Archive | April, 2012

And where are the souls?

30 Apr

Just a single picture today, taken on a recent walk.  This is the church of unknown dedication in the lovely Dorset hamlet of Whitcombe.  The famous Dorset poet William Barnes preached his first sermon here in 1847 and his last in 1885, and in between that he went on to become rector of Winterborne Came just a few miles away.  William Barnes is known mostly for writing his poetry in the Dorset dialect – I must say, it makes it difficult to read even for a Dorset man!

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And where are the souls?

As I was processing this picture, I was listening to an album by the Celtic Christian rock band Iona – I love their music.  One of the songs that came on was called Beachy Head (there is a link to the song below) and is about all the people who over the years have committed suicide by jumping or driving off the high cliffs onto the rocks below.  It basically asks the question ‘Where are the souls?’ of all those who have died.  It just seemed a perfect title for this picture since I couldn’t help but question ‘Where are the souls’ of all those who have worshipped in this church over the 500 or so years since it was built?  There would have been people of all ages, races, occupations, personalities etc from the Lord of the Manor to the farm labourer – but now the church is empty and redundant, partly because the village has shrunk to the tiny hamlet it now is!  I can’t help but ask as I always do in these places, ‘Where are the souls?’  The song answers the question – only God knows!

Thanks for reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

Of transport, of trees, and of waterproofs that are not!!

28 Apr

This was a walk of ‘wonderful’ ;) weather, wonderful Dorset scenery, and some really interesting people along the way!

You know, the more I walk, the more I look forward to meeting people on the path.  There is something about being in the countryside – everyone you pass has a nod and a ‘hello’, and often they will stop for a chat as well, whether it be a farmer, the local vicar, the postman, or just another walker.  Isn’t that really what life is all about!  There is a lovely camaraderie in the country that you don’t find much in the towns, and people are just so interesting.  One of the tings all the people I meet have a view on is the weather – well we’re English aren’t we!

On this walk, it was a truck driver.  He was parked up at a country crossroads in a somewhat difficult position and I thought he had broken down.  We fell naturally into a conversation.  Apparently he had come from Poole, picked up a load at Corfe Mullen, driven 100 miles to deliver it, picked up another load near his drop off point, driven 70 miles to where I saw him dropping off half the load.  He was then going to drive another 50 miles to drop off the other half, picking up another load, and was then going to drive 500 miles to the Scottish border to drop that off!  What a crazy life!

The crossroads he was parked at is called ‘Four Ashes’, because there are four ash trees, one on each corner.  He was trying to deliver 12 bags of fertiliser to the local farm, but articulated lorries and country lanes don’t go together!  The only way to deliver it was to park up at the crossroads and for the farmer to bring his tractor and trailer up to collect it – which he finally did, and I moved on.

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Four Ashes crossroads

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Delivering, or is it collecting, the load

The scenery on this walk was simply stunning, that typical Dorset rolling countryside.  It was a walk that took in a number of hill forts and the picture below shows one hill fort as viewed from another.  In fact on top of one of the hill forts was a bull!  He was on his own except for the hill sheep and I was a bit surprised because the land is owned by the National Trust and is open access land popular with walkers.  As I have blogged before, that is technically not legal!  I had my red cape with me but he didn’t seem very interested ;)!!

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One hill fort to another

Part of this walk took me through the most fantastic area of woodlands and at this time of the year with the sunlight slanting through a gap in the trees, the colours and tones of the Spring foliage really come alive.  New life, and new growth, is everywhere!  Don’t you just love the fabulous greens of the moss and lichen that cover these trees and bank!  It is an interesting area and and as you walk through it, you just wonder about the millions of people who have passed that way before over the centuries since the line of trees and the bank are clearly an ancient boundary of some sort.  If trees could talk!

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The wonderful Spring greens of Dorset

And speaking of trees, don’t you just love them!  You could almost hug them…….and some people do!  I love that well known poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer called ‘Trees’:

I think that I shall never see,

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest,

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree!

How true that is!  (Just as an aside, as I am writing this, I am listening to the duet from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers – what a spine tingling piece of music that is!)

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I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree

In that poem, Kilmer speaks of trees ‘living intimately with rain’ – well at the moment, The Dorset Rambler does too!!  The weather for much of this walk was beautiful, but it was interspersed with really heavy bouts of rain and hail – it’s what I call ‘interesting’ weather ;)!  Now I had my waterproofs, but I have discovered that they are not…….waterproof that is!  The consequence was that I got literally wet through!  So at the end of the walk I decided to reproof my walking gear, and I’m sure it won’t be long before I check to see if it has had the desired effect!!

One of the side effects of all this rain is BIG boots!  They start off a normal size 9 but some of the fields on this walk were MUDDY, and it was that thick clingy mud so that by the time you get to the other side your feet are size 30 and you have a job to lift them off the ground!  Picture the scene – this silver haired man, soggy and wet through, unable any more to lift his heavy feet, on his hands and knees dragging himself across the field to reach the sanctuary of drier land on the other side ;)!  Once there, there is usually a handy gate post ‘scraper’ nearby so they are soon back to normal size.  Note to self – in future if it is wet, head for the chalky well drained hills ;)!

And talking of hills, there were a few of them on this walk too….steep ones!  I climbed up this near vertical slope to reach the top of one ridge and just as I got there, a fighter plane on a training mission went over.  He was clearly practising low level flying and I reckon he must have been only 10 feet above my head (well, that might be a slight  exaggeration ;) ) – it was deafening!

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Some good waterproof testing weather coming!!

Ah, but the sun always shines again – and you can’t fully enjoy the sun unless you get the rain!

