April 2016

Stonebarrow

Spring has sprung and the grass has ‘riz’, I wonder where the fairies is?, as my dear old mother used to say.

Well Spring is certainly now here, and the daffodils brought on a month early by a mild winter are still in bloom. I like daffodils and after a drab winter even if it was mild, they do add a welcoming touch of colourful freshness to the environment. The fields that abut our home are also full of new born lambs at the moment. It is amazing to watch how such creatures so frail at birth, have found their legs within minutes as they first suckle from their mothers. It only takes about two weeks for these new born lambs to “gang up” together with other lambs and go chasing around the fields in groups. The moment one of their mothers moves though, the group breaks up as they go scurrying back.

Easter, now already come and gone was not particularly welcoming to those seeking a long break away after the long indoor months. Rain and wind just about sums Easter up and true to form, as soon as the holidaymakers had returned home, the winds abated and the sun came out spreading its first noticeable but much looked forward to warmth of the year.

Fortunately I am now retired and as such,my wife and I are no longer tied to routines governed by early morning alarm clocks, commuter rush hours or daily routines. It is nice when the weather suddenly turns into a fine day to be able to say on the spur of the moment, “Let’s Go”. We tend to avoid going out much during Bank Holidays as we tend to find everything is a bit of a crush when millions of other people are intent on doing the same thing during their brief public holiday break. But then being retired, in it’s own way, every day is now something of a holiday break providing good use is made of it.

One such day occurred last week and on the spur of the moment we decided to go on a picnic. Out chosen destination was Stonebarrow Hill on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast which is about a 50 minute drive from our home.. Stonebarrow as everyone refers to it locally is open countryside owned by the National Trust of which we are members. It consists of a 148 high metre hill with fields rolling down to the sea. It is also adjacent to the renowned flat plateaued Golden Cap Hill which is the highest point of the large bight of coastline that forms the extensive and sweeping Lyme Bay. Stonebarrow is something of one of the National Trusts “hidden in plain view” gems.

Stonebarrow Hill is accessed by the aptly named Stonebarrow Lane which starts just before entering the small coastal town of Charmouth. Motoring skills come very much to the fore when driving up Stonebarrow Lane. It is very steep, Normally first or second gear only.for a considerable distance. The lane is narrow with insufficient room for two vehicles to pass, so a bit of give and take using depressions in the hedgerow is essential when encountering oncoming traffic. The upper sections of the lane fall away to a deep ravine type hill as well. The effort is well worth it for the spectacular view from the top. Although National Trust property, there is no charge for access or parking.If you have a pair of binoculars or even a telescope, they are well worth bringing.

The lower half of the land is part of the Coastal Path between Golden Cap and Charmouth and occasional hardy walkers can be seen traversing it. It is also a very dog friendly area and our Labrador “pup” Lou Lou now 18 months old and fully grown enjoyed racing up and down the slopes as she stretched her youthful limbs letting of steam in the process.

The drive to Stonebarrow is quite pleasant too. Either via the A3066 from Crewkerne through the charming small town of Beaminster nestled in the northern Dorset hills, and with its narrow roads and market place, or back via the B3165 north of Lyme Regis towards Crewkerne once again..

In all it was a sudden and unexpected day out but one that holds the promise of many more such days in the forthcoming months.

Maiden Castle

Maiden CastleOn one of our recent trips to Dorchester Market, my wife and I planned to follow our shopping spree on a trip to nearby Maiden Castle. My wife and I first fortified ourselves with a delicious real Cornish Pasty from the Celtic Kitchen in Antelope Walk. The pasties from this shop are made in Helston, Cornwall and shipped fresh to Dorchester on a daily basis. They are amongst the best and tastiest pasties I have come across. A visit to the Celtic Kitchen is one treat my wife look forward to with great relish.

Maiden Castle now owned by English Heritage is free to visit. It is one the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe and the largest in the U.K.. Evidence of human activity on the site has been found dating back to about 1,800 BC during the Bronze Age with defensive landscaping beginning about 600 BC in the Iron Age, Work continued on and off landscaping the embankments during the following centuries.

In keeping with many hillforts which were built in good defensive position, the Romans during their occupation evicted the inhabitants and used them to aid their own governance of the country. The Romans also founded nearby Durnovaria which later evolved into modern Dorchester, the County Town of Dorset.

The enclosed area at the top is some 19 hectares in size which is more than enough space to house a large army and accompanying settlement. Dorchester is steeped with the history of Thomas Hardy and readers may recall the 1967 film adaption of his novel “Far from the Madding Crowd” in which Maiden Castle was used as a film location. The film starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp in the leading roles.

