Tag Archives: country life

The Walk Home

3 Sep

Another of my poems which was inspired by a late evening walk on a night when the moon became covered by heavy cloud, throwing everything into darkness. Suddenly sounds of animals and rustling leaves became more mysterious as the imagination took over. I wrote the poem in my mind as I walked.

Shadowyman!

The Walk Home

Gravel crunched in the inky darkness,
Path glowed softly in the light of the moon,
Owl hooted eerily in the distance,
Nervous, wished to be home soon.

Cow lowed deeply in the meadow,
Cat screeched out in the neighbouring barn,
Rat, I thought, had met its maker,
Shivers ran up spine and arm.

Bats flew up high above my head,
Wheeling around to catch their prey,
Crows gave out their last loud ‘caw’,
Marking the end of a winter’s day.

Fox rushed by with pheasant in mouth,
Deer stirred softly in the trees,
Rabbits shuffled through the grasses,
Geese gabbled sleepily at other geese.

Moon disappeared behind a cloudscape,
Stars no longer seen by eye,
Blackness like a cloak descended,
Ground just merged with far away sky.

Shapes mysterious and shadows loomed,
Atmosphere of eeriness gripped,
Path no longer visible,
Feeling my way lest my foot tripped.

Heart raced swiftly in tightening chest,
Ears picked up mysterious sounds,
Imagination carried away,
What threats are near waiting to pounce.

Dog approached me barking wildly,
Gate hinge creaked, and latch did too,
Front door opened there before me,
Glad to be home, I stepped through.

(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.

Of a new henge, priests and quarrymen, sunsets and spray, and a ledge that dances!

13 Feb

It was another of those rare crisp, cold, clear, Winter days and there was bright sunshine as I parked up near the recently erected landmark, Woodhenge, at Worth Matravers.

This monument was put up on a whim by the landlord of the local pub who had cut down a huge tree but local planners ordered it to be taken down as no planning permission had been granted. In the end, they relented and agreed that it could stay for a few months but such was the level of public support for the monument which has very quickly become a local attraction that planners have now extended this for a further two years. So Woodhenge stays……for the time being at least.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Starting out on my walk, I immediately passed the pub itself, the quirky Square and Compass, probably one of the best pubs in Purbeck, in fact in the whole of Dorset! It started life as a pair of cottages but was converted to an alehouse in the 18th century and specialises in pasties and cider.  It also has one of the smallest bars you are likely to see, just a hatch in the corridor!  It has an amazing beer garden with views down the valley to the sea and there is nothing better than to sit on a rock seat on a summer evening with drink in hand watching the sun go down.

But this was too early in the day for a drink so I passed swiftly by.

The Square and Compass

The Square and Compass

Making my way out of the village along the road, I passed something else that I always think is quirky – a bus stop which is just 2 feet high! It always strikes me as funny – was it designed for short people?🙂

I soon turned off the road and crossed fields, passing a farm drive that I seem to photograph with monotonous regularity – I couldn’t resist another shot with the bright sunlight picking out the straight track against the heavy cloud backdrop. It always reminds me of the album cover on the Best of the Eagles CD – well I always did have a good imagination!

Straight!

The Straight Way

The track I was following is known as The Priests Way and it was bounded on both sides by dry stone walls. It intrigues me how the style of these walls varies – on one side of me the stones were laid flat and on the other side they sloped diagonally. Either way, I think the way these walls stand up using nothing but gravity is testament to the skills of the men who built them. It is a classic example of making use of extremely local materials since they were originally built with stones cleared from the fields when preparing the ground for agriculture. Isn’t that just perfect!

Dry Stone WallDry Stone Wall

The Priests Way is a track that links the village of Worth Matravers to its larger cousin on the coast, Swanage. It takes its name from the fact that back as far as the 15th century, the priest who oversaw congregations in both localities would ride the route regularly to visit his parishioners or lead services. As you walk the trail which runs along the top of the ridge, you could just imagine raising your cap as the priest passed by, or passing the time of day with him on the road.

This is now a good route to walk at this time of year after so much rain because thanks to funding from Natural England the path has been improved and resurfaced. The dry and firm footing is welcome and frees you up to look around you as you no longer have to watch every step.

The Priest's Way

The Priests Way Sign

Part way along the track, I passed a hollow in the ground, but this is clearly no ordinary hollow as the sides are supported by dry stone walling. It is overgrown now but at one time this would have been a watering point for livestock using the route.

Drinking Place?

One of the things this area is noted for is its Purbeck and Portland Stone that has been quarried extensively for many years. Most of the quarries have ceased their operations long since but there are still some that continue to work the stone. The path passes by one such quarry and I stopped to watch the heavy machinery doing tasks that were once performed laboriously by many men with simple tools. How times change!

A Working Quarry

This track really is a delightful route to walk, indeed it is one of my regular walks. The track winds its way towards Swanage with the distant sea becoming ever closer, and with beautiful views across the valley towards the Purbeck Hills.

The Priest's Way

The Priests Way

It passes by a lime kiln, reminding me of another of those ancient occupations, the making of quicklime to spread on the land to reduce acidity, or to make a whitewash for buildings. It could even be used as a disinfectant for cow stalls. These were in their heyday when land was being prepared for agricultural purposes and many farms had kilns of their own, manufacturing quicklime right where it was needed.  These days of course it is manufactured by much more efficient methods but it is good to see these ancient relics being preserved for future generations.

The Lime Kiln

A Lime Kiln Beside the Track

On the Priet's Way

The Priests Way with the Purbeck Hills Beyond

Nearing the end of The Priests Way, I stopped for elevenses overlooking the town of Swanage. This is such a lovely view and it is always a good place to sit. Not only that, but you get serenaded at the same time as behind me stands a metal gatepost with holes in it and when the wind is in the right direction, it plays the gatepost like a flute🙂 !  I remember the day I first heard this eerie sound – it took me a while to work out where it was coming from.

