South Coast Central
A Guide To England's

South-Central Region
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South Coast Central
Swyre Head view SW
Introduction
If you're a first-time visitor or generally not familiar with the south-central coast region (which lacks any official designation), it is the stretch of coast and countryside which stands in the gap between the officially-recognised South West and South East regions of England. (Actually there are various overlapping jurisdictions, so that any given spot might be in either zone, or inland even part of a more northern "Thames & Chilterns" zone.)
For purposes of our coverage here, the region runs between Southampton to the east, the Devon-Somerset border to the west, and northward up to include Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

The 'South Coast Central' region

The 'south-central' area of coastline thus runs west from The Solent which separates the Isle Of Wight from the mainland, and, proceeding westward, includes a series of sites significant to England's geography and history. First is the double bay on which sit the historic market town of Christchurch, the major resort of Bournemouth, the mouth of Poole Harbour (perhaps Europe's or even the world's 2nd largest, with the port of Poole at its head), and the coast around the Purbeck headland to the historic seaside resort of Weymouth and the peninsular Isle Of Portland ('England's Gibraltar') to the Devon boundary at Lyme Regis.
It thus also includes the New Forest (now a National Park) in Hampshire, the Avon Valley (running north-south between Christchurch on the coast, and Salisbury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire). Inland is the heartland of ancient Wessex, alias 'Thomas Hardy Country' stretching across central Dorset. Much of the coast is now the 'Jurassic Coast' World Heritage Site, known for its dinosaur fossil finds. The conurbation consisting of Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole - the largest population centre and the fastest-growing locality - is regarded as the touring centre for the region, with most sites within an hour's travel. (It's now set to be a major hub for the 2012 Summer Olympics, both for overflow accommodation for those attending the London events, and for those attending the local sailing events along the Dorset coast.)
Even if you've never been here in person, you've probably read about it in novels or seen it on screen, for the region is a longtime favourite with writers and now with producers and directors as a film and TV location.
In particular, it is "Hardy Country," the setting of the 'Wessex novels' of Thomas Hardy, such as Far From The Madding Crowd and Tess Of The D'Urbervilles. Click below to view our guide to his life and work
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Introduction To Hardy's Wessex

Knowlton Church, NE Dorset
Scenic Ruins In The South-Central Region

The two most famous scenic ruins in the south-central region are Corfe Castle and clifftop Clavel Tower (both in Dorset's Purbeck District). These sites recently underwent major renovations: Corfe had repairs to its crumbling masonry, with its upper works shrouded in the green mesh used to cover scaffolding. Clavel Tower was actually dismantled and relocated brick by brick inland away from the eroding clifftop to save it. This guide to other romantic or 'atmospheric' ruins was done to point out the range of other such sites in the area - ruined castles or churches, even a 'deserted village'. These are year-round attractions: that is, you don't need (or perhaps even want) a sunny day to visit such ruins - a gloomy day only enhances their 'Gothic' appeal.  Click here to view our guide to the  Top Ten Scenic Ruins In The South-Central Region.

Valley Of The Avon
- From Christchurch Harbour To Salisbury Plain

Christchurch Quay
Also known as the Salisbury or Hampshire Avon, this small but historically significant waterway flows from near Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain south to Christchurch. The stream runs through three counties, ending in Dorset, the river then approximating the Dorset-Hampshire boundary, with its upper reaches in Wiltshire, "Salisbury Avon" identifying it with the Valley's best-known population centre. Though the Avon is not navigable in modern terms, the valley was an important ancient trade route to and from the Stonehenge area. (The ancient route is shown in the frontispiece map of Edward Rutherfurd's 1986 bestseller Sarum.) Much of the ancient track is now road; a modern counterpart is the Avon Valley Path running from Christchurch Priory to Salisbury Cathedral.
[view web-page Valley Of The Avon - From Christchurch Harbour To Salisbury Plain]

Note: page has panoramic photos - best viewed at 1024 x 768 resolution (rather than 800 x 600).


Notes & Queries Section
Though the present web site deals with heritage matters more than conventional where-to-visit/eat/drink tourism guides, some aspects of local heritage remain difficult to cover in any conventional way, as there is no historical consensus on the interpretation of events. An obvious example would be almost anything to do with smuggling, and another would be Stonehenge or any other ancient 'sacred' site. Existing coverage here tends to be polarised between two set positions, usually labelled "sceptical" and "alternative." The Notes & Queries format is a well-established one for dealing with such matters in a more open-minded way, and I'm hoping it will prove productive in covering what are in effect local historical mysteries. Below is a listing of N&Q features on-site so far. Note that because of the nature of these pages, they are amended from time to time.
§ 
The Mystery Of St Catherine's Hill
This page looks at the legends and lore surrounding this site overlooking the River Avon above Christchurch, which was originally to be the site of Christchurch Priory, the plan being abandoned after some mysterious opposition to the idea.
[Last updated 11-2-11]
§ Jane Hicks's Journal
This diary, of a year and a half in the life of a local farmer's wife living on the fringes of  (what is now) Bournemouth in the 1840s, is a unique look at what life was like then. But the text also raises many questions, and so the entries are accompanied by annotated interpretation and commentary - an ongoing process as more facts about the early days come to light.


Jurassic Coast Undercliff   'Wildwood'
The region's most high-profile tourist attraction at the moment is the Jurassic Coast - see images right. This is now to be promoted via a tourism initiative called Jurassic Coast Gold, which will award quality hallmarks to selected tourism establishments. There are already various 'Jurassic Coast' guidebooks and websites [see in list of links at right] available.
Yet its most unique section remains one of the least known: The Undercliff. This 6-mile stretch of traditional woodland straddles the Dorset-Devon border. The footpath westward, to Axmouth in East Devon, can be accessed from Lyme Regis, which even non-locals may know from The French Lieutenant's Woman. The Undercliff features in the novel and is seen in the film version. This was where Sarah and Charles have their rendezvous, and was where Fowles lived in a cottage until a landslip made it unsafe. In Fowles's own words, it offers "green Brazilian chasms ... the nearest this country can offer to a tropical jungle ... an English Garden of Eden." Over 130 bird species nest here.
(Access from Lyme Regis is via by the car park on Pound St, above the junction with Cobb Rd. From the west, access is from Axmouth Harbour [pictured below], from where you must walk around two miles before reaching the wood itself, as its westernmost end, created by the Dowlands Landslip of Xmas Eve 1839, is presently almost impassable.)
Axmouth Harbour
Above: Axmouth Harbour, with the western end of The Undercliff Wood just visible behind.
The Undercliff takes its name from the fact the trees survive in the shelter of land that has slipped down the cliff over the centuries to form a shoulder of land all along this section. Visitors should be aware these land-slips are an ongoing process, the land here being still unstable, so it is not wise to stray from the path, as there are fissures concealed in the undergrowth. The area is officially known as The Landslip Nature Reserve. The footpath is part of the long-distance South-West Coast Path, and information can be obtained from SWCP guide-books and the SWCP website.
Walking the entire Undercliff section is only for the more dedicated walker as a there-and-back walk is, at 12 miles or 20 km, an estimated ten-hour return walk. Most of the Jurassic Coast route is via open country, on land maintained for sheep-grazing or other farming. But the Undercliff woodland represents an older type of landscape, rarely seen today. While the woodland that survives today is scarcely primeval forest due to the inherently unstable conditions, for many it will be the closest they will get to a visit to the wild 'Greenwood' of Robin Hood and other imaginative tales.
As a tour-guide page is not practical for the Undercliff walk, we have produced an illustrated heritage-guide web-page to what has become a mythical landscape since it vanished almost entirely from modern maps:
Introduction To Britain's Lost "Wildwood"
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Christchurch Harbour From The River Stour

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Dorset has several navigable rivers, which you can cruise even if you don't have your own boat, via a water-bus service. Going west to east, the Frome, Stour, and Avon, all empty into Poole Bay, just east of the Jurassic Coast. There are half-day cruises across Poole Harbour up the tidal lower Frome to the market town of Wareham, which Alfred fortified after the Danes occupied it as a useful sheltered river-port (it still bills itself as 'Saxon Walled Town').
Pictured is a view from a Vintage Ferry Service's 1930s-built Stour river-cruise boat, with Christchurch Priory in the background. The 40-minute cruise runs from Tuckton Tea Gardens to Wick Ferry, Christchurch Quay and finally to Mudeford Sandbank. In a sense the cruise also covers the mouth of the Avon as this flows into the Stour here, just off to the right of the scene pictured. [Google Maps link here ]. The area is rich in heritage as well as scenic views, too much so to go into here, but Dorset Life magazine has just done a feature on the Mudeford/ Hengistbury Head end of it, online here .


Yarmouth Pier, I of Wight

Yarmouth Pier, I of Wight

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This week is the 200th anniversary of the first appearance of that familiar and much-loved fixture of the British seaside resort, the seaside pier. It was 200 years ago the first of the structures that would become a British 'icon' was built, at Ryde on the NE side of Wight, in 1814. This still stands but is somewhat the worse for wear. (Most piers have been extensively rebuilt for this reason, their foundation piles lasting only a few decades.) Pictured here instead is a neighbouring pier on the NW side of Wight. Built in 1876, and now a Grade II listed structure, Yarmouth Pier claims it is the longest wooden pier - as well as the only all-wood pier surviving today.
The seaside-resort pier should really be called the promenade or 'pleasure' pier. That is, a structure that is an attraction in itself, with 'amusement' amenities, and not merely a jetty or landing stage. Unlike many other subsequent piers such as Bournemouth's, which is mainly postwar and comes complete with an end-of-the-pier theatre, cafe etc, Yarmouth has retained its original design, with only a ticket booth at its outer end, but has amenities at its landward end. The 'promenade' aspect is served by its length of over 600 feet.
Piers of course retained their original practical function as landing stages, with lower decks where passengers could embark and disembark from the many pleasure steamers whose regular visits the pier made possible where the coast was otherwise too shallow. Below is an image of Bournemouth Pier with the local pleasure boat Bournemouth Belle and the larger paddlewheeler the SS Waverley docked at the pier's lower landing stage. (For a larger image of the Waverley arriving at Bournemouth Pier, scroll down the page.) Yarmouth Pier is still an active landing stage, and the main photo in fact was taken from the PS Waverley on one of its annual visits; during the summer season, smaller passenger ferries from Poole, Swanage, Weymouth and Christchurch also sometimes use it. In the photo you can also see Wightlink's Lymington ferry, which being a car ferry has its own roadside dock. There is an appreciation of the seaside pier as a venerable national institution by Dame Joan Bakewell, patron of the National Piers Society, here .


 

The Needles, IOW

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The Needles rocks and lighthouse (with helipad on top) represent one of England's most iconic views, used as a BBC visual due to its instant recognisability. Along with Old Harry Rocks opposite, the two promontories form the entrance to the great bay which shelters the coast from the open sea, making the bayshore westward past Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole suitable for the development of seaside resorts. The view southward towards and out past The Needles - westernmost point of the Isle of Wight - was called 'the finest outlook in England' by former Prime Minister Lord Bute. He built almost the first seaside villa on the protected bayshore - since rebuilt on a grander scale as Highcliffe Castle - which began the late Georgian fashion for 'marine villas' and thus led to the establishment of spa-resorts all around the bay.
Now however, it seems a case of 'enjoy the view while it lasts' as the world's largest industrial windpark looms on the horizon, promoted by various interests as the answer to our energy needs. In extent, it will occupy part of 3 counties, be larger than the Isle of Wight, with its hundreds of turbine masts taller than anything in London. Planning objections have led to its northern edge being shaved back so that it no longer obstructs east-west sightlines between Wight and the mainland; but the north-south vista, that open horizon stretching into the distance, will no longer exist. The new Navitus Bay industrial park will also sit atop the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site, and last month Unesco wrote to Whitehall that if the giant turbine park goes ahead, World Heritage status may be withdrawn from the Jurassic Coast.


 

Sunny Spring Days, At Long Last
- The Lower Stour at Tuckton

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Spring is by definition a transitional season, starting out as February late-winter weather and ending up early summer as May dawns. The result is a mixed period of unpredictable weather in March, reflecting the saying 'March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb'. Now the spring equinox [21 March] is here, the storms and floods that dominated the forecasts for months having finally ended 2-3 weeks ago. People can at long last get out and go for a walk on riverbanks (in this case, as pictured here, the Lower Stour at Tuckton) that were underwater a short while ago. In the past, the lower stretches would sometimes freeze right over and become crossable on foot, cf here. Now we have sunny intervals by day with freezing temperatures at night, which at least is a start.


