Friday, 4 October 2019

Dorset, Part One

I've changed my header to one which is a bit blurry but it was taken out of a plane window. It makes me think of the feeling of excitement as you are descending at night to some unfamiliar place - in this case, I took the picture over Africa, and you can see how few settlements there are, just one not-very-big town.  I look at it and I wonder what it is like to be down there in the dark African countryside with the plane droning far above?

I haven't gone far recently, and have so much to do here I'm glad of that - daresay I'll change my mind when winter gets under way though!  We had a great trip to Dorset during the recent sunny spell.  It was to attend a golden wedding celebration in the extended family, and then the weather was so nice that we decided to just stay on in Dorset. 


These beautiful blue butterflies could be one of several varieties, and I'm not smart enough to tell them apart. But I'd like to think at least one of them is a Silver Studded Blue,  a rare one local to Portland, where we took the picture. Portland is an island reached by an isthmus and overlooking a long, wild and empty beach, Chesil Beach. It's of great geological and wildlife interest, and has good fishing, but I'll be honest with you that its eighteen miles of unadorned shingle wouldn't make it my choice of beach on which to spend the day. 

Portland has been quite industrial in its time, and is indeed the main source of Portland Stone, a prized white limestone that has been used both for Buckingham Palace and St. Paul's Cathedral.  The island is bleak, stony, quite densely populated and not too affluent but it's interesting.  The butterflies live in one of a number of disused quarries which have become nature reserves. Each has their own personality.

 The one below, Tout Quarry, is notable for its sculptural decorations carved into the rock, which you come across unexpectedly. I loved this Victorian fireplace, complete with clock in the centre and what might be geological specimens on either side.  


And here is a life-sized falling man, below. The sculptures are not named or indicated in any way so it's startling to come across these curious things unexpectedly as you explore. 


The beaches down this coast are mostly rocky, although in different ways, so very different from each other. The coast is actually a World Heritage Site on account of its geological interest.  From a photographic point of view, I found the different sorts of beach rocks very interesting. This is one of my favourite pictures of the trip, taken on the beach near Osmington Mills,  east of Weymouth. Do you think the irregular shape on the central rock looks like part of an ancient map?  Of course it is a type of seaweed, which close up looks like curly hair.   


Many of the stones on this beach are huge, brown, smooth and sculptural, in fact the sculptor Henry Moore is said to have gained inspiration from them - there's an interesting little item here showing some of the other things that gave Moore sculptural ideas. 

There's also a very jolly pub in the hollow near the beach, called the Smugglers' Inn.  It is not just a fanciful name - the area used to be a haunt of smugglers and in fact there is an amusing tale which I found written in the church of the nearby village of Langton Matravers .... 


So, here is a picture of the west wall of Langton Matravers church, below.  If you look carefully you'll notice that the wall looks old and if you look very closely you will see two different roof lines, both of which show a pointy roof.  That shows the church has been rebuilt, and these are the ghostly remains of earlier churches. 


  To be honest with you, they haven't been so very lucky with their churches in Langton Matravers, and maybe it's not surprising.  The church before this one was built with a large space above its concave ceiling, some way below the roof timbers.  It seems this large space struck the churchwarden, Charles Hayward....


...who also happened to be a smuggler, as an ideal place to hide a large number of barrels of brandy, which he just happened to have in his possession. He stationed his grandson at the church gate as lookout, and he and his mates carried the huge barrels up and hid them above the curved ceiling.  

 Since the floor was obviously not at all flat in their hiding place, (in fact, it was very curved, almost in an arch) the barrels all rolled down to the sides, and such was the weight of them that they pushed the walls of the church outwards, and eventually, the whole place collapsed. 

We only know this because Charles' grandson, the lookout, wrote about the whole exciting incident in his diary.  I don't think the diary surfaced in time to convict Charles, in fact, he seems to have got away with it, perhaps because smuggling was one of the local businesses and not exactly a crime, or something. It certainly looks from the plaque above that Charles Hayward died a respected member of local society.  

 One of the best known villages on the coast is Kimmeridge.   It might be well known but it is very small.  It's about a mile from the sea, which is reached by a narrow toll road.  It's a lovely place, with the gardens of its thatched cottages absolutely alive with butterflies.    


Someone drove a vintage car up the road as I was there.  You can see it going past the old thatched pub, Clavells, which does very nice food.


