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Sunday stroll: Ashcombe

Yesterday was a glorious summer’s day, and we went on a walk we’ve done a couple of times before, on byways and footpaths through the grounds of the Ashcombe Estate, near Tollard Royal in south Wiltshire. Ashcombe House was once the home of Sir Cecil Beaton, and he wrote a wonderful book about his life there. Click on photos to enlarge.

1:25,000 map of the area. Each blue grid square is 1 km x 1 km.

Google Earth image with route marked. We started at Tollard Royal at the bottom of the image and walked the route anti-clockwise direction, going up the straight byway at the start of the walk.

Going up the long straight byway. A byway is open to all traffic: we met a couple of cheery off-road motorbikers.

Lovely vista of Ashgrove Bottom, one of the many dry valleys (coombes) on the chalk downland.

The path is still climbing, and on the left and centre you can see the tops of the wooded coombes in which Ashcombe House nestles.

Lovely meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense). It’s a much more vivid blue than this – the colour never comes out right in my photos.

Still climbing.

If you just squint you can see a part of the roof and dormer windows of Ashcombe House in the centre of the photo, surrounded by the woods. It is in the most wonderfully secluded spot.

Looking down on the woods. To me, there is no finer sight than the English countryside in summer.

Not that you’ll be able to spot them, but there are two red kites (Milvus milvus) in this photo. The red kite has only colonised this area in the last 15 years or so.

A common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), just starting to go over.

Another common spotted orchid flower, slightly differently coloured (they are quite variable).

Ferne House, just to the north of the Ashcombe Estate, with its double avenue of trees. Despite looking like it has sat in its grounds for centuries, this mansion was built in 2001 for Lord Rothermere. It was designed in a Palladian style by architect Quinlan Terry.

Ferne House and grounds. I’m fascinated by the groups of trees that have been planted – squares, circles, crosses, triangles and even what might be a love heart! This is the highest point of the walk, and is only a few metres lower than Win Green, the nearby highest ground with a trig point and fabulous vistas over south Wiltshire and north Dorset.

Starting the steep walk down through the woods to Ashcombe Bottom. You can see here how Ashcombe got its name – valley of the ashes. There were also some beautiful beech trees in the woods, and luckily no sign of the dreaded ash die-back disease we’ve been hearing so much about recently.

It was a lovely surprise to see so many nettle-leaved bellflowers (Campanula trachelium) in the woods. The ransoms/wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves were dying off but the aroma was still pungent – delicious!

Walking down Ashcombe Bottom. Along with the estate trees (with their stock-proof cages) it was lovely to see the hawthorn bushes (Crataegus monogyna) on the hillside: such a classic part of chalk downland life.

Heading back to Tollard.

A rather crappy photo of a gorgeous comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) with its ragged wing edges.

Journey’s end: the beautiful wildlife pond at Tollard Royal.

Such a lovely walk: we saw some many wildflowers and grasses, including goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis), quaking grass (Briza media), pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), common valerian (Valeriana officinalis), field scabious (Knautia arvensis), nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea), lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum), wild carrot (Daucus carota), greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo) and many others. The one plant I expected to see and did not was the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), an absolute classic flower of chalk downlands.

We saw ten butterfly species: small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), small white (Pieris rapae), grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae), marbled white (Melanargia galathea), peacock (Aglais io), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), comma (Polygonia c-album), meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and gatekeeper (Pyronia tythonus). We weren’t really looking out for birds so much, but saw red kites and buzzards, plus a female blackcap and heard a beautiful male blackbird’s song in the woods. A blue damselfly settled on the drive in front of us as we walked along Ashcombe Bottom. It’s a wonderful walk in beautiful countryside, and we shall be doing it again before too long.

Sunday stroll: By Brook near Box

Yesterday was glorious – a brilliant, sunshiney spring day when all’s right with the world. We headed north for our day out, first to Great Chalfield Manor near Melksham in Wiltshire, an amazing Tudor manor house owned by the National Trust and most recently seen in the BBC’s wonderful Wolf Hall, doubling as Sir Thomas Cromwell’s home, Austin Friars. I’ll write about this in more detail another time; we went on from Great Chalfield for a walk around the By Brook in Box, Wiltshire. It turned out to be quite a special walk, for quite a few reasons.

