Tag Archives: books

Of literary giants and characters, bluebells and blossom, and some strange sights!

4 Jun

Sitting here in my office on a dull, dreary day, gazing out of the window across the local park, my mind wanders back to a delightful walk that I took recently.  It was in many ways a literary walk taking in some wonderful Dorset countryside and several wonderful old Dorset churches.  It was a walk to inspire the imagination!  Join with me and we will walk together.

It started in a delightful area of woodland, made all the more special by the dappled light and amazingly fresh spring colours in the trees.  Verdant new life that just takes your breath away!  As I walked along the track that wound its way through the woodlands accompanied by the bird song all around, I could not help but think of Thomas Hardy’s Tess.  I could picture her walking these ancient tracks with her friends as they made their way to church in their Sunday best dresses with Angel Clare not too far away.  It was sad that the event that led to her demise came in a similar glade at the hands of Alec d’Urberville!  Thomas Hardy wrote of such tragedy that seems to contradict the joy of this location.

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The countryside of Tess

With these typical Hardy woodlands and the nearby open heathland that once covered the whole of Dorset, it is not surprising that his novels come to mind because sandwiched betwixt wood and heath stands Hardy’s Cottage.  Built by his great grandfather, this is where Hardy was born in 1840 and where he started his writing career so it is fitting that he wrote of the area that surrounded him.  The cottage, now delightfully preserved by The National Trust, could have easily jumped out of one of his novels.  Looking across the garden, you can just hear Gabriel Oak’s voice drifting out of the open window saying to Bathsheba, ‘And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be – and whenever I look up, there will be you’.

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Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

Passing on down the narrow lane that seems little changed since Hardy’s day, I passed the first of several orchards, beautifully adorned with blossom and bluebells.  It would have been a great place to ‘stand and stare’ awhile…….but there was a walk to complete :)!

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A beautiful orchard

Not that I got very far because just down the lane I came across a very friendly lamb who needed a bit of fuss!  So I obliged :)!  Well, it is unusual to find a lamb who comes towards you rather than running away.

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A very friendly lamb

In fact it was one unusual sight to another because I hadn’t gone half a mile further before I saw the nest box below.  It seemed a somewhat random place to hang a nest box.  Needless to say, it was empty.

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A random nest box

But there was more to come because just a little further along the track I passed the sheep below – for some reason all clustered together under a small clump of trees despite having a whole field of lush grass!  I wondered if they knew something I didn’t :)!

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A ‘cluster’ of sheep

All along this walk you can see the ‘Hardy factor’.  Passing through a tiny village I passed thatched cottages along either side of the narrow country lane, including the old school house and the old post office.  These would have been two thriving gathering points in this small community in Hardy’s day but no longer.  As with a lot of villages, these ‘centres’ are no more as they have been converted to private houses.

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The Old Post Office

This was a spring walk and that was very evident too in this village with one of my favourite plants, the wisteria, growing over some cottages.

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Wisteria

Passing on through the village, my route took me over a lovely old bridge which had the usual warning notice about transportation if anyone caused damage to it – these are often seen in Dorset although it seems a harsh penalty – and onto a delightful causeway between two streams.  This really was a lovely part of the walk with the rippling stream on either side and a spectacular display of beautifully delicate cow parsley, not to mention a swan with a family of tiny cygnets.

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The riverside walk

This was such a varied walk as the river led on to some lovely water meadows, rife with buttercups and with many relics from the past, including the old sluice gates and channels that would have been used to flood the meadows in spring.  This was the method used to raise the ground temperature ready for the planting of seeds to ensure a speedy germination.  Although derelict, these sluice gates are still in place, part of the heritage of past generations.  I often wonder what life was really like back in those days – I would love to visit but I fancy I would want to come back to this century!

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Sluice gates and buttercups in the meadow

Fortunately the weather has been drier so the meadows were easy walking.  Before long, I found myself passing Hardy’s other home, Max Gate, currently shrouded in scaffolding as the National Trust carry out renovations.  From here, my route took me down a lovely track that Hardy must have walked many times when visiting his friend and fellow author William Barnes.  They were near neighbours when Barnes was resident at the Came Rectory.

