: for the very good reason that we have family visiting for a few weeks. So as we end a busy week in which we have had three sets of guests, and with some warm reviews in, we feel we have learned quite a lot in a short time and are in a position to offer our personal story to help other people who are thinking of letting out a room.

Decide what you are offering. This is the whole idea behind Airbnb of course. What accommodation have you got that guests can use? Very easy to decide if you have a spare guest bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, but you also have to think about what you are prepared to share. Can guests cook in your kitchen or share your lounge? There are no right or wrong answers, but you must be happy with what you are offereing: then every visit will be relaxed and enjoyable. Another “of course” to note is that the more you offer you the more you can charge for the room. The simpler the offering – a sofa bed in the lounge with shared use of the family bathroom, for example, the less people will be willing to pay.

Get organised.  Yes, it’s obvious, but planning is king! We started from looking at our room from a guest’s point of view. It’s lovely and bright, and being on the top floor of new and ex-show house town house is nice and private. But it is at the top of quite a few stairs, so we provided a kettle, tea making facilties and a mini-fridge, so people didn’t have to come all the way down to the kitchen for a drink. We’re still not sure about the fridge. It’s good to hold some chilled water and milk and it’s almost silent, but some people find it a little noisy at night. We’ll see!

Then we thought about the bedding and towels we need. We decided to buy a couple of extra sets of everything, and to keep them just for guests. Then we get things laundered immediately after each guest and the bed made up, without any further decisions to make.

There are little extras that may help too. We use Twitter for promotion, and also had a business card printed so we can easily give people the room details.

Listen to feedback.  All our guests have liked the room, and our description is honest and clear, so no-one has had a nasty surprise (arriving and not being able to manage the stairs to the top floor, for example.) However, each guest has had a useful comment. Serena suggested adding some extra photos of the town, so people who don’t know the area in advance can see how nice it is. Rory reminded us that as our post-code is new, it can only be found on recently updated SatNavs. And Johnny said a phoot of the house from the outside would be useful to guests. Small tweaks, but we have acted on them immediately and amended/added to the information in our listing.  I also went through the guidebook section to add details of all the local points of interest and of amenties such as local pubs, cinema, shops and post office.

Think ahead. Block off the dates on your calendar when you don’t want guests as far in advance as you can, and remember to keep the calendar up to date. It’s far better for guests to see that a property is not available on the dates they want than to send an enquiry only to be told they can’t stay with you. You may also want to adjust your prices for very busy or very quiet times.

Keep an eye on your emails.  Airbnb guests quite often send an enquiry at quite short notice. It’s a shame to miss a booking (and let down a guest) because you haven’t checked your emails.

And that’s it, really. Once you have got everything set up, it’s just a question of having the room ready for guests, and making sure you have stocked up on the things people expect (toilet paper and shower gel in the bathroom, for example).

So far we have accommodated people who are:

  • on holiday
  • in the Clevedon area on business
  • breaking a long drive to Cornwall
  • in the area for social reasons – a wedding or other special occasion

We’re enjoying our Airbnb experience so much that we are going to expand our offer. There is a second, twin-bedded room on the top floor so we can accommodate up to four guests. We’ve decided to stick to groups of people travelling together – two couples, or a couple with a child (or children) or  other relation(s) – so that they are only sharing the bathroom with people they know well. This could mean a little less income for us on some occasions, as the twin bedded room will often be empty, but we know from feedback that people really like the private bathroom, so we do not think offering two separate rooms to strangers would work.

If you are thinking of letting out a room and making a little money, I hope our story has helped a little. Visit our listing page to find out more – or come and stay with us!!

Good reasons to visit Clevedon

I have written often about the little things that make Clevedon such a nice place to visit:

the pier, the Curzon cinema, the windswept tree and the bandstand, the views, the walking, the nice people, the opportunities to spot places featured as locations in Broadchurch, the places to have a pint …

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but I haven’t talked about how well situated the town is for a visit en route from almost anywhere to the West Country or Wales, and now I really should, because we have just listed our house on Airbnb and we are hoping for bookings! Why have we listed? Well, we have a beautiful house, with rooms that we don’t use unless we have guests, and so which are usually empty. Some lettings income will help to supplement our other earnings (freelance writing, art sales, pension) and offering some Bed and Breakfast facilities may also help visitors to Clevedon, as there are not that many places to stay in the town.

