Glorious Weekend. Well, the weather anyway. As for Mel’s craft fair, it was a complete washout. One postcard sold over two days. Begs the question, ‘when does anyone bother to go to a craft fair’? Perhaps it has to be precisely 22.5 degrees with light cloud.
We finally managed to peel ourselves of our friends driveway, temporary base for the last three weeks whilst I finished the Festival Guide. Our destination, Chettle House in Dorset, just on the south side of Cranborne Chase, which was playing host to a Craft Fair. Mel tried one of these back in May at Sherborne, which also failed to excite, at the time we thought because it was the first really sunny weekend of the year (in fact, probably of the last 3 years).
Whilst it always worth trying these things, I’m starting to see a pattern. It’s not that Mel’s work doesn’t sell, it does, nor that there is a downturn in trade. It’s just its sporadic, and I suspect there is an element of the weather being too good at the moment, and people are just relieved that they can enjoy a British summer in a deck chair in the garden, and not need another excuse to go out and find something to do.
Don’t let all that doom and gloom spoil your day, I say. After setting up the stand and finding a spot in the camping field, we ventured out for a Friday evening pint. Across the fields from Chettle to Farnham (not Farnham in Surrey – or is it Hampshire?) but a small village only a mile and half away. Home to The Museum Inn public house. Mel tells me that we came here before, about 12 years ago when we stayed at Chettle for a wedding. After the cleanup, we all went to The Museum for Sunday lunch, but I must admit that I don’t recall it at all.
Still, a nice couple of pints sitting in large wicker sofas outside, trying to decide if we could justify an evening meal. One attractions was lobster, but at £38 a head, we decided that we would be able to justify it if something was sold the following day. So no lobster then.
Back to the van for a meal, now rather late but not to worry, along with a couple more episodes of How I Met Your Mother. We are on series 8 at the moment, fast approaching the point where Ted finally meets the mother of his children. If you haven’t seen it, its a great series, plenty of laughs and twists and turns in the plot. Series 9 is currently airing, so we’ll need to wait a little to find out what happens in the lead up to the wedding.
Saturday comes and Mel has to go off to man the stand. I on the other hand take the opportunity to go out for a decent walk, despite the fact its about 30 degrees. Slap on plenty of sun screen and ponder which route. Take the low route and investigate some of Dorset’s artefacts from the Roman era, or the high route and get a far reaching view across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. I plump for the later, hoping that the 250 metre climb wouldn’t be too strenuous.
A nice easy start on some lanes, followed by some gently rolling farmland through Barley fields, and then I start to climb a little more and reach Larmer Tree Gardens. I don’t know much about the gardens, but there is a music and comedy festival there each year, and it turns out its next weekend and so preparations are well underway, with various marquees and big tops, plus lots of ‘glamping’ in little yurts.
There is a strange four sided tower in the grounds of Larmer Tree, a folly of sorts. And on doing a little research, I find that its actually only 4 years old, and was built originally as a mobile phone mast, but that never came to fruition. Folly indeed.
Down hill again, and into Tollard Royal for a cup of coffee at the King John Inn. Mel and I came here a long while back for a couple of nights, not long after we’d met. I remember it well, although the memory of the pub is rather faded, an apt word for what I do remember, but now its obviously had a more contemporary makeover, and there is some impressive terracing in the gardens which is lovely in the sunshine.
With some extra zip in my step courtesy of the coffee, I leave Tollard Royal and set off along the valley towards Win Green, the highest point on Cranborne Chase (277m). I struggle a little to find the right way and wander through a farm yard and out into a field, or rather a grassy valley that could easily have been taken from The Little House on the Prairie, the GPS on the phone suggesting I’m in the right place but there are no way markers.
I see ahead someone rounding up cattle and then come across an elderly lady and her dog resting in the shade. I’m not sure if she’s waiting for the cattle to get out of the way or part of the round up, so go over for a chat. It turns out she’s the farmer, and its her son rounding up the cattle, and they are spending the day checking the head count. There should be 80 here, and they’ve already counted probably as many more split across several locations.
I ask about the route, and she thinks I should be over on a track not far away, but is happy for me to walk through the field if I prefer. She points out that Ashcombe House, ahead in the valley, is the home of Guy Ritchie, he of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Madonna’s second husband. The penny didn’t drop immediately, and when I said ‘oh I don’t know the people here’ I suddenly realised that I was supposed to recognise the name. The son arrived back satisfied that the head count is correct, and I head on up the valley.
