The Retirees go Abroad – Dorchester, Piddlehinton, Puddletown, Corfe, Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacey

It’s Wednesday, another sparkling day and its market day in Dorchester. After breakfast we bundle into the car and travel the few miles to Dorchester and its markets. Disappointing in that it is more flea market and very little else. Not to worry we stroll the mall in Dorchester.  The author and poet Thomas Hardy based the fictional town of Casterbridge on Dorchester, and his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge is set there.  So is the book Far from the Madding Crowd.

Hardy’s childhood home is to the east of the town, and his town house, Max Gate, is owned by the National Trust and open to the public. Hardy is buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was removed and buried in Stinsford one mile east of Dorchester.

As we walked around the town we found in one alley a historic plaque claiming that Hardy was born in that very lane and another plaque claimed the building was the house on which Hardy based the Mayor’s house in Casterbridge. We also found the museum, Judge Jeffries coffee shop and an old arcade claiming by inscription on it facade to be built in 1661.

I was fascinated by some of the town names in the surrounding area and it was all because of a river – the River Piddle. Piddlehinton sits on the river and is a few minutes east of Dorchester. The village has one public house called The Thimble, but no shop or post office. It is quite picturesque. Like many of the surrounding villages it takes its name from the river running through it.

Then we went a few miles to the east and came to Puddletown also on the River Piddle but the wise folk of this village had the good sense to change the name from Piddle to Puddle. Many times larger than Piddlehinton, Puddletown was still very quaint and had many thatched roofed houses. We took a walk around the town, took a photo of the River Piddle flowing through it some of the thatched houses and notable buildings. Thomas hardy used Puddletown as the basis for Weatherby in his book Far from the Madding Crowd.

It was lunch time. We had purchased a small loaf of corn bread at the markets in Dorchester and we were looking for somewhere green and out of the wind to make a sandwich and have a cup of tea. Nothing offering in Puddletown we moved onto Corfe Castle, Dorset’s most recognised ruin. We found a spot off the main road between the visitors centre and the castle and beside a field of sheep with their new black lambs. No lamb chops for lunch – a little too close to the bone.

After lunch we walked the quarter mile to the visitors centre only to be told that we had to produce our pass at the castle village. So we walked back to the car then walked the quarter mile to the village and the National Trust office to be told that we had to produce our card at the castle gate. Fortunately the castle gate was only 50 metres away but the castle was atop a hill – a big hill. A little bit of the history of the castle.

Corfe Castle is a fortification standing above the village of the same name on the Isle of Purbeck in the English county of Dorset. Built by William the Conqueror, the castle dates back to the 11th century and commands a gap in the Purbeck Hills on the route between Wareham and Swanage. The first phase was one of the earliest castles in England to be built using stone when the majority were built with earth and timber. Corfe Castle underwent major structural changes in the 12th and 13th centuries.

In 1572, Corfe Castle left the Crown’s control when Elizabeth I sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton. Sir John Bankes bought the castle in 1635, and was the owner during the English Civil War. His wife, Lady Mary Bankes, led the defence of the castle when it was twice besieged by Parliamentarian forces. The first siege, in 1643, was unsuccessful, but by 1645 Corfe was one of the last remaining royalist strongholds in southern England. In March that year Corfe Castle was demolished on Parliament’s orders. Owned by the National Trust, the castle is open to the public. It is protected as a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

What this short extract does not tell you is that the family built a home at Kingston Lacey when the castle was destroyed on a parcel of land that came with the 8,000 acres purchased from Hatton. Included on the land are villages the castle and farms. On the death of the last Bankes to live in the house, he bequeathed it (the whole 8,0000 acres, house, castle, villages and farms) to the National Trust – the single largest bequest received by the Trust. So after a short trip around the village of Corfe, we ventured off to Kingston Lacey.

Kingston Lacey is an ornate manor home set in wonderful gardens which we did not have time to visit. Inside the house is the original furnishings and art work – nothing sold all just given to the Trust. The artwork includes originals by the Venetian painter Tintoretto.

