In which I lose a river – twice

Earlier this week I visited Stour Park in Blandford in the company of my parents. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to return – alone. I don’t, of course, mean I didn’t relish their company: I mean that I wanted to do a ‘proper’ walk in the other direction. Turning left as opposed to backwards.


In this weasel, other equally welcoming signs will appear. The others will be more obvious in meaning than this one. By the way, the River Stour at this point is renowned for otters and kingfishers as well as the other types of fauna and flora one might expect. Having no idea what electric fishing is, I enquire of one of many folk on the bank clad, Robin Hood-like, in woodland green.


Here are a few members of the Environment Agency looking not unlike fisher folk on the sea of Galilee. They’ve set out with a view to stun a few fish, weigh and measure them, check their general health and chuck them back from whence they came. Good work chaps and ladies.

Round about here, I ask Laura, one of the merry men (and women), how easy it is to walk downstream. ‘Virtually impossible’, says she pleasantly, ‘although you could cut down Long Arm, cross at Short Wicket, run through Dead Leg’… I look suitably blank. Laura says she’s in a dreadful rush to help her colleagues and ferrets in her bag for a map. Very generous. You’d be better going upstream’, she advises as she legs it down to the next bench for a quick fag.

I study the map. It appears to be an entirely useless depiction of a blue wavy line with some red dots running alongside. Just then, I hear splashing below. Perhaps it’s an otter. No, it’s a very wet black Labrador which belongs to Barry. Barry is from the seventies. Or maybe the sixties. He has a blue denim shirt and two gold earrings. I ask if he’s seen any otters. ‘There aren’t any otters’, he says knowingly. ‘They’ve cleared off. And I’ve told that lot to clear off too’, he comments, nodding his brown head at the Environment Agency. ‘Disturbing the breeding woodpeckers’, he adds by way of explanation.

I make the mistake of asking Barry, who clearly hasn’t spoken to anyone else in eons, about the possibility of walking downstream. Yet again, I get the heads-up on Long Stretch, Dead Leg etc. etc. plus a confusing set of information about bridges and points that I might reach in the dim and distant future. ‘Of course’, he says, ‘when you climb the five bar gate and cross the field, it’s a bit overgrown’. I actually heed all these directions and, let me tell you, it’s only when I surmount the gate and am attacked by stinging nettles that I realise the truth of Dead Leg.

I turn tail and wander back past the electric fisher folk to the bridge that carries the road into Blandford. I am not to be beaten in my quest for a proper walk even though I’ve probably done a mile as a warm-up.


Here’s the view of the Stour from both sides of the bridge. Pretty, isn’t it?



And here’s the gateway to Bryanston School. I um and er a bit about going through as it says ‘private property’. However, there’s a suspicious looking type hanging around outside so I enter looking a bit confident. Inside, I meet a woman with the obligatory black Labrador who tells me I can turn right and follow the river. Thank-you.

Here are some pictures of the river. I want you to look at them carefully because it’s the last you’ll see of it for some time. Shortly after this, I lose it despite two people telling me I’ll be accompanying it to wherever it chooses to go.


Where I go is along this path. On and on and on. At one point, I hear a splashing noise which alerts me to the fact that the water couldn’t be too far away. Perhaps it’s an otter I think optimistically but, no, it’s another black Labrador. It’s owner informs me that I can easily walk to Durweston, cross the bridge, and take the trailway back along the other side of the river.


I walk for miles. Literally. Nothing to see except trees and more trees. No sign of the river.



At one point, I come across this unattractive church which, naturally, is shut. The sign tells me to enter through the west door. I’ve lost all sense of direction but it makes no difference. All doors are closed. There’s not a grave in sight which I take to mean the school dinners aren’t too bad.


Eventually, I come to Middle Lodge. The road is bloody endless. At one point, having passed the school buildings, I flag down a passing car and ask for directions for Durweston which I am politely given with the coda, ‘it’s quite a long way’.


