I am an incorrigible collector of illustrated books. I have shelves full of vintage volumes from various countries dating from the 19th Century to the 80s full of gorgeous illustrations... Obviously, my budget is minuscule and I have often had to put back on the shelf/stall the books I was dying to buy but couldn't afford...
I have now ran out of shelf space and am thinking hard about what to do about it... If I had the money to commission a carpenter to install built-in shelving all around the house, I would... Alas, it is not to be!
One of my favourite illustrators is Norman Thelwell, and I am in love with all the animals he has drawn - especially the plump "Thelwell ponies". I do have quite a few books full of them, and intend on acquiring more in the future! His illustrations, if often hilarious, do make serious points about society and human (as well as animal) behaviour.
Last week, though, I came across "The Effluent Society". As I flicked through the pages, I was struck by how modern it all felt; the book was published in 1971 and it is really shocking - and sad - to see that with all our talk of beach cleaning, river pollution, overcrowding and overbuilding, we cannot pretend that we didn't know: it was already happening 50 years ago!
As the weather improves and returns to its summery feel, hordes of people come to our coast to spend the day on the beaches of our beautiful Jurassic coast. For us seaside dwellers, it’s therefore time to run for the hills!
This time, we decided to return to the infamous Cerne Abbas and explore the place properly…
I have to admit that it is always hard to pick which hill to run to as there are so many, each with their own fascinating story and atmosphere. Indeed, Dorset is the ideal home for a writer, its landscape full of everything one needs to find inspiration; it also provides the welcome peace and isolation one craves when writing.
The Dorset coast gives us adventure, magnificence and tales of human endeavour…
The sea is always full of drama, action, promise and openness to the world beyond the waves.
As you move further inland, though, you start immersing yourself in ancestral Dorset; you are invited to go back in time and to look into your own mind and that of the people who have populated the place for millennia… You perceive the shadows and ghosts of the past wandering along the deep lanes, wooded hills and rolling fields.
On a hot, sunny summer day, the countryside is truly idyllic and genuinely healing for the body and mind – a kaleidoscope of colours and smells, a rich explosion of natural life. But when you find yourself walking along a small track in deep, deep countryside away from all marks of civilisation bar a few fences and coppiced woodlands, you cannot prevent your mind from conjuring up some unsettling thoughts and images.
You imagine the place in the darkest days of winter, in fog, in heavy rain, in the snow. You start plotting crime thrillers, gothic tales and horror narratives in your head: anyone could be doing anything down there, in this deep valley, and really, who would know?
St Magdalene Church in Batcombe conjures up images of the perfect English countryside, nestled in "the lee of the chalk downs and is an old settlement with an interesting history." (Louise Hodgson, More Secret Places of West Dorset). The local family, the Minternes, had one member named Conjuring Minterne" who was "a cunning man [...] and a practitioner of the magical arts." The church is reached via a very steep, deep and narrow road.
On the edges of a field on Batcombe Down, before you walk down to the church, stands a lonely pillar locally known as the Cross and Hand... Many different stories exist as to why it had been erected on this spot!
One of them has been immortalised by local author Thomas Hardy in his poem "The Lost Pyx: A Medieval Legend".
The marks and scars of old superstitions, beliefs, myths and legends are present all around you, dotted around the countryside and human settlements; they are weaved into the landscape and the structures of towns, villages and buildings… This country’s Pagan heritage, covered up in a thin veneer of Christianity, bursts into the open for everyone to see. You just need to pay attention and know where to look; since discovering Dorset in 2011, my favourite go-to guides are the books by Louise Hodgson, Secrets Places of West Dorset and More Secret Places of West Dorset. They reveal the mysterious and fascinating natural, supernatural and/or historical narratives of the county. Without them, we wouldn’t have known about the intriguing tombstones or the wishing well in the Cerne Abbas burial ground…
Another excellent source of Dorset folklore, myths and legends is the Dark Dorset website HERE.
One place I am planning on exploring further this year is Marshwood Vale and its surrounding area.
Yesterday, we did a reccie at Pilsdon Pen; the splendid views are breathtaking, and no picture of mine will ever do them justice.
This is the ultimate rural area, with narrow, winding lanes and beautiful villages... But also an eerie, mysterious atmosphere that is hard to define; it's teeming with myths, legends and interesting stories, and yes, you bet I am interested on knowing more about these!
I think therefore I write.
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