Dorset is the first place I took photographs outside London, & the subject of this weeks post. Here I present some of the earliest attempts I made at capturing the presence & vital essence of a specific place, and it was Lewesdon Hill. Situated in the south-west of England, the Dorset countryside is both lush & varied, containing many iron-age hill fort remains, stone circles & other remnants of past & ancient human occupation. The areas I first became somewhat familiar with are Lewesdon Hill (Dorset's highest point) & nearby Stoke Abbott & Waddon Hill (see blog post #13), my friend Helen then living in a house at the foot of the former. We would often venture out up the hill with the dogs, for an afternoon of photography, soaking up the refreshing energies of the densely treed peak. It is no wonder that I would return evermore frequently to enjoy the dynamic verdant landscape that Dorset proudly proffers.
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Lewesdon Hill was an iron-age hill fort, many years ago of course, but is now a very popular walking place, especially for local dog owners, & owned by the National Trust. It is wild with mixed deciduous & coniferous trees, contains brooks, small ponds, fern & marshland. In the springtime, the woodland floor is bespattered with the brilliant colours of clutches of small flowers, some carpeting the few open glades & flattened summit. Also throughout the year the hiil is host to many species of fungi, sprouting through the leafy, mossy woodland floor, attached like brackets & shelves to birch trees, or emerging in psychedelic forms & colours from the rotting stumps & branches of ancient dead arbors. On Lewesdon there is something fascinating for one to behold throughout every season.
Lewesdon Hill itself is 279 metres at its highest point, which isn't very high at all, yet still the highest point in Dorset. One can, on a clear day, with reasonable eyesight, see the sea, visible from the southern slopes of the hill. The coast is approximately 10km (6 miles) away, the nearest seaside town being Bridport (good chip-shops, decent boozers & a couple of satisfactory curry houses, all tried & tested by yours truly).
My friend Helens house where I used to visit, (for she has since moved from Lewesdon, much to my chagrin), is called Owl's Roost, & is one of two old stone houses nestled by the roadside east-south-east of the hill. It is rumoured that in days of yore famed poets & novelists stayed at cottages around Lewesdon (& maybe this one), finding the natural beauty of the area a veritable vein of inspiration. William Wordsworth lived nearby for a couple of years with his sister Dorothy in Alfoxton House, where it was that they became friendly with Samuel Taylor Coleridge who lived over the Somerset border just a few miles away, (where he wrote 'Kubla Khan' & 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'). Also of historical note is the poem 'Lewesdon Hill' penned by local rector & lesser known poet, the eccentric William Crowe, whom was held in some esteem by the likes of Coleridge & Wordsworth. Many years later, Dorset novelist & poet Thomas Hardy, being born & bred a few miles south-east of Lewesdon, at Bockhampton, Stinsford, near Dorchester, may well have been a visitor to this area, considering its literary history & inherent natural beauty.
I remember one day in particular that Helen & I were ascending the steep southern slope of Lewesdon hill, the two lurchers in tow, sprinting about the undergrowth searching for prey. The gorgeous summers day was very sunny, we were talking about 'white-balance' & preferable automatic settings in different conditions, when I heard a long, low-pitched purring growl.....I immediately felt mildly unsettled. I looked down below towards the source of the sound, near a marshy area we had just bypassed a couple of minutes before beginning our ascent amongst the conifers. Had I heard the presence of a wild cat? Large black cats have been spotted for many years around Dorset, though never caught, nor even photographed successfully & beyond doubt. It is thought that some survive, having been let into the wild by their previous human captors who had kept them as exotic pets, though under new laws found themselves unable to legally keep them, but were also unwilling to have them destroyed.
Throughout the time it has taken me to write this short post I have found myself nurturing a desire to return to Lewesdon, & once again picnic on its flat & grassy summit, shielded from the winds by its coronet of trees, with boles & branches filtering the golden rays of a waning afternoon sun. I therefore urge you to put on your walking boots, pack lunch & mark Dorset on your map.
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