Friday was our last full day in Dorset and we had a lot of packing to do. So the navigator (moi) selected a magical mystery drive to see one of Dorset’s oldest attractions. The Cerne Abbas Giant.
It took us a while to find him, we found the village first. But once we got our bearings, we found our way to the viewpoint that looks right at him.
The Cerne giant is the biggest chalk hill figure in Britain. He’s managed by the National Trust and is thought to be one of the oldest.
However, as there is no record of him before Oliver Cromwell’s time, experts can’t be sure whether he’s an ancient fertility symbol or, in fact, a mockery of Cromwell.
There is also an ancient “trendle” at the site, which is an earthwork just above the giant’s shoulder. This is believed to date back to the Iron Age and is still used today by Morris dancers.
The little car park that is used to view the giant is a lovely roadside place to take a picnic. There is another car park down the hill, though, that also serves the village.
We had a lovely week in beautiful Dorset. The poet was quite surprised at how pretty and historic it really is. And when I’d suggested Swanage to him, he didn’t even know where it was.
We did end up a few miles away from Swanage at the village of Corfe Castle, which we also loved. And we had such a nice time on the Isle of Purbeck that we hope to come again soon, perhaps in the spring.
Then we might be able to visit all the places we weren’t able to this time: upstairs at Hardy’s Cottage; a walk to the Agglestone Rock; even Corfe Castle itself, if it isn’t so raving busy due to a programme of outdoor events that we can’t park anywhere.
When we were in the Lake District it was natural for us to visit properties relating to William Wordsworth. Sometimes several times.
And when we’re in Dorset, it’s only proper to then visit properties relating to Thomas Hardy. Or one of them at least – Hardy’s birthplace or Hardy’s Cottage.
Again, it has been 30 years since the last time I was here and, again, it’s changed quite a lot.
Well, the house itself is pretty much the same, but it’s busier and the teeny tiny car park that used to be is much, much bigger.
Something else that’s new is the possibility to help yourself to potatoes grown in the kitchen garden here. I wonder if the same applies to other produce.
There’s a birthplace visitor centre at the house too, and a woodland walk. Once again, dogs are allowed in the grounds so long as they are kept on leads, and there are water bowls for them too. But they’re not allowed in the house.
This is usually fine as one of us waits outside with the dog while the other one goes around. But only 8 visitors are allowed upstairs at a time and this can mean long waits.
So we both only looked at the downstairs and enjoyed the lovely little cottage garden in the sunshine.
As we’d walked through the woodland to get to the house, we chose to walk back via the lane to the car park, where we saw this row of cottages (right).
Then we were back in the car and back on the road and heading south-west towards Weymouth and Portland.
We drove along Chesil Beach, something I didn’t do on any of the last 2 visits to the area. And we carried on to Portland and the home of Portland stone.
We were headed towards something on the map called “Rufus” (in red), but we didn’t find it and we have no idea what it was/is.
And as I’d never been to Portland Bill (unless we came when I was a baby, and don’t remember it), and as the poet had asked for a visit to see the sea today, that’s where I navigated us to.
We both loved it. It was fine and dry but windy, so the waves were crashing against the rocks.
One particular boulder has a carved sign on it saying visitors climb at their own risk as it’s liable to erosion … but of course, there’s always someone that has to have a go, and there are hand and foot holes up that flat face of rock.
The picture on the left, above, though, is for perspective. (We have no idea who those people are.)
We didn’t visit the lighthouse. It was already late in the day and it was quite windy. But we did take a few photographs.
The picture below shows the current lighthouse in the foreground and an older one in the background. There’s a third lighthouse here too, but we don’t know if they were ever in use.
Our relatively brand new tent sprang a leak quite early on in our holiday, around one of the airbeams. This leak was closely followed by another and another and another.
Some of Tuesday was spent finding a camping shop and we were able to buy a temporary repair kit to seal the tent.
By Wednesday, the weather was warm and dry again, but still windy, and we needed a nice relaxing day to recover from the preceding trauma.
So we went to visit RSPB Arne near Swanage. We’re members of the RSPB and it’s another reserve that allows dogs.
Because it was a nice day, the poet was also able to have another play with his camera, playing with bokeh and bracketing again.
The picture of the pink blindweed to the right is an example of bokeh.
Surprisingly, we didn’t actually see much birdlife. But there is a diversity of landscape – woodland, heathland and, of course, coastland.
There was a small information centre in the car park where recent sightings could be written on a whiteboard. (I think the poet added 2 sightings to the board, a chiffchaff and a curlew …)
They also have binoculars to borrow and, if found to be useful, for sale. We’re already members of the RSPB and we already have several pairs of binoculars!
Also very close by is a very nice café. It’s new and clean and with unisex toilets.
I walked in to see if there was any tap water available for the dog’s bottle, and they had a specially prepared bottle in the fridge for such occasions.
We were so impressed with the whole place that we decided to stay for lunch and let them have some more revenue.
I had a jacket potato – I’d been yearning for one for a few days – and the poet had another ploughman’s lunch. And we had cake for pudding. Mine was a lemon syrup Victoria sandwich-type cake, the poet’s was … chocolate, I think. And it was very yummy.
