Tolpuddle Martyrs

Dorset farmers appear to dislike walkers with a passion. Ok, that may be a bit of a generalisation. However, in these here parts, they have an odd way of looking after the public footpaths; something they are supposed to do. To the extent that while the signs are still stuck to the fences and posts, the path itself has vanished underneath weird thigh high grasses and bulging termite mounds. When not planted with these odd path destroying species, the farmer ploughs right across it. For a long time I walked home from Alton station across a few fields. These fields went through the usual yearly rotation of crops, plough and harvest and yet the footpaths were ALWAYS visible and ALWAYS maintained. Come to Dorset and you’d better keep to the coastal paths because anything else just isn’t worth it.

So, as you can no doubt gather, I went for a walk this morning. If I had a top ten list of worst walks I’ve been on, this would rate pretty highly. And it looked so promising on the OS map. It took me far too long to get back as I had to navigate around obstacles and rediscover lost footpaths from the Middle Ages. The Rain Dance was a glorious welcome.

Athelhampton House looked like a good option today – the BBC said light rain all day – so we set off after I’d brushed the wildlife from my boots and showered off the mud. Unfortunately the mysterious film FT2T was filming there and will be till the end of the month which means it’s closed to anyone but film people. Maggie Smith and Timothy Spall are both in it. An odd coincidence as we saw them both in Harry Potter last night. Interesting how actors will do anything to be paid. Maggie Smith I understand. I mean she just did Miss Jean Brodie, even with the accent but Timothy Spall? God, he used to be a good, choosey actor. Like Gary Oldman. I’m not going to mention Michael Gambon. Such a disappointment.

By the way, the film is a children’s film called From Time To Time.

So Mirinda used their toilet, after which we continued along the Piddle River, passing through all the Puddle towns until we reached Tolpuddle, home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and location of the most wonderful pub food in Dorset (maybe the world).

Ivy covered thatch in Tolpuddle

The Martyr’s Inn serves brilliant food and wonderful beer. I can’t fault it. If anyone reading this goes anywhere near this pub, it would be a crime against your taste buds not to have a meal. Don’t bother saying I sent you as they’ll not have a clue who I am.

After our brilliantly wonderful meal we went for a stroll through the town and down to the church. Just across the road is the Tolpuddle Martyr’s Museum which, sadly was closed because of a burst water pipe.

Tolpuddle itself is a typical picturesque English village with ivy strewn thatched cottages lining a ridiculously busy street running through it. Interestingly we have noticed in a couple of villages this trip that new builds have been designed sympathetically with the rest of the place. This is also the case in Tolpuddle. Unfortunately the building was going on just outside the pub and we enjoyed its accompaniment throughout lunch.

Back on the road, we thought, after such a fantastic meal, we’d pop in and have a look at Clouds Hill, a National Trust property not far away from the Martyr Inn, Tolpuddle. Sadly, Clouds Hill is not open on Mondays and we didn’t fancy the Tank Museum further down the road so we sped off to Hardy’s Cottage.

Interestingly the roads around Clouds Hill and The Tank Museum are really, really wide. There are also lots of Tank warning signs that say things like “Tank Training” and “Warning Tanks Turning”. It made me think: Are the wide roads because the tanks have flattened the normal ones out a bit? It’s quite soft, bitumen.

By the way, Clouds Hill was the rural retreat of TE Lawrence, of Arabia fame.

So on to Thomas Hardy’s cottage. This is where he was born. What an amazing place. Nothing is level, no room is square, it’s all a-kilter. Sort of like a Wonderland cottage. Also odd in that it looks bigger on the outside than it is inside.

Thomas Hardy's cottage, Dorset

Hardy lived here until he married. He would walk to primary school a mile away and then grammar school, three miles away in Dorchester, every day. He was an odd chap, sitting in the woodland twittering away to the wild animals, writing poetry for them. And he always loved this cottage. Even when he was well into his 80s, he’d pop over and make sure the place was looking neat and tidy.

It was then back to Burton Bradstock and a well needed cup of coffee at Hive Beach…except the café at Hive Beach was closed and so it was back to the apartment where Mirinda serenaded me with her guitar practice.

I was lucky tonight as she gave me a rendition of my favourite, Ruth Ellis. Most nights she’ll have a good hours practice which is much better entertainment than the telly. And I’m not just saying that, it IS!

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