South Dartmoor CTC Album


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Wednesday 6 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 1 Newton Abbot to Cranborne

9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
Train journeys can be a little tedious for those who aren't train spotters. As if to guarantee greater interest, Michael arranged to forget the information provided in advance by British Rail which detailed the precise whereabouts of the reserved seats on the three trains used on our travels. There was therefore much excitement and adventure associated with the despatch of search parties from the central guards van, eventually returning with the desired information.

And so it was that this somewhat experimental tour began. Experimental? Yes, because Michael hadn't been to either of the regions before, and wasn't at all sure that they could offer anything like the splendour of, say, Scotland, or even Wales! That is not to say that everyone would view the region in that way. It's just that youngsters haven't got much money as a rule and so can't visit many of the commercial attractions, and so the scenery needs to be pretty breathtaking, either in scale or beauty, to compensate.

Our tickets took us to and from Portsmouth Harbour, but it was our intention to disembark shortly before Salisbury, the exact station depending on weather conditions and rail delays. Extensive deliberation over four large maps on the outward journey eventually decided us on Tisbury, a charming little country village which offered direct access to the best of the local scenery and Roman antiquities without taking us through any built-up areas.

As we alighted on the platform, the strong sunlight that had gradually eaten away the morning cloud during our journey now made us feel that we could really begin to enjoy ourselves, and so it was that we set off through delightful rural lanes to Donhead St. Andrew and Cranborne Chase, primroses and daffodils adorning every enchanting hedgerow along the way.

The first thing that many of us noticed on top of the Chase was the stony soil, which seemed to us quite incapable of supporting vegetation of any kind let alone the huge trees which lined the road near Tollard Royal. Speaking of which, several of these majestic specimens had recently been chopped down and were now being sawn into firewood - we trust that there was some good reason for this despite the apparent good health of the exposed trunks.

We have still not quite finished with Tollard. A small well, which had attracted a pheasant as well as our cyclists, was the subject of an inquisitive investigation for a few moments before we continued to Sixpenny Handley (yes, that really is the name). We had all purchased numerous bars of chocolate at the shop there before someone pointed out that Budgie (that's 16-year old Richard Burge from Ashburton for the uninitiated) wasn't with us. Someone else remembered seeing him last at the well, and so there were the obvious comments that he might have fallen in or that someone might have made a nasty wish at the well! Graham and Simon were despatched with all haste to determine his fate.

Now, when you're sitting down outside a village shop in a strange neighbourhood with time on your hands, you see all sorts of strange things that other people might not have seen before. The first thing we saw was a lady with a middle-sized black dog on a long, sturdy lead. She tethered the dog to a special post outside the shop and then went inside. A few moments later a rather large man came along with another black dog (a little larger than the first I think). It got as close to the first dog as its lead would allow and then the man waited until the mutual sniffing was complete before he too tethered the dog to a hook and entered the shop.

On looking a little further afield the only parked car we could see (opposite the shop on the other side of the road) had a small, intelligent-looking dog peering out of the front passenger-seat window. In the only occupied garden further up the street there was a man mowing his lawn, with a dog running around after the grass. During the next few minutes two more people entered the shop, each with dogs, and two cars passed, both with dogs in the back seat.

One might conclude from these observations that anybody who is anybody in Sixpenny Handley has a dog of some kind. Our minds conjured up wonderful visions of a stranger walking into a local cafe WITHOUT A DOG. Conversation would stop and all eyes would turn to the hapless individual.

Well, the theory had to be confirmed. Michael walked into the shop and asked the owners whether they happened to own any dogs.

"Oh yes, we've got three as a matter of fact," came the reply. "Three children as well - we do everything in threes!"

"Well, not everything I hope," was Michael's cheeky response.

Budgie had returned. His chain had got jammed and he had been forced to remove the rear wheel in order to free it. So much for the well connection.

