Archive | March, 2012

Another lovely spring day in the heart of Dorset!

31 Mar

Another great walk on another beautiful spring day in Dorset with fabulous views, gorgeous scenery, wildlife, wet tarmac, confusing signs and barbed wire ;)! It all makes for a memorable day in the hills and valleys!

The day started with one of the loveliest meadows in the country, although it was just too early in the year despite the warmth of the sunshine.  In a few more weeks and throughout the summer, this meadow will be covered in wild flowers and butterflies and will be a great place to spend some stress free hours.  The signs of the re-awakening of the landscape are already there with butterfies and some early bluebells but the best is yet to come!

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Climbing up through the meadows, I came across some of those strange and quirky names that always intrigue me – names like Dirty Gate, Mary’s Well Lane, Lot’s Corner, Burnt Bottom – you wonder where the names come from, especially the last!  That took me up onto the ridge and several miles of amazing Dorset views – with the sunshine and little breeze, the day was perfect.  The route along the ridge took me past a huge communications plant with its 26 massive pylons and a whole network of cables linking them – it was like some gigantic spider had woven its magic.  Sitting on top of the hill, you would think these pylons would be unsightly and incongruous but they somehow have an elegance.  Someday, there may well be windfarms on these hilltops but I don’t think the same sentiments will apply to them!

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During the afternoon, I came across one of those magic pieces of hidden Dorset – a really lovely ‘secret’ hamlet, so well manicured thanks to its manor house which faces onto the lane.  It is one of those hamlets that looks as if it has just come from the hairdressers – pristine and neat!  And a lovely place to walk through!

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And then, shortly after that, another hidden delight which I only spotted through a gap in the hedge as I walked down a valley.  It was a beautiful lake with bright golden orange trees around it and the reflections in the mirror like surface doubled the pleasure.  It really was a magical place!

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Climbing back up onto the ridge, the route took me up the most amazing sunken footpath.  Climbing upwards between the exposed roots and ferny banks was like walking in a rain forest.  In a few weeks this area will smell strongly of wild garlic……but it will be lost on me as I have no sense of smell :(!

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There was one strange part of this walk and that is when the path opened out onto a tiny country lane which was in the middle of nowhere.  Unusually, the road had just been resurfaced (very odd for such a little used road) and I had to walk along it to reach the next part of the walk.  The problem was that the tarmac was still very tacky and every time I put my foot to the ground, it was sticking to the road surface!!  I had visions of becoming stuck fast and perishing like a fly on fly paper ;)!  It was only a short ‘road trip’ though and soon I was back on country tracks through the valleys.

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The other strange thing I encountered was some confusing footpath signs!  I came across a stile with a sign on it pointing to the left and since it was on the stile itself, I assumed it meant to cross the stile and turn left.  However, I discovered later that the intention was in fact to turn left without crossing the stile and the only way to get back on track was to either retrace my steps back to the stile or to climb over two barbed wire fences.  I chose the latter!  Fortunately, although I may be getting on in years, I am still agile enough to climb fences without breaking anything or taking chunks out of my legs!!  Ah well, it all makes for an interesting and memorable walk……..or should that be obstacle race!!

Thanks for stopping by and reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

A long walk in ‘summer’!

29 Mar

Yesterday I had a long and really lovely walk on a day of beautiful spring weather – it was so warm walking that it could in all honesty have been mistaken for summer.  My walk was 22.8 miles through the heart of Dorset with its varied mix of great countryside, farmland and quaint villages with their lovely thatched cottages like the one below at Amen Corner – no, nothing to do with Andy Fairweather Low (apart from the fair weather I guess ;0), it is the name of the area presumably because the cottage is last one in the village.

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I actually chatted to the owner of this cottage who, as you can see, has had to have the ridge re-thatched, and I asked him if it was cold inside because of the small windows, but he said that it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter so it works out well.  The thing that would concern me I think is the cost of having the roof completely re-thatched because it has limited life.  But I’m glad these thatched cottages still exist and that some new ones are even being built in some areas.  They are so much part of Dorset!

