Lives and souls of Dorset

Those in the know have peeled off the main routes to the South-west and made this county of con­trasts their home; oth­ers pinch them­selves be­cause they were born there. Ara­bella Youens finds out why

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Mil­lie Pilk­ing­ton

Those in the know have made this county of con­trasts their home. Ara­bella Youens finds out why

Talk to any­one about what makes Dorset such a spe­cial place to live in and it doesn’t take long for its lack of mo­tor­way to be raised as an un­likely but sig­nif­i­cant rea­son. Glo­ri­ously un­scathed by ugly belts of high-speed tar­mac, barely touched even by the near­est thing (the a303 dips briefly across the bor­der at Bour­ton), no one ends up in Dorset by ac­ci­dent; you have to want to go there.

I’m one of the few for whom this wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the case when I was de­liv­ered, aged nine and cour­tesy of the school train from Water­loo, to a girls’ prep school out­side Bland­ford. It was Jan­uary and the con­trast from home in Hong kong could hardly have been sharper, but, for the next four years, my af­fec­tion for Dorset steadily grew—mem­o­ries of the smell of wild gar­lic grow­ing in the beech woods in spring, the green hump­backs of hills un­du­lat­ing south from Sal­is­bury, the busy church fêtes held on slanted lawns and that glit­ter- Fac­ing page: The ruins of Corfe Cas­tle in the Purbeck Hills in the morn­ing mist ing, largely un­fet­tered coast­line re­main vivid (punc­tu­ated by the in­evitable heart­tight­en­ing bouts of home­sick­ness), de­spite the pass­ing of decades.

When a dis­cus­sion about local food and ru­ral is­sues at the Rother­meres’ home near Shaftes­bury gath­ered mo­men­tum, lady Rother­mere sug­gested a book should be pub­lished about Dorset. Two local jour­nal­ists were com­mis­sioned by the Rother­mere Foun­da­tion to can­vas the county and its in­hab­i­tants and the re­sult is the part-scrap­book, part-guide­book Deep­est Dorset. One of the peo­ple in­ter­viewed for the book, which is rais­ing money for local char­i­ties, likened Dorset to ‘Eng­land’s Tus­cany’—some­where you think you know un­til you look be­yond the ob­vi­ous towns and fa­mous views.

‘The im­age of Dorset per­pet­u­ated by the na­tional me­dia and stand-up co­me­di­ans

‘It’s a priv­i­lege to live and work in Dorset–we’re very lucky. There’s a proper com­mu­nity here Kate Scorgie (above)

‘It’s that rare thing: far enough away from metropoli­tan ar­eas to of­fer gen­uine ru­ral charm, but with good con­nec­tions to London Fanny Charles

‘Most vil­lages will have a manor house, an old rec­tory and one or two other prom­i­nent pe­riod houses’ Si­mon Barker (right)

‘you The great thing about Dorset is that can grab an Ord­nance Sur­vey map and tram­ple all over the place Tracy Che­va­lier

‘You see this rib­bon of ups and downs, of the white chalk against the ul­tra­ma­rine sea Ju­lian Bai­ley (right)

look­ing for a cheap laugh is of a place where peo­ple come to die,’ says one of the co-au­thors, Fanny Charles. ‘It’s true that the per­cent­age of peo­ple over the age of 70 is higher than the na­tional av­er­age, but scratch deeper and look at the num­ber of writ­ers, artists and ac­tors who have homes in the county.’

She con­tin­ues: ‘It’s that rare thing: far enough away from metropoli­tan ar­eas to of­fer gen­uine ru­ral charm, but with good con­nec­tions to London. There’s also a strong com­mu­nity iden­tity and pride—some­thing that can get eroded in a glob­alised world.’

For the jour­nal­ist and broad­caster Kate Adie, a Dorset seed was planted many years ago while work­ing as a young (‘illinformed’) farm­ing pro­ducer for BBC local ra­dio. Brought up in Sun­der­land, but then based in Bris­tol, she found her­self roam­ing in the coun­try for the first time and has never for­got­ten it. ‘I had mem­o­ries of think­ing it was sort of hid­den and I loved the lumpy bits of land­scape—the hills and dales in quick suc­ces­sion—so when it came to leav­ing London, Dorset came high on the list.’

She moved to a vil­lage near Dorch­ester five years ago (the tiny BBC sta­tion there is used to record Ra­dio 4’s From Our Own

Cor­re­spon­dent) and has thrown her­self into local life, chair­ing char­i­ties and be­com­ing a mem­ber of the newly re-formed WI (‘I never thought I’d hear my­self say­ing that, but we’re a mod­ern one’).

She be­lieves that some­thing of Dorset’s spe­cial na­ture is de­rived from the fact that the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion to­tally passed it by. ‘In the early 20th cen­tury, Dorset was the poor­est county in Eng­land—life was in­cred­i­bly tough. To­day, it’s re­sulted in an odd ad­van­tage: I grew up in the North-east and know about the scars of heavy in­dus­try, but look at towns such as Beamin­ster and Brid­port where there are none.’

