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Of a short winter walk, spring sunshine, ancient paths and feathered friends

12 Jan

The year has not started well as unfortunately I went down with a horrible virus that has curtailed my walking somewhat. However, on this day, there was glorious sunshine – something that has been rarely seen over the British wet winter months. So despite feeling rough, I was determined to get out and enjoy a gentle stroll.

My walk started with one of those great Dorset sights, the famous and much photographed avenue of beech trees near Kingston Lacy. This avenue started life back in 1835 when trees were planted either side of what was then a turnpike or toll road that led to the mansion that was the home of William John Bankes. Bankes did not only own Kingston Lacy but seemingly half of Dorset, including Corfe Castle. There were originally 365 trees on one side of the road, one for each day of the year and 366 on the other for a leap year but sadly they are nearing the end of their life span and many have had to be removed.

The Avenue

The Beach Avenue

Part of the problem is that the trees and modern motorised traffic do not sit well together. These were planted in an age of more sedate forms of transport. In an effort to preserve this wonderful avenue however, the National Trust has planted a new avenue of hornbeams outside the original avenue. The new trees will provide similar autumn tones to the beech but are more suited to the current environment. It can never replicate the beauty of the beech and the cynical part of me thinks that they have been planted so far apart so that the road can be converted to a dual carriageway.

It is sad to think that these 180 year old trees may not be there much longer but for the time being at least, these magnificent elder statesmen can be enjoyed still.

The Old and the New

The Old and the New

It is possible to walk beside the avenue but the road is very busy and noisy with traffic so my route today takes me straight across the road and on up the hill towards my next historic landmark on this short walk. Following ancient trackways, my route takes me through farmland and past old cottages hidden in the trees. I often wonder what it would be like to live in these remote dwellings that seem so idyllic on a beautiful sunny day such as this. Certainly there are views to be enjoyed, but much more besides…..

The Farm Track

The Farmstead

Photography and blogging have secondary benefits – they make you think about your surroundings and notice things you might otherwise just walk past like the picture below. A small remnant of autumn leaves picked out by the sunshine with its shadow being cast on the trunk of the tree – somehow that tiny detail grabs my attention as the branch, and its shadow, gently sways in the breeze, an ever changing picture.

Leaf, Branch, Trunk and Shadow

Leaf, Branch, Trunk and Shadow

Before long, I reach my next historic landmark, Badbury Rings. This ancient hill fort dating from the Iron Age was developed in two phases, with the second phase virtually doubling its size. Its ramparts form an almost perfect circle and although it is only 100 metres above sea level, there are glorious views all around. The picture below was taken at a slight dogleg in one of the ramparts and shows the well known Point to Point course surrounding the brown field below and beyond that, the now disused Tarrant Rushton Airfield.

The latter mentioned was built during the Second World War and its main action during that conflict was to be the take off point for troop and tank carrying gliders heading for France, towed by planes. After the war its main purposes were the development of drones and the conversion of planes for in-flight refuelling. It officially closed in 1980 and has been returned to agriculture, although its old hangers and some of the runways are still visible.

Walking the Ramparts

View from the Ramparts

There is nothing better than a walk around the full circle of one of the ramparts. Being exposed, the walk is always bracing and there are views in all directions. Once part of the Kingston Lacy Estate, this hill fort is now owned, along with the house itself, and indeed Corfe Castle mentioned earlier, by the National Trust and it is a popular  walking area. There is always a great feeling of spaciousness and freedom which I love.

Walking the Ramparts

Rampart Walk

Around the hill fort itself there are areas of ancient woodland and a stroll through these trees is always rewarding. In the spring there will be bluebells aplenty and there are piles of rotting wood, a haven for bugs of all kinds as well as lichen and fungi. I walked through these woods surrounded by a myriad long tailed tits and these are always a delight to watch as they frolic together like happy children just out of school. I spotted a tree creeper running up the bark of the tree nearest me – these often join with groups of tits. Winter is a good time of year to spot birds such as this as the bare trees make them so much easier to spot.

The Log Pile

Rotting Log Pile

All too soon, it was time to make my way home. I love watching birds, or indeed wildlife of any kind, even if it is just the humble robin or long tailed tit, but my constant coughing tends to give my presence away! I made my way down the path in the picture below and crossed the avenue once again.

Through the Shrubbery

The Way Home

This was such a great walk even if it was so short. Just to be out in the sunshine after so many wet, grey days was invigorating and I made my way home a happy man. There is just so much to be enjoyed in this amazing county that I call home.

Thank you for walking this way with me. Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

I HAVE NOW SET UP A FACEBOOK PAGE FOR THE DORSET RAMBLER AND THERE IS A LINK ABOVE. THIS IS TO BRING TOGETHER MY THREE PASSIONS OF DORSET, WALKING/THE OUTDOORS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THESE OR YOU ENJOY MY BLOG, PLEASE DO ‘LIKE’ MY FACEBOOK PAGE.

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.

A Spring Walk on an Autumn Day

21 Nov

I am sat at my desk today listening to the rain falling yet again against my window and thinking back to sunnier days and the great walking I have been able to do again this year, and I decided that I would blog a walk that I did in the spring. This will be a virtual spring walk on a dull autumn day and I hope you will enjoy it with me!