I love walking through these Dorset villages, you see so much more than you do when you drive through them.  I love the fact that the old villages churches are still there and in use – they have been at the heart of community life for centuries and in my view, if the churches disappeared, something vital would be lost.  A walk is always improved by visiting a church or two on the way round – there is so much of interest in them, as well as the huge heritage they bring.  When I was young, a friend and I were into church architecture in a big way and used to spend our Sundays visiting different churches in Dorset with their varied architectural styles – Norman, Early English, Decorated, Perpendicular and much more.  These days, I don’t go into that detail, but there is always something special about visiting an old church – its about the peace and the people.  And if I visit one late in the day, I cannot help but think of one of my favourite poems, Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard – ‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day……..  The church below is at Gussage All Saints.

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Out in the fields, the farm land is coming alive with those bright yellow table cloths being laid out as the rape begins to come into flower.  In the woods the blue of the bluebells is just becoming evident (a bit earlier this year) as the first blooms open.  In a few weeks, there will be carpets of them in the Dorset woods.  And on the wing already there are lots of Orange Tip butterfies.

One thing I did regret on my walk yesterday, I didn’t carry and small change :(!  As I often do on my walks, I came across one of those little cottage garden stalls with jams and chutneys for sale, and it had an amazing variety of different and interesting chutneys.  The one I particularly fancied was apple and mint……..but I had no change so couldn’t buy it.  Then I had a brainwave, I had some car park money in the car :)!  So I drove home via the stall……..but it was empty :(!  Ah well, next time I’ll take money!  I love those little cottage garden stalls though – they are probably common throughout the world but to my mind there is something quintessentially English about them!

As I neared the end of the walk, the sun was setting and it was as lovely as the day had been, not a blazing ‘in your face’ red sky, but a gentle evening glow and as I walked back into the village where I had parked, the church bells were serenading me in the fading light.  Thomas Gray came into my mind again!

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the rambligs of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

On a non walking day!

27 Mar

What a fabulous spell of warm spring weather we are having at the moment!  As I sit in my office typing this in my lunch hour, I can look out of the window and see the beautiful sunshine and the clear deep blue sky, and wish I was out on the hills.  They seem to call me on days like this!  But today is a working day so I am ‘desk bound’!  Ah but later in the week it is different – the joys of being semi-retired :)!

One of the things I often do on my ‘non walking’ days is to think ahead.  I enjoy planning new walks in areas that perhaps I don’t walk so often.  I also like varying familiar walks, trying paths that are new to me, because no matter how often you walk, there are always slightly different routes to take – even a slight change can add freshness to a well walked route.  And it is amazing how different common views can look from a slightly different perspective.  The view below for instance is a very common view but there are very few people who would get to see it from this particular viewpoint!

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Add to this the other variables like the time of day, the weather, the time of year, the people you might meet along the way, even the way you are feeling on that day, and there is almost infinitesimal variety to be enjoyed.  The same walk on different days is in reality never the same.  That’s why I still love to walk the old familiar areas and I never tire of it – they never become ‘over familiar’!

Something I have been thinking about today is combining my day job with the YMCA with my love of walking and the outdoors.  Part of my role at the YMCA involves the development and management of Sandyholme which is a large 32 bed self catered retreat and activity centre in Studland.

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It is literally minutes from the Dorset Coast Path, heathland and hilltops as well as the sea so makes an ideal centre for group activity breaks.  The benefit of walking and other physical activities is well documented and I am a great believer in the use of walking as a stress buster – and there is plenty of stress around these days!  If we could just take people out of the stressful environment even for a short time, I believe it would help them.  After all, who could possibly stand looking at the view below, with the sound of the surf and the skylarks all around, and a gentle sea breeze blowing, and not feel the stress drain from them?

