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A Tactile Walk

13 Aug

The morning was bright and for once I decided to leave Dorset for the neighbouring county to do a 15 mile walk through some wonderful countryside and villages.  The day started in one of those beautiful meadows that are a dream to walk; the long grass swaying in the gentle breeze, the skylarks’ sweet song soaring above me, the butterflies fluttering by, the bees and bugs buzzing all around – just a dream!  

The Meadow
In the meadow

Have you ever thought of a walk being tactile?  Walking through the meadow hearing, seeing, smelling (if I had a sense of smell), but feeling too as I walked with fingers outstretched combing through the heads of the long swaying grass.  It was a lovely feeling that added another dimension – a real multi-sensory meadow!

After a mile or two my route took me along a lane rife with tall, delicate cow parsley, always a delight in summer.  

The Lane
A lane lined with cow parsley

Pushing my way through the at times overgrown lane with grass and flowers brushing my legs, I was somewhat glad that the recent weather had been dry.  The lane eventually gave way to more open ground as I reached the edge of a field and passed an old, rustic fence post, its rough solidness contrasting with the flimsy grasses around it.  I ran my fingers over the post, feeling its roughness and wondering who else’s hands had done that same thing over the many years it had been there.  With hedging and missing gate, the post seemed surplus and yet still added something to a lovely rural scene.

Meadow's Edge
A lovely rural scene

Eventually I reached the first village, and a beautiful village it was.  I love walking the countryside but I also love walking these old villages with their old cottages, some picturesque and some functional, all part of a local community that has existed and seen many changes over the centuries.  Strange to think that cottages like the one below once housed poor farm workers but so often now are second homes for the wealthy.  How times have changed and what stories these cottages could tell.

The Cottage
Picturesque or functional, always a delight

Passing out of the village along a quiet country lane, I joined another footpath that skirted round a hill.  The heights reached on this walk are not mountainous but the views are none-the-less beautiful for that and I stopped to take in the landscape below me.

The Footpath
Low hills but still great views

The hill itself was a real surprise!  Known as Windmill Hill, presumably because at one time there was a windmill there, the area was covered in beautiful blue flax, not the most common farm crop.  The breeze blowing across the hill rustled through the flowers creating a waving sea of blue.

Flax on Windmill Hill
A waving sea of blue

There was more tactile to come but unfortunately not so positive – the path beyond the blue hill was overgrown with stinging nettles; shorts and nettles are not a good combination!  I picked my way carefully through and eventually reached clearer ground as the path skirted along the edge of some woodland with some lovely dappled sunlight filtering through.  It was like a fairyland and I tried to capture it with the camera.

If you go down in the woods today......
A fairyland

Another picturesque village, and a lunch stop, followed before I once again made my way out into the countryside.  The crops in the fields were already ripening and the paths through them were narrow and once again I walked with outstretched fingers feeling the touch of the full seed heads.  The golden grain swayed in the breeze as I walked.

Against the Grain
Golden grain

And naturally a poppy or two joined in.

A Beautiful Cliche!
Poppy

More fields followed with contrasting crops, the delicacy of oats to the touch and the robustness of barley.  The feel of these is so different, and the look too of course with the barley field seeming to impersonate the sea as wave after wave rolls across the field ahead of the breeze.  Narrow paths and high crops, I couldn’t resist running my outstretched fingers through the heads once again.

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The Way Through
Contrasting crops

I stopped in the middle of the barley field, watching the ‘waves’ and listening to the rustling of swaying stalks.  It was a delight and made me think of W H Davies words, ‘What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’  We should, indeed, must take time to stand and stare, and to touch and feel too, to fully take in all that is around us.

But I needed to move on, as the day was ticking by, and leaving the field behind me, I joined a wonderfully picturesque path along a ridge top, again not a high ridge but with lovely views on each side.

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Along the ridge

Eventually I neared the end of my journey, but there was more to come.  For the last stretch, I joined a rampart and ditch that had once formed the fortification along the county boundary.  I sat for some time with the long meadow grass waving around me, drinking in the scene.  What history there is in these ramparts, what blood must have been shed on their flanks that are now covered with the most delightful wild flowers and butterflies – a beautiful place of peace after centuries of strife.

Rampart
On the rampart

The final part of my walk was back through the meadows that I had started out from.  Still with skylarks serenading me overhead, and a myriad wild flowers to welcome me back, I took some time to capture the scene, and to try to capture the essence of the meadow which I love so much.  In reality, this is an impossible task since the meadow is a place that needs all of your senses to take in its joys and a camera can only do the visual.

In the Meadow
In the MeadowSummer in the Meadows
The essence of a beautiful meadow

God gave us all our senses to enjoy but so often we neglect to use them, rushing through life hardly noticing what is around us.  The sense of touch is particularly not associated with walking as much as sight and sound but it can really add another dimension to a good walk – so next time you go out walking, make it a tactile walk.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of bright sunshine, eerie woodlands, raining lead shot, and a very DARK walk back!

2 Dec

What a gorgeous morning this was!  Bright sunshine on a crisp autumn day and this time I had made sure I had my gloves with me before I started out.  Not that I got very far before I stopped to get the camera out – I parked in a rough lay-by with a very nicely placed puddle to reflect the autumn trees.  But soon, I headed out along that country lane for a short distance before turning off onto open fields.

