Cranborne Chase: A Sense of Place
This page displays the winning entries and runners up from the Creative Writing Competition held by the Chase & Chalke Landscape Partnership Scheme. This competition was held as part of the ‘Words in the Landscape’ project.
The theme for submissions was ‘Cranborne Chase: A Sense of Place’, and entries were submitted to a panel of expert judges who selected the winners and runners up in each competition category.
Estelle Phillips | Angela McAlister | Amber Harrison | Karen Brazier | Jeni Bell | Barney Norris
Category Age 8 – 15
My Dad is a Butterfly
My Dad is a Butterfly because they die quickly.
My mum is a grasshopper because she is always active.
My cat is the wind because he is uncontrollable.
– A Young Person from Seeds4Success
A whispering spring breeze danced playfully over the rolling hills, bathing in the soft glow of the sun as it calmly filtered through shifting clouds. The tall grasses swayed, overpowered by the elemental master, and joined one another, swishing in song. The wind breathed life into an otherwise still image, carving the countryside and carefully tracing the ancient tracks towards the looming burial mound.
Serene, with the flowers that adorned the ground, A blanket of faces eager to be seen. Life existed in every corner and crevice, from the majestic bird surfing the wind to the tiny ants scaling mountainous molehills. We walked in the footprints, of long passed souls watching over us as we admired their home. The round barrow mound was an awe to behold. An unearthed time capsule of days long ago. As my feet solemnly tread these paths of the dead, their lives and mine suddenly intertwine. In the wind are their voices turning trees into instruments of song.
As I continued. Along this track from the past, Mother Nature again greeted me with open arms. She introduced me once more to her grandeur and grace in the hues of the sky, the grass and her carefully planted bright yellow rattle. Like minute stars in a sea of writhing green. The sky was an ocean onto itself, the waves in the clouds crashing and swelling as the sky currents blue. Earth. welcomed me. She was proud. Towering trees stood watch, guardians of the scene. And I thought to myself, this is how it should be. The past, the present. Humans and nature all at one and free.
– Elsa P of Burgate School
I’m Running, Running
I’m running, running from everything and everyone I have ever known. I know I can’t stay here, I know I have to leave, but how can I? I tilt my head upwards and look at the stars forming perfect shapes in the sky. The blue dusk light fading into the darkness. I look one last time into the distance, the church standing tall, protected by the mounds that once surrounded my village, my home. The tower was the only part of the church I could make out as it was brightly illuminated by the moonlight. The church walls looked imposing, strong, everything my village wasn’t. They took my home and made it theirs, and where will I go? The mounds of earth that surrounded my village framed every memory I had. My heart ached to go back, it ached to go back to when the land was mine but that wasn’t possible, and I couldn’t risk returning. So, I turned away, silenced all the screaming voices telling me to turn back and ran forwards over the foggy hills.
– Lia Gordon
Author Notes: This piece is written about my favourite place Knowlton Church, I love the iron age history of the place, and I love going for dog walks there. I’m interested in the history of how it changed from a pagan site, into a Christian Church
Guardian of the Forest
Hailey climbed to the top of the tallest tree in the wood and looked out over Cranborne Chase. She scanned the horizon before leaping down, spear in hand. Then she began leaping from tree to tree. When she got to her destination, she jumped down. She opened the door to a log cabin. A fire was crackling merrily in the grate. Flames licked the stone edges and smoke rolled up through the vertical brick corridor and escaped into the fresh air outside. Hailey propped up her spear against the side of the door and flopped down onto the bed in the corner. As the sky grew dark, she went around the cottage doing her evening chores. She ate a dinner of foraged herbs and mushrooms, before turning in. This was her home, and always would be.