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Getting away into the hills or along the coast can help put life into perspective  and help you see things differently.  Just on a physical level, walking helps pump blood to the brain which can improve mood, and add to that the psychological effect of being away from a stressful situation and you get a double benefit.  Go on, give it a go!!

Thanks for stopping by and for reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler.  I hope you will call again.

The Dorset Rambler

Some Dorset Curiosities!

25 Mar

One of the things that always interests and intrigues me and makes a walk all the more enjoyable are those little quirky things I come across, and Dorset probably has more than it’s fair share of quirkiness!  These are the unexpected little things you just come across by accident almost.  Well, I thought I’d put up some of those curiosities today!

Like the skull below for example which I came across in Sturminster Newton just embedded in someones garden wall.  Not quite sure why!

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And the post below that appears to be somewhat confusing to say the least!!

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Or this somewhat unorthodox piece of parking!!  I was tempted to title this ‘Why can’t women learn to park’ but since I’m married, I thought I’d better re-think that ;)!!!  Lol, only kidding!!

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And finally for today, I came across the old wartime bunker below.  It is on the coast near Mupe Bay and it is haunted by a wartime guard who it seems only appears when the sun is out!!  Really scary! I was just stood there looking in the bunker doorway with my walking pole over my shoulder when the sun came out and the ghost just appeared in front of me.  Fortunately I had my camera ready so was able to capture it!!

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I have loads more of these curiosities which I will post from time to time.  I really hope I am inspiring you to get out walking in the countryside, you may be surprised and shocked by some of the things you come across.  Just keep your eyes and ears, and your mind, open and have your camera ready!!

Thanks for dropping in and for reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

From sunrise to sunset – a (very) long walk!

24 Mar

Yesterday I had a fantastic  l  o  n  g  walk – 35.3 miles to be exact, from sunrise to sunset……and it was great!  Now, you will know that I love walking, and that I enjoy long walks, usually between 12 and 20 miles but I really fancied doing a marathon walk so I decided to give it a go.  I confess that at my age I wasn’t totally certain that I would make it all the way so I had my wife on standby to pick me up at any point if it became necessary but in the end she wasn’t called upon and I made it all the way – according to my GPS it was 35.3 miles at an average of 3.1 mph walking speed and a fraction over 12 hours!  At the end of it I was a bit weary but really pleased too so I thought I’d blog my day in pictures!

I hasten to add that the pictures are all snaps with the compact camera and all were taken ‘on the run’ so probably not the best pictures – well when you are walking that distance, you just don’t have time to stop for long!

The day started early as I caught the first ferry from Sandbanks across the Poole Harbour entrance to Shell Bay.  It was a fabulous morning with a beautiful atmospheric and misty sunrise – a really great morning to be out!

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Coming off the ferry, I walked for three miles along the Shell Bay Beach with no one about apart from a dog walker who had got off the ferry with me.

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I walked along the beach as the sun rose and reached the bay and village of Studland.

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Having gone through the village with just a few early cyclists about, I walked out to the cliff tops at Old Harry Rocks, and climbed up over Ballard down to drop down agin into Swanage.

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Usually when I am walking, I try to avoid towns and stay in the countryside as much as possible but I do think Swanage is an interesting place especially along the sea front where the old railway lines are still evident.

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And towards the southern end of Swanage you pass the ‘derelict’ building below – it is of course not derelict, that is a mural painted on the building.  Quite clever I think!

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After Swanage, I climbed up over the downs to reach Durleston Head and Anvil Point with its old lighthouse.

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And then on along the Dorset Coast Path, passing Dancing Ledge which is an old quarry.  The name comes from the fact that the ledge where boats used to moor to be filled with rock is the same size as a ballroom dance floor.

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From Dancing Ledge, I continued westwards passing the quarries of Seacombe, Headbury and Winspit to climb up to the top of St Aldhelm’s Head with its tiny Norman chapel and its row of old coastguard cottages.  Unbelievably, the building on the left was originally the boathouse although I am not sure how they got the boat down to sea level! The cottages are now privately owned although the coastguard lookout is still manned albeit by volunteers.

