The middle of nowhere

Eggardon Hill

FAR FROM the madding crowd, skirting the shadows of Eggardon Hill, is a blessed, soul-swelling silence. Waterproof trousers swish, snow crunches, crows squawk. And that is all we can hear.

This tiny corner of West Dorset is like Narnia, so still and wintry: a stream ices over, petrified stubble cobbles the fields.

Logging on

Nearby, the tiny villages of Nettlecombe and Powerstock are eerily quiet, unbearably charming under their light dusting of snow.

Sign language

But the real beauty lies off the beaten track, where we can follow the prints and trails left by other creatures as they gad about these parts.

Who goes there?

Crossing a field, we spot large paw prints. Seemingly trotting along next to a pair of size 12s, surely they belong to a dog padding beside its owner? Or could they be evidence of the legendary Big Cat? There have been so many reports of slinking, lynx-like beasts in Nettlecombe, Powerstock and beyond that the Dorset Big Cats Register was set up to chronicle sightings.

Passing through a farm, we surprise a smaller version: a black-and-white farm cat scratching for mice in bales of hay. It claws and leaps away, green eyes glaring.

After two and a half miles of scampering about our snowy kingdom, we are glad to cross a stile and end up next to the Marquis of Lorne. This inn has been gladdening hungry travellers since the 16th century. Today, it offers up a splendid gamekeeper’s lunch of hearty homemade soup and a hunk of fine cheese. We tuck in.

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