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.

 

 

 

 

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To hell and back

2017_0122ridgeway20018Having been much inspired by my walk along the South Dorset Ridgeway the other week, I decide to try a trek the other side of Hardy’s Monument. It’s a seven miles hike which, in truth, comprises two more miles than I’d like – it’s the old persons’ keep-fit class tomorrow and I’d prefer to be in with a chance. The new walk is an AA route march which includes the Valley of the Stones.

I’ve prepared really well. For a start, I deferred the walk from yesterday to a time when the sun is supposed to shine. I’ve pored over my OS map with a view to finding how I might lose a couple of miles without losing any of the stones and I think I’ve cracked it. I only have a single glass of the red stuff on Friday and none yesterday so I can be super-fit. What’s taken the most time is folding up the OS map in the opposite way to which the creases naturally sit: it takes ages and the result is an unpleasant bulky mess and, frankly, the ruination of what was, half an hour ago, a pristine representation of half the county. Not to worry. I have a brand spanking new rucksack purchased in the sales and all the usual paraphernalia. Lovely.

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It’s minus 3C when I leave home but the day has gained four degrees by the time I reach my starting point. The lane that wanders somewhat torturously away from the randomly placed McDonalds above Martinstown and up to Hardy’s Monument is still icy in patches. It has yet to benefit from the sun which, in truth, is struggling to make headway in the morning mist. Still, it means the ground will be hard rather than muddy. Coat on, rucksack on and where’s the map? Both of them, stuffed into their plastic folder are where I left them. On the settee indoors. Now that my son has pushed me screaming into the 21st century with a smart phone, I consider looking on it for a substitute. But I’m in the ancient past and there is, of course, no signal.

I know I’ll never remember the original route, let alone the shortening adjustment I was going to take – it was simply too complex. All those lost stones: the Hellstone, the Grey Mare and her Colts, Hampton stone circle, Kingston Russell stone circle, all gone in careless haste to get outside and ‘in the open air’. Disconsolately, I tramp up a slope so steep that the sharpness of the incline, combined with the bloody freezing ‘open air’, finds me gasping for breath less than ten minutes into the walk. I consider giving it all up as a bad idea and going home to redecorate the conservatory (another already out-of-hand idea born of the simple plan to invest in new blinds. Bloody, bloody plans). Still, the morning is too lovely to waste on washing plastic and pretending I know how to fill cracks in walls.

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Further, on reaching and passing the strikingly unattractive monument, I find three of those pictorial boards that tell you what you’re looking at. The one that draws me in is the one about the Valley of the Stones and names all my missing ports of call plus a few more. The area is, I am usefully informed, home to one of the largest number of circles, dolmens and long barrows in the UK and thus comprises a most significant archaeological centre. I’m advised to look all around for any amount of important stones that have been lying around for eons. There’s even a sort of footpath marked in blue spots. It’s not the best rendition of a footpath but, nonetheless, the Valley of the Stones being where it’s all happening (or where it all happened), I head off downhill. Quite a long way downhill actually. My head’s spinning like a remake of The Exorcist: I don’t want to miss a single one of these stones that have waited so long for my arrival, especially the Hellstone which will be along shortly. I can’t actually see any stones. All I can see is Hardy’s horrid monument becoming a dot on the top of a hill I presume I’ll have to climb up at some point if I ever want to see my car again.

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Once, I think I’ve spotted a couple of rows of stones reminiscent of Carnac on a faraway hill but then I realise that their uniform shape means they’re actually those huge rolls of straw or corn or wheat or whatever those things are that farmers make and wrap in plastic. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your stones down. Some time after, and in another direction, I become excited after spotting a promising looking field. The possible stones within are the right colour but then I notice that a couple of them are moving and I realise they’re sheep. Sick of struggling across scrubland, all alone in this world, I make a right turn and follow a proper path. And here’s Dennis and Irene and their dog, George, who has a stone stuck in his paw. Not a dolmen or a cairn though. ‘Good morning’, I chirp (far more brightly than how I feel). ‘Have you seen any stones?’ I’m not even wearing the green hat today but I might as well be dressed as a pixie judging by the expression on their faces. ‘It’s the Valley of the Stones’, I continue. ‘Dolmens and suchlike’. They’re pleasant enough, in the way people are when they’re nervous, but they’ve been walking these paths for years and have never yet seen any stones.