Detail from OS 1:25,000 Explorer Map 156 for Chippenham and Bradford-on-Avon. The squares are 1 km x 1 km.

Google Earth view with our path marked out in a rather wobbly white line. We travelled in a clockwise direction. The red dot marks the western portal of the Box Tunnel.

We parked up near the railway bridge and walked past some old mill buildings with a funky lead-clad modern extension which only today (Monday) I have found out were Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios, where such luminaries as Gabriel himself, Beyoncé, Björk, Pixies, Kanye West, Robert Plant, Amy Winehouse, Brian Eno, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Deep Purple and New Order have recorded. Had I realised at the time I would have taken some photos! Anyhow, no celebs were spotted, just a lad with a skateboard and other locals. We followed the footpath heading north-east along the western side of the brook, which in places was quite wide and deep: deep enough for skateboard lad and his friend to be swimming in it. Brave for this time of year, despite the sunshine.

Swan on the By Brook, Box, Wiltshire. The brook had narrowed by this point: further south it was wider and deep enough for swimming.

Fogleigh House, a Victorian pile above the brook.

Unexpected moment number one came when Chap saw what he thought was a cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) perched in the windy tops of a tree over the brook. Not the sort of bird you expect to encounter on a country walk through pasture land. But sure enough, a cormorant it was.

That dark speck at the top of the trees is a cormorant. Chap has decidedly better eyesight (and bird recognition skills) than me.

Closing in on the cormorant.

He or she didn’t seem at all bothered as we passed by.

Holstein cows.

Dandelions ahoy.

A swan nesting on an island.

Beautiful orchard in blossom.

In the distance is the village of Colerne with its prominent church tower.

Unexpected moment number two: a fairy circle of St George’s mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa). These are traditionally found round about St George’s Day (23 April), hence the name: mine are a bit early, I guess brought on by the wonderful weather. I picked some (Chap’s sandwich bag made a handy receptacle). They are good to eat, fried with butter and garlic.

St George’s mushrooms. Yummy fried with butter and garlic.

Unexpected moment number three: Box Tunnel. I knew of Isambard Kindom Brunel‘s magnificent engineering endeavour, but had never seen it. Our footpath and then a small road led us out on to the main road, the A4, and there it was! Built between 1838 and 1841 for the Great Western Railway (GWR), it was a considerable engineering feat, at 2.95 km (1.83 miles) long, and dug through difficult and challenging strata. It’s sobering to learn that around 100 labourers died during the tunnel’s construction.

The west portal of Box Tunnel.

Commemorative plaque for the restoration of the portal in 1986. The tunnel was constructed between 1838 and 1841; surveying (including the sinking of eight shafts to ascertain the geology) took place in 1836 and 1837.

The west portal of Box Tunnel: I don’t think many civil engineering projects nowadays would decorate their structures with carved stone balustrading.

Unexpected moment number four: as we walked back in to Box we passed a B&B with a blue plaque on the wall: the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, Reverend W V Awdry, had lived here as a child.

Blue plaque at Lorne House B&B for Reverend W V Awdry, of Thomas the Tank Engine books fame.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about his time in the house, then known as Lorne Villa, and its influence on his future career as an author:

“[Awdry’s house] was only 200 yards (180 m) from the western end of Box Tunnel. There the Great Western Railway main line climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for two miles. A banking engine was kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way up the incline. Awdry related: “There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another. Here was the inspiration for the story of Edward helping Gordon‘s train up the hill, a story that Awdry first told his son Christopher some 25 years later, and which appeared in the first of the Railway Series books.”

Now I have a small but particular connection to Rev. Awdry. He was born in 1911 in Ampfield Vicarage near Romsey in Hampshire, and lived there until 1917. My mother lived in Ampfield Vicarage from September 1942 until some time in 1946: the vicar and his wife were the legal guardians of my mother and her brother while my grandparents were living in Borneo (and later held in a Japanese internment camp there). So this little blue plaque brought up all sorts of memories.

