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Friday, 21 November 2014

From Glitz to gushers -The story of Kimmeridge Shale

There is a Dorset industry at least as old as farming stretching back in one form or another to the Iron Age.
Thousands of years ago hairy entrepreneurs beavered away at the Purbeck beauty spot of Kimmeridge carving and turning beautiful objects that found a market across the country.
For it is here that a dark seam of bituminous oilshale, known locally as blackstone, outcropped from the low cliffs enclosing the bay. 
Iron age Kimmeridge shale bowl

Cut and polished with beeswax it closely resembled jet, that black shiny stuff beloved by Victorian jewellers. 
Evidence of these early bling manufacturers once littered the beach in the form of discarded cores from worked shale known locally as Kimmeridge coal money.
Kimmeridge coal money

With the arrival of Rome there were two 'factories' producing objects that have cropped up as far away as Hadrian's wall...these vary from simple bracelets to gold studded mace heads while in the County Museum can be found a delicately carved shale table leg.
Roman shale table leg

With the departure of the Romans the shale that made locals look good now made them feel warm. The oil impregnated shale was used as fuel even though it produced highly toxic fumes. This continued down to Victorian times when the potential of oil-bearing rock was recognised with the founding in 1848 of the catchily entitled Bituminous Shale Company in Weymouth which processed the shale to produce paraffin. Unfortunately, it also produced wafts of sulphurous fumes and was abandoned in the 1850s.
This wasn't the end of the story...where Texas boldly swaggered Kimmeridge modestly followed. 
The early 20th century saw attempts at oil extraction leading to Dorset's first gusher in 1968.  Soon a new animal stood silhouetted in the Dorset landscape, the nodding donkey. Dorset's first oil well, boringly, but descriptively called 'Well One', which was soon extracting 28 million gallons of crude a year.
Don't worry worry though, dropping output now means that Wareham is unlikely ever to become Wallas or Wessex, Wexas...

Photo.  by Huligan0

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Cross and Hand

Cross and Hand complete with present day offerings

On a lonely hill above the village of Batcombe a humble chalk pillar stands close to the roadside verge. For reasons unknown it has been fenced in by authorities perhaps fearing possible escape or kidnap by renegade livestock.
Even though it is so unprepossessing in appearance it has been around way longer than you or fact no one really knows its significance; while its name, the Cross and Hand refers to no remaining visible decoration.
It could be Medieval or it could be even Roman; a spare pillar from a villa, or maybe a humble boundary marker.
The Cross and Hand, though, has literary pretentions as Hardy gave it a walk-on role role in his novel, 'Tess of the D'urbervilles'.
Tess's seducer Alec D'Urber ville forces her to... 'put your hand on that stone hand and swear you will never tempt me by your charms or ways.'

It makes a focal point for a glorious off-road ride or walk (click here) best taken at drier times of the year.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The day of the Dialects

Scouser, Yorkshman, Geordie all own their accents with pride while here down south a local accent is worn almost as a badge of shame. Why? tell me.
A glance at the short list below gives a scrumberbumtious (I made that one up...) sample of the rich treasury of Dorset dialect that is slowly fading into obscurity. 

A-stogged- with feet stuck fast in clay

Ballywrag - scold.

Bandy - a long stick with a bent end to beat abroad cow-dung.

Blather - a bladder

Blind-buck o’ Davy- blindman’s buff.

Chanke - a wide chink.

Charm - a noise as of many voices.

Clum - to handle clumsily

Croop, Croopy-down -
 to bend down the body; to stoop very low

Dummet - dusk.

Dunch -
 dull of hearing, or mind.

Gnang - to mock one with jaw waggings, and noisy sounds.

Hidybuck - hide-and-seek

Jack-o’-lent - a man-like scarecrow.

Kapple cow - a cow with a white muzzle.

Libbets - loose-hanging rags.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Town Mill, Lyme Regis

In the lemming-like rush to the sea The Town Mill in Lyme is often overlooked. Hidden in the back streets of the old town it needs just that bit of effort to find but it's well worth it.

Snuggled around a cobbled courtyard, the working mill was first recorded in the Domesday book (of course) and continued grinding away until 1926. It remained empty and derelict until the inevitable plans to demolish and replace it with a carpark in 1991 inspired enthusiastic Lymers to band together to restore it. The result of ten years dedication was finally unveiled by John Fowles in 2001.