Swanage

Swanage

I dropped down into Swanage which I always think is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ town. People either love it or hate it! I really like it and always enjoy wandering through the streets passing some interesting sights like the old and derelict Pier Head Cafe on the sea front. The building was actually erected as a temporary mess hall in the late 1940’s and has had various uses since then, until it was declared unsafe some 50 years later. It is now awaiting redevelopment and arguably has become even more iconic since its closure thanks to the murals that you see below.

The murals were painted by two local artists as part of Purbeck Arts Week in 2007 and are really effective. One thing I particularly like is that the Swanage version of Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawk’ has a Simpsons version hanging on the wall in the background🙂 !

Pier Head Cafe and Tea GardenPier Head Cafe and Tea Garden

Leaving Swanage, I climbed up the down at the southern end of the town and continued on my way. But not before stopping to look back at the town below.

Swanage

Leaving Swanage

For many years, the route from here has meant walking along the road before joining the coast path again. This is because the coast path was closed due to landslides. Recently, however, the coast path itself has been reopened so it is possible to take a much improved route.

The Undercliff

The Undercliff Walk

Even now though, the route through the trees and across the foreshore is very muddy and I wonder how long it will be before the route is closed again. However, I made it through ok and continued round the coast below Durlston Castle, looking back to Peverill Point across the bay, with Old Harry Rocks in the distance.

Peverill Point and Old Harry Rocks

Peverill Point and Old Harry Rocks

Durlston Castle was never actually a true castle, being built as a restaurant to cater for visitors to the Durlston Estate in the late 19th century. It is now a visitor’s centre for what has become a country park. My route took me below the castle and round the headland to Anvil Point where ahead of me I could see the lighthouse standing proud above the rugged coast. The lighthouse was built in 1881 and is now fully automated, the lighthouse keeper’s accommodation being turned into holiday lets. It must be a great place to stay……provided the foghorn doesn’t go off of course!

Below the lighthouse is the ledge of what was once Tilly Whim Caves. These were originally coastal quarries dating from the 18th century but when quarrying ceased, they were converted to a tourist attraction. From 1887 to 1976 they drew many visitors to the area until a rock fall forced their closure. Now they are home to bats so their usefulness continues, just in a different guise.

Anvil Point

Anvil Point and Tilly Whim Caves

Leaving Anvil Point behind, I entered a stretch of coast that I knew would not be easy to walk. This is ‘muddy mile’, well, several miles actually and in the wet season it is always muddy! I slipped and slid my way along the coast passing spiders’ nests in the shrubbery to the side.  Often there are sightings of dolphins, peregrines and many other creatures along this stretch of coast, as well as rare plants.

Spider's Nest

Spider’s Nest

Along this part of the coast also, there are two sets of ‘mile markers’, posts erected on the cliff top which can be used by ships to test their speed and performance. When viewed from the sea, these indicate a measured mile.

Mile Markers

Mile Markers

This is a delightful part of the Dorset coast, laden with old and disused quarry workings and normally some lovely grassy paths – when they haven’t been churned up into mud. The views are spectacular and there is much to explore.

The QuarriesThe Quarries

I couldn’t resist taking some cloudscape shots on this glorious day.

Along the Dorset CoastClouds

One of the smallest quarries is Whiteware Quarry in the picture below. I love to visit this quarry which is partially hidden away. Its diminutive size intrigues me and it is high above the sea, creating a very exposed feeling. The ledge is a great place to just sit and watch the waves crashing onto the rocks 30 metres below.

Whiteware Quarry

Whiteware Quarry

In total contrast to the Whiteware, the next quarry one of the largest. This is Dancing Ledge, a popular playground of climbers, coasteering groups, walkers and so on. So much so that the National Trust has recently announced that it will be restricting the numbers of commercial groups in order to reduce damage to the area.

There are various theories as to where the name Dancing Ledge came from. Some say that it is because the waves seem to dance across the lower ledge, others say that it takes its name from the fact that the ledge is the same size as a ballroom dance floor.  Either way, it is a very appropriate name and a beautiful place to while away a few hours.

It is well know for its amazing wildlife, including a colony of puffins, and for its swimming pool, visible in the picture below. This pool was blasted out of the rock in the early 1900’s so that the children from the local preparatory schools had somewhere safe to swim as the sea itself is far too treacherous. The schools have all now closed but the pool is still used by others and it is a great place to cool off during a hot summer’s walk.  But not on this chilly winter’s day!

Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge

The light was now fading fast but I climbed down to the lower ledge to capture some beautiful crepuscular rays and some great crashing waves. The evening was beautifully atmospheric and it was quite special having the place all to myself and watching the light fade. I could have happily sat and watched the sun disappear but I had further to walk so after some while, I climbed back up to the coast path.

On Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge

As I made my way towards the next quarry, I looked back the way I’d come, with Anvil Point in the far distance and some subtle pink tones appearing in the sky, the clouds reflecting the light from the setting sun.

Looking Back to Anvil Point

The Way I’d Come

The last quarry of the day was to be Seacombe and with the sun disappearing, I climbed up to the ridge above to capture the sunset over the old wartime gun post that once guarded this part of the coast from the enemy. This is an Alan Williams Turret, designed to be operated by one man with a machine gun or anti-tank gun. This rusting hulk is a happy reminder that peace reign’s in our land although it is also a reminder that sadly this is not true for many parts of this world we live in.

I stood looking at this scene with a mix of emotions!