And then, across the road from Lorne Villa, came unexpected moment number five: a ruddy great steam thingamybob parked in someone’s front garden:

A bit of poking around on the web, and a gentleman on a forum tells that it is

“the boiler for a portable steam engine of the type used for powering belt-driven machinery, typically threshing machines used in separating grain from straw and chaff. The wheels indicate that it was pulled from place to place by horses, and not self-propelled. The engine is gone, too; all that remains is the boiler that generated steam to drive the engine.”

So something like this in its heydey:

A threshing machine demonstration at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, August 2008. Photo by Thomas Weise.

So a wonderful day full of wonderful moments.

Sunday stroll: Swallowcliffe

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny spring Sunday, and we went for a walk in the countryside around the south Wiltshire village of Swallowcliffe.

The Church of St Peter, Swallowcliffe, built 1842-1843. There was a service going on so we didn’t go inside.

Everything’s gone green after a grey winter ….

Lichen on a shrub.

Beautiful blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossom: hopefully there’ll be a good sloe crop from these in the late summer.

(Slightly drunken shot) of a soggy willow plantation. The area is very damp, with many springs, so willows seem to be a popular choice of commercial timber round here.

Castle Ditches, an Iron Age hill fort, and beneath it Withyslade Farm.

Castle Ditches is an Iron Age hillfort. The Victoria County History of Wiltshire says of the site: ‘An Iron-Age hill fort was called Oakley Castle in the 14th century and later, its ditches and banks, enclosing 25 acres, were called Castle ditches in the 16th century, and the whole earthwork afterwards took the name Castle Ditches.’

A view from the public footpath of the boardwalk through the boggy gardens of Spilsbury Farm, complete with grab posts and marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris).

One of several man-made ponds in the area exploiting the stream and springs. You can just make out two swans, one of which (on the left) is bottoms-up, and the other (on the right) we think was nesting on the island.

We saw some brimstone and tortoisehell butterflies and heard a raven cronking in the distance. It was a joy to be out and about in the spring lusciousness and to see the sun again after such a drab winter.

Saturday stroll: Mount Edgcumbe and Kingsand / Cawsand

A few weeks ago when we were staying with my sister in Devon, we decided to go for a walk through the Mount Edgcumbe Estate in Cornwall to the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand, and back.

Our walk route is the white line: we headed south along the coast and then northwards on the way back.

Our ferry/walk route is the white line: we headed south along the coast to Kingsand / Cawsand and then northwards on the way back to Cremyll.

We left late morning, catching the Cremyll Foot Ferry across the Hamoaze (the estuary of the River Tamar) from the delightfully named Admirals Hard in Stonehouse, Plymouth in Devon to the tiny village of Cremyll on the beautiful Rame Peninsula in Cornwall. The main entrance to Mount Edgcumbe House is in Cremyll, and our walk took us through large parts of the estate of this impressive country house.

Heading south we followed the coast, stopping frequently to admire the view and drink the pre-mixed chilled Pimms that my sister had cleverly brought. The twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand are very pretty, with tiny narrow lanes barely wide enough to take a car. It’s hard to tell where the one village stops and the other starts: they merge into each other. We had a couple of drinks in one of the pubs and then sat on the beach to eat our lunch and collect sea glass and take in the view.

The weather was mild and with a strong sea mist blowing in as the day went on. The foot ferry journey at either end of the walk was an extra treat, giving as it does beautiful views of the Regency period naval buildings on the dock fronts.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Click on all to embiggen / bigify.

Setting out in some seriously comfy shoes.

Setting out in some seriously comfy shoes.

The beautifully kept gardens at Mount Edgcumbe House.

The beautifully kept gardens at Mount Edgcumbe House.

A folly in the estate being conserved / renovated.

A temple folly in the estate being conserved / renovated.

We watched the ferry come in as we drank our first Pimms of the day. The breakwater has a lighthouse on the end of it.

