The Heights Hotel overlooks Chesil Beach and Weymouth Harbour. Since the rambling club was last here in 2006 the Olympic Rings had been constructed because, in 2012, some sailing competitions took place off the coast. Sunsets were spectacular from our dining area, and the views are outstanding.
The first ramble was on Portland itself and involved going part way up the west side and down the east, with a path linking the two. However it appears a housing estate had been built since the guide map was devised! It took some time to navigate our way out but there was, needless to say, a pub for us to ask locals how to find the route, over drinks. The footpath appeared to be especially steep and Dennis and Roger went to investigate. As a result the rest of us waited for three walkers coming in the opposite direction who remarked on Roger’s red tie, and were greatly impressed by his correct dress code for Old Askean ramblers. He was able to tell them that the club was founded in 1889 for cycling and camping, with rambling as a lesser activity. After easy terrain it was a shock to find a small rocky ‘ravine’ to cross. As four of us arrived a woman on a horse came and plunged down and up the other side! I was helped down but, not to be outdone by a mere animal, attempted the climb on my own and fell, causing cuts and grazes to my hand and arm. I was patched up by a passing walker and we continued to the Lobster Pot near the lighthouse to eat. There were pots along much of the coastline, their position indicated by floating markers.
Since Diana and I were staying for only a couple of rambles I looked back in my diary for memorable events in June 2006 before I was reporting for the magazine. Among them was my unsuccessful attempt to climb Pulpit Rock, on which two of my aunts were photographed near the top in 1928. The caption reads ‘Edie and Win with the wind up’! Unfortunately the quality of the picture was poor, so Uncle Harry is shown climbing instead.
We didn’t have much joy at pubs on the rambles back then. At The Sunray the distinctly unsunny landlord wanted to charge Roger £10 for parking his car for the afternoon, even though we had eaten there. On a hot day between Higher Brockhampton and West Shalford, I was asked to prevent the leading ramblers from passing a thatched pub. Imagine our dismay when we found it had burned down a month before. Fortunately we were able to cadge water at the village hall where an event was ending.
Having declined the five-mile walk by the River Frome, Diana and I suggested a short walk through quarries close to the hotel on our last day. Sculptors were working at one and beyond it was a sculpture park with completed figures of an elephant, octopus, lion-faced man and a grinning dog among others. On a rock face Antony Gormley had carved a human figure he called Still Falling– something I am resolved, if possible, not to do again! I will not do so in OA rambling company, anyway, since I regret that this is my last report for the magazine. Age has caught up with me.
Back in 2006 we had sung The Sandbin outside by the War Memorial but this year, for the benefit of Diana and I, it was sung the night before this ramble and we stayed in the restaurant to sing.
Sixteen of us assembled for ‘standing orders’ at our hotel along with Rocky a Border terrier, rescued by Hazel and Roger, previously owned by a friend who could no longer cope with him. Three more members joined us later in the week. Rocky accompanied every ramble and even appeared to lead some, but to claim that would be denigrating the skills of Dennis and Roger!
When Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods his understated title referred to trekking in the Appalachian Mountains. However the first Rambling Club walk, a stroll through the forest, was just that. The forest was the New Forest in Hampshire and we began at Lyndhurst Heath near the hotel at Cadnam where we stayed. It was only three fairly easy miles, starting on open heathland with a single cow (an escapee?) and several ponies which would came right up to you. Once among trees navigation was difficult, but modern technology saw through to Beechen Lane and back to Lyndhurst. Presumably ‘beechen’ is the local plural of beech, as in children and oxen, and there were beech trees on both sides of the lane.
The next day our fittest four accepted an invitation to join the New Forest Ramblers for a five–and–half mile ramble beginning at Millyford Bridge. Fearing I would merely stroll and hold up the others I was not one of the four. I understand there were some tricky paths with fallen trees to be negotiated, and the pace was brisk. I also didn’t take part in the slightly shorter ramble at Keyhaven by The Solent on a hot, sunny day. Those who were not taking part in any of the walks went to towns like Lymington where there are cobbled streets and the church has a huge gallery erected in 1798. There are attractive villages such as Minstead, gardens noted for azaleas and rhododendrons, Beaulieu Abbey and The National Motor Museum.
The final ramble began at Burley which seems to be a village obsessed by witches and things occult. I usually find something historical to write about when recording Old Askean rambles and this time it was a stone rather like a milestone but placed on the edge of the village in 1802. It reads ‘Peace restored 27th March 1802. Rest and be thankful’. This refers to the fourteen months of peace, agreed at the Treaty of Amiens, during the wars with Napoleonic France. The path took us along a disused railway track and through Holmsley Bog which fortunately lay below road level.
Blazers were worn for the last meal of the holiday and The Sandbin was sung more tunefully than in the recent past. Unfortunately there was no Welsh choir present to appreciate our efforts. Jenny set the quiz which was won by Ann Johnson (on her own she insisted).