Seacombe

Seacombe Quarry

Finally I left the coast behind and with the sound of the waves gradually fading into the distance I made my way up the valley, once again tramping through mud, to reach Worth Matravers. I stopped to capture the last vestige of light across the duck pond that sits on the green in the heart of this picture perfect and unspoilt village. The ducks had long since gone to roost leaving the water like a mirror to reflect the sky, church and cottages, many of which are now second homes. This is another village that has to a large degree lost its working heart but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Worth Matravers

Worth Matravers

I made my way back to my starting point and to Woodhenge, now silhouetted against a beautiful late night sky. This was my starting point and it made a fitting end to a glorious day’s walking!

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Thanks for joining me on this walk.  I hope you have enjoyed the sights and sounds of this wonderful part of Dorset.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
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.

Of a short winter walk, spring sunshine, ancient paths and feathered friends

12 Jan

The year has not started well as unfortunately I went down with a horrible virus that has curtailed my walking somewhat. However, on this day, there was glorious sunshine – something that has been rarely seen over the British wet winter months. So despite feeling rough, I was determined to get out and enjoy a gentle stroll.

My walk started with one of those great Dorset sights, the famous and much photographed avenue of beech trees near Kingston Lacy. This avenue started life back in 1835 when trees were planted either side of what was then a turnpike or toll road that led to the mansion that was the home of William John Bankes. Bankes did not only own Kingston Lacy but seemingly half of Dorset, including Corfe Castle. There were originally 365 trees on one side of the road, one for each day of the year and 366 on the other for a leap year but sadly they are nearing the end of their life span and many have had to be removed.

The Avenue

The Beach Avenue

Part of the problem is that the trees and modern motorised traffic do not sit well together. These were planted in an age of more sedate forms of transport. In an effort to preserve this wonderful avenue however, the National Trust has planted a new avenue of hornbeams outside the original avenue. The new trees will provide similar autumn tones to the beech but are more suited to the current environment. It can never replicate the beauty of the beech and the cynical part of me thinks that they have been planted so far apart so that the road can be converted to a dual carriageway.

It is sad to think that these 180 year old trees may not be there much longer but for the time being at least, these magnificent elder statesmen can be enjoyed still.

The Old and the New

The Old and the New

It is possible to walk beside the avenue but the road is very busy and noisy with traffic so my route today takes me straight across the road and on up the hill towards my next historic landmark on this short walk. Following ancient trackways, my route takes me through farmland and past old cottages hidden in the trees. I often wonder what it would be like to live in these remote dwellings that seem so idyllic on a beautiful sunny day such as this. Certainly there are views to be enjoyed, but much more besides…..

The Farm Track

The Farmstead

Photography and blogging have secondary benefits – they make you think about your surroundings and notice things you might otherwise just walk past like the picture below. A small remnant of autumn leaves picked out by the sunshine with its shadow being cast on the trunk of the tree – somehow that tiny detail grabs my attention as the branch, and its shadow, gently sways in the breeze, an ever changing picture.

Leaf, Branch, Trunk and Shadow

Leaf, Branch, Trunk and Shadow

Before long, I reach my next historic landmark, Badbury Rings. This ancient hill fort dating from the Iron Age was developed in two phases, with the second phase virtually doubling its size. Its ramparts form an almost perfect circle and although it is only 100 metres above sea level, there are glorious views all around. The picture below was taken at a slight dogleg in one of the ramparts and shows the well known Point to Point course surrounding the brown field below and beyond that, the now disused Tarrant Rushton Airfield.

The latter mentioned was built during the Second World War and its main action during that conflict was to be the take off point for troop and tank carrying gliders heading for France, towed by planes. After the war its main purposes were the development of drones and the conversion of planes for in-flight refuelling. It officially closed in 1980 and has been returned to agriculture, although its old hangers and some of the runways are still visible.

Walking the Ramparts

View from the Ramparts

There is nothing better than a walk around the full circle of one of the ramparts. Being exposed, the walk is always bracing and there are views in all directions. Once part of the Kingston Lacy Estate, this hill fort is now owned, along with the house itself, and indeed Corfe Castle mentioned earlier, by the National Trust and it is a popular  walking area. There is always a great feeling of spaciousness and freedom which I love.

Walking the Ramparts

Rampart Walk

Around the hill fort itself there are areas of ancient woodland and a stroll through these trees is always rewarding. In the spring there will be bluebells aplenty and there are piles of rotting wood, a haven for bugs of all kinds as well as lichen and fungi. I walked through these woods surrounded by a myriad long tailed tits and these are always a delight to watch as they frolic together like happy children just out of school. I spotted a tree creeper running up the bark of the tree nearest me – these often join with groups of tits. Winter is a good time of year to spot birds such as this as the bare trees make them so much easier to spot.

The Log Pile

Rotting Log Pile

All too soon, it was time to make my way home. I love watching birds, or indeed wildlife of any kind, even if it is just the humble robin or long tailed tit, but my constant coughing tends to give my presence away! I made my way down the path in the picture below and crossed the avenue once again.

Through the Shrubbery

The Way Home

This was such a great walk even if it was so short. Just to be out in the sunshine after so many wet, grey days was invigorating and I made my way home a happy man. There is just so much to be enjoyed in this amazing county that I call home.

Thank you for walking this way with me. Until next time,
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.

Coast to Coast – Part 4

5 Jun Walls, Gates and Barns

Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 22 miles

As I have been typing this blog from notes made at the end of each day of the walk, I find myself thinking, ‘I didn’t have very good weather did I’! I seem to be regularly talking about wind and rain and cold. Well today is no different! I woke to the sound of…….RAIN! However, as they say, the walk must go on……or should that be ‘show’🙂 ! By 7.30am I was packed up, had donned every bit of waterproofing I had, put on my rucksack and was out on the trail.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the day as I was leaving the wonderful Lakeland mountains behind for a 20+ mile walk across the much flatter ground of the Westmoreland plateau. The guidebook describes it as, ‘A grassy stroll across well-drained limestone bedrock’. Wainwright puts it thus; ‘As every walker knows, a limestone footing invariably means easy travelling on velvet turf’! Hmmm, clearly neither of the writers had walked it on a day like this🙂 !

