The Countryside in May

The path from Studland to Old Harry


Looking towards Swanage

Longer days give more opportunity for walking our lovely Dorset countryside, even with the busyness of parish life. From Swanage there are many and varied footpaths and, one by one, Helen and I are discovering them. Last week we walked up past the Purbeck Business Park, across the fields to the brickworks, turned right along Washpond Lane, then, crossing Ulwell Road, continued up the hill along Whitecliff Road to the gorgeous path up to Ballard Down.

Is the countryside ever more perfect than in mid-May? Hawthorn and cow parsley dress hedgerow and verge in white, and across the fields yellow is starting to predominate, with acres of buttercups and other golden flowers. All seen against a peerless blue sky, of course, and with the flitting past of early brown argos and blue butterflies; orange tips and speckled woods and the worn remains of the over-wintered peacocks and small tortoiseshells.

As we dropped down into Studland, below the breezy downs, the temperature picked up again, and for some moments it felt like high summer, as an ancient oak tree and a swallow-filled sky added to the squabbling jackdaws and chattering sparrows and the old buildings around Manor Farm, to make a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in sepia a hundred years ago. Ramblers rather defy this with modern walking poles and well-shod feet, reflective sunglasses and, inevitably these days, phones in hand or hip pocket. But the ploughman’s lunch at the tearooms could have been served to those who tilled the land with horses and rose with the sun to ready the farm for the work of the day.

We walked back along the coastal path, past the Old Harry Rocks and the Pinnacles, the sun glistening on the water below and reflected off the chalk-white faces of the cliffs. Wall browns rose from the path before us and flew on a few feet from where we disturbed them again, while people sat and talked, or read, or simply lay in the sun, enjoying the rest and the beauty.

As the path descended to Swanage we sought out the ‘rope walk’ path which brings one down to the far end of the beach, close to the cairn. It was easy enough on this day, as the steps cut into the clay, were, for the most part, dry and not too slippy; and we were comfortable in boots. Emerging from the trees, we stepped out to the beach as if we were explorers onto the sand of a desert island, dreamily imagining we had been hacking our way through a jungle to get there.

Walking back to the civilisation of Swanage; beach huts and ice-cream; youngsters with clipboards and poles measuring the fall of the shore; older people lapping up the heat and sunshine; kayaks beached from exploring the bay, we met Andy and Liz, Antony and Roni; had a chat and passed on. The light was still good, though it does go off the beach early in the evening in Swanage, but as the shadows lengthen one lifts one’s eyes to the hills, and through the loveliness of dove grey and lemon, and pale, pale blue, and all the colours that come in pastel shades as the sun falls below the downs, one recalls that strength and beauty come even from the Lord; as "We will lay us down and take our rest; For it is thou Lord, only, that makes us dwell in safety” concludes the service of Compline.

John Mann