Tag Archives: ridge

Mind the Gap

8 Aug

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

Towns have names, villages have names, headlands have names, hills have names, in fact most things have names……but how often is a gap given a name? It is just an empty space after all, so why would it need a name? But on the Dorset coast, there is a gap and it has a name. The gap I am referring to is the empty space between the mainland coast and the next bit of land which has become an island, and it has a somewhat unusual name too. This is St Lucas’ Leap.

St Lucas’ Leap

Sunrise at Old Harry Rocks

Handfast Point and St Lucas’ Leap at Sunrise

In fact there are numerous names surrounding this area. Overall it is known as The Foreland or Handfast Point but it is more commonly referred to as Old Harry Rocks. In fact, Old Harry refers to one particular rock, a stack that has separated from the mainland. It stands beside the remains of Old Harry’s Wife who crumbled decades ago. And they both stand seawards of a much larger ‘island’ of rock which has in fact split into two separate parts, which is known as No Man’s Land.

I think it is fairly clear where No Man’s Land got its name, but that is not the subject of this post. This blog post concerns the gap between it and the mainland because that gap has been given the name St Lucas’ Leap. So who was St Lucas? Well the first thought might be that he was some great saint who did wonderful things centuries ago, maybe set up a monastery in the area, Lucas being a form of Luke. But as far as we know that is not the case. St Lucas was in fact………a dog! Hmm, dogs seem to be a bit of a theme in my blog at the moment.

Old Harry - up close and personal!

No Man’s Land

So why name a gap after a dog? Well it is a sad story but it seems that St Lucas was a pedigree greyhound and when he was being walked on the coast path, he took off after a rabbit and not being aware of the dangers of clifftops, he plunged off the end of Handfast Point and fell to his death on the rocks beneath. Since that day, the gap between the very tip of Handfast Point and that huge stack of rock known as No Man’s Land has been known as St Lucas’ Leap.

I’m not sure if the name was intended as some kind of tribute to a loyal friend or whether it was some kind of joke since it was hardly a leap, more a fall, and a sad one at that! Actually, thinking about it, who names these places anyway? Was this named by some civil dignitary who stood up in a council meeting and spouted, ‘I decree that hereafter and from hence forward, in recognition of fine service given during his life, this place shall be known as……’? Or was it some local joker who started it off one day and it just caught on 🙂 ? I’m guessing the latter and that it just became local custom.

old Harry - up close and personal!

St Lucas’ Leap with No Man’s Land beyond

Now one of the interesting things about St Lucas’ Leap, besides its name, is actually reaching it. If you time it right and know your tides well, you can reach it along the shoreline, but that is a post for another day. You can, or maybe that should be could, reach it from the clifftop but that required a serious head for heights as it meant walking a tightrope of a very narrow ridge of chalk with sheer drops on either side. Even when I walked it some years ago, you wouldn’t have attempted it on a windy day. Today, you would have to be very foolhardy to attempt this short walk at all as a cliff fall a year or two back has eroded the ‘path’ away almost completely.

A Sharper Knife

The Ridge Leading to St Lucas’ Leap

You might say, ‘Why walk there at all as it doesn’t go anywhere’, but I guess my response would be, ‘Because it is there’, and also perhaps because not many people have been there. It is a kind of inviting path and you just get the feeling that you want to see what is down there. I still get that feeling even though I have already been there several times but age and wisdom prevents me from making that walk again. Besides which, there really isn’t much to see that can’t be seen from the main clifftop, apart perhaps from getting a different view of the coast as you climb back up that narrow, exposed path.

Old Harry view

Looking Back from St Lucas’ Leap 

So, tribute to a dog, or sick joke? Who knows! I’m glad I’ve been there several times and captured these shots but if I feel the need to repeat the experience, I’ll buy a drone and have a virtual walk along the ridge! I think St Lucas can keep his leap for himself!

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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Theme for the Week – Dorset Hills with a View Part 3

5 Apr

– – – EXPLORING THE COUNTRYSIDE AND LANES OF DORSET – – –

So, this week, we are considering iconic Dorset hills, hills that have amazing views and which just seem to typify Dorset. And today’s fits the bill well, and has a strange name to boot! This is Nine Barrow Down.

Nine Barrow Down

On Nine Barrow Down

Nine Barrow Down with Swanage in the Distance

Nine Barrow Down rises to 199 meters (653 feet) and is part of the Purbeck chalk ridge that stretches some 15 miles from Old Harry Rocks in the east to Lulworth Cove in the west. This ridge itself is part of a much larger system of chalk downlands that stretches across Southern England. Nine Barrow Down sits part way along the ridge with flatter land on either side giving spectacular views all along its length.

Walking the Purbeck Ridge

The View Across Poole Harbour

These views stretch all across Poole Harbour to the north, and across the Purbeck valley to the Dorset coast in the south. In the picture below, you can see the Purbeck Ridge stretching away into the distance.

