CAMPSITE

At long last campsites are allowed to open on 4th July. For the first week I am allowing units that have their own facilities to stay – as mine will not be ready for another week. I have just bought a portable toilet and tent to add to the facilities in the cabin and down at the side of the farm house. (1, 2) This new purchase is to make the queues shorter.

The large map which normally sits in the kitchen area of the cabin will still be there, as will the photos of activities on the farm, and illustrated details of Dorset, Bridport and Whitchurch Canonicorum. These will have to have ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ signs on them. Unfortunately I will not be able to put out the files showing all the newsletters I have written since April 2013. Neither will there be any tourist information leaflets. Government restrictions will not allow this type of thing to be on display.

DORSET LEISURE CENTRE AT CHARMOUTH

This business is the closest company to Bluntshay that sells camping and caravanning goods. (3, 4, 5) It is run by Shaun Gillings whose family has had the business since the late 1970s. The Dorset Leisure Centre has survived the lockdown purely because of adequate insurance and some internet business. At the moment it is selling winter stock (which is extensive), as the lockdown came into being just when the summer stock would have been ordered. The new stock should arrive shortly.

Inside the shop it is an Aladdin’s Cave for anyone wanting to have a holiday in the great outdoors. (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

It is normally open all year. The nearest shop selling similar items would be in Exeter or Poole. So we are lucky to have such a good camping and caravanning business so close in West Dorset.

Originally the Gillings family ran a petrol station which sold static and touring caravans as a sideline. (11) When the Charmouth Bypass was completed in 1991 which diverted all the traffic, (except local), from driving through Charmouth, the fuel side of the business dropped by more than a half. It was decided at this point to concentrate wholly on the camping and caravanning business and close the petrol sales – and there has been no looking back!

FARM

All the grass has been cut on half the farm and made into good silage. The other three fields I leave until July so that the seeds can drop back into the soil and keep the wild flower meadows going. We will start mowing these fields in a week or so.

The Indian Runner ducks, after looking quite ugly with very big feet for a while, have become beautiful, elegant and friendly birds. (12) One even had a ‘selfie’ taken. (13)

The 4 chicks have developed into 3 cockerels and one hen. For a few weeks they lived in this 70 year old run. (14) Last weekend we transferred them to something bigger, but rather fragile. (15) This is called an arc (about 60 years old) and had been sitting on blocks for years and the sheep had made holes in the chicken wire. With various pieces of grille and plastic netting it was made safe and the poultry transferred. (16) The three cockerels are very vicious and peck at the slightest chance. They will soon be ready for the pot! I have to deal with the poultry early in the morning and late at night, so that I am not stung, as the arc is right next to an old chicken house with a swarm of bees in it.

Meanwhile Eleanor has bought some fully grown Lohmann Brown hens. (17) They appear to be very good layers, (18) and run outside during the day, inside a plastic fence which is electrified. (19) The ducks and the other hens will be joining them soon. I expect there will be some fighting.

After we had moved the animals out to grass a few weeks ago one of the calves got out into the road within hours. It is a complete mystery why as it had its mother in the same field. It would not have been bullied and driven into the ditch, behind the wire fence and through the hedge. But somehow it found a small hole in the road hedge and was making its way down the road when a local person found it, rang Alisha and together they got it back into the field. We then had to do some repair work by bending over branches and pushing them into the space. (20)

We have been trying to do some tidying up and found this old chain harrow rolled up and buried into the soil. (21) It took a lot of effort to pull it out and now rests on top of the roller so that it doesn’t get buried again. It will never be used again. A relic from the past!

GARDEN

I am either spending hours watering when we have no rain, or weeding when we have continuous showers. The last of the top soil was used on the front garden. (22) There is quite a lot of space to fill but I haven’t decided what to plant there yet. Shrubs I expect.

I have just picked the gooseberries ready for selling at the local farm shop. (23). The blackcurrants are ready too but I haven’t time to do them at the moment. (24)

HARDOWN HILL

Hardown Hill rises 207 m (679 ft) above sea level behind the villages of Morcombelake and Ryall. (25) The A35 main road from Bridport to Exeter runs along the base of it, (26) a little way in from the Lyme Bay coast at Stanton St Gabriel. On the other side of the hill the village of Whitchurch Canonicorum is at its base. The hill is a prominent feature in the local landscape, with stunning views in all directions.

