Tag Archives: Dorset

A L—-o—-n—-g Walk (well, VERY long really)……

20 Aug

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

……..42.6 miles to be exact, in one go, from sunrise to sunset, and what a fantastic day!

Five years ago I walked 35 miles in a day. This is not my usual way of walking as I am very much with the poet who said, ‘What is life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ – I like to have time in my walks to do just that, to take in all that is around me. But this was different, a one-off marathon, just to see if I could do it really. But this year I decided that I would see if, now 5 years older, I could still do it. Five years ago I managed to complete the 35.3 miles in 12 hours and I wondered if I could keep up anything like that pace with more creaky joints.

So I sat down with the map and prepared myself a route. This would be open ended insofar as I thought I would walk for as long and as far as I could and if I didn’t make it back to the start point, my wife would come and collect me. I figured that she would have to!

Long Walk

Sunrise on the Heath

I had planned to start out at 7am but in fact I was up and about earlier, and out on the trail by just after 6am. The sun was rising as I made my way across the first tract of heathland on a beautiful morning with a pleasant cooling breeze and the promise of a bright and lovely day. How wrong I was…….but more of that later 🙂 !

Long Walk

The Promise of a Good Day

The first part of the walk was necessarily a bit ‘towny’ as I skirted round the perimeter of a golf course. These take up a lot of our open space but if there are footpaths around them, they make pleasant places to walk, especially on an early morning such as this with the sun streaming through the trees, highlighting the heather.

Long Walk

Skirting Round the Golf Course


I had set myself a target of repeating my 3 mph walking pace of five years ago and I walked with a GPS in order to keep track of my progress. I don’t like walking against the clock as it means that you have no time to stop for long and the emphasis has to be on keeping walking but I knew that this was going to be a different kind of day. If I was to get to the end before dark and achieve my goal, I knew I would have to keep walking, especially as I didn’t think I would be able to maintain that pace all day.

Leaving the golf course behind, I made my way along an old railway line and a took a circuitous route on local paths to reach the river meadows with gently grazing sheep and cows. They stared longer than I! I crossed the River Stour at the old, wooden Eye Bridge and climbed up the hill to reach the delightful avenue at Pamphill. My route took me the length of the avenue and not a car in sight 🙂 !

Long Walk

The Pamphill Avenue

Following a combination of quiet country lanes and gravel tracks, I skirted round the National Trust owned Kingston Lacy, a huge country estate once owned by the Banks family, and crossed the even more famous avenue planted by that family nearly 200 years ago. This much photographed avenue of steadily dying beech trees is currently being regenerated as a new avenue of hornbeams as these are able to stand modern traffic conditions better.

As I crossed this busy road, I checked my progress, 7.5 miles in and on target. I climbed up the hill away from the noise of the traffic and passed another great landmark of Dorset, the Badbury Rings hill fort.

Long Walk

A Gravel Track Near Badbury Rings

More gravel tracks followed and I was grateful for these as they do enable you to stride out and keep up a good rhythm. It is very satisfying simply to enjoy the walking process of one foot in front of the other over and over again continuously for mile after mile. But of course, it doesn’t last for long before you are faced with another section of overgrown pathway.

Now here, I’d like to praise horse riders as they do much to keep our paths free from undergrowth as their steeds plough through nettles and brambles, breaking them and trampling them down to make it easier for walkers like me. Now, unfortunately they do have a down side in that they also churn up the paths, creating a muddy morass for us to slip slide through……but we won’t focus on the negatives 🙂 ! Some of my paths today were not bridleways so it was left to me to push my way through as best I could, being constantly tripped as brambles grabbed hold of me. I was glad I had chosen to wear trousers and not shorts!

I was glad too when I made it though onto clearer paths and could walk easily again, especially when I came across a hare, or fox, or deer as in the picture below. I passed through the villages of Gussage All Saints and Wimborne St Giles, joining the Jubilee Way for a time.

Long Walk

Deer on the Path

Eventually, I neared my halfway point as Cranborne Manor came into view through a gap in the trees. This massive estate was in fact originally just a hunting lodge for the Marquess of Salisbury, a kind of holiday home I guess, as his main residence is Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Cranborne Manor is now occupied by the heir who carries the title Viscount Cranborne.

