Welcome – and thank you so much for clicking on my walking blog! I write about walking as a physical, mental and spiritual activity and hope you enjoy reading about my adventures along the way. If you click on the heading above a link to categorise the walks I have written about will appear on the right of the screen. Please also click here to subscribe to my blog. Alternatively just keep scrolling down.
You can follow my local walks in amongst other places, Harlington and St Albans, my long distance trails, such as The Ridgeway and The Pilgrims Way and walks in my spiritual home of Dorset. I hope that you find my comments helpful and can gain some inspiration to put on those walking boots and set off outside your front door. All your comments are particularly welcomed as this is a journey of discovery for me too. As Marcel Proust said “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us”.
Have fun and “Keep Trudgin…..”
Houghton House – A Walk from Houghton Conquest, near Ampthill, Beds.
Maybe it is just because I have recently become a Nana but during this walk through Kings Wood and up to Houghton House just outside of Ampthill my mind was filled with old stories and memories that I must pass on in time to the newborn infant.
After easily parking in Houghton Conquest Village Hall Car Park I crossed the road opposite the Fourteenth Century All Saints Church to take an alleyway down to Rectory Lane and on to the Kings Wood and Glebe Meadows Nature Reserve.
The leaflet I had downloaded takes one around the edge of Kings Wood (thought to be named after the Monarchs who visited Houghton Park), however I was drawn to the more claustrophobic atmosphere under the canopy of emerging leaves into the depths of this ancient woodland. Very soon I was rewarded by the sight of a teddy bear coloured Chinese Water Deer delicately prancing straight across my path.
The path climbed steeply to the Greensand Ridge and continued amongst both decaying branches and emerging wild flowers, wandering in a Tolkeinesque-type grove.
As a child my Nana took me for walks across Bernard’s Heath in St Albans and told me tales of a magical world amongst the woodlands. Most importantly I will never forget that fairies live amongst the celandines. Amongst the bright green shiny leaves reminding me of heart shaped apple lollipops (she worked in a sweet shop!) and buttery yellow flowers I can still see the little sprites and elves peeking out shyly at us scared at our great big feet and noisy chatter.
The leaves of bluebells were showing through the leafmould and I made a mental note to return to this area in a month or so. I am sure that the sight and scent will be exquisite.
I also knew, as a child, that tree roots were Nature’s own steps and that the time worn hollows in tree trunks were the places where all the baby animals gathered and held their tea parties. Today I spotted anemones where the fairy folk would gather under the protection of this primitive flower to hide from the rain. Violets? – the little girl left by her wicked stepmother in the icy cold wood, who didn’t die but transformed herself into a beautiful blue flower that appeared just at the start of Spring.
On emerging from Kings Wood I was greeted with panoramic views over the Bedfordshire countryside. I could see across to Maulden and beyond to my left, Kempston to my right and the Stewartby Brickworks towers were straight ahead.
Quite soon I reached the remains of the Seventeenth Century Houghton House built for the Countess of Pembroke’s hunting parties. The remains stood high on a ridge surrounded by mistletoe-bearing trees.
Houghton House is thought to be the inspiration for “The House Beautiful” in Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress and it bought back memories of my own pilgrimage a full six months ago – such a lot had happened in that time. The house had fallen into disrepair in the 18th century and stood abandoned until the 1930s when Professor Richardson of Ampthill sought to preserve it.
The path then continued downhill and across fields until the source of the plaintive bleats which I had been hearing for some time became apparent.
Leaving the grazing matrons I followed the hedgerows just greening up with hawthorn and starting to blossom with blackthorn before reaching what was shown on the map as “duck decoys“. I have to admit that I did not know what these were and had to look them up on reaching home. Now I know I wish that I did not. I had recently fed some ducks which had come to me as I passed a pond near Houghton House.
Built for the use of Houghton House this is apparently the only recorded decoy in Bedfordshire. Attempting to leave all thoughts of Jemima Puddleduck being served up on a platter behind I skirted around the Western edge of Kings Wood and crossed back through the Nature Reserve into Cowslip Meadow. I was probably just a week or so early to see this at its best. One solitary brave crinkled-leaved beauty was softly nodding its head.
