Sunday, 17 May 2009


One thing we are very lucky with in these Isles is our weather, its unpredictability continually changing the back-drop to our lives with some wild extremes. It also drives the wimps away to foreign climes, taking their moans and groans with them, leaving a bit more space for those content to enjoy what is on our doorstep. Today our doorstep extends 50 miles to the West, to Lyme Regis, where we head off for the dual purpose of a bit of shopping (there are two items on this shopping list-a piss pot and a smock) and because 45-55 mph winds are predicted for the day. As these are coming from the South West, backing South at times, it promises to be a lively seafront to walk along when we feel the need to escape the shops. There is the added bonus of it being a good 50 miles to drive twixt our garret and this tiny seaport, the road taking us there passing through some spectacular veiws-with the hills stretching inland on one side and the Engish Channel on the other. We are adding "shopping" to our list of reasons for heading to Lyme safe in the knowledge that this activity is only going to involve two shops, one of which is more like a museum of Britain between the years of 1900-1970. In one of these shops we know we can buy the smock, in the other we hope to find the piss pot.

Only it doesn't work out like that: the smock shop no longer stocks them, instead it now seems to be full of fleeces. Traditional Cornish Cotton gives way to recycled cola bottles. Boo, but never mind-it is a sign of the times and this minor disappointment is more than compensated by a visit to the seafront Antiques Centre-an Aladdin's Cave of all of those things from your childhood now half forgotten, but bringing forth instant memories as soon as you spot them. It is stuffed full of items that must have spent many decades in folks attics before finding their way here-branded tin containers for cough lozenges, bakelite telephones, art deco whimsy, flying helmets, metal signs, wooden toys and tin soldiers, a policeman's helmet (Tempting!) sheet music and old 78s, enamel bread bins, copper measures etc etc and-deep joy-a piss pot. £6.50, bargain! Deal done and that's enough shopping for one day.

We have a wander around the town-all Art Galleries and Fossil Shops it seems, but the lay-out of the narrow side streets, with their twists and turns making the buildings into a shantytown of crooked houses, is a relaxing place to explore. In the midst runs the River Lym, the houses situated to allow its passage to the sea, and alongside this still stands the Lepers Well where, 700 years ago a Leper Hospital was established. Nowadays,with the Hospital long gone, the area is set out as a garden and is open to non-Lepers. But our main destination is The Cobb, the harbour wall protecting the small anchorage, whose enigmatic presence has drawn folk to Lyme Regis for centuries and inspired writers and artists to capture its essence in their work.

The Cobb. It was created in the 13th Century or maybe earlier, nobody can agree on this one though-in the manner of "experts" everywhere-many claim to know for sure. It went through various incarnations until it arrived at what you see today in 1820. At one time important as one of Dorsets' four ports (the other three being Bridport, Weymouth and Poole) what it has now lost in its position as a seaport has been more than compensated by it retaining its character. From the earliest structure, built of wood, through to the later designs in stone it has taken the battering of the sea in its worst fury and, occasionally, fallen. It protects the town of Lyme Regis which built up around it and when The Cobb fell then parts of the town went with it. The doggedness of the folk who, undaunted, rebuilt both Cobb and town can be seen on this day on a much smaller scale in the few like ourselves determined to take a stroll along The Cobb. The strong winds are sending the seas crashing into the sea wall and some of these waves are being driven over the top and down onto the unwary with the force of a swimming pool falling out of the sky without warning. Fully grown adults are indulging themselves in a playground game of "Dodge the Waves" whilst their kids look on in bafflement before joining in the fun with enthusiasm. The Durogantes get through, and back, with just a comparatively light splattering from the spray and enjoy the spectacle of those whose timing was not so fortunate, resulting in a good soaking. Savage humour? Nah, its all in the spirit of fun and none are laughing more than those who copped a wave.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

TO SEE THE MAY DAY IN............

...............The alarm clock was set for 3am to give us plenty of time to wake up fully, eat and then dive into the depths of the Dorset countryside. It is May Day and, without any undue fuss, all over the country folk will be rising early to see in the dawn on the first day of summer. It is a tradition, once strong in these isles, which has largely died out-but is still alive and kicking (literally, once the Morris Dancers get going!) in most, if not all, counties. The Durogantes are heading towards Cerne Abbas to join in the celebrations there simply because it involves climbing up a bloody great big hill in order to do so. As we leave our garret at 4am the seagulls which usually wake us up at 5am screech and squawk at us in dismay: having got themselves into the routine of pissing us off two hours before we would prefer to be awake, this early rising has taken them by surprise. Gleefully we stick two fingers up at them to show our adversaries contempt in our small victory.