Long Walk

Cranborne Manor Comes into View

I followed the lovely, neat path through the field towards Cranborne, only to come across the sign below. Not that this fazed me – whilst I wouldn’t like to face an angry bull, nothing is going to stop me following my planned route or get in the way of a good walk. In any event, this is a good farmer who only puts signs up when the bull is present and only has the bull there when there are cows with him, as the law states. Sadly, not all farmers observe these rules. Whether I would have been quite so ambivalent if the bull had been just the other side of this gate, I am not sure 🙂 !

As it happens, the bull wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me and I crossed the field happily to reach the town, where I called at the local pub……….no, not for a drink, no time for that, I just needed them to fill my water bottles up, which they did gladly. I did check my GPS again though – 20 miles down and still maintaining a pace of just over 3 mph.

Long Walk

Oh Dear!

With replenished supplies, I left the town and headed out through several sections of lovely old woodlands, intermingled with occasional hamlets with quaint cottages, tiny churches, and an occasional manor house. Edmondsham is one such hamlet, with its old village pump, old postoffice, and little chapel. These are delightful places to walk through.

From Edmondsham, my route took me back into more ancient woodlands, with the inevitable stile to cross. Now I love stiles but when you have walked over 20 miles, a gate would be more welcome 🙂 ! At this point, things turned interesting! I heard a distant rumble but ignored it – well it was a sunny day wasn’t it. As I wound my way through the woods, the rumbles became more insistent, but its ok, the sun is still shining! When I reached another little hamlet, appropriately called Woodlands, and I finally exited the dense woods I saw what was heading my way……and it didn’t look good!

Long Walk

Yet Another Stile

Now this is going to look strange because there is a sunny picture above and a sunny picture below so you might be lulled into thinking that the storm past me by! It didn’t! I basically battened down the hatches, togged up in waterproofs, stowed everything in the rucksack and put its waterproof cover on, and I was ready when the first drops of rain fell. And boy did they fall! I actually, momentarily, considered sheltering in Woodlands Church which is a lovely little chapel, but in the end I decided just to keep walking.

For the next hour I walked, or more accurately squelched, in torrential rain, with thunder and lightening all around. I could follow the storm’s progress; first the distant rumbles to the west which came nearer and nearer, then directly overhead, and then gradually diminishing as it moved out the other side. You might think that it was a nuisance but actually, walking in a thunderstorm just adds a different dimension to a walk. I continued to push my way through woods and across fields and by the time I climbed to the top of the hill to reach Horton Tower, the sun was shining brightly again.

Long Walk

Horton Tower After the Storm

I de-togged and got the camera out again and took a picture of the tower in celebration 🙂 ! Of course the downside of the storm was that everything around me, trees, bushes, grass, fields, were all now soaking wet with rivulets running everywhere. On the open hilltop, the sun dried me, but only until I had to push my way through more undergrowth when I got soaked again.

Plus of course, many of the fields had been recently ploughed. This posed two problems! Firstly there was no path because it had been ploughed over – I know that the countryside laws state that if footpaths are ploughed over they have to be reinstated within 24 hours, but farmers don’t always seems to know this! Secondly, this wet, ‘cloggy’ soil stuck to my boots like glue. My size 9’s gradually increased to size 10 and then size 11 as I walked across the fields, getting heavier and heavier as I went. And then of course you have to try to climb over a stile…..or maybe that should be slip over a stile!

Oh, and there is one particular field near Horton Tower that has a large section of sweetcorn growing…..and no clear path through it. Pushing your way through densely packed sweetcorn that is over head height after a torrential downpour is no fun 🙂 !

Hopefully, you can picture the scene that I have been describing 🙂 ! It was with some relief that I found my way back out onto clearer paths again and could walk along solid country lanes and gravel tracks, banging mud off my boots, and everything else, as I went.

Amazingly, now some 30 miles into my walk, despite the conditions, I was still ahead of my scheduled 3 mph pace!

Long Walk

Lovely Paths Near Crichel House

The next part of the walk is lovely as it skirts around another of Dorset’s manor houses, Crichel House, so it is laid out almost as parkland with good paths, old carriage bridges, and a very attractive gatehouse. This brought me out to another lovely village, the village of Witchampton which is always a pleasure to walk through. I kept going, making my way out the other side and down a narrow country lane into open countryside again.