Looking back, I discover that I’ve finally escaped the confines of Hogwarts. It’s only taken me an hour and a half to walk through their private grounds.



But look – I’ve emerged into the glorious North Dorset countryside. I feel as if I’ve escaped a terrible torture. But where’s the river? On and on I plod. A surprising amount of vehicles pass, all expecting me to hop onto the bank out of their way, and none bothering to stop to ask if an old lady needs help.

And finally, I end up in Durweston. Or Stourpaine. Or some random playing field where I sit on a handy bench and eat my picnic whilst watching very small people practising for sports day. It’s charming but you’ll have to take my word for it as, these days, you’re not allowed to take photos of other folk’s children. It’s also very, very hot. What a lovely summer we’re having I think, wondering where the hell I am. I ask the playschool leader for directions and she speaks to me as if I’m four years old, repeating everything she says three times. Playschool leader tells me how to find the trailway and what a lovely walk back along the river it will be.

And look, I’ve found the river again. But who lives in a house like this?



Not very nice people apparently. I told you there’d be more signs. Friendly, aren’t they.


Here’s the old railway bridge that used to carry the Somerset and Dorset Railway into the Stourpaine and Durweston Halt.



And here’s a sunbathing hare.

And, surprise, surprise, a small spotted pony. No sign of Monsieur Martin though.



And this is the view from the pony’s paddock. Again, look closely because it’s the last you’ll see of the river on this walk. After this, the trailway just drags on for three miles into Blandford. It’s the most soul-destroying route you could wish to take unless you happen to relish plodding on a gravel path alongside the A350. Not a river in sight. Nothing. Plod, plod.


I feel I should offer you something along the way so here are three lonely poppies and a glimpse of Bryanston. Eight desultory miles which do NOT comprise the Stour Valley Way.





When the Dorset Blue becomes law

Not that long ago, depending on your perspective, there used to be something in Dorset called The Great Heath. You might be familiar with this if you’re a Thomas Hardy fan; although Hardy’s ‘Egdon Heath’ was, in truth, a composite of the many heathlands in the county. Nonetheless, if you are a Hardy admirer, your favourite tome, like mine, might be The Return of the Native in which The Great Heath is, arguably, the main ‘character’. I strongly urge you to read just the first chapter in this book, even if you can’t face the rest.

Paul Nash, passed a deal of time writing, painting and taking photographs in Dorset after his mind-numbing spell as a war artist in WW1. Betjeman commissioned him to construct The Shell Guide to Dorset, a beautiful little wire-bound book which, these days, will cost you a few hundred quid if you can get your hands on a copy. Nash begins his thoughts with a contemplation of The Great Heath in respect of Hardy. I know you might think this all a bit of pretentious high culture but it isn’t: it’s an insight to the importance of the unique topography of the land and a contextual social history.

The Great Heath used to stretch from the other side of Dorchester to the New Forest. Treves is a little more specific: he gives Canford Magna as an important boundary. Today, Canford Magna is a bit of a non-event unless you happen to have been educated at Canford School. That used to be the old manor, built on an even older place that assumed huge importance in the history of England. Read your books if you want to know more.


Irene and I went up on what is now known as Canford Heath the other day. We caught a bus that took us through the huge housing estate and past all the industrial outlets. You can see how close it is to civilisation by this picture of the recycling plant that happened to catch fire whilst we were enjoying our picnic. We walked for two or three hours, largely in circles, as there’s not much of the heath left. There would’ve been even less if it hadn’t been for Michael Heseltine.

What’s left of the Bronze Aged Canford Heath comprises the largest lowland heath in the UK. In 1946 it was marked for housing development in preference to the New Forest and Poole Borough Council gave itself permission for development in 1984. Mind you, building had commenced in 1963, rather late in the day compared with the rest of The Great Heath which had remained virtually unchanged until homes for heroes were demanded post WW2.