Having traversed Ackling Dyke and found it to be of very little visual interest, a final detour took us through Wimborne St. Giles, from where an interesting looking footpath led us towards Brockington Farm and the Knowleton Circles. The circles and associated ruined church were of particular interest to Gary, who sketched them, and Simon, who cycled around them, but it was the path that caused the upset. After tackling a large gate and a removable barbed-wire fence, there was a padlocked gate to contend with. Before Michael could say anything two of the lads had removed it from its hinges, allowing us to pass through without climbing the high stile. The problem was, they couldn't get both hinges back on again no matter how much they tried.

Cranborne hostel is situated in the centre of the rather quiet, sleepy village. There was a rather long and complicated journey between the dormitory and the male washrooms, but otherwise the evening was very comfortable, with good meals and an open fire in the common room. The only noteworthy event that evening was performed by Mark Williams, who accidentally revealed the contents of a large paper bag which he had taken to bed with him. It was packed full of chocolate and cakes of every description - in case he got peckish during the night.
Thursday 7 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 2 Cranborne to Burley

9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
One of the most endearing features of the New Forest turned out to be the abundance of wildlife. Almost everywhere we went there were squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, swans, horses and wild birds of every description.

It was at Ibsley, just a few miles from the hostel, that we first began to notice the phenomenon. Here there were hundreds of wild swans, and our first pheasant flew out from a hedgerow as we rode past the quaint little church. Just a little further on, beyond Mockbeggar, a baby rabbit was quietly nibbling some grass outside its vergeside burrow. It would even have stayed long enough for a close-up photograph had not a rather noisy horse ridden past at just the wrong moment - it quickly scampered into its hole and was gone.

We took the lane for Linwood as planned despite the 'Road Closed two miles ahead' sign, and soon found ourselves entering the New Forest itself. Here there was heather, delightful woodland and, of course, the famous horses scattered randomly across the heaths. The road-mending work was taking place at Linwood itself, but the workers were pleased to let us pass.

At last the sun broke through. There was a strong headwind across the exposed Ocknell Plain, made all the more tortuous by the Roman nature of the road, but eventually we found ourselves at the famous Rufus Stone. This famous monument marks the spot where in Norman times Walter Tyrell's arrow killed William Rufus, but a visiting donkey attracted more attention from our members than the stone itself! We kept to the rules as far as we could by not feeding it, but it was difficult not to pet it when it turned its sad, soulful eyes towards us!

Plans for the afternoon included a short visit to the famous Butterfly Farm near Ashurst. Our route took us through Cadnam, where a short-cut track turned out to have a rather muddy middle-section. It was certainly muddy enough to give everyone filthy bikes and muddy trainers - everyone except Mark, of course, who somehow managed to carry his brand new Raleigh Randonneur through the quagmire without getting either the bike or himself muddy at all, although it did take him twice as long as everyone else!

The farm proved disappointing in some respects. To start with we had been forced to use a few main roads to get there. And when we finally arrived, prices were too high for many of the group at £2-15 per adult and £1-30 per child. Five of us went in, however, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the butterflies, wildfowl, bees, mynah birds, quails, scorpions, beetles, spiders and silk moths that inhabited the tropical climate inside the glasshouse.

After a coffee stop in the equally expensive buttery that adjoined the Farm, we covered further stretches of main road in our attempts to return to the heart of the forest at Emery Down. From there we took the lane through Millyford Bridge, passing though vast areas of continuous forest and meeting only a couple of cyclists who needed some assistance with a puncture. We continued past the disappointing viewpoint (disappointing because it is now effectively screened off with conifers) to the deer sanctuary, in which we observed a number of slightly timid deer who maintained a safe distance between themselves and our hide.

And now at last we could ride the famous ornamental drives of Bolderwood and Rhinefield. We had begun to realise during the course of the day that our visit was just a few weeks too early to capture the full beauty and splendour of the forest. The trees were bare and the "Roadies" weren't out yet. (Yes, we also wondered what Roadies were - rhododendrons of course, which line the second of the drives.) Nevertheless, the forest was magnificent, with squirrels hopping around nearly every tree and the most inspiring bird song coming from all directions. We would probably not have been too surprised if Pooh Bear and Owl had appeared from behind one of the ancient oaks.

