Saturday, 21 March 2020

Ramsbury and Littlecote


Today's walk is from Ramsbury to Littlecote, beloved of the local Nordic Walkers and guided by one of them. We parked by the pub and walked east to turn right and cross the Kennet. It was full of water after recent rain, but the main delight was the beginnings of green on the willows.

Shortly after this we turned left onto a track running parallel with the river and with a ridge over to the right.

At the end of the track we passed this lovely house with an unusual circular structure on one end.

We continued along the same line and soon reached Littlecote, with its Roman remains.

The mosaics, nowadays protected by a wooden canopy are absolutely excellent. They date from 360 AD.

This is the Orpheus mosaic which was rediscovered by Steward of the Littlecote Park estate in 1727.

Beyond the mosaics you can see the former manor house now a hotel. The first house was built in the 14th century and replaced in the 1590s.

We headed uphill and turned right with a wonderful line of trees on our right. We were now walking on a line broadly parallel with the one we had followed from Ramsbury.

Some of these trees had graffiti written by American soldiers stationed at Littlecote during the War. I couldn't decide whether these were poignant memorials or damage to beautiful trees.

The end of one of the trees seemed to have started in a controlled fashion and ended in a rush.

We passed an information panel telling us we were now in the Ramsbury Estate and bore right through woodland to follow a pleasant path which brought us back to the edge of Ramsbury.

Conditions: grey, cool.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Map: Explorer 157 Marlborough & Savernake Forest and Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars. A delightful walk.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Sturminster Newton

St Mary, Sturminster Newton

The description of this walk advocated staring at the main car park, but we were very keen to see the wonderful stained glass in St Mary's church that we decided to start there.

The church is something of a hybrid. The tower, roof and aisle walls are 14th or early 15th century (Pevsner), but everything else was the result of a rebuilding in 1825-28.

The stained glass we came to see is by Harry Clarke of Dublin and was installed in 1921 in the south aisle. Its principal subjects are St Elizabeth of Hungary, the Virgin Mary and St Barbara.  But the whole thing is an exquisite riot of colour and beauty.

We walked up Church St and passed the attractive Swan Inn in the Market Place

We passed the car park and this unusual monument to the former railway line.

Now we continued along the B3092 heading northwards out of the village and past the secondary school. We turned right into a very attractive drive leading to the Manor House of Hinton St Mary. This is a view looking back.

The Manor House dates mostly from 1630, but it incorporates a remodelled medieval hall, possibly 13th century in origin according to Pevsner. We rather liked the herons on the gate posts.

We headed northwards doing an anti-clockwise circle of the pretty village to cross the B3092 and cross some fields and a patch of woodland to reach Cutt Mill on the River Stour.

There has apparently been a mill here since ancient times, but the present derelict structure seems to date from the 18th or 19th century. It is quite picturesque.

We now followed the Stour Valley Way along the banks of the Stour back to Sturminster Newton. It was pretty muddy and rather grey, so not massively exciting. We enjoyed these Primroses in a small area of woodland.

The rest of the way was along fields close by the river. I thought this tree was a fine sight with its almost symmetrical shape.

We plodded on through the mud for about a mile and a half and it was only as we were approaching Sturminster Newton that a reasonably picturesque view offered itself. The viaduct of the former railway can be seen in the centre on the right of the river.

We decided to complete the walk on the road.

Distance: About 4 miles.

From: Dorset Magazine, December 2012.

Conditions: grey and cool.

Map: Explorer 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne).

Rating: three stars.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Bridport, West Bay and Symondsbury

West Bay

For our first day of social isolation we decided to go for a walk from Bridport. We parked in East Street and, heading towards the centre, passed the Neo-classical Literary and Scientific Institute of 1855.

At the cross roads was the Town Hall which was built in 1786 on the site of a chapel. The griund floor once was just open arches and housed butchers' stalls and later the town fire engine.

We walked down South Street passing the wonderful art deco Palace Cinema and walking through the churchyard of St Mary's. It dates from the 13th century, although alterations were made in the 14th and 15th and it was restored in the 19th.

We followed a path to the river Brit and followed its banks past football club and Palmers Brewery with its water mill (made in 1879). The brewery dates from 1794.

We followed a path across fields and through a holiday home park to reach West Bay where we turned west. Almost immediately we saw our first butterfly of the year: a Small Tortoiseshell.

We climbed the hill out of West Bay - which seemed a lot easier than when we walked this way on the Coast Path: West Bexington to Eype Mouth.

Next there is the wonderful view down to Eype (pronounced "eep") Mouth with the impressive Thorncombe Beacon beyond. It is 157m high, compared with 191m for Golden Cap further along the coast - and the highest point on the South Coast.

Now we headed inland up a road and then left to climb towards Eype Down. We saw quickly saw our second butterfly of the year, a Peacock.

The route lay across fields and at the top we paused for a snack while enjoying the view down to Eype Mouth.

Passing Down House farm we turned right to walk inland along a winding and up and down path through woodland. I was pleased to see a late clump of Snowdrops on the way.

