Westbury and Melbury Hill

Westbury and Melbury Hill

I’m bored of talking about how wet it has been down here in the South West recently and trying to persuade those who still wish to dig their heads in to the sand about the reality of global warming. We have had a few moments of blue skies though, a couple of weeks ago we had our friends down with their three boys and managed to cram in a cracking weekend with no dark clouds to be seen.

First up was Westbury for a gallop along the white horse. I love that place as it has a flat field for footie / rugby and kite flying but then you get to explore over the horse and the rest of the earthworks that are there. The following day we headed up to Melbury Hill for cracking views over the Blackmore Vale. Heres a quick vid of our two days.

Cranborne Chase and the search for spring

Cranborne Chase and the search for spring

You’re still reading this? You need congratulating for some serious patience. Almost as much patience as mother earth has in waiting for that most elusive of seasons, spring, to disrobe her wintry dressing gown and step out with a welcome cup of tea for the landscape. So life’s changed and I won’t bore you with the details, but there’s a smile on my face, even if time spent trawling the Twitter timeline and keeping in contact with you good folk has taken a battering. We’re back to being simple, working hard and spending time en famille, resisting the plaintive call of the smartphone. I also wanted to write again, so here we are – nice to see you, you’re looking well if I may say so.

I had a lovely post lined up with all our outdoor stuff since last year but lets keep it fresh shall we? A cock-up in holidays meant I got to go walking with wifey as the moons aligned in a rare pattern of childcarus synchronous. Sixpenny Handley was our destination with a name suggesting a slightly less cluttered landscape than Britain currently offers. Woods of the ancient variety were also on the menu along with some stunning views that make you immediately realise why Cranborne Chase has had an area of outstanding natural beauty levied upon it. I love mountains, but woods draw me back time after time and this wander delivered them in spades. The smell of leaf mould has a hold on a part of my memory and soul that it won’t let go of right now.

Garston woods at the start is an RSPB wood and they have fenced off certain areas to allow ground nesting birds to have some respite from the deer. Humans are allowed however, so we started our stroll gently through the barren woods, layering up with hats and gloves as the cold made itself known. That was the theme and feeling of the day – cold, both in the landscape around us with the lack of spring growth and the chill that had to be kept at bay by our brisk walking. We meandered through the woods before heading up on to the top of the Chase and were rewarded with views both South and North that you would not think Wiltshire had the right to grace you with. Flakes of snow fluttered around us and the sound of breaking glass underfoot amused as we smashed puddles on the path.

Cranborne Chase walk
A swoop downwards from the chase led us to the rather expensive but worth every penny King John Inn where fire and food welcomed us. This isn’t a food blog but the stand out course had to be the fresh donuts with apple sauce inside, toffee sauce outside and mulled cider to accompany. This wasn’t walking any more, it felt like gluttony and frankly, I didn’t care.

Leaving a pub after beer and food to start walking again feels akin to having to strap on a diving suit with weights, but the second half of the walk was just as delightful. Passing through the Rushmore estate we soon ventured in to woods that felt and looked as if they had been around for a fair while. The results of coppicing over the centuries delivering stools and tree shoots as numerous as the birds that scooted above us. 13 miles turned out to be 14 miles but in the end, we weren’t counting.

Cranborne Chase walk
If you want to wander in my footsteps grab the GPX from Social Hiking here, purloin the route from viewranger here, or check out the map from Social Hiking below

Cycleboating the watery kingdom of Dorset

Right now we are building an ark down here in the South West of England, that much rain has come down over the last few months. Most of my recent posts have been about how much rain we have had and this one is no different. We had a red weather alert from the Met office for this weekend and boy did it deliver. Saturday night was a lesson in just how loud rain can be when it hits a roof. It sounded like the supporting cast of Stomp had decided to play outside our window.

We had planned to head out for a cycle ride with some of our friends Sunday afternoon and as luck would have it, we were graced with blue skies and sunshine. After what has felt like a decade of grey clouds and rain, there was no way we were staying inside despite the flood warnings, so we headed off to the Dorset Trailway. The trailway is an old train line brilliant for cycling and especially great for kids as there is no traffic. We were due to park near to Shillingstone and travel from there, but flooding had blocked the road to our usual parking spot. We turned around to take the road in to Sturminster and as we came in to town, we thought we could see the sea to our left. As we looked closer though, we realised that it was the flood plain for the river Stour!

Parking at Sturminster 4 adults and 4 kids duly set out and it wasn’t long before we saw the results of two weeks solid rain. This is the view from the bridge over the Stour. My pro Photoshop skillz have rendered squiggly lines where the edge of the river usually is. Flood plain is to the left on the first photo and to the right on the second.

The river Stour past Sturminster Newton

Looking south on the Stour.

After a bit of watching the whirlpools and wondering at the scope of the flooding we paddled on. We crossed through some fairly meaty puddles and a stream where water came over our feet as we cycled through. It was as we got towards Shillingstone though that our jaws dropped. I’ve never seen the river Stour as bad as this and our road looked impassable with very deep water.

