Peeing in the Purbecks

The weather was so gloriously sunny this morning that I could imagine folk sat under sunshades on Wareham Quay sipping their Campari and orange juices. I even managed to get to the wheelie bin in a short-sleeved tee-shirt without a hint of frostbite. Time for a walk in the Purbecks.

 

The viewpoint at Whiteway Hill is 610 feet up in the air. By the time I got there, that little orange snowflake that lights up the dashboard to tell you it’s a bit nippy outside the car was boasting 3C. It didn’t mention that it was also blowing a hoolie but the car door did that teasing thing whereby it nearly blows away upon opening.

It was a furry hat day which tells you something of the severity of meteorological conditions: I rarely wear a hat – too irritating. But I’d seen the shrunken faces of those already returning from their rambles. All thoughts of Campari cocktails had already turned to welcoming hot chocolate.

Actually, although it was a little bracing, I made it up and over Flowers Barrow and on to Mupe Bay. And I didn’t rush because it was all so spectacular. Just as the French Mistral blows all the airborne garbage away to give a clarity of light, so it was up here. I must’ve had at least three different conversations with passing folk regarding the way conditions seemed to have made the edges of the countryside, especially the cliffs, stand out.

 

Apart from the idiots with Nordic walking poles who, without exception, never bother to speak, one can come across all sorts of unexpected people on top of the world. Just as I reached this point in the photo, and was wondering how many more hills I could climb, I met a man who drives the miniature railway in Poole Park. We had quite a discussion on the problems of securing a driver, guard and ticket distributor at the same time.

 

Speaking of problems, mine is always the same: old ladies’ bladder. You may think from these pictures that locating an apposite spot in these wide open spaces would be easy, but there’s a clue in ‘wide’ and ‘open’. For a start, those unfamiliar with the area won’t know that the way isn’t always open due to it being slap bang in the middle of an MOD firing range. Thus, one must avoid leaving the path for fear of going up in the smoke of unexploded shells.

Further, whilst there weren’t exactly coach parties of folk enjoying the landscape, there were quite a few people up there. Every time I thought I’d found a handy gorse bush, over the top would come another set of walkers. Just when I thought I’d spotted a useful dip, I’d descend to find people enjoying a picnic. See the woman in the photo? She’s only pretending to be on the phone. I mean, how’s she going to get a signal up here? No, she’s waiting for me to clear off so she can explore a potential peeing place she’s identified.

It’s alright for men. Well, it’s not because there are probably pee spotters in the lookout searching day and night for folk without the wherewithal to control their bladders. And the trouble is, once it’s occurred to you that you need a pee, there’s no putting it off; especially in this wind. I could write a book called Memorable Pees in the Purbecks. I remember that time on the Swyre Head circular route when, descending through open fields, I was taken short. There was no-one to be seen in a five mile radius but just as I’d dropped my drawers, a tractor appeared silently over the ridge.

Then there was that incident up on Houns Tout. I found a handy swallow hole that was deep enough to preclude anyone seeing me. However, as I was replacing my clothes in an orderly manner, I looked up to find I’d been encircled by a flock of nosey sheep. The potential for interruption is even greater up here as Flowers Barrow is said to be haunted by an army of soldiers, thousands strong. Mind you, rumour has it that you can also hear them coming. In 1678, over one hundred people were alleged to have seen the army and rushed to Wareham for assistance.

I stopped at Wareham on the way back to buy some cherries for a new recipe. I didn’t notice anyone who might be bothered either about armies or peeing ramblers over on Flowers Barrow.

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Big skies

Unforeseen events precluded today’s planned outing to the back of beyond. However, browsing through some back copies of Dorset Life at my parents’ house, some time later, it appears that the afternoon might be rescued with a smaller foray into the countryside. A circular walk entitled ‘Knowlton Church to Gussage All Saints’, allegedly a mere two and a half miles, looks promising. I feel that whoever wrote the directions missed a thing or two.


 

 

 

 

Every cloud … the afternoon’s skies are ENORMOUS when I park, as per instructions, at Knowlton Rings. Said instructions have nothing to say about this weird and wonderful site – they merely want me to press on down the lane. However, I’m having none of that.