And the “key of heaven” or “fairy cups” – if you suck the nectar from the bottom of the stem it will make you grow. No, I never tried it!
This was a super and varied walk and one I shall definitely return to at bluebell time. The leaflet which can be downloaded here says it is three miles, however, probably because I wandered off track from time to time I walked more like five. There was an initial climb in Kings Wood but after that it was not particularly physically challenging.
For further details of my walking adventures along National Trails, including the Pilgrims’ Way, The Ridgeway, and the Hertfordshire Way please click here and enter your e mail address on the right. The website also incudes details of walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks and in my spiritual home of Wessex. Alternatively please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey”.
It was difficult to believe I was nearing the end of my journey along the Ridgeway National Trail. The walking from Princes Risborough to Wendover was varied and interesting, challenging but rewarding.
Day Six of the Ridgeway Trail started from the Whiteleaf Cross Car Park just outside Princes Risborough. The lovely T dropped me off exactly where he had picked me up late afternoon the day before and we arranged to meet several hours later at Tring Station. Much of this day’s walking was through woods. My journey happened to coincide with Saturday with many people out for a weekend stroll and I was also closer to some areas of urban settlement today so I met quite a few people. However, I still had many moments of peace and quiet with only the birds for company.
The first wood I entered was Giles Wood, soon following the path around with a drop known as The Hangings on my right. Following the hilly path I descended down to Cadsdean Road, went through more beech woodland, then climbed again entering the nature reserve of Grangelands. Land which had been used to grow crops during the war had reverted to chalky downlands. This reserve was soon followed by the Chequers Nature reserve. Butterflies were flitting around the wild thyme and dog roses. Following a well-worn path alongside a wood a country house became apparent on the left – Chequers – the Prime Ministers Country Residence. The Ridgeway bears left and goes right through the grounds of the estate. Security cameras were apparent, along with prohibition signs along the way warning walkers not to pass over the boundary of the pathway. I was surprised at how open the area was and how close I could get to the house – but no doubt I was being watched!
The Ridgeway National Trail is very well-signposted and I soon came across a direction marker showing me that I was making good progress.
Several times along the trail where the bridleway is heavily rutted a short alternative path is signposted for walkers alongside. I always found it useful to take these.
More hills and woodlands followed, up and down, across stiles and through kissing gates with occasional fantastic views when there was a break in the trees. Eventually I reached the top of Coombe Hill and its memorial to the men of Buckinghamshire who died in the Boer War. Again the views here were spectacular. I could see the line of the Ridgeway I had previously walked, yet again Didcot just about visible in the long distance. The grounds of Chequers were down below to my far left. I could also see Pulpit Hill, across towards the village of Ellesborough and far round to the right I could just see my eventual destination of Ivinghoe Beacon.
Red Kites circled like planes in flight formation round and around the top of the Hill (unfortunately I am not a good enough photographer to have got a good shot!). The walk continued along the top of the ridge to Bacombe Hill reserve giving wide-ranging views over the Aylesbury Vale and descended down to the roadway into Wendover.
This section of my walk along the Ridgeway National Trail coincided with a Saturday and it was great to see the small town buzzing with atmosphere. There was such an assortment of traditional shops, including a chocolatier!
I stopped for coffee and took the time to browse around a couple of charity shops. There were several posters in the town campaigning against the High Speed Rail line proposal and indeed on the top of Coombe Hill stickers had been placed around the memorial in the same vein. The walking up on the downs around here was stunning and peaceful and the town so unspoilt, yet thriving – I could certainly sympathise with the campaigners who were against this area being spoilt forever.
From Wendover I headed towards the clock tower and then turned right down a little pathway called Heron Lane. This passed the church of St Mary and followed a pretty stream, before again ascending into woodland. So much of today’s walking had been through beechwoods. Although the weather was good and the sun shining the dense leaf canopy meant that the woods were shaded and quiet, save for the constant chatter of birds. The terrain underfoot was still chalky and apart from the trees the only other vegetation were hollies and yews. Some exotic looking fungi, however, thrived at the base of some trees.