Shap had not been a particularly inspiring town. In fact the things that stay in my memory are the granite works and quarry, the mainline railway, and the M6 motorway, all of which had to be passed, crossed or circumnavigated in the first few miles of the day.

Shap Granite Works

Shap Granite Works

Mainline Railway

Mainline Railway

Motorway

Motorway

As I left the final obstacle and started out across the first tract of moorland, the conditions became even worse with driving rain, gale force winds and of course mud, mud, mud and mud! Route finding was not easy although this was perhaps more down to the conditions as everything got soaked whenever I took out the guidebook or map. I was grateful for a weather proof GPS. It was also very difficult to keep the camera reasonably dry.

In fact, I think on a day of good weather this would have been a very pleasant days walking as there was some lovely moorland scenery including lots of limestone pavements, and much to explore.

Limestone Pavement

Limestone Pavement

Understandably, with the conditions, I passed few other people. One, in the picture below, was riding a quad bike which had two guns laid across it. The rider was obviously out hunting but for what I do not know – initially I thought perhaps it was grouse but it wasn’t the season for that so it might have been deer or rabbits. Whatever it was, I heard no shots fired.

Out Shooting

Out Shooting

Just after passing the ‘hunter’ I passed two other walkers coming in the other direction along a farm track looking like drowned rats. I figured I must look exactly the same! They had stayed in Kirkby Stephen last night and had been given a lift for the first few miles to shorten the day. We stood for a while in the rain and compared notes before putting our heads down and heading off into the wind again.

Down the Farm Track

Down the Farm Track

There were actually quite a few things of interest along the way, such as Robin Hood’s Grave (not Robin Hood’s Grave at all🙂 ), stone circles, limekilns and so on but it wasn’t a day for lingering or exploring – apart perhaps for the last mentioned which provided some brief shelter from the elements🙂 ! It was a day to just keep walking, and yet in a strange masochistic way, it was still an enjoyable day. But then, I always enjoy walking whatever the weather.

Walls, Gates and Barns

Walls, Gates and Barns

In addition, there were a lot of dry stone walls…..and I love dry stone walls, even if they do mean lots of gates and stiles to negotiate. The field in the picture above was inhabited by lots of Shetland ponies who were most inquisitive as I walked across their patch.

Eventually, I emerged from the fields onto the moorland road below – I think the picture probably conveys well the conditions I was walking in🙂 ! Down to the right was Sunbiggin Tarn which Alfred Wainwright describes as, ‘Little more than a large reedy pond in the middle of a morass’! He also describes it as a popular picnic spot since the road is nearby, and I can certainly imagine that it would be very busy in warmer, dryer weather. More importantly though, it is an important bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge.

Long Lonely Road Across the Moor

Long Lonely Road Across the Moor

Skirting round the tarn being driven along by the fierce wind on my back, I continued across more of the Ravenstonedale Moor and before long things started to improve. First of all the rain eased and then stopped, and shortly afterwards the sun made an appearance……and what a difference that made as I gradually dried off. It was a pleasure to reach Smardale and to shelter from the wind by yet another dry stone wall looking down into the valley.

Smardale

Smardale

And what a pleasant surprise the valley was with its disused railway, nature reserve, river (Scandal Beck), old viaduct, abandoned railway cottages, and its now defunct limestone quarry. It was a fascinating place and I would love to have spent an hour or two exploring but the day was drawing on and I had some miles still to walk so I continued on my way.

Smardale and Viaduct

Smardale and Viaduct

Smardale Limestone Quarry

Smardale Limestone Quarry and Abandoned Railway Cottage

Finally I dropped down off the moor and onto farm land where I could see Kirkby Stephen below me. I had already made a decision to stay at a hostel for the night to enable me to dry everything out and I walked into the village looking forward to sleeping in a bed.

Approaching Kirkby Stephen

Approaching Kirkby Stephen

At the hostel, a disused Methodist Chapel, I was greeted by Denise who immediately asked, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ – after 22 miles of tough walking in wintry weather, this was the best thing she could have said🙂 ! Whilst I was sat enjoying my drink on the sofa, an equally wet Stuart, my walking buddy from a few days ago, walked in. It was good to catch up and we agreed to walk together again tomorrow.

I hoped the weather would improve by then!

Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 13 miles

I was up at 6.30am after a great night and I looked out of the window to see SUNSHINE🙂 ! Sigh, it wasn’t to last!

After a continental breakfast, Stuart and I left the hostel at 8am and almost before we had left the town, the rain started again. In fact we were to walk in gale force winds, driving sleet and below freezing temperatures for most of the day, often knee deep in water – it could easily have been a mid-winter day, such were the conditions. The last mentioned was not really a surprise as the guide book warns that the one thing most people remember about this day is the peat bogs that have to be negotiated!

Leaving Kirkby Stephen

Leaving Kirkby Stephen

This was to be the day we were to climb up over the Pennines and move from Cumbria into North Yorkshire and I had really hoped to pass Nine Standards Rigg, the series of cairns at the summit, on the way. As it happens, I was once again foiled by the conditions! Battling against the strongly gusting wind and stinging sleet, and with freezing hands, it just didn’t make sense to climb over the high point with poor visibility.

Rigg Beck

Rigg Beck

Dropping down to the road, we had some easier walking for a time…..at least, there was solid ground under foot🙂 ! I paused for a photograph – well this was something of a milestone as I was entering Yorkshire and this evening I would be at the half way point of the walk.

