There can be so many definitions of the boundaries of “Wessex”. At its greatest extent it can be said to cover Hampshire (including the Isle of Wight), Dorset and Wiltshire, with the addition of parts of Berkshire and East Somerset. It is also the name used to refer to the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in the South West of the Country. Thomas Hardy, of course, also used it as a background for his “Wessex” novels (and even named his dog “Wessex”!)
I rather like to use the place names which he mentions in his poem “Wessex Heights” to mark approximate boundaries. Having recently climbed “homely Bulbarrow” (to the centre) and “little Pilsdon Crest” (to the West ) today the more Northerly summit of “Ingpen Beacon” (as it is called in the poem) beckoned – and what a day for climbing heights it was!
After listening to weather reports talking of drought with the country having had little rain this Spring, I finally travelled down to Dorset as the climate changed. I stopped off whilst still in Berkshire to visit this “Height”. Fortunately much of the climb up Inkpen was done by car. This was left at the car park at the top near the stone commemorating the Merville Battery of WW2. With most of the summit then climbed the spectacular views were unfortunately spoilt by the rain. It was difficult to hold a camera still in the howling wind to get a picture.
Well wrapped up in several layers with gloves and scarf I traipsed along the top of the chalk ridge for a while to capture some of Hardy’s feeling of “liberty”. Despite the weather I could hear skylarks singing and took comfort in the bright yellow of the gorse.
A short walk along the top of the ridge led me to The Gibbet. This structure has a rather grizzly story. It was erected in 1676 to display the bodies of George Broomham and his mistress Dorothy Newman who were put to death for the murder of Broomham’s wife and son. The idea being that the sight of the bodies would remind other locals of the fate that could await them for a similar crime. The gibbet there today is not the original one but nevertheless it stands as a striking feature against the sky. It bought an even more sombre feel to an already melancholy walk.
So far as I am aware Hardy did not refer to this structure in any of his stories (but I stand to be corrected on this). Certainly, knowing of his fascination for tales of this type I am surprised that he did not.
For me………………………… another of the locations ticked off the “Wessex Heights” list.
“For mind chains do not clank when one’s next neighbour is the sky”.
Please click for further walks on the Wessex Heights. Also available is an Index of my walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks; along with further walks in Dorset. I have also written about my trek along the ancient track of The Ridgeway and my gratitude walk along the Pilgrims’ Way .
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