Postcode South Day 8

Postcode South
By Colin Walford
Day Eight

Route: Benville to Chesil Beach
Date: Friday September 14th 2012
Distance: 18.3m (29.5km)
Elevation: 516ft (157.2m) to 46ft (13.9m)

See Route on ......

Rampisham showers….

I awoke surprisingly early at 07:45am considering the time I got to bed and the fact I had been drinking. Rich and Mary had said I could use one of the pub bathrooms to freshen up, but their bedroom curtains were still closed. I decided to change into my walking gear anyway and wash when I could. I walked around the back of the pub and stripped off in an enclosed concrete yard, the supposedly quiet lane running past the pub being fairly active with cars, even at this time of the morning. I changed, shivering at the chilliness of the grey morning. I had poked my head out of my tent to heavy, sullen cloud cover and a waspish breeze. Then I sat around until Rich appeared. He shook my hand and wished me well, saying that he wouldn’t be having breakfast with me as he had to go into town to do some shopping. Rich sped off in his car and Mary let me in. Within minutes, she had brought me a bacon toastie and a hot drink. She wouldn’t accept any money, but asked me one thing. “Do me a favour, love? When you get home, send us an email so that we know you made it to the coast and are okay?”
I promised that I would and we chatted during breakfast, whilst she again allowed me to charge my phone. Finally, it was time to go. We hugged and Mary wished me all the best, reminding me again to email them once home. I walked back into the beer garden and went through the routine of packing up my tent and gear. It was about 09:30am when I stepped back onto Benville Lane to make my way back to my postcode route. As soon as I began walking the rain started to come down, cold and fitful. The road curved and climbed and took me through the tiny hamlet of Uphall as the rain pattered down with more meaning. I stopped here and did some filming of the transmitters, which were standing on top of the down in the mid-distance. Blue sky was trying to make itself known through ragged gaps in the clouds and the rain had suddenly stopped, but I reckoned that I was in for more of it before long. I walked on and soon came upon a metal gate, which was my entrance onto Rampisham Down.
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BBC transmitters on Rampisham Down

I went through and immediately began to move upwards, skirting woodland on my left and having an ever more pleasing view of the countryside in front of me as I gained elevation. As I’d thought, I had frequent bouts of sudden rainfall for five minutes or so and then a just as sudden burst of sunshine in between for similar periods. It was now becoming very blustery as I gained height and I was forced to put my hood up; partly to stop my ears from becoming deadened nubs of meat, but also to keep out high velocity rain. I began to pass sheep, which seemed to be grazing on very marshy ground and not minding it at all. I left the woods behind and strode out across very open ground, which was at the mercy of the elements. I wasn’t sure if I was still on my route, but since all I had to do was look up and see dozens of transmitters drawing closer ahead of me, it didn’t really matter.
After just over half an hour’s walking, I reached the top of this steep, chalk hill (221 metres or 720 feet) which is sat eight miles north-west of Dorchester in west Dorset. I crossed a lane, before coming to a secured gate covered in bright yellow and blue warning signs. Beyond this was a spread of pasture, upon which sat the twenty-six transmitter pylons; the location of one of the main transmitters of the BBC World Service in Europe. I had imagined that I would be able to walk between and beneath all of these giants and in fact, satellite maps clearly showed a path through the site. I can only think that these are paths set out for maintenance men and engineers because, clearly, Joe public would not be allowed to just traipse merrily through, potentially getting fried to death as they go. The signs all bespoke of the danger of high voltage electricity, so there was nothing to it but to walk along the lane I was stood by which would, anyway, take me into the village of Hooke and back on route. I stood here for a while, gazing at the impressive spectacle of all these transmitters, which had whole grid systems of wiring running from one to the other, each held in place by huge parallel or cross-shaped bars. The sky behind them was sullen and dark and for some minutes, I had to withstand another pelting rainstorm. I was then able to quickly get my camcorder out and do a bit of filming, before the next wave swept in. I stepped back onto the lane to begin my walk down the other side of the hill and into Hooke, noticing as I did so that my feet had become a little sore again. The lane started off by descending gently and then suddenly plunged downwards at Rampisham Hill farm, before then taking me up again. I had entered country that did this with regularity and for the rest of the walk, I found myself climbing and dipping over folds in the land. Rampisham Hill deposited me into Hooke, looking fresh after the morning’s showers and smelling of cut grass and damp.

Losing the route, finding the sea….