Spring Weather!

Spring Weather!

This area is of course the Watershed where many rivers spring so there were becks aplenty. In fact the map shows a whole spiders web of blue lines. It was also an area of disused and abandoned buildings such as the one in the pictures below. I often think it is such a waste when there are homeless people, but in these conditions, maybe no-one would want to live there.

Beck Meetings - The Pennines

Beck Meetings – The Pennines

Beck Meetings - The Pennines

Beck Meetings – The Pennines

Unfortunately, the comparatively easy walking came to an end all too soon and we had to leave the road again to strike out across the moors. It probably goes without saying that route finding across the moors was not easy and at times, well most of the time, it was difficult to tell the indistinct paths from streams. We often found ourselves just trudging across open moorlands knee deep in water trying to follow the little line on the GPS. Two heads are better than one though and we managed to avoid straying too far. I did wonder though what would happen if the mist came down!

The birds seemed to have less problems than us🙂 ! Lapwings were everywhere, as were grouse – strange and funny creatures aren’t they! They always make me smile as they rise up from the ground making comical noises. Clearly they were unaware of what the grouse butts were for otherwise they would have made their escape. We could hear many waders too, including the plaintive cry of the curlew.

Crossing the swollen becks was fun at times!

Wot, No Bridge!

Wot, No Bridge!

There were other less comical creatures too, like the Swaledale sheep. These are totally functional – tough like the earlier Herdwicks, and great for keeping on these high moors with the sparse vegetation.

Swaledale Sheep

Swaledale Sheep

As with yesterday, things improved as the end of the day neared. Firstly the rain stopped and the day brightened up, and then Ravenseat came into view, but best of all, at the farm there was a sign advertising cream teas🙂 ! After all that the weather had thrown at us, how could we resist🙂 !

Ravenseat

Ravenseat

It was a delight to sit in the barn out of the wind with a hot drink and a scone laden with jam and cream. Despite the weather, there were others there although not walkers.

Ravenseat is a sheep farm at the head of the Swaledale valley run by Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, and her husband. Amanda, a TV presenter and author as well as farmer and cream tea provider🙂 has written a book about her life and how she changed from city girl to shepherd. She told us that she had recently sold the film rights to her book. In addition to all the other things that she does, she has found time to give birth to seven children with number eight due soon. She was a great host and talked non-stop while we were there, telling us all about life on the farm.

Cream Teas!

Cream Teas – Amanda Owen on the right!

It was almost with regret that we left Amanda’s company to continue on our way. What was to come though was one of the most beautiful parts of the whole walk, the Swaledale Valley with its myriad deserted barns and farmhouses. I don’t think I have ever seen so many! The old farmhouse below would make such a great place to live!

Deserted

Deserted

We made our way along the side of the valley in beautiful sunshine. What a transformation from the wild and wintry weather earlier as we crossed the Pennines.

And what an amazing valley this is too. In places it is like a deep gorge with steep sides and with a very full river flowing along the bottom. Add in the great views all around, and you have a delightful evening walk!

Swaledale

Swaledale

Gradually the path took us lower until we were walking along the valley floor beside the River Swale, brown from the peat. There were numerous waterfalls along this section – the power and noise after all the recent rain was immense.

Wain Wath Force

Wain Wath Force

Catrake Force

Rainby Force

I pitched my tent right beside the waterfall above and later that night would drop off to sleep with the sound of rushing water in my ears. What a great lullaby!

I dropped off to sleep replaying the days events and thinking about tomorrow – there were two alternatives, a high level or a low level route, and I wanted to do both! Sigh, which to choose…..?!

Of a once grand abbey, a once thriving village, glorious greenery, and a graveyard

23 Apr

I woke to a glorious sunny morning, eager to get out on the trail again.  I had already decided which walk I wanted to do – it started from the picture postcard village of Milton Abbas.  This is a designer village with one broad main street lined with almost identical houses thanks to Joseph Damer, Lord Milton, owner of Milton Abbey.  In 1780 he decided that the nearby market town of Middleton was spoiling his view so he appointed Sir William Chambers and Capability Brown to design a new village in Luccombe Bottom, just around the corner…….and out of sight!  The result was Milton Abbas.  The old town of Middleton was demolished and the grounds landscaped to form the parkland of his mansion.

Milton Abbas
Milton Abbas

It really is a beautiful, pristine village and it was wonderful walking down this street, passing old buildings such as the old bakery, the post office, the church and almshouses.  At the bottom of the main street, I turned north and walked through the parklands towards Milton Abbey itself, lost to the church at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Parkland
The path from the village to the Abbey

I decided that I would look inside the Abbey – it is the only building that has public access as this magnificent mansion is now Milton Abbas School.  Walking through the door, I was surprised at how the beautiful building had deteriorated since I last visited.  There were people carrying out a survey and I chatted to one of them.  He was a glass specialist who worked at Salisbury Cathedral and he told me that the problem was water ingress caused by damaged windows, gutters and downpipes.  The building dates from the 14th century so it is not surprising that there is deterioration in the structure.  His role was to report on the condition of all the windows, stained glass and others.  I commented that his job must be really interesting and he agreed but did add a caveat that it was not quite so good in the cold and wet of winter!

There are several tombs in the abbey but none more beautiful than that of Joseph and Caroline Damer.

Joseph and Caroline Damer
The tomb of Joseph and Caroline Damer

Leaving the church, I followed the path that skirts around the grounds and was able to look back across the perfectly manicured lawns for a fine view of this magnificent abbey and mansion.  With the trees now clothed in their bright, verdant foliage, the view was quite breathtaking.