Cerne Abbas sits in the Valley of the River Cerne and is known worldwide for the 180 foot high carving on Trendle Hill above the village. The origin of this carving is unclear (and therefore the subject of much conjecture and debate) but it is not only impressive it is wonderfully explicit-that it has survived at all is a minor miracle given that society has a problem with human genitals displayed in public. The carving is commonly known as 'The Cerne Abbas Giant' but whether its creators intended to portray a giant or a large scale figure of an ordinary mortal is, again, unknown. Theories on who the figure is supposed to represent include, in no particular order, a Danish giant (who was leading an invasion and who was beheaded by the people of Cerne as he slept on the hill), the Roman God Hercules, Oliver Cromwell, an Abbott called Thomas Corton or a Pagan Fertility Symbol. All of these are feasible but let's hope the answer is never found, there being a certain appeal in some things remaining a mystery.

Above the carving, at the top of the hill, is an enclosure known as the Trendle the origins of which once again are uncertain (are you starting to get the impression that the good folk of Cerne enjoyed a bit of secrecy or two ?) Some say it is a small iron age earthwork while others insist it was not created until the 1700s as a spot to place the village maypole. Whatever the truth of it, today a small group of folk are making the arduous climb up to the Trendle half of whom have bells attached to their legs-the Wessex Morris Men. They are a much maligned breed, the countrys Morris Dancers, but only by those who are equally unable to cope with anybody doing anything out of the ordinary.

High on the hill the fog which has been forecast for shortly after dawn is only manifesting itself in the occasional wisp. In the growing light the view is spectacular, taking in the valley below and the hills in the distance. Everybody is out of breath after the climb especialy the bloke who has carried the Dorset Ooser up to take part in the celebrations for it is no small bit of kit. This mask, representing the Horned God Cernnunes, has been part of local folklore for many centuries. As another name for the Horned God is Cerne his appearance here each May Day is possibly highly appropriate - though if there is any connection between the Horned God and the name of the village we've no doubt that it is a local secret.

Now to the dancing and the stars of the show-the Wessex Morris Men. Even at 05.15 and after climbing the bloody big hill there are great elements of humour, entertainment and energy with their dancing in the dawn-the po-faced traditionalists of modern perception they certainly aint! Besides the dancers themselves there are about twenty or so folk like ourselves who have come as spectators, both to the dancers and the sunrise, but you know that even if nobody came to watch these guys would still be up here having fun. As with most, if not all, Morris sides the Wessex Morris Men have a Fool-a character dressed in a smock and carrying an inflated pigs bladder tied to the end of a short stick. This latter he uses to beat any of the dancers not keeping to the correct steps and also to keep the spectators in line. We noticed that this guy is obviously somewhat older than the rest of the side but it was not until we checked out their website that we discovered he was one of the founders of the Wessex Morris Men. As this was back in 1957 it would put his age now into his 70's-and still fit enough to dance energetically after climbing up a bloody big hill before dawn. Hats of to Jim!

Getting down the hill is a lot harder work than getting up, the steepness combines with the slipperyness, but thoughts of a fry-up overrides all else and sees us down without mis-hap. To add to the mornings' fun a Hare popped out of a field at the side of the road, gave us a friendly wink and disappeard back from where it had come. It was as if it had been waiting for us, the Spirit of the Fields. Following breakfast we head for Glastonbury and by 9am we are sat on the Tor-our second bloody big hill of the day and well worth it to sit and look out over Somerset under a clear blue sky. Then off to the cheese farm to pick up the Masters posh cheese (see earlier post 'Glastonbury and Cheese'. It will not enlighten you much as to why we do this but it will show that this behaviour is not out of character for us) The rest of the day we spend relaxing in the town, watching the world go by and the pageantry taking place in the market square; which involves more dancing, the crowning of the May King and Queen, music and folk stopping work for a day to take part: Glastonbury certainly knows how to celebrate! As a special treat to ourselves, on our way home we stop off at Heck's the Scrumpy farm for a couple of gallons of their finest straight out of the barrel. Summer has arrived.