The walk started on the high North Dorset downs on a hill known as Spreadeagle Hill….although there are no eagles here! The views across the valley with villages nestling beneath the downs are fantastic and there are many paths to choose from. The path below with its distant views always looks inviting but today, I ignored it.

Spreadeagle View

Great views from Speadeagle Hill

I chose instead the route that leads out across Compton Down, but first I had to walk the narrow path beside the road. This was a surprisingly beautiful path that was lined with Cow Parsley on both sides and with distant views across to the hilltop town of Shaftesbury. My walk would take me there and back.

Flower Strewn Path

Flower Strewn Path

After a short distance, I left the road and made my way over Compton Down. This is a wonderful grassy path that is easy to walk which means that you can take in all the views without fearing that you might trip over some rock – it is what I call a ‘bare foot path’ because you could easily kick off your boots and walk bare footed which is a rare pleasure.

Passing over the hilltop and dropping down into what I call ‘the saddle’, I was amazed by the awesome display of beautiful, bright buttercups and I used my iPhone panorama facility to capture the scene. It was truly glorious on this spring day with just a gentle breeze, bright sunshine and soaring skylarks.

On Melbury Hill

On Compton Down

I felt almost guilty treading across the flowers, as if I was trampling roughshod across someone’s garden but the path goes that way. Reaching the bottom of my ‘saddle’, I turned and headed down the hillside through a field of sheep towards the village of Melbury Abbas – such a great Dorset name – and headed towards the village church. I always find that churches are good for lunch stops as they invariably have benches in the churchyard and places to shelter if its raining. This was far too early for lunch though! I stopped for a snack anyway, and gazed at the beautiful valerian growing out of the wall.

St Thomas' Church, Melbury Abbas

St Thomas’ Church, Melbury Abbas

The church stands high on the hillside and below it is an interesting path that climbs down the steep embankment to the road that runs through the village. The path is usually overgrown now through lack of use but I love walking it because you almost get a sense of ancient times and the people who once walked it regularly as they made their way to worship on a sunday morning. Those would have been the days when villagers could safely walk through the village – with the increase in traffic, the village has now become a very busy rat run on the route from Blandford to Shaftesbury. But on this day, I knew there would be no traffic!

There's a Path in there Somewhere

There’s a Path in there Somewhere

Walking through the village today was a rare pleasure thanks to the local authority. You see, the road leaves the village and makes its way up the hill through a Dorset Holloway known as Dinas Hollow. Two years ago the local authority closed the road to traffic because the steep sides had become unstable and were in danger of collapsing. I think the villagers must have thought all their birthdays had come at once to have the road clear after many years of traffic thundering along this very narrow lane and headlights blazing in through their windows at night. Now all was silent – it was like a deserted village!

Never would you normally risk walking this road, it would be far too dangerous as even heavy trucks use this route. This was a pleasure that I was going to enjoy on this day, and Melbury Abbas is a village that does reward anyone who takes the trouble to walk its lanes as it is totally unspoilt and uncommercialised.

As a footnote, the local authority has since re-opened the road having carried out very little work apart from trimming a few trees, albeit with some traffic management in place.

The Empty Road

The Empty Road – Dinas Hollow

Climbing up through Dinas Hollow with its steep sides and overhanging trees was a delight. I have driven up this ‘tunnel’ thousands of times without really having a chance to look around – this was a chance to linger and look and I made the most of it.

Reaching the next village, East Melbury, I passed an interesting old cottage going by the name of The Old Glyn Arms. The names of these old cottages, and indeed roads, always intrigue me as they often convey something of their history. This one certainly did. It was built in the 17th century and was once the village pub but it was converted to a private house in the 1950’s. Once again, I wondered about the people who had frequented this lovely old thatched building – who were they and what would they be like if you could meet them today? So much history in a single cottage!

The Old Glyn Arms

The Old Glyn Arms

Leaving East Melbury, I struck out cross country passing a much more modern development on the way, in the shape of a new pipeline. This pipeline runs for several miles and is being laid to improve the water supply between Blandford and Shaftesbury. It seemed to be carving up so much of the countryside and the bright blue pipes were so garish echoing the colour of the sky but I knew from experience that in a year or two you will not even know that the pipeline exists because nature will have reclaimed its own.

The Pipeline

The Pipeline

On this pathway, there was in any event plenty of nature’s own to be enjoyed with a wonderful array of campions and cow parsley to enjoy. The pipeline was soon forgotten.

Campion

Campion

Campion

The Lush Green Hills

The Lush Green Hills

There was plenty of evidence of farming too with haymaking already taking place, making the most of a warm dry spell. As a photographer, I do love the lines that farming often creates through the crops.

Haymaking

Haymaking

When I plan my walks, I always try to include a village or two because I really enjoy walking through these old hamlets and looking at the cottages and cottage gardens. This one was no exception and I soon reached another delightful hamlet with an array of spring flowers both in and outside of the gardens. Wisteria climbing up the wall of an old cottage, and garden walls laden with spring plants seemings growing out of the stone.

