Dorset, not just a place; pubs, people, steaming and…. a Prime Minister.

The Dorset Downs were my destination last week;  I love the hills and vales of the ‘Land of my Fathers’ but there is attraction in other places for me too.  Just like my recent venture eastwards to the incredible flat sameness of the Fens, the downland of Cranbourne Chase is also full of intrigue and beauty, strange accents and lethal ale.  My destination ultimately was the extravaganza that is the Great Dorset Steam Fair, an annual event of such magnitude it requires hundreds of acres of open downland corn fields and five days to complete.  It absolutely defies description with the anglo-saxon adjectives in my vocabulary.  ‘Awesome’ – aptly appended by my fellow Carolinian traveller.

Dorset Steam Fair smoking sunset

Steam Engines is really what it's all about - and just a few hundred other bits of machinery and horses and fairground and food and cider and vintage cars and lorries and bikes and tractors and and and....

The idea of going this year had been suggested in a little electronic communique from the other side of the world, some weeks ago.  I hadn’t been for a long long time so, tickets ordered and a suitable overnight watering hole booked – the prospect of availing myself of the on-site camping facilities is not appealing to me, it is rather too reminiscent of a hastily erected Somalian refugee camp.  No, if one is to indulge one’s passion and walk miles and miles over hard, dusty corn fields then a comfortable retreat is essential.  I chose the very excellent Crown Inn which nestles in a narrow steep sided valley cut into the chalky downlands of the Chase, some 15 miles or so from the Tarrant Hinton location of the steam fair.  It is well worth the highly skilled and accurate navigational expertise required to find the place and the scenery ‘twixt the fair ground and the village of Alvediston is so typically ‘Hardy country’.

Crown Inn, Alvediston in Dorset

A thatched pub, what could be more quintessentially English, the obvious place to take an American tourist don't you think...... Heavy Horses and smoking engines were her preferred location however - just no pleasing some folk....

The Crown at Alvediston is so quintessentially English and has the excellent ales from the Ringwood Brewery which, together with superb pub-grub and friendly hosts, is just the antedote to the hustle and bustle of the Fair.

Following a more than ample full English breakfast we took a little stroll along the lanes of the elongated hamlet.  It is an old settlement and lacks the typical ‘core’ of the more common Norman village, instead the church lies some way from the pub which lies some way from the mill and all are some way from the cottages and the great house in which the Lord of the Manor would have resided.  As always the village church is my starting point.  This medieval building lay some distance from the Crown, set on the side of the steep valley high enough from the flood plain of the small chalk-stream which bears all the hallmarks of its ability to cause chaos when heavy rain, falling on the downs, surges uncontrolled through it and on to the surrounding fields.  The approach to the old parish church is across an open field and as one walk towards the gateway a large tomb stands proud and apart to the right of the ornate iron entrance.  The first inscription I saw was ‘A Knight of the Garter, holder of the Military Cross’ – clearly the grave of a notable person.  However on the side facing the gate was an even more astounding inscription, ‘Prime Minister 1955 -57’, immediately I knew it was Eden.

Alvediston Church

The church in Alvediston is positioned in open landscape above the hamlet.

I knew of his political history, a prominent member of Churchill’s wartime cabinet and leader of the Conservative party after the great man’s demise.  Of course his premiership is somewhat tainted by the Suez debacle but one thing is unquestionable, he was of that breed of statesmen that wore dignity as a matter of course and eschewed politeness and integrity albeit history can challenge his decisions.  What I was unaware of was his distinguished First World War contribution which resulted in the award of the Military Cross.

The great man moved to the quiet downland village to farm and accredited himself well as a stock breeder of cattle.  His grandiose home still stands and is quite clearly a place of important history.

The tomb of Sir Anthony Eden

The tomb of a British Prime Minister - not everyday you come across one of those... it's funny that the only other such tomb I've seen is that of Eden's old boss, Winston Spencer Churchill in the equally unassuming churchyard at Bladon in Oxfordshire.

The whole village is a delightful walk through history, landscape and archaeology, social and political, more importantly it is just the place to stay when visiting the  steam fair…

So, where to start with a blog post about this crazy event.  I like the steam engines, for sure, but the old farm wagons and the working shire horses were the greatest magnet.  To be able to see and hear the clanking of powerful animals set in their polished black harnesses and the brightly painted farm wagons was a real educational delight.  I actually sat and watched the arena parade and listened intently to the knowledgeable commentator, in itself not a thing I am given to do at such events.

