Camping at the Five Bells

NOT a cloud in the sky – perfect camping weather.

We’ve pitched up in a field behind the village pub in Whitchurch Canonicorum (near Chideock). No frills, fiver a head. We share the toilet with nesting bees and ants. It’s glorious.

All we can hear are the birds twittering in the trees. We’re at the top of a hill sloping down to a clutch of caravans, a couple of cottages and the Five Bells Inn.

The evening air’s heady with the scent of freshly-mown grass. Bats swoop low as the sun sets in a pink blaze. After a barbecue dinner of home-made burgers, we head for the pub to mingle with friendly locals and their dogs. At closing time, we clamber back up the hill and gaze up at the stars.

Woken by the dawn chorus, we find the sun burning off mists hanging over the vale. What shall we do today? Absolutely nothing. Still with the field to ourselves, we gently faff round the tents and sit in the sunshine. We read, play cricket, and talk, and decide to go for a walk.

We saunter down towards the church, past a thatched cottage and a winding footpath strewn with nettles and wildflowers. A field of wild buttercups stretches away to our left. Ahead, the church tower peeks above the tall hedge.

It’s 1,000 years old, and stuffed to the belfry with history. Here lie the relics of Saint Wite, revered for centuries as a healer. Today, the ‘limb-holes’ of her shrine are full of handwritten petitions to heal the sick.

The exterior of the church is stunning too, with Gothicky windows, gurning gargoyles and all sorts of strange carvings in the wall.

Tumbledown tombs, wreathed in pre-Raphaelite ivy, adorn the handsome graveyard. Here is where I’d like to be scattered, when the time comes. It’s a living churchyard, tended to by Dorset Wildlife Trust, and it’s a beautiful, tranquil place.

Back up the hill, we break open the cider and bop to the car radio blaring out the Eurovision Song Contest. We wave the Union flag and grill lamb kebabs. Sweden wins. Grattis!

Next morning, we’re not exactly up with the larks, but hear the church bells ring out at 11 o’clock. I count five. Five Bells. Of course! Whitchurch Canonicorum – roughly meaning where St Wite was canonised? Does what it says on the tin, this place.

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