Friday, 13 March 2009


The A338 between Ringwood and Salisbury is one of those routes which takes you through a lot of open countryside interspersed with the occasional village along the way. One of these villages is Breamore and, to the average motorist on their way from A to B, it appears like most others of it's kind. A road sign giving a name, another advising of a 30mph speed limit followed by a mile of houses on each side of the road. There and gone in the blink of an eye. But if Breamore is your destination and you turn off the main road and into the village proper prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise: there just aint nowhere else like it!

Within seconds of leaving the A338 you will find yourself driving into a unique village scene, the layout of which has remained unchanged for centuries. There are no rows of houses, instead the cottages are dotted around in small clusters with wide open spaces between them. It is a culture-shock when you first see it and it never loses it's appeal through familiarity. This is probably because it does not fall into the picture-postcard category. The homes were built for agricultural workers and country tradesman and although it may now house a much more affluent section of society, there is still the rugged atmosphere of it's original purpose within it. Driving through this part of the village takes you up to Breamore House, a saxon church and, most importantly, the countryside beyond.

We park by the church and start walking up the footpath leading to the woods beyond. No ordinary footpath this, it is also at the start, the driveway for Breamore House: This imposing 16th C. Manor House is home to the Hulse family - apparantly there are three generations of them living there at any one time. They are Baronets, or some such similar but the riff-raff are permited to walk through their front garden and so close to the house we can almost see through their windows. And as these are titled people it does not seem like an invasion of their privacy to do so. It is what they are there for.

Once past the house the driveway becomes a bridleway which climbs steadily through an ancient woodland. Amongst the Beech, Horse Chestnut and Oaks are more Yew trees than are usually found in one place: old, proud and magnificent. The rugged atmosphere is more intense beyond the village, there is a rawness to this place which can be summed up by a sight we observed on one of our previous mudhops here: about five hundred yards ahead of us a rabbit had come out of the wood on the left. It was not in any particular hurry and we thought no more about it until, a couple of minutes later, a fox came out of the wood in the same spot. Following the trail of the rabbit, it disappeared in the direction of it's prey. Not long after a panicked squawking from the wood suggested that Reynard had come across a pheasant instead. To witness hunter, hunted and victim whilst out walking (as opposed to a wildlife programme ) is rare indeed, but it did not seem at all unusual to encounter it here. Breamore Woods has this wildness to it which is is palpable.

The path up through the woods eventually leads into farmland, wide corn growing fields on each side. The bridleway here is lined on each side with Yew and Hawthorn, like a processional leading to the last part of the hill. At it's summit is a small wood comprising almost entirely of yew trees, one of the comparatively few such woods in the country and the only one in Hampshire. This in itself makes the climb up this hill worthwhile but it has still more to offer, in the clearing in the middle of this wood is the Miz Maze.

The Miz Maze is not a maze in the sense that most folk understand the word, it is a labyrinth cut into turf. It's age is unknown, and open to a lot of debate, but what is certain is that such labyrinths (there are about eight known still remaining in these Isles) have a connection going way back to Brutus of Troy, by legend the first King of Britain. It is designed in such a way that a raised path can be followed through a series of twists and turns through a pattern which never crosses itself and leads you into its' centre. (The name "Miz" is almost certainly a shortened version of "mizzled" - a dialect word in some Southern counties which is derived from "mis-led" and is used to mean "confused".) This one now has a fence around it to prevent further erosion caused by it being walked.This is frustrating but , sadly, necessary. It would be even sadder to see it damaged even more than it is already, while to take measures to strengthen it would also destroy it.

Today we mudhoppers follow the bridleways and footpaths on the other side of the Yew wood which take us on a circuitous route back to Breamore woods. In doing so we pass a field where last year we saw a pair of hares ears. This field was a sea of ripened corn at the time and as we passed a pair of ears suddenly popped up. The hare had no doubt heard us and was using it's ears radar-like to check on our progress. For a full five minutes as we walked close to where it, probably, had a few leverets to protect, it's ears remained stuck out over the height of the crops. This is the longest that either os us has been able to study a hare in the wild, though it would have been more satisfying to see the rest of it too. It was during this walk that the month of March decided to give a display of it's contrasts: the day had started in it's lamb aspect with sunshine and a breeze. The breeze became suddenly a wind which grew in strength until, by the time we got back to the wood, it had become the lion. The sound of it howling through the trees was incredible, almost deafening: this is real Durogante weather and to experience it here was a highlight of the day. The topmost branches of the trees were being bent to such an angle that you wondered why they did not break, whilst lower down in the fields dried leaves were being thrown into the air: here they swirled around as if performing a crazy dance in mid-air like so many whirling dervishes.

We made our way back to the village following a path on the far side of the woods to the one which we normaly use. Not knowing this path, nor even caring whether or not it would take us back to where we'd parked up the car, eventually meant that we had to do a few short cuts across fields. This turned out to be a good thing. It took us past the other side of the Manor House - different windows to try and look into. It finally lead us into the churchyard, where stands a Yew tree to top them all, the trunk at its base must be about five foot across and from this trunk grows a ring of individual trees. They say that Yews hold the spirits of the dead and that their faces can be seen in the bark of the trees; looking at this one you can see where they got that idea, it's full of them.