Now, once more the wheel clunks, thunks and turns; vibrating the whole structure making it feel like a living thing. Other living things, enthusiastic volunteer millers, meanwhile explain the mysterious workings that turn grain into the staff of life.
The rambling ancillary buildings are occupied by small craft businesses and a cafe as well as hosting not one, not two, but three galleries while behind it  lies an intimate little garden based on the original mill plans.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The forgotten world of the Lyme Regis landslip

                                                                                                                   Illustration by David Juniper
The open coast of Lyme Bay, with its fields, cliffs, and beaches, is like a sunny balcony facing south. This ends at Lyme town, tight up against the western end of Dorset. Beyond here, the way is blocked by a wilderness, which has been called the only jungle in England

It is almost impassable, though not quite: there is a precarious path. With a little imagination you could turn this into a fairy story: a seaside kingdom, ending at a mysterious forest, through which an adventurer penetrates to discover another land!

The Undercliff is a five-mile section of coast where the clifftops stand well inland, because the ground has broken away and falls in a long jumble to the sea. Because the layers of rock slope seaward and are lubricated by water, they keep slipping down over each other, rather like a tilted pack of cards.
The greatest slip happened on Christmas Day in 1839. Twenty acres of farmland split away, moving 300 feet out and down, and off the shore a reef was pushed up. The details were well studied by William Conybeare, a great geologist who happened to be vicar of Axminster. The reef disappeared, but the detached block, known as Goat Island, still had a sown wheat field on top, which next August was reaped by girls dressed as nymphs; and parties of visitors came to view the scene and take tea at Landslip Cottage. You can still see Goat Island and the Great Chasm behind it, though now obscured by trees.

In earlier times a small population was scattered through the Undercliff. There were grazing sheep and rabbits, charcoal-burners, several cottages. Over the past century it has been one of the few parts of England to become more wild instead of less. Perhaps it is haunted by its departed folk, and by the French Lieutenant’s Woman (Sarah Woodruff) who used to go walking in it, and the German prisoner of war said to have hidden out here, and whoever left the six-months-abandoned tent found by two children in 2003?

Under the forest canopy of oaks and ashes there is dense vegetation, ivy, wild garlic, horsetails, duckweed, badgers, foxes, adders, butterflies; 400 species of wildflowers have been recorded; various searches found 254 fresh-water invertebrates, 150 kinds of fly and wasp in five days, 89 kinds of lichen in one day.

At the Lyme end there are several ways in. From Monmouth Beach a path climbs beside a stream. From the Holmbush car park, a walk marked by pines joins the first path in a field, and they emerge onto a grassy hillside with a seat and a view down over the Cobb. From Ware Lane there is another footpath, also a gravel road. Last and most spectacular, from the upper end of Ware Lane a path goes past Ware Farm to the top of a fantastic spire called Chimney Rock. Here you are among the treetops, and you descend winding steps into their shadows.

All these ways unite in what is at first a wide earthen avenue into the forest. It doesn’t stay this easy! It becomes a thread along the tops of knife-edge ridges, between crevasses some of which are filled with bright green pools; later, it clambers with steep steps in and out of gullies. Much of the time you cannot see the sea, though it is not far below. About two miles in, you pass an old pumping station, once used to supply Lyme with spring-water.

Half way along, if you’ have had enough, you can take an easy path up a ravine, to emerge among the buildings of the Rousdon estate. This started as a mansion built by the rich grocer Sir Henry Peek; later it was Allhallows School. Peek had water pumped up from the Undercliff to fill his ornamental lakes; and when an Italian ship sank in the bay he had its cargo of marble statuary hauled up by donkeys to decorate his house.

But if you press on, after another mile and a half you are passing along the seaward flank of Goat Island. The path is sometimes runs close to the sea, sometimes steeply higher, and eventually it curves to brings you out of the Undercliff, to the top of a bright green valley, now filled by a golf course, down which there is a marvellous view across the estuary of the Axe to the tall white cliff between Seaton and Beer. From Seaton you could catch a bus back to Lyme.
By Guy Ottewell
Since Guy wrote this piece the dire weather of early 2014 means this fascinating classic walk is closed due to slippage. Hopefully it will reopen soon. I.D.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

Dorset walks - A stroll between Poundbury and Maiden Castle

Here is a small exercise in compare and contrast. 
A footpath conveniently meanders across the fields joining the brand spanking new settlement of Poundbury to the the rather more ancient one of Maiden Castle.

