THE crooked chimneys of the manor house where Enid Blyton lived in the Fifties peep out above roses climbing stone walls.
We pause to admire the gingerbread roof and fairytale idyll, then the four of us (plus Fern the Staffordshire Bull Terrier) jump out of our skins as suddenly, rudely, the peace of Stourton Caundle is shattered by a tractor rocketing through the village. It’s pulling a giant trailer full of grassy bits.
Just a few miles down the road is Marnhull, childhood home of Tess Durbeyfield, who along with embittered, alcoholic Marion, harvested turnips in the frozen Dorset fields in return for a bed and a few coins. No need for hands in the 21st century. What would Thomas Hardy have made of this rattle and roar, watching three or four tractors waltzing round a combine harvester as it chops the crops?
Here in a field in the middle of the Blackmore Vale, the air – hot and lusty like August – is dusty with maize particles. Hazy hills fall back all around us. The dog is knee-deep in muddy slop as we trudge over hill, and down dale.
As the clatterings and clankings get louder, we scramble into the hedgerows to dodge yet more tractors bearing the newly mown silage back to Brunsell Farm.
Guineafowl peck round a grain store. The odd butterfly dances past. Like a child on a nature walk I collect a bird’s egg, acorn still wearing its little wooden cap, a conker, some shrivelled sycamore leaves. Two gundogs bark loudly at us until they’re sure we’ve been frightened off. We find a bridleway leading through a green and leafy wood.
Fern skips ahead, we trundle behind. We pass a grain store for pheasants. We kick through ploughed fields and hop over barbed wire-encrusted stiles. We pick our way over discarded maize cobs. We find mushrooms – edible, hallucinogenic, or toxic?
Then it’s back to the village, and time for ginger beer.