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Looking for the Decoy

2 Dec

Recently I have spent some time exploring Wareham Forest. Its not an area I have walked extensively because I thought it was mainly coniferous woodlands which are not as interesting as mixed woodlands. However, I was surprised at how much open heathland there was, and one particular heath that grabbed my attention was Decoy Heath.

Now anyone from Dorset will probably know that in wartime, fires were lit on remote Dorset heaths to lure enemy aircraft away from the towns and munition works, acting as a decoy for their bombs. However, that is not where Decoy Heath gets its name. In fact, it gets its name from ducks.

Back in the day, ducks were trapped for food and feathers and in order to do this, new ponds were created or existing ponds altered in order to attract ducks and draw them into the traps. These ponds were known as decoy ponds and there were in fact two on Decoy Heath, hence its name.

Decoy Heath

Decoy Heath with the Old Decoy Pond

I visited one day this week on a beautifully sunny day and walked around the larger, and more obvious, pond. This is known as Old Decoy Pond but is not technically a ‘decoy pond’ in the accepted sense as its shape is irregular and there is no evidence of its being used to actually trap ducks. It is in fact thought to have been used to attract ducks to the general area and its size would have facilitated this.

The second and smaller pond where the actual trapping took place is known as Decoy Pond and is much less obvious, being smaller and somewhat hidden amongst trees and marshy land to the south of the larger pond. I returned on another very misty day to search that one out. This smaller pond, together with its associated but now derelict decoy man’s overnight shelter, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument as there are few remaining in this country in any recognisable state.

Decoy Pond

The way through marshy land

Just reaching the old overnight shelter was like something out of the Hound of the Baskervilles, with mist and marshy land all around making it difficult to reach the old shelter. The simple single roomed building with one door, one small window and a corner fire place was once probably thatched but the roof has long since disappeared. Only the remnant of the walls remain standing. The stream that feeds the decoy pond circles round three sides of the cottage, almost like the moat of a castle and it is hard to know where it is safe to tread.

Decoy Pond

The decoy man’s overnight shelter

It was fascinating finding this old relic especially on a day which seemed ideally suited to emphasise the mystery of the place. It was built in 1724 by the Drax family of Charborough Park, together with the pond and nearby Decoy House (now demolished) which was where the decoy man lived. It was used for over 100 years until 1856 when shooting rights were granted over the surrounding land, creating too much disturbance to make duck trapping viable.

So what about the pond itself? Well unfortunately the whole area was so marshy that it was impossible to walk farther in than the old shelter. The pond’s shape is still visible on the overhead satellite view but this appears to indicate that it has become considerably overgrown with reeds etc so that clear water is not now visible. However, it is still waterlogged and in better condition than most – it is in fact one of only two remaining in Dorset.

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Satellite view showing the pentagonal pond in the trees

I was interested to read how decoy ponds were used. The practice dates back to medieval times in more simple forms but the more complex design seen here was introduced from Holland in the 17th century. Most were star shaped, a main pond with tapering ditches known as pipes running in a curved shape outwards, with netting over the top. In the picture above, the remnants of some of these ‘pipes’ can be seen stretching out from the pentagonal shaped pond.

It was down these ‘pipes’ that ducks would be lured by either using strategically placed food or by using dogs. The latter method relied on the ducks’ natural inclination to follow predators such as foxes to keep them in sight – thus the dog mimicking a predator led the ducks up the pipe. Carefully placed screens would be used to hide the dog but allow sufficient glimpses to maintain the ducks’ interest. When they reached the point of the pipe, they would be captured by the decoy men and have their necks wrung.

The images below give an idea of how the decoy ponds were used. They are by Sir Ralph Frankland-Payne-Gallwey, 3rd Baronet (1848-1916) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons from his book ‘The book of duck decoys, their construction, management, and history (1886)’.

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decoy_in_action

It has been fascinating exploring this little corner of Dorset and the old custom of duck decoying. I am sure there is much more to learn but I hope you have enjoyed this little taster.

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.

Beside the Weir

20 Aug

This poem was inspired by an evening walk along the banks of the River Stour. The river flows gently and peacefully above and below the weir that sits beside the old mill, but for just a brief interlude it becomes a raging torrent. This is what I wrote as I sat beside the weir.

Beside the Weir

Beside the Weir

Calm and tranquil flows the stream,
Peace personified, as in a dream,
Gentle waters seem crystal clear,
Until it reaches the ancient weir.

Suddenly that peaceful flow,
Becomes a torrent, rushing below,
Thunderous sounds of crashing flood,
Whipped up white, in angry mood.

