HANDS up if you, too, are guilty of neglecting the ancient settlement of Charminster, speeding through with nary a glance on your way to Cerne Abbas.
Charminster reminds us of Maiden Newton – a villagey bowl of beauty, full of surprises and rural walks. Poundbury looms in the distance and Hardy’s Monument stands proud on the skyline. As we descend into the valley, we can hear traffic zooming in, out and round Dorchester, but happily get lost in discovering all sorts of gateways and secret gardens to poke our noses into. Houses crowd higgledy-piggledy down lanes where the Rivers Cerne and Frome meet, and tinkle.
Deep in the heart of the village lies the stunning church of St Mary the Virgin, which according to our favourite guidebook, is “famous for its magnificent tower built of warm red Ham Hill stone early in the 15th century.”
Around the corner from the church is the fast-flowing Cerne River, where children throw sticks for a Border Collie.
Here, the parish council has erected one of the best interpretation boards we’ve ever seen*. It’s the first sign we see of Charminster’s fine sense of community, from well-tended public areas to the three lost gloves left hanging on a fence and a young community orchard. And fellow ramblers are so friendly, you half expect them to doff hats in greeting.
We pass a meadow with a strutting, crowing cockerel, a galloping, whinnying horse, darting wild rabbits and a single, uncomprehending, sheep. Our walk becomes a leafy tunnel beneath a bedraggled hedgerow and hill.
In keeping with this new age of austerity, we’ve brought ham sandwiches, and munch contentedly in the conveniently-located Princes Plot Nature and Picnic Area, a small but sweet nature reserve. As we emerge high above the valley, deep blue sky and splashes of yellow gorse revive our sun-parched spirits. Skirting the riverbanks, sheep scramble in an undignified flock, under the gaze of a buzzard and a white egret sharing the same tree. We’re not sure if we’re watching them, or they’re watching us.
But rainclouds are gathering, so, reluctantly, we head home.
*We’re so impressed with the parish council’s interpretation board that a significant portion is lovingly reproduced below:
The name Charminster means ‘minster church on the River Cerne’. The word Cerne derives from the Celtic meaning ‘the winding stream’…Charminster is a large Parish containing ten medieval settlements and their lands, some of which still exist today such as Forston and Burton…Charminster has a long history of habitation highlighted by the discovery and excavation of a Roman villa with a mosaic pavement in 1891 in a field called Wall’s Field just off the A352 to the west of Herrison. Other evidence of the long history of the parish can be seen from Higher Charminster, where the humps and bumps above Mill Lane are the remains of a Medieval Farmstead…More recently the Parish has been dominated by Herrison Hospital, built in the 1860s as the second County Lunatic Asylum. The first was at Forston, which also lies in the parish, but which has reverted to its original use as a private house.