Thursday, 8 July 2021

Blenheim Palace

                                                          The approach to the Palace

We first visited Blenheim (and Woodstock) last November and thoroughly enjoyed it, even though the interior was closed at the time and the weather was quite grey. The visit of a friend from the US gave us an opportunity for another look. We walked up from the car park to the imposing main entrance gate, the East Gate.

This leads into a large courtyard which in turn give way to the Great Court, in front of the Great Hall.

After a short wait we went through the main door to discover just how high the Hall is. Looking through the doorway, you can see the Column of Victory (1727-30) in the distance.

We followed the interior route which featured a number of clothing designs by Osbert Sitwell - not really my thing. But near the end of the route we emerged into the astonishingly vast Library, now sometimes available for social events.

Leaving the Hall we came upon the Chapel, a small rather awkwardly shaped building designed by Sir John Vanbrugh as a memorial of the First Duke of Blenheim, commissioned by his wife. The chapel was not finished when the duke died in 1722, so he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but was reinterred in the crypt underneath the chapel alongside his wife after her death in 1744.

We now went round the side of the Palace buildings to visit the formal gardens. If you are alert you can spot a couple having a photo shoot.

There was no way of exiting the Palace other than retracing our steps, but this did give us a fine view of the buildings to the left of the Hall in beautiful sunshine.

We exited via the East Gate and walked around the side to at last see the range of buildings in their full splendour.

We walked away from the Palace down to the see Vanbrugh's magnificent Palladian style bridge, which separate the two parts of the lake.

It was interesting to find an area left aside for butterflies and we were delighted to spot a few we hadn't seen so far this year (Marbled White, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper). Finally, there was a lovely view including both the bridge and the Palace.

Another discovery, when writing this, was that Blenheim is a World Heritage Site.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Keyneston Mill

We have started to develop an interest in looking at gardens, inspired by recent visits to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Malverlys. We found Keyneston Mill on a list of the best gardens in Dorset. Its website tells us that "Keyneston Mill is the creative home of Parterre Fragrances. Here you can explore the Scented Botanic Gardens and surrounding 50-acre working estate, where we grow, harvest and distil unusual plants and ingredients for our luxury perfumes."

After parking the first thing you see is the Long Barn, a combined shop and tea room, with loads of the beautiful cistus flowers above to catch your eye.

There is no sign of an actual Mill, but the gardens are set out in three main areas. The first is the Padua Garden, inspired by the Orto Botanico in Padua, the first academic botanical garden in Italy. It contains plants from the Floral Perfume family, such as roses, nicotiana, stocks, many of which are scented.

This gives way to the Fougere (Fern, from French) Garden.

Beyond that lies the Spice Garden, which contains ingredients associated with oriental perfumes. We loved these massive angelica plants.

At the end of this sequence there is the Geodome and Cocktail Garden. Sadly it was not open!

To the right there are perfume crops fields, while to the left lies the River Stour. We have an affection for the Stour as we did the Stour Valley Way some years ago. (A delightful walk, but we didn't see all that much of the river.)

Here and by the nearby river meadow there were loads of Dragonflies, in particular the dark blue Beautiful Demoiselles.

We enjoyed our visit and wish Parterre Perfumes every success.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Map: Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury and Cranfield Chase).

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Ebbesbourne Wake and Bowerchalke


St John Baptist church

We were in this remote Wiltshire village to recce the large house we have booked for a birthday celebration - now sadly cancelled as the final stage of reopening has been postponed. Having checked out the Horseshoe Inn pub (very nice) and located the venue (very isolated down a narrow lane with no passing places), we decided to do the walk we found on the website.

We started at a spot known as The Cross and paid a visit to the church. Pevsner's account is unusually vague, but it seems to be some 13th and 14th century elements, as well as the usual 19th century work.

Returning from the church, the road to the left had a couple of lovely thatched cottages. 