Kimmeridge has several claims to fame.   There is a circular folly called Clavell Tower, built in the Tuscan style in 1830 by the wealthy local vicar, Rev. John Richards Clavell. It's now owned by the Landmark Trust, which lets out fantastic unusual quirky old buildings to holidaymakers.  They actually rescued it from falling into the sea by moving it physically back from the cliff edge where it once stood.

There is also a modern and spacious museum, beautifully designed and built of the local stone. This is the Etches Collection, the lifetime's collection of local plumber Steve Etches who got into collecting local fossils in a big way when he was young and ended up getting a PhD.  He has donated his stunning specimens to the nation in a museum built with National Lottery funds. (click the link above to find out more about it). The museum's displays give a real feeling for what these bizarre and often unnervingly huge marine animals were like, how they looked and moved and lived, and the many little films of Steve at work convey not only his great enthusiasm for them but are also really informative.  I can only feel grateful that they died out many millions of years before I came along because I would definitely not have liked to encounter them when swimming in the sea.

The layered rocks on Kimmeridge beach are very striking and interesting.  T and I thought the broken off bits looked a bit like sandwiches with thick fillings.... but I guess that just shows we don't know much about geology.



On the way to Kimmeridge, down extremely narrow and steep little roads, we stopped off at the village of Steeple.  By coincidence, there's also a village of Steeple in Essex (that's the area I visited in the last post). The name in Steeple, Essex refers to an ancient lookout point, and its church doesn't have a steeple. Nor does the church in Steeple, Dorset.

What Steeple Church in Dorset does have is a barrel organ. These were used in small remote places where there wasn't anyone to play a real organ.  If you've ever tried to play a barrel organ you'll know it's fiendishly difficult, specially if you have to pump it with your feet at the same time. You need to turn the handle very smoothly at exactly the right speed otherwise the notes come out as a jumble.

Here's the organ. It should have a case but that's being used in the vestry for something else.
It does play, though.


... and here is  a very similar barrel organ, playing the hymn tune "Cranbrook,"



The church considers this to be the old tune of "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks By Night."
  You, though,  may recognise that the tune often has very different words sung to it.  "On Ilkley Moor" is almost the National Anthem of Yorkshire, although I wasn't able to find any decent videos of people singing it - not unless you like listening to people singing in the pub on Saturday night anyhow. 

Oh, forgot to say. We saw this caterpillar in the quarry in Portland. T. reckons it is a moth of some sort, but we couldn't identify it. 


It curled up when picked up, and I took it off the main path which it was slowly crawling across and put it into the long grass. If anyone can suggest what sort it was, I'd love to know.


This post is getting a bit long so I'll end it here, but we did lots of other things in Dorset, and I'll write some more about it in my next post. I know I often say I will and then don't, but this time,  I really will! 

53 comments:

  1. A lovely ramble, Jenny. No one could ever get tired of Dorset.

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    1. No, it's a very nice place, isn't it - possibly because it doesn't have any cities, which is quite unusual these days. Or is it? You might know that better than me!

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  2. England is so small, and packed cheek to jowl with lovely and interesting places. I just finished The Salt Path. I wonder if you saw any of that.

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    1. No, I didn't Joanne, but I read your post on it. It sounds really interesting and when I finally get through the pile of books I rescued from the garden fete leftovers, I will look into finding a copy.
      I sometimes wonder if England is more packed full of things than other European countries, it seems so to me but then I am so familiar with it that I know where to look, whereas I suspect I miss out on all kinds of things abroad.

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  3. I think that your posts could never be long enough!, This one full of charm, visually splendid! I do love trailing along with you on your outings! Curious Organ, all of that invention and fuss. The church is odd and does not look stable or trustworthy, you are brave to have gone in there. Beautiful post!

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    1. Thank you - I'm so glad you like it. I think the third church (which is the present one) was absolutely fine, it's only about 150 years old which is young in English church terms. I imagine the congregation might be quite grateful for that, since a very old church can be a real drain on resources for a small community and it is rarely possible to knock them down and start over.

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  4. The blue butterflies are so beautiful. A few weeks ago there was a BLACK butterfly in my yard! I have never seen a black butterfly in my entire life. I tried to take a photo but was unsuccessful.

    You've mentioned so many interesting things in this post that it's difficult to comment on them all. The life-size image of the falling man is so intriguing. I'm wondering what exactly it depicts? Did he fall accidentally or did he jump.....(or was he pushed??)

