A load of stones

Last Sunday, daughter number one took me to the beach for the day. Given that I live four minutes walk from the water, that might not sound like anything out of the ordinary. However, we were travelling along the edge of the county for many miles to Charmouth, almost on the Devon border, to look for fossils in the most Jurassic part of the UNESCO World Heritage coastline. I hadn’t been there for years, the last time being in the company of llamas. But that’s another story.

The dual carriageway that runs between Bere Regis and Dorchester is a dangerous affair: not because it’s a fast road but because the skies above are often full of large birds that demand acknowledgement. ‘Buzzard’, I shout. ‘Another buzzard’; ‘look, buzzard being chased by a crow’. ‘A pair of buzzards!’ Daughter politely explains that she can’t look at the birds and simultaneously drive in a reasonably straight line: ‘mum, every time I take you out you’re always shouting about buzzards’. I resolve to sit quietly. And of course, the photo is not of a buzzard but of a crow who, having chased away the predators, is guarding the clifftop above Charmouth Beach. ‘Crow!’

Jurassic limestone is comprised of hundreds of thousands of ancient creatures, crushed and built up over the eons. The reason why Charmouth is world famous for its fossils is due to the geology: the eternal crumbling of the cliffs means that new, or old, stuff is always being washed out to sea and returned on incoming tides. There are plenty of signs suggesting that the best fossils are found on the beach and warning folk to stay away from the collapsing crags; and definitely not to attack the cliffs.

It seems that most people ignore the warnings. After our picnic, we set off for ‘fossil beach’ where quite a few folk have strayed onto the unstable limestone with their hammers. And there isn’t that much to see or find. A bit disappointing really. We decide to go to the visitor centre instead. Some ramshackle affair on an unattractive beach turns out to be super interesting.

 

This is seven years old Helena who, irritatingly, picked up an ‘interesting stone’ on her way back from a beach picnic earlier this year. Her family took it to the shop and asked whether it was anything important. Well, just a 190 million year old fish fossil replete with scales.

And if that wasn’t sufficiently sickening, an eight years old boy on a fossil walk, also this year, found a 200 years old mammoth tooth. Haven’t these kids got a PlayStation to occupy them? What’s wrong with today’s parents? By the way, I took neither of these photos but they’re freely available to one and all.

 

 

We were going home at this point but, inspired by the horrid children and the receding tide, we ventured onto the beach on the Lyme Regis side where the ancient fish was discovered. Sitting on boulders and shuffling around, wondering how one might ever again stand up, is both backbreaking and rewarding: every stone within sight bears a fossilised imprint of times past. Daughter number one collects a bag full. The bag breaks and I transfer the loot to my rucksack. It’s backbreaking. My tiny leaf imprinted fossil fits snugly in my back pocket. Isn’t this where you offer to carry the bag, I ask. She laughs.

Doesn’t matter: we had such the time back in the ages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prelude to a walk

Lead us heavenly father, lead us. It’s Sunday and as I skirt the perimeter of the Church of St Nicholas at Studland, the musical praise of the hopeful seeps through the Norman walls like a poetic cliché. In the churchyard, the children of a local rabbit family play between two gravestones; parents presumably watching from the pitch edge like familial spectators at a Sunday morning football match, only hidden and not as vocal. Late Spring has taken hold when no-one was looking and many of the graves, including the most recent, have given up waiting for Abna to mow them and sit quietly like a row of barbers’ customers who’ve left it until the last minute to get a hair-cut. Someone’s been here, though, as the spare vases and jam-jars are missing. I lay my flowers on the grave and retrace my steps, tip-toeing past the bunnies, in search of a water-bearing vessel.

The service has finished and the vicar, with five disorderly choirboys trailing to the rear, is processing towards the church hall. Quickly nipping in before them, I plead my case to the ladies organising congregational coffee and they kindly furnish me with a bright blue plastic beaker in which to display my temporarily abandoned carnations. Graveside once more, I arrange the now shortened stems. Through sunshine-lit trees the sparkling sea is sporting its brightest blue Sunday best and I look up just as the Cherbourg ferry is passing out of Poole Bay. All of these folk that I have known, who now grace this field, desired to be left here for the view.

‘Got someone up here’, asks an old soldier balancing on two walking sticks? And because the sun is shining, and neither of we two are in a hurry, he tells me his life story and that of his wife who lies beneath the earth three plots down from Derek. As with all older people, it begins with his age. Eighty-something. At what point in time, I wonder, do we find it essential to state our age at the commencement of a narrative? Sometimes, it seems to necessitate congratulations at such a temporal achievement but he doesn’t seem very happy about his advanced years. Perhaps it’s because his wife has left without him and because he can’t stand with much confidence. Yesterday, he recalls, he walked to Knoll Beach to visit a special WW2 exhibition but found himself too exhausted to walk home. Not in possession of a phone, and with no-one to call anyway, he hitched a lift back to the village in a mini-bus full of schoolchildren on a day-trip. I promise to visit the exhibition, and I will.