We walked downhill from The Cross and where the road turned left, took a track going straight ahead, then right uphill to reach Hill Farm. On the way up we admired this fine clump of Russian Comfrey

Now we headed across fields towards the larger village of Bowerchalke. We reveled in the glorious wide open spaces with a range of hills behind.

Leaving the fields behind we walked along a road into the village to reach the church of Holy Trinity. Pevsner tells us that the transepts and nave may date from the 13th century while the while is later. The chancel was rebuilt in 1866 when the south aisle was added.

However, the main interest is in the churchyard (not mentioned by Pevsner) where you can see the graves of William and Ann Golding. William Golding was the author of Lord of the flies, published in 1953. I remember devouring it perhaps ten years later: a tale of school boys marooned on a desert island. Popular in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school. It was only beaten by George Orwell's Animal farm and Charles Dickens' Great expectations.

We partially retraced our steps and then took a new field path from which we had great views of the ridge where Hill Farm is located. 

We then followed an enclosed path through light woodland and emerged on a farm track which led up to Cleves Farm. Here we joined a road which we followed downhill for about three quarters of a mile back to Ebbesbourne Wake. There were some marvelous views to the left as we descended.

Conditions: mild if rather grey.

Map: Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase.

Distance: 5.5 miles.

Rating: four stars.

Footnote: Ebbesbourne Wake is a great name for a village. The Ebble is a small bourne which runs through the Chalke Valley; Geoffrey de Wak was granted the manor by King John in 1205.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Woolhampton and Douai Abbey


The Queen Victoria Drinking Fountain of 1897

Another walk with my friend Merv, this time starting at Woolhampton - specifically the Row Barge pub.

We crossed the railway line, wondering why the station was called Midgham, which is some way away. Later we chatted with a local chap doing his garden who explained that it was to avoid confusion with Wolverhampton. Was he pulling our leg or could this bizarre explanation be true? I am voting for it being true.

Now on the left was this fine house. The four storey tower was a later addition in 1897, again according to our friend.

We crossed right to cross the main road and then follow a path on the left uphill towards Elstree School. We could see that it was a sprawling establishment, built around the former Woolhampton House, but could not see enough to form an impression of it.

Next we passed the C of E primary school and St Peter's church of 1861.

Continuing on the same line we reached Douai Abbey, which we skirted. It is a large complex of red brick buildings. Its origins lie in a religious community founded in France in 1615. A new start was made in Douai in Northern France after the French Revolution, but in 1903 the community was expelled as a result of anti-clerical legislation and relocated at Woolhampton. A school was founded as part of the community, but eventually closed in 1999. As of 2020, the community consisted of 23 monks who serve parishes across five dioceses.

Facing the buildings above is this lovely thatched cottage.

We now ventured into High Wood and did well to follow the rather sketchy map without getting lost. One section was beside this beautiful field of buttercups, with just a few pink flowers for variety.

We left the wood and soon arrived at the Blade Bone pub, hoping for a refreshing beer, but it was sadly closed. We followed a meandering path through woodland to emerge at the edge of Bucklebury Common. Now along a lane, part of a walk around Midgham I did in April and then skirting a fine house called Woottens to reach Midgham. We walked across Midgham Park to return to Woolhampton.

On the right was the Gill Campbell Memorial, given by Miss Blyth of Woolhampton House in 1895 ...

... and then back past the Fountain and across the railway to the Rowbarge pub where we did have a refreshing draft. As we left I noticed for the first time - we have often eaten at the Rowbarge of an evening - that the car park contains a large concrete pillbox.

Conditions: bright and quite warm.

Map: Explorer 158 Newbury & Hungerford.

From: Walks in the Kennet Valley and beyond 9West Berks Ramblers).

Rating: 3 stars.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Cerne Abbas and Giant Hill

St Mary's Church

It was a lovely day and I decided to have a little butterfly outing at Cerne Abbas. I parked near the imposing 13th century church (with 15th and 17th century additions) and walked past it and the delightful 16th century timber-fronted houses facing it.

