Archive | November 2016


Exploring England #5

November: Woodland

From our airbnb home just outside Bridport, the rural view was green and serene. Hidden behind a veil of early morning mist, Colmer’s Hill seemed distant and mysterious.


As the mist began to lift, the surrounding woodland became clearer,


and soon the Caledonian pines atop the hill were revealed.


Jude’s Garden theme in October is Woodland

Buried Treasure

Exploring England #4

Like many people, we visited Dorset’s spectacular Jurassic Coast for one reason. Well-trod paths over dramatic cliffs lead to pretty coastal villages but we weren’t looking up. With heads down and eyes on the ground we had one goal  – to find fossils.

The 154 km stretch of coast between Exmouth and Studland Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage area, with geology spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Millions of ancient creatures and plants are preserved in the sedimentary layers of the cliffs, waiting to be revealed when the cliffs crumble away during wild weather.


At the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre we saw huge ammonites dating from the Jurassic Period. With high hopes we joined the crowds on Charmouth beach and, although we found many tiny treasures, there were no 185 million year old fossils lying around waiting to be discovered.





Continuing our search, we travelled west to Lyme Regis, a very busy town with very narrow streets. Avoiding the congestion and costly parking, we left the car at Charmouth Road car park. From the top of the cliffs it was a gentle downhill walk to the foreshore where a wide wall, built to protect the cliffs from erosion by the sea, doubles as a walking route into town.  It was only 400 metres but we took our time, enjoying wonderful views of the English Channel, the Jurassic limestone cliffs and the stony beach connecting Charmouth and Lyme Regis .




Evidence of fossils was everywhere in Lyme Regis.


The Lyme Regis Museum houses a vast collection. Some fossils were collected by Mary Anning, who made her living finding and selling them in the first half of the 19th century, while others have been found by modern enthusiasts. Along with more beautiful ammonites, there were fossilised plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, sea creatures whose descendants include whales and dolphins.


Fossils are still sold in Lyme Regis but we didn’t want to find our first fossil in a shop. The best way to achieve our aim was to join one of the museum’s guided walks, led by paleontologists Chris, Paddy and Tom.


We met the our group outside the museum and, after a short explanation about the geology of the coast, our guides led the way to the beach, where early morning wanderers were already scouring the shore.


Paddy showed us how to look for signs of fossils in the stones and demonstrated safe techniques for breaking them apart.




Armed with a little knowledge and much anticipation the group spread out, and before long fossils were turning up everywhere.




Our guides made sure everyone ended the walk with a handful of history. Ours included a tiny ammonite encased in mudstone and two belemnites, distant relatives of today’s cuttlefish.


With our goal accomplished and our walk completed, our perspective changed. It was time to look at more than just the beach!


See more walks all around the world at Jo’s Monday Walks.

Lyme Regis Museum is currently closed for refurbishment but daily fossil walks are still taking place. Check the timetable for costs, dates and times.

The Sum of Its Parts

Exploring England #3

Think of beaches and images of never-ending sand, wide blue skies and brilliant sunshine come to mind. But Chesil Beach, on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset is anything but sandy.


The beach, formed at the end of the last ice age, is 28 km long, up to 12 metres high and completely composed of pebbles. The size of the pebbles varies from one end of the beach to the other. At West Bay in the north the pebbles are tiny while south at Portland they are much larger. It’s said that fishermen landing on the coast at night can pinpoint their location according to the size of the stones on the beach.

Fleet Lagoon runs parallel to the ocean behind Chesil Beach between Portland and Abbotsbury. The lagoon is tidal and at low tide there’s just a puddle of brackish water left. A boardwalk across the tidal flats is decorated with wooden carvings of local wildlife.






After the bridge crossing, the pebbles begin. It’s an arduous climb to the top of the mound and the slope on the other side, down to the water’s edge, is just as steep.



The beach may be vast, but each of its parts is tiny.


Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Tiny

Swanning Around!

Exploring England #2

It’s a warm sunny day in late summer and a walking expedition on the Dorset coast beckons. It’s not far to the village of Abbotsbury and there’s also a coastal path, but today we’re visiting Abbotsbury Swannery, one of the largest colonies of mute swans in the world.