The birds in this photograph are Martins and the one in the previous picture is a Stonechat. Irene and I are up here because it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) where, if you’re lucky, you can find rare species such as the Dartford Warbler, the very rare Smooth Snake, the Sand Lizard, the even rarer Dorset Blue Butterfly and suchlike. Fortuitously, following three decades of house construction, someone mentioned this to the then Minister for the Environment, Michael Heseltine.

At a time when it was de rigueur to hate the miner-bashing Tories, Heseltine emerged as a saviour. In a legal case that destroyed all vestiges of so-called Environmental Impact Assessments, Heseltine revoked Poole Borough Council’s self-aggrandizement and overturned permission for further house building. Good on you Tarzan!

So here we are, wandering around in not the most enchanting of places in Dorset. But it’s a little bit of the countryside that’s been saved. And there’s a sufficient amount to be grateful for a little tranquillity close at hand.


Seen it all before

Anyone remember that song by Billy Joel – We didn’t start the fire? Loved it but, and I can tell you this first hand, having seen him several times, he hates it. Playing to and for the audience, Joel always reaches a point in the show where he asks for requests. And, as everyone knows Piano Man will be the finale, we scream for our history lesson.


I’m not going to be the first person to say ‘been there’ done that’. Or maybe I am. I’m a once ardent, but now diminishing fan of Woman’s Hour. It doesn’t help that I once considered myself a sociologist. When I wore a younger woman’s clothes (aka the ‘me too’ lyrics of Piano Man), I thought I knew how to deal with the world. Then I got a bit savvy – a euphemism for experiencing life in all its realities. Then I got even more savvy and realised that I knew enough French to realise that ‘savvy’ is a derivation of ‘savoir faire’. Worse, I went to France for a year and discovered the impossibility of locating a French national who could adequately explain the difference between ‘savoir’ and ‘connaitre’. They ‘know’ but it’s top secret.

All this waffling drivel is recorded in the light of two of today’s experiences. The first is a tiresome cold which, like We didn’t start the fire, goes on and on and on. I visit the pharmacy to seek healing. Of course, back in the day, we used to call it the chemist’s. In fact, back in the day, we used to say ‘in the old days’ but that’s a bit ageist. Or some other excuse. The pharmacist’s advice is ‘better out than in’. It’s a bit like when you used to feel poorly they’d say ‘get it down, it’ll do you good’. And ten minutes later, ‘bring it up, you’ll feel much better’.

The second is trying to purchase some Friday night wine with your visa card only to be told that ‘visa has gone down all over Europe’. And being so drunk on the thought that you might imminently be drunk, you think the price of plonk has decreased if you use the piece of green plastic. Further, the explanation that some ridiculous football show in Russia is somehow linked to the inability to purchase wine in the hinterlands of Dorset. For once those barbarians in Russia, having successfully entrapped the likes of Linekar and his cronies, a dreadful attack on our well-being will ensue.

Wait, is this the cold war? Again? How tedious to be a child of the first round, let alone the second. Same old, same old. Is there nothing left with which to control the plebs apart from re-runs? Is there nothing new you have to offer? It’s a pretty poor show. Twas ever thus.

And just in case you can’t remember, here are the lyrics of Billy Joel’s history lesson:….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.9.1279.0..0i131k1.0.HNs0VxlcvP0

and here’s the video:




Disaster at the Willows

‘Who are they’, asked Mole?

‘Reservoir Dogs, Upton Chapter’, explained Ratty. ‘They’re all called Mr Green and they’re looking for the small bloke’.

‘Isn’t that him behind them’, enquired Mole?

‘Master of disguise’, said Ratty. ‘Plus they’ve all overdosed on Prosecco’.



‘What are you doing behind there, asked Mole? ‘She’s been looking for you all morning’

‘Hiding’, said Ratty. ‘Has he gone yet?’

‘Yes’, said Mole. ‘Haven’t you noticed how quiet it is?’

‘Where’s Toad’, asked Ratty?

