Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV.

Leave Weymouth-A Region of Antiquities–Dorchester-Bridport

Marshwood Vale-Charmouth-Lyme Regis—The Siege—A Royal Fugitive-Holme Bush - The Sea View—The Undercliff-PinneyDowlands—The Landslip-Freaks of Subsidence-Culverhole PointAxmouth—The Level-Mark-Seaton - Beer- Branscombe-Limestone Quarry.

Not caring to walk the remainder of Dorsetshire, I travelled by coach to Charmouth, intending to start again from thence on foot. Stage-coaches are now so rare in the Home circuit, that to see one of the halfforgotten vehicles once more is something like renewing acquaintance with an old friend, and with some of his faults, too; for the aboriginal “ Coachman, Sir"“Guard, Sir,” still haunt the journey and annoy its close. By-and-by Weymouth will have its railways, and then-! Yet, for enjoyable travelling in fine weather commend me to the outside of a stage-coach.

Striking inland the road rises for miles over the bare, hilly downs, where want of beauty is, as some believe, made up by an unusually abundant sprinkling of antiquities. You see barrows on all sides, the tombs of a long-departed race, either Dane or Saxon, perhaps both;

the sea.

for they fought many a hard battle here within sight of

Fail not, however, to look back from time to time: there is a good view over Portland, the great bay, the Bank, and all the intervening country, soon to disappear. Then the road crosses a deep railway cutting, as though to give you an opportunity to contrast modern with ancient enterprise, and to question whether the labourers employed by the Romans would pass muster along with our modern "navvies.” They were, perhaps, more picturesque. Ere long the summit is crossed, and you descend on the other side, still among tumuli. What pains those barbarians, as we call them, took with their burials! A mound of earth heaped over the dead formed a simple but lasting monument that told its story without need of inscriptions, and remained undisturbed for centuries. Now sheep feed on the grass

that covers them, and antiquaries come with pick and shovel and lay open the mounds in the vain effort to extort their secret. But the dry bones answer not. A couple of miles farther, and there, on the left, is Mew Dun, or Maiden Castle, an elevated earthwork covering more than 150 acres, with ditches and ramparts, and cun. ningly-contrived entrances that change their direction every two or three yards—a device which, when, as is supposed, the British had a stronghold here, was not intended to conciliate the enemy. Then Dorchester comes into view, with its long avenues of trees stretching to the four points of the compass, reminding you of the aspect of a foreign town. Were it not for these

lines of oaks, elms, and chestnuts, the attractions of the place would be wofully diminished. There are, indeed, a few pleasing strolls by the side of the Frome, and the Roman amphitheatre on the south, not far from the railway station, and the Poundbury, a smaller Mew Dun, on the west; but not every one cares to seek inspirations for the Present in the memorials of the Past.

Similar in character is the road all the way from Dorchester to Bridport. At the village of Winterbourne you see one of those small streams, of which Dorset and Wiltshire have numerous examples, most copious in the winter; but abundant rain and a strong south-west wind are necessary to make them break out. If fewness of houses be a sign, the population is scanty. The high downs on the left, a continuation of the ridge that begins at Corfe, shuts out the marine view, except in places where the ground within rises to a higher elevation. Bridport left behind, the country begins to show signs that Devonshire is not far off; the hills are steep and wooded, the villages, embowered by orchards and gardens, have an attractive look about them, as you will perhaps think while the coach stops at Chideock. On the right is Marshwood Vale, a region of small parishes with stipends to match, which not till within recent years had any claim to be considered as other than a part of Heathendom. Even now, as a gentle-voiced curate, one of our party on the hind seats, assured us, the state of benightedness is scarcely credible; and for want of good roads, the vale being devoid of stone, the

population are liable to interruptions of their religious services, especially in the winter, when the narrow ways are almost impassable. What would become of them, were there not happily a few men whose earnestness of purpose and spirit of self-denial suffice for the patient work of instruction? The curate pointed out, among the little gray patches that dotted the green,

churches and schools, most of them built within the past ten years; and beyond them a hill, from the top of which he had once seen the British and Bristol Channels, north and south, at the same time.

Charmouth has a charm in its name as well as in its situation : heights sloping to the noonday sun, the blessed influences of light and warmth, and the soft seabreezes. It was two o'clock: we had spent more than five hours over the thirty miles from Weymouth. I walked

up

the steep hill at the end of the street, took the first turning on the left till I again caught sight of the

sea, then strode across the fields for about a mile and a half, and there was Lyme Regis, sunning itself in a deep green hollow along a curving shore, the innermost sweep of the great bay, forty miles long and twelve deep, between Portland and Berry Head. Such a picture is not to be seen every day: I could not help sitting down for a while on a grassy bank to look at it. There are the old gray houses clustering irregularly together, overlooked on this side by the old, square, gray church-tower of St. Michael, and on the other by pleasant villas, built in delectable nooks on the hill-side beyond. There is the cobb, that singular crescentic pier which has withstood the assaults of the sea ever since the days of Edward III., and still shelters vessels in the harbour. The stones of which it is built, we are told, were floated out to their place attached to casks, and sunk to the bottom at the right moment by the striking out of a bolt. The signs of business are not lively, but in keeping with the placid character of the scene, and you remember with a feeling of surprise that the town furnished four ships and sixty-two mariners to Edward's expedition for the siege of Calais. All behind is wood and pasture, a large horseshoe-shaped undulating slope, sunk down apparently from the encircling heights, and traversed by the little river Lyme, the boundary of the counties; and far down the coast Berry Head shuts in the broad expanse of the West Bay with a dark purple promontory.

Historic associations come crowding on you. Within sight of these hills did our naval worthies of three hundred years ago begin that series of gallant attacks which ended in the destruction of the Armada. That wood yonder on the right, tenanted by noisy rooks, conceals what remains of Conway House, the headquarters of Prince Maurice, when, with Lord Paulet, and more than four thousand of the royal troops, he laid siege to Lyme-a siege memorable among the most heroic incidents of the civil war. On the 10th of April, 1644, the town was summoned to surrender; but the garrison, though numbering only 1100 men,

« VorigeDoorgaan »