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A group of riders appear. Their horses are like gypsies’ ponies. I don’t mean that in a discriminatory way. Folk in the know will immediately understand that these equines are of the heavy footed, long-haired variety. I completely forget the fact that I’m uncomfortable in close proximity to horses and, standing in their path, demand to know the whereabouts of the stones. The lead rider claims to have been trotting around these parts for five years and has never seen a dolmen or stone circle: ‘do you mean stones with writing on’, she asks? I find this an exceedingly curious question. As I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for, I’m not sure of the answer. I doubt whether the stones I have in mind are inscribed with ‘Lludd was here’ or ‘Mynogan loves Belinus’.

I’ve already walked miles and can no longer see the monument which, devoid of a map, is my marker. I decide to turn right again and begin the ascent up a muddy, tree-lined path whereupon I meet Rachel and Gerry. Wearily, I commence my Valley of the Stones mantra. ‘This isn’t the Valley of the Stones’, Gerry says pleasantly; ‘it’s a couple of miles west of here’. And just as I’m retrieving my Swiss Army knife, in order to slash my wrists, Rachel says, ‘but while you’re here, you should see the Hellstone’. Hoorah! And they walk me back down the path and give me explicit directions on how to locate the Hellstone which, they claim, is well worth the visit.

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So I’m back on the South Dorset Ridgeway and life is grand. I’m off to see a stone except that when I get to the next field, it contains three ginormous cows and not an udder between them. Fortuitously, Simon and Linda are close at hand with their children, Oscar and Liam aged four and six. Reader, I’m going to let you into a secret: sometimes, I make up the names of folk I meet along the way. I attached myself to this family to the extent that not only do I know their names, I become a temporary extended member of their tribe. It’s a case of safety in numbers in the face of udderless cows who, as it transpires, have no interest in us whatsoever.

2017_0122ridgeway20004That farmer has done everything possible to thwart us reaching the Hellstone – Simon et al also having this as their goal, plus a map: we tramp though knee-high mud and poo, shimmy past electric fences, climb the most unfriendly stiles and still can’t find the thing. The brave children ask for sweets and are told they can have one when they get there. ‘How will we know when we’ve got there’, asks Liam?

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Good point son, none of has a clue what we’re looking for. Simon decides we’ve passed it and we all turn tail back into the mud. Then we spot it, high on a hill and I trudge upwards with my new acquaintances. I have to say, I’m impressed. I’d made my mind up to be impressed whatever, but I love it. Overlooking the sea, it’s Neolithic and is the oldest man-made structure still standing in Dorset. Oscar isn’t keen. ‘You’re so lucky that your mum and dad have brought you here’, I say. And I mean it and hope it doesn’t sound too patronising. ‘What would you rather be doing’, I ask. ‘Going to McDonalds and watching television’, he promptly replies.

Once back down and through the cow-infested mud, I leave them and trudge uphill to be a welcome toy for many and varied joyously stupid spaniels. By the time I reach the summit, I am a muddy, exhausted mess. I sit on a stone and eat my lunch. When I get up and look behind, I notice the writing. Stones with writing. So that’s what she meant.

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In which I lose two cairns, miss a turning and invent a route

2017_0114warehamwalk0003‘That map’s rubbish’, states Peter angrily and I think he might be right. However, when I begin my walk along the Poole Harbour Trail at Wareham Bridge, all seems well in this freezing world and I have yet to meet him. I’ve walked the opposite bank of the River Frome previously but this side is far more attractive and accessible.