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A well placed puddle

The day was chill and the grass still wet, and even though the sun had risen, the shadows thrown by the trees were long.  These cold days are so much better for photography than the warm summer hazy days as the light has a clarity that really brings out the shades and shapes of the landscape.  Today, I had the pleasure of the company of both sun and moon at the same time as the latter was clearly working the day shift.  As lovely as it was to see the soft moon in the daytime sky, this was a pleasure that was to have consequences later!

After a short time, my route left the open countryside and I walked through a doorway into some woodlands.

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The woodland doorway

The path descended into a deep valley filled with trees that had once formed a thriving coppicing industry although activities here had ceased long ago.  This was an eerie valley, always dark, always damp, decaying wood everywhere, lots of moss, and with hardly a sound in the very still air.  Little did I know it then, but this would be an even more eerie place later in the day as I made my way back!

Eventually my route took a left turn and I walked along a path, carpeted with golden leaves, that climbed up the hillside into a more light and airy woodland.

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A golden carpet of leaves

It is always a pleasure walking this stretch of woodland with the rustling of the leaves and the plaintive cry of the buzzards being the only sounds.  It seemed like I was the only person out, but not quite – I passed an elderly couple walking their dog and we greeted each other as we passed.  The old gentleman could walk no further so was taking a rest as his wife walked a little further along the path.

At the edge of these woods I passed through the old gate in the picture below.  I pass it regularly and yet each time I find myself taking yet more pictures of it.  I never could resist an old wooden gate, especially with that lovely sunshine streaming through the trees!  It could easily have been the gate that inspired Hardy to write, ‘I leant upon a coppice gate, when frost was spectre grey….’!

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The old gate

A little further along, my path dropped down into what is one of my favourite valleys with the rather wonderful name of Shepherd’s Bottom.  Normally there are sheep grazing which always seems appropriate in this place.  Today there were none but it was still a lovely place to be.  

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Shepherd’s Bottom

Dropping down into the valley, I passed through a small area of woodland before climbing up the other side to yet more woodlands.  At one time of course the whole of Dorset comprised of woodlands or heathland and with so much of the land having been cleared for farming, it is good to see these pockets of wild countryside still remaining.  This however was a working forest and signs warned of the danger from large machinery.

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The forest track

By the time I had come out of the woodlands and onto the open hilltop again, it was time for lunch so I found a suitable seat……which was actually a relatively dry stile!  The views from my lunch ‘table’ were amazing and even in the cold, I was happy to sit and look out across the valley beyond.  

My peace was disturbed however by men with sticks that had what appeared to be carrier bags tied to the end.  They were walking the hillside waving their sticks and I quickly guessed their purpose.  One of them, a young man with two spaniels in tow, passed by me.  As he lifted his dogs one at a time over the stile that had been my seat, I asked him if there was a shoot, to which he replied, ‘Yes’.  Apparently the guns were at the bottom of the valley and soon after I heard the first shot.  As I packed up and walked on, gunshots echoed out constantly, and frequently I was rained on by lead shot.  

Although having lead shot falling on me out of the sky didn’t concern me, it did make me wonder what the long term effect would be on the farmland and the crops.

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My lunch time view

After some time, I moved away from the shoot onto a neighbouring hillside.  My route was to take me down the side of the hill and through a delightful village.  This is one of those places that you would normally not stop at but that really reaps rewards if you are prepared to walk and explore.

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The village in the valley

It has an old school, an old church, numerous cottages and farmhouses…….

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The old farmhouse

…….and even an old mill in a very picturesque position beside a beautifully still millpond.  Once a busy village mill, this is now in a private residence.

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The old mill

Leaving the village behind, my route took me beside the now slow flowing mill stream and out onto the narrowest of country lanes with high banks on either side.  The sun was streaming straight down the road, highlighting the fallen leaves as if it were a spotlight and the leaf a starring player in a stage production.  But this was better than any stage production!

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In the spotlight

Climbing out of the valley, I ultimately crested one of the highest points in Dorset.  With 360 degree views over countryside and along the ridge, this is a spectacular spot to just sit and gaze.  This is a place with a history as it was once the site of one of the chain of Armada beacons erected in the 16th century between London and Plymouth.  How communications have changed since then!

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The view from the beacon

I lingered a while to enjoy the view, lost in my own thoughts.  The breeze was gentle but cutting, with a sting in its tail and I was glad of my flask of hot Bovril to warm me.

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A warming drink as the sun goes down

With the light fading fast, I needed to move on and so followed the ridge of hills for a mile or more, bathed in the warm light of the setting sun.  Along this stretch I was not alone as I passed a group of people who were, like me, enjoying the sunset.

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Enjoying the sunset

Just as I reached the end of the ridge-top path and my route turned once again into woodlands, the sun dipped his toe into the horizon pool before diving headlong in and disappearing from view.  This was a beautiful but slightly concerning sight as I still had several miles to walk!

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The sun dips his toe into the horizon pool

With the sun went the light!  I entered the first area of woodland with just enough glow in the sky to enable me to find my way and avoid the huge areas of deep mud on the heavily rutted forest track.  However, very soon the light had gone completely so I took my head torch out of my rucksack……only to find that the batteries were all but dead!  The words of Thomas Gray came into my mind, ‘And all was left to darkness and to me’!

