Sunday, 17 October 2021

Wareham Forest Tourist Park - Days 29 - 35 of our Autumn/Winter Tour

Wareham Forest Tourist Park - Days 29 - 35 of our Autumn/Winter Tour 

Monday 11th October 2021 ☁⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

Today was our day to visit Abbotsbury Swannery and Subtropical Gardens, the former of which is apparently the only place in the world where you can walk through the heart of a huge colony (about 700) of Mute Swans with their young.   While we were at the Swannery we learnt that it was first established by Benedictine Monks who built a monastery at Abbotsbury around 1040 (St Peter's monastery).  At that time the monks farmed the swans to produce food - it seems they weren't allowed to eat meat but fish was okay, and because the swans tasted 'fishy' they were acceptable as part of their diet! 

The Fleet - protected from the waves of the sea by Chesil Beach

The pic above shows the huge Fleet Lagoon which is tidal and connected to the sea at its eastern end at Portland Harbour.   The Swannery is located at the western end where only the highest tides make a difference to the depth of the water and there the water is fairly fresh because a number of streams flow into that end of it.  And it seems the salinity of the water is an important factor because when cygnets hatch they need to have fresh water to survive!

Just a few of the many MANY nearly full grown cygnets 

We arrived just before feeding time so our first port of call was the edge of the Fleet to see a wheel barrow full of grain being distributed amongst many hundreds of swans, geese, ducks, moorhens and gulls. 

They might be called Mute but they couldn't half make a noise!

While we watched the feeding frenzy we noticed that many of the birds were ringed - it seems that this is done during a period when the swans are flightless!  During June and July the birds shed their flight feathers and for a period after that they are unable to take to the air, so it is at that time that the  Abbotsbury herd is rounded up  to be weighed, ringed and given a health check. We also learnt that a full grown male swan (a cob) usually weighs about 24 pounds while a female (a pen) is lighter at about 20 pounds, yet each can haul themselves out of the water and launch  into majestic flight with their 7 foot wing span from almost a standing start!

However, none of the swans were flying today although they are all free to come and go as they please.  Having said that, the Swannery provides 3 good meals of corn a day so for most of them that must be a good reason to stay.  Additionally, the Lagoon has a rich supply of saltmarsh grass which the swans are quite partial to as part of their mostly vegetarian diet. 

After the swans had been fed it was our turn and a short walk took us to a bench in a 'quiet' corner overlooking the fleet, and from there we could watch all manner of water fowl coming, going and calling to each other. 

Our next port of call was jut a couple of miles further up the road - The Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, but really with all the sculptures from Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel I think 'Alice in Wonderland' should possibly have been included in the title. 

We met Alice almost as soon as we arrived!

And Later came a smoking Caterpillar

The Mad Hatter having a Cuppa

And The Queen of Hearts.  

The gardens themselves, even at this time of year, were also stunning with lots of quite unusual shrubs and trees. 

And as we wandered we also came across a view point from where we could see St Catherine's Chapel which was prettily framed by shrubbery. The Chapel sits high up on a hilltop overlooking Chesil Beach and it has been there since the 14th Century when the monks from Abbotsbury Abbey built it as a place for pilgrimage and retreat.  We didn't trek up to it but apparently it has 'wishing holes' where in times gone by local women used to pray to St Catherine asking her to find them a husband - there was no Tinder in them days  πŸ’’πŸ’‘!

As we progressed around the garden we also came across 'The Owl and The Pussycat' in a boat that wasn't quite beautiful or even pea green, but I think at that stage John was a bit worried that I might break into verse because the linesπŸ’¬ of that poem are what I used to recite to my children and grandchildren when trying to soothe them off to sleepπŸ˜‚!

We also found a couple of rutting stags

And a long rope bridge that swayed quite alarmingly while you were crossing!

Especially when John bounced it up and down when it was my turn 😱 I almost ended up with my feet in the murky waters below πŸ˜‚

We had a great day and the duel entry fee for both parks was well worth the money but when we saw the price of coffee in the cafe (£££) we were very glad we'd taken our own!

Tuesday 12th October 2021 ☁⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞⛅☁

Today we decided to go back to the very lovely National Trust's Ringstead Bay and visit Durdle Door again, but this time we were quite determined to get a bit nearer!  When we went a week ago we'd followed the very undulating and sometimes challenging Coastal Path, so as we'd neared the Door and observed the huge hill we'd have needed to go down and then back up 😰we 'gave up'!  However, we had sat high up and close enough to see waves lapping through it so we hadn't missed out altogether.  

But this time we decided we needed to get closer so instead of following the Coastal Path we followed a trail that was much higher up and which proved to be much easier walking.  

And we made it!!  As we sat eating our lunch we were able to admire Durdle Door and also watch the brave souls who paddle boarded and kayaked through the portal.  

