IT SMELLS of slurry round here. Tractors have been trundling through the Marshwood Vale, bringing the harvest to a grim and muddy end. Narrow lanes are spattered with muck, treacherous as ice. I gleefully inspect a vast pile of horse manure. This is totally Dorset.
Lots of green, too, as winking, wintery sunrays filter through the leaf-labyrinth arcing over tracks leading to Whitchurch Canonicorum. A jay starts up into treetops.
It’s a pilgrim’s progress, of sorts. All these Roman roads lead to the Cathedral of the Vale (church of St Candida and the Holy Cross), a 13th century shrine to Saint Wite, thought to be a Saxon Christian woman murdered by the Danes when they landed at Charmouth.
Ravens lurk in ancient woodlands dating back to the 9th or 10th century. This used to be a deer park, part of Norman castle grounds near Mandeville Stoke. The deer still roam. (Alas, the vineyard is gone). According to the Dorset Historic Churches Trust, Robert de Maud was so eager for the Barony of Mirswude that he bought the title and the land for £380, five marks, five palfreys and four Norway hawks. His castle, now reduced to a grassy mound, is believed to have been founded by Alfred The Great, who bequeathed it to his youngest son, Ethelwald, in 890.
Blue sky, cold air. Not a single sound.
We splash over the River Char, swollen with floodwater. We pull over to let a slaughter van rumble past, the driver sweeping through with a cheery wave. Beckoned by crooked white fingerposts, we end up near Coney’s Castle. Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill gently meander past. I feel at peace, at one with this place.
Time to drive home.