Life's going on fine here, Sometimes you need a fallow period. I've been busy with other things, and was pleased when an old friend from art school days offered us the chance to stay in her late mother's house near Dorchester, Dorset. I used to know her mum so it was lovely to go back and think about her from time to time as we climbed the rather steep hill to her house. (No - that's not her house above, it's the Hardy Monument, which commemorates Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, to whom Nelson addressed his rather odd dying words of "Kiss me, Hardy,")
I know Dorset well but it's a while since I visited the Piddle Valley,(the river really is called the Piddle And, as my friend Lee has noted, it reaches the sea at Poole!) To me, the area no longer has the cut-off feel that I used to rather appreciate. In fact, some areas are now awash with brand new fake thatched cottages. These look nicer than modern styles if you want to build new houses in picturesque old villages, but they become monotonous after a while. Their windows are bigger, their rooms are higher and they're obviously more comfortable and infinitely nicer to live in than the older variety.
Fake thatched cottages don't need to be dull. This one is I think a Victorian "estate house" built in a village designed in the early years of the last century.
We were staying near the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, which commemorates the six farm labourers who began the trade union movement in England. having passed it dozens of times, we finally decided to call in.
The Martyrs got into trouble in the 1830s after daring to mention that they couldn't live on wages cut by 40 percent, they were stitched up for crimes they hadn't committed and transported to Australia. One of them, George Loveless, a most interesting man, wrote a short book telling of the appalling ill treatment which they (and other convicts) endured - it's very interesting.
Miraculously all the martyrs survived and came back, but then all except one emigrated to Canada, perhaps understandably. Not sure I'd have wanted to stay in England either.. Much of the exhibition consists of interesting banners. Here you see the martyrs gathering under the ancient sycamore tree that still stands in Tolpuddle.
Sadly there was some trouble at t'mill recently when the longtime warden of the museum was thrown out by the Trades Union Congress, which owns the cottages. Perhaps they had a point, but it wasn't the greatest of publicity for them.
We took the chance to go to a village fete and dog show; events which you rarely find in London. I could spend hours watching dog shows - so much human and canine life.
This little boy's pet was, I think, partly blind, a lovely dog which he proudly paraded.
This dog would have won my first prize if there had been a class for the dog with the best ears.
Noticed some more dogs in the back of a nifty electric vehicle belonging to a modern shepherd. This little truck was jolting over the pastures above Abbotsbury, and the dogs seemed to be enjoying it, although since it was bright and sunny, I much preferred to be outdoors and on foot.
The sheep toned so well with the parts of the landscape covered in dry thistles.
And I noticed yet another dog off for a canoe ride at Wareham as we made our way to our inlaws at Wimborne, about half an hour away.
By coincidence, one of our daughters happened to be at Wimborne and we watched her and our son in law perform at Sting in the Tale, the town's annual festival of stories. It was a wonderful peaceful evening in a natural performance space in a local park. The late sun lit them like a spotlight, and the audience reacted really well, thoroughly entering into the spirit of the music and words.
On another day we looked at Blandford Fashion Museum, It's found in a large house from the early 1730s, built not long after a gigantic fire had destroyed much of medieval Blandford. Maintained by volunteers, the museum is really nice.
It evolved from a large private collection, and it aims to show how fashion reflects social history. The captions were comprehensive and interestingly written,and my eye was caught by so many details. I noticed, for instance, these long ruched net gloves. They were worn in the 1950s but, though elegant, they look just a bit creepy to me.
I also learned some things I hadn't known before, such as that Victorian brides in mourning wore grey or lilac wedding dresses - and I also discovered how a crinoline is constructed, and how easy it is to catch legs in them if you dare to walk with long, unladylike strides. Apparently there was also a significant risk of being blown off high places in strong winds, but the good news was that often the crinoline would act like a parachute and waft the lady safely to the ground.
I was glad we had a fair day to visit Durlston, on the Isle of Purbeck, high above the seaside town of Swanage. When I was a teenager I did a holiday job as a warden in Swanage Youth Hostel. I was seriously lazy in those days and as the car laboured up the hill I felt rather ashamed to know that I would never have dragged myself up on foot to take a look around at the time I actually lived there.
Durlston is now a country park and Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is the main building on the site - Durlston Castle, consisting mostly of a restaurant and display area. The entire estate was created by a Victorian stonemason called George Burt, who had made a lot of money and wanted to give something back to his home town.
The estate went through ups and downs and I learned that when I lived in Swanage I probably wouldn't have been able to visit it, because it might have been derelict. Phew - so that's OK! I mean, I was still terminally lazy but it didn't matter. :)
Now, the castle has been really well modernised with the aid of a lottery grant and the estate has been restored and is managed as a huge wildlife site. There are useful and ever-changing displays of information about all the plants, birds, animals and insects inside the Castle.
Here are some photographs. I really was impressed.
It is is open all year, it's beautiful, you can walk along the coast for miles, and it has a nice restaurant. My friend says it is also a super place to go with dogs. For some reason, though, Durlston doesn't appear in most of the tourist information I picked up in the area.
Oh,and one final picture, to prove you can see the Isle of Wight when you sit outside and have your tea. There it is in the distance, although I don't think this little girl was interested!
One evening we took a walk on National Trust land a little further up the coast, at Ringstead Bay. The windswept trees below looked oddly like breaking wave and I wished I had seenthe whole scene on a stormy day.
So we had a good trip to Dorset, and each day we were glad to come back to our friend's mum's cottage and admire the sunsets.
PS. Just to say that Star Men (the film about astronomy) now has a UK distributor, so if you want to see it, write and ask your local cinema to offer it a screening. It's also on at the Cambridge Film Festival on 3 and 4 September.