Then early on our return journey we passed through the place that we now know is call 'Scratchy Bottom' and from a distance the big dark heap there looked like a large pile of cow πŸ’©, but as we got nearer we could see it was actually a herd of cows all cuddled up together!

Wednesday 13th October 2021☁⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

Our plan for today was to visit several sites near Dorchester - The village of Cerne Abbas, Maiden Castle and The Thomas Hardy Monument but when we got to our first venue we did a very strange thing indeed! And that was to be looking at a man's penis while having our morning coffee!

The said man was the Cerne Giant who may have been on the hillside for thousands of years.  Apparently, would you believe, he's said to be a symbol of fertility, and he's also one o the largest Chalk hill figures in Britain measuring  nearly 200 feet high and a little over 100 feet wide!  I wouldn't like to say who used to look after him in times gone by but the National Trust do now - it seems they have to rechalk him every 7 - 10 years!

While we were in the area we also had a walk down into the ancient Cerne Abbas village which owes it's existence to a Benedictine Abbey that occupied the site back in 987 AD. However very little evidence of the abbey is left now but the village has thrived, mostly it seems due to a large brewing industry.  

Our trail also took us to St. Augustine's Well or The Silver Well which has several 'superstitions' attached to it! It's said that drinking the water can cure infertility and that a laurel leaf dipped in it's waters may cure soreness of the eyes.  A more morbid tale tells that if you go down to the Well at dawn on Easter Day you will see reflected in the water all the faces of those you know who will die that year! 

Don't worry!  It wasn't Easter Day todayπŸ˜‚

An info board also told us that the very clear water in the Well would probably be okay to drink but that it would be best in  Spring time when the water is flowing faster.  However, the fact that a 3 foot eel was found lying happily in the long stone channel leading from the well was a bit off putting!

Our next stop was at Maiden Castle which is the remains of the largest and most complex Iron Age Hillfort in Britain. 

It's remains were enormous and the info boards told us that it's multiple ramparts could have enclosed an area equal to the size of 50 football pitches. It was impossible to take a photo that would have demonstrated what is left of it today, so instead I snapped a pic of a pic to show what it might have looked like in times gone by.  Today, it provided a lovely place to stroll high up on it's inner ramparts and we also had the pleasure of incredible far reaching views over many miles of the Dorset countryside, one of which distantly included our next venue.  

While we were there we also spotted this little Wheatear - fairly rare in Dorset!

So after lunch on the Forts Ramparts we set of for the spy glass shaped monument that is a memorial to Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy who is probably best known as the Captain of HMS Victory at The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

A Spy Glass with it's eye piece high in the sky!

The monument is 72 foot tall and was built out of Portland Stone in 1844 on the highest point of Black Down.  And from there, once again, we were treated to 360 degree magnificent views even from the base of the tower. But more locally we also spotted several craters that almost looked like a bomb had been dropped from a great height! Apparently, these were 'swallow holes' or 'Dolines' which are a feature formed when acid rainwater dissolves the underlying chalk causing it to give way! From the site there were also loads of walking paths but as the time was wearing on we've put them on our list for a return visit sometime in the future.

Thursday 14th October 2021 ☁⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

Today was another lovely day - we've been really lucky with the weather recently!  However, rather than going out and about we'd got some chores to do and then I wanted some time at home to play with my new toy!  For my birthday (6th Oct) I've treated myself to a new Samsung Tablet that's got a bigger screen and a much bigger memory than my old one!  But I'm a bit of a technophobe 😱 so I new getting it up and running would be a challenge for me, but with John's help it was soon accomplished.

Friday 15th October 2021☁⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

Yet another glorious day, and as our time is running out here in Dorset we wanted to do something memorable - and it certainly was!  Maybe one of our best walks so far in this area! 

Our ultimate goal for today, 'Dancing Ledge', was a repeat destination from a couple of weeks ago but this time we were going to approach it from the opposite direction, namely the old and pretty village of Worth Matravers.

We parked in the village carpark, paid our requested £2 donation and then admired a strange sculpture that stands in a field just behind it! I thought it looked a bit like Stonehenge but this one was made of wood!

Initially, our walk took us through the village and then we followed tracks until we reached the coast at 
Chapman's Pool from were we had breathtaking views back along the jagged chalk cliffs, and more distantly Portland and Chesil Beach. It would certainly be easy think that  UNESCO have added it to their list just because of it's natural beauty but it's probably more likely to be because this part of the coast represents many millions of years of Earth's history in it's geology.

An outline of our walk + a huge chunk between Seacombe and Dancing Ledge

Once we could tear our eyes away from the vista we continued our walk around St Aldhelm's Head but it soon became a bit of a challenge when we had to navigate across a deep chasm!   

