Saturday, 8 December 2018

A magical evening at Arne

By the start of October I had shifted from North Devon to East Dorset, staying at the peaceful and pleasant Club site in the forest north west of Wareham.

Poole Harbour wasn't far away. I decided to go and see.

This map shows how Poole Harbour relates to Bournemouth, Poole and the Isle of Purbeck (as ever, click on these maps to see the detail clearly):

The land mass between Wareham and Swanage is the Isle of Purbeck, a rather strange place if you venture off the main A351 road. Much of it is lonely heathland, more especially the land north of the A351. But all of the Isle of Purbeck has an other-worldly feel, apart from the tourist oasis of Corfe Castle, the attractive Victorian resort of Swanage, and the long sandy beach at Studland. 

The heathland on the south fringe of Poole Harbour is particularly quiet and remote, and it's not easy to get to: mostly it's a matter of parking followed by a long walk. There's plenty to see if you are into nature - birds, deer or trees - or wish to take a peek at the small oil wells scattered about. 

There's also an industrial past to explore. The clay quarries inland (mostly long gone now, except at Furzebrook) used narrow-gauge tramways, a system quite independent of the ordinary railway line (which is still there, and marked on the map), to transport the clay in wagons to quays at Ridge, Middlebere and Goathorn on Poole Harbour, first to be loaded into barges, and then transferred to ships waiting at Poole. 

There were nearly twenty miles of these tramways at the peak of clay quarrying activity. A book I have describes how in the early 1950s 'holiday motorists on the Wareham-Swanage road were delighted to give way to  a train - or in the evening to a jury car freewheeling with a load of workmen for Ridge - on the level crossing.' I would have loved to witness the freewheeling jury car! I'm imagining twenty-odd rough workmen with clothes clay-splattered after a long day in the quarry, relaxing as the heathland slips by in the setting sun, all looking forward to a bath, tea, and a hot meal ready for them, at their cottage homes at Ridge. But nearly all the tramway system had closed by the late 1950s. 

Here are some old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps. First, the set-up at Furzebrook in 1925: 

You can see how the single-track tramway passed underneath the main railway line, then headed north, crossing the Wareham-Swanage road on the level. I'm pretty certain that when I drove that way in 1973 or 1974 (on one of my first solo trips from home in Southampton, having passed my driving test in August 1973) the disused metal tracks were still embedded in the tarmac, and made a distinct bump in the road that could be felt. I've an idea that even in the late 1970s, visiting the Isle of Purbeck with friends, those tracks were in place. And surely they persisted for years after that. But when they eventually resurfaced the A351, the tracks were torn up and another bit of history binned.

This was Ridge quay (or wharf) in 1950:

It must have been very slow and labour-intensive to shovel the clay into those barges floating next to the quay on the River Frome, only to shovel it again into ships at Poole. (Hard, dirty work for the bargemen and wharf workers) I like to think that the buildings in the bottom left corner were the quarry workmen's homes, where their wives would have been busy heating up water for a bath, and making the evening meal while the children played.

Ridge must have been the last surviving quay to be served by a tramway. Middlebere and Goathorn quays were disconnected from the system rather earlier - probably by 1920 in the case of Middlebere, and in 1936 for Goathorn. Middlebere is on the bottom edge of this 1902 map, in a very lonely spot, up a muddy creek south of Arne (the prime subject of this post, which we will get to soon, I promise):

Goathorn was on the end of a long finger of land, thrust out into Poole Harbour. The map dates from 1925.

So much for vanished tramways, except to say that the trackbeds can still be traced, and walked on. I should think that for many years the quays were perfectly usable by ordinary boats and yachts, but no doubt they did slowly decay and may nowadays be in a sad state indeed. Still, it's one of my ambitions to follow one or more of these old tramway routes and see for myself what lies at the end. Something for next summer, I would say. 

Let's now talk about Arne and what I saw there on the evening of 1st October, with sunset approaching. The Arne peninsula is in the care of the RSPB, who manage the heathland and farmland, and have a good range of designated paths for visitors to take.

