Saturday, 8 February 2014

The South Dorset Mud Tour: a day to forget on the South Dorset Ridgeway

Today's travels began in Portsmouth at Fratton Station. My initial destination was Dorchester and my final destination Portesham or perhaps Littlebredy, I was never quite certain which.

The reason for this ambiguity was the simple fact that I was staying in Portesham but doing research for the performance and audio tour that I am making around Littlebredy for Inside Out Festival, which will take place in September.  

I had every expectation of arriving into a flood zone as I had spent the previous evening watched one depressing weather forecaster after another warning of dangerous storms in the South West. In the event, I had a soft arrival with dry, clear weather and enough time to pick up a map and one or two books in Dorchester before arriving in Portesham and settling in. I then set out and my first encounter was with an elderly gentleman whose job it was to direct traffic away from roadworks. He was an affable ex-forces chap with time on his hands and I heard about his property investments and the traffic directing business, which takes him around the country. I then set out for Littlebredy and found The Valley of The Stones.

I guess I wanted to encounter the area without too strong a tour to frame the experience in one way or another or to direct me to take any specific route. I was instead allowed to make my own way towards Littlebredy using the footpaths. From the place's name, the 'Valley of Stones' I thought it would be full of stone circles and megaliths of all varieties, but instead it is notable for just a few large rocks that dot their way along the bottom of the valley.

Approaching the village I remembered there was a path I had wanted to take on my previous visit but was unable to due to limited time. I marched up it as I thought it necessary to find ways to gain altitude, Littlebredy being in something of a hollow. This picture shows just how much up and down the walking is around here; the land is folded and can be unexpectedly steep. The route up here from Portesham that I took on my bike was particularly challenging.

Perspective is a funny thing. From a distance these silhouetted cows seemed almost heroic. 

Up close, when I had to step into their field, however, it was quite another story. The mud  and shit came well above the line of my boots slipping down inside. The things I do for art... It was a similar story last time I was here walking around the South Dorset Ridgeway, we encountered a particularly grim patch, then, too. 

This is the style you cross to enter the South Dorset Ridgeway footpath. I was simply not going to make that step. I have my limits and tall wellington boots would be the only thing that would convince me that this was a good idea. There are, in fact, just a few too many places where the footpaths turn into slurry slides around here to make walking relaxing. When I return in the Summer it may be better but my guess is this is also an issue with the location of the paths as many run through dairy farms. 

Finally I saw what I was looking for, the notice about the change of name from the Inland Coast Path to the South Dorset Ridgeway. The bit I find amusing here is how it is described as "one of the UK's most important ceremonial landscapes." I think I will have to return to this idea of a ceremonial landscape.

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