There’s bountiful evidence that folk have been here before me. The church, partially constructed from standing stones, is twelfth century and stands in the centre of a Neolithic henge. Thus, 4000 years separate them. There’s no known reason why the two have been conjoined. Oh, I love a mystery. In the fifteenth century, the population of the hamlet of Knowlton was decimated by the plague. Today, the joint is haunted by a phantom horse and rider, a kneeling nun and copious other lost souls.

Here stand two spiritual yew trees. Walk through the gap between them and witness the votive offerings that modern day folk still leave. I love all this stuff although, I have to say, this place makes me feel inexplicably uncomfortable. Apparently, there used to be a line of yews on this horizon.

Anyway, Dorset Life doesn’t want me to hang around: it wants me to continue down Lumber Lane, so I do. Now and then, the instructions speak about the road ‘rising slightly’. Well, that’s your idea of slightly. Seems like a seriously uphill lumber to yours truly. Still, glorious countryside. At the top, I turn left, walk for eons, turn right onto the muddiest track in existence and totally miss the point at which I’m supposed to descend.

 

I didn’t take this photo. I stole it from the interweb. Some guy called Jim Champion took and doctored it. I don’t take any photos when I emerge from the muddy track to find myself looking out over prehistory. My camera is too tiny to give any worth to what I can see. Whilst I feel the beginnings of panic because I know I’ve deviated from the path, I somehow know that I’m looking over the Dorset Cursus on the edge of Cranborne Chase, crossed by Ackling Dyke. I don’t take pictures because the countryside is simply too big. And too ancient. It’s a tiny bit scary in its vastness.

According to my instructions, I’m supposed to descend into the village of Gussage All Saints at the Drovers Inn. I don’t. I reappear by the church. Those aren’t floodlights – that’s the sun bouncing off the stones.

 

In Anglo-Saxon, Gussage (All Saints) means ‘the place where the stream dries up’. In my language, it means an extremely affluent village in which no-one can be seen. The phone box now houses a defibrillator. I hope it’s removable; otherwise, folk short of breath will have to stagger up the hill to gain respite. And look – there’s the missing pub.

The dreaded instructions now direct me to Amen Corner. Wait, weren’t they a 60’s rock band? And there’s Amen Cottage. People used to gather here for prayer. Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down in Bowerswain, I must take a left turn, ensuring the stream is on my right. Very good but no-one mentions the snowdrop-covered grave. Who drowned here in the place where the river forgot to dry up? Whoever it was, the land-owners are making sure there’s no repetition and have redirected the path into another abyss. Daylight time is running short and now I’m stuck on a muddy path to who knows where. For the second time on this walk, I’m a little uncomfortable. Still, there are no alternative options.

This is the final treacherous path. In the distance I can see Knowlton Church and press on until I finally meet Lumber Lane once more as the day closes in.

 

 

 

As I relocate my car I look behind to see the dying day and note the skies are still defiant in their hugeness. It was an unexpected walk but glorious nonetheless. On the way home, I play Bowie’s dying Dollar Days in which he repeats the line ‘if I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it means nothing to me’. Not sure I believe him.

 

 

 

Three rounds with Mike Dyson

Some folk close to my heart have been moving into their new home over the last couple of days. Yesterday, I helped by transporting various elements of their lives from A to B in my car. Today was the heavy duty stuff: moving furniture, putting beds together and suchlike. Sounded a bit beyond my capabilities (or inclinations) so I offered to go round to the old gaff and do a spot of cleaning. Seemed like the easy option.

 

I didn’t get the ‘all clear’ until just before three o clock. No matter – won’t take long. Armed with mop and bucket, similar to the photo but mine is red, I arrived at their chaotic new abode to collect the key. A bunch of people with slit eyes staring above puffy black bags below were in exhausted evidence as I happily left: ‘see you – wouldn’t want to be you’, I jested. Didn’t know Mike Dyson was waiting at the old place.

I have a Henry to help me keep my little hobbit house nice and clean. You know where you are with Henry: ‘Go on my son; splash it all over’ says Henry in his lovable London-like way. For Henry is an always smiling cockeney; (yes, I know that’s not how you spell it but it was in olden times). Today, Henry was humming to himself in the cupboard,  squashed in with the ironing board, 4 coats and a bunch of dirty washing.