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The sun shines on the Dorset landscape

Thanks again for visiting and reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

Some interesting weather, a new friend, and a mass trespass remembered!

25 Apr

This was a great walk made all the better by having a companion as my son Paul joined me.  Because I usually walk during the week, I mostly walk alone which I am fine with because I am happy with my own company and I don’t think you are ever really alone in the countryside anyway – I certainly don’t feel alone amongst this wonderful creation.  But I love to walk with Paul as he is the perfect companion and friend and we are totally kindred spirits.  So this was a great together walk!

The conditions were not great.  Having had lots of rain recently, there is a lot of mud around but the early part of the walk took in an old railway track which closed many years ago and which has been turned into a trailway.  They always provide a good surface to walk on!  I do think it is a shame that when our railway network was cut so drastically in the 1960′s under Beeching’s axe, no-one had the forethought to preserve the old track beds for recreation.  Had they done so, there would be a whole network of long distance footpaths weaving throughout England instead of just the occasional stretch such as this.

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The Trailway

Interestingly there were a couple of old huts along the trailway and one had been ‘restored’ although I am not sure for what purpose unless just for people to shelter in.  Anyway, a photographic opportunity presented itself and I asked Paul to stand in the doorway for me – the resulting picture is below.  I don’t normally put this type of picture on here but I thought I would today – I called it ‘Home from the War’ because that’s just what it looked like!

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Home from the War!

I have said before in my blog that I like rivers because if the footpath follows the course of a river it makes route finding so much easier.  This walk went even further than that because the footpath for a time was the river!  Well, I guess more of a stream that a river but we had to walk along the stream bed.  It was a really interesting part of the walk and certainly added variety to the walk.

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Follow the river!

If there is no river to follow, then you just follow the arrows – yellow for footpaths, blue for bridleways (we don’t like blue because the way has usually been chewed up by the horses hooves making it more difficult to walk ;) )!  Well, if there are any arrows!  Often they seem to be absent and you have to rely on the map which sometimes poses problems.  In the picture below, the way is clearly marked but if it wasn’t, you might doubt yourself because as you can see the path goes virtually through the cottage garden!  This was actually a really lovely place – a farm with a lovely cluster of cottages and converted outbuildings, all set in the most beautiful valley.  We got chatting to the owner of it all who told us that the cottages were all tenanted – in that position, I should think they are!

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Follow the arrows!

So when is a church not a church?  Well, we passed the one in the picture below but all is not as it seems!  The church is actually not there, just the tower and the end wall of the nave although from this angle you wouldn’t know it.  The owner of the nearby cottage (who also owns and maintains this ‘church’) told us that the church itself was taken down long ago so that the stone could be re-used in the building of the local school.  The owner was very friendly, as were her 4 dogs and what a great view she had from her cottage with the church in the garden!

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When is a church not a church?

This walk took in another hill fort which always makes for an interesting detour.  When we walked out across the top with amazing views all round, the sun was shining but as you can see in the picture below, it wouldn’t be for much longer!  We stood watching the massive storm heading our way – it was an awesome sight, quite spectacular….and we felt very exposed!  We managed to grab some pictures before hastily packing everything away and togging up in preparation…….and boy, did we get rained (and hailed) on!!  The weather is rarely dull in Dorset!

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Oh dear, look what’s coming!

There were a number of delightful churches on this route and two of them are below.  Both churches are part of two separate tiny hamlets, and so picturesque.  I would like to have explored inside but we were so muddy that it didn’t seem appropriate.  Each church had just a farm and a few small cottages for company.  Oh the stories they could tell!

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In the hamlet

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And another hamlet

My title said ‘Some interesting weather’, well it was certainly that!  Sunshine one minute and pouring rain the next – real April downpours.  We walked across this beautiful valley with a lovely stream running through it and suddenly the sun disappeared again.  Mind you, that sort of weather does make for good photography!

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Oh dear, more of that wet stuff coming!

Oh yes, and what about that ‘new friend’?  No, I don’t mean Paul, he’s an old friend (well comparatively ;) ), I mean a really new friend.  We were crossing a field of sheep with their lambs and suddenly this almost newborn lamb came bouncing up to us like he’d known us for years.  He wouldn’t leave us alone but kept getting under our feet as we walked across the field.  It was bizarre as they usually run a mile.  The only thing we could think of is that maybe he was being hand reared and was therefore used to people.  He was really friendly and I would love to have put him into my rucksack and brought him home :)!  Paul took the picture below.

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The Dorset Rambler finds a new friend!

In fact it was a funny day for animals – on the drive down, we had to go through Dorchester and as we drove up the busy High Street, we had to give way to………a duck!!

So to finish with, what of the mass trespass?  Well this momentous event happened 80 years ago yesterday.  On 24th April 1932 over 400 ramblers and walkers descended on, or rather ascended on, Kinder Scout in Derbyshire as a mass protest against landowners.  Previously, most moorlands and mountains had been common land open to all, but Kinder Scout and other places like it had become private property open only to the ‘shooting classes’.  Whenever anyone tried to walk those areas, they were turned back by the landowners and their gamekeepers but with the numbers out in 1932, there was no possibility of turning all of them back, and they succeeded in reaching the top.  Ultimately this mass trespass led to the opening up again of large areas of countryside with the formation of the National Parks and the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.  It is partly thanks to those 400 people that The Dorset Rambler, and you, can ramble!

Thanks for visiting and for reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler!

The Dorset Rambler

One house, two views; two churches, one name; and a Bates Motel!!!!!!

23 Apr

This was another interesting walk with some lovely sights and some scary sights, some great weather and some rough weather, some good paths and some not so good paths, and it’s all in a day’s walking in Dorset!