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En route to visit William Barnes

And of course this part of the walk would not be complete without a short detour to take in the old church where William Barnes was rector.  Standing in this church, you could just imagine Barnes preaching from the pulpit.  He must have had a broad Dorset accent as he wrote in the same dialect – not easy to read even for a Dorset born and bred man like myself.

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Memories of William Barnes

And in the churchyard, another literary giant comes to mind – Thomas Gray in his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard wrote, ‘Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree’s shade……..Each in his narrow cell forever laid’.  Such a great descriptive poem, and death is so final……..or is it?

Beneath that yew tree's shade
Beneath the yew tree’s shade

And almost right outside the church was the loveliest display of ramsons and bluebells.  A fitting tribute to a famous Dorset author.

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Ramsons and bluebells

It seems that I am forever passing strange sights…..or maybe it is just that I am always on the lookout for quirky and unusual things.  The picture below is no exception :)!  This is something I have seen a number of times before where the corner of the field containing horses is essentially blocked off.  I can only surmise that it is because horses fight if trapped in a corner so any potential areas are blocked off but I don’t know if that is the case.

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A strange fence

Having walked cross country for a time, I reached civilisation again when I came to a lovely unspoilt hamlet with just a cluster of cottages, a tithe barn, a manor house, and a delightful little church.  This is of course the make up of many Dorset hamlets.

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A delightful unspoilt Dorset hamlet

The church, dating from the 12th century and of unknown dedication, is set apart from the hamlet in the middle of a field.  It really is a beautiful sight and is another church being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust who do a great work.  The scene below is just so typically English, but the sign always makes me smile – it seems to be somewhat stating the obvious :)!  Even here there are literary connections as it was in this little church that William Barnes preached his first and last sermon.  For me, the peaceful churchyard made a great place for lunch in the company of birds and sheep.

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A delightful church

Having had my late lunch in the churchyard, it was time to press on along country footpaths, accompanied by skylarks singing their sweet lilting songs overhead – isn’t it amazing that they can make such glorious music whilst flying (it must be like us trying to run and sing at the same time).  Such a lovely sound that just lifts any stresses away and takes you into another place.  The sound is so joyful you feel that they belong in church.  And it wasn’t long before I came across the next church on this walk.  Another lovely unspoilt village with a very old church that had been modernised inside to create a lovely light, airy worship space – a real ‘ancient and modern’.

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Ancient yet modern

My route after leaving the village took me across farm land and quiet country lanes with verges that were breaking out with a myriad of different spring flowers, eventually crossing a railway line.  Here I thought I’d try something different so I crouched down in the gateway and waited for a train to come along, which it did very soon……..and very quickly too!  In fact as it passed, the air pressure created almost knocked me over :)!  Well, it had to be done :)!

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Whoosh!

I was nearing the end of the walk now but there were still more interesting things to see, such as the old King George post box buried in the hedge below.

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A King George post box

And as I approached the end of my walk, Thomas Hardy returned as I negotiated a particularly muddy section of the track.  It brought to mind the scene from Tess of the d’Urbervilles where Angel Clare carries Tess and all her friends one by one over the mud so that they didn’t get their clothes dirty.  What a gentleman!!!

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Where is Angel Clare?

And yet another scene came as the forecasted rain began to fall – I’m sure that is Joseph Poorgrass’ horse wandering free on the heath.  He’s probably at the inn again!

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Joseph Poorgrass’ horse?

Before we finish, let me take you back to a meadow near the end of the walk – what a lovely relaxing sound.

What a great walk!  So much to see and hear, and so many connections with our literary giants.  I hope you enjoyed walking with me.

Be blessed!

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

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.

On White Nothe (or is it Nose) again :)

6 Dec

I did say that it was a place that I love to walk…….well, I walked there again last week so I thought I would add a few more quirky and interesting facts about this remote and lovely place.

The first thing is that name and where it came from.  Well it comes from the shape and its resemblance to a facial appendage but I have not been able to establish whether it is the profile shape of the whole headland or, as one source suggests, just the rocky outcrop shown in the picture below.  Does it matter?  Well only to me as I’m inquisitive and like things to be settled!  Actually I think the whole headland looks like a nose – all it needs is a couple of caves for nostrils…..

