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Reading the Landscape

Bridport to Dorchester (A35)

Otb  Male  Dorset 26-Feb-2019 23:53 Message #4736218
I’ll steer shy of saying most people but how many folk consider, contemplate or otherwise read the landscape when they turn the ignition key, board a bus or, otherwise, begin a trip from A to B?

Let us just say many folk don’t appreciate the visions before them.

My own creative Beachy outlook on life, adopting a Walter Mitty style outlook on the glorious experience of being human, refuses to settle, merely, upon some superficial, skating across the top of a pond experience when it comes to viewing and mentally recording the world I inhabit.

You won’t find this “time travelling” account of the journey I describe anywhere on earth … because it has come straight out of my Google free personal memory. :-)

The Experience

On this occasion let’s take the bus from Bridport to Dorchester and lets NOT just tolerate the mundane journey, (despite the amazing default scenery), as a laborious necessity but read the landscape as a historian or archaeologist.

Leaving Bridport bus station, travelling through town, we pass a charity shop that used to be The George Inn where, dressed as a servant, the fugitive King Charles the 2nd took a meal before escaping enemy forces out to capture him.

We then travel up East Road noting a huge slab of stone on the outskirts, marking the route King Charles the 2nd took while escaping his enemies in the troubles of the civil war of 1651.

As the road levels out, we pass, on our right, the 3000 BC Bronze Age hillfort of Shipton Hill, so names because its very shape looks akin to a boat upturned on the West Dorset landscape.

Tackling the steep incline of Askers, a high natural ridge, looking left, we observe the vision of Eggardon Hill, an Iron Age hill fort occupied by the Durotriges, the tribal folk of ancient Britain’s West Dorset region around the time that Emperor Vaspasian invaded Britain in 43AD.

Emporor Gaius Julius Caesar had tried to invade Britian nearly 100 years prior (twice) but had missed locating any suitable port. (Other than Kent … briefly).

As we traverse the heady heights of Askers ridgeway, to our left, (and right), while also viewing the whole of Lyme bay ocean in the distance, we witness the strip lynchets carved out in the sloping hillsides, evidence of 3000 year old agricultural practices of turning all available (steep) land into tiered levels suitable to grow crops.

Thus, even only into 5 miles of our bus journey to Dorchester, while some others, (most folk), are only experiencing some mundane journey to work or whatever, I am soaking up a vision,(and the mental, stimulating thoughts), of just what this landscape is radiating … in the form of a visible time machine delivering me, at least, a sense of what an incredible message my landscape is delivering me.
Otb  Male  Dorset 26-Feb-2019 23:59 Message #4736219
Soon, we are dropping down towards Winterbourne Abbas but not before I spot a huge standing stone sitting entirely alone amongst an otherwise massive field of wheat or barley.

The imposing standing stone is a 3000 year old enigma … still respected … still standing … despite being surrounded by a 21st century field of harvest.

And … prior to entering Winterbourne Abbas, ahead in the distance, a saucer shaped domed crop mark with circular gully, (indicating an ancient 3000 BC Bronze Age burial mound), serves to prepare me for a whole scattered series of, (slightly younger, slightly less imposing), Iron Age domed shaped tumuli burial mounds littering the whole immediate area for a straight couple of miles.

On the approach to Winterbourne, looking right, we can witness the “Seven Sisters”, a group of 6ft ancient stones, (now enclosed in Victorian fencing), representing some seriously important standing stones … though stones we will never decipher as far as ancient meaning is concerned.

At this point the bus is diverted South, loosely towards Weymouth but this route takes passengers to something none of them should miss or be ignorant of.

The MASSIVE Iron Age hillfort of Maiden Castle, the biggest Iron Age hill fort in Europe. Though, as you might guess, most passengers don't even know what they might be looking at. :-(

On entering the outskirts of Dorchester, having passed through the abortion that is Prince Charles personal little architectural experiment called Poundbury village, (a mish mash of 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century caricature architectural representations of design), some bus passengers might embark at Maumbury Rings, once an ancient Neolithic henge but, later, turned into a Roman amphitheatre.

But there …

I’m just sharing what I see on a mundane, routine trip from Bridport to Dorchester. :-)

I don’t know how many other souls see what I see.

How about you?

Do any of you have a built in time machine like mine?

Do you see dead people, past civilisations or history in the landscape?

P.S If you like my particular slant on “viewing the landscape”, just say and I’ll share more trips back in time. :-)
BunnyGirl  Female  Buckinghamshire 27-Feb-2019 06:16 Message #4736224
I love history and knowing what been been going on in the district where i live but no one round here
seem to,know anything. I know we have a David Bowie Statue and Oliver Cromwell huge statue in thr
marker square of Aylesbury. And i think several pubs had been taverns for the highway men.
But please continue with your knowledge and sharing on 'viewing the landscape' and i'll share more
trips back in time :-)
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 27-Feb-2019 11:16 Message #4736234
You might enjoy Francis Prior's book on readin the landscape SoB.

