Dorset: Milton Abbas, Dorchester
A black-and-brown day, the horizon of spindly trees and washed-out green only visible when the rain is not dropping. A subtle change of tempo as we push into Dorset: a faint feudalism in the air, huge tracts of villages untroubled by ‘A’ roads; empty fields lined with barrows like flying saucers of the blasted heath, low chalk scarps directing winding lanes.
There is a clean violence about Milton Abbas; the story in which an abbey and then its town were swept away in the C18 itself bleached out of the landscape, leaving the great orangey church – a Saxon minster that became an abbey that became a parish churh – effectively a private chapel; the gothicizing country house white and pristine beside it; the great tree-lined bowl in which they sit more suggestive of Cistercian deserts than Benedictine city-making. The town, of course, was moved by the nouveau riche eighteenth-century lord, and rebuilt, architecturally downgrading it to a village, safely out of site in a dry valley to the east. And then there’s the abbey, naveless, but otherwise in unusually good nick. More on the churches blog: joncannonschurches.wordpress.com.
On to Dorchester, which is as it should be for the town of a county like this, without the council offices and prison this would be no more than a market town, stretched along the slow chalk curve of a hill, yet with thrilling continuities of focus, the centres jumping from the extraordinary rewoked Neolithics of Maumbry and Maiden, then to the round barrows, then to Maiden II, then to the Chester and from it on to Casterbridge, still somehow feeling slightly temporary, as if it knows it could so easily be superseded. One parish church left of three: more on the churches blog: joncannonschurches.wordpress.com.
Back along winding black strips of tarmac, stuck between dark hedgerows, crashing through invisible pools of inky water; until it feels like half the curvature of the earth has been traversed.