I can well recommend a visit to Maiden Castle even if to soak up the atmosphere of the place and with Summer holidays fast approaching, it is well worth any holiday maker in the area placing this on their itinerary.

I have added some view of Maiden Castle and its fortified embankments below.

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March 2015

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Burton Bradstock

With the infamous Ides of March fast approaching, the past week has proved far from any ominous omens, quite the reverse. The last few days have regularly alternated between wet and welcome warm days as Winter starts to give way to Spring. The warm days are almost like the tendrils of a yet unborn Summer stretching backwards in time to act as an advance messenger of leisurely outdoor days that lie ahead.

Our daffodils have now started to appear and grass that has been lying dormant for months has begun to stir. It is almost like a slumbering giant has awoken as the emergent Spring shakes off the remnants of Winter.

We took the opportunity last week on the first really sunny day to go to Burton Bradstock in Dorset. This is part of the Jurassic Coast which provides a good vista of that huge bight of the South Coast known as Lyme Bay. From Burton Bradstock it is possible on a clear day to see all the way from Portland Bill to Exmouth and even Torquay. This view always conjures up in my mind that just a few miles beyond that distant coast likes both the mysteries and beauty of Dartmoor.

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A distant Golden Cap

Nor far beyond nearby Bridport lies Golden Cap, the flat topped hill that dominates this part of the coast. Golden Cap like much of this coast belongs to the National Trust which should help preserve the beauty of this area for future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

Lou Lou digging holes in the sand

It was also the opportunity for our new puppy Lou Lou now some five months old to see the sea for the first time. One never quite knows how a dog will react to this new environment for the first time. As it turned out, Lou Lou appeared quite indifferent apart from when an incoming wave suddenly took her by surprise as it swirled around her paws. Finding she could rapidly dig holes in the wet sand appeared to be more enjoyable to her.

I also took the opportunity to drive to West Bay on the way home as I had not seen it for some time. West Bay might be better known as the location of the TV series “Harbour Lights” that was screened some years ago. It is a location I have always liked for its unspoilt  non-commercialised appearance but I found a new monolithic block of residential apartments built directly alongside the harbour does little for myself in enhancing the ambience of this small seaside town.

June 2014 – A Village Affair

Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant

There can be little doubt that the Summer months provide a rich backdrop to outdoor activities throughout England. Most of this activity s not centred around the more grandiose sporting event like Ascot Week which tends to cater for the well heeled and shod but in the variety of village events. Fetes, dog shows, gymkhanas and a host of other local festivities which normally take place during the months of June and July.

Living close to the Somerset/Dorset border it is inevitable I will frequently venture into my bordering county. Yesterday I went to one such event in the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset located in the Cerne Valley.

The Cerne Valley nestled in the Dorset Downs is a narrow winding, lush green valley running directly north of Dorchester towards the ancient town of Sherborne. The head of the valley being near the village of Middlemarsh and is steeped in history despite its relatively sparse population. At one time settled by the Vikings during the Dark Ages. in AD 987 a great Benedictine Abbey was established in the valley around which grew the pretty village of Cerne Abbas.

Cerne Abbas is something of a chocolate box picture village attracting coachloads of tourists in the days prior to mass car ownership. It is also famous for the figure of the Cerne Giant cut into the adjacent steep chalk hillside. There is much speculation as to the age of the giant as to whether it is Celtic, Roman or much later in origin. Whatever the truth there can be little doubt that this huge warlike figure brandishing a club was designed as a fertility symbol. Local stories still abound of young maidens wishing to ensure a future family visiting this icon on mid-summer’s day.

It was also mid-summer’s day that I visited Cerne Abbas for its annual open gardens exhibition. Except for access to a free car park, the village is closed to through traffic for the day allowing visitors to safely wander the streets. Residents of 29 properties within the village threw open their gardens to public view with the local church of St Mary providing a cream teas on the lawn service. One modest fee secured access to all gardens and monies raised are used in local good causes. Many of the buildings are heritage listed to protect both the buildings and the village from untoward development. The spire of the church dominates the local landscape..

Accompanied with a group of friends, my wife and I found it a pleasant is not slightly tiring afternoon wandering other peoples gardens. It was a good way of gaining ideas and inspiration for what may be possible in ones own garden.

On returning to friends who live close to the Cerne Valley to enjoy an evening barbeque, silently like some leviathan from a Space Odyssey, the billowing canopy of a hot-air balloon suddenly and unexpectedly came drifting across the tree tops. You never know what you are going to see next in the country.

I have added some views of the village and gardens below.

