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A family affair at West Bay’s skittles club

The skittles season is rolling along nicely across West Dorset.

Yet out of all the pubs in all the villages that play the game, one is unique. Not for its location, but for its skittles club’s longevity, thanks mainly to the tradition handed down by a handful of West Dorset families who have helped sustain it for more than 100 years.

Since it started in 1909, West Bay Skittles Club has had just five presidents, all Palmers. Cleeves Palmer is the most recent, beginning his tenure in 2011.

Up till 1947, (excepting 1925-7) the club chairmanship was shared between just four families, Guppy, Loud, Good and Wyatt. Today, the Good and Wyatt families are into their fourth successive generation of players.

So is it a private club with an element of feudalism? Dorset has traditionally had landowning families with large estates down the years.

George Wyatt and John Good say no, but both take time to share their “family tree” of club membership.
John Good’s grandfather, Norman was one of the founding members, and was its third chairman after A.J Guppy (1909-16) and C.H Loud (1919-23).

John explains: “He took the role for just one year, but his son Reg was appointed in 1931 and kept the job through the Second World War when we didn’t play, till 1947, except for three years when the Wyatts took over. Norman’s other son, Geoffrey, my father, was secretary for so many years he never got the chair,’’ he adds.

In fact there was a 53 year gap until John himself took the chair in 2000. ‘‘My sons Chris and Will are now members, while my youngest, Sam, is now landlord of the West Bay Hotel, where we play,’’ he continues.

George Wyatt’s family are also strongly linked. ‘‘It all started with my grandfather Robert who joined the club in the 1920’s, and was chair from 1934 for three years. Then it was the turn of my father, Ralph in 1955, his brother Jack in 1961, my older brother Robert (1978) and my turn in 1986. Now my son Daniel’s been a club member since 2006,’’ he says.

George and Robert Wyatt both farm at Stoke Abbot, between Salway Ash and Beaminster. George says that West Dorset farmers played a large part in supporting the club.

“After a busy day on the land, it was great to jump in the car and drive down to the coast to let off steam and knock down some skittles over a beer.’’

Other West Dorset businessmen and their families also feature in the records, as past chairmen, E.J.D Balson (1969), J.R.B Bowditch (1988), A.J.Wakely (1999) amongst them. The Guppy and Loud families still continue to run businesses in West Bay.

skittles scoreboard
The Palmers’ connection was fundamental in the club’s beginning, and continues today, as John explains.

“The original skittle alley was in an old stable at the Old Gravel Yard. But with the help of Palmers it was relocated to the rear of the West Bay Hotel. Palmers may own the pub, but the club owns the alley, even if they still commission Palmers to help them out with its maintenance.’’

The club consists of 80 members. They run 10 teams and membership is temporarily closed, simply because they’re not able to accommodate any more at present.

“One good thing is, you can turn up of an evening and not know who you’ll play alongside, or even if you’ll definitely get a game, but there’s always the social side,” explains John.

George adds: “There’s normally a turnover of people, but currently nobody wants to leave. Our oldest player’s in his eighties!’’

Skittlers are proud of their game, and say any connection with 10-pin bowling is irrelevant. 10-pin lanes are a standard size with three finger-holes in the balls, and the pins are arranged in a triangle formation similar to that of snooker balls in a triangle.

Skittle alleys don’t have to be the same size, the pins are set in a diamond formation (the middle one is taller than the rest), the balls have no finger holes and you can, (and George did, as he demonstrated his skittling ability) roll the ball through the nine skittles, missing every single one!

skittles down


Apple Day – the Community Orchard celebrates autumn

Lucky old Bridport gets to celebrate Apple Day twice this year.

On 17 October, there is the gathering in the Community Orchard behind St Mary’s Church in South Street where the event is in its eighth year. Then on 25 October there is a shiny new applefest in Symondsbury, centred on the artisan retail experience that is Manor Yard.  Lucky, too, that it’s been a good year for apples.

Unless you knew otherwise, you might think that Apple Day was one of those fixtures of the rural calendar whose origins were lost in the myths of time and involved  rituals of the pentangle or invocational chanting.

This is not the case, but there are conflicting accounts of its beginnings.  Common Ground, the campaigning charity based near Shaftesbury, believes it launched the festival in 1990 with “an aspiration to create a calendar custom… a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing not simply in apples. but in the richness and diversity of landscape, sociology and culture too.”  Not just a wholesome fruit, then.

Arthur Davies, a retired fruit grower from Somerset and Chairman of the  NFU’s Apple Action Committee in 1980, recalled it differently.  In a letter to The Fruit Grower magazine in 2010, he reminded us that the industry thirty years earlier was “suffering from an excess of second class fruit from France which was pulling down our prices.”