Hailey woke up the next morning with Flint licking her face. Flint was her pet wolf. She jumped up out of bed and ran to a stool to get her clothes on. She had breakfast, grabbed her spear from beside the door and marched outside. Flint followed. She ran out to the tallest tree in the forest, she scampered up the branches and perched at the top. Flint, being a wolf, could not climb. He stood at the bottom, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Hailey looked out, over the horizon. The sunrise was starting. Hailey watched it, as the sun peeked over the top of the hills. It grew bigger and bigger, until the early morning sun was shining over Cranborne Chase. When she was sure the sun had risen, she jumped down. Flint immediately leapt up onto her chest, knocking her over.
When she got back to her cabin in the middle of the woods, she spotted something. A small face was peeking out from behind a tree. A small girl stepped out. She had long waist-length brown hair, and brown skin. Her bright green eyes sparkled as the sun shone through the leaves. She looked exhausted and shy. She stared at Hailey for a moment, before Hailey broke the silence.
“Who are you?”, she asked, “Are you lost?” She nodded and followed Hailey inside, where she was given food, drink, and warm, dry clothes. Then they set off out of the door.
As they went outside, the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. They went over to a tree with large leaves and plucked off two. They held them over their heads to shelter from the rain. The wind, the rain and the clouds above them became a lightning storm in a matter of seconds. Eventually they reached a small village. The girl ran on ahead.
The girl ran and ran until she reached a large building in the centre of the village. Two adults stood there, a look of worry on their faces. When they spotted her, they started running toward her. They collided in a hug.
Hailey slowly turned and walked away.
– Veya Burchell O’Brien
I know there is Light
I know there is light
I see the colours
I learn colour changes
I know there are seasons
I see the leaves falling
I learn that there is change
I know nature is quietly calm
I hear the noises of nature
I learn not to expect
– Young Person from Seeds4Success
Special Commendation for Potential as a Writer
I breathe air from the roots they connect this world like the interface of a motherboard the matrix.
I breathe air of toxicity, the roots marry together the toxism and malice from the planted feet of the people in this world.
I breathe air carrying char of smokey air, the host, deadened roots and their creations to feed man’s desire for fire and smoke,
I breathe the air.
Category Age 16 – 25
I was warned one day in my future when I reach a certain age I like all men will converse solely in road names. The A35 or M3 or Smugglers Lane or I don’t know will have to wait and find out.
But for now they are lines on a map on my little phone screen. Once it was stars or Romans straight-up now I don’t know how but I’m directed out of Wimborne towards Cranborne past the new houses 30 miles an hour butsuddenlyfasterpast50towards60aroundthebendsandthecorners and
Out into the open again. Green fields all around. If I rolled my window down maybe I could slow down and smell the grass or hear the birds weeping overhead. If I rolled the window down, slowed to a stop…
But I can’t because radio and because
Even as I pass Horton and there’s an awkward turning –
At least no tractors on the road today.
Instead? I could list all the dead things I’ve seen on this path to Salisbury. That sorrowful feeling when you encounter the roadkill some fresh some stale but all once alive and interesting and doing their own thing.
A rabbit. A young deer. Pheasants always pheasants they must be like lemmings leaping headlong into the road.
Badgers poor things. Have I ever seen a living badger?
Wouldn’t surprise me if one of us had run over and crushed a unicorn tbh. Not me but it could have been you or your neighbour or one of the other commuters rushing rushing all the way to Salisbury or Shaftesbury or Ringwood because must get out of here as soon as possible.
Never slow down. Never take it all in.
I love the view of out of my car window when I don’t look down. When I don’t consider the roads and where it’s slow and where it’s quick.
Radio over the rushing.
Knowlton Church is pretty cool it’s one of those places where I take friends who’ve never been to Dorset before. We wait out the ghosts but they outlast us because ghosts are never in a rush.
The land is ancient and feels ancient, doesn’t it? There’s a richness to the green like all the thousands of years of people have breathed more green into it. I wish all the painters from the South of France had discovered Dorset and Wiltshire because they would have been inspired. Wordsworth and Shelley and Keats could’ve holidayed to Broad Chalke and written wonderous things.
Guess it’s down to us. If we stop rushing rushing.