We crossed the A35 and headed towards Symondsbury across some exceptionally muddy fields. This brought us however a lovely view of the picturesque Colmer's Hill. "During World War I, John Sprake, woodman to Thomas Alfred Colfox, planted Caledonian Pine on the top of the hill. Sir John Colfox then planted Monterey Pine in 2006. The trees have since grown into what is now the iconic silhouette you see today" (from the Symondsbury Estate website).

We reached after a mighty struggle with the mud. The church of St Jon the Baptist is on the left and Raymond's School (founded 1868) is on the right.

We walked between the buildings and passed the entrance to the Manor House.

We continued along an estate road heading east towards Bridport and passing this rather wonderful sheep dip.

The path took us to to main road where were turned left towards Bridport. As we approached the town centre we passed this fine mill.

Conditions: a beautiful sunny day.

Distance: Almost 6 miles.

Map: Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport. Chard).

From: Dorset magazine.

Rating: Four stars.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020



I last visited Stonehenge when I was a boy, but having passed by a few times on the A303 in recent years, I have been nurturing a desire to see it again. Our son Will was staying for a few days and I persuaded him (quite easily) to join me.

You arrive at the Visitor Centre and car park. The Visitor Center consists of two elements: a very good museum, which sets the scene very well and the inevitable shop. It is actually quite an interesting building, best seen from the back.

We decided to eschew the shuttle bus in favour of walking the mile and a half to the site. This led us part the re-creation of a Stone Age village which was quite interesting.

We followed the road to the site and because of a large tour party to our left decided to circumnavigate the site anti clockwise.

Below was our first clear view, from the south west, more or less on the line of the Summer and Winter solstices. The tall stone in the centre is known as the Tenon and the slab resting on two pillars on the left is a Trilothon. To the right of the Tenon is the sarsen horseshoe and on the extreme right is a sarsen circle.

Off to the left (taken from close up) was the 40 ton Heel Stone.

There are two types of stone: bluestones and sarsens (the sarsens are bigger). When you see them up close the main question is inevitably "how on earth did they get the sarsens to near Salisbury?" The sarsen stones are thought to have come from the Marlborough Downs, 19 miles away, but nearest source of bluestones is in the Preseli Hills in west Wales, 150 miles away.

As we walked round it was interesting to see how different Stonehenge looks from different angles. Here is a different perspective, with the Tenon on the left.

We also noticed a number of isolated smaller stone standing outside the main circle. All these have names. The Heel Stone has already been mentioned but there were also the Slaughter Stone and the Station Stones. The Slaughter Stone sounds grim and prehistoric but is only an imaginative Victorian name for a stone which was once upright but is now more or less flat.

Here, finally, is an aerial view. The sarsen horseshoe is especially clear.

As we completed our circuit I spotted this milestone and realised that the route from the visitor centre to here was the original road.

We headed back across a large grassy area flanked by a number of Round Barrows.

These are scattered all around the edges of the site and were used for burials.

Distance: about three miles.

Rating: five stars. A real wonder.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Leighton Linslade

The Town Council Offices

Fresh from an enjoyable exploration of Aylesbury, Merv and I decided to have a look at Leighton Linslade 15 minutes or so to the north.

Leighton Linslade used to be known as Leighton Buzzard, but the adjoining settlement of Linslade, separated only by the small river Ouzel, gradually coalesced with it and in 1965 the two settlements became a combined Urban District. Leighton Buzzard has always been an intriguing name and there are various theories about how it came about.

We started our walk at the Town Council offices which are in a large house of about 1850. We collected a copy of the Living History Trail, which we thought would offer a town walk. Sadly, it didn't do that (although the map of the main streets was handy) but the accounts of the doings of ordinary people were interesting.

From the Council Offices we headed down Leston Road to reach Lake street and the former Temperance Hall, now Lecton House.

From here we walked up Lake St to reach the Market Square with its 15th century Market Cross: "an uncommonly fine piece" according to Pevsner.

Nearby is the former Market Hall, which later became the Town Hall and in 1919 it was turned into the Fire Station. "Wholly undistinguished, wholly delightful" was Pevsner's assessment, with which I agree.

Opposite the Market Cross was the Swan Hotel with a delightful swan in the ballustrade.

Market Street gives way to the not-very-interesting High Street, but at the bottom the wide Church Square leads to the church of All Saints in the Perpendicular style of the 15th century.

Outside, I found this broken column to be an unusual and moving gravestone.

The church was severely damaged by fire in 1985, but has been restored exceptionally well. The nave and aisle roofs are in the East Anglian style with absolutely fabulous angels.

We have seen similar examples in Stamford and Norwich in recent years.

By chance we stumbled on the so-called Simon and Nellie story carved into a wall by the south west pier. They are the traditional inventors of the Simnel cake. Nellie is threatening Simon with a spoon.

As we headed back up the High Street we were struck by just how awful was this building on the corner of Church Square.

Returning to the Market Square we headed up North Street to see first the Wilkes Almshouses (established 1650, rebuilt 1857 and extended 1873.

And a little further on, in Church St, the Page Almshouses of 1903. "A sweet design" according to Pevsner. Certainly they are very picturesque.

We didn't get to see Linslade, thus missing a sight of the Grand Union Canal.

Conditions: grey, cool.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four stars. There was much more to it than I had expected.