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By L.M.G. Bond - (1956)

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' Until the years which followed the First World War eleven gates still marked the two mile stretch of road between Tyneham and Steeple Church and there were eight to be negotiated on the Wareham road between the top of "Bond Street", at Grange Gate, and the House at Tyneham. A ride along the hills to Chapman's Pool involved the opening of seventy.

When cars grew common a demand arose for roadside fencing to eliminate the gates and minimise the risk of accidents with cattle, and so the ugly barriers arrived to stay and, for the walker, rider, child and dog the pleasure and the safety of the open road was done away. The advent of the petrol engine robbed us of another pleasure of the earlier days for, in the course of many climbs on foot through Grange Great Wood, we came to know and enjoy each wayside detail of the long ascent. Broomrape and toothwort, delicate wood melick grass and barren strawberry, spindle, dewberry and burnet rose, wood sorrel, broad-leaved helleborine and many rarer flowers grew in the moss-clothed banks beside the road. Their cool, sweet, earthy scents accompanied the climber to the crest of the hill. Then, as from the sudden opening of an outer door, a different air, the clean salt breath of the sea and the Tyneham valley, healing, reviving and exhilarating, met and refreshed the traveller. That air was unlike any other. The downs at Swanage had a fragrance which came somewhere near it but breezes from the neighbouring places on the coast, outside Purbeck—Ringstead, Osmington or Weymouth—resembled it not at all. What was the essence of that delectable air, peculiar to the valley at all seasons of the year? The scents of beans in flower, of sea-weed, haygrass, clover, burning couch, of storm-bruised leaves and new-turned earth, of gorse in blossom, sun-dried grass and many other ingredients came and departed with the changing year, but the underlying redolence of Tyneham remained the same throughout the months, familiar to the valley dweller as the basic smell of smoke and petrol is to the townsman.

It did, in fact, intensify the scent of Tyneham flowers, as Tyneham soil or air intensified the brilliance of their colours. How often have I hopefully set plants or seeds from Tyneham in my urban garden, only to meet with disappointment when the poor, pale travesties of their Purbeck kinsfolk came into flower.

The traveller along the ridge as far as Steeple Cross looked out to the north across the dark expanse of Hardy's Egdon Heath, from the creeks and islets of Poole Harbour to the monument on Blagdon and past the highlands of North Dorset to where Alfred's Tower stands sentinel at the meeting place of Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. The view of this great sweep of open country has become well known and popular and it is beautiful in its changing aspects at each season of the year.

But we, returning home, had eyes for the valley only, the valley, sea and landlocked, with its unsymmetric pattern of green fields inlaid with grey stone walls and quick-set hedges, its hanging woods and belts and coppices, its little groups of trees encircling cottages and farms, each neatly fitting piece of the intricate design familiar to us as the patterns of the carpets in our rooms. Eastwards the double line of hills swept back in parallel curves to Corfe, the southern ridge between valley and sea crowned five miles away by the tower of Street's tall church at Kingston. A dip in the ridge showed Smedmore's grey facade clear cut against shadowy woods and, in the nearer valley, the sturdy tower of Steeple Church lay girdled by its trees.

When I was young the downland still possessed a thriving populace of sheep and all day long the sheep bells chimed and echoed to and fro between the hills.

The House was out of sight from the Wareham road, lying beyond a grassy ridge of the valley floor and sheltered by its plantings, but the Great Wood and the West Plantation close behind the House were plain to view as they climbed the hillside almost to the jagged and tilted edge of Gadcliff. Not until travellers were halfway down the Cowleaze Knap, with only a couple of hundred yards to go, did a glimpse of the walls and chimneys show between the trees. And then at last the vista of the 'Gap' was opened up and the mullioned windows of the tall north gable came into sight.

My memories of Tyneham cover many years and sometimes as I write I am a child again, sometimes grown up and coming back for longer or shorter periods in my parents' house, but always the return to Tyneham, even on a visit, was "coming home".

The child whose turn it was to open the last gate and shut it carefully once more against the cattle on the Knap, sped down the grassy slope between the trees to reach the House before the carriage could complete its longer circuit. In summer-time my father would be sitting out by the garden porch, watching for our arrival, and would come to the terrace steps to greet us with an escort of ecstatic dogs. My mother would leave her gardening to join in the welcome.... '

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