Winter Skies, Poole Harbour

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This winter will no doubt remembered for its storm-floods and sea-surges, the worst in over 20 years. Thousands were left without power over the midwinter holidays, overflowing riverbanks are forcing evacuations of entire communities, and police are warning the public to stay away from the seafront after several people were swept off esplanades.
Pictured here is Poole Harbour, the largest safe haven for boats on England’s south-central coast, from leisure craft to cross-Channel ferries. It has survived the recent weather relatively unscathed, but now faces a different kind of storm brewing. The Crown Estate’s Commissioners are considering a plan to build a road and a bridge to turn one of Poole Harbour’s islands into a car park – as an accessory for yet another new planned marina.
The Crown Estate is the official Crown corporation which owns, among other vast holdings, almost the entire coastal seabed, and operates under an Act which says their Commissioners’ authority cannot be challenged. This includes their licensing out areas to commercial interests, in this case marinas, in this case whether or not the Poole Harbout Commissioners approve. At anchorages all around the coast, the endless clinking sound of yacht cleats and lines as they repeatedly strike the aluminium masts is a permanent feature of life, as many yachts remain at anchor year-round, but mooring fees are a money-spinner for local harbour authorities and yacht clubs.
Local officials and residents are already concerned about plans to build the world's largest wind-turbine 'park' out in Poole Bay affecting tourism adversely and even jeopardising the Jurassic Coast’s World Heritage Site status. The sudden revelation, on the eve of the holidays, of the new plan with a January consultation deadline, to turn one of the Harbour’s islands into a car park has pushed the matter into the headlines, despite the protestations of the various parties behind the process they are merely following procedure, and the plans cannot be divulged as they are commercially confidential.
This also follows on news that none of the various sites proposed by county Wildlife Trusts along here, the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, are included in the current list of Marine Conservation Zones announced in late November. This was followed in turn by another revelation that the County Council has just quietly approved another plan to explore for gas outside the harbour mouth, in Poole Bay, adjacent to where the giant wind-turbine site is planned.
There is already another longstanding industrial development invisible in the background of this photo, a hidden oilfield called Wytch Farm (the oil derricks etc are hidden by trees). For five decades this hidden site has been Western Europe’s largest onshore oilfield, pumping up 17,000 barrels a day of crude from a pipe extending a mile down and another mile or so out into the bay, and this autumn had its operating license extended for another 21 years.
However the prospect of the new technique of fracking, which can cause earthquakes and change the water table, has led to renewed concern. The new drilling site is just off Durlston Country Park, a noted local dolphin-watching site. A similar situation in the Bristol Channel has demonstrated that the presence of such wildlife may prove a complication for developers, for wildlife often has more statutory protections than human residents.


PS Waverley, Bournemouth Pier
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Paddle steamers were a vital link in the opening up of British seaside resorts. Where the bay was too shallow for them to dock, long piers had to be built, starting 200 years ago with a mile-long wooden one at Ryde on north Wight (begun 1813). These 'pleasure steamers' were often operated by railway companies and sometimes the pier would be broadened to run a train line to the pierhead, as at Ryde, where a train still runs direct to the resorts on the south coast of Wight. With the decline of the railways, the heyday of the pleasure steamer ended, but one was saved and now operates around the entire English coast: the PS Waverley, built in 1947. A brass plaque aboard explains this is actually a replica-replacement for the 1899-built original, which sailed the Clyde prewar but was sunk in 1940 while evacuating troops from Dunkirk. The Waverley is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world and is claimed to be 'probably the most photographed ship in the world.'
Its seagoing profile is a familiar sight in this area. The restored Waverley sails the south-central coast every September, docking at local resorts like Ryde, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Swanage (the photo illustrating the Wikipedia article on the boat's history, here , shows it in Swanage Bay). For those who prefer a scenic shot, there is an alternative clickable one below, showing Waverley departing Sandown Bay on the south coast of Wight on one of its September day excursions.


High Summer, Poole Harbour

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The current heatwave has driven millions to the south coast in search of cooling waters. Normally English summer is defined as 3 sunny days then a thunderstorm, but it has been sunny since Midsummer Day on June 24 and for over a week now it has been hotter than for years (nearly 30 degrees C. in places), with no relief in sight. That 'relief' of course is at least partial cloud cover offering intervals of shade from the glare, as seen here.
While millions seem content to lie baking on packed beaches, the more adventurously minded have gone on as well as in the water, on water-craft of various kinds, and nowhere is more suitable for this on the south coast than Poole Harbour. Recently the harbour and surrounding area have been featured on tv in the Ben Fogle country-lifestyle series Harbour Lives [ITV-player link here], no doubt soon out on DVD. Poole has also just been chosen as the venue to host European Maritime Day 2017, which means as well as the official 2-day conference on ' Blue Growth ' etc, there will be several days of tie-in festival activities around the harbour - yacht and power-boat races, sailing ships, flotillas of small vessels, a pageant, etc.

While the traditional claim this is the world's largest natural harbour is not correct, within its 98-mile circumference it does offer a considerable variety of scenery and activities. Here, looking SW from Rockley Heath in the NW corner, the harbour's biggest peninsula, Arne, is visible. Less well-known than Brownsea Island [to the left of the picture], this is a quiet nature-reserve area of trails, wetland [see image below] and lagoon, with its own 'secret' bay, deer and much bird-life (RSPB bird-watching hide by lagoon). In the background to the right is another popular tourism destination, the Purbecks between Corfe Castle and Swanage, which we've covered here and its various on-screen appearances of the Purbecks area, here.


West Bay from Thorncombe Beacon

 

West Bay from Thorncombe Beacon
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Visitor interest in this locality has shot up due to what the press has called the 'Broadchurch effect', after the ITV murder-mystery serial Broadchurch. The drama attracted around 9 million viewers and enquiries and visits to the various West Dorset tourism websites have suddenly spiked. Only the seafront scenes were in fact shot here, as West Bay itself was too small to provide the range of locations needed to portray the fictional town of Broadchurch (the rest was Clevedon in Somerset), but these were scenic enough to promote a surge in visitor interest.
East Cliff Beach where the body was found and the sandstone cliffs above became the series' iconic image, but the local seafront cafes, hotel and even caravan park have also attracted interest and begun promoting themselves with the tagline 'as seen on Broadchurch,' and a tour of tie-in locations will begin when the DVD is released in May.
The photo above, looking eastward down the Jurassic Coast, is taken from Thorncombe hill just where the beacon (a replica of one built to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada) seen in Broadchurch's finale actually stands. (Film and tv dramas often perform a certain sleight-of-hand with locations, e.g. the Broadchurch Police Station in the round harbour-front building is actually part of a cafe.) In the distance below, West Bay can be made out with its twin piers enclosing its harbour-mouth and marina, and the sandstone cliffs above East Cliff Beach. In between is Eype, on whose slopes a clifftop scene was filmed. This part of the Jurassic Coast is where white chalk cliffs give way to red sandstone ones stretching westward to become the red earth of Devon. Beyond West Bay in the far distance is Abbotsbury with its mediaeval swannery by the Fleet lagoon enclosed by Chesil Bank. Real footage of the Fleet is seen in the film The Dam Busters showing the actual test drops made here, and this is also the setting of the 1898 smuggling classic Moonfleet. More recently Ian McEwan's award-winning tragic novella On Chesil Beach was set at a hotel here. Out of shot in the other direction, looking westward, is Golden Cap, the South Coast's highest headland, and beyond that, Lyme Regis and Devon.
This type of visitor interest is generally classed as literary tourism, and for those wanting to explore this theme farther, the locality has associations from Jane Austen onwards. Lyme Regis with its stone Cobb pier is best known for associated scenes in her 1818 Persuasion and later in local resident John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman. West Bay itself was seen in an earlier tv series, BBC's Harbour Lights, which utilised the same locations such as the Bridport Arms Hotel to portray the fictional 'Bridehaven'as well as other sites in the surrounding area. East Cliff Beach was previously used for the scene shown behind the titles of every episode of BBC's The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, where Reggie leaves his clothes on the beach to stage his faked suicide.
Thomas Hardy called West Bay 'Port Bredy', as it is essentially the harbour for the market town of Bridport. The larger town of Bridport just inland has been striving in recent years to establish a reputation as a centre for artists, craftspeople, writers and other creative types, and for the last ten years has been the adopted home town of Broadchurch's creator Chris Chibnall. He normally writes more fantasy-oriented drama like Life On Mars, Torchwood and Camelot, but says he conceived Broadchurch as his love letter to this scenic area and is planning a followup drama.


 

Hurst Castle, Solent Narrows
This sea fort is currently in the news because shifting coastal erosion patterns mean that waves are now lapping at its foundations, threatening to undermine it. It is of considerable historic interest to visitors for it is a development of several centuries of military fortification to control the Solent Narrows between West Wight and the mainland. From here, there is a view east along the Solent, west into Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole Bays, south to the Isle of Wight, and north over the New Forest-Lymington area. Seen here from a westward-looking angle, in fact it sits on a shingle spit which reaches most of the way southward to Wight, leaving only a narrow passage for shipping. (This also made attack from its landward side difficult.)
The original Hurst Castle, a moated 12-sided tower, was one of a string built in the era of Henry VIII. Henry's ongoing interest in divorce and re-marriage to obtain a male heir put him at odds with the Catholic church, and Catholic France and Spain regularly threatened raids, if not actual invasion. The Solent/Southampton Water passage was regarded as a vulnerable avenue of attack here, and other 1540s Henrician castles were built nearby, several of which, like Calshot and Yarmouth, survive on Southampton Water and Wight's Solent coast. Unlike mediaeval castles, the Henrician castles were forts in the more modern sense - intended as artillery emplacements, with projecting bastions to hold cannon so it could command the approaches on all sides. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Hurst was used as a garrison and gaol (Charles I was imprisoned here in 1648 en route to his trial and execution) and a naval base to discourage smuggling.
As it had become dilapidated, it was repaired during the Napoleonic invasion scare, and then in the 1860s, when (for reasons now obscure) England's defence minister Lord Palmerston again feared France would invade, an extensive set of fortifications nicknamed the Palmerston Follies were built all along the coast. The original fort was built over, with two large brick wing extensions which housed much heavier guns. The first of several lighthouses there was erected in 1786, but the one visible here at right also dates to the 1860s. In the Second World War, the fort saw service as an anti-aircraft battery etc. during Luftwaffe raids on the Southampton docks. Hurst Castle is today looked after by English Heritage [details here]. Due to the narrow passage, a good view can be obtained of it (as above) from any passing boat (eastward-looking angle pictured below), while its interior can be explored by landing from the passenger boat from Keyhaven, or on foot, along the narrow shingle spit which was part of its natural defenses.


 

Abbey Gardens, Winchester
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Currrently, for the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice, Hampshire tourism agencies are promoting visitor sites in and around around Winchester, where the author died in 1817 and is buried (in the Cathedral), with a guide to surrounding landmarks, such as nearby Chawton (where she lived, and the Austen Museum is). Outside of organised package tours for keen 'Janeites' (where participants sometimes dress in Regency costume), there may not be the hoped-for upsurge in visitors that tourism chiefs are hoping for, as it's only a recent Austen screen adaptation that really bumps up visitor numbers. Nevertheless, Winchester is worth seeing in and for itself via a walkabout tour. A City Tourism leaflet outlines a recommended 'Sunset' walk around the town centre, starting at the statue of King Alfred [visible at left in image above], this being the old capital of England after he established his kingdom of Wessex.
While trying to plan for a sunset is difficult in England even in summer, the route can be walked at any time of day, week, or month. It includes St Giles Hill viewpoint, from where you can see over the town [inset below], before ending at Abbey Gardens, above. Oddly, it doesn't include the Castle Great Hall (with its Arthurian 'Round Table'), ruined Wolvesey Palace, the old town's cobbled back streets, Winchester Cathedral (where Jane is buried), or the house where she died (on College Street, recently seen in the film Les Miserables); but with a town map these can easily be worked into the route as slight detours.


Swans Over Poole Harbour
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"…the swan /Brings winter on his wing" goes the old weather adage. Watching vees of swans, geese, ducks and other birds flying south was long a reliable indicator of the onset of winter. These days the picture is more confused. The "first day of winter," i.e. the day of the winter solstice [Dec 21st], which some claimed (citing the Mayan calendar) would be the world's last, in the event proved a sunny moment amidst a stormy season which has officialdom advising us not to travel over Xmas, due to widespread flooding.
This autumn, the RSPB reported thousands of migrating Scandinavian birds dying off the coast, the unusually adverse weather exhausting them just before they could reach the safety of the English coast. England's south coast has always offered a first or last stopping place for waterbirds flying north or south in spring or autumn, and a large part of the local seasonal economy was built around shooting and trapping migratory game birds en route. The region has plenty of waterways, like Poole Harbour, above, but artificial "decoy" ponds were also built to lure flocks of ducks and other waterbirds to where they could be netted more easily. Swans are the largest members of the duck family, and were bred for centuries by monks like those at Abbotsbury, who liked to have roast swan on meat-free Fridays. (In the mediaeval monastic rule-book, waterbirds like swans were conveniently classed as fish, not meat.)
If you want to see swans close up, Britain's largest nesting colony of mute swans is still just along the coast, at Abbotsbury Swannery on Fleet Lagoon (where the 'Dam Busters' bomb was tested). In fact, it is the world's only managed colony of such birds. Today, these swans are protected, the property of the Crown and no longer eaten; nor are they captive; their wings are not clipped and they can fly away.
As they weren't calling when they were photographed, it's not clear what breed of swans these three specimens are (see closeup below). Due to the region being such a crossroads for bird migration routes, whooper swans, trumpeter swans, and mute swans (which do not trumpet or whoop, only hiss) are all possibilities.


