Doing Dorchester

The Rain Dance shower in the Fossil Apartment at Chesil Beach Lodge is the best shower I have EVER had on holiday. Imagine standing under a waterfall. Absolute heaven. I do not want to go home.

Dorchester, on the other hand, does not fill me with such keen enthusiasm. Mirinda read somewhere that it’s supposed to be Britain’s prettiest small town. I’ve seen many prettier. Sorry, Dorchester, I found you dull and uninspiring and a little bit rough and dirty. But let’s look at the couple of good things. I’m ignoring the car park where it costs £1 an hour for the first four hours then £4 an hour after that. We only stayed four hours.

For a change the service at Costa’s was excellent. This is one of the few instances for me but could have been because I was the only customer. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. A little later Mirinda told me she found a Starbucks. It’s a shame I’ll not be comparing them.

St Peter’s Church
A nice enough building but all too extensively rebuilt by the Victorians. This is something I tend to find in town churches. As they have a bit more money they tend to be renovated more. This means a lot of the original fabric of the church vanishes out of sight. A shame as it can leave a church soulless. Not that St Peter’s was soulless! It was fine, just a bit bland.

St Peters church, Dorchester

St Peter’s is, in fact a 15th century church and a good example of the perpendicular style. The restoration took place from 1856-7 and some refurbishing from 1894-7. In 1967 a street was widened and a boundary wall which previously had held big iron spikes for the heads of traitors, was taken down. The spikes (or iron finial) were put in the museum next door. I could find no mention on the fate of the heads.

Most of the stained glass is quite young and nearly all of it depicts St Peter’s antics. The pulpit is quite nice being a lovely example of 17th century carving. The font dates back to the Victorian restoration and, sadly, the original has been lost.

The Old Crown Court and Cells
Firstly, the cells were not open today so we couldn’t see them. Mirinda dutifully reported to the front desk, and the receptionist very nicely gave us an information sheet and showed us the way. The court is in the middle of the council chambers and people wander through and around giving it all an air of Alice in Wonderland. This could have been because of the large white rabbit with a fob watch who pushed by me a couple of times. Or the cut-out version of Judge Jeffreys who looked about to yell “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”

Courtroom, Dorchester Crown Court

It was here, in 1685 that Judge Jeffreys held the Bloody Assizes. It was also here that the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset farm labourers, were sentenced to transportation for seven years on 17th March 1834, for forming a ‘friendly society’. They basically began the Trade Union Movement in England. More on this later, when we visit Tolpuddle itself!

The courtroom was a lot like the Judge’s House we visited on our Ludlow trip.

Dorset Museum
Mirinda went for a wander up the shops while I did a whole circuit of the museum. It is excellent as museums go except, perhaps the price. This is interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, museums are generally free in the UK. You can wander into the British Museum, Farnham Museum, Guildford Museum, etc whenever you feel like it, all free of charge. The Dorset Museum, however, will cost you £6.50! This may sound a lot. It is. To be fair you CAN come back as many times as you like in a year. I managed to see everything in an hour. Not sure why I’d go back unless I was studying something. Anyway, it’s not like me to quibble about entrance fees but I did find it interesting.

Skeletons of Britons killed by Roman ballista bolt at Maiden Castle, Dorset Museum, Dorchester

Inside, the museum has a sort of Victorian Pier feel to it. All colourful columns and multiple floors around a central space. Very friendly and welcoming. There were lots of interesting though pretty unconnected, cases around the walls, showing various Dorset ‘things’. This included a very odd statue of a man called ‘Steeplejack’. I’m not going to try to explain it but it looked very odd.

Upstairs there is a sizeable archaeological section with lots of artefacts from Maiden Castle and the Roman Town House as well as flint tools, and pottery. Apart from being a little warm – they had a big fan going full tilt in one room – it was all very well presented and I did enjoy it.

There is also a writer’s room which I just walked through on my way to the geology room. This was a disappointment. It was obviously created with children in mind. Lots of stuff about dinosaurs and little about rock. This is the Jurassic coastline after all! OK, there were dinosaurs but there’s some pretty important rocks as well. To be fair they had a lot of fossils but not nearly enough rocks! Something that annoyed me were the almost constant screeches from a suspended pterodactyl.

Pizza and beer is always going to be good but served by an Italian in the oldest house in Dorchester where Judge Jeffreys stayed, just tops it off.

The Roman Town House
This is a wonderful place. Left in situ with a small specially constructed building to protect the mosaics and hypocaust, it sits behind the council chambers surrounded by a busy road. There are big boards explaining everything and a big self service machine that dispenses guide books. Except it didn’t. Not today. A pity.

Well worth a visit though and I sent Dawn a photo on my camera just to make her a bit jealous.

Roman town house, Dorchester

Max Gate
This is a little way outside Roman Dorchester and alongside the extremely noisy A35. It was where Thomas Hardy (that’ll be the writer, not the old school re-former or the one who kissed Nelson) lived. He designed the house and extended it. His wife lived, Mrs Rochester-like in a small room at the top of the house, under the eaves while he lived in his study. Then, after she died, he wrote lots of love poems about her which his second wife had to type up. She was probably a bit peeved about that.

The house is ‘sort of’ owned by the National Trust in that someone is renting it and only a few rooms are open to the public only a few days a week. Apart from the noise of the road which obviously would not have bothered Hardy, it’s a sweet house with a rambling style of numerous additions over the years. The sort of thing the council wouldn’t let you do any more.

And so, Dorchester. That was it. On the way back we were caught in traffic behind two old gypsy caravans being pulled by two equally old horses.

Back at the Fossil apartment I wandered down to the beach for a stroll in the biting, freezing wind while Mirinda had a nap. I saw a lot of Fuller’s Earth Clay.

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