Sunday, 31 August 2014

Osmington and the White Horse

It is a nice sunny Sunday morning and so we set off for a circular walk from Osmington. We park near the church and follow Church Road to the north, turning off up some almost invisible steps to walk through the wooded surroundings of the village. We soon emerge into fields and before long have our first view of the famous White Horse.

We first saw it from a distance when we were walking the coast path from Osmington Mills to Ferry Bridge on a murky November day in 2011. It is much more impressive from closer up in the sunshine. It was created in 1808 as a symbol of gratitude to George III for his patronage of nearby Weymouth. John Rainier was the instigator.

The view back along the full extent of White Horse Hill is impressive.

We follow the valley bottom to reach Sutton Poynz, a pretty village which dates its existence back to 987 AD. Poynz was the name of the Norman family who came to own it after the Conquest. The restored Water Mill makes a fine house.

And the pool beyond is charming, fed by a spring at the base of the ridge.

I couldn't resist these beautiful hawthorn berries.

We climbed the path out of the village to reach a delightful combe, Spring Bottom.

From here, we made a diagonal climb up West Hill where I was delighted to find a number of Adonis Blue butterflies. This is a species that I have fancied I have seen before but have never been quite sure. The two key identification marks are the intensity of the blue and the fact that the black veins cross the white wing margins (they don't in other blues).

Now that I have seen some, I am sure that they were the first: the blue really is, as all the books say, distinctively different.

As we went further up the slope a fine view south to Portland and Weymouth opened up before us.

Once we reached the top and headed along the ridge, there was also a good view to the east.

Ridge walking is always wonderfully exhilarating and this was no exception, wide wide views to the wide open country to the north as well as those south to the sea. Eventually, we took a right to head back to Osmington, strung out up the slope of its hill. The sea can just be made out behind it.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: just over 4 miles.

Map: Explorer OL14 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA books).

Rating: four stars.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Chaldon Herring and White Nothe

Chaldon Herring (or East Chaldon)

We started this circular walk in Chaldon Herring (seeming more popularly known as East Chaldon) at the pretty village green and walked east along the road to turn onto a winding track towards the dramatically named Daggers Gate. The path followed a level route between rolling grassy hills.

At the top of the next section there was great view back which revealed clearly the sinuous nature of the path. It was very green, but almost completely lacking in wild flowers.

As we neared Daggers Gate, this changed and we began to see flowery set-asides beside arable fields. We had so far seen just a couple of Small Heath, Speckled Wood and Holly Blue, but suddenly there were Small and Green-veined White, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, a Painted Lady (Only about the third or fourth I have seen this year) and - at last! - a Clouded Yellow, the first of the year.

Daggers Gate turns out to be a farm where you turn sharp right to follow a path which runs parallel to the South West Coast Path a few hundred yards inland. There is a hedge on the left so you can't see the sea. There was however another nice flowery set-aside with views inland.

All of a sudden you emerge onto an open grassy hillside with the Isle of Portland on the horizon and the curve of Swyre Head visible to the left. You are above Scratchy Bottom.

 Further on, there is a great view down to Middle Bottom.

And after a while a the whole coast back to the east past Lulworth as far as St Alban's Head is displayed as you look back.

We had read that various sculptures were on display, although we only noticed this one.

Just inland from White Nothe the path turns right, further inland and another, unnamed bottom stretches away to the right.

Just before the handsome Sea Barn you turn right towards West Chaldon. We were so entranced by the barn that we overshot the turning.

The path crosses hay fields as it heads towards the hamlet of West Chaldon, with the mound of High Chaldon in the background.

It remained only to walk along the road back to Chaldon Herring.

Conditions: mild and bright at first, becoming cloudier as the day went on.

Distance: 6 miles.

From: Pub Walks in Dorset by Mile Power (Power Publications). Great walk, but the sketch map and descriptions were not precise enough to keep you on track, we would have been lost both metaphorically and literally without the OS map.

