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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 :)!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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,
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.
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