Ashmore – a photo essay
Ken Ayres travels up, both in geography and altitude, to the far north-east of the county to capture Dorset's highest village
Published in July ’12
The two roots of Ashmore’s name are Old English – the pond (or mere) where the ash trees grow, and the village is certainly defined by its pond, around which this small village on the Wiltshire border is arrayed.
Sir Frederick Treves only mentions Ashmore literally in passing; excited as he was to go to Farnham to see the Pitt-Rivers museum, he merely described it as a route marker on that journey from Shaftesbury in his Highways and Byways of Dorset. Dorothy Gardiner proves an unreliable Companion into Dorset, as far as Ashmore is concerned as she, like Arthur Mee in his Dorset instalment of The King’s England, fails even to mention its existence.
We must fall back on the inestimable resources of mesdames Jo Draper and Monica Hutchings, in Dorset: The complete guide and Inside Dorset, respectively, and Roland Gant’s Dorset Villages to unearth some of this unspoilt village’s history. Jo Draper refers to the suggestion that the village pond may be Roman in origin, and the village lies just half a mile from the Bath to Badbury Rings Roman road; she also mentions the church of St Nicholas, its near-complete rebuild in 1874, the 1930s corbels and the Simon Whistler window.
Monica Hutchings is rather more lyrical about Ashmore, but again defines the village as somewhere whose visit is merited as much by what one sees on the way there, and indeed from there, as much as what there is to see there. ‘As the road forks for Ashmore, at its highest point, there is a neolithic long barrow beside it…, standing on the great burial mound one can see across the whole cloud-patterned expanse of [Cranborne] chase, over the New Forest to the Solent and the white cliffs of the Isle of Wight beyond.
On a clear day,’ she enthused in 1965, ‘the view is quite outstanding, and in all those miles, not one town is visible.’
Ashmore’s splendid isolation was well illustrated by two events: one in the late 1950s, the other in 1963. In the former years, when the local authorities (Dorset and Wiltshire) had declined to metal the road to Tollard Royal, the village’s residents paid for it to be done themselves; at the opening, a muck spreader led the procession casting out wild flowers – poppies, thunder daisies and scabious – specially picked for the occasion. In the blizzard-rich winter of 1963, even the new metalled road could not maintain contact with the outside world and, for a few weeks, Ashmore had to be entirely self-sufficient.
In 1956, the Ashmore ‘Filleigh (or Filly) Loo’ festival, celebrating mid-summer around the pond, was revived, but otherwise Ashmore is a sleepy place, sprinkled with vernacular stone and flint checkerboard houses, and with some excellent walking around it.