There is a strange little shed at the far end of the field, like a windowless potting shed and its propped up on staddle stones, presumably to keep it out of the mud which seems to have been plentiful earlier in the year. As I approach I hear a gun shot and wonder if I’m about to get the second barrel, lock, stock and all courtesy of Mr Ritchie, but there is no one to be seen and its the only shot I hear all day.
The climb up to Win Green is gentle following the ridge. I’m a little too far over to see Mr Ritchie’s home but I get a good view of the estate and the odd glimpse of the roof of what I take to be the house, and I dare say its all worth a pretty penny. Very nice too.
On the way up I’m treated to a low and lumbering pass by what I take to be a Vulcan bomber. It’s Yeovilton Air Day, and in the distance I think I can see a B52 attempting to go vertical, or at least a very steep climb then levelling out. I’m too far from the airfield to be able to see any of the actual displays, but this is a treat all the same.
I’m glad I’ve come this way. I really enjoy hills and mountains, whether I’m on foot or on a bike, as the views are just so much more impressive than being on lower ground, although that has its merits too. Especially when you not so fit, like I am at the moment. Walking is fine, although I might struggle in more mountainous terrain. As I find out the following day, I’ve definitely not got the cycling legs of a couple of years ago, but that’s just down to lack of practice.
The view from Win Green is impressive. On top near the trig point there is a thing whose name escapes me at the moment – you know, a metal disk with points of the compass and picking out landmarks that are in view, such as Salisbury Plain, the Purbeck Hills and various towns. What this does confirm is that 44 miles to the west is Taunton. I can make out the Quantocks and the Blackdown Hills, and therefore the lump between is the Brendon Hills and home – or rather, where the house is. When walking the Wivey Way a couple of weeks back I’d speculated that we could see Cranborne Chase from the hills above Wivey, and this has pretty much confirmed it.
Noting the time, I move on, as I’d quite like to get back down to the King John for last orders and lunch. A quick arc around the head of the combe and then the descent of Berwick Down on a track that takes me back to the village. I get to the pub at 2:15, only to find that the place is near deserted and they’ve closed the kitchen, but only just. The barmaid takes pity, as its the same one as earlier so she’d told me last orders was 2:30, and she has a word with the chef and they russle up a Welsh Rarebit, fries and a pint, which does the trick, sitting in the shade of an umbrella on the terrace.
By the time I’ve ambled back to Chettle House and the craft fair, I’ve covered 13 miles and I’m ready for a sit down. It’s obvious Mel has not done much trade, but has at least used the time creatively to prepare wirework for new sculptures to be completed in the coming week. I get back to the van for a cup of coffee, rinse the clothes and then sit in the sunshine for an hour. As we move into evening we depart once more for The Museum and have a simple supper and a pint, sans lobster.
Sunday, for Mel, was much the same. Few punters, the sides stripped off the marquee to allow the traders a little breeze and some sunshine as needed. I on the other hand had another day of activity, this time by bike. 40 miles planned on a loop of the NSR 25/253 and 41.
The start of the ride was much like the walk (albeit on road), a gentle but relentless climb for about 5 miles until the picturesque village of Ashmore. A combination of stout Georgian houses and twee thatched cottages, with barely a thing out of place. A lovely and much needed breezy descent follows, but you know that isn’t going to come without a price, and a slog for about half a mile up through a fortuitously wooded section which at least kept the sun off the back, and the front for that matter.
The effort was rewarded with some views south-west and then a descent into Fontmell Magna, and the welcome site of a pub in which to find respite over a cup of coffee served with chocolate truffles, and a comfy sofa in which to pour over the first few pages of the Sunday papers. A hat tip to a fellow cyclist on the way out, and then back on the road.
