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.
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.
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.
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.
The door is studded with nails (and additional pretty orangey yellow lichen).
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.
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 pulpit viewed from the east end of the church, with the screen.
Inside one of the box pews.
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.
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 Albert Reginald Powys.
Right next to the church is a farmyard with some very inquisitive (and licky) calves.
The Isle of Portland seen from Ringstead Bay on a sunny summer’s day in 2012. To the right of the photo is Wyke Regis, near Weymouth. Chesil Beach – a narrow spit of land, or tombolo – joins the two.
Quarrying has created a weird and atmospheric landscape on the island, with worked-out quarries and others that are still in use, and piles of discarded, sub-standard stone and workings piled in heaps and dumped over the edges of the high cliffs.
At the southerly end of the island is Portland Bill, with its two lighthouses to warn ships of the rocks and the deadly currents – the Race – where the water of the English Channel churns around the tip of the island in a furious boiling wash of water. Pulpit Rock is all that remains of a stone arch that was cut away by quarrymen.
Portland Bill lighthouse, and the other lighthouse (once the home of Marie Stopes) visible in the mid distance.
The Trinity House Obelisk, a daymarker to warn shipping off the coast during the day. All the land in the foreground is made ground, waste dumped by the quarrymen in centuries past.
It was a mild and windy day, and we scrambled down to a sea ledge to have a look at the stone and the seascape better.
Fossiliferous limestone exposed on the ledge by Pulpit Rock.
Dumped, rejected stone on a waste heap near Pulpit Rock. The black dot on the water is a cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – we watched it repeatedly dive for food.
Earlier in the day we had been in Weymouth looking for jewellery goodies for my Etsy shop, and met this fellow in the car park:
Herring gull (Larus argentatus) on the bonnet of our car in Weymouth.
Not really so much a stroll as a bimble in the car with a short walk at the end of it. Chap and I headed for the seaside yesterday, taking a long and slow route through Somerset and Dorset’s winding country lanes.
We stopped off at several places en route. First stop was the church of St Andrews in Yetminster. Here we admired the 15th-century painted decoration still surviving on the stonework and woodwork and a reminder of how our mostly now-plain parish churches would have looked in the past. There was a splendid brass monument to John Horsey (died 1531) and his wife on one wall, and another, stone this time, to Bridgett Minterne, who died in 1649. While we were there we were surprised by the church bells, which rang out ‘God Save the Queen’ – very unexpected. Apparently this happens every three hours to remind the villagers of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. I wonder if it happens through the night? There are some fantastic gargoyles on the tower, and a beautiful golden weathercock, but my photos of these haven’t come out very well and so don’t do them justice.
15th-century painted decoration at St Andrew’s, Yetminster.
Brass monument to John Horsey (died 1531) and his wife, St Andrew’s, Yetminster.
Monument to Bridgett Minterne (died 1649), St Andrew’s, Yetminster.
The tower with gargoyles and golden weathercock, St Andrew’s, Yetminster.
Next stop was the reservoir at Sutton Bingham. We went for a short walk along the edge of the reservoir through the wildflower hay meadow that is managed by Wessex Water, but as it had been given its annual cut not too long ago there wasn’t much to see. On the water there were mainly gulls and a few ducks, and a heron perched on the opposite shore. Sadly we didn’t see the osprey that are summer visitors here. A few dinghies and sailboats from the yacht club were pootling up and down the water, all very Swallows and Amazons.
A Mirror dinghy on Sutton Bingham Reservoir.
Then down into deepest Dorset and the Marshwood Vale. We stopped at the village of Stoke Abbott, parking near a lovely lion’s-head fountain of spring water with a spring-fed stone trough for horses nearby, both under a mighty oak planted in 1901 to celebrate the accession of Edward VII to the throne following the death of Victoria. We wandered off to look at the church of St Mary the Virgin. There had been a wedding there recently, as the fresh and dried flower confetti lay on the path and the church was still adorned with the wedding flowers. The church is in such a pretty setting, and has a 12th-century font with wonderful carvings.
Lion-headed fountain for spring water at Stoke Abbott.
Spring-fed water trough for horses, Stoke Abbott.
St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.
Wedding flowers at the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.
The 12th-century font, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.
Wedding flowers and the simple lectern, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott. The flowers included agapanthus and Mollucella laevis (Bells of Ireland).
Notice in the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.
The sadly sheep-free graveyard, set in the most beautiful countryside, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.
A lovely thatched house near the church in Stoke Abbott.
When we got back to the car a family (grandparents and wee granddaughter, we guessed) were filling up a car boot-load with numerous bottles and containers of the spring water, so I assume it’s safe to drink.
After a fruitless search for the cottage in Ryall where my family had spent several summer holidays in the late 60s (Mr and Mrs Kinchin’s B&B), we headed for the sea at nearby Charmouth. The weather was wild and windy, and we had a chuckle over the couple braving it out with their windbreak and deck chairs. We watched a kestrel quartering the top of the landslip cliffs, searched in vain for fossils, walked a short way up the beach and then decided to head home, via Bridport, Dorchester and Shaftesbury. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world.
