We found the lane to hell on a beautiful day in May.
Carved out of the earth by thousands upon thousands of pairs of feet and hooves, and countless twists of wheels, Hell Lane near Symondsbury, Dorset, is one of many ancient holloways hidden in the patchworked countryside of southern England. One of many, and one of the best (although as a local, I am very, very biased).
We started our journey to Hell Lane at Symondsbury Estate, the sun shining bright and the world bursting with flowers and colour and the promise of lots of lazy summer days ahead. We made our way through the estate, through the chocolate-box village, and up along Shutes Lane. Step by step, the lane transformed from pretty country path to a lush subterranean, otherworldly scar.
Plumes of feathery ferns nodded as we passed and late bluebells speckled the verge, hiding in the shade. All around was painted with a thin veil of bright, spring green. The air was still and quiet and cool, filled with ancient memories.
Carvings bloomed in the weathered walls; some plain, some whimsical, others intricate and haunting. Stony faces peered out from the earth, so many it was hard to shake the feeling of being watched along our way.
Webs of tree roots crisscrossed through the ground and clawed along the air. Ivyfalls framed the way ahead, blooming and spilling down towards the path.
The path lead upwards and slowly the world melted back to the cosy, traditional countryside of Dorset.
We took a left towards Colmers Hill. Sheep stared as we wandered passed, their faces as stern as the one’s carved along Hell Lane just metres away, but thankfully not as spooky. They chewed and baaed and scattered as we picked out our way across the grass. Sometimes, we baaed back.
The walk to the top of the hill was steep, but the view was worth the achy legs.
The descent back towards Symondsbury was much kinder on our legs, and the snip-snip of sun-baked grass brushing on our boots replaced the chorus of baas from the climb.
Back at the estate, we were greeted with a very cute and friendly face.
Well, what trip to hell would be complete without a meeting with a horned and hoofed creature along the way?
The gridlocked cars on the other side of the road stretched in a long, shimmering, heat-hazy line and I couldn’t help but smile a cheeky smile.
The road on our side was clear.
They were bound for the Weymouth beach, we were destined for a chapel in the woods.
I feel the draw and pull and spell of the sea in my blood pretty much every day and I know I am incredibly lucky to live so near the coast, but on a sun drenched UK Bank Holiday weekend you won’t find me anywhere near the sand. Last weekend, my heart wanted lush green leaves and light dappled bluebells and pretty bird song and burbling streams and old chapel ruins with ivy spilling down the walls and a wash, a wave, a shiver of peace through my veins.
After getting a bit lost due to me mixing up St Luke’s Chapel on Ashley Chase with Chapel Coppice in Abbotsbury (it was the nicest and prettiest lost I’ve ever been), Patrick and I eventually made it to the right woodlands (thank you to Bellenie’s Bakehouse for the directions and the yummy pasties).
The road to the walking track was twisty and bumpy, but stunning. We parked up when we got to the end of the public road and set off to the chapel on foot.
Shaggy grass, patchworked across the hills, rippled in the wind. Branches of gnarly trees, knotted from a lifetime of sea breezes, pointed us on our way. Constellations of salt-misted bluebells twinkled beside the path as we walked by. Canopies of leaves shimmied above our heads and showered our feet with dancing shadows.
It felt like heaven.
The chapel was bigger than I’d expected. It was beautiful and peaceful and eery; a muddle of brick, statues, and gravestones haunting earth, ivy, and trees.
And the quiet.
It was the sort of hush that sinks into your bones and untangles all the noise in your head and all the worry in your heart. We only saw one other pair of walkers the entire time we were there, and that was when were almost back at the car. For most of the journey, we had only the cows in the fields beside the path for company.
We were so close to crowds and crowds of people but so, so far.
And the traffic on our journey home? Well, the universe got me back for my cheeky smile as we’d zoomed passed the morning’s traffic jams…
Snowdrops and camellias are two of my favourite flowers.
Snowdrops, because they’re tiny pearls of light in the big midwinter dark – they set the ground on fire with the promise of spring. Camellias, because they’re the roses of winter – magical flowerfalls of colour sitting alongside the steely skeletons of trees.
Add a splash of glittering sunshine into the mix?
Well, that right there is a recipe for happiness and a heavy January heart made light.
My brother and his girlfriend are down from London over the holidays with their seven month old miniature dachshund, Remi.
Remi is ADORABLE. He’s cuteness and mischief and cuddles and fabulousness on four tiny legs; with a heart of gold, the smooshiest little face, the floppiest and fluffiest ears you ever did see, and a nose that’s perfect for booping.
On Sunday, we took him to Studland beach for his first trip to the seaside.
He loved it. And it was the loveliest thing to see him discovering a whole new world; see him sallying forth into a great unknown; see his first steps on the sand; see his nose covered in it too; see him meet the sea, smell the water, paddle along the bubbly edges of it and look out at the horizon. Probably the biggest and widest horizon he’s seen so far. Poole, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Old Harry Rocks, the silky silver English Channel, cloud after cloud after cloud. He took it all in his perfect, wibbly wobbly stride.
The beach was busy – but Remi’s a city dog, a seasoned pro in busyness, so he wasn’t fazed. He made lots of new furry friends and won himself lots of human admirers too.
And watching him got me feeling all philosophical.
(What can I say? I just like overthinking.)
