A post from the archives: Before the virus pinned us all down in our own homes, we were supposed to be going to Scotland for a long-awaited holiday. It isn’t the first time that a trip north of the border has had to be postponed… Back in 2013, we had planned a Scottish odyssey, until a coffee pot exploded, landing me in the emergency department of my local hospital with extensive burns. I wasn’t allowed to travel until the bandages came off… which left us just a couple of days to go wandering. So we headed south to Dorset….
Two days and two lunatics climbing hills in the heat of the noonday sun. We have been places… so many places… and seen wonderful things in a landscape steeped in history, brimming with wildflowers and butterflies under a luminous, numinous sky.
We had planned a gentle trip to see a giant. There is a famous chalk-cut hill figure at Cerne Abbas in Dorset and we decided that as neither of us had ever seen it in the flesh, so to speak, we would meander on down there, at a leisurely pace, and stay a night near the sea before gently wandering back.
As with most of our adventures this week, we got a little sidetracked. Time appeared to have taken a holiday too and quite how, without hurrying, without rushing, we managed to explore so many places in two days I cannot say.
We were, as usual, talking a lot, so the miles just seemed to melt beneath the wheels. It began, perhaps, with the decision to take the A303 which runs past Stonehenge… you crest the hill and below you, the iconic circle appears under the early morning sky. It was a good place to begin a journey into the landscapes of the past and we watched the hills for earthworks as we travelled south and west.
We stopped at Cadbury, famed as the legendary site of Camelot. After visiting the tiny, medieval church there we climbed the huge, prehistoric hillfort in the growing heat. The earthworks are a stupendous achievement. Walking the perimeter, the distant vistas were already masked by the heat haze but on the horizon, it was possible to see the distinctive shape of Glastonbury Tor.
In these high places the past comes to life and, if you listen and watch with the eyes of heart and mind, the ancestors whisper their tales to the inner ear, peopling the landscape with life and colour.
By this time the sun was high, and an early lunch appeared to be in order. There is a pub in Cadbury…
Another drive, another ancient church and we reached our destination, Cerne Abbas, where the giant looms over the hillside. The viewing area is in a convenient little car park…there is no real way to see it, so large it is, other than from this distance. And, let’s face it, only fools would choose to park up and climb to the top in the middle of the day in a heatwave….
The view was more than worth it, though, as we placed the figure in his landscape from the hilltop and brought history to life in imagination. The hillside was smothered in wildflowers… campion and scabious, vetch, orchids and harebells… and everywhere butterflies and insects fluttered through the fairyland at ground level.
It must be said, however, that colourful though it was, we two were probably more so… rather lobster coloured with exertion by the time we descended and found the crystal waters of the Silver Spring, a holy well that nestles at the foot of the hill in a cool, green glade. The icy water was welcome and we cooled hot faces in its fresh purity.
It was still early afternoon as we explored the gloriously beautiful village, with its ancient buildings and lovely old church. There was also a tea room, the pubs being shut for the afternoon… and there was ice-cream too…
We eventually wandered down through Dorchester to Weymouth and the farmhouse we were staying at overnight. There was coffee, cake and a chicken in the dining room, pigs in the garden and alpacas in the field… and the sea shimmering in the sun. We walked a little way along the coastal path before finding liquid refreshment in a pub.
It was still only seven o’clock, still very hot and we were close to the sea… a walk along the beach brought temptation way too close and I was obliged to go for a swim. I cannot recall ever swimming in a warm sea in England before. A towel would have been a good idea though, so it was a very soggy hobbit in shorts who sat outside the seafront bar dripping for a while…. But who cared as the light turned pastel colours on the water and the luminous glow painted the sea.
Dinner was simplicity itself… fish and chips on Chesil beach as the sun went down on a glorious day. And we had another yet to come….