Hooke is a small village situated at the bottom of the valley of the short River Hooke, itself a tributary of the River Frome. It comprises of a church and dwellings for its population of 118 souls. It has a crossroads and not a lot else. I took a left at the crossroads and was taken into a kind of cul-de-sac of houses which made me come to a puzzled standstill. I had to consult my map closely to find my way out, which turned out to be a walk across a green to a fence and gate, through which I was to go into pasture beyond. However, the far side of this was ringed by a belt of trees and the footpath through it was invisible so I began a circuit, peering through clumps of Silver Birch to see if a track was in evidence. I was aware that I was looked upon by a whole row of houses, so consulted my map again. Yes, no doubt about it, there was a recognised walking route. It was just one of those that hadn’t been maintained. Actually, it had been totally dismissed, as I was finding out. A couple of abortive forays into the scattered trees only ended up with me retreating back into the sodden pasture, feet squelching in the long grass. I tried again in the far corner, where the trees looked thickest and where, therefore, I had avoided as being an unlikely source for my route. It was typical, then, that this was where I needed to go. I must have looked a bit disbelieving to anybody who may have been watching my exposed back from a bedroom window. Not only were there trees and brambles, but somebody had strung out metres of that silly, flimsy wire and tape barrier. It was all over the place and determinedly ignored the fact that there was a walking route through here, albeit obviously a little-used one. Never have I felt more like a trespasser as I stomped, bludgeoned and high-stepped over wires and poles whilst making a hot, steamy and ill-tempered progress in my rain clothes. At one point, I seemed to be at the bottom of somebody’s long garden and feared that here at least; I had wandered off-route. I quickly scrambled over the next set of fences and at last found myself in front of something substantial, namely a sturdy wooden gate and track beyond it. A property which, according to my map, was yet another Manor Farm sat on top of a small hill and looked down upon me, but there had been no challenge from anybody throughout the whole pantomime and nobody was in sight. I turned left through the gate and walked along and up a wet and muddy track, which soon took me out of Hooke and onto the top of raised ground where the track was stonier, near a place called Higher Kingcombe. I joined Common Lane, turning right onto it and ascending higher still. I stopped to film the receding transmitters on Rampisham Down and noted that I would soon be walking through a fish farm and then the Kingscombe Meadows Nature Reserve. However, I never encountered either of these, as a stupid lapse of concentration occurred when my mind wandered off elsewhere and I missed my turning and carried on along Common Lane. It finally began to dawn on me that I had been on this road longer than I should have been and my error was confirmed when I reached another crossroads, that I had noted on my map as being at Mount Pleasant. I could see that by turning left onto Clift Lane, the mistake was rectifiable but this wayward amble did provide me with a bonus. I had to strain to see over a high hedge, but in the distance….was that….? Yes, no doubt about it. There was a barely visible blue line that ran evenly beyond a range of softly contoured hills. I was looking at the sea! The south coast had just announced itself to me and I moved on at about a quarter-past twelve, with my spirits cranked quite a few notches higher.

Taking its Toller….

Clift Lane was fairly arduous; heaving steeply up and down and before long, putting me back on my route as I cut across fields by Northover Farmhouse. I had a mind to stop for lunch at the village of Toller Porcorum, as it sounded like a quaint and pretty place and I harboured hopes that it may contain an old inn, at which I could rest my throbbing feet and quench my thirst with a local ale. In actual fact, Toller Porcorum has grown a new estate of modern, somehow disappointing houses. It is situated in the Toller Valley and the addition Porcorum means ‘of the pigs’ in Latin. The village was, in the past, sometimes known as Swine’s Toller. As for the village pub, well ‘The Old Swan’ was closed by the brewery some years ago, who are still attempting to obtain planning permission to build yet more modern housing and having this vigorously opposed by the local council.
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Dorset Scenery