But now it was time to head for the hostel. The lane to Burley was even more delightful than the drives in many ways. But amidst the wildlife was the sadness. Huge trees that had once towered majestically above the forest floor now lay helpless on their sides, uprooted by the October storms. There was hardly a glade in the Forest without some sign of damage, but here it seemed worst of all.

Burley hostel is the only true New Forest hostel run by the YHA these days. It is situated part-way along an earthy track near the golf course, a short distance out of the village. The extensive grounds boast some huge trees and genuine Forest horses .. and the hostel boasts a particularly unhelpful meals service.

We had, as usual, paid for our meals several weeks prior to our visit, and so it came as rather a surprise when we were told that 18:30 was a 'late' time to arrive.

"I've hardly got time to prepare the meals now," said the rather beanpolish assistant in her strong Australian accent.

After reminding her that the meals had already been booked, she pointed to a menu on the wall. "But surely you could have selected something suitable if you felt we were late," Michael said, "as I told you there is just one vegetarian!"

Apparently she couldn't, and so everyone made their selections to her satisfaction. She then performed a few calculations, wrote some figures in the book and informed Michael that he owed her £3-40. He stared at her in disbelief. "That can't be right," he said. "Everything was paid for in advance, and the calculations were right at Cranborne!"

"Ah," she replied, "you are probably working on the basis of fixed price menus. We operate a variable-price system. Since your group have chosen items which total to more than £2-15, you have extra to pay!"

She was unable to answer his next questions of why she hadn't told us about the system on the hostel receipt, or why she hadn't told us before we made our selections. The question of why the minimum £2-15 option included only a fruit juice remained unasked (Michael didn't want to upset her any more).
The meal was acceptable, but nowhere near as good value as at many other hostels. Nevertheless our stay was a pleasant one, the evening being occupied by discussions with an Oxford student who was lodging in our dormitory whilst on a work placement at Bournemouth.
Friday 8 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 3 Burley to Totland Bay
9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
Our final day in the New Forest was blessed with glorious sunshine right from the start. Having visited the Post Office (and seen the Burley policeman) Budgie purchased a Dorset Dumpling (cute fluffy ball with two eyes) and we were off once again, this time taking the tracks past Naked Man. This little attraction, supposedly the remnants of a gallows where a highwayman once hung until his bones were laid bare, turned out to be a particularly rotten tree stump held together with wooden frames. I guess it is remarkable that it survives at all.

Sway Tower, built by an enthusiast to prove the strength and attractiveness of Portland Cement, was a little too far away for a visit on this occasion, so we skirted back through Brockenhurst and yet more squirrel-infested woodland to reach Beaulieau, the so-called capital of the New Forest, for lunch. The lake may have been beautiful, and the gardens may have been lovely, but a village without a bakery does pose a few problems when you're trying to find lunch. Fortunately the local Spar did a range of prepackaged pies and sandwiches which were duly consumed beside the ancient abbey overlooking the estuary.

Exbury Gardens was the next stopping point. Mark is training to be a flower and gardening expert with Torbay Borough Council, and so the visit was mainly for his benefit. The rest of us, ever money-conscious, decided to enjoy the view of the gardens available from the attached cafe, although they were undoubtedly very well kept and probably worth the entrance charge. As Brett said, "It's difficult for kids like me to get worked up over flowers!"

Returning to Beaulieau we decided to try the scenic route to Lymington via Bucklers Hard, a village once famed for its shipbuilding. On arrival, however, we were confronted by an officious gentleman who was charging everyone to go into the village! Apparently the whole village was privately owned.

We were about to cycle off in disgust when Paul noticed a footpath sign which pointed towards the village. Thinking that there must be some catch Michael went up to the attendant again and was told that the charge was for parking, per person, and that pedestrians were not charged for entry. We left our bikes round the corner and spent some time wandering around the village.

Travelling via St. Leonards and Sowley Pond, we arrived at Lymington just in time to catch the 4.15 ferry to Yarmouth. Now actually there were a few more things to see on the mainland, like the brass rubbing centre and the salt marshes, but a few individuals wanted to try to get to Alum Bay before 5.30 to see the glass-making (there is no glass-making at weekends). So against my advice we squeezed onto the already packed ferry and waved goodbye to the mainland.

