The paths of glory …

…lead but to the grave

Apart for the opening lines – ‘the curfew tolls the knell of parting day’ – I feel I am guilty of unfamiliarity with Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. On visiting St Mary’s, Lytchett Matravers, I can only reflect on this omission in my personal literary canon as unforgivable unless it previously meant nothing to me; a feeble excuse. The word ‘elegy’ requires less thought than ‘country’.


A busy morning, occupied with little of significance, demands an afternoon foray into the near-at-hand countryside, just to make sure the sunshine isn’t wasted. On my way down the proverbial long and winding country lane, an animal bounds along the tarmac in front of the car. What is that? Too big for a cat; too small for a deer; wrong shape for a fox. It’s a hare! My second in a week.

‘…that yew tree’s shade, where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap’. Truth be told, I’m here with my trusty little camera because someone said the place is pretty, and is home to several birds. I don’t see them so I wander around for a bit. Obviously, the church is shut. Then I take look around the graveyard and find myself in the extension. Which is when the notion of ‘country’ hits home.


For we are not just talking countryside, we’re talking ‘my’ country. Whether or not I’m a patriot is disputable: I don’t stand up for the national anthem, for example. And I don’t much care for what I perceive as us interfering in other folk’s problems. On the other hand …click the picture to read the inscription.


Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife … I know their base is to hand, but there are other churches closer. For reasons that are presently unclear, St Mary’s is the resting place of many Royal Marines – SBS, SAS, killed In Iraq, Afghanistan and so-forth. They are decorated with poppy wreaths from their squadrons and crosses signed by their compatriots, but their stones bear the inscription ‘daddy’; which gives meaning to the young age at which they were killed. For their country. These are the men who left England’s green and beautiful for some other foreign field. They are the collateral of war games.

It’s unclear why Gray wrote his elegy. 270 years since, it resonates so succinctly that it might’ve been constructed yesterday. And that says a lot about how far we’ve come. Which is nowhere apart from making me wake up to what is given for country. And what is forgotten, unless you happen to be in an English country churchyard.



We’re on the road to who knows where

There was always going to be some confusion surrounding this walk. That chap on the swing might look settled enough but, given we’d intended to go to Pentridge and are now parked outside the C12 church of St Bartholomew in Shapwick, derived from the words meaning Sheep Village, things have clearly gone amiss. Blame it on the weather forecast: all points in the direction of Salisbury were giving rain. In any case, the air around that city doesn’t seem to be too fresh at present.


 Wikipedia excels on the merits of the interior of St Bart’s.The church is shut so we have a wander around its gardens. I’m in the company of those birders once more and they always claim there’s all sorts of birdlife to be spotted in a churchyard. Well, nothing to see here apart from a solitary war grave. Move along please.

The River Stour is close at hand. So close, in fact, that there are flood barricades outside the church. ‘Where are we off to then?’ I ask Sherpa Tony. I’d brought along printed copies of a possible route and emailed an alternative which seemed to be the same walk backwards. Tony has a third option: a map of a not apparently dissimilar path on a nicely coloured printed card. The first two routes suggested a 4 mile meander so Sally and I assumed the one that was chosen would be more or less the same.

Having left the village far behind, trudged the long and winding road and made a left up a muddy track in the direction of Elm Tree Cottage, we arrive at this signpost which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. No matter, our leader has switched to his iPad and we gaily follow him up a hill and into the open countryside. And when I say ‘open’, I mean ‘open’..


Some hours later, we hit such dizzy heights that the snow that left Dorset four days ago still lingers in these parts. Sally and I are both currently committed to Slimming World so have been content to discuss food for the last couple of miles. Suddenly, she remembers her husband is also on this walk so falls back to keep him company for a while. Actually, she’s really keeping the peace as the Sherpa has two of us questioning his directions.


It hasn’t worked: there’s Tony in another world whilst we two discuss the merits of BBQ chicken without fat; and oil; and anything else that’s ‘bad’. In the far distance, we can see Badbury Rings and remark on how the countryside that falls away from them is so remarkably – well, open. Not a lot to see in these parts.


Suddenly, Sally sees the hare: an apparently enormous specimen bounding away with such speed that none of us manage to capture it on our cameras. It’s a treat, nonetheless. Just as we’re discussing our luck, a small herd of deer magically appears in front of us. There they go.

After we’ve finally escaped the pastureland, which involved a number of detours and the crossing of a barbed wire fence, we head off downhill. Generally, I’m a fan of ‘downhill’ but the way is comprised of slippery mud from last night’s rain. Sherpa Tony informs us that, according to the iPad, we’ve come nearly a mile. The peasants revolt: how can that be so? We’ve been walking for over two hours and lunch beckons. The leader informs us that, to our left, we can see the church of Tarrant Crawford. Well, sorry old bean but the only visible church is to the right and it belongs to the parish of Tarrant Keyneston. Apparently, the iPad stopped recording some eons ago and has about as much of a clue where we are as we do. I’m hungry.

