Drink

Dorset is a palliative for the human condition

No wonder that friends with houses here are hard to entice away

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

Do-orzaat. Dorset is part of L’Angleterre profonde. It is possible to find evidence of modernity, but only in limited areas. Around 120 miles from London, west Dorset and the Somerset marches are around the same distance from the 21st century, let alone the 20th. It helps that no motorway runs through the county and mobile phone reception is delightfully bad. A lot of locals believe that the great proprietors have risen up and taken counsel together against the networks: thus far, successfully.

On every side, there are fine trees and calming woodland. These are not Wagner’s God-haunted woods or Tolkien’s fearsome forests. In Dorset, trees have a sweet sylvan charm, while every kitchen garden is bounteous. No wonder that, unless they have nature conservation duties in northern Britain, friends with houses here are hard to entice away in August. They point out that London is humid and overcrowded, while abroad is too hot, full of foreigners and generally bloody. Who can blame them? Dorset has its own profonde. There is a place called Chettle, as pretty as any village in England. It has a big house, also called Chettle, which was designed by Thomas Archer with help from the Bastard brothers: that is a fine Dorset name. Among the villagers, there is a family called Priddle. Everyone swears that they poshed themselves up a generation ago, by adding the ‘r’.

Although Archer has never received proper recognition, he was a great architect and Chettle is one of his masterpieces. The village is another masterpiece, of English life. When it was first described to me, I was sceptical. It sounded just like Boot Magna Hall. So it is, except more so. I wonder if Waugh ever visited Chettle?

The Bourkes, who own the village, have kept cottage rents down, partly payable in rabbits, cabbages and other produce. As a result, there is enough disposable income to ensure an almost Irish ratio of pubs to people.


Encountering the locals, you could imagine yourself meeting the reddleman on Egdon Heath. The Reverend William Barnes would be there, too, noting down the villagers’ dialect. I confess to finding it increasingly difficult to re-read Hardy and more and more inclined to agree with Chesterton: ‘the village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot’. Although the human condition is ultimately bleak, Hardy does bang on and there are palliatives. Dorset is one of them. It is a perfect place for carpe diem. Le dernier acte may be sanglante: all the more reason to enjoy the earlier ones, keeping stoicism at bay.

On that subject, the Bourkes used to let rooms to a motley of interesting characters. There was one old girl called Nicolette Barrington, who refuted any claim that sex had not been invented until 1963. ‘I had four husbands,’ she said ‘but I was never able to marry the men I loved.’

‘I’d have thought you could’ve had anyone you wanted.’

‘Oh, I had them alright: just wasn’t able to marry them.’

Some of the husbands ran to yachts and racehorses: money was also run through. But in her final act, she made herself happy in Chettle.

Money is also the Bourkes’ problem. They have never recovered from a stonking attack of death duties in the 1950s, which despoiled them of land and kit. No more servants on four meat meals a day, and the house is now for sale. Its needs are simple: love and money — a new owner who will earn the credit of posterity by shouldering today’s bills.

There is an especially perfect drink for a Dorset August; Mosel from J.J. Prüm, a superb vigneron. I have been drinking a lot of his ’11 and ’12 kabinetts, which are moreish. It takes a fine wine to enhance a Dorset summer day. Prüm can meet the challenge.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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  • Dominic Stockford

    A wonderful place, best county in the UK

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      I agree. Utterly marvellous. Sherborne,Tollard Royal and Sixpenny Handley are great places. I love Shaftesbury and Milton Abbas too. Best of all are Bridport and WestBay.

      • ViolinSonaten b minor.

        Indeed I’ve relatives in Dorset.
        Lulworth Cove, Corfe Castle delightful Gold Hill in Shaftsbury and
        my favourite being Burton Bradstock.

        • Augustus

          I once met a boatman in Lulworth Cove who gave people local boat trips from the nearby pub, and of whom the publican had told me that he’d never been more than a few miles away in his life. I asked him if this was true, and didn’t he ever want to go to London to see the sights. He replied, “Why should I go to London to see the sights when the sights come ‘ere to see I?”

          • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

            The Dorset accent survives in Newfoundland, Canada. Many of the Bridport ropemakers moved there to ply their wares to the fishing fleets, rigging, nets etc..

    • louise

      Rubbish – 2nd best county in the UK – 2nd to Yorkshire – which is much quieter, less touristy, more space and countryside – and a very definite identity, history and future.

    • Callipygian

      I like Sussex myself (yes, the whole thing: the original, before the daft politicians carved it up).

      • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

        I like the west of East Sussex and the east of West Sussex. I am less keen on the east of East Sussex or the west of West Sussex. They are too near Kent and Hampshire.
        Of course England’s finest county is Shropshire?

        • Callipygian

          Oh, I must disagree entirely about the west of West Sussex: that’s exactly where it meets the Weald (and Tunbridge Wells), which is probably my favourite place in the country. Haven’t been to Shropshire so can’t comment. I’m sure it’s beautiful, though. Most of England is, when it’s allowed to be.

          • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

            The west of West Sussex is close to Portsmouth not Tunbridge Wells. You are having a compass moment.

          • Callipygian

            Oh blimey. Can we do a strikethrough on that?

          • justejudexultionis

            The East Riding of Yorkshire generally isn’t but Beverley is nice.

          • Callipygian

            I’ve enjoyed Yorkshire the two times I’ve been there.

          • justejudexultionis

            Are you ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’?

          • Callipygian

            Very often, yes %^0

          • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

            Whoever she is don’t ask her to map read.

          • Callipygian

            Eh. I’ve got a great sense of direction. I made a mistake, is all. The Kent/Sussex border is lovely and I cannot fathom your disdain of it.

        • justejudexultionis

          West Hoathly is an absolute gem of a place.

          • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

            Although an odd little “newtown” built for WW1 veterans I find Peacehaven charming. One time home of Gracie Fields.

          • justejudexultionis

            The cliffs are stunning, especially the walk to Newhaven.

      • Dominic Stockford

        Rather like Yorkshire – I mean, what is Yorkshire today and what was Yorkshire once are so different – no-one can know what is meant by it any more. Dorset has only had to suffer the ‘loss’ of Bournemouth

        • Callipygian

          I’ve always preferred Eastbourne, myself : )

        • justejudexultionis

          Would you consider the ‘loss’ of Middlesbrough to be a bad thing?

        • meltemian

          Yes, Dorset was better when Bournemouth was still in Hampshire!

          • Mary Ann

            Ouch!

          • ì want to guíde you to amazíng online work opportunity.. 3-5 h of work a day.. payment at the end of each week.. performance dependíng bonuses…earnings of six to nine thousand dollars /month – merely few hours of your free time, a computer, most elementary familiarìty wìth www and trusted web-connection is what+ is needed…learn more by headìng to my page

      • justejudexultionis

        I agree. The Weald of Sussex has a far prettier and more varied landscape, essentially medieval in character, than the Cotswolds (probably the most overrated countryside in the UK). I always think of Sussex as a single county and I’m sure most Sussex people do too.

        • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

          The Cotswolds has some amazing villages though ; Northleach, Castlecombe, Bibury, Painswick, Winchcombe, Broadway…..

          • justejudexultionis

            Yes, but often full of tourists and the surrounding countryside is generally not that interesting.

        • Mary Ann

          I preferred the South Downs, but I’m the lucky one, I have lived in Sussex and Dorset. Love Worbarrow Tout and Mupe Bay,

    • AverageGuyInTheStreet

      not quite thoroughly enriched yet but give it a few years.. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/26/bournemouth-man-jailed-kill-punch

  • justejudexultionis

    What’s with all the double-barrelled place names in Dorset? Does it reflect the number of retired colonels living in the county?

    • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

      No it is the same reason it has no motorway, it is largely rural and retains a lot of the medieval place names. These are a mixture of Latinized names ( medieval legal documents used Latin) used to delineate which lord owned what.Some have later switched to English, like say Upper and Lower Slaughter. Some are a mix of Old English and Latin. Often one village survives and its counterpart neighbour has gone.
      In the Cotswolds we find Eastleach Martin and Eastleach Turville churches a stones throw apart across the headwaters of the Thames river. Funnily enough this is less common in Wales or Cornwall.
      Up north you get the Viking prefixes like Kirby, but the add ons tended to be absorbed into one word by adding say Thorpe or Fract or Whistle.

      • justejudexultionis

        Thank you for that highly illuminating comment. My favourite village name must be Nempnett Thrubwell, although Compton Pauncefoot remains a close second.

        • Y&B Stuart-Hargreaves

          Budleigh Salterton, Berry Pomeroy, Huish Episcopi, Brompton Ralph….. I like some one word names too; Piddletrenthide, Shoeburyness and the lovely Shetland village of Twatt.

          • Callipygian

            And then there is Ugley. Which has a Women’s Institute, of course.

  • Hamburger

    I cannot comment about the countryside but JJ Prüm’s wines are superb.

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