You can really make a day of it here. There are discreet car parks, and a proper visitor centre with refreshments. The centre was closed, of course, by the time I arrived. But my aim was to get my walking boots on and head straight for the beach at Shipstal Point. I'd never done that before, despite many previous visits to the Isle of Purbeck over the years. Nor had I ever seen the south shore of Poole Harbour close up. I wondered what the islands in the harbour would look like. 

I must have looked purposeful, as if I were a woman who knew the place well, because as I was putting my boots on a girl arrived in her car and then immediately came over to me, asking if I could tell her which were the best paths. It was her last evening in the area before going home next day, and she meant to make the most of the remaining daylight. She was friendly, with a Northern accent, and her car had a registration which suggested that she might live in Cheshire. I had to admit that this was my own first visit, and that I couldn't advise on which were the best paths. I think she looked at the RSPB map above and then set off on the red route eastwards to the beach - whereas I was going to take the green route. 

Here are two modern location maps of Arne, which show where I was heading:

We couldn't have been the only people wandering about, but I saw nobody else, and it was a solitary business walking the mile to Shipstal Point. I didn't personally mind being alone one bit. It wasn't creepy or anything. But I never think it's a good idea for a woman to be walking on her own in lonely countryside too late in the day, and I had a stick with me. 

The shadows were getting long, and it might be dusk before I got back to Fiona.

The route was easy to follow. The light was golden and the passing heathland very nice to look at.

The stick wasn't only for self-defence. I'd hurt a ligament in my left knee not long before - walking downhill between Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon - and although not limping I could certainly feel an ache. (It persists to the present time, and might take months to ease off) I thought I might be glad of a little support from a stick before this jaunt was over. 

Ah, Shipstal Point was close. And then I spied the beach.

Plenty of footmarks on the soft sand, but no sign of anybody. Just me, a light breeze, the gently-lapping water of Poole Harbour, some offshore islands lit up by the sun, and a white yacht floating serenely. The peacefulness of it all was intoxicating. Peace, and a sense of wonderful freedom. It felt so remote from the everyday world. And yet there was Poole, just across the Harbour, with its big-town skyline. But the sight had no reality. It might as well have been an illusion. I walked along the shoreline. The water was crystal clear. I ran the tip of my stick through it.

The light was extraordinary, and it all just got better and better.

The white yacht and the islands immediately beyond it - Long Island and Round Island - grew more distinct and ever more intriguing. Did anybody live there? In the summer, at least? 

By now I had an almost overwhelming sensation of well-being and inner peace, and I didn't want to leave. It really shows in this shot:

The shoreline curved round, and the land to the south came into view. 

Somewhere in the distance was Middlebere quay, or whatever was left of it. If you click on the picture above, to magnify it, and peer at its right-hand end, you can see a figure watching something, with her reflection in the water. That was the girl I'd met in the car park. She disappeared from view soon after. I assumed she'd gone back to her car. Well, sunset was nearly upon us. Best not to linger too long. To my right was a low cliff. Could I scramble up? My knee made it slightly painful, but I managed it. 

The extra height brought me up into the sunshine again. It was even more golden now, making colours seem very intense. And the view of the yacht and the islands even more stunning.

There were animals grazing on that orange spit of land - deer, I thought. I was very close to the official lookout point on Shipstal Hill, so I walked over to it and compared a board showing what to see with the actual view.

The light then subtly changed. It was not so golden. Time to head back to the car park. I'd nearly reached Arne (which was really only a farm, a church, and a couple of houses) when I saw a figure coming towards me in the shadowy light. It was the girl with the Northern accent. We greeted each other, and discussed the distant animals we'd both seen off to the south. We agreed they had been deer. 

'Well, I'm going back to my car now,' I said. 
'Oh, I'm going round again,' she replied. 
'What? The light's fading. You're very confident!'
'I do want to see as much as I can!'
'Well, take care. I get a bit nervous in the dusk. Hence the stick, in case I need to prod any man with ideas in the goolies. Or at least threaten to!'

I do admire her pluck. I expect she wanted to watch the stars appear, back at that serene beach, and never mind being alone in the dark. A last memory of magical Dorset before humdrum reality kicked in next day.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

New winter boots!

