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The dog friendly tale of Jess and artist Sasha Harding’s South West Coast Path walk.


On a chilly autumn morning, I found myself catching my breath while looking down on the harbour at Mevagissey. Sniffing around my feet was my companion, a six-stone Rhodesian ridgeback dog called Jess. She and I had set off on foot from Minehead in Somerset 26 days earlier. In just under four weeks we’d hiked 361 miles, but we still had a long way to go. Ahead of us stretched another 270 miles to reach our destination, the end of the epic South West Coast Path.

The SWCP is one of the longest national trails in Britain, making its way across vast beaches and along exposed cliffs, through forests and over moors. With every mile there is the chance to see an array of wildlife, seals and dolphins, choughs and lizards, not to mention the many species of wild flowers. But for me the best thing is that the whole path is dog-friendly. It’s quite something to be able to set off with your four-legged chum on a ramble that could potentially go on for months. And that is exactly what Jess and I did.

Walking side by side for seven weeks brought us together in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. We shared the same struggles, we slept together, ate (enormous quantities of food) together and limped in sync at the end of the day. We revelled when the sun came out and shrunk into ourselves when it rained, squeezed together under my umbrella. I looked out for her and she made me feel safe. On more than one occasion, as a lone woman, miles from anywhere, I was grateful to have Jess nearby. Her calm demeanour helped to dampen my overactive imagination, particularly my worries about the threat of werewolves whenever we encountered fog.

At the end of a gruelling day Jess was the perfect drinking buddy, in that she didn’t drink, so cost me very little. However her presence, curled up in front of a crackling fire, or begging for pork scratchings from a fellow punter, was a great way to start a conversation. I lost count of the number of times I heard “your dog’s gorgeous, what is she?” I loved being able to tell people that ridgebacks were originally bred to hunt lions. Something about the dichotomy between her fearsome heritage and laid-back demeanour made people smile.

At the start of the trip I had worried over whether Jess would be allowed in the pubs along the way, but we were never turned away, in fact Jess was often shown to the cosiest spot, invariably in front of a fire. At those moments I was happy to tag along as her sidekick and reap the rewards of the best seat in the house.

If the pubs were friendly, then the B&Bs and hotels we stayed in rolled out the red carpet for my furry friend. When the dining room was reserved for those on two legs Jess and I would be set up in a quiet corner of our own, from where we could happily watch the comings and goings of the other guests. More often Jess could accompany me into the dining room for breakfast, and would grab the opportunity to take a quick nap under the table. The only thing guaranteed to rouse her from her slumber would be the mouthwatering smell of cooking sausages, and on more than one occasion while I tucked into an enormous full English breakfast Jess was brought a banger or two.

We made the most of every mode of transport whilst on the coast path, from the steam train that raced alongside the River Dart, to buses and ferries and even a cliff railway at Babbacombe. Jess took each new vehicle in her stride and was soon leaping aboard ferries and jumping on and off buses like an 18 year old backpacker.

For all her poise, Jess did show her hunter’s instincts every now and then. One memorable time she ran full pelt towards the cliff edge after a herd of moth-eaten wild goats near Crackington Haven. Fortunately my panicked shout of “STAY!” stopped her in her tracks as the goats scarpered over a ridge. Another time, while walking through fields near Exmouth, she caught a young rabbit. Appalled, I screeched for her to “DROP IT!” and it bolted down the nearest hole, apparently unscathed. One afternoon, while I was sketching the fishing boats on the shingle shore at Budleigh Salterton, I heard an ominous crack and turned to see Jess treading on a crab. Luckily a nearby fisherman noticed the plight of the crustacean and pulled Jess off it before popping it back into a large blue bin.

 

There are an awful lot of animals, both domesticated and wild, on the South West Coast Path, and it’s vital to keep track of your dog, especially near cliffs. After the hair-raising experience with the goats I kept Jess on a lead unless we were on a beach.

Seven years on, I look back at walking the South West Coast Path with Jess as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. She is nine years old now and starting to go grey around her muzzle, and our walks are no longer measured in miles but minutes. Recently we’ve acquired a new addition to our pack, a miniature dachshund called Peanut who, despite her diminutive size, has boundless energy. While I’m looking forward to rediscovering the South West Coast Path with Pea, seeing it afresh through her eyes, I’ll never forget my 630-mile walk with Jess.

This limited edition map of Cornwall, beautifully illustrated by Sasha, shows many of the locations she visited.  Check out Polpier’s Instagram Feed for the chance to win it.


Sasha Harding is an artist and author based in Cornwall. Sasha wrote and illustrated a book, A Brush With The Coast,  about her adventures on the South West Coast Path. A new revised edition is available from her website here.

 

Wedding Decoration Ideas from Helen Moore of Whitewood & Linen Blog

Whether your wedding is to be a grand or intimate affair, one thing is for sure, it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here, Helen Moore Stylist, Blogger and Crafter from Whitewood & Linen takes a look at simple decorative ideas for those wishing to create their own personal and individual day.

Keep in mind three simple rules when you are planning your special day:

1) How much money do you have to spend?

2) How much time do you have to achieve your goals?

3) How much human resource is available to you? Perhaps you have family members or friends happy to donate their time and skills as a wedding gift? Don’t be afraid to ask those who are bakers, decorators, crafters, florists or gardeners for contributions of help towards your big day. Nobody wants too many toasters and a team effort can add to the fun and happiness of a successful wedding.