 

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2017_0114warehamwalk0006To my right, the water meadows are, unsurprisingly, fairly wet although not yet completely immersed. Think of all the usual descriptions of sunlight on water, pick your favourite, and there you have it. I’m not going to make up any new metaphors and similes. And even though a river is not always my favourite of waterways, I am, as usual, disappointed to leave it behind as I make an eventual right turn up a hill, as indicated on the map.

2017_0114warehamwalk0012It’s a pictorial map: it depicts three bird varieties, a butterfly, a deer, a couple of trees and two cairns. Not much in the way of directions though; just some dots wriggling across miles of pale green nothingness. Still, I’m looking forward to the cairns. Wareham boasts archaeological evidence of Mesolithic activity around 9000 BCE so you can be sure the ancients were traipsing  here eons ago. Perhaps, they, too, were following the Purbeck Way. Later, I will reflect on why I’m actually following signs for the Purbeck Way: possibly because they look rustic and, more importantly, because there aren’t any other signs. Perhaps it means do it in the Purbeck Way – a sort of rural Lambeth Walk. Whatever, it’s only in the evening that I notice the infamous PW isn’t mentioned once on The Map.

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So I trickle on down into Ridge. This is nice. I’ve not been to Ridge before which might explain why I don’t know where to go now. I can see where the next wooden signpost is pointing but it doesn’t look very interesting so I ask Peter who’s just emerging from his car having been into town to collect The Telegraph. Bad move Peter. His day was going so well until that irritating woman in a green hat appeared. I show him my map of which, up until this moment, I’d been quite proud. I explain that I’m following the route backwards. He’s unimpressed. ‘This map’s all wrong’, Peter says. ‘Who drew it’, he demands as he looks for names? ‘You need to go down here, turn right at Sunnyside, go up Soldiers Road, turn left, go over the cattle grid and turn right’. I don’t want to go down there but I’m frightened. ‘I’d like to see the cairns’, I suggest. ‘Oh cairns’, says he, ‘nothing but piles of stones’. Correct. I try to engage him in history: ‘Why is it called Soldiers Road’, I ask in my most pleasant voice? ‘I don’t know’, admits the man who clearly knows everything.

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During WW1, Wareham became a garrison town, home to 7000 soldiers who lived and trained in the environs. Perhaps they were, from time to time, following the Purbeck Way. Given that it’s a relatively small country town, the cemetery contains many graves of soldiers of diverse nationalities from both of the major wars. I try a spot of green-hatted joviality: ‘perhaps you could go inside and make a lovely new map’, I venture. But Peter’s having none of it. The woman from the tourist information joint lives down the lane and he’s off to make an official complaint.

2017_0114warehamwalk0013The thing is, he’s right: I go down there, turn into Sunnyside, up the first part of Soldiers Road, cross the road and arrive, unexpectedly, at a random menhir. So, it’s not a cairn but I like it and it marks my entry to Pike’s Tramway which goes on and on and on and on. Further, this tramway is on my map although its position there bears no relation to the truth of the matter. As ever, I’m all alone. Just the other day, a well-meaning friend suggested that if I was intent on walking alone across vast swathes of countryside populated only by ghosts, it might be an idea to tell someone beforehand and maybe call in from time to time. The trouble is I seldom know where I’m going let alone where I am. And on days as glorious as these, I tend to forget all that outside world stuff which, in truth, is the point of it all.

2017_0114warehamwalk0017For example, all I’m aware of now is the thud of a hundred historical horses’ hooves as they gallop across Middlebere carrying armies of soldiers. La de da. Suddenly, to my left, a herd of horses appear, galloping at dangerously high speed across the heath. No soldiers in sight but these animals are both exhilarating and frightening.