Just as an aside, I wonder why the name changed from Nose to Nothe – do you think someone had a cold and couldn’t pronounce his S’s properly – I have this picture in mind of someone talking to a cartographer who was drawing up a map of the area and the mispronunciation stuck ;)!

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White Nose

In fact, the outcrop in the picture is not the only one on this headland.  There is a far less well known and perhaps more impressive outcrop below.  It is a massive pillar of chalk known as The Fountain Rock and is seen by few people because it is somewhat off the beaten track, and the beach it stands on is inaccessible.  Which leads me to one of the things on my wish list – one day I want to stand on the shore at the foot of this rock :)!  Now I could get my kayak out again or I could walk the shoreline from Ringstead and take a chance on the tides :)!!  One day……

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The Fountain Rock

Moving further along the headland in an easterly direction leads us to some more interesting features of this fantastic place.  The first is a series of three shell sculptures, each in its own cupboard – I say three but sadly there are now only two because one has been damaged.  These sculptures were carved by Peter Randall in 1985 at the request of the Weld Estates as part of Common Ground’s New Milestones project.  This aimed to stimulate small scale art works to express a sense of history and the natural world and they feature in a number of places across Dorset.  It seems incongruous somehow to come across these in the middle of nowhere but what a great idea, and a very pleasant, not to mention intriguing, surprise for anyone walking these parts for the first time.

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The Wayside Carvings

Just a short distance away is something that puzzled me all my life until finally I managed to get to the bottom of what was a real conundrum.  There are two obelisks perhaps a quarter of a mile apart and nowhere was there any mention of their purpose or who erected them.  They are both identical and one is inland of the other – but why were they put there?  Clearly it wasn’t just a random thought someone had on a quiet day when they were bored, and they are far two functional in appearance to be any form of memorial, so what are they?  Answers on a postcard to…….

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The inland obelisk

Actually as mentioned before, the riddle is solved – well at least in part!  After spending a day making numerous telephone calls to various ‘authorities’, each of whom suggested another, I reached the Hydrographic Office in Taunton and they found a reference to these in a publication entitled The Channel Pilot Part 1 (I believe it is a sort of seaman’s guide to the British coast).  This dates from 1908 and the reference actually says, ‘Two white beacons, 24 feet high for the use of His Majesty’s ships when prize firing, have been erected on high land east of White Nose (now known as White Nothe)’.

So the next puzzle was, what is or was ‘prize firing’?  Well it was the test of a ship’s proficiency for battle and on Admiralty orders this was to be carried out annually.  Basically it was a yearly competition to see if the naval gunners were any good – if they were then they went into battle and if they weren’t then it was back for more training.  What I am not totally sure on is exactly how the obelisks were used apart from the fact that they obviously had to be lined up when viewed from the ship.  As the observant will have noticed, they are no longer painted white.

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The coastal obelisk

There is one final point of interest at the top of the headland and that is a memorial to the author Llewelyn Powis.  He was one of a family of eleven, many of whom were writers, and for a number of years he lived in White Nothe Cottages that I showed in my last blog.  The cottages went through a bohemian period when many noted people, including Augustus John, visited.

In my last blog entry I mentioned the Smuggler’s Path and the fact that the last 30 feet or so down to the shore involved climbing down a rather rickety looking ladder – well I have now found my pictures of this contraption which I have climbed up and down many times!  I think this is pretty quirky so I thought I should post them :)!

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The stairway to heaven – well White Nothe actually

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The view from the top

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Ringstead Bay through the ladder

Oh yes, and did I mention the old fence posts ;)!  I love them – they are almost as quirky as The Dorset Rambler!  Its amazing what you see when you walk with your eyes really open.

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Another wonderful old fence post

One pleasure I did have on my last visit is that I again bumped into my friend Sally who lives in one of the cottages and we had a long and enjoyable chat.  She did correct one thing from my last post – she does have internet!  So just a tiny bit of the 21st century has finally come to these wonderful old cottages ;)!  Apart from that, the historic features and charm have been amazingly preserved – and long may it stay that way.

