Thursday, 21 July 2016

Beaminster to Blackdown Hill (Wessex Ridgeway [Dorset] 8)

St Mary's church, Beaminster

A visit to Poole brings the opportunity to continue along the Wessex Ridgeway in Dorset. We pick up the route in Beaminster soon passing St Mary's. Pevsner thinks the church's tower, which dates from 1501, is the most spectacular in Dorset.

We walk along Church Road and at the extreme west end of the village follow a field path towards Higher Barrowfield Farm. This is the view ahead from there towards Chart Knolle.

A curving, climbing path brings us to the top of the knoll where there is a fine view back towards Beaminster, nestling beneath a ring of hills.

Now there is a descent towards Stoke Knapp. This is the view towards the south.

And this is the way ahead (west).

Reaching Stoke Knapp, we are stuck by a pointed valley below us (we are at around 200m) coming in from the north.

We climb again and skirt Lewsesdon Hill. It is heavily wooded, so you can't readily see the summit - perhaps we should have made a detour, as it is the highest point in Dorset at 279m.

A sunken track, Lewesden Hill Lane, heads downhill to the B3164. There are pleasing views to the south, where we get our first glimpse of the sea on this Path ...

 ... and to the north.

At the end of the lane we slavishly follow the Wessex Ridgeway in a rather pointless U-shaped detour to Lower Newnham Farm. 

At the end of this we climb the steep slope of Pilsdon Pen, passing the iron age hill fort to emerge onto a vast grassy plateau. We lost the track somewhere here, but managed to find our way across the open area to find the right point on the far side.

Soon there is a fine view of Blackdown, curving away to the north.

We followed the rather oblique route down to the B3165 and walked along it past Cole's Cross to reach where we had parked in the hamlet of Blackdown.

Conditions: mild, but pretty grey, with a growing threat of rain.

Distance: 6.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport).

Rating: four stars. A most enjoyable rural walk, if a bit frustrating in places.

Sunday, 17 July 2016


St Catherine's church

Parnu, the final stop of our Baltic tour, is Estonia's fourth biggest city with a population of 41,000 (the top three are Tallinn, Tartu and Narva - Tallinn is by far the biggest). It is located on the coast of Parnu Bay, in the Gulf of Livonia, part of the Baltic Sea. It's cool and raining when we arrive, but the rain eases after a while and we embark on a quick tour.

We are staying close to St Catherine's church, so we begin our walk there. It was built in 1768 in the Baroque style during the reign of Catherine the Great and funded by her for the city's garrison. The exterior has pleasingly restrained colour palate.

We head north along Vee (Estonian streets seem to mostly only have one word names) and cross an incongruous wide boulevard called Pikk (disconcertingly the same name as one of the most attractive streets in Tallinn). It is lined with apartment blocks and surely must be from the Soviet era.

A little further on however we come to a newly developed quarter where we will find the Parnu Concert Hall. It is a pleasing modern building. It seemed to me that the vertical elements echoed the pilasters of a Baroque or neo-classical building.

The statue in the foreground depicts Gustav Peter Fabergé, the founder of the famous jewellery house who was born in Parnu in 1814 and died in Dresden in 1893.

We walk down Hommiku to see the oldest building in Parnu, the possibly misnamed Red Tower, dating from the 15th century. We were perhaps a little disappointed: it's a small white circular building with a red roof. We reached the High St, Ruutli, and were rather taken with the first building we saw: this red-brick late 19th century number.

A little way along Ruutli I spotted the lovely art nouveau ironwork on the top storey of this shop.

I was delighted however to be directed by the Tourist Office map to the side street of Hospidali to a former almshouse. It is apparently the oldest plot in Parnu, dating from the 13th century. the building was converted into an almshouse in 1658, although this use ceased in 1816. The current building was restored in 1999. It raises an interesting thought. Almshouses seem to be a peculiarly English institution (although we did see some in Amsterdam), but perhaps they were used in other countries without surviving to the present day.

