Sunday, 26 September 2010


As I set off from the car park on the ridge high above Tyneham village, the elderly ladies in the car next to me wound down the window of their car and smiled at me. 'Oh the joys of a British summer!' exclaimed one of them, beaming at me. 'Yes indeed' I replied enthusiastically ' the view from up here really is fantastic' It was wet, windy and you couldn't see any further than the perimeter of the car park. I didn't care. The family were happily looking at monkeys and I had the opportunity of walking the army ranges at Lulworth. I didn't mind whether it was raining or not. Striding along the ridge towards Flowers Barrow the mist was thick, and all the gorse bushes were covered in countless droplets of water. The great fortifications of Flowers Barrow itself suddenly appeared out of the cloud, but as I took the steep descent into Warbarrow bay, I found myself dropping below the cloud and the familiar sight of Warbarrow Tout came into view.
A family party were struggling up the incredibly steep and slippery slope towards me. 'Its much easier going down' I called out heartily, moments before spectacularly losing my footing and sliding past two startled looking children.
Looking back up the slope, Flowers Barrow was hardly visible in the cloud but the great chalk cliffs stretching round to Arish Mell and Bindon hill looked majestic. Reaching the beach at Worbarrow bay I found that I had it pretty much to myself and so decided to have my lunch looking at the sea and cliffs. I couldn't help remembering swimming there one hot summers day, and having to push away the occasional jellyfish.
Lunch complete, I pushed inland to Tyneham village. Taken over by the army in 1943, a visit to the village is a powerful and moving experience. It is a lost place, of roofless shells of buildings and overgrown gardens. In each house there is a board telling you who last lived there, often with a photograph of the building as it it had been. Never allowed to return to their homes, the people of Tyneham were truly wronged, but had the army not taken over this coastline it would have been lost in other ways.
This drinking fountain is set into the wall of the churchyard at Tyneham. Scripture and modern health and safety concerns do not sit comfortably together.Click on the picture to enlarge the text.
One of my favorite buildings in Tyneham is the Rectory. The top story has been removed but there are some evocative remains to be seen, such as as the bread oven, the old copper and the fire place.

Here is the front door of the rectory. The circular mark with the square hole in the center shows where the bell push once was. If you enlarge the picture below you can just see it.

Climbing up out of Tyneham I stopped and looked back at the site of the village. The roof of the restored church is just visible. The ridge on the skyline is Gad Cliff which drops down steeply to the see below. The marker posts in the picture mark the limit of the safe area. Beyond these posts unexploded shells can be found.
I noticed these links from a tank track. They must have been there some time as a tree has grown up through them.
Clear of mist, the ridge down which I had started my walk now offered magnificent views to the north, over the firing ranges towards Bovingdon. I could here the low rumble of tank engines and an occasional burst of gunfire.
As I reached the car, my final view was of the Tyneham valley down to Worbarrow Bay with Portland somewhere in the distance.

Witherstone cutting, West Dorset

Running through the heart of West Dorset is the route of the branch line that used to run between Maiden Newton and Bridport. I have a fascination for this line and I cannot really explain why, unless it is simply to do with the beauty of the countryside and nostalgia for a gentler age. Like so many disused railway lines, this one is at times clearly an old railway, complete with bridges, station platforms, and embankments. There are many places however where nature has softened mans industry to such an extend that the thought of a railway line ever being there seems quite fanciful.
On this hot sunny August day we turned our backs on the beach and headed instead for Witherstone cutting, now a nature reserve but once an infamous length of the Bridport railway. Infamous because of its very steep gradient that caused more than one set of locomotive wheels to slip. In fact, the very last steam train to run on this line, in January 1967, failed to make it up this gradient and had to be rescued by a diesel.
On the day of our walk, the air was full of the soft sounds of summer and there was a hot drowsy magic in the air. Around us flew many butterflies-a welcome site after such a poor year for them. I was delighted when I spotted a small heath. In the past I have been dismissive of these small brown butterflies but today it looked lovely.
These thistles were most striking and the bees loved them.
At the end of the walk we left the old trackbed and passed through on old gateway. The gate was gone but the cast iron posts remain. This was part of the old railway fence and is one of the few reminders of this rural branch line.

Knowlton Rings, Dorset

This was a very short walk, almost completely circular, and encompassed 5000 years of mankind's attempt to make sense of existence. Set in a quiet but magical corner of Dorset, Knowlton rings is a complex of henge monuments and burial mounds. Although many of the earthworks are ploughed out and only visible from the air, the one henge that remains has the ruins of a 14th century church in the middle. Caroline and I discussed site continuity and the fact that man is drawn to places of previous spiritual importance. 'What would we build as a symbol of our achievements' snorted Caroline,'Tescos?'
A henge has the ditch on the inside of the bank and seems to be keeping something in rather than keeping things out. The 2 yew trees by the eastern gate were festooned with votive offerings of coloured ribbons and cloth although what the gods made of that is hard to imagine. Outside the henge, heavy squalls of summer rain threatened but missed us and I felt strangely sheltered by this ancient place.