Normally at this point the moon would cast his gentle glow to aid me but of course he had been up when I set out this morning so was still fast asleep!  I entered a second area of dense woodland with only a glimmer of light with which to find my way.  By now, I had given up trying to find my way round the mud but rather just ploughed through the middle.  Being ankle deep most of the time, I slipped and slid my way slowly onwards along a track which in daylight would not have been easy to follow but in the dark………!

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The eerie darkness

Those eerie woodlands of this morning were even more so in the dark.  The stillness was tangible!  Owls hooted spookily all around me, leaves rustled, trees creaked like rusted door hinges, twigs cracked, broken by unknown feet, and the eyes of unseen creatures stared at me, caught in the slight glimmer of my head torch.  I could not tell what the eyes belonged to other than to guess by their height off the ground.

Every few yards game birds, spooked by my presence, panicked and took off noisily with thrashing of wings and screeching of voice.  I hoped that they would be able to find another roosting spot in the dark!

My way out of the woods was by the track I had come along earlier in the day but it was not an obvious track, especially with a heavy covering of leaf and mud, and the sign pointing it out was half hidden in the trees.  However, eventually I found it!  I made my way slowly up the side of the valley and after what seemed an age I reached the road from which I had started the walk.

What a day!  Fabulous sunshine, amazing views, interesting places and most memorable of all, a wonderful night walk in the deep, dark woods!

I sat and enjoyed the rest of my Bovril before heading for home and a hot shower :)!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Along the coast path with a backpack – Day 4

28 Sep

I had high hopes for a stunning sunrise visible from my tent on the headland but once again I was disappointed as the view below greeted me when I unzipped the flysheet.  Another misty morning, and in fact it was to stay with me all day.  Nevertheless I was looking forward to another great days walking.

It had been a strange night!  The ground I had pitched on that looked perfectly level yesterday in fact sloped making sleep difficult.  Only the careful placing of various items out of my rucksack stopped me from sliding down the tent ;)!

Eager to get out on the trail again, I had a quick breakfast and squeezed everything back into my tardis of a rucksack.

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Another misty morning

Setting out along the headland heading south, I quickly reached the point and turned west – well it was either that or walk out into the sea ;)!  The beautifully atmospheric scene below greeted me.  At this point there are two choices, to walk across the headland or to drop down and walk another undercliff path although a much shorter one than yesterday.  I chose the more interesting route and headed down the cliffside where the path wove through the contours of the collapsed cliff, passing gnarled trees growing out of rocks with seemingly no soil.

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The undercliff walk

Eventually, having reached sea level, the path climbed up again and over the next headland before dropping down a gentle grassy slope into Branscombe Mouth.  Despite the grey morning and lack of people, there was a cafe open by the beach and I was tempted to call in for breakfast, but I chose to continue walking.  As I headed up the next climb though I looked back and wondered if I should have stopped ;)!

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Branscombe Mouth

Once again I disappeared into the mist and once again dropped down into another bay, this time Weston Mouth.  The walk down was similar to the last one, gentle and grassy but the climb up is somewhat different!

Having reached beach level, a long and steep series of steps took me through the trees and shrubbery to reach the steep, grassy hillside above.  Here I paused for elevenses beside Weston Plats, an area that could be described as 19th century clifftop allotments.  The micro climate was conducive to producing early flowers and vegetables, notably the Branscombe potato, and the position above the beach kept the village fishermen occupied whilst enabling them to keep an eye on the sea.  The Plats are now owned by The National Trust.

In the 1800’s the villagers used donkeys to transport their produce and as I struggled up the steep slope I wished I had one to transport me ;)!

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Weston Mouth with Weston Plats in the trees the other side

It was interesting walking over the flat, grassy headlands!  Usually route finding on the coast is fairly simple – just keep the sea on your left and the land on your right.  However when you can see neither, that adage becomes somewhat inappropriate!  With dense mist and low cloud, visibility was minimal and for much of the time there were no clear paths to follow.  Now I’m usually a map and compass sort of a guy but it is at times like these that I am grateful to the smart phone app designers and for the inbuilt GPS :)!

This kept me on track and ultimately I dropped down into Sidmouth, one of the larger seaside towns along this part of the coast.

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Sidmouth

As I walked down another gentle grassy slope I could hear the sound of jazz music wafting up on the breeze and I looked forward to sitting and listening to it as I had some lunch.  Annoyingly though when I reached the town all was silent!

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The beach at Sidmouth

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the red cliffs would become a feature of this walk and this was very evident as I reached the seafront and looked back.  This red sandstone would stay with me for the rest of the walk.

Sidmouth is a popular tourist spot even on a day such as this.  Normally this would make me pass through quickly but I needed sustenance so I stopped for lunch before ambling along the sea front passing empty deck-chairs, a reminder of a summer now seemingly gone.

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Sidmouth sea front

Eventually I left the town, passing the well known Jacob’s Ladder, a promontory that was once a lime kiln, now converted to a cafe.