It started off well enough with some lovely sunshine and some lovely villages, with buildings constructed in the beautiful warm coloured stone that typifies the area.  Two of the villages had churches that shared the same name – St Mary’s.  The first was at a lovely unspoilt and fairly unknown village, unspoilt that is apart from the cars which had to be parked in the country lane as few houses had any parking spaces – when this village grew up along the valley, cars didn’t exist!  The whole place had a feeling of unity about it because of the similarity in the way the buildings were constructed and it was a really pleasant and easy stroll along the village streets.

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The first St Mary’s Church

Not long after the first village, the second one came along – or at least, I came along to it!  Still the same lovely stone, and another St Mary’s Church, except this one had a community attached to it.  A Christian community was set up here some 50 years ago in what was once the local manor house next door to the church.  The community is open to anyone but particularly those who have hit some crisis in their lives and who need a bit of time out from the emotional pressures of life.  Their days are based around working the 12 acres of land, prayer times, meal times and leisure times and the various residents and guests spend weeks, months or even years here finding healing and restoration.  It is truly a lovely place where many have been blessed.

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The second St Mary’s Church

As I was passing this community, I got talking to the postman who told me that he always tries to time his deliveries so that he arrives here around lunch time.  Apparently the people regularly eat their home grown lunch sat outside in the garden and the postman often gets invited to join them!  I think I would do the same :)!

There were some ‘interesting’ parts to this walk!!  The picture below shows one of them – my route was to take me through a field which had a notice on the gate saying ‘Bull , Keep Out’!  Virtually right beside that notice were three waymark arrows indicating that a public footpath passed through the field.  I was just about to ignore the notice and cross the field anyway (well nothing was going to get in the way and spoil my walk) when I noticed that the farmer had provided a diversion via another field.  I guess that is to his credit although I am still not sure how legal it is!

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Hmmm, is that legal??

One of the other ‘interesting’ things on this walk was the very old and semi derelict cottage in the picture below.  It had something sinister about it in the fading light and I quite expected to see Norman Bates mother in her rocking chair and to hear the tearing of a shower curtain ;)!

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The Bates Motel??

And then virtually next to that was the barn below.  Now I blogged last time about how I like old barns but I don’t think I have ever seen such an old higgldy piggldy barn as this one!  It has certainly seen better days!!  I’m sure you can appreciate why The Bates Motel came into my mind as I hurried through this part ;)!

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A higgldy piggldy barn!

This walk included several hill forts (which I crossed in pouring freezing rain :( !) and some fine ridge walking too with great views all around.  None was better than the evening stretch which took in some wonderful woodlands as the path climbed up to the highest point in Dorset. The woodlands were particularly lovely in the evening light as the sun set.

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The lovely evening light

Further along this ridge I came across the house with two views!  It stands right on the top of the ridge in the middle of nowhere with the most amazing views down both sides of the ridge.  The owner was out exercising his dogs and I got chatting to him about his dogs, and about a red kite that had just flown over.  He was a country gent and his dogs were gun dogs.  Now I’m not in favour of shooting, and I’m not given to jealousy, but I did envy him the position of his house!

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The house with two views!

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The view to the front

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The view to the rear

It was beautiful walking along that ridge as the sun set and the light faded.  The pouring rain of earlier in the day had long gone and it had turned into a lovely balmy evening and I was serenaded by the birds as I walked.  What better music could there be to end the day!

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The stroll into the evening

Well, I had to finish up with a picture of a gate didn’t I :)!

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

The Dorset Rambler

Inspiring Dorset, a deserted hamlet, a destroyed coast path…..and a sore head!!!!

20 Apr

This is a walk that took me through the wonderfully picturesque valleys of inland west Dorset, along river meadows and over the highest heights along the coast.  Some of the most peaceful, pleasant, picturesque parts of Dorset.  And on route a deserted hamlet and a destroyed coast path.

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Wonderfully picturesque Dorset

The first part took in the beautiful rolling countryside that typifies Dorset with vibrant spring greens as the fields and foliage spring back to life.  As you walk these parts, you really can understand why novelists and poets like Thomas Hardy waxed lyrical – although in reality much of Hardy’s writings were about life rather than landscape.  The farming community may have shrunk considerably since Hardy’s time with a labour force a fraction of what it was but nevertheless with the lambs, calves, and the busy-ness of the farms and woodlands, you can’t help but think about a Hardy novel.

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The rolling Dorset countryside

Now when I was younger, I used to have visions of becoming a farmer, although I have to say my idea was a kind of ‘rose coloured spectacles’ farming whereby I would spend my days leaning on a gate much as the one in the picture below (I can’t resist a lovely wooden gate) smoking a pipe in the ever present sunshine whilst watching the grass grow and the sheep producing their offspring.  I would also dream of becoming a shepherd, but again it was a rosy spectacles view where I would sit on a sunny hillside watching the sheep whilst I composed poetry and strummed a tune or two on my guitar.  In my farming there would be no rising at 4 am to milk the cows or muck out the pigs ;)!  Well one can dream!!

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Don’t you just love an old wooden gate

Now I have an affinity with wood!  I am convinced that one of my ancestors must have been a character from The Woodlanders.  I can never resist a wooden gate, a stile or a signpost and every walk I go on, will result in a number of pictures of these things!  Well they do seem to typify the Dorset countryside somehow.  Sadly these days wooden gates are often replaced by metal ones which definitely do not have the same effect!  I have to say that I can never resist an old barn either and frequently as I walk I come across these tumble down, broken up, rusting buildings which have long since passed their sell by date!  Oh I am so glad they don’t pull them down though!  If barns could speak, they would have many a colourful tale to tell about a lifestyle that once was.  Far from being a blot on the landscape I think they really add to it.