Returning to the church hall to deposit the plastic wrapping from the flowers, I am accosted by a woman of indeterminable age, in an even more indeterminable type of dress, who claims to be from over the hill; provenance which I accept without question. She wishes to draw my attention to the new concrete rubbish bin: ‘nice and sturdy, isn’t it’, she asks? Although it’s really an affirmation rather than a question. She reports that the committee has removed the top of the outside tap. ‘It’s to stop campers using the water’, she explains. Good job they didn’t want any bread and fishes I think but don’t say and feel the whole episode to be in stark contrast with the beaker-giving ladies within. My new friend whispers that she will show me where the tap top is hidden as if initiating me into some sort of secret watery society. The thing is, the hiding place is inside the church hall which is generally shut. ‘Oh’, she says, ‘you’d need to know where the key is’, but clearly I can’t progress two stages in one day as the conversation ends there.

 

 

A new season at the Willows

‘What’s happening Mr Toad’, asked Mole? ‘Are we in a queue?’
‘She’s moving things around old boy. Getting ready for new plants don’t you know’, replied his graciousness.
‘I feel a bit crowded’, said Badger.
‘I think I can hear the sea’, puzzled Ratty.
‘Could be that giant shell Mr Attenborough left’, thought Mole; although he didn’t mention this.

 

‘What’s happening here Mr Badger’, asked Mole?
‘Nasturtium seeds, don’t you know’, replied Badger. ‘She thinks she’s going to have flocks of orange floating out of the jug and down the sides of the basin’.
‘That sounds lovely’, said Mole.
‘That sounds unlikely’, said Ratty.
‘That sounds like she’s drinking too much’, said Toad. ‘Or not enough’.

‘Ratty … ‘ began Mole
‘Don’t even ask’, the rat interrupted
‘After Damian Hirst’, explained Badger
‘After help’ Ratty said
‘After a bottle of the red stuff’, said Toad
Secretly, the mole was a little bit frightened and hoped it was a friend of that nice Mr Attenborough

 

 

The Ox Drove

 

 

 

 

Some time ago, I became involved with Friends of the Ridgeway in exploring the accessibility, or otherwise, of a new leg of that famous route. Wires became crossed – I thought I was to research a link with the South Dorset Ridgeway when, in fact, the proposed route was along the south Wiltshire/north Dorset boundary away from my preferred seascapes. The geographical distances made it difficult for a lone walker so I enlisted the help of my trusty walking companions. Today, in yet more February sunshine, we walked the Ox Drove.

To be truthful, I wasn’t entirely sure what an ox is or was. I had vague recall of a book called Brother to the Ox but fear I’ve never read it. This literary omission will be rectified toute de suite. They pretended to know but I’m not convinced. Anyway, we begin north of Cranborne Chase on this ancient stretch of way that extends from Salisbury to Shaftesbury. Perhaps the oxen were driven to market in either of these towns but, as we walk, I am minded of transhumance which I had once thought to be a provencal phenomenon but is actually a generic term to describe the seasonal moving of animals from low to high ground and back again. And we’re very high up.

 

 

 

It seems that no sooner have we started than we leap off piste for reasons that will shortly become clear. Personally, I don’t mind: I’m not a fan of woods, even those with alleged important archaeological goodies within. I’m happy to be out on the sun-soaked hills and it’s not long before a treat appears in the shape of a yellowhammer. I’ve only ever seen one before but it transpires that there are several of them up here. We creep up on this one who is suitably open to a few lucky snaps.

 

 

 

 

The heat haze refuses to dissipate for the remainder of the day. Nonetheless, what we can see of the views is stunning. In particular, we espy a strange stone in the distance which transpires as a sculpture of a stag. Sadly, I cannot find any information about this entity which seems impossible to access: a challenge for Weasel readers perhaps.

The reason we took this open air detour is because my map reading friends have spotted a memorial in evidence. Well, somebody wanted to remember someone else (Weasel alert) up here in the middle of nowhere where he could overlook his farm and the watercress beds he laid. Much later, in a desperate attempt to find a cup of tea, we pass by the watercress in one of the Chalke villages. Unfortunately, we were back in two cars and I was following Sally who was trying to break the sound barrier so there was no photo opportunity.

 

 

 

Back on a ridiculously muddy track, Sally calls a halt to the incessant plodding. She has espied this wonderful herd of very confused young deer. They are so beautiful that we spend a long time watching them rushing around before Tony points out ‘been there, done that’. Yes, we’d much rather slip and slide through eons of mud.