Continuing through Wendover woods I could occasionally see down to RAF Halton below. I eventually left the densely wooded area and after crossing several minor roads arrived at the hamlet of Hastoe.
I had originally thought of meeting T just a little further on at the pub in the village of Wiggington – this was a pretty place with its-fashioned road sign positioned at the crossroads by the parish church of St Bartholomews. Much of the land around this area had at one time belonged to the Rothschild family. However, as I was making good time I decided to carry on to Tring Station.
I left the woodlands now and the terrain became chalk grassland. After crossing the major A roads outside Tring the Ridgeway reaches the Grand Union Canal before passing by Tring Station.
Here my walk for the day officially ended. (However, I had a romantic dream of arriving on top of Ivinghoe Beacon at dawn! – hence I again changed my plans slightly. I walked the last few miles to the foot of the Beacon to return early the next morning.)
For a full index of my posts on Walking the Ridgeway National Trail please click here.
To subscribe to this blog and read about my walking treks along National Trails, including the Ridgeway National Trail , The Hertfordshire Way and the Pilgrims’ Way, walks in Dorset and routes in Beds and Herts, please click here and add your e mail address in the box on the right. Alternatively, please “like” my Facebook Page; “Jackie McAll – About the Journey”.
Index of Posts
- The Hertfordshire Way: A 60th Birthday Pilgrimage
- The Hertfordshire Way: St Albans to Markyate – Friendship and Memories
Further posts to follow…………..
To subscribe to my blog to read details of my local walks, walks in Wessex and adventures along National Trails (including the Ridgeway and The Pilgrims’ Way please click here and add your e mail address in the box on the right. Alternatively please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie Mcall “About the Journey”
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FRIENDSHIPS AND MEMORIES
And so it began (with coffee!)
Quite aptly the first leg of our journey along the 170 mile Hertfordshire Way began on a day in early Spring. The eleven mile walk from St Albans to Markyate was a time to renew old friendships, reminisce on times past and create new memories.
On this first leg of our pilgrimage to mark our forthcoming sixtieth birthdays in 2019, my friend, A and I were joined by our old schoolfriend, H. I find it quite difficult to comprehend sometimes how fast time flies and we calculated that it was about fifteen years since we had last all met up. A and I have been friends since we were eleven and my friendship with H goes back even further to the days of infant school blackboards, sandpits and jam jar frogspawn.
We began our journey at St Albans Abbey. Unfortunately we could not take a photo of ourselves in front of the Cathedral because it was cordoned off due to the filming of an episode of “The Crown”, but perhaps more symbolically we posed in front of the Abbey Gateway. We turned and passed through the Gateway to take our first steps. The Herfordshire Way Guidebook takes one on a short loop around some of the historic sites in St Albans at the start of the walk but as all three of us had been born and brought up in the City we gave this a miss and proceeded on our way. I think having spent so many years in the City sometimes I take for granted its ancient buildings and environment and today I tried to remain conscious of the wide open parkland around “the Lake” (as locals call it), the historical significance of the sections of Roman Wall and the Anglo Saxon Church of St Michaels.
All three of us are ex-alumni of Francis Bacon School in the City and somewhere in my memory I had retained a thought that Francis Bacon had been buried in St Michaels. We spent a while fruitlessly looking amongst the snowdrop drifts for a grave and it was only on returning home that I researched what I should probably have known about the snow and a chicken! A monument remains in the Church.
Crossing the A4147 we passed the remains of the Roman Ampitheatre on our left and followed the permissive path through Gorhambury. This eventually turns towards the banks of the River Ver making its apparently timeless journey from Kensworth Lynch to join the River Colne at Bricket Wood. However, this chalk stream has been threatened at times by pumping upstream and drought and the Ver Valley Society campaigns and works towards its continuity.