 

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April 2012


Update 06/04/2012

Queens Arms, Wraxall, Somerset

My wife and I are part of a group of friends in my village which has become known as the “Birthday Group” so called as each month we go out to lunch to celebrate an individuals birthday. Fortunate as we are in Somerset to have a large number of village pubs which serve excellent cuisine are modest prices, like most people we do tend to have our favourites. Our last outing however we went to a pub most of us had never visited before except for one member of our group whose birthday were were celebrating and for who our venue had more than special memories.

The pub was the Queens Arms at Wraxall in Somerset with extensive views over the local countryside. It is located on the only crossroads at Wraxall with the The Fosse Way, an important major Roman Road of it’s time, and part of the A37 road network. I think we were all very impressed at the extensive menu, well prepared and delicious meals, coupled with good service that we received at the Queens Arms, that it will certainly go on our favourites list. I would personally recommend a visit there to anyone who has the opportunity.

Our companion took great delight in explaining he was born in a house located adjacent to the pub which has been subsequently demolished and replaced by a newer building. He was the son of a dairy farmer, a career he also pursued in later life and where as a boy, he helped his father make their own farmhouse cheese for public sale. Our friend recalled how each weekday he would walk along one country lane from the crossroads to go to school at the village of East Pennard. He also suspects that particular walk with modern traffic would be rather dangerous today as most country lanes are unpaved. East Pennard is close to the now internationally renown Worthy Farm where the Glastonbury Music Festival takes place.

Our friend reminisced how as a lad during the war years, he would stand fascinated on the roadside watching convoys of military vehicles going about their business. During the run-up to D-Day, of which they were unaware at the time, he would see seemingly endless columns of military vehicles and troops making their way along the Fosse Way towards the south coast in preparation for the invasion. It was also during the war years due to manpower shortages his grandmother was also the landlord of the Queens Arms.

It is strange how that same European conflict set a chain of events that led to him meeting his wife who is also a good friend of ours. She was born in pre-war Germany, the daughter of a Jewish doctor. Clearly her father was a very erudite man with a good sense of political nous who could foresee likely future events unfolding in that country. Wisely he was able to get his family out of the country to England before the tragic events that befell most of his fellow German Jewish countrymen. Although for given circumstances he could not immediately join his family, he was able to follow later before the full force of the Holocaust was unleashed.

Our friend would certainly not describe herself as a writer but she is more than conscious that her personal memories do form an important period in history. Consequently she has been busy consigning all her memories to paper so that someone in the future can make good use of them. Her memories should prove interesting reading.


Burton Bradstock, Dorset

April arrived not to the normal slow but gentle warming of a departing March but on the tail end of a mini-heat wave. Unseasonal as this advanced and unexpected outburst of Summer may have been, it was never-the-less welcome following a dreary winter. In some ways, I feel pulled between two directions at once. On one hand is the longing for the future Summer sun, tempered by the need for good rainfall on the other hand as warnings of future drought conditions become increasingly stronger. I placate myself with the thought there is nothing I can do about the weather anyway, I might as well enjoy or endure whatever the weather may bring.  Que Sera Sera as the Italian’s would say, whatever will be, will be.

Burton Bradstock, Dorset

We did however take a trip to Burton Bradstock on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. From our home it is only a 45 minute trip and the coastline and countryside are so beautiful in this part of the country. Burton Bradstock is an un-commercialised village nestling between surrounding hills. The short road from the village to the beach terminates in National Trust property and from there the coastal path stretches in both directions to Portland Bill to the east and through Golden Cap to Lyme Regis and Exmouth in the west. This large distinctive semi-circular stretch of the English coast is known as Lyme Bay. The shoreline and cliffs of the Jurassic Coast continue to yield a seemingly endless supply of new fossil discoveries. I cannot help but wonder how much the Earth has changed since these long extinct creatures left their imprint in the sands so many million of years ago, that the sand has since become a rock face.

The Easter holidays are now only a few days away and like migrating flocks of birds, it will be the signal for the annual tourist season to begin as once more droves of traffic  makes the trek westwards for people seek the respite of the much loved West Country. I think it has been estimated that during the peak season, the population of the West Country more than doubles due to visitors.

Ilchester


As we go about our daily lives, hurrying and scurrying, hither and thither, it is often the case that we rarely pause to reflect on surroundings we pass, or even give the location a second thought or glance. Ilchester in Somerset is one such place close to my home where most people are passing through but rarely going to.

Despite this frequently unnoticed environment, Ilchester has a long and sometimes nefarious history stretching back to Roman times and before. There does not appear to be any real definition that determines when a large village is considered to be a town or vice versa. I suspect definitions of a town have changed over time and what once was considered a large settlement in the past, would nowadays be considered small. Ilchester was once called a town, at one time, it was even the county town of Somerset before that honour moved to Taunton.