I let myself into the deserted old place. It was a bit creepy. No sign of a hoover. I crept upstairs and there, in the front bedroom, I came face to face with Dyson. I walked around him for a bit. Then I decided to defer the moment and wiped down a few ledges but there was no putting off the confrontation. I wished I’d brought Henry. Eye to eye, we weighed up each other. The trouble is, I’m an open book but he gave nothing away as I plugged him in. Inadvertently, I pulled out his hose. There seemed to be nothing on the end of it. A brush-like contraption might be handy.

Bent double, I picked up a few stray bits. I felt the pain searing up my back. This isn’t right, I thought and went back downstairs to attack the bathroom with a wet cloth and a bottle of bleach whilst I thought my game plan through. The phone rang: ‘everything ok’, asked someone in the new house? ‘Well, I’m having a spot of bother with Dyson’, I admitted. Instructions being forthcoming, I set about the thug with renewed fortitude. For five minutes, he succumbed. Then, when I wasn’t concentrating, he shot up his telescopic attachment.

I had no idea how this happened and even less of a clue regarding how to get things back to normal. I took temporary advantage of his extension to clean up a few edges but, although I now knew how to get his main body parts at a suitable angle, the telescopic cobweb cleaner had made him taller than me so general hoovering was an impossibility. Brut-soaked Henry would’ve dealt with this in an instant. I thought of him, lonely in the darkness of the dirty washing cupboard and cursed my insensitivity. I tried replacing Dyson’s extension in his tube but the bloody thing was so bendy that the telescope had no chance of successful insertion.

The trouble was that Dyson’s extension was hard whilst his bendy bit was all over the place. Finally, having gained control of the errant tube, and holding it firmly in a northerly direction, I managed to slot his telescopic attachment back in. I finished vacuuming the first room and moved onto the landing with a sense of achievement. Round one to me. Then a small piece, that I’d previously failed to notice, fell off. Unabashed, Dyson continued, his motor now in full throttle. I know your game, I thought as I switched him off and tried to work out from whence the fallen piece had dislodged itself. The phone rang again: ‘do you want to come back for a cup of tea’, asked the caller? ‘No, I think I’ll press on’.

Dyson and I danced around each other all across the first floor. At one point, just as I’d come across a forgotten photo of their now-dead cat, he completely subsided and came to a halt. Turned out I’d overstretched him and his plug had left the socket two rooms previously. Well, if you think that’s going to stop me forget it. Finally we hit the stairs. The stairs are very narrow: too narrow for Dyson’s bulk to rest upon. I managed three steps before unplugging, re-plugging and, although I hate to say so, employing the telescopic attachment. Stairs completed: round two to me.

Downstairs was a breeze: I had the better of him. Occasionally, he’d throw out that small unnecessary piece but now I knew where it lived. In any case, once I’d vacuumed the front room, I was back to my trusty mop and bucket. Except that, it was in a state of rebellion. Dyson had decided that every time I hit a piece of wall, he would knock some plaster off. Thus, every time I vacuumed a corner, it would be replete with white droppings as if a flock of seagulls had recently passed by. Having decided to ignore him, I attacked the floor with the mop which, unused to anything more challenging than my miniscule kitchen floor, decided to break in half. Round three to me Dyson: round four to the mop (who you may have paid).

The phone rang (again). Person from the new house is on his way to relieve me. And I will be greatly relieved to return home. New mop day tomorrow. Glass (or three) of the red stuff tonight.

 

 

 

 

BIG

Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge and joined a slimming group. I just wish I’d taken a pen and paper along as every joyous moment was worth recording. Even my own ghastly weight wasn’t quite as bad as I’d anticipated. Mind you, I did strip down as comprehensively as decent. ‘You don’t need to take your socks off’, says the weigh-in woman, observing a heap of me struggling to reach my flipper feet. ‘I’m not, the sock came off with my boot’. She looks unimpressed.

I don’t want to identify the group or its whereabouts as I’ve just parted with my email address. Also, I don’t want to be cruel as I’m not here because I’m a super-model. However, I couldn’t help but remark to my new friend, Max, that the group leader wasn’t exactly inspiring in appearance: stomach bursting through lower buttons and apparently with some breathing difficulties. Max has been before. Actually, Max has been on every known diet. Several times. This means he can instruct me on how to proceed with my new regime because he’s the font of all dietary knowledge. ‘How come you fell off the wagon, then?’ I ask. ‘I got married’, he replies as if this will explain all.

