Chilling in Dorset

  • 17 September 2022
  • Prue Scott

Meet the cast.

Fagus the springer spaniel is the full quid; a former A+ bird dog, content now to walk the fields with a bone in his mouth and smirk when owner David roars at him. Nephew Rambo is more an amiable fool, possibly a few pickets short of a fence, likes to lie back in your arms as a tiny cat would do. Also smirks when David roars “Bloody dogs” and “How. Dare. You”. Ajax is a dark grey lurcher who can hit 30mph (we’re in Britain, remember) on a sprint and is all love.

Those of you with a gardening bent will recognise Fagus as the genus of deciduous trees in the family Fagaceae, native to temperate Europe, Asia and North America. Rambo has a Latin name of similar bent, but it’s slipped my mind.

David is the owner of said springer spaniels. Son Ben, who lives in a converted barn above his numerous car rebuilding projects, owns Ajax. Daughter Izzy, a marketer, is home when I arrive but leaves for Greece and then Edinburgh a few days later; she sends wonderful images of Greece and I relish using her desk where I am chained to my keyboard with work (and about time, too, I hear you say!)

They all live on a small farm across the top of rolling hills in the exquisitely named Wynford Eagle outside Maiden Newton in Dorset, home of the magnificent Jurassic Coast and, for readers of Ian MacEwan – Chesil Beach. Our nearest big town is Bridport. Around Wynford Eagle we have all manner of old Roman roads, forts and names – Toller Porcorum, Toller Fratum.

We also have Loders and Uploders. Loders is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Lodres. The monks at the local Benedictine priory are said to be the first to introduce cider-making into Dorset. Loders is small and Uploders even smaller – some houses lining the road, a pub, a Methodist chapel and a playing field.

With history in mind, let’s go back a bit.

I escaped the Italian Summer Inferno in Lucca the day of the Justin Bieber concert. Make of that what you will. Patricia and Robbie the Schnoodle came to Pisa Airport with me. The suitcase had been trimmed of excess weight; the carry-on not so much. Ryanair to Gatwick was a breeze and the immigration people barely nodded at me.

Getting a train to Maiden Newton should have been easy. I, of course, chose the path less travelled, to quote Frost. And it made all the difference. The day before, the trains had been on strike so the schedules were a tad loose. I’d checked the day before and worked out my route; the day I arrived everything changed but it never occurred to me to check.

Online ticket for Maidenhead rather than Maiden Newton. Cancel that. Oh, sod, it’s gone through for payment (Trainline refunded it a few days later without me even asking!). Try again. Onto train for Reading only to discover I was going to Victoria in London. Mutter, mutter. In a line worthy of an old comedy, the information man at Victoria Station said of my request for Maiden Newtown, “Oh, you can’t there from here….” And then, “Oh, yes, you can. Take the tube to Paddington and change there”. He wrote the instructions out on a strip of paper from an EFTPOS terminal and off I went with ticket number three and an $11 tube fare.

A fast train from Paddington towards Bath because Maiden Newton is on a local line, so no direct train. No one is wearing masks; after all the training the Italian government put in, I felt somewhat ridiculous wearing mine.

Platform 1 at Bath was bathed in sunshine. It’s a three-carriage train, so we’re all a bit cramped, but off we go through country villages – Freshford, Trowbridge, Frome, Bruton, Yeovil Pen Mill, Thornford, Yetminster and Chetnole before arriving at Maiden Newtown. Most of these stops sit in small, picturesque villages, the stations often relics of the great days of train travel (which may yet return).

The train manager is helpful; shepherds me across the tracks in front of the stopped train so I don’t have to lug the bags up steps, across the lines and down the other side. I had enough of that in Venice.

And here’s David. Son Ben is the godson of friend Louise. I’d asked her about somewhere to stay before my housesit in Virginia. “You should go to David’s, in Dorset.” David generously agreed to house me in return for some help with the holiday cottages and expenses. I thought this was an excellent offer and accepted.

Fagus and Rambo are in the big Toyota and wriggling fit to burst. No attempt to head for the front seat; these are well-trained dogs. We head off through country lines with what can only be described as overgrown hedgerows – they’re massively tall. This is in complete contrast to the seared fields beyond. Note that word “seared”. The Italian Inferno was part of the European Inferno where lakes and rivers shrivelled and fields turn yellow with lack of rain. It is the same here.

A sudden right turn and we head into one of these fields. The gravel road to the house is rather rutted and the field is easier.

A stone-clad cottage with roses and wisteria across the front. Appearances can be deceptive; it was built in the 80s. During COVID lockdowns, David added a terrace to the front where we spend many an evening watching the sun do its flaming-ball-of-orange thing.

Fagus and Rambo dance around; they love visitors. They’re allowed in the house but only the downstairs hall and large kitchen. All other rooms are off-limits. This works most of the time.

I am shattered by escape from Italy, the botched train trip and it takes a good week or so to regain my sensibilities.

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