The swannery is located in the calm waters of Fleet lagoon, a long stretch of brackish water protected by Chesil Bank. The waters weren’t always so calm; at the end of the last Ice Age massive waves created the bank, a narrow wall of rocks between Lyme Bay and the coast. The land behind the bank was flooded as sea levels rose, creating the perfect breeding environment for water birds.


There have been mute swans in the lagoon since the 11th century, when the Benedictine monks of St Peter’s Abbey began farming the birds. In 1543, after the dissolution of the monastery, Sir Giles Strangways bought the land from Henry VIII and the swans have been cared for by his descendants ever since. While the swannery is not a zoo and the swans are free to come and go, the colony is carefully managed. We must purchase tickets at the shop before entering the grounds of the swannery.




From the entrance it’s a pleasant walk in the summer sun past grass covered fields and curious sheep. A stream flows beside the path and wildflowers bloom on its banks.



We enter the woodland closer to the coast and find hydrangeas flourishing in the dappled shade.


Our first sighting of a swan is a thrilling moment. A single white bird stands on the path ahead of us as if guiding the way.


Another swan with her half grown cygnets accompanies us for a while as she glides on a fast flowing stream.


As we walk there are more swans,



but these glimpses do not prepare us for the spectacle waiting at the end of the path – dozens of swans, a sea of white on the sparkling waters of Fleet Lagoon.


They might be called mute swans, but they are noisy. We’ve arrived at midday in time for a feeding session and the swans are excited. We learn that they receive limited feeding, sick or injured swans are captured and cared for before returning to the lagoon, and cygnets are monitored to ensure they remain healthy.


Young visitors are invited to help feed the birds who gather close to shore.


From a raised platform there’s a beautiful view of Fleet Lagoon, Chesil Bank and the swannery.


But it’s the opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close that we have all come for.


Abbotsbury Swannery is open every day from March to October, 10 am to 5 pm

See more great walks from around the world at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.

Where Romans Walked

Exploring England #1

Imagine the thrill of finding an iron nail or a remnant of pottery lost or discarded long ago, or even a hidden stash of ancient coins. Wouldn’t it be exciting?


So how would it feel to unearth a whole Roman palace?

That’s what some workers in West Sussex did in 1960 while digging trenches for a water main in a field in the village of Fishbourne. The accidental discovery of a tiled floor led to the excavation of a Roman Palace with a floor plan larger than Buckingham Palace, complete with hypocausts, bathhouses and beautiful mosaic floors.


There are a few historic figures who might have lived here but the most popular theory is that the palace was the home of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, a local chieftain who became King of the surrounding area. Several buildings have existed on the site, all dating from the first century AD. The palace was in continual use until 270 AD when much of it was destroyed by fire and forgotten until its re-emergence in 1960.

Today the site is managed by the Sussex Archaeological Society. The remains of the north wing of the palace are protected by a large building which also houses a discovery centre. The history of the palace, artifacts found on site and recreations showing how the rooms may have looked give an insight into the building and its occupants.



Raised boardwalks over the excavations allow visitors to view the mosaic floors up close.



Some of the intricately patterned floors are in situ, while others were moved from their original sites and painstakingly reassembled in the museum where they are protected from the elements.

The most spectacular mosaic depicts Cupid riding on a dolphin, surrounded by frolicking seahorses. Laid in the second century AD by highly skilled craftsmen, the floor once decorated a large dining room which looked out over a formal garden.


A replica Roman garden just like the one dinner guests would have admired surrounds the museum today, complete with water features, shaded walkways and beds filled with edible plants. If the weather was fine, those same diners might have enjoyed their meal outdoors, reclining on the sloping benches of the triclinium.



Romans weren’t the only people to occupy this site. This medieval burial is one of four found during excavations. Archaeologists know they are post Roman because the graves were cut through the rubble of the earlier buildings.


Much more than skeletons have been found in the soil that covered the remains of the palace.  At daily talks and demonstrations visitors have the opportunity to handle some of the thousands of items in the museum’s collection. I may not have personally unearthed this ancient piece, but holding a 2000 year old scrap of pottery in my hand was just as exciting!


Fishbourne Roman Palace is open daily from 30th January to 15 December.