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Simons Challenge – Day 3

June 2, 2011

By Simon Cripps

Day 3 Wednesday

Breakfast TV promised a fine day so today I went commando, i.e. without the aid of rain gear to save weight. This stretch was expected to be just that – quite a stretch as the longest section of the route at a little over 50 miles according to Tony Bates’s calculations. Only three new reserves though because of the distance between them. The route would take me across the Blackmore Vale and then along the Dorset Downs. As most of the roads in the county seem to run north-south this meant a fair bit of zig-zagging and cycling on green lanes that you metal box drivers can’t negotiate (notice the holier-than-thou hypocrisy creeping in). I started the day in Somerset at East Coker, though I avoided the pub, it being early after all. Somerset, though not Dorset, does seem to have some redeeming features but it was time to head back across the de-milterised border into Dorset at Stoford. What an entrance it was down a gorge so deep it was like entering the county through a tunnel. It reminded me of the ancient roads around Rome and I wonder if that’s no coincidence given it is off the roman road from Yeovil.

Being born into Dorset.

Being born into Dorset.

Being born into Dorset. From Sherborne you head north up a steep open valley towards Sandford Orcas with beautiful views back over the town. As you stagger to the top you can see Holway Woods in the distance running along the ridge. Some people see a fine mixed woodland ahead, while other see just another hill to get up. Don’t go thinking you are there when you reach the bottom of the wood, because there is a very steep climb to the entrance. A similar trick was cruelly played on me at Hendover Coppice – see later.

Beautiful woods or another hill?

Beautiful woods or another hill? I was to meet DWT Trustee John Gaye at the reserve and hoped to be there first so he couldn’t see or picture me struggling up the hill, but no, fate was not kind. The roar of his Landcruiser indicated he would be looking down to me with a suitably smug expression of someone that has travelled the sensible way to the top. Fig Man and machine in glorious harmony. I like Holway Woods and have been there several times. I believe it is one of, if not the first, of DWT’s owned reserves. We have the masters and boys of Sherborne School to thank for the planting of a range of mixed deciduous trees. There is a nice walk through on both sides with great views out through the trees, but only of Somerset I’m afraid.

Man and machine in glorious harmony.

Man and machine in glorious harmony.

Trustee John Gaye at Holway After a swift lunch with John at a local pub I headed back into Sherborne and ended up aimlessly circling the town several times trying to break out of the one way system. Easy in a metal box but harder on two wheels. Sherborne town always looks to me as if it has been carved out of a single block of yellow stone (sandstone?). First the roads were chipped out of the block and then the houses were sculptured in. Clearly I needed carbohydrate at this point as insanity was setting in. I had an unexpected natural treat at Stockbridge Oak near Longburton. A whole verge of substantial aged oaks, one of which to my untrained eye seemed to be pretty ancient. Decades of conservation experience told me that as this was an oak and that I was in Stockbridge Oak then this could be said Stockbridge oak. The great verges theme continued further along nearer Hermitage where clearly some thought had been given to the value of verges as natural corridors.

Aptly named Stockbridge Oak.

Aptly named Stockbridge Oak.

Aptly named Stockbridge Oak. Cycling up past the friary at Hilfield I am sure our wardens played a cruel trick on me. At the foot of one of the hardest long hills on the whole route (up there with Abbotsbury) was a DWT reserve sign for Hendover Coppice. Aha! Made it easily – but oh no the entrance to the reserve and stamp just had to be at the top of the hill. Few hills in Dorset are both long and steep, but this is. It did though give me time to admire the banks to the reserve and that fantastic Allium smell. Hendover Coppice is a peaceful spot with a lovely mixed woodland. I didn’t realise there was some sort of bird hide in the middle of the wood. I can only guess this is Rob Brunt’s summer residence.

The Blunt summer residence

The Brunt summer residence

The Blunt summer residence Cutting from one north-south road to another near Minterne you travel along a truly green lane that cars can’t get down. Great views down the Cerne valley over Minterne to that beautiful country house of Brooklands.

Towards the Brooklands estate

Towards the Brooklands estate

Towards the Brooklands estate Another record has been set by my cycle ride. I must be the only person in history to get lost in Buckland Newton city centre. Despite tiredness, the rest of the cycle to Hilton village was lovely through wide open countryside so different from yesterday in W Dorset. With heaths tomorrow, Dorset really is an amazingly diverse county. Third and last reserve for today was Greenhill Down which Tony’s instructions said was half a mile up a track. He must have meant half a mile on Jupiter because this was a substantial climb almost needing crampons and rope. The reserve at the top was well worth the effort, like an oasis of calm – a sort of Bali High (in so many ways!). It was late in the day so I didn’t stop to search out the promised views. I recommend anybody descending at speed down the hill does so in a Challenger tank as I found that to be the safest way.

Assault course to Greenhill Down Reserve.

Assault course to Greenhill Down Reserve.

Assault course to Greenhill Down Reserve. Another good day. I preferred the more intensive, shorter stops of W Dorset than the long legs of this section, but I’m still in surprisingly good spirits (not pub related), though everyone seems happy to tell me how terrible I look (see Holway picture).

You can donate to Simon’s Challenge by following this link

One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris Senior permalink
    June 2, 2011 7:33 pm

    Your preference for West Dorset has been duly noted with appreciation Simon and my admiration for your determination to climb those hills is unbounded. Rather you than me, but I am looking forward to your next instalment.

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