Friday, 24 June 2016

A June Day at Cranborne

On a warm June Wednesday I drove across the Hampshire border with some friends, for a visit to Cranborne Manor Gardens, in Dorset`s Cranborne Chase. 
The Gardens are approached through a colourful and well stocked Garden Centre.We met for coffee and then made our way through rose-covered walled gardens, where beds of vegetables grow alongside drifts of wild flowers and sown cottage garden blooms.

Colours and scents tempt bees, butterflies and gardeners.

Climbing roses, underplanted with cranesbill geraniums.

Daisies, corncockles and splashes of scarlet poppies.

Vegetable beds in the kitchen garden, and a rustic "hut" of wood for sweet peas to climb.


Through a door in the garden wall, we walked along mown grass pathways, through meadows of wild flowers, towards the Manor House.

Yellow rattle, daisies, orchids and salad burnet, buttercups and clover grew among the grasses.

Down towards the Manor gates, where red brick walls and roses glowed in the sultry heat.

Cranborne Manor has been a family home for centuries and is not open to the public. Its current owner is Viscount Cranborne, eldest son of the seventh Marquis of Salisbury.

The original house was built in the twelfth century, as a hunting lodge for King John. The countryside of Cranborne Chase had been a Royal hunting ground since the Norman Conquest.

In 1604, the estate was given to Robert Cecil, Chief Minister to both Elizabeth I and James I, in thanks for overseeing a smooth transition between the Tudor and Stewart reigns.

Changes and additions to both house and gardens have taken place over the centuries. I was fascinated to discover that the early 17th century gardens were designed by Mounten Jenning and planted by the great plant hunter John Tradescant.

This and more information about the house, garden and the modern Estate can be found on

Through a wooden gate in the garden wall, we walked around to the back of the house, where the rear doorway gives a feeling of great antiquity and a sense of countless passing feet, over so many centuries.

From the back of the house, the view stretches down across the ha-ha and over a gate, into an avenue of green limes and lush pasture.

Walking on, we found an ornamental pond.......

......and free range chickens, contentedly foraging in the shelter of garden walls.

There are richly planted herbaceous borders in the walled area between the Manor House and Cranborne village. Early delphiniums promised a fine display, beside Church Walk that leads to the churchyard gate.

Masses of  pinks and old roses filled the warm air with summer scent.

An apple archway spans drifts of nepeta (catmint) and allium.

An ancient holm oak.........

...beside an avenue of limes.

We walked through their shade and back into wildflower meadows. 

Such an old and lovely place to walk, surrounded by birdsong and the sights and smells of summer. This is a garden to return to and enjoy again. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

At Bucklers Hard

On a warm, grey day last week, a group from our village met for lunch and our summer outing. This year we visited the hamlet of Bucklers Hard, which slopes down to the Beaulieu River and has long been a part of the Beaulieu Estate.
Bucklers Hard was a ship building community for centuries, using oak wood from the New Forest to fashion into ships. The skilled carpenters and shipwrights lived in cottages bordering a wide passageway, along which the timber could be brought down to dry docks at the edge of the water. Ships were built in wooden scaffolding frames for support and a small ship was often built beside a larger vessel, so that leftover small lengths of wood from the larger vessel could still be used.

Shipbuilding here was at its busiest during the eighteenth century, as the Royal Navy built its fleet to answer the threat posed by the French. Under the direction of Henry Adams, three "ships of the line", HMS Euryalus, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Agamemnon, were built here. They were part of Admiral Lord Nelson`s fleet that won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson`s own ship, HMS Victory, was built in the deeper waters of Chatham Dockyard in Kent.

The inlets below are the remains of the two docks where ships were built.

Today`s peaceful grassy sward was once a busy, bustling, noisy yard where the craftsmen plied their trades and where horses and carts came and went, delivering wood and supplies.

The rows of Georgian houses at Bucklers Hard were home to those who built the ships. From senior ships architects to the lowliest carpenters, they lived alongside each other in houses that reflected their status in both size and facilities.

Below is the reconstructed interior of a shipwright`s home in the late 1700s.

One of the cottages is a small chapel where the community worshipped. 

This plaque commemorates the life of a more modern sailor, Sir Francis Chichester, who kept his Gypsy Moth yachts in the marina that is now the mainstay of maritime life at Bucklers Hard. 
Chichester was the first yachtsman to sail solo around the world, and in both directions.

Today, the Beaulieu River at Bucklers Hard is crowded with yachts of all descriptions. A pleasure boat takes visitors for trips along the river.

Seventy years ago, this tranquil waterway was a hive of activity. Motor torpedo boats were built here during WWII and the river was an embarkation point as the Allies planned and launched Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi Occupied France. Many troops embarked and sailed down the Beaulieu River to reach the Solent and the English Channel, before heading south for the Normandy coast and the D Day landings of early June, 1944.

