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The Wishing Well

23 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Today, we continue our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ and for Part 18 I though we could take a look at one of Dorset’s many wells, and a wonderful place it is too! This is in part a natural and mesmerising wonder, delightful to watch and listen to. This is the so called Wishing Well at Upwey.

The Wishing Well, Upwey

Although this is known as the Wishing Well, it is not strictly a well at all but rather is a natural spring which is the source of the River Wey which flows from Upwey to Weymouth some 5 miles downstream. It is believed to date back to the last Ice Age and was at one time the village’s water supply. It is at this point where, because of the formation of rock, sand and clay, water literally bubbles its way to the surface from the underground stream. The water is always clear and maintains a steady temperature of 10.5 degrees.

Upwey Wishing Well

Although this is a natural phenomenon, it is one that has over the years been harnessed by man as an attraction to draw people into the area, and that includes royalty because it is said to have been something of a favourite place for King George III. In fact, the stone seat next to the well was specifically built for him. When he visited, he drank the waters from a special gold cup which interestingly became the original prize for a horse race known as the Ascot Gold Cup. In addition, it is said that Queen Charlotte and also HRH Edward, Prince of Wales both visited.

The royal connections continued because further changes were made to the site in 1887 when arches were added above the seat to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Upwey Wishing Well

One of the quirky things about this place is that there was a very specific way to drink the water! This involved filling a glass, drinking part of it with your back to the well, and then throwing the remainder over your left shoulder back into the well, making a wish as you did so. Such was the popularity of this practice that some villagers were appointed to help visitors with the process. Naturally, with modern health and safety requirements in mind, the practice is no longer encouraged.

One further change is that in recent years, the practice of dressing the well has taken place for May Day. This is a custom that is more associated with the Peak District but that has now come south to this Dorset well.

Upwey Wishing Well

The Wishing Well is a place that was for centuries just a natural ‘welling up’ of water to the surface and which was only popularised in the 19th century when the term ‘Wishing’ was added. Today, with its attached gardens and tea rooms, it is still a popular place. And deservedly so because it is quite magical to just sit and listen to the birds, the bees and the babbling spring.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

 

Quirky Dorset – Part 17

20 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

So, we are continuing the theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ today, highlighting places and people that are strange, a bit off the wall, or just plain mysterious, and this one fits well into the last category. This is one of Dorset’s mysterious places, somewhere that just makes you wonder about its history, who passed through here, what was their purpose, and what was their life like. At least, that’s what it does for me, and its a place that somehow draws you back time and time again. This is the Dorset Gap.

The Dorset Gap

The Dorset Gap

The Dorset Gap in its Flattened Clearing

The Dorset Gap, or Dorsetshire Gap as the OS have it on their maps, is a ‘gap’ or more precisely a dip in the chalk ridge that runs across the south of England and known as the Dorset Downs. These downs are actually an escarpment with a steeply sloped northern face and a more gently sloping southern aspect. The ridge effectively forms a barrier to traffic moving north to south and vice versa and there was a natural tendency for people and animals to cross the ridge at a lower point. Perhaps as a result of this, some five paths converge on this one point to form what was effectively an ancient ‘spaghetti junction’, a meeting point of medieval motorways.

The paths that meet here were part of the ancient network of super highways that criss crossed this wonderful country and they were very active from the Middle Ages right up to the 19th century when other forms of transport took over. Indeed, the path that runs along the top of the ridge from east to west is part of a much longer ancient route that stretched from the Devon coast right to the Norfolk coast. This was a very important trade route, and the Dorset Gap was a very important crossing point.

It is possible that these routes even predate the Middle Ages since there is much evidence in the area of older settlements in the form of hill top cross dykes, burial mounds, an Iron Age hill fort, and the remains of a settlement in the valley to the south.

