Monday, June 15, 2009
Another Left Turn
While I was in Dorset I stayed in a village called Iwerne Minster (pronounced yewurn) chosen because it is fairly central to the area I wanted to see. I had a wander round on the evening I arrived and found this wonderful old cottage right on the edge of the churchyard which looked as though it was in a time warp.
There were several lovely old houses including this one standing on a quiet lane.The weather was still grey and very windy on Monday morning and I decided to head for Wimborne Minster where there is a museum as well as the Minster and having indoor options seemed like a good idea. However as I drove along the B3082 I saw a brown sign (brown signs in UK are used to indicate places of interest) - it pointed to the left and it said 'Badbury Rings'. The indicator went on and once again I made a sharp left turn off my planned route.
Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hillfort surrounded by three large banks and ditches and the area that was the actual area of occupation is now covered with trees. This is approaching the entrance on the western side of the rings. As I was walking up here I met a woman on her way out and she said she had walked the circumference of the hillfort on top of the ramparts and that it was worth doing for the views. She had walked both the third and second but had decided against doing the inner ring because it was already occupied! I decided that, in spite of a really strong wind, I'd walk round the second ring. My new friend had said that the wind was exhilarating and she'd felt almost as though she could fly! Hmmmm, I think I've mentioned before that the wind and I are not on especially good terms so the plan was to see what it was like on the top and turn back if it got too bad.
This gives a better idea of what Badbury Rings looks like than I can manage with photographs. Clicking on the photograph will enable you to read what it says and to see the drawing more clearly.
It's hard to give a real idea of the height of the ramparts which would have been about forty feet high with the wooden palisades that would have been on top, even now they are still substantial. As I walked along it was rather thrilling to think that I may well have been treading in the footsteps of King Arthur - Badbury Rings is thought to be a possible site of the Battle of Badon Hill where King Arthur finally defeated the Saxon invaders and brought a prolonged period of peace to Britain.
I discovered that my friend was quite right - it was exhilarating up there in the wind and the views were certainly worth seeing. They would have been even better on a clear day but there was heavy cloud and the rain was never far away.
Here we have the reason for avoiding the area which would have been occupied during the Iron Age! It was occupied currently by a herd of beautiful Devon Reds, they had calves with them and gave the impression that they wouldn't take kindly to closer inspection. I'm not at all afraid of cows but I have a healthy respect for them when they have young at foot. Discretion is definitely the better part of valour at times like this. It took me about an hour and a half to complete the circuit, it was a fair distance and I kept stopping to look at the views and the wild flowers. It was time well spent though and I was glad I'd followed the little brown sign.
Practically the first thing I came to when I started off to explore Wimborne Minster was the Priests House Museum which was on my list of things to see. It's an interesting little museum set in a 16th century town house, there are period room settings and a great many exhibits telling of life in East Dorset from prehistoric times to the present. At the back of the museum is this lovely walled garden which also has a little tea room.
There has been a church on the site of Wimborne Minster since 705AD when an Abbey was founded by Saint Cuthberga, sister of the king of the West Saxons. The nunnery was destroyed by the Danes in 1013 but the Abbey church survived and was remodelled and rebuilt by the Normans between 1120 and 1180. The outside of the Minster isn't especially thrilling but it does have, high up on one of its two towers, this Quarter Jack which dates from 1612. Originally he was a monk but during the Napoleonic Wars he became a Grenadier - and very smart he is too. He strikes the two bells every quarter of an hour.
The nave with its Norman arches with the typical chevron decoration. Above the arches are small round headed windows which formed the clerestory of the original Norman church before the roof was raised probably in the mid 1400s. The two arches in the centre are the oldest part of the building dating to 1120 and they support the central tower of the Minster.
Each of the Norman arches is decorated with a corbel figure or animal, I was particularly taken with the second of these two which I think looks like friendly little monkey though I don't expect that it really is.
This wooden chest survives from the original Saxon nunnery which makes it over a thousand years old! It is carved from the trunk of an oak tree and was used to hold religious relics.
My favourite thing in the Minster - this is a monument to Sir Edward Uvedale who died in 1606. It's about the most laid back looking monumental figure I've ever seen I think. It's worth clicking and enlarging as it really is beautiful.
The mid 15th century tomb of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and his wife Margaret, they were the grandparents of Henry Tudor who we met in a previous post when he fought and defeated Richard lll at the Battle of Bosworth and became King Henry Vll of England.
The thing about Wimborne Minster that I found most interesting is that King Ethelred, the elder brother of Alfred the Great, was buried here in 871AD following his death in battle against Danish invaders. Alfred succeeded him as king. The exact location of Ethelred's tomb is unknown but is thought to be in the wall close to the high altar. This memorial brass was engraved about 1440 and is the only memorial brass effigy of an English king. Incidentally this is not the the same Ethelred as Ethelred the Unready who was a great grandson of King Alfred.
The sundial has a date of 1676 on it and has three faces which is very unusual. I would have liked to see the Minster's Chained Library but it was closed the day I was there probably because they were preparing the church for a funeral service. Wimborne is a pleasant enough town but it is, I regret to say, rather a dull place in spite of having a very long history. I did walk round the town clutching a little town guide but didn't find anything either especially interesting or especially beautiful and so,as it was by now mid afternoon, I decided that it was time to move on.
'I'll go back via the scenic route' I thought, 'and see whether I can find Knowlton Circles'. Well, it certainly was the scenic route, I got to know Wimborne St Giles quite well as I drove through it at least three times trying to find the lane to Knowlton! I could find any number of signs pointing in various directions but they all ended up in Wimborne St Giles. Eventually I came across a young couple and they were able to tell me the way, it was no wonder I'd missed the turn as it was up a very narrow lane with no sign at all and I drove on into what appeared to be a totally deserted landscape. The road climbed higher and higher and got narrower and narrower but eventually I spotted the silhouette of a church on the skyline and soon I was getting out of the car to explore. The ruined church is Norman and, as is the case with a great many Christian churches, it was built on an ancient pagan site.
Here you can see the bank and ditch of the henge which the church stands on, Knowlton has three henges in a row and the church is on the middle one with a fourth one known as 'Old Churchyard' to one side. In the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age it was apparently one of the most important ceremonial sites in Wessex, the equal of Stonehenge. Knowlton was once a thriving village and the capital of a Saxon hundred. It was devastated by the Black Death around 1485 and gradually people moved away and the church fell into disrepair in the 17th century. Knowlton 'village' now consists of one farm!
Knowlton was a centre for the building of Bronze Age round barrows, the one above is just to the east of the central henge and is the largest round barrow in Dorset and there are many others close by. By this time thoughts of dinner were beginning to enter my mind so I headed back to Iwerne Minster at the end of an enjoyable day. As so often happens though it was the unplanned parts that were the best.