‘Hospital’, reported Mole sadly. ‘Her father’s operating’.





‘Make him put me down’, screamed Ratty.





,Careful’, warned Mole. ‘He’s already killed Toad’.



‘He’s looking very pleased with himself’, observed Ratty.

‘Regrettable incident last time’, said Toad. ‘Still, he’s redeemed himself don’t you know’.

‘Are we all allowed on this grass at the same time’, asked Mole?


The first lesson …

Many, many moons ago I learned a salutary lesson: never try out a new recipe on guests, despite how well you know them. In fact, definitely NOT if you know them. If you’re a reasonable cook, folk turn up expecting a decent spread. Even in these latest diet-days, guests don’t want a disaster; especially if you’ve asked them to bring their own offerings. They’ll doubtless rock up with a pack of crisps hoping to contribute a meagre appetiser to your latest culinary delight before diving into the feast with gusto.

The second lesson, which comes with hindsight, is don’t forget the first. Age is no excuse.

You may recall from the previous Weasel that I’m now in possession of the thin person’s Mediterranean cookbook. There are 11 due on Saturday so I thought I’d make two dishes. And as daughter number two and small grandson are coming at early doors tomorrow, best to be prepared. The planned day (today) is thwarted by a ghastly night: early to bed and wide awake by midnight; and never more to sleep. Thursday is ruinous with yours truly being incapable of anything apart from a half-hearted attempt at cleaning the joint up.

Fortuitously, I did the food shopping yesterday so, very slowly, I try to construct a vegetarian, syn-free cannelloni at 5.30 am when I’ve given up all hope of ever sleeping again. A food mixer is involved. I have such an implement but I can’t remember the last time I used it. On retrieving it from the tea-towel cupboard, I find it to be in such a state of horrendous decrepitude that even I, fumbling around in the accompaniment of the shipping forecast, am unable to bring myself to engage with it: Viking, Forties, Dogger – I put the whole lot in the dishwasher on a quick ‘glass wash’ and retire to the dining room with a cup of coffee and today’s Solitaire challenges.

The mixer is sparkling but still doesn’t work. It’s got a red flashing light. I don’t like red flashing lights. I get the other bit of machinery I possess, a liquidiser, and try to pulp some spinach and cottage cheese. There’s a burning smell so I take a shower and leave it to cool down. Next is the problem of how to get the sort-of-pulped mess into the cannelloni shells. The recipe suggests an icing implement. Not being a baker, I don’t have one of these so I decide to start on dish number two: Moroccan meat balls, while I think about my next move. Intermittently, I try to telephone my club to say I won’t be attending the over-sixties aerobics class this morning due to being incapacitated. I can’t get through as several other elderly beings are busy trying to think of novel excuses. I quickly hoover the house, get into a dreadful state trying to erect the travel cot  and rebuild my face.

I feel as if I’m gaining. The spinach and fat-free cottage cheese stuffing is ready if only I can work out how to get it into the cannelloni tubes. The Moroccan fish balls are resting in the fridge. I look in the diary and discover I’m supposed to be at the hygienist. Half an hour later and sixty quid lighter I visit the local hardware stall and ask how I’m supposed to get the Moroccan fish business into the cannelloni tubes. ‘That’s women’s work’, says man in charge and I end up buying some contraption with 83 different implements. ‘You can make a cake now’ says woman who deserves to be married to that prat.

I just want to sleep. All day, I’ve been thinking about that time when I can catch up on the lost sleep. I even changed the sheets so that my afternoon catch-up would be in crisp, clean linen. And what am I doing? I’m spooning spinach and spices and cottage cheese into a redundant liquidiser that has finally said ‘I’m NOT a mixer’. There is green puke-like mess all over the cupboards, on the floor and I’m covered in the stuff. Meanwhile, the sauce for the Moroccan meat balls is so hot that the kitchen smells as if it’s on fire. It’s a disaster. And I don’t care. People will bring wine and all will be well.