Clevedon is well worth a visit in its own right, partly because the seafront is so unchanged from Victorian times, and partly because geography makes the place – the sunsets and the views across and down the Bristol Channel – just so picturesque. It’s also really handy for a day trip to Bristol, being just 15 minutes by car or 30 minutes by bus to Bristol city centre, and the glories of harbourside and the SS Great Britain, Clifton suspension bridge, the old city with the markets and lanes, and roughly a trillion great places to eat and drink.

If you fancy a road trip of Somerset, include Clevedon in a series of bed and breakfast stops, and take in the Cheddar Gorge, the Mendips, Glastonbury, Wells, Bath, Bradford on Avon, the Somerset Levels, Brean Down and many more places and attractions besides.

We are also perfectly placed if you are travelling to Cornwall from London or the midlands. It’s a long drive to Penzance, but from Clevedon it’s only about 2 and a half hours, so you arrive fresh and happy rather than tense and wrung out. The same thing applies for those travelling across to Tenby and the lovely Pembrokeshire coast in Wales.

There! Regional and personal promotion over. Maybe we’ll get to meet in person one day?

Capturing a season of mists on camera

 

Interesting conditions for photography around Clevedon in the last few days. There have been pearly skies like this …

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Atmospheric, misty vistas like this …

 

 

 

 

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.. which you really wouldn’t believe was taken at 4 pm in the first week of September. On the same day and just 20 minutes earlier, in fact, than this little view of the pier, which with a little editing would be in the middle of a heart shaped gap in the bushes. We certainly do love Clevedon, and there’s the proof!

 

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It’s all a bit of a challenge to get the camera set up to get the best from the conditions. Still, no one said it was easy to get a great photograph!

Tyntesfield North Somerset

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Lovely day out yesterday, even though it rained, at Tyntesfield House, near Wraxall, just south of Bristol. You’ll find it – just check a map! Very well worth a visit if you like classic houses and country walks. The picture shows the stone bench at one end of the long avenue of trees. The house itself is a glorious Victorian gothic creation, on the side of valley with fabulour views. The National Trust have been restoring it since 2002, gradually bringing back rooms into use.

The grounds are extensive, with long and short walks to choose from. As always, there’s a cafe, charmingly situation in an old cow barn and there are lots of things to discover in hidden away spots. I bought a couple of second hand books at bargain rates, and they had a very healthy selection of plants and herbs on sale. Usually you spot some wildlife too, and often there are buzzards circling around, but the weather yesterday was a bit damp for them.

The whole site is quite hilly, so if you want to explore properly you need to leave your heels in the car and switch to trainers instead!

 

A Cornish interlude (complete with mermaids)

It amazes me how the origins of stories and legends – such as the existence of mermaids or lands that can only be seen and reached at certain times of the day or year – can become crystal clear through a personal experience.

I wrote in a previous blog about the mysterious way that Wales, when viewed across the Bristol Channel, can either appear close enough to step across to, or can vanish completely. As another example, on our recent visit to Cornwall, I snapped this group of mermaids swimming past th harbour at St Michael’s Mount.

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It really did look like long red hair, streaming through the water, and so a legend is born … the mermaids of St Michael’s Mount!

Here’s a more prosaic picture, looking back across from the harbour to Marazion.