Wisteria

Wisteria

The Garden Wall

The Cottage Garden Wall

At the top of the lane leading out of this settlement I came across what looked like snow covering the ground. This was in fact seeds from poplars, a myriad tiny cotton wool pieces of fluff that have been blown under the nearby shrubs. There was something beautiful and spellbinding about this simple thing.

Like Snow

Like Snow

I climbed up onto the ridge and dropped down the other side through a dense woodland and along yet another Dorset Holloway. This sunken path, worn by centuries of hooves and feet being surrounded by an ageing forest had an air of mystery about it as they so often do.

A Dorset Holloway

A Dorset Holloway

Soon, I came out onto open parkland at Wincombe Park, with its magnificent home high on the hillside overlooking a once beautiful lake. This area is now working farmland but it still had all the marks of stately home parkland with carefully planted trees and once well manicured lawns.

Wincombe Park

Wincombe Park

Passing through the woods that surround the park there was a lovely contrast in the spring foliage with autumnal tones of the copper beach trees standing out strongly against the fresh green leaves of other species. It was a delight to the eyes and the path itself must have been a delight to the nose too, being lined as it was with wild garlic in full flow. The latter was lost on me unfortunately as I have no sense of smell but I could appreciate the view.

Foliage

Foliage

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

I reached Shaftesbury, the hilltop town we saw in the distance earlier and I made my way through the town, walking down its most famous and much photographed street, Gold Hill. This wonderful cobbled street with its old cottages on one side and even older abbey wall on the other is always a pleasure to walk down. The views across the surrounding countryside are wonderful and the whole scene is picture postcard perfect. No wonder it is so popular. Normally I eat my lunch somewhere out in the country with a view to enjoy but today I made an exception. I ate my lunch in town, sat on a seat enjoying the view below.

Gold Hill

Gold Hill

I was fortunate to have walked down Gold Hill on such a quiet day but it was time to move on and I left the town and headed out across the meadows, accompanied by birds, butterflies and bees. We shared the enjoyment of the meadow together and I have to say I lingered a long time in these lovely surroundings. Well, as the poet said, ‘What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’! I stood and I stared! In the distance I could see my next objective, Melbury Hill.

Meadows

Meadows

Coming out of the other side of the meadow, I crossed the stile below and dropped down onto a very quiet country lane. With the dappled light filtering through the trees, even the stile with its embankment below was picturesque.

The Stile

The Stile

Over the next two miles, I passed three old mills that were once driven by the now small stream that runs though the valley bottom. Two of these are now private dwellings and the other has been modified but is still a working mill. The Domesday Book in fact describes five working mills within one mile, all being driven by the River Sturkel, a tributary of the larger River Stour – indeed the name Sturkel is thought to mean Little Stour.

Cann Mill, the one remaining working mill, continues to produce flour by old methods and even now is driven partly by water power. The building itself was sadly damaged by fire in 1950 and had to be rebuilt but its popularity continues thanks to the thriving artisan bakery movement in Dorset. Purchased by Norman Stoates in 1947, the current owner is the fifth generation of that family operating the business. It is very much part of history that still operates and serves the community today.

My easy walk along the valley bottom stream eventually ended and I turned to climb out of the valley, clambering up the steep side of Melbury Beacon. Once again, the views were amazing and I stopped often to look back across the valley towards Shaftesbury.

Across the Valley

Across the Valley

On Melbury Hill

On Melbury Hill

Once again I found myself amongst the buttercups which were also littered with other wild flowers such as Red Clover. Even an old water trough provided some interest with the skeleton of a leaf floating amongst other debris. There is beauty even in decay!

Red Clover and Buttercups

Red Clover and Buttercups

Leaf Skeleton

Leaf Skeleton

I was now reaching the end of my walk and I dropped down off the hill into my ‘saddle’ that I passed earlier in the morning. I could almost imagine a giant sitting astride this hill with a leg in each valley as if he was on some giant horse. The sun had now faded and in the evening light, I enjoyed once again walking on my ‘bare foot path’ with a lush carpet of gold at my feet. Even the best carpet manufacturer could not better this.

Melbury Hill and Compton Down

Melbury Hill and Compton Down

There was no-one around as I crossed Compton Down for the second time, save for a few nosy cows who were interested in what I was doing there. We passed the time of day!

Nose!

Nose!

What a delightful walk this was and reviewing it on this grey, wet autumn day has brightened things up. Wonderful walking, amazing views, lush countryside, interesting villages, and memories to take carry me.  I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

I HAVE NOW SET UP A FACEBOOK PAGE FOR THE DORSET RAMBLER AND THERE IS A LINK ABOVE. THIS IS TO BRING TOGETHER MY THREE PASSIONS OF DORSET, WALKING/THE OUTDOORS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THESE OR YOU ENJOY MY BLOG, PLEASE DO ‘LIKE’ MY FACEBOOK PAGE.

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.