At the end of Abbey Street is a fine house called Cerne Abbe, mainly 18th century, but dating back to the 15th century.

I went through a gateway to the right of Cerne Abbey and through the churchyard. To my left there were glimpses of two free-standing buildings in the grounds.  

I emerged into a field and climbed uphill and then up some steps to reach the start of Giant Hill, well known as a butterfly hot spot. My main goal was to see the relatively uncommon Marsh Fritillary.

The site is on a hillside slope with a series of horizontal paths and I strolled along spotting several fairly common butterflies: Common Blue, Small Heath, Chequered and Dingy Skippers and an especially pleasing Adonis Blue .

I passed beneath the celebrated Cerne Abbas Giant (of which more later) and found a very productive area for Marsh Fritillaries, spotting a dozen or so.

I didn't have my camera, so here is one I took earlier.

I retraced my steps and looked this time across the valley opposite to the hill.

To complete my outing I drove round to the car park view point beneath the Giant. The most striking thing since my last visit was the Giant was not as well defined as he used to be and seemed to be in need of some maintenance. According to Pevsner he is 200ft high and 165 ft wide; he holds a club. He is generally agreed to represent Hercules and to date from the late 17th century.

Conditions: sunny and warm.

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Corfe Castle and Church Knowle

Corfe Castle

We had arranged to meet up with friends at the pub in Church Knowle, but it struck us that we could make an even better day of it by parking at the NT car park at Corfe and walking the two or so miles to Church Knowle, having lunch and then returning via a different route. Above is the view of Corfe that you see from the area near to the car park. It is the remains of the original Great Tower dating from the 11th century. Further fortification took place over the next hundred years and by about 1280 the castle could be described as fully fortified. It was sold into private ownership in 1407, reverted to the Crown and then passed to Sir Christopher Hatton in 1572 who made some further improvements to the defences.

The Castle was a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War, but was captured by Parliamentary troops in 1646. It was then "slighted" i.e. put beyond use by explosives, leaving the picturesque ruin you see today. It remained in the Banks family until 1981 when it was bequeathed to the National Trust, along with the family's more palatial home, Kingston Lacy.

We crossed the road from the car park and walked ahead with the castle on our left. We were struck by the scale of the Castle, never having seen it from this angle.

We climbed a grassy path away from the Castle and soon had this delightful view behind us.

We followed Knowle Hill along a hill top with a valley to the left and the coast in the distance.

After a while we could make out Church Knowle in the valley to our left and managed to find the right path to take us down into the main (almost only) street of Church Knowle. We had a most enjoyable meal and a good chat with our friends and then walked along the street to the church of St Peter.

It dates from the early 13th century. The west tower with its pyramid roof was rebuilt in 1741.

We turned right here and followed a narrow road past a few houses to a track when led us across a grassy area to reach to almost hidden Corfe River. We followed the stream in the direction of Corfe, with the tower of the church at Kingston (the work of the great Victorian architect G E Street) visible on its high point.

We passed an intriguing group of buildings on our left, West Bucknowle House ...

... and gradually moved away from the stream. Soon there was a fine view of the long ridge that runs from Corfe down towards Swanage. It is a really fine walk which we have done a couple of times.

Now the Castle came into view again, but from a viewpoint previously unknown to us. Its natural defensive characteristics are more clear than from any other angle.

This was even more the case as we got nearer.

Having skirted the castle at some distance we entered the village passing the large church of St Edward, King and Martyr (a church dedication I have never previously heard of). It is by T H Wyatt and dates from 1859-60.

Just beyond the church is the Town Hall of 1774. It claims to be the smallest Town Hall in the country.

Not long after this we passed the entrance to the castle and walked down the hill to retrieve our car from the car park.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Map: OL 15 (Purbeck and South Dorset)

Rating: four stars.