SUCKERS for silly-sounding place names, we’re terribly excited when Google maps reveal to us the heretofore uncharted territories of Fishpond Bottom, close to Lyme Regis and the Devon border. But this tiny hamlet is so tiny, we somehow manage to miss it altogether. Despite a five mile hike around the Marshwood Vale, we only skirt the edges of a green bowl, where our promised land lies.
Taking it from the top, my first tumble comes scampering up the ramparts at the Iron Age hill fort Coney Castle, landing cushioned by piles of damp and pungent leaf mulch.
As we descend towards Fishpond Bottom, the sun sparkles off Lyme Bay. The path is studded with splashes of yellow gorse. This is Dorset at its best – truly an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
All I know about Fishpond Bottom is what I can glean from the blog by local photographer Jonathan Tolhurst, who intriguingly mentions that the hamlet is named ‘after the Fishpond which was created by some breakaway monks from Abbotsbury’.
The terrain is not for the faint-booted. We take an unmetalled road, slipping and sliding our way along ancient lanes cobbled together by people from long ago. It’s spongy, boggy, and sometimes we’re ankle-deep in slurry.
After panting up a hilly incline we pause for a picnic next to Nettlemore Farm. Perching on three-legged stools, shelling hard-boiled eggs and munching on chunks of cheddar, we excite the interest of two small boys playing spies. Peering at us through binoculars, they alternately hide behind a hedge, drag out a telescope on a tripod and take photographs of us with a disposable camera. In turn, we train our binoculars back on them and can’t stop laughing.
We keep on trekking. Halfway down a sloping field, craning my neck to follow a kestrel’s flight, I slip and land splat! in an enormous cow pat.
Undeterred, we trample on – and suddenly realise we’ve somehow stumbled into foreign lands. The B3165 road creates a natural boundary between Devon and Dorset. To our right, the paths are badged up by Devon County Council…
…and on our left, street furniture is stamped with the logo of neighbouring authority, Dorset County Council.
What a bureaucratic minefield! Is it unfair to imagine buck-passing phone calls from Dorchester to Exeter? Who’s in charge of clearing fallen trees from the road? Or potholes?
As we stumble on, fungus and lichen clutch at trunks and logs. Mossy tree roots morph into copper piles of leaves.
We emerge at Lamberts Castle, high on the Wessex Ridgeway – the perfect wild camping spot come the summer. We dip down and look into the round bowl valley below. The Marshwood Vale stretches out in a lazy green haze.
As we clamber back towards the car, sheep fart loudly behind us. Pink starts to stripe the sky, and the sun sets on Fishpond Bottom. I smell of cow dung all the way home.