The arena display was organised in such a way as to show the progress of the farming year and the evolution of the equipment, such as how seeding was carried out and hay harvesting execusted a hundred years and more ago.

Demonstration of 'broadcast' sowing at the Dorset Steam Fair 2011

A demonstration of broadcast seed sowing

Sowing using a seed fiddle at the Dorset Steam Fair 2011

Seed Fiddle demonstration - of all the artefacts in my collection it is this item that brings out most memories from the older farming generation. An 'old Radnorshire farmer, expounding its virtues, told me how he had "sown thousands of acres with that thing, marvelous it was too, I sowed on ground so steep the end of the bow was sticking in the ground !", a favourite story of mine.

So much to see that it is quite impossible to do it justice in a day, even the two days I allowed was hardly sufficient for more than a broad-brush sweep around the displays.  The distance between working areas is staggering – especially if, like me, one is less than 100% walking fit.  The miles of stalls is too good to miss, well certainly the ‘rust’ sellers are.  Strangely I didn’t succumb to anything, a very strange occurrence indeed.  I had deliberated long and hard about whether I should drive the discovery down to the show and hitch  small(ish) trailer with it.  I knew if I did two things would be inevitable, firstly my fuel bill for the trip would treble and, secondly, I would bring something large back.  That large ‘something’ appeared in the rear of one of the rust stalls at the top of a long line of junk.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and, as I surmised, the seller didn’t really know what he had.

Pony Mower, Ransomes Simms & Jeffries

Make no mistake, if I had taken a trailer this very rare item would now be safely in my barn. Ransome Pony Mowers rarely appear.

Now you are probably wondering why this post has taken me so long, after all it’s nearly a month since the Great Dorset Steam Fair. Well, partly it’s the fault of that confounded (or do I mean Confederate) Star Spangled Banner (which I recently discovered was written by a Welsh woman !) as I’ve been putting into practise my ‘World Host’ training and showing some good’ole southern folk around Wales’ treasures, but more relevant is the eternal problem I am having with good ‘ole British Telecom who seem increasingly incapable of providing a reliable service and even less capable of running a ‘fault reporting’ system that enables someone with their phone/broadband line out of action to get through to a real person to report the fault and get some sense as to when it might be solved.  I tried, over an inordinate amount of time, to be sufficiently patient – or make sure my mobile phone was sufficiently charged to last the course – to listen to the recorded lady telling me how valuable my call was and how she was sorry about the lengthy delay.  I wish to report that on day one I tried three times to get through entailing 48 minutes the first call, 56minutes the second and 44 the third.  This continued for several days until I finally worked up enough patience and sat in a place that allowed the mobile phone to remain plugged into the charger thus enabling me to sit and wait (only 58 minutes in fairness) to get through to a very charming young lady.  I was very nice to her as she no doubt gets screamed at each time she answers someone.  She went through the elongated “unplug this then that then this then that again and then those and then it and so on” all so that I don’t get charged for calling the engineer out to a fault that is my fault !  Is it just me or is the great British Telecom even more useless than before they were privatised…… Anyway, the outcome of the half hour testing time was that she discovered I indeed had a fault – after all no dialling tone and a very intermittent broadband signal is pretty definitive, or so I thought – which required one of their engineers to attend my proiperty which, she was pleased to announce could be done next Wednesday (only 7 days ! wow, such efficiency) between 8 am and 6 pm, oh yes, and I would need to be here to allow him access.  Oh fine, yeah, in addition to the cost of all the calls to you BT and the potential loss of business and friendship – no Facebook for 2 weeks ! – you now expect me to lose a day’s work just so you can fix the problem so that you can restore the service I pay you heavily for.  What I haven’t told you, dear reader, is that this happens at least 4 or 5 times a year and each time the engineer tells me that the line to my – somewhat remote – property is old and the connections are so rusty that he is surprised I have any service at all !  Oh well, one day, who knows….

Hopefully I can post more soon, during one of the 5 minute blips when my broadband coughs into life before the damp, rusty connection goes down again….. not yet 21st century in the land of Welshwaller, or so it seems…… so what is a Phone i ? maybe one of those will be better ?

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One Response to “Dorset, not just a place; pubs, people, steaming and…. a Prime Minister.”

  1. Albuquerque Landscapers Says:

    Cheers…

    Very good site, thank you so much for your effort in writing the posts….

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