Ramsons

One of the Ramson Lined Paths

The paths around the Dorset Gap are well worn having withstood centuries of feet, hooves, cart wheels, packhorses and so on, as goods and animals were moved around the county and farther afield. Some would have been moved along the ridge top trails towards Devon to the west or Wiltshire to the east and many would have dropped off the ridge at this point, perhaps moving north to pick up other drove trails. Thus the paths have gradually been eroded away to become Holloway’s, sunken paths with steep sides. I have blogged about Holloways many times.

When I visited the Dorset Gap this week, the sides of the sunken lanes were laden with ramsons, wild garlic, and it was just wonderful walking these beautiful paths to the accompaniment of bird song. There is no real view from the Gap itself since it is surrounded by trees, but climb just a short way up to the top of the ridge beyond and the views are simply amazing. To the north, the view stretches for miles across the Blackmore Vale, and to the South, the view stretches across the valley with the hamlet of Higher Melcombe in the centre. It is at Higher Melcombe that the remains of the ancient settlement lie. It is at Higher Melcome also that the manor house sits, to which this land belonged.

Higher Melcombe from the Ridge

The View South towards Higher Melcombe

Blackmore Vale View

The View North Across the Blackmore Vale

One of the slightly quirky things about the Dorset Gap is that there is a visitor’s book which is kept in a plastic tub below the sign post. This book has been here since 1972, some 45 years ago, and is maintained and replaced as necessary by the current owner of Higher Melcome Manor. Each time I visit this spot, I write in the book so I feature regularly in the gathering collection of books that the owner must have.

The Dorset Gap

The Visitor’s Book

So why is this place so mysterious? Is it its position, a small flattened clearing surrounded by trees in a dip in a long range of hills? Is it because it is so remote and hidden; the nearest road is a mile or more away and it can be reached only on foot or horseback? Is it the fact that it is a centuries old, once very busy cross roads used by all manner of people from gentry to drovers to warriors to paupers to prisoners? Is it because you wonder why it was there and who started using it in the first place?

I think it is all of these things! Stand at the Dorset Gap and it is like standing amidst history. Its past sounds you, it is soaked into the ground, and you can almost here the sounds of ancient voices, hooves and wheels and you wonder who they were and what they would be like if you could greet them.

The Dorset Gap is an ancient, mysterious and special place. It is one that always rewards a visit and one that I shall continue to return to because peace and the past pervade this place.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

Quirky Dorset – Part 16

18 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

OK, so I lied yesterday 🙂 ! I’ve decided that I will continue this series a little longer, and today we visit a real icon of Dorset and something that is almost unique. This is an amazing feature that stretches for 18 miles along the coast and one that is mysterious and that has some quirky features. This is the Chesil Beach.

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach from West Cliff above Chiswell

Chesil Beach, also known as Chesil Bank, stretches 18 miles from Chiswell at its south eastern end to West Bay at its north western end……..although some would say that it doesn’t actually end there, since the beach continues beyond that point. It takes its name from the old English word for shingle because this is a shingle beach, and a shingle beach of the finest order. It is between 150 and 200 meters wide and between 12-14 meters high, with that height increasing towards the south east, and it is said to comprise some 180 billion pebbles.

It is described as a Tombolo, that is a narrow strip of land that is formed by the tide to join an island, in this case the Isle of Portland, to the mainland. Some would disagree with that description, stating that this is more of a giant sandbank or Barrier Beach because it runs predominantly parallel to the coast rather than perpendicular to it. Either way, this is the largest such feature in the UK, and one of the largest in the world.

Fleet View

Chesil Beach and The Fleet from Abbotsbury Castle

Chesil is thought to have its foundations way back at the end of the last ice age when the previously dry English Channel was flooded by melting ice. The gradually rising water level washed sediment towards the land forming a sandbank which increased in height as it moved landwards, eventually rising above sea level, trapping seawater behind it. This trapped water became known as The Fleet, a now brackish lagoon. The ‘sandbank’ was then further increased in size by stones and rock being washed over from the crumbling cliffs along the west shore of Lyme Bay, with these being driven over the top of the sand and silt to create a pebbled shoreline.

