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Holiday adventures in Weymouth (Day 4): Swans and beaches:

This is the story of how I combined getting fit and healthy while having a fantastic time on holiday in Weymouth in 2015. It is still one of the best sets of memories I made that year or any year but also one of the most active, playful and fun.

The lesson for this day is how much benefit you can get from an essentially relaxed day visiting a wildlife reserve and beach. We did not do anything physically demanding and we spent plenty of time just hanging around enjoying the view and the experience. Yet when I review the health and fitness statistics I still managed to notch up a decent set of numbers while really enjoying myself.


These are the stats. I will admit I was tired from the previous few days and I made this day more of a lazy one. Still pretty good stats though for a lazy day

The image on the right shows the Fitbit statistics I accumulated over the course of the day to show that through all the fun I had also contributed a lot to developing my overall health.

Day three saw me notch up over; 2,800 calories, 40 active minutes, 14 floors and 4 miles. It was another day of two halves but now I no longer felt the need to explore by myself in the evening. So the days became less intense overall because I was using the evening to relax and the pace became slower overall because I was trying to fit less in. Every holiday is different isn’t it so this was just me adjusting to the flow.

On holidays our approach is to have busy days followed by quiet days so that we don’t over do it. Therefore I would not normally go out for a big explore every evening after a full day with the family. So as is natural I let my tiredness guide me and enjoyed a well earned relaxing evening enjoy the feeling of having nothing to do but relax and enjoy the holiday spirit.

So the second part of the day this time is the afternoon visit to Chesil beach where we got to see what this famous beach is really like.

Today was also a day when I did the same as the family so I can be certain the family also achieved these kinds of fitness numbers. Which goes to show that it is possible to have a nice quiet day out and also make an investment in your health.

The fourth day

The pictures of things we saw, did and enjoyed act as a simple guide to how much good recovery, eating and movement you can get on holiday. Alongside I have described some of the things we do as a family to get the best out of the day.

There are two parts to this article,

  • Part 1 highlights are the Morning exploring Abbotsbury Swannery.
  • Part 2 covers the afternoon chilling on Chesiil beach

Part 1: The morning

The map of the swannery reserve

Day 4 was about Abbotsbury swannery which bills itself as a unique nature reserve for swans and because I am a nature lover my wife Kat put this in our itinerary. I remember the car journey to reach Abbotsbury being interesting because we were following the sat nav and it took us down all sorts of country lanes in a seemingly endless pursuit but we got there in the end. Remote is how it felt but so often that is the case with the best nature reserves,

So when we arrived we had a look at the map and got a general idea of the layout.

The first thing you learn about Abbotsbury Swannery is that swans do not usually live in flocks. We did not know this but maybe you do. The introduction you get from the Swannery is as follows

This is the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans, spread over a site of some 25 acres. A visit to the Swannery is considered one of the best things to do in Dorset.

Abbotsbury Swannery

Once you have heard this introduction you then realise you have never really seen a flock of swans, or at least you think you have. In Milton Keynes we have many lakes and one in particular has many pairs of swans at times during the years. So of course I was thinking “what are you talking about? Swans hang out in flocks all the time, I see them in our lakes in groups”.

Well, today we learned what they meant by a flock and how a small group of swans does not make a flock. In the same way, a small group of humans does not make a crowd. So all that is to come later, and we were now excited to see what is so special about a flock of swans, but at this point, we had not yet seen any swans, we could not even see the sea from this point even though we were almost on top of it so we had to follow the map and go find the swans.

We had a little play around the park too

On the way there was a cute karting area made with hay bales and a slide around it which is a fun play area. The trouble with putting something like this at the start is that you are having so much fun on it that you do not want to leave and do what you came here for which is see a Swannery.

At least little one and I were, having a ton of fun. Mummy was feeling the heat and wanted to get on and boy was it a hot day so we had a little play then moved on. It looked like a fun place but its true magic was not apparent yet.

As we walked further on we started to get a sense of the type of experience it was. I do not know about you but nature for me often feels like a them and us kind of experience, with them being nature and us being humans. You know how you round a corner and all the life that lives in nature just scarpers for its life. Or the squirrels and birds that happily scavenge all over the place but the second you are remotely near them they run off up a tree or into the undergrowth for safety.

That is my general experience of nature, I love it but it does not seem to love me and certainly does not like me being around.

