Tag Archives: Dorset

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.

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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.

Two Dorset Ferries

16 Oct

Hi all.  Sorry for the lack of posts recently – unfortunately due to various events and health issues my walking has been somewhat curtailed this year…..although on the positive side I have had my mountain bike out a lot more.  This is because two of my health issues have involved twisted ankles which prevented me from walking but not from cycling.  I am now fully recovered and looking forward to some great autumn walks :)!

THE FLOATING BRIDGE

I thought I would post a blog about two valuable but very different Dorset ferries, the first of these being the Sandbanks Chain Ferry which plies its trade transporting cars across the entrance to Poole Harbour.  It is classified as a ‘floating bridge’.

Bramblebush Bay
The Bramblebush Bay

Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world with around 36 square kilometers of water and 100 miles of coastline but the entrance is just 300 meters wide.  The peninsulas either side of the entrance were originally just sand spits without roads but now the situation is considerably different with the northern peninsula particularly, Sandbanks, now being covered with houses, some of the most expensive real estate in the world – you would need to be a multi-millionaire just to buy a plot of land here!

Across the Heath
Studland Heath with the harbour entrance and the Sandbanks Ferry in the distance

It was in the early 1900’s that the first idea for crossing the harbour entrance was muted.  The suggestion was that this should be a transporter bridge although the proposal failed, as did several other schemes.  From the early 1900’s foot passengers were catered for as a rowing boat ferry operated during the summer, carrying passengers across to the wild and remote Shell Bay – this must have been really hard work especially when the strong tides were running through that narrow harbour entrance.  This first ferry was eventually changed to a motor boat service.

It was just before the First World War that the suggestion was made that a vehicle ferry should be set up and some 9 years later, the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road And Ferry Company was formed to progress this.  Roads needed to be built and slipways formed with Purbeck Stone being brought in from the Dorset coastal quarries either overland or by barge.  With some of the land being boggy marshlands, copious amounts were needed.  On 15th July 1926, the first ferry, a coal fired, steam driven craft carrying up to 15 cars, commenced service.  This continued to operate for over 30 years, although the whole area was taken over by the military during the Second World War.

Boarding
Traffic boarding the ferry in the evening light

In the mid 1950’s, a new and larger ferry was installed.  This carried up to 28 cars and again operated for some 35 years before being taken out of service.  The current ferry, The Bramblebush Bay, came into service in 1994 and was larger again with a length of 244 feet and a beam of 54 feet.  This carries up to 48 cars but when fully loaded still has a draught of just 3 feet 9 inches.

The ferry operates on two hardened steel chains, each 1,235 feet long, anchored at either side of the harbour entrance.  Wear and tear on the chain causes it to stretch and two links have to be taken out each fortnight in order to maintain the optimum length.  Although there are two chains, the ferry actually drives on one side at a time only (the side farthest from the flowing tide) in order to make it easier to manouvre at the slipway and to reduce cost.  There is a tremendous strain on the chains, especially when a strong tide is flowing and a chain has been known to break – the most recent was in July this year and the suggestion is that the cross channel ferry that passes through the harbour entrance may have clipped the chain on its way through at low tide although this was not proven.  The chains are replaced every 15/18 months and the old ones sold off – I bought a 1.5 meter length as a feature for my garden and it took two of us to lift it into the car boot, such is the weight!

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Sunset from the Sandbanks Ferry

To travel on the Sandbanks Ferry is a delight and there is no better way to start and finish a walk.  It is one of my regular haunts and I thoroughly enjoy both the quirkiness and the amazing views, especially at sunrise and sunset.

THE WEYMOUTH ROWING BOAT FERRY

Don't pay the ferryman!

This is a much different but equally delightful, and quirky, ferry service and it operates to carry passengers across the Weymouth Harbour entrance.  It is a short trip and saves around a mile of walking because without it you have to cross at the nearest bridge.  It costs the princely sum of £1 but I like it so much that I always pay more.  The ferry has operated for over 60 years and is one of the oldest of its type in the UK.

I walk this part of the Dorset coast regularly because it is from here that I start my annual 4 day end to end backpack.  I catch the early train to Weymouth and always start day one with a bacon sandwich on the sea front.  Partly the reason for this ritual is that the rowboat ferry doesn’t start until 10.30 am and although I could easily walk to the bridge, I much prefer to cross by the ferry – this, and the Sandbanks Ferry above, is just one of those things that makes Dorset such a great place to walk :)!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

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

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

Who Cares?