That June,  more than 100 apple growers marched on Brussels in protest, demonstrations were mounted across the country and apple giveaways were staged at supermarkets — a tactic not lost on today’s dairy farmers.  Many of those fruit growers and general farmers opened their gates to the public that year and the first rootlets of the Apple Day tradition became established.

Apple Day is the Community Orchard’s big fun(d)raiser of the year.  There is no entry charge but families go along for the apple games and competitions, for the for the soup-and-bread-and-cheese lunch put together by the ladies of Walditch WI, for the on-the-spot pressed apple juice, the jam and chutney derived from the allotments which occupy a corner of the orchard and when it’s all over, the Treasurer reckons to turn a profit of some £500.

The orchard represents something of a triumph of the people

For many years, Shetland ponies grazed the glebeland which stretched from the back of St Mary’s Church towards the River Brit on an area now owned by the West Dorset District Council.  Naturally a piece of land at the heart of town attracted the attention of developers but a tireless campaign fought by the Bridport Environment Group led by the town councillor Charles Wild resulted in the plot being designated a green space in perpetuity from 2006.

At the time,  David Squirrel, who is a bookbinder on St Michael’s Estate, and his wife Kim had been running The Apple Project in the Willy Tuck orchard in Symondsbury as centre for all things apple over the previous decade or so.  They were tiring of it and suggested that the newly-available green space be turned over to fruit for the general community.

Enter Jill Lloyd, a retired nursing sister, recently-arrived in Bridport, keen to find a purposeful role in the town’s life while making some new friends and not one who likes to have time hanging heavy on her hands.

She became chairman of the Bridport Community Orchard Committee and its public face; snowy-haired, warm of handshake, outgoing and rigorous in not allowing committee meetings to over-run.  Her hospital experience taught her the dynamics of team work  and she sees her own part in the project as the promotion of everybody else’s contribution.

The committee gets on with its work in the background while Jill raises the Orchard’s profile, each member deploying their own specialised expertise — biodiversity, sustainable growing, wild flowers, animal wild life.

The upshot is that in the seven years since the orchard formally opened, it has developed a patchwork quality:  a water lily pond down in the far corner away from the church, a haven for amphibians and those members of the community who occasionally like a quiet exotic smoke; a bog garden to absorb the overflow from the pond;  a clutch of bee hives with, according to the beekeeper Jim Binning, a thriving population;  a chain of newly-installed compost heaps encased in pallets.

Gardening is good for mental health. Who knew?

Adjoining the Orchard itself are the allotments, small, manageable plots, often raised beds, where those with a disability or learning difficulties or who simply have no garden of their own can grow exactly what they please:  “And it’s official now,” said Jill Lloyd with a meaningful look. “The Department of Health has recognised that gardening is good for your mental health. Who knew that?”

For all these peripheral pleasures, the orchard is the star of the show.  Guided initially by the Squirrels, volunteers have planted sixty specimens of 45 varieties of apple, pear and gage, most of which have a pronounced West Country accent, like the Tom Putt cider apple or the Devonshire Quarrendon.

Dorset itself has not generated much indigenous fruit, apart from the Melcombe Russet and the Bryanston gage and, David Squirrel’s very own newly-discovered variety, Granfer’s Apple.  Actually, the tree grows in a garden in Beaminster and its owner, Mrs Diana Toms brought an example of the fruit, mostly green with a slight flush,  to Mr Squirrel in his Symondsbury Project days.  He didn’t recognise it.  He showed it to a cider apple expert.  She didn’t recognise it.  They sent it to Brogdale which made a suggestion as to its identity but, as Mr Squirrel says:  “I know the colour of the blossom, so I know that’s not it.”  What they had was a variety hitherto unknown to pomology which allowed Mrs Toms the honour of choosing  her apple’s name.  She knew that the tree was in her great-great-great grandfather’s garden in 1804 (which makes it even older than the noble Bramley) so her choice was pretty clear.

Mr Squirrel made three grafts of Granfer’s:  one for Mrs Toms, one for Symondsbury and one for the Bridport Community Orchard where it flourishes.

Jill Lloyd is scrupulous in her determination to award credit where its due — to the committee, to the Orchard’s financial supporters and sponsors and to those who simply like to muck in.  “The level of commitment is incredible,” she says.

“Everything is done by volunteers.

We planted a lot of yellow rattle which suppresses the grass and will allow the wild flowers to come in.  We had a scything session for the grass in this whole huge triangle which hadn’t been touched from April until the end of July.  Fifteen people turned up at 6.30 in the morning.  In three hours it was scythed, raked and barrowed away, ultimately for compost.  Now we have the equipment and a pasteuriser, we have juicing sessions in my garage when we make the apple juice to sell.”