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Jacob’s Ladder

Ahead of me was the last real up hill section of the walk.  Climbing up along the Monks Path I crossed High Peak, once an Iron Age hill fort although part of it has long since collapsed into the sea.  High Peak was a somewhat sad sight as the last time I walked there it was covered in a wonderful woodland.  Now though the top is bare.

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High Peak in the mist

I dropped down the other side into Ladrum Bay with its amazing red sandstone geological features.  Many sea stacks stand proud along the shoreline which is rich in Triassic fossils, indeed it is one of the most important sites in the world for these remains.  Ladrum Bay is also home to a large caravan site and as I passed through, there was one incident that made me chuckle out loud!

Beside the cliff top I passed a man with a controller in his hand nonchalantly gazing out to sea.  Just along the coast there was a radio controlled helicopter ducking and diving and doing all sorts of fast aerobatics and I was amazed that the man controlling it could do all that whilst not even looking at it…….until I realised he wasn’t!  Far out at sea I could just make out a silent radio controlled glider – someone else was clearly operating the helicopter :)!

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Ladrum Bay

The coastline along this part is more gently undulating that the switch back of previous days and it was a very enjoyable easy walk for my last afternoon.  Despite the constant mist, there were still lovely atmospheric views in all directions.  As usual the path became slightly busier along this stretch, a clear outcome of having a nearby caravan park.  What I think is great though is how everyone says ‘hello’ as they pass, or stops to pass the time of day.  I thought it would be good if this practice could be extended to our towns where people pass by anonymously.

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The view back to Ladrum Bay with High Peak beyond

There was one particular young couple – we passed each other probably four times, each leapfrogging the other as we stopped at different times.  We had met earlier in the day when they were struggling to find the route with their map and my smart phone app came to the rescue.  We chatted several times along the way and they passed me once more along this stretch of the coast.  I didn’t come across them again and it seemed almost sad – who were they and what were their stories?  Our paths had crossed momentarily and probably never will do again.

My route continued over Brandy Head, so named because of its connection with smuggling which was rife all along this coast.  Kegs of Brandy were one of the main commodities and gave the headland its name.

It is also known for the somewhat innocuous building in the picture below.  This was the observation hut used in World War II to test new aircraft mounted canon and gunsights.  Local boys from Otterton used to sneak out on to Brandy Head and watch the aircraft whilst hiding in the shrubbery – somewhat dangerous but fun!  Apparently divers would collect gun cases from the sea bed and sell them at Ladrum Bay.  This headland has quite a history!

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Brandy Head Observation Post

I was nearing the end of my walk now and before dropping off the headland I took at last look back the way I had come.  There was a distinctly autumnal feel in both the colours and the mist as the coast faded into the distance.

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Autumn on the coast

Turning to continue my journey, I had a first view of Budleigh Salterton, my finishing point.  Not that the walking was over as this is yet another place that necessitated walking a mile or so inland to cross the River Otter and marshes before walking back out the other side to reach the town itself.

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Budleigh Salterton

At 5.15pm, after walking just under 16 miles, I walked onto the sea front.  It was a fitting place to end my four day ‘pilgrimage’ as one line of my ancestors came from there.  I therefore have Budleigh Salterton blood in my veins :)!

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Budleigh Salterton beach

What a fabulous four days!  Sunshine, gale force winds, pouring rain, mist, low cloud, what a variety of conditions – it was impossible to get bored with the weather.

I wish I had been able to take my DSLR so that I could have done more justice to some wonderful views that my little compact camera couldn’t handle but there literally wasn’t a square centimetre of space in my rucksack.  Nevertheless, I hope the pictures have given you a flavour of a fantastic walk and that you have enjoyed walking with me.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler (or should that be The Devon Rambler).

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Along the coast path with a backpack – Day 1

24 Sep

The day I had been looking forward to arrived :)  I had packed and repacked my rucksack numerous times, several rucksacks in fact, and I ended up with a hard choice – one that was big enough to take all my gear for a four day trip but was old and uncomfortable or one that was not big enough but was easier on the shoulders!  I chose the latter!  It just meant that the tent, and ultimately several other things, had to be attached to the outside.

The 7.20am train took me to my starting point at Weymouth and at 8.10am I was off walking……..but not very far :)!  Well it was breakfast time :)!

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Weymouth Beach

Walking along the seafront at Weymouth with its pristine, newly raked beach, I spied a beachside cafe advertising bacon baps so I sat down :)!  Not for long though, just long enough to eat breakfast and drink a cup of tea and by 8.30am I was off walking, really off walking this time.  The first part of this walk is quite novel really as it involves crossing the harbour entrance which is normally possible by rowing boat ferry, probably something of a rarity these days.  Unfortunately though, I was too early so had to detour some way inland to cross by the bridge and then walk back out on the other side.

Passing the 19th century Fort Nothe and then the much earlier Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry VIII, both to protect the entrance to Portland Harbour, my route took me along the track bed of the old Portland Railway, some lovely flat, easy walking to start the day.  After an hour or so I reached Ferry Bridge and the start of the footpath that skirts round The Fleet.

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The shoreline of The Fleet

The Fleet is a well known tract of water between the mainland and the famous Chesil Beach, an 18 mile long barrier of shingle and pebbles.  The water trapped between the two forms The Fleet and is salt at one end, becoming more brackish towards the other.  Almost to echo this, the size of the pebbles on Chesil Beach also varies along its length from large at one end to much smaller at the other, caused by the action of the tide.