7 Mar

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Faceless names upon the stone,
No one knows, they are gone,
Ashes to ashes, no-one there,
Does anyone care?

Loved ones once, when alive,
But all too soon, their time to die,
Leaving this earth, with mourners there,
People around to care!

Generations passed, all forgot,
No-one now tends their final plot,
Overgrown and in disrepair,
Does anyone care?

Who cares?

Who Cares!!!!

This was a fascinating place, an old and uncared for Dorset cemetery.  Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, the old church to which the graveyard belonged was demolished in 1742 to make way for a new building a mile or so down the road.  Now the cemetery stands alone, neglected and uncared for, but the graves are still there – its just that no-one knows the people any more.  It struck me as sad and poignant and I composed the above poem to express something of that feeling.

When those people were buried, others would have stood around the grave mourning their loss.  Generations later…….who cares?  How many people will remember you or me, and for how long?  Who will care?

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

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

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

Rain, Rain, Rain…….and more Rain!!

13 Feb

It’s amazing how much rain seems to fall out of the UK skies at the moment!  Most of you will know from the news that there is massive flooding throughout the south coast, including the whole of Dorset.  The picture below is typical of Dorset footpaths at the moment – impassable!

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Impassable

A combination of this and also a hospital visit for a minor op has somewhat curtailed my activities over the last month or so……but not entirely :)!  There is always somewhere to walk and I have a few places that usually manage to stay dry enough and one of these is the Dorset sea front where the prom kind of stays dry.  It is often covered in thick sand from the storms and/or sea spray from the howling winds and high tides, but at least there is no MUD :)!!

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High tide breeches the sea wall!

In fact it is quite civilised and makes a change from the countryside as there are no hills to climb, food and drinks on tap all along the route, and dry seats to sit on in the various cafes etc that stay open in winter :)!  And you can walk for miles!  It’s not necessarily a walk that makes for an interesting blog entry but I thought I would put up a series of pictures taken on my various wanders over recent weeks………a sort of pictorial blog!

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I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to the sea front with me………and I am really hoping that normal service will be resumed in the very near future.  Now where did I leave my umbrella!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

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

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

Of a canine encounter, a bloody battle, a blazing fire, a bright sunset……and of course, a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

31 Dec

It was one of those beautiful crisp winter days, the frost was still heavy in the shade although the bright, clear sunshine had thawed the cold earth elsewhere.  With lovely grassy paths soft under foot, the walking was pleasant and the day was peaceful.  But not for long!

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Grassy paths and autumn colours

I saw him in the distance but gave him no thought – just a dog, a bull terrier, being walked by his owner.  They got closer and the dog ran towards me, just having fun and wanting to play I thought.  Then he started to run around me, tripping me up as I walked.  Still I thought nothing until he started to nip my shoelaces, then my rucksack, then my trouser legs, then finally ME!  Fortunately, he didn’t break the skin but I ‘suggested’ to the owner that if she couldn’t control her dog, she shouldn’t own one!  Or at the very least she should keep it on a lead!  It wasn’t such a peaceful start to the day after all.

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The morning light

However, with paths like the one above to walk down in the beautiful morning light, the incident was soon forgotten.  The path in fact skirts round one of the many deer parks that were once used to keep up the supply of deer as this was for hundreds of years the hunting ground of English Kings.  These days, it is just the local deer stalker who is employed to keep the numbers down.  Turning off this track, my route took me down a gentle slope into a valley, passing more parkland and farmsteads on the way.

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Down into the valley

In some ways, this is still hunting territory although now it is not deer but game birds.  They flew off noisily every few minutes as I disturbed them – it always amuses me that they seem to leave it till the last minute as if they hadn’t noticed me.  Although it was winter, the birds were still making melody all around and there were even odd butterflies to add a bit of colour.  The whole landscape was peaceful and a delight to walk through, but it hadn’t always been that way!