The old railway track to Freshwater was covered at a faster pace than normal, a factor which may have had something to do with Graham's untimely mudguard breakage, delaying everyone by a crucial fifteen minutes. We needn't have worried though. The glass shop closed five minutes early at 5.25, just as we arrived. The lady was not at all apologetic, and said that glass-making had stopped at 3pm on that particular day as they had run out of glass! Michael suggested that she be more careful about her advertising in future, but was secretly not surprised by her attitude.

We made the most of our visit by looking at the Needles in the evening sunshine, and wandering around the very commercialised (closed) shops and chairlift which now make Alum Bay so famous. We hoped that the Island would not all be spoilt in this way.

Then we returned to Totland for our only superior hostel of the tour. The luxury of spacious dorms and duvets was enough for most, but others found the television room of greater interest, deciding to spend most of the evening there. A few of us walked down to the beach, but were disappointed to discover that it, too, was very commercialised, looking rather like a miniature Brighton. Come back New Forest - all is forgiven.
Saturday 9 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 4 Totland Bay to Whitwell
Wet start
9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
Rain had to come eventually. We spent most of the morning playing games of cards, chess and scrabble in the hostel common room and then transferred to the cafe and shops of Alum Bay for an expensive lunch. The beach lies at the base of steep cliffs of multicoloured sand, accessible either by steps (283) or chairlift (more money of course). We used the chairlift down and steps back, enjoying the experience despite the adverse weather conditions.

When Warren had filled his glass bottle with numerous layers of coloured sand at the sand shop, the rain had diminished sufficiently for us to consider pursuing our original route as planned. And so we cycled through Freshwater Bay (again, rather commercialized) and on to the high ridge of East Afton Down along the track called the Tennyson Trail.

This track first climbs steeply through the chalky golf course and then continues along the ridge offering panoramic views right around the western half of the island. At last we could see its true size - much larger than we had imagined. The cold wind did not invite us to linger long, however, and we were soon descending to the B3399 ready for the next stage of the trail. It was during the descent that Graham and Gary discovered just how slippery wet chalk can be, and Warren discovered just how easily a steel wheel can buckle.

We continued up into the forest, managing to find our way through despite the existence of at least two more tracks than mentioned in the CTC route guide. Final spectacular views to the south and east of the island were available from Limerstone Down, from where we descended to rejoin the road network at Shorwell.

The water wheel at Yafford Mill was fortunately adjacent to a lane passing to the rear of the property, and so we were able to save ourselves one more extortionate entrance fee. At least we now know why the owners built a long entrance road across fields to the front of the property out to the B3399.

Continuing through Little Atherington we began to realise just how many paths and bridleways there were on the island. At almost every corner there was a sign marked with a special code number pointing to yet another track route. We even saw one sign pointing over the top of a two metre high hedgerow.

Now at last the sun was with us again, reflecting magnificently off the calm sea of Chale Bay. We were at Blackgang Chine, one of the most popular attractions on the island. It was now closed of course, the time being well past 6pm, but a short reconnaissance around the perimeter fences convinced everyone that a return visit next morning would be well worth the effort.

The hostel at Whitwell is a carefully converted chapel set in lovely wooded gardens. Like all chapels it was quite cold inside, with the single exception of the common room which contained an open fire. The only other real complaint was the tiny size of the kitchen, which could only cope with five people at a time, but at least it was cosy and very homely. We spent our evening talking with an old CTC gentleman from Portsmouth and grappling with a hostel telephone that accepted incoming calls but wouldn't ring.
Sunday 10 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 5 Whitwell to Sandown
9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
Imagine waking up on the most beautiful spring morning you can imagine. Outside in your wooded grounds, daffodils and primroses make the garden look clean and fresh. A Silky chicken wanders briskly from one tuft of grass to the next. And bird song descends from the trees all around you.

It was like that on this April morning at Whitwell. Breakfast was consequently not a hurried affair, and it was nearly 10am before we could tear ourselves away from the hostel grounds.

