Tag Archives: The Dorset Rambler

Quirky Dorset 20 – This Way Up!

27 May

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

So, today we reach the last part of this week’s ‘Quirky Dorset’ set, and entry number 20 in the overall series 🙂 ! And this is another of those quirky, odd things which you often find in churches. This is The Upside Down Font 🙂 !

The Upside Down Font

The Upside Down Font

The Upside Down Font at Melbury Bubb

So, what do I mean by ‘upside down’? Well, it doesn’t mean that the water basin part is on the floor; no, that is at the top where it should be. It is more about the carvings around the sides, as they are upside down. These carvings feature various animals who appear to be trying to bite each other. In fact it is difficult to tell exactly what the animals are but there seems to be a stag, a serpent, a horse (that appears to have paws rather than hooves), a lion, a wolf, a couple of dragons and so on, but if you look at the pictures, their feet are all at the top and their heads are at the bottom!

The Upside Down Font

The Font and the Interior of the Church

The font stands in St Mary’s Church, which itself stands in a village with the very Dorset name of Melbury Bubb. There are a number of theories that have been put forward over the years in an attempt to explain this quirky design. One such theory put forward by Arthur Mee suggests that the carvings were deliberately made this way in order to represent the overthrowing of cruelty with love, as in the gospels. This is based on the fact that they all seem to be hunting each other in the carvings. Another, that it represents creation being overthrown by sin.

Perhaps a more likely explanation is that it was just a medieval form of up-cycling by the Normans, and that the font was at one time the base of a Saxon cross or column, designed to be used the other way up. Even here, there are differences of opinion – did the mason make a mistake and hollow out the wrong end, or did he carve it that way deliberately because it suited the shape better?

Yet another suggestion is that it was deliberately and symbolically turned upside down because the carvings around the side are more pagan than Christian. There is an old saying that goes, ‘The truth will out’, but actually in this case I don’t think it will and we shall never know the truth.

The village church

St Mary’s Church, Melbury Bubb

I just love these curiosities in Dorset, and I love the fact that we will never really know the truth because the only way to do that would be to go back to Norman times and talk to the mason who did the work. History is loaded with unsolvable puzzles and conundrums, and it all adds to the wonder and intrigue we feel as we explore these ancient sites.

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.

St Augustine’s Well……or is it!

25 May

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

We are continuing with our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ still and I think this is Part 19, and it is another well. It seems that a lot of wells have a lot of folklore written about them as legends and ‘Chinese whispers’ are passed down through the generations, and this one is no exception! So whose well is it? Lets look at the evidence 🙂 !

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine's Well

St Augustine’s Well

St Augustine’s Well, as it is known, is in the lovely Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, of ‘Giant’ fame, and tradition has it that it owes its existence to St Augustine of Canterbury, hence the name. It seems that in the 7th century, St Augustine visited Dorset and he was travelling through the Cerne Valley before the current village existed and he met some shepherds. They were thirsty so the saint asked them if they would prefer water or ale to drink, and they, probably realising he was a saintly man, replied that they would prefer the former. The saint duly did what anyone would do and struck the ground with his staff, crying out Cerno El which apparently means ‘I perceive God’, whereupon water flowed from the spot.

Now this may be a correct and true story but the cynical in me thinks that might just be an invented tale, since there are others! I say ‘invented’ because people did do that sort of thing simply to attract visitors 🙂 !

St Augustine's Well

Ribbons Adorn the Tress

The second story in fact doesn’t credit it to St Augustine at all but rather another gentleman known as St Edwold. He was actually royalty, but became a hermit and settled in the area back in the 9th century, and he had a vision where he saw a silver well. He was walking through the Cerne Valley one day and being hungry, he bought bread and water from a shepherd, paying him with silver. The shepherd handed over the bread and brought him to this well to draw water, whereupon the saint immediately recognised the well he had seen in his vision.

