West Dean Chilli Fiesta

We first stumbled across the West Dean Chilli fiesta about 15 years ago, on the way back from a week on the Isle of Wight. We’d discovered that all toddlers really want to do on holiday is throw sand about and dip for crabs off the harbour wall. It seemed beyond our sleep deprived capabilities to go half way round the world to achieve this seaside utopia, so we always went to the Isle of Wight.

A drive to the South coast, a short ferry ride, a hop along the coast to a fishing village, a small rented flat. Plenty of ice-cream, a TV* to watch films in the evening, and lots of sea air – perfect. We were all happy as anything. The year we had a 4 year old and a 2 year old, with light shining at the end of the baby days tunnel, was the best holiday we ever had, and on the way home, we found West Dean gardens.

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West Dean started holding a chilli festival in around the year 2000 – we were at one of the very first. Back then, it was a small, homespun affair, with just a few stalls and very niche chilli paraphernalia – in truth only catering for real chilli obsessives. All the food and produce on offer was HOT HOT HOT. We had no lunch with us and so we fed the boys tiny mouthfuls of red hot chilli con carne mixed with huge dollops of yogurt. (They’re still alive). Mr M, who is a super hot chilli fan (he grows them from seed, dries them, cooks with them, sweats into his supper – you get the idea), LOVED it.

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We’ve always remembered it. So it was interesting to go back on Friday, and see that over the years the chilli fiesta has become a huge event with 25 000 visitors!

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We had a great time. There was brilliant live music, sideshows, cookery demonstrations, shopping stalls (of course. My only gripe: some of them were now too generic. Handbags at a chilli festival? I liked the specialised chilli stuff better). It was sunny, which was good, after all that rain. We had a drink and listened to the music, and the atmosphere was very chilled and friendly. West Dean has some beautiful gardens and glasshouses to look round, so we did that too, and I got lots of inspiration for mad flower paintings.

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Teenager L practiced his photography. He loves a good garden, and enjoys flowers (child of my own heart). We went round together with my camera, murmuring to each other in delight. Most of these photos are his.

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And I did some drawing.

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Then we dished out some cash and everyone ran off to choose their own lunch. The food stalls were excellent. The kids went for Thai food or spicy chicken. Alex and I shared bubble and squeak with an egg on top, with hollandaise sauce. And then we succumbed to a tray of vegan pakora – seriously good.

Right at the end, in the gardens, Mr M snapped this picture of us – how sweet is this?!

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Definitely worth a visit!
Have a look at West Dean.
It’s also an art college – I’ve got my eye on a few courses 🙂
*We didn’t have a TV when the kids were small. We missed watching films though. Now of course, you don’t need a TV to watch TV!

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