Terrace Bistro, Bournemouth Central Gardens

That Last Alfresco Meal - Terrace Bistro, Bournemouth Central Gardens

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Once again, it's that time of year, to indulge in that last alfresco meal of the year before it becomes too chilly to be able to sit outside comfortably and enjoy the warmth of the sun. (Local mid-day temp. today, Nov 1st: 10 C.) The 'Continental' culture of pavement or terrace cafes with outdoor seating was a long time coming here (some councillors tried to block it as un-English), but is now an accepted part of the resort's more upmarket identity, for both visitors and residents. This particular bistro/cafe/bar with free wi-fi is actually the latest, opened this year, as part of the refurbishment of the Pavilion overlooking Bournemouth's Central Gardens [view from terrace shown below], which now includes a series of heritage plaques in black marble on the terrace above the cafe. The cafe is one of a number of new establishments in Bournemouth (and Poole - cf. at the refurbished Lighthouse arts centre) run by the Council's nonprofit company, BH Live - a sign of changing times.
view from Terrace Bistro over Bournemouth Central Gardens


View From Badbury Rings

View From Badbury Rings
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If there were to be a quintessential image of this summer just ended, it would have to be of changeable weather with sun one moment and rain the next. This is what happened here, with that approaching low cloud in the distance soaking the scene in a sudden rain squall a few moments after this was taken. The scene here is the view from Badbury Rings hillfort, an Iron Age crossroads fortification in east-central Dorset. Today accessed via the B3082 Wimborne-Blandford road, it guarded a key local crossroads, where the Salisbury-Dorchester road met the Poole-Bath long-distance trade route. It stands in the estate around Kingston Lacy House managed by the National Trust (car park free, donation requested). The surrounding terrain pictured here is used for the annual point-to-point race run by the local hunt.
The hill here is relatively low [see reverse angle below], but fortified with several concentric rings of steep ditches and high [up to 40'] embankments (the vantage point from which the photo was taken). These once would have held a wooden stockade to help keep out raiders from tribes to the NE after their cattle. However this did not save it from the invading Romans in AD 43. As one of the strongholds of the CelticBadbury Rings Durotriges tribe, it would have been one of the 20 'oppida' (British towns) that fell to the siege tactics of the legionaries commanded by Rome's future emperor Vepasian. Part of the defenses of these British oppida (of which there were hundreds) was the fact that (as Caesar had earlier complained) they were on wooded hills, and Badbury remains one of the few to retain tree cover inside. (Other hillforts Vespasian attacked, like Hod and Hambledon Hills to the north or Maiden Castle to the west, have long been denuded of tree cover. However you can walk clockwise around the rings at Badbury, as some do for luck (it's a neopagan thing), and then into the beech and pine wood to find the OS trig point with plaque showing what lies in each direction.
The original name recorded in Roman records seems to have been Vindocladia. The exact meaning of this is not agreed, perhaps as it seems to lead to a rather Romantic result: vindo means white or sacred, and clad is the same root as in gladiator and claymore (Scottish Celtic claidh mor), both referring to a sword with a broad, slightly leaf-shaped blade. For those who like exploring Romantic legend, the woods were used at one point as a breeding ground for ravens, and this is thought to be one of the reasons (the other being its name) for the idea that this was the site of Arthur's famous victory of Badon Hill. In one Arthurian tale, Arthur kept pet ravens and he was supposedly reincarnated as one of the raven family. Ravens were regarded as omens in Celtic lore, and are still kept as magical-guardian birds at the Tower Of London, originally called the White Mount. In legend, Arthur dug up the sacred head of the Celtic god-hero Bran buried there to safeguard Britain from invasion, saying he alone would guard the country. This is the basis of the belief that Britain will fall if the Tower ravens ever leave. That was why Churchill had their wings clipped during the war, to make sure the prophecy would not seem to be coming true, for even in this sceptical modern age, legends and myths have a powerful presence, which can sometimes be felt when visiting such sites.


Chesil Bank and the Fleet Lagoon

English Summer, Southwest Dorset
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This is the view over Chesil Bank and the Fleet Lagoon, at noon on Midsummer's Day 2012, taken from Abbotsbury hill-fort where a beacon stands commemorating the one lit to signal the coming of the Spanish Armada on 21 July 1588. (In the event, the English Navy drove them off and summer gales then wrecked many of the galleons as they tried to escape up and around the British coast.) After the wettest April, the wettest May, the wettest June for a century and now what looks to be the wettest July, 2012's 'English summer' continues apace. Someone once sarcastically defined English summer as "three fine days and a thunderstorm", but this year it was several fine days (last week) and then a return to stormy weather. What the forecasters refer to as 'unsettled weather' does however provide dramatic cloudscape vistas evoking a Turner painting.


Throop riverbank scene

 

Mill-pond By Throop Mill
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A picturesque riverbank or weir near a lily-covered mill-pond was a favorite of painters in pre-photography days. Unfortunately, as with many such views, it is under threat. Throop Mill [just to the left of the main photo, see inset below] has long been derelict and the main weir footbridge, popular with walkers, has now become unsafe. As one of the oldest villages subsumed into Bournemouth, whose northern boundary runs along the Stour, Throop is a conservation area, with carefully preserved houses and cottages like the one seen here. It is one of those areas off the main tourist trail but popular with local walkers, in this case for its access to the Stour's riverbanks, country lanes and green meadows lying between town and airport. However, the planned conversion of the old mill into a tearoom and craft shop has had to be shelved due to lack of funding, and the phrase "enjoy it while it lasts" now applies.
Throop Mill


Poole Bay From SandbanksLooking At Navitus Bay
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Poole Bay from Sandbanks, taken one winter afternoon as HM Cutter Valiant sails out to the open sea from its berth in Poole Harbour [see inset below], past Old Harry Rocks, which form the tip of the Purbeck peninsula.
There's always something fascinating about staring out to sea from the coast, gazing at the empty far horizon of the open sea, often against the natural light, for the emptiness allows a contemplative moment.
Sadly, it looks like this stretch of sea won't be so open in a few years: there is a plan to build the world's largest windfarm here. The Mail has a mockup of the same view as shown above, with the turbines beginning where the departing Coast Guard cutter is seen here, dead centre on the horizon. Wind turbines exist elsewhere around the coast as well as inland. (The official library image of HM Cutter Valiant shows it sailing it past several of them.) But this wind farm or park will be three times larger than anything that presently exists. It will cover an area the size of Glasgow, with up to 300-plus giant turbines stretching from here across the approach to Bournemouth, to the Isle of Wight. At nearly 700 feet tall, the turbines will also be taller than anything in London, visible for around 20 miles.

At present, one of those mandatory public consultations has been going on, for what that's worth. Some of the objections being coordinated by the ad hoc campaigning group Challenge Navitus to Eneco's "wind park" are to do with maritime safety, as the farm will create a vast maze of navigation hazards for passenger ferries, merchant ships, official craft like HMC Valiant or the RNLI lifeboat, as well as the thousands of yachts and other pleasure craft moored at Poole, Lymington, Cowes etc. However, two years before the public consultation, the Crown Estate (which owns much of the coast) already handed over to Eneco the 279 square mile area of seabed it asked for to build its scheme. The area in future will thus be known as Navitus Bay.


Clavel Tower, Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset

 

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New Year’s saw national press coverage on the importance of recognising Britain's “follies” as well worth preserving. This was prompted by a campaign by historian and author Gwyn Headley, a tie-in with an ebook-update of his county-by-county series Follies Of England. ‘Follies’ means a building put up for ornamental or aesthetic reasons rather than practical purposes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, in the wake of the landscaped-estate movement and associated “Cult Of The Picturesque,” follies became fashionable among the landed gentry. Your estate was just not really complete without an ornamental tower of some sort, a Greek-style temple, an Italianate grotto, or some other feature that made your estate resemble a scene from classical painting or (after the Romantic Movement) a ‘Gothick’ novel. If you were lucky enough to have a left-over ruin such as a ruined abbey, you could carefully preserve that; or if not, you could even have a fake ruin purpose-built.
This region of course has a carefully preserved ruined castle, Corfe, and the National Trust promotes it around this time of year as a "romantic" destination for the Valentine's Day weekend. It's certainly the best known and most popular preserved ruin, and we've covered it before.
However, ‘prospect’ towers on the hunting-tower model (for deer-spotting etc) were the most common type of folly. Pictured here is Clavel Tower, on a headland overlooking Kimmeridge Bay on the Jurassic Coast [OS map #195, grid-ref SY908/786]. Since its construction c1820 in long-fashionable “Tuscan” architectural style, it’s inspired painters and writers from Hardy to PD James, but it’s chosen here as it became a symbol (complete with online fundraising campaign) of Britain’s threatened architectural heritage in this often-overlooked area.
In this case, the threat was from the sea eroding the headland. The tower then became an example of what could be done in the way of preservation: over a two year period, the whole tower was dismantled stone by stone and reassembled just inland, the cost defrayed by turning the rebuilt tower into holiday accommodation. It's more remote and harder to find than busy Corfe Castle, which for many adds to its appeal of Romantic isolation. But for those needing encouragement to venture further, also recently refurbished is the farm-produce cafe/shop in the village, pictured below.
Our south-central region has more than a few examples of the different types of folly, and we’re working on a webpage on follies around the region. But in the meantime, some of those on our webpage on preserved scenic ruins arguably qualify as they are preserved largely for aesthetic reasons. [click here].


Tyneham Valley from Whiteway Hill

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The fine 'Indian summer' weather which began in September right on the day of the autumn equinox and continued to the last Friday in October is now just a memory. With a long, grim 'Siberian' winter forecast, it seems appropriate to represent that memory with a suitable local photo, of clouds creeping over a sunlit landscape.
The spot shown here was chosen as it was one long championed by a veteran local campaigner who died this summer. Rodney Legg, Dorset's most prolific author of nonfiction heritage books, campaigned to save the site of Tyneham-Worbarrow, situated in a cleft just between the Purbeck Hills and the Jurassic Coast. In this view looking SE, Tyneham,the main village, is itself just out of sight, down on the right, as is Worbarrow, which today consists of a few ruined cottages on the bay of the same name [pictured, inset below]. Road access to Tyneham is down the near side of the valley.
The government had expropriated this land during WWII for a gunnery practice range and then broke its promise to hand it back to the evicted locals. Over the decades, these former residents moved away or died, and campaigner Rodney Legg finally accepted the Army's stewardship (under public scrutiny due to his campaign) as preferable to the alternative - the kind of uncontrolled development which leads to vast clifftop caravan parks of the sort seen elsewhere (e.g. along the coast at Durdle Door). The village of Tyneham is preserved more or less as it was pre-WWII, and with Remembrance Day weekend coming up, it is worth mentioning that it too serves as a war memorial.
Unlike in other countries, British wartime why-we-fight artwork tended to depict pastoral scenes, showing the sunlit uplands of Churchillian metaphor, representing the promised land of peacetime. This metaphor was to be evoked in the Prime Minister's speech at the September 2011 party rally but was abandoned as inappropriate due to the worsening economic situation, the various broken promises on policy, and unpopular new measures like the opening up of the countryside to developers. This last has also served as a recruiting sergeant for the National Trust, which is spearheading a campaign against uncontrolled development. It was announced in October that the NT has its highest proportion of its membership in Dorset, with around 1 in 5 County residents now a member.
The Tyneham-Worbarrow valley is now part of the Army's Lulworth Ranges, and its paths can be walked when the tank-gunnery range is not in use [access details here and here ].


Poole Harbour, from Ham Common viewpointPoole Harbour, from Ham Common viewpoint
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August's changeable weather, with constantly-alternating sun and rain, has made planning outdoors activities more difficult. With the various types of marine activities popular along the coast here, these have at least have been conducted with the reassurance of RNLI-lifeboat or Coastguard air-sea rescue cover in the event of a mishap. With the increasing numbers of watercraft of various types, mishaps are becoming frequent, as anyone can observe from this viewpoint on the north side of Poole Harbour. (Just from this viewpoint, we saw half a dozen in an hour, involving sailboats, a parasailer and a windsurfer.) Luckily the Harbour is mostly only 3-4 feet deep, but conditions are very dangerous in the adjoining open waters along Dorset's Jurassic Coast, which has taken scores of lives in the past. In the past week or so alone, there have been high-profile incidents ranging from a car going over the seacliff on Wight (2 dead) at the eastern end to a TV chef and son out fishing getting trapped inshore on rocks at the western end of the Coast on the Devon boundary and having to be [safely] rescued by lifeboat. The Red Arrows fatal jet crash [20 Aug] after their Bournemouth Air Show display over the bay could easily also have required air-sea rescue presence if the jet had gone down in the sea instead of the River Stour. (The pilot reportedly tried to crash-land away from built-up areas.) The helicopter also has to deal with on-land incidents along the Jurassic Coast, where walkers slip down the cliff etc.
Now however, on the grounds we would be better served by a Euro-coastguard service being organised in Brussels, the local Coastguard air-sea rescue heliport, midway along the Jurassic Coast at Portland, is to close. (See an earlier entry further down this page for a downloadable photo of one its many rescues in action, at Worbarrow Bay.) This is part of the ongoing programme of cuts to frontline services, with Coastguard stations serving the busy Clyde, Forth and Thames areas also being shut to save money. Locally, there is a heli-base next door to our Ham Common viewpoint (a Chinook may suddenly zoom overhead as you picnic), but it is on the Royal Marines base, for their operational use rather than for air-sea rescue.