Here, was a reminder of the approaching season, with straw bales in readiness to be transported to the barns for winter bedding. These always make such a nice picturesque scene, especially with that summer sky as a backdrop. And in the distance, I could once again see Badbury Rings that I had passed nearly 12 hours ago on my way out.

Long Walk

Harvest Time

Crossing King Down, I arrived back at the Kingston Lacy avenue again, and that busy road. This was my 35 mile point where I had been intending to stop. I was still ahead of my 3 mph schedule and feeling surprisingly good so I decided to keep on walking.

I circumnavigated the Kingston Lacy estate again and followed the Pamphill avenue, passing some lovely cottages on the way, as the sun was sinking in the sky. From there, I re-crossed the River Stour and its meadow, greeting the sheep and cows as I went. Needless to say, I received just blank stares in return 🙂 !

Long Walk

A Beautiful Cottage Picked Out by the Evening Sun

Forty miles came and went! At 41 miles, my left knee gave out and I started to limp, my water ran out, and my GPS switched to energy saving mode, its batteries all but dead. Mine were too!

Finally, as the sun faded, I reached my starting point again and the end of my epic walk – 42.6 miles and just under 14 hours of virtually non stop walking! I was a happy man 🙂 !

What a great day which I thoroughly enjoyed……well maybe apart from the last few painful miles! I consider myself very blessed that in retirement, I still have the good health and energy to walk these distances and to enjoy this wonderful county of Dorset.

I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me.

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.


Embracing the Creative

5 Aug

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

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while or who have read my about page will know that I set it up in order to bring together my passion for Dorset, walking, cycling, nature/the outdoors, and photography in a way that would hopefully interest and entertain the reader. So it usually comprises articles about these subjects. But that poses a problem!

You see, I have always resisted being put in a particular box or being typecast as one particular style of photographer e.g. a landscaper or whatever. Yes. I take landscapes because I am out in the countryside a lot but I am not solely a purist landscape photographer. I actually enjoy all forms of photography, landscape, street photography, portraits, macro, conceptual photography, or frankly the out and out experimental and creative.

The danger with this is that you may be seen as ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, or that followers may not be interested in half of the posts. People who like my Dorset posts for instance may not be interested in my more photography based posts. Does this matter? I’m sure that some would say that it does and that to increase your following and keep your readers you need to specialise and have a constant theme rather than generalise as then people will know what to expect. Then again, I guess that depends of the view of individual readers as some might actually prefer variety rather than continuity or sameness. Its a bit of a conundrum that I haven’t yet bottomed out – how tight or how loose should a brief be in order to keep the blog interesting? Maybe I should have two or three different blogs 🙂 !

Anyway, today I thought I would share a picture that definitely fits in the creative category and it is all about Embracing the Creative, albeit it was taken in Dorset and in the outdoors, and features a tree so does fulfil some of my criteria……sort of 🙂 ! I called it ‘Forestry Man’!

Forestry Man

Old Age

I actually went walking along the River Stour and I carried my tripod as I thought some long exposure shots of the river might work well. Having taken some typical landscape shots though, I decided to have a play and get creative and this shot is one of the results. You see, we are all part of the created world, whether human, animal, tree, plant, bird or whatever and at the end of our time here, our bodies return to dust. So, in reality, is there much difference between us and say a tree when considered over millennia? Well of course, we have a soul so the end is not the end for us, but the body and the tree aren’t dissimilar really – we are both part of a greater whole and will eventually age and erode. I’ve tried to show that in this picture.

On a technical note, I guess I could have sandwiched two separate images together to get this effect, but I didn’t, this was all done in camera by using a long exposure.

If you are one of my ‘Dorset’ or ‘landscape’ followers then just gloss over this blog entry – normal service will be resumed shortly. But hey, for a moment, why not Embrace the Creative?

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.

A Picture With a Story…..

29 Jul

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

I thought I would just do a short series on what I have called. ‘A Picture with a Story’. These are all pictures that have a story behind them which is not necessarily the obvious story 🙂 ! Some of these will have been taken in unusual circumstances and others might be of unusual subjects, and the first of these I have entitled, ‘What Might Have Been’!