Well, for the time being at least, we must leave this delightful place with the strange name of White Nothe and move on to other areas – but more of that next time.  Before we go though, stand with me once more on the cliff top and look out to the setting sun across the mist that has settled on the sea.

Sunset over White Nothe

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

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.

The long and short of it…..!

15 Oct

As you will know by now, I like L L o o o o n n n n g g g g walks ;)!  Anything from 10 to 20 miles a day is good, and I even did one walk of 35 miles earlier this year.  It’s great to be able to stride out and spend a whole day on the trail.  I’m not sure if that makes me strange, in fact I’m not sure why I like long walks so much really.  Is it the challenge, that sort of ‘man against the elements’ sort of thing?  I guess you could ask, ‘Why climb Mount Everest?’ or, ‘Why skydive from 24 miles up?  There isn’t really an answer, except for me, I love being outdoors in this wonderful countryside, close to nature and creation, and I like to keep fit at the same time :)!

There was a time when I used to search the book shelves for walking guides that covered longer distances, but I found virtually none!  Oh, some books paid lip service to long walks by including the odd 8 or 10 mile route, but nothing substantial.  So I started to plan my own routes, originally using paper OS maps, and now OS map software, and I have to say, I have really enjoyed doing it.  There is something special about walking a route that is ‘all your own work’!

Well, I then had a thought – why not publish a book myself??  Now, I’m not really a writer, although I have been known to get the odd article in print, but that is exactly what I am doing, and have been for some time.  Thus far, it has been very much down to route preparation and design and I have over 30 routes now.  I also have a potential publisher and am looking at my options because these days it seems that self publishing is the way to go.  The book will cover some spectacular walks and include maps, route descriptions, lots of information on interesting things along the way, and of course lots of photographs!

Anyway, as much as I love long walks, I really enjoy shorter walks too and often of an evening or weekend, you will find me walking in the local area where I live.

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The local nature reserve

It is great to be able to walk straight from my front door without the need for the car, and although I live in an urban area, it is possible by linking footpaths, stretches of urban woodland, heath, parklands etc to feel like you are actually out in the countryside.  One of my favourite sunday walks takes in a small nature reserve, a lovely oasis in the middle of suburbia where there is so much wildlife to see.

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The log pile – a bug high rise!

After the nature reserve, my route takes me into an area of woodland known as Delph Woods.  It isn’t a large woodland and it is surrounded by houses, roads and a golf course but when you are in amongst the trees, you forget you are in the middle of a town.  I have been walking these woods for many many years and I can well remember how I used to take my children there on a Sunday.  There is a disused railway line running through it and I used to tell them tales of the ghost train that still travels through on a moonlit night ;)!  I don’t think they believed me then, and they definitely don’t believe me now that they are grown up!!

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In the autumn evening light

One of the challenges for me is to capture some good landscape pictures and undoubtedly the early morning or late evening is the best time to do that – the so called ‘golden hour’.  Somehow, it is easier to take notable landscapes when at the well known landmarks that have featured in books and magazines the world over, but to repeat that in your local woodlands is a new challenge.  And I like a challenge :)!

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At the end of the day

The walk also takes in a small pond or two and it is always magical standing there in the fading light watching the setting sun reflecting off nature’s mirror.  You may be in the middle of a town, but with the singing of the birds, the hooting of an owl, the sight of a deer in the dusk light, you could be anywhere.  Long may these local havens be preserved for us to enjoy and escape into when we have just a little time to spare.

So the long and short of it is……enjoy both!  Just enjoy the freedom of being outside in God’s creation, drink it in, it will refresh and renew you, it will reduce the stress levels created by modern life, it will improve your heart and your mind.  It always does mine!

And if you need a guide book to help you, I know where you can get one….. ;)!

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

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 fond memories, war and peace, and a snake that is not a snake!

16 Jul

PERCHED on my city office-stool,
I watched with envy, while a cool
And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
And I was wandering in a trice,
Far from the grey and grimy heat
Of that intolerable street….