We watched a ferry come in as we drank our first Pimms of the day. The breakwater has a lighthouse on the end of it.

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First sight of Kingsand / Cawsand.

First sight of Kingsand / Cawsand.

A beautiful fuchsia hedge.

A beautiful fuchsia hedge.

Getting closer.

Getting closer.

Pimms o'clock. Second of the walk. Lushes, us?

A Pimms with a view. Second of the walk. Lushes, us?

Looking back towards Plymouth. Fort Picklecombe is in the middle distance, now converted into apartments.

Looking back towards Devon. Fort Picklecombe is in the middle distance, by the rocky shore, and is now converted into apartments.

The beach at Cawsand.

The beach at Cawsand.

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Looking across to Kingsand.

Looking across to Kingsand.

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Beautiful footpath walk out of Kingsand.

Beautiful footpath walk out of Kingsand.

Looking back at Kingsand / Cawsand with the sea mist rolling in.

Looking back at Kingsand / Cawsand with the sea mist rolling in.

Love this. Like an impressionist painting.

Love this. Like an impressionist painting.

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A War Department marker from the Second World War sea defences.

A War Department marker from the Second World War sea defences.

The WW2 military installation above the marker.

The WW2 military installation above the marker.

Big skies.

Big skies.

My sister doing her best Maximus Decimus Meridius impression in the barley field.

My sister doing her best Maximus Decimus Meridius impression in the barley field.

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Looking up the Hamoaze to where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge crosses the Tamar. If you click and then click again you can just make out the double arch of its lenticular iron spans.

More big skies.

More big skies.

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Looking across to Torpoint on the Cornwall side of the Hamoaze.

Beautiful house and quay at Empacombe

Beautiful house and old stone tidal quay at Empacombe.

The Edgcumbe Belle, our ferry. Drake's Island is to the right.

The Edgcumbe Belle, our ferry at the pier at Cremyll. Drake’s Island is to the right.

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The Royal William Victualling Yard, Stonehouse, Plymouth. These impressive buildings were built between 1826-1835.

Parts of a favourite film of mine, Mr Turner, were filmed in Kingsand, with the village standing in for the Kentish seaside town of Margate.

Smeaton’s Tower

Last weekend we were in Devon, and visited Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe. Now landlocked, this lighthouse once stood on the distant Eddystone Rocks, the third incarnation of the Eddystone Lighthouse there. Designed by John Smeaton, it is an important and historic lighthouse, the first in the world to have the now-iconic curved profile that we all know, with the first modern use of hydraulic lime (a form of concrete that sets under water), and the first lighthouse to use dovetailed granite blocks that locked together and gave the structure added stability. It was built between 1756 and 1759.

Smeaton's Tower in June 2009.

Smeaton’s Tower in June 2009.

Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe on a rainy May day.

Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe on a rainy May day 2016.

The Eddystone Rocks lie 14 km (9 miles) off the Plymouth coast. Plymouth has been a historically important port for centuries, and many ships had been lost on the rocks of the reef. The first lighthouse, made of wood and designed and built by Henry Winstanley, was built there between 1696 and 1698, the first ever off-shore lighthouse in the world. The 60-candle light was first lit in 1698, and the lighthouse operated until the Great Storm of November 1703 completely destroyed the lighthouse and killed the six men in it, Winstanley included. The second lighthouse, John Rudyard’s Light, operated from 1709-1755. This lighthouse was built of wood and stone, stood 21 metres high and was lit by 24 candles. It burnt down in 1755.

Smeaton's Lighthouse.

Smeaton’s Lighthouse.

Smeaton's Lighthouse.

Smeaton’s Lighthouse.

Smeaton’s Lighthouse was the third iteration on the site. Smeaton built the lighthouse with a treetrunk-like shape to give it a low centre of gravity, and used fireproof materials: Cornish granite blocks on the outside and lighter Portland stone masonry on the inside, held with the hydraulic lime concrete he developed and cleverly interlocked for additional structural integrity. The curved shape had the added benefit of dissipating some of the energy of the waves which struck it.

