Sunday, 19 August 2012

Dorset - the Final Word

After almost two months, it's time to say goodbye to my blog posts about Dorset.  It's been an interesting learning journey and also a busy time in my non-cyber life, as I've taken on a new role at work and that has kept me pretty busy (not to mention summer holidays!).

A summary of the themes

This has been my first series of blog posts about England, but hopefully it won't be my last.  Over the past couple of months, I've learned about England's Celtic heritage and the Celtic tribe, Durotriges who gave Dorset its name.  I learned a lot about Iguanadons and other 'remarkable creatures' such as Mary Anning, Dorset's most famous palaeontologist.  I learned about the different types of Doom Metal and Dorset's Wizards of Wimborne.  I learned how to make traditional Dorsetshire food, such as Tea Bread and Lyme Bay Fish pie.  I rediscovered Thomas Hardy's work and read Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach - a truly beautiful novel.  I also learned about Dorset's radical past and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Tools for research

I read several books as part of my research for Dorset:

Some of the books I read as part of my research
Tracey Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures.  Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. (Extracts from) Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles. (Chapters from) Patricia Ingham's Author's in Context: Thomas Hardy.  (The first few chapters of) Henry Pelling's A History of British Trade Unionism and, just for the fun of it, I also read PD James', The Black Tower, which is set in Dorset!

I also watched the following movies:

Bill Douglas' Comrades (1986), Roman Polanski's Tess (1979), John Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), Michael Winterbottom's Jude (1996), Michael Winterbottom's Trishna (2011), which I saw at the cinema and Karel Reisz's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), which is also set in Dorset.  I'm a big fan of John Fowles, actually and it's a shame I didn't have more time to explore his work, but I try to concentrate on writers etc that are less familiar to me (eg. PD James).

Other Themes

As usual, there were other themes that I was interested in exploring - these were:

The history of the Olympic torch, as this passed through Dorset when I was researching for this blog.
The influence of the Sea on human culture.
The chalk figures on the hillside, like the giant at Cerne Abbas.
The concept of 'Fool's gold'
George III's fascination with Weymouth
The work of William Barnes
Smuggling
Brownsea Island and the scout movement
The Dorset culture of northern Canada

Dinner party trivia

And here are is some Dorset trivia which you can use to impress people at dinner parties!

A view of Portland by me
People on the Isle of Portland are superstitious about rabbits, to the point that they won't even use the word 'rabbit' when talking about them - instead they call them 'underground mutton' or 'long-eared furry things'.  Apologies to anyone on Portland who might be reading this blog post!

Sir Christopher Wren used around 6 million tonnes of white Portland stone, to rebuild London, after the Great Fire in 1666.

The Isle of Portland was at the forefront of railway development, as rails were used to transport stone and people from sea level to the top of Portland Hill.

Bermuda was once known as The Somers' Isles after its founder, Sir George Somers, who came from Lyme Regis.  Lyme Regis is twinned with Bermuda's capital, St. George's.

In the 1780's, Lyme Regis was equivalent in size and importance to Liverpool.

The Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt, was born in Bournemouth.

One of the first recorded Viking raids on England, happened in Dorset.  Dorset is also believed to have been the entry-point to England for the Black Death, coming from mainland Europe.

Sailing off the Dorset coast by me
Over half of Dorset is designated as an 'area of outstanding beauty' and three-quarters of the Dorset coast is a UNESCO world-heritage site!

There are no motorways in Dorset.

Poole harbour is one of the world's largest natural harbours - it used to be a river valley, until water levels rose, around 6,000 years ago.

37,500 people work in Dorset's thriving tourism industry.

The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra was founded in 1893.

The writer, John le Carre, was born in Poole.

The Final word

Writing this blog always gives me the opportunity to explore new things and read writers that I would never had read otherwise.  PD James is a writer I wouldn't normally read, purely because of her genre, which is 'detective fiction', something I rarely indulge in!  I'm not very good at whodunnits, as I usually fall for the most obvious red herrings and don't have the intuitive skills required to solve whatever mystery is at hand.

I enjoyed reading PD James' The Black Tower and she seems to be a very good writer of detective fiction.  If this month's Bournemouth Daily Echo (Dorset Police clear-up rate one of the worst in the UK), is anything to go by, the characters in PD James' novel wouldn't have had much help from the local Dorset police!

Perhaps there is less crime in Dorset than in other parts of the country?  Or perhaps, it's no coincidence that crime detection rates are falling at a time when the county's police force is faced with cut-backs.  It's a far-cry from Thomas Hardy's idyll of rural England but, I guess, even Dorset will have to deal with the challenges of 21st-century life!

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