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A blot on the landscape? Or part of a rich heritage?

The other thing I regularly come across is…….mud!  Lots of it, good old Dorset mud and all because of a heavy downpour the previous day.  It is great, but it does make walking hard work as you slip slide all over the path!  Here’s an interesting fact I once read – apparently on a muddy field a cow can run faster than a horse!  Now I never knew that!  It seems that because they are cloven hoofed, their hooves spread whereas a horse’s don’t and this helps them move faster.  Well you always learn something new from The Dorset Rambler’s blog ;)!

On this walk yet again I came across the inevitable missing footpath!  There always seems to be one!  It was absolutely nowhere to be seen although I knew where I needed to get to so I was able simply to hop a few fences and take a different route to reach it and get back onto my correct path.  Now I don’t normally trespass but if a farmer chooses to not observe the ‘public footpath code’, then I see nothing wrong with crossing somewhere near where I think the public footpath should be.   Incidentally, here’s another interesting fact – those notices that you often see that say ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ are factually incorrect.  You prosecute someone for breaking the law but in fact trespass is not illegal unless you create criminal damage which you could then be sued for.

Having got back on track, the next part of the walk took me alongside a river.  Now I like rivers!  Apart from the rather pleasing babbling sound that running water makes, rivers are also a great aid to route finding.  On this walk, my footpath followed the route of a river for several miles which rather took away the headache of trying to work out where I was at any given moment as so long as the river was beside me, I knew I was on the right track!  And of course river valleys are also very picturesque!  This one took me right down to the coast at Charmouth.

Sadly this is where the route goes slightly wrong!  The route should take me from the sea up the coast path beside the cliffs to reach the top of Cain’s Folly but unfortunately because of coastal erosion the coast path at this point closed many years ago and so the route takes you inland and up the roadway.  In one of my earlier blog entries I commented on how the government has recently announced the ‘opening’ of the coast path all the way from Lulworth to Weymouth, a path that has for the most part been open for as long as I can remember.  I do think it is a shame that their efforts could not be put into opening a part of the coast path which has in fact definitely been closed for years and really needs to be reopened again!

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The coast path above Charmouth – no way down!

Coastal erosion is a serious problem and every year it wipes out more of our coastline and footpaths.  It’s interesting though how, even here, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’.  In the picture below, you can see how a previous massive collapse of the cliffs at Cain’s Folly has been re-colonised by nature and has become effectively a nature reserve since few feet human ever disturb that part.  This is something that has been repeated all along the Dorset coast!  When I walked through this part, I saw a beautiful country fox.  Now I don’t know if it is just me but I think the town foxes that you normally see are quite thin and mangy whereas country foxes, and this one in particular, are beautifully rounded and healthy looking with wonderful coats and bushy tails.  I guess this is because of the plentiful supply of food that the country provides and which dustbins do not.  In the same field a short distance away were a cluster of deer and they were happy to just stand there watching me as I passed by.

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Every cloud has a silver lining

I always think that one of the problems with the coast path is that it goes up and it goes down…..rather a lot……and often I think it would be good to have a hang glider in my rucksack so that I could simply glide from one ridge top to the next ;)!  And this part of the coast certainly does go up and down, in fact its ‘up’ reaches the highest point on the south coast of England at Golden Cap.  But before that, there is an interesting detour into an extremely old deserted hamlet called Stanton St Gabriel with its ruined church and its last remaining cottages.  On the information board there is an artists impression of what this hamlet might once have looked like although in reality it goes back much further than this, as far as Saxon times.  I think it is always rewarding to take in these sorts of hamlets and to try to picture in your imagination what life might have been like in those days.  At Stanton St Gabriel, it would have been a tough existence but the position would have more than compensated for that.

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The ruined church at Stanton St Gabriel

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A remote cottage

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What was life like then??

After that it was s steep climb to the top of Golden Cap with the amazing views in all directions from the top.  The picture below simply does not do this justice but hopefully you can grasp something of this place.  You just need to imagine the feeling of the wind in your hair, the sound of the sea and the smell of the wild flowers!

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The highest heights at Golden Cap

The next stopping point on this walk was the beach at Seatown and there can be no better end to a days walking than sitting listening to the waves washing across the shingle whilst watching the fishermen drown their worms.  As you sit there with the fading sun dipping towards the horizon, you can see why Thomas Hardy and those other Dorset authors were so inspired by this wonderful county!

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The day’s end

Oh yes, and about that sore head – no I didn’t go to the pub at the end of the walk!!!  It had been a very sunny day but I hadn’t realised how hot the sun was and I’d walked without a hat.  Now I have hair of a somewhat silvery tone, but clearly not enough of it, hence the sore head!!!

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

The Dorset Rambler

A literary walk, a GPS with a bad attitude, and more!

17 Apr

No, I didn’t read a book as I walked ;)!  I did a long walk around Thomas Hardy country – although in reality the whole of Dorset is Hardy country because in many ways it was he who popularised Dorset through his writings, both poetry and prose.  A lot of people don’t realize that our Thomas was first and foremost a poet before he ever got into novels.  And if there is anyone reading this who hasn’t yet experienced a Thomas Hardy novel, I can recommend it – but don’t read it quickly as it will be very descriptive of Dorset and Dorset life.  I think my personal favourites are the book ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, and the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’!

Back to the walk!  It took in Hardy’s Cottage in Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester (or should I say Casterbridge!) – this is where he was born and where he wrote his first literary gems.  The cottage, now owned by the National Trust, is in Puddletown Forest and is open to the public.  Nearby is Stinsford Church where Hardy’s heart is buried (his ashes are interred at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey), and alongside him are other members of the Hardy family.  Also in the same churchyard are the graves of Cecil Day Lewis, the poet laureate, and his wife.  He did not live in the area but was a great admirer of Hardy and wanted to be buried as near to him as possible.