Not that long ago, and not too far away, I was driving along happily looking for a ‘pick your own’ joint when I spotted a group of donkeys. I pulled up and left the car in order to take a few snaps of these kindly animals. The kindly animals surged forward. I jumped back in the car whereupon those bastard donkeys surrounded me, showed me their horrid teeth and began to gnaw at the bonnet. That would be the car’s bonnet. I don’t do bonnets: I do lime green knitted hats. Anyway, I’m not too keen on horses, donkeys, cows, unknown dogs and so forth.

2017_0114warehamwalk0019The endless Pike’s Tramway is an old clay railway that once traversed the heath from Furzebrook to Ridge Wharf. It was operated by seven steam engines, all of which must have bypassed the cairns as do I. Oh look, here comes Janet and David. It’s been so long since I had a conversation with anyone and those two were having such a nice morning. Before they can blink, I’ve separated them: David, a sensible type, says, humming an old Simon and Garfunkel tune, he’ll just carry on homeward bound. Janet insists on turning tail to help me find the right gate off the tramway. It’s ok Janet – I can do it. But Janet wants to share her fears. It’s her first trip out for months since she fell over at Scotland Farm and broke her wrist. ‘Scotland Farm – National Trust’, she explains as though that thieving crowd are too inept to manage their own sneaky tree roots. And now, with David a mere speck on the horizon, she has to wend her icy way home alone. I feel immensely guilty. All my life, random people who I will never meet again have insisted on sharing their darkest fears. Can’t they see I’m not a kindly type?

2017_0114warehamwalk0030I try to change the subject and ask her about Soldiers Road. Not a clue. During the English Civil War, Wareham was a ferocious hive of activity although, like Boris, they kept changing sides every fortnight. In August, 1644, 2000 Cromwellian soldiers besieged the town after which, they all went to the pub. And previously, when Corfe Castle was being sacked, the Parliamentarians invaded. Both parties would’ve come up the River Frome, landed at Wareham and tracked across the heath. Neither comprised affiliated armies – they were simply bored and drunken young men looking for trouble.

2017_0114warehamwalk0039 I turn from the path and discover that, although I’ve missed the cairns and the so-called view-points, I can see across the harbour. I have lost the path and I’m walking in the wrong direction but it’s difficult to believe I would’ve seen more going the other way. And I find a stile, a wood and a walk down Melancholy Lane which, appropriately, is a ‘no-through road’. Thank goodness, we might have ended in the land of eternal sadness. I walk through Stoborough, cross the path towards Grange, along the causeway, and back into Wareham.

2017_0114warehamwalk0032And speaking of the path to Grange, which waits for another day – the Rev John Hutchins records a phantom army, comprising several thousand, seen from Grange Hill in 1678. Perhaps they’d traversed Soldiers Way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A barrowful of prehistory

(NB: the photos are rather small but you can click on them if you’d like to see more detail)

2017_0102ridgeway0039A new year and a new walk through the oldest of times. So often I’ve driven along that part of the A35 between Winterborne Abbas and Bridport with my eyes anywhere except on the road. Here are huge skies in which large birds soar, glide and hover over a sacred landscape, harmoniously mapped by nature and the ancients who lived within. To the left, the countryside is especially alluring with its abundance of prehistoric barrows, seemingly aligned with other haunting sites both near and far. When I used to make those weekly trips to Cornwall, with my heart in my boots, this was the only part of that god-awful drive I looked forward to. The only reason I’ve never traversed the South Dorset Ridgeway on foot is because it’s an awfully long way up there. And you know me and hills. But I find instructions for a walk that, whilst sadly not categorised in the ‘easy’ range, might nonetheless be a suitable taster for future adventures.