My collection of winter boots had long ago reduced to only two pairs: a pair of black Clarks ankle boots bought in October 2010 for £70; and the knee-length tan/brown Dubarry boots bought in October 2011 for £332. Both at Brighton, which used to be my go-to place for shopping, but hasn't been for a long while now.

Readers may recall other boots purchased from time to time, but I got rid of each of them quite quickly, mainly because all were a little too small for my wide size 8 feet, even though they were supposed to fit. Whereas the Clarks ankle boots were a wide fit (and therefore nice to wear) as were the Dubarry boots.

For a long time my Clarks and Dubarry boots were sufficient for most winter occasions. Occasionally I hankered after some ultra-expensive boots to go with ultra-expensive daytime and evening outfits. But I couldn't afford either; and besides, the need was imaginary and not genuine.

The Dubarry boots were good for all kinds of cold-day occasions that might involve a little wet ground - they were in fact 'posh wellies', very 'county' - with the caveat that they were not lightweight, and unsuitable for a town or country tramp of more than two or three miles. I've cared for them, and they continue to look good, and remain my boots of choice for a bad-weather day. They aren't now quite as smart as when first bought, but still impress. Here they are when bought in 2011:

Here they are in my hall, drying off, four years later in 2015:

And here they are on squelchy Dartmoor in 2017 (I cleaned and polished them again once home):

The Clarks ankle boots have also lasted really well. Here they are soon after purchase (far left), with the other boots they instantly made redundant:

I looked after my ankle boots too. But a couple of years ago they began to feel a bit thin in the sole department, and would let in moisture if worn on a very rainy day. So I'd been wearing them less. And this winter finally decided that they would have to be replaced. I had in mind something similar, but coming further up the calf, so that if my leggings were on the short side and rode up, I wouldn't be exposing an inch of bare leg.

And last week I found exactly what I wanted. I was seeing my cousin Rosemary, and, as we always do, we went down to Canterbury for lunch (at Chom Chom) and then a mooch around the shops. As is our long custom, we popped into Hotter. I've bought quite a number of shoes there over the years. I used to think Hotter was just for old ladies, but it isn't so. They don't do Ultimate Fashion, but they do offer well-made, very comfortable shoes in sensibly wide fittings. And that's why I buy them.

Ah, I knew it - they had a good range of winter boots in. I checked the ankle boots out first. Nice. Then the boots that came halfway up the calf - and saw just what I was looking for. Trying a black pair on, they seemed perfect for fit, comfort and style. Rosemary thought they looked great, and was wistful about my having nice legs able to fit into them. Really? Were my legs that good? Well, another lady agreed. I bought them without further delay. The price was reasonable: £105.

Next day, back home, I lined them up against the old Clarks ankle boots:

As you can see, the Hotter boots come much further up the leg, but are very similar to the old Clarks boots at the business end, apart from not being encumbered with those pointless straps (which I never liked). No heel: I don't do heels. I don't want to totter. And I don't want to look any taller, even though five foot eight is no great height for a woman nowadays.

Later that day I put them on, and tried to take a picture of how they looked when worn:

The end-of-afternoon light in my bedroom wasn't really good enough. However, a few days later, my new boots had their public debut at a funeral. You can see them below, in natural daylight. I'd just arrived at the Crematorium, and my friend and neighbour Jackie took the shot.

They'll do! 

Monday, 3 December 2018

Salcombe: who wants to be a millionaire?

The opening paragraphs of my last post on Burgh Island were primarily intended to set the scene for Salcombe, but the post grew so long that South Devon's most select resort and place of residence had to be the subject of another post. Well, I'm not going to regurgitate those paragraphs again. Just imagine an opening in which I argue that Salcombe long ago grew into a town fit for millionaires, in fact Devon's answer to Dorset's Sandbanks, but set in lovely scenery.