The cyclist turned out to be Kat, possibly Cat, and yes, a solo lady cyclist, rare as they are. She caught me up a couple of miles from the pub on her road bike, I was just making my own impromptu roundabout in the middle of the road whilst checking the map for directions, and sure enough, I needed to take a left. Kat was going my way, and offered to cycle along for a while, and I was happy for her GPS to keep up on the route. I’d been taking it easy up to this point, but it was clear she wanted to go a bit faster, but was obviously taking it easy for my benefit. Still, the GPS log suggests I had to add 50% to my previous pace. Fortunately the route was fairly level at this point, and we traded tales of past cycling adventures. She was down from London for the weekend, seemingly solo. Before we parted at Shillingstone, I passed her my card as she was interested in my tales of the Eurovelo routes around Europe as a possible future adventure, so she might come and visit this very blog to find out more.
We parted company as I wanted to pick up the ‘Trailway’ that follows the old rail track, and she was keen to eat some miles of tarmac on her road bike, and thought the cinder track would not be so good. Plus I was probably being far too pedestrian for her. In fact, the North Dorset Trailway turned out to be 9 miles of very enjoyable path away from traffic. I think I read on a board somewhere along the route that it was established in 2008, so fairly recently and still in good condition, and some of the route was even sealed path. The trail actually goes further – I picked it up part way from its start and got off in Blandford Forum. There is an old station at Shillingstone, home to some rail enthusiasts, but there is no longer a track to go anywhere, just to provide a space for renovating carriages and to keep up the old station buildings and platforms. I helped them out by buying another cup of coffee and a bit of flapjack, and took a breather to recover from the quicker pace provided by Kat.
The Trailway took me into the centre of Blandford Forum, and I did a quick circuit of the town looking for a lunch opportunity. Pubs and cafés were open but not all that tempting, and I ended up ducking into a pub out of desperation. Unfortunately, despite the heat which has become more of a fixture than a fleeting moment, they were only offering a roast lunch. So that would have to do.
I have no idea how unimaginative even some of the otherwise more switched on eateries can be when it comes to adapting to the weather. Sure, Britain’s weather can be fickle, but we do have relatively reliable forecasts, even if its not what you would ideally want. All I needed for lunch was a sizeable salad, but ended up with roast with all the trimmings. I knew that was not going to go well for the afternoon ahead, and sure enough, an hour later and I was suffering with ‘lunch legs’ – hams that just didn’t want to go around without complaining profusely.
And so as I got to about the 25 mile mark I started looking for a shortcut, and as I went through ‘Tarrant something’ after ‘Tarrant something’, there came a point where the road straight on was towards Chettle, and the planned route was uphill, and that really did settle it.
I think it was Tarrant Monkton where I took pictures of some real rural idyll houses, lovely thatched cottages (no, I’m not getting a longing, just appreciating), and the village, for what it was worth, was out in force sitting next to the ford and tucking into cream teas courtesy of some industrious people in the village hall. I decided that stopping at this point might be the end of me, and continued on.
When I reached the A354, I realised that this shortcut was not ideal, leaving me with either a couple of miles of fast A-road, or a long detour via lanes. The only way to cover the mile or so directly to Chettle was to take a bridleway. This turned out to be fairly navigable, except for some rather long grass and baked ruts around the two-third mark, but then it delivered me nicely into the rear of the campsite and I was able to find some shade behind the van.
So, I guess the moral of the story is that Chettle is a nice place, the surrounding countryside is lovely, and craft fairs are a waste of time, at least as far as Mel is concerned, and I need to get on the bike more (I do keep saying that!).
With the craft fair over, it was time to head back towards Watchet so Mel could catch up on some work. We’ve booked in to the Home Farm Holiday Centre which has all the facilities, and is quite charming. It’s a little bit too far out of Watchet to be able to walk in, but there is always the bike, although there is quite a drag of a hill from Watchet to get here. One advantage is that it has its own access to the coast at St. Audries Bay, which is formed by a walled and cobbled track. There is even part of a man made sea wall defending the cliffs from erosion, and the possible remnants of groynes.
It all seems to suggest some significant trade through here at some point, and doing a little searching suggests that smuggling was once rife here, particularly around Watchet, and that maybe the effort of creating a road on which horse and cart could travel was worth the expense.
The geology along this part of the coast is also a constant source of wonder, and we’ve explored both east and west from the campsite. We event saw a small rock fall from the cliffs towards East Quantoxhead, but we were not in any danger. Walking along the beach into Watchet should be possible at low tide, maybe even at high tide at times. Must check the tide tables, as it wouldn’t be so pleasant walking back on the road.