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I thought I would start the newsletter on a sunny note, seeing this is the coldest time of the year in England. Two years ago I travelled to Australia to see friends and also to do some research on campsites in the 4 states I visited. I felt I had to go to Bridport in the county of Dorset in Tasmania (1) to compare their campsite with ones around this part of West Dorset. Bridport is situated in Tasmania’s north east coast which overlooks a bay and is surrounded by bushland reserves, white sand and the sloping vines of wineries. (2,3) The town’s population is 1350 which triples in the summer when the holidaymakers flock to the beach and campsite. (4,5). By comparison I had some brave campers come and stay on my site in the middle of January in the frost (6)


Some piglets arrived in January. They are now about 12 weeks old. Their breed is Saddleback and their names are Ginger, Pepper and Chops. When they get big enough they will be off to market.(7) The first lot of lambing has been successful and is nearly finished. The lamb in the photo is only 30 seconds old and its twin sister was born shortly afterwards. (8) Quite soon after lambs are born (within a week) they have their tails “docked” by placing an elastic band just below the bone so that the end of the tail will fall off and the lamb is kept cleaner (9) Keeping hedges and ditches tidy is an annual task (10)


We have Snowdrops along the road verge, on the garden banks and also on the riverside. Some of them are double (11). The Snowflakes are also coming out, but don’t seem so numerous as other years. (12) The Camelia is always to first to come out after Christmas (13) as is my neighbour’s Winter Jasmine (14). Although it was very late in the season to do this we pruned the pear tree on the side of the house. The proper time to do it is in June by cutting back to the last bud, but with lots of pears forming at that time of year it is never done at the right time. (15) The goose manure from last year is transported to the cottage garden ready for digging in soon, but the garden will need more compost as the goose manure is not old enough to be super effective. (16)


During the last month we have had snow flurries but fortunately they did not settle on our lanes. On the higher land eg Pilsdon Pen snow stayed around for about a day (17). Some people say the sight resembles a tortoise shell. On my way to do my weekly volunteer work in an East Devon school many of the fields were under water after excessive rain. (18)


The annual Whitchurch Big Breakfast at the end of January came around again, and this year some junior members of the community helped with waitressing. (19,20). One of the most interesting jobs they had was to find the owner of the car whose alarm came on very loudly in the car park (21)


In December Whitchurch residents were lucky enough to witness a very old type of entertainment. In Victorian times mumming plays were common throughout southern England, but now only a handful survive performing from original scripts. The play that the Symondsbury group perform is considered to be the most complete example of its kind and the Mummers do their play about five times each Christmas. (22, 23, 24). We were also entertained by a local folk group (25) and the audience was asked to dress in period costume for the event (26,27).

Some historians think that this style of entertainment came to England with returning crusaders in the Middle Ages, as similar plays are found in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany. The word mummer has connections to other words like: mumble, mime, pantomime and mum (as in keeping ‘mum’) Mummers’ plays were originally mime or dumb shows. The theme of the play is of death and resurrection and are typically performed at the end (death) of the old year – and the (birth) signifying the beginning of the new year.


This small hamlet is about 3 miles from Crabbs Bluntshay. It is believed that Bettiscombe is a Celtic name meaning ‘sacred place or chapel’. A cell of Benedictine Monks from Caen in France established themselves at Frampton, near Dorchester, possibly during the 11th century. It is thought that Bettiscombe was established by a further cell of monks coming to the ‘Great Wood’ of the Marshwood Vale to turn a pagan altar into a Christian church. The earliest traces of the existing church building date from the 14th century. The mullions and lights of some of the windows from that time were incorporated into the rebuilt church in 1862. (28) It is believed that the famous Dorset author and poet Thomas Hardy was involved with the building of this church The present church has a beautiful stone font and pulpit (29, 30), and an organ which was installed in 1852. (31). The kneelers were donated by the local Bugler family and handstitched by local residents. (32)

The village school was erected in the 1860s after a local MP gave land for that purpose to educate 60 children. (33). The school photo, which hangs in the church is dated 1913. (34) My father and his three sisters attended Bettiscombe school walking the 3 miles in all winds and weather. In the 1920s between 30-40 children attended which was divided into 2 classes – juniors and infants. The school was deemed ‘unsafe’ during the 1930s and closed and the children transferred to Marshwood School which is still thriving today.


Bettiscombe is famous for its Screaming Scull. It was believed that the skull was that of a Jamaican slave. The Pinneys disposed of their Nevis estates with the emancipation of slaves and returned to the family home of Betticombe Manor in 1863, accompanied by one of the family’s faithful old black servants, called Bettiscombe. Later the servant was taken ill with TB. As he lay dying he swore that he would never rest unless his body was returned to his homeland of Nevis. This was not be as John Pinney refused to pay for such an expensive burial and instead had the body interred in the grounds of St Stephen’s Church in the village. It is said that following the burial ill fortune plagued the village for many months and screams and crying were heard from the cemetery. Animals on the farm died, crops failed and the Manor House seemed to rock.

After the body was exhumed and the skull taken into the house all was quiet. At the turn of the 20th century the skull was said to have been heard screaming which reverberated throughout the house and was also heard by villagers and farm workers. In 1914 the skull is said to have sweated blood. In 1963 the skull was examined by a professor of Human and Comparative Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons who decided that the skull was probably that of a female aged between 25 and 30, rather small but European and certainly not negroid. Alternative theories came to the fore – she was either a young lady who had been hidden in the house as a fugitive or hostage, or a skull found in one of the numerous prehistoric burial mounds that are sited in the nearby western hills.


I have recently joined the Bridport Community Orchard Group and went along to their Wassailing event. The Wyld Morris group entertained us with music, singing and Morris dancing (35, 36, 37). One of the main reasons for the event is to bless the apples for a good harvest later in the year. A wassail queen (38) (or king) is chosen. There is usually a parade to the oldest tree in the orchard. This couldn’t be done here as all the trees are very young, being part of a new orchard! At the tree the queen dips a piece of toast (or bread) into cider and places it into the bough of the tree to attract favourable spirits. (39). More cider is then poured round the base of the tree (40) and then the evil spirits are scared away with loud noises, which included a Tibetan Prayer horn (41), a didgeridoo, and lots of percussion instruments. (It has been known for some people to let off a gun up through the branches) Some groups would then serenade the tree. The custom of wassailing dates back to pagan times but has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as cider has regained popularity among drinkers. Traditionally the wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night.



Wassail, wassail, may the coming year
Peace and plenty bring to all who wassail here

Drink to the bud and the blossom
Drink to the root of the tree
Drink to the fruit of the summer
Wassail let cider run free


Wassail the silver shilling
Wassail the silver moon
Wassail the silver apple
Drink, hail the sign of the sun.

An old rhyme goes:

WASSAIL the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.

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