I'm another with a time machine in my head, when Monty and I go for our regular walks by the Inland Sea, its so still and quiet, (when RAF Valley isn't flying), I walk around a bend and almost see Viking longships moored in the coves, we know the Vikings were here, but being so mobile just not exactly where. Where I used to live more or less overlooked the best guess landing site for the Romans when they came to slaughter the Druids, what must it of been like then, to be an island resident and know you were going to be slaughtered or sold into slavery? No ones really quite sure what Anglesey was to the Druids, was it a college, a retreat, or what? All we really know is the Romans came here to slaughter those leading the resistance, those who's religion and politics were so different and maybe so similar to Rome's. There are little roads that are so straight and old I think they must be Roman, they seem to make squares in the landscape so I wonder if they were estate boundaries?

There's sacred lakes and pools here, one quite famous, where slave chains were found, they've been dated to Roman times, maybe someone who was liberated and made his chains into an offering in thanks for his delieverance?

When I look at the land and sea I don't see the nothingness that so many see, I see the busyness of the past when our waterways were busy with craft both local and international, at Copper Mountain how many different nationalities would I have encountered? It was a big trade site, very high status, what goods would I have been able to buy or trade?

I often pick a period in history and think about what I'd take with me if I was told I had a day to pack for a one way trip to the past and a budgt of £100? Theres the obvious stuff like anti-biotics and common medicines, but I'd have a whizz around the spice section of our local Indian shop and buy loads of pepper and nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise and ginger, things that I could sell so as to survive. We think of something like pepper as so common place we forget that terms like "a peppercorn rent" came from the value of spices, that what we could get for a few pence in a corner shop would be a years rent for a nice town house or small holding in medieval times.

Beach you live in such a beautiful part of the world, so deep and layered with history, I've always felt a connection to Dorset, its one of the few places in England I actually love, time and space seem so coiled upon eachother it seems so easy to see between the worlds.
NotHermit  Male  Derbyshire 27-Feb-2019 19:54 Message #4736255
You both live in interesting places, keep enjoying.
I recently went to Hathersage in Derbyshire.
In the church there is the grave of Little John.
No one can say for certain it is genuine, but a few facts suggest it might be.
For instance on the other side of the valley is Peveril castle.
At one time the castle was home to the Sherriff of Nottingham.
Robin of Loxley, now Loxley is in Sheffield, not Nottingham.
Little John was called John Nailer (Naylor), he and his family mentioned in the Doomsday book.
The bones were dug up I think 1800ish, they found the bones of a very tall man.
They were kept in the church, but this was considered bad luck.
So were buried again outside.
The whole area contains many old buildings, the church , its grounds and surroundings are fabulous.
Otb  Male  Dorset 27-Feb-2019 22:33 Message #4736267
Thanks for adding to the thread, Bunny, Hen and NH.

As you've all indicated, there is always history under our feet if we stop and take a little time to find it.

Yes. Bunny. Those coaching routes needed stop off points for travellers and it is amazing researching old coaching inns … and even finding ancient sunken tracks when armed with a metal detector. Jackie and I used to find some amazing old Georgian coins along such routes.

I'm giving my office/workshop a bit of a refurb at the moment so won't be on here quite as much for a little while but, when I return, I'll tell you about Dorset pirates, (well, smugglers), and the amazing network of specially designed houses, cottages and farmsteads that accompanied the hidden smuggling paths and routes that run all around the immediate areas where I live.

Fascinating contribution, Hen. I really enjoyed the journey of travelling back in time with you. Perhaps we can return, (or add), to the ancient history of your island again later in this thread.

NH. I found your account of Little John to be a very intriguing tale and, chances are, it really could be him. Why not because all the history and location seems to add up AND time wise, it is quite common for folk to remember and pass down names and information … especially if certain families go back to the Domesday book.

Yes. Church architecture can be amazing. I mean, going back five or six hundred years, the church was one of the richest organisations around and when you think that even titchy little hamlets all over the UK, likely, have a beautiful local church, think of the resources, (cash, labour and other things), needed to build such a massive network of buildings throughout the land.

