Travelling Hopefully

29 September

And another week’s holiday in England.  Although I would have preferred to be catching a flight to somewhere exotic, it was good to be at least leaving the house I’d come to know all to well during lockdown. 

But it was hard to take anything for granted. With parts of the United Kingdom going into local lockdowns, I kept a watchful eye on Covid-19 case rates both in my own town and the county of Dorset. It was with a sense of relief that I packed the car, including my parrot, Tilly, and started the three hour drive.

We arrived without incident to the small apartment we were renting for the week. I can only assume that it was originally a granny annex. The apartment was at the back of the owner’s house, with a separate entrance and a small patio. The inside comprised of a double bedroom, a toilet, a separate shower room, a lounge, and a very small kitchen. All adequate for a one woman and her small bird.

The afternoon had turned out surprisingly warm, so I took Tilly and a beer outside to enjoy the patio. Only when the temperatures cooled did I take us inside and cook my dinner. The kitchen was a bit interesting to negotiate, but I managed. 

30 September

The weather forecast for the week did not fill me with joy. Much rain the way, including the day ahead. Some while ago I’d booked a guided photography day at Corfe Castle, to take place on the Friday. The forecast was for heavy and constant rain. During the day, the company confirmed that the day had been cancelled and I would receive a refund.

I took myself off to visit Kingston Lacy. Although I’d visited this area of Dorset decades ago, I didn’t recall a trip to this National Trust property. As is the case currently with all National Trust properties, I booked a ticket in advance.

At my designated time of 10.30am, I turned up at the entrance and my name was crossed off the list. I also used the NHS Covid-19 app to check in, scanning the QR code into my iPhone. 

Despite the grey skies, I decided I’d take some photos of the front of the house. The sheep were rather skittish, hurrying away as I walked into their field. I was intrigued to see the Union Jack flying from the house’s flag pole, as in other photos of Kingston Lacy the English flag can be seen. 

Kingston Lacy, I discovered, was built by the same family which had once lived at Corfe Castle. The Bankes family had to find a new place to live after Corfe Castle was destroyed by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War (the Bankes were royalists). Kingston Lacy was built between 1663 and 1665, which seems rather quick to me. As is often the case with these buildings, later members of the family undertook various alterations. Both the house and Corfe Castle were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1982, upon the death of Henry John Ralph Bankes, in order to avoid death duties (inheritance tax). 

Part of the house is now open to visitors, but only the sections which permit for a one way system and social distancing. I booked a 12.30pm slot, hoping to investigate the gardens in the dry beforehand.  

Dry did not remain long. Rain began to fall as I made my way to the formal gardens at the rear of the house. I took a few photos of the house, and found shelter under a lovely old tree from a time. Even in the grey, the autumn colours of the trees, particularly the acers, were striking. I came across a large bird feather and found a suitable branch on which it could perch for a portrait session.

At the appointed time I presented myself at the house’s entrance. I pulled on my face covering and joined the queue making our way inside. The guides in each room did not wear face coverings, which I found odd, particularly as the woman inside the gift shop wore a visor. 

The house was intriguing. The usual art lined rooms, library, drawing rooms, and a bedroom were on display. Much to my surprise a large room was filled with a display of Egyptian artifacts. William John Bankes (1786 – 1855) travelled extensively through the Middle East and Asia. Not only did he bring home many items, he also wrote down and drew what he found during his travels, and some there are the only historical records of since-vanished inscriptions and monuments. 

Sadly, William John Bankes had to flee England after being discovered in a same sex relationship. He could have faced trial and execution. Bankes settled in Italy, where he continued to take an interest in the house and gave instructions for further development. He never saw his home again.

I exited into rain, and decided to return to the apartment. Fifteen minutes later I was reunited with Tilly, who probably had prayed for bad weather, and relaxed for the rest of the day.

01 October

I’d arranged to meet up with a friend who lives near Stourhead. I left around 9.30am for what the SatNav insisted would only be an hour’s drive. Sun came and went, alternating with sharp rain showers as I headed north.