The sun appears in all its full glory as we’re wandering along a stream – the Tarrant. Rounding a corner, we spot the welcoming site of the Church of St Mary, Tarrant Crawford. Listen reader, if you think this weasel is dragging on a bit, what do you think it was like for us? I spotted a handy luncheon bench and we partook of our frugal, Slimming World inspired grub. For some reason, best known to herself, Sally starts harping on about how culinary life changes mean no more pasties. I hadn’t even thought about those Cornish delicacies – too busy grieving over the loss of cheese – but now you come to mention it.

The door to the church is, amazingly, open. And look – they have frescoes. They date from the C13 but look much older to my untrained eye. What a treat. The church interior is, otherwise, a sullen affair but I can’t help but think they could’ve promoted these beauties a bit further afield.


When we emerge from the church it starts raining. Then it starts pouring. And next it begins with the hailstones. And Sherpa Tony turns over the brightly coloured route card and informs us that the walk is 7.5 miles long. And it bloody well feels like it. We decide to omit a field or three and walk along the road; which is just as well because, otherwise, we’d have missed this mediaeval way marker. The bottom and the top cross are later additions but I love it. And it’s stopped raining.

We wander down another long road to see Crawford bridge, first recorded in 1334. It has nine arches spanning two streams of the Stour and was widened in 1819.



There are handy pedestrian refuge points if you want to take photos of the view; and of lurking egrets. You’ll have to spot them yourself.

And here am I, looking jolly.



We cross another million fields and finally emerge close to our starting point, welcomed by miniature cyclamen. It was a grand walk, much of which I’ve omitted. Thank-you Sally and Tony



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.





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.






How lovely (and more so if you click on the pictures)

Over at Studland, Derek’s plot is looking rather festive: alongside his tractors, he is now adorned with red roses, a snow-covered Christmas tree and a holly wreath. Readers exiled from the village might like to be reminded of the view from his resting and restful place.


The traditionally decorated church door drew me inside. And what a treat awaited …..















And here’s Lesley who, having been responsible for a lot of this marvellous decoration, was happily watering the displays, anxious that they’d see the season through.



Homewards via the chain ferry where someone else has also made an effort.



And there’s a little fishing boat, chased by hungry gulls as it  heads back to Poole. How lovely; and how lucky we are to live here.


How to become dispirited

 Eldest daughter and I planned to have a stall each at a car boot in November. We are boot sale/charity shop/junk garage aficionados, thus we have a lot of suitable stuff to shift. Don’t get me wrong – we utilise a lot of our purchases but we have small houses and gardens so we have to get rid of some in order to make space for more. Our lives would be otherwise meaningless if we couldn’t seek a bargain. This ethos doesn’t run in the family: youngest daughter (a metropolitan type) claims ‘your houses are full of ‘stuff’. True. Father once mentioned that the garden looked like Steptoe’s yard. Not true. Mother is a closet bargain-seeker. She only chose her hairdresser because it’s two shops down from Julia’s House (which is an up-market charity shop).

So, we have all this ‘stuff’ but our aim was to add more interesting things to our junk: which is to say, all our craftwork, including mother’s patchwork goods, that we haven’t managed to palm off on unsuspecting friends. Anyway, November came and went without any action due to a combination of wet weather and competing commitments. The first Saturday in December seemed a good idea as folk would be in the Christmas spending mood. However, daughter number one had to go to work so the first piece of bad news was that I had to venture forward alone.

The alarm goes off at 5.15am. Having previously telephoned Wimborne Market, I learned that traders start queuing for a stall at 6.45 so I have to allow time to acclimatise to the still pitch blackness of a December morning. As I’m driving through the silent streets, willing myself to be positive, and spending all that lovely forthcoming cash in my mind, I wonder whether I’ll be first in the queue. Arriving at 6.40am I am directed to the back of a line of folk who surely must have been there all night. And here I sit for 45 minutes. What seemed to have been a relatively mild start i.e. not necessary to scrape the windscreen, the car becomes icy in a short space of time. The die-hard regulars further down the line have left their cars and vans to walk their bored dogs around the block and converse with a huge amount of jollity.

Suddenly, we’re allowed in and I am jostled into a space between two vehicles, next to a line of cones that are strapped together. No quick exit from here then. And it’s pandemonium as drivers leave their cars and frozen canines in a bid to see who can set up stall first. I’m not about to be rushed which is just as well as I can’t even open my brand new trestle table. The dealers are circling like anxious and irritated sharks. One of them is so desperate that she tries to prise open my table with a key. ‘Got any jewellery?’ NO. ‘Got any cameras?’ NO. I am already deflated as it’s only 7.30am and I can see money changing hands on nearby stalls. And it’s so cold.