Without the Town Council, the orchard would not exist — it leases the land from the District Council, maintains the paths and cuts the hedges which is no small matter on a patch which has no access for vehicles. Though obviously this is what gives the whole place its other-worldliness.

Palmers Brewery gave more than £800 towards the scythes and materials required to lay the long hedge between the Orchard and the allotments which led to a productive weekend in February.  Groves Nurseries pays for the annual newsletter;  West Milton Cider contributes its cheering product to events like the January wassailing day;  Leakers and Ford Farms send along bread and cheese for the jollies and Elwell Fruit Farm allow the orchardeers to collect windfalls for free because, for the moment, their own trees cannot meet the apple juice requirements.  Too many get eaten (or picked eye-wateringly early) by those passing through with their dogs or walking their children to St Mary’s School or simply coming to sit on the benches designed and made at Colfox School.

And this is surely what the orchard is for

A place to breathe and reflect — perhaps on the sweat of all those scything brows, perhaps on the flight of a damsel fly or if you’re out late and very quiet and very lucky, the glimpse of a dormouse.

It’s an unusually moving experience for the casual participant in its pleasures and almost disproportionately offensive to discover evidence of disrespect to it — unretrieved dog mess, a discarded can or bottle here and there, the fact that David Squirrel will no longer run an apple ID service on Apple Day because the clients (paying £1 for something which would cost them £18.50 at Brogdale) have become so rude and impatient.

The harshness of the world beyond its boundary hedges  is a deeply unwelcome intruder in the orchard.  It may be within spitting distance of the town centre but there is little of the retail experience here.

Youth Cricket in West Dorset

The Yarn’s guide to youth cricket in Dorset

Have I just seen our 2031 Ashes hero? OK, that’s 16 years away, but with the current series against Australia now under way, we’ve been looking at the strength of youth cricket here in West Dorset in 2015.

Yarn’s very own cricket fan Peter Smith (not much of a player but has commentated on the BBC’s Test Match Special), started his innings with Bridport’s Under 9’s…

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Review: Lula, Bridport – “a palace of delights”

Next to the Literary and Scientific Institute in East Street, Bridport, there stands another architecturally distinctive building. Upstairs, it houses a chamber of horrors (a dentist’s); downstairs, a palace of delights – Lula.

Lula, below the dentist in East Street, Bridport.
Lula, below the dentist in East Street, Bridport.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Lula, but what finally persuaded me to visit was a recommendation from both my dentist and his assistant. I was in the chair one day when, having questioned (as I always do) the need for any treatment and having eventually accepted the need to undergo the pleasures of the Little Ease and the Rack, I savoured an almost mystical moment – delicious cooking smells wafting in through the open window. The nurse assured me that I was still alive and informed me that the cause of my pleasure was Lula’s. She enthused about the burgers, as did the dentist. I survived sufficiently to lunch at Lula four times over the following weeks; I love it. The burgers are indeed magnificent; meaty, garlicky, herby. Forget about the latest gourmet burger place in London, this is much better.

Fishcake at Lula in Bridport.
Fishcake at Lula in Bridport.

Lula also offers much more; I’ve tried the fishcakes and the lamb kofte. Each really hit the spot. The fishcakes are not – as often found – actually potato cakes with a token amount of fish lobbed in; they are stuffed full of smoked haddock with a generous addition of spring onion but with sufficient potato to bind. I have to confess that I ordered extra chips before knowing this, but felt fully justified in having done so.

The kofte came with hummous, flatbread, salad, yoghurt and a delicious red pepper sauce. It’s zingy and deeply savoury.

Almond and raspberry tart at Lula in Bridport.
Almond and raspberry tart at Lula in Bridport.

Puddings sampled include a warm double choc hazelnut brownie, a lovely almond and raspberry tart and strawberry and vanilla pannacotta. I could eat them all again now – even the pannacotta which I usually dismiss as a slightly turbocharged blancmange. This was more creamy than cream.

When you add in friendly service and the pleasure of seeing Angie (the “la” in Lula) and her team working in the kitchen, I find myself wondering where else I’d rather eat in Bridport.

The moral of all this, of course, is that whilst you should always question any advice given by your dentist about your teeth, if he/she recommends a place to eat, do not hesitate; tear off that ghastly gown, jump out of the sweaty seat and leg it to that restaurant. In my experience, whilst dentists may know a lot about dental treatment, they actually know much more about what’s really toothsome.

Messages on a wall of the Harmony Drop-in Centre, Bridport

Harmony Drop-in centre: “A dream come true”

Press the bell in the lobby of 5 Downes Street in Bridport, announce yourself, and climb the stairs.

There’s a buzz of conversation, a table full of a cheerful collection of mugs, a tin of chocolate biscuits and an iced cake and a tantalising aroma of simmering soup holding the promise that lunch isn’t far away.

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