Walking Underground! The Holloways of Dorset

27 Oct
The Magical, Mystery of Dorset's Holloways

The Magical, Mystery of Dorset’s Holloways

Out of the blue last week I had a call from BBC Countryfile. They were looking at putting together some programming based on Dorset and wanted to meet with me. In particular they asked if I could give them a guided tour of some Dorset Holloways. I was glad to oblige and we duly met up last Thursday.

But first of all, what are Holloways? Well the term comes from the Anglo-Saxon term Hola Weg, meaning harrowed path or sunken road. And that is exactly what Holloways are – sunken paths!

Venn Lane

Venn Lane

Venn Lane

Venn Lane

Before the advent of tarmac roads, this country was criss-crossed by a network of paths and tracks – paths between villages and towns, drove roads, routes to markets, pilgrimage routes, paths to and from the coast, even smuggling routes. These were the ancient super highways of the past. Medieval motorways! Some of these crossed areas where the bedrock was soft, such as chalk, greenstone, malmstone, and the sandstone of West Dorset, and centuries of tramping feet, scuffing hooves and rumbling cart wheels gradually eroded the soft rock creating shallow furrows which would break up the surface, digging deeper into the rock to form a hollow.

In periods of bad weather, rain water running off the land would naturally find these gullies and turn them into mini rivers, eroding the rock still further and washing away loose sand and stones. Hundreds of years of heavy ‘traffic’ and weather caused these paths to sink deeper and deeper, sometimes reaching twenty or even thirty feet below the level of the surrounding land. And they would probably have sunk even further had they not come to the end of their useful lives with the advent of the railways and tarmac.

A West Dorset Holloway

A West Dorset Holloway

These days, most of these ancient routes are used only by casual walkers and riders and some have ceased even to do that  allowing nature to once again reclaim the land as they become overgrown and impenetrable. One such Holloway was described well by Geoffrey Household in his book Rogue Male. The hero of the piece goes to ground in such a Holloway, disused and overgrown, such that no one save inquisitive children would dare to enter there. Indeed, these secret places could easily be used thus when footfall ceases and natures takes over.

Hell Lane

Hell Lane

Some Holloways are comparatively shallow, perhaps because harder rock was near the surface. Some are extremely deep, because the rock was particularly soft or some geological fault caused the surface to erode quickly. All are interesting to walk however as there is wildlife in abundance, the often dark and damp conditions encouraging lichen, fungi, harts tongue ferns, cranesbill, together with trailing plants and a wild, interlocking network of grotesque and exposed roots from the trees that line the tops of the holloway. And of course there are rabbit burrows, badger sets and fox holes, not to mention bats that circle overhead as the light fades.

An Interlocking Network of Exposed Roots

An Interlocking Network of Exposed Roots

Fungi

Fungi

It is of course the network of tree roots that in part holds up the walls of these sunken byways. The trees from which they come were probably planted originally to mark the route and provide some protection from the elements. Over the years original trees have died back and reseeded and now hang precariously on the edge of the rim. Their branches and interlaced foliage high above creates the feeling that when you walk these routes, you are walking underground as if in some giant rabbit warren that weaves in and out of a tangled mesh of roots. They are a mysterious underground world so dark and damp with a feeling of visiting the past so that you could almost expect to see a dinosaur appear at any moment or some other ancient and extinct creature.

Precariously Placed Trees Line the Rim

Precariously Placed Trees Line the Rim

But it is not only this feeling of walking a hidden underground world that makes these places so special. For many centuries people, animals and carts have passed along this very route and as you stand looking down the ‘tunnel’, you can almost feel their presence. Each meter of depth relates perhaps to 100 years of use so you stand in the midst of history. Who walked this route when it was up at ground level, who walked it when it was a meter deep, two meters deep, three meters deep…….? What atrocities took place here, what joys? What were their lives like? What would they say if they met me as I walked it today? And what was the purpose of the route initially? Some of these things are lost in the mists of time but as you stand in these awesome places full of intrigue, you wonder, and that wondering leaves you with a sense of being part of something vast and ancient. You are just one of perhaps billions who have walked this way before and you feel very insignificant!

A Tunnel Through Tree Roots

A Tunnel Through Tree Roots

On the day of the Countryfile visit, we talked as we walked these labyrinthine paths and the very presence of others gave the places a real sense of scale, bringing out the depths to which these paths have sunk. It was an overcast day and light levels in the hollows were low, adding to the feeling of being underground. A dog walker passed us by and made a comment about prehistoric creatures – clearly I wasn’t the only one to have made a pre-history connection.

A Sense of Scale

A Sense of Scale

Eventually our tour of these wonderful and quirky Dorset places ended and it was time to depart. Our Holloways had left an impression on my visitors and they were keen to know more but whether the programming goes ahead or not remains to be seen. The decision may be made by those who have not trod these ways and felt the unique and magical atmosphere of these hidden and secretive places.

Making Our Way to the Holloways

Making Our Way to the Holloways

I always come away from these places feeling richer for having been there and any walk I do that has a length of Holloway in it somewhere is better and more interesting for it. There are so many fascinating, quirky, historical or just plain beautiful places right near us if we will just get out and explore. And I don’t think anyone could fail to be impressed by our Holloways.