 

 

 

On our walking instructions, the author offers us a less demanding path. Sadly, all three of us miss this. I explain to Sally that, as I live alone, I never stop talking the minute I meet up with someone. This will explain why I’m not concentrating properly on the route. I don’t know what their excuse is. The path is just too much like hard work and we venture past a gap in a barbed wire fence, down the edge of a field and follow Tony through an extremely overgrown wood to emerge onto the path we should’ve joined earlier. Here, the countryside is extremely busy with tractors and we wander on to a suitable verge on which to eat our picnic. It’s so warm that Sally complains of sunstroke and I feel like a snooze.

Next, we have to walk through a field of horses. I am a little nervous and hurry onto Stonedown Wood which is full of snowdrops.

 

 

Eventually, we reach journey’s end and look back on yet another glorious walk in our treasured county.

 

Cracking countryside

 

 

 

 

An auspicious day: allegedly, it’s the hottest February day on record; but records only began in 1918 and I can’t believe they didn’t have a few variances in the dimmer past. Nonetheless, I’ve finally discarded the winter coat in favour of denim jacket to begin my walk at Osmington. Even though I had little idea where this place was when I set forth this morning, I’ve been wanting to come here for some time, encouraged solely by a solitary photograph I saw last year in one of those free magazines.

It’s Miss Marple country – full of delightful thatched homes with names like Fossil Cottage, Wessex Cottage and so on. And here’s the pretty Victorian water pump that I’m supposed to espy as a way marker. Sadly, I misread the instructions and wander along the wrong path for a while after this. I might’ve carried on and found my own way but the fields are full of beasts so I retrace my steps and quickly find the route I’m supposed to take further down Church Lane.

Immediately, I emerge into open countryside beneath the chalk carving of George III on his trusty steed, created in 1808 to mark his visits to nearby Weymouth where he enjoyed riding Adonis across the Ridgeway. My instructions warn that the way will be muddy – which it is – but this will be counteracted by the views. Correct.

 

 

 

 

To my left, a Sparrowhawk is enjoying the remains of some indeterminable detritus, whilst to the right, the River Jordan struggles along. I was once lucky enough to visit the ‘original’ Jordan at a point where the Israelis watched over us from the other side. It wasn’t a great deal wider than this Dorset incarnation, named through some obscure etymology, but somehow less threatening. And here is the long path I must take – daunting I suspect in more adverse conditions but a joy in today’s sunshine.

 

 

 

 

Sutton Poyntz, when I eventually reach it, is also a joy. There’s a spring above the village and it seems as though every building has an accompanying water feature. This is Midsummer territory and I sit on a handy bench to share half my picnic with a local feathered inhabitant whilst I wait for Inspector Barnaby to appear. Afterwards, I take a gentle stroll through a number of lanes. Gentle because I feel there might be hard work ahead.

Firstly, somewhere near Sutton Farm, I meet Gus and the woman who’s walking him today who tells me she’s a professional dog walker. Four a day, apparently. Well, she’s not that professional as, having told her to ‘stroll on’, a euphemism for ‘there’s no way I’m rushing up this incline’, she totally fails to notice that Gus, who keeps looking hopefully at me, is having a massive roll in some fox poo. Oh well, someone will spot that later.

And this is Chalbury Hill Fort which we’re all ascending at our own speeds. Chalbury, being 380 feet above sea level, is one of the oldest known of it’s type, dating from 800BC. Fortunately, it’s over and done with in a reasonable amount of time. I spot Gus and the professional from time to time walking in various directions before going back down the hill from whence they came.

 

 

 

 

Being anxious to ascend the South Dorset Ridgeway, I am careful with my directions. I take longer than Gus’ guardian but at least I’m going somewhere. The views are astounding. Tiny birds, in pairs, make unexpected appearances and although I capture one or two in my lens, I have no idea what they are. When I see Portland and Weymouth in the distance, I sit, like Miss Muffet, on a tussock and eat the other half of my sandwich.

It’s impossible to know where to look first or next. Some people from Surrey arrive and congratulate me on my choice of luncheon venue. They have those Norwegian sticks and have walked all the way from Hardy’s monument. It’s commendable but I prefer my pace and I feel they’re looking enviously at my hard boiled egg. They stop awhile as we all share the hope that it’s a red kite we can see gracing the thermals. I fear it’s a buzzard, but still beautiful.

 

 

 

And here are some snaps of the glorious ridgeway along which I walk in total isolation

 

 

Finally, I descend into the village from which I began my seven miles trek knowing that this will be one of my favourite walks. There is no end to its beauty.