Down a Purbeck Valley

The View to the South

So, why the unusual name of Nine Barrow Down? Well it has been given that name simply because there are said to be nine barrows, or burial mounds, along the ridge. These are mainly Bronze Age round barrows together with one Neolithic long barrow. The number is something that I have never been able to prove because whilst some barrows are obvious, others, due to erosion, are not. In fact I have read that there were probably double that number although it is possible that there were just the nine on the ridge top with the others being elsewhere on the downs.

The Barrows

Nine Barrow Down

One of the problems with this ancient barrow cemetery is that riders, both bike and horse, and walkers will often follow a route over the top of the barrows, causing even more erosion. In an effort to prevent this, some wattle fencing was erected for a time. This was intended to keep people to the footpath but I am not sure it worked terribly well.

The gold of evening

Evening on the Downs

In addition to the barrows, this ridge is also a great place to spot wildlife. There are butterflies aplenty, with species such as Adonis Blue and Common Blue inhabiting this area, and of course the ever present skylarks which for me just typify summer.

Common Blue

Common Blue

Nine Barrow Down, and in fact the whole Purbeck Ridge, has a very special place in my heart as I have walked it all my life since I was a young child. It is just a beautiful place with miles of great walking, many grassy ‘bare foot’ paths, and fantastic views. Because the paths are generally smooth, it is a place where you can walk and take in the views at the same time without fear of losing your footing, and that is always welcome.

So where does Nine Barrow Down fit in with the hill classifications that we have talked about in previous posts? Well it is actually a Marilyn, which is defined as a mountain or hill having a prominence of at least 150 meters (492 feet) regardless of its overall height. The reason for the name Marilyn is simply a pun on the famous Munro’s of Scotland. The latter all have an overall height of 914 meters (3,000 feet) so lots of Munro’s will also be Marilyns, making them Marilyn Munro’s!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
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 two ridges, the devil and heaven, amazing views, and an old mill but no stream!

15 Apr

It was a cold but beautifully sunny and clear winter’s day when I set out on this wonderful walk! I left the car at the top of one Purbeck ridge and to the accompaniment of birdsong, I immediately dropped down the side of the hill heading for a second Purbeck ridge. I had hardly started the walk when I was greeted by the spectacular view below and I just had to stop and gaze!

The view goes straight down the valley across the distant, deserted village of Tyneham and on to the coast at Worbarrow Bay. The reason Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay have been deserted by the inhabitants is because the military took over the whole area to create a firing range in 1943 – but that’s a story for another day!

Creech View

Down the valley to Worbarrow Bay

Dropping down to the country lane, I followed the road for a time. This is no hardship as it is a quiet road and the countryside is beautifully picturesque. Plus of course, there is no mud 🙂 ! Passing the tiny hamlet of Steeple with its church, manor house and small cluster of cottages, I continued up the other side of the valley towards Kimmeridge. This hill, in the picture below, goes by the somewhat dubious name of the Devil’s Staircase – in fact on this day, with the shadows of trees being thrown across the road, it did look like a staircase! It was a name that was to contrast strongly with another strange name that I would come across later!

A Purbeck Valley

The Devil’s Staircase

Reaching the top of the ridge, I looked down into the village of Kimmeridge where the unusual presence of a crane told me that construction of the new museum and visitor’s centre was underway. My route today didn’t lie in that direction so I left that scene and climbed again higher along what I call the inland coast path.

Kimmeridge

Kimmeridge

The inland coast path is the path that runs parallel to the coast and with sea views but is in reality slightly inland of the coast path proper. I like to walk this path because it gives an alternative view of this beautiful Dorset coastline. Looking down one side, I had amazing views across Kimmeridge Bay with Clavell Tower standing proud on its headland (and the sheep standing proud on theirs)……

Above Kimmeridge Bay

Across Kimmeridge and the Bay

…..and down the other side, an equally impressive view across the valley towards Corfe Castle with Poole Harbour beyond that – and of course more sheep!

The Corfe Valley and Poole Harbour

Corfe Castle and Poole Harbour

On such a clear day as this, those views were particularly special! The path was flat and easy to walk with a traditional dry stone wall atop the steep slope down to the coast. It reminded me of a poem I wrote whilst walking some time ago:

THE DRYSTONE WALLER

One on one on one on one,
The drystone waller’s day’s begun,
Stone on stone on stone on stone,
Lots to do ere he goes home.

A solid build as ‘fits his trade,
Every stone securely laid,
Sweating brow and breaking back,
Another stone goes on the rack.

Perfect symmetry, line on line,
Locked together, looking fine,
From random stones, different shapes,
A cohesive whole he creates.

The master’s hand the holding glue,
Nothing more, forever new,
Come wind come rain ’twill strongly stand,
And remain a part of this ancient land.

These scattered stones have become a wall,
So solid, dependable, standing tall,
For years to come ere he’s gone home,
An epitaph to a job well done.

