I am sat at my desk today listening to the rain falling yet again against my window and thinking back to sunnier days and the great walking I have been able to do again this year, and I decided that I would blog a walk that I did in the spring. This will be a virtual spring walk on a dull autumn day and I hope you will enjoy it with me!
The walk started on the high North Dorset downs on a hill known as Spreadeagle Hill….although there are no eagles here! The views across the valley with villages nestling beneath the downs are fantastic and there are many paths to choose from. The path below with its distant views always looks inviting but today, I ignored it.
I chose instead the route that leads out across Compton Down, but first I had to walk the narrow path beside the road. This was a surprisingly beautiful path that was lined with Cow Parsley on both sides and with distant views across to the hilltop town of Shaftesbury. My walk would take me there and back.
After a short distance, I left the road and made my way over Compton Down. This is a wonderful grassy path that is easy to walk which means that you can take in all the views without fearing that you might trip over some rock – it is what I call a ‘bare foot path’ because you could easily kick off your boots and walk bare footed which is a rare pleasure.
Passing over the hilltop and dropping down into what I call ‘the saddle’, I was amazed by the awesome display of beautiful, bright buttercups and I used my iPhone panorama facility to capture the scene. It was truly glorious on this spring day with just a gentle breeze, bright sunshine and soaring skylarks.
I felt almost guilty treading across the flowers, as if I was trampling roughshod across someone’s garden but the path goes that way. Reaching the bottom of my ‘saddle’, I turned and headed down the hillside through a field of sheep towards the village of Melbury Abbas – such a great Dorset name – and headed towards the village church. I always find that churches are good for lunch stops as they invariably have benches in the churchyard and places to shelter if its raining. This was far too early for lunch though! I stopped for a snack anyway, and gazed at the beautiful valerian growing out of the wall.
The church stands high on the hillside and below it is an interesting path that climbs down the steep embankment to the road that runs through the village. The path is usually overgrown now through lack of use but I love walking it because you almost get a sense of ancient times and the people who once walked it regularly as they made their way to worship on a sunday morning. Those would have been the days when villagers could safely walk through the village – with the increase in traffic, the village has now become a very busy rat run on the route from Blandford to Shaftesbury. But on this day, I knew there would be no traffic!
Walking through the village today was a rare pleasure thanks to the local authority. You see, the road leaves the village and makes its way up the hill through a Dorset Holloway known as Dinas Hollow. Two years ago the local authority closed the road to traffic because the steep sides had become unstable and were in danger of collapsing. I think the villagers must have thought all their birthdays had come at once to have the road clear after many years of traffic thundering along this very narrow lane and headlights blazing in through their windows at night. Now all was silent – it was like a deserted village!
Never would you normally risk walking this road, it would be far too dangerous as even heavy trucks use this route. This was a pleasure that I was going to enjoy on this day, and Melbury Abbas is a village that does reward anyone who takes the trouble to walk its lanes as it is totally unspoilt and uncommercialised.
As a footnote, the local authority has since re-opened the road having carried out very little work apart from trimming a few trees, albeit with some traffic management in place.
Climbing up through Dinas Hollow with its steep sides and overhanging trees was a delight. I have driven up this ‘tunnel’ thousands of times without really having a chance to look around – this was a chance to linger and look and I made the most of it.
Reaching the next village, East Melbury, I passed an interesting old cottage going by the name of The Old Glyn Arms. The names of these old cottages, and indeed roads, always intrigue me as they often convey something of their history. This one certainly did. It was built in the 17th century and was once the village pub but it was converted to a private house in the 1950’s. Once again, I wondered about the people who had frequented this lovely old thatched building – who were they and what would they be like if you could meet them today? So much history in a single cottage!
Leaving East Melbury, I struck out cross country passing a much more modern development on the way, in the shape of a new pipeline. This pipeline runs for several miles and is being laid to improve the water supply between Blandford and Shaftesbury. It seemed to be carving up so much of the countryside and the bright blue pipes were so garish echoing the colour of the sky but I knew from experience that in a year or two you will not even know that the pipeline exists because nature will have reclaimed its own.
On this pathway, there was in any event plenty of nature’s own to be enjoyed with a wonderful array of campions and cow parsley to enjoy. The pipeline was soon forgotten.