What might have been


What Might Have Been

It was a cold February day when I set out on a 16 mile walk. I anticipated a good sunset so I did what I often do and planned my walk so that I would arrive at a good spot in time to capture the setting sun. On this day, I decided that Corfe Castle would be just such a spot so that I could capture the castle in semi silhouette against the sunset sky or that lovely post sunset glow that can be so special with its soft light.

Now the problem with such a long walk, especially in winter is that it is difficult to gauge the time right so that you have an enjoyable walk but still get to take some photographs at the end. Arguably perhaps you should do one or the other, enjoy a walk or just take pictures, because then you can get in position with lots of time to spare. But I was determined to do both! And in fact it all worked out perfectly and I reached the top of East Hill perfectly…..except the weather didn’t play ball!

I could see the sun setting beautifully as I was walking along Nine Barrow Down, and even took pictures of it although with nothing of interest in the foreground, but then ‘Murphy’s Law’ kicked in and the sun did what it often seems to do – by the time I had reached the castle, it had dropped into a bank of cloud on the horizon to be seen no more. And no post sunset glow either, just a dull grey sky! But I took my pictures of the castle anyway because I had an idea how I could achieve what I wanted.

Back home, using Adobe Photoshop, I amalgamated two pictures, using one picture of the castle and dropping in the sky from one of my earlier pictures (the two pictures are above). The result is pretty much what I had in mind. But it does pose a slight moral dilemma, especially if you are a purist photographer. Is it right to manipulate an image? If so, how much manipulation is too much?

I actually don’t have a problem with it if you are producing an image which is obviously manipulated as with a lot of fine art. With a ‘normal’ landscape though I am less comfortable with heavy manipulation although I think this is more about people trying to pass the final picture off as genuine when in fact it is not.

In my case, both pictures were taken the same day and in fact had I walked quicker and reached the castle 15 minutes earlier, the main picture is exactly the picture I would have captured….hence my title, ‘What might have been’. In that sense it is genuine anyway…..or could have been. Plus of course all photographers process their images and make adjustments and enhancements on the computer, be it to increase contrast, brighten a picture up or whatever. This is something that has been done since photography began. Even if you go back to the old days of ‘steam driven’ film cameras, we were pretty adept at manipulating black and white prints in the darkroom using bits of card or our hands, or a second negative, so it is nothing new.

At the end of the day, image manipulation is all part of the overall creative process to produce a final picture that is pleasing or meaningful to look at, but I guess I am a purist at heart and with landscapes particularly I prefer to get it right in the camera in the first place. Besides which, it means less time spent at the computer and more time out on the trail, and that’s got to be good 🙂 !

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.

Family Outings…….Old Style :)

22 Jun

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

Those of you who read my last blog post about the Hardy Monument will remember that I reminisced a little in that post about my days as a child in Dorset. Well today I thought we would continue in that vein and that I would share a picture or two with you 🙂 ! This is the childhood of The Dorset Rambler…….well a little bit of it 🙂 !

If you didn’t read my previous post, there is a link to it here.

Scan 18-4

Nine of us picnic at the roadside – how did we all fit in that van!

As I said in my earlier blog entry, we had no car when I was a child and we couldn’t afford to bus everywhere……can you hear the violins 🙂 ! So walking was something that was just part of everyday life, and we walked miles to the beach or to the Purbeck Hills or wherever, sometimes with aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents; in fact the whole wider family.

But for two weeks of the year, during my father’s annual holiday (he only got two weeks off each year), my uncle would offer us the use of his old Morris 10 and we would drive for miles at what today seems like a walking pace as it was like most cars of the day, painfully slow! But then, there were quite a lot of us packed into it! On the odd year when for some reason my uncle couldn’t lend us his car, another uncle would lend us his even older, and even slower, van.

It is this van that you see in the picture above, and my, was that an interesting holiday! To start with, there were even more of us packed in there…….nine of us to be exact, which included my parents, grandparents and brothers. Us two younger boys sat in the luggage compartment at the back because of course it was only a 4/5 seater van. Oh, and the van couldn’t climb hills so for anything greater than a 10% incline, some of us would have to get out and walk up, climbing on board again when we, and the van, reached the top 🙂 !