Kimmeridge and the Dorset Coast

Kimmeridge Bay and the drystone wall

Just a little further along the path, I passed a gate with the name ‘Heaven’s Gate’ inscribed on it – with those breathtaking views, it could easily be the gate to heaven! Why it bears that name, I am not sure but I certainly prefer this to the devil’s staircase I climbed up earlier!

It seems strange to think that this area which is so quiet and peaceful now was once fairly densely populated. Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age remains have been found, indicating that people have lived here for over 6,000 years although now, the nearest habitations are just a farm or two.

Heaven's Gate

Heaven’s Gate

There is one particularly visible Bronze Age barrow that stands at the tip of Swyre Head. Rounding this headland brings even more views, this time across the beautiful ‘bowl’ that is the Encombe Valley. I say ‘bowl’ because that is what it resembles as it is surrounded by a curving ridge apart from a small portion that opens out to the sea. In the distance is St Aldhelm’s Head jutting out into the channel like the head of a serpent.

Across the Encombe Valley

The Encumber Valley and St Aldhelm’s Head

Sitting in the ‘bowl’ is Encombe House, one of a number of old Purbeck Mansions. This privately owned mansion could have been yours a few years ago for the princely sum of £25M! Beyond the house is a series of lakes that drain into the sea at Freshwater Steps. For a long time it puzzled me where this water came from since the Encombe Valley has no rivers so I made some enquiries and I was told that the water supply comes from a neighbouring valley, with the water being diverted via underground channels that run through the hillside. Apparently, some lucky person has the job of walking through the tunnels once a year to make sure they are clear of obstruction! Of course the valley itself does hold some water of its own due to its bowl shape and springs.

Encombe House

Encombe House

Skirting round the top of the valley, my route took me out onto the ridge top road which I needed to follow for a mile or so. Again this is no hardship as the views across to the castle in the valley are again grand. Here, water running off the hillside has created a tiny stream and as I walk, I wonder how deep that would be if you were able to walk this route in hundreds of years time. It could be a ravine – such is the power of water! I often think strange things when I am walking 🙂 !

Castle View

Corfe Castle across the ‘stream’

My normal route when I walk from here would be across the common to reach Corfe Castle but today I decided to follow a track that leads through a farm in the valley. It is always great to try new routes, especially when you come across old ruins like those below! This huge waterwheel is part of old farm workings and once drove farm machinery in the attached barn. The water still pours on despite the wheel itself having died, frozen with corrosion!

On a technical note, what I found interesting is that the water falls from the tank you see in the picture below in order to drive the wheel, although there is in fact no visible entry point for the water into that tank. It seems that the water runs down underground channels beneath my feet and then rises inside that tank only to drop again immediately into the wheel. The millpond itself is at a higher level up the hillside which of course, remembering my school science lessons, is essential for this system to work.

Water Wheel
Cascade

Feeling quite pleased with myself for having solved the riddle of how the water got there, I continued on my way, with the castle getting ever closer.

Corfe Castle Across the Common

Corfe Castle

Just as I reached the edge of the village of Corfe, I bumped into a man standing by his very old car. As I owned a 40 year old MGB myself until recently, I was particularly interested to hear his story. His car was a MGPB dating from 1935 so it was twice as old as my own and yet was in superb condition. He had just repainted the wire wheels and wanted a picture of himself with the car – I duly obliged. We chatted for some time about our respective cars and he told me that he had been a spitfire mechanic during the war and that they used to make model spitfires out of metal during their down times – he had one attached to the radiator cap.

As he drove away into the low afternoon sun, I grabbed another quick shot. Had I sepia toned it, you could easily think it had been taken 80 years ago.

Driving into the Sun

On the Road

I always enjoy walking through Corfe, especially in the late afternoon when it is quieter. As I left to cross the field, the low sun picked out the church tower beautifully as it stood almost like a guardian of the village.

Corfe Village

Corfe village and church

The true guardian of the village was of course the castle itself and that too was picked out by the last rays of sunlight. This once magnificent castle, built in Norman times, was ruined in the 17th century, not during a battle but after the battle had been won. It had been one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds and had been under Parliamentarian siege for some time but defended gallantly by Lady Bankes and her garrison. One of her men betrayed her however and let in Parliamentarian troops disguised as Royalists. The castle was thus attacked both from outside and inside and the day was lost. To prevent it ever being used again, it was deliberately blown up although fortunately for us, it had been built too well to be destroyed completely.

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle in the evening sun

With the sun disappearing below the horizon, and several miles still to walk, I left the castle behind and once more climbed up onto the ridge that had been my starting point. In the coldness of the night and with the fading light, I made my way along the ridge top path with the distant twinkling lights across Poole Harbour and to the accompaniment of owls hooting in the valley below. Wonderful and eerie shapes appeared silhouetted against the ever darkening sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It became increasingly difficult to see my way along the sometimes uneven path but despite this, it was a delightful end to the day. I love walking in the dark! That may seem strange but there is always a lovely atmosphere and an air of mystery at this time of the day, and I had the ridge top all to myself!

What an amazing day this has been, cold maybe, but such clarity of light and such awesome views. I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

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If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.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.