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Donnington Castle

A nice local walk today starting at Snelsgrove Country Park, just north of Newbury. You follow a tarmac path away from the car-park and soon head across heathland where there are large swathes of bright heather.

Leaving the Country Park, you follow a track with fields behind a hedge on one side and woodland on the other to eventually emerge in Bagnor. I detoured towards the Watermill Theatre, crossing the Winterbourne Stream and then walking through the nature reserve. This was a little disappointing as I failed to spot anything of great interest.

I returned to the route by the Blackbird pub and followed a tarmac path to cross over the A34 and approach the nearby golf course. I was greatly cheered to immediately see this fine dragonfly. It is a Common Darter. It is described as being abundant, but it was a new one to me.

A path through a woodland strip leads you out of the golf course to emerge at the back of Donnington Castle. Sir Richard de Abberley was granted "licence to crenellate" in 1386. I learn from Wikipedia that this is a 19th century term and that there is some debate about they were a serious mechanism to control fortifications which could be used the king or simply a mark of royal approval, i.e. a status symbol.

The main remaining element of the castle is the majestic gatehouse shown in the photo at teh head of this post, but the rear view gives a better idea of its scale.

The castle was held by Sir John Boys for the king during the Civil War and withstood two sieges. Parliament voted to demolish the badly damaged castle in 1646 after the final defeat of Charles II and only the gatehouse was left standing.

I now made a planned diversion from the walk route to go into to Donnington village to see the celebrated almshouses: Donnington Hospital.

The hospital was built as a square around a courtyard in 1602 and restored and re-opened in 1822. The enormous chimneys are a dramatic feature.

As I was walking down to the village I spotted to my right another building that looked like it might be an almshouse. Further investigation revealed that it was Abberbury Close (1938), which is also owned by the Donnington Hospital Trust.

Interestingly, the Trust was founded in 1393 by the same Sir Richard de Abberbury who built the castle. It is the tenth oldest almshouse foundation in the country. The Trust also now looks after Jesus Hospital in Bray, which we saw on a walk in March.

I returned to the castle and followed a track past the golf course and across the heath to return to the car park, passing this impressive barn conversion on the way.

Conditions: cloudy with brief sunny periods.

From: 50 walks in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire (AA).

Distance: five miles (officially 4).

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars, thanks to the almshouses. 3.5 otherwise.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Kingston - Houns Tout - Chapman's Pool

View towards Corfe Castle

We started this walk with Will and Jo at the Scott Arms pub in Kingston. Above is the excellent view from the back of the pub to Corfe Castle, with Poole Harbour visible in the background.

We headed west past St James church, built by G E Street for the 3rd Earl of Eldon  between 1873 and 1880. Pevsner thinks this is Street's "grandest" church. The tower is a landmark from miles around. This view highlights the delightful tourelle on the short north transept.

We turned left off the road to follow a path through the trees signposted to Houns Tout. You emerge out of the wood to a fantastic view west over the Golden Bowl.

We walked along the other side of the Bowl before on the way back from Swyre Head to Kingston when we did the Chapman's Pool to Rope Lake Head section of the Coast Path, back in the days when we still doing it as circular walks.

Further along the path it was possible to get a partial view of the elusive Encome House. This 18th century mansion was altered in 1871-4 by Antony Salvin.

As we reached Houns Tout there was a great view west along the coast.

We headed east towards Chapman's Pool blown along by a fierce wind and soon enjoyed a fine view over it across towards St Aldheim's Head.

As we descended there was a fine view inland towards what seems to be called West Hill.

We followed it round to the right along the unimaginatively named Hill Bottom and then headed uphill back to Kingston. I took one last photo of this pretty Victorian water pump.

Conditions: cool and cloudy with the threat of rain.

Distance: 4.5 miles.

From: Walking the east Jurassic Coast by Robert Westwood (Coastal Publishing).