I enjoyed showing my visitors round these hidden parts of Dorset and I hope you have enjoyed walking it with us.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

I HAVE NOW SET UP A FACEBOOK PAGE FOR THE DORSET RAMBLER AND THERE IS A LINK ABOVE. THIS IS TO BRING TOGETHER MY THREE PASSIONS OF DORSET, WALKING/THE OUTDOORS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THESE OR YOU ENJOY MY BLOG, PLEASE DO ‘LIKE’ MY FACEBOOK PAGE.

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.

Autumn in the Forest

17 Oct

I took a walk in the forest this week, not a large forest, just a small area of mixed and coniferous woodland and it was a delight. The truth is I went because the woodland has recently been sold and there are fears that it might be built upon. I wanted to see for myself if anything was happening there. I couldn’t have known what awaited me!

Contrasting Colours

Contrasting Colours – Fruits and foliage of the Forest

It was a cloudy day mainly but one of those wonderful days when the sun makes an appearance now and again, throwing beautiful splashes of light through the trees. And it was that time of the year when some trees have shed their foliage and fruit creating a thick, warm autumn carpet on the forest floor, whilst others still wear their green summer clothes, producing a beautiful mix of warm and cool tones. It was like an amazing set to a major production of some literary work.

On the Forest Floor

On the Forest Floor

In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight

These bursts of sunlight, like spotlights in a theatre, pick out the players in this wonderful performance on the world stage that even the best playwright could not match. They speak no words but each leaf and berry plays his part so well to create an annual spectacle that is free for everyone to enjoy. No ticket needed to see this drama! But this is no silent drama, the birds around are a beautiful chorus, accompanying the spectacle, and the distant lowing, barking and cawing add their part to the experience on this still day.

Red Berries in the Sunset

Red Berries in the Sunset

Higher in the trees, other actors are waiting in costume highlighting the approach of winter and the season of goodwill. Red berries glisten in the golden glow of the setting sun. Others, as if in a supporting role, stand in the wings with just a hint of autumn tones. Their time is not yet but before the play finishes, they will have played their part well.

Evergreen

Evergreen – Waiting in the Wings

Vestige of Autumn

Vestige of Autumn

Threaded Veins

Threaded Veins

Some players have played already, their spaces now vacant form a structure for the silken, silver filaments sewn by spiders. The late sun shines on the spun threads. Such delicacy. It reminds me of a web I saw earlier this week, seemingly hovering in mid air until I spotted a single filament stretching vertically upwards a clear 20 feet to a telegraph wire. How could something so fine support so much and continue to resist the power of the wind.

Silken Threads

Silken Threads

As the sun sank towards the horizon, silhouetted branches hung like a stage curtain rail with its drape set to drop at the end of the performance. On the stage below, the players continue to dance even though on this evening there is only one in the audience. The stage light picks the actors out  against the beautiful backdrop that nature’s set designers have produced. Its creative art is so much more than even the best stage production man can offer.

Across the Valley

Across the Valley – Curtains and Players on Stage

The performance is not yet spent but it is time for me to leave. I cannot but linger though and just drink in a little more of this awesome spectacle. William Shakespeare said that, ‘All the world’s a stage’ – he was so right, and if we will, we can watch the performance and enjoy the best play ever written.

Hanging

On Stage – A Leading Actor in the Spotlight

So what of this forest? Will it continue to be part of God’s awesome annual production? Or will it be lost like some Victorian theatre that no longer meets the needs of today’s theatre goers? Oh how I hope it remains for my grandchildren to enjoy!

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 a once grand abbey, a once thriving village, glorious greenery, and a graveyard

23 Apr

I woke to a glorious sunny morning, eager to get out on the trail again.  I had already decided which walk I wanted to do – it started from the picture postcard village of Milton Abbas.  This is a designer village with one broad main street lined with almost identical houses thanks to Joseph Damer, Lord Milton, owner of Milton Abbey.  In 1780 he decided that the nearby market town of Middleton was spoiling his view so he appointed Sir William Chambers and Capability Brown to design a new village in Luccombe Bottom, just around the corner…….and out of sight!  The result was Milton Abbas.  The old town of Middleton was demolished and the grounds landscaped to form the parkland of his mansion.

Milton Abbas
Milton Abbas

It really is a beautiful, pristine village and it was wonderful walking down this street, passing old buildings such as the old bakery, the post office, the church and almshouses.  At the bottom of the main street, I turned north and walked through the parklands towards Milton Abbey itself, lost to the church at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Parkland
The path from the village to the Abbey

I decided that I would look inside the Abbey – it is the only building that has public access as this magnificent mansion is now Milton Abbas School.  Walking through the door, I was surprised at how the beautiful building had deteriorated since I last visited.  There were people carrying out a survey and I chatted to one of them.  He was a glass specialist who worked at Salisbury Cathedral and he told me that the problem was water ingress caused by damaged windows, gutters and downpipes.  The building dates from the 14th century so it is not surprising that there is deterioration in the structure.  His role was to report on the condition of all the windows, stained glass and others.  I commented that his job must be really interesting and he agreed but did add a caveat that it was not quite so good in the cold and wet of winter!