H had bought Sarah, the terrier cross breed which her son had rescued all the way from Hong Kong with her and she co-operatively let herself be put back on the leash before we crossed the main A5183 over to Bow Bridge.
The walk continued along the banks of the river and passed Shafford Farm and a picturesque old mill with interesting wording prominently pasted on its side.
Eventually we reached Redbournbury Mill. Our senses were awakening to Spring – the warmth of the sun soothed our backs and our ears were greeted to the song of the yellowhammer asking for his bit of bread. Then a nutmeg and cinnamon scent reached our nostrils. Ash Wednesday had been the day before. The Mill must be baking hot cross buns. How appetising they smelt.
After re-crossing the main road we soon reached the outskirts of Redbourn and passed through the churchyard of the twelfth century church of St Marys. Leaving the churchyard and aiming towards the motorway we took leave of our friend H. We had caught up with what I imagine is just a little of what had been happening in our lives for the past fifteen years. I felt so blessed that after so much time we could still chat, laugh and connect authentically. Let us not leave it so long again.
A and I crossed over the never-ceasing traffic of the M1 and were soon at peace in the fields again. Suddenly we stopped. Up above was the bubbly song of a skylark. We watched him return down to the field then fly straight up again like a helicopter, singing his heart out as he went up and up. A magical moment.
After crossing further fields and farmtracks we reached the village of Flamstead. Here the guidebook told us to look out for the “Hertfordshire Spike” on the Church. I wonder how many more of them we will see over the next two years? We felt the need for a refreshment stop just as we reached the “Spotted Dog” pub, which many years ago (actually when Britain had been at war over the Falkland Islands!) had been run by my parents.
It was interesting to see how it had changed over the years and we were delighted to be welcomed by a wonderful landlady offering tea, hot chocolate and coffee alongside the usual alcoholic beverages. The pub had satisfyingly good custom for a mid afternoon visit. We got talking to a couple of ladies who travelled over specially from Luton so that they could enjoy some refreshment and a chat in a village setting in such comfortable surroundings. It is certainly somewhere I would visit again , a warm welcome, cosy atmosphere – and the menu looked good too!!
When we arrived in Flamstead we saw the village sign had a crochet cover! Apparently the crafter is anonymous! Maybe we should start off a hunt for her (or him!) The Spotted Dog had followed suit with decorations on its bench. I am always gratified when I find such timeless, quiet villages going on with life in their own way, even though close to major transport links. In many ways Flamstead reminded me of some of the Kent villages I had visited whilst doing the Gratitude Pilgrimage l made last September in respect of my recovery.
We eventually pulled ourselves away from the pub and narrowly avoided following the Chiltern Way by mistake then trudged onward over fields the last couple of miles to Markyate. Just before reaching the village we noted that Storm Doris had done her work and a huge old tree blocked our way. Adjacent to a local playground what fun it would have been for children to climb.
We reached the village bus stop just five minutes before a bus was due which returned us to our starting place in St Albans. An easy ending to a day in which all had gone well. Signposting and directions had been good. Our bodies had been re-awakened by exercise after the grey winter days. Our spirits had been raised by snowdrops, a skylark and early Spring sunshine. Our hearts gladdened by the resumption of old friendships.
A full Index of Posts on Walking the Hertfordshire Way can be found here. To subscribe to my website www.jackiemcall.co.uk and read details of my local walks in Beds Herts and Bucks and adventures along National Trails (including the Pilgrims Way) and in Dorset………………… please click here and add your e mail address in the box on the right. Alternatively please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie Mcall “About the Journey“.
Last December “The Times” featured “A Good Walk – Eversholt and Toddington Park, Beds”. Using Christopher Somerville’s route as a starting point for this local walk and particularly to celebrate the birth of my grandson on Valentine’s Day just four days before I set out walking hopeful of some sunshine. In his birth congratulations card I had written the dedication “Younger than Springtime” to the new born infant and I walked looking for signs of a forthcoming Spring. The weather forecast on “Look East” the day before had been promising……….. had they got it right this time?
