I have often sung the praises of Stonebarrow, and have blogged about it in the past, but despite being able to see it from our kitchen window, I have never been up its next-door neighbour, Hardown Hill.
At this time of year, it is easily identified from a long way away by the vibrant splash of purple rhododendrons which have taken over the west side, and make a spectacular display even from a couple of miles away. I wanted to go for a Stonebarrow run today, and as I’ve been looking at this purple hill for the last couple of weeks, I decided to go and find out what it’s really like.
It’s an easy walk/run from Stonebarrow, and could be accessed from Felicity’s Farm Shop, or Annie’s Tea Rooms once it’s open again, so is a nice easy walk to do any time. I didn’t really expect much, to be honest, but it’s a surprisingly different pocket of landscape to the countryside surrounding it. The top is heathland, with expanses of heather that must be stunning when in flower. It feels much more like Canford Heath or Exmoor kind of habitats than the local West Dorset ecology; apparently there are nightjars and native lizards up there, and it definitely felt like adder territory.
Hardown Hill was used for quarrying for hundreds of years, and chert cobs from the pits and ‘adits’ (tunnels) were used extensively in local building, including in the now ruined chapel at St Gabriel’s. The gravelly, sandy material in between was used in road building. The mines are now safely blocked, although at least one is home to a colony of greater horseshoe bats, and the side of one pit has been left exposed to display the geology.
There are 10 barrows on the hill – one was excavated in 1916, but now the information garnered from that dig is quite disputed, and the findings are unclear. The human remains found were probably an Anglo-Saxon reuse of a Bronze Age barrow, but this is not certain.
For me, the real surprise of Hardown was the views. It’s higher than I thought, so you can see over Thorncombe Beacon to Portland, and along past Golden Cap, through to Lyme Regis. On the other side, the views extend right across the Marshwood Vale, and today was so clear it felt like the views were endless. It’s a very varied little walk, with heathland tracks, hidden dips and a rather atmospheric clump of pine trees. I will definitely be back for the heather flowering, and also to see if there are any bilberries when it’s the season – I haven’t picked them since being a child on Dartmoor!
If you’re on Stonebarrow, visiting Langdon Woods or just in the area, I’d thoroughly recommend a detour to Hardown – it’s definitely a worthy addition to its more famous neighbours!