    I enjoyed the story of the churchwarden/smuggler Charles Hayward....those barrels of brandy must have been very heavy....
    And I like the barrel organ - but I don't think I'd want to be the one who has to crank it.
    As for the caterpillar - I've never seen one like it and I would probably have been reluctant to pick him up!

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    1. Black butterfly? Sounds very gothic! As for the man, who knows. He looks as if he is falling to me, but the good news is he has not reached the ground so will be forever okay :) I had to laugh at Charles Hayward, it's like something out of one of those sitcoms. I don't think there are any poisonous caterpilars in Britain but now you've mentioned it, perhaps I should look it up, because it didn't even cross my mind!

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  5. I love those posts of yours, Jenny, with their great mix of interesting and beautiful places, information and pictures.
    I can see why the brown rocks are thought to have been inspiring for Henry Moore!

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    1. Yes, it was hard to believe some of them were natural - they were quite beautiful. I would have loved one in my garden.

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  6. Dear Jenny, what a wonderful new header! I love to take photos from the plane window and looking down I always think our Earth look like a globe :-) Not vice versa! I also loved your story about a smuggler and his barrels of brandy. I lively imagined how he and his mates hid them and how the barrels rolled down and had disturbed the walls of the church. What was noise!
    Thanks for interesting post!

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    1. I really laughed when I imagined their faces, also, as I am sure all the smuggled brandy spilt all over the place. You have to wonder what the collapsed church smelt like! :-D

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  7. What a super ramble in Dorset, and so informative too. The image of the church walls collapsing under the weight of brandy made me smile!

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  8. I love Dorset - so many people zoom by, heading for Devon or Cornwall, and don’t realise just how lovely Dorset is. A special favourite - a long, circular cliff walk west of Swanage, with a stop in the lighthouse where the keepers make curious visitors so very welcome.

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    1. I'll have to check out the lighthouse next time we go, Jo. We do want to return.

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  9. That might be a garden tiger moth caterpillar. And your butterflies may be the ones described here: http://www.habitas.org.uk/moths/species.asp?item=5544
    I know that over and over again I thank you for offering views of a different world, different lives, different seas and architecture and times but that's what you do and it's always such a delight to see through your very observant and curious eyes. Thank you for taking us along on these trips. They widen my world immensely.

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    1. Thanks for the link. The Silver Studded blue is very similar to the common blue, but it has different habits and relies really heavily on black ants which "farm" its caterpillars - amazing, you can read about it here. I think it was a little late in the year to see one and unfortunately I couldn't get good enough pictures to be sure. https://www.dorsetbutterflies.com/species/silver-studded-blue/

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  10. Another grand tour!
    Good pictures and leaving the desire to go visit there for all of us.
    Someone certainly had talent in those quarries. Great idea to carve them there.
    Smuggling was a natural pastime around the coast. The Napoleonic wars stopped Brandy and Wine coming in but did increase whiskies popularity.
    All coastal areas provided small ships and experienced crews who well knew the French coast, smuggling must have been a doddle for them.
    No surprise that churchmen were involved, but few would destroy their church with Brady barrels! Great story.
    I wonder how much Brandy sales went in to developing that church building?
    Another great tour, you must get out more often, time to finish that book!

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    1. I think smuggling was a cottage industry. And my guess is that the naughty old churchwarden's exploits were overlooked by the parson, he was probably a great churchwarden in other ways! :)

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  11. Lovely post, the sandwich rocks are interesting.

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  12. Hello Jenny, Dorset really seems the place to go for natural history. I loved the "sandwich rocks" and the old quarries with their fun carvings look like the perfect place to explore.
    --Jim

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    1. Those sandwich rocks were one of my favourite things too.

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  13. Absolutely love your posts of travels with picttures and colorful historical stories (the barrels causing the church to cave in was something else). Just lovely!! :)

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    1. I thought it was quite unusual to have a description of it in the church itself, but then, I guess you could say it was part of the church history !!

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  14. A fascinating, interesting post, Jenny, with wonderful photos grabbing one's attention.

    Thanks for the outing...I, for one, (and I know I'm not alone) enjoyed it thoroughly. :)

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    1. Thank you Lee, and also for your later comment - I'm really glad you like the photo header. It's such a thrill feeling you're on a magic carpet or something....

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  15. I like those rock sandwiches! You always share such interesting things with us - thank you!