Somerville talks in his article of James, Duke of Monmouth (illegitimate son of Charles II) and his association with Toddington Park. However, the route he suggests to take does not follow the Monmouth Way but rather a shorter, more triangulated route from Toddington to Eversholt and back again. I wanted to stretch my legs a little further than his five and a half miles so on leaving Park Road in Toddington I stayed with the Monmouth Way all the way to Eversholt then followed Somerville’s return route. Perhaps prompted by thoughts of my grandson I pondered on the passing of time. On leaving Toddington I had seen a clock set into a house frontage.
Here I was again just putting one foot in front of the other as I have now been doing for so many years and particularly now in these blogs for a year. A whole year of changes. A year ago my son and his wife had just returned from a wonderful holiday in Australia and he helped me set up this website. A full year of planning and planting seeds, seeing my garden in the fullness of summer and harvesting in the Autumn. The excitement of expectation of new life. The walks I took alone and with friends – finally climbing Helvellyn, walking in Menorca, the joy of that early morning climb up Barton Springs, appreciation of all the beauty on my doorstep and as always returning time and again to Wessex. The highlight, of course, being my gratitude pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury – an experience so profound that I am at present still struggling to turn my blogs into the book that I have been promising to write because the emotions are still so heightened. My father passed away and three months later his great grandson was born. And, of course, I had seen a young fox on Flitwick Moor.
The terrain started muddy and remained muddy for most of the walk. The Monmouth Way passed Toddington Manor and wound through farmland and small copses. I took my obligatory photograph of a horse. At times there were unexpected long-ranging views over the Bedfordshire countryside but the weather remained misty and murky. A cold wind blew across the open fields and I was glad I had worn my sunglasses – to protect my eyes from the icy blasts.
A respite from the mud came when I reached Washer’s Wood and passed under some conifer trees before seeing the village of Eversholt in the distance.
I passed through Eversholt when walking the Millenium Trail last year and remarked then at what a peaceful, pretty village it was with an eclectic mix of architectural styles. Today, however, there seemed to be rather a traffic jam – horses going one way passing horses going another!
After reaching Eversholt Church I retraced my steps, crossed a field and completed a heavy trudge up a hill to Palmer’s Shrubs. I searched in vain for the sun through the clouds. Another field and another delightful copse but I had to take a close look at the trees to see any buds. I heard a woodpecker in the distance. There were lovely if misty and lonely views again of the Bedfordshire countryside.
Further plodding took me through more fields. In his article Somerville talks of finding ancient pottery and a “nacreous fragment of Roman glass”. Despite my love of “TimeWatch” and peering into exhibition cases in museums I really wouldn’t know how to identify anything interesting I may see when out walking. There were certainly lots of flints and interesting looking fragments in the fields. I was reminded of how when my son was very young, when out walking he would never take his eyes off the ground, always looking for fossils and treasures. We had stacks upon stacks of stones under the bed – I wondered whether this characteristic would be passed on? I saw some interesting footprints.?………………………….
After crossing Park Road the route then runs parallel to it, past Herne Grange and back into Toddington with its shops and refreshments.
The only sign of Spring I spied were some snowdrops but they appeared as a simple greeting for a new born infant. Welcome to our wonderful world – Fox James Manly McClean – “Younger than Springtime”. We are blessed. You are loved.
Christopher Somerville Walk – 5 1/2 miles; total including Monmouth Way Section which I walked – 7 miles. Detailed directions at christophersommerville.co.uk
OS Explorer 192, 193 (route crosses the border between both maps)
For further details of my walking adventures in Beds, Herts and Bucks, my long-distance trails, including the Pilgrims’ Way and the Ridgeway and walks around Wessex please click here and add your e mail address in the box on the right. Alternatively “like” my Facebook page: “Jackie McAll – About the Journey“.
With an almost 50 year friendship behind them two “old Albanians” will walk the 170 mile Hertfordshire Way planning to finish at St Albans Abbey in May/June 2019 to celebrate their 60th birthdays.