One of the interesting features of Chesil Beach is that the size of the pebbles varies along its length, being fist sized at Chiswell but reducing gradually to pea size at West Bay. There are various theories put forward to explain this phenomenon, one being that the predominant tides coming from the southwest hit Portland and then effectively bounce back westward again along the shoreline gradually reducing the size of the pebbles by attrition. Another suggests that in fact the southwesterly winds and tides wash the pebbles eastwards along the shore and that the larger pebbles simply move quicker and override the smaller ones that then get left behind.

Whichever of these theories is correct, it is said that fishermen or smugglers landing on Chesil Beach at night could tell exactly where they were simply by the size of the pebbles.

Layers

Layers

The bank is not smooth as it appears from a distance but is in fact ‘shelved’ by the action of the sea and weather as you can see in the picture above. The shingle is multi-coloured because of the different types of stone. For centuries, although the shingle beach itself was being eroded, it was being replenished by more debris washing across from the west. However, erosion all along this coast has caused some headlands to become more prominent, effectively blocking this resupply chain. In addition, human interaction has also had an effect since gravel extraction used to take place here.

Interestingly, whist lateral movement has virtually ceased, the shingle bank is still very gradually moving inland and a rate of 15 cm per annum has been suggested at the Portland end. It is probable that some distant day it will either be breached, or it will join the mainland. In fact there have already been occasions when the sea has breached Chesil, notably in 1824 when much of Fleet village was destroyed.

Solitude

Stormy Seas off Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach is a truly amazing place and usually there are many fishermen, especially in the more western parts where it can be reached without too much walking. Swimming, however, is a dangerous occupation all along its length because of the steeply sloping shingle and very strong undertow. The shingle actually continues to drop steeply to some 18 meters below sea level at 300 meters out to sea!

In any event, because this is a conservation area, access is extremely restricted in parts, with no access being permitted at all along great lengths during the nesting season, or along the landward shoreline at any time at any time of year.

The Fleet shoreline

Chesil Beach and the Fleet Viewed from the Mainland Shore

The Chesil Beach is a wild and special place that has inspired novels! It is certainly a place that inspires me and one of my ambitions is to walk along its length simply because it is there, and because not many people will have done it. Well, trudging along 18 miles of shingle is not easy, especially when there is an easier path along the mainland shore. Whether I will achieve it or not, time alone will tell 🙂 !

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

 

Quirky Dorset – Part 15

16 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

So we come to the last part of this ‘Quirky Dorset’ set and we pay a visit to one of those ‘ghost villages’, a once tiny but thriving hamlet which is now just a skeleton, the soul having departed long ago. And this is a hamlet with a somewhat sad story too. This is Stanton St Gabriel.

Stanton St Gabriel

Stanton St Gabriel

Stanton St Gabriel on its Hillside

The now virtually deserted hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel sits part way up the west facing slopes of the Golden Cap headland in a somewhat exposed position, open to the elements that whip across this part of the Dorset coast. Indeed, it is perhaps this very exposure that was its downfall! It is a community that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but by the 18th century, death knells were already sounding!

The name Stanton comes from ‘stan’ and ‘tun’ meaning farm on stony ground, and it was very much an agricultural community, although fishing also became a feature since there was a path down to the shore some 200 feet below. The now ruined church was dedicated to St Gabriel, hence that part of the village name, and there is a sad story that is traditionally related around that!

Stanton St Gabriel

The Ruined Chapel of St Gabriel’s

The story goes that a man called Bertram and his new bride were on a barque when a storm blew up and the vessel they were on was founding. So Bertram went to the captain and asked for a very small boat to at least give them some chance of survival. They spent some days in their tiny boat and Bertram prayed to St Gabriel, promising that if they survived the storm, he would build a shrine to the saint. Eventually the storm subsided and the boat was washed up on the shore below Golden Cap, but sadly Bertram’s wife had not survived the ordeal. Bertram, however was true to his word and he is said to have built the chapel in Stanton St Gabriel, interring his wife in the church beneath the altar.