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck and South Dorset).

Rating: 4 stars.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Fifehead Magdalen to Silton (Stour Valley Path 7)

View towards Stour Provost

After an elapse of some three months (when we have at least made major progress along the South West Coast Path) we resume the Stour Valley Path at Fifehead Magdalene). We set off east across the fields towards Stour Provost.

Almost immediately a large clump of wild flowers, notably Common Fleabane, with lots of butterfly activity caught my eye. Almost immediately I was delighted to see my first Brown Argus of the year, closely followed by a pair of mating Common Blues. Also lots of Small Tortoiseshells.

Stour Provost is seemingly so named because between 1450 and 1925 it was owned by the Provost, fellows and scholars of King's College, Cambridge. Your first sight of the village is the restored water mill, now some distance from the river.

We also made a small detour to see the 14th/15th century church of St Michael.

Now we walked across fields to West Stour where we stopped for a rather premature lunch at the  very good Ship Inn. We ate in the garden next to a large Buddleia bush which was absolutely covered with Small Tortoiseshells, a hundred or more. Some flower heads had four or five butterflies jockeying for position.

Suitably refreshed, we headed across a series of fields, many growing Sweetcorn, surely one of the the most boring of crops: its unattractive in itself and it blocks the view.  The final field was mercifully open and offered a great view across open country to the north east.

There was also a view back (south) along the Stour Valley.

 The river is by now very narrow and somewhat overgrown.

At the end of the fields we followed a road, the intriguingly named Nations Road, to reach the outskirt of Gillingham (unlike the one in Kent, it is pronounced with a hard G). We passed through newish housing developments on the edge of the town, which seems to have had substantial growth in recent years.

At Wyke we passed an imposing former brewery. The classical columns and statue on the right are part of the architectural antiques shop next door.

Further fields brought us to Milton on Stour from where we followed the road up to Silton.

Conditions: warm and sunny for the most part, but quite a lot of cloud.

Distance: 7.5 miles. Total now covered 54.5 miles.

Guide: The new Stour Valley Path by Edward R Griffiths, Greenfield Books, 1998, but sadly out of print.

Map: Explorer  129 (Yeovil & Sherborne).

Rating: three stars. Not really very interesting walking, although the butterflies made up for it.

Saturday, 9 August 2014


Etretat from the Falaise d'Amont

Today was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition to visit Etretat, whose rock arches were immortalised in paint by Claude Monet. The town has a shingle beach lying between two chalk cliffs.

We approached Etretat by car from the east and parked near the Falaise d'Amont, the Upstream Cliff. The first thing you see is the seamen's chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.

Across the bay you can see the other cliff, the Falaise d'Aval, the Downstream cliff. The arch is known as the Porte d'Aval and the sea stack is known, inevitably, as the needle (L'Aiguille).

Looking east, there is another cliff with a tiny arch.

On the way back to the car I was delighted to spot a Short-tailed Blue. We then headed into Etretat, parked on the outskirts of the town (spotting a Grayling with open wings just nearby) and walked down to the promenade which runs the full length of the beach. There was a nice view beyond the boats back to the Falaise d'Amont.

We began to climb the path up to the Falaise d'Aval. At the top there are a number of rocky spires offering pleasing view back over the bay,

To the west stood the massive Manneport Arch.

We followed the path to stand on the Manneport, which offers the best view of the Porte d'Aval and L'Aiguille. The latter is an impressive 200 ft high.

More massive chalk cliffs stood to the west in the direction of Dieppe.

We followed the path back down, seeing several Clouded Yellows on the way, then walked along the promenade to have an excellent lunch at the Falaises Blanches restaurant. On the way back to the car through the town we admired the picturesque covered market. It is only a reconstruction, but it is quite atmospheric.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: 3 miles or so.

Rating: five stars. Much as I love Durdle Door in Dorset, it is not a match for Etretat.