Taking this as a sign, he built a hermitage on the site and stayed there until he died. Thus, perhaps this should be called St Edwold’s Well! Or maybe Silver Well, as it seems it was once known. Then again, some say that St Edwold’s Well is in fact a different well all together as there are a number in the area. These things are so confusing…..but that just adds to the intrigue 🙂 !

Fallen and Floating

Autumn Leaves in the Well

We will never know the truth, but we do know that this was recognised as a sacred place and that there was once a chapel built over the top of the well. This was lost in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The well was until comparatively recent times used as drinking water by the villagers, although looking at my picture above, you probably wouldn’t want to try it in autumn with those rotting leaves 🙂 ! Oh, and apparently a 3 feet long eel was found in it not long ago 🙂 !

As with most wells, the water is said the have curative properties and also to aid fertility……which of course is also something that is said about the famous Giant on the hillside about which I blogged recently. It was said too to be beneficial to dip new born babies into the water! It wasn’t only fertility either, as young girls were often encouraged to come here and pray to St Catherine for a husband, turning round three times as they did so.

Oh, and there is another local legend that says if you look into the water over Easter, you will see reflected the faces of those who will die that year.

Path to the Well

The Quiet Tree Lined Path to the Well

Clearly, this is a mysterious and somewhat quirky place, and one that has been regarded for centuries as a holy place. To this day, people still tie written prayers on the surrounding trees. In fact there are 12 lime trees around the well and these are known locally as the twelve apostles.

St Augustine’s Well is a delightful place. It nestles in a hollow beside the graveyard and not far from the old abbey ruins. Peace and tranquility are words that spring to mind as you stroll down the tree lined path that leads to the well itself. This is a well that is perfect for a pilgrimage, or just to sit and meditate beside.

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.

 

The Wishing Well

23 May

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

Today, we continue our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ and for Part 18 I though we could take a look at one of Dorset’s many wells, and a wonderful place it is too! This is in part a natural and mesmerising wonder, delightful to watch and listen to. This is the so called Wishing Well at Upwey.

The Wishing Well, Upwey

Although this is known as the Wishing Well, it is not strictly a well at all but rather is a natural spring which is the source of the River Wey which flows from Upwey to Weymouth some 5 miles downstream. It is believed to date back to the last Ice Age and was at one time the village’s water supply. It is at this point where, because of the formation of rock, sand and clay, water literally bubbles its way to the surface from the underground stream. The water is always clear and maintains a steady temperature of 10.5 degrees.

Upwey Wishing Well

Although this is a natural phenomenon, it is one that has over the years been harnessed by man as an attraction to draw people into the area, and that includes royalty because it is said to have been something of a favourite place for King George III. In fact, the stone seat next to the well was specifically built for him. When he visited, he drank the waters from a special gold cup which interestingly became the original prize for a horse race known as the Ascot Gold Cup. In addition, it is said that Queen Charlotte and also HRH Edward, Prince of Wales both visited.

The royal connections continued because further changes were made to the site in 1887 when arches were added above the seat to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Upwey Wishing Well

One of the quirky things about this place is that there was a very specific way to drink the water! This involved filling a glass, drinking part of it with your back to the well, and then throwing the remainder over your left shoulder back into the well, making a wish as you did so. Such was the popularity of this practice that some villagers were appointed to help visitors with the process. Naturally, with modern health and safety requirements in mind, the practice is no longer encouraged.

One further change is that in recent years, the practice of dressing the well has taken place for May Day. This is a custom that is more associated with the Peak District but that has now come south to this Dorset well.

Upwey Wishing Well

The Wishing Well is a place that was for centuries just a natural ‘welling up’ of water to the surface and which was only popularised in the 19th century when the term ‘Wishing’ was added. Today, with its attached gardens and tea rooms, it is still a popular place. And deservedly so because it is quite magical to just sit and listen to the birds, the bees and the babbling spring.

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.

 

Quirky Dorset – Part 17

20 May

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

So, we are continuing the theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ today, highlighting places and people that are strange, a bit off the wall, or just plain mysterious, and this one fits well into the last category. This is one of Dorset’s mysterious places, somewhere that just makes you wonder about its history, who passed through here, what was their purpose, and what was their life like. At least, that’s what it does for me, and its a place that somehow draws you back time and time again. This is the Dorset Gap.