It stood 22 metres high, and was first lit with 24 candles, and later replaced by oil lamps and reflectors, and later still a lens replaced the reflectors, intensifying the light emitted. Going on the number of beds inside, it had a crew of two, and the living areas were small and spartan.

Smeaton's Tower: the kitchen. Lead sink, eek!

Smeaton’s Tower: the kitchen. Lead sink, eek!

Curved furniture.

Curved furniture. Hope they had some cushions.

Access in the lower parts is by central spiral staircases like this, and in the upper parts by ladders.

Access in the lower parts is by central spiral staircases like this, and in the upper parts by ladders.

Original table from 1789.

Original table from 1759.

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The beds were tiny - my 5'8" sister just fitted inside this one, but at least you could close the doors for some privacy!

The beds were tiny – my 1.68 m (5′ 6″) tall sister just fitted inside this one, but at least you could close the doors for some privacy!

Heavy-duty shutters to keep the weather out.

Heavy-duty shutters to keep the weather out.

Looking up into the lantern.

Looking up into the lantern. You can walk around the outside by the lantern, but my not very good head for heights kept me firmly inside.

Gradually heavy weather eroded the rock base on which the lighthouse stood, causing it to shudder in storms. The lighthouse was dismantled in 1882, apart from the bottom few metres which were too solid to be removed and remain to this day as a stub on the rocks, and the lighthouse was transported to Plymouth and rebuilt on the Hoe. Work on the replacement lighthouse out at sea, Douglass’s Lighthouse, started in 1879, was operational in 1882 and continues to work to this day.

The stump of Smeaton's Lighthouse on the left, with the present-day Eddystopne Lighthouse on the right. Photo by Steve Johnson.

The stump of Smeaton’s Lighthouse on the left, with Douglass’s Lighthouse, the present-day Eddystone Lighthouse on the right. Photo by Steve Johnson.

Another view of the stump.

Another view of the stump. Photo by Pline.

The Eddystone Lighthouse is just visible in theois photo, taken from above the Lido in Plymouth. The lighthouse is on the horizon, to the right of the light on the end of the breakwater. Click on photo to enlarge.

The Eddystone Lighthouse and Smeaton’s stump are just visible in this photo, taken from above the Lido in Plymouth. The lighthouse is on the horizon, to the right of the light on the end of the breakwater. Click on photo to enlarge, and then click again to enlarge further. And then squint.

Smeaton’s Tower is a Grade I listed building, the highest grade.

And lurking in the background of a photos of the Beatles at the Hoe in 1967 is the tower, before its red and white striped paint job was reinstated.

The Beatles on the Hoe in 1967, with Smeaton's Tower in the background.

The Beatles on the Hoe in 1967, with Smeaton’s Tower in the background.

Smeaton’s Tower is well worth a visit. The opening times are on Plymouth City Council’s website. There is a small charge for entry.

Plymouth City Council website information on the four Eddystone lighthouses.

Sunday stroll May Day walk: Fonthill Abbey

Yesterday was May Day, and despite the cold, grey weather we headed out for a walk round a small part of the 9,000 acre Fonthill Estate in south-west Wiltshire. The grounds of the Fonthill Estate are notably lacking in public rights of way. As the ruins of the fabulous Fonthill Abbey are in the grounds and normally inaccessible, a rare open day for charity yesterday gave us the chance to have a good old snoop (plus a lovely walk).

I’ve written before about Fonthill and its Abbey, built by the notorious William Beckford between 1796 and 1813, and very shortlived: due to its hasty and poor-quality construction, it fell down (for the final time) in 1825 and was later all-but demolished, apart from a part of the north wing.

Fonthill Abbey: View of the west and north fronts from John Rutter's Delineations of Fonthill (1823)

Fonthill Abbey: View of the west and north fronts from John Rutter’s Delineations of Fonthill (1823). All that remains is the part on the left hand side of the engraving: the low tower with the oriel window and everything to the left of it.

Fonthill Abbey ruins: all that remains, part of the north wing. A modern house has been built in the last year behind it and attached to some of the cloistered arcading.