Blackgang Chine is the site of a truly magical theme park, sawmill and Quay, all situated on the cliff-side overlooking Chale Bay. The theme park, intended primarily for children, includes such wonderful features as Frontier-land, Adventure-land, Smuggler-land, Nursery-land, Dinosaur-land, Jungle-land, Water-gardens, Model village, Fairy castle, Maze and Funny Mirrors. It was in Frontier-land that Jimmy Saville recently 'fixed it' for a girl to throw a gunman through the window of a saloon bar in Buffalo Creek! Today, a coach load of adult cowboys complete with ten-gallon hats and cap pistols were playing in the Creek (in addition to ourselves of course).

After preparation of a makeshift lunch from the leftover bread we spent a further hour wandering around St. Catherine's Quay and Blackgang Sawmill, packed with working steam engines and numerous displays. The best engine of all was taken from a steamer that used to sail between Totnes and Dartmouth - the power in those pistons was quite something to witness.

When we were finally ready to leave in the early afternoon we all felt satisfied that our money had been well spent, even if we had been forced to endure endless repetitions of a recorded message being played near the entrance: " .. Lots to see and do ... We recommend buying our combined ticket at a special inclusive price to get the most from your visit to Blackgang .. ". The message faded into oblivion as we headed up the hill.

Our holiday was nearing its end. But here there was sunshine and we intended to make the most of it. Returning to Whitwell we continued through picturesque Godshill, just wishing that we had enough money left to enjoy a cream tea in the outdoor tea gardens which surrounded the lovely thatched cottages. It was then that we came across two CTC islanders out for a Sunday excursion from their home at St. Helens.

They were very patient. Shortly after meeting us Gary's foot slipped onto his front mudguard, which buckled up around the wheel, which jammed the wheel, which threw him off ... and he ended up with a buckled frame and forks as well as a broken mudguard. And our two friends stayed with us until his bike was ridable again.

At Alverstone we went our separate ways again, our group choosing to explore the riverside path towards Newchurch, then following it in the other direction towards Sandown. There was then just time for a visit to Brading and the famous waxworks before heading for the hostel. In the event, only Budgie and Warren could afford to see the waxworks. The rest of us searched for a cheap cafe, and were rewarded with the discovery of Gilly's Tearooms. Here the prices were very low - just 20p for a cup of tea, and 25p for delicious slices of Devon Apple Cake. And when the lady heard how disappointed we had been with the high prices charged everywhere else, she gave us all a cream cake each in the hope that we would take home a better impression of island hospitality. Needless to say, we did.

We hadn't really wanted to stay at Sandown hostel, being in one of the main tourist areas on the island. There was nowhere else to go, however, so we made the most of what turned out to be a large barn of a hostel, purpose made for the bucket-and-spade brigade. The only redeeming feature was the enormous common/dining room which hosted our evening Charades entertainment.
Monday 11 April 1988
Tour: New Forest & Isle of Wight
Day 6 Sandown to Newton Abbot
9 Participants: Richard Burge, Paul Deslandes, Simon Hopper, Brett Jamieson, Gary Johnson, Michael Jones, Warren Masters, Graham Moates, Mark Williams
The end was nigh. The warmest, sunniest morning of the tour saw us off to an early start, returning past the Isle of Wight zoo (sadly closed until 10am, but we could see quite a lot through the slits in the fence). Huge fields of yellow rape set behind avenues of trees made the Ryde-bound lanes a delight to cycle through.

The only remaining event of any note was the ferry crossing to Portsmouth Harbour. At the end of Ryde's long pier we were getting a little concerned when the ferry hadn't arrived by the stated time. The lady in the ticket office had mentioned that the ferry was fast, but we had not been expecting a hydrofoil. The crossing took just nine minutes flat, the feeling of power being more akin to a speedboat than a ferry.

The long rail journey home gave us time to consider all the sights we had seen along the way. Everyone had enjoyed the tour. There was a consensus, however, that the New Forest was more idyllic than the island with all its contrived tourist attractions. Will we be returning? Probably, yes, to the New Forest, but next time in summer to catch the full glory of the ancient oaks.
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