The footpath winds in and out of every bay and inlet and on this occasion even around the military rifle range that was operating, thus closing the shorter route.  It is a beautiful place to walk with myriad geese and wildlife, and later even more famously swans.  The noise from the geese was deafening!

Part way along, I passed what was once Fleet House, seat of the Mohun family immortalised by J Meade Faulkner in his book ‘Moonfleet’ (a book which I have always loved), now a hotel.  Nearby also are the remains of Fleet church which was all but destroyed in the huge storm of 1824 when a massive tidal wave broke over the top of Chesil Beach destroying much of the village.

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Fleet House, now a hotel

As the footpath nears the famous Abbotsbury Swannery, it turns inland to cross farm land and climb up onto a ridge.  The views across The Fleet and also inland are beautiful and it is a walk to be savoured rather than rushed.

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The rolling landscape of Dorset

After a few miles, the path took me down into Abbotsbury but before dropping into the village, I just had to stand and enjoy the wonderful view across to St Catherine’s Chapel, high on its hilltop.  This chapel was once part of Abbotsbury Abbey and was built by the monks as a place of pilgrimage and retreat.

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Across to St Catherine’s Chapel

Amazingly in the 5 hours since leaving Weymouth I had walked 14 miles……and I was now hungry so I decided to stop off at the local pub for a sandwich :)!  Unfortunately there was no room in my rucksack even for food!  Abbotsbury is a beautiful and unspoilt village with honey coloured cottages and the lovely surrounding hills.  It is a popular place with its swannery, tropical gardens, chapel, abbey ruins, tithe barn and so on, and especially so in the spring when the cygnets hatch in the swannery.

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Abbotsbury

All too soon I had to move on and climbed up onto the ridge that runs just inland of the coast path.  Part way up the side of the hill I turned for another view of the village nestling in the valley.

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Abbotsbury in its valley with the coast beyond

It wasn’t the last I would see of the village as there are fabulous views all along this ridge and in the picture below, you can really get a feel for the way The Fleet has been created by the long barrier that is Chesil Beach or Chesil Bank as it is sometimes known.  Beyond those, you can see the Isle of Portland stretching out to sea.

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The Fleet, Chesil Beach and Portland

Continuing along the ridge, the path crosses Wears Hill with its beacon marking the spot of a much earlier version last lit over 400 years ago.  This is one of a series of beacons all along the south coast.

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The beacon

The site is most noted for its amazing 360 degree view across the coast and inland.  When I got there, the cows were all sat down which is a worrying sight – well my grandmother used to say that it meant rain was coming!  It didn’t – not this day at least!!!

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Amazing views from Wears Hill

Yet another feature along this part of the walk is Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron-age hill fort.  Its double ramparts cover around 4 acres but the weather, and probably feet, have over the years caused some erosion.  When I passed through, the wind was whipping across the hilltop and I wondered how the people would have coped there in the winter.

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Abbotsbury Castle ramparts

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Yet more views

By now, I was reaching my destination and the first night’s stop near the village of Puncknowle (pronounced Punnel) which stood just inland from the ridge top.  I walked into the village at 4.30pm after walking nearly 19 miles.  The evening was bright and dry as I pitched my tent but I was slightly relieved that the village was on the leeward side of the ridge!  I was somewhat relieved too that my ankle that had been giving me problems recently was giving me nothing more than twinges at the moment :)!

I spent the evening exploring the village and then retired to the local pub for a welcome meal – the dog in the picture is not mine by the way.

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The local pub

What a great first day :)!  Now how well will I sleep……..

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Holloways – walking Dorset’s labyrinthine paths!

17 Sep

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Hell Lane

There are thousands of paths criss crossing Dorset’s wonderful countryside but none as fascinating as these labyrinthine paths like the one in the picture above which goes by the interesting name of Hell Lane!  These are known as Holloways, although they do have other names such as shutes, bostels or grundles depending on the area they are in, and they are only seen in the southern counties of England where the bedrock is soft – West Dorset is predominantly sandstone.  So what are Holloways?

Well the name Holloway comes from the anglo-saxon word which literally means ‘sunken road’, and they date from at least 300 years ago, many going back as far as the iron age.  They started life as either drove trails used to move cattle and other animals from farms to markets, routes from inland to the sea ports, pilgrimage routes, or simply boundary ditches.

Centuries of use by cattle, carts and people gradually eroded the soft surface creating a ditch which was then deepened and widened by yet more ‘traffic’ and also by water running off the surrounding land as the ditch became at times a river.  Eventually, many have become as deep as 20 or 30 feet creating in effect gorges rather than paths.

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A network of tree roots hold up the walls

Holloways are a record of the habits of our ancestors with hundreds of years of repeated use and that makes them rich in heritage and mystery……which is why I love walking them.  With walls towering on either side and trees growing out of the top with their network of roots holding the walls in place, these paths have a real air of mystery.  And lots of wildlife too!  Gilbert White, a pioneering naturalist from the 18th century once said that to walk the holloways was to ‘Access a world of deep history, an unexpectedly wild world, buried amid the familiar and close at hand’.  He wasn’t wrong!