So said the poet, Wilfred Gibson.  Well I am not on a stool and I’m not in a city but I am in my office that looks out onto my very green garden on a dull day and my mind wanders back to the one sunny day last week and a wonderful walk.

It started on the famous Sandbanks peninsula, said to be the forth most expensive real estate in the world with properties valued in millions.  It is just my parking place though and I am quickly transported to another world.  The transport is a chain ferry that runs to and fro across the entrance to Poole Harbour, apparently the second largest natural harbour in the world.  The journey is but a few hundred yards but it saves a drive of around 30 miles and it takes me from urban to country in a matter of minutes!  And it is an interesting experience to boot!

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The Sandbanks Ferry

I’ve been travelling on this ferry all my life but it never fails to give me a kick.  There is something magical and escapist in this ferry, maybe because it takes me back 60 years to when I was a child and we went to the beach, our wilderness area to explore and lose ourselves in…..ah, the wonder and simplicity of childhood!  The Sandbanks Ferry is one of those quirky things of Dorset and something to be blogged separately but for now, it’s on with our walk.

The ferry takes me across to Shell Bay, in my view one of the loveliest and most unspoilt beaches in Dorset.  It marks the start (or finish) of the 640 mile walk around the South West Coast of England – but my walk will cover just a few of those.

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Shell Bay

Stepping onto the beach brings back very fond memories from my childhood.  We used to walk the 5 miles from our home in Parkstone to spend the day on the beach, and when I say ‘we’ I mean the whole family, my parents, me and my 4 brothers (apart from when I was in a pram of course), grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – we all used to go to the beach regularly.  We would spend the whole day there and then walk home again – well, we had no cars and with such a large family my parents often couldn’t afford the bus fare.

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The Dorset Rambler and family (I’m the baby of the family and that’s my pram behind) :)

The sand dunes became our mountains to climb and whoever reached the top first would sing out, ‘I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal’ :)!  We would then kneel down and pulling ourselves along with our hands, make grooves like railway lines all around the beach.  There were great football and cricket matches, lots of sand castles and my father always took an old lorry inner tube that was either rolled hoopla fashion down the dunes or became our boat for further adventures!  It amazing how creative we were and how the simple things could become such an adventure.  I think that sense of wonder and excitement that we had as children is something to be treasured and carried with us even into old age, even if it does take more effort.  So many people lose that as they grow up and they are all the poorer for it!

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In the sand dunes today

For this walk, I didn’t linger on the beach – that was to be my way back.  My way out was along a very quiet path known as the Heather Trail.  This is a lovely route that winds through the heathland behind the dunes and it can be a very colourful walk at the right time of year.  This is the Egdon Heath of Hardy novels such as The Return of the Native.  With the accompaniment of the skylarks, it is a lovely place to be.

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The Heather Trail

It also skirts past swampy areas of heath with decaying trees – when we were younger, we used to imagine crocodiles and all kinds of snakes here.  There aren’t any of course – the adder is the only ‘dangerous’ snake we have and they don’t usually live in swamp areas.

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The ‘swamp’

Eventually the path comes back out onto the beach again…..and a part of the beach that needs care!  This is Studland Beach and part of it is noted for being an official naturist beach.  Walking this part, the camera usually stays firmly in its holster, although on this occasion, the skies were so amazing that I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures!  Clearly someone inland was getting wet but where I was, it was sunshine all the way :)!

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Heavy skies but the sun shines on the righteous ;)

Having passed through Hardy country, the walk took me on to another famous author as Studland is very much Enid Blyton territory.  Most of her novels were based here with the Famous Five and Secret Seven having their adventures around this coast.  In fact, with her husband, Enid Blyton owned the local golf club.  It seems strange that such an iconic children’s author once had her work banned by the BBC who described her on occasions as a ‘tenacious second rater’ whose books were ‘stilted and long winded’.  She was also felt to be racist and sexist!  Ah but we as children didn’t care what the critics said, we loved her books!  In the two pictures below, I’ve tried to create something Blyton-esque – pictures that might perhaps have appeared in one of her novels.