There are several tombs in the abbey but none more beautiful than that of Joseph and Caroline Damer.

Joseph and Caroline Damer
The tomb of Joseph and Caroline Damer

Leaving the church, I followed the path that skirts around the grounds and was able to look back across the perfectly manicured lawns for a fine view of this magnificent abbey and mansion.  With the trees now clothed in their bright, verdant foliage, the view was quite breathtaking.

Milton Abbey

Milton Abbey
Milton Abbey viewed across the parklands

From the abbey grounds, my route took me briefly along the country lane before turning off along a track that runs through the valley bottom.  A horse rider bid me a cheery good morning as she passed and of course, being English, we commented on the weather :) !

After a mile or two, I arrived at the next village, Hilton, which sits in the eastern part of the Dorset Downs.  This village was once part of the Milton Abbey estate when it was owned by the Hambro family, and the hillsides around were forested to provide cover for pheasants as King Edward VII was regularly entertained by the Hambros.  The surrounding hills are still wooded but the trees are much more recent as the original forests were cleared during WW2.  The village itself is a delight to walk through, with it’s many thatched cottages with gardens full of spring colours.  It is a typical Dorset village.

Hilton
Hilton

I made my way to the church, standing proud on it’s hillside.  The graveyard was thick with spring flowers which seemed to compliment the old, lichen covered gravestones.  I was walking around taking pictures when a local lady walked through the gate and we fell into conversation.

She told me that she was born in the village but left when she married her farmer husband, before returning later in life.  She was sad because there were no young people in the village as they were unable to afford to pay the market price for houses that had increased way beyond the norm over the years.  I asked if the village had, like many, become a place of weekend homes and she replied that although there were some second homes, it was not as bad as some villages.  As with most villages, there were cottages called, ‘The Old Post Office’ etc that gave indications of their previous uses – in this 21st century, it is sad that the heart has gone from these communities.

The villager told me that the church minister used to live in The Rectory beside the church, a substantial three story, 10 bedroom pile, but now he lived miles away and looked after four other villages as well as Hilton.  As always, The Rectory, much changed, is now in private ownership.

All Saints, Hilton
All Saints, Hilton

I left the village with an air of sadness, sadness for a lifestyle that had gone forever, sadness that these once vibrant communities now seemed so soul-less, but cheered that there are still friendly people happy to welcome visitors like me.  And I left to the raucous sound of rooks cawing high in the trees overhead, their derisory scoffing echoing after me as I made my way up through Hilton Bottom.

Oil Seed Rape
Hilton Bottom

As I neared the top of the hill, I sat and ate lunch looking down through the lovely valley with it’s rapidly ripening oil seed rape and I pondered on my conversation with the old lady in the village below.

Hilton Bottom
A beautiful lunch time view

Eventually I pulled myself away from what is one of my favourite places and continued to the top of the hill, passing lines of hawthorn trees in full bloom.

Blossom
Hawthorn Blossom

The top of the hill is in fact almost the top of Dorset.  At 900 feet, there are only a couple of places that can outdo its height, but not its views.  From the top of this chalk hill it is possible to see for miles across the Blackmore Vale, taking in four separate counties.  It was an appropriate place to site a wayside pulpit and an equally appropriate message.

Wayside Pulpit
The Wayside Pulpit on Bulbarrow Hill

Dropping down off the hill, my route took me through a delightful valley with beautiful but contrasting sides.  The north facing side was thick with amazing spring green foliage brought to full life by the lowering afternoon sun.  With long shadows being thrown down the hillside, it was a scene to just stand and absorb as the birds seemingly gave vent to their delight overhead.

Spring Greens
Verdant spring greens

The south facing hillside was thick with bluebells gradually coming into full flower.  These are old woodlands and there are many old and rotting trunks which provide a haven to a myriad of tiny creatures.  With these valley walls on either side, I made my way down the track that runs between them and in the distance I could hear the cry of a cuckoo as if to prove to me that spring had arrived.  It seems strange to me that even the tiniest of birds is unable to realise that in the cuckoo they have an infiltrator in their midst, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the new baby is several times the size of its own!

Bluebells
Bluebells and rotting trunks

The woodland track eventually gave way to a narrow country lane for a time.  Now whilst I normally shun roads as much as possible, there are benefits to walking on tarmac and that is that you don’t need to watch your feet as you do on rough stony ground.  That means that you can really take in all that is around you which is great even if for just a short time.

However, soon I was back of stony ground as I climbed again out of the valley onto another ridge top.  This track with lovely hedgerows on either side was particularly beautiful with the now low sun streaming through the leaves, highlighting the new, spring growth.

Spring

Spring
New spring growth

The final part of my walk today took me through more, but very different, woodlands.  This is Forestry Commission land with its array of perfectly vertical specimens with evergreen foliage.  To me, these are not so enjoyable to walk as the mixed deciduous woodlands and yet there is a strange beauty.

Forestry
Through the forest

In fact, wherever you are there is beauty, even in the smallest detail such as the unfolding of a fern on the forest floor.  It is amazing how this happens each year and how these become the thick, green, ferny leaves of summer, and the orange carpet of autumn.  Each stage as beautiful as the former.