Despite my intention of driving straight to the destination and arriving at 10.30am (with a entry ticket timed for 11am), I was distracted by the great views and fleeting light at the top of a ridge. I pulled into a small parking area, feeling rather out of place as everyone else seemed to be there with at least one dog. I took several photos as sunlight escaped past clouds and touched the farms and village, Compton Abbas, below. As I turned to leave, conscious that I had someone to meet, I discovered that I was at a National Trust area called ‘Fontmell and Melbury Downs.’ The land was purchased in honour of Thomas Hardy in order to protect the landscape in which his novels are set. Orchids and butterflies thrive in the area, as do glow worms in the summer.

I returned to my car with great intentions of still arriving around 10.45am. My SatNav told me to turn on to ‘Dinah’s Hollow’, which did strike me as a rather strange name for a road. 

Soon all was revealed. The road went through a gorge, and had obviously been carved out long before the advent of the motor car.  Or, more to the point, of trucks. I joined a long queue of traffic which was stuck because a large flat-bed lorry, loaded with building materials, was trying to navigate the narrow road and a tight bend. We car drivers backed up and tucked ourselves against the left side. The truck finally made it past, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But then the process was repeated with another truck a few minutes later.

Later research revealed that Dinah’s Hollow is an ancient ‘holloway’, a sunken path which has been used to travel between Blandford and Shaftesbury for centuries. The steep sides are prone to landslip, and a few years ago a proposal was made to cut down trees and shore everything up with mesh. A protest led to this plan being withdrawn. There are lights to control movement through the narrowest part of the road but, as my experience proved, traffic can still become stuck. 

I arrived just before 11am and my friend and I found each other. Our names were on the booking list and after scanning the QR code with our Covid-19 app, we started the (currently one-way system) walk through Stourhead’s gardens. 

Around the massive lake are a number of classical temples and grottoes. Many different species of trees alternatively hide and then revealed the views.

We were mostly granted sunshine, but did endure a short sprinkling of rain. Both of us had packed a picnic lunch, which we ate when we finally found a bench which finally met with my friend’s approval (not to hear the path, with nice views). 

Stourhead house and gardens were created by the Hoare family, and built with the money they made from banking. The estate was first purchased in 1717. The house and then the gardens were built later in the same century. The last Hoare to own the property gifted the estate to the National Trust in 1947. One wonders if the death of his son in World War I was part of the reason.

There are many walks on the estate, but we kept to the main one which circles the lake. We stopped for another sit down at the church. I decided it was just warm enough for an ice cream, and I enjoyed a small tub of salty caramel. 

Friend and I parted in the car park. I headed back, making better speed through Dinah’s Hollow. A stop at Fontmell and Melbury Downs allowed me to take some photos in the shifting afternoon light. To my delight, I met a young man who was walking his ferret on the footpath. He was very pleased to pick up his pet so I could have closer view. However, said ferret decided to burrow into his hoodie so the view was only fleeting.

I had thought to go on to Corfe Castle with the hopes of some photos in the late afternoon sun. Sadly, thick clouds were already streaming in, and the light turned grey and flat. So I unpacked the car and headed to my apartment, where a bird told me off for leaving her alone for so long. 

2 October

Storm Alex swept in overnight, heaving down rain accompanied by strong winds. As I ate my breakfast, rainwater ran down the wall by the sink. I contacted the owner by mobile to advise him. A little while later, he and his partner made their way to the back of the apartment and I heard drilling. Whatever they did, there was no more ingress.

I thought to stay in the dry and have a leisurely morning. Tilly, however, kept trying to bathe in my water glass. Finally I gave in and filled a water bowl for her in the kitchen sink. She proceeded to have a major bath. I could have simply put her outside in her cage for a similar result. 

I headed out after lunch. My destination as Tesco’s Extra, Poole. Sunshine emerged as I parked, illuminating the front of the building. The name of the architect does not emerge on any internet searches, but the style could best be described as ‘modern functional’. 

The first supermarket in the UK opened on January 12, 1948, in Manor Park, East London. This was revolutionary in several ways. First off, a customer picked her own items off the shelves, instead of a shopkeeper doing so. Secondly, rather than visit individual shops (butcher, baker, fishmonger, fruit and veg), everything was in one place. Of course, this meant that those separate shops began to die off.

