In the high places of Dorset

13 March 2017
Ben Pentreath

If you want to write a blog on a Sunday evening, don’t bump into your friends Jasper and Oisin on the train home that afternoon to London from Yeovil Junction. The tea trolley rolled past. “May I have a cup of tea, please?” I asked. “Oh, I’m afraid we’re not serving hot drinks today”. Time for vodka and tonics, oh golly.

And this was having given up drinking for lent. Well, to be fair, Lent does not strictly speaking include Sundays, as I am sure you are aware. But even so, all I am letting you know is a reasonable excuse as to why I wasn’t quite up to writing yesterday evening. All I wanted to do was head to bed.

On Saturday morning, Charlie woke up and asked me “WHAT NEW THING ARE WE DOING TODAY?”  I’m beginning to slightly regret that resolution too.  But it was a beautiful morning, and after breakfast at Soulshine and a few cups of coffee, we thought that we just can’t spend all day lolling about the house.  Mavis was quite keen on a long walk too.  So a place we’ve been meaning to go for a while, Hambledon Hill, a little while north from us, beckoned.

Hambledon Hill, like Eggardon Hill which I have written about before, is one of those great Neolithic hill forts that cross the chalkland landscape of West Dorset like great ships on an ocean.  We climbed higher and higher.

Until a view began to open up that was breathtaking.

Even Mavis stared in amazement.

I think I had last been to Hambledon Hill when I was at school, back in the 80s. My wonderful art teacher Rob Woolner was obsessed by the Hill, and drew it time and again.  Another time, I’ll dig out some old photos of us all at our leaving picnic up on the hill on a hot summer’s day.  Magic. 

The pattern of ramparts enclosed and framed views to the huge landscape beyond.

Brambles hiding behind a windswept thorn:

Stop taking photos and throw me a stick, will you?: We slowly came down to earth.

Everywhere, in the hedgerows and verges, spring is bursting. Don’t you feel it?

We walked back down to the village of Child Okeford, which is unassuming and unpretentious and just about right, with a proper drinking man’s pub at its heart where we had lunch, that type of pub lunch where the beer and chips were about the best thing, and sat outside in the warm sunshine.

Nice houses: this one could have been designed by Robert Lugar (who was the architect of the Old Parsonage).

There were some very fine timber porches in Child Okeford. A joiner with an eye and a soul must have lived in the village in the 18th or 19th century. 

A house fairly much to die for. Ideal for our friend Monica, we sort of thought:

On the other side of Hambledon Hill are the Hursts, Edward and Jane, who I have also written about many times before (and whose beautiful house is one of everyone’s all time favourites in my last book). Their son Tom is probably the youngest antique dealer in Britain.  Well, at the very least, he is officially the youngest member of the ‘Young Guns’ (who you will know all about, the association of young antique dealers. Genius).   Charlie and I, after a visit to Manor Farm a few months ago, owed Tom a rather good chunk of money for some very nice stuff we’d bought on the spur of the moment. A good excuse to call in.

Jane was cooking hungover lunch while we had tea and upside down orange cake.

Followed by a walk in the garden:

The view back up to the Hill:

I became completely absorbed in Jane’s copy of the book written by their friend Marwood Yeatman, The Last Food of England. It is beautifully written.  I couldn’t tear myself away. I’ve ordered a copy immediately.

A corner of the kitchen,

Back at home, our kitchen, on Sunday morning. 

We’d had our friends Kim & Pip staying the night, for what Queen Victoria used to have for her house guests – a “DINE & SLEEP” – which is probably about the most perfect form of social invention ever created.  You arrive in time for drinks and warm baths and a delicious dinner cooked by Charlie, and long conversation into the night, breakfast and a nice long walk over the hills. Then you are free to go.  We have a complete catch up but you can still all have your weekends, Kim and Pip can look after their menagerie at the farm, and we could go onto lunch with our neighbours down the valley.

Before that, I thought you’d like a catch up on Charlie’s vegetable patch, where the beds are bursting with rows of later narcissus and tulips.

We had the most delicious lunch, with the MOST delicious wine, and I thanked my stars again that Lent doesn’t count on Sundays, and we briefly called in to see Caddy, whose chicks had all hatched that week….

And then it was time to head back to London and get in last night feeling a little worse for wear, and have a long day of meetings on an astoundingly warm and sunny day in London. Spring is coming.

19 comments on this post

Alison Mayallsays:

Great read as always. What is the yellow paint you have used in your kitchen – gorgeous custard shade!?

Deborah Wagnersays:

Happy Vernal Equinox! My seed order arrived today! My garden will never look like yours, being pots in an inner city driveway, but I can dream. I’m going in for strawberries this year. Why not? The worst that can happen is failure, and who cares about that, anyway? Hugs, Deborah


I do hope Spring is coming. Here in the Poconos (Pennsylvania, USA), the few days of warmth we had two weeks ago seem like a cruel hoax — we’re now digging out of the two feet of snow we got on Tuesday! A lovely post as usual — so glad you’re already enjoying Spring and we get to see it!


