Tag Archive | Sunday stroll

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.

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: 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.

Sunday stroll: Portland Bill

Today we went for a walk at Portland Bill, the most southerly point on the Isle of Portland. The Isle of Portland is a strange place, hanging off the bottom of Chesil Beach like a stony teardrop. The island is an outcrop of Jurassic limestone which has been valued as a building stone for centuries. If you know the Tower of London: that’s Portland Stone. And St Paul’s Cathedral. And Buckingham Palace. And the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. And the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. I could go on …

The Isle of Portland seen from Ringstead Bay on a sunny summer's day. To the right of the photo is Weymouth.

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.

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.

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.

Pulpit Rock.

Pulpit Rock.

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.

Fossilliferous limestone exposed on the ledge by Pulpit Rock.

Fossiliferous limestone exposed on the ledge by Pulpit Rock.

Dumped rejected stone near Pulpit Rock. The black dot on the water is a cormorant - we watched it repeatedly dive for food.

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 on the bonnet of our car in Weymouth.

Herring gull (Larus argentatus) on the bonnet of our car in Weymouth.

Tuesday stroll: Glastonbury Tor

Today we went for a walk up Glastonbury Tor: it seemed like half of Somerset had the same idea as it was such a beautifully sunny day compared to the mostly soggy grey ones we’ve been having recently. (Click on all photos to embiggen/bigify/largeificate).

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Glastonbury Tor in the distance with the ruins of the church of St Michael’s Church on top, the tor rising prominently out of the Somerset Levels that surround it.

Glastonbury Tor is a small, isolated hill which stands out from the flat expanse of the Somerset Levels around it. It is formed from layers dating from the Jurassic period: the tor itself is Bridport Sandstone, overlying Blue Lias and clay. Only the tower of the church of St Michael that formerly stood there now remains. This dates from the 14th century. Local lore says that Glastonbury Tor is the Isle of Avalon of legend, and is reputedly the burial place of King Arthur.

The tower of the Church of St Michael on top of Glastonbury Tor.

The tower of the Church of St Michael on top of Glastonbury Tor.

South-west face of the tower.

South-west face of the tower.

South-east face of the tower.

South-east face of the tower.

Lovely graffiti on the tower.

Lovely graffiti on the tower by J H Burgess, who visited on 21 May 1864, and revisited in 1869 and 1874.

Panorama from the tor, looking from the north-east (in the first photo) clockwise round to the south-west (sixth photo). The village at the foot of the hill in the middle distance in the second photo is Pilton, and nearby is Worthy Farm, of the famed Glastonbury Festival.

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On the top of the hill is a lovely engraved plaque showing directions and distances to other notable places and features in the area.

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The tor cast a wonderful shadow over the surrounding lower land (view looking north).

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The low-lying Somerset Levels are very prone to flooding and drainage is a very important part of the land management there, with many straight drainage ditches (rhynes, pronounced reens) cutting across the landscape.

Waterlogged fields after the heavy rains of the past few weeks.

Waterlogged fields after the heavy rains of the past few weeks.

The countryside is looking unnaturally green for the time of year, a result of the very mild and wet weather we have been having. We’ve barely had a frost this winter, let alone a prolonged cold spell: compare with photos I took on 16 January 2015 on a walk in Wiltshire, almost exactly a year ago.

Sunday stroll: Down through Dorset

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.

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15th-century painted decoration at St Andrew’s, Yetminster.

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Brass monument to John Horsey (died 1531) and his wife, St Andrew’s, Yetminster.

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Monument to Bridgett Minterne (died 1649), St Andrew’s, Yetminster.

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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.

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.

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Lion-headed fountain for spring water at Stoke Abbott.

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Spring-fed water trough for horses, Stoke Abbott.

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St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.

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Wedding flowers at the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.

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The 12th-century font, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.

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Wedding flowers and the simple lectern, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott. The flowers included agapanthus and Mollucella laevis (Bells of Ireland).

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Notice in the porch, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.

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The sadly sheep-free graveyard, set in the most beautiful countryside, St Mary the Virgin, Stoke Abbott.

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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.

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A blustery afternoon at Charmouth.

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No-one in the water, unsuprisingly.

The well-named Golden cap on the right.

The well-named Golden Cap on the right.