Evening walks around the hills of West Dorset open windows onto valleys and further hills, bluebells swaying gently in the wind, catching the last light of the setting sun…
Never mind the rain, when the local hunt meet in the village all gather and life goes on.
I have joined a couple of writers, Maddie Grigg and Sophia Moseley and together we are The Lady Shed, a weekly blog where we discuss current affairs, local matters, and … Continue reading Rampisham Down, and Lady Shed
I came across Chideock’s catholic church by chance some years back.
A little path leads to a door flanked by two arches, a simple entrance not unlike a romanesque church that reminded me of a 13th century chapel you might find in the South of France.
As you walk on, emerging from under a canopy of leaves from the tall trees either side of the path, color hits you. There is Mary, her eyes raised to the sky above, as many a Catholic artwork. But this white statue above the door is against a painted backdrop of blue sky and golden stars and around her in a large roundel, eight painted medallions make a huge statement “This is a church like no other’.
It is a Catholic Church so you can expect Jesus on the cross and many a statue of Mary. Built in the 19th century, you won’t be surprised to find all sorts of artistic styles. That, and its interesting history, is what makes Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius of Loyola unique.
Raised in France where Catholicism is the main religion, it was fascinating to not only discover an extraordinary building but also its history, part of a bigger story of persecution. Hidden from the road by greenery, it feels like a secret venue but its apparent initial simplicity is lit by sparks of eccentricity and eclectic international artwork.
I’ve got a thing about churches, about what used to be, in most places, the centre of the community. Art and architecture draw me in, the people who built it make me want to stop, look around and listen. Raised by a Catholic family, I still light a candle and have a little thought for the ones I dearly miss.
Of course a Catholic church in England is not the centre of the village, it is the centre of a community that used to have to hide and Chideock is no exception. Thomas Weld of Lulworth bought Chideock estate in 1802 for his son Humphrey at a time when discretion was still called for despite the Reformation.
When the manor was built in 1805, the existing barn’s loft became a tiny chapel, it can still be visited today (by appointment). Its paintings, traveling altar and minute size tell a story of hiding. The walls of what is now the priest’s sacristy below the loft are totally decorated with murals and a 1929 painting by Fra Newbury of the Chideock Martyrs is inspired by portraits of the martyrs that can still be found around the church’s nave, below the upper windows.
What is unique about Chideock is that there was no architect involved. Charles Weld, Humphrey’s son, designed it and decorated most of it himself, with some help from his family.
Look closely and you’ll find a painting in an arch that was never finished, an almost ghost like figure; or Baroque inspired, slightly over the top, short white twisty marble columns encrusted with shiny stones and mosaics. You may think Corinthian when you observe the tall columns that hold the arches of the nave but look closer and its capitals (the sculptures at the top of the columns) are all different and were carved by Charles himself.
Several of the sculptures that catch your attention when you walk around were gathered during his travels. The German inscription on the painted Pieta at the back of the building is a giveaway to its origins and the white marble statues of Mary and St Joseph flanking the sanctuary at the front of the building are unsurprisingly Italian.
One of the most eye catching features is the gilded statue of Mary above the altar, almost floating towards heaven. Positioned under a skylight (and with a bit of help from human lighting too) she may be the first thing you see when you enter the church. Then again, we’re all different, there are so many details, inscriptions and little treasures to be found that you may see the high painted ceiling (barrel vault) or the imperfections in the treaded floor that leads you to the altar.
You’ll have to look around to find the baptismal font and its clever cover (check the wooden panelling too as it is from Westminster Abbey no less).
When I was commissioned to take photographs of the church I was lucky to be given a guided tour for my second visit. I won’t show you all the pictures although I took dozens, it would spoil the visit and the pleasure of discovering something you’ve never seen before. Look out for when they have open days to see the whole building.
In the church itself, there is plenty to see. You’ll find statues and paintings in alcoves, details in droves. Busy behind my lens capturing a mother in turn holding her baby or her grown son on her lap, I felt like time was stopping for a while, silence around me, away from our busy world, our religious differences.
Religious buildings have come to represent our differences in the world, something that pains many of us, yet when I visited this somewhat forgotten labour of love and faith, built by an English aristocrat for his community of believers, I felt a weird and unexpected sense of peace. It was (to my surprise) a descendant of Charles who gave me a tour of the church; her family still owns St Mary (although in trust). Private ownership of churches is one of the many things I learnt in Chideock.
Something I had never come across before either is a gallery overlooking the sanctuary for the Weld family to attend mass directly from the manor without being seen from the ground level. Although the family no longer owns Chideock manor, this is an interesting witness to a not so distant past. I must admit I found this feature rather strange, if fascinating, more to do with my French ancestry, of course, than my Catholic upbringing.
It made me think of history at large, social classes, lasting separations or forgotten divides. But it also reminded me that although churches are often a story of wealth enabling a building where beliefs can be shared and celebrated to exist, faith and even more so community involvement is now what is preserving the buildings for our future generations. As I visited, the cupola was about to be rebuilt and restored to how it used to be, thanks to funds raised locally over several years.