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Stinsford Church

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The Hardy graves

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Cecil Day Lewis was a big admirer of Thomas Hardy

The early part of this walk is really lovely, taking in not only Hardy’s Cottage and Stinsford Church but also the causeway that runs beside one of the River Frome tributaries.  It is a very picturesque area.

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The walk along the causeway

Sadly, not all of the walk is quite so easy to negotiate!  There was one footpath that I had planned to walk that crossed the River Frome itself but when I got there, both the footpath and the bridge were conspicuous by their absence and the gate leading to the footpath was locked.  This meant a detour back onto the road in order to get round the obstacle.  I am not sure why the land owner has ‘closed’ the footpath (which is still shown as a right of way on the OS map) although, to give him the benefit of doubt, I guess it is possible that the bridge might have just collapsed!

Because of poor signage and moved footpaths I had some problems route finding.  Now I have always been a map and compass kind of man but recently I have acquired a GPS which I thought would answer all my needs.  Unfortunately however, I managed to get one with a bad attitude!!  It bleeps at me beautifully when I am on the right path (and when I don’t need it to) but when I go wrong for any reason it just seems to go to sleep!!  At the time that I think it should be waving at me and shouting, ‘Excuse me pal, you are going the wrong way’, it just seems to say to itself, ‘Oh dear the old codger’s gone wrong again – he’ll realise it sooner or later and in the meantime I’ll have a little doze’!

I passed another delightful little church on this route, one that I’ve not visited before, and while I was there the previous Rector came in and he had some interesting stories to tell.  He told me about the couples who lived on either side of the church.  The wife on one side died and the husband on the other side died and later the widow and the widower became friendly and ultimately were married in the church that separated their two houses!  I thought that was lovely!  He pointed out the rectory which is a very substantial property which was turned into a school but is now in private ownership.  It seems hard to imagine a church minister living in such opulent surroundings!

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A lovely Dorset church

The other thing he told me about was the thatched cottage behind the church which has recently been sold by the elderly villager who owned it.  She was a villager in every sense of the word, very much involved in the local community, but the new owners as so often tends to be the case, are from London and will be using it as a second home.  The cost of this second home was apparently one million pounds!  It highlights yet again the modern trend whereby the heart goes out of village life as villages become more and more just ghost villages!

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A million pounds holiday home

Often when I walk, I come across strange signs!  Like the one below – who was Dick I wonder?  He sounds like a highwayman who robs banks ;)!

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Even more bizarre are the signs below!  These six different, and rather graphic, signs were all within the space of just a quarter of a mile or so.  Clearly they didn’t want people to become bored with seeing the same sign!  Ever feel unwanted!!

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Ever feel unwanted??

At the end of this walk, I had another interesting conversation, this time with a farmer!  I was walking across his field when he opened his tractor door and called me over – I must have a guilty conscience because my first thought was, ‘What have I done wrong?’ ;)!  But he said to me, ‘Can I shake your hand?  You are the first person today who has known where they were going!  I’ve been in the field all day and have had walkers wandering all over the place, the deer stalker is upset because they’ve scared the deer away, and I’ve been asked numerous times where the footpath is!’  So I shook his hand!  You see, bad attitude GPS or not, I do usually know where I am going :)!

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

The Dorset Rambler

Another eventful day in the hills – AKA ‘I get to play shepherd’!

14 Apr

On Wednesday this week, I had another great walk on a day of mixed weather and walking conditions, as well as some varied scenery!  It was about 17 miles of wonderful walking!  And not only was the countryside picturesque but so too were the clouds!  The only mistake I made was in choosing to walk this particular route in the school holidays as there are a number of caravan and camping sites on the route and I think every family in England had descended on Dorset ;)!  Not that I mind really, it’s nice to see that people love Dorset – but then, why wouldn’t they :)!

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Even the clouds were picturesque on this day!

The first part took me through the outskirts of quite a large town, but surprisingly there were some very picturesque parts and even the modern developments looked nice.  After that, it was out into the country and onto some bridleways.  Now I love animals, but I have to say that horses and walkers don’t go together very well, especially after rain!  Not that the horses are a problem, it’s more what their hooves do to the paths which very quickly become a quagmire and therefore difficult to walk!  I think the village of Studland has it right – I walked there not long ago and where there is a bridleway, there is a separate footpath for walkers running beside it.  What a great idea!  I am not sure if it is a deliberate policy or whether it has just happened but it certainly makes walking easier :)!  It should be quite easy to do on any bridleway, a bit like having paths round town for cyclists and walkers separated by a white line!  So how about it bridleway designers, can you paint a white line in the mud???

On this route I passed a famous landmark – Colmers Hill (pictured below).  Now, as a photographer I have always felt deprived at not having a picture of this much photographed location but now I have corrected that ;)!  Ok, its not the usual mist filled sunrise shot but it is still Colmers Hill!  In some strange way, Colmers Hill reminds me of Corfe Castle, another much photographer feature atop a hill, which is also often pictured at sunrise poking its head out of the mist!

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The footpath round Colmers Hill

You see some strange sights while walking!  I often come across alpacas which frankly are strange – they look like some freak of nature that was created on a Friday afternoon just for a laugh ;)!  They look like sheep reflected in a fairground distorting mirror!  Actually I think they are rather cute, although it has to be said that the males look a bit effeminate ;)!  Only kidding!  These alpacas did pose rather nicely for me though – shame about the background!  Incidentally they were looking at a dog!

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All in a line!!

