*** 12/6/17 Oh dear, just read that the West Bay sailing on Thursday has been cancelled due to mechanical problems ***
The MV Balmoral, a vintage excursion ship, is coming to West Bay Harbour on Thursday 15th June. You can book a cruise along the coast that day, a day trip to Swanage. The vessel is said to be one of the UK’s national treasures. She is a member of the National Historic Fleet and is one of the last coastal motor vessels carrying on the tradition of sailing day trips, having carried well over two million passengers throughout the years.
MV Balmoral was built in 1949 as the flagship of the Red Funnel Fleet to ferry passengers between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. In 1953 she took part in the Coronation Fleet Review of Queen Elizabeth II. In the late 60’s she was transferred to Bristol. From here she made trips around the Bristol Channel, the South Coast and up to North Wales for just over a decade before being sold and becoming, of all things, a floating restaurant in Dundee.
In 1985, the MV Balmoral was sold again and major renovation work began to get her back to her old self. From 1986 she cruised all around the coasts, rivers and islands of the UK. In 2012 the sailing stopped due to a number of issues including bad weather and a lack of money for repairs. There were grave doubts about whether she would ever return to passenger service. Volunteers raised enough to save and restore the vessel and in 2015 she did return, brought back to her former glory but in need of constant loving care and attention!
Captain Steve Mallett said at the time “There’s not too many of these older ships about and the best way to keep them going is by using them. If any old heritage craft … sits around as a static museum they tend to fall to bits – you have to use them.”
Last year on a foggy June morning we watched MV Balmoral dock in West Bay Harbour to pick up passengers for the coastal cruise. A small crowd had gathered to wave her off. She looked huge compared to the vessels you usually see in the harbour.
Did you see the series on ITV last year called Best Walks With A View with Julia Bradbury? In one episode she was in West Dorset on a Golden Cap walk. She started inland in Symondsbury and from there walked off down a footpath, a Dorset holloway.
What’s a holloway?
The name holloway name comes from the Old English “hola weg”, meaning a sunken road. Over hundreds of years the wearing action of feet, cartwheels and rain have deepened sandy tracks in the soft sandstone rock in South Dorset, gouging paths into the bedrock itself and creating deep ditches. Long since abandoned as thoroughfares, and overgrown with brambles and bushes, the paths are often now unknown to all but locals.
The author Robert Macfarlane has written about them in his book Holloway. Stanley Donwood illustrated it. He is best known for his work on Radiohead albums.
The holloway near Symondsbury was probably a drove trail used to move cattle and other animals from farms to markets or perhaps a pilgrimage route. It’s likely that heavy carts took stone along it to Symondsbury from the local quarry. Maybe smugglers, having taken their contraband up from Seatown beach, used the sunken lane to surreptitiously transfer goods inland?
Our spooky walk
We decided to go and walk the holloway ourselves. With Shutes Lane it connects Symondsbury with North Chideock. We parked in Symondsbury, climbed up and back down Colmers Hill, and then walked out of the village.
For a while our path was just an ordinary country lane but then the greenery thickened. Soon steep walls of rock towered above us on both sides. We continued our walk through what was now a narrow gorge. Gnarled tree roots were exposed out of the rocks, ivy trailed down. Trees above us filtered the light making it felt at times as if we were travelling down a tunnel. Over countless years many passersby had stopped to etch messages, names, faces, giant eyes and other shapes into the rocks. Were we imagining it or did the atmosphere feel a little sinister as we continued along the shadowed path? The name of it did nothing to dispel this vague sense of unease… Hell Lane. I wonder why it is called that?
You don’t even need to go around the corner to find the Shop Around The Corner! On our last visit we saw we have a new neighbour. A shop on George Street selling quite a mixture of things, from cake making bits and pieces, spices, gifts, cards, and lots of local ciders. I’m not sure how many people decide they want to bake a cake when they are staying in our cottage but cider on tap just down the road does sound convenient!