 

Carisbrooke Castle,
Isle Of Wight

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It's 350 years this month since the 1661 coronation of Charles II marked the public start of what historians call the Restoration. The Restoration of the Monarchy was greeted as an occasion of public celebration as it meant the end of two decades of bloody strife ending in a Puritan republic that had even banned Xmas. Exactly a year later, on 23 April 1662, a royal wedding was held to secure the succession.
In fact, this did not provide a legitimate heir, and more fighting would occur after Charles's death. Much of the 17th century was thus given over to civil strife, which began with the king closing Parliament and arresting MPs, they in turn declaring war on him, and a new republic under Cromwell ordering him beheaded in 1649.
Carisbrooke Castle was the scene of part of this story, one of many such sites where key events in Britain's constitutional history took place in this region. Because of this we have put up a separate webpage describing sites like Carisbrooke and the role they played, and another page telling the story of the two main events that have caught the public imagination ever since, both of which occurred locally. On our sister site, on local media, we also have a page outlining the various local-interest novels and film-tv dramas set in the period (such as Children Of The New Forest).

17th Century Sites Of Historical Interest: An Introduction To Sites You Can Visit
On The Trail Of The Galloping Cavaliers -The 'Royal Flight' Episodes Of 1651 And 1685
Setting The Scene In Wessex: The 17th Century In Literature And Drama


Butser Hill National Nature Reserve

 

South Downs National Park,
from Butser Hill National Nature Reserve

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England's newest National Park was officially opened today [April 1st, 2011]. The new South Downs National Park extends eastward beyond our own south-central coverage area, but the western end is adjacent to our own regional gateway for visitors from London etc: St Catherine's Hill overlooking Winchester. Our main photo, above, was taken looking westward from the new Park’s highest point, Butser Hill National Nature Reserve [270m /886 ft], which stands near its western end, within Hampshire’s largest protected (yew and beech) woodland, Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Here on 1st April, says the Guardian, from the top of this steep, flat-topped grassy escarpment you may be able to hear church bells in all directions in the distance, ringing out in acclamation. Perhaps the celebration is one of relief that the long political and bureaucratic struggle (over 100 organisations campaigned for a decade over policy details) is over. For the Park has been a lifetime in the offing, the last of the 12 areas from the original list of candidates proposed in 1947, when the (originally American) idea of National Parks was first mooted, and has been actively debated since 1999.
In any case, on a clear day you can see east and west over the western Weald, north over southern Hampshire [pictured below], as well as southward to the Hampshire coast, around Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. The presence of a replica prehistoric conical thatched hut just below is appropriate, standing on the site of a Celtic Iron Age settlement. (The main Iron Age replica farmstead, Butser Ancient Farm, was relocated a mile south). As with all chalk-downland trackways, the pathways along here are ancient, part of a prehistoric network of interconnecting long-distance ‘high road’ routes used by early travellers to avoid the woodlands below, where wolves and other dangers lurked ....


The view from the north side of Butser Hill, inland over southern Hampshire.


St Catherine's Hill viewpoint

St Catherine's Hill viewpoint

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With Valentine's Day upon us, the press is full of features about things to do and places to go for a romantic weekend. We can suggest none better for an outing in this immediate area than a walk up St Catherine's Hill between Bournemouth and Christchurch. (The main road access, the B3073 , runs down the west side of the hill, car park / access lane a quarter mile north of the hospital.) It's still relatively unknown even locally, and has a somewhat mysterious history (see our Notes & Queries feature, The Mystery Of St Catherine's Hill, illustrated with photos taken in different seasons). It's pleasantly wooded with pine trees, and at present there's a campaign to save it from the Council's plans to deforest it. It's thus less windswept than the open heathland the Council prefers, and hence walkable year round, even during inclement winter weather. It has a labyrinth of paths, so that every time you visit, you can take a different route and discover a new corner. There's little danger of getting lost as you can re-orient yourself by looking at the view. There are so many linked paths you can always discover a new corner or vista you haven't seen before.
The photo here shows the main viewpoint on the east side, from where you can see over the Avon Valley to the New Forest and southeast to the Solent, the Isle Of Wight, and Christchurch (the Priory tower is distinct). On the southern side is a viewpoint over Christchurch at the highest point - hence the Ordnance Survey 'trig point' stone marker. The northeastern corner looks up the Avon Valley towards the Bournemouth Airport flight path, so both private and commercial aircraft are frequently seen on landing approach across the valley. From the southwestern viewpoint you can see Bournemouth and the outline of the Purbeck Hills across the bay.



Eype, West Dorset
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The beach seen along here has been in the national news this week [10-Jan-2011], due to the local Council listing it as being for sale for £1, or best offer above that. Conservative-run West Dorset District Council explained the £1 was just a simplified accounting convention since the beach doesn’t bring in any money, but has associated maintenance costs, and the planned sale is part of the Council’s “asset management plan.” The notion that a key beach on the Jurassic Coast (a World Heritage site and major international tourism destination) should be sold for best offer over £1 on the grounds it is not an asset bringing in any revenue may strike some as not so much simplified accounting as simple-minded.
The beach is directly accessible at Eype Mouth, itself hidden here by the ravine containing the tiny resort village of Eype. The name Eype means a steep place, and it is situated down a steep single-lane roadway called Mount Lane, leading to a pub and an upmarket country hotel refurbished since it became the resort of writers and artists in the 1930s. Many however walk to it from along the Coast (in stages anyway) and Eype makes a handy stopover between two better known landmarks on the route, which climbs up and down the downland atop the western half of the fossil-rich clay and greensand cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. (Walking along the beach itself can be difficult and dangerous, due to tides and cliff-falls.)
Below, in the distance you can see West Bay, the fishing port which made possible the town of Bridport just inland, two centuries before it became what it is today - a well-to-do market town with a strong artistic presence. Just beyond where the pier or jetty stands is the spot seen in the opening credits and a key sequence in the 1970s BBC sitcom The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, where Reggie fakes his suicide by stripping and swimming out to sea. The footpath leads up from West Bay to Eype Mouth, and up (a short but steep climb) the flank of Eype Down onto the scarped headland of Thorncombe Beacon, from where this photo was taken. The path here is part of the Dorset Coast Path which now forms part of the longer (Minehead to Swanage) South West Way as well as the designated Jurassic Coast route. Here, the path is also briefly part of the official long-distance Monarch’s Way, commemorating the route the future Charles II followed in 1651 when fleeing Roundhead forces and trying to find a local ship’s captain who would take him cross Channel to safety.
Our viewpoint, Thorncombe Beacon is, at 157m / 515ft, the second-highest point on England’s South Coast, and takes its designation from the fact there is a beacon here built in 1988 to commemorate the one erected in 1588 to be set alight if the Spanish Armada was sighted (which it was, heading east, leading to a sea battle off Portland). The highest point on the south coast is a kilometre or so farther west: Golden Cap [National Trust], at 191m / 617ft another viewpoint well worth the climb [see inset photo below of Thorncombe Beacon seen from Golden Cap]. Farther to the west, beyond another tiny resort, Seatown [with pub-restaurant], and then Charmouth [town, slightly inland] is Lyme Regis, an even bigger tourism draw, and it is possible for those fit enough to walk all the way as a scenic daytrip outing.
Thorncombe Beacon seen from Golden Cap


Sunset Over Wych Channel, Poole Harbour

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With the wettest November in a long time now giving way to snow all across Britain, the weather offered a few days of sun in between. This image was taken in late November [26-11-2010], at sundown the day before the snow-clouds arrived. It shows a remote inlet of Poole Harbour known as the Wych Channel. The Harbour is one of the largest in Europe and its marshy inlets long offered a haven for pirates going back to the Danish Vikings. While commerce (including an oilfield, inland at Wytch Heath) is only a short distance away, today this is a peaceful corner, part of a Nature Reserve. Its chief inhabitants are wading birds and herds of sika deer who can be heard calling in the woods, and its main visitors the many “twitchers” (bird-watchers) who visit regularly, as much of the land around is now owned by the RSPB.


View from Hardy Monument, West Dorset

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The new hit film just out, Tamara Drewe, based on a cult 2007 Guardian comic strip, was shot at various locations in the West Dorset countryside. An article in the Telegraph comments how when such scenic films create a surge of tourism interest, the experience of visiting them does not always live up to expectations. Of course, it never will for anyone expecting to see exactly what they saw on screen, but for anyone else, in this case it definitely does. It was West Dorset’s “deep country” aspect that prompted the director to film it there when the comic strip was set closer to Bournemouth, at locations ranging from Bridport near the coast to Yetminster near Sherborne and the Somerset boundary. West of Dorchester, the inland countryside changes from the flatter eastern half of Dorset to a landscape of rolling downs where every turn in the road brings a different perspective, and there are many climbable hills as viewpoints.
The view pictured above is from the Hardy Monument at Portesham, the first major inland viewpoint beyond Dorchester [detour S off A35]. It is not named after the author of the “Wessex Novels” like Far From The Madding Crowd (which also largely inspired Tamara Drewe) but his naval namesake, Nelson’s flag officer of “Kiss me, Hardy” fame. This Thomas Hardy was from the village of Portesham, and the 72ft (22m) Monument was erected in his memory in 1844. It was recently repaired, and this summer the surrounding land seen here was bought by Dorset County Council, for the purpose of “improving public access, creating learning opportunities and promoting recreation such as walking, picnics and enjoying its views and tranquillity - a source of inspiration for art and poetry." (Tamara Drewe, pictured below, is set at a writers' retreat where writers are meant to draw inspiration from staying in the area.)
Beyond, to the west, can be found farther hilltop viewpoints like Dorset's highest inland point Pilsdon Pen, just above where the Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy set up house in the 1790s.


Christchurch Harbour

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This year, the Dorset Architectural Heritage Week of open days runs from 8-16 September. Sites include (in no particular order) Hardy's Cottage, Weymouth (town walk), Blandford (town walk), Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch River & Harbour Cruise, Lulworth Castle & Park, Mapperton House, Poundbury, Christchurch Castle, Hengistbury Head, St Catherine's Hill, Clavell Tower, Clouds Hill Cottage, and Corfe Castle. The programme can be downloaded from here [PDF], with booking details here [PDF].
However, the popularity of the annual DAHW scheme, whereby for a limited period the public can enjoy guided visits to sites sometimes not otherwise accessible, has meant a change to the booking system: it now includes a "draw" (as in drawing names from a hat). If you are unable to book a site visit, you can still visit many of the sites for a DIY exploration, with the help of info from guidebooks and/or the internet. With other sites you can visit but without full access - often you can visit the grounds of a stately home, but not go inside; or else you can go on a regular tour with the usual entry fee.
In fact, you can easily organise your own heritage-exploration altogether, there being no shortage of other sites of interest in the vicinity. For example, pictured above is Christchurch Harbour, and within easy walking distance are Christchurch Priory and Castle, and Hengistbury Head, while not far away by car, Highcliffe Castle and St Catherine's Hill can also be visited. You can use the Google Earth Map or the Multimap facility [see links in right-hand column] for directions etc.


The Somerset Levels From Glastonbury Tor

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The usual meaning of 'Somerset' given is people of The Summer Country, and the arrival of fine summer weather makes the Tor a natural choice for a viewpoint, for on a fine day such as this [July 9, 2010] one can see farther from here than anywhere in the region. With the coming of summer, Glastonbury becomes an international tourism destination (outside of the famous music festival held annually nearby).
By climbing the Tor, one can obtain a 360-degree over the entire region. Here the view is towards the west, past the town. Glastonbury was an ancient port, the tidal reaches of the Celtic Sea once reaching inland to here, at least as a winter flood plain. Some say this winter flooding is the basis of the old Celtic name Ynys Witrin, or Isle of Glass, referring to the reflective qualities of the surrounding water as a mirror - lakes being traditionally entrances to the Celtic Otherworld. Another derivation of 'Somerset' is from Saxon somersetae, 'the settlers on the sea lakes', and archaeological digs have shown there was an Iron Age lake village here, with houses on stilts. There were also settlements built on artificial mounds in the manner of the Scots crannogs.
Later, land-reclamation schemes held back the sea's incursion over the Levels. The worst occasion the Levels were completely flooded was in 1607, when giant waves crested the sea walls, with around 2,000 people drowning before the water ebbed away ten days later. However storms continued to breach the sea defences protecting this low-lying land until the 1920s, when the defences were improved. The entire area is criss-crossed by large drainage ditches to contain the surface water, though parts of the Levels still become flood plains in time of heavy rains swelling the local rivers. The dried-out peat moor makes for rich grazing and farming land. For centuries, unless there was high water, the Levels were largely impassable swamp.
Nevertheless history is all around, concentrated mainly on the hillocks like the Tor which offered defensive settlement sites from prehistoric times on, with sites linked by wooden trackways and causeways across the swamp. The world's oldest known example of timbered walkway, the Sweet Track, was found here. It was nearby to the SW, at the "Isle" of Athelney, that Alfred was able to hide out in safety after his defeat by the Danes (this was where he supposedly burnt the cakes he was meant to be watching). To the NE on a clear day, you can just make out the tower of the cathedral at Wells, England's smallest city. The last pitched battle on English soil, Sedgemoor in 1685, was fought nearby, and the descriptions of corpses lying submerged in the swamp are said to have inspired the scene in Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, where the corpses try to drag Bilbo down.
Glastonbury itself is the focus of many legends about the first British church being founded here by the disciple Joseph of Arimatheia sailing here when it was still a port. Supposedly he planted his staff on Wearyall Hill [the ridge visible in the photo above, lower right], and it sprouted into a Palestinian variety of thorn tree. He also supposedly brought with him sacred Christian relics like the Grail which features in the Arthurian legends. A tomb excavated in the Abbey grounds in 1991 is claimed to be the site of Arthur and Guenevere's grave. This nexus of associated legends is the basis of much of the area's tourism [more info here].
view to the north from the Tor


‘The Coast With The Most’

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Bournemouth and Poole have a new joint tourism campaign for 2010, “The Coast With the Most.” It has the tagline “Love Watersports, Love Bournemouth and Poole,” which was evidently meant to tie in with the new artificial surf reef constructed in Poole Bay off Boscombe Pier and new seafront development (which has just won a restoration award). In the event, the surf reef completed in the autumn has proved somewhat underpowered for the handful of keen year-round surfers [pictured] who promoted the idea, but there are plenty of more general-interest attractions all along the coast. As BBC’s hit TV series Coast demonstrated, Poole Harbour is so shallow that it is relatively safe for beginners to learn water sports in, with various equipment-rental services for this. And any definition of “The Coast With the Most” would have to include the Jurassic Coast, which starts on the west side of Poole Bay just beyond the sands of Studland Bay, out of shot on the left. Note that our photo, taken from Bournemouth Pier on a bright but breezy March day, is not of the Boscombe–Eastcliff surf-reef side, but shows the Westcliff side, with the Marriott-Highcliff Hotel above the cliff-face lift from the beach.