I’m the only genuine newbie – the others are re-joiners and that doesn’t bode well either. The leader fairly rattles through the literature, of which there’s so much I’ll be six pounds heavier when I leave. After this, we line up to pay our dues and be weighed. Max is ahead of me and stocks up on a selection of chocolate goodies. Perhaps they’re a gift for his new, fat-inducing wife.

Then we get to my favourite bit where we all sit in a circle and applaud the stalwarts for no good reason. Louise has gained half a pound. Louise winces on public announcement of this disaster and there’s a collective sigh of sorrow. ‘So Louise, why do you think this has happened?’ There’s a palpable hush in the room as we wait for her explanation. ‘Well’, she answers sadly, ‘it’s just taken me so long to get rid of all the Christmas stuff’. The older ladies nod knowingly. ‘How much do you think you’ll have lost next week Louise?’ ‘Oh, definitely three pounds’, she replies ambitiously. The leader, obviously still munching their way through a surfeit of mince pies, slaps their thigh and this is a sign that we must all applaud Louise’s resilience.

‘Lisa, you have maintained’. I don’t understand why ‘maintaining’ is bad news. I mean, she hasn’t increased, but her ordeal continues: ‘what do you put this ‘maintenance’ down to?’ continues the agent of the Spanish Inquisition as she was laid out on the rack. ‘Well’, she explains, ‘last week I had to work in London which meant I had to do an unexpected walk’. Lisa is redeemed: by virtue of the fact that she had to leave Dorset and venture to the city, she deserves a well-justified round of applause. Poor Lisa.

As she’s sitting next to me, I lean over and ask why a decent walk is detrimental. Apparently, walking is unacceptable because your body stores water, thereby weight. ‘I’ve never heard that before’, I tell her. ‘I walk a lot’. ‘Oh yes’, the unhappy lady replies, ‘walking isn’t good for you’. Hmm. Things aren’t looking too good for yours truly.

As I leave, having asked more questions than anyone else has before, the leader comes over and says, in a manner that makes me disbelieve them, ‘it was really good to meet you, Alison’. Mmm. Doesn’t know I write everything down. Anyway, I made a Tartiflette earlier which looks exactly like this picture. Going to have a couple of glasses of the red stuff beforehand. I’ll start the hard work tomorrow.

 

 

The past beckons

And so it begins, somewhere around 4,500 years ago at Woodhenge. The weather is nothing short of glorious which is fortuitous as I’ve been looking forward to this walk in the Stonehenge landscape which, according to the instructions, is a mere 5 miles. There are, of course, numerous explanations for the existence of everything around here. Suffice to know that Woodhenge was only ‘discovered’ in 1926 with the advent of aerial photography and that at the centre the burial of a child with a split skull was found – allegedly, a dedicatory sacrifice.

For once, I’m walking in company. Tony and Sally are keen photographers and bird watchers. This is good news as they take even longer than I do to walk a few yards. Nothing like people who stride out to ruin a good walk. We amble along, stopping every five minutes to take in something or other.

For example, here’s Tony dawdling though Durrington Walls looking for birds. And here’s a Sparrowhawk looking at Tony. Durrington Walls is the largest complete henge in Britain – an earthwork of the Neolithic. It’s thought to be the same age as Stonehenge and, as it used to contain shrines and houses, there’s a suggestion that the folk who built Stonehenge might have stayed here – a sort of stopover for construction workers. I’m not totally convinced – in reality, the stones will turn out to be quite a commute from this place which has proven a bit of a deviation.

Back on the right track, we trudge across a field to the Cuckoo Stone which, according to our NT notes, is a ‘mysterious megalith’, once standing, but now fallen. We stop to discuss the nomenclature which, we decide, has something to do with the lonely cuckoo living away from company.


Here’s the track which we followed in search of the King Barrow Ridge. Being ‘types’, both Tony and I have printed copies of the walk about which neither of us can agree. To be fair, they aren’t brilliant instructions.