After RSPB Arne we headed back towards the campsite via Wareham, and on the outskirts we made a minor detour to see the so-called “Blue Pool” …
Well … When I visited the Blue Pool nearly 30 years ago I remember feeling somewhat … underwhelmed.
It was quite a basic beauty spot in those days and I don’t remember paying an admission.
I remember standing on the shore and wondering why they called it blue. It was more a murky green.
That day the weather can’t have been so great.
This time, I was quite shocked to see that it would cost us £6 each (TWELVE POUNDS!) to get in, although the car park is, I think, still free. I hoped they’d done something to justify such a high admission fee, and they had – of a fashion.
There’s a nice tea room there now that I don’t remember from before (but that doesn’t mean anything, I just might not have been able to afford it). There’s also a little souvenir shop and a museum, and the site is now home to the Wareham Bears … whoever they are.
BUT … the water is still a murky green … until the sun catches it just right. And you need to be above the water level to see the full benefit, although some of the paths are closed for safety, due to erosion.
So I’m afraid I still remain rather unimpressed, especially when we paid an extortionate amount to get in.
However … if you intend to spend the entire day there, then I think it’s more worth it. And, of course, dogs are welcome again if kept on leads (there were some there not on leads …). Take a picnic, go on one of the walks, visit the museum and the Wareham Bears (!), have a coffee in the tea rooms (just to be awkward). But I don’t think we’ll be going back again.
Saying that, the poet did have chance to practise his bracketing again, and as it was less windy by now, I think this one was quite successful.
He didn’t need to sleep or take meals there, as he did that at the barracks. So the property didn’t need to act as a domestic residence.
I first visited Cloud’s Hill around 30 years ago and fell in love with the little place. It’s really no more than a glorified summer house, boasting 2 storeys and 4 rooms. There’s even a garage opposite that Lawrence had built to house his motorbike.
Since I was last there the National Trust have cleared much of the surrounding invasive rhododendrons and added a little walk. There’s a much larger car park than was there before (although it’s not that big now), and there’s a new visitor centre.
Dogs are welcome in the grounds but not in the house, so we took it in turns to have a look around.
Not long before he was killed in a motorbike accident, on the road between Bovington Camp and Cloud’s Hill, he bought the house with the intention of extending it. A tree with a plaque close to where he died commemorates the military leader – and, again, the tree was a LOT smaller the last time I was there.
As were were fairly close to Dorchester, and Mill House Nurseries were on the way back to the campsite (-ish), we dropped into what I remembered as a cider museum …
… however, it’s now a full-blown nursery (for plants), the cider museum seems to have grown smaller, and there’s a clock museum there that I don’t remember from before. This could just be my memory or maybe I just didn’t visit at the time.
Unfortunately, there are no dogs allowed here at all, so we didn’t intend to stay very long. fortunately the very hot weather had given way to cooler, windy weather, with cloud overhead, so he was okay in the car for a few minutes, with the windows open and parked in the shade.
We visited the clock museum first – well, we visited the toilets first, and the poet snapped a rather unflattering picture of me emerging from the door that I won’t be sharing here. The custodian estimated that we might need around 20 minutes to visit the clock museum … but we had the dog in the car so we had a very quick whizz around instead.
There were some very old grandfather clocks here but also some mechanisms, one of which may be incorporated into the time machine for my NaNoWriMo novel MARDI GRAS. We had to share the picture below, though, as the mechanism was made in Leeds. We’d travelled all the way to Dorset to see a clock part made in Yorkshire! (The “time machine” might make it onto the cover of the book if we publish it ourselves.)
By the time we wandered into the cider museum, the custodian had started a film off for us, which documented the history of this particular method of making cider. The museum was particularly interesting as they have some fine specimens of cider presses and other equipment they use for their cider-making. My “Corliss Chronicles” series begins with (working title) CIDER & SYMPATHY, so again the photographs and the information might turn out to be very useful one day.
So, although we were actually on holiday, it’s true that a writer is always working, either subconsciously or consciously, by thinking or by actually writing or by researching stuff like this.
We bought our gifts here – cider for my sister for looking after the cats, fudge and shortcake for the parents – and we bought a gallon of cider for the tent. When we’d arrived, there was no one else there. By the time we left, the car park was full.
Day 2 of our holiday was Monday, and the day dawned bright and sunny again. My feet were still a bit sore from the sandals and the shingle the day before, so we decided to go somewhere where I knew there was a well-defined path. (There’s a well-defined path at Durdle Door, but I knew there was a nicer one at Studland.)
And so off we pootled to Studland Bay to see Old Harry and his wife – the Old Harry Rocks.
The car park is free to National Trust members and a sign says there are free poo bags and bowls of water for dogs along the trail – we found the poo bags, which was fortunate as throughout the holiday we did keep leaving ours at the tent, but there were no bowls of water.
When I mentioned the bowls of water (or lack of them) to the NT reps there, they knew nothing about them. If you do the full walk and have a dog, or even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to carry water anyway, as you can walk for miles and not see a soul.