A cold January day

On this sparkling morning, someone delivering a washing machine to someone else has parked his lorry across the front of my car. ‘Excuse me’, I begin and the driver is so quick to move the offending vehicle that, in my inferred hurry, I have to speedily drive away pretending I can see where I’m going. I can’t: the car is frozen solid and the windscreen refuses to clear. It’s a bit parky.

Following a last minute change of plan, my friends and I are undertaking a six and a half miles circular walk from Wimborne St Giles ( the prettiest village in Dorset according to our information sheet) to Gussage All Saints and back. St Giles was a Greek hermit whose feast happens to fall on my birthday. Not much of a feast though as he was a vegan. I assume this village sign depicts him protecting the deer from a juvenile hunter.

 

It’s true, Wimborne St Giles is pretty picture perfect. It’s part of the Shaftesbury estate so there’s clearly no hoi polloi welcome in this neck of the woods. Better get a move on.

 

 

Any adverse behaviour would warrant a spell in the stocks, the rotting remainder of which can be seen below this sunken well. It’s probably more relevant to look at the state of the surrounds which will give some indication of just how cold it is today. Despite two pairs of socks, my feet are frozen before we’ve even left the village.

 

On the other hand, looking upwards to this mistletoe dressed tree illustrates the sun-soaked clear blue skies that we are about to enjoy and the promise of a slight rise in temperature.

 

 

Tony wants to walk along the River Allen. Sadly, his desire is short lived as the water will soon disappear. However, what we see of it is beautiful. According to the instructions we’re following, this walk will take a little over two hours. Well, that may be the truth if one fails to stop and imbibe the countryside which is looking a little French on this frosty morning.

 

Here’s the rub. Just as we’ve left the river and are walking along a fairly boring lane, Sally cries ‘stop, stop’. Tony can’t hear as he’s lagging behind seeking water fowl so its left to we two to try and record the barn owl my eagle-eyed friend has spotted. Such a treat. ‘Might as well go home now’, she says . ‘We won’t better that’.

Well, maybe not in ornithological terms but just look at the sun-soaked countryside: the quiet river Allen  wandering through the water meadows of Dorset, a sky-owning kestrel and a couple of swans minding their own business as we trek up the hill to Tenantry Down.

At the top of the hill, and seeing an open prospect ahead, I decide it’s time to take advantage of the facilities. You know that feeling you get that someone’s watching you, especially when it’s impossible to move speedily, well this is what was behind me. I don’t know what it is. A meerkat? I  hurry out of the bush.

 

 

And there they are, studying the map, some way down the track at a point that made me glad we’d climbed the hill and I was back in the open. I decide against mentioning the meerkat.There’s another person in this sightline. You probably can’t see him and he was the only other person we met out here in the middle of nowhere but, trust me, he was there. I loved it up here: in truth, it’s not my favourite of all that the Dorset countryside has to offer but it was so quiet and peaceful and so vast with that huge blue sky that its a moment worth remembrance.

We amble up hill and down, around and about, past copses and woods that are fairly jammed with little songbirds, and eventually find ourselves in Gussage All Saints. Whoever wrote the directions for the walk estimates that the whole jaunt should take about two hours. Well, they must’ve gone at quite the pace without stopping to look at anything of the countryside. We’ve been out for two and a half hours and have only now reached the half way point. Who cares – it’s lunchtime and I’m christening my brand new bird covered flask that my daughter gave me for Christmas. It’s full of that childhood delight – Heinz tomato soup. Mmmm.

Under watchful eyes, we sit on a bench by the war memorial and eat our picnic. When were up on Tenantry Down, it seemed as if the day had warmed marginally even though we roamed vast open spaces with no cover. Down here, in the shelter of the village, it seems particularly cold once more. Perhaps the sun can’t get in. It’s not uncomfortable but we don’t hang about once we’ve fortified ourselves.

 

There’s a bit of a dodgy crossroads called Amen Corner as one leaves the village. It’s got one of those roadside safety mirrors which Sally cleverly utilises to get us a group photo. Good job there wasn’t any passing traffic – they would’ve found us bizarre. We’re also momentarily tempted by a wide variety of home-made jams and pickles for sale outside a house but quickly come to our senses on realising this will comprise more things to carry.

 

Later, we briefly relocate the river but lose it again as we wander along an old track which evolves into something of a Holloway. That’s Horton Tower over there in the misty distance.

 

 

There’s still a stretch to go over open farmland and along tree-edged fields. There are also still flocks of birds including long-tailed tits, enjoying the glorious afternoon sunshine. Eventually though, we’re back in Wimborne St Giles where we stop on Bull Bridge to enjoy the calm of the water. Over by the church, things are not so peaceful as the inhabitants of the rookery are raucous. Perhaps they’re glad to see us back after nearly five hours.