Portland

Portland presents a forbidding aspect in the rain; sky and sea merge into battleship grey uniformity. For the first two days we walked sunken lanes through boot devouring mud. On the second day we managed a couple of desultory climbs between downpours. And then day three explodes with a burst of springtime sound and colour and movement. The air thrums with the sound of red and buff tailed bumblebees bouncing about like purposeful balls of fluff. Rainbows of butterflies float languidly between blossoms, tasting the nectar. Avenues of Alexanders lead us to the climbs, their yellow/green heads nodding in the sunshine; they provide walking snacks for the kids, who snap their stems and crunch them like celery; above the waves we watch an avian dogfight as crows mob a kestrel. After the rain everything looks clean and fresh and new. The children eat the petals of primrose, daffodil and dog violet; they nibble fennel and squash the succulent leaf tips of stinging nettle between finger and thumb before eating the resultant nutty tasting pulp. Nearer the beach they eat rock samphire and sea cabbage while scrambling over ammonite encrusted boulders. We had five days of climbing at different venues – all within walking distance, in the sun, on bright white limestone composed of the crushed bodies of countless billions of sea creatures; on flowstone which looked like melted wax and on Portland stone. The only dark cloud cast over these sunny days was when one of our families was abused by a gang of youths as they walked to the shop. ‘Illegal immigrants’ was shouted at them. It is easy to forget that while Brighton has, to a large extent, embraced diversity, there are still these enclaves of racism and homophobia. Despite this one episode we had a fantastic time. The numbers: 17 people were booked into four caravans – seven children and young teenagers and ten adults.