Milton Abbey

Milton Abbey
Milton Abbey viewed across the parklands

From the abbey grounds, my route took me briefly along the country lane before turning off along a track that runs through the valley bottom.  A horse rider bid me a cheery good morning as she passed and of course, being English, we commented on the weather🙂 !

After a mile or two, I arrived at the next village, Hilton, which sits in the eastern part of the Dorset Downs.  This village was once part of the Milton Abbey estate when it was owned by the Hambro family, and the hillsides around were forested to provide cover for pheasants as King Edward VII was regularly entertained by the Hambros.  The surrounding hills are still wooded but the trees are much more recent as the original forests were cleared during WW2.  The village itself is a delight to walk through, with it’s many thatched cottages with gardens full of spring colours.  It is a typical Dorset village.

Hilton
Hilton

I made my way to the church, standing proud on it’s hillside.  The graveyard was thick with spring flowers which seemed to compliment the old, lichen covered gravestones.  I was walking around taking pictures when a local lady walked through the gate and we fell into conversation.

She told me that she was born in the village but left when she married her farmer husband, before returning later in life.  She was sad because there were no young people in the village as they were unable to afford to pay the market price for houses that had increased way beyond the norm over the years.  I asked if the village had, like many, become a place of weekend homes and she replied that although there were some second homes, it was not as bad as some villages.  As with most villages, there were cottages called, ‘The Old Post Office’ etc that gave indications of their previous uses – in this 21st century, it is sad that the heart has gone from these communities.

The villager told me that the church minister used to live in The Rectory beside the church, a substantial three story, 10 bedroom pile, but now he lived miles away and looked after four other villages as well as Hilton.  As always, The Rectory, much changed, is now in private ownership.

All Saints, Hilton
All Saints, Hilton

I left the village with an air of sadness, sadness for a lifestyle that had gone forever, sadness that these once vibrant communities now seemed so soul-less, but cheered that there are still friendly people happy to welcome visitors like me.  And I left to the raucous sound of rooks cawing high in the trees overhead, their derisory scoffing echoing after me as I made my way up through Hilton Bottom.

Oil Seed Rape
Hilton Bottom

As I neared the top of the hill, I sat and ate lunch looking down through the lovely valley with it’s rapidly ripening oil seed rape and I pondered on my conversation with the old lady in the village below.

Hilton Bottom
A beautiful lunch time view

Eventually I pulled myself away from what is one of my favourite places and continued to the top of the hill, passing lines of hawthorn trees in full bloom.

Blossom
Hawthorn Blossom

The top of the hill is in fact almost the top of Dorset.  At 900 feet, there are only a couple of places that can outdo its height, but not its views.  From the top of this chalk hill it is possible to see for miles across the Blackmore Vale, taking in four separate counties.  It was an appropriate place to site a wayside pulpit and an equally appropriate message.

Wayside Pulpit
The Wayside Pulpit on Bulbarrow Hill

Dropping down off the hill, my route took me through a delightful valley with beautiful but contrasting sides.  The north facing side was thick with amazing spring green foliage brought to full life by the lowering afternoon sun.  With long shadows being thrown down the hillside, it was a scene to just stand and absorb as the birds seemingly gave vent to their delight overhead.

Spring Greens
Verdant spring greens

The south facing hillside was thick with bluebells gradually coming into full flower.  These are old woodlands and there are many old and rotting trunks which provide a haven to a myriad of tiny creatures.  With these valley walls on either side, I made my way down the track that runs between them and in the distance I could hear the cry of a cuckoo as if to prove to me that spring had arrived.  It seems strange to me that even the tiniest of birds is unable to realise that in the cuckoo they have an infiltrator in their midst, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the new baby is several times the size of its own!

Bluebells
Bluebells and rotting trunks

The woodland track eventually gave way to a narrow country lane for a time.  Now whilst I normally shun roads as much as possible, there are benefits to walking on tarmac and that is that you don’t need to watch your feet as you do on rough stony ground.  That means that you can really take in all that is around you which is great even if for just a short time.

However, soon I was back of stony ground as I climbed again out of the valley onto another ridge top.  This track with lovely hedgerows on either side was particularly beautiful with the now low sun streaming through the leaves, highlighting the new, spring growth.

Spring

Spring
New spring growth

The final part of my walk today took me through more, but very different, woodlands.  This is Forestry Commission land with its array of perfectly vertical specimens with evergreen foliage.  To me, these are not so enjoyable to walk as the mixed deciduous woodlands and yet there is a strange beauty.

Forestry
Through the forest

In fact, wherever you are there is beauty, even in the smallest detail such as the unfolding of a fern on the forest floor.  It is amazing how this happens each year and how these become the thick, green, ferny leaves of summer, and the orange carpet of autumn.  Each stage as beautiful as the former.

Unfurling
Unfurling

I finished my walk where it started, in the postcard-perfect village of Milton Abbas where I paid a visit to the church.  This is something I like to do throughout my walks, partly because churches are beautiful and interesting places, but mostly because God’s peace is so evident there.  It always moves me when I think about the enormous heritage of these places with the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been impacted down through the ages, especially when they were packed to the doors with worshippers.  When I think about those who are buried in the churchyard, I cannot help but think of Thomas Gray’s words, ‘Each in his narrow cell forever laid, The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep’.  One day they will sleep no more!

Graveyard
Milton Abbas churchyard

It was a fitting place to end my day, a wonderful day of walking and conversation, of interesting places and people, a day when I have felt blessed.

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.

Holloways and Sunken Paths, the Mysterious Ancient Highways

20 Feb

Holloway

There are thousands of ancient paths criss crossing Dorset’s wonderful countryside but none more fascinating than these labyrinthine paths like the one in the picture above which goes by the interesting name of Hell Lane! These are known as Holloways, although they do have other names such as shutes, bostels or grundles depending on the area they are in, and they are only seen in areas where the bedrock is soft – West Dorset is predominantly sandstone and therefore has many Holloways.