It was 184 steps down + about 100 yards of downward slope .........

and then 218 back up to the top of the hill, and they were nearly all BIG stepsπŸ’¦πŸ’¦πŸ’¦ so as you might imagine we were a bit hot and bothered by the time we got there!

But someone had very kindly put a bench in a very convenient spot so we nabbed it and had a mo to recover!

St Aldhelm's 13th Century Chapel which stands on nearly the most southerly tip
of St Aldhelm's Head - one of the oldest churches in England

Then once we were on our way again (now walking on the western side of St St. Aldhelm's Head) we soon came across The Royal Marines Memorial with it's picnic bench and flower garden. 

And then came the National Coastwatch Station that is manned by volunteers and also a monument to the development of radar during World War II. 

An info board informed us that  professional coastguards used to man lookouts (such as these) all round our coast, but in early 1990 the government decided that it would be more cost-effective to close the lookouts and to rely on modern electronic devices!  Then tragedy struck, and  in 1994 a fishing boat went down with the loss of two lives near a recently closed lookout in Cornwall.  This resulted in a public meeting that found enough local voluntary support to re-open the Bass Point lookout, and thus the National Coastwatch Institution was born. More stations were added and they were all manned by volunteers contributing to over 200,000 hours each year.  Their job is to supply the 'Human Eyeball' that can spot a distress flare or an overturned boat in a way that our sophisticated technology cannot

Another plaque informed us that 'This memorial commemorates the Radar Research carried out at Worth Matravers from 1940 - 1942 which was crucial to the winning of the war and the Birth of Modern Telecommunications.

Our walk then took us on to Winspit Quarry which is now defunct but there was a huge amount of evidence of what used to go on in times gone by, and you would only have to trek slightly inland to find a quarry that is still in active use acquiring Portland Stone for future projects! 

Winspit Quarry
We nearly stopped for lunch in the quarry for lunch but all the good spots were already taken so we climbed another hill and found a comfy rock just above it.  Then once refreshed it was forwards and onwards through Seacombe Bottom and on to Dancing Ledge which was quite busy with people 'coasting' and absailing.  It was interesting to watch but not quite our cup of tea!

And after watching for a while all we had to do was make our way back to Worth Matravers, but rather than retracing our steps we once more headed steeply uphill and took a shorter route over higher ground.  Our walk had been quite a long and challenging one and when we got back into the village we observed these 3 sitting outside a pub!

I told John if he was feeling a bit ropey after all our exertions he could maybe join themπŸ˜‚

Saturday 16th October 2021⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

We were a bit undecided what to do on our penultimate day here at Wareham Forest - should we waste our day packing ready for our departure tomorrow or should we nip out somewhere?  In the end we compromised! No packing got done but I did a fair bit of cooking for the next few day's meals and this included a very nice Stilton and Broccoli soup which we scoffed half of for lunch.  And then we set off to visit what has become one of our favorite local places, that being RSPB's Arne Reserve.  

When we got there we decided to go down to the beach, but even though the tide was out there really wasn't much to see other than lots of gulls and an odd egret who seemed to be having a fair bit of luck with his fishing.  

So after a short while, and feeling a bit disappointed we decided to head over to the other side of the reserve to see if we'd have any better luck there.  However, on the way we came across a wonderful sight to behold in the form of a herd of 12 deer in a field very near to the path we were walking on. 

One of the does was really inquisitive and came trotting towards us but
the stag soon rounded her up!

And he was quite a big boy with a magnificent pair of .............antlers

And maybe a pair of something else he was putting to good use!

A few more of his harem 

So in the end our trip was well worthwhile, but after watching for a while we continued on our way to the quieter side of the reserve where we sat overlooking the tidal mud flats where all manner of water fowl were feeding. 

It proved to be a lovely peaceful place to sit and sip our coffee and much mince pies while watching avocets, shell ducks, herons and many others. 

Sunday 17th October 2021 ⛅⛅🌞🌞🌞🌞⛅⛅

Well, because we'd done nothing towards getting ready to leave yesterday it needed to be action stations this morning.  However, our onward journey was only going to take about 40 minuets so we didn't have to rush too much.  As usual I packed inside while John got things organised outside, then we whipped our awning down and packed the car.  Then it was back into the van for brunch......... and after that we sat twiddling our thumbs waiting for the clock to tick round to about 12 ish before we left!   

Why 12 ish,  well the CCC campsite we were heading for at Verwood wouldn't allow us on site until after 1pm, so as we didn't want to be waiting about in lay-bys etc we had to ensure our timing was right. 

And it mostly was!  We arrived at 12.50 and by 1 we were pitching up right next to the ready erected tents and that's perfect for when our kids and grand-kids come to join us for half term.  

Now we're all settled in for the next 15 nights and all we have to do is keep our fingers crossed that the weather is kind to us for at least some of the time. 

See you soon πŸ˜—