Sunset Over New Forest Sunset Over New Forest

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The Anglo-Saxons called February Solmonath, the month of Sol the sun, commorating the first sunny days of the year. This is the phenomenon referred to as 'false spring,' when the first hardy green shoots appear, just before winter's last gasp. The first week of February is also the start of spring in another sense. The halfway points between solstices and equinoxes are known as cross-quarter days, and were marked by ancient festivals. The 5th/6th of Febrary is the halfway mark between the midwinter solstice [21/22 Dec] and the spring equinox [21 March]. The former is the point when the nights rather than the days begin to get shorter, and the latter the point when the days become as long as nights.
Thus one could argue this week is the start of the 90-day Spring season, with a wintery half from now till around the March equinox, giving way to a warmer summery half of days longer than nights. (At present, sunset is at 5pm, and sunrise at 7.40 am.) Around this time, the Celtic calendar celebrated the festival of Imbolc (Oimelc in Old Irish). This sounds like something to do with milk, which is apt: it means the in-filling of the udders of the sheep and cattle, preparatory to the birth of their young in the spring. The Imbolc/Oimelc festival may have begun each year only when this phenomenon (technically, the lactation of ewes) was witnessed locally.
This is a variation on the American version of the ancient Anglo-Saxon cross-quarter day of Candlemas, Groundhog Day (2 Feb), which German settlers to America brought with them, changing the original proverbial animal (hedgehog) for an American one. In both these, and other European versions, the presence or lack of sunlight is used to to predict whether winter weather is over. The idea is if the hibernating animal emerges, sees his own shadow and retreats again, it is a false spring, to be followed by 6 or so more weeks of winter weather. (The 'scientific' explanation is that air temperature and pressure are inversely related, with a rise in temp creating a low-pressure zone which pulls in weather from other zones with higher pressure and thus lower temperatures.) As I write, this effect is already descending upon us, with the forecast of another cold snap, and no doubt, 6 more weeks of winter in general.


Full English Breakfast, Dorchester cafeFull English Breakfast, Dorchester cafe

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With the entire island of Britain in the grip of Arctic conditions this month, a photo of icy roads, fields etc might seem de rigeur. But instead of one more such photo to add to the tens of thousands already uploaded to personal and news sites, I thought we'd have something different, a photo of what is most important to people in such times - hot meals. Although the supermarkets are reportedly running out of bread, milk and other perishables due to delivery slowdowns combined with panic buying, the cafes along the transport routes are still going, providing vital breaks and comfort to the snowbound traveller. The 'Full English Breakfast' is an English institution, a meal which can be had in B&Bs and some pubs as well as cafes and restaurants, sometimes on an "all-day" basis. This may date back to author Somerset Maugham's famous dictum, "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day." The standard shorthand for the ingredients is 'EBCB' or eggs, bacon, chips, and beans, usually with toast or fried bread on the side. There will be fried tomatoes and perhaps mushrooms, and these days a complete vegetarian version of the FEB is usually available. These meals are often made using local produce where possible. This one is from a Dorchester cafe, but wherever you find 'Full English Breakfast' listed, you'll find having one sets you up for the whole day.


Winter Solstice Sundown, River Frome Winter Solstice Sundown, River Frome

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The week before the winter solstice and Xmas has brought genuine wintry weather, with freezing rain, black ice, sleet, and fog resulting in a few traffic disasters. The winter solstice [Dec 21/22] is when the sun is at a standstill (sunset and sunrise are the same time for a period of 2-3 days), and the days are at their shortest before getting longer again. Archaeologists now say (based on finds of the bones of pigs which would have born in the spring and when killed were around 9 months old) that this was when the main rendezvous and feast occurred at Stonehenge. They surmise this may have been the main feast of the year in pre-Christian Britain. (For more on the ancient calendar, click here: The Ancient Country Year.)
At the winter-solstice vigil at Stonehenge this year, it was reportedly too foggy to see the sun come up or go down, but a few other days this past week have been cold and clear. This view of the winter-solstice sunset over the River Frome was shot from Wareham Bridge on just such a clear day, shortly before 6pm, when you can see the new moon rising in the last afterglow of the sunset. As usual, it’s unlikely that we’ll get the proverbial ‘white christmas’ the bookies take long odds on down here, but there were a few snow flurries on the official solstice [Dec 21st], as seen in the image below, taken in Corfe Castle square in front of the Greyhound Inn, which we’ve covered before as England’s most photographed pub.
Greyhound Inn, Corfe


Arne Peninsula Arne Peninsula, Poole Harbour

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The Arne Peninsula, on the southern edge of Poole Harbour, is not well-known, but has been in the local news lately. This was part of November's Remembrance Day events, in commemoration of its wartime role as a night-time 'bombing decoy' ground, to lure the Luftwaffe into bombing it instead of Poole across the Harbour - or the Holton Heath cordite factory nearby. Tar barrels, troughs of petrol and the like were set alight to simulate the appearance of a city or factory on fire, leading the bombers to drop their bombs there without loss of life.
The peninsula was chosen as it was largely uninhabited, the few villagers being evacuated in 1942. A few returned after the war, and the small church remains intact today, though without electricity. Its mix of heathland and salt-marsh makes it is unsuitable for building on, and so the area remains undeveloped, declared a nature reserve in 1954. It is a suitable habitat for marsh-birds, with an RSPB bird-watching hide by a lagoon on the edge of the harbour, where you can study various wading birds. Deer also find it congenial, and one can also see small herds in the oak and pine scrub woodland of the 9-acre Big Wood around harbour's edge.
The RSPB, who have had responsibility for the area since 1966, have put in a car park on the village road (off the A351 Wareham-Corfe-Swanage road) which runs across Hartland Moor. From the car park, you can stroll down past the church to the viewpoint at Shipstal Point, where an anti-aircraft battery and command post once stood amidst the heather. From the viewpoint one can look out over the harbour [see below], with Poole port visible to the north and Brownsea and the smaller islands to the east, by the entrance to the Harbour between Sandbanks and Studland. Walking down to the harbour shore, one can just glimpse, to the south, the grey ruined towers of Corfe Castle on its mound in the Corfe gap in the Purbeck coast downs.
Arne viewpoint
Arne remains undeveloped and almost undisturbed, the wartime bomb craters now ponds where wildlife flourishes. Sir Arthur Mee, in his The King's England volume on Dorset, commented that "it has the beauty that is worth living for. No one is ever tired of walking to Arne. " He concludes his entry: "Not far from the church the lane runs out to a point where men raised the great mound for their dead in the Long Ago; this and the church are all that man has made that is notable in Arne." One theory about the name Arne is that it is from the Saxon aerne, 'secret place', and this would certainly be apt.



Avebury Stone Face Avebury Stone Face
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This being Hallowe’en weekend, with the media focusing on spooky subjects, I thought this image might make a more appropriate local-interest choice than the usual ghosts etc. In most such cases, you can only read about others reporting strange phenomena, but at Avebury you can see for yourself, walk among the prehistoric megaliths, and decide whether or not the stones are actually hewn into faces. If so, what do they represent? Visitors claim they can see faces on many of the stones, with some vaguely human and others distinctively animal-shaped - as shown below [hold mouse over image].
Avebury Stone Faces
Avebury is part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site as Stonehenge, which some claim also has faces carved on it, though this is harder to verify as ordinary visitors cannot get close to the stones. Stonehenge has long been regarded, by UNESCO officials, Parliamentary committees and others, as a heritage-management disgrace. It is sandwiched between two busy roads [pictured below], surrounded by chain-link fencing to make sure no one gets close without paying, and a concrete pedestrian underpass for the site’s paying visitors (nearly a million a year), who then find the stone circle itself is still out of bounds, to protect it from damage. (Though if you pay a group fee, English Heritage will let you in among the stones – as you can see from many a film. After many years of bitter access-protest battles with the police closing the roads at the summer solstice, EH also lets up to a thousand of celebrants conduct all-night solstice getogethers for free.)


Now, with the 2012 Olympic games including events on the coast down here as well as in London, the government has decided to act, backing a £25 million plan to turf over the A344 road leading to the coach and car park, and build a prefab visitor centre with larger car park near Amesbury, with ‘shuttles’ (probably land trains) taking visitors back and forth.

This is an alternative to earlier schemes over the past two decades, culminating - after £38 million was spent on consultation fees for aborted schemes - in a plan last year to replace the A303 main road by excavating a sort of mini Channel Tunnel under Salisbury Plain -- not suprisingly dropped as too expensive, at £500 million-plus.) Avebury meanwhile, remains in care of the National Trust, who let visitors walk within the stone circle, which is larger and older than Stonehenge.



Poole Harbour at Hamworthy Last Days Of Summer, Poole Harbour

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Often in England, the autumn weather is sunnier than it was in the summertime. After the promised “BBQ summer” failed to appear, the press have been headlining a “BBQ autumn,” with ‘unseasonal’ sunny weather offering a final opportunity for outdoors pursuits. The south-central coast is a boating playground – hence the decision to hold the marine events for the 2012 olympic summer games here. Poole Harbour in particular is a natural marine playground – shallow, yet almost the largest natural harbour around (98 miles in circumference). Most of the northern side is now a yachting haven, new shoreline housing developments having their own private marinas with mooring areas and slipways. The summer-only residents have gone home by now, leaving the harbour relatively quiet. Local boat owners however can enjoy these last glory days of summer, before autumn gales force them to stow sails and batten down the hatches. For now, harbour waters are calm and still, the only waves from the wake of passing power boats, often pulling waterskiers. Overall, the appearance is almost that of a painting. Here, in the background along the shore at Hamworthy can be glimpsed one of the newer harbour-shore developments at right, with the more traditional type of British seashore structure at left – the beach hut.
This is just west of Poole Quay, and proceeding westward from here, the main channel passes Poole Yacht Club marina and, next to the Royal Marines base at Hamworthy, the new Moriconium Quay marina development [pictured below].
Moriconium Quay, Poole Harbour


Along here is the area known simply as Lake, where Vespasian’s Roman legions set up their first mainland foothold. Westward are the sandhills of Ham Common and Rockley Sands development and holiday park. Beyond Lytchett Bay, the channel turns southwest, between Holton Heath to the north and the almost completely unspoilt Arne peninsula on the south or Purbeck side, leading up the Frome towards Wareham via a meandering route through an extensive reed-marsh at the river mouth [below].
Frome Marshes


Gold Hill, ShaftesburyGold Hill, Shaftesbury

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English Heritage’s Architectural Heritage Week Open Days are here again, with hundreds of sites not normally accessible to the public opened up for free, often with bookable guided tours available. (Year-round, many of these are normally only open limited hours, or do not offer guided tours, or are not free.) The scene shown above for instance is a public site, and indeed is a famous postcard view. (Yes, it’s the one in the old Hovis ads.) But the adjoining ruined Abbey whose buttresses can be see on the right of the picture normally has limited public access. Abbey Park Walk viewpoint [pictured below] over Blackmore Vale to the south is open 365 days a year as a public promenade, but the Abbey ruins behind are walled off.
Shaftesbury Abbey Park Walk Shaftesbury Abbey, with its Royal Nunnery going back to Alfred the Great, was Britain’s foremost women-only abbey, and the grounds now contain a museum and garden. The hilltop town was both a market town and a pilgrimage site (King Canute supposedly died here kneeling in front of the tomb of an earlier sainted king) and, besides the Abbey and Gold Hill Museum, is rich in historic buildings, with a dozen blue plaques. Dorset’s Architectural Heritage Week actually lasts 9 days [Sep 12-20], with listing and booking details available here for this and other guided tours and visits. (If you miss the DAHW event, or just want to visit the town for an independent tour, a downloadable PDF showing a town heritage walk, together with another for the Abbey grounds, can be found here.)