The 170 mile Hertfordshire Way (194 mile with additional legs………………… we will see!) is detailed in a super book edited by Bert Richardson and produced by Friends of the Hertfordshire Way. It is conveniently set out in chunks of 11 – 15 mile legs skirting much of the County of Hertfordshire, taking in Royston to the North; Bishops Stortford and Cuffley to the East and Kings Langley to the South. It’s Western section travels from Tring to St Albans, Northwards up towards Letchworth before returning to Royston. Many small villages and hamlets are covered en route as well as market towns and, of course the Cathedral City, where we propose to start and begin our walk. The countryside is varied from wide open prairie-style fields, traditional farmland and woodland, river walks and hills. We expect to pass medieval churches, Victorian industrial heritage, evidence of prehistoric sites and National Trust properties.
Our adventures along the way during our almost monthly walks* will be detailed here. We hope that we may inspire others to put on their walking boots and get out to see some of our beautiful countryside and heritage. Any comments about our walks and adventures or the places we pass along the way are more than welcome.
“Don’t walk behind me – I may not lead;
Don’t walk in front of me – I may not follow;
Just walk beside me and be my friend”
*We have given ourselves the leeway of a spare few months to account for unforeseen circumstances!
For a full index of posts on walking the Hertfordshire Way please click here.
To subscribe to my blog and read my posts on this walk of the Hertfordshire Way please click here and add your e mail details in the box on the right. Alternatively please “like” my Facebook page: Jackie McAll – About the Journey“. My posts cover local walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks and also my long distance walks of the Pilgrims’ Way, The Ridgeway, other trails and walks in “Wessex“.
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It is no secret that my favourite place for walking is Thomas Hardy’s Wessex and here is an Index of just a few of the walks I have done. I hope to add many more to it!
1 Golden Cap – A Boxing Day Circular Walk up Golden Cap near Bridport.
2 Pilsdon Pen – A short climb up “traditionally” the highest point in Dorset
3 There’s something about Eype – a stroll from Bridport to Eype and back
4 Wessex Heights – Bulbarrow
5 A walk near Bridport – Hills and Holloways
I have also walked in stages and several sections many times the Dorset Coastal path from Lyme Regis in the West to Studland in the East; explored the Sturminster Newton and Marnhull (or do I mean Marlott?) area and know the footpaths around Dorchester, Stinford and Bockhampton as well as those around my Bedfordshire home in Harlington (Index here). I will be adding further details of some of these walks in due course.
I first struggled up to the summit of Golden Cap , after consuming a couple of pints of cider in the Anchor Inn at Seatown fifteen years ago. Nowadays my fitness and my drinking habits are very much improved and instead of a demanding challenge I can find the walk a pleasure. I have climbed it many times since, from both directions, on my own, with a friend and with T and it has now become rather a tradition that each time I am in the locality I make the pilgrimage to the highest point on the South Coast.
Probably like a lot of people I prefer walking when there are few others around and so this being Boxing Day T and I paid our £2 to park in the car park at Seatown early on Boxing Day morning, hoping to escape the crowds. Although why I should consider this as my “tradition” and not allow anyone the same opportunity is incredibly selfish of me!
No-one was around as we joined the well-trodden coastal path through scrubland and open fields and quite quickly began to climb.
One solitary runner passed us and amazed us with his fitness as the further we walked the more far-reaching the views became. Looking backwards down towards the 18th century Anchor Inn we could quickly appreciate how far we had climbed.
As we reached the summit at 188 m Charmouth and Lyme appeared to our west.
Someone had placed a Christmas decoration at the foot of the trig point and we breathed in the clear fresh morning air as we took in the spectacular views.
A Labrador wearing his Christmas collar was running joyfully across the summit and his owners took our picture before we descended towards the ruined church at Stanton St Gabriel. This is all that remains as evidence of a once thriving community of 23 families settled around a village green here in 1650. The population gradually shifted to nearby Morcombelake. This area is one of my “special places”. Somewhere that the air always feels stilled and the presence of God very close.