 

 

Eventually, we emerge onto the King Barrow ridge which is littered with ancient burial sites. At this particular barrow, having walked for a couple of hours, we pause for our picnic. How unusually excellent it is to sit on a grave in early January munching on our goodies. And as I reflect on the Neolithic, I can’t help but think what a good idea it was to make some bread pudding last night, sufficient to share. After our feast, I warn them that I’m off for a wee behind a handy beech tree; after which, Sally, also in need, asks which tree I visited. The one with the sign!

There are a lot of barrows on the ridge, of which this is the most accessible. They seem intermittently placed but this is because many have disappeared over time.

When we finally reach our destination, we can look back and see that they actually form a line.

 

And finally, we get our first view of Stonehenge and are able to walk down the avenue to our destination.

 


 

 

We’re in a vast expanse of countryside. Miniscule figures walking in the footsteps of the ancients. It’s too good to be true. Tony is miles ahead, lost in his own wilderness of thought. Sally is busy snapping but I call her over to look at something I’ve seen but am unable to catch on my little camera: Shimmering over these timeless tufts is a myriad of spider webs which form a field of glistening haze.

The sheep are grazing as they will have done through the ages and I am given a lesson on tupping. For the uninitiated, this ram wears a sack of chalk which will alert farmers to which ewe has undergone lovemaking; or lambmaking.

 


There’s the Heel Stone to which we are drawn.

 

 

 

And here’s our final destination. As you can see, the day is at its end and we are weary-worn. As usual, the map has lied, yet we have no inclination to leave, drawn as we are, like the ancients before us. Oh, to be in England and seeped within history. There are veritable miles, mostly uphill, back to the car. Who cares. There surely can’t be a walk with a better finale.

 

 

 

 

Cold enough to make you cry

There’s a lot to be said for walking at home, especially if you’re a fan of Ordnance Survey maps. They show one so much of not only the topography of place, but also the history, particularly if the countryside is sufficiently fortuitous  to have suffered little in the way of change. England has lost much of its ancient chalk grassland due to the vagaries of the plough but Fontmell Down has been saved owing to its inaccessibility by machine. No Luddites, or their agrarian forerunners needed to step this way. I once read that the Ordnance Survey, in all its visual glory, provides great interest and happiness to those physically unable to explore outside. Well, it may sound patronising, but I think not.

I’ve passed by Fontmell Down many times on my way to deepest Wiltshire. In fact, more than once, I’ve temporarily abandoned the car to look over the wonderful view of the Blackmore Vale. And, having studied both the map and the weather forecast, today I decide to stretch my legs a little further. After all, the morning is glorious although I detect a slight breeze in the trees along the way.

During a particularly violent Mistral in Provence, a friend once asked me to open the car door carefully in case it blew away. Ridiculous, I thought, but that warning comes to mind as I try to leave my vehicle today. I was going to do the circular walk but this seems a little adventurous. Instead, I head off down the hill at quite the pace with the wind blowing me along. Along the way, I meet those struggling back up and they are, indeed, a sorry sight. Children, particularly, are crying with the cold. I note that fully formed icicles hang from their little noses as I accost the parents to ask about access to Melbury Hill.

Melbury Hill was to be a part of my walk. I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s 863 feet high and, in 1588, was one of the Armada beacons that stretched from London to Plymouth. No-one I ask has any idea how to get up it nor any interest. I think we’ve all set out with the intention of doing the round trip and in the face of the biting wind have discovered there are better things indoors.

The ubiquitous National Trust ‘bought’ Fontmell Down and Melbury Hill in 1977 in memory of Thomas Hardy. I’m afraid one of the few people who stuck with me at university was Rousseau. If you’re not familiar, listen to Billy Bragg. How can someone own such vast swathes of land. Anyway, at least the NT don’t charge you for being here even if the Hardy link is tenuous. Hardy called the Blackmore Vale the ‘vale of little dairies’ and novels such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles were set hereabouts. Roughly.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust suggests that the best time to visit is Spring or Summer to see the huge variety of wild flowers, including nine types of orchid as well as the pictured, and apparently rare, early Gentian. Actually, I didn’t read that until I got home. Let’s be clear, there’s stuff all to see this morning; and even if there was, one’s view would be blinded by the spiteful tears streaming from wind-sore eyes.