The Dorset Gap

The Dorset Gap

The Dorset Gap in its Flattened Clearing

The Dorset Gap, or Dorsetshire Gap as the OS have it on their maps, is a ‘gap’ or more precisely a dip in the chalk ridge that runs across the south of England and known as the Dorset Downs. These downs are actually an escarpment with a steeply sloped northern face and a more gently sloping southern aspect. The ridge effectively forms a barrier to traffic moving north to south and vice versa and there was a natural tendency for people and animals to cross the ridge at a lower point. Perhaps as a result of this, some five paths converge on this one point to form what was effectively an ancient ‘spaghetti junction’, a meeting point of medieval motorways.

The paths that meet here were part of the ancient network of super highways that criss crossed this wonderful country and they were very active from the Middle Ages right up to the 19th century when other forms of transport took over. Indeed, the path that runs along the top of the ridge from east to west is part of a much longer ancient route that stretched from the Devon coast right to the Norfolk coast. This was a very important trade route, and the Dorset Gap was a very important crossing point.

It is possible that these routes even predate the Middle Ages since there is much evidence in the area of older settlements in the form of hill top cross dykes, burial mounds, an Iron Age hill fort, and the remains of a settlement in the valley to the south.

Ramsons

One of the Ramson Lined Paths

The paths around the Dorset Gap are well worn having withstood centuries of feet, hooves, cart wheels, packhorses and so on, as goods and animals were moved around the county and farther afield. Some would have been moved along the ridge top trails towards Devon to the west or Wiltshire to the east and many would have dropped off the ridge at this point, perhaps moving north to pick up other drove trails. Thus the paths have gradually been eroded away to become Holloway’s, sunken paths with steep sides. I have blogged about Holloways many times.

When I visited the Dorset Gap this week, the sides of the sunken lanes were laden with ramsons, wild garlic, and it was just wonderful walking these beautiful paths to the accompaniment of bird song. There is no real view from the Gap itself since it is surrounded by trees, but climb just a short way up to the top of the ridge beyond and the views are simply amazing. To the north, the view stretches for miles across the Blackmore Vale, and to the South, the view stretches across the valley with the hamlet of Higher Melcombe in the centre. It is at Higher Melcombe that the remains of the ancient settlement lie. It is at Higher Melcome also that the manor house sits, to which this land belonged.

Higher Melcombe from the Ridge

The View South towards Higher Melcombe

Blackmore Vale View

The View North Across the Blackmore Vale

One of the slightly quirky things about the Dorset Gap is that there is a visitor’s book which is kept in a plastic tub below the sign post. This book has been here since 1972, some 45 years ago, and is maintained and replaced as necessary by the current owner of Higher Melcome Manor. Each time I visit this spot, I write in the book so I feature regularly in the gathering collection of books that the owner must have.

The Dorset Gap

The Visitor’s Book

So why is this place so mysterious? Is it its position, a small flattened clearing surrounded by trees in a dip in a long range of hills? Is it because it is so remote and hidden; the nearest road is a mile or more away and it can be reached only on foot or horseback? Is it the fact that it is a centuries old, once very busy cross roads used by all manner of people from gentry to drovers to warriors to paupers to prisoners? Is it because you wonder why it was there and who started using it in the first place?

I think it is all of these things! Stand at the Dorset Gap and it is like standing amidst history. Its past sounds you, it is soaked into the ground, and you can almost here the sounds of ancient voices, hooves and wheels and you wonder who they were and what they would be like if you could greet them.

The Dorset Gap is an ancient, mysterious and special place. It is one that always rewards a visit and one that I shall continue to return to because peace and the past pervade this place.

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.

Quirky Dorset – Part 16

18 May

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

OK, so I lied yesterday 🙂 ! I’ve decided that I will continue this series a little longer, and today we visit a real icon of Dorset and something that is almost unique. This is an amazing feature that stretches for 18 miles along the coast and one that is mysterious and that has some quirky features. This is the Chesil Beach.

