117: Cerne Abbas & near Bridport

OS Explorer map 117, Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis: Blandford Forum & Beaminster – I own this map, but had not been here before starting this blog. Visited for this post 30th April 2021. This is the first of three posts about a trip to Dorset with Vesper, also meeting Mother Dearest.

Google Maps location links: Shipton Gorge, Walditch, Bridport, Cerne Abbas, Buckland Newton

As I’m sure many readers will remember, early 2021 in the UK was spent under various restrictions due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The Dearest Progenitors were keen to go away on a holiday with me as soon as possible, and so hatched a plan for a trip to Dorset in April/May: they’d book a place to stay, hoping that it would be possible for us to go together. However, in case it was possible for people to travel but not to mix households indoors, I’d also book a cancellable place myself nearby, so that in such an eventuality, I could stay separately, but we could meet up outdoors during the day.

A very flowery field I found myself in on my walk in this map area on the Saturday!

This latter scenario is indeed what came to pass, so me staying separately from my parents was what we’d have to do. However, there were some further changes of plan: firstly, Vesper decided to come with me. Secondly and rather unfortunately, Father Dearest had a last-minute work crisis and wasn’t able to come at all, and because of this, Mother Dearest decided to come only for three days. We also because of this decided to swap holiday homes: the place I’d booked was a little studio-flat-type place, thinking I’d be alone; while the Dearest Progenitors had booked a rather large and luxurious holiday home, so it seemed to make sense – Vesper and I did rather get the good end of that deal!

The house we were staying in – i.e. the barn conversion at the front; you can also see another house peeking out from behind. I assure you the barn conversion did have windows; they were just on the other side.

Vesper and I arrived at this holiday house on a Friday afternoon, having driven down from our Cambridge home that day, with a stop-off in Oxford for a very pleasant picnic with our friend Millicent. [1] The house was in Shipton Gorge, a village a little to the east of Bridport, at the western end of Dorset. It was a really nice barn conversion sitting on top of a little hill, and we were very glad we’d gone for the swap! It was indeed very fancy, with lots of expensive-looking furniture, even if the decor was a little grey and soulless for my taste. The kitchen was astonishingly well-equipped: in my opinion a cheese plane is the only good way to cut cheese for a sandwich, but they’re quite rare – at least in Britain; I understand they’re more common in the Netherlands – so I’d brought my own; but the kitchen had one already!

Diagram showing the OS maps covering the area where we were staying. As you can see, the house was in theoverlap between maps 117 and OL15, but just missed also being in map 116. Now, I’ve visited map OL15 previously, so normally a visit to an overlap region would just count as another visit to OL15 rather than for the other map according to the rules. However, I also visited unique areas of maps 116 and 117 on this trip, but no unique areas of OL15, so I’m just going to write about maps 116 and 117.

We stayed there for several days, Friday to Wednesday, and it was a bit of a mixed-up trip. The whole thing was a holiday for me, but Vesper had only taken Friday, Wednesday and half of Tuesday as holiday, so would be working remotely on Monday and on Tuesday morning. Additionally, Mother Dearest would be around from Saturday to Monday; so all in all different bits of the trip were quite different to other bits! I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of the whole week as that would get rapidly rather tiresome, and will instead talk about the two trips out that I did during the week that were within this map area.

The first such trip I’d like to talk about took place on the Saturday morning, the morning after we’d arrived. Unfortunately Vesper was feeling quite ill that day, so I went out for a walk alone in the late morning (as Mother Dearest would be arriving to sit outside for some tea later in the day) – a circular walk, fairly short at just a couple of hours including a couple of long stretches of lying around relaxing, out westwards from the house in the Bridport direction.

A hill comes into view in Walditch!

Now, I’d been surprised during the latter part of the drive to see just how hilly this part of Dorset is. There aren’t big hills of the kind you’d get in the Pennines, of course, but the area we were in was still very hilly. I have to agree with Vesper that, while there can be perfectly pleasant flat countryside, it’s hills that make a landscape really good. I’d been in the pancake-land that is much of Cambridgeshire since mine and Vesper’s trip up to Scotland the previous summer, so this was a very welcome surprise.

West Bay, with the sea and cliffs

This walk took me first down a lovely tree-lined track into a little valley, up through the village of Walditch, and then along a cool little holloway up a little hill, from the top of which one could see down to Bridport, and to the sea and cliffs at West Bay. It was just a really lovely walk – there were cute lambs, a field that was incredibly densely packed with flowers, and it was bright and sunny without being too hot.