Drive on towards the Spire. It pokes out beyond the natural beauty but I’m not saying it isn’t beautiful it’s got its own majesty.
Rushing on to work and to play and to see friends and to escape.
Want to come back I will come back.
One day I won’t need my phone I’ll know the roads like the back of my hand.
I’d like to learn their names.
– Rohan Gotobed
Up on a hill, surrounded by life. I watch the world go by.
My mind gets taken to a place of paradise. One of calm and peaceful times. No thoughts enter just cleanse as I listen to the bees pollinate the wildflowers that cover the landscape. The migrating birds filling the air. There’s no space for thoughts when nature is calling.
Firm I sit with a flask. Maybe a picture of the contrasting landscape though nothing comes close to witnessing it with your eyes. The true camera. The one our mind won’t forget.
Up on a hill, I sit and look out. My whole life it’s not changed only seasons which bring new colours and sounds.
When people flock here I know there’s a reason. A rare flower or bird. Sometimes a butterfly, though they know to hide.
This bench has had many visitors. All with their own memories. Reasons for being there. Mine is only one. To remind me of home. The smell, sounds and landscape. Nothing is more perfect. Up on the hill.
– Imogen Giles
Author notes: set on the bench at Bokerley Dyke, Martin Down National Nature Reserve
A Sense of Place: Cranborne Chase
Fifty feet ahead, the trees dance around the birds of Cranborne’s charming melody; a melody in which secrets are told yet I cannot understand, but still, it calms me.
Fifty feet ahead, the ever-lasting blues spread behind the abundance of pale grey masses that stand front and centre. Does it ever change?
Fifty feet ahead, thick layers of a vivid green cover the earth’s surface, just as it does under my own two feet, yet I cannot feel it.
Fifty feet below, lies someone just like me, a human being with empathy, with emotion, with family.
Fifty feet below lies someone who saw the world the same way I am now.
Fifty feet below lies someone who saw the trees dance, greater than they ever do now, for they had far more energy. They heard the birds’ melodies and understood their every word. They felt the soft touch of the grass beneath their feet, a sky of blue above their head.
Fifty feet below lies someone who saw this sight, felt this site, and understood this sight, as if it were their whole world.
Yet, fifty feet ahead of me, I see a sight so different than what I’ve grown to know.
– Imogen Carter
A Sense of Place: Cranborne Chase
Creatures walk the paths of the past
Rooms full of memories not forgotten
A single birdsong caught on the breeze starts a chorus
Nobody seen for miles
Breath taken by the breeze
Ominous burial mounds lie before us with secrets of the past
Roaming the paths of our ancestors
Nestling in bushes, hares wait for the chill of the night to arrive
Every step is a step retraced
Cowardly steps taken towards the pit below
Hearts racing and hands shaking
A hand placed on the bridge, hesitant looks over the ledge
Everything is still but the memories live on
– Katherine Gillett
A Sense of Place: Cranborne Chase
Darkness. Downfalls of heavy droplets, landed on my cold skin. The rain became a sense of power in the contrast of the empty landscape. The trees were swiftly tilting, leaning from left to right. The howling of the wind enlivened the tall grass, bending with ecstatic force. The greys and blacks of the hoped-for fluffy white clouds instead made me feel trapped and engulfed, as if an ancient death inched closer to me. My image of the dust-like ancient body, curated in its small enclosure, emphasised the juxtaposition of the cold, dark day and in contest with the ideas of the past and present as an impression of swift light. I felt a sense of loneliness towering over me, the bands of nature surrounding without a memory of voice and life.
