Dorset on a cold and frosty morning

It’s the end of April and there is frost on the ground and ice on the windscreens.

What is the weather doing? Well, ne’er cast a clout until May is out, and the flower and the month aren’t even here yet.

Vapour trails from aeroplanes high in the sky cut through the blueness. Frost gives wonderful outlines to the plants on the ground. Long, winter shadows cast a nod to the morning sunshine.

It’s spring, but not as we know it.

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A beacon for the Queen

News of the Queen’s 90th birthday came slowly to the village.

‘Is anyone doing a beacon?’ the former parish council chairman asked.

We’d been planning one for HRH’s official birthday in June but, to be honest, the whole beacon lighting ceremony yesterday had passed us by.

‘Just do it,’ someone said. ‘Nobody will mind.’

So it was announced yesterday morning on Facebook and word soon spread. At ten to ten last night, people began to walk from the square down the road to gather in the layby outside the school. Under the beacon pole and basket, put up on the allotments for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, three figures in high-vis busied around.

The church clock struck ten – five minutes early – and the crowd waited in eager anticipation. At the official ten o’clock, a long pole with a flaming end was inserted into the beacon basket.

We waited. And waited. Cars passed by, their drivers peering at us and wondering what this big gathering was all about.

There was applause as the fire took hold. We sang Happy Birthday Dear Queenie and then the beacon spluttered and smouldered, like a Superser heater running out of gas. This was going to be a long night. If our village had been manning one of the beacons in 1588 to warn people the Armada was coming up the English Channel , we’d be speaking Spanish today.

After a good fifteen minutes – it could have been longer, nobody minded – the beacon finally burst into flames, lighting up the night sky. We cheered heartily and then went home.

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A day at the races

There’s a milk tanker overturned in the lane. So the rather smart Land Rovers, along with the not-so-smart, have to turn around and start all over again.

They come through the village square as we are loading up the dog, the picnic and the passengers.

‘Which way to the point-and-point?’they say.

‘The way you came,’ we reply.

And then they explain that there’s a blockage in the lane and they could go no farther. So we divert them up the hill and through the hollow, and down the windy lane  lined with emerging bluebells, primroses and a mass of white flowers which look like wood anemone but I can’t be sure.

Up at the field, there’s a queue outside in the road as the men on the gate take the money – £10 per passenger – and wave us through.

There are tables covered in cloths behind the open backs of four-by-fours. It’s like a very English version of a famous French painting, without the random naked woman sitting in the foreground. Some of the tables, including ours, look so grand they should be topped off with candelabra.

We tuck into chicken and ham pie, prawn cocktails in plastic cups, dainty sandwiches and meringues topped with strawberries and cream, all washed down with a bubbly.

Staggering to place our bets up with the bookies (couldn’t you have parked a little closer?), along the way we see friendly faces from the village and a little farther afield and exchange racing tips.

The horses saunter around the paddock dressed in Boden.

By the end of the day, one of us is up, another is evens and the rest of us have lost our £6 stakes, never to surface again.

The dog, meanwhile, has made new friends and wags her tail as she jumps into the back of the Land Rover to go home.

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April in the Dorset countryside

Ribbons of mist lie along the valleys this morning and the sky above is a brilliant blue.

In the wood, the bluebells are popping up their heads to say hello. There is a large fir tree across the path, its bowl of roots looking rather ungainly and uncomfortable. It’s as if the tree has fallen over with its dress up over its head. There is a large, watery crater below.

We can’t climb over the trunk  so we make a detour near the badger setts. The dog bounces on and then we’re out in the field and out of the shadows to take in the view. I drink it in. It is youth dew, this nature, this elixir of life.

In the fields beyond, tractors trundling with machinery behind them create a constant soundtrack. A raven caws as sheep bleat in the next-door field so I put the dog on the lead to avoid temptation.

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An outbreak of unpleasantness in the village

There have been shady characters and some unpleasantness in and around the village in recent days.

Three weeks ago, a beautiful red setter went missing. There have been a few possible sightings but nothing concrete. Despite a reward, posters everywhere and a very active social media presence, no-one knows what has happened to the poor dog.

The owners are frantic.

There has been vandalism with plant pots smashed and flowers strewn around, a can of paint thrown over a car and a break-in of a shed.

Last night we had a door-to-door salesman doing the rounds, in blue tracksuit and matching hold-all.

‘Lock your front door,’ I was told. ‘You never know.’

And indeed you don’t. A few years ago, a vagrant walked into the B&B next door demanding sustenance. And then there was someone more sinister who was trying every door handle he walked past.

I’ve just heard about an elderly man who was targeted by strangers demanding cash for a roof repair. Thanks to the intervention of someone else in the village, they didn’t get away with it. But not for the want of trying.

Living in a Dorset village, crime is not a big deal, so when it happens it becomes just that, a big deal.


Up on the village common

There’s a big, metal dragon behind the trees, in the field beyond the common. It comes ever closer, rattling and shuffling, until I can just make out the cab of a tractor pulling a plough.

I can smell the muddy earth as it’s raked through and turned over. And then, when I walk up onto the football pitch, the aroma turns to newly-mown grass. There’s a mini-tractor abandoned near a goal mouth, a perfect circuit cut out on the turf as if the field is being converted into an athletics track. Either soccer is making way for the four hundred metres or the mower has broken down. Or maybe the driver’s just gone to answer a call of nature.

The common cuts through the edge of this village. It begins with a copse where, a few years ago, volunteers formed informal but sturdy paths, steps and bridges over streams. The trees are full of rooks and their nests. It turns into a marshy area where orchids grow before becoming a small car park to service the football pitch, or, to give it its proper name, the community sports field .

This pitch was used years ago by village boys who are now almost old men. It was restored in more recent times by a willing and hardworking set of parents with the aid of grant funding and money raised from fetes and the like.

The common is split in two by the main road, down which motorists approach the village too quickly, the stupidity of drivers behind the wheels of liveried vans all too apparent as they exceed the 20mph limit, the name of their company emblazoned on the side of their vehicles. If brains were dynamite, they would not have enough to blow their beanie hats off.

The route to the rest of the common goes past the old toll house, where once a fee was collected to use the road. The house is now beautifully restored and up for sale, with an asking price of £495,000 – £205,000 more than it cost eighteen months ago. Someone, somewhere will fall in love with it and snap it up. A Londoner, probably.

Along the lane and the common opens out again into a copse of poplars before going into the point of an arrow head further up the hill towards Lewesdon.

The common, which in total covers seven-and-a-half acres, belongs to no-one and everyone, with the parish council for years trying to establish who bore the ultimate responsibility for this land that time forgot. It’s maintained now by local people and farmers, guided by a management plan drawn up by Dorset Wildlife Trust on behalf of the parish council.

There’s beauty in the detail, beauty in the whole. Common land for common people. Perfect.

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