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Chalk Walk - narrative
Dorchester to Blandford Forum


I had spent the winter of 2014-15 in Laos, and was wanting to be out in English nature again; so I asked Jeremy to find a short walk and he came up with this. We'd done something similar along Cranbourne Chase in April 2014, so another Dorset chalk walk seemed appealing; including some of the Wessex Ridgeway, it did indeed fulfil my wish for fresh air and open countryside, with the special pleasures of walking in the spring.

DAY 1. Dorchester to Cerne Abbas.
The morning train to Dorchester and walking through town on the pedestrian street, down to the river, made a very easy beginning. It was a lovely sunny day, we crossed a foot-bridge, saw signs to The Sun Inn and had lunch in their garden. Across the field, there was no sign of the Medieval Village marked on the map, but we passed Wolfeton Manor. Some of the Charminster houses were honey-coloured Cotswold stone. With lots of chalk, all around, the river waters were very clear. The gently undulating countryside had grass fields and basically bare trees, just showing hints of green. Near Charlton Down there was a fine line of trees, like an Avenue, and then a large field of oil-seed rape, the flowers just showing yellow. The path petered out near Forston Grange, but we found a way round it and down to the road at Forston.

After a mile of road walking, at the entry to Godmanstone, we came across the Green Valley Organic Farm cafe, with real Italian coffee and a chatty shop man, so we had a welcome rest. The lovely path by the River Cerne took us up to Nether Cerne. Soon the path got muddy, and at Pound Farm we found ourselves in a yard full of a huge herd of cows, waiting to be milked. They were more nervous of us than we of them, but after that brief frisson we were pleased to be back on the primrose path, with more primroses than we'd ever seen. With celandines and violets too, it was nearly a riot of spring flowers. All this was beautifullly accompanied by a wonderfuly vocal collection of birds. We passed some dormant watercress-beds and arrived at Cerne Abbas, actually quite a small village, with generally elegant houses, without the bijoux-quality of many Cotswold towns. There was a lovely mixture of colours looking pretty in the slanting evening sunlight: light green flowing willows, darker firs, prunus blossom, and translucent blue sky.

DAY 2. Cerne Abbas to Ibberton.
We started by visiting the viewpoint facing the Cerne Giant; the light was in the wrong direction for best appreciation, but we could see enough of the saucy details to understand why it's a magnet to visitors and the life-blood of the village. We walked along, underneath it, and on to a very pretty balcony path, with a lovely view across the valley; the ploughed, oatmeal chalk fields below contrasted with the green hills around, and the as-yet bare trees. We joined the Wessex Ridgeway at the Giant's Head Farm. The day was hazy; though the sun shone all day and the sky was blue, it was never completely clear. Much of the time we were surrounded by gently undulating hills, with the elegant curves of chalk downland and villages with Olde English names. We went astray following 'Wessex Ridgeway Farm Walk' signs, but were put straight by a local landowner.

At Ivest Wood Jeremy glimpsed a couple of deer, but they'd gone by the time I arrived. We paused for a picnic lunch soon after Dorsetshire Gap, with a fine rolling view, watching a long line of cows ambling slowly into a farm, ready for milking. There were three seriously muddy patches around Crockers Farm, which we navigated by clutching the pathside brambles. Various (probably Roman) remains suggested habitation from much earlier centuries. Bulbarrow Hill was the last climb of the day, taking us marginally higher than before; however the haze prevailed, so the views were no wider. There was as much birdsong as yesterday and lots of pheasants, which sometimes flew suddenly out of the grass in front of us, as we disturbed them. In the whole day, we hadn't passed through any villages, central Dorset seemed made of farms; only near the end did we see lambs and hardly any walkers. At the end, it was down the hill, and into Ibberton.

DAY 3. Ibberton to Blandford Forum.
A cloudy morning felt different from yesteray. We clambered up the hill, to get back on the Ridegway, but no views today: the cloud was too thick, and indeed turned to rain bad enough for us to put on all our waterproofs. However, it didn't last long and by the time we got to Okeford Hill, the skies were clearing. We turned S.E. and walked down beside Bonsley Common; there were many different trees, a mixture of green firs and bare deciduous woods, frequently with twisting branches in aesthetic shapes. We met the Jubilee Trail and went Eastwards, through various farms and more woods. Through the village of Durweston, a footbridge took us across the surprisingly full River Stour, and then on up to the White Horse at Stourpaine. After a light lunch, it was back across the river to join the Stour Valley Way. This took us up Bryanston School's grand drive, with several posh cars delivering their children to school. The Way skirted the school's grounds, avoiding the river and finally, with increasing clumps of daffodils, it descended towards Blandford Forum, back to 'civilization': a town dominated by traffic.

The local bus took us into Salisbury, which felt (in comparison) more pedestrian-friendly, and also a very multi-cultured place. A couple of girls were singing American-Thai pop karaoke in the Market Square, which reminded me of Laos. Next we went to the Cathedral, the clean exterior and elegant, slim spire brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun. After more river walking (along the Avon), we met friends for a good Indian meal at Arzoo restaurant - yes indeed, a town of many cultures.

The particular pleasures of this Spring walk included a profusion of primroses, brilliant yellow gorse and lovely daffodils. The latent, expectant trees contrasted with the green fields, frequently with young wheat shoots, and the natural colours of the earth. We were surprised at how few other people we met, with the mostly good weather, it delivered beautifully on the great outdoors. Rural Dorset's chalk downs, curving valleys and broad views gave us three enjoyable walking days and I felt I'd returned home.

© Diana Ambache 2015