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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Dorset Walks - Portland

Portland has always been different. Its people. Its landscape. Its traditions.
Joined to the mainland by the merest sliver of shingle its only communication with mainland Dorset until 1839 was by ferry. In bad weather it could be cut off for days.
The best way to experience its otherness is to pull on a pair of boots and walk...the route is clear and simple and can easily be shortened by cutting across the island.
Distance around 8 miles

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Artistic Dorset - John Constable

John Constable first visited Dorset in 1816 as the the guest of his close friend Reverend Fisher (later Bishop of Salisbury) who officiated at his marriage.
Weymouth Bay from the Downs
Fisher then invited the newly weds to honeymoon at his vicarage in Osmington Mills. 

View of Weymouth from the downs today
"...My house commands a singularly beautiful view, and you may study from your very window. You shall have a plate set by the side of your easel, without your sitting down to dinner. We never see company, and I have brushes paints and canvas in abundance.
Of an evening, we sit over our autumnal fireside, read a sensible book, perhaps a sermon, and after prayers, get us to bed..."
View of Osmington by Constable
The couple spent six memorable weeks there with Constable producing many sketches some of which he went on to finish in oils.
In 1820 and 1823 Constable again visited Dorset as the guest of Fisher who was now vicar of Gillingham where he painted his celebrated view of Gillingham Mill.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Roman Dorset

The Roman conquest of Dorset and the southwest was led by the future emperor, Vespasian, later responsible for the sack of Jerusalem. The locals stood little chance against the well organised legions. Evidence of battle, slingstones and mass graves (see here) were discovered at Maiden Castle on the outskirts of Dorchester in the 1940's.

Dorchester itself was originally the Roman town of Durnovaria and has proved rich in in artefacts, many of which can be found in the County Museum.
The remains of this centuries-long occupation are surprisingly scant, though worth searching out. 
I suppose you could say Colosseums aren't legion in Dorset...

Roman Town House, Dorchester  This site is the best preserved example of a Roman town house in the country. 

A chance discovery in 1937 revealed a complex of eight buildings dating from the early 4th century AD. it was adorned with costly mosaics and painted plaster around 350ad. The Roman Town House can be seen in Colliton Park, in the grounds of County Hall, Dorchester. The site is open every day of the year. Admission is free.

Roman Road, Puddletown Forest  Only recently rediscovered, it was originally part of a road that ran from Exeter to London. Remains run for half a mile and take the form of a high bank more than 15ft high with ditches either side.

Roman aqueduct  The aqueduct ran for about twelve miles from Notton to Dorchester places where it was cut into the hillside can still be seen. Originally about 5 ft wide and 3 ft deep and delivering 8 million gallons a day.

Ackling Dyke Roman Road  The route of the road runs for 22 miles arrow straight from the outskirts of Salisbury to the hill fort of Badbury Rings cutting through any pre Roman monuments which happens to be in its way. The route can be easily followed as it is a right of way much of it takes the form of a raised bank or agger for drainage and to create a statement of Roman might to the newly vanquished Britons.

Roman Temple, Maiden Castle Dorchester  Constructed about 400AD similar in plan to Jordan Hill and as beautifully situated within the ramparts of the hillfort of Maiden castle the site of a resounding Roman victory over the Britons and looking across the fields to the Roman town of Dorchester.

Maumbury Rings  Originally a Neolithic henge this large circular earthwork 85ft in diameter was adapted by the Romans to serve as a amphitheatre and in the 17thcentury as a place of execution.
Maumbury Rings

Late Roman Temple, Jordan Hill, Weymouth  Only the foundations are visible of this 4-5th century square columned temple various ritual foundation deposits were discovered as well as the remains of hundred burials in the area surrounding it. It is an atmospheric site with fine panoramic views

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dorset Cycling 8-Moreton Circuit

This is a wonderful cycle.
The ride starts from Moreton village (see here), burial place of Lawrence of Arabia and home to a fine tea room. Crossing a wide, picturesque ford (with a bridge for those who want to keep dry...) it whizzes along a firm and level cinder track to Turners Puddle.

Here stands a small neglected church. The bells, dating from the 14th C, were stolen in the 1950s but mysteriously reappeared, covered in mud, that Christmas Eve at the door of the farm with a note attached saying simply 'Sorry, Christmas.'

The rest of the trip along quiet lanes and heath is exhilarating with sightings of deer if you're lucky. Should those deer turn out to be twenty feet high with green horns, that is probably because the path passes close to the now decomissioned Winfrith atomic station.