This is the swan we were watching. The best views are when you crouch down and get close

Well, Abbotsbury Swannery is a very different type of place because it is designed in such a way that it creates an experience where humans and nature do seem to live and breathe together.

On the left, you see a picture of a Swan as it slowly swam past us barely acknowledging our existence. Just calmly enjoying the day totally un-intimidated by our presence.

Everything here is so calm and laid back that the photography is easier because you get time to take your shot. The only challenge is figuring out what to take a picture of because it is all so beautiful.

At Abbotsbury, you get a truly unique experience seeing swans and waterbirds in general up close and personal just wandering around in an environment where they clearly feel completely at home. To share this amazing experience with my family and introduce my little one to the wonders of nature in this way was fantastic. Even more amazing is that these swans are nesting so they have their babies in tow. We all know that animals, just like humans, get very upset about others invading their space when their kids are around. At Abbotsbury, they have made the swans feel so at home that it has the feel of a swan nursery so the experience is so calm and natural, kind of like wandering through one of Beatrix Potters books.

Does he realise he’s got the best squat ever. Does he heck, he’s watching the beautiful swan with me

I love juxtaposition in art where you get to compare and contrast through images so you can tell a wider story and create better context. In this case I can tell you that the picture above was taken just before the picture below of little one watching the swan in the stream. You can see the lovely bridges that are built all over the site making it like Venice with all these walkways and bridges that allow boats to navigate the canals. In Abbotsbury the Swans are just like boats in Venice and the experience is just as magical.

To give you a better sense of how it felt take a look at the next picture where can see a Coot with her chicks happily swimming along the stream next to our path.

Just beforehand they were walking right across the path to get to the other side. So while the pictures here show the birds in one place and the humans in another it actually is not like that here. The birds are wandering about everywhere and navigate through us humans as though they the birds are the residents and we are simply the visitors to their neighbourhood getting in the way.

To see them so relaxed and at peace is to see the side of nature we hear about but rarely get to witness and to spend a day in this environment was a real treat so you can imagine how fondly I remember this place and the opportunity to reminisce in sharing this with you is a real joy.

Eventually we arrived at the feeding site which is where the action was scheduled to happen. Already we got a sense of what a flock of swans is like and this means hundreds of birds all in one place not just a few or even tens but a serious amount of hungry water fowl on one one path of water.

I didn’t realise how special this day would be until we met the swans. There was no way to convey in images just how unique the experience is and at the start it seemed more like a regular day out.

We all forget but carrying people on your back combines elements of a squat, weighted stands and lunges and basically puts a load through your body that you have to support. It’s what we’re designed to do which is why it’s good for us when done right.

I am used to seeing them as one or two together, occasionally a small family group but never in large flocks and never up really close like this. Little one was a little intimidated with the flock because he was so young so when given the opportunity to feed the swan he initially refused.

This is expected of course so Daddy was invited in at first and little one quickly followed on Daddy’s shoulders then, once he got used to all the commotion he was fine on his own. The key was giving him something to do so he would forget his fears and this was what the swannery people were great at. They had bird feed and trowels so you could throw the seeds in as you want.

Little one is your average young boy and loves to throw anything so just like skimming stones on the beach he happily threw seeds to the swans and enjoyed throwing as far as his little arms could.

That left me to relax and enjoy the setting. You know what animals and birds are like when there is food around. Especially when they are in large groups like this. They forget all natural suspicion and just chase food so I was enjoying all the normally reclusive birds just run right by me after the nearest seed.

What I have learnt is that photography can be really good for your body if you know how to use it. Take the picture on the left and you might notice that I have taken the camera down to bird level to get a better picture.

There are of course lots of ways to get this angle but in this case I bent my knees to get down low. The key here is good technique and practice so that you get good balance and work with your body not against it.

Done right you won’t notice the impact it has on your body but the cells involved in this type of moving squat will get the signal to develop their ability to support this movement again. There is a surprising amount of your body involved in achieving such a seemingly simple movement. All the movement structures get involved from the hip flexors and ankles doing the work, to the spine and shoulders manipulating the trunk and the nervous system coordinating the process. So it takes practise tfor your body to develop the infrastructure and process to support these movements properly because there are so many different systems within your being that all work together to help you get the perfect shot. This means that performing these movements correctly is the key to being able to do them correctly in the future.

I know that sounds too simple but remember that everything we did was achieved using natural movements humans are designed to do in a normal day out and we are built as humans to grow from the acts of being human for the same reason that these swans get strong and healthy by being swans and doing what swans do.