To be fair, the end of a year and the dawn of new one always makes me reflective. What did I learn? What did I do with my life? Did I make the most of the last twelve months? What do I want to learn and do in, and how do I make the most of, the next twelve? I don’t really know how to answer those questions properly. They probably aren’t truly answerable.
All I do know is I want to be a bit like Remi meeting the sea over the next twelve months – constantly curious, open to the unknown, finding joy in the little things, and quietly confident I’ll be up to the challenge of what’s in store.
I probably won’t look quite as cute as him though.
The last few weeks, I’ve been going stir, stir, stir crazy – stuck between going down with a cold that hijacked my entire body and being busy at work and being busy with random life stuff and the weather being unbelievably rubbish. But on Monday – finally *cries melodramatically* – I was able to get out and enjoy some autumn sunshine in the grounds of a local National Trust property.
In one of the outbuildings of the property, there was a pretty display with the question: what does autumn mean to you? and little paper leaves for people to write their answers on.
I stood in front of the display for a good couple of minutes – tapping a mini pencil against my chin, rolling a paper leaf backwards and forwards between my fingers – and thought very seriously (seriously over thought) what does autumn mean to me?
A million and one clichés came to my mind, but, dammit, I wanted something original to write, so I waited a little longer.
Tapping, rolling. Tapping, rolling.
Apple crumble soaked in cream and sitting in front of the woodburner and too much night and not enough day and Bailey’s hot chocolate and oh my goodness golly gosh Christmas is coming and oh my goodness golly gosh my car’s MOT and ah god holy crap will it actually pass its MOT and ah god holy crap how much will it end up costing and wait you’re supposed to be thinking about autumn. *takes a deep breath* Chestnuts roasted on an open fire (ahem, in a microwave) and gold, grey, sepia and I LOVE SCARVES and baking yummy food and eating too much food and I REALLY LOVE SCARVES and making plans for the New Year and fighting off the blues.
I panicked about how embarrassingly uncool and serious I was being and then double panicked because there were about to be people to witness my uncool seriousness, so I gave up trying to be original and clever and smug and just scribbled something about walking and crunchy, golden leaves, and tied it up to the display. I took a quick look at some of the others as I did. They all made me smile, but one in particular caught my eye.
Colourful and moon lit.
(I’m guessing it was written by a child, so I’m more than happy to ignore the spelling/grammar issues.)
Colourful and moon lit, I mused all philosophically as I shuffled back out into the sunshine, trying to look cool and unserious and like I hadn’t just spent five whole minutes thinking about what autumn meant to me as I passed the other walkers, that is exactly what autumn is.
It is full of colour. Whether it’s the glittering golds and sulky silvers of nature, or the garish, flashing rainbows of mankind, there is colour everywhere at this time of year. Sometimes you have to look a little harder, sometimes it’s literally fifty shades of grey (clouds, clouds everywhere), but there’s always colour lurking somewhere. And although autumn is also full of darkness, that darkness is made a little lighter, a little more bearable, by the moon. Sometimes that moonlight is brighter than bright, sometimes it’s fainter than faint – but it is always there.
Four words turned three weeks of stir crazy on its head.
I hope all your autumns are full of colour and moonlight.
Lately, it’s been raining a lotta lot. It’s been cold and grey and cloudy a lotta lot.
On the one hand: it’s great weather for cosy, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug reading. It’s great weather for big, baggy, woolly jumpers – my favourite things to wear. It’s great weather for cuddles with cats. It’s great for cheeky hot chocolates and holier than thou herbal teas. It’s great for baths so hot they turn my ghost-white skin a radioactive-pink. It’s great for morning runs that leave my lungs fresh and clean, but my legs unable to cope with stairs. It’s great for irridescent road rainbows shining, bleeding, and swirling across tarmac. It’s great for lazy lie ins spent listening to the drum of raindrops against lush leaves and blooming petals.
On the other hand: it’s Juuuuune.
*folds away summer dresses and cries tears that turn to ice in the air*
It’s only a few more days until winter is officially over here, and I am so, so ready to say goodbye to it. Readier than I have ever been. I’ve tried to embrace the last few months, tried to get on board with the constant tingle of cold gnawing at my bones. I’ve tried to appreciate sludgy snow, biting winds, silver grey skies, short sharp days, and spattering rain; tried to embrace my inner ice queen. I have so, so tried. Really and truly.
But my heart wants spring now, right this very minute, more than it has ever wanted spring before.
I want blooming flowers and zesty bright greens. I want long, long days and I want evenings spent laughing in slowly, gently, softly dying light. I want to lounge in warm, golden sunshine with a book, blossom tumbling from the trees, bees humming through the air. I want strawberries that are fresh and juicy and sweet. I want floaty dresses and flip flops. I even want SPF 50 sunscreen.
There’s just the matter of those tricksy few more days to get through.
I’ll be spending them how I’ve tried to spend the rest of winter: walking off the cold, walking off the grey, walking off the cabin fever.
And, of course, there’ll be the odd bit of reading thrown in too.
If you look too long into the green the green will eat you up. It will wind its way around your heart and its splintered roots will lodge inside your bones. Underneath your skull, a whole forest will unfurl and make your thoughts a muddle. You’ll try to leave it, try to live beyond it, but you’ll find your soul ensnared, find it calling you back, pulling you back, painting your blood and staining you through.