Thanks for a good read. :-)
BunnyGirl  Female  Buckinghamshire 28-Feb-2019 08:14 Message #4736275
Also must have a look at the history hidden of what used to be there where now it is the Halifax
bank as i know there is some history as when i used to clean there was a ghost coming from the
cleaning cupboard. Did mention it to the office staff and was told it was a friendly ghost but not
history behind the ghost. So Beach i will look into that as now you have got me interested now.
So thank you for putting ideas into my head lol
happywalker  Female  Dorset 28-Feb-2019 12:33 Message #4736304
Beach, I found your account of West Dorset very interesting and thankyou for taking the time to share it on here. I have travelled that route many times, but would have been driving on most of those occasions so I would not have allowed my concentration to have strayed. However, when I’ve been a car passenger in that area, I have found my mind re-living the novels of Thomas Hardy which were all based in Wessex around his home town of Dorchester (Casterbridge in his books). Whilst his novels are fiction they are reputed to have been based upon true events.
When I’m walking in the countryside I like to ‘smell’ the rain; study the wildlife, especially birds and bats and; most of all, gaze at the stars and wonder what is out there. The best view I’ve ever had of the Milky Way was in winter at Blakeney in Norfolk, it was beautifully clear and felt very close. Second best viewing was at Eype!
I’m wondering, do you also let your imagination off the leash when in town? I always find looking up at architecture in our towns and cities is infinitely more interesting than gazing into shop windows. I wonder who might have lived there and think how wonderful it would be if walls could talk. I love reading the blue plaques in walls (ok, some are not that exciting, but I still love reading them.
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 28-Feb-2019 18:52 Message #4736321
It's one of the things I sort of miss about long coach journey's, all that sat looking at buildings, Glasgow always facinated me, going up the road north, west out of Glasgow there are so many original Rene MacIntosh buildings. Central London is quite intersting too with its huge neoclassical buildings. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when I look at so many modern buildings I wonder when we gave up on decoration and an eye for artistic value and beauty in architecture? I know there was plenty of ugliness in the past and many old buildings are held together more by goodwill and cobwebs than good building techniques, but there seems to be this idea that for something to have artistic value its got to be expensive and "for those who can afford it" with all the finger wagging that phrase evokes. When I look at civic buildings of the past, I wonder when we lost that idea of civic pride? Is a loss of civic pride part of the reason we've let so much of our infrastructure degenerate? Do you think beauty effects how we live in places and a sense of shared community? if someone lives in a bleak and and ugly environment does that reflect onto how they end up feeling about themselves and life in general?

Sorry I might have taken this off at a bit of a tangent, but I think an interesting one
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 3-Mar-2019 22:30 Message #4736462
There is a very seemingly paradoxical Spanish proverb which says: ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him', and numerous other writers paraphrase that saying.
And so it is with travelling – we must carry knowledge with us if we're to bring home knowledge.

Now the journey that Beach describes is one that I see underlain not only by millions of years of sedimentation, but then wrinkled by the collision of Africa with Europe (lets call them) to push up The Alps. These continents weren't messing about and you can look out of the bus from Bridport and see some of these effects where you are - some 1000 kilometers north of the Alps themselves. Just a little way south of the A35, look over Lyme Bay and catch a glimpse of Portland seeming to slope southward - that's just a few of the more erosion-resistant Jurassic strata that form one limb of the Weymouth Anticline - the northern limb of that gentle fold lies deep beneath Dorchester and is presently covered by the later chalk, itself also folded by the Alpine upheaval.
OK, these may well be feature a little too subtle to appreciate on the scale of your immediate surroundings, but stretch your journey while you're in the area and get your heads around the Lulworth Crumple which created the much photographed Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. And travel as far east as you can without getting your feet wet and you'll still see the evidence of the mountain-building event - the upright strata that form the Needles or even the Downs - but hey ! - back to Dorset!
Moving on some 65 million years after the Alps reached their peak and coincidentally, roughly the same time since many of the dinosaur species became extinct, we come right up to date. Barrows, both round and long are abundant and along with frequent henges were unlikely to have gone through any environmental impact processes or required planning permission. But what, I wonder must have gone through the minds of Legate Titus Flavius Vespasianus and his men of Legio II Augusta when they confronted Maiden Castle - of course they had worked up to this - the big one - as they advanced the left flank of the Claudian invasion - with the likes of Hod Hill and others, they had certainly had some practice along the way, but as Beach illustrates, there's nothing delicate about Maiden Castle.
It would be comforting to think that we've moved into a part of history where written records tell a story that we're all agreed upon, although I suspect that historians of many shades would vigorously contest that. Oh well, back on the 'bus - do please enjoy Dorset's county town.
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 4-Mar-2019 10:28 Message #4736469
WnD If you're into rocks and geology you should go to Skye, it and its surrounding small islands have some of the worlds oldest rock.

