Tag Archive | Blackmore Vale

Sunday stroll: Bulbarrow

Bulbarrow Hill is a beautiful hill in north-central Dorset, south of Sturminster Newton and west of Blandford Forum. Here the chalk hills rise to 274 metres, making it the third-highest point in the county (after Eggardon Hill at 279 m and Pilsdon Pen at 277 m). It has spectacular views all around, especially to the north and north-west, over the Blackmore Vale, and south-eastwards towards the Dorsetshire Gap. This is in the heart of Thomas Hardy country, and is as lovely as it was in his day, seemingly little-changed. Click on all photos to enlarge: if you then click on the photo again, you get an even bigger version.

View looking south-west from Bulbarrow Hill. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the right in the distance.

By the stile to the footpath leading to Rawlsbury Camp was this sign:

Dating, Dorset style. I wonder what was in the message and if they ever met up again?

Rawlsbury Camp is a small multivallate hillfort, dating from the Iron Age. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and according to its listing, does not appear to have been excavated. A large, fairly new wooden cross has been placed within the hillfort. I can see no mention of this in the listing and wonder if it is a modern construction or replacing an older, historic one.  I would hope the latter, as I cannot see how such despoilation of a scheduled ancient monument would be allowed otherwise.

Rawlsbury Camp with its intrusive cross.

The Dorsetshire Gap is a prominent landscape feature, a very obvious gap (and thus passageway) between Nordon Hill to the east and Nettlecombe Tout to the west. Five ancient trackways meet at the Gap.

The earthworks (ramparts and ditches) of Rawlsbury Camp. It must have been a bleak life living up here. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the horizon.

A beautiful windswept oak on the ramparts.

One of the things that struck us here is that even though there is a road running right across the top of the hill, there is no road noise, allowing you to enjoy the proper sounds of the countryside. This is in marked contrast to another favourite Dorset spot of ours, Fontmell Down Nature Reserve, where the A350 runs noisily close by and the neighbouring Compton Abbas airfield sees plenty of small aircraft coming and going.

Looking north across the Blackmore Vale towards the Shaftesbury escarpment and the lone tump of Duncliffe Hill. You can just make out the clump of trees on Win Green on the very right of the photo, on the skyline. (Click to embiggen/bigify).

On the way home we stopped at the River Stour, just north of the wonderfully named village of Hammoon. Here there is a small brick-built river water monitoring station, run by the Environment Agency, and there is a very touching plaque mounted on the wall.

The lovely plaque at the water monitoring station by the bridge over the River Stour, near Hammoon. Tom Poole was clearly much loved by his colleagues.

The River Stour, taken from Tom Poole’s Bridge (as I shall call it from now on).

The River Stour, and in the background Hambledon Hill. I have a very soft spot for Hambledon: it was here I went on my first proper archaeological dig, in 1979.

Sunday stroll: Fontmell Down

Yesterday Chap and I headed off to the main part of Fontmell Down Nature Reserve, which is run by Dorset Wildlife Trust and situated about 5 km south of Shaftesbury in Dorset. Fontmell Down is a spur of chalk downland jutting out above the Blackmore Vale. The spur is bisected by two cross dykes, landscape features that are likely to date from the Middle Bronze Age. We visit this reserve often, but it is at its beautiful best this time of the year, we reckon. Click on all photos to embigggen/bigify.

The spur of Fontmell Down, part of the chalk downland above the Blackmore Vale in Dorset.

The spur of Fontmell Down, part of the chalk downland above the Blackmore Vale in Dorset. The northern cross dyke is clearly visible, just in front of the woodland on the spur. The southern one is obscured by the wood.

The orchids are out and within a few minutes of being on the reserve we’d seen five different species: bee, common spotted, fragrant, pyramidal and the greater butterfly orchid.


Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea).


Greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha).


Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) is such a pretty flower. It is a glorious blue, and beloved of moths and butterflies and bees. It doesn’t grow very high on the thin soil of the chalk downland, but I have seen it growing up to about 80 cm tall.


Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare).

We also saw milkworts (Polygala sp.) in pink and in blue, and the wonderfully vibrant flowers of birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). We always called this ‘the eggs and bacon plant’ when we were kids, for obvious reasons!

aDSCF7055 (2)

Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

There were also the enormous seedheads of goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis), like dandelion clocks on steroids. Goatsbeard flowers only open on sunny mornings, so the flower gained the charming folk name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.


Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis).

It was a rather blustery day, so we didn’t see too many butterflies, but we did see some fritillaries and a rather tatty painted lady (Vanessa cardui), as well as various blues and skippers.


A fritillary. I’m not very good on butterflies, but think this might be a dark green fritillary (Argynnis aglaja).

We also saw this chap – isn’t he wonderful? No idea what he is.


Mystery beetle with the most dashing striped antennae.

The beautiful down has a deep coombe on its southern side, Longcombe Bottom, with ravens flying over, cronking their atmospheric calls


Longcombe Bottom.

and there are stunning views to the south-west across the Blackmore Vale:

View looking south-east into Blackmore Vale, with the village of Fontmell Magna in the foreground of the vale.

View looking south-east into Blackmore Vale, with the village of Fontmell Magna in the foreground of the vale.

We also walked on down to a chalk pit hollow nearby, where there was the best show of orchids. Just common spotted and pyramidal, but so beautiful.


The orchids in the chalk pit hollow: pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii). Definitely click on this one to embiggen/bigify – it’s worth it, I promise!

A water pipeline has recently been built across the reserve, and it was interesting to see the different flowers that have popped up in the disturbed area: lots of oilseed rape and common poppies and thistles, whereas the undisturbed land was mainly cow parsley and nettles.


The different flora marks the recent pipeline disturbance.

The northern cross dyke had more orchids than on the other parts of the down, because the ditch provides a sheltered microclimate.


Looking north-westwards down the northern cross dyke, with Melbury Hill in the background.

A beautiful thistle. Not sure which kind, but what a gorgeous colour.


A beautiful thistle on Fontmell Down Nature Reserve.