Oh yes, and you get to see some funny signs too!  I am really not quite sure what a ‘public route leading to a public path’ is!!

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What does that mean???

Having got past Colmers Hill, I saw one of those sights that you don’t really want to see – heavy clouds chasing me down the valley as if they were just determined they were going to catch me and dump their load right on top of me.  I could see them watching me as they glided swiftly in my direction!!  But I fooled them – I was about to enter a lovely village with a lovely church which had a lovely porch – just right for hiding in whilst eating lunch :)!  And the cloud dumped its load – but not on me :)!  Not this day anyway!!

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Oh no, look what’s coming!

In actual fact I think the cloud had the last laugh because the major downpour certainly made the footpath much more difficult to negotiate as I slipped and slid all over the place.  And there was one particularly difficult part where the path went up a very steep climb and I had real trouble keeping my feet.  By the looks of the tram lines coming down the slope, I’d say a number of people failed completely in that!

Ultimately I reached the coast.  I like the coast because it makes navigating a route so much easier – just keep the water on one side of you and the land on the other and you can’t go wrong!  You do get some spectacular views as well, and some really lovely beaches too, all shingle in this area and with that lovely distinctive ‘waves on shingle’ sound!  Mix in the sound of the gulls, and you have a combination that just transports you back to the holidays of childhood!

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A lovely Dorset shingle beach

It was when I turned inland again that I got to play shepherd!  I had to walk through a field of sheep with their lambs and when I went out through the gate to the next field, there were three lambs in there.  It was a crop field so they clearly weren’t meant to be there, and they were running up and down the substantial wire fence bleating pitifully.  I have no idea how they got from one field to the other, but the shepherd in me came to the fore and I decided I needed to do something about it – but what!  There was only me, and the gate was spring loaded to close which left a bit of a conundrum as I figured they were unlikely to come towards me whilst I held the gate open for them – pretty they might be but intelligent they are not!  So being resourceful, I used my walking pole to prop the gate open whilst I then walked in a large circle to get behind the little lambs.  Now this could have backfired and I could just have ended up with a field full of sheep where there weren’t meant to be any (I had visions of my walking off humming to myself having let all the sheep out and pretending that I had nothing to do with it ;)!).  Fortunately it worked out well and I managed to usher them back into the right field before any others realised to gate was open – and never did you see three happier lambs as they all ran straight up to their mum’s and tucked into a good and much needed meal!

The sun was setting as I walked over the last ridge of the day and the lovely golden glow of a still evening spread itself across the landscape like a blanket.  It was a beautiful end to a great day, and I had a warm feeling that maybe I had saved three of God’s creatures from an untimely death!

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The lengthening shadows of evening.

But the day wasn’t quite done!  Near the end of the walk, I crossed one section which took in a number of fields and in a distance of probably a quarter of a mile, I had to negotiate no less than 10 gates!!  Every hedgerow had a fence on either side, and every fence had its own gate!  Ah well, it made an interesting end to an eventful day :)!

Oh yes, and on the subject of strange things – there is a hill nearby that is called Doghouse Hill!  I wonder if that was where all the husbands got sent after they had come home from the pub!!

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

The Dorset Rambler

On Kimmeridge Bay

9 Apr

Just to follow up my post last week, I thought I’d put up some pictures of Kimmeridge Bay since it is one of those places that I regularly revisit.  It is such an interesting place and there is always something special about finishing a good days walking on the rocks at Kimmeridge.  It is not surprising that this coast was declared a World Heritage Site!

The first thing of interest is Clavell Tower which has stood like a guard on its hilltop overlooking the bay for many many years – which may seem a strange thing to say but it has, amongst other things, been a lookout tower.  It was built around 1830 by the Rev John Clavell who had inherited the nearby Smedmore House, one of the Purbeck stately homes.  Standing at the top of Hen Cliff, the tower is 35 feet high and has four floors although originally the upper floors would have been accessible only by ladder.  The tower has something of a literary past, having been frequented by the Dorset author, Thomas Hardy.  It featured in his Wessex Poems and was also the inspiration behind P D James’ novel The Black Tower.  It was used as a lookout by the coastguards until 1930 when sadly it was gutted by fire.

For many years after that it was left derelict and because of coastal erosion it was in real danger of collapsing completely into the sea and in 2006 it was taken over by The Landmark Trust.  They dismantled it brick by brick, stone by stone and re-erected it some 30 meters inland at a cost of close on £1M.  The work was completed in 2008 and the tower is now used as holiday accommodation………but if you want to rent it, you will need to book it a long way in advance.  It is naturally a very popular place to stay!

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Kimmeridge with Clavell Tower and Hen Cliff across the bay

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Clavell Tower – the old and the new

Now Dorset has very few waterfalls to speak of but of those it does have, two are at Kimmeridge!  These two are frequently just trickles but if you time it right, you can get some quite good pictures.  I have put two pictures below – both of these were taken using a long exposure to create some movement in the water – much more effective than ‘freezing’ the action.  The first picture is of the smaller waterfall that drains down the valley through a small stream that eventually finds its way to the sea.  The second is the larger fall and it drops from the cliff top straight into the sea – although it is still not a huge drop!  But hey, here are two pictures to celebrate Dorset waterfalls!

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The smaller waterfall

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The higher of the two waterfalls drops straight into the sea

Kimmeridge played its part in our defences during the war and there is still a bunker on the beach, although this is ‘looking its age’!  The bay is also right on the edge of the MOD Artillery Firing Range so guns can frequently be heard along this part of the coast today.

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A relic of war

Geologically, the rocks at Kimmeridge are Oil Shale which is naturally flammable.  The ledges of rock run right out to sea and provide great photographic opportunities when the tide is right.  There is also oil below the bay and also gas.  Over the years, 6 wells have been drilled and today, some 51 years after it first started, the nodding donkey still pumps some 65 barrels of oil out of this well every day – it is the oldest working pump in the UK!