– Martha Waters
Category Age 26+
Feeling Fontmell Down
Placing my liver speckled hands on the
Screaming cantering vines
That envelope the smooth as mother of pearl
Bark of Sparkling Silver Birch
A soft sigh dents my tight chest
I look Up
I reach between its bony stiff knuckled crevice
And languish in its knit one pearl one lichens
Comforted in unexpected beauty of edges
The line of Stirps along
The gossiping tittle-tattling grasses
A merest tickle of their concertina leaves
Detonates a thrumming thunderclap
Cannons discharge up from magna
These Masts will see you home to safe harbour
Signing the power of attorney shows me
A shaking root
Of anxiety he works hard to mask
One by One the Birches will Fall
Some brutally, some fading away from inside
Leaving the deepest loneliness of being the last to fall
But thinking they had this forever view
This Line of Silver Birches
One by One the Silver Stirps will fall
Some suddenly, others gracefully fade
Knowing they had this forever view
Holding up the gales from Fontmell Down
Creating only the merest tickle on their sharp concertina Leaves
Masts of this coracle whispering wood
With no mammal noises
Gusts barely lifting fresh Horse Chestnut
The chalk ridge blows with pursed lips
Until the proud line defending this place
A microclimate of stillness
Behind the Birches
– Annie Philpott
Being in Nature
If I could taste the blue of the sky,
drink it like an ocean that never runs dry,
or touch a lover with gentle words
that linger in the air
like the perfume of wildflowers –
if I could see the whole valley
in a single glance,
or hear the music of the faded moon,
orchestrating its melody
far from the daylight of the cities –
maybe then I would not feel like
such a visitor in this place –
maybe then I could witness
the children playing on grasslands
where Romans once marched
with a sense of belonging –
as if my landlocked heart
could take flight on the blue
of a butterfly’s wing,
set sail on the wind
to a country that stretches
beyond the map’s very edges –
to a season
when the waters of my mind
run as clear as the chalk streams
glitter in the sun –
and I am aware
as if for the first time
that neither the past nor the future
feels like today –
like this moment, sipping cider
alongside the curlews and hares,
raising the bottle to my lips
to welcome the sweetness
that overflows from within –
the soulful haze of this embrace
in which I awaken to
the purest sensation
I am here.
– C.W. Blackburn
A Dance for the Lost Stone Circles of Cranborne Chase
You left just 6p on the hring-stun1 where others their oyster shells, petals, red twine.
I was getting my compass out, scanning for ley-lines, the tattletale lowness and highness of suns.
Among the red sandstones they brought from the sea, some standing, some lying, some deep under turf, where feet had tamped down last year’s brambles and bracken, we were hugging and laying on hands. Almost giddy.
Were these women? you murmur, and stand in one’s absence, stooping then rising from under the holly. There were six of them, maybe: the way we mark time.
You are reaching your arms round, my fingers clasp yours.
Up there, seven barrows, I say. Men’s rotting spear-hafts and sky-stuff: the way time marks us.
Here, we are hidden, within the han leah2, is your answer. Lichen and moss – weaving our flowers, unknotting our knots – bleeding green rust.
So we dance it:
one foot on earth, the other in air,
and we turn;
second foot down, the other enjambs,
as we turn;
both feet together, we curtsey,
– David Herring
On Swallowcliffe Down, 7th Centuary AD
We bore her along Sticelan Pathe, earls, thanes
And thralls, and up the Hwitan weg where
Centuries later they burned the chalk for lime.
Her bed was like a bier
Our shoulders took the weight.
Often we stopped, shifted place, thought on
The men to come treading the bounds
Of their own estates, blunting their ploughs too
On this stubborn flint.
Behind us the throng
An untidy rivulet unwinding itself downwind
Bearing the cargo she left in her wake,
Her maple-wood casket, purse with its rich
Cloisonne clasp of gold and silvered foils,
Her green glass cups, fashionable in Kent.
He who had care of her in life broke
Only once. His face was like a rock.
We caught our breath at the Readan Hane
Shouldering our burden higher, stepped out
Onto the Herepath where, we heard, a thane
Uncovered a pig of Roman lead.
We did not see her arm come loose
Trawling the long silk grasses like water
Streaming from a prow.
“Make fast her arm!” the old Earl said.