Across the Beaulieu River are the marshes and woods of the Exbury Estate.
A great variety of seabirds and waders live and breed on the river.
Fenced off from the public are two areas of the Bucklers Hard quay, where oystercatchers have built their nests in shallow shingle scrapes.

Below, the female oystercatcher is sitting on her nest in full view of the world.

As we watched, her mate arrived, the chicks emerged from their mother`s feathers and ran to meet him, to be fed.

This gave the mother bird a chance to stretch her legs, so she walked along the water`s edge, partly hidden from our view by grass and oxeye daisies.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Blue Tit Webcam - Part Three

The final instalment of our Blue Tit webcam began with one healthy chick remaining in the nest. The second chick had been slow to feed. One night it disappeared. We assume that it must have died in the night and was removed by the parent bird. The top photo shows the remaining chick snuggled up in the nest with its mother.

The chick changed and grew daily, gaining more and more markings and characteristics of an adult Blue Tit.

The unhatched eggs were still in the nest.

In this fuzzy picture, both the parent birds arrived at once to feed the chick.

The days went by, but a change came on the seventeenth day after hatching. We switched on the webcam images in the morning to find that the mother bird, so diligent and always with her chick when not out finding food, had disappeared. 

 The hungry chick was peeping and moving around its nest. We feared that it had been abandoned.
At last, the male bird appeared with a maggot and fed his chick. He seemed to realise that it was now his job to care for this youngster and he went off hunting again. For two days, the male bird fed the chick, who grew rapidly and began to spread his wings and hop around inside the nest box.

The mother never returned. She must have been predated by a magpie, a crow, a sparrow hawk or a cat. Our own cats are on curfew while the birds are fledging, but it could have been the black cat from along the lane.
A sad ending for a hard working and attentive little bird, but that is the way that nature works.

Here is the male bird feeding his chick.

Last Friday, in the middle of the morning, the bird had flown!
Mr DW went outside to see both parent and chick on the roof of the house, not far from the nest box.
The chick was fed and then both birds flew off together. We hope that they reached the cover of a nearby old oak tree and that one healthy chick and his father escape the predators and have the chance to live.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A Diesel Day in May, on the Swanage Railway

The Swanage Railway in Dorset is a volunteer-run service taking passengers from the seaside town of Swanage, north through the Purbeck Hills and almost as far as Wareham at the mouth of the River Frome.
The railway was initially closed by the 1960`s Beeching Cuts but has been reopened and restored in recent years. The sight of one of its steam locomotives puffing through the Purbeck Hills is nostalgic, always exciting and a testament to the hard work of the many keen men and women who have strived to restore the railway. More information is on

For four days in early May, 2016, Swanage Railway held a Diesel Gala and Beer Festival, which attracted enthusiasts from all over the country. Restored diesel engines took over the work of the usual steam locomotives and pulled carriages up and down the line from Swanage. They reportedly carried over 4,000 passengers during the Gala.

The blue engine above and below was being used for a "Train Driving Experience" and Mr DW was lucky enough to have been given this experience for his birthday.  We set off early from the New Forest and drove westwards to the Purbecks on a sunny Saturday. At Norden Station, near Corfe Castle, Mr DW and our elder son climbed aboard and enjoyed a wonderful morning learning to drive the train, on the up-line from Norden to just south of Wareham where the track now ends.

Below, they are setting off, under the road bridge and away!

While they were busy "playing trains", I walked up towards the main station with our daughter-in-law and the Slate Grey Dog, who was about to experience something completely new and exciting.
Trees along the pathway were coming into leaf and wild flowers were everywhere.

From the railway platform, we looked across at the signal box, and old green carriage, all lovingly restored.

A diesel passed through the station and the Slate Grey Dog was quite unruffled by the noise and unfamiliar smells.

Another engine, the Ark Royal, passed by.

Past cattle trucks and station buildings, we found a short path that led to a siding where trucks and a small engine rested.

This little train once carried clay from Purbeck quarries to the local potteries. The Purbecks have a history of water and sewage pipe manufacture and clay smoking pipe production. It is hard to dig in a local cottage garden without discovering broken stems of old clay pipes that were smoked by previous inhabitants.

We found a grassed-over bridge that spanned the railway line just south of Norden Station. We sat down to enjoy the warm day and the view across fields to ruined Corfe Castle beyond. Grass banks and hedgerows were studded with bluebells and their scent filled the morning air.

Another well-loved and freshly painted diesel snaked into view, passing the Castle and whistling as directed by the green sign.

People embarked from the short platform, the train moved on and peace returned.

Another train came around the corner......

....and whistled on cue.

We waited until Mr DW and Son appeared, smiling broadly at the end of their train driving time.
A few more diesels came and went. A great many happy enthusiasts poured on and off the platform, in and out of the old green carriages that hauled them through hills and meadows, down towards the sea and the beer at Swanage.

We wandered back through the trees to find a shady place beside a bluebell wood, where a picnic lunch restored us for an afternoon walk with the dogs across  heathland near Wareham, a few miles to the north.