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We’ve been down to Cornwall several times visiting our good friends, who now offer holiday lets in The Cabin at Trenow and we are never anything other than entranced. There is always something breath-taking to see, including gorgeous cottages, fabulous land and seascapes and rare wildlife. Food and drink is in no short supply either, with pubs, cafes and super restaurants like Ben’s Cornish Kitchen (which you can almost see in the photograph) all delivering on quality and character. We ate at Ben’s one evening and had a delicious meal from a tempting menu. Each dish can be accompanied by a glass of a recommended wine, and the matching worked perfectly for me. My main course was a fairly straight forward dover sole, but the starter and dessert were both things I have never tried before: a light and airy gorgonzola mousse to start and a cold curry to finish (cardamom flvoured rice pudding, mango curd, coconut jelly, a little popadum and several other perfect little surprises. You’ll be wise to book, as the tables are well spaced and they only go for one seating per evening, so once everyone who had booked was in, the closed sign went up and we just ate and chatted in perfect surroundings.

Sorry to go on – I was getting carried away with the memories!

In short, if you don’t know Cornwall well, or haven’t been down towards Land’s End or the Lizard for a while, you really should try and get there. It is a fairly long drive right down the length of Devon and Cornwall, but takes just less than three hours from Clevedon – provided you don’t try and travel at peak holiday times (a Friday or Saturday in August, for example). Why not take a few extra days on the way down and back to break the journey with stops at Clevedon, or other lovely Somerset towns on the way?

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Bertha in Clevedon

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So the tail end of ex-hurricane Bertha hurried it’s way through the UK today, and popped into to see us in Clevedon. Lots of rain last night, and bands of rain and sun throughout the day. A bit of thunder and lightning too, but great to get out for an exhilarating walk. 

Hats off to the intrepid canoeist who was battling the strong and gusty wind. In the photo they actually have the wind behind them, and it was tough enough. When they turned into the wind, they really had to dig deep! And although the composition isn’t classic, I think it’s nice to catch a photo with three points of interest – the canoeist, the pier and the large ship in the channel heading towards Avonmouth.

There were lots of people enjoying the sea front today, including photographers trying to catch a dramatic picture.

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The walk certainly blew the cobwebs away, and saved me from going stir crazy. Burned off a few calories too!

 

Gorge-ous walks and photo opportunities

Always nice to get out and about and see something new. Although we have lived in North Somerset for two years now, there are many places that many people will know very well that we are just discovering.

This weekend we went with our lovely family visitors up the Mendips, to Burrington Combe, where we enjoyed a short walk beside the gorge. Much less famous than the nearby Cheddar Gorge, there is a pub and a cycling centre at the bottom of the combe, but then just nature and local people living their normal lives. We parked in a small layby with several others cars and then headed off up the hill.

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Before we knew it we were beside the edge of the gorge with the rocky ribs showing through the thin vegetation clinging to the steep sides. We’d seen the small herds of goats from the car, but didn’t manage to spot any here: they are too canny and too agile to be approached too closely.

I photographed a carline thistle, which looked spikilly regal against the turf. Not a plant I have ever really noticed before, but one that I am glad to have seen.

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Fantastic views of further afield from the hill top, too. I can almost claim that I can see my house from here, as the view extends to Wales in the far distance, with the Bristol Channel and Clevedon and then the flat country which spreads out in front of the Mendips.

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We went on the the lakes at Chew Stoke for a completely different sort of walk – water birds, reeds and trees – before heading back to Clevedon.

The evening was so beautiful that we went off for our third walk of the day, round by the marine lakes and then up the hill. Here’s the view of the Mendips from Clevedon …

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and here’s the last shot I took of the setting sun with some fishermen and walkers obligingly silhouetted against the sky. Love the way the sun looks!

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Some of the featured photographs are available to buy at my RedBubble shop – MagsArt. You can buy them as framed or unframed prints, cards, prints to metal, cushion covers, tote bags … the possibilites are endless!

It’s so easy to walk and maintain fitness levels if you are enjoying what you are doing, and although we must have walked well over 6 miles in total, several of which were up and down hills, we hardly noticed the distance. For ideas on how to start walking your way to health, and have fun while you are doing it, see my Kindle book A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure. It’s ASIN number is B00L3D7ENY, and it’s available to borrow free if you are a member of Amazon Prime.