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One goes on an adventure!

The coastline at Studland is interesting and varied.  As you can see from the pictures above, the cliffs are sandstone with a beautiful array of warm colours, tones and patterns, and a few shallow caves too.  Later, this sandstone turns to chalk as we reach the start of the famous World Heritage Site – the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, so designated by UNESCO in 2001.  Perhaps that is a subject for a future blog too.  It is an amazing coastline and one which I never tire of visiting.

Walking along the beach, I am always struck by the peace, the gentle lapping of the waves, the calling of the gulls overhead, the lovely sound of the children playing in the distance, but it has not always been so peaceful.  There are several reminders of less peaceful times.  One is above the beach and one that we will pass later in the walk but one is right on the beach – it is an old Second World War pill box which nestles at a crazy angle on the sand.  This is a feature in many places along the coast and is perhaps a stark reminder of what our ancestors went through to bring the peace that we now enjoy.

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The pill box – with a robin on the top

It was as I was walking along this part of the route that there was another reminder of both war and peace, it was the faint drone of a plane’s engine growing louder as it came closer.  This was a troop carrying plane that often flies over this part of the coast, plying its trade to and fro, dropping paratroops out of the back – it looked like some giant insect giving birth as it flew with its new-born offspring gliding to earth.  I often envy the troops their view as they glide slowly and effortlessly down in the silence just carried by the warm air and breeze.  I’m not sure though that my envy would be quite so evident if I was stood at the back of the plane and about to leap out into the unknown!

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Giving birth ;)

The next stage of my walk took me away from the beach and up onto the clifftops….and to an altogether more agile flier than the cumbersome troop carrying plane.  Walking along the beautiful grass covered cliff top, I decided to rest and just enjoy the scene.  I sat on the grass and watched hundreds of martin’s wheeling through the air with amazing skill.  In fact I tried to watch them through the binoculars but they were just so fast, constantly changing direction, that I couldn’t follow them.  I guess they were making the most of the sunshine and having their dinner on the wing, swerving here and there to catch insects in flight.  It was a wonderful sight!  And the wild flowers were amazing too, almost as if someone had planted them – but then, I guess the great gardener himself did just that :)!

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On the cliff tops

It was time to move on and it wasn’t long before I reached Old Harry Rocks, the point at which Ballard Down reaches the sea.  There is some debate over how it got its name – some say Harry is named after the devil who took a nap there, and others say he is named after Harry Paye, an infamous local smuggler.  Either way, it is a beautiful and breathtaking place.

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Old Harry Rocks

It is impossible to get onto the stacks themselves but with care you can go down that slope to reach the tip of the ‘mainland’, a point known as St Lucas Leap – this was named after a greyhound who went over the cliff whilst chasing a hare.  Hmm, I can feel another blog entry coming on there too :)!

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St Lucas’ Leap

On the way back down the coast path, the memories from my youth and the remembrances of war came together.  I passed the cottage in the picture below – it sits right on the cliff top with fabulous views over Studland Bay.  It reminded me of a day in the 1950’s when I passed it whilst out (grudgingly) walking with my parents.  My father recognised the owner who was working in his garden and fell into conversation with him.  During the war my father was in Italy for three years as a driver in the army and this man was the colonel that he used to drive around.  He hadn’t seen him for many many years!  As an aside, I never knew what went on in wartime as my father never talked about it!

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The way back

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

20 Apr

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

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Wonderfully picturesque Dorset

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

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The rolling Dorset countryside

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

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Don’t you just love an old wooden gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The coast path above Charmouth – no way down!

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

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Every cloud has a silver lining

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

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The ruined church at Stanton St Gabriel

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A remote cottage

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What was life like then??

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

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The highest heights at Golden Cap

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

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The day’s end

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

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

The Dorset Rambler

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

17 Apr

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

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

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Stinsford Church

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The Hardy graves

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Cecil Day Lewis was a big admirer of Thomas Hardy

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

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The walk along the causeway

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

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

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

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A lovely Dorset church

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

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A million pounds holiday home

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

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

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Ever feel unwanted??

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

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

The Dorset Rambler

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