This is the cross-dyke as shown on the map. At least I’ve seen something. A cross-dyke is a linear earthwork believed to be a prehistoric boundary. I expect it looks really nice in the Summer, covered in butterflies and orchids.

 

I meet a man with a tortured dog coming through a gate and ask whether there’s any possibility of a circular path. Well, there is if I head towards those trees. But the wind has made him short-tempered and the dog sits in front of him, looking up and howling hopelessly. I am no longer the dog-whisperer of Dorset. I am an irritation. I press on towards the trees – and to a herd of ginormous cows. Behind me is a family replete with crying children. ‘Are you going up there?’ I ask, thinking I’ll latch on to them. ‘We were’, man of the house replies, ‘but my wife is scared of cows so now we’re not’.  ‘I’ didn’t say scared’, she butts in crossly. ‘I’m a bit anxious too’, I try to console her, but now they’re having a row and I can’t take any more. I head back to the car and let me tell you, I have no idea how I get back up that hill with the arctic wind in my face. I’ve only been walking an hour and I’m exhausted. How much better it might’ve been to stay indoors with a hot chocolate and a map.

I’ve only been indoors five minutes when my son phones. ‘Do you fancy a walk’, he asks? ‘We haven’t been outside yet’. Well, of course I do. What could be better? And here we are in the cold but calm of Upton Country Park prior to a comforting cup of mint tea. Lovely.

After the deluge

I’d like to begin this account with those timeless words ‘quite early one morning’. I’d like to but, truth be told, it was quite late by the time I got going. And even later that I found out where I was going. I wouldn’t or couldn’t say that the Christmas/New Year week was exhausting so I won’t. Nonetheless, there were a lot of comings and goings, eating and drinking, and general efforts to be merry. And copious amounts of rain, so not much opportunity to escape outdoors.

It’s difficult to get going again. Far easier to stay inside reading A Shepherd’s Life and subsisting on leftovers. At last, however, the sun is shining so it’s time to think about a walk. The incessant deluge has limited many options and the war machine is busy about its business over on the Purbecks so that area is ruled out. I spend some time researching online possibilities and opt for a gentle stroll along the Stour at Cowgrove.

 

Of course, when I subsequently reach Cowgrove, it’s not damp underfoot – it’s flooded. It’s not even possible to define the outline of the river, let alone walk its banks; it’s spread its watery reaches into neighbouring fields. The lane is too narrow and wet to attempt turning the car around so I carry on until I find an even smaller road which seems to be dwindling into a nothingness. I’ll be in trouble if anything is coming the other way around these twisty bends. Actually, what is coming round the corner on foot is a solitary Dorsetshire type. I wind down the window: ‘Hail fellow, well met. Does this road go anywhere?’ Country yokel looks suitably amused at the fact that anyone would be so stupid as to venture into the unknown. I suppose he puts it down to me being an English type as he proceeds to give me geographical information with more than a hint of an eastern European accent.

Naturally, I ignore his suggestion to turn right at the top of the hill and end up here. Wherever ‘here’ is. It says South Lodge on the sign but that means nothing to me. You might be wondering why I’m travelling without a map. Well, I do have a freshly printed map in my bag. It’s of the submerged Cowgrove Stour walk. Anyway, I’m finally out of the car and off down this track to who knows where. Some way along, I meet two men in a van. Well, one’s in the van and the other one is outside leaning on it. ‘Happy New Year’, I greet them, and reverting to today’s favourite theme, ‘where does this lead?’ And I am a little taken aback by the reply: ‘you can follow this drove all the way round to the Blandford road’.

Yes, he said ‘drove’; not drive or track or path or anything else. Drove. How quaint. A drove was an old English route by which livestock were moved from A to B. Not so Hardyesque it transpires because here in deepest Dorset droves are still used to transfer cattle from one field to another. And when I get home and look at a map of where I’ve been, (the alternative way to travel), I’ll discover that this area is littered with them: Pitt’s Drove, Sweetbriar Drove and suchlike. And along this drove, I passed this strange growth. At first, I thought it to be an old wasps’ nest but now I’m not sure. Answers on a postcard.

