Parish to Parish – bounding along the West Dorset Coast Path

When walking along the South West Coast Path, it’s often easy to forget that you are passing through lots of different defined areas, each with their own unique character and history. But now, thanks to a new project in West Dorset you’ll have a beautiful reminder to tell you when you’re passing from parish to parish. We spoke to Countryside Access Improvement Officer for Dorset Council Tara Hansford to find out more.

On each parish boundary along the Dorset Coast Path from Ware, on the Dorset/Devon boundary, all the way to Abbotsbury can now be found a parish boundary marker letting the walker know when they have passed from one parish to the next. Tara told us more about how the project came about.

“The inspiration for this project stems from growing up in the heart of West Dorset.  As a child I often accompanied my grandad, a local builder, in his little blue truck as he’d visit villages to price up work.  He would often point out to me various features in the landscape – obviously hand crafted – where my Grandad could often ‘read’ their unique style and could therefore tell me who had made them.  Each provided clues about the history of the people and landscape that have created this wonderful part of the world in which we are so lucky to live.  It was fascinating.

“Collectively these artefacts provided details creating a rich cultural patina of local interest and character. However sadly and increasingly today, many are overlooked, obscured, no longer practiced, and therefore often lost in understanding and memory.  One such feature is the parish boundary marker. Also, today, due to economics – hand crafted – locally unique – features are often replaced by mass produced monotonous, un-remarkable ones.  Combining experience in both the arts and countryside access this project provided the opportunity to reintroduce more of the ‘local’ and ‘distinctive’ interest back into our surroundings.”

The West Dorset Coast Path Parish Boundary project has brought people together to create artefacts to celebrate special locations.  It’s a collaboration between local people, landowners, local artists, and craftspeople in response to their local landscape and its rich cultural history.  These artefacts are not interpretation or information panels – they are practical, hand crafted “signposts” informing the walker when they pass from one parish to another as they travel along the coast path.”

Puncknowle to Abbotsbury – spiral tassleweed, common mouse ear, toothed medick …this boundary marker celebrates the fascinating names of the remarkable plants supported by The fleet and Chesil. Artist Andrew Whittle.

Each artist was provided with a brief – information about the parishes to inspire the theme of the piece and, as a parish boundary marker, that each piece had to be made from materials robust and in keeping with its location, state the name of each parish, the number in its sequence along the Coast Path (from Dorset/Devon border) and the year of the project. 

“So, each piece has an air of mystery about it – alluding to its local context – to whet the walkers appetite encouraging them to investigate more into what it might mean and unearth for themselves a bit of local history!  For many people walking along the Coast Path the focus is often on the seascape – looking out onto that amazing mass of ocean and the beautiful narrow strip of coastal headland.  This project hopes to also encourage the walker to look inland and gain a better awareness about the landscape they are walking through and curiosity to explore and learn more about the Dorset parishes along the Coast Path.”

The team behind this project are local landowners (Lyme Regis Golf Course, The Loosemore family, The Cook family, The Extons of Downhouse Farm, The Yeates family, Tamarisk Farm and National Trust), local artists and craftspeople (listed in the photos above), Dorset Council –  Tara Hansford, Countryside Access Improvements Officer, Bran Acres, Coastal Ranger and Cleo Evans Arts & Environment Lead from the Arts Development Company.  It couldn’t have been achieved without the input and support of the local landowners and grant funding from the Coastal Communities Fund.

Other artists involved who’s work will be installed in 2021:

Lyme Regis to Wootton Fitzpaine: Highlighting the beautiful undulating local landscape with its distinctive hilltops providing birds eye viewpoints, for example, Lamberts Castle, Colney Castle, Stonebarrow, and Trinity, Thistle and Timber Hills.
Artists, craftsmen and brothers Alex & Ed Brooks (to be installed New Year 2021).

Wootton Fitzpaine to Charmouth:
Remembering Mary Anning and her work searching for fossils in the Charmouth mudstone cliffs and discovering the first correctly identified ichthyosaur. Artist Greta Berlin (to be installed New Year 2021).

Stanton St Gabriel to Chideock: Enhances the links between the two parish communities providing a seat sculpted from local fallen trees echoing the weathered trees and hedgerows in this location. Inviting local people and coast path walkers to stop, sit and contemplate and connect with their surroundings. Artist Isla Chaney (to be installed New Year 2021).

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