The Osmington White Horse

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This famous Dorset landmark, carved on the Coast Downs in or before 1808 to commemorate George III’s stays at Weymouth, is in the news this week. The story is that a 2-day makeover of the Osmington White Horse, done for a TV ‘challenge’ show, was botched. In September 1989, BBC’s ‘Challenge Anneka’ tasked presenter Anneka Rice and several local Scouts with making the rather overgrown figure show up better. Tons of white Portland stone chippings were brought in to dress the exposed limestone, which is more greyish-purple than white. This was 20 years ago, and in the last few years, the hasty makeover has succumbed to age, leaving the carving looking rather grotty-looking, due to uneven placement, slippage and weathering. The photo above is one I took over 5 years ago, on a sunny day in July '04, and can be compared with more recent ones in the press [Daily Mail story here] or on Wikipedia, which show the deterioration since then.
The 280 by 323 ft figure is now to be restored by the County Council and The Georgian Group preservation charity, to its original state as much as possible. The Portland stone chippings are to be removed, and the ground re-scoured, after a geophysical survey and a study of older photos, for which they have put out a call. For 2 centuries now, it has been an established landmark on the hills overlooking Weymouth’s eastern approach road [A353], past Osmington village [OS Grid Ref SY717842] [map].
The fact the King is shown facing east - and thus riding away from Weymouth – gave rise to spurious local folktales that this was why the king never returned to see it, and that the bookseller who had sketched out its construction (supposedly paid for by Admiral Nelson’s brother) committed suicide as a result of his blunder. In fact, there are many white horses in the hillsides of Wessex, and there are hints the existing carving supplants an older one, to which a human figure was added some 2 centuries or so ago, representing the King – or the Duke of Wellington, or even Lord Nelson. It is the only known white horse carrying a rider.


Mudeford Sandbank, dividing Christchurch Harbour and Bay, taken from Hengistbury Head Mudeford Sandbank, dividing Christchurch Harbour and Bay, taken from Hengistbury Head
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The 2012 Summer Olympic & Para-Olympic Games are being held not only in London, but down here as well, along the coast between Portland and here. The sailing events will be held off Portland, but Christchurch Bay will be used for competitor training and practice. Because of the income the Games are expected to bring to the locality, certain key areas are being upgraded. The coast esplanade, just visible beyond the line of beach huts, is to be refurbished, to quote BBC News [27 Aug 09], with a “new beach access track and areas for sailors and watersports people to store and launch their craft.”
The esplanade in question is known as the Gundimore Promenade, after a house that was the centre of a literary-minded group of people who helped make the vicinity fashionable in the early 19th Century, when it was little more than a wasteland frequented by smugglers. (See our feature The Forgotten Regency Resort.) In fact, only a year before the gentry first arrived in 1785, there had been a 3-hour battle here, involving snipers and cannon, between His Majesty’s Forces and up to two hundred smugglers and their accomplices. After the area’s major landowner, Sir George Rose MP and his son the poet William Stewart Rose, built seaside villas here, they began inviting cultured acquaintances such as Sir Walter Scott and future Poet Laureate Robert Southey to stay at Gundimore and adjacent summer cottages. These are still visible from Gundimore Promenade, pictured below, looking towards Mudeford Quay, with Mudeford Sandbank and Hengistbury Head visible in the background. Gundimore Promenade
Hengistbury itself is not only a viewpoint, but an Ancient Monument popular with locals and visitors, and there was such an outcry when the closure of its activities centre was announced this spring that the Council was forced to rethink its plans. Mudeford Sandbank also attracts much interest as it is one of the few sites where you are allowed to sleep in your beach hut, and the record prices and high ground rents reflect this. A mile east down the beach is Highcliffe, where retired Prime Minister Lord Bute bought an estate and built a house to “command the finest outlook in England.” The present Highcliffe Castle, now open to the public, was a replacement built in 1835 for Bute’s original manor house, which was lost to cliff erosion by 1794.
Red Arrows Departing, Poole Bay Red Arrows Departing, Poole Bay

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Said to be the largest event of its kind in the UK, the 2nd Bournemouth Air Festival [20-23 Aug 2009] drew record crowds of over 300,000 a day, and over a million altogether. There were aerobatics displays by helicopters, biplane and monoplane prop planes and jets, and ground events like a simulated beach landing by the Royal Marines, and evening fireworks. (An over-promoted 'world-record' show on the first evening got bad publicity in the national press for being a fizzle.) The 4-day show's aerial 'stars' were the RAF's Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight of 3 WWII planes (a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster), the RAF's newest fighter the Eurofighter Typhoon, a restored Avro Vulcan delta-wing nuclear bomber (a no-show in 08), and of course, the perennial favourite, the RAF Red Arrows aerobatics team. This photo, taken from Bournemouth's Eastcliff at 4pm on Saturday, Day 3, shows the Red Arrows flying off into the late-afternoon haze and cloud, watched by a crowd estimated by police at 340,000, including an 'armada' of nearly a thousand boats moored offshore.


Red Arrows over Bournemouth Central Gardens

Red Arrows over Bournemouth Central Gardens
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The 2nd Bournemouth Airshow, Thurs 20th - Sun 23rd August, again stars the RAF Red Arrows, who open and close the 4-day event. There are dozens of other attractions - the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon, the last airworthy Avro Vulcan nuclear bomber, a Sea Vixen, a US WW2 P51 Mustang long-range fighter, with various helicopters performing aerobatics as well as the range of prop and jet planes. In the Central Gardens in the evenings is a 'Night Air' entertainments programme, with hot air balloons, fireworks displays, a Royal Marines band, laser show etc. (Last year's show was attended by an estimated 750,000, so any visit needs planning. For schedule of main highlights, click here.)


Hod Hill, Dorset View From Hod Hill
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Hillforts are Dorset’s key inland ‘viewpoint’ features. For anyone ready, willing and able to take a hike up them and then around their perimeter rampart, they offer 360-degree views over Dorset’s varied landscape panorama. In fact, the stem of the names Dorset and Dorchester (Roman Durnovaria) may derive from that of the builders of dozens of these ‘multivallate’ [i.e. multiple walls and banks] hillforts - the Celtic Durotriges tribe, thought to mean “wall artificers.” The walls are giant earthen ramparts [pictured in foreground] with ditches large enough to be railway cuttings, and have survived twenty five centuries of erosion, unlike the timber palisades that stood atop them. In times of hostile incursion, they could hold thousands of people together with their flocks and herds, on a temporary basis (drinking water being the problem). The Roman campaign of AD 43 led by future emperor Vespasian classed them as oppida, translated as tribal towns. Vespasian’s legions had to conquer over twenty of them, necessitating the use of siege engines firing giant ballista bolts.
Though not the highest (at 150m /490ft), Hod Hill [OS Landranger #194 map grid ref ST854/105], 5 km NW of Blandford Forum, overlooking the Stour and Iwerne valleys and Blackmore Vale, is classed as Dorset’s largest hillfort, at 22 hectares (54 acres). (Others like Hambledon Hill just to the W, and Maiden Castle S of Dorchester are close contenders.) This may have been why Hod Hill became the only one known to have a Roman garrison fort built inside it. (During a recent Dorset Architectural Heritage Week, guides were dressed as Roman legionaries.) Today, it’s open to the public courtesy of the National Trust [small car park alongside Child Okeford/A350 back road, with footpath leading up to NE corner].

Empty Deckchairs, South Coast

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This shot, with its ranks of empty deckchairs and unused BBQ, is a typical scene these days, given the continuing vagaries of English summer weather. (The Met Office had mistakenly predicted a "BBQ summer.") After the June heatwave (as the papers like to say, Phew, what a scorcher) - as ever followed by a period of stormy weather - we've returned to normal English summer weather. This means even when the sun shines, it never gets hot, due to the strong afternoon breezes. It might seem that another English tradition - gazing at the sea for hours - is sadly dying away. But while the Councils who charge for deckchair hire might feel this way, contributing to the abandonment of the traditional deckchair holiday is no doubt the increased range of attractions and activities available. There are more and more these every year, here on the Jurassic Coast, even if you just want to gaze out to sea. As they used to say in the old travel books, views of great interest abound.
Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock

Burton Bradstock beach and Hive Beach Café
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Though England has just enjoyed more than the proverbial 'two fine days and a thunderstorm' that make up a typical English summer (with a heatwave lasting well over a week), the return of more typical unsettled weather has made planning a holiday outing problematic. However even if going to the beach for a suntan is not an option, Dorset's Jurassic Coast offers all-weather outdoors pursuits. Even on a rainy day, a favourite activity is a 'bracing' walk along the seashore, inevitably followed by a hot meal at a nearby café or inn. A particularly popular rendezvous for this, year-round, is the Hive Beach Café at the western end of Chesil Bank near Burton Bradstock in West Dorset. The seaside café/bakery/ice cream parlour has regularly won awards, most recently Coast magazine's 2009 Award for Best Coastal Café/Pub/Restaurant, and the Times shortlist [4-7-09] of Britain's top-ten fish-n-chip outlets. The seafood menu is sourced where possible from Lyme Bay, of which the café environs offer an impressive view, a walk along the bluffs being a must before or (usually) after a meal. (As Dorset-resident TV chef Lesley Waters puts it, "You get a big bowl of fish soup with really good bread, then walk it off on the beach.")


Coy Pond, Poole
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The fuss in the national press about the MP who claimed on his expenses a floating “duck house” for his Hampshire estate has made anything to do with the topic newsworthy. In fact, many old estates had duck ponds, often with a “duck island” to prevent foxes getting the ducklings. These were known as Decoy Ponds or Coy Ponds (nothing to do with the koi carp who also now often reside in them), as they were used to ‘decoy’ migratory water-birds like ducks down, so they could be netted or shot. Wooden - now plastic – decoy ducks were moored to lure unsuspecting birds into seeing it as safe to land there.
Some of the newer municipalities like Bournemouth who took over these former estate lands turned the ponds into public amenities, the ducks becoming ornamental attractions, rather than game for the pot. Floating duck houses are sometimes used where the pond is too small for a duck island, as in the pond at Muccleshell village (Throop) in north Bournemouth [pictured].
When Bournemouth’s original Decoy Pond (which stood where the War Memorial is today) had to be filled in, a new one was created, at the top of the Central Gardens, just over the boundary in Poole. Not seen in the main image is a life-size painted model heron [see below] recently fixed in the pond bed to keep away the real grey heron who has been visiting for many years, and who can still nonetheless be seen from time to time on the wooded island.


Worbarrow Bay and Worbarrow Tout Worbarrow, Jurassic Coast
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Worbarrow Bay and Worbarrow Tout [a Celtic term for a sacred headland], photographed from Flowers Barrow hill fort. This is a spot which made the news this weekend. The arrival of summer weather has brought thousands to the coast, which in turn keeps the Portland Coastguard helicopter and the RNLI lifeboats busy rescuing people. The news coverage was because spectators atop the Tout refused to move out the way, preventing the Coastguard helicopter from winching a crewman directly down to where a man and a girl were stuck on the cliff. (The pair had tried to climb up the Tout from the footpath along the side.) The helicopter had to lower the winchman and traverse him along the cliff. You can’t see it in the thumbnail version, but if you examine the desktop size image, you’ll see the end of the incident, the Coastguard helicopter sidling up to the bayshore to drop the pair safely onto the beach. The coast here is popular as it is accessed via another attraction, the ruined [now preserved] village of Tyneham [see our Scenic Ruins page].
Portland HarbourPortland
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Portland is where the sailing events will be held for the 2012 Summer Olympics. A National Sailing Academy is currently being built here, on the NE corner of the peninsula, by the site of the former RNAS heli-port, part of a £400m development programme to include a marina and luxury spa hotel. Portland Harbour beyond was long the southern port of the Home Fleet, but was largely abandoned in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. To the left, the Chesil Bank enclosing the Fleet Lagoon stretches away NW into the distance. (The Fleet was where the Dam Busters bouncing bomb was tested – it’s actual footage of the 1942 Fleet test drops you see in the 1954 film, currently being remade). The Queen and Prince Philip will pay a visit to the Sailing Academy in June. Weymouth [in the distance, right] is the resort King George III sojourned at during several summers to help cure his madness, first making the idea of the seaside resort fashionable in polite society. The royal couple will also visit the Tank Museum at Bovington near Dorchester, redeveloped with the help of £16.5m in Heritage Lottery Funding, and being officially reopened by the Queen the same day, June 11th.

Osborne House, Isle Of Wight

Osborne House, Isle Of Wight
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This seems a timely choice as the film Young Victoria (on current release and coming out on DVD), has made many aware of the Queen's early happy married life. Victoria had spent youthful seaside holidays on Wight, at Norris Castle near Cowes, having begun her popular 'Royal Progress' trip of 1833 by yacht along the Dorset-Devon coast here. After she became Queen, she and Albert bought up the Osborne estate next to Norris Castle, and had their own 'marine palace' built overlooking The Solent. It was designed in the then-fashionable Italianate style as the Solent view [pictured below] reminded Albert of the Bay Of Naples. The Italianate design would give the place some of the appeal of a sunny Mediterranean resort. The Georgian manor house was rebuilt in Palladian style, including campanile towers, a loggia balcony, and pavilion. Terraced gardens with statues and fountains in Renaissance style cascaded down towards the seashore, where Victoria had her own bathing machine.
The result was so attractive that the 'Osborne Style' would be imitated in Britain, Europe, and the USA. It was suitably secluded. Osborne was guarded at times by up to 200 soldiers (and of course her fierce Highland gillie John Brown) who kept tourists as well as anarchists out. (Her new Poet Laureate, Tennyson, also set up a home on Wight, near what is now Tennyson Down, but was soon besieged by tourists.) She remained there after Albert died, dying there herself in 1901. Her later life at Osborne was seen in the 1997 film Mrs Brown, starring Judi Dench as an older, widowed Victoria. The couple's, and later their son's, interest in yachting, with a 'Royal Yachting Squadron,' established the Cowes Regatta as an annual event (1st week August 2009). It being a tradition that Royal princes should serve a stint in the 'Senior Service,' Osborne became in part a Royal Naval College where future kings served as cadets. Osborne later became a major tourist attraction, now kept by English Heritage as much as possible as it was when Victoria died there.
view of the Solent from Osborne


Scott Arms mealsPub Meal In Spring Sunshine
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 The recent ‘Arctic’ (for England, that is) weather has been documented by tens of thousands of images of snowy or frosty winter scenes uploaded to various websites. As we had already posted a bleak-midwinter scene (the Stonehenge silhouette, below) last time, I decided this time we should look ahead to Spring, whose first rays and shoots are just now becoming apparent. The sure sign of Spring having fully arrived is when you are able to go for an alfresco pub lunch, sitting outside in the garden of a country inn: this popular rite of passage is surely the real test of winter’s finally being over. Well, we’re not at that stage quite yet, but to cheer us all up here’s an alfresco pub meal from last year, taken in the garden of the Scott Arms overlooking Corfe Castle. The pub has often been used by TV crews (there are souvenir stills in the hallway inside), and I think even film director turned food critic Michael Winner would have approved of this fare. In case you can’t tell, the two meals were bacon, eggs, & chips with onion rings, and bangers & mash with a side-order of grilled tomatoes, and of course the view over the Purbeck Hills is great. For a panoramic view taken from this same pub garden, see the page on our sister site The Isle Of Purbeck On Screen.
Stonehenge
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Stonehenge in silhouette is our chosen image to portray the midwinter period. For recent archaeological research suggests Midwinter sunset, and not Midsummer sunrise (when the largest crowds now gather every year) was the key date in its use in ancient times. Its central "avenue" is aligned to the solstices at each end (21 June and 21 December). But analysis of pig bones found in pits nearby indicates the main prehistoric feast was in December. It would thus be a celebration of the passing of the shortest day (and longest night) - and thus the lengthening of the days again towards the spring equinox (21 March), when days and nights are of equal length. This in turn is the halfway point to the start of another summer at the festival anciently called Beltane, and later May Day.
St Andrew's Church ruin on Portland, with ruined Rufus Castle above, in background Ruins of St Andrew's Church and Rufus Castle, Portland
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Autumn is the season of mixed weather, with crisp sunny days giving way to rainy ones, and misty weather in between. Due to its topography, Portland is one of those places that acquires a dramatic and mysterious quality in misty weather, with unusual features suddenly looming up at you out of the fog. Here, a double ruin overlooks Church Ope Cove, on the E side of Portland. In the foreground stands the ruin of St Andrew's Church, and above in the background, ruined Rufus Castle.
Last week, BBC4 did a programme in its Railway Walks series on walking the old Weymouth-Portland Railway down to the Cove. For what was the Victorian passenger and goods steam line and the connecting horse-drawn tram line (built to convey stone from local quarries) is now a designated walking and cycling route, The Rodwell Trail. This leads S around 2.5 miles from Weymouth past another ruin, Sandsfoot Castle, and the new Olympic sailing-event base, down the eastern side of the peninsula. (There is a proposal to re-convert most of the trackbed into a modern light railway for the 2012 Olympics.) From there you can continue on, as the programme did, to Church Ope Cove, between Rufus Castle and Pennsylvania Castle manor house built c1800. There are more details about the site in our page on Scenic Ruins.
Lymington Market stall Lymington Market stall
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
This photo, taken at Lymington Market in October, was chosen as this is traditionally the time of year when plentiful health-giving food is celebrated as part of what are termed harvest festivals. Although America’s national November holiday of Thanksgiving was established by the early Puritan colonists, many of whom came from this region, it is not officially observed in Britain. This is despite the fact that other forms of harvest festival, like the Harvest Home Supper depicted in Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, were never officially adopted as national holidays. What is still alive, and becoming more popular yearly, is the phenomenon of the farmer’s market or local produce market, usually set up by the food producers themselves, but now promoted as a visitor attraction. Most of these events are in the summer for obvious reasons, but some markets run throughout the year.
This region in particular has a considerable variety of local-produce market. Dorset Food Week, designed to introduce people to local produce, ends today [Nov 2nd], but for anyone who has acquired a taste for local produce, whether vegetarian or carnivorous, there are food markets every week of the year. Within a 50 mile radius of the main population centre (Bournemouth-Poole-Christchurch) in the area we cover, there are markets all around, in the New Forest (Hampshire), Dorset, and Wiltshire. The Wiltshire Farmers' Markets Association alone puts on around 130 markets a year. The New Forest Local Producers' Market runs mainly in the summer and each Sunday rotates venues - Fordingbridge, Ringwood, Lyndhurst, Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, etc. Some markets in larger population centres like Lymington are able to run through the winter as well. Farmers’ markets are often held on traditional weekly, biweekly or monthly market days e.g. Salisbury Market on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month, but always check the relevant websites for details: (Note that you have to search these sites as the listings are not static but updated each time from databases.)
Dorset: www.dorsetforyou.com
New Forest: www.forestfriendlyfarming.org.uk
Wiltshire: www.wiltshirefarmersmarkets.org.uk
National: (this searchable site includes a Microsoft Virtual-Earth-Map reproduction, with locations in each county indicated by pins which also show dates): www.farmersmarkets.net
Rainy Bournemouth seafront
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
 “July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach-huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, frothchained sea that leapt eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore.”
The opening lines of Gerald Durrell's 1956 My Family And Other Animals could have been written this year, and make for a fitting image to commemorate a wet summer giving way to autumn rains. The beach-huts mentioned are a historic feature, the Council claiming in a new book to have pioneered the beach hut 100 years ago, in 1908. (Since then, the beach hut has become a national institution, an alternative to sitting in a damp seafront shelter during the rainy weather which is increasingly a feature of the British summer.) Over 50 of what the Council says will be “the best beach huts in the world” are currently being developed, ranging from luxury penthouse  “super beach huts” down to single “surfer pods”, to tie in with the £2.68m surf reef (“the first artificial surf reef in the northern hemisphere”) now being built on the far side of the town's 2nd Pier, Boscombe Pier, which is also being refurbished.

Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters  This year, Salisbury Cathedral is celebrating the 750th anniversary of its completion and dedication, in 1258. The Cathedral has the tallest spire, at 404', in England (some claim in all of Europe), but it's been difficult to get a classic exterior shot for some time, as the façade has been shrouded in scaffolding. English Heritage rejected a £1.3m grant application for extensive restoration to its crumbling masonry, as it will pay only for essential work on an ongoing ad-hoc basis, which means an endless cycle of temporary repairs.
It's also government policy to keep museums free, administrators having belatedly realised visitor numbers fall off when admission goes from free to £5. Many of the Church of England's 12,200 listed buildings are in the red, and earlier this year the Telegraph this year launched a "Save Our Churches" online petition (Last Xmas, I put up a 2008 calendar as a printable PDF file on the theme of the smaller country churches that tend to get ignored besides the high-profile "great churches" like the Cathedral, still available to download here .)

Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
Now, a report backed by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber called 'Sacred Britain' has recommended marketing initiatives be established e.g. to "publicise the role of churches in genealogy to the thousands of Americans expected for the 2012 Olympic Games in London." Salisbury Cathedral installed an entry turnstile where you would hand over a "voluntary donation" , and they also tell you the amount you should give (on their website it's £5 per adult and £12 for families). They also had 'formal' admission charges during 750th Anniversary events like the Flower Festival in the summer, but this is now over. It's also less crowded now school has re-started, but with other "Salisbury Cathedral 750" events ending September 30th, it'll soon be last chance to see the historic exhibit in its inner sanctum, the Cloisters courtyard shown in the downloadable image above.


Lancaster's Farewell Flypast, Bournemouth Air Show 2008
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The image above was taken Sunday 31st August, on the final afternoon of the first Bournemouth Airshow, when the weather was closing in. It shows the final fly-past over Bournemouth beach of an Avro Lancaster bomber. A type made famous byThe Dam Busters, the Lanc had performed every day at the Airshow together with a Spitfire and a Hurricane as part of the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight. Despite the weather, the Airshow attracted an estimated three-quarters of a million spectators, and is to be repeated next year.
Fleet ChapelFleet Chapel, SW Dorset
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
This is the only remnant [OS map ref  SY634805] of a hamlet left by a storm surge mentioned in JM Falkner’s smuggling novel Moonfleet, which is set in the vicinity. In 1824, the sea breached Chesil Bank and overflowed the Fleet Lagoon within, sweeping away the village and the rest of what was their parish church. What you see is actually the old chancel, since maintained for use as a chapel, on the site of the lost village of Fleet. A new parish church ( a larger Gothic Revival church, Holy Trinity) was built in 1827 a quarter-mile northwest, closer to the present village.
It’s chosen here as one of the items on show for Dorset Architectural Heritage Week. This is an annual event run since 1994 by the environmental-education charity East Dorset Heritage Trust. Scheduled to coincide with national Civic Trust Heritage Open Days, it “aims to stimulate public awareness of Dorset's rich architectural and cultural heritage by allowing free access to many properties that are normally closed to the public or charge for entry.” Examples of sites on show are Maiden Castle (Iron Age hill-fort), Christchurch Priory (England’s longest parish church), St Catherine's Hill (mystery site - see our web page on it), Poundbury (Prince Charles’s designer heritage village), Christchurch Castle (mediaeval ruin), Highcliffe Castle (19th-C manor house), and Roman Dorchester.
This year DAHW runs from September 13th to 21st. Some tours are limited as to numbers, and need to be booked in advance. The deadline for EDHT receiving booking forms back by post, 15th August, is within two weeks of the programme being issued, before most people have seen it, so the bookable-ticketed events are obviously very popular. Luckily, there are plenty of events that allow you just to turn up. Full, printable programme here [a PDF, right-click to download]
Dorset Architectural Heritage Week 2008 Programme
View From Beer Head, SE Devon
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
 The photo above, taken last month (in late June), shows how seaside resort and dramatic natural features are juxtaposed along the Jurassic Coast.
In the downloadable fullsize version, you can see the resort of Seaton, and the once-important port (later silted up) of Axmouth just beyond. Around the mouth of the Axe estuary are cliffs of red 'Devon' sandstone, contrasting with the white chalk seen elsewhere (e.g. left foreground). The wooded undercliff in the distance, now a Nature Reserve, was created by a massive landslip in 1839.
Just around the far headland, the woodland continues as the Undercliff  featured in The French Lieutenant's Woman. Although the name Beer Head does not derive from the fishing port of Beer's smuggling heyday (it's from Saxon bere,  a wood), behind this viewpoint are massive quarry caves dating back to Roman times, used in building many English cathedrals, by smugglers, and more recently, as a film and TV location (e.g. Harbour Lights with Nick Berry).
Knowlton Church and Ring Knowlton Church and Ring, East Dorset
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The ruin of this mediaeval church, built deliberately inside a prehistoric 'pagan' sacred site, makes a suitable choice for National Archaeology Week 2008, which begins today (12th July). NAW runs for 9 days (this could only happen in England), when selected archaeological sites (including current 'digs') are open to visitors, and there are special educational museum exhibits. However, as with the Architectural Heritage Weeks in September, only a few sites in each county are open, and the more interesting ones are not on the list. Knowlton, near Cranborne in east Dorset, is an example of such a neglected site, one you can walk around freely (in both senses). For more info on this site and others of interest here, see our webpage on the Top Ten Scenic Ruins In The Region.
The Stour At Midsummer
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The Stour At Midsummer: High summer has finally arrived in England, with July 1st the hottest day of the year so far. I chose this as a suitable high-summer scene, the sort Victorian landscape painters would have selected as an idyllic vista. (There's a romantic if dubious legend of a local noble fleeing across here after the death of King William Rufus in August 1100 AD in the New Forest in an odd "hunting accident." Later it was a smugglers' route. )
It shows a footbridge over a tributary over the River Stour, called the Leaden Stour, between Hurn and Throop. Earlier, the river was crossed here by a carriage ford leading to Pig Shoot Lane. This ford was always dangerous for foot travellers, hence the modern concrete footbridge. Hurn is now the site of Bournemouth International Airport. Throop, the site of a mediaeval mill (now an empty shell) is a northern suburb of Bournemouth, but the rural character of this area in between still survives, and it makes a side attraction just off the Stour Valley Way recreational route. [OS map ref SZ 117/958]

Cerne Giant Giant Hill, Cerne Abbas, Dorset
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
This is the view most people get of the 180ft high chalk giant visible from the official viewpoint, in a lay-by just outside Cerne Abbas village in central Dorset. It's not a great view (you need to take binoculars to see any detail), but I thought it was worth offering a desktop-size download under the circumstances.
For the Giant is suddenly in the news because even the modest view you see here [shot in August 2005] is now obscured. The Giant's chalk outline has faded, due to the damp-spring weather conditions and the need for the 1ft-wide outline to be "scoured". (This is done periodically, along with "re-chalking" to prevent him from disappearing into the hillside over time.)
Today [20 June 08], newspaper photographs in The Times and elsewhere show him all but invisible against a brown hillside, disappointing visitors. The National Trust has apparently failed to find any sheep to graze the hillside, which is too steep for mowing machines. As the Daily Mail colourfully quoted the NT, 'In the past we have relied on sheep to keep him shawn.' (Someone at the Mail or NT is evidently a Wallace & Gromit fan.)
Update: In September 2008, on Heritage Open Day, volunteers replaced the lichen covering and added in new chalk fill, mixed as a paste, then local sheep were brought in to crop the grass. (BBC time-lapse coverage here .)
The Giant's origin is unknown, but he is usually classed as a fertility symbol, so his disappearing like this would in earlier times be taken for an omen that the crops or economy will fail. Archaeologists like dry summers as they expose areas of outline lost before the National Trust takeover, and there may still be lost figures surrounding the giant.
Archaeologist Rodney Castleden in the 1990s discovered the Giant had originally held a lion-skin cape and severed head dangling from his left arm. There are references to missing portions of the chalk carving, and some early photos show strange indentations around the giant, though some of these may just be subsidence.
Holy well, Cerne Abbas

St Augustine's Well
The village of Cerne Abbas (pop.800) was named this spring as the most desirable village in Britain in a survey by estate agents Savills . It is worth visiting in itself for the remnants of the Benedictine Abbey from which it took its name. There is a gatehouse, a holy well, and if you like mysteries, some strange mounds beyond the cemetary. Leading up the Abbey gatehouse past the church is a street of half-timbered Tudor-style houses sometimes seen in films and TV dramas (such as the 1963 Tom Jones and ITV's Tess), and there are several pubs and tearooms for refreshment.


Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey ruins
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
A shot of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, taken on the June 1st weekend. The property was re-acquired by the church 100 years ago, in 1908.  It had been in private hands following Henry VIII's Dissolution of The Monasteries, which had seen what had been England's finest abbey ruined. It is semi-officially known as "the cradle of Christianity in England" as some believe the first church in England (perhaps in Europe) stood here. Every year, there are both Catholic and CoE pilgrimages. This year, the Catholic one comes first (Saturday 7th June), followed by the Church of England's own official Glastonbury Pilgrimage 2008 on Saturday 21st June.


Below: A woodland area in the depths of The New Forest, once a Royal Forest (i.e. mediaeval hunting preserve), redeveloped after WWII by the Forestry Commission with new conifer plantations, and now our newest National Park.

 

The New Forest
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
This being the Tree Council's 'Walk In The Woods Month' "to encourage everyone to enjoy trees and woods in spring", with a programme of guided walks, and downloadable leaflets (if that's the right word), I've updated our 3 web-pages on woodlands. At the western end of our area (and of the Jurassic Coast) is the Lyme Regis Underwood, the closest you can get to experience Britain's now-vanished "Wildwood." For anyone interested in visiting the eastern end of our coverage area, there is 'The Pines Of Bournemouth'.
      There is also a page on the wooded nature reserve of St Catherine's Hill overlooking the Avon Valley near Christchurch. However, note that the text deals with the hill as a religious "mystery site". The pine woods atop the hill are themselves under threat as the Council wants to cut down up to 15,000 trees to "restore" the hill.) This is also Local History Month, if you're interested in delving into the odd place-names and legends associated with sites like this, there's an opportunity here. The guide to the adjacent Avon Valley area is also updated.
       Inland on the eastern side, we have the New Forest, a mix of woodland and heathland ("Forest" was a legal term for a royal hunting preserve). As we haven't a separate page on the New Forest yet, I've put up a photo of it, above, as our new desktop-download photo, showing the different types of woodland vegetation and ground cover you can see in the Forest.
§ The Pines Of Bournemouth
§ Britain's Lost 'Wildwood'
§ The Mystery Of St Catherine's Hill


View from South Cadbury Hill-fort

View from South Cadbury Hillfort
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
May is now upon us - amazingly (for England) coinciding with the first hot days of the year. This is when - in olden times - people would set off on pilgrimages.  So I thought a picture of the view from South Cadbury would be apt, for this impressive Dark Ages hill-fort was one of the legendary localisations of Camelot. (As Henry VIII's travelling antiquarian Leland put it, "By South Cadbury is that Camelot..." of which the people of the time still spoke. This view is looking westward, into the haze.


Right click to download desktop-size versionCorfe Castle, April
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
After year-long maintenance work, the scaffolding has mostly been removed, in time for the first warm sunny days of spring. This late-afternoon shot was taken from the garden of the Greyhound Inn, adjacent to the main ramp over the dry moat. (We also have a page covering Corfe and nearby Swanage, which I've also updated, here. As the Greyhound Inn's garden abuts the castle dry-moat, it offers the best views of the castle, and the Inn claims to be the most photographed 'hostelry' in Britain.)

Spring equinox at The Agglestone

 

Spring equinox 2007, The Agglestone, Purbeck
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
As this year Easter almost coincides with the spring equinox, I thought we should have a pair of tie-in photos to commemorate this double event, one showing a Christian feature (a major church in the region), and other showing a solar event - the sun over a local landmark. So above is the sun over The Agglestone, a 400-ton boulder overlooking the heathland south of Poole Harbour, and below that, Wells Cathedral in Somerset.


Wells Cathedral

 

Wells Cathedral, Somerset
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The fact of having a cathedral gave Wells the legal status of a city, albeit today England's smallest. Unlike nearby Glastonbury Abbey, the Cathedral survived the Reformation almost intact, together with the moated Bishop's Palace. It is today regarded by some as the most magnificent example of its kind.


Millionaires' Row, SandbanksMillionaires' Row, Sandbanks, Poole
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
Millionaires' Row, Sandbanks (the spit of land enclosing Poole Harbour on the north) has been much featured in the media this past year. Regularly the topic of newspaper stories on high property prices, it was also showcased in an episode (on the 'Property Coast') of BBC's hit series Coast and an ITV 3-part series hosted by Piers Morgan in January 2008. Its nickname Millionaires' Row derives from the fact it is the most expensive real estate in Britain, owing to its combination of a central location (within the Poole-Bournemouth conurbation) and scenic views. Due to its siting on a narrow sandspit, houses have an upper-floor view over Poole Bay to seaward and, in the other direction, Poole Harbour.

Poole Harbour, foggy day- Poole Harbour, foggy spring day
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The Harbour takes on a different aspect in winter - quiet and mysterious when fog-shrouded - from its summer image, when it is a lively venue for water-based sports of various kinds.

View from St Catherine's Hill
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The Avon Valley and western edge of The New Forest at New Year's, looking E from St Catherine's Hill viewpoint N of Christchurch. The valley is wet bottomland along here and low-lying fog is a regular feature of the area on winter mornings.


Poole Harbour, winter sunset
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
(This is the most suitable wintry photo I could find for December. Sadly, we haven't had any serious snowfall for some years.)

Watership Down in Hampshire, Watership Down, Hampshire
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
Watership Down, in Hampshire: the scarp or escarpment is famous as the home of a colony of rabbits in the Richard Adams novel and animated film and tv series based on it, but is a real place [Wiki page here]. The Wafayers Walk long-distance path skirts it, as does a cross-country cyle route, though sightings of rabbits are not guaranteed....

Farley Mt Park, Hampshire - click to view full-size version View from Farley Down, Hampshire
[click to view, right-click to download full-size version]
The view from Farley Down, Hampshire, looking SE towards Southampton, towards sunset on a late-August evening, just after a rainshower  — hence the (double) rainbow.
 

On-site Guides
On this website, and its media-themed sister site (covering local authors such as Hardy, films shot in the region etc), you'll find a series of illustrated guides to various aspects of the south-central region's geography and history.
So far, onsite are
:
§ Valley Of The Avon
A guide to visiting the Avon Valley, which runs from Christchurch Harbour north to Salisbury and Stonehenge.
§ Corfe Castle And Swanage
A guide to visiting this popular pair of destinations (connected by steam railway), at the start [eastern end] of the Jurassic Coast.
§ Lulworth And Durdle Door

A guide to visiting this popular central section of the Jurassic Coast, Lulworth Cove and the scenic rock arch a mile along the Coast Path to the west.
§ Introduction To Hardy's Wessex
Thomas Hardy's 'Wessex Novels' first publicized the region as a tourism destination, and almost all guidebooks still refer to this, with Dorchester as Hardy's "Casterbridge" etc.
§ The Pines Of Bournemouth

An introduction to Bournemouth's most famous "natural" feature, the pines planted here by the million when it was heathland being converted into a health-spa resort.
§ Britain's Lost 'Wildwood'

The closest you can come to walking through primaeval wildwood is at the Jurassic Coast's western end, between Lyme Regis and the Devon boundary - the still-dangerous Undercliff woodland featured in The French Lieutenant's Woman. (See intro to the Undercliff wood here.)
§ Britain's Festival Year
Tourism being based on historic holidays such as Easter and Xmas, this is a heritage guide to the traditional basis of these ancient festivals and holidays.
§ Our Forgotten Regency Resort
Before Bournemouth existed, its neighbour was a fashionable upmarket resort in the early 19th C., frequented by aristocrats and a few royals.
§ Top Ten Scenic Ruins In The Region
Despite their longstanding appeal, scenic ruins are often overlooked in mainstream tourism sources which focus on more commercial sites. This guide features 10 of interest, most of which have no entry fee.

(And if you're feeling more adventurous, and like historical mysteries, check out our new "Notes & Queries" section below, here.)


Google Earth Map

As well as Ordnance Survey's Get-A-Map service [see below],"Google Earth" is also useful to gain directions to sites. Google Earth offers satellite photos, maps, or photos with a map overlay (usually road and town names) if you select the “Hybrid” tab. When loaded, the initial view from the link below will show the entire south-central region which we cover. You can zoom in from there using the “+” slider control.  Map View | Hybrid View
Today, you can also access Google Maps on a smartphone, and most of these have a function to download a map section for viewing offline if need be.

The Region On Bing's MultiMap

To view the region on Microsoft's zoomable MultiMap [now renamed Bing Maps], click here


Ordnance Survey Maps Online
To visit or locate many of the sites we discuss on these web-pages, you'll need one of several Ordnance Survey maps. The OS Maps series, produced by a Crown agency based in Southampton, are traditionally available via bookshops and outdoors equipment shops (usually £4-6), and shopping for these is best done in person. (You have to check which ones you need - your planned trips may easily cross into another map area.)
The series you need, for both driving and walking, is the Landranger 1:50,000-scale map series. The 'sheet' numbers are: 183 and 184 [covering Wiltshire], 193 [W Dorset and E Somerset], 194 [central Dorset], 195 [E Dorset], and 196 [New Forest and Wight].
There is also an Ordnance Survey double CD set available for around £20, but having bought this several years ago when it first appeared, I have to say it's more of a sampler, with only a few detailed map sections available for any given area. Although the printed versions are really a necessity for actual trips, when you are just doing preliminary planning, these days you can access and download relevant map sections free, from here: 'Get-a-map' from Ordnance Survey.
As with other websites, you can also right-click on the on-screen image to save it to your computer for future reference. The map sections are in PNG format, so you'll need a graphics viewer that can handle these. (If stuck, install IrfanView - it's a versatile freeware graphics programme which can view PNGs and resave them in the more familiar GIF, JPEG or BMP formats.)
You can search by place name, by postcode, or by grid reference. If you know the OS grid reference (such as ST653167 for Sherborne Castle in north Dorset) of a site (e.g. from a guidebook or website), you can use it to get the relevant map. Note that however, for readability, these codes are often printed in guidebooks with spaces or slashes between the two-letter prefixes and sets of three or four figures (e.g. as 'ST 653 167' or as 'ST653/167'). However this will not work when inputting the reference into the OS website search-box - this punctuation must be removed if you type (or copy and paste) any online coordinates directly into the OS website's search box.)
If you don't know how to find sites using the OS grid-reference co-ordinates when using the printed versions, click below to download our printable PDF,
Reading Ordnance Survey Maps.

TOURISM INFORMATION

Tourism Info - Links
Bournemouth Tourist Information Guide
Bournemouth Tourism
Bournemouth International Airport
Christchurch Tourist Information
'Dorset For You' Local Councils portal
Hampshire County Council
Hampshire Tourism
Jurassic Heritage Coast
Jurassic Coast.com
Jurassic Coast DVD
World Heritage Coast.net
New Forest Information Bureau
New Forest Online
PooleTourism.com

Somerset Tourism
South West Tourism
Southern England Tourist Info [Tourist Net UK]
Southwest Trains
Wiltshire Tourism
Wiltshire Web

Email Us


River Stour; Knowlton Henge
Clavel Tower, on Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset
View from the Purbeck Hills

River Frome at Wareham

Abbotsbury

Poole Harbour

Dorset coast - Studland to Golden Cap

Farley Mt Park, Hampshire

Wimborne Minster

White Horses carved on Wiltshire Downs

Avebury stone circle and church

Mapperton House Italianate sunken garden


coast view


village & wheat

Glastonbury and Lacock Abbeys

Morris Dancers at Stapehill Abbey

Poole Harbour from Arne

Poole beach

Winchester

Bournemouth seafront east

North Dorset, from Bulbarrow Hill

The westernmost limit of the South Coast Downs, in S Hampshire

River Stour, below Pamphill

New Forest, North Gorley area near Fordingbridge

White Sheet Hill, Wiltshire Downs, near Stourhead

Hampshire and Glastonbury vistas
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