Approaching Shillingstone

Cath duly rolled her trousers up and waded out to see how deep it was. Coming half way up our thighs we reckoned we could make it , so we left the boys bikes and started to wade through.

wading through

wheres me boat?

Needless to say the kids had an amazing time wading through water up to their waists and enjoying the rare summer sun. They did a great job of getting everyone soaked and when we ferried their bikes across, they all rode them in to the water at full pelt to fall off.

After the cycleboating we carried on to our destination, stopping at Shillingstone station via the 1950’s for an ice cream, the flood plain making the platform appear to float on the river.

a floating Shillingstone station

We then returned back down the trail repeating the wading, swimming and falling in to the water. That stopped fairly sharpish as the local farmer pointed out his sceptic tank and goat pens had been flooded by the river. Nice.

Ah well, a quick hose down later and all that’s left is the memory of a beautiful day where cycleboating has officially been invented as a means of transport. Has anyone else been affected by the floods?

Leave your home, lock the door, and never come back.

We’re coming up for our busiest period of the year at Webtogs right now, and getting outside has had to take a back seat whilst we get things ready for Christmas. Saturday though was a rare treat, a day out with the family. Dorset doesn’t have much in the way of real wilderness, it’s pretty much tractor land where we live, with a few too many posh houses for my liking and lots of agriculture. Dartmoor, Exmoor & the Brecons are the most logical wild options close by to, us but today saw Cath take us off to the one really wild option we have within the county – the coast. So we got up, got the caffeine going, strapped our boots on, got in to the car and headed southwards to Tyneham.

The village itself has a hell of a story having been abandoned since the end of the second world war, when the army requisitioned it for training for D day towards the end of 1943. There are a couple of other villages that have also suffered a similar fate, though for different reasons such as Derwent in the Peak District and Imber on Salisbury plain. They all evoke strong responses in people for lots of reasons, but for me, the emotions are stirred by the fact that houses some families had called home will never be so again. We drove through the Purbeck hills searching for the bluster of sea air when we came up the hill overlooking the village. Although the village was emptied to train troops for the D Day landings, after the war, the army held on to the land, and the villagers were not allowed back in. As a result, the village can only be accessed on certain weekends as it remains part of an army firing range. When you approach it, there are rather a lot of signs and flags warning you that you can get yourself blown up if you are not careful. I think that always adds a certain frisson to a walk, knowing that you are walking on land which you can’t usually traipse upon, and that you could find something that goes boom…..

Military firing range warning

It had been a beautiful start to the day though, so we drew up in to the car park at Tyneham with anticipation of a great stroll. Our route was a 2 mile walk and we hoped that Ifor, our 3 year old, would walk the whole way as we want to build up his stamina. Driving in to the village was a little underwhelming as you cannot see too many abandoned buildings. We togged up though, and headed off. I tweeted yesterday that bad weather is great for making you feel alive. We had no rain for Saturday however with the Sun gracing us for the most part, but the wind was strong, ever present, and the recent hours spent in front of a screen were blown away rapidly, leaving me with energy for the short trail ahead.

To the sea

There are many calculations for distance covered based on incline, weather etc, none however that allow for distance covered with a child. Based on Saturdays experience, I think 1 hour 15 mins per mile is about accurate! With Ellis on my back, we took a leisurely pace to the beach interrupted by the last Blackberries of autumn, puddles, rusting tanks and lots more puddles for Ifor. The sea swung in and out of view as we passed through through Tyneham valley. Large numbers on each hill and the occasional hunk of metal reminded us we were on MOD land, and it wasn’t long before we were at the beach. It’s been a while since I have been to the coast, and it was great to be reminded just how noisy waves crashing on a pebble beach can be. There is something incredibly wild about the Jurassic coast, so we spent some time just letting the sights, sounds and smells soak in.

Looking out over Tyneham bay.

Tyneham bay towards Lulworth

Looking down the coast to Werth Matravers & Kiddiminster

Cliffs above Tyneham

A biscuit, glug of milk, and we were off back up the cliff path back towards the village. We were rather glad to have Ifor’s littlelife animal daypack as the path ran rather too close to the cliffs, and the reigns were invaluable in keeping him by us. The path along the cliffs saw the sun come out, and we had beautiful views down the coast to Kimmeridge and Worth Matravers. Finally back at the car park, a rather tired Ifor & Ellis woolfed their lunches down, before we wandered off to have a look around the remains of the village. Spooky was the order of the day, particularly the schoolhouse which has been restored, and the graveyard of the church. Generations of families lay beneath the salty turf, yet no burials for 60 + years made it even more sombre than your average graveyard.

The farm stables in Tyneham

Tyneham church

Tyneham school

Heads lolling in the back of the car from the two boys, we headed home after a great stretch. Walking on the Dorset coast is fantastic, but adding the history and emotion present in Tyneham made it a day out that will stay with us for a while. If you want to take a look at all the photos we took, click here for our flickr stream of Tyneham.