Craftsmanship prevails, wherever the funds come from, whoever the craftsmen are. Here, everybody can come and visit, light a candle, say a prayer or simply have a look around. I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can discover at Chideock catholic church. Whilst I was visiting, three men walked in and went straight to the little cloister adjacent to the church, now a local museum. In the silence of the church, it was easy to overhear their conversation.
Here was a father and his adult sons, looking at photographs of a person the older man knew many years ago when he lived in the area. The caretaker was called over to help. Now, was she the butcher’s daughter, or was she the one married to the builder? I left them to their conversation, the father with his revived memories, his sons, the lady of the church and the caretaker of St Mary.
We all walked back out at the same time a little while later, drizzle welcoming us to the English countryside, a smile on our faces.
I looked back at Mary in her roundel above the entrance.
Is that the sun shining behind her?
A few months back I went to see one of the last BBC Worldwide masts being taken down on Rampisham Downs. They were used them for 70 years until digital came along and the massive metal monsters became redundant.
A little video of the last days of the Rampisham Masts.
Went down to Beaminster this morning, few people around but all said “hello” in a cheery way.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” they said.
“I remember the winter of 1963” said an old boy. Does make me wonder, come Monday will we feel the same?
It was easy enough to get down, carefully. Driving back up however, was a different story.
So the car got left at the bottom of the hill, and the shopping was carried up.
Well it is beautiful and lots of fun was had by many today. I just went around with the camera…
and loved every minute of it!
Hope you’re all enjoying your winter walks.
How weird will it be when we drive to Maiden Newton and there are no masts to tell us we’re nearly there?
One by one the Rampisham masts are being taken down.
And to the ground they fall and crumble.
A tiny pile of metal where once stood a giant.
Tall and proud they broadcasted British ways around the world.
No longer needed, down they must come,
and to pieces they must be torn,
as a scavenger would a carcass.
They stuck out like a sore thumb in the West Dorset heavenly countryside,
Equally were a stunning otherwordly man made addition come rain or shine.
For miles around, West Dorset views will never be the same.
Rampisham masts, I will miss you.
I took friends and family to Weymouth on Saturday 28 July to see the Battle of the Winds final extravagganza of aerialists, the 2012 torches wade into the sea, the pyrotechnics and generally start enjoying Olympic atmosphere. I mmm’ed and rrrr’ed it would be a bit too crowded, but hey it’s a once in a lifetime, so off we went.
There was plenty there, but not quite what I expected. An empty Monkey Jump Park & Ride welcomed us mid afternoon. A brand new double decker took all seven of us into town on the shiny new bypass that we are being warned not to use. Many more empty buses were waiting to Ride elusive Parked punters back to their cars. We strolled along the spacious promenade to the Bayside Festival where our Somerset friends learned about the Jurassic Coast wonders. My kids loved being taught a few tricks by the ExtremeSports team, great guys under the tatooes and dreadlocks. At 6.30 pm Bayside eating area had all of ten tourists having tea listening to the Acoustic Stage. At 7pm the long expected queue to get into the enclosed “Weymouth and Portland Live Site” was painfully tiny…
Great news as a visitor, plenty of space, unexpected free entry to Bayside; not such great news when talking to the locals who have invested money and worked hard for months. Why the big signs in surroundings counties of how busy it may get? Put them up when it does get busy, not before. These are the days of mobile phones, twitter, facebook, information is fast. Does St Tropez warn tourists in Lyon? NON. They let them all come, get stuck, take their money and let them queue. Tourists do come back, every year and it’s still a nightmare to get to St Trop.
I got cross with dorsetforyou. Stop caring people off I said on twitter.
“@natamagat Just informing people about changes and road closures. We want to encourage people to come down, but plan their journey 1st” they replied.
Well, West Dorset looks awfully quiet. The dreadful recent events due to floods and landslides are still fresh on people’s mind but it does not mean the whole area should be avoided. Local businesses that rely on Summer visitors need help, not scaremongering tactics.
Tell everybody how easy it is to get here (I’m told there’s even a High-Speed train from Weymouth to Bristol but it’s not advertised, go figure), that there’s lots to do in Weymouth, that Bridport has a fantastic Festival of Culture in August, that Beaminster has lots of great shops and brilliant restaurants all year round with perfect presents to take back home despite the Tunnel being closed.
Hello world, this is the year to visit West Dorset, it’s quiet and if you fancy art, culture, food (of course) oh and the small matter of Olympic sailing along our beautiful Jurassic Coast, well there are plenty of events that locals have been organising for weeks. It’s not too late to book a few days in West Dorset…
Photography on this post from Saturday 28 July in Weymouth.
“They’re not allowed to go down this hill, it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” said the National Trust volunteer to my children. Mountain boarding down the steep hill by Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock did not go down well this weekend.
“Go on mate, you go and tell them to stop having fun” said the husband. “I will” replied the man his hand on the gate, adding “If we let them do it then there will be loads of them. And it’s wet, so they’ll do some damage, they’ll make a path and it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” – in case I didn’t hear that the first time round.