One of the nominations for the recent prestigious Historic England Angel Awards was for the craftsmanship in the restoration of the shell grotto at St Giles House near Wimborne St Giles in Dorset. Chap and I were very disappointed when it didn’t win – we thought it deserved the title, but then again, we are a little biased as we know the team from Sally Strachey Conservation that undertook the work.
The grotto is featured in the video above, from 2:10 onwards.
The grotto was built in the grounds of St Giles House, the family seat of the Earls of Shaftesbury. It dates from the early 1750s, and was built by John Castles (d. 1757) of Marylebone in London. Unlike some other grottoes, this one is free-standing rather than built into a rock face or hill slope, and is built over a springhead in the grounds. It is now safely roofed once more and even though it is not quite ordinary-looking from the outside, nothing prepares you for the fantastical realm within.
The grotto comprises an entranceway leading to a central room – the inner chamber – with tiled floor and a fireplace. This is flanked on either side by a curving side passage.
The main room is described in the Shell Guide to Dorset by Michael Pitt-Rivers (1966) as ‘an attempt at an underwater room rather than just a shell room’, and you certainly get the sense of being in some mysterious and magical undersea kingdom. The decoration comprises shells of all sorts of kinds, sizes and colours – huge conches are fixed to the walls as well as tiny jewel-like bivalves – and the marine effect is heightened by the clever way corals and sparkling mineral crystals, such as quartz, have been incorporated in the decor, as well as the way the shells have been attached to branches to mimic life in a coral garden. (You wouldn’t know there are branches under there, as they have been fully covered).
The main chamber of the shell grotto at Wimborne St Giles, following the recent restoration work. Photo by SPAB.
Old photo of the grotto before it fell into disrepair, used by the conservators as a guide.
Apparently some of the original shells came from the Caribbean, courtesy of the father of William Beckford of Fonthill Abbey: we know Fonthill and its grottoes well. In the restoration many of the shells had fallen from the walls and part of the work included sifting and storing those that could be saved. Replacement shells were sourced from all over, including eBay and beaches!
Conservation work under way, rebuilding the shells on to the lath and plaster work.
Conservation work under way. Photo by Sally Strachey Conservation.
The main chamber after the completion of the conservation project. Photo by Sally Strachey Conservation.
We were impressed with how meticulous and intricate the work was, and the great care that was being taken by the team.
The grotto is described as ‘recently restored’ in the 1966 Shell Guide; clearly it fell back into disrepair not long afterwards as by the time of its listing by English Heritage in 1986 it is described as ‘overgrown and in a state of dereliction … The main grotto which cannot now be easily entered has walls lined with shells, fossils, coral and stone mounted on a lathe and plaster vault, partially collapsed … An important example of this type of grotto but now in a state of considerable disrepair.’ It was placed on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register, and its fate looked bleak.
However, in the past few years the present Earl of Shaftesbury instigated a sizeable programme of works to save not just the grotto, but St Giles House itself, which was also on the Register. The work was largely funded by various government bodies. The work done on the house won the Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury the Award for the Best Rescue of Any Other Type of Historic Building or Site at the recent Angel Awards.
Repairing the roof of the grotto.
Huge congratulations to everyone involved in the work, both at the grotto and St Giles House, both of which are now firmly off the Register.
If you want to know more about John Castles’ grotto work, this blog post is an interesting place to start.
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 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.
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!
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).
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
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.
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.
Yesterday Chap and I headed south, to Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay in the Purbeck Hills of Dorset.
Tyneham has a fascinating and rather sad history. For centuries it was a small, isolated village near the Dorset coast, its inhabitants subsisting mainly by agriculture and fishing. In 1943, the Army took over the area for training and preparations for the D-Day invasions, and this required the evacuation of the 225 inhabitants of Tyneham. They were given just 28 days’ notice. The villagers left, believing they would return after the war, but 72 years on they have not been allowed back to Tyneham, nor are they ever likely to be. The area is still used as an Army Firing Range, and access is limited.
The road down into Tyneham.
We have previously visited Imber, a similar deserted village on the Salisbury Plain Training Area, where the houses are closed up but well preserved. Tyneham is very different. All the buildings apart from the church and the school house are dilapidated, with roofs missing, no floors, no windows and generally in a really ruinous state: the once-beautiful family homes are now just shells.
The approach to the village. Army ‘keep out’ sign to the right of the road.
Row of four cottages, and an old phone box. The village has been ‘prettified’ for the visitors: the pavement and kerbing postdate the village’s abandonment.
Fireplaces inside one of the cottages.
Another ruined cottage. The tie bars are holding the walls upright – without the roof they have started to spread quite markedly.
Noticeboard at the Rectory. The photo shows that it was once a beautiful Georgian building.
A picturesque ruin now. Since the village’s abandonment, trees have grown where would once have been beautifully-tended gardens.