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Another West Dorset holloway

I have a number of regular walks that take in one or more holloways and they are always a delight to walk.  On a grey, stormy day you could almost fear to walk them as the gloom and darkness created by the high walls and overhanging branches creates a feeling of shadowy threat.  On a bright sunny day with lovely dappled light filtering through the trees, they take on an altogether different feel!

They are ever changing, ever different, but always delightful!  And as is often the case when I walk, I travel along them wondering about those who have trod that way before – were they early drovers, were they pilgrims heading for one of the Dorset abbeys, were they just ordinary people making their way to the port perhaps to emigrate to other lands!

There is always so much to discover as I walk through this lovely county of Dorset.

………………………………………………

I cannot end this blog entry without thanking those who have sent good wishes on my recent ankle problems.  I have now had the results of the X-Ray and it apparently shows that I have osteoarthritis as well as a slightly skewed joint.  This is normal in a joint that has had trauma in the past.  The words I didn’t want to hear were, ‘The more you walk, the more it will wear‘!  However, she did also say that as walking is good for you, and as it is not an exact science, I should keep on walking :)!  To use the doctor’s words, ‘The pain will tell you when it is time to stop’!  Hopefully that won’t be anytime soon :)!

So I am off to test the ankle later this week :)!  I am packing my rucksack with tent and everything else and heading off for a four day backpack along the Dorset and Devon Coast Path :)!  A blog entry will no doubt follow :)!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,
Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of dappled sunlight, amazing views, ridges and valleys, and some lost cows!

29 Aug

What a difference to last year!  2012 was wet, wet, wet; 2013 has been sunshine and warmth, making for some wonderful walks and very pleasant evenings.  Despite my ankle problems, I managed to get out on the trail again this week although I trod with care.  The X-Ray is done and I now just have to wait for the report…….and in the meantime I will continue to tread carefully, and walk on :)!

This walk started on a ridge top although my route immediately took me down into the valley along a stony track which definitely needed care as the last thing I needed was a twisted ankle.  The problem with these rough tracks is that you have to watch where you are walking, and with views ahead like the one below, it is hard to watch the ground.

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Rough path, great view!

It wasn’t long though before I came out onto a country lane.  Now I really like walking along country lanes because the walking is easy and you can fully take in all that is around you.  However, that is provided the country lane is quiet…….which this one normally is…….except in the school holidays!  I found myself stepping into the hedge with monotonous regularity to get out of the path of passing cars.  With beautiful dappled sunlight and amazing views ahead, it was still lovely despite the traffic.

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A ‘quiet’ country lane

In fact, with signs like the one below, you wouldn’t want to step too far into the hedge :)!

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Traffic one side, unexploded shells on the other ;)

The lane led me into one of those typically Dorset hamlets, with a manor house, a farm, a church and a cottage or two, nothing more.  Most of these settlements date back to manorial days before transport was easy and people needed to live near their work, and their lordly employers.  I was pleased to see the cottage below being re-thatched.  I have walked past it many times and have always felt sad at the poor state of repair into which it had fallen.

These cottages are so typically Dorset and they look so picture post card perfect but with those tiny windows, they must be quite dark inside.  As someone who loves light and the outdoors, I am not so sure that living in one would suit me.  And I’m not so sure I would want the huge capital cost of re-thatching either as it has a limited life span, not to mention the high cost of insurance!

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Refurbishment in progress

Continuing through the hamlet, my route took me along a wonderful quiet lane with dappled light filtering through the patchwork of leaves and branches above, highlighting the colours in the foliage.  With the ladder leaning against the tree it was like a Hardy scene and I almost expected someone in a smock to be picking apples.

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Nearly autumn!

And on to the church with its graveyard where in Thomas Gray’s words, ‘Each in his narrow cell forever laid, The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep’.  I wonder what this hamlet was like in their day!  Who were they and what stories could they tell?

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The Rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep

And of course, yet more dappled light with the sunshine filtering through the overhanging branches of the ever present yew trees.  Just beautiful!

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Beneath the yew tree’s shade

Leaving the village behind, I continued across the fields and past one of my successes :)!  In amongst the trees there is a small wooden bridge which once was broken and impassable and which badly needed replacing.  There is a system in Dorset whereby you can report problems with footpaths and I do this regularly – the bridge has now been replaced :)!

I have spoken before about good farmers who reinstate paths after fields have been ploughed up or planted, as opposed to ‘bad’ ones who don’t.  This little wooden bridge leads onto the field of a good farmer who always reinstates the path by driving his tractor diagonally across the field.  I stopped part way and turned to look back down the ‘tram lines’ to see the church now far in the distance.

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Down the tram lines

One of the highlights of this walk is undoubtedly the section that traverses the ridge just inland of the coast path – often I would walk along the coast path itself but sadly due to the many serious cliff falls last year, that path is still closed.  As sad as that is, the inland route is equally beautiful with a fabulous panorama which covers 360 degrees.  Just gaze in wonder with me for a moment, feel the sea breeze on your face and smell the countryside.

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A fabulous panorama

One of the good things about this walk is that when you leave one view, the next is not far away.  Walking round to the next valley brought another vista to be enjoyed and as it was past lunch time, I sat on the hillside and ate looking out onto the scene below.  Where better to eat!