Smaller hills were less of a problem but even then it wasn’t straight forward! I well remember the back of the van flying open as we struggled up one hill and although my brother and I managed to avoid falling out, the same can’t be said of our picnic which went rolling down the hill. Naturally, we managed to round it all up again 🙂 !

Scan 17 copy 4-1

Sausages! Picnicking beside the old Morris 10.

Of course, the picnic was not just any picnic! No, this was a full blown meal of sausages, eggs, bacon etc etc cooked on a primus stove beside the road. For seats, there was either the grass verge or the car seats that could be removed. We had no water carrier so in order to have a cup of tea, we would simply knock on the door of a house and ask if they would mind filling the kettle for us. Everyone was very willing to help in those days.

We had a funny experience one day……well most days really…..but on this particular evening, we needed petrol urgently but didn’t know where the nearest garage was. So we flagged down a passing bubble car to ask the driver for directions and he promised to lead us to a petrol station that would be open. The problem was that the old Morris 10 couldn’t keep up with him and he got further and further ahead of us until we could barely make out his rear lights as he disappeared into the distance. Fortunately it turned out ok, but the event reminded me of the Bubble Car Song (Beep Beep)……and if you are not old enough to remember that, you must Google it 🙂 !

Unlike today, there was no form of entertainment in the car or van so we made our own entertainment by singing at the top of our voices as we drove. I have very happy memories of our sing songs, especially late at night as we were on our way back. Usually there would be a quick stop at a pub for a drink, hopefully one with a playground for us youngsters, and then very often the day would finish with a midnight drive along the Bournemouth sea front to look at the illuminations, and maybe even a paddle in the sea by moonlight! Of course part of the fun for the young Dorset Rambler was staying up late as we would often not be home till the early hours!

Ah, happy days!

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.


A Lifetime Ambition Achieved :)

19 Jun

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

Today we are visiting one of those places that has always been part of my life. We used to come here regularly when I was a child, travelling in my uncle’s old Morris 10, often loaded up with at least 7 family members……in a 4 seater car! These were the days before seat belts and health & safety regulations took hold, and in any event, the car would barely travel at more than 30 mph with all that weight up. And of course, there was all the picnic paraphernalia that had to be strapped to the luggage rack in an old suitcase, a primus stove to cook on, paraffin, kettle, frying pan, plates, cutlery, water, and a myriad other things; and all for a day trip 🙂 ! The place in question is the Hardy Monument.

The Hardy Monument

The Hardy Monument

The Hardy Monument on Black Down

So why does this place mean so much? Well, when I was a child, we had no car and no way of reaching the monument, or anywhere else that was too far away from where we lived for that matter. The exception was for one period in the year when my father would borrow my uncle’s old car for his annual holidays….in return for his maintaining it for the rest year as my uncle knew nothing about engines! But for those two weeks each year, we were able to go and visit our favourite places, and this was one of them.

For a child, the excitement of having a car for a short time was immense and we absolutely loved it. All of us would pile in it and travel for miles, very slowly, even sometimes having to get out and walk up the hills because the car just couldn’t make it with so much weight on board! In these days of motorways and speedy travel, it seems hard to imagine how far we travelled back in the 1950’s, making it to places like Regent’s Park Zoo, a 200 mile round trip, all driven at 30mph, or maybe 40 on downhill sections 🙂 , and all on country lanes.

Top of the Tower

The Way Down

Anyway, enough reminiscing 🙂 ! Some might think that the Hardy Monument might have been erected in memory of arguably Dorset’s most famous son, the author Thomas Hardy, but in fact it was erected in memory of a different Thomas Hardy altogether. This monument was erected in memory of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy who was a commander at the Battle of Trafalgar and served on HMS Victory. He is famed for being asked to kiss Nelson as he died. Admiral Hardy lived in the nearby town of Portesham and his family owned the Portesham Estate, including Black Down on which the monument was erected.

The monument stands just 72 feet high but Black Down itself is 850 feet above sea level, making the monument visible from as far as a 100Km away. Its visibility was key because Hardy’s family wanted it to be used by seamen as a navigation aid. Its shape is also deliberate since it mirrors the shape of the telescope that Hardy used…..although some still say it resembles a factory chimney! Octagonal in shape, its corners are directed towards the main compass points.