For weasel readers who worry about me wandering the countryside alone – and I know you’re out there – I’m pleased to report that a lot of folk were out and about this fine day. None of them were going in my direction but most of them stopped to talk. There go Roger and Helen. I stopped them at a point where the drove divides into two. ‘What are my options here?’ I ask, trying to interject some variety into what’s fast becoming a tedious question. Roger tells me that both tracks are about a mile in length and that he and Helen go up and down one or other of them every day. ‘Ever get bored?’ I don’t ask.

I take the least muddy of the two and meet Jenny and her dog Bodie. Bodie decides to fall in love with me and instantly rejects Jenny. She and I have a conversation about the weather and the treacherous conditions underfoot on this part of the drove. I think she’s probably only passing time until Bodie gets over his crush but, for the dog, it’s the real thing and he’s going nowhere fast. In the end, she has to physically drag him away. There they go. Bye Bodie. Missing you already.

 

And now what’s this? Just when you think global warming has turned the seasons on their heads, here are the first catkins bursting through the floods. We used to call them lambs’ tails, and speaking of lambs and seasons – in his book, A Shepherd’s Life, Hudson recounts the problems caused by a winter of rain followed by a non-existent Spring which pre-empts a wet and sorry summer. Sound familiar? He wrote this in 1910.

Along the way, I note a farmer busy on his tractor on the ridge. Below him is a lush green field full of rooks feasting, no doubt, on the goodies that have emerged after the flood. It reminds me of Van Gogh’s painting of the crows in the cornfield at Auvers-sur-Ois. My field is greener but still evocative.

Finally, I’m at the end of the drove with yet another choice to make. I’ve already walked some way so I could turn round or I could continue elsewhere. For me, part of the pleasure of a new walk is the thought of writing about it later. The best walking weasels are those with a narrative. Thus, there should really be a beginning, a middle and an end. I have a suspicion that this ramble will not turn out to be circular, yet, to turn tail so soon seems too easy an option. I decide to walk along the beech avenue.

The beech tree avenue is two and a half miles long and was laid out in 1835 on the instructions of William Bankes, allegedly by French prisoners of war. But you don’t want to know that. What you and I want to know is what all these snails are doing up a tree. And I’m saying nothing about the shape of this tree.Tree snails live in tropical countries so that rules out that explanation. Snails like beech litter but all that stuff is down below so that’s also a non-starter. Unless, dear reader, you are the exception, no-one knows what snails are doing up trees. One thought is that they hibernate on the south side (and this is the south side) but why haven’t the birds had them?

I cross the road and get my first view of Badbury Rings, the ancient hill-fort. It’s like a magnet and once again I wonder exactly how long will this walk turn out to be. It has to be done but it’s all uphill from here.

 

Yet another old track. This one passes the old mediaeval deer park and once more is littered with dogs. French bulldogs proliferate: always ladies and always with suitably beautiful names – Angel and Lola who are glorious in their mud-covered designer coats: ‘Oh don’t let them jump. Oh they really like you’. Yes, I know. I am the dog woman of Dorset.

 

Miraculously, I reach the summit and here are the rings in all their sunny loveliness. I’ve walked so far and I try not to think about the trudge back to the car which seems to be parked some years in the distant past.

 

I walk along the bottom of the rings which I’ve never done before. It gives a different perspective of the earthworks. Then, in the most ridiculous move of the day, I take this track across a field thinking I’ll be able to reach the road. I am foiled by a double barbed wire fence that even your intrepid explorer fails to master. What can I say? I must turn back but there is an unanticipated saving grace. A hare that clearly wasn’t expecting human company bounds out from antiquity. Too fast for my camera but a treasure not to escape memory. My home is adorned with images of hares but I’ve seen so few in the wild that this is surely a magical treat.

The sky darkens and the weather is on the change as I wend my way back down the hill. My last photo isn’t very clear but I wanted to include it as it shows Bertie. Bertie is a rescued greyhound from the Margaret Green Foundation. This is only his fourth day with his new owners, Michael and Anne. ‘Can I stroke him?’ I ask. ‘Well’, says Anne, ‘we don’t know what he’s like with strangers yet’. On this muddy Dorset path, Bertie leans against me lovingly. ‘He likes you’, says Michael. Of course he does.

On the way back, I estimated that I’d walked six miles. Turns out it was eight. A warm bath and a bottle of the red stuff will do the trick.