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Poole Bay to Wych Passage - The Boatmen's Lament-Land versus
Water-Wych Heath-Purbeck Hills-Corfe Castle—History and Ruins—Clay-Digger-Corfe and its Phenomena-Along the Hill-topA Mist—Touches of Dorsetshire-Tyneham-Lulworth Castle-Lulworth Cove-Outlook-Range of Cliffs—Vigilant Sea-Birds-White Nose-Weymouth.
RUNNING in some six miles from the British Channel, and from four to five miles wide, narrowed at the entrance, the bay on which Poole is situate presents the appearance of a great lake ramifying into smaller bays, across one of which the railway is carried. The surface is broken by a few small islands, by buoys and beacon-poles, and the beds of long trailing grass and tall rushes that grow on the numerous shallows. The Frome, and one or two small rivers uniting at their outlet, here form an estuary, with a tortuous channel, that finds its way out to Studland Bay and the open sea between the two thin projecting tongues of land known as North and South Havens. Standing on the quay at Poole, you see the hills of what is called the Isle of Purbeck beyond the opposite shore, and you look at them with that feeling of pleasurable expec
tation, prompted by the hope of climbing their green slopes before the day is many hours older. Among them stands Corfe Castle; and one of the ways to that celebrated ruin lies across this singular bay.
From Poole to Wych Passage—the usual landingplace for Corfe—the distance is about seven miles, and the boatmen lounging on the quay are always ready to take you
there on their own terms. 56'Twas too much of a pull for one,” said a weatherbeaten old fellow, “ besides meeting the tide coming back;" he would, however, take three shillings, and I agreeing, he hailed another of his own genus as rugged as himself to pull the second oar, and away we went. Poole, built on its low peninsula, and the masts of a few small vessels rising above the roofs, seemed to glide away in one direction as we moved quietly in the other over the unruffled surface of the harbour in the calm of the early morning. Ere long, however, the noise of a lively ripple prattling against the sides of the boat announced our entry on the course of the stream, up which we steered towards the head of the bay. From here Brownsea Island, with the buildings on it, and the fort that commands the channel, can be well made out, with a glimpse of sea in the distance, as the entrance of the bay opens. The old men talked as they rowed of the changes that had taken place within their remembrance: some channels had deepened, others altogether disappeared. Poole was not what it used to be; once it had a great trade with Newfoundland, now
the trade was not worth talking about. Just then a large fish leaping up at an unwary fly fell down again with a loud splash, which suggested another topic. 66 Ah! we could catch salmon here one time, now we don't see a dozen fish in a season;" and so the two ancient ones went on repeating the old story, that things were better when they were young.
Then another grievance was, that since the opening of the railway so few persons go to the castle by water; they prefer to travel down the line to Wareham, four miles from Corfe, and there take the omnibus. The grumblers refused to be comforted, and would by no means admit that the sending away of some forty thousand tons of clay every year to Staffordshire, could be regarded as any equivalent for the decline of the Newfoundland trade—“'twasn't the same thing, nohow."
Meanwhile the estuary became narrower, the grass and rushes grew thicker on one side, while vast banks of mud, where gulls screamed discordantly, appeared on the other. All at once we turned into “ Ball's Lake” -lake being the local term for a passage connecting two channels--and presently we were in Wych Channel, a narrow water-course, twisting in innumerable curves between the slimy banks. The tide having ebbed, they were seen in their full dimensions: flat, brown, unctuous-looking masses, bearing a few rank weeds, with here and there a pile or a bush fixed at the bends, to mark the channel at high water. The effect of the windings is surprising. Poole, which had been left in
the rear, is now in front, and the Purbeck hills are behind, miles away; another minute and the positions are reversed; but while you are looking at the ruins which have come into view, once more do away from them. Though far from beautiful, the scene is interesting; for here the land and water are contending for the mastery, and the land has the best of it. One of the banks, which the boatmen pointed to as we passed, is now firm enough to walk on, and rises a few inches above the highest tide. With some outlay for embankments, thousands of acres might be at once reclaimed, as Colonel Waugh has proved, by adding a hundred acres to the soil of Brownsea Island. Art might assist Nature ; but Nature, if left to herself, will do the work at leisure; and with such fat, fertile deposits, it is possible to look forward to the time when the present dreary expanse will be covered with golden harvests.
Still narrower grows the channel, leaving scarcely room for the oars; at last a house surrounded by trees appears on the left, and a little wharf, to which is moored a sloop laden with coals. To imagine how such a vessel got there is about as difficult as to account for the flies in amber. The men, tired with their two hours' rowing, made fast with a grunt of satisfaction to the side of the sloop. We had arrived at Wych Passage; I paid the stipulated sum, and scrambled on shore.
A few yards along the rough track leading from the
landing-place and you are on Wych Heath, a breezy wilderness of furze and brambles, the very spot for starting a day's walk with gladsome feeling. I slung on my knapsack, and bent my steps towards the ruin, the top of which, about three miles off, could be seen peering above the ridges of furze, and coming more and more into view at every rise of the ground, until at last the whole breaks upon you, standing grandly on the top of a conical hill, between a break in the
Arrived at the foot of the cone, there is a choice of paths leading to the summit, steep enough to make you pant again. The remains of the old walls are nearly half a mile in circumference. There are massive towers at the outer gate; towers in the first court; then a dry ditch, and a bridge of one arch leading to the gate of the second court, at which, so tradition says, the youthful Edward reined up his steed to ask tidings of his brother, and took the cup of wine from the treacherous hands that slew him while he drank. Great crimes haunt a ruin as long as great heroisms; and to the wanderer roaming about the dilapidated fortress, the memory of Elfrida's cruel murder of her son-in-law, nine hundred years ago, invests it with a deeper interest. Here, too, was imprisoned for a time that other unfortunate Edward, who perished miserably at Berkeley Castle. Here the base-hearted John bestowed his regalia for safety, and tortured his captives as only a coward can. Here the lady of Sir John Bankes,