Top of the Tower

At the Top

As with all ancient monuments, this one has fallen into disrepair at times and was restored by Hardy’s descendants in 1900 and again in 1908 before being passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1938. At some point it became derelict again and certainly when I visited in my youth I was unable to climb to the top. Fortunately the National Trust carried out a refurbishment programme in 2011, safeguarding it for future generations.

View from the Top

Amazing Views

View from the Top

Looking Towards Dorchester

One other interesting fact is that the stone to build the monument came from a quarry at the bottom of the hill. That quarry though had been closed for years because it wasn’t economically viable, so it was re-opened just to extract the stone for this building and then closed again.

Hardy Monument sunset

The Hardy Monument at Sunset

The Hardy Monument, or Hardy’s Monument as we knew it, is one of those places that held an air of mystery about it when I was a child and as I was growing up. This was perhaps in part because it was closed to the public at the time with dangerously crumbling steps inside. And I remember always wishing I could climb to the top but never being able. When it was restored and opened again after many many years, I still did not quite get round to climbing those 122 mysterious steps into the unknown until on a recent walk when I finally made it to the top and fulfilled a childhood dream.

Was it worth the climb and the wait? Well, in truth the views from the top are simply amazing, but then, the views from the bottom are equally awesome. For me though, it was much more personal than that, so for me, it was definitely worth it!

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.


St Edwold’s Church – Dorset’s Smallest

8 Jun

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

So we are on the trail of a bit more ‘Quirky Dorset’ and today we visit another church. Tiny, insignificant, remote, and with an unusual dedication. This is St Edwold’s Church in the tiny hamlet of Stockwood.

St Edwold’s Church, Stockwood

The smallest church

St Edwold’s Church, Stockwood

There are two curious things about St Edwold’s, and the first is its dedication. St Edwold was the brother of Edmund, King of East Anglia who was brutally murdered in 870 AD by a Dane with the somewhat unusual name of Ivarr the Boneless. Edwold declined to take his brother’s crown, preferring to adopt a hermit lifestyle which eventually led him to Cerne Abbas in Dorset where he settled until his death. It is thought that Edwold, in addition to Cerne, had a cell at Stockwood, hence the church’s dedication. It is unusual in that it is the only church in Dorset, or indeed in the country, to be dedicated to him.

The second curious thing is the size of the church which is just 30 feet by 12 feet making it the smallest in Dorset and the second smallest in England.

The smallest church

The Simple Interior

St Edwold’s is a simple, single cell church which dates mainly from the 15th century with some later additions. Because of its dedication however, experts believe that it was built on much older foundations going back to Saxon times. The porch was added in the 17th century as was the delightful pillared bell turret. Internally, the font, altar rails, and pews all date from the 19th century. The church is now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The Bell

The Beautiful Pillared Bell Turret

Stockwood itself is a tiny hamlet in North Dorset comprising just a few cottages and a farm. In fact, the church is situated right beside the farmhouse and when you visit it, you almost feel like you are trespassing on private land. Despite its centuries long heritage, the graveyard beside the church has just 10 graves and only four headstones.

The Church Door

The View from the 17th Century Porch

St Edwold’s Church was a delightful find which I came across whilst on a walk in the area. Its remote location makes it a peaceful place to visit, and because there are so few houses in the area, you cannot help but wonder at its past and about the people who worshipped here. It is another of those wonderful, mysterious Dorset places which I love.

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.

St Aldhelm’s Chapel…….or is it?

6 Jun

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

So, having looked at some Dorset places through the ‘lens of blur’ last week in order to get an alternative view, this week I thought we would go back to our series on ‘Quirky Dorset’ by visiting some slightly oddball or out of the ordinary places. This is Part 21 and we are starting off this set with a very old chapel…….or is it?? Well actually, no one seems to be certain! This is St Aldhelm’s Chapel that sits on the headland that bears the same name.

St Aldhelm’s Chapel, St Aldhelm’s Head

St Aldhelm's Chapel

St Aldhelm’s Chapel

St Aldhelm’s, also known as St Alban’s, Chapel sits atop a remote Dorset headland some 108 meters above sea level, a couple of miles from the nearest village. It is tiny, just 30 feet square, with thick walls, and a solid stone roof that is supported by a heavy internal rib-vaulted ceiling that radiates out from an overly stout central pillar. With just a single door and single window, this building is built like a fortress, set to withstand the elements that beat upon it in its exposed position. Externally, the chapel stands in the centre of a low circular earthwork which is thought to be pre-Conquest Christian. It is a chapel, and occasional services are still held there, but was it always?

