This month’s blog comes from long-time reader, first-time writer Jessica Longhorn. 20 years after her last visit to lovely Morden Bog Reserve, Jessica decided to take a trip down memory lane and remind herself of a rather peculiar summer’s day in Dorset…
A fat gob of phlegm rested just inches from my manicured toenails, wobbling ever so slightly and glistening in the noonday sun that filtered through the slowly undulating forest foliage.
“Ever so sorry, my love, I swear I didn’t even see you there!”
The farmer, who had been ambling by the clearing I was resting at, said all the right words that formulated a traditional apology – but something in his tone of voice made me doubt his sincerity.
“That’s OK, have a nice day.”
In the countryside, I’ve learnt, its prudent to act as polite as possible.
Walking down a West Country town High Street, you’re more likely to be stopped for friendly conversation rather than a casual mugging. I’ve only been here a week, but I’m think I’m starting to get an idea of what this place is about.
Under 3 hours from my home city lies Axminster, the first destination in my tour of the West Country, home of the (apparently ‘World Famous’) Axminster Rug this small little town actually lies just outside of Dorset – so I shan’t mention it any further.
My plan was to travel from *****ster all the way to Bournemouth, stopping off in a Nature Reserve I’d once visited as a child.
I had until Sunday at 6:50pm to catch the last train back to London. With a decent two day’s grace period to travel around 56 miles, I’d plenty of time to enjoy the sights and sounds of Dorset proper.
The farmer’s heavy footfalls receded into the forest, along with the grating sound of his incessant hocking. I tried to find the centre of peace and tranquillity that I had been so utterly lost in before, but the moment had passed. Lying amongst the leaves, I must have looked strange. Arms and legs spreadeagled, my hands fiddling with some daisies I’d picked up along the way. I blinked twice, repeated my mantra and brought myself back.
I was somewhere in the middle of Morden Bog National Reserve. After hitching rides through Lyme Regis and Bridport, I’d spent the night in Dorchester at a quaint B&B. My host was delightfully rural, complete with pink pinafore and chubby pink fingers. She must have been quite the matriarch in her time, judging by the wall of children’s faces that stared down gormlessly from her walls. Her guesthouse was rammed full of idyllic scenes of forest glades and circlets of dried dead flowers, I almost asphyxiated in the twee.
From there, I’d decided to hike my way to Morden Bog.
I still had the whole of Saturday and half of Sunday to get to Bournemouth. The six hour hike had taken it out of me, hence the brief lie down. I’d set out late, and the sun was beginning to set. Lifting my satchel round my shoulders, I set off in what I hoped was the direction of Poole: my Saturday night destination.
As my feet crackled through the undergrowth, I breathed in the rich scent of the decomposing forest floor. It was sweet and acrid, all at the same time. The deeper I travelled into the woodlands, the stronger the scent became. The light was beginning to fade behind the trees and, although I knew I couldn’t be much further from a main road, I was beginning to worry that it would be too late to hitch a ride to Poole.
The ambient sounds of the forests, ever present during the day, had now become a cacophony of natural foley; clamouring to be heard. Although I was climbing steadily uphill towards a summit, my boots felt as if they were sinking further into the underbrush with each step I took. My breath rattled hard through my ribs, the fashionable Dukan Diet I had committed to some years ago worked wonders for my figure but did not give me much endurance.
With each laboured breath drawn through my dry nose, my nostrils recoiled with a new kind of smell. The sweet, comforting loamy aura that had first enraptured my senses now threatened to suffocate me. A sour, toxic invisible cloud had descended upon the forest, filling my lungs with a scent that I’d hoped to never smell again: the stench of rotting flesh.
The darkness threatened to swallow my thoughts. My hastening steps crushed the fragile twigs that clawed at the rubber of my boots. Like so many precious little fingers. With gormless faces they stared but didn’t see. But I saw them. Whilst I was running in the forest. I found them in a circle with a light scattering of autumn leaves barely covering their little knees. Joints, elbows, knuckles and wrists all stiff. Their wrists as brittle as the flowers that linked their cold stiff fingers.
The grey little fingers of the children I found.