Tag Archives: coppice

Quirky Dorset – Part 11

7 May

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

Its time for a new theme for the coming week and I thought we would revisit an old theme and add some more posts about ‘Quirky Dorset’. I hope no one is getting bored with these posts but I guess I just like anything that is quirky or a bit off the wall 🙂 ! And this first one this week is definitely quirky, as well as somewhat gruesome. This is the story of the rather unusually named Bloody Shard Gate!

Bloody Shard Gate

Bloody Shard Gate

Bloody Shard Gate

Bloody Shard Gate is an area with blood on its hands! Did I mention ‘hands’…….we might just find out more about hands, or a hand, shortly!

This lovely valley is part of The Cranborne Chase where the kings of England stalked deer down through ages past. It is a very peaceful and lovely part of the county and is a delight to walk through with its ancient coppice wood, now redundant and providing cover for much wildlife to enjoy. Bird song abounds as you walk these paths, but it has not always been quite so peaceful!

Carpet of Leaves

The Redundant Coppice Wood

Although it is known as Bloody Shard Gate, the name no longer actually refers to a gate at all but rather is the name of the area. Whether there ever was an actual gate I am not sure but the word ‘shard’ in local dialect indicates a gap in an enclosure. I suspect the reason it bears its name, aside from the obvious ‘bloody’ connotations, is more because it is the meeting point of five paths.

Cranborne Chase has always been a place of conflicts. Dorset was evenly divided in the English Civil War, resulting in lots of bloody battles. Of course people have always fought over land use, and there were often battles with deer and hunting. There was even a battle between two packs of dogs resulting in the death of 45 animals. And there was a 100 year battle by farmers who wanted the right to destroy deer that strayed onto their land, damaging crops. At the time, deer were protected and only the king’s hunting party was allowed to kill the animals. The farmers eventually won that battle when the protection order was lifted, probably because hunting was going out of fashion. In 1829, after 800 years of protection, it is said that 12,000 deer were shot in two days by villagers.

But there was one particular battle that scarred this area for life, and gave it its somewhat gruesome name!

On the Gate

A Strange Sign on the Gate into the Woods

That event was a bloody skirmish that took place in 1780 between gamekeepers and poachers that became known as The Battle of Chettle Common. The battle was brutal, one keeper being killed and others injured. Ultimately the gamekeepers won the day but there is an interesting story concerning one of the poachers who actually turned out to be a sergeant in the dragoons. During the battle, he had a hand severed and was captured.  Fortunately he was a popular man and got off with a light sentence, eventually being allowed to retire on half pay. Many years later, the man died and was buried in London, minus one hand!

But what happened to his severed hand? Well it is said that his regiment buried it with full honours of war in Pimperne churchyard. But it seems the hand found no peace because it was never reunited with its owner, and local tradition has it that it roams the area at night searching for the dragoon sergeant. Even as recently as 1970, people have reported seeing it!!!

Hedge Trimming

Hedge Trimming at Bloody Shard Gate

For all its chequered past, this is now a beautiful and peaceful area to explore, but if you ever walk that lovely woodland path at dusk, and you feel something around your ankle……..!

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.

Advertisements

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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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….’!

Image
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.  

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
The village in the valley

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

Image
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.

Image

Image
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!

Image
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!

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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!

Image
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………!

Image
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.