A further side street, Nikolai, brought us to the Town Hall, a harmonious neo-Classical building of 1797. It was originally a private dwelling  and then the residence of the city commander, only becoming the Town Hall in 1839. The tower at the back is part of the Town Hall extension of 1910. Our guidebook gives this an enthusiastic write up as "magnificent art nouveau extension". I think this is just nonsense: the date is within the art nouveau period of course, but the building shows no features of the art nouveau style.

Now we head south, passing another Baroque church, Elixabeth's to reach the exquisite Tallinn Gate. This is the only remaining part of the 17th century ramparts which surrounded the town. Before 1710 it was known as Gustav's Gate, in honour of the Swedish king who ruled over Estonia (or maybe just this part of Estonia, I am not sure) until then.

A bit further on, in Mere pst, was a bona fide art nouveau gem: Villa Ammende. It was built in 1905 by a rich merchant for the wedding of his daughter and later was variously a casino, a club, a sanatorium and a library. After a major renovation in 1999 it is now a hotel.

The main entrance is particularly fine.

Although it was by now raining quite hard we completed our itinerary by walking down to the beach. It all looked pretty bleak in the rain with the sea the colour of mud, but doubtless on another day the Ladies Beach would have been packed with Ladies sunbathing in the nude - this is apparently its distinguishing feature.

Our last sight was along the sea front, the impressive art deco Rannahotell (Beach Hotel) built 1935-37.

Conditions: grey and damp.

Distance: three miles or so.

Rating: four stars.

Saturday, 16 July 2016


Vana-Juri rocks

An outing from Tallinn to see Käsmu, one of four peninsulas reaching out into the Baltic in the Lahemaa National Park, about 70km to the east. This is the map of the available walking trails .

We parked at the north east corner, where the road ran out, and decided to do a circular walk along the red (hiking) trail along the coast as far as Palganeem, then return by the blue (cycle) trail, exploring part of the green (nature) trail at the end.

We walked through some light woodland to reach the coast. This was our first sight of it.

As I was taking the picture above I noticed what seemed to be a type of orchid beside me. Interestingly, I didn't see another example throughout the rest of the walk.

We headed left and passed the Vana-Juri headland (see photo at the head of this post). Soon there was a great view over the scattered rocks and rushes in the sea towards the offshore island of Sartneem.

We carried along the coast noting the way an area of small sandy beaches gave way to an area of pebble ones.

The Palganeem headland was noticeably more open, but, by the same token, was much more windy. There was a nice view to the west.

We headed along the cycle track which was much easier walking, being wider and more level. Before long, I was delighted when a large Fritillary glided down to land in front of us. A Silver-washed, I think.

Further, the trees looked lovely in the sun; a few scattered rocks could be seen.

The path ahead was similarly inviting.

Later we started to see greater concentrations of rocks and some bigger ones. It's time to say something about these rocks. They go by the wonderful name of "Eccentric boulders" and it seems that they were deposited where they now are by the action of glaciers - and so are equivalent to the Sarsen stones we often see in southern England, for example around Avebury.

One of the helpful information panels explained that an Estonian geologist called Gregor van Helmerson studied the erratics of Käsmu and was one of the people who proved the theory of ice ages as their origin.

Now we were reaching the area of the really large rocks, near the end of our route, and by chance we stumbled on the biggest of all,  Matsikivi (Mats's Rock, but nobody knows why it is called that who who this particular Mats was).

It was not far from here back to the car park, which was now full with people queuing to park - they were delighted to see us.

Conditions: a rather grey start, but overall a lovely summer day.

Distance: about 4.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. Good fun.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Tallinn: Kadriorg Park


We decided to head out of the city centre today and explore Kadriorg Park and especially the Kumu art museum. However, we were only a few yards from our hotel when I spotted this interesting art deco-ish building in Tartu (street).

The entrance stairway seemed to have attractive tiles, but a closer inspection revealed that they were rather crude. The lift however was surrounded by a superb decorative arrangement.

We headed east along Estonia, Consiori and Raua, noticing, as we got nearer to the park, an increasing number of rather elegant wooden houses. These two, in Lydia Koidula, were especially impressive.

We turned into A Weizenbergi which, rather by chance, turned out to be the principal road through the park, first passing the Swan Lake with its pretty pavilion ....

... and then Kadriorg Palace, which was built in 1718 for Peter the Great as a summer residence. Peter loved Estonia and said that if he had controlled the country in 1700 he would have built his European capital in Tallinn rather than in St Petersberg. This is of course a scanned postcard.

Further along we come to the Kumu art museum. It is a beautiful building which was designed by the Finnish architect Pekka Vapaavuori. Construction started in 2002 and the museum was opened in 2006. The interior is spacious and airy.

The first thing we saw was a group of four busts by August Weizenburg (he of the road we had just walked along) including one of Lydia Koidula, who was an early nationalist writer. A nice coincidence!

The exhibition spaces flow into each other and we enjoyed a ramble through the history of Estonian art, including an interesting group of impressionists who had lived the life of penniless artists in Paris. I did especially like this triptych - Lennuk by Nikolai Triik, (1910).

Perhaps the most arresting exhibit was a room filled with a large collection of busts, accompanied by a soundtrack suggestive of people talking.

Conditions: grey and showery.

Distance: four miles or so. You can get a bus or tram I think, but we always prefer to walk when we can.

Rating: four  and a half stars.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Tallinn: a walk around the walls

Some of the defensive towers

Having explored the core of the Old Town earlier, we are now going to explore the extensive walls and defensive towers that surround it. We start at the Viru Gate, where twin towers built in the 14th century guard the entrance to the Old Town. Unfortunately, the road surface is being re-laid, hence the absence of a ground-level view in this picture taken a day later. (The original picture was too full of road works.) The towers of the Town Hall and the Niguliste church, highlights of our earlier walk, can be seen in the background.

We then turned right into Müürivare and were surprised to find - it's not mentioned in our guide book - that there is a short section of wall that you can walk along: there is a sort of covered wooden gallery.

At the end, there is a small slot in the wall from which there is a lovely view of the Tallinn skyline, including the Orthodox Cathedral on Toompea Hill in the centre and the Kiek in de Kök tower on the far left, which we will see later in this walk.

Returning to ground level, we head towards Pikk, on one of the main streets, and this brings us to the Great Coastal Gate.  It's not much from the inside ...

... but outside it is protected by the enormous 16th century bastion known as Fat Margaret's Tower, on account of its 4m thick walls. What Margaret had to do with it is never explained.

Heading now along Labatooriumi, along the inside of the line of walls, there comes a point when you can go outside into a park area, where a small garden competition is currently under way, to see the walls and their attendant towers from the outside (see the photo at the head of this post). This is one of the emblematic images of Tallinn.

Carrying on in the same direction we come to the Pikk Jaig gate to Toompea Hill and walk up the cobbled path. From one of the viewing platforms, there is a great view back over the lower part of the city, including the tower of St Olave's, on the right. The inevitable cruise ship can be seen in the background.

We pass Toompea Castle, now the Parliament building, and admire the slim tower on one corner of the rear of the building. It is know as Pikk Herman (Tall Herman - a friend of Fat Margaret perhaps.)

Carrying on in an anti-clockwise direction we come to the Maiden Tower, recently refurbished and now a cafe. It dates back to 1373.

Right next to it is a rival to Fat Margaret, also with 4m-thick walls - Kiek-in-de-Kök - another, earlier (1475) bastion. Apparently the name is low German for "to peak in the kitchen", which frankly doesn't get you much further in understanding why it is so called.

We walk downhill to rejoin Müürivare, having almost completed a full circuit. This street follows what was once the line of the walls to Viru gate.

Conditions: clear and sunny, for once.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: five stars.