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Ilchester Oppidum

 Recent archaeological excavations at Ilchester’s sports field uncovered a late Stone-Age Oppidum, (a Tribal Meeting Area), in the form of a circular mound creating an enclosure. This symbolic mound was constructed of earth/clay over a base of stone. One half of the Oppidum was constructed of white Lias stone and the remainder of Ham stone.

With the Roman occupation of Britain, they established a large settlement at Ilchester about 60AD which they named Lendiniae later referred to in the seventh century as Lindinis. The settlement sat astride and protected the Fosse Way, a major route across England that linked the Roman towns of Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) with Lincoln (Lindum Colonia). A fork in the road at Ilchester went directly to another Roman settlement at Maiden Castle near Dorchester in Dorset. The Romans eventually made Dorchester (Durnovaria) their main settlement and many Roman relics are still found in the area today. These roads are known today as the A37 and A303.

The Romans undertook extensive engineering works to the River Yeo that flows through Ilchester to allow navigation from the sea at Burnham. Roads were also paved, drainage installed and large villas with mosaic floors and central heating were built. One of the countries largest Roman cemeteries is also located in Ilchester. Even to this day there is a requirement for much of the land covered by the old Roman settlement, for archaeologists and historians to inspect sites prior to building works.

After the withdrawal of its legions and the demise of the Roman Empire, this country entered the period known as the Dark Ages between 400AD – 900AD. This period of our history is so named as little is known about it. The Dark Ages were a period where little documentation was used or survived and much of our evidence from this time period comes from archaeological excavations. The same is true of Ilchester’s history during this time.

The Dark Ages gave way to the Middle Ages with constant Viking raids. The Vikings also established their own settlements not too far away in Dorset. King Alfred (the Great), ruled at this time and he utilised towns like Ilchester which still had surviving fortified Roman walls in his campaigns to rid the large area of England known as Wessex of the Viking invaders. The old Roman walls were so strong, that Ilchester was one of the few places able to withstand a later historical siege from William the Conqueror.

Roger Bacon the philosopher and scientist is believed to have been born here about circa 1210. As a county town, Ilchester at one time had its own mint and the county gaol. Ilchester Gaol was infamous for its ill-treatment of prisoners and public executions. It was also part of the judicial circuit of the infamous Judge Jeffreys otherwise known as ‘The Hanging Judge’. In the aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion where West Country rebels tried to overthrow King James II, court hearings were held headed by Judge Jeffreys that became known as the Bloody Assizes. This draconian judiciary toured the West of England dispensing terminal justice to many captured rebels. Twelve of them were publicly executed at Ilchester Gaol.

Illustrations exist of regular public executions held at Ilchester Gaol which depict a gallows consisting of a long wooden beam supported by upright posts and set above the entrance ramparts of the prison. This gallows allowed as many unfortunate prisoners as was necessary to be hanged at the same time in full view of the crowds below. Apparently large crowds used to gather in Ilchester on ‘hanging days’ for their entertainment. Given at the time people could be hanged for the most petty of crimes including sheep stealing, it was quite likely that many such days occurred. Hence the saying that one might as well be hanged for a sheep rather than just a lamb. Little heed was paid by the judiciary of the individuals social conditions or whether their families were starving.

The site of Ilchester Gaol moved to different locations several times. On one occasion the prison fell down due to disrepair allowing all the prisoners to escape.  The prison eventually closed in 1843. Thankfully, it was never rebuilt.

At one time due to historical reasons Ilchester boasted two members of Parliament which was highly unusual given its small size. With some of the parliamentary candidates being local landowners, it is said they engaged in scurrilous practices of either building or demolishing properties to ensure that local residents either would vote for them or were no longer eligible to do so if their properties no longer existed.

At one time Ilchester also hosted a nunnery and a monastery, the latter being closed by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries in both a land and monetary grab.

Many holiday makers in the past on their way to the West Country via the A303 will have driven through Ilchester. Perhaps driven is the wrong description, crawled would be a more apt word. Before the Ilchester by-pass was built, both the A37 and A303 shared the same short stretch of road through Ilchester before parting again and going in their respective directions.

The two junctions where these primary roads met and divided were the cause of horrendous tailbacks of traffic for many miles during the peak holiday season. I suspect most motorists would be trying to keep both their tempers and car engines cool as they slowly progressed with their carload of exuberant children through the narrow streets. Too frustratingly otherwise engaged to appreciate some of the finer esoteric points of the historical village they were passing through.