Determining the answers to these three questions, creating a plan around them and then working to that plan, will reward you with a special and individual look for your celebration.

In this article we shall take a look at personalising tables and room décor. Firstly, decide how you want your wedding décor to look and keep in mind your three simple rules. You could begin by addressing your flower displays. If your budget is small and time is on your side, you could grow a selection of inexpensive and simple blooms of your own from a few seeds or ask your gardening guests if they would grow them for you. If on the other hand you are short on time, you could look to buying your beautiful blooms locally from a grower or flower market.

 

Displaying your choice of flora can be done in many personal and budget friendly ways. Recycling and decorating tin cans ahead of the big day is a fun way for everyone to get involved. Painting each tin to compliment your colour scheme and adding a pretty rag ribbon for a decorative finish can have a stunning effect.

 

Recycling doesn’t have to stop at tin cans. Glass jam jars and small bottles collected in advance make wonderful flower vessels. Maybe a friend who writes beautifully, could lend a hand and scribe the wedding couples’ names on torn strips of fancy paper as their wedding gift. Try typing simple messages directly onto scraps of pretty linen and cotton and attach decoratively with ribbon or glue. Use in groups or individually for flowers and essential candles on your tables.

 

Another simple and effective idea for table décor is beautiful decoupage on tin cans. Decorative paper napkins, tissue paper and pretty gift wrap are all suitable materials to use and each tin will look perfect complete with colour co-ordinating string. Use to hold essential cutlery and napkins on tables or food and drinks stations. These versatile vessels can be used to store bright paper drinking straws or pens and crayons for younger guests. And filled with small sticks of rock or sweets, these tins would appeal to guests of any age.

 

And if children are joining your special day, remember to keep them occupied throughout the speeches. Try dressing your tables with rolls of brown parcel paper or simple white disposable table cloths and encourage a game or two of snakes and ladders, dot-to-dot or maybe even a happy drawing of the special couple. You may end up with some portraits that make you smile as much as the official wedding photos.

 

When it comes to decorating your room or gazebo, bunting and garlands are always a clever choice. For an inexpensive option, invest in or borrow a large hole punch; a star shape, flower or heart makes a perfect template. Keeping your own theme in mind, choose from newsprint or brown parcel paper for a rustic look or candy coloured card or floral paper for a more vibrant decor and get punching. If you are handy with a sewing machine or know someone who is, join the shapes together in a simple running stich to your required length. A similar effect can be achieved by sticking two shapes either side of clear wire or twine with PVA glue. String and layer lots of bunting for a fuller effect or stick to one single length if your look is more minimal. Add fairy lights to create a magical mood as the evening draws in.

 

You could try your hand at a more traditional fabric bunting, choosing colours and textures to suit your day. Leave simple raw edges showing or tidy up with a quick running stitch on the machine or even by hand. Remember your resource and time rules and maybe ask a crafty friend to donate their time as your wedding gift.

 

And as dusk falls on your magical day, remember to subtly light up trees and magical pathways as well as your tables, with the help of decorative tin cans and glass jars once again. Your choice of jars will look particularly effective decorated with glass paint selecting a design as flamboyant or simple as you like. And if you don’t have resource or budget for glass painting, simply reach for delightful rag ribbons or simple string once again.

 

Search for more creative ideas on-line; Pinterest is a fabulous search engine full of wedding ideas. Create an old-fashioned scrap book with endless magazine cuttings and leaflets you collect in the build up to your big day. This could also become the prettiest and most personal of keepsakes for the future. And don’t forget your local library for a wonderful selection of old and new books packed with ideas to make your wedding day as unique and as special as you would like it to be.

Many of the ideas in this blog spot can be found in Helen’s blog, Whitewood & Linen. Helen writes weekly stories full of ideas for individual crafts, up-cycling furniture and styling as well as design tips for special events and the home all from her beautiful Shepherd’s Hut, Belle. Visit whitewoodandlinen.com or follow Helen on her Instagram page for more creative and inspirational ideas for your special day.

 

Mevagissey Feast Week

We love Mevagissey Feast Week. As well as being the oldest saint’s celebration in Cornwall, it is a fantastic celebration of present day community as a gang of local volunteers create a week of family fun.  From a fancy dress extravaganza through the streets, to live music on the quay decorated with flags, a fish auction, stalls selling local food and a firework display, it is a real chance to join in with an authentic Cornish experience.

Mevagissey Feast Week also holds a special place in our hearts because of weddings where the couples and their guests have broken off from their reception to join the parade. They’ve also gathered on Polpier’s front lawn in the evening to watch as colourful fireworks are reflected in the harbour water. Holiday guests have enjoyed al fresco drinks on the terraces with the sound of live jazz, sixties favourites or the Mevagissey Male Choir drifting up to entertain them.

Hub of activity on the Jetty photo ©2012 Paul Williams

This year Mevagissey Feast Week runs from Sunday 24th June to Saturday 30th June and promises to be better than ever. We still have some availability should you want to have a holiday with entertainment laid on. Please check out www.mevagisseyfeastweek.org.uk for this year’s programme details.

Fireworks over Mevagissey ©2011 Sally Mitchell