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    1. A pleasure! Maybe there was some giant feeling annoyed he'd dropped his sandwiches

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  16. So many interesting places, Jenny. I am so glad to see that you are still English travel writer.
    Your new header is exciting to see.
    I hope you have a beautiful autumn with your family.

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    1. Thank you Tomoko, and I wish you a great autumn too. So far ours has been rather cold and wet, although I am hoping for better weather in three or four weeks. Early November can be beautiful with the height of the autumn leaf colours.

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  17. I see Charles Heywood was 82 years old when he "went to sleep", a long time to live, especially back in the 19th century. I suppose leading a double life as a churchwarden and brandy smuggler one would have to be in good shape.

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    1. He might have been pickled inside, that's a preservative, isn't it? Yep, that's the reason IMO

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  18. It does look and sound interesting, and like it has had its share of "characters" as we would say. Those butterflies are gorgeous.

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    1. I sometimes think there were more characters in the olden days than there are now when people are generally more image conscious and afraid to be themselves.

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  19. Aah, Jenny, you keep taking me home! I spent all of my teenage years in Dorset and really loved it. We lived in west Dorset, I was at school in Lyme Regis, at university in Bournemouth and I worked in Dorchester for a while. However, you are teaching me things I didn't know, for example, the Stephen Etches story, and the Langton Matravers church smugglers. I've always felt Dorset is blessed by not having a major city (other than Bournemouth right on its eastern boundary). It also has no motorway, which means much of it has remained largely unspoilt. I'm looking forward to your next post now!

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    1. I didn't know that, Val! Do you ever go back? Yes, I think it makes a lot of difference having only towns, not cities. I still haven't made it back to Lyme Regis but do hope to return to Dorset before long. I'm glad you are looking forward to the next post. I am writing it at the moment, but I'm not entirely sure when I will have finished!

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  20. What a beautiful place. I love those rock carvings.

    And I also love that feeling of descending in a plane to a place you've never been before. It feels magical.

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    1. Sorry Jeanie, I did this by accident. Your comment was so nice! I wish I could retrieve it.

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  22. Dorset is such a wonderful County.
    I did enjoy reading your post and seeing all of your photographs.

    I visited Langton Matravers back in the early 70's I really should visit again :)

    All the best Jan

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  23. i loved visiting Dorset along with you dear Jenny :)
    sounds like very interesting and beautiful place to explore
    no wonder how the artist you mentioned got the idea of his art as place offers so much not just to watch but to feel
    i more loved the village in your way Kemmiridge ,absolutely gorgeous sights you shared i liked the layered rocks too
    roof of church was definitely compelling and such caterpillars i used to see back in my native village :)

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  24. Lovely photographs. I also looked at the inspirations for Henry Moore's sculpture. Fascinating. I love visiting people's creative space. I've never traveled off the beaten path in England so this is doubly interesting.

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  25. You can't beat lunch in a traditional pub.

    I thought the rocks looked a bit like a sandwich too, filled with Nutella. Which also proves I know nothing about geology either.

    Looks a very beautiful unspoilt area.

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  26. Surprised at the huge stones at the beach.

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  27. I meant to say in my earlier response...I love your new header...what a fabulous shot that is!

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  28. Hi Jenny, those blue butterflies are gorgeous!
    How interesting to see those carvings at Tout Quarry - amazing works.
    Love the seaweed 'map' on the rock ... that hairy kind is fun to look at isn't it, I love how it laps back and forward with the waves.
    The church certainly has a lot of history, it could tell some tales.
    I really loved seeing the cottage and gardens in Kimmeridge - so beautiful. The layered rocks are intriguing, am sure you could fill a whole post about this area, so many quaint things to see.
    Thoroughly enjoyed your post xx

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  29. I love the story of the smuggled brandy barrels that caused the church to collapse. Presumably the barrels fell and burst open and the brandy flooded out (which would be punishment enough, perhaps)? And I like the quirky sculptures in Tout Quarry.

    I've been to Weymouth and Portland and I also went to Durdle Door, which I gather is still standing. The only thing I remember about Portland is the very steep road up to the summit.

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    1. I hadn't thought about what happened when the barrels burst! Oh dear, how frustrating for them! :D

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  30. Your post brings back happy memories of my visit to Sherbourne earlier this year :-)

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  31. Your new header image is extremely evocative

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  32. What a great place to visit. I can see the old roof line in that West wall you showed in the church, come across a lot like that muself. Only time I have been around that area is when I used to go scuba diving. Do I see some old WWII defences on the beach photo you showed?

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