We were making the most of the late-summer sun, camping at the lovely Ewleaze Farm in Dorset. I have always wanted to walk the whole South Dorset Ridgeway; it is a stunning prehistoric landscape, but past experience leads me to believe that the kids would collapse, without a constant supply of ice lollies.
Being a card-carrying Luddite, I don’t yet own a sat-nav but I do love paper maps, and often find interesting looking places and routes via the Ordinance Survey. We plumped for a short, but exciting walk from the Hardy monument to the Hellstone. I always like an accompanying legend to regale the kids with along the way, and the Hellstone’s Satanic designation comes from a local tale, telling of Lucifer Himself, hurling huge stone Quoits from Portland Pike! It is actually a Neolithic burial site.
The Hardy monument was constructed to commemorate Captain Hardy, of the good-ship Victory (Kiss me Hardy!), as opposed to the writer, Thomas Hardy, who also lived in Dorset. The monolithic tower commands spectacular views, with Chesil Bank and Portland Bill to the South, Maiden Castle to the East, and apparently five counties in other directions. A stiff wind was blowing off the sea, when we arrived, it was clear and sunny though, once the morning mist had burned off.
We checked our compass, with the friendly chap who was selling tea and him Mum’s tasty cakes, from a caravan in the car park. He directed us in a generally South-westerly direction and said it should be an easy trip, mostly down established footpaths. The wind was cut off as soon as we descended into the heather and bracken of the coastal path. Shortly everyone was stripping of layers and tying them round their waists or cramming them into my tiny rucksack; it wasn't long before we spotted our first sign.
The walk was rapidly turning into a sweltering stumble, so it was just as well that it wasn't too far. Fortunately the march was staggered (quite literally) by frequent pauses, to scoff copious amounts of Blackberries. We knew we were close but were short on clues, when my son stopped for a quick rest... Then we suddenly spotted a mossy stone carved with the epitaph, HELLSTONE ONLY.
Filled with renewed vigour, we scrambled over the wall and through the field, to our target. En route, I had told my son that treasure hunters had occasionally found gold or swords at sites of antiquities such as this, and as he scrambled on to the top of the Hellstone, he was duly delighted to discover £1.22 in coins that had fallen out of a previous visitor’s pocket.
We ate our picnic and before we headed back down the lovely path, I left a couple of coins on the top of the stones, in the hope that it might delight another caller to this haunting place. This was a pleasant, walk along established footpaths. The route leads through heath, farm and woodland, with just enough navigational and landscape challenge for the children. The Hellstone itself is a spectacular monument, tall enough for and adult to stand inside and craggy enough to enable kids to climb onto the roof. I always get a deep and romantic sense of ancient belonging when I visit these places. The remarkable Hellstone proved no exception.