Sheep bothering on Hambledon Hill

HOLD on to your hats, it’s gusty on Hambledon Hill! Icy pure air stabs our lungs. The sky’s blue above chunky chalk downs. Our boots are sticky with clay.

It’s bustling up here. Families, hikers and dog-walkers stream past the trig point. A retriever trots past, proudly carrying a massive fence post in his jaws.

The earth’s emerald, springy, dry. Kids on mountain bikes freewheel among the ramparts of the hilltop’s Iron Age fort. It’s bumpier than Maiden Castle, and nearly as gorgeous as Eggardon Hill. The whole of the Blackmore Vale is spread out before us. Mist clings gently to its edges.

The sheep are curious, but timid, even though we do our best to befriend them. We curl up on a bank and try to look unthreatening, wondering if they enjoy the views.

We can’t hear anything up here now the wind’s died down, apart from little rasps as they graze. It’s an ancient scene. Eventually they stampede off. We head down the hill, slightly worried we look like sheep botherers.

This is the Wessex Ridgeway footpath. We go past a Neolithic camp, towards Hod Hill, another Iron Age fort. Hairy, fluffy seeds are blown at us out of a wood. Old man’s beard?

We pass an iron barn, stuffed with haystacks. And back down into the village. Through listing iron railings and dense hedges, we catch tantalising glimpses of Ranston manor house, with the bright ribbon of the Iwerne River switching back and forth in front of it.

Confusingly, Iwerne Courtney is also called Shroton by locals. I suppose it depends whether you prefer to take your place names from the Domesday Book, or Old English derivatives. The village is about five miles north of Blandford Forum. ‘Wanted: new bellringers’ and ‘Lost: a riding crop’, proclaims the parish noticeboard.

We head for The Cricketers, a free house where we’ve had the foresight to reserve a table for lunch. It’s lovely. We’re knackered. But happy.

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