Unfurling
Unfurling

I finished my walk where it started, in the postcard-perfect village of Milton Abbas where I paid a visit to the church.  This is something I like to do throughout my walks, partly because churches are beautiful and interesting places, but mostly because God’s peace is so evident there.  It always moves me when I think about the enormous heritage of these places with the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been impacted down through the ages, especially when they were packed to the doors with worshippers.  When I think about those who are buried in the churchyard, I cannot help but think of Thomas Gray’s words, ‘Each in his narrow cell forever laid, The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep’.  One day they will sleep no more!

Graveyard
Milton Abbas churchyard

It was a fitting place to end my day, a wonderful day of walking and conversation, of interesting places and people, a day when I have felt blessed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

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

Holloways and Sunken Paths, the Mysterious Ancient Highways

20 Feb

Holloway

There are thousands of ancient paths criss crossing Dorset’s wonderful countryside but none more fascinating than 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 areas where the bedrock is soft – West Dorset is predominantly sandstone and therefore has many Holloways.

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. I am not sure whether the term Holloway would have been applied much when the usage of these ‘highways’ was at its peak – I suspect they might well have been referred to as simply ‘lanes’.  Holloway, as a name, seems to have come much more to the fore in recent years having been popularised by Dan Richards’ and Robert Macfarlane’s book of the same name.  In terms of literature, they also feature strongly in Geoffrey Household’s book Rogue Male, where the main character fleeing his pursuers goes to ground and hides out in a disused Dorset Holloway.

They certainly wouldn’t have started their lives as Holloways because most would have initially been at ground level but 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.

Coombe Down Hill

Holloways, and indeed all the ancient byways, 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. You feel like you are walking a natural and secret tunnel as the mesh of intertwined trees and branches above makes you feel shut in.  And there is 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!

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!  But always secret and mysterious. So where are these Holloways?  Well the truth is they are many and varied, ranging from the gorge-like to simply shallow sunken paths, worn by feet, wheels, and hooves.

These are a few I have walked.

Holloway
Hell Lane, Symondsbury

Hell Lane is perhaps one of the most impressive and interesting.  With Shutes Lane it connects Symondsbury with North Chideock, climbing up over the ridge near Quarry Hill.  It is interesting because the eastern part is much more gorge like than the western half – to walk from the ridge down to North Chideock is a bit like walking a shallow river bed!  The reason for this difference might well be the fact that the church and other buildings at Symondsbury were built with stone from the quarry.  You can just imagine how the constant traffic of heavy laden carts running between quarry and village would have considerably deepened that part of the track to the gorge it now is.

The Winniford Valley
The Winneford Valley – the Holloway runs into the trees, top right

There are others in this area, tracks such as the one, now part of the Monarch’s Way, that climbs from North Chideock, through the Winneford Valley up over Coppet Hill.

Henwood Hill Henwood Hill
On Henwood Hill

And a smaller, but none the less beautiful, path that runs across the ridge at Henwood Hill.  This is a lovely path to walk in spring when the bluebells and wild garlic are in flower.

Coombe Down Hill Coombe Down Hill
Coombe Down

Moving away from this immediate area, there is a fine Holloway that climbs from the A3066 south of Beaminster up over Coombe Down.  This is deep and wild with gnarled tree roots growing out of the steep sided walls, holding them in place.  It is a well walked path, forming part of The Jubilee Trail.

A Sunken Lane Follow the River
Near South Poorton

Another smaller lane (or is it a river!) runs from the road at South Poorton and drops down to the nature reserve.  With it’s fern lined walls and it’s stony, waterlogged bottom, this is a lovely haven for wildlife and this, together with the nature reserve beyond, makes a delightful walk.

Holloway, West Milton
The track drops down steeply at West Milton

And there is evidence of further Holloways at the other end of the nature reserve as the track drops down to another interesting village, West Milton.

Lewesdon Hill Lane DSC00233-36
Lewesdon Hill Lane

One further path that I feel is worthy of inclusion is Lewesdon Hill Lane, although this is not perhaps a Holloway in the true sense.  I include it because it is ancient and sunken and a beautiful track to walk – it has even been suggested by some to have been part of the Ickneild Way, that ancient super-highway.  With moss covered banks on either side and surrounded by ancient woodlands, there are some wonderful views from this path.

Near Stoke Abbot
The access road down to Stoke Abbot

If you walk Lewesdon Hill Lane, you may well eventually reach the track that drops from the ridge down to the delightful village of Stoke Abbot.  It really is worth walking this part as the deeply cut access road that leads to the village is a Holloway in itself, and of course the village with its pub is a pleasant detour.

