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.
I think therefore I write.
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