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Simons Challenge- Day 2

June 1, 2011

By Simon Cripps
Dorset Wildlife Trust Chief Executive

Day 2 – Tuesday

A Dorset motorway

A Dorset motorway

Before we start I need to know who designed West Dorset’s road network? Clearly whoever they were they had no understanding of height, no appreciation of cyclists, and couldn’t measure gradients. Surely it should be possible to plot a course around a hill rather than run over the peak and then down to the very bottom of every valley, some of which are lower than the continental shelf.
I had expected this day to be the hilliest and the most difficult and was dreading it given my dodgy leg episode yesterday. It was however a lovely day. Though hilly it wasn’t as difficult as yesterday because I spend half my time off my bike pushing, or poring over maps to find elusive reserves.

Countryside and coast

Countryside and coast

From the pub at Swyre, where I finished yesterday (you’ll notice a recurring theme of finishing at pubs this week) I set-off manfully up the hill to Loders. The journey wasn’t all climb as you follow the NCR along the meadows at the side of the R. Bride. A lovely valley with tantalising views of both countryside and the coastal cliffs in the distance. So speedy was I along this flat bit that I missed the turning to Shipton Gorge and had to double back. Whilst the route missed the really steep bit of the ridge there was still quite a climb to Uploders and then Loders.
Compared with yesterday the fields in W Dorset are generally far smaller with more hedgerows and more variability in habitat. With the twee villages as well, it really does look like old England so beloved of Americans and some royalty. The strip lynchets around Uploders, though no longer used for the serfs of the village, are still a reminder of very old England. I wasn’t sure if serfs still exist in the area.

Spot the entrance (coming up the hill)

Spot the entrance (coming up the hill)

In addition to the pubs trend, another trend for the day was an inability to find our reserves. This was partly due to my inability to read a map, despite my middle names of Marco Polo, and the skill of our wardens in camouflaging the entrances. Peascombe was a case in point. It took a farmer, a thatcher and our W Dorset manager to locate it for me, in order of diminishing usefulness. Once located it didn’t look like the guide suggested as I couldn’t see the meadow for the trees to paraphrase. Good luck finding that one!

Maurits attacking stuff

Maurits attacking stuff

Between Peascombe and Powerstock village is the altogether inappropriately named Welcome Hill. A case in point about roads built over hills rather than around them (see whinge above). Just outside of the village is Kings Lane Community Orchard, with fabulous remnants of old cider apple trees. They are in different states of decay and so are great for invertebrates. The reserve stretches down to the River Mangerton where otters are known to live. I met W Dorset warden Maurits Fontain who told me what he was up to there. This reserve was one of the weirder purchases followed by the ‘Homes under the Hammer’ TV programme, more used to renovating semis in Dudley.
Be warned, between Powerstock and South Poorton is genuinely the steepest hill with a road on I’ve ever seen. I’ve skied down black runs less challenging than Swyre Hill. As I came on it, it was more like Swear Hill.

Ants love South Poorton

Ants love South Poorton

South Poorton Reserve, jointly owned with the Grasslands Trust, is a grassland site which a Natural England specialist called ‘stunning’ – praise indeed. I chose this spot to relax and have my lunch. Cycling is such a better way to see wildlife and sights around you than breezing through in a car. Even so, as I sat there looking over the valley, I was amazed at how as your pace slows and you get your eye in, how much wildlife comes into view that wasn’t obvious through my red haze of hill cycling: two buzzards (I guess) circling on thermals, rabbits in a very far field, butterflies and beetles close to hand, otters gambolling in the stream. OK I didn’t see otters, but you get the picture.
Just along the ridge is Loscombe Reserve. This unimproved (unfertilised) grassland is tucked away in a shy valley. Its dampness gives rise to a range of water loving plants and insects. Taking advice I didn’t risk traversing the Green Lane at the end of the reserve.

Oh for heaven's sake!

Oh for heaven's sake!

Powerstock Common is one of DWT’s jewels and it’s not hard to see why. With a range of habitats including woodlands, grassy areas and hedges, it is absolutely teeming with butterflies, birds and important plants. It’s a large reserve which takes a great deal of effort to manage by our two and four legged wardens. On part of the reserve DWT have been removing inappropriately planted conifers, which hasn’t been popular with everyone, but is doing so much to restore the area. The reserve is popular with the public, but I had to wonder who keeps stealing the 42todo stamp. What on Earth use does an orienteering stamp have that we haven’t thought of?

Guess why its Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve?

Guess why its Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve?

Another jewel in DWT’s crown is Kingcombe Meadows Reserve which looks wonderful at this time of year. The sheer size and quality of the flower-rich meadows takes your breath away (even if you don’t have hay fever). The W Dorset team and their volunteers do a fantastic, and very demanding job of managing it to such a high standard. It has to be one of the finest reserves of its type anywhere in the country, so well done all! I spoke to warden Ian Geddes about how they do it.

Ian is obscenely fit and a rudely expert cyclist so I was relieved to hear work commitments had prevented him from cycling with me. He’d have had to cycle backwards to make it interesting.
Also at Kingcombe is the The Kingcombe Centre, recently acquired by DWT. It hosts a wide range of great courses year-round and has fabulous catering. Purely to ensure quality was being maintained I sampled a couple of cakes and can vouch for their high standards.

Ian with a sizeable erection pole.

Ian with a sizeable erection pole.

Everybody told me Michael’s Peace would be the hardest reserve to find and they weren’t kidding. I used up both cakes worth of energy locating what I think was the reserve, but was far from sure.
Bracketts Coppice is an ancient woodland sloping down to a fast flowing stream. DWT has done a huge amount of restoration there and it is beginning to show. Bits look rather stripped out, but the natural recovery will take time. I saw a flock of wagtails showing their approval of the management regime.

Hibbitts Wood

Hibbitts Wood

Hibbitts Woods was my last stop today. I have a special liking for this wood, a short distance from King John’s hunting lodge, because I visited it with Rob Brunt before it was very generously left to DWT in the will of Muriel and Richard Hibbitt. So pleased were we with the acquisition that we renamed it Hibbitts Wood as a lasting, living memorial. Don’t forget it’s on both sides of the road and is a great place to see badger setts.
I finished the day at East Coker to save me some time tomorrow. The route strays into Somerset at this point. My son asked if Somerset Wildlife Trust were at the border in their ‘landies’ with fence poles to keep me out. By way of a sort of prisoner exchange programme we would be prepared to allow SWT staff to enter Dorset should they wish.
A great day, really enjoyable because of the variability of countryside, the fabulous reserves and nice weather. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Simon

The only reservoir in the country with water in

The only reservoir in the country with water in

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 2, 2011 2:46 pm

    Well done, Simon. It is a promising start. I also cycle to support wildlife. You have spotted something I have noticed many times. On the quiet roads and lanes, every now and again there can be interaction with birds and other wildlife such as your sighting of buzzards. Cycling is such a great way to feel close to nature so being involved with wildlife and wild places.

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