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Lunch time view

This valley is truly amazing, a huge bowl with a ridge of hills round three sides and the sea on the fourth, and with another of the Purbeck mansions sitting in the middle, with of course its associated farm.  This whole valley and surrounds changed hands a few years ago for £25M.  What a place to live!  In the picture below, I have tried to capture the whole amphitheatre although it never comes across fully in a small picture.

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The ‘amphitheatre’

And all around the top of the bowl runs the path that forms my way onwards, and what a lovely path.  This is one of those paths that I call ‘bare foot paths’, beautifully grassy and flat and the sort of path that when I was young we used to take off our shoes and socks and walk bare foot along.  So refreshing on a hot summers day, and so liberating!  These days I keep my shoes on but it always takes me back to my youth :)!

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Bare foot path

Having circled the valley perimeter, my route took me on to another country lane – another normally quiet road that was not so quiet today!  Clearly some work was going on somewhere as trucks came past me kicking up dust.  Still, as someone once said, ‘If life throws you scraps, make a patchwork quilt’ – the trucks might be a nuisance but they provided some good photographic opportunities :)!

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Dust to dust

The lane eventually took me into the hilltop village with its lovely array of cottages and its well known church which is often referred to as the ‘Cathedral of the Purbecks’ because it is far too grand for a small Dorset village thanks to the generosity of the Lord of the Manor.

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A village cottage with the ‘Cathedral of the Purbecks’ behind

I said before that this is a walk with one view after another – well there was another just round the corner.  Walking down another of those old gravel tracks which seem to criss cross throughout Dorset, the view suddenly opened out and the famous old castle came into view far down in the valley.  Crossing the stile, I continued down the hillside and across the common towards what is probably one of the most popular towns in Purbeck.

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Down the valley

Although I love this town, when I am walking, I try as far as possible to avoid the busy places as I would rather be out in the wilds.  So I skirted round civilisation, just grabbing a closer shot of the castle standing proud on its hilltop.

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Standing proud

And a little farther on, there was a sad reminder of something that I had heard on the news earlier in the day.  The picture below shows the castle framed between two ash trees and I called it ‘Ashes to Ashes’ partly because of the two trees, partly because of the nearly destroyed castle, but also because sadly the Ash Dieback disease has come to Dorset.  Up till now, the county has been pretty much clear of it and these two ash trees have had a long life.  I wonder how much longer they have though :(!

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Ashes to Ashes

The final part of my walk involved a climb up onto another ridge, the Purbeck Hills from which the area takes its name, and yet more glorious views.  And yet more bare foot walking paths too :)!  Flat, wide and grassy, just what was needed with my bad ankle.

It was along this section that I had one of those odd experiences.  Half way along, the path drops down to a road that crosses the ridge and a lady approached me and asked, “Were there any cows up there?”.  I assured her that there hadn’t been and asked somewhat tongue in cheek, “Why, have you lost some?”.  In fact she hadn’t!  She was actually working for the county council environmental health department and apparently there had been a complaint about a cow with an eye infection – she was looking for that cow.  When she described where it was, I was able to point her in the right direction which was another nearby ridge.

It was interesting chatting to her – she had been doing this job for 20 years and it involved investigating complaints and visiting farms throughout Dorset.  Since it was a lovely warm summer’s day, I thought what a great job that must be…..until she pointed out that she does the same thing in freezing winter weather when she can be knee deep in mud and other farmyard materials!  It didn’t seem quite so idyllic then ;)!

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Along the ridge top

I was nearing the end of the walk now and the evening sun was setting, creating a beautiful warm glow across the hilltop and picking out the long grass which seemed to be aflame.  The evening was very still and balmy as I passed the castellated arch which stands on the ridge above yet another old Purbeck mansion.  The house itself sits in the valley below and the arch is in fact nothing more that a folly that can be seen from the house but it always adds a little bit of mystery in the fading light.  I sat a while and just drank in the scene, and some water too before heading back to the car.

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Evening light across the hilltop

What a wonderful walk!  So many views, such great paths, fabulous weather, and lots of memories to carry with me always.  I hope you enjoyed walking with me!

Until next time,
Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

 

Of sights and sounds, aerial acrobatics, and angelic singing!

8 Jul

This walk started and finished in one of those beautiful Dorset villages that you know so well because you drive through it so often, but you don’t actually know at all because you drive through it so often!  It is only as you explore the little streets and lanes on foot that you really discover those special hidden beauties, those little corners of Dorsetness…..and this one had a major surprise.  But more of that later :)!

Leaving the village, the path climbed steadily upwards out of the valley and up to the ridge top.  I just couldn’t help turning round to take in the views that were already emerging, and these wonderful views were to stay with me all day.  It seemed that there was to be wildlife with me all day too as first a hare raced across the field in front of me and then a fox crossed the track.  The latter was definitely a well fed country fox – they always look so much healthier than the town foxes that scavenge on dustbins.  Foxes and hares are not rare but seeing them always adds to the enjoyment of a walk.