I have a great fondness for deserted and abandoned churches – I think because I don’t see the sadness, but I look at them as evidence of the faith of our ancestors – a faith which for me endures today. The sun was now rising further into the sky and we stopped for thermos flask tea.
I sat and thought generally about the concept of “tradition”. Particularly at Christmas time so many of us have our own ways of doing things. Perhaps cultural and family habits that have been passed down through generations and give a sense of comfort and belonging. Tradition can bring families together and enable people to reconnect with friends. Many of our memories of “special” times come from such traditions and they give us an opportunity to celebrate the things that really matter in life.
However, although this link with the past can be profound and meaningful there is always the space in our lives for new ways of doing things and new traditions to be forged. People pass away, but the empty space at the table is often replaced by a new baby in the family. (“One in; one out” – as my mother bluntly puts it!). How many “traditional” families are there around nowadays, anyway – we come together to find new ways of accommodating and welcoming people. Some chose to spend time alone. In particular, T and I enjoyed the peace and quiet away in Dorset this Christmas and chose not to take part in the commercialisation of the event.
I think also that establishing a Tradition (be it climbing Golden Cap, opening presents in a certain order, welcoming someone in a certain way) offers a certain simplicity to life and an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection.
Onwards from St Gabriel’s it would have been possible to climb Stonebarrow further down the coast but we considered that we did not need to burn off anywhere near the 6,000 calories the BBC had claimed that people consumed on Christmas Day and so we decided to return skirting the edges of Langdon Hill. As we got near to Seatown it became apparent that everyone else had now got out of bed! So many were enjoying the fresh, clear weather to take their traditional Boxing Day Walk.
The Anchor Inn is excellent for refreshments but we had bought our own and were able to walk along the shingle beach and eat our sandwiches whilst listening to that wonderful sound of waves dragging shingle.
As a child I used to think that the sea stopped at night and remember being amazed at learning it was never turned off and that its movement was eternal. To borrow a friend’s recent thoughts – the seawater retreats to enable the waves to move forward – I like this idea. Sometimes we may retreat but we continue to move on and like those waves I will continue to return and climb Golden Cap for as long as I can.
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“So I am found on Ingpen Beacon, or on Wylls-Neck to the west,
Or else on homely Bulbarrow, or little Pilsdon Crest,
Where men have never cared to haunt, nor women have walked with me,
And ghosts then keep their distance; and I know some liberty”. Hardy (“Wessex Heights”)
“Little Pilsdon Crest” ironically, is traditionally known as the highest hill in Dorset. I have always identified with the sentiment of Hardy’s poem “Wessex Heights” and after climbing “homely Bulbarrow” last summer was privileged to climb today where “mind-chains do not clank when one’s next neighbour is the sky”.
T and I set off early and were able to make the short climb up from the layby at the bottom of the hill on the B3164, in the untarnished atmosphere of early morning. The views on reaching the summit of this Iron Age hill fort were absolutely stunning. Early morning mists were still cradling in the hollows down in the vales and those areas the sun had yet to reach held on to their frosty white coating. Just as a winter’s morning should be – a slight chill in the air but the warmth of the sun coming through giving promise for the day ahead.
We could follow the coast round in a westerly direction from Burton Bradstock, Bridport (the trees atop Colmer’s Hill standing proudly ahead), Golden Cap, Lyme and Devon beyond. As we continued turning clockwise our view extended into Somerset and Wiltshire beyond, then returning to the Blackmore Vale and then southwards to the area where we knew Dorchester would be. Our eyes were then pulled back down to the spectacular coastline.
Pilsdon’s summit is topped by an Iron Age hill fort and when the area was excavated in the 1960s the remains of 14 roundhouses were uncovered near the centre. We could make out slight risen areas in the soft springy turf which may have been burial mounds or alternatively medieval “pillow mounds” – man made areas for breeding rabbits.
There were steep ditches around the top of the summit and we ruminated on how difficult it must have been to attack. However, the N T information board told us that it had eventually been taken by the Romans.
