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!
This Saturday 27th July, I will be helping Matt ArtPix on his stall at the Dorset Art market in Dorchester.
I do not post on here all the events attended with Matt ArtPix and Arcane Publishing, so go to the Arcane Publishing blog HERE to read about our recent adventures and check which forthcoming events we will appear at!
I am having a extremely busy summer before an event more busy academic year...
Arcane Publishing will be joining Matt ArtPix for a few events over the summer, starting this week until the end of August... Find our events HERE (more to be announced soon!).
I am working on my third novel, The Right Place, and I have now reached 10,000 words.
After having launched Arcane Publishing, created two websites, written, edited and published two novels all in a relatively short amount of time (basically within four years), the excruciatingly slow progress of The Right Place is difficult to accept. That's life. It will get published one day, and Hell Lane too. I just cannot stick to any publishing schedule at the moment for a number of reasons!
There's nothing I like better than going for a walk and stumbling across an ancient monument hidden within the greenery. I particularly love small churches and chapels, and in Dorset, I am spoilt for choice!
There was one such building in my second novel, The Book of Thoth.
Then there's St Catherine's chapel in Abbotsbury at the heart of my third novel - and work-in-progress - The Right Place - though you would be hard-pressed to call this sturdy little building "hidden", as it gloriously stands at the top of Chapel Hill, overlooking the Fleet lagoon and Chesil Beach.
This week, we paid a visit to the village of Milton Abbas, famous for its unique lay-out and the story of its construction. Also nearby and reached via a lovely woodland walk is Milton Abbey, a private school set in stunning and peaceful surroundings.
The name "St Catherine" has long been associated with chapels located on hill tops.
This particular St Catherine's chapel can be found nestled in a secluded clearing in the woods above Milton Abbey and offers lovely views of the school below. Built around 1190, most of the chapel is in Norman style, but apparently, many questions about the building have remained unanswered...
There is an intriguing carved medieval indulgence near the door...
Unfortunately, the door was locked and we couldn't have a peek inside!
Apparently it's beautiful in the autumn, there... And we'll most certainly be back in a few months to check!
We live in very shallow times, and the emptiness of the political and social discourse at the moment, entirely deprived of any depth, idea, imagination or creativity, genuinely depress me.
I am currently working on my third novel The Right Place, and have stocked up on nature writing volumes, thinking that they would be the best inspiration for me, as I want The Right Place to be some kind of a rural noir story set in Dorset. To my surprise though, in between a few pages of tales of exploration of wild places, I have found myself reading some Oscar Wilde - I am the happy owner of a fab volume of Wilde's Plays, prose and poems. And right now, I am re-reading The Portrait of Dorian Gray, elements of which had already found their way in my second novel, The Book of Thoth.
Wilde's writing is incredibly modern, and his understanding of human nature devastatingly accurate. It is my opinion that he should be studied by secondary school pupils, whose awareness of the human condition nears zero.
Of course, Wilde is eminently quotable, but two days ago, I was struck by the following passage, which basically sums up my philosophy in life.
Right, time to get ready for tomorrow's Bridport Vintage Market - it's going to be a cracker! You can see Arcane Publishing's stock for this event HERE.
I think therefore I write.
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