Monday, 2 March 2009


It is that time of year when, from a distance, the countryside is still in winter. But, much closer to, there are definite signs of spring with the buds starting to show on the trees and early flowers pushing their way out in the hedgerows. Rooks are to be seen collecting nesting materials, some of the twigs they are carrying in their beaks so large it makes you wonder how they can manage to fly. The countryside smells different too: gone is the heavy dampness from the air which accentuates the decay of winter. In its place on days such as this, when the drying easterly winds coupled with a few days of sunshine have freshened the fields, are the subtle aromas of growth. Subtle because the growth is, as yet, almost imperceptable but it is there nethertheless. And, although we know full well that it is the time for Mother Nature to be preparing for the return of spring, this in no way diminishes the pleasure in walking through the countryside and noticing the signs. It happens every year but it still takes us by surprise: this is not because we forget but, as with all creatures of the earth, our species needs this wake-up call at the changing of the seasons.

The mudhoppers have, due to work, been pretty much house-bound for a week se we head off to Badbury Rings to change the back-drop. This hillfort lies in the Dorset landscape like a sleeping giant, no less magnificent in it's slumber. We come here regularly but rarely go to the rings themselves, our feet tending to lead us off into the many bridleways which surround the fort and have taken us, on occasions, on much longer walks than we had intended. It is a piece of countryside which draws you in and makes you want to explore just that little bit further, along tracks which were first established long before the Roman occupation of this area. The evidence of these earliest settlers is not only in the many barrows which dot the fields but also, when stood on higher ground, being able to see how these straight tracks allign with villages in the distance. Very slightly more recent history can be seen in names such as "Kings Wood" and "Kings Down", relics from the era of the division into kingdoms. It is at this latter place where our walk is accompanied by a huge Buzzard circling low over the fields just to our right: it is so close that we can see the detail in it's feathers.

Here too we come across a barn. So what? Well, there was a time when barns were solid structures built of stone or wood. Nowadays they are more likely to be erected using steel girders clad with modern, flimsy looking, sheets of plastic. In between these two developments were the barns such as this one at Kings Down Farm, the lower sections being old railway sleepers stood upright and the upper being clad in sheets of corrugated iron. This sheeting may have looked good when first put into place but now it is rusted and bent in places, whch gives it a charm not quite old-worlde but a charm all of it's own. Inside the barn smells wonderful: a "farmyard smell", more commonly known as shit. It is pungent, but not enough so to burn the nostrils, and reminiscent of the hen-houses that most folk used to have in their back garden. High up in one corner is a nesting box for Barn Owls, birds that we have occasionaly seen here at early evening hunting over the fields.

Having come from an era when history lessons at school would have us believe that everything started with the Romans, we tend to ignore this aspect in favour of the real history of these Isles. But in this landscape it is impossible to do so, it almost breathes Roman Britain. There is no obvious reason for this, apart from the ordinance surveys maps showing the "sites of" there are few remaining signs of them actually being here. But, sometimes, walking these bridleways gives a feeling that the legions passed through here only moments before. This is a sense much stronger than is sometimes felt in places where their presence is still plain to see-such as Roman Baths etc. It's as if their aura still lingers, tramped into the countryside as they marched through.

Today this gets us talking about the Romans ( no, this blog is not about to sink into a series of quotes from "life of Brian".) who we reckon were nothing more than a bunch of thugs really. They just seemed to go around mob-handed pushing folk around - which aint particuarly clever: any crowd of boot- boys can do that ! And their treatment of any who resisted them was a bit over the top, all that butchering and wholesale slaughter: plus the stuff in the arena, blood letting as a form of public entertainment. These are the people who history teachers told us had civilised our country! It just went to prove early on that a structured society is not necessarilly a good thing. Ok so they were good at sticking up a few poncey buildings, but as they could only maintain the structure of their empire with a sodding great big army, it must have been pretty crap.

By now you must be thinking that we Mudhoppers have a fairly low opinion of the Romans. But this has to be balanced against where we agree that they did get something right. This is in their ability to celebrate their festivals in he most impressively depraved manner imaginable. Youv'e got to admit that their excessive debauchery is something sadly lacking in the world today, and more's the pity we say. The recent annual festive season is a good example to use here: every year, without fail, for as long as we can remember the media is at pains to point out that, to most folk, xmas is more stress than it is worth. Of course it is in the way that people feel that they have ought to do it, the big over commercialised way! How much better it would be if folk just shut themselves away for a week and abandoned themselves to total hedonistic pleasure, a week of pushing the human frame to the limits of enjoyment in every concievable way. We have no doubt that the the three "C"s (church,chavs,and commercial outlets) may have a problem with the idea, but we certainly think it's worth serious consideration.