Fonthill Abbey ruins: all that remains, part of the north wing. A modern house has been built in the last year behind it and attached to some of the original cloisters / arcading.

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It looks like the building work has mainly been completed, with just the hard landscaping (laying of flags etc) to be finished.

Fonthill Abbey ground plan.

Fonthill Abbey ground plan. The small part that remains is at the very top (north) of the plan.

We walked around Bitham Lake, the smaller of the two lakes on the estate:

Bitham Lake.

Bitham Lake.

Bitham Lake.

Bitham Lake.

Ruined small building in the woods.

Ruined small building in the woods.

Beautiful old Spanish Chestnuts with their wonderfully twisted trunks.

Beautiful old Spanish Chestnuts with their wonderfully twisted trunks.

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The long drive leading up to the Abbey ruins.

There is another open day on Sunday 15 May 2016, from 10.30-5.00. Entry is via Stonegate Lodge (SP3 6SP) on the Hindon-Newtown Lane (Grid ref 390900 130650). Donations at the gate: all proceeds go to ParkinsonsUK and local charities.

2017 UPDATE: The walks take place this year on Sunday 30 April 2017 and Sunday 14 May 2017 (click photo below to embiggen/bigify for details):

Sunday stroll: a Wiltshire wood

We went for a walk last Sunday (April 17) in some woods in south Wiltshire. A lone sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and a lone rowan (mountain ash, Sorbus sp.) were already in leaf; the rest of the trees were still leafless, but budding up nicely. There are a lot of holly and birch trees in these woods; we don’t have birch around where we live as they don’t do well on chalk.

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Rowan in leaf (Sorbus sp.)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), also known as Woodbine, showing why it has the latter name ...

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), also known as Woodbine, showing why it has the latter name …

The first bluebells are out, plus wood anenomes, celandine, stitchwort and pink campion, and we came across a few clumps of daffodils too.

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Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).

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A bank of wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa).

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Celandine (Ficaria verna).

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Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea).

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Daffodils. They look a little large to me to be our native wild ones: there are gardens nearby so these could be hybrids.

We disturbed a buzzard (Buteo buteo) from its perching spot in a tree above us, and found a hidden trig point.

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We also saw a lone roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) hoof print in the mud. Old Peg Leg, they call him.

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There were some heavily pregnant sheep in a neighbouring field: they looked like they were due to lamb at any time.IMG_2304

I also found a pellet, not sure if it’s an owl or other raptor pellet, or fox poo or badger poo. I’ve brought it home and am dissolving it in water to see what it contains. A girl’s got to have her hobbies ….

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(UPDATE: Lots of mashed up hedgehog spines 🙁 Possibly badger poo?)

It was a lovely day in glorious spring sunshine. And as an added bonus, on the way home, we saw the first swallow (Hirundo rustica) of the season. Magical.

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Glorious Wiltshire (seen over a pile of horse manure).

Sunday stroll: Winterborne Tomson and Fontmell Down

Yesterday we headed south to visit a small church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, in the hamlet of Winterborne Tomson in Dorset. The church is St Andrew’s Church, a Norman church dating from the early 12th century. It’s tiny –  a mere 12.20 m (40 feet) from end to end and 4.60 m (15 feet) wide. It still has some of the original stone roof tiles, though most are replacement terracotta ones.

St Andrew's Church, Winterborne Tomson, Dorset.

St Andrew’s Church, Winterborne Tomson, Dorset.

The door is studded with nails (and additional pretty orangey yellow lichen).

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Inside it is wonderfully plain, with the only Norman apse in Dorset: a beautiful rounded east end to the building, with the oak beams above echoing the shape and decorated with intricately carved wooden bosses.

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Oak beams and bosses in the apse ceiling.

Oak beams and bosses in the apse ceiling.

The interior is furnished with plain oak box pews, a pulpit, a simple screen, and communion rails, all of which were added in the early 18th century.

Over the door the old rood-loft has been converted into a gallery. It is so wormy and rickety that the public is asked not to climb up there, and certainly looking at it I’m not sure it would have borne our weight.

The view from the pulpit, with the wormy rood-loft gallery, and the nails bent over on the inside of the door.

The view from the pulpit, with the wormy rood-loft gallery, and the nails bent over on the inside of the door.

The pulpit viewed from the east end of the church.

The pulpit viewed from the east end of the church, with the screen.

Inside one of the box pews.

Inside one of the box pews.

The communion rails and altar.

The communion rails and altar.

The church is redundant (ie no longer used for regular services), but still consecrated. It was last used regularly in 1896. It is clearly much loved: there were beautiful, simple vases of flowers around the sides.

Another view from the pulpit. Lots of simple flower decorations.

Another view from the pulpit. Lots of simple flower decorations.

Daffodils and tulips in one of the windows.

Daffodils and tulips in one of the windows.

On one of the interior walls is a plaque commemorating the architect in charge of the restoration of the church from 1929-1931, Albert Reginald Powys: apparently before that time it was used as a livestock pen for the neighbouring farm. The funds for the restoration were provided largely by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB): the Society sold some manuscripts it held by Thomas Hardy, himself a SPAB member for 47 years, to fund the costs.

The plaque commemorating

The plaque commemorating Albert Reginald Powys.

Right next to the church is a farmyard with some very inquisitive (and licky) calves.

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On the way home we had a blustery walk up on Fontmell Down Nature Reserve.

Fontmell Down Nature Reserve on a very blustery spring day.

Fontmell Down Nature Reserve on a very blustery spring day.

The reserve wasn’t looking quite as glorious as the last time we were there, but the common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) are on their way up: the plants with their well-named leaves were apparent in some numbers.

Leaves of the Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Leaves of the Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Salisbury Cathedral

I was with a friend in Salisbury on Saturday, and we spent the day looking round some of the sights (Mompesson House, on its first day of opening for the year), St Thomas Church (also known as St Thomas and St Edmunds Church, and as the Church of St Thomas a Becket) with its amazing Doom Painting dating from 1475, and at the end of the day, Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral: the North Front.

Salisbury Cathedral in the gloaming: the North Front.

We were very lucky to hear the boys’ choir practising in the Quire. The light was starting to fade, and the candlelight made it all the more atmospheric. Their singing was absolutely beautiful.

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View from the Lady Chapel at the east end of the Cathedral, looking all the way down to the west end. Behind the fancy ironwork screen is the Quire. The people were looking in, watching the boys’ choir practising.

Two Cedars of Lebanon in the Cloisters.

Two Cedars of Lebanon in the Cloisters.

The 123 m (404 feet) high spire seen from the Cloisters.

The 123 m (404 feet) high spire seen from the Cloisters.

Hopefully the peregrine falcons will be back in a few weeks to nest on the spire again.

Sunday stroll: south-west Wiltshire

Today we went for a walk out from our village. Signs of spring are everywhere now, despite the sub-zero temperatures we’ve been having overnight for the past few days. Our neighbour’s bank has its glorious display of Cyclamen coum

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The hazel catkins are out and the snowdrops are at their best right now

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In one of the gardens walking out of the village is an old shepherd’s hut, with one axle broken. It reminds me of A Shepherd’s Life by W H Hudson, which I must re-read again. It was published in 1910, and in it he describes the life of the shepherds on the south Wiltshire downs over a hundred years ago, when those still living had memories going back to the early 1800s. I especially love it as he mentions our village.

An old shepherd's hut, that has seen better days.

An old shepherd’s hut that has seen better days.

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We walked out of the village to the sort of chalk downland on which the shepherds about which Hudson wrote would have tended their flocks

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Beautiful fungus on an old hawthorn stump:

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A hawthorn clump in the grazing land, giving shelter to the sheep and a haven for the birds. In the foreground you can see molehills with the freshly-turned white chalk lumps in them.

A hawthorn clump in the grazing land, giving shelter to the sheep and a haven for the birds. In the foreground you can see molehills speckled with freshly-turned white chalk lumps.

Lovely old gate furniture.

Lovely old gate furniture.

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Periwinkle and dog's mercury.

Periwinkle and dog’s mercury among the beech leaves.