So what are Holloways?

Well the name Holloway comes from the anglo-saxon word which literally means ‘sunken road’, and they date from at least 300 years ago, many going back as far as the iron age. They started life as either drove trails used to move cattle and other animals from farms to markets, routes from inland to the sea ports, pilgrimage routes, or simply boundary ditches. I am not sure whether the term Holloway would have been applied much when the usage of these ‘highways’ was at its peak – I suspect they might well have been referred to as simply ‘lanes’.  Holloway, as a name, seems to have come much more to the fore in recent years having been popularised by Dan Richards’ and Robert Macfarlane’s book of the same name.  In terms of literature, they also feature strongly in Geoffrey Household’s book Rogue Male, where the main character fleeing his pursuers goes to ground and hides out in a disused Dorset Holloway.

They certainly wouldn’t have started their lives as Holloways because most would have initially been at ground level but centuries of use by cattle, carts and people gradually eroded the soft surface creating a ditch which was then deepened and widened by yet more ‘traffic’ and also by water running off the surrounding land as the ditch became at times a river. Eventually, many have become as deep as 20 or 30 feet creating in effect gorges rather than paths.

Coombe Down Hill

Holloways, and indeed all the ancient byways, are a record of the habits of our ancestors with hundreds of years of repeated use and that makes them rich in heritage and mystery……which is why I love walking them. With walls towering on either side and trees growing out of the top with their network of roots holding the walls in place, these paths have a real air of mystery. You feel like you are walking a natural and secret tunnel as the mesh of intertwined trees and branches above makes you feel shut in.  And there is lots of wildlife too! Gilbert White, a pioneering naturalist from the 18th century once said that to walk the holloways was to ‘Access a world of deep history, an unexpectedly wild world, buried amid the familiar and close at hand’. He wasn’t wrong!

I have a number of regular walks that take in one or more holloways and they are always a delight to walk. On a grey, stormy day you could almost fear to walk them as the gloom and darkness created by the high walls and overhanging branches creates a feeling of shadowy threat. On a bright sunny day with lovely dappled light filtering through the trees, they take on an altogether different feel!  But always secret and mysterious. So where are these Holloways?  Well the truth is they are many and varied, ranging from the gorge-like to simply shallow sunken paths, worn by feet, wheels, and hooves.

These are a few I have walked.

Holloway
Hell Lane, Symondsbury

Hell Lane is perhaps one of the most impressive and interesting.  With Shutes Lane it connects Symondsbury with North Chideock, climbing up over the ridge near Quarry Hill.  It is interesting because the eastern part is much more gorge like than the western half – to walk from the ridge down to North Chideock is a bit like walking a shallow river bed!  The reason for this difference might well be the fact that the church and other buildings at Symondsbury were built with stone from the quarry.  You can just imagine how the constant traffic of heavy laden carts running between quarry and village would have considerably deepened that part of the track to the gorge it now is.

The Winniford Valley
The Winneford Valley – the Holloway runs into the trees, top right

There are others in this area, tracks such as the one, now part of the Monarch’s Way, that climbs from North Chideock, through the Winneford Valley up over Coppet Hill.

Henwood Hill Henwood Hill
On Henwood Hill

And a smaller, but none the less beautiful, path that runs across the ridge at Henwood Hill.  This is a lovely path to walk in spring when the bluebells and wild garlic are in flower.

Coombe Down Hill Coombe Down Hill
Coombe Down

Moving away from this immediate area, there is a fine Holloway that climbs from the A3066 south of Beaminster up over Coombe Down.  This is deep and wild with gnarled tree roots growing out of the steep sided walls, holding them in place.  It is a well walked path, forming part of The Jubilee Trail.

A Sunken Lane Follow the River
Near South Poorton

Another smaller lane (or is it a river!) runs from the road at South Poorton and drops down to the nature reserve.  With it’s fern lined walls and it’s stony, waterlogged bottom, this is a lovely haven for wildlife and this, together with the nature reserve beyond, makes a delightful walk.

Holloway, West Milton
The track drops down steeply at West Milton

And there is evidence of further Holloways at the other end of the nature reserve as the track drops down to another interesting village, West Milton.

Lewesdon Hill Lane DSC00233-36
Lewesdon Hill Lane

One further path that I feel is worthy of inclusion is Lewesdon Hill Lane, although this is not perhaps a Holloway in the true sense.  I include it because it is ancient and sunken and a beautiful track to walk – it has even been suggested by some to have been part of the Ickneild Way, that ancient super-highway.  With moss covered banks on either side and surrounded by ancient woodlands, there are some wonderful views from this path.

Near Stoke Abbot
The access road down to Stoke Abbot

If you walk Lewesdon Hill Lane, you may well eventually reach the track that drops from the ridge down to the delightful village of Stoke Abbot.  It really is worth walking this part as the deeply cut access road that leads to the village is a Holloway in itself, and of course the village with its pub is a pleasant detour.

The sunken lane near Chetnole
Near Chetnole – this section is fairly clear but later it becomes overgrown Cutty Stubbs
Cutty Stubbs

Sadly, not all of our old sunken byways have been well maintained and with the development of other forms of transport many have fallen into disrepair.  The pictures above show sunken paths at Cutty Stubbs and Chetnole – both are now impassable.  At Cutty Stubbs, I couldn’t even find the entrance to the sunken path and had to ask the farmer for permission to cross his field to find it!  I did once question this with the authorities in an effort to have them cleared and reopened but sadly they ‘fall between stools’ and no-one has a budget that they wish to apply.  The reason is that these are often Byways Open to All Transport (BOAT’s) rather than footpaths and responsibility for these falls with the Highways authority.  The Footpaths authorities have a budget to maintain footpaths and Highways have a budget to maintain roads and BOAT’s………but naturally their funding is always exhausted keeping the roads in reasonable repair, with nothing left for our ‘off-road’ tracks.