Well that is a difficult question to answer even for the experts! There are a number of unusual features about this building, namely, it is square, it is not built to the traditional east/west orientation, and it has a huge central pillar which makes it less than ideal for gatherings of people. In addition, there is no evidence of a place for an altar or a piscina. All these suggest that it wasn’t originally intended to be a church. However, there is definite evidence to show that there was a chaplain here in the 13th century!

The age of the building is somewhat uncertain. Indications are that it dates from Norman times, but some say that the doorway is actually Saxon. The site itself is even older than that as it is in fact thought to have been built on the site of an earlier, possibly wooden, building.

St Aldhelm's Chapel interior

The Central Column and Rib Vaulting

That isn’t all that is strange about this chapel because, although it has a cross on top now, this only dates from 1873 and there is evidence that prior to that, there was a beacon at the apex of the roof. This could lead to the supposition that the building might have originally been some kind of coastal lookout, and this thought could possibly be supported by the fact that the construction is similar to parts of Corfe Castle which is several miles inland. Add to this the fact that the headland is on the ‘blind side’ of the castle and you have even more weight to its argument for being a lookout to aid and protect the castle. You could add to that again, that the parish is described in 1428 as having no inhabitants so arguably would not need a church, plus its description in 1625 as being a ‘sea mark’ – an aid to navigation used by seamen.

However, a very strong argument against the lookout theory, aside from the fact that there was a chaplain, is that there is only one tiny window, which is hardly the normal way to design a lookout! How can you look out if there is nothing from which to look out!

On the altar!

One Tiny Window

One suggestion put forward is that this building was erected as a Chantry, a small chapel where an incumbent priest would pray for the souls of deceased benefactors to aid them through purgatory, or perhaps for the safety of those at sea. This was a common practice until the Reformation; until then, many small Chantry Chapels were built. Of course, none of the uses described here are necessarily mutually exclusive and it is possible that this was built as a chapel that doubled as a lookout/beacon.

The historical time line indicates that this was a chapel with a chaplain, at least from the 13th century but that by the 17th/18th century it had fallen into disuse and was in a ruinous condition. It was restored and re-opened in 1874 and was used for a considerable time by the coastguards who had a lookout and a row of cottages on the headland. They held weekly services here. Again, however, it fell into disrepair, and again it was restored in the 1960’s.

We still haven’t exhausted the strange and unexplained features of this site! In 1957, a 13th century grave was found on the headland as well as the foundations of a small building which might have been a tiny dwelling. Little is known about the person interred except that she was aged between 30 and 40 years. It is thought that she might have been an Anchoress, basically a Christian recluse, who moved there to be near the chapel. A second grave was also discovered near the chapel itself.

Oh, and for some unknown reason, the chapel was once known as The Devil’s Chapel! It has also been known as a Wishing Chapel, a place where girls could go to in order to pray for a husband, posting personal items such as hair clips into a hole in the central pillar!

St Aldhelm's Chapel

St Aldhelm’s Chapel and Earthworks

There seems no end to the mystery that is St Aldhelm’s Chapel. Despite the theories, no one really knows for definite when it was built, who built it, or what its original purpose was. However, as with most of these mysteries, there are some traditional explanations! One such story has it that a new bride and groom were sailing around the headland watched by the bride’s father when a huge storm blew up and both were drowned. It seems that the father built the chapel in their memory and had a beacon installed on the top in order to warn all sailors of the dangers of that part of the coast. Come to think of it, that story seems to be very similar to one relating to another such church about which I blogged recently!

Whatever the truth, this is a beautiful chapel, in a wonderfully exposed and wild position along the Dorset coast. It gives off an air of strength and dependability. Simple, and some would say functional, but with mystery and intrigue enough to keep you wondering. And we will have to wonder on, because this landmark still hides most of its secrets and it appears to have no intention of releasing them any time soon!

But isn’t that a part of its magnetic charm?

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.

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