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Hiking On The Hills

July 16, 2008

Today the intrepid V-Team ventured into the Purbeck Hills and put our map-reading skills to the test. We were checking the route of the up-coming ‘Walk For Wildlife’ sponsored walk which raises vital funds for the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

The V-Team today consisted of Alison, Georgie, Joanna, Lucie, Kerry-Ann and Stuart and once we had all fastened up our walking boots, we headed off into the hills for our walk. We had to take a van as well as the V-Team Truck as there were too many of us to fit in one vehicle.

 Our walk would be along a section of one of the routes for the ‘Walk For Wildlife’ fundraising walk, which takes place later on 21st September in the beautiful setting of the Purbeck Hills. There will be three routes to choose from this year, to coincide with the celebration of three decades of marine conservation at the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve at Kimmeridge Bay. To find out more about the walk, you can visit http://www.dorsetwildlife.co.uk/walk_for_wildlife.html. The stretch we walked was along the ridgeway between West Creech Hill (near Tyneham) and Corfe Castle and our task was to check that it was easy to follow and that there weren’t any obstructions, plus of course take in all the stunning scenery!

We started from the viewpoint on West Creech Hill and walked from there along the ridgeway, passing Grange Arch, an 18th century folly (if you want to find out more, you can visit http://www.follytowers.com/creechtxt.html).  It was a very hot day so we were constantly slapping on plenty of sunblock!  The ridgeway is an area of chalk grassland providing the perfect habitat for a variety of butterflies and wild flowers, so this was an ideal opportunity for Georgie, Jo and Stu to work on their wild flower assignment as part of their university course. We saw a lot of birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) along with harebells (Campanula glomerata), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and field scabious (Knautia arvensis), which is shown in the photo below.

The route we followed would take us from West Creech Hill, down through the village of Church Knowle in the valley and then back up the hills on the other side to the village of Kingston. Lucie’s clever plan was to park the V-Team Truck at the viewpoint and the other van at Kingston, so that we wouldn’t then have to walk all the way back. This was just as well, because we were enjoying ourselves so much that we walked too far along the ridge and missed the path to take us down into the valley! This was where we really got to use our navigation skills. We ended up having to follow some cow paths down the hillside which were pretty steep and very easy to lose your footing on – thankfully no one slipped or they would have sent the rest of us down the hillside! Once safely at the bottom of the hill, we found we had reached the right footpath and were able to make our way across the valley, making a note of all the overgrown nettles that would need to be cleared.

We all fell in love with Church Knowle village and decided we would quite happily live there in one of  the Purbeck stone cottages. As we walked through the village, we passed a boy who had set up a charity cake stall in his front garden to raise money for an organisation helping to protect snow leopards. So, keen to do our bit for conservation, we all bought one each (and very nice they were too!).

Even after those delicious Fairtrade chocolate crispy cakes, our rumbling stomachs told us it was time for some lunch – and no wonder we were hungry, as it was about 2:30pm! We found a nice field to sit in and settled ourselves down under an ancient pollarded oak tree and below is an example of one.

The practice of pollarding goes back many centuries and was carried out in order to protect trees from nearby grazing animals. Traditionally, the young shoots of a tree are cut back close to ground level during the dormant winter period to encourage lots of new growth in the spring. Repeated pollarding over the years results in a short, stocky trunk with lots of new top shoots. The wood that was cut also provided a useful source of firewood.

After lunch, we continued on our trek which was now mostly uphill and quite steep too! We went through a farm with some very friendly sheepdogs and had to watch where we walked as there was a lot of muddy slurry about. The lane leading out of the farm and up to the hillside was particularly messy and we narrowly avoided getting splattered when the farmer passed by on his quad bike with the two dogs riding behind in a trailer! Our route then led us into one of the many sunken lanes in the area – the path literally disappeared down in between a hedgerow and Lucie had to clear a way through for us as it had become quite overgrown. We then emerged on the edge of a field of corn, almost ripe enough to harvest.

By now the church tower at Kingston was clearly visible above the trees and we just had to cross a meadow and walk through a woodland area before we reached our van. Then it was back up to West Creech Hill. The only problems with the route had been where we lost the path just before Church Knowle and a few overgrown stretches, so that will be an excuse for us to do the walk again sometime. As it was Alison’s last day with us, Lucie had brought along a special picnic for the occasion, complete with plastic goblets for the lemonade! As we  sat on the grass with the views of the Purbeck Hills and Worbarrow Bay before us, it was a perfect end to the day and a chance to rest our aching feet after all that walking!

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