A snapshot of the history  is as follows. Kingston Lacy is a country house and estate near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, now owned by the National Trust. From the 17th to the late 20th centuries it was the family seat of the Bankes family, who had previously resided nearby at Corfe Castle until its destruction in the English Civil War after its incumbent owners, Sir John Bankes and Dame Mary joined the side of Charles I. They owned some 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) of the surrounding Dorset countryside and coastline.

We finished with a cup of coffee in the cafe and then after a tiring day made the trip back to Weymouth.

The Retirees go Abroad – the Swannery, Abbotsbury, Loughwood Meeting House, Lyme Regis and West Bay.

We awoke later this morning – it must have been the walk to Hurst Castle. The sky looked grey again and passers-by were wearing their jackets and scarves. Not a good looking day. But during breakfast the Swiss bloke at the table beside us points to the window of the breakfast room and says “look the sun”. From that point forward the day was beautiful – sunny and clear but the breeze was very fresh. A great day to see the Swannery.

In the 11th century the Swannery was established by Benedictine Monks who built St. Peters monastery at Abbotsbury. They farmed the swans for food until Henry VIII ordered the destruction of the monastery in the 1539. Everything apart from the Swannery, Great Tithe Barn, St Nicholas’s Church and St Catherine’s Chapel was destroyed. It was then purchased by the Strangways family and has remained in their ownership through fifteen generations up to the present day: an estate of some 61 square kilometres (15,000 acres) in Dorset covering Chesil Beach and Abbotsbury is still held by the Ilchester Estate owned by Mrs Charlotte Townshend, the daughter of Viscount Galway, a descendant of the first Countess of Ilchester.

Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world. It is situated near the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset, England, 14 kilometres (9 mi) west of Weymouth on a 1-hectare (2-acre) site around the Fleet lagoon protected from the weather of Lyme Bay by Chesil Beach. The colony can number over 600 swans with around 150 pairs.

On our visit the nesting had commenced and in some cases the goslings had hatched. We walked the entire park and the birds were nesting everywhere and allowing us very close in some cases to stand right beside the nest. As there are so many birds in close proximity they have modified their behaviour to allow for nesting. As you would expect there are other water fowl like ducks and moor hens but there are also some feral species like Australian black swans and Canadian geese. A fascinating park well worth the visit.

From there we moved onto Abbotsbury described to us as a quaint Dorset village and that it is. There are some remnants of the monastery but St Nicholas’s church and the Great Tithe Barn were the most obvious. High on a hill beside the village is St Catherine’s chapel but a considerable distance away and no car access. We had lunch at the tea house and chatted with a young English bike rider just returned from the Chapel. After lunch we moved onto Lougwood Meeting House outside of Exeter.

Loughwood Meeting House is a historic Baptist chapel, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the village of Dalwood, Devon in England.[1] There was a meeting house on this site in 1653, although the current building may date from the late 17th century or early 18th century. It is one of the earliest surviving Baptist meeting houses. Since 1969 it has been owned by the National Trust. English Heritage have designated it a Grade II listed building.

The meeting house was founded by the Baptists of Kilmington, Devon, a village 1 mile (1.6 km) away to the southeast. Prior to the Act of Toleration 1689, the meeting house was illegal, but its location made it suitable as a refuge. It was built into a hillside, at that time surrounded by woodland and accessible only by narrow paths. Furthermore, it lay within a detached outlier of the county of Dorset, as the parish of Dalwood belonged to Dorset until 1842.

The building is of stone rubble with buttresses and a thatched roof. The interior dates from the mid 18th century to early 19th century, with a raised pulpit, box pews and a baptismal pool. There is also a musicians’ gallery, built over retiring rooms.

After Loughwood we went back toward Weymouth stopping in at Lyme Regis and West Bay where we had fish and chips by the boat harbour. Lyme Regis is a coastal town in West Dorset, England, situated 25 miles (40 km) west of Dorchester. The town lies in Lyme Bay, on the English Channel coast at the Dorset–Devon border. It is nicknamed “The Pearl of Dorset.” The town is noted for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Heritage Coast—known commercially as the Jurassic Coast—a World Heritage Site.

West Bay, also known as Bridport Harbour, is a small harbour settlement and resort on the English Channel coast in Dorset, England, sited at the mouth of the River Brit approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Bridport. The area is also part of the Jurassic Coast.