Introducing Heidi-Lee and Chris. Heidi-Lee is a South African food blogger; Chris is her fiancé and an all-round nice guy. In August, Nicola and I spent a bank holiday weekend camping with them on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire.
We drove down in the fully-laden MG, which was packed with our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, and a box full of 1970s car parts that the AA are unlikely to have on board one of their vans. Best to be safe.
After a drive through the New Forest along winding country lanes, we pulled into the campsite as the sun was setting; a haze of smoke lay lazily among the tents, the wood smoke combining with the sizzling of barbecuing sausages.
The campsite itself (White Meadow Camping) is normally a farmer’s field, but for a few months a year it becomes a ‘Camping Unplugged’ site. This means plenty of campfires, no real facilities (other than a portaloo and an outside shower), and absolutely no electricity. Chris later described it like ‘a festival without music’, which sums it up pretty perfectly.
The light was fading as we pitched our tent, which turned out to be absolutely massive. Nicola unpacked her extensive wardrobe in the east wing, while I set up the dining table in the drawing room. Seriously, the tent was far too large for just the two of us.
The next morning we woke early to the sound of rain pattering on the roof. Confident that it always sounds worse under canvas than it actually is, I stepped out onto the dewy grass, and promptly got soaked from head to toe. It was truly proper bank holiday weather.
Cooking a full English breakfast on a couple of mini gas stoves was quite a challenge, but between Nicola, Heidi, Chris and I, we assembled a passable fry up, and huddled together in the entrance lobby of our tent to try to stay dry. The door kept flapping wildly open in the wind, but except for a few blow-away fried eggs, it was great. Breakfast tastes a lot better when you feel you’ve properly earned it.
As the weather began to brighten up, we set off on a drive down to the coast, passing herds of New Forest ponies and the occasional sheep hiding among the yellow gorse bushes. We left the main road to take a trip along the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, which claimed to be full of tall trees, rhododendrons and azaleas. It wasn’t as flowery as promised, but was still a good, winding road that felt almost as if it were winding through a national park in North America.
At the end of the road was Avon Beach, Christchurch. Heidi-Lee had seen good reviews for the Noisy Lobster, a place which specialised in local seafood. We just about managed to get a table (top tip, book ahead!), and ordered ordered the seafood platter, which included mussels, seared scallops, soft shell crab and tempura prawns. It was excellent. The couple on the table alongside us definitely regretted ordering their fish and chips.
After a short walk along the beach, we returned to the campsite for even more food (what else are bank holidays for?!). One of the benefits of camping with a South African is that they know how to barbecue properly. No burnt burgers with anaemic stale rolls; we had cider-marinated pork belly strips in red onion, lamb in red wine with rosemary, steaks, salmon with lemon, and grilled sweetcorn with butter, all cooked over a wood fire and washed down with cold beers and red wine. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer’s evening.
The following day we headed to Lymington, a little port on the Solent. Fishing boats and tackle shops surround the small harbour, and it was busy with children trying unsuccessfully to catch some crabs from the shallow water.
There was bunting strung between the old cottages and ramshackle buildings that lined the cobbled street, and every other souvenir shop sold fishing nets, buckets and spades. Despite the fact that it was grey, and not particularly warm, we joined the back of a snaking line and bought ice creams. A bank holiday’s a bank holiday, after all.
We pitched our tents at: White Meadow Camping (campingunplugged.com/whitemeadow)
We ate most of the contents of the sea at: Noisy Lobster (noisylobster.co.uk/avon-beach)
You can read Heidi-Lee’s blog at: Titian and Turmeric (titianandturmeric.com)