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Across the ledges at Kimmeridge

In days gone by, fishing played a big part in the life of Kimmeridge, and still does.  The fishermen’s huts sit on the shoreline below Clavell Tower with the rock slipways in front.  Much of the time these slipways are used for leisure craft as this bay is a popular playground.  The bay is a wildlife haven and divers are regularly seen offshore as well as fishing canoes.  It is also a great place for children who love the rock pools and fossil hunts.

Kimmeridge has a great heritage and a great atmosphere.  To wander along this shore after sundown is a special and memorable experience and I am fortunate enough to live near enough to enjoy the experience regularly!

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

The Dorset Rambler

Off the beaten track in Dorset!

7 Apr

I thought that today I would put up another of those great ‘off the beaten track’ walks that I enjoy, a walk that skirts round part of the Poole Harbour shoreline.

It starts from the Sandbanks Ferry.  This is the ferry that goes back and forth across the entrance to Poole Harbour – the landing point on the other side is the land that you can see in the distance on the left in the picture below. When the tide is running, there is a tremendous pull on the chains that hold the ferry and links have to be removed regularly to keep the chains to the right length – about 2 links have to be taken out every fortnight . The chains last around 15/18 months and then have to be replaced (at a cost of £24,000 in 2006) – interestingly, the old ones are sold off in sections mainly to local fishermen who use them as weights for boat moorings etc. Another interesting fact is that the chains wear more on the Sandbanks side (where the ferry is in the picture) than they do on the Shell Bay side! A ferry has been running across the harbour entrance since 1926 and the current one, known as Bramble Bush Bay, is the fourth one. It takes around 50 cars at a time and can be a real log-jam in the summer – but it does save a long drive around the harbour.

Just another interesting fact before we get walking – the original idea to get across the harbour entrance was to build a transporter bridge but since the cross channel ferry goes in and out of this entrance, that would have been somewhat inconvenient!

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The Sandbanks Ferry

The first, somewhat unusual, thing you notice when you come off the ferry is the ‘famous’ Shell Bay telephone box which sits virtually on the beach with no houses to speak of anywhere near.  It is probably the most photographed telephone box in the land ;)!

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The most photographed telephone box in the land??

Having reached Shell Bay, most people head to the east side and walk along the beach as it is much easier, but our ‘alternative’ walk takes us to the west side of the peninsula, along the shores of Poole Harbour.  This is not an easy walk especially if the tide is in but it is very rewarding!

After a short distance, you come across one of those quirky things of Dorset – Bramble Bush Bay (from which the ferry gets its name) with its somewhat strange houseboats!  There are two ‘permanent’ houseboats here that have been embedded on concrete bases. Both of them lean crazily – you can see that the one in the picture below slopes at something like 20 degrees.  You might assume that they are derelict but in fact they are both still occupied in the summer, and not only that but they are joined by another four or five more houseboats for the summer season.  Having done some research into these boats (can they still be called that if embedded firmly in concrete?), I understand that they can remain there permanently but cannot actually be replaced (I assume they would be granted mooring rights only if replaced) so they are being held together by ‘sticking plaster and string’ to extend their lives as long as possible. In fact the decks inside have been levelled – I guess it could be quite difficult to sleep otherwise ;)!

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Bramble Bush Bay

A little further along you pass a string of huge concrete blocks reaching out into the harbour.  These are often referred to as Dragon’s Teeth, a war time anti tank defence but I have never actually been able to prove that that is what these are.  What makes me doubtful is that they do not stretch inland which would seem a strange sort of defence.  I wonder if they are in fact the remains of an old landing stage – there were several along this part of the harbour shore.  I need to do more research.  Either way, they make an interesting subject for photographs – and are useful for cormorants as well!

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Dragon’s teeth?

Rounding the point, you come across Redhorn Quay which was once an important landing stage for boats sailing from the Studland area to Brownsea Island, mainly when it had its pottery industry, and other places.  It has long since been abandoned and all that remains are the hulks of one or two boats rotting away.  These days the quay sees only waders foraging for food and the occasional walker like me but it is a lovely wild place.  The wreck at Redhorn is not technically a wreck, it is just an old metal hulled barge that was left there and has rotted away over the years.  There are a few ‘wrecks’ like this one in the harbour, as well as some real wrecks on the sea bed.  These have to be regularly surveyed to make sure they have not moved as they could constitute a danger to the ships and boats that use the harbour.  I got chatting to the man whose job it is to dive to these wrecks and cary out the survey – well it beats a desk job doesn’t it!

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Redhorn Quay

This part of the harbour shoreline abuts Studland Heath Nature Reserve so there is much wild life to see, including many deer and waders.  There is a hide facing onto the harbour shore.  This is a part of Poole Harbour that I love – left to nature, it is a complete contrast to the north harbour shore which is heavily populated.

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One of the harbour inlets – part of the harbour left to nature

To continue to walk round the harbour shore is difficult.  In the picture above, our walk has taken us along the right shoreline but the left shoreline leads back out to the Goathorn Peninsula which is private.  Further along, the only points where there is public access to the harbour shore are at Ower and the RSPB run bird reserve at Shipstal Point.  I personally think this lack of access is a crime!  I believe that there should be public access to all water fronts, whether it be sea, harbour or river and I think the Right to Roam should extend to this!  I know that apart from public footpaths, some land has been designated Access Land, but in my opinion it is far too little!  Poole Harbour has 100 miles of coastline but too much of it cannot be accessed!