Some say that the poem “Wessex Heights” was written by Hardy during a period of depression. The general theme of the poem certainly reads as if he only feels free and at liberty when high away from the town and amongst the hills. He talks of “phantoms” pursuing him and people saying “harsh heavy things”. Hardy received, of course, much criticism of his novel “Jude the Obscure”, which had been published the previous year.
For me, however, the attraction of the poem and the lure of walking and climbing hills, particularly those in Wessex, is to return to “my simple self that was” and to “know some liberty”. Rather than reading depression into this poem and harbouring on the difficulties I sometimes find being in towns, crowded places and amongst people – I like to give thanks for those wild and windy places that still exist for us to escape to.
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It is no secret that I regard Dorset (or perhaps more particularly Wessex) as my spiritual home. The call is constant. I have my special places here where I feel particularly connected to something much more powerful than myself: Ringstead Bay, St Gabriel’s on the way up Golden Cap, Colmer’s Hill, the particular stretch of the River Frome between Bockhampton and Stinsford and, of course, Stinsford Churchyard itself…………………… but more recently the pebble beach at Eype has filled me with an inner peace
What better way to spent a Christmas Eve morning than in the market town of Bridport – a cornucopia of bookshops (four, I believe), proper greengrocers, bakers and butchers, ironmongers, countless charity shops and market stalls offering fossils, smoked duck, gloves, soaps, books, records, the list is endless. I have never enjoyed the experience of “shopping”, but wandering around Bridport is different. T and I spent a couple of hours just meandering and picking up last minute Christmas treats before having the rest of the day to spend on what I enjoy best – walking!
Parking the car near the Leisure Centre we were soon far away from even the “acceptable” face of consumerism in Bridport and following the end section of the Monarch’s Way towards West Bay.
Passing by Palmer’s Brewery attractively situated by the river we initially followed the route of the Brit, before crossing meadows and fields on a well-marked footpath down to West Bay.
Perhaps better known now as the setting of the TV Programme Broadchurch, West Bay will always remind me of a very rainy afternoon the first time I introduced T to the delights of Dorset. (A lot of his walking seems to have been unfortunately done in the rain!). That afternoon the deluge was just too great to be outside and we spent the afternoon doing crosswords and Sudoko in a local pub. Today, no rain but a really blustery wind – and then I realised I had broken my “cardinal rule”!
I remember someone telling me years ago to plan a walk so far as possible with the prevailing wind behind and so with all the miles I have covered and the times I have walked the Dorset coastline I have always trudged west to east with the sea on my right. How strange today to be walking with the sea on my left – and facing a bracing wind. At times we were left breathless as we followed the coastal path westward for a couple of miles. It was interesting, however, to see the coastline from the other direction and appreciate a different aspect of the cliffs and downlands.
It was slightly misty and the views were not grand but once we reached the privacy of Eype Beach (we were the only people there) we knew that our exertions had been worth it. We stayed a while each in our own thoughts ; waves too rough for stone skimming but plenty of time to build a pebble tower.
Christmas Eve, carefully placing pebbles one atop another, became a form of meditation – such a perfect way to spend this special time awaiting Christmas Day.
A wander along the footpath adjacent to the lane leading to the A35, Bridport bypass, took us past Eype Church which I couldn’t see marked on the OS Map. We ate our sandwiches (how many times have I expressed gratitude for all the benches in Churchyards) and I pondered on the beautifully simple words on the headstone of a local man. With distant views of Colmers Hill we followed the footpath back towards the A 35 and after crossing it again followed a path through fields.
We passed through a farmyard and back to the River Brit and returned to the outskirts of Bridport. The route was easy to pick out using Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116. There was a tough climb out of West Bay along the coastal path and a further hill up out of Eype. Refreshments available at West Bay and of course Bridport. It was only about five miles but felt a little longer with the climbs.
How blessed were we to be able to enjoy such peace and quiet, refreshed and awoken by the brisk wind, moved by the ever ceasing waves and ready for tomorrow’s festivities. And, yes, there is something a bit special about Eype.
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