Brid­port, a mar­ket town just a mile or so in­land from the Juras­sic coast, has gained many col­umn inches re­cently as Dorset’s ris­ing star, with its pop­u­lar Satur­day morn­ing mar­ket, Sladers Yard—the Lon­don­qual­ity con­tem­po­rary art gallery and cafe— and grow­ing restau­rant scene. When the art­house cin­ema Elec­tric Palace opened, it didn’t take long for some­one to crown it Not­ting Hill-on-sea. ‘It’s more a case of Hack­ney-on-sea in my mind,’ quips Dorset sculp­tor David Wor­thing­ton, who, as a child brought up lo­cally, would have writ­ers such as Tom Sharpe and Eric Newby vis­it­ing the fam­ily home.

To­day, he has a pop-up gallery, Fox & Wor­thing­ton, in the town. ‘There’s an in­de­pen­dently minded, slightly rad­i­cal streak to Brid­port, which is a le­gacy of its rope in­dus­try—lo­cals had jobs and weren’t hav­ing to tug their fore­locks to land­lords and, be­ing based near the coast, there’s an out­ward-look­ing as­pect.

‘As a re­sult, it’s got a rad­i­cal edge which has al­ways at­tracted writ­ers, artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als and, thanks to the in­ter­net al­low­ing peo­ple to work from home, that’s grow­ing.’

This is cer­tainly play­ing out for the in­te­rior de­signer Hen­ri­ette von Stock­hausen,

‘I loved the lumpy bits of land­scape, so when it came to leav­ing London, Dorset came high on the list Kate Adie

who has made Dorset her home af­ter a child­hood spent ‘all over Europe’. ‘The good thing is that lots of younger fam­i­lies are mov­ing here. When I first came, it did feel like one big re­tire­ment home, but that’s re­ally changed. We’re do­ing lots of big houses, not for week­end homes, but for those who want the proper coun­try life­style and live here full-time.’

Dorset-born Si­mon Barker, who runs the Sher­borne of­fice of Knight Frank, says the county has al­ways drawn peo­ple in be­cause of its ex­cel­lent schools (west Dorset came top of the list of ar­eas with the high­est pro­por­tion of stu­dents in the in­de­pen­dent sec­tor as well as the best-per­form­ing State schools in re­search by Sav­ills last year).

The local prop­erty mar­ket is buoy­ant; 2016 was a record sales year for Mr Barker’s of­fice. ‘The great thing about Dorset is that it has good hous­ing stock,’ he be­lieves. ‘Most vil­lages will have a manor house, an old rec­tory and one or two other prom­i­nent pe­riod houses.’

There is a chalky soft­ness to the hills, com­bined with an open­ness of the val­leys and the sparkling light Ben Pen­treath

The land­scape is its big­gest lure, how­ever. Leav­ing aside the eastern side of the county —which is ‘more ur­banised’ ac­cord­ing to some and ‘grockle sub­ur­bia’ to oth­ers—one oft-re­peated phrase is that the to­pog­ra­phy is so var­ied that there’s a lit­tle bit of ev­ery county in Dorset.

Ar­chi­tec­tural and in­te­rior de­signer Ben Pen­treath, who took a long lease on a house in west Dorset (Coun­try Life, April 3, 2013) af­ter spend­ing so much time work­ing on the Duchy of Corn­wall’s Pound­bury es­tate, reg­u­larly posts mag­i­cal im­ages of the sur­round­ing coun­try­side on his pop­u­lar weekly blog. ‘There is a chalky soft­ness to the hills, com­bined with an open­ness of the val­leys and the sparkling light bounc­ing off the sea that feels so dif­fer­ent from the red earth of Devon or the more rugged coasts of Corn­wall,’ he says.

The nov­el­ist Tracy Che­va­lier is an­other fan (the county has in­spired sev­eral of her books, in­clud­ing The Last Ru­n­away). She was first in­tro­duced to Dorset by her hus­band on a week­end away from London; they now have a home in the Pid­dle Val­ley. ‘I couldn’t get over how green it was and how ac­ces­si­ble the land is—the great thing about Dorset is that you can grab an Ord­nance Sur­vey map and tram­ple all over the place. For an Amer­i­can, that’s quite some­thing.’

Some of Bri­tain’s best 20th-cen­tury artists, in­clud­ing Lu­cian Freud and Au­gus­tus John, cap­tured the vast land­scape of chalk downs and deep coombes that is Cran­borne Chase, but, for con­tem­po­rary land­scape painter Ju­lian Bai­ley, it was the struc­tural qual­i­ties of the cliffs, par­tic­u­larly along Ring­stead Bay, that mes­merised him. ‘I took a lit­tle 9ft dinghy out into the mid­dle of the bay. From there, you start to see this rib­bon of ups and downs, of the white chalk against the ul­tra­ma­rine sea and the land­scape be­yond. I painted it for years and now that lat­eral move­ment has in­fused other sub­jects.’

Eques­trian artist Kate Scorgie—whose oil, Hunts­man and Hounds in the Snow, was com­mis­sioned for the Coun­try­side Al­liance’s Christ­mas card last year—has fol­lowed and painted most of the packs in the county, in­clud­ing the South Dorset, Port­man and Black­more & Spark­ford Vale. She has a stu­dio in Hin­ton St Mary. ‘It’s a priv­i­lege to live and work in Dorset— we’re very lucky. For me, be­yond the wealth of sub­jects to paint, there’s a proper com­mu­nity here. You can sense it on the train from Water­loo. Af­ter it leaves Sal­is­bury, peo­ple start talk­ing.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.