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St Aldhelm’s marks the start of a series of stiff climbs as the path drops down to sea level before climbing up ‘the staircase’ to the top of Emmet’s Hill, before dropping down to sea level again at Chapman’s Pool, to climb up again to the top of Houns Tout.  It is a tough section of the walk!

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The end of the coastal section was at Kimmeridge with Clavell Tower overlooking the bay.  This tower built by John Clavell was derelict and in danger of crumbling down the cliff until The Landmark Trust took it over and dismantled it stone by stone to move it 30 meters inland.  It is now used as holiday accommodation – what a great place to stay!!

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From Kimmeridge I headed inland, climbing up over two inland ridges to the Creech viewpoint where I turned eastwards to walk along the Purbeck Ridge, passing Grange Arch, a folly erected by the owners of Creech Grange which is a stately home in the valley below.

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Half way along the ridge I dropped down into Corfe with its ruined castle and then climbed up again to the top of the ridge that you see the other side.

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Nearing the end of the day, a mist started to creep up the valley below which made for a rather atmospheric view looking back towards the fading sun.

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Then after several miles of ridge walking, I had to drop down to the road before climbing up the other side to the Obelisk which stands on Ballard Down.  The Obelisk commemorates the coming of the first fresh water supply to Swanage.  It had to be taken down during the war as it could be used by enemy aircraft as a navigation aid and when it was re-erected after the war, the bottom stone was found to be damaged.  The Obelisk is therefore now not as high as it was originally.  By this point, the sun was going down.

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In fact, by the time I reached the ‘Rest and be Thankful’ stone seat, the sun was disappearing behind the hill.  From this point though I just had to drop down into Studland and then retrace my steps along the beach with the gentle lapping of the waves and the gradual appearance of stars as the light faded to night.  A magical end to the day!

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I did make two mistakes on this walk!  The first was that I forgot to take a hat – or in reality I failed to anticipate how warm the day was going to be!  So I had to create a rather fetching beany out of my shirt otherwise I would have burned quite badly!  The picture below is posted thanks to my son Paul who thought I should put it up – I don’t normally do self portraits!!!  The other mistake was that I didn’t take enough fluids with me but fortunately I knew the route passed through a farm which has campers in the summer so I guessed there would be standpipes in one of the fields!

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Sorry it is a long blog!  My purpose in putting it up is not to boast of my ‘achievements’ but to encourage those who might think they are ‘past it’ or who think they are too unfit, to just get out and do it – I don’t think you will ever regret it.  It doesn’t have to be 35 miles, a short walk is just as great!  I’m just grateful that at my age I am blessed with good health that enables me to still get out and enjoy this wonderful county of Dorset!

Thanks for reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

People (and animals) do the strangest things!

22 Mar

It’s amazing some of the things you see when you are out walking, and often these strange things involve people…….and animals…….or people with animals!

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I took the shot above recently on a walk across the MOD Artillery Firing Range……and yes, that is two walkers clambering over one of the tanks that I believe are used as targets.  The range walks are only open to the public at certain times because most of the time there is firing practice going on.  When the walks are open, the public are restricted to the footpaths – which are of course checked for unexploded shells before opening the gates.  These signs are specifically to warn people that on other parts there may be unexploded shells, so basically, if you want to live, keep out…….a fact that appears to have been lost on these two walkers!  Of course what then happened is that seeing these two clambering over the tank, others followed!  Am I being wimpy or is that a stupid thing to do?  I was walking in the area all day and I didn’t hear any explosions so I assume they got out safely!

And as for animals, I came across this character on another walk.

