Alex James: A down-to-earth break with the Baron

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

I suppose we could have gone anywhere. Travel writing is one of the perks of journalism: the opportunity to write a few nice things in exchange for bed and board.

My wife was quite tempted by an offer of a trip to the château of a champagne cartel, full of celebrities and foie gras, and was slightly shocked to discover that instead, for our summer holiday, I'd chosen to review the Baron 46, a camper van, for Practical Motorhome magazine.

With all the children and the nanny, there wasn't enough room for me inside the van, and in the rain in the woods in deepest Dorset, as I fought with a tent that wouldn't go up, I did reflect that we have perfectly good woods at home with a house right next to them. But then the sun always comes out eventually.

Burnbake, the campsite: 13 acres of woods and streams near Corfe Castle, a continuously turning merry-go-round of idle delights, with an emphasis on rope swings. There is a whole swing scene there.

Many of the children hobble from one too many wipe-outs, and a health-and-safety person comes round every couple of days and chops the swings down. But new ones constantly appear, like roses on a well-pruned rosebush.

There was a little sit-on swing (surrounded by muddy grinning faces) that spanned a stream right next to our pitch, another one that you dangled from on the other side of us, but in the next glade, the coolest dad on the campsite had pulled off an incredible feat of engineering. It was worthy of an architectural award, a perfect equation of a banked hillside, a long oak bough and exactly the right length of rope. It was a work of genius: a circular swing.

There was always a crowd around it and nothing to touch it – all the giddiness, excitement and glamour of a castle full of grand cru.

Doors to the past

The shops were open late in Swanage, a salty little seaside town that I've been going to on high days and holidays for years. I had to holler to summon an attendant in the two shops where I wanted to buy things. I spent quite a lot of money in both, particularly the camping shop, but I, or anyone else, could easily have walked out without paying. That was the nicest thing about the holiday, I think: I thought the days of leaving doors open were long gone.

The coastal disappearing act

My favourite place in the world is Kimmeridge, just along the coast: a slightly eerie cove, a crumbling timeless wilderness often at its most beautiful in winter. I've never seen it busy before, but suddenly it was thronged with people who all seemed bent on dismantling it and taking it home with them, attacking the cliffs with hammers, removing the nicest pebbles. Go and see it quick before it disappears.

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