Distance 19 miles On and off road.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Dorset Cycling 5 - A visit to Thomas Hardy's homes

Hardy's birth place at Higher Bockhampton is a picture-postcard thatched cottage, while his home in later years, Max Gate, a rather austere Victorian pile. Designed by Hardy himself it rather proves that he did well to stick to the day job. Both are owned by the National Trust and lie close to Dorchester.
Being just a few miles apart it is possible to walk or cycle between the two, along the footpaths and lanes that Hardy must have walked many times visiting the family cottage.

Max Gate
This off and on-road route passes through the grounds of Kingston Maurward, a beautiful Palladian mansion, now an agricultural college, and past the Old Manor, an exquisite late Elizabethan mansion, available for B&B.
From Max Gate you can stroll through Dorchester to the County Museum which holds a collection of Hardy memorabilia including his writing desk.

Distance around 7 miles there and back.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dorset Museums-Gold Hill Museum Shaftesbury

There was a time when this wiggly-woggly instrument, called for obvious reasons, a serpent, was a mainstay of the long defunct village church orchestra. The serpent and orchestras were swept way with the onslaught of new-fangled harmoniums and organs by the Victorians.

By Thomas Hardy's time they had already become the stuff of nostalgia as this piece from 'Under the Greenwood Tree' testifies...
'Times have changed from the times they used to be,' said Mail, regarding nobody can tell what interesting old panoramas with an inward eye, and letting his outward glance rest on the ground, because it was as convenient a position as any, 'People don't care much about us now! I've been thinking we must be almost the last left in the county of the old string players? Barrel-organs, and the things next door to 'em that you blow wi' your foot, have come in terribly of late years.'

'Ay!' said Bowman, shaking his head; and old William, on seeing him, did the same thing.

'More's the pity,' replied another. 'Time was - long and merry ago now! - when not one of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served some of the quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you'd thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, says I.'

'Strings be safe soul-lifters, as far as that do go,' said Mr Spinks.

'Yet there's worse things than serpents,' said Mr Penny. 'Old things pass away, 'tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the serpent.'

A drawing of the Sutton Montis church orchestra in action in 1827

Monday, 18 August 2014

Details over the Border

Straying over the border I believe I may have  discovered a  completely new school of art - The Somerset  School of Medieval Crap Art.
I'm just glad it wasn't me that parted with my hard earned groat to get these jokers to carve my grave stone. Will stick to Dorset in future...
(Actually I think they're great!)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Happy Birthday Lawrence!

Portrait of Lawrence by Augustus John
T.E. Lawrence, one of the great heroes of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1888. During World War I, he masterminded a revolt of the Arabs against their Turkish rulers. The film Lawrence of Arabia is based on that adventurous phase of his life. 
After the war, Lawrence was welcomed home with much acclaim. Later he joined the Tank Corps at Bovington Camp in Dorset under a pseudonym to avoid publicity, and he lived on and off in the county for 12 years. 

While stationed at Bovington, Lawrence rented and then bought a spartan, isolated cottage near Wareham named Clouds Hill. He sold a treasured gold dagger from Mecca to pay for its renovations. Here he found the peace and quiet he needed to work on 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', his richly evocative autobiographical account of the Arab Revolt. Lawrence was killed in a motorcycle accident a few hundred yards from Clouds Hill in 1935.

Clouds Hill- Inscription over the door 'Ou Phrontis' 'Why Worry?
Now a National Trust property, Clouds Hill contains most of his original furniture and possessions. 

The T. E. Lawrence display at the Tank Museum includes rare film footage and a Brough Superior motorcycle similar to the one he was riding at the time of his fatal accident. 

Wareham Town Museum features a whole section on Lawrence of Arabia with photographs and documents relating to his life in Dorset and the Middle East.

Unusual facts about T.E. Lawrence:

He was a dedicated vegetarian. 

His notes and original manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom were lost in 1919 at Reading station. Despite wide press coverage, they were never found. 

After the war, he changed his name twice to keep his privacy. 

He endured many bullet and shrapnel wounds. 

Seven Pillars of Wisdom has never gone out of print.

Lawrence was just 5' 4" tall.

By Tilly Lavenas

Friday, 15 August 2014

Dorset Cycling- Flying along the Purbecks by mountain bike


This cycle begins and ends in the free National Trust car park above Ringstead rather than the lower seaside car park.
Mysterious carvings

The views are exhilarating; with Portland silhouetted in the distance one way and the swooping and dipping chalk coastline of the Purbecks in the other.
View from bridleway Portland on the Horizon
The route is easy to follow and the gradients mostly gentle. There are a few short on-road stretches Take care especially on the short busy stretch of the A353.

