Dorset’s churches discovered

Puncknowle Church, near Bridport

Puncknowle Church, near Bridport

Updated 27.07.2009

Pictures from the weekend available here (can’t work out why they’re squashed though!)

This past weekend Molly and l headed west for what has become an annual pilgrimage to Dorset.

We joined a lovely, relaxed weekend course discovering some of the hidden gems of the Dorset countryside, its rural churches.

Every penultimate weekend in July since 2001 I’ve joined a course at The Kingcombe Centre (where TSM is a trustee) to explore a group of historic churches in the county. This was my eighth such weekend attended.

Last year I was actually resident full-time at Kingcombe for the summer, but prior to that I travelled down from Yorkshire or Manchester for the weekend. To travel down the M6/M5 on a Friday afternoon in July was, frankly, plain daft. The route is not to be recommended on a Friday afternoon but I guess the fact I was prepared to go through that motorway hell goes some way to demonstrating my keen interest and desire to attend.

If I’d still been resident in Stornoway I would have travelled down for it too. Back in January I booked the time off as annual leave, but circumstances now mean that taking annual leave to attend has not been necessary. I rather wish that it had been!

The course, which is always heavily oversubscribed, is a very laidback, informative and enlightening weekend organised by Kingcombe and facilitated by Dr Karin Mew, an emeritus professor of medieval social history with a endearing, almost dippy, style of delivery so entirely appropriate for a university professor (I mean that kindly). Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of her specialist subject to enthrall her willing attendees, Karin is the Queen of Dorset Churches bar none.

This year’s weekend the group visited churches along the Jurassic Coast from Wyke Regis to Burton Bradstock on Day 1, including Buckland Ripers, Abbotsbury and Puncknowle [‘punnel’] (, and then the agenda for Day 2 was churches and chapels in and around Bridport including Allington, Bothenhampton, Bradpole, Walditch and West Bay, but starting off at Toller Whelme which is as off the beaten track as its possible to get in this part of England.

The weather for Saturday was sublime, blue skies and warm(ish) temperatures, but Sunday was rather less clement which much evidence of preparedness for showers visible among the group!

I wasn’t able to travel in the group’s minibus due to my present incapacity, so I followed around in my own jalopy, occasionally losing the party who despite being in a sluggish minibus still managing a fair turn of speed, often assisted by some slowcoach holding me up miles behind on twisting country roads with no hope of overtaking!

This was particularly the case on Sunday morning when we left idyllic Toller Whelme for Allington by Bridport. Firstly I lost sight of the minibus but then made up the gap after overtaking a slowcoach. But where was the minibus? It had disappeared off the face of the planet!

Well I made my way to the next church location and pulled into its car park (empty). Certainly no minibus. I sat for a few minutes and pondered what to do. I looked at the map and came to the conclusion that they’d probably decided to go to the church at Bradpole en route to Allington. So I set off there (about four miles back the way I’d come).

But at Bradpole, there was no sign of a minibus, and no sign of the church being occupied either.

Well I eventually found the party by returning for a second time to Allington. No one seemed to have missed me when I eventually appeared halfway through the introductory chat from Karin.

Of the churches I saw for myself this weekend (I didn’t manage to complete the whole itinerary) my favourite was St Nicholas at Buckland Ripers and my least favourite the ugly and horrid green All Saints’ at Allington!

Check out the photogallery for yourself. I can’t work out why the gallery has squashed the original images and turned some 90 degrees – see

Speculation was rife over the weekend as to whether this would be the last such gathering. Kingcombe has a newly appointed director in post and there are bound to be curriculum changes for 2010 and Karin was talking of either changing direction or stopping altogether.

I share the collective fears of our jolly party that this year’s churches weeekend will prove to be the last. The format works so well which poses the natural enquiry: “If it ain’t broke, why does it need fixing?”.