It took us about 20 minutes to walk the easy path and we lingered for quite some time while the poet practised some arty photography – bracketing, HD, bokeh, etc, etc.
But it had clouded over and started to spit with rain and we hadn’t brought our raincoats with us, and there is no shelter.
We did take shelter beneath a tree on the walk back and we thought the growth on the side looked like an old man’s face with either a big beard or a big chin.
Can you see him?
The rain dropped off and we made it back to the car relatively dry. Then we drove back to the campsite by way of an orientation drive, and we had a Dorset Cream Tea in Lulworth Cove – you can’t go to Dorset and not have a cream tea … or Cornwall, or Devon …
The picture below is a result of “bracketing”. This is where the poet used his tripod and auto-took 3 pictures that were almost exactly the same, one was under-exposed, one was normal and one was over-exposed. Later, in processing, all three pictures are merged together.
Unfortunately it was a little breezy, as you can see in the bottom right-hand corner with the blurred flowers. But we both really like the effect, and I think it looks like an oil painting.
After Tyneham, we carried on to Lulworth Cove, where we had a ploughman’s lunch each.
I was wearing hippy sandals and the plan was to walk along the footpath to Durdle Door. But it was very, very hot, and the path was very, very steep – and it was “up” too. I don’t really do “up”.
So we did some research (i.e. looked at the map) and discovered a car park that was a little closer.
Lulworth Cove is only about a mile away from Durdle Door, but we’d not only chosen perhaps the hottest day of the year so far, we’d also chosen the busiest day of the year so far – and it was a weekend.
The roads were okay, but the footpaths (and Lulworth Cove) were ram-packed. The car park in Lulworth Cove had spilled uphill into the overflow and we got a bit stuck in traffic getting out.
We did like the place, though, and decided we’d come back another day, when it was less busy.
The roads, as I say, were fine, and we were at the other car park in no time. I was still wearing the sandals, though, and it was still very, very hot. But at least the walk was easier …
… or was it?
There is so much shingle underfoot that it was actually quite treacherous, and it still took us quite a while to reach Durdle Door. It was worth the effort, though, and we got some lovely photographs.
This is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site with 185 million years of history. It’s also part of the Dorset Coast Path, which in turn is part of the 630-mile South-West Coast Path. And it truly is both beautiful and breathtaking.
I was quite hot and bothered by now, very red in the face, and I suspected I had blisters between my toes and on the soles of my feet. So being the big wuss that I am, we went back to the car and back to the campsite.
It’s worth noting, if ever you’re visiting the region by car, that if you pay for the car park down in Lulworth Cove, it also gives you parking for Durdle Door, and vice versa.
It’s a bit pricey, though, but that made it more reasonable – but I still think it’s expensive.
We did go back to Lulworth Cove a day or so later, and we had a rather lovely Dorset cream tea.
We spent last week camping in beautiful Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. I’d been before, twice, and stayed at Swanage. But that was around 30 years ago. It was my “turn” to suggest a place to go, and while the expected response was North Devon, I think I surprised everyone, even myself, when I suggested Dorset.
Dorset is a very long way away from where we live. It was already a very long way away from where I lived when I lived in Birmingham, and now it’s an additional 100+ miles away. It took us a good 4 – 5 hours to get there. But we were very lucky and missed all of the traffic.
Weather-wise, we had a mostly glorious week with just one day of strong wind and heavy rain.
The rain was so bad that our brand new air tent sprung a leak, and then it sprung another one, and then it sprung another and another and another.
It took us several hours to get some telephone support, but we were told what to do to make a temporary repair, and then we were to ring them up when we got home and they’d come and collect the tent, lend us another one if necessary, and either repair or replace our tent.
You can’t say fairer than that – although they did offer to come out and repair the tent too if we wanted. But we knew what to get from a local camping shop.
However, I’m jumping ahead. The start of the week was lovely, and on our first day out, the Sunday, we headed off to the coast via the “lost” village of Tyneham.
Tyneham was a pretty little village right in the middle of where the MoD wanted a firing range. It wasn’t a poor place and the residents always believed they’d get their homes back once the war was over and they’d “done their bit”, as the village was commandeered in 1943. They were given 28 days notice to pack up and leave … but they were never allowed to return.
In the 1970s, some descendants tried to reclaim the village, but they had to cut through barbed wire to plant trees on the graves of their relatives. This suggests that the village was still closed to the public at that time.
Now it’s open at weekends and on bank holidays, or whenever the firing range isn’t in use. There is no admission charge, but donations are requested at the car park and in the church.
The place was already fairly run-down when I last visited almost 30 years previously. There looks as though there has been some restoration work since then, though, but there are also houses that have fallen into further and complete ruin.
Our intention was to just drop by on our way to Lulworth Cove, but we ended up spending longer than planned, wandering in and out of the houses, taking photographs.
There are several walks in the surrounding area now, and a farm has opened that I don’t remember from before.
We felt quite humbled by the fact that the homes still look as though they were simply abandoned quickly and temporarily. It’s very serene, though, and pleasant, and a lovely place to wile away a few hours.
A beautiful place but a sad story. A very sad story.