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A peaceful Dorset farm lane

I came to the gate below with its rather unusual sign on it and decided to take a break for a cup of hot Bovril.  Leaning on the gate I reflected on the history of this place.  It is called the Bloody Shard Gate although the name refers to the area rather than that specific gate, it being the connecting point of some five paths.  Its name emanates from a bloody skirmish that took place in the 18th century between gamekeepers and poachers.  The gamekeepers won the day but there is an interesting story concerning one of the poachers who had a hand severed in the battle.  The poacher recovered but his hand didn’t and was buried in a local churchyard.  It is said that it still roams the area at night searching for its owner!

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Bloody Shard Gate

The area is in fact steeped in a history of conflicts such as the English Civil War, the local landowners were at odds with each other, farmers were at odds with royalty as the protected deer caused damage to crops, and there was even a battle between two packs of local dogs resulting in the death of forty five animals.  There was no evidence of that though when I walked through the peaceful woodlands which were almost like a silent graveyard of the age old coppicing industry.

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A graveyard of the coppicing industry

Walking along these grassy paths surrounded by woodlands, you can just imagine King John riding through with his entourage as they hunted for deer.  The farmers finally won their particular battle with royalty after 800 years of protection for the deer, although that was probably down to hunting going out of fashion.  It is said that when the protection was lifted, villagers shot 12,000 animals in two days!

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From hunting ground to farm land

At the half way point on this walk is a lovely unspoilt Dorset village and as I walked into it, the low winter sunshine threw long shadows across the ground making beautiful patterns of shadows and light.

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Shadows and light

This always seems an unusual village to me as the cottages that line the main street are all end on to it rather than facing onto it as they normally do.

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The village street

It also includes a rather nice pub with a blazing log fire so on this walk, my lunch time seat was dry :)!  I don’t usually visit pubs when I am walking, preferring to stick to the countryside and a well placed rock or log for a seat – but sometimes you just have to make an exception.  The fire was very inviting :)!

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Beside the pub fire

Leaving the pub, I headed out of the village and passed the interesting garden below.  I had assumed that it was an old village railway station and stopped to ask a lady if that was the case but apparently it wasn’t – it was just a villager who was keen on railway paraphernalia.

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Not the railway station

It was good to be out in the country again and I crossed fields and walked farm tracks for a few miles before dropping into another village, well more of a hamlet really.  This one, like most, had a delightful church as well as a farm, a few cottages and of course a manor house.  The manor was one of the two that had been rivals in days gone by.

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The hamlet

The trail from the village passes through more parkland, but this is no ordinary parkland.  This once surrounded a palatial mansion, the largest in the county, which was built in the early 18th century.  Its size was in fact its downfall as no one wanted it and at one point the owner, who lived in Italy, offered to actually pay £200 a year to anyone who would live it it.  There were no takers however and it is said that he gave instructions to his servant to demolish the wings of the house.  Apparently the servant seeing a chance to make some money for himself demolished the main house as well and sold the stone which was used on various other buildings in the area.  When he heard the owner was returning to England, the servant apparently committed suicide!  The current house is still a substantial country mansion despite its being only a fraction of the original, mainly just the stable block.  Its most noted inhabitant was the Wedgewood family of pottery fame.

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The parkland

By the time I reached the next village, the light was beginning to fade but I took time out to visit the church.  I enjoy looking round these old village churches, they have such a long heritage and are still a testimony to Christianity and to those who have served and worshipped over the centuries.  The architecture has a special beauty.

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Inside the village church

Coming out of the church, the day was almost spent and I strode out up the track as I had several miles still to walk.  The sun dropped below the horizon and the sky lit up with a bright red glow as I walked.  It seemed a fitting end to a glorious day, and perhaps a fitting end to this last post of 2013!

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The day’s end

I hope you have enjoyed walking with me this year.  If you have any comments on my blog, or suggestions as to how it could be improved in the coming year, I would love to hear from you.

May I wish you all a very happy New Year.  Every blessing, and much walking, in the year to come.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

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

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

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

2 Dec

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

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A well placed puddle

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

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

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The woodland doorway

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

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

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A golden carpet of leaves

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

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

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The old gate

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

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Shepherd’s Bottom

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

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The forest track

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

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

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

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My lunch time view

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

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The village in the valley

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

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The old farmhouse

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

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The old mill

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

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In the spotlight

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

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The view from the beacon

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

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A warming drink as the sun goes down

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

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Enjoying the sunset

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

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The sun dips his toe into the horizon pool

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

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

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The eerie darkness

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

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

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

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