Tesco’s was not far behind. This supermarket chain was created through a partnership between Jack Cohen, a market trader, and T E Stockwell, a tea-seller.  They combined letters of their names to create their brand. In 1948, the first self-service Tesco’s opened in St Alban’s. 

I like visiting supermarkets when abroad. What is offered and how it is presented can tell you a lot about a culture. So I entered Tesco’s in Poole with my iPhone in my hand and the obligatory face covering around my mouth and nose. 

Near the entrance was a moving walkway which whisked people upstairs to the clothing section, café, electronics, and kitchenware. On the ground floor the central walkway offered food on the right and household items on the left. Halloween costumes and decorations were what a shopper first encountered, with multi-packs of lager beers nearby. (Maybe the beers are for adult trick or treating? I could enjoy that.)

Fruit and vegetables are laid out attractively, but still with plentiful of plastic packaging. For years I have had home delivery from an organic fruit and vegetable supplier, with a minimum of packaging (and what they do use is either out of paper or cardboard). Ethical dilemma soon struck. Do I take loose bananas, although they are too green to eat? Or do I buy ready to eat bananas in a plastic bag? Which is better for the planet, organic produce which has been flown in from another country, or non-organic British vegetables? 

Haggard from so many decisions on what is meant to be a relaxing holiday, I took refuge in the skin care area. I picked up a tube of hand cream, wondering if anyone still runs tests on animals for beauty products. At least pain killers are now easy to buy, unlike the early days of the lockdown when people stripped the shelves of ibuprofen and paracetamol.

I resolutely joined a queue to have a human scan my groceries, rather than use the self-service scan and pay points. I guess the latter are the ultimate outcome of supermarkets. Even as self-service cut down the number of people needed on the shop floor, scanning your own groceries cuts down on the number of people employed at check out. 

I did use the ‘pay at pump’ option at the petrol station. Then I proceeded to become thoroughly lost in my attempt to return to base. My SatNav was very patient, time and again recalculating the route when I took a wrong turn. I saw some interesting back streets of Poole before finally ending up on the correct road.

Once back at the apartment, I settled in again for the day. More rain was forecast for the next day, so I looked up indoor activities. Sadly, many places are shut because of Covid-19. I located a promising sounding museum near a highly rated café, and booked a table for lunch at the latter. 

3 October

And the rain came as threatened, although not as heavily as yesterday. I suppose I’ve lived long enough in England to be philosophical and say,  ‘Well, it could be worse.’

My destination was the village of Kimmeridge, down near the coast. My SatNav took me along narrow roads and my little Skoda Citigo (the engine is only 1.0-litre) did her best up the steep hills. I held my breath when meeting a car coming the other way, but the road always proved just wide enough for the both of us. I was somewhat alarmed, however, when Mr SatNav cheerfully told me, ‘Turn left on to The Devil’s Staircase.’ Fortunately nothing evil appeared to frighten either car or myself.

My destination was The Etches’ Collection: Museum of Jurassic Marine Life. Dr Steve Etches MBE was a plumber by trade but from an early age became fascinated by fossils. He has been busy collecting fossils from the locality for many years, teaching himself over the years how to remove fossils safely from the Kimmeridge Clay and preserve them. One of the videos on display had him explaining how the sea is endlessly exposing new samples to view, but these are worn down and destroyed unless removed.

Dr Etches wanted to donate his collection (over 2400 samples and still growing) to the nation so others could enjoy them. He has also been presented with a number of awards for his work, as well has giving his name to six taxa. 

The museum was small but beautifully designed. One room had a local artist’s work on exhibit, and she herself was there. Her paintings of the local area take their inspiration from topographical maps and had I any wall room left on my house, I might have bought one. They were very different to the normal watercolours I see for sale.

The main display area showed off the best fossils and had well written explanations. Everything was grammatically correct, which was a nice surprise. (I’ve visited countless attractions which use apostrophes for the plural and, memorably, Warwick Castle which stated that knights ‘preyed’ the night before a battle.) A collection of coprolites amused me (did you know that dinosaur poo can be fossilised?) as well as skeletons which showed prey inside the rib cages. 