Well aren’t the Antiques Young Guns just the most FAB Group!!! Got very sidetracked on them for ages.

Judith Haxtonsays:

Pleasantly surprised to find your blog in my email this morning with beautiful pictures of Spring in Dorset. After days of very warm temperatures in Montreal we are now digging out. Mounds and mounds of snow everywhere. A perfect day to make that delicious looking orange cake….wish I had the recipe. .

Teresa Personsays:

Thank you for sharing your beautiful countryside…. I enjoy it so much… Have a wonderful St.Patrick’s Day…☘☘ Teresa


Best TGIF post (forgiven for the Monday lapse) as it is gray and old snow in Chicago. Our preternatural spring is buried under the stuff. Loved Mavis looking longingly over the gate at the garden…such digging possibilities! Happy new weekend to and Slainte. We will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style with our neighbors on up here on the north side of the city.


Lovely post, as always, Ben. I think you’re ahead of us in Dorset.Here in mid-Wales we have a few catkins and daffodils and the first few lambs shivering in a sharp breeze today. Spring approaches slowly.

May I recommend for ‘Last Food in England’ which is on sale at £18.52 – and they ship free worldwide! (I have no shares in the company – I’m just a happy customer.

Pierre B.says:

Thank you for this encouraging post. Spring seem in Quebec so far from what it is in Dorset!


lovely,dear ben, every! photo, so much kindness, the kinder than kind face of the scone baker at the green lantern cafe, the most handsome black bull, the houses, the windows. am so jealous of the shepherd’s wagon next to the architectural compost pile…and charlie’s garden is perfection…and that mavis girl standing at the fence’ photo. and you inspired me to read online about hambledon hill’s courageous history.

thank you for sharing your adventures and upside down orange cake and tea, dear ben and charlie and mavis.


Diane Keanesays:

Ben, I’m so glad I thought to stop by and see if a new post had appeared. From wind-swept earthworks to a nest of warm, fuzzy chicks (with cake, books and gardens in between) it was a lovely visit. Charlie must have a crew of magical garden gnomes laboring diligently at all hours, to have a garden looking like that at this time of year! (May you send me a few??) Thanks as always for sharing your weekend.

Hugs from Diane


Charlotte K,I often find myself looking for Ben’s book recommendations as well. I have no affiliation with this firm but I often use book depository, especially for books that are harder to find on this side of the pond.I found Last Food for $27 and there’s no postage charge which is a big savings. They ship via Royal Mail and I’ve been quite pleased with their service. Thought I would pass this tip along to a fellow Ben & Charlie fan.
P.S. Wonderful post as always Ben!

Charlotte Ksays:

I just dug out 10″ of heavy wet snow here in New England. Your pictures make me want to be in Old England. Wow what a landscape! And orange marmalade upside down cake…

I have heard of too many wonderful books on your blog over the years. Now here is another on my favorite topic that I suspect I’ll have to order from


Is this Charlie’s veg garden NOW? sometimes I feel so close to dorset and on days like this, in the midst of the huge northeaster U.S. snowstorm, it feels very far away. I was fortunate enough to spend jan and feb in warmer places and returned to western new York thinking spring was at hand everywhere. wrong. I’m dreaming of digging in the ground and planting pots of things.


I don’t believe it! I used to go up Hambledon Hill regularly to gain some perspective while employed to teach modern languages at a school in the vicinity, and I lived in Shillingstone for a short time. Mavis is thinking: “I’m sure Charlie could do with some help with the digging.” Lovely spring post down memory lane. Best, Nicola


Lovely blog Ben as always l particularly like the photo of Mavis at your gate lm sure she was thinking how happy and protective she is of her home and garden she looks so proud,dogs are so intelligent.What a joy she is and how lucky she is to share your wonderful life thank you for sharing.Spring is here at last waiting to burst open her beauty and majesty how exciting have a lovely week.


Since following your posts I feel like a Daphne Du Maurier character. But instead of going to bed at night dreaming of Manderley, it’s only “Dorset, Dorset…..Dorset” whispering ’round my brain.

Happy Spring!


Hello Ben, I am a longtime reader and fan from New York City. Your pictures are always stunning and truly transporting. It’s such a treat to read your blog every week. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a question that is off-topic from this particular blog post, but I am finally visiting the English countryside for the first time in May (the Lake District), which I am thrilled about, and then I am heading to Edinburgh for a couple of days. I found a blog post you did on a trip you took to the Lake District a few years ago, which I have already read in earnest, but I wonder if you have any “must-sees” in Edinburgh as I saw that you studied there.

Of course, I will be back to visit Dorset some day!

Thank you.


Such a green and pleasant land – we still have several feet of snow and, apart from a raven carrying a twig into the top of a very tall spruce tree, no sign of Spring at all.

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