Holloways may have been popularised by more recent writings but justifiably so.  They are ever changing, ever different, ever mysterious, but always delightful! And as is often the case when I walk, I travel along them wondering about those who have trod that way before – were they early drovers, were they pilgrims heading for one of the Dorset abbeys, were they smugglers, were they just ordinary people making their way to the port perhaps to emigrate to other lands!  Who were they and what was their purpose in travelling these ancient routes?  If only the walls could speak! These days walkers and wildlife are the companions of the Holloway and to go there is to enter another world.

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.

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

A Tactile Walk

13 Aug

The morning was bright and for once I decided to leave Dorset for the neighbouring county to do a 15 mile walk through some wonderful countryside and villages.  The day started in one of those beautiful meadows that are a dream to walk; the long grass swaying in the gentle breeze, the skylarks’ sweet song soaring above me, the butterflies fluttering by, the bees and bugs buzzing all around – just a dream!  

The Meadow
In the meadow

Have you ever thought of a walk being tactile?  Walking through the meadow hearing, seeing, smelling (if I had a sense of smell), but feeling too as I walked with fingers outstretched combing through the heads of the long swaying grass.  It was a lovely feeling that added another dimension – a real multi-sensory meadow!

After a mile or two my route took me along a lane rife with tall, delicate cow parsley, always a delight in summer.  

The Lane
A lane lined with cow parsley

Pushing my way through the at times overgrown lane with grass and flowers brushing my legs, I was somewhat glad that the recent weather had been dry.  The lane eventually gave way to more open ground as I reached the edge of a field and passed an old, rustic fence post, its rough solidness contrasting with the flimsy grasses around it.  I ran my fingers over the post, feeling its roughness and wondering who else’s hands had done that same thing over the many years it had been there.  With hedging and missing gate, the post seemed surplus and yet still added something to a lovely rural scene.

Meadow's Edge
A lovely rural scene

Eventually I reached the first village, and a beautiful village it was.  I love walking the countryside but I also love walking these old villages with their old cottages, some picturesque and some functional, all part of a local community that has existed and seen many changes over the centuries.  Strange to think that cottages like the one below once housed poor farm workers but so often now are second homes for the wealthy.  How times have changed and what stories these cottages could tell.

The Cottage
Picturesque or functional, always a delight

Passing out of the village along a quiet country lane, I joined another footpath that skirted round a hill.  The heights reached on this walk are not mountainous but the views are none-the-less beautiful for that and I stopped to take in the landscape below me.

The Footpath
Low hills but still great views

The hill itself was a real surprise!  Known as Windmill Hill, presumably because at one time there was a windmill there, the area was covered in beautiful blue flax, not the most common farm crop.  The breeze blowing across the hill rustled through the flowers creating a waving sea of blue.

Flax on Windmill Hill
A waving sea of blue

There was more tactile to come but unfortunately not so positive – the path beyond the blue hill was overgrown with stinging nettles; shorts and nettles are not a good combination!  I picked my way carefully through and eventually reached clearer ground as the path skirted along the edge of some woodland with some lovely dappled sunlight filtering through.  It was like a fairyland and I tried to capture it with the camera.

If you go down in the woods today......
A fairyland

Another picturesque village, and a lunch stop, followed before I once again made my way out into the countryside.  The crops in the fields were already ripening and the paths through them were narrow and once again I walked with outstretched fingers feeling the touch of the full seed heads.  The golden grain swayed in the breeze as I walked.

Against the Grain
Golden grain

And naturally a poppy or two joined in.

A Beautiful Cliche!
Poppy

More fields followed with contrasting crops, the delicacy of oats to the touch and the robustness of barley.  The feel of these is so different, and the look too of course with the barley field seeming to impersonate the sea as wave after wave rolls across the field ahead of the breeze.  Narrow paths and high crops, I couldn’t resist running my outstretched fingers through the heads once again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Way Through
Contrasting crops

I stopped in the middle of the barley field, watching the ‘waves’ and listening to the rustling of swaying stalks.  It was a delight and made me think of W H Davies words, ‘What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’  We should, indeed, must take time to stand and stare, and to touch and feel too, to fully take in all that is around us.

But I needed to move on, as the day was ticking by, and leaving the field behind me, I joined a wonderfully picturesque path along a ridge top, again not a high ridge but with lovely views on each side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Along the ridge

Eventually I neared the end of my journey, but there was more to come.  For the last stretch, I joined a rampart and ditch that had once formed the fortification along the county boundary.  I sat for some time with the long meadow grass waving around me, drinking in the scene.  What history there is in these ramparts, what blood must have been shed on their flanks that are now covered with the most delightful wild flowers and butterflies – a beautiful place of peace after centuries of strife.

Rampart
On the rampart

The final part of my walk was back through the meadows that I had started out from.  Still with skylarks serenading me overhead, and a myriad wild flowers to welcome me back, I took some time to capture the scene, and to try to capture the essence of the meadow which I love so much.  In reality, this is an impossible task since the meadow is a place that needs all of your senses to take in its joys and a camera can only do the visual.

In the Meadow
In the MeadowSummer in the Meadows
The essence of a beautiful meadow

God gave us all our senses to enjoy but so often we neglect to use them, rushing through life hardly noticing what is around us.  The sense of touch is particularly not associated with walking as much as sight and sound but it can really add another dimension to a good walk – so next time you go out walking, make it a tactile walk.

Thanks for stopping by.

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.