Arrived in Dorset late Sunday, having found the M3 closed between Junctions 2 and 3 and being forced to drive around via Newbury. Staying in Higher Melcombe Manor, where we are greeted by Alfie, the brindled Lurcher. Our host is Michael Woodhouse, who used to be a BA pilot – and who I was sure I had seen at least once on flights hither and thither.
On Monday, across to see our neighbours from Barnes, Stewart and Deborah Lloyd-Jones, who live in nearby Ansty. They take us a daylong tour in their Freelander of this part of Dorset, including a stunning wild garlic/ramson wood near Milton Abbey, Rawlsbury Camp (alongside Bulbarrow Hill), and my longstanding favourite haunt from Bryanston School days, Hambledon Hill.
Atop Hambledon, we sat to admire the surrounding landscapes, me slightly above Elaine and Stewart. Monty, who has been splashing in a nearby mill pond, came and sat beside me, leaning in. Very touching, but dampening.
Then an adventure began, in part of a not entirely welcome sort. We drove out to Chettle with Stewart and Deborah for dinner at the Castleman Hotel. Gin and tonics on the lawn before moving in for the meal, by way of sprawling sofas. A 40-minute drive, but well worth the trip. Only when we got back to Higher Melcombe Manor did I realise I had lost my iPhone somewhere along the way.
Since I had shown Elaine images of Hambledon Hill, I knew it was after that. But no sign in our car or in the Freelander. So on Tuesday morning we drove back to Chettel, to dig into the sofas and enquire whether the phone had been found. No such luck, so we drove back to the manor house.
Then spent a glorious day on the Arne Peninsula, at the RSPB nature reserve, and in nearby Corfe, where we were blown away by the castle, itself blown up after an extended siege by the Parliamentarians. Knew of the Lady Mary Bankes story since history lessons in the early 1960s.
Adored both places – and the had a magical home-made Seville orange marmalade clotted cream and blueberry, lemon and thyme scone tea at the National Trust’s tearooms hard by the main castle gate.
Then back to the manor house, where I let Richard Johnson back at Volans know that the iPhone had gone AWOL. He promptly suggested that I use the ‘Find my iPhone’ service that I thought had been disabled when we rebooted the phone a few days back. What a surprise then to see the satellite search function zooming down, of all places, into Chettle – and what looked very much like the Castleman Hotel.
So back there we drove, for the third time. Then when I switched on my laptop in the reception area, the search function zoomed through the hotel and out into the garden, hovering exactly where we had sat out for drinks the previous evening. And when we went out, we quickly found the phone lying on the grass.
An amazing demonstration of the growing power (and potential intrusiveness, in the wrong hands) of modern technology.
Then, on Wednesday, we trundled off to Salisbury, walking around and through the Cathedral. After Ely Cathedral, this has to be my second favourite in the UK, alongside Westminster Abbey. Wonderful choral practice under way, with the choir master stopping and starting the young choristers, who then repeatedly took off into angelic harmonies. Not my normal sort of music, but mind-bindingly wonderful.
Very struck by William Pye’s font, too, reflecting everything around in deep, still waters, while the overflows tinkled away on either side.
Having seen a representation of Old Sarum in the Cathedral when we were looking at the copy of the Magna Carta, I decided on the instant that we should go there – which we promptly did. A stunning site, with its motte and bailey Norman castle dropped into an almost perfectly circular Iron Age fortress.
I had known Old Sarum’s notorious history as a rotten borough from Bryanston days, but had somehow never visited. Joyous.
Then back into the Volvo (which after more than 15 years in the family has only just hit 50,000 miles, suggesting that it is urban sculpture for most of its life) and home, along an M3 which now back in operation.