Its a good little hike especially if you have visitors that need entertaining. It's just a paltry forty minutes each way with loads to interest at both ends, and a plethora of cafes at Poundbury.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dorchester arise!

Dorchester, once a sleepy market town, is undergoing a radical transformation.
At one end lies Poundbury, Prince Charles' venture into the vernacular,  while at the other end, and in complete contrast, stands Dorchester Moderne otherwise known as Brewery Square. 
The centrepiece of this radical development is a group of beautiful Victorian brewery buildings. These have been transformed into contemporary apartments while around them have been created a variety of contemporary buildings and spaces.
 At a stroke Dorchester has been thrust into the 21st century with the creation of a plethora of restaurants, a cinema, a theatre, a large square and a new station. It's definitely something that the town needed.
The quality of the whole development is superb though the modern stuff is your typical mall architecture. It has its use though in creating a striking counterpoint to the Victorian buildings, which, needless to say, win hands down.
The restaurants, are the usual suspects, no local establishments are in evidence, but then places such as Carluccio's do what they do well and for a reasonable price...which is more than can be said for many of Dorset's native eateries.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Poundbury Pt. 1

Once upon a time there was a prince who dreamed an impossible dream, to build a magical town; a town where harmony, proportion and humanity reigned for ever and ever. 
The Arts and Crafts Brownsword Hall

That prince was named Charles; the town, Poundbury. As to whether it is a fairytale or a nightmare, the jury remains firmly divided down the middle.
The mere mention of the place transforms normally sane people into po-faced armchair architects...while architects...well they simply turn purple and expire in a puff off self righteous hot air.
Bread and coffee

Attitudes are invariable coloured by the man rather than the vision; but given that his dream is so benign, it is a mystery as to why people become so hot under the collar.
The development on the edge of Dorchester is now in its twenty first year and when completed in 2023 will contain 2,500 new homes and a population of 5000; increasing the population of Dorchester by a quarter.
Superdoopermarket - the Waitrose building

The  master plan never had any pretence to be architecturally cutting edge. The novel element to the scheme was far more subtle, to create a development where factories, private dwellings, social housing and retail were carefully integrated with the consequence that car dependency was to be dramatically reduced. Given Charles green credentials there is even an anaerobic digester chugging away somewhere producing gas for up to 25,000 homes.
Wandering Poundbury's streets makes you appreciate just how ambitious the scheme is in fact you can quite easily get lost in its expanse, while the deft use of proportion and detail lends the place wit, style and humanity which most (all?) new domestic developments lack. 
Stubby columns of the Brownsword Hall
Nothing is perfect though; the shops are of a niche variety; the interiors are often cramped and lacking the style and quality of the exteriors while there still seems to be an over-reliance on gas guzzlers. 
...Buts that's enough of my take a saunter around the development, partake of latte (or royaltea) at Olives Et Al then lay aside vain prejudice then form your own right royal opinion.
The influence of Burns - the fire station

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Off the beaten track - Sandsfoot Castle

Just a mile or so from the Gor Blimey that is Weymouth is an enchanted spot that remains forever peaceful. 
Sandsfoot Castle and Gardens is the preserve of the locals and has wide and airy views over the waters of Portland Harbour to Portland itself.

The castle ruins, though artily perched on a low cliff next to the water's edge, can't by any stretch of the imagination be called picturesque, though the setting makes up for this.
It is one of two fortifications built by well known fatty Henry VIII in 1547 on either side of Portland Harbour in response to the threat from Catholic Spain. It was constructed with stone taken from the newly dissolved abbeys at a cost of going on £4,000.00 (around 1.5 million today) never actually saw action (don't tell the kids) and by the end of the 17c it was already a ruin, its stone robbed in turn to build Weymouth Bridge. By 1930 was closed to the public.

Recently the Heritage Lottery stepped in to help restore it so that once more it is possible to wander amongst the remaining stone work and peer though gun ports checking out the Spaniards as the defenders once did.

The gardens, landscaped Torquay municipal style, are a pleasant place to sit and, guess what?...the last part in the heavenly jigsaw... lattes are on hand in the ubiquitous tearoom.

A short wander downhill brings you to a humble little beach,
 again the preserve of a few locals and the odd dog walker or kayaker.
Those pesky Spaniards shall not pass...