I think the Romans were used to hillforts they encoutered them in Continental Europe, people still find the heads of ballistabolts up there so many were fired. The ballista was the Roman equivalent of the machine gun, like a mechanised crossbow and capable of firing many round with great power at a distance. From all the stuff I've read I think the biggest difference between the Romans and the British and Gauls was their ways of thinking, the mindset was so different.
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 4-Mar-2019 20:13 Message #4736479
I enthusiastically endorse that recommendation 'hen - I did my undergraduate honours mapping on Sleat by looking through the Ord Window - now there is a place for bendy rocks - so much so that there is one very easy-to-get-to (well, relatively speaking) exposure right on the beach at Ord where you can see the older Pre-Cambrian Torridonian sediments overlying the younger Cambrian Pipe Rock. Both up-side-down of course, compared to their depositional 'way up' - and by golly, doesn't thinking about how that came to be make one stretch the imagination, but nothing that cannot be demonstrated to willing students with the aid of a tablecloth and a suitably shiny table to slide it upon.

Just as you say 'hen concerning the similarities among the various peoples - so much in common - Mind you, I reckon those Italian wine merchants had some pretty aggressive sales techniques and without doubt, slinging the pebbles gathered from Chesil Beach, no matter how accurate it was possible to be, was always going to leave the Iron Age residents at a disadvantage when out-ranged by ballistas - and we won't even start to compare the discipline and tactics of the opposing forces - unless you really, really want to . . .
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 5-Mar-2019 10:52 Message #4736487
I think you're right and a discussion of the opposing tactics of the "Celts" and Romans and how Roman Britain was is another thread, although an interesting one.
JustLyn  Female  Cheshire 5-Mar-2019 22:13 Message #4736505
I'm happy to be reminded of Rene Macintosh. Only this week I've bought 3 tickets at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where there's an exhibition until August.

It depends what mood I'm in in viewing landscapes. If I'm driving its hard to take it all in but I'm fascinated by where old railways used to run. I feel a weird sadness about them.

When driving from Sale towards Lymm in Cheshire I have a compulsion to see the old crossing gates, black and white railings, all overgrown with hawthorn.
I even have a vague sense of fear the train might be crossing just at the point I'm travelling.

It's the same if I'm walking the dogs or cycling along a disused line. I look behind, I imagine the train. It's really quite spooky.

Otb  Male  Dorset 19-Mar-2019 22:39 Message #4737192
Yes, Bunny, the history beneath our feet can be fascinating to explore and once a little research is engaged in, those documented ghosts will spring to life and turn into bonafide characters from a genuine location’s past – complete with real life stories of their own.


I presented just one, off the cuff, account of a modest journey from Bridport to Dorchester on the bus but I’m actually filling a self penned book/online journal /webite of such episodes, drilling down through sediments of stories reaching as far back as Pangea. (I’ll add more on that subject when addressing Warmundeft’s comments).

Yes. We have some big skies here in West Dorset and Eype beach is an amazing location from which to experience the night sky.

To answer your question re exploring the fabric of a town itself?

Of course.

While exploring my own town based on its current “town centre” location, I could describe its Western Saxon boundaries, its northern midden boundary, (a 16th century dump), its southern harbour, (a 16th century version a mile inland from the present coastal one), and an eastern perimeter that, 500 years ago, was actually the town centre, all overlooked by a hidden Iron Age hillfort that even I didn’t know about until just 12 months ago. (I know EVERY ancient site intimately, for 50 miles around, yet never appreciated that Allington Hill, barely a mile or two from our town centre, was also an ancient citadel).

Meaning; while others may just see a quirky West Dorset market town with the odd evidence of earlier occupation, (often via architecture), I see complete, distinct layers of occupation dating back over 3000 years. (This is not the place to list or describe them but yes, I probably have 40 – 50 pages worth of such info, text and graphics on my own personal website).


A bleak and ugly environment?

I love Manchester (as an example) for its Industrial Revolution heritage and while certain buildings may appear bleak and ugly to some, to me, the buildings of that great city are the finest and most beautiful structures of the last 500 years. A proud ‘bricks and mortar’ expression of how England brought the world into the modern age.


Yes. The West Dorset we know and love was actually formed while Pangea, (an ancient super continent), was breaking up and shifting south, (from the equator), about 175 million years ago.

You mention Portland, currently, a nearby promontory pushing itself out into the English channel but, though we're talking recent geological history, (only 20,000 years ago when the ocean was 100ft lower), Portland had a sandy beach just west of it and that would have been the coastline back then. (And there is evidence to support a massive non tidal river plain running east to west past that same location, possibly being the source of the shingle that would, one day, turn into ... Chesil beach?

Chesil beach is a VERY recent phenomenon, only coming into existence as the great melt of the last Ice Age took hold around 10,000 - 12,000 years ago.
Otb  Male  Dorset 19-Mar-2019 22:43 Message #4737193
Re Pangea; I should have said shifting north ... not shifting south.
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 20-Mar-2019 10:36 Message #4737210
SoB, I think you've taken the words '..bleak and ugly..' a bit out of context as those words were part of a question about how our environment effects our moods, our emotions and how we live as a society.
Otb  Male  Dorset 20-Mar-2019 13:26 Message #4737216
Sorry Hen, :-)


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