There was plenty of evidence of farming too with haymaking already taking place, making the most of a warm dry spell. As a photographer, I do love the lines that farming often creates through the crops.
When I plan my walks, I always try to include a village or two because I really enjoy walking through these old hamlets and looking at the cottages and cottage gardens. This one was no exception and I soon reached another delightful hamlet with an array of spring flowers both in and outside of the gardens. Wisteria climbing up the wall of an old cottage, and garden walls laden with spring plants seemings growing out of the stone.
At the top of the lane leading out of this settlement I came across what looked like snow covering the ground. This was in fact seeds from poplars, a myriad tiny cotton wool pieces of fluff that have been blown under the nearby shrubs. There was something beautiful and spellbinding about this simple thing.
I climbed up onto the ridge and dropped down the other side through a dense woodland and along yet another Dorset Holloway. This sunken path, worn by centuries of hooves and feet being surrounded by an ageing forest had an air of mystery about it as they so often do.
Soon, I came out onto open parkland at Wincombe Park, with its magnificent home high on the hillside overlooking a once beautiful lake. This area is now working farmland but it still had all the marks of stately home parkland with carefully planted trees and once well manicured lawns.
Passing through the woods that surround the park there was a lovely contrast in the spring foliage with autumnal tones of the copper beach trees standing out strongly against the fresh green leaves of other species. It was a delight to the eyes and the path itself must have been a delight to the nose too, being lined as it was with wild garlic in full flow. The latter was lost on me unfortunately as I have no sense of smell but I could appreciate the view.
I reached Shaftesbury, the hilltop town we saw in the distance earlier and I made my way through the town, walking down its most famous and much photographed street, Gold Hill. This wonderful cobbled street with its old cottages on one side and even older abbey wall on the other is always a pleasure to walk down. The views across the surrounding countryside are wonderful and the whole scene is picture postcard perfect. No wonder it is so popular. Normally I eat my lunch somewhere out in the country with a view to enjoy but today I made an exception. I ate my lunch in town, sat on a seat enjoying the view below.
I was fortunate to have walked down Gold Hill on such a quiet day but it was time to move on and I left the town and headed out across the meadows, accompanied by birds, butterflies and bees. We shared the enjoyment of the meadow together and I have to say I lingered a long time in these lovely surroundings. Well, as the poet said, ‘What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’! I stood and I stared! In the distance I could see my next objective, Melbury Hill.
Coming out of the other side of the meadow, I crossed the stile below and dropped down onto a very quiet country lane. With the dappled light filtering through the trees, even the stile with its embankment below was picturesque.
Over the next two miles, I passed three old mills that were once driven by the now small stream that runs though the valley bottom. Two of these are now private dwellings and the other has been modified but is still a working mill. The Domesday Book in fact describes five working mills within one mile, all being driven by the River Sturkel, a tributary of the larger River Stour – indeed the name Sturkel is thought to mean Little Stour.
Cann Mill, the one remaining working mill, continues to produce flour by old methods and even now is driven partly by water power. The building itself was sadly damaged by fire in 1950 and had to be rebuilt but its popularity continues thanks to the thriving artisan bakery movement in Dorset. Purchased by Norman Stoates in 1947, the current owner is the fifth generation of that family operating the business. It is very much part of history that still operates and serves the community today.
My easy walk along the valley bottom stream eventually ended and I turned to climb out of the valley, clambering up the steep side of Melbury Beacon. Once again, the views were amazing and I stopped often to look back across the valley towards Shaftesbury.
Once again I found myself amongst the buttercups which were also littered with other wild flowers such as Red Clover. Even an old water trough provided some interest with the skeleton of a leaf floating amongst other debris. There is beauty even in decay!
I was now reaching the end of my walk and I dropped down off the hill into my ‘saddle’ that I passed earlier in the morning. I could almost imagine a giant sitting astride this hill with a leg in each valley as if he was on some giant horse. The sun had now faded and in the evening light, I enjoyed once again walking on my ‘bare foot path’ with a lush carpet of gold at my feet. Even the best carpet manufacturer could not better this.
There was no-one around as I crossed Compton Down for the second time, save for a few nosy cows who were interested in what I was doing there. We passed the time of day!
What a delightful walk this was and reviewing it on this grey, wet autumn day has brightened things up. Wonderful walking, amazing views, lush countryside, interesting villages, and memories to take carry me. I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler.
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