The Ride and Stride walk - The Priest's way and beyond....

Last Saturday the annual Dorset Historic Churches sponsored walk took place, in lovely weather and slightly unusual circumstances.  There had, no doubt, been some discussion as to whether or not to hold the event this year, with many churches still shut during the day and opportunities to provide any sort of hospitality on the way severely limited.

In the end it did go ahead and Solveig, Helen and I walked it together, taking a route through Swanage to Langton, Worth, Kingston and on to Corfe Castle down through the fields and up over the common.  Including the Swanage churches, we at least arrived at the door of eleven churches, even though most were locked.  Sadly.

The walk was fine though, with blue skies and a gentle breeze.  Leaving Swanage along the Priest’s Way, the path was clear for some way, and social distancing was not a problem.  Mid-September hedgerows were heavy with sloes and blackberries, with the tumbling seed-heads of old man’s beard at the palest green turning to fluffy white stage.  Swallows and house martins seem to be gathering for the final push across the channel, and a small flock of goldfinches were like partying teenagers on the thistle heads, chattering, moving and flitting onwards without apparently any purpose in mind other than enjoying themselves.

The invertebrates are just as active.  On Bell Street we re-homed an elephant hawkmoth caterpillar, fed up and ready to pupate, but threading our way on the initial paths towards Priest’s Way, the white butterflies were most obvious, with the odd speckled wood and no less than five small coppers, gorgeous in their speckled brightness, tiny and bronze and understated in their beauty.

Towards Langton Matravers the path leaves made up track and crosses the fields, green with that late August rain that is just a memory now, with the ground dry and hard, but it did make a difference, opening up the ground to moisture just as the berries needed swelling, and the died-back grasses a chance for an autumn spurt.

Skirting Leeson House and the camp sites beyond, the way takes us through the out-lying bungalows and substantial stone properties that mark the edge of the village.  The church was shut but we marked our own card with 11.00 a.m. and the dedication, to St George, while taking a short breather and contemplating our onward route.  

We opted for the path beside Tom’s field and another campsite, this one with camper vans and the like, as well as tents.  The sun was getting warmer and we began to feel the effects of dehydration and climbing temperature.  There were more people about too, enjoying a lovely weekend and hoping against hope that the transmission rates of the coronavirus may not be rising as fast as is feared, bringing the need for more stringent restrictions, and with them the isolation of those left in the position of making up their own minds as to what is safest and best to do.

Walking onwards towards Worth, there was no evidence that anything is amiss.  The few walkers that were about seemed intent upon their way, and unaffected by the need to stay two metres from others.  Worth’s honey pot, the Square and Compass, nestling quietly in the falling ground towards the duckpond and cafe, was doing a roaring trade, with the village carpark full to overflowing.  Is this a final fling, or a sign that the comparative safety of our Purbeck hills and villages is taken as secure by those escaping the town’s more rigorous controls?

To Hill Bottom next, along a path that none of us had been on before.  It skirts the fields and dives into the valley beyond through a narrow sunlit track, descending to a broader path, heavy with vegetation, sunny corners and directional confusion.  Is Kingston to the right or to the left?  Both of course.  But, this is a case of going away, as the crow flies, to get closer as the path rises over the ridge into the village, but quicker than following the gentler way that takes us to the road, first, then along it to the Scott’s Arms and the familiarly in to Kingston, but less safe than pleasant path through the old estate woodland - which is the one we gladly took. 

Buddleia blooms held two painted ladies as well as red admirals, whites, and, beneath the trees, in dappled light the classic land of the speckled wood, there were several of those flitting about.  How tempting the clusters of sloes and other fruit, the red haw berries, and scarlet rose hips.  Nature is, indeed, providing its winter rations for bird and mouse, shrew and squirrel:  seed heads and nuts, well out of reach of foragers, but ready for the hungry hoards ready to raid the natural larder that is our Dorset countryside. 

 Kingston Church was open and welcoming Riders and Striders with water and the coolness of a shady seat.  The map was out again for the final push to Corfe, the way plain and clear once we were on it, and following the much trodden dog-walker’s way.  Some way along this descending track there was a single oak tree with maybe a score or more house martins flying back and forth and round about its upper branches.  Were they attracted to hordes or insects, to be mopped up, or was this some kind or extended family gathering, doing our let’s-get-the-map-out-and-try-and-decide-on-a-route kind of a discussion, undertaken at pace and with un-suppressed energy?

The village of Corfe Castle was busy with visitors and a just-starting wedding in St Edward’s Church prevented us going in, but we were in nice time for the bus back to Swanage, a sleepy journey it was too, then an ice cream, a short walk home and a rest.


John Mann


The sanctuary of Kingston Church

The sanctuary of Kingston Church