It really brings it home to you on a visit to Tyneham how much a community is about the place as well as the people. And when the people were moved away from the place they loved, and settled in different locations, their community died.
The last villagers to leave pinned a poignant note to the door of the church:
Sadly the houses were not treated with care. I don’t know whether Tyneham itself was used for target practice, as were and are the surrounding hills, or quite how they came to be so ruinous in such a short period. Certainly the Army is trying to keep them from further decay, but in general their repairs are very unsympathetic to the fabric of the old buildings, with hard Portland cement being used rather than lime mortar, and infills and repairs made with engineering bricks and cement. I know the Army is not a conservation body, but it is so sad to see the buildings as they are.
View on the way down to Worbarrow Bay.
Worbarrow Bay. Lots of landslips round here.
Thrift or Sea pink (Armeria maritima).
Worbarrow Tout, and a party of kayakers who pulled up on the beach.
May blossom. The hawthorn flowers certainly look nicer than they smell! (Crataegus monogyna).
A pretty small area of meadow planted at Tyneham Farm barn.
Another abandoned farm on the way out of Tyneham.
We drove past this on our (circuitous) way home: the Osmington White Horse, a hill figure created in 1808, and 85 m (280 feet) long and 98 m (323 feet) high.
Look at this beauty! Chap was given it by a friend the other day. It’s a huge nautilus-like ammonite. Our friend is a historic building conservator, and found the fossil in a weathered and degraded stone that she had to remove from an old building in Sherborne, in Dorset, in order to fit a replacement piece.
What a lovely gift.
The suture lines of the living chambers as the animal grew show clearly.
The opening where the animal would have lived.
The stone is almost certainly Sherborne Stone, a limestone which was quarried close to the ‘new’ Sherborne Castle, and the quarries have been recently reopened. According to the quarry’s website, Sherborne Stone dates from the Bajocian age of the Middle Jurassic, and Wikipedia tells me that the Bajocian lasted from 171.6 to 167.7 million years ago. Looking at the list of ammonite species known to have lived in that near-four million year period, I don’t think I’m going to easily identify it, which is a shame. I’d love to know which species it is.
A nautilus in the Himeji Aquarium, Japan. Photo by Daiju Azuma.
The shells of three present-day nautilus species. Left to right, N. macromphalus (left), A. scrobiculatus (centre), N. pompilius (right). Photo by User:Mgiganteus1.
Look how big it is! It’s really heavy.
So heavy that my hand’s starting to go red!
A present-day nautilus for comparison. Photo by DanielCD.
Chap and I love looking for fossils. Part of our work in archaeology back in the early 90s involved a lot of fieldwalking (or Surface Artefact Collection, as it later became known)—an archaeological surveying technique that seems to have gone somewhat out of favour (it’s very time and personpower-heavy). Essentially it involves walking line transects spaced at set distances up and down ploughed fields, and picking up everything of archaeological interest, so the distribution of various artefact types and densities can then be plotted. This may be an indicator of below-soil archaeological sites and features such as pits and ditches that have been disturbed by ploughing, activity which has brought the artefacts to the surface. Anyhow, a lot of our fieldwalking was around the Wessex region and so on chalk geology, so we would also find many fossils, mainly echinoids (sea urchins). As these aren’t of archaeological interest, we got to keep them. So we have a great collection of lovely fossilised sea urchins. Even now, when we go for a walk, old archaeological habits die hard and we’re usually scanning the ground for flint flakes and pot sherds (and of course fossils) rather than looking at the view …
The ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort at Hambledon Hill. Photo by David Squire.
I have a very soft spot for Hambledon Hill: it is where I went on my first archaeological dig, 35 years ago. Roger Mercer, then of Edinburgh University, was directing the excavation of part of the Neolithic causewayed enclosure on the hill. The causewayed enclosure is a barely-visible part of the earthworks on the hill: the much later hillfort banks and ditches are the best-preserved and most obvious features. I spent a month that summer hoeing and trowelling chalk in the interior of the enclosure (as a green volunteer I was not allowed near the one large archaeological feature—the enclosure ditch—that was being excavated by experienced archaeologists), and finds were few and far between, but I loved it—summer on the chalk downs, with larks singing overhead and independence for the first time in my teenage life. We camped in a field, washed using water from a tap over a cattle trough, and ate meals cooked by a lovely lady called Grace in the Iwerne Courtney village hall.
(The first ever dig I went on was a Sunday spent at a rescue excavation at a site in the area of the proposed Empingham Reservoir, in 1970 or 1971. The reservoir was later built, and renamed Rutland Water. I found a sherd that I was told was the best found that day. I rather suspect they were being kind to me, but I glowed, and wrote a ridiculously long essay about my archaeological triumph at school the next day. Until that point it had been a toss up between dinosaurs and archaeology. That sherd decided it for me, and set me on course for my career.)
I now live not too far from Hambledon, and Chap and I visit there every now and then. It’s a beautiful spot, and one full of very happy memories for me.