If there is such a thing as re-incarnation, please let me come back as Julia Bradbury, walking near Bridport. I know that there must be lots of hard work, paperwork and organisation behind her walking programmes, but how wonderful to be able to make her living sharing her passion, such as was apparent in this walk near Bridport, Dorset.
Recently, I watched her programme on walking three Dorset Hills.
As I have mentioned before I always think of Dorset as my “spiritual home” and automatically my ears perk up when I hear of anything about the County. How wonderful when I turned on this programme to see that Julia started her walk in the village of Symondsbury where I spent my birthday last year. In fact she walked straight past the wonderful Duck cottage in which we stayed, whilst making her way up Colmer’s Hill. Last year whilst the lovely T stayed tucked up under the covers in bed, I climbed up the hill at half past six in the morning, in that fresh, clean, sweet dew –washed air that envelops one at the start of the day before the “world” and all its noise and clamour has intruded.
Colmer’s Hill can be seen from many miles around the Bridport area. The sandstone mound rises out of the earth like an eruption of emotion from somewhere beneath the field’s surface and is topped by prominent pine trees planted in World War 1. Julia Bradbury spent some time talking to a wonderful photographer, Doug Chalk, who had actually photographed the hill every day for many years and produced a calendar of his shots. There were some wonderful pictures of it cloaked in dewy mist at sunrise, looking full of hope with a rainbow arching overhead, and silhouetted against a full moon.
She also had a conversation with a painter named Marian Taylor who had put together a compilation book of paintings of the hill which she called her “special place”. My own “special place” is about ten miles eastward, but the nearby bay of Eype and Colmer’s Hill come a close second. Marian told of the fire ceremonies which sometimes take place on the hill, when people pray to the God of nature under a full moon. It is easy to see how some people choose to give it a special spiritual significance. On my birthday evening T and I met a group of Morris dancers who had been performing on top of the hill on their way down to an event in the Tythe Barn of http://www.symondsburyestate.co.uk/. What an amazing place that must be for a wedding venue.
Leaving the far-reaching views from the hill behind Julia descended northwards into the nearby hollow way known as Hell Lane and passed a “Hansel and Gretel” cottage, formerly used by a local game keeper and smugglers. One could see how having taken contraband up from the beach the sunken lane would give really good cover to surreptitiously transfer the goods. Living up to its name, Hell Lane was a bit spooky, but also rather beautiful. It is one of the ancient trackways dating back to Anglo Saxon times by which people would travel. I remember that some of the route of the Ridgeway which I walked last year was the same , and the Pilgrims Way, which I am walking in September will also include such byways. I feel a real private connection to the earth, closed in and separate from the outside world and at one with myself and God when I walk in such an area as this. For anyone interested in the subject I came across this interesting blog, which gives an excellent insight into holloways in Dorset and has inspired me to read up further on them and to hopefully notice when my walks go along their routes.
Leaving the holloway behind, the landscape opened up and Julia crossed into Chideock ,left the village and climbed her second hill – Hard Down. She commented on the variety of scenery on this walk. This variety is something I have always felt about Dorset generally. I was introduced to the County (or actually , more particularly the concept of “Wessex”), by my old English Teacher, a chap called Michael Lucas in a stuffy comprehensive school classroom in St Albans in 1973, and I wonder whether he ever realised what a profound impact his enthusiasm for the area and Thomas Hardy would have on me. He told of the sense of freedom in the wide rolling downlands, the strange safety of the woods and the old fashioned wildflower meadows. This area contains Hardy’s Casterbridge, rope-making Bridport , old fashioned seaside towns like Weymouth; castles, coves and cliffs.
Returning to the theme of steep cliffs, Julia Bradbury’s third Dorset hill was the mighty Golden Cap, and T and I have made it a habit nowadays to always climb this when in the area. I would like to keep climbing it God-willing for as long as my fitness allows and am rather scared to stop, as I feel if I do, the day I can’t accomplish it will draw ever nearer. But for the moment I am able to climb it and always blessed with the wonderful views from the top. Golden Cap is the highest point on the South Coast of England; 300m higher than Beachy Head and twice as high as the White Cliffs of Dover. It is given its name because of the way the top of its “Cap” glows in the sunshine.
Descending eastwards along the coast down from the hill one finishes in Seatown and very conveniently at the Anchor Inn.
As, of necessity within the time-constraints of the programme a lot of detail of the walk was missed out. In particular it would have been nice to see the ruins of St Gabriels Chapel just before the final ascent of the hill begins. The Chapel is reputed to have a romantic history relating to a lost love, and along with a few cottages renovated by the National Trust is all that remains of the lost hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel. Away from the sometimes busy summit of Golden Cap this is a quiet little spot, the peace only broken by the cawing of crows and the distant lap of the waves. I remember once sitting in the stillness imaging who would have worshipped in the chapel years ago, who wept nearby when a loved one died, whose babies cried when baptised there and what posy of flowers a bride would have been holding.
I thoroughly enjoyed the programme and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Dorset, nature and history generally and those wanting inspiration to explore further some of the wonderful places we have in this country. This is certainly one of my favourite walks near Bridport. However, what this programme really did for me, was make me go straight back on the internet and book accommodation for my next trip to Wessex and a return climb of Golden Cap.