With so much history packed into Ilchester, readers who have never been there could be forgiven for believing it is a place is of large dimensions. However Ilchester remains a small village by modern-day standards, barely more than one-third of a mile square.

If you ever have the opportunity to drive through or visit Ilchester, perhaps you will to allow your mind a little time to dwell  on the rich historical past of this small village. Ilchester is in no way unique, most of the UK is equally rich in local history. Why not visit your local museum to find out just what historical treasures lay at your front door?

Relevant links: http://www.ilchesterparishcouncil.gov.uk/Core/IlchesterPC/Pages/Default.aspx

January 2011


Holy Thorn Tree - Glastonbury Abbey

 Glastonbury – The Holy Thorn

It’s strange how a news making event can have sudden unforeseen effects elsewhere. In this particular case it was an act of vandalism where one of the Holy Thorn Trees of Glastonbury was hacked down one night in December.

The Glastonbury Thorn is associated with the legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the arrival of Christianity in Britain. The legend suggests that Joseph of Arimathea who is mentioned in all four gospels, visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail. The legend continues that he thrust his staff into the ground at Wearyall Hill which subsequently grew into a thorn tree. The tree was cut down as a superstitious relic during the English Civil War but not before several cuttings were secretly propagated and hidden around Glastonbury. One of the cuttings eventually replaced the destroyed tree on Wearyall Hill with two others being located within Glastonbury Abbey and the Church of St John. By long tradition a flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas to adorn the table used for their Christmas dinner.

One of my hobbies is to publicly share photographs I have taken on Google Earth. I do this by publishing them on a website known as Panoramio.com which is now owned by Google and the photographs subsequently appear on Google Earth with some also appearing on Google Maps for the world to see. I should stress that none of my photographs lay claim to be great works of art, I simply recognise that people often like to see photographs of given locations of interest. If you use Google Earth, ensure the photos box in the Layers menu is checked to see the photographs.

By chance, one of my photographs is of the Holy Thorn in Glastonbury Abbey and is one of only two submitted to Google Earth at that location. Although a statistics counter on the Panoramio website shows a slow but steady trickle of views for this photograph, a sudden sharp spike of views shows for the two days following the vandalism of this tree. To me this tends to indicate how the internet is used globally by people seeking additional information on news making events.

I do not yet know the fate of the cut down Holy Thorn tree but I do hope it will re-grow. I do however find it sad that an act of vandalism by either a mindless thug or someone with a warped grudge can destroy centuries of history in an instant.

 


 19/01/2011

Dorchester Market, Dorset

Not in Somerset this time but in our adjoining county of Dorset where we have many friends. Occasionally we like to go to the weekly market in Dorchester the County Town of Dorset. Dorchester is a small pleasant town with plenty of Roman artefacts around the place and was the home of Thomas Hardy once he became established as a prominent author. The market is a bustling place held on the site of the old cattle market. Some of the cattle stalls are used as mini-shops on market days and the cattle auction ring is used as a farmers market. A large modern wooden building houses an equally large flea market which I find a fascinating place to potter about in looking at curiosities. One of the reasons my wife and I go there is to bulk buy various bird feeds for our garden.

Once we have finished in the market, we frequently take a drive to Weymouth a short distance to the south to buy fresh fish, crabs, oysters and scallops from a fresh  fish shop located on the quayside of Weymouth Harbour. Our drive took us along the line of the old Roman Road past Maiden Castle, a huge hill fort the Romans once occupied and over the hill range with a hairpin bend down towards Weymouth. Running parallel to the main road is a new relief road being built to help ease traffic congestion. Weymouth is the designated location for sailing sports in the forthcoming 2012 Olympics.

I anticipate that the Olympics with attract a huge amount of additional traffic to Weymouth and this has raised an as yet unanswered question in my mind for some time. Anyone who knows Weymouth and its busy shopping centre will understand how difficult parking is even in the middle of winter. In the summer months the parking problem is greatly exacerbated with holiday makers staying in this popular holiday town. I cannot but help wonder where all the additional parking for traffic generated by the Olympics is going to go. I have asked this question of a number of friends who live local to the area and all give the same reply, they simply do not know. I did a quick internet search on this subject before writing this article but found there was a dearth of information o the subject.

Weymouth Harbour, Dorset

There seems to be a lot of reliance on public transport but proposed Olympic viewing locations are a reasonable distance from the railway station. I suppose some provision for parking has been made somewhere but as yet I have not found it. I certainly will not be going to watch the sailing events not because I would not like to but concern over parking plus high ticket prices are powerful deterrents. It makes me wonder why as a UK resident whose taxes have already helped finance the building of Olympic locations, that I should have to pay to stand in the same locations I stood today for free.

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