Beyond the weir it slows its pace,
Once more flowing with amazing grace,
Peace restored, it rolls lazily on,
Seeming no rush for it to be gone.

That interlude of power and rush,
Only short lived, one quick push,
Breaks up the peace of my waterside walk,
Interrupting my quiet thoughts.

And yet there is wonder in that short space,
As water rushes down as if in a race,
The effect on me made me want to be near,
And I returned again and sat by the weir.

(Copyright The Dorset Rambler)

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.

What are your favourite sounds?

23 May

The Dorset Rambler

Since I am a photographer you might think I am a visual person, and I am.  But I am also very much an audio person and I love sounds, not only music but all sounds – well, perhaps not literally all ;)!!  Many years ago I listed my favourite sounds so I thought I would share some of them with you.

The sound of surf washing over shingle

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This is such a beautiful relaxing sound, especially at the end of a long walk as the evening light settles over the coast and everyone has gone home – the time when in the words of the poet, ‘All is left to darkness and to me’.  Sitting in the solitude on one of Dorset’s shingle beaches with the gently washing surf is special.

The sound of the skylark singing on a warm summer day

To me, this is a quintessentially Dorset sound…

View original post 777 more words

Happy Christmas Everyone!

25 Dec

On a Snowy Hillside

Not taken this year as we have no snow! This is a lovely snowy hillside near Milton Abbas.

A Very Happy Christmas to you all from your friend The Dorset Rambler!

I HAVE NOW SET UP A FACEBOOK PAGE FOR THE DORSET RAMBLER AND THERE IS A LINK ABOVE. THIS IS TO BRING TOGETHER MY THREE PASSIONS OF DORSET, WALKING/THE OUTDOORS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THESE OR YOU ENJOY MY BLOG, PLEASE DO ‘LIKE’ MY FACEBOOK PAGE.

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 Wainwright Coast to Coast Path – Intro

14 May Great Fryup Dale

I have just returned from an amazing 13 days spent backpacking the Wainwright Coast to Coast Path, and what a fantastic 13 days it has been.  The weather man threw everything at me, below freezing temperatures, heavy rain, sleet, blizzard conditions at times, thick mist and low cloud, and beautiful sunshine.  The paths ranged from very nicely ‘paved’ sections to treading knee deep through almost swamp conditions as there had been so much rain.  But all of to was just awesome!

The End
The End🙂 – outside the Bay Hotel, Robin Hood’s Bay with a pint of Wainwright’s Ale

The route, the brainchild of the celebrated Lakeland walker, Alfred Wainwright, is officially 192 miles long and stretches from St Bees on the North West coast of England to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North East coast of England.  I say ‘officially’ because often it is not possible to stop on the trail itself which adds some miles – my GPS in fact clocked 205 miles in the 13 days.  The pedometer Ap on my iPhone tells me that I walked 475,000 steps🙂 !  It takes in three National Parks, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors and includes coast, mountains, moorlands, rivers, valleys, farmland, in fact every type of landscape.

Bannerdale
The high Lake District Mountains

It is very much a multi-cultural walk with people from all around the world coming to the UK specially to walk across this country, such is its renown around the world.  It is also a friendly community trail – I have walked with and talked with some lovely people who were either following the same route or were local residents only too happy to welcome walkers such as myself – and to put us right when we took a wrong turn.

The Pennines
On the bleak Pennines

It has to be said that it is a tough trail to walk, especially when carrying a 20Kg pack up over mountains over 2,500 feet high and where conditions under foot are not always great.  It is of course possible to use baggage transfer companies and carry less but one of the joys of carrying everything on your back is the pure and exhilarating freedom to stop when and where you please, although it naturally makes sense to have some sort of schedule – for me, a very flexible one.

Crackpot Hall
Crackpot Hall in Swaledale

A year ago I completed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, another great trail, but the difference with this one is that good route finding skills are essential – in Pembrokeshire with the sea on one side of you and the land on the other it is hard to go wrong🙂 !  This time, I took a GPS, map and compass, and a guide book……oh and I still had to resort to the iPhone map Ap to establish my exact position at times🙂 !

All in all, it has been another fabulous experience and I have returned with not a single blister…..although I do have a pair of split boots as they didn’t wear quite so well as my feet!

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging each of the days walked as I kept a journal running each evening.  I will include photographs (naturally), some of the hardships, the delights (of which there were many), the people I met on the way, and much, much more.  I hope you will join me.

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.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

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

Happy Christmas!

25 Dec

The old mill

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.