By the 18th century, villagers began to drift away to find employment elsewhere, many in the Rope Works of Bridport. Around this time also, the old coach road that passed through the village eroded away, a new turnpike being built further inland. Thus, gradually, the heart went out of the community and the settlement became isolated, a relic to days gone by. Eventually, it became a deserted village cut off from its surroundings, and the church and cottages were left to the elements.

Stanton St Gabriel

The Manor House, now Four Holiday Lets

Today, the manor house remains, plus one or two small cottages but these are now holiday lets and are just monuments to what was at one time a busy, if always struggling, settlement of farmers and fishermen. In 1906, Sir Frederick Treves wrote that Stanton St Gabriel was, “a village which was lost and forgotten centuries ago.” This is still true today!

A Dorset Cottage

A Tiny Cottage at Stanton St Gabriel

This whole series on ‘Quirky Dorset’ is about places that have an air of mystery, and Stanton St Gabriel fits into that category well. It is a place that time, and people, have forgotten. It is today frequented by just wildlife and walkers, and for the most part it is even bypassed by many of the latter since it needs a detour off the main coast path to find it. But, to bypass this old hamlet is to miss a little Dorset gem since it is a delightful and peaceful place.

If you ever walk this part of the Dorset Coast Path, take the short detour inland and walk through this faded hamlet and wonder what life here was like here years ago!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

Quirky Dorset – Part 14

13 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Today we are visiting another quirky building in Dorset, but this is not a very well known one unless you happen to spot it as you pass through the village of Frampton in West Dorset. Ostensibly, this looks like a tiny church, set back from the main village street, and attached to a lovely cottage. But all is not as it seems!

The Porch

The Cottage

This tiny building looks for all the world like a toy church with a little steeple on top but in fact it is the porch of this otherwise typically Dorset thatched cottage. Not that it was designed as a porch at all but rather, it has been up cycled to use a modern term 🙂 ! This delightful little building in fact started life as a summerhouse with a dovecote on the top, and it stood in the grounds of Frampton Court, the local manor house to which much of the area and village belonged. When the court was demolished in 1932, the summerhouse was dismantled and moved to its present site to serve as this rather quirky porch.

The holes for the nesting boxes have been filled in, giving it this church like appearance but otherwise the building is as it was. This is so quirky in its incongruity that when I first saw it, I decided I would do some detective work until I managed to solve the conundrum 🙂 ! Its always pleasing to find the answer and to discover a little bit more of ‘quirky Dorset’ 🙂 ! But, happily, there’s always more to find!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

Quirky Dorset – Part 13

11 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Today, we are looking at another Dorset curiosity, and one over which several theories have been put forward. It is something which is totally incongruous with its surroundings and which seemingly cannot be totally explained, which just adds to its air of mystery. This is the Agglestone.

The Agglestone

Agglestone - a Dorset curiosity

The Agglestone

The Agglestone is a massive lump of ferruginous sandstone, weighing some 500 tons and it stands on a flat topped conical hill in the middle of Black Heath near Studland. The mystery is caused by the fact that, apart from a much smaller neighbour known as the Puckstone, this rock is totally out of keeping with the boggy heathland which surrounds it.

Tradition has it that the rock was hurled by the devil one night when he stood at the Needles on the Isle of Wight and was intending to destroy Corfe Castle. He missed his target by some way, the stone landing harmlessly on the heath.

On the heathlands

Black Heath with The Agglestone

In truth, no one has been able to properly explain why the stone is there but there are several theories. One says that it was a remnant of the last ice age and that it was a ‘one-off’, deposited by a glacier on the heath and that it stands on a hilltop because the surrounding heathland has been eroded around it, much in the way that tors stand on their hilltops on moorlands. Another theory suggests that there was much more of this stone in this area but the rest has all been quarried away, theorising that this heath was once one massive quarry. This theory suggests it was the quarrymen who left the Agglestone deliberately as a relic as they sometimes did.