Here's a view of it, in a shot a took from the other side of the river estuary it lies on, on a September day back in 2003:

Really, that's the essence of the place in one picture: big houses and hotels from the water's edge upwards, an azure river (called the Harbour here), and boats everywhere. Here are two maps (click on them to enlarge):

And this is an 'official' tourist map I saw on my way into the town centre from the car park:

It looks good, doesn't it? I've said before that I'm an aficionada of British seaside resorts, of which I've sampled many in the course of my caravan holidays. I'm not always complimentary. For instance, last year I poured scorn on east-coast Mablethorpe and Withernsea, and had best not show my face in those dire places anytime soon. Salcombe is, on its genteel appearance, its setting, its range of quality shops, its eateries and hotels, and its total lack of tat, a universe away from such bleak spots. But that doesn't mean that I took it to my heart. I'll be frank: it put me off, and I'm not terribly keen to revisit it. Salcombe didn't harm me, nor did it make me feel an outsider. It just wasn't my kind of place. Let's have a look at it, and try to discover why. 

It was the same day that I saw Burgh Island, just a bit later that afternoon. It was dry and mild, and the sun was trying hard to come out. Facing east, Salcombe was sheltered from the wind that had blown me about on Burgh Island. My walk into town from the car park gave me very nice views - all the way along - across the harbour to lovely beaches backed by beautiful wooded slopes.  

On the landward side to my left were large houses of all designs, mostly with extensive grounds. One actually had its own private footbridge across the road, which gave access to a waterside garden and, presumably, a secluded boathouse or mooring. Fancy that. If these houses had a fault, it was that their sites were on steeply sloping ground, so that their driveways might be awkward to use, and lots of steps were a universal feature. But all were commodious, and had a great view. I passed the road-level gate to a house that had been named 'Wigwam', as it it were no more than a flimsy pied-à-terre. Clearly tongue-in-cheek.

Parking one's car was clearly an issue, but there were several garages built into the hillside, typically filled with the cars of the well-off - here a Mercedes and a Range Rover:

An impressive hotel came into view. Its roadside advertising emphasised its position and fine view, and its suitability for grand occasions, such as a wedding:

Close by - maybe part of the hotel complex, I wasn't sure - were luxury villas for sale by a top firm of estate agents.

Dream on...

And so into the town centre. Unfortunately it was the usual predictable mix of upmarket boutiques, the same shops you could see in any of the smarter places in the South West. I do like some of these shops very much - Fat Face and Seasalt for example - but I was hoping to see a host of different shops, not just these.

Salcombe had turned itself into a trendy shopping experience for those with money to waste. Proper, practical shops seemed almost absent. The place wasn't even much stocked with pubs and restaurants. By now I was getting peckish, and looked around for a fish-and-chip parlour. Nary one of them. 

I do exaggerate a little. There were at least two smart pubs, both festooned with hanging baskets. Here they are. But they were not the kind for humble fisherfolk. 

And there was a butchers on a street corner.

Oddly for a town with a waterfront, there weren't many places where the public could sit down and contemplate the bobbing boats. But the restricted views were still pleasant enough.

So why wasn't I entranced? Why could I think of (say) Padstow in Cornwall with affection, but not this town? Was it just because its shops were clearly aimed at people with at least thrice my own income? A study of the houses for sale in one estate agent's window certainly made me feel that Salcombe must rate itself very highly indeed. Look at these prices. Bargain-basement shacks first - only £1,000,000. Then cabins and shanties of higher allure.

If I had this kind of money to spend, would I want to buy one of these, in a place like Salcombe? To be honest, no. I might well upgrade to a better local bungalow. But I wouldn't like to live in isolated splendour, in extensive grounds, whatever the view. I'd buy world travel instead, every year from now on. In the end, it's experiences that matter, and not luxury accommodation. 

So perhaps I see Salcombe, and places like it, as a ghetto for those with too much cash. 

Mind you, ordinary folk live in Salcombe, in the arse-end part of town with no views. There's a filling station there, and a convenience store or two. And schools. But still no big foodstores. Where on earth do the Big House People do their serious food shopping? There's no Tesco or Sainsbury's for miles. And no Waitrose - unforgivable. That's the nail in the coffin, so far as I'm concerned.