I find it quite bizarre that it has recently been announced by the government that ‘The Dorset Coast Path has been opened’ – the link is below.  I’ve lived all my life in Dorset and much of that has been spent walking the coast and for as far back as I can remember, there has been a path.  So how come the big announcement?  How about creating a path and granting access where there currently is none, rather than scoring cheap brownie points by ‘opening’ up paths that for the most part have existed for years!!!  Just imagine if there was a new long distance footpath all around Poole Harbour!  Maybe if the Olympic sailing events had been held at Poole we might have got that – but I doubt it!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-16751214

Poole Harbour is often quoted as the second largest natural harbour in the world and as mentioned, it has over 100 miles of coastline.  It has five main islands but probably more than double that at low tide.  It is also a very shallow harbour with an average depth of just 48cm, although channels have been dredged to allow large boats to navigate to Poole Quay, including cross channel ferries.  Parts of it are wonderfully wild and make fabulous areas to walk or watch wildlife, two of the things I love to do!  This walk is not easy and can be boggy underfoot but it is a walk I always enjoy!

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

A very happy Easter to you all!

The Dorset Rambler

Walking the Dorset Mills!

5 Apr

I had another great walk yesterday – well, that is to say, apart from the weather!!  Just a few days ago I was walking in a T shirt and getting sunburnt and yesterday I not only had a fleece on but I wished I’d taken gloves as it was really cold on the hills!  It’s no wonder we English are obsessed with the weather, its always a bit of a lottery what we are going to get!!  Nevertheless, it was a great 17 mile walk and it took in no less than three mills (well four really), although only one still works.

The walk started with a steady and long climb through woods and across farmland.  The woodland is currently being worked and there were loads of felled trees that the woodsman was cutting up – reminds me of a joke about three Irishmen who went for a job with a lumber company, who when told that there was only one vacancy replied, ‘Well your advert says tree fellers required’ :)!!  Farther along I passed an interesting project called ‘The Living Classroom’ which teaches all about the woodlands but outside rather than in the school.  I wished they had had that when I was young!  In the same area, I passed the UK Bike Park which is basically a mega mountain biking course running down through the woods.  Woodlands for teaching and recreation!

Coming out of the woodlands onto the open hilltop is amazing as there are fantastic views all around, and fortunately for me the sun chose that moment to show its face :)!  The hilltop here is the site of a beacon – one of a whole network of beacons that were used in ancient times to pass on bad news such as the arrival of the Spanish Armada, or good news of course, by lighting a fire at the top to signal to the next beacon where their fire would be lit and so on down the chain.  How times change – now we just pick up our iPhone – I wonder what Sir Frances Drake would have made of that!!

The first mill passed on this walk was Sturminster Newton Mill, dating from the 17th century although in fact there has been a mill on this site for 1,000 years.  Thanks to major restoration in the 19th century the mill still works today and it was in fact run commercially until just a few years ago when because of current health & safety and food hygiene regulations, commercial milling had to cease.  Interestingly, it was originally two mills, a fulling mill and a grist mill, with two separate mill wheels in the same pit.  The two mills were connected, albeit only at first floor level, and the mill wheels were replaced by a ‘modern’ turbine – well it was modern in 1904!  It is a credit to the engineers of the day that the mill still operates.

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Sturminster Newton Mill.

The second mill followed quickly after the first at Fiddleford.  Much smaller than the first mill, it nevertheless occupies a lovely position on the banks of the River Stour although these days it is silent!  It has much history and heritage, having apparently once been used a storage place for contraband liquor!  It was also said to be one of the favourite places of the poet William Barnes.  There is quite an unusual 16th century inscription carved into the outside walls – I think it basically means that the miller was a good guy and he welcomed those of like mind:

‘He thatt wyll have here any thynge don
Let him corn fryndly he shall be welcom
A frynd to the owner and enemy to no man
Pass all here frely to corn when they can
For the tale of trothe I do always professe
Miller be true disgrace not thy vest
falsehod appere the fault shal be thine
And of sharpe punishment think me not unkind
Therefore to be true it shall the behove
(To) please god chefly (that liveth) above.’

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Fiddleford Mill (the Manor House nearby is said to be the oldest building in Dorset)

Another interesting thing on this walk was the smallest nature reserve in Dorset – it is in fact a Community Orchard with all sorts of fruit trees including apple, pear, plum and cherry.  With its restored dew pond (a bit dried up at the moment of course), it is a lovely place to sit and enjoy lunch – very quiet and peaceful.  The Chairman of the local Wildlife Trust visited while I was there and we got chatting – he calls regularly to check the trees (some are very old) and to see which are in blossom or fruiting.  They still have apple days in the autumn.

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The Community Orchard

One of the things that saddens me on these walks, is how many churches I pass that have been converted to living accommodation.  I passed the church below which has served the local community for years and has a huge legacy of helping people and serving God, but is now redundant and I believe is a large house.  I know it is only a building but somehow it was a presence and a witness as well.

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Redundant?

The weather on this walk was crazily mixed – from sunshine to heavy hail stones!  Which, I must say, often makes for better pictures :)!

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Hailstones!!

The last mill of the day was probably the largest and was at Durweston.  I have been able to find out little about this apart from the fact that it has been modernised and converted into flats.  It still faces out onto the pond/river and I must say, it must be an idyllic place to live!  Durweston itself is a village famous for The Durweston Carols, a group of ‘gallery carols’ composed probably around 1800 and sung for many generations by the villagers – it is a village with a ‘musical heritage.

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Durweston Mill

And the view it looks out onto is below.

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The River Stour at Durweston

And for me, I guess looking out on that view across the River Stour as the last remaining light fades, is a great way to end another great walk!

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

The Dorset Rambler

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