Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Just over half an hours drive away from the town lies the ruined village of Tynham. Here we are using the word "ruined" but many others are used to describe this place: "ghost", "deserted", "stolen", "destroyed", "evacuated", being but a few. The place lies in a deep valley running down to the sea in the Isle of Purbeck. To reach it entails driving along A roads, B roads and then finally down a country lane which drops into the valley. This has to be one of the most uniquely beautiful places in Purbeck and within it sits a national disgrace.

In 1943 the army needed to borrow Tynham in order to use the valley as a training ground. Not wishing to put the villagers in danger from marauding tanks they evacuated them out "During the Present Emergency" - official speak for World War Two. The occupants left sadly but uncomplaingly: after all, they were doing their bit for the war effort and they had been promised that they could return once the war was won. This was sixtyfive years ago and the army are still there. The homes of the people of Tynham, once they were put into in Army hands, were allowed to fall into such a state of neglect that they began to crumble and fall down. Now there are just parts of the outer walls standing. Since 1978 limited public access has been allowed to the "ghost village" and it has become a tourist attraction. It is a fascinating place to wander around, a village caught in time, but it also has a sadness to it's history which overides this. It perhaps would have been better if the buildings had been completely removed as soon as the MOD decided to break their promise to the villagers. This would have spared them the added heartbreak of witnessing the result of the total neglect of their homes.

During the sixties and early seventies there were a few attempts by displaced inhabitants to regain their village. In this day and age there is no doubt that the word "compensation" would be screamed from the rooftops but, to these villagers, money was not an issue: It was simply the wish to return to their homes. The MOD stayed largely tight-lipped in their response to these endeavours - after all, the nations imminent danger of nuclear was with Russia far outweighed the wishes of a small handfull of civilians. When the army did decided to speak out in their own defence it was with the most ridiculous piece of PR guff imaginable: they claimed that their occupation of this land had been the conservationists dream-come-true!

The thinking behind this statement, converted into hard print by a publicity department somewhere, ran thus; that by keeping this land for their own use they had prevented it from becoming over developed. In turn this had created a haven for wildlife which had flourished in the valley, free from the danger of their natural habitats being destroyed by the encroachment of man. Noble sentiments indeed, but rather empty when you look around the rest of Purbeck. The whole area, and it is a large one, remains unspoilt and underdeveloped. Wildlife flourishes throughout the Isle in great abundance, not to any greater or lesser extent in parts of it in MOD hands.

But it has to be acknowledged that the villagers campaign to return to their homes is now a piece of history. Those who fought for promises to be kept have now passed away or have accepted that there is no longer any village to return to. There are many who would point out that if the village had not been allowed to crumble then, by now, it would not be in the possession of local folk anyway. The houses would now be in the ownership of moneyed people from various parts of the country, most of whom would be using them as weekend/holiday retreats. Whilst this is probably true, it is a seperate issue to the fact that the inhabitants were denied their wish to return and live out their lives in their own homes. After all, they left in good faith.

From Tynham we walked the short distance to Worbarrow Bay, one of those parts of the Countrys' coastline which has long attracted visitors from far and wide. Why? Who can say. There are many such places throughout the world that draw people simply because they want to see it. Mother Natures art and sculpture galleries, dotted around purely for asthetic purposes: we may be simple mudhoppers but we knows what we likes! But today we are here not only to enjoy the scenery, we have set ourselves a goal. Before we left our garret that morning we had promised ourselves that we would go and find a bloody big hill to climb up - one that we had not climbed before. There is such a hill which follows the sweep of Worbarrow Bay to the West, this was to be the remedy for our growing restlessness - the feeling that had been creeping up for a couple of weeks previously. It was reminding us that we had not climbed up any bloody big hills for a while. Other mudhoppers may possibly look at a map, or do a bit of research, before heading off up a path. In this way they would know what to expect to find, not only en-route but also at their destination. Sometimes we do this, but more often than not we make such decisions on a "lets-go-there-and-see-what-its-like" basis. So it was with the climb from Worbarrow to Flowers Barrow.

That the hill we set off to ascend fell into the catagory of bloody big was obvious as soon as we looked at it . Big and beautiful and exactly what we were looking for. The further we rose from sea level the more we would be rewarded with spectacular views. To our left this was the Purbeck coastline, where even on calm days the sea throws itself against rocky cliffs. In the distance the Isle of Portland sat wedged-shaped in the haze, while closer to seabirds squabbled over optimum perching places. To our right the hills falling into valleys, green farmland where calmly grazing livestock gave a peacefulness to their surroundings. Halfway up the climb, just as we were really starting to feel the effects of our lack of exercise for a fortnight or so, it became a steep hill.

Steep? If the incline was any sharper it would be classed as a cliff! I dont think that either of us had ever seen such a steep hill before in out lives. (actually, we have probably not only seen them but climbed them also. The previous sentence is just there to add a bit of emphasis to this particular hill. Indulge us ,dear readers.) It was hard work on our our bloody big hill climbing muscles, to the point that if one of us had insisted on abandoning the effort the other would have been secretly gratefull. We would then have congratulated ourselves on getting thus far and assurred each other that we had done well. As neither of us was prepared to wimp out, however, we carried on ever upwards- all the time avoiding the temptation to look behind us. The threat of vertigo was very real. Our objective was the artificial mound atop the hill which we had spotted from the start: this, we had assumed, was Flowers Barrow.

Only it wasn't. Eventualy reaching the end of the climb, expecting to find a barrow, we discovered ourselves instead walking into a neolithic hill fort. This was the perfect reward for our exertions: not only for the chance it gave us to sit down knowing that the path would be downwards from here on, but also because we did not know that this hill-fort existed. And it is a fine example of these ancient defences so common in this part of the country, mainly due to its builders having to fully utilise the landscape in which it sits. There is little of the uniformity to be found at, say, Maiden Castle nor is there any sense that this would be an ideal place for such a structure. The thought and energy expended by the people (whom our history teachers at school would have us believe were dull-witted) is incredible to comprehend. That the "hows and whys" of these hill-forts are still not fully understood by those who study them only adds to the appeal for Durogante Mudhoppers: it is almost, but not quite, as if we are walking amongst a neolithic joke- one that keeps people guessing.

No comments: