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In the high places of Dorset



Ben

If you want to write a blog on a Sunday evening, don’t bump into your friends Jasper and Oisin on the train home that afternoon to London from Yeovil Junction. The tea trolley rolled past. “May I have a cup of tea, please?” I asked. “Oh, I’m afraid we’re not serving hot drinks today”. Time for vodka and tonics, oh golly.

And this was having given up drinking for lent. Well, to be fair, Lent does not strictly speaking include Sundays, as I am sure you are aware. But even so, all I am letting you know is a reasonable excuse as to why I wasn’t quite up to writing yesterday evening. All I wanted to do was head to bed.

On Saturday morning, Charlie woke up and asked me “WHAT NEW THING ARE WE DOING TODAY?”  I’m beginning to slightly regret that resolution too.  But it was a beautiful morning, and after breakfast at Soulshine and a few cups of coffee, we thought that we just can’t spend all day lolling about the house.  Mavis was quite keen on a long walk too.  So a place we’ve been meaning to go for a while, Hambledon Hill, a little while north from us, beckoned.

Hambledon Hill, like Eggardon Hill which I have written about before, is one of those great Neolithic hill forts that cross the chalkland landscape of West Dorset like great ships on an ocean.  We climbed higher and higher.

Until a view began to open up that was breathtaking.

Even Mavis stared in amazement.

I think I had last been to Hambledon Hill when I was at school, back in the 80s. My wonderful art teacher Rob Woolner was obsessed by the Hill, and drew it time and again.  Another time, I’ll dig out some old photos of us all at our leaving picnic up on the hill on a hot summer’s day.  Magic. 

The pattern of ramparts enclosed and framed views to the huge landscape beyond.

Brambles hiding behind a windswept thorn:

Stop taking photos and throw me a stick, will you?: We slowly came down to earth.

Everywhere, in the hedgerows and verges, spring is bursting. Don’t you feel it?

We walked back down to the village of Child Okeford, which is unassuming and unpretentious and just about right, with a proper drinking man’s pub at its heart where we had lunch, that type of pub lunch where the beer and chips were about the best thing, and sat outside in the warm sunshine.

Nice houses: this one could have been designed by Robert Lugar (who was the architect of the Old Parsonage).

There were some very fine timber porches in Child Okeford. A joiner with an eye and a soul must have lived in the village in the 18th or 19th century. 

A house fairly much to die for. Ideal for our friend Monica, we sort of thought:

On the other side of Hambledon Hill are the Hursts, Edward and Jane, who I have also written about many times before (and whose beautiful house is one of everyone’s all time favourites in my last book). Their son Tom is probably the youngest antique dealer in Britain.  Well, at the very least, he is officially the youngest member of the ‘Young Guns’ (who you will know all about, the association of young antique dealers. Genius).   Charlie and I, after a visit to Manor Farm a few months ago, owed Tom a rather good chunk of money for some very nice stuff we’d bought on the spur of the moment. A good excuse to call in.

Jane was cooking hungover lunch while we had tea and upside down orange cake.

Followed by a walk in the garden:

The view back up to the Hill:

I became completely absorbed in Jane’s copy of the book written by their friend Marwood Yeatman, The Last Food of England. It is beautifully written.  I couldn’t tear myself away. I’ve ordered a copy immediately.

A corner of the kitchen,

Back at home, our kitchen, on Sunday morning. 

We’d had our friends Kim & Pip staying the night, for what Queen Victoria used to have for her house guests – a “DINE & SLEEP” – which is probably about the most perfect form of social invention ever created.  You arrive in time for drinks and warm baths and a delicious dinner cooked by Charlie, and long conversation into the night, breakfast and a nice long walk over the hills. Then you are free to go.  We have a complete catch up but you can still all have your weekends, Kim and Pip can look after their menagerie at the farm, and we could go onto lunch with our neighbours down the valley.

Before that, I thought you’d like a catch up on Charlie’s vegetable patch, where the beds are bursting with rows of later narcissus and tulips.

We had the most delicious lunch, with the MOST delicious wine, and I thanked my stars again that Lent doesn’t count on Sundays, and we briefly called in to see Caddy, whose chicks had all hatched that week….

And then it was time to head back to London and get in last night feeling a little worse for wear, and have a long day of meetings on an astoundingly warm and sunny day in London. Spring is coming.

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