I removed face covering and put on rain coat to go across the road to Clavell’s Restaurant. The outdoor seating area looked lovely for dry weather. I pulled on my face covering as I went inside and, as is the new guidance, wore it until I sat down at my table.

I had a lovely burger with chips and onion rings, although I should have asked for a bigger plate! A scoop of berries and cream icecream was just the right dessert. Feeling rather full, I went back to the museum to buy a t-shirt before heading back to base. 

04 October

News stations were reporting that some areas of the UK had had a month’s worth of rain in one day. As I looked at the gloomy skies, my mood nearly as grey, I contemplated what a frustrated landscape photographer was to do. Find a waterfall, I decided. Waterfalls are actually better photographed in overcast conditions, as sunlight ‘blows out’ the highlights in the water.

Dorset isn’t particularly well known for waterfalls, but I did locate one about a thirty minute drive away. So I headed off in the rain, hoping that none of the roads which I needed to use had been flooded out. 

The names of the towns which I passed seemed very appropriate, as many of them featured ‘puddle’ somewhere in their names. In quick succession, I passed Briantspuddle, Affpuddle, Tolpuddle, and Puddletown. On the whole, the roads were fine. Traffic lights had been put into place to set up a one-way system past one flooded area, but otherwise I came across no hold ups.

I found parking in the village of Little Bredy and made my way past the church to the green slope of grass leading to the waterfall. The waterfall is the overflow from a lake just above. I laid out a waterproof cover before kneeling down to set up tripod and camera, doing my best to keep all of us dry under an umbrella. The tree near the waterfall was just beginning to show autumn colours. I took photos from a couple of angles, and then took shelter under a nearby tree to set everything up for a few final photos. I spent about an hour at the location. Inside the church porch I left a donation in a collection box. 

Trip back was again uneventful. I took everything into the apartment to dry out and allowed myself a third cup of coffee. Tilly decided that she simply had to have a bath, and drenched herself thoroughly in the sink.

After lunch, I decided to go to Tolpuddle. A small museum there commemorates the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and according to its website was actually open to visitors. As I had only a vague notion of who these martyrs were, and a wet Sunday afternoon to fill, I headed back out on the wet roads.

No one was on duty inside the single room museum and, as I was the only person in there for my visit, I didn’t wear my face covering. Although small, the displays were well presented and give me the story. 

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six agricultural workers who, in 1833, formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They were protesting the gradual lowering of agricultural wages, and refused to work for anything less than ten shillings a week (the rate was seven shillings). The poverty of agricultural workers had been increased by the Enclosure Acts, which had taken away land held in common (which peasants could farm and use for their own animals) and given it over to wealthy landowners. A by product (some claim one of the reasons for) the Acts was to drive workers into nearby towns and cities to provide labour in the factories of the Industrial Revolution.

Although trade unions were not illegal, their activities were under strict regulations. The upper classes did not like trade unions. One of the stanzas of the hymn ‘All Creatures Great and Small,’ which is now commonly omitted from hymn books, states baldly:

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

God made them high and lowly,

And ordered their estate.

In 1834, the six men were arrested on a trumped up charge. All members of the society were required to swear a secret oath of allegiance. James Frampton, a magistrate and local landowner, invoked the Unlawful Oaths Act 1797, which outlawed secret oaths but which was meant to only be used against naval personnel. 

The local vicar was against the men. In his letters, which are in the museum, the vicar is appalled that the men won’t recognise their rightful place. I hung my head in shame. The Church of England has so often been on the side of might rather than right, and I found myself thinking uncomfortably about the current investigations into abuse by Church of England priests. I did wonder whether the fact most of the men were Methodists might have had a bearing. Maybe the vicar would have been more supportive if they’d been members of his church? 

The men were found guilty and their sentence was deportation to Australia for seven years, leaving their wives and children behind in England. There they worked as agricultural labourers. In the meantime, back in England, protests and marches were held by their supporters. The men were pardoned in 1836, and returned to England. A few years later, five of them emigrated, with their families, to London, Canada, which is now part of Ontario. 

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is an important part of the history of the trade unions movement. Many Labour Party leaders have paid visits to Tolpuddle and there is (usually) an annual march in the village by members of trade unions. 