“I know it’s an AONB. We live in an AONB, most of Dorset is an AONB, does that mean they can’t mountainboard anywhere? And it’s dry actually.” I added, throwing my hands up in the air in despair. “I don’t get it but if that’s the way you feel, by all means go and ask them to stop doing their sport.” and I walked off in a huff towards the Spring Tide Festival.
I know I shouldn’t get cross with the man, he is a volunteer and does what he has been asked to do by the powers that be. Who makes these unwritten rules anyway? What’s the logic behind forbidding children to ride down a hill that only cattle, walkers and dog owners use.
Especially when there were no cows, walkers or dogs at the time. Another woman -who explains she used to look after the car park- chimes in “It’s also part of the Jurassic Coast here”. I know! A World Natural Heritage Site listed by Unesco, looked after by The National Trust here in Burton Bradstock and other parts of West Dorset. I am a National Trust member so agree with the work they do but…
Should we live in West Dorset as if it was an old fashioned museum where people need to whisper and “Do not touch”?
The National Trust have been trying to shake their image of old houses and mothballs. Just look at their marketing: families, walkers and youth on their front covers. That’s the way it should be. The National Trust is for all of us, children included.
Who do we keep our national heritage for?
NT do a great job in West Dorset looking after a large part of our amazing coast. Still our Jurassic Coast crumbles and falls. Nature does that, not children.
On the other hand, it was OK on the same day to have dozens of cars and vans come to a Food and Craft Festival. Now, don’t get me wrong, Spring Tide is a great festival. I have been a regular visitor to the event ever since it started, stocking up on fantastic food.
Today, I thought I’d take my kids. In fact they came -with their boards- a couple of years ago and it wasn’t a problem. Thing is, there’s only so long my children will spend in a tent filled with food whilst I chat to stall holders and spend money. Mace the Bodger is great but my kids have watched him turn his green wood many times, he’s even taught them. Ben and his local National Trust team are brilliant but my boys’ interest in fossils is minimal unless they’re on a beach hoping to find a hidden treasure.
If you stand on top of that forbidden hill, you have a magnificent view towards Golden Cap and Lyme Regis. At the forefront, a car park and a cafe with a plastic canopy. Some might say these are an eye-sore. Now again, I have nothing against The Hive Beach Cafe. They are a renowned West Dorset eaterie that champion local food, equally sought after by seafood seeking weekenders and grey haired locals after a cuppa, an ice-cream or fresh crab. If you’re a non-smoker you’ll love the fact that smoking is even forbidden outside. Being the baddy that I am -irresponsible mother of mountain boarders and a smoker- I was told off last year for lighting up on the open terrace. What a bad family we are.
What I want to understand is this: if it’s ok to have car fumes and plastic canopies on National Trust Land, why are local members of the Trust (via a family membership) not allowed to enjoy a harmless sport on the side of an empty hill. If you don’t know what a mountain board is, imagine a skate board with bigger wheels. Imagine a kid with lots of padding and a helmet in case they fall, as it is a bit of an extreme sport when they get serious. When I say harmless, I mean harmless for the hill. We went on a dry day, there would have been no wedges of soil unearthed. The volunteer was worried they would create a path. There are paths already, created by walkers, many with dogs, some leaving fouling behind. In fact there is one of England’s most popular Coast Paths a few yards away. Thousand of people have treaded its soil, along the crumbling coast. There are ‘off-paths shoots’ everywhere close to eroding cliffs; were they created by weird sports people or kids?.
It is a privilege to live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It beats cities any day in my books. It is our duty to look after our corner of the world for our descendants.
How do we ensure our future generations want to help preserve it, love it and respect it?
By telling them they can’t use it for their sport whilst their parents and grandparents fill it with car fumes and we all look at huge petrol tankers up and down the Coast? I’m not suggesting motor cross competitions along the South West Coast path or car rallies up and down the West Dorset lanes. My kids love downhill biking and mountain boarding. They may look like scary bikers with their full face helmets and padded bodies but I cannot believe the looks of suspicion from several people this weekend.
How old are these kids? 11, 12 and 14.
Maybe we should leave everything absolutely untouched. But let’s remember, this hill -as the rest of the Chesil Beach Coast- used to be a forest before our ancestors turned them into fields. The damage of evolution is not a recent thing. Let’s bear in mind both Dorset AONB and The National Trust talk about healthy living and sport. Quite right too; our western kids may be the first generation that die younger than their parents due to a lack of sport (and poor diet).
So who makes these rules of what sport can be enjoyed where on National Trust, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Unesco listed parts of the world?
Heaven forbid we might stray from walking or maybe cycling on cycle lanes. I wonder, would our Mesolithic ancestors -who used to have huge festivals a few miles away at Hambledon Hill- have a problem with a few children enjoying the side of a hill at seemingly high speed?
I have a feeling they’d think it’s a great idea. With a few rules of course: don’t frighten any cattle, stop when you see a walker, respect your elders, behave responsibly and go and have fun. If only.
Huge festivals at Hambledon Hill, Dorset, a very long time ago…
If cows don’t mind kids, why should people?
(taken in 2010)