It is a village in turmoil and once I had entered it, I found that there was nowhere nice to sit and eat and proposed to just march through it as quickly as I could. This was a nuisance on wet and painful feet, which seemed at last to be crumbling under the miles I had subjected them to, but I put my head down and walked on. It was a bloody steep climb out of the village and back into the hills again and I then left the lane and walked up a field at Trinneys Farm. I had stumbled across some kind of a horse paddock, where there were obstacles such as log fences set out everywhere around me as I walked through the field. I reached a log bench in front of a small, oval pool which was having its surface whisked up by a stiff breeze on the hill’s top. It was blowing in chilly gusts, but at this point my feet were so sore that I ignored this and sat down on the bench, hunched down inside my coat, looking back and around me as I rested and munched on a few mouthfuls of dried fruit, seeds and nuts. When I felt that I had rested enough I went on again, climbing over the exposed flank of the hill I was on and following the long, straggling line of a hedge. I was a little uncertain where I should be walking and whether I should be cutting left through a gap in this hedge just ahead of me, onto more open fields. This notion was dispelled when an estate came into view and I could see from my map that I had to walk through it and past a grand residence. I still can’t shed the feeling of being a trespasser when I am required to open a gate, stroll across somebody’s pristine lawns and wander close enough by their home that I can peer into their living-room window and see them polishing the family silver. Nevertheless, a clear walking route was inked onto the map at this spot and my fear of being shot by a red-faced gentleman in a tweed jacket was unrealised. I was challenged, however, by the dog of the manor that ran towards me in full voice. The fact that his tail was swishing back and forth in rapid ecstasy gave away his true feelings and I was witness to much eye-rolling and tongue-lolling as he soaked up the fuss I gave him. He was, briefly, devoted to me and followed me across the back garden, down the side of the house and out onto the front gravel drive. Here, I gave him a final pet and fond talking to and then strode off down another lane, leaving him standing and watching after me with his tail still wagging, rather wistfully.

An embarrassment of scenic riches….

I now found myself on Barrowland Lane, which was straight and ascending and where I had to turn off onto a field at the Higher Woolcombe dairy. This involved a climb over a fence devoid of stiles, but I finally had a grand view of the open countryside in front of me and the sun had started to come out fiercely for the first time that day. I sat down on the grass, my back propped against a fence. My feet were painful and saturated and it was a relief to remove my boots and socks and hang the latter over the fence to dry as much as they could, after first wringing them out. I examined my bare feet, curious as to why they had suddenly decided to deteriorate during today’s marching. They were a bit battered looking and blanched by their constant immersion in water, but no worse than usual and there were no fresh sores or blisters. I wondered if it was all psychological because I knew that the end was in sight, leaving me more aware of the throbs and stinging. I let them dry in the cold wind and applied a liberal splash of sun cream to my head and face.
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The End is in Sight

I had just got out my bag of fruit and nuts again, when I became suddenly aware that I was not alone. Four or five Donkeys had silently lumbered towards me from beyond a dip on the hillside, curious and evidently suspecting that I had food. I was not in the mood to share, so I hid my lunch out of sight and simply allowed them to converge on me as they sniffed exploratively at my head and rucksack. They weren’t at all wary of me and accepted my rough pats and chin tickles for a few minutes, before realising that I wasn’t about to dish out any of what they could smell, whereupon they lost all interest in me and slowly wandered away again. As I munched on my supplies, a little internal flag began to wave and I realised that it was a quarter to three and I still had a deal of walking to do before I reached the coast. The route I had created was going to direct me on over this field and down into spiteful-looking little ravines and hilly knolls, taking me through some disused pits and a farm. I would then join a road which was to take me back onto Barrowland Lane ahead of me anyway, so I decided to save time and go back onto Barrowland from where I was currently sat. I heaved myself over the fence again and walked onwards and upwards. After ten minutes, I crested a rise and was immediately presented with an all-round view that had me reaching for my camcorder. I was in hilly country for sure now, with sheets of moorland and pasture stretching away on all sides. The transmitters on Rampisham Down were now far away. They stuck up; stick-like charcoal scratches on the skyline. But it was to the south where it was most gratifying to film. The sea lay wide and obvious before me, giving off a flat metallic glare as it reflected the afternoon sun through a gap in the raggedy clouds. It was still a way off and I had some marching to do, but it was all going to be done and dusted soon enough. I panned to my right and pointed my camcorder in the general direction of where Lyme Regis lay, unseen as it was further along the coast. I was looking over land that swooped down into a magnificent hollow of agriculture and hedge lines, beyond which cliffs buttressed out towards the gleam of the English Channel. The wind was strong and almost constant at this height and I felt very fine at that moment. After ten minutes of tramping along, the view became even more striking as Eggardon Hill rose to my right and then fell uncontrollably into a green bowl of grassed fields. It seemed that, wherever I looked, I was presented with scenery that pleased the eye and brought a smile to my face. As I forged ahead of Eggardon Hill, the lane plunged downwards and I began to look out for a gap in the hedge to my left, from where I was to cut across country again. I was unsure of my way for a while and simply hoped that I’d exited the lane onto Haydon Down at the right place. Having just descended sharply, I now turned back on myself and had to regain a lot of the height I had just lost as I made my way around the sharp lip of Coombe Bottom and onto the down. I swept around in a clockwise loop and then began to descend the narrow crest of Haydon Down, over the shin-high dead stalks of a harvested crop. The land around here was buckled and misshapen and I didn’t walk on anything level for several miles. The descent became steeper still and the path was transformed into something stony and flinty, as I walked beneath some pylons and passed through the storage buildings of Stancombe Farm. The whole place seemed deserted and lonely, cast into an early twilight because it squatted deeply within the depression created between the Downs of Haydon and Askerswell. Once more, I had to turn back on myself and begin an ascent up another track, leaving the farm behind and emerging into true daylight again. This wild track became steeper as I climbed and I got myself idiotically confused for a while, by trying to read the map the wrong way up as I had after the orchard near West Bradley, two days before. Once I’d figured my north and south out and realised that I was on-route, I set about climbing wearily amongst wild grassland until I’d cleared the valley and reached the sanity of a straight bit of road called the White Way.