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach from West Cliff above Chiswell

Chesil Beach, also known as Chesil Bank, stretches 18 miles from Chiswell at its south eastern end to West Bay at its north western end……..although some would say that it doesn’t actually end there, since the beach continues beyond that point. It takes its name from the old English word for shingle because this is a shingle beach, and a shingle beach of the finest order. It is between 150 and 200 meters wide and between 12-14 meters high, with that height increasing towards the south east, and it is said to comprise some 180 billion pebbles.

It is described as a Tombolo, that is a narrow strip of land that is formed by the tide to join an island, in this case the Isle of Portland, to the mainland. Some would disagree with that description, stating that this is more of a giant sandbank or Barrier Beach because it runs predominantly parallel to the coast rather than perpendicular to it. Either way, this is the largest such feature in the UK, and one of the largest in the world.

Fleet View

Chesil Beach and The Fleet from Abbotsbury Castle

Chesil is thought to have its foundations way back at the end of the last ice age when the previously dry English Channel was flooded by melting ice. The gradually rising water level washed sediment towards the land forming a sandbank which increased in height as it moved landwards, eventually rising above sea level, trapping seawater behind it. This trapped water became known as The Fleet, a now brackish lagoon. The ‘sandbank’ was then further increased in size by stones and rock being washed over from the crumbling cliffs along the west shore of Lyme Bay, with these being driven over the top of the sand and silt to create a pebbled shoreline.

One of the interesting features of Chesil Beach is that the size of the pebbles varies along its length, being fist sized at Chiswell but reducing gradually to pea size at West Bay. There are various theories put forward to explain this phenomenon, one being that the predominant tides coming from the southwest hit Portland and then effectively bounce back westward again along the shoreline gradually reducing the size of the pebbles by attrition. Another suggests that in fact the southwesterly winds and tides wash the pebbles eastwards along the shore and that the larger pebbles simply move quicker and override the smaller ones that then get left behind.

Whichever of these theories is correct, it is said that fishermen or smugglers landing on Chesil Beach at night could tell exactly where they were simply by the size of the pebbles.

Layers

Layers

The bank is not smooth as it appears from a distance but is in fact ‘shelved’ by the action of the sea and weather as you can see in the picture above. The shingle is multi-coloured because of the different types of stone. For centuries, although the shingle beach itself was being eroded, it was being replenished by more debris washing across from the west. However, erosion all along this coast has caused some headlands to become more prominent, effectively blocking this resupply chain. In addition, human interaction has also had an effect since gravel extraction used to take place here.

Interestingly, whist lateral movement has virtually ceased, the shingle bank is still very gradually moving inland and a rate of 15 cm per annum has been suggested at the Portland end. It is probable that some distant day it will either be breached, or it will join the mainland. In fact there have already been occasions when the sea has breached Chesil, notably in 1824 when much of Fleet village was destroyed.

Solitude

Stormy Seas off Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach is a truly amazing place and usually there are many fishermen, especially in the more western parts where it can be reached without too much walking. Swimming, however, is a dangerous occupation all along its length because of the steeply sloping shingle and very strong undertow. The shingle actually continues to drop steeply to some 18 meters below sea level at 300 meters out to sea!

In any event, because this is a conservation area, access is extremely restricted in parts, with no access being permitted at all along great lengths during the nesting season, or along the landward shoreline at any time at any time of year.

The Fleet shoreline

Chesil Beach and the Fleet Viewed from the Mainland Shore

The Chesil Beach is a wild and special place that has inspired novels! It is certainly a place that inspires me and one of my ambitions is to walk along its length simply because it is there, and because not many people will have done it. Well, trudging along 18 miles of shingle is not easy, especially when there is an easier path along the mainland shore. Whether I will achieve it or not, time alone will tell 🙂 !

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.

 

Quirky Dorset – Part 15

16 May

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

So we come to the last part of this ‘Quirky Dorset’ set and we pay a visit to one of those ‘ghost villages’, a once tiny but thriving hamlet which is now just a skeleton, the soul having departed long ago. And this is a hamlet with a somewhat sad story too. This is Stanton St Gabriel.