Obese or fat?

No pictures are available for obvious reasons.

Over at fat club this evening folk were waddling in as fast as they could manage to shelter from the unexpected thunder storm outside. ‘It’s been threatening all day’, said the person of restricted growth ahead of me. I was pretty entranced by her: in any other context, I’d assume my usual aggressively defensive inclusive demeanour but there’s a hint of political incorrectness in my thoughts. Purely from an academic point of view.

So, how does the ‘consultant’, who’s about as PC as Plod, know what a midget’s ideal weight is? Well, for a start, you’re not allowed to say ‘midget’: you have to say ‘dwarf’. If you Google the difference, you find that a midget has normal body proportions. Clearly, this is untrue or else they wouldn’t be in front of me in the queue at fat club. A dwarf, conversely, weighs 150 pounds. What, all of them? Surely that’s a massive (or tiny) discriminatory generalisation. And in any case, we should use the term ‘small person’.

There are lots of small people here tonight as the joint is full of post-natal types who haven’t yet lost the weight accrued in pregnancy and have brought their offspring along in order to have someone to blame. I should know, I’m one of them. Not that I’m accompanied by my children, but it would be nice to weigh less than I did 41 years ago. Fat chance.

Time I got away from small people so I start on the bloke behind the book stall. All the recipe books are £5.99 apart from the one I want – Mediterranean Stuff. They’ve only got one copy and it’s been here since I joined in 1873. It’s got a picture of mussels on the cover and I want to know how you cook them without wine and cream. Badly, I suspect.  ‘How much do you want for that dog-eared book I shout?’ The PORG in front turns round to laugh. ‘Not £16.99’, says consultant’s sidekick, ‘only £6.99 to you’. ‘I’ll give you a fiver’, I say; ‘everyone in the hut’s had a butchers at it’. ‘Ask Jon’, says the sidekick incapable of taking a good offer when he hears one’.

We trundle on and eventually I get weighed. I’ve lost half a pound which is the same as last week and the week before. ‘I’ve reached my plateau’, I say to Sherpa Tenzing in charge of the scales. ‘I’m the same’, says she. ‘It says here your BMI is 26. You need to get to 25 for the breakthrough’. How do they explain this to small people? ‘So’, I continue, ‘I’m still obese’. ‘We’re not obese’, she confides, ‘we’re just overweight’. Well, I was overweight in January, I don’t say because she is kind.

I take it out on Jon: ‘I’m going to give you a fiver to take Mediterranean Stuff off your hands’. ‘Done’, says Jon. ‘We’ve been trying to get rid of that old thing’. Should’ve offered him three.

Getting away

On a gloriously sunny morning, when vast swathes of humanity are indoors watching an event on TV, I head north to the old Neolithic chalk grasslands of Martin Down. Actually, these earthworks aren’t so old: they’re the remnants of a WW2 firing range.


The ancient downland, which has been unploughed for centuries, is important for ground-nesting birds. (Have you noticed how this blog is evolving into a birding site?) This morning, the grassland is full of sound: some insects, but mostly skylarks which, every now and again, ascend, soaring into the sky. I doubt those latter-day riflemen disturbed them: I recently read Lewis-Stempel’s moving account of nature at the front in WW1 wherein, despite continuous shelling doing its very best to destroy the habitat of the once beautiful Somme, the larks continued to soar; much to the delight of the battle weary country type Tommies.

Naturally, I have instructions to follow for this walk and, as ever, I lose my way. This overgrown hollow is full of butterflies and moths, none of which stay long enough in any one spot for my photographic skills to capture. In this very sheltered place, the sun is fairly beating down and the temperature is akin to the hothouses at Kew. Alas, and not according to the plan, I end up back on the track I’d previously followed.


I’m supposed to be walking diagonally across a field and past a barn. No sign of either. No sign of anything, in fact until four horses and their riders cross in the distance. ‘Fancy a canter’, shouts the one in front? ‘Definitely’, says the one at the rear in an uncertain voice.