If you are feeling energetic bring your kayak and see some of the best of the Purbecks from another angle. (see here)
Distance approx. 15 miles
Time around 3-4hrs
Ordnance Survey Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Distance 15 miles 
Time around 4hrs
Distance 15 miles 
Time around 4hrDistance 15 miles 
Time around 4hrs

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

By George!...George III's holiday snaps Pt 9


You're on your hols in Weymouth, you've pulled your bathers on, donned that water resistant wig, convinced yourself that the water's lovely; when this happens.....who'd be King George III...

Georgian Weymouth

Monday, 11 August 2014

Dorset Museums 17- Blandford Town Museum

As mentioned previously not only was John Bastard responsible for creating the Blandford we see today but, in keeping with all educated men of this era, he took a keen interest in his surroundings and produced this watercolour of a local landmark. 
He described the Damory Oak with these words (his spelling by the way...) 
'Damory Oak Supposed to be More than a Thousand years Old. Was in the year 1600 Verry hollow as shown in the plan. And was some time used by 7 people to sell ale there and some times to House Calves, lambs etc. In ye year 1700 it was a verry Hansom Tree and full of Leaves (but hollow as a cove's) Itt sufford in ye ftorm 1703.  Since that many good timbers have ben cutt of  by ye Rives of Ranston Dorsett. The remainder sold in ye year 1757, asFier Wood, att 14 pounds sterling'

At the time it was felled it measured 68 feet in circumference

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Dorset Churches - Wimborne Minster Church

The Minster  stands at the centre of Wimborne  and is a homely, squat edifice while around it  the town's Georgian buildings gather like an eager congregation. 
No soaring Gothic spires here..though there was a soaring spire, but it collapsed four hundred years ago. 

The fabric of the church is mainly Norman though the site is much older and has been renovated several times in the intervening centuries, including a very thorough renovation in the 1850's.
Remnants of medieval wall painting
Even so there is still a lot to see including an ancient chained library and a colourful 14thC clock, while close to the altar lies the tomb of Margaret Beaufort mother of Henry VII and a benefactor.

 Roof of the tower
A small fragment of the pre-reformation painting which would have originally embellished the church from wall to ceiling remains; and in one wall stands the sarcophagus of Anthony Ettricke who decreed his burial place be neither in the open or under the church. 
Death amended 
The result being he was buried half in and half out of the church. He also became convinced he would shuffle off 1693. Embarrassingly for him he turned out to be ten years too early in his prediction meaning a last minute amendment to the coffin's inscription.

The 13thC clock

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Dorset Museums- Blandford Museum

As all local museums Blandsford's is an idiosyncratic collection run by enthusiastic volunteers. It has a number of items pertaining to the Great Fire of Blandford and to the town's Georgian benefactor, John Bastard. Apart from rebuilding the town he took a keen interest in his local surroundings. Here  he records the remains of a Mizmaze or turf maze.

'This labyrinth vulgarly called mizmase was on the North side of the road betwixt Blandford and Pimperne but is now Annialated.
Supposed to be the work of the Munks of Old But to keep the world in ignorance they said itt was the work of Faierys whom used to dance there'

Mizmazes go back to the dawn of history and are wreathed in legend, though up until the 18th C they were still regularly maintained by villagers. They have all but disappeared from Dorset though there are some scant remains at Leigh which was recorded as  being used as a witches coven. Another maze was to be found at Troytown which took its name from the Old English for a maze -  caertroi

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Dorset Cycling 4 - Knowlton Church circuit

Starting from Sixpenny Handley this on and off-road route crosses the open downland and big skies of Cranborne Chase. The highlight is the ruined 12thC church of Knowlton. It served a now-vanished hamlet abandoned in the 17thC. What makes it unique though is its siting at the centre of a Neolithic henge an unexplained pairing of old and new religions.
Distance 16 miles

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Camping 1 - Church Farm Sixpenny Handley

Camping can be heaven. Camping can be hell.
Dodging muddy puddles past dripping canvas suburbias to find an unlit cold wash block in the dead of night isn't my bag, so this site is a great find.
It nestles in the shadow of the church in the peaceful village of Sixpenny Handley.
The great attraction of North Dorset is that the lemmings generally by pass it by in the mad rush to the coast, this means that even at the height of summer the site is bearable and the users a considerate and civilised bunch. 

Most importantly, the shower block is relatively new and very clean though the clincher is the restaurant which is a far more sophisticated affair than you'd expect from a campsite this size.
The site is divided among several fields; the larger for families  though you can ask for the  Donkey field (no comment) which is reserved for adults.
Footpaths and bridleways start from the door while the lanes make for great, almost traffic free, cycling. It is also close to both Blandford, Shaftesbury and Sherborne.

Charges are £9.00 per person per night for an unserviced pitch in the high season.

Church Farm Camping
High St. Sixpenny Handley, Salisbury, SP5 5ND
Tel: 01725 552563.
Mob. 07766 677525/07990 603289