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Emerging views

Having reached the ridge, my route took me through a woodland area, a forestry plantation, not quite so interesting as mixed deciduous woods but nevertheless an area that plays an important part in this world.  Not only does it provide much needed timber but it provides much needed oxygen to repair that damaged ozone layer, so I guess it can be forgiven any perceived lack of excitement ;)!  Actually I think any woodland is a delight to walk through.

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Fruits of the Forest!

Overhead came the drone of a bi-plane and amazingly as I watched it looped the loop as part of an aerobatic display.  It was interesting watching this plane – it seemed like it would stall as it tried to fly upwards to turn over but somehow, despite its age, it managed the loop and flew on.  This genuinely was an old plane – it was like watching Biggles all over.  Later in the walk, I was to get an even more impressive display of flying!

At this point, there was one of those slightly off-putting moments when I heard gunshots just across the field.  It could have been someone shooting pigeons or it could have been a deer stalker but either way, I wondered if they knew I was around.  I took comfort from the fact that I couldn’t see them so can’t have been in range but it did highlight that when you walk in the country, you trust that anyone out there with a gun knows what they are doing and observes the code.  Fortunately the gun laws in the UK are stringent.

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Ridge top meadows

There were some beautiful meadows along this walk and not only that but they were meadows with a view too.  It is interesting to just count the variety of grasses so elegantly waving their heads in the gentle breeze, seemingly trying to dodge the many butterflies…..or flying flowers as I call them :)!  They seem to have no aerobatic skills at all, as they flit to and fro in a seemingly random pattern.  Someone once said that butterflies are in fact expert fliers because they use warm air currents to get around and thus avoid wasting energy.  I don’t know if this is true but what I do know is that with the combination of waving grasses, the myriad wild flowers, and the ‘flying flowers’ the meadow is a place where you just want to sit and soak it all in.  And of course. with the skylarks singing over head you could almost think that heaven must be like this.

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A Fritillary in the meadow

And on the subject of skylarks, how do they manage to produce such an ethereal song whilst flying?  Surely that must be like me running up hill whilst singing at the top of my voice.  Amazing creation!

This was definitely a walk to be savoured as the paths are so delightful and so inviting.  I actually didn’t plan my route in advance this time, preferring to go where my mood took me and with paths like these, there was no shortage of beckoning sights.

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One path, both ways

Did I mention aerobatics?  Well there was a treat in store that would knock spots off the biplane, butterflies or even the Red Arrows had they been around.  This was the house martins out looking for food.  Their agility is legendary as they swoop and climb at amazing speeds, doing hand brake turns, ducking and diving, and never flying into each other.  What a sight, and it is free to all who want to stand and watch.  Which I did :)!

Now we British are obsessed with the weather as you may know, but this was a hot day so I needed to move on and find a bit of coolness and a clump of trees provided the ideal spot to take in the view again, and to take in some fluid too.

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Welcome shade

Ah, but it was time to move on again so it was out into the sun to continue my way along the ridge surrounded by trees and distant views.  Whenever I walk, I seem to run out of superlatives to describe the beauty of this wonderful county and this amazing countryside.  Sometimes I just stand and watch in awe as the breeze ripples through the vibrant green foliage and the words of the poet come to mind, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree’.

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

The next part of the walk took me down one of those gorgeous Dorset avenues that invariably speak of manor houses, lords and ladies.  This is because most of them were planted many years ago as the drive way to some stately home.  This is one of the most beautiful, especially with the dappled light of evening, and my path went right down the middle.

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The Avenue

It is another of those parts not to be rushed but eventually the avenue ends and I find myself on the hilltop again, crossing a field of crops……..and it is one of those ‘good farmer’ fields :)!  The law says that if a farmer ploughs or plants a field with a footpath running through it, the footpath must be reinstated within 24 hours.  Good farmers, as in this case, do that, but ‘bad’ farmers don’t which means you have no idea where the footpath goes which is a pet hate of mine.

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A reinstated footpath

Evening was upon me as I crossed the field and started to drop down off the ridge back to the village.  It was a beautifully still evening when sounds seem to travel across the valley.

Have you ever stopped and specifically listened and tried to pick out all the different sounds that surround you?  So often we miss things because we are just not aware of what is around so sometimes I stop and listen!  Standing looking across the valley in the picture below, these are the sounds I heard in just a minute or two – the wind, rustling grass, trees creaking, crickets, sheep bleating, many birds but particularly the strong song of the wren, a distant tractor, children’s happy voices, gunshots, wood pigeons cooing, buzzards, the buzzing of bees and flies, cows mooing, the crowing of a cockerel, rooks with their rasping voices, a barking dog, church bells in the distant valley, and so much more.  Try it when you are next out walking.

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The sounds of an echoing valley

But there was something even more surprising awaiting me in the village as I reached the end of my walk.  Walking through the narrow lanes between delightful cottages, a single female voice was drifting out into the open.  I could hear it down the street and as I drew closer to the cottage the singing was coming from, I could not help but stop and listen.  It was unexpected, beautiful and mesmerising, one of those special moments that will remain in my memory always.  I wanted to knock on the door and say how lovely it was but I didn’t intrude but continued on my way.  A beautiful end to a beautiful day!

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A delightful Dorset village

Thanks for walking with me.  I hope you have enjoyed the sights and sounds of our wonderful countryside.

Until next time,
Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

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