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I park outside the mediaeval church in Martinstown. I like the idea that Monsieur Martin shadows me, even if he isn’t chez lui with the ponies. The clock-face on the tower reports 10.35 so I should easily be back in time for lunch. Forging a way up the initial incline, I discover that my freshly printed sheets of directions have somehow come into contact with my water bottle and are already blurred. Further, by the time I reach instruction number two, I am already lost and the only way forward seems to involve cows. I don’t much care for cows. Fortuitously, Steven and Linda have simultaneously arrived in the same field at the same time on their way from Maiden Castle to who-knows-where. I look at their map and they look at my water-logged instructions. Linda and I discuss possibilities, Steven yawns, we all wish each other a better year than the last and, whilst the cows have their backs turned, I scamper across the muddy field, through a handy gate and into the woods. There’s a rumpus in the trees to my left: must be a very big bird. Two pigeons scatter away. Bloody pigeons, I think; they’re always making so much noise you’d think a big bird was at hand. And before I’ve time to reach for the camera, a huge brown bird of prey emerges and flies all the way down the path in front of me before disappearing into the ages.

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My damp instructions remind me of Marty McFly’s photographs in Back to the Future: every time I look at them, a bit more of the writing has faded away. Soon, nothing will exist. The wet words, prompts in a surreal pantomime, advise me to look back if I want to see Clandon Bowl Barrow: altogether now – ‘it’s behind you’. And there it is, resting like a huge breast on the skyline. Too late, Marty, the present has gone.

 

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The paperwork comprises largely unhelpful directions such as ‘ignore this track’, ‘look for this gate’, ‘turn right at this barrow’. In my world there are only tracks, gates and barrows. And sheep. But, in this most glorious of sun-soaked mornings, what a fabulous existence it is even if it’s something of a struggle to locate the right track, gate and barrow.

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Suddenly, as promised, I’m alone on the Ridgeway overlooking the ocean, the lagoon, Chesil Beach, Weymouth or Budmouth as Hardy would have it. I am Eustacia Vye. I am Tess. I am Bathsheba. I’m an unknown heroine of a literary landscape.

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‘Excuse me’, says the Daily Express reader, ‘are you an archaeologist?’ I’m holding the gate open for this unexpected and unwanted intruder. That’s all. Why does he ascribe this profession to me? Could it be my lime green knitted hat? I’ve observed that archaeologists on television sometimes wear bold clothing. ‘No’, I confess. ‘Have you discovered something?’ He mutters incomprehensibly. I discern the word ‘tumuli’ but little else. As I’m about to ascend Bronkham Hill, I graciously share my limited knowledge of this well-known Bronze Age cemetery. I tell him it’s the most famous of its type in the world. As far as I know, this is a lie but it does the trick and he’s off.

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Actually, I’m a little concerned by what’s left of my instruction sheet which suggests I explore the cemetery but beware of the shake holes. I don’t know what a shake hole is so I ask a passer-by. This part of the Ridgeway is rather busy this fine day, particularly with men in lycra pushing bicycles. Here’s one now: ‘excuse-me my good fellow, do you know what a shake hole is?’ His face is expressionless. I imagine he’s probably up here far from the madding crowd with the specific intention of avoiding old women in lime green knitted hats. Helpfully, I read him my instructions and reiterate my anxieties regarding the ground suddenly opening up. Sergeant Troy tells me to wave if I fall down a hole and I will then be assured of rescue. I ask him if he’s ever heard of Stevie Smith.

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I see a middle-aged couple on their way down Bronkham Hill. I don’t really know what middle age looks like any more although I’ve more than a fleeting suspicion that I no longer qualify. These two look older than me but not yet in elderly territory. She is striding ahead purposefully with a couple of those tall sticks that are all the rage in Norway. He, meanwhile, is some way behind, apparently talking on a mobile phone. Why would you bother to climb to the top of the world (where there’s unlikely to be any sort of signal) to have a chat on a bloody phone? ‘Hope he’s not ringing for a pizza’, I remark on passing stick woman. As he approaches, I can hear the conversation he’s having: ‘the lord be with you and with thy spirit’. I kid you not. ‘Amen, amen’, he continues. What’s going on? Has he forgotten he’s supposed to be elsewhere and is now conducting a service by phone? Has he come up here to be nearer to his god with whom he’s currently communing?

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Or is he taking care to avoid this place?