And so we came to Posse’s Hlaewe, the barrow
Astride the bounds of Swealan Clif and Anestige
Opened to receive the bed, unhousing in the process
The old chief’s bones of ancient race, his earthen pot.
We had a job to get it set
The Frank, the Earl and I
Placing the bronze-bound bucket at her feet
Towards the west, spoons, spindle, knives,
A bead of Baltic amber at her breast,
Her hog-backed comb
Her Celtic silver sprinkler.
Just then the blood red garnets at her throat
And neck took fire from the setting sun
Flushing the pallid skin with quick reviving light
As we stood amazed and fearful
About her bed.
Without a word
The Earl drew up her coverlet, dousing
The startled flesh, letting its coarse weave
Stitch her back in death.
She’s passed over now, as a man stoops
Under a bough still singing, through
And under and on to the other side.
She looks out over Chealfa Down and Hoddes Stoc
To Weamunde’s Treow and Wulfrice’s eald gemaere
To the spring and brook
That drowned a church.
Wearmunde and Wulfric are dead, Garulf
Yet to come, also Posse and the Norman king.
Their bounds will long outlast her comely bones,
All her props.
Someday, a hundred centuries
From this hour, you’ll retrace the long sea-fret
That brought her and her kindred here,
You’ll unpick the hieroglyphic message of her bones,
Invest tibia and scapula
With histories you think you own,
But when you lie them for display, remember this,
And this, you did not hear her sing
Blessing the cattle and the crops.
This last was left to us.
– Hilary Griffiths
Readan Hane – red stone
Hwitan Weg – white way
Swealan Clif – Swallowcliffe
Anestige – Ansty
Treow – tree
Eald Gemaere – old boundary
Chealfa Dune – calves’ down
Stoc – stake
Posse’s Hlaewe – personal name given to a Bronze Age barrow
Encounters with Barn Owls
The warm midsummer’s day was drawing gently to a close. A deepening caramel light suffused the road past Garston Wood. We had already seen a badger bouncing along the edge of the trees, hares chasing across the fields on the other side of the road and two roe deer staring at us above the uncut corn. Then out of nowhere a barn owl appeared. Its white feathers glowed in the twilight as it hunted along the hedgerow, silently seeking its prey in the field margins. As the only vehicle on the road, we were able to slow right down and follow it for about half a mile, mesmerised by its grace and graced by its presence.
Many times during cold and frosty winter nights we’ve seen barn owls quartering beside the B3081, especially where the road intersects with the Dorset Cursus at Bottlebush Down. In recent years the volume of traffic has increased along this stretch of road and owl sightings appear to have diminished. This may be because there are fewer owls, but it might also be that lights and noise distract them, causing them to hunt away from the road.
It could also be that concentrating on the busy carriageway makes owl spotting more difficult for careful drivers. There is no sadder sight than the body of a barn owl on a road. Among the hazards they face are changes in farming practices, use of rat poison, overhead wires, ground-mounted solar panels and loss of habitats. Old farm building and hollow elm trees have all but vanished, depleting their nest sites. According to the Barn Owl Trust only 4% of modern farm buildings are suitable for nesting unless a nestbox is provided. It is encouraging to see that more than £50,000 was allocated in 2021 to the Cranborne Chase Farm Cluster to support barn owls along with other threatened species.
It must have been 35 years ago that we took our children for a late evening stroll around the ruins of the Norman church and Neolithic earthworks at Knowlton. My memory is that the kids had a great time racing around the henge and rolling down into the ditch, completely disregarding our homilies about dogs’ mess. We, on the other hand, were entranced by what we guessed were a family group of barn owls. Five of them were hunting over the fields to the north and west of the earthworks. It was getting dark, but we could clearly see their ghost-like forms flying low over the grass, listening for the tell-tale sounds of voles, their favourite prey.
Even longer ago I recall a barn owl roost in a tree in my parents’ garden. Our elderly neighbour saw an owl one evening and informed us that she had seen an angel. Perhaps she had.
– Penny Dale