So my point is to embrace the simple activities like photography and where that takes you and your humanity. Through capturing memories and experiences and interpreting the world through a lens you ask questions of your body that challenge it in natural ways. That is what happens when you do it right so the question becomes simple how do you do it right? which changes your focus from the result of good habits to understanding how you work and the principles of using your own resources well.

He absolutely loved it.

So now that I have mentioned the simple benefits of making and recording memories you might notice all the different positions and locations I have got into in order to capture the memory. Because you do not see me you will not always know whether I am lunging, squatting or standing or whatever but my point is about the benefit to you and of experiencing and recording your memories.

To have done all this and been there was an investment in myself and I often go that little bit further to get a good photo while the action of taking the photo distracts me from any temporary lack of comfort. By lack of comfort I do not mean pain I mean holding a pose or going to a location I wouldn’t normally that pushes me a little beyond what I am used to.

The final pic of the swannery shows little one looking like we all did. He is happy just watching and experiencing this unique place and watching life go by in front of him. At first it seemed interesting but strange and now we are near the end of the experience we don’t want it to end. Happy days.

Following are some of the pics of the day to show you that while I was getting plenty of fitness stats for a lazy day I was really just having the time of my life.

Part 2: The afternoon

Chesil Beach

We were excited to check out Chesil beach because we had heard so much about it. Ever since we had arrived we had been hearing about this stretch of coast line and when I visited Portland the day before I was excitedly looking at this beach which I was hoping to check out the next day. The experience though was a very British one in that it was a big, big shingle beach with not a grain of sand in sight.

We had heard so much about Chesil beach we had to check it out.

The weather was warm, oh so warm, which is lovely but it was more of a nature reserve type beach so no ice creams , oh and because the tide was in there wasn’t a gentle gradient leading to the sea there was more of a shingly cliff that could give way at any minute.

So while we had a nice time and made the best of it it was not really the place for a young family in the heat of the day. That is life is it not, it is still a great beach that I would have loved to walk along and explore but it is not the type of beach I would want to take young kids after a busy morning.

That said we still enjoyed ourselves. We had had a wonderful day, the weather was glorious and we got to sit back and just be, enjoying the scenery.

So today was the opposite of the first 3 days, where the action was throughout the whole day. Instead today the action as it were has finished by the afternoon and the rest of the day was about enjoying the simple things and lazing around. So while I front-loaded the holiday with lots of action and was essentially burning my candle at both ends. I remembered today to calm down in order to recharge before I hit rock bottom.

The nice thing is that as you learn to read your own feelings and emotions, you get better at learning when to push yourself further and when to hold back and save energy. I have spent years getting it wrong and regretting either missing out on an amazing opportunity and experience or overdoing things and getting injured or overwhelmed as a result.

So on this day, I took note of how much I had been doing over the previous few days and my need to recreate myself through recovery. Recreation is so important because it means to restore ourselves and in fact, recreate ourselves through play. Learning this helped me understand what others have found out through their mistakes.

Play is important because it is not work. You must recreate yourself after a working day to be ready for the next and while work is done with a purpose, often under pressure, play is done for the sake of play itself. As I have explained in this series the lack of pressure and the change of use of your body is the signal it needs to begin the restorative processes needed to recover. So if you do not undertake sufficient recreation after a period of work you cannot restore your health properly and will not be ready for the next piece of work.

Ok, that sounds a bit serious, but the point is very important because in our busy lives, we do not value recreation enough and often do it badly. So I am making a clear point that if you want to enjoy days out like this properly then you need to pay attention to proper recovery and understand the meaning behind recreation.

I come from a workaholic family and was never taught this so I have many experiences of not enjoying days out when I should have and I missed out big time as a result. So, from those hard lessons I have now learnt to slow down after busy days and let my body recover its strength so that I enjoy the days to come as much as the days that made me tired.

So, to recover and be ready for the next few days I listened to my feelings of tiredness and let them help me enjoy doing nothing in the afternoon for the sake of it and messing around with my family.

Summary: Go Play 🙂

All that fun gave me these fitness stats. 4 miles, 8,000 steps and 43 active minutes and it was all worth So even though this was essentially a chilled out day and one of the more relaxed of the trip so far we still got in some decent movement along with the brilliant memories.

To continue this series, read Day 5 Towers, Beach life, wet feet and more Jelly fish

To read the rest of this series visit the Weymouth series homepage or follow the links below.

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