Either way, this stone is clearly natural and has not been put in place by man. However, there are suggestions that its shape has been modified by human intervention. This becomes more clear if you look at older pictures because at one time the rock stood higher and had a flat top, making it very much like an anvil. In addition, there were at one time quite a few smaller and neatly square blocks of similar stone surrounding it. These appeared to have been cut, but why were they left?

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 12.07.02

The Agglestone Long Before its Collapse (Published by Climenson in 1906)

Some years ago, probably in the 1950’s, its base eroded and the rock tipped over on its side, leaving it sloping as we see it today.

It would seem that whether it was a large quarry or just a single massive stone,  some quarrying activity was carried out, modifying the shape of the Agglestone. Suggestions that the undercutting might have been natural and caused by sandblasting by the wind seem doubtful since there are no large areas of sand in the vicinity. It is possible though that the lower rock is perhaps softer and has just been eroded to its anvil shape by rain and frost damage. We will probably never know the truth!

Agglestone View

The View from the Base of the Agglestone

There are so many unanswered questions surrounding the Agglestone – why was it there in the first place, why was its anvil shape so neat, why was it surrounded by neatly squared blocks of stone, why does it sit on a flattened hilltop, and so on. There is a real air of intrigue about it!

I well remember my first visit here in my younger days, walking the heath in the last light of the day. Suddenly, this massive structure loomed out of the gloom. It was extremely imposing and it made a real impression on me. Now, I visit regularly just to revisit that mystery and to drink in the amazing views from its lofty perch.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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

Quirky Dorset – Part 12

9 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

So we are looking at more ‘Quirky Dorset’ this week, things about Dorset that are a bit off the wall, unique, or just plain unusual. And today we are visiting a location on the Dorset coast and a rather unusual swimming pool!

The Dancing Ledge Swimming Pool

Filling the Swimming Pool

Dancing Ledge Swimming Pool Being Filled by the Tide

Dancing Ledge is a large, flat rock ledge that is all that remains of one of Dorset’s coastal quarries. There is some debate over where its name came from, some saying that it came from the way the waves seem to dance as they hit the rocks, and some saying that it was given that name because the ledge is roughly the same size as a ballroom dance floor. Either way, it is barren and beautiful.

Back in the late 19th century, children from the preparatory schools at Langton Matravers, notably Durnford School, would visit the ledge to swim. Durnford was a somewhat uncomfortable, spartan and severe school run by Thomas Pellatt and the daily ritual for the boys was ‘strip and swim’, and it literally was a complete strip, Pellatt himself being something of a naturist. There is no beach along that part of the coast, however, and the sea off the ledge was a dangerous place to swim because the waves could be large and the edge of the ledge was sheer, not to mention the very strong undertow. So much so that people have died being sucked under the ledge.

The swimming pool, Dancing Ledge

Reflections in the Dancing Ledge Pool

So Thomas Pellatt arranged for the quarrymen to blast out a ‘swimming pool’ near the edge of the rock so that the children could bathe more safely. Originally this pool had a grating over it which was locked when the children weren’t swimming, but this was quickly torn away by the stormy seas. This swimming pool was literally a giant, man made rock pool and of course it is still there today, the water being refreshed every time the tide comes in.

When the school closed at the time of the Second World War, regular use of the pool ceased. However, a few years ago it was cleared of debris and vegetation that had built up over the decades so that it could once more be used. In fact, I have swum there myself 🙂 !

On Dancing Ledge

The Sea Dancing at Dancing Ledge

Just as an aside, one of the most famous people to have attended the school and therefore swum in this pool was Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels.

Dancing Ledge is a lovely place but it is quite popular, especially at weekends. However, visit on a summers evening as the sun sets and it is a delightful place to just sit. And if it has been a hot day’s walking along the coast, there is no better way to cool off and refresh than to jump into this somewhat quirky ‘swimming pool’! Mind you, you will have to climb down to it from the upper ledge first!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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