 

 

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I’m perilously near the onset of shake hole country and still no wiser. A final couple of healthy looking types are close to hand. They don’t look like Daily Mail or Express people so I accost them politely but without context: ‘morning. Any idea what a shake hole looks like?’ She immediately, and also devoid of apparent context, launches into total recall of a holiday once spent in North Yorkshire. Just as I’m wondering whether she’s about to show me some snaps of this pleasant interlude, they both commence a discourse on the many and varied differences between the swallow holes and sink holes that proliferate in those distant climes. After this, I am educated on the effects of acidic rainfall on calciferous limestone in the Jurassic. Bloody hell, Observer readers with a lifetime subscription to National Geographic. ‘Don’t worry’, she titters, ‘I’m sure your family will miss you and come looking if you disappear’. Hmm.

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Due to the frequent mention (which I have omitted to mention) of Hardy’s Monument in the decrepit remains of my instructions, I assume that the highest high point of this walk will be said erection. At various stages, I’m reliably and accurately informed that I will be able to see the tower which, confusingly, has not been constructed in memory of Thomas the writer. Rather, it was finished when Thomas was only four years old and has more to do with the Hardy whom Nelson asked for a kiss on the good ship Victory. An online search informs me that the views from all sides of the monument are glorious which I read as a euphemistic suggestion not to bother looking at the actual erection. This may explain why my journey never actually reaches its presumed summit but, instead, suddenly takes a sharp right across a field. To be more precise, I have to go through a gate next to two barrows. I wonder whether the joker who wrote these directions ever actually took this walk; and if they did, did they count the number of gates and barrows up here?

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I descend more rapidly than my knees might care for given the choice. I am truly sorry to leave the ridgeway and the company of the sea although, for a while, I do have the pleasure of seeing the barrows from another side. The remaining fragments of paper tell me to traverse the track alongside Ballarat Farm until I come to a tarmac path.

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Nowhere is any indication of the length of this track given. It goes on and on and on with no sign of life until I see a woman of indiscernible age by an ancient wooden gate. The woman has long unkempt hair, a black shawl and an old, full-length, mud-splattered skirt. It’s difficult to say which of us is the most surprised at this meeting. She smiles awkwardly and even though I know I’ve walked into a lesser known Hardy novel where tragedy is all pervasive, I offer a polite greeting. I can feel her hopeful eyes on my back as I continue down the interminable track and I feel inexplicably disturbed. Only the welcome sight of an egret in a field of cows breaks the temporary gloom that has enveloped me.

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The remainder of the walk involves a bewildering number of stiles, all of which are in an horrendous state of rotting decay. It’s as much as I can do to drag my aching legs up and over them and my trousers become caked in unattractive green slime that contrasts nicely with the knitted hat. At one point, I lose a stile and find myself in a huge private garden replete with lake and summer house. I am mightily concerned as this looks like the type of joint that would employ professional guard dogs and it takes me some considerable time to locate the exit. The penultimate field is a bumpy affair with rutted, uneven ground. This is all that’s left of the mediaeval village of Rew which was long since abandoned and of which I can find nothing during a brief period of research.

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As I re-enter Martinstown, I recall that the now totally disintegrated instruction sheet advised me, rather casually, to do so past the sheep washing pool. I may be wrong but since when did the appearance of sheep washing pools next to village pubs become so frequent that they can be mentioned so glibly? And if you’re bothering to click on the pictures, perhaps you can suggest what that ghostly white blob in the background might be.

 

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I arrive back at the church exactly four hours after I first left. A final oddity to end this most excellent of walks: as I was sitting sideways on in the driver’s seat, door open, struggling to remove my muddy walking boots, a leopard skin cat appeared from nowhere, jumped into the car, leaped over the passenger seat and briefly sat on the parcel ledge before leaving again without so much as a purr or miaow. I like cats nearly as much as I like hills. It was rather pretty though. It was too quick for a photo opportunity so here’s an identical one I found on the WWW.