Grand Tour by Elisabeth Skinner MBE – Dorchester

22 August 2022

Having spent a heatwave week in mid-August holed up in my stone cottage to keep cool, I decided to get back out into the world after heavy rain to catch up with Nigel and Gina of Dorchester Town Council – both studying at Level 4.  I’d first planned to take in Dorset on my trip to the south-west in March but Gina was on leave and Nigel went down with Covid-19 so I had to give Dorchester a miss.  It’s a long and awkward day trip from near Stroud in Gloucestershire but I tackled it on August 18th and it was absolutely worthwhile.

I met up with Nigel and Gina mid-morning and we did a gentle circuit of the town in perfect temperatures.  There are several spacious walkways around this Roman county town giving people an opportunity to enjoy it well away from busy traffic.  The walk alongside the River Frome was quiet and peaceful with ducks and clear water glistening in the sunshine.  Gina shared her ambitions for Salisbury Fields – a park where the beacon was lit for the Jubilee – that she felt had much more potential. 

Nigel explained the deal that the town council had struck with Clubspark to ensure  the town’s tennis courts – set against a backdrop of flourishing roses – would be well-used.  Despite the drought-affected lawns, the flower beds in Borough Gardens were looking glorious and full of colour, ready for the forthcoming cider festival.  The town council was able to use its bore holes to harvest the resource in the underlying water table for ensuring that its valuable plantings had enough to drink.

We returned to the High Street where we had coffee in the museum café and mulled over past, present, and future assignments.  The students then left me to explore the museum which was magnificent.  It represented a huge investment, mainly by the county council, but the town council had naturally contributed.  Finally, I dropped in to the town council offices just around the corner to meet other staff and see where Nigel and Gina spend so much of their time.

Before leaving Dorchester, I drove along to Poundbury and found a café for a bite to eat.  I hadn’t realised that Prince Charles’s village was really just another estate development on the edge of town. Although there were people about and the sun was shining, it seemed to lack spirit – it didn’t help that I choked on my cup of tea.

The journey home was another Google Maps adventure.  I’d come on the straightforward route via the M5 and Yeovil but decided to take the shorter, but more difficult, cross-country road through Bath on the way home. Most of the time, I had no idea where I was – now on narrow lanes designed to cut through the countryside and then, briefly on the dual carriageway of the A303 heading for London.  Nevertheless, I was glad I’d chosen it.

The undulating hills of Dorset were impressive, and I crossed back and forth into Wiltshire and Somerset.  I smiled as I unexpectedly came through Maiden Bradley, a village I’d often heard about from its clerk, Sarah Jeffries.  I then anticipated a slow crawl through Bath but Google took me through the narrow lanes of Bathampton, where I found myself in a queue for the toll bridge over the Avon.  The wait was brief, but I was unprepared for the £1 fee and kept people waiting as I counted out the remaining 95p change in my purse.  ‘I can take a card’ said the man on duty. The A46 back to Stroud was only just around the corner, so the cut through the toll bridge was much appreciated.  Thank you Google.

 It was a long day and a lot of driving but I was so pleased to have made it to Dorchester to see Nigel and Gina. I have now visited 50 students from our total of 68.  I’m aiming for Pontypridd on Monday and then I will head to the Midlands, the North and north Wales after the study days later in September.

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By Elisabeth Skinner MBE. Follow her progress on Twitter – @lisabethski.

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