Eventually, it calms down and we wait for the general public to arrive. The general public are a sensible bunch: they’re still in bed. We wait and we wait and we wait. Folk drift in and out and everyone else seems to be doing a roaring trade. But in what? Everyone around me seems to be selling nothing short of rubbish. My stall looks lovely. I know my stall looks lovely because other traders keep coming over and saying ‘you’ve got some lovely things’. Some of them even purchase some of my lovely things, but not much. Mother’s patchwork comes in for many accolades: ‘you tell your mum her quilts are lovely’, they say. But they don’t buy one. ‘They’re very cheap’, I encourage them. ‘Yes, it’s a shame after all that hard work’, they mumble as they walk away.

And just when you think life can’t get any worse, here’s some cheerful bastard who wants ten quid from you for the pleasure of using a freezing cold and empty market space. ‘What time does it all finish’ I ask him? I mean the market but the end of life could also be a hopeful interpretation. 12.30 apparently. I look at those cones and the nucleus of a plan is born. After considering the doubtless subsequent need to locate a toilet, I go to a near at hand stall for a cup of sweet black coffee. It’s very cheap, as indeed scalding black water should be. Sally arrives from her Dorset Homebrew emporium and asks whether I’d like to use their loo. I take my bird-framed mirror for Tony’s inspection. ‘Nah’, says Tony but lets me empty my frozen bladder in their icy loo. Sally, meanwhile, is left in charge. A new face, not so desolate, might be just what’s needed. And here’s Sally chatting away to a prospective punter. Has she sold anything? No, it’s just Sally chatting away.

I notice that the freezing dogs have been laid out on mats and covered with blankets. The woman from the next stall comes over for the second time. On the first occasion, she told me they were having a really good morning. This time, she gaily informs me that John’s just sold three books for forty-five quid. I hate John. A lady comes past pushing an empty wheelchair. ‘What you need’, I suggest, ‘is a nice lap quilt’. ‘No I don’t’, she angrily replies, ‘I’ve only got this thing because my son made me get it. I have no intention of sitting in it’.

By 11.30, I’ve had enough and pack up my stall. I don’t  normally feel the cold but today it’s all pervasive. Out of the corner of my icy eye, I can see the others, who mistakenly believe they’re my new friends, wondering how I’m to attempt an escape. Well, quite easily actually. I unwrap the strapping, remove one of the irritant cones to the other side of the roadway, drive over the detritus of prisoner–inducing restriction and, with heater blasting, I’m off back to my bed.

At some earlier point in time, I’d imagined myself eating a quick instant dinner after the morning’s tiresome exertions. It took some effort but there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal to restore the balance. As I write, a lovely bottle of Wolf Blas has reached the halfway mark. In the oven are roast parsnips and a liver & bacon casserole. There might be plums braised in sloe gin for pudding. On the bed is a pile of patchwork quilts which I’ll worry about another day.



Remembering Derek

Time goes so quickly they all say. One of my more esoteric friends recently claimed the ‘energies have been rushing past’ since January. I don’t even know what this means. For some, time stands still. ‘Twas ever thus for the dead and often, sadly, for the bereaved. Especially those who left without warning.

On a dank November day, I visit Derek in deepest Dorset. It’s almost a year since he left. Someone has trimmed the grass so the original offerings are displayed more clearly: two model tractors and a solitary can of Guinness which, I suppose, are meant to define a lifetime. One or two forlorn messages that have withstood the worst the sea-blown weather can throw at them. My own contributions are a nod to the English seasons – one day I clear away the detritus of Spring-promising crocus; another time, I remove the summer roses. Last time, I took daffodil bulbs in readiness for another year. It all looked a bit desolate so, having washed out a redundant vase, I trudged along the perimeter, picking berries and teasels for an autumnal display that might withstand the elements.

Sometimes, I’m the only person in the grave-yard; on other occasions, older ladies, tending the graves of their loved ones, stop to speak. No-one cares who I am but, without exception, everyone has something to say about Derek. It’s important and gratifying. And after this, I always learn so much of the social history of Studland.

This little graveyard that overlooks a tiny sea, jammed with wrecks that link us to the rest of the world, is an unknown entity in the vastness of the Jurassic Coast. It’s a miniscule moment in the eclipsed time of protohistory and beyond. All sorts of stories linger here. Mine is a dot in the memories of those that passed a few tiny moments in Studland. It’s a very important dot because we were lucky enough to pass through history at the same time as Derek.