The National Trust and (27) the Chideock Manor Estate are the major landowners of Hardown Hill, with smaller areas being owned by private individuals. (28)

The heathland at the top of the hill is an increasingly rare habitat in southern England and it is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (SSSI – blue section) This area covers about 30 acres (12 hectares). In the spring there are carpets of bluebells and in summer three different species of heather are in flower – Bell Heather, Ling and Cross-leaved Heath. (29) Snakes, bats, lizards and birds are present on the hill and in summer after dusk you may see glow-worms and hear the very unusual call of the nightjar. In fact, so far this year at least 3 nightjars, one glow-worm and several adders have been seen.

For centuries, until the 1940s, many thousands of tons of gravel were extracted from quarries on Hardown Hill. At the peak of the industry 20 men were employed all the year-round. The gravel was mainly used on the roads around the Marshwood Vale. Some of the coarser gravel was extracted for hardcore foundations in building houses. Chert (a stone similar to flint) from the hill was used in local buildings, including the church at Catherston Leweston.

There are nine tumuli or burial mounds, dating from the Bronze Age on the top of the hill. Most are circular and are called bowl barrows, (30) and vary in size from 22 feet in diameter to 57 feet. The depth varies from one foot to three feet deep. In 1916 a local man was on the hill with his dog looking for rabbits. The dog started digging down a hole and unearthed Saxon artefacts including an umbo, (a knob from a shield) axe heads, spear heads and a hammer headed brooch. These relics are now in the Dorset County Museum.

The Hill is a haven for walkers on the many footpaths, (31, 32, 33) and the views are magnificent. (34) Southwards, one can see Golden Cap, Charmouth, Lyme Regis (35) and even as far as Portland to the east. To the north, beyond the village of Whitchurch Canonicorum the hills of Lamberts Castle and Pilsdon Pen can be seen. There is a kissing gate which limits access at one point on the hill. (36) The inevitable Vodafone mast rises up in the vegetation as a necessary modern day addition to the scenery. (37)

Having an afternoon walking around Hardown Hill with 2 friends was the first social life I had had since lockdown. One of my friends has a beautiful garden on the side of the hill with amazing views of the Marshwood Vale. (38)

The Hardown Society was founded in 1968 to resist an application for commercial quarrying, which would have put the hill out of bounds to the public and changed it irreversibly. The Society’s aim was “to safeguard the future of the hill as open space for the benefit of the public”. It currently has about 200 members who are mainly local residents.

RESEEDING OF THE MEADOW

Nick Gray, from the Dorset Wildlife Trust, visited Bluntshay recently to examine the wild flower meadow opposite the campsite to see what species were growing there. (39, 40) There was an extensive SNCI survey completed in 2012 and it seems that there has been a slight drop in the number of species since that time. As no fertilizer and very little manure is spread on this meadow the reason for this drop is a mystery. Nick commented that there was an anomaly in the fact that in 2012 Bird’s-foot trefoil was quite abundant, but in 2020 there was a complete absence of it!

It was suggested that there should be some botanical enhancement on the field but not to interfere too much with such an historical sward. On the other hand it would be interesting to see a wider variety of flowers for the invertebrates at least. Also it was said that because the field had been unimproved for so long the soil would welcome new species, where they would struggle in more improved ground with a higher soil fertility. Advice from a SNCI panel would be sought in the meantime.

One technique would be to hand harvest seed from certain areas in the field (eg Oxeye daisy and Common cat’s-ear) and grow on plugs for more widespread planting next year.

Another would be to acquire from seed merchants target species like Corky-fruited water dropwort, Betony, Bird’s-foot trefoil, and Dyers greenweed and hand sow the seed after the grass is cut for silage.

The following are photos taken during Nick’s visit –

The meadow will be mown within the next few weeks so we will have to start some of this “enhancement” very soon.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Clare Maddie, Nick Grey, Eleanor Lambert and staff at the Dorset Leisure Centre, Charmouth.