Bridport nestles beneath beautiful hills in valleys created by the rivers Asker and Brit. The hills that envelop the town are an important feature of its overall visual character. This was recognised in the Neighbourhood Plan, by establishing the principle that any future development should not encroach into the current green hilltops. This visual separation between the harsh, built up, busy urban town and the quiet, softer, ’natural’ space that surrounds it is a constant reminder that we are part of a wider landscape.
Colmers Hill may be the best known local hill with its much photographed somewhat iconic tuft of nine conifer trees. But each of the other hills that surround the town Allington, Bonscombe, Coneygar, Hyde, North, Sloes and Watton have their own equally special characteristics and are all well worth exploring.
The focus of this blog is Allington Hill and the Allington Hillbillies, the volunteers who maintain it.
Allington is a favourite place for us to walk at any time of year. My wife and I usually approach it from the top of Park Road but you can also approach from Hospital Lane. It is a hill and by definition the approach along the footpath involves a steady climb which does wonders for increasing your heart rate. Once at the top you are on open, pretty flat ground which offers, on a clear day, 360 degree panoramic views to the coast and inland.
I spoke to Cathy Harvey to find out more about the Hillbillies and what they have been able to do during the past year. She told me:
The last twelve months have been very challenging for the Allington Hillbillies. After the Forestry Commission confirmed in early 2020 that we had significant Ash die back in the woodland, we took the hard decision to start felling. It was a proactive step to allow us space to replant with a wider diversity of trees. The ash timber was used to restore Cooper’s Circle, a well used forest school area. We were helped by volunteers from Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and students from Colfox school. Funding from the National lottery also helped the project. Although it never stopped raining and we were wallowing in mud, we almost finished the project before the first lockdown in March 2020.
With many of our volunteers now shielding, our focus was on maintaining the area for the benefit of the local community, as it is one of the largest green spaces within walking distance. Volunteers who were able, kept the bins empty and the paths maintained. The paths were cut much wider to allow 2 meter distancing wherever possible. Throughout May we recorded the life of the hill, everything from fledgling birds, foxes, deer and also the people who were visiting the area and shared this through our Facebook page. The volunteers who were shielding researched many outdoor activities for young and old and posted them on our sister Facebook page Cooper’s Circle.
After a long wait, the construction of our Well-being area started in the late spring. Due to bad weather, this had been postponed from the previous year and then further delays with lock down. Over the early summer, Bridport Community Shed made a work bench with wheel chair access and volunteers made the rest of the seating. This meant that in the future anyone who has mobility problems will be able to access a green space for wellbeing.
We quietly carried on maintaining the flower meadow and ensuring it was kept a safe place for people to continue visiting. Autumn was upon us and our winter working parties of conservation work were planned. Little got done due to lockdown and our efforts yet again turned to felling more Ash. This time we managed to sell the timber to fund the project ensuring it was cost neutral for the volunteer group and not a financial burden for Allington Parish Council who lease the land. The remaining brash has been made into dead hedges and bug hotels, which are fantastic habitat for wildlife. We now have more trees to plant, five different native species (no Ash!) to improve the diversity of the wood. We are so lucky to have such dedicated volunteers who found ways to ensure they could carry on volunteering.
We are now planning well-being events for the future for all age groups and abilities. The volunteers are hoping to run a simple tea and cake session in the well-being area, where people can meet safely in the open air. We have been working with local activity providers the NHS and local well-being organisations to introduce outdoor art classes, adult activity groups and Mum and toddler sessions. We are especially interested to hear from local groups who would be interested in using the area for their own activities or anyone wishing to take part in well-being events.
I also asked her about her favourite time of year and day to visit the hill and here is what she said:
Spring and Autumn are my favourite times of year, late evening walks as the sun goes down. I love standing still on the hill, to listen to nature and the wind blowing through the trees, whist watching wildlife going about its daily business.
The following images give a taste of some of the wildlife to be seen on the hill and activities the Allington Hillbillies undertake.
My thanks go out, on behalf of all those who enjoy walking on Allington Hill, to the Hillbillies who take such great care of it for the benefit of its natural residents and human visitors.
A plea to all who visit the hills and open spaces that surround Bridport. Remember you are visiting somewhere that wildlife and domesticated animals call home. This is particularly important at this time of year, ground nesting birds and other young animals are particularly vulnerable.
Every year we hear of sheep in particular, but other wild creatures being chased and even killed by out of control dogs. Only last week we read of a seal mauled and killed by a dog off its lead.
It is important that when out on our daily exercise, family walks, or dog walking that we all stick to footpaths and exuberant children and dogs are kept under control. Please think of the hills and open spaces as a home and treat them in the same way as you would when visiting someone’s living space.
Litter is not only unsightly it is potentially extremely harmful to wildlife and domesticated animals – please take it away with you when you leave.