I walk for some miles with the downland to myself until, suddenly, the place is teeming with birders. Clearly, I’ve hit an ornithological hotspot. ‘Seen any turtles’, one group asks of another? ‘Loads, comes the reply. Not a drop of water in sight but even I know they’re talking about turtle doves. I wish my friend Sally was here: she has a deep-seated desire to see a turtle dove.


It’s so hot, and I’ve walked so far already, that I decide to take a rest on Ronald’s bench. Poor Ron – he didn’t last long did he? Anyway, I’m surrounded by birding types. I’ve noticed that they fall into a typology of two: those (always men) who hang around in flocks and are dismissive of people whom they deem to know nothing; and those nice ones who are embracing and keen to make helpful conversation. Luckily for me Sean, who asks if he can share the bench to eat his lunch, is of the latter variety.

Ever since I purchased the binoculars, folk seem to start their conversations with ‘looking for something special’ or ‘have you seen anything of interest’? No and no I have to explain. I wouldn’t have a clue what I’d seen. I just got the binoculars so I can see further. I don’t say that last bit. Yet. ‘Lot’s of turtle doves’, says Sean and, at my request, he helpfully tells me how to spot one. Apparently, I have to know what a collared dove looks like so I lie and say I’m familiar with that breed. Sean has come all the way from Yeovil with his pal. ‘You might call it a bit of a twitch’, he says. This is helpful because now I learn that twitchers rush around the countryside to see birds whereas birders just go for walks.

There’s no sign of Sean’s pal so we have quite the chat about one thing and another until the lost friend appears from nowhere. ‘Lots of turtle doves here’, says the lost friend. Who knew? He gets nowhere with the turtle doves so we move on to my favourite bird – the red kite. Forty-six red kites at Beaconsfied recycling tip last weekend. ‘Did you happen upon them when you were recycling’, I ask? Sean’s friend looks askance. Of course he didn’t; he went there to see the red kites. Eighty-three in Cornwall. Well, obviously England is fairly overburdened with red kites and turtle doves I muse as I munch on my Slimming World Louisiana Chicken.

My redundant instructions mention a church so I head off down a handy lane for about two miles until I begin to see roofs and suchlike. Must be near civilisation.



Now, this old water pump in the village of Martin is definitely on my crumpled piece of paper so, even though I’ve misplaced a barn, I’m back on course.



This memorial isn’t listed in the points of interest which is irritating. I would like to know why, in the middle of nowhere, there’s a sign telling me I’m 37 miles from Glastonbury.



Here’s All Saints’ Church which I’m supposed to visit. It’s got a beautiful overgrown churchyard but the joint is very disappointing.


Oh look, is that a turtle dove?



And I wander across sheep-ridden pasture trying to find my way out. Who wrote these instructions?


Eventually, I end up back on the reserve but not before I’ve been accosted by a woman who asks me if I’m looking for anything interesting. I can’t be bothered to fill her in so she starts telling me that turtle doves are just sitting around the place. Really? However, she does tell me how to hear one and this is very useful because, as I’m running away from her, up Pentridge Hill, I hear one purring in a hedge.

I walk all the way up to Grim’s Ditch which is either a bronze age or early iron age earthwork running for fourteen miles. And let me tell you, I feel like I’ve walked it all. There’s not a soul in sight but every time I think I’ll stop for a pee, around the corner comes a type muttering about bloody turtle doves or, just for a change, early orchids.


Mind you, the view up here, across the Wiltshire/Dorset/Hampshire countryside is pretty spectacular.


Daughter number two texts at this point to say the wedding dress was simple and clean. Clean? Did she think it had been bought from a car boot sale? I finally find my way back to the car. From the instructions and the actual route and the state of my feet I calculate that I’ve probably walked at least eight miles. And let me tell you, I could think of worse places to be.