Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

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.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post, about a wonderful afternoon. I hadn't known about Badbury Rings before and think I may find my way there too. Lots of unusual and quirky things to report - I did wonder if the rigmarole of the signposts was a left over from WWII to confuse invaders! Thank you for a lovely interlude in my day Rowan. x

Wanda said...

I had the most pleasant time here...such soothing music Rowan.
the drawing of the Badbury Rings did help with visualizing...I always enlarge all of your great photos...even the cows, who do look a little serious!... The monument to Sir Edward Uvedale in the Minster was rich in colors...Thanks for the wonderful tour of your countryside.

PAT said...

I never cease to be amazed, seeing your posts of these incredible ancient places!!

Thanks so much!

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

how wonderful! this time last year i was living in the tiny village of ansty, ten miles of winding lane from Iwerne Minster and not much further from Bradbury Rings and Wimborne...many nice days i would drive up to the rings in my 2cv just to see the views!

Anonymous said...

A really interesting post Rowan. Its a nice area to visit. Good to see you got the pronunciation right, it does fool a lot of people. In really broad Dorset it sounds more like "yearn", but then you would need an interpreter. I should know I married one. {:)

FireLight said...

Once again I feel as if I have been touring the English countryside with you. Not only do you have a a very sharpe eye for your subjects, but you add such marvelous, informative text. You are your own THIS ENGLAND, Rowan.
In the summer of 1989, I had a grand opportunity to visit Dorchester as part of a study of THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE. A similar landmark as the Badbury Rings is featured in the novel--a place for a secret meeting--and our seminar visited there for a group photo. It really takes visiting these ancient places to get the true feel of their scope and impact on the landscape. However, your photos are really well framed and do set the scene for your readers here. Thank you for the tour!

Lynda (Granny K) said...

What a fascinating area, so much history - wonderful!

Sheila said...

What a productive day. I agree with you about the monument to Sir Edward Uvedale, he looks very relaxed. Though how comfortable he would be lying there in his suit if armour I'm not sure.
I've never visited Dorset, it is where my paternal grandmother was born.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! I always wonder how they managed to move so much earth at those Iron Age hill forts - what an amazing job they did. I also love the Norman style - it is so clear and simple (in a lovely way) - very strong and plain.

Thimbleanna said...

Thanks for another wonderful tour Rowan! I especially enjoyed that cute little grenadier, the "monkeys" (ha!) and Sir Edward Uvedale -- what a cool tomb.

Gracie said...

Thanks again for taking me with you on a discovering trip! Another amazing place to write on my personal list of places of interest for my next visit to UK.
Gracie at

Rosie said...

As usual a wonderfully informative post - I've really enjoyed reading it. Haven't seen Badbury Rings - looks really interesting. The cottage in Iwerne Minster looks wonderful. It must be about 20 years since we stayed in Wimbourne Minster - we visited the Priest's House Museum because the Curator at the time was on my Museum's diploma course and he showed us round - I guess it has changed a lot since them!

Derrick said...

Hello Rowan,

Another super trip with lots of interesting information. We have some synchronicity with the cows! Glad you liked my Newcastle pics. It is a great city and full of lots to see and do.

Leanne said...

another fab post rowan! :-)

Leanne x

Tina said...

Thanks for taking me on this nice trip. England has so beautiful and mystic places! Really interesting post for me who just can't come over the Channel.

Mary said...

How beautiful our country is Rowan. You are so generous to share these country travels always - showing us new places of immense interest (all to the sound of the most wonderful English country music too!).

I really have only seen the coastal area of Dorset - Lyme Regis etc. - as it's not far from my home area of South Devon. Dorset IS a lovely county, perhaps one of those future trips home will enable me to follow your trail! I feel quite guilty that I've seen so little of my homeland. That's what happens when you leave for a year........and 46 years later are kicking yourself that you never went back except for too short, too busy holidays!!!

I'm much better now - thanks for stopping by and enquiring. We are having some drizzly rain today - reminds me of home so I don't really mind.

Warm wishes, and more great trips around our "green and pleasant land".

Nao said...

Beautiful, inspiring tour of sacred ground~

Thank you, your posts are like a holiday.

Piecefulafternoon said...

Absolutely astonishing!!!

Val said...

Knowlton is an atmospheric place, I sometimes chose the long drive over there for a solstice evening...just to think, they built the banks to keep something IN, not the enemy OUT....