A BRIGHT and frosty Sunday stroll around the Brit Valley yields up a clutch of rural delights: bee hives, chicken coops, a black cat hunched and glaring on a cottage roof, hurdles staking out the boundaries of country estates.
But first, in a field behind the Half Moon Inn, we spot a little lamb, bundled up in a red coat against the cold, tottering next to its mother. Could this be the first lamb of the season? Perhaps not: according to the Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset Sheep Breeder’s Association, this is the only sheep that can breed all year round. Yum.
The path we take (Walk Two from Anne-Marie Edwards’ excellent guide book, Pub Strolls In Dorset) leads us through a farm where I see my first free walker in action (one of those machines that exercises four or five horses by walking them between rotating gates).
Wandering past Slape Manor, a Georgian pile worthy of any Austen bodice-baiter (technically, it’s Netherbury, I suppose), we stumble on a charming little cottage nestling on the banks of the River Brit. Chickens peck about, ducks swim on the water, plumes of grey churn and swirl from the chimney, and a bay tree leans protectively over spikes of rosemary, sage and thyme. Could this be Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s original River Cottage HQ – the gamekeeper’s cottage, as rented from Slape Manor? We thought so…
Melplash is very pretty, but too isolated. We even had to unfold the Ordnance Survey map, because (shock! horror!) the iPhone wasn’t working. So would we live there? No mobile phone signal, no internet…no thanks.