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Although he appears to be walking on water, it is in fact ice as the trough has frozen over.  I have no idea how or why he jumped up onto the trough.  Did he fancy a swim?  Did he fancy trying skating?  I am convinced that his brain is not sufficiently advanced as to be able to understand the laws of physics as they relate to water and ice so I am not sure what was in his mind?  The poor thing was stuck though because it was so slippery that he was having trouble just keeping on his feet and he certainly wasn’t able to jump down.  It did leave me in a quandary though because there was a severe risk that the ice would break as the temperature was rising and I had visions of coming back later to find a drowned sheep!  So I thought I’d help him but whenever I went near, he panicked so much that it was just making the situation worse.  In the end, I just left well alone…..but I’m glad to say that I checked at the end of the day and he was nowhere to be seen.  Of course he may have drowned and someone may have taken him home to cook………;-)

The strangest thing about people with animals is the way dog owners don’t or won’t control their dogs!  Now I’m a dog lover and I like a friendly dog but it does annoy me a little when they run up and jump all over you and the owner just carries on walking.  Oh, and a pet hate on mine is those extendable leads – they are of course a great idea……..but not when the owner walks on one side of the path and their dog is on the other side and everyone else is expected to either practice their high jump or limbo dancing to get past!  Probably the strangest thing is dogs that are left to run free along the cliff tops like the ones below near Old Harry Rocks.  There are now signs up along this part of the Dorset coast saying that in the last year, four dogs have gone over the cliffs!

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As they say, there’s nowt so queer as folk…..or sheep!

Thanks for stopping by and reading the ramblings (or is it rantings) af The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

The first walk of Spring!

21 Mar

And what a mixed, strange but beautiful walk it was!  It started badly!  Now there is no such thing as a bad walk, but there are bad footpaths, and the first three miles were the worst of paths.  Well ‘paths’ is stretching it because there weren’t any to speak of – that lovely clear pink dashed line on the OS map ore no resemblance to the reality.  Thick mud (despite the lack of rain they keep talking about), bogs, no visible paths and no visible waymarks!  Not a good start!

But after four miles I finally reached a good, clear and well signposted path – and for the next 13 miles it was a fantastic walk.  Beautiful valleys, lovely hamlets, a smattering of typical Dorset quirkiness, great hilltops (including an Iron Age hill fort, amazing views – and a gorgeous Spring day to boot!

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Oh yes, and interesting people too.  I got talking to a guy as the light was fading at the end of the day and he said to me, ‘Not much about tonight’.  By the way he was dressed I could see he was a country man so I assumed that he was a bird watcher or a conservationist so I asked him what he was looking for and he replied’ ‘Deer – I cull them’!  He had apparently spent 30 years driving round the countryside with three rifles shooting deer, most of which it seems end up in Belgium.  I guess the occupation ‘self employed deer culler’ is a bit different!  To do it, he buys the shooting rights from various landowners.  Now I am totally against shooting animals for sport, but they do apparently need culling or we would be over run with them because they have no natural predators, and I guess it is better for that to be done by a professional who has been shooting all his life.  I’m trying to convince myself!  It does bring a question to my mind, I wonder if he is allowed to shoot in a field with a public footpath going through it?  Scary thought!

One interesting thing he said fits in very much with my earlier blog entries – he said that he spent his time off road in some unknown valleys and that it amazed him that these beautiful places ‘had been around for a thousand years and yet probably only 1,000 people had ever seen them because there is no road’.  That’s why I love walking, it takes you to places I’d never see otherwise!  The other thing he said is that there were wild boar in the woods.  Now I’ve been walking all my life and I’ve yet to see a wild boar – one day hopefully!

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As often happens, I ended up walking in the dark – when the above shot was taken, I still had several miles to walk (incidentally, I had no tripod so to get the sunset picture I had to put the camera on the ground!).  Just before the shot was taken, I had a strange experience.  I have written before about being attacked by cows – well this evening I was attacked by………sheep!  Never seen anything like it before as normally they run a mile but this evening the whole field of sheep ran at me – bizarre!  They didn’t do anything except bleat – I think they either didn’t like me invading their space at night or more likely they thought I was going to feed them.

Ah, the strange things that happen on a Dorset walk!

Thanks for stopping by and reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

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