I visited the well-stocked shop afterwards before heading back to the apartment and a nearly dry bird.

05 October

The weather forecast showed a possibility of sunshine in the morning, so I left the apartment at 8am with the hopes of some interesting photography. 

After some research, I had decided to aim for views of Corfe Castle from Corfe Common. According to one photographer’s website, the light on the castle was in the right direction any time of day. I missed the small layby the first time, so at the next village I used a pub car park to turn around and head back down.

Dog walkers were out in abundance on the sweeping land of pasture and bracken. I set up tripod and camera and watched grey clouds scuttle across the sky. A lot of time, landscape photography is turn up and wait. The name of my photography website is ‘Stalking the Light’ for a reason. 

The wind was rather cold, but I had water and a breakfast bar to keep me going. There was even a nearby hollow available when I began to regret the extra mug of coffee I’d had that morning. 

After two hours, the blue patch I’d been anxiously watching finally reached the sun. Mixed light played across the common and the castle. I did discover the limitations of my lightweight travel tripod, as it couldn’t hold still when the windy gusts hit us. Fortunately there were some good photos amongst the blurred ones. This did prove to me that I’ll need a sturdier tripod for windy landscape days. 

At noon the clouds closed over and I packed up. I drove down to Corfe Castle and used the National Trust car park. After a quick picnic lunch, I went up the hill into the village. Although I’d not booked in, the kind people at the entrance to the castle informed me that they hadn’t reached capacity for visitors and I could enter. I scanned my National Trust card and the QR code. However, rather than head straight to the castle, I turned right and visited the nearby pub for bag of salt and vinegar crisps and a half pint of Dorset Knob. 

Suitably refreshed, I headed to the castle’s entrance. A volunteer gave an entertaining potted history of Corfe Castle, her enthusiasm for the subject not remotely dampened when a light rain began to fall. 

The castle was first built in the 11th century by William the Conquerer. It fits into a gap between the Purbeck Hills on an important route between Wareham and Swanage. What makes Corfe Caste unusual is that stone was used, whereas at the time most castles were built with earth and timber. For a number of centuries, the castle was a royal residence. Edward the Martyr was assassinated at the castle in 978, perhaps by Queen Aelfthryth, mother of Aethelred (the Unready) who wanted her own son on the throne. 

Various kings added to the building, and the castle was a place of luxury. The village developed from those who camped in the area to undertake the works, and in 1247 it was granted a market and fair by royal permission.

In 1572, Queen Elizabeth I sold the castle to her Lord Chancellor. In 1635, Sir John Bankes bought Corfe Castle. Sir John was Attorney General to King Charles I and loyal to him during the English Civil War. By 1643 most of Dorset was under Parliamentary control. Sir John was in Oxford with the king, so it was his wife, Lady Mary Bankes, who resided at the castle and built up a garrison of Royalists. 

One of the garrison’s officers, Colonel Pitman, colluded with the colonel in charge of the local Parliamentarian forces. Pitman went to Somerset and collected a hundred men, which he brought into the castle by disguising them as Royalists. Once inside, they attacked the garrison, and the soldiers outside launched an attack at the same time. The castle was captured, and Lady Mary and the garrison were permitted to leave. 

Parliament voted to slight (demolish) the castle, reducing the walls to the ruins seen today. Many of its stones were taken away by the villagers for use in their own buildings. 

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Bankes family regained their properties. Rather than return to Corfe, they built a new family home at Kingston Lacy. 

I walked up the hill to the tower and followed the one way system to look around. Then followed it again. Then a third time I walked around the area, searching desperately for the way out. Finally I worked out what extra turning I needed, and I headed back down. 

Flashes of sunshine and bits of blue sky made me hurry down to the car park to collect my tripod. I headed around the castle and on to West Hill. The marks of many boots into the soft soil showed where many a photographer had passed before me. I found a somewhat precarious perch on a slope and put up tripod and camera for photos in the afternoon sunshine. 

When the sun dropped behind the hill, I packed up and headed down to my car. It was 4.30pm by the time I entered the apartment, the longest day out I’d had all week. Tilly was not best pleased. 

In the evening I packed up, ready to leave for home the next morning. 

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