A cute farm in a cute valley. What more could you want?

The other excursion that I’ll describe to you took place the next day, and was somewhat longer. Vesper was fortunately feeling better by then, and so was able to join me and Mother Dearest for a walk at Cerne Abbas, in the eastern part of this map area. Vesper and I drove over and met Mother Dearest in a car park, after driving through the village several times due to some navigational confusion – the village was pretty, with lots of old cute houses, but packed with an entirely inappropriate amount of in-road parking for the narrow streets. They should really introduce permits or ban on-street parking or something.

Vesper, Mother Dearest and I out on our walk from Cerne Abbas

Now Cerne Abbas is famous for its Giant, a chalk hill figure, of rather uncertain age (could be Anglo-Saxon, could be 17th-century), which I’m sure has given generations of schoolchildren a good giggle due to his giant chalk erection. We decided not to walk up the hillside to exactly where the Giant sits, since Mother Dearest isn’t that good with steep inclines, and instead did a circuit of the valley bottom. It was a very nice walk! It was sunny, if not particularly warm, as we walked at first through some fields where we were passed by several equestrians, and then through some little woods and along a last bit of road back to the car park. (As it happened, the car park gave the best views of the Giant of anywhere on the walk!)

The Cerne Abbas Giant

We’d hoped to walk around the village itself too, however by the time we got back to the car park we had only ten minutes left before we had to leave to drive on to Buckland Newton, where we had booked to eat lunch outside a pub. We therefore satisfied ourselves with just a two-minute visit to the site of Cerne Abbey and St Augustine’s Well.

Cerne Abbas has another notable link for me. As any long-time blog readers might know, three or four years ago I was a postgraduate student, studying for a master’s degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. My master’s dissertation had the title “Ælfrīc’s Colloquy and Latin Learning in Anglo-Saxon England”. You can read a bit about that dissertation in the first footnote to my Bury St Edmunds post, in which I wrote about a trip taken just after I’d handed in that dissertation – goodness, I’ve been doing this blog a fair while now – and so took the opportunity to describe it a bit. Now, Ælfrīc, grammarian and teacher extraordinaire, is usually called Ælfrīc of Eynsham, after the monastery over which he became abbot later in his life; however before Eynsham, he was abbot of Cerne Abbas. It was probably at Cerne that he wrote the Colloquy, the text that was the focus of my study.

The Abbey house at Cerne: Cerne once had a big old Benedictine abbey of Anglo-Saxon origins; the current house was built over most of the medieval abbey buildings, though a few bits remain here and there.

So, as you might expect, Cerne has some interesting resonances for me; while I was there, I was walking in the very place where for twenty years lived the man whose thoughts and works I spent a year trying to understand. However, there’s a bit of an anticlimax here: while I was at Cerne, I didn’t realise this at all! It having been a few years since I’d studied him, I completely failed to remember Cerne’s Ælfrīc connection until weeks after my visit – how silly of me! I now sort of want to go back, to visit while knowing what the place is!

Our lunch spot for the day was the Gaggle of Geese pub in Buckland Newton, and all details of the pub aside, was a notable occasion for being the first time that I’d eaten from a pub or restaurant in about 8 months (due to the pandemic restrictions) – for Vesper it had been even longer, over a year! The place was very nice – as well as the pub (which was, under the current restrictions, only serving outdoors), the place had a little campsite, a double-decker bus that they’d somehow acquired and turned into a children’s play area, and most excitingly, a population of very cute little pygmy goats! (I do love goats.)

Vesper and I were delighted when this dog, whom we think belongs to the pub, graced our table with its presence for several minutes!

Additionally, there were something like fifteen dogs within view, so Vesper and I of course had a good time admiring them as we awaited then ate our food. Due to the Sunday lunch menu, there were unfortunately not any particularly inspiring vegetarian options, but I was nonetheless very satisfied with my baked camembert, chips and salad – having taken the age-old “starter and two sides” approach to making one’s own vegetarian main course.

And that’s it! We returned from the pub after admiring the goats for a bit, and had some tea outside our holiday house for a bit. We did of course do other things in this map area during the holiday – principally a lot of relaxing in and around the house – but I think I’ll skip describing those in detail. My next post will be about map 116, and tell you about a cliffside walk that Vesper and I did on the Tuesday!

[1] A highlight of the latter part of the drive was encountering the many delightful place-names related to the River Piddle: Puddletown, Tolpuddle, Affpuddle, and Piddlehinton being just a few of these!

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