Heading for skittles and cider: (Swanage - Litton Cheney) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 4, 2012

Heading for skittles and cider: (Swanage - Litton Cheney)

Litton Cheney youth hostel is still there after 50 years
Heart 0 Comment 0

I THINK we knew before the off there was something special about today. Or, at any rate, about our destination.

You'll look for a long time before you find Litton Cheney on a map of England. It is not a great centre, not a tourist attraction. It just lies between two sharp ridges, no more than three or four streets, a pub and a couple of farms. And it sleeps. Nothing happens.

I'll tell you how slowly time moves here: both the youth hostel and the pub we visited half a century ago are still there. The hostel warden, a slim, enjoyably eccentric man called Pete, who rode a motorbike and sold leather trousers as a sideline, was still there decades after our visit.

There was something special about that hostel because it was small, the smallest of the week, and in an old cheese factory. More than that, it was just a short walk from the bar. Now, times have changed and it's hard to think now that two 15-year-olds would be warned by their parents on no account to drink scrumpy cider. And certainly not two pints, which everyone knew would fell a stallion.

This, of course, intrigued us. I still don't know the distinction between cider and scrumpy cider, assuming there is one, but just the name and the distance between us and our fathers meant we were determined to try.

The past is another country: the bar where we once drank cider is now busy with outsiders
Heart 1 Comment 0

The past, though, is another country. They do things differently there. The quiet village pub we remembered was heaving. If it sold cider then it was just one of dozens of drinks. We remembered there had been a skittle alley - the original game of nine pins that became the more commercial and neon-lit ten-pin bowling decades later - but the atmosphere had changed so much that we didn't even trouble to look.

The hostel hadn't changed that much, although now it trades with organised groups rather than individual hikers and cyclists. We tried to book there, for old time's sake, but the two dormitories had long been taken by a group of earnest adults who looked like geologists. I saw them, sitting round tables in the common room with all the boisterousness of a Trappist night out. Things had changed. Never go back.

It is never easy to ride out of Swanage, because it is on the sea and ringed by the hills we had to tackle to enter it last night. It was even tougher later on. There was the geographical difficulty of navigating with a 25-year-old map we hadn't thought to replace and which insisted that Dorchester, the county town, was little more than a village.  And then there was the three-dimensional geological difficulty of climbing to the Thomas Hardy memorial on a ridge indecently higher than the surrounding countryside.

(You'll see below, in Mike's words, that I have got this wrong. But it's not going to stop my going on about it regardless.)

Old Tom is big news here. In his lifetime, he considered himself a jobbing poet, a man who made up rhymes to earn money. Since his death, and with no small help from the tourist office, he has made the step that CharlesDickens also made, from hack writer to sainthood. In real life, like Dickens, he knocked out serials in magazines and newspapers. Charlie wrote about the miseries of London and Tom about the imaginary rural county of Wessex. There is more tourist appeal in Far from the Madding Crowd than there is in slum London and, by goodness, do the tourist people not let you forget it.

His monument is on top of a whopping ridge on a road which, sadly, was unavoidable. Our calculation that I arrived at hilltops at least a minute ahead of Mike for every kilometre ridden became patently clear. But if that suggests that I am some latter-day Federico Bahamontes, an angel who laughs at hills, make no mistake. When I wrenched my way to the top, my eyes banging on my ears and my tongue drooping on my tyres, a man in red and cream leathers looked at me with interest.

"Bet you wish you 'ad a mo'or-bike nah, mate, doncha?"

He pointed at his motorbike. We both laughed, me more breathlessly than him.

Julie explains that the curly bit is the back and that the squeak comes from the front
Heart 1 Comment 0

I have spent this evening talking farming with Julie, a gloriously un-selfaware woman who runs the bed-and-breakfast between the hostel and the village. She remembers Pete the warden, by the way. I don't actually know much about farming, or anything else, but I fancy myself as a talented bullshitter who just happens to know that the gestation period for a pig is three months, three weeks and three days. But that insight doesn't go as far as knowing if those are months of 30 or 31 days, or even what happens in February.

Julie has pigs and sheep and she has cows under contract for someone else. She's been on this farm for 12 years, having grown up on another one in the village. She can't see herself ever moving.

Her only regret is that "newcomers arrive in the village, fresh in the countryside, and they complain about the very things they came here for. But when I look at the countryside and when I think of the peace, I can't think I'd ever want to be anywhere else."


The other Little Boy recounts:

I felt much better as we set off and I managed to keep up most of the time.

So, why Litton Cheney? The route was determined by Léo for the first ride and he apparently liked the idea of staying in an old cheese factory. The ride through Dorset towards Dorchester was stunning. The rolling countryside was shown off at its brilliant best in the sun following weeks of persistent rain. From Dorchester to Litton Cheney via the Winterbornes required a good deal of stamina on a number of long climbs, the longest being to the Hardy memorial. I assumed this to be a memorial to Thomas Hardy the famous Dorset poet, but, no, I was later informed in the pub in Litton Cheney that the stone recalled Captain Hardy of the Victory.

While planning the trip, I had great difficulty finding somewhere to stay in Litton Cheney, a small agricultural community in steep Dorset hills. I tried the YHA which was apparently closed or booked by a group or something. The same applied to the one pub in the village. The pub suggested I try Julie's B&B at Charity Farm. Julie said she had one room available which could be shared. So, that is what awaited us.

From the outside the farm looked pleasant enough, well-kept units for the animals, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and even some peacocks. I forgot to ask if they ate the peacocks. A typical working farm, in fact. Julie appeared and gave us a warm welcome and showed us to our room. She chatted to us about her life as a farmer and seemed totally unaware of her unkempt appearance and unbelievable clutter that surrounded her in the house. It seemed that the farm took priority over her own comforts and consequently that of her guests.

Later at the pub where we had our dinner, we met friends of Julie's who were amused we were staying at her place and thought Julie should not be running a B&B at all. I think she needs some help to run the B&B and a thorough cleaning exercise would sort it out. To the rear of the farm and in contrast to everything we had seen was a magnificent barn conversion in progress that would provide a kind of giant gîte. There will be nine bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, a large living/dining area and kitchen. The aim, I assume, will be to attract groups of hikers to use Litton Cheney as a base for a walking holiday. I was not sure that Julie knew. Julie was entertaining anyway. Our night's stay was comfortable enough, but Léo likes to have the window open, so I found it a bit cold.

For breakfast we ate various parts of one of Julie's pigs and some eggs from her chickens. A very interesting stay!

Today's ride: 77 km (48 miles)
Total: 1,316 km (817 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 2
Mike AylingWould 15 year olds be allowed to enter a pub and be served scrumpy in 2018?

Reply to this comment
6 years ago
Leo WoodlandThis is a wicked world. Nowadays Interpol would be after us for drinking younger than 16. The odd thing is that it was scrumpy cider that was said to be so deadly. My father was quite happy to instruct me in the way of buying beer and Mike had this awful limp-wristed habit of drinking lager and lime. But, yes, I have sinned in my life and taken many a publican on the same road to perdition
Reply to this comment
6 years ago