Stanton St Gabriel

Stanton St Gabriel

Stanton St Gabriel on its Hillside

The now virtually deserted hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel sits part way up the west facing slopes of the Golden Cap headland in a somewhat exposed position, open to the elements that whip across this part of the Dorset coast. Indeed, it is perhaps this very exposure that was its downfall! It is a community that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but by the 18th century, death knells were already sounding!

The name Stanton comes from ‘stan’ and ‘tun’ meaning farm on stony ground, and it was very much an agricultural community, although fishing also became a feature since there was a path down to the shore some 200 feet below. The now ruined church was dedicated to St Gabriel, hence that part of the village name, and there is a sad story that is traditionally related around that!

Stanton St Gabriel

The Ruined Chapel of St Gabriel’s

The story goes that a man called Bertram and his new bride were on a barque when a storm blew up and the vessel they were on was founding. So Bertram went to the captain and asked for a very small boat to at least give them some chance of survival. They spent some days in their tiny boat and Bertram prayed to St Gabriel, promising that if they survived the storm, he would build a shrine to the saint. Eventually the storm subsided and the boat was washed up on the shore below Golden Cap, but sadly Bertram’s wife had not survived the ordeal. Bertram, however was true to his word and he is said to have built the chapel in Stanton St Gabriel, interring his wife in the church beneath the altar.

By the 18th century, villagers began to drift away to find employment elsewhere, many in the Rope Works of Bridport. Around this time also, the old coach road that passed through the village eroded away, a new turnpike being built further inland. Thus, gradually, the heart went out of the community and the settlement became isolated, a relic to days gone by. Eventually, it became a deserted village cut off from its surroundings, and the church and cottages were left to the elements.

Stanton St Gabriel

The Manor House, now Four Holiday Lets

Today, the manor house remains, plus one or two small cottages but these are now holiday lets and are just monuments to what was at one time a busy, if always struggling, settlement of farmers and fishermen. In 1906, Sir Frederick Treves wrote that Stanton St Gabriel was, “a village which was lost and forgotten centuries ago.” This is still true today!

A Dorset Cottage

A Tiny Cottage at Stanton St Gabriel

This whole series on ‘Quirky Dorset’ is about places that have an air of mystery, and Stanton St Gabriel fits into that category well. It is a place that time, and people, have forgotten. It is today frequented by just wildlife and walkers, and for the most part it is even bypassed by many of the latter since it needs a detour off the main coast path to find it. But, to bypass this old hamlet is to miss a little Dorset gem since it is a delightful and peaceful place.

If you ever walk this part of the Dorset Coast Path, take the short detour inland and walk through this faded hamlet and wonder what life here was like here years ago!

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.

Quirky Dorset – Part 14

13 May

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

Today we are visiting another quirky building in Dorset, but this is not a very well known one unless you happen to spot it as you pass through the village of Frampton in West Dorset. Ostensibly, this looks like a tiny church, set back from the main village street, and attached to a lovely cottage. But all is not as it seems!

The Porch

The Cottage

This tiny building looks for all the world like a toy church with a little steeple on top but in fact it is the porch of this otherwise typically Dorset thatched cottage. Not that it was designed as a porch at all but rather, it has been up cycled to use a modern term 🙂 ! This delightful little building in fact started life as a summerhouse with a dovecote on the top, and it stood in the grounds of Frampton Court, the local manor house to which much of the area and village belonged. When the court was demolished in 1932, the summerhouse was dismantled and moved to its present site to serve as this rather quirky porch.

The holes for the nesting boxes have been filled in, giving it this church like appearance but otherwise the building is as it was. This is so quirky in its incongruity that when I first saw it, I decided I would do some detective work until I managed to solve the conundrum 🙂 ! Its always pleasing to find the answer and to discover a little bit more of ‘quirky Dorset’ 🙂 ! But, happily, there’s always more to find!

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.