The sunken lane near Chetnole
Near Chetnole – this section is fairly clear but later it becomes overgrown Cutty Stubbs
Cutty Stubbs

Sadly, not all of our old sunken byways have been well maintained and with the development of other forms of transport many have fallen into disrepair.  The pictures above show sunken paths at Cutty Stubbs and Chetnole – both are now impassable.  At Cutty Stubbs, I couldn’t even find the entrance to the sunken path and had to ask the farmer for permission to cross his field to find it!  I did once question this with the authorities in an effort to have them cleared and reopened but sadly they ‘fall between stools’ and no-one has a budget that they wish to apply.  The reason is that these are often Byways Open to All Transport (BOAT’s) rather than footpaths and responsibility for these falls with the Highways authority.  The Footpaths authorities have a budget to maintain footpaths and Highways have a budget to maintain roads and BOAT’s………but naturally their funding is always exhausted keeping the roads in reasonable repair, with nothing left for our ‘off-road’ tracks.

Holloways may have been popularised by more recent writings but justifiably so.  They are ever changing, ever different, ever mysterious, 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 smugglers, were they just ordinary people making their way to the port perhaps to emigrate to other lands!  Who were they and what was their purpose in travelling these ancient routes?  If only the walls could speak! These days walkers and wildlife are the companions of the Holloway and to go there is to enter another world.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

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

A Walk in the Snow!!

3 Feb

Today, we woke up to snow :)!  Now that is a rarity in Southern England, especially the part where I live – frankly, we always miss out!  And I love snow!  So this morning when I realised there was a white covering (and that’s all it was) I quickly threw on my hat and gloves and set out for the local heathland.

The pavements looked slippery so in order to make quicker progress I walked in the road and I soon reached the start of the woodlands that lead up to the open heath.

A Winding Path

The path through the woods is a delight to walk.  It winds in and out, up and down, a gently undulating and meandering route with glimpses of the heath beyond.  The sun soon joined me on the pathway, and together we enjoyed an easy and picturesque stroll, stopping regularly to take in the views.  Often it seemed, a robin also joined me, although I am sure it wasn’t the same robin………they all look alike, but aren’t they great companions.

Across the Heath

Everything was covered in a layer of white fur, and each fence post wore a white cap, as if trying to keep out the early morning chill that hung in the air.  And there was a chill!  But at least it was a still day with no wind to help that chill to penetrate through the layers of winter clothing.

Fence Post

The paths were white but footprints revealed that others had passed that way before me, probably dog walkers out for their early sojourn before heading off to work.  Retirement undoubtedly has its advantages and I am forever grateful that I am blessed with good health and am able to get out and enjoy the countryside!  So many don’t have that privilege and I feel for them.

Conifers

We are so fortunate in these modern times that these small oases of countryside in the urbanity that makes up most of the area are tended by the local wildlife organisations and volunteers.  They work tirelessly to preserve what remains for all to enjoy.  Evidence of their presence is seen regularly in the piles of logs and other paraphernalia.

Preserving heathland is a constant battle to keep invasive trees and shrubs at bay.  Just the other day I chatted to the local warden who was clearing broken glass from one of the footpaths and she explained to me the strategy of using cattle to keep some types of plant at bay in order to encourage heather to grow because it attracts so many species of butterflies.

Logs

Climbing up onto the high heathlands gives a great feeling of open spaciousness, despite the fact that there are houses not too far away.  You could easily feel that you are out in the wild country rather than in a town.  Here, the snow had settled well into the worn grooves that make up the footpaths and with a blue sky as a fitting backdrop, you can’t help but stop and drink in the scene.

On the Open Heath

From this high vantage point, there are amazing views across the conurbation that is Poole, even reaching in the far distance to Poole Harbour and beyond.  It’s strange but mention Canford Heath to a walker and they will immediately think of the heath on which I am stood, but mention Canford Heath to a non-walker and they will almost certainly think you are referring to the housing estate below me.  I remember a time when all was heathland and I used to walk my dog for miles across it but I guess the need for houses overtook the need for open space.

Once again, I just feel gratitude to those who give time and energy to preserve these last vestiges of Dorset heathland.

Heath with a View

Dropping northwards off the high heathland down one of the myriad criss crossing paths you can almost seem to hear the rumbling of Lady Wimborne’s carriage echoing down through the ages as she drove across what was her estate.  Back in the 19th century, Lord and Lady Wimborne lived in what was then Canford Manor and owned most of the area.  The carriageways that they drove are the footpaths we now walk.

Rain is far more a feature of our winters than snow, and there are still many waterlogged areas to negotiate……..although they do look quite attractive surrounded by snow, lovely stands of birch, and of course those long grass stems, a relic of last summer.

Puddle

I have written often about the delights that can be found if we just keep alert to all that is around us and we so often miss things on the ground or up high.  And even now in the depths of winter, there are reminders of an autumn long gone.  Beautiful oranges and browns amidst the white and the mud.

A Last Vestige of Autumn

With the gentle warmth of the sun, our transient layer of snow was already fading as I climbed up once again to the higher ground to make my way back.  The very sun that melts the snow also brings out it’s pure brightness, making the paths stand out starkly from the darker surrounding foliage.  A dog walker slowly makes his way up onto the heath, standing out, black against white with a beautifully atmospheric backdrop of winter light.

Walking the Dog

What a wonderful walk.  Snow may not come often but it brings a completely different feel to our local countryside when it does…….even if it is but a brief visit.

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 ishttp://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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