The Home Stretch….

I suddenly had an abrupt change of scenery when the White Way took me unerringly to the A35; a very busy trunk road linking Honiton in Devon to Southampton. It was wide and I had to scamper awkwardly across between gaps in the speeding vehicles, but the White Way continued on after this in another sweeping nose-dive towards the tiny village of Litton Cheney ; my last one before I was due to reach the sea. I arrived there at 4:30pm and took a brief rest by a babbling brook which ran alongside the lane. A man was squatting at the bottom of his garden tending a border of flowers and the village thatched cottages, typical of the area, lay benign in the late afternoon sun. It was here that I decided to alter the course of my walking from the route I had put together. The simple fact was that I was running out of daylight hours and couldn’t afford to be wandering over rough country, as rugged and pretty as it all was. I looked at my OS map and quickly traced the route south using more direct lanes. Having said this, I did initially take to a field on Leaving Litton Cheney, one which rose sharply and briefly to give me delightful views of the countryside and the sea and then glided downwards to Park’s lane. I took advantage of a tall hedge for a toilet break, before crossing Rowden Bridge and continuing south. The way forward was direct and led me straight to and through Park’s Dairy House. There were people about, presumably working at the dairy. I half-thought that I would be challenged as I was in clear view of everyone as I strolled by, but nobody batted an eyelid and I began a steep climb up a stony track as I left them behind. The track was long and rough underfoot and took a good while to climb the 300 feet required to get me to the top of Abbotsbury Hill.
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Journey's End

Looking back enabled me to see Litton Cheney nestling in its valley, Haydon Down forming a ridge behind it. Cresting the hill brought me back onto my official route and took me on a winding path, between low knolls near Abbotsbury Castle then down onto the B3157 road. Before I reached the road I stopped to film Chesil Beach, visible at last and within touching distance. It lay as a thin strip between the sea and a narrow body of water called West Fleet, the white rime of breaking waves forming a thin line along its length. The sea was blue, the sky was blue and the rocks, stones and pebbles of the beach curved away into the distance towards Portland Bill. It was a quarter to six and I reflected, as I ran a commentary, that I had walked a long way to see this place.
I stepped onto the B-road at the South Dorset Ridgeway and headed towards Abbotsbury, walking down Abbotsbury Hill. I reached a T-junction and had a decision to make. If I turned left, I would walk into Abbotsbury itself and be able to find a B&B to put my mind at rest about where I was sleeping later that night. On the other hand, if I turned right I would take myself steeply down and onto the beach itself, so that I could finish the walk. In the end, the pull of the latter was enough and I turned right but it was no fun, as I rapidly lost height, knowing that I would soon be hauling myself upwards again on tired and sore feet. I found myself in another fissure in the local landscape as I tramped past Chapel Hill on my left and joined The Macmillan Way, a route which took me to a car park via what looked like a tropical bird farm. The car park wasn’t a large one and I had soon made my way across it and up some steps, then onto a wooden platform with a hand rail on one side. The sun was riding down the sky as I walked the length of this and took some photographs. Then, I stepped onto Chesil Beach.
I walked with some difficulty across a rock-strewn bank and sat down at the edge of the sea. The waves crashed onto the beach with an even regularity; half meter cascades of foam, which sucked and pulled noisily and swept thousands of pebbles onwards with a strange, roaring whoosh. After a few minutes, I cast around and chose a smooth, flat stone to take home with me as a memento of my journey. I also placed onto the beach the rock I had picked up from the bank of the River Wye, way back in Herefordshire a week ago. I expect that it’ll remain there until it is eventually eroded away; God knows how many years in the future. Then, I simply sat and listened to it all for a while, whilst contemplating the fact that I’d done it. I’d completed Postcode South.


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