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Dorset’s little rivers — The Lydden and the Caundle Brook

John Chaffey traces the two streams of the western Blackmore Vale

The source of the Caundle Brook at Clinger Farm

These two streams flow through the western part of the Blackmore Vale, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Vale of the Little Dairies’. The Lydden, a stream that is about twelve miles long, rises under the Chalk escarpment near Buckland Newton, then flows northwards to join the Stour about a mile to the south-west of Marnhull, near the now disused King’s Mill. The Caundle Brook is its principal tributary, rising in the shadow of Dogbury Hill, on the other side of the hill from where the Cerne rises near Minterne Magna. It flows north for ten miles before it joins the Lydden about half a mile to the north of Twofords Bridge, which carries the main road from Blandford to Sherborne and Shepton Mallet.

The Lydden derives its name from the Celtic language, Lydden simply meaning ‘the broad one’, although for almost the whole of its course it does not seem to merit this description. Even when it has been joined by the Caundle Brook it is hardly more than thirty feet wide at Bagber Bridge and is no wider at the point where it eases itself into the Stour. Although the Caundle Brook shares its name with several small settlements in the area, the derivation of the word ‘Caundle’ remains somewhat obscure. Interestingly, neither Stourton Caundle nor Purse Caundle lies on the Caundle Brook but are some distance to the north-west. One suggestion is that ‘Caundle’ may refer to a line of low hills in the area. A glimpse at the geology map throws a little light on this: both Stourton Caundle and Bishop’s Caundle lie on the outcrop of the Cornbrash, a thin ‘brashy’ (which means ‘loose pieces of rock’) limestone. Both Stalbridge and Henstridge are also built on this dry outcrop, avoiding the damper surrounding claylands, like the two Caundles.

Court Farm, near the source of the Lydden

A further study of the geology of the western part of the Blackmore Vale helps to explain a little more about the courses of the two streams. Far from being a uniform outcrop of clay, the rocks underlying Blackmore Vale are really quite varied. The two main clays, the Kimmeridge Clay in the east and the Oxford Clay in the west, are separated by the rocks of the Corallian, sandstones and limestones, which again form a low, dry ridge on which a series of settlements are built, including Hazelbury Bryan, Sturminster Newton and Marnhull. Beneath the Oxford Clay are another series of sandy clays, which lie above the Cornbrash. The Lydden flows over the Oxford Clay for most its course and the Caundle Brook flows over the sandy clays beneath the Oxford Clay. Settlements seem to have avoided the claylands and to have opted for the drier sites on the Corallian or the Cornbrash.

The Lydden, with no settlements on its banks, tends to be a secretive stream, often clogged with nettles and reeds. It rises just to the south of Buckland Newton and first appears as a little weed-infested ditch just downhill from the church of the Holy Rood. The church and the 18th-century manor house lie in the shadow of Ridge Hill, a northerly protrusion of the Chalk escarpment. They overlook not only the infant Lydden but also much of the remainder of the flourishing village that straggles away along the road towards Duntish. Pulham, ‘homestead by the pools or streams’, is another linear village, but its delightful church and Old Rectory overlook the Lydden more closely and the road to Cannings Court on the opposite side of the flood plain passes over a neat two-arch bridge beautifully constructed from local stone.

The Lydden near Pulham

Once King’s Stag – sounding medieval but dating from the 19th century – is reached, the Lydden in its valley to the east is now beginning to meander more freely and to earn its name of ‘the broad one’. To the east of the river, Hazelbury Bryan sprawls over its dry Corallian outcrop, with only Lyddon House identifying with the little stream flowing slightly incised through the water meadows. Lydlinch, built well above flood level on drier gravels to the west, also takes its name from the river.

Most travellers in North Dorset now encounter the Lydden for the first time. Flowing in an incised channel below the surrounding flood plain, the river passes beneath Twofords Bridge. It is essentially two bridges, with the original bridge carrying westbound traffic and probably dating from the early 19th century. In World War 2 it was considered that this structure would be unsafe for all of the heavy loads heading for the south coast in the build-up to D-Day. Canadian engineers built a steel lattice girder bridge parallel with the original structure and this survives to the present day, carrying eastbound traffic. It carries a commemorative plaque to D-Day. Just half a mile downstream the Lydden is joined by the Caundle Brook.

The Caundle Brook, rising near Clinger Farm, just north of the Chalk escarpment at Dogbury Hill, flows northwards along a parallel course to the Lydden. In common with the latter, the Caundle is a shy little stream and hides itself away in the broad pastures of the western part of Blackmore Vale. The two main villages of the land between the Caundle Brook and the Lydden stand well away from the two rivers. Glanvilles Wootton, built on the dry Corallian outcrop, lies partly in the shadow of Dungeon Hill, another great extension of the Chalk to the north. Holwell, another straggling village, is surprisingly built on the Oxford Clay, but it is essentially another dry site, well away from the Caundle Brook.

Cornford Bridge

Following the road north-westwards from Holwell, the one great riverine treasure of the valley of the Caundle Brook is found. In a deep part of its valley the incised brook, here reedy and weed-infested, flows beneath Cornford Bridge. Built of mellow, honey-coloured local stone, the bridge dates from about 1480: it was extensively repaired in the 18th century, and strengthened again in the 1990s. Although it carries relatively little traffic today, it is a fitting tribute to medieval bridge-builders and is a listed monument. Bishop’s Caundle is the last village in the open valley of the Caundle Brook. It lies on the outcrop of the Cornbrash, the local stone is put to good use in many of the buildings, the church of St Peter and St Paul, beside the main road, being particularly attractive.

Once the two streams have joined forces to the north of Lydlinch, they flow across an increasingly broad flood plain, completely devoid of any settlement. Compared with the tiny stream rising under the Chalk escarpment, this river now can claim to go some way to meriting the name ‘the broad one’ – certainly its valley is now wide and open. Here it is crossed by the disappointing Bagber Bridge, a dull steel and concrete structure that dates from 1830. The Lydden, no longer shy and retiring, saves the best of its course for its junction with the Stour, just downstream from King’s Mill Bridge. One last meander carries it gracefully into a tranquil stretch of the Stour and its unobtrusive journey from the Chalk escarpment is ended.

The Lydden flows out into the Stour

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