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  • Writer's pictureElaine Perkins

Clarendon Palace after Storm Eunice

The distant view of Salisbury Cathedral from Clarendon Palace.

As we enter into February 2023, I am reminded of the vagaries of the British weather and that around this time last year Wiltshire was really very stormy indeed. For this year, at least at the moment, I am hopeful that we will have a calmer end to the winter, and I am looking forward to the warmer weather and getting out more to new parts of the county's countryside. Before then, here is a reminiscence of a walk we did after the storms last year around the historic Clarendon Palace.

In February 2022 the UK did get a severe battering from storms, with the severest being named as Eunice. Eunice would prove to be one of the worst storms in England for 30 years, and the threat of Eunice was brewing even as the British Isles were being battered by the preceding storm, Dudley. For those of us living in the west of England our eyes were focussing on the fact that the UK met office had issued a rare red weather warning for the storm. This alert was for the Bristol Channel then moving to the east with parts of Southern Wiltshire being in the high risk zone. Therefore, for the whole of Wiltshire, this could mean only one thing, it was going to be bad. Eunice came in leaving havoc in its path. Power was off, and roads closed one after another rather like falling dominoes. Many trees were victims including a mighty fir, which had resided for decades in a church yard in Marlborough along with the largest tree in Trowbridge Cemetery. All in all over 600 incidents in Wiltshire were recorded on that day. It didn’t end there for although not as severe as Eunice, Storm Franklin came in a few days later causing more disruption but not on the same scale. After Franklin things calmed down and so a few days later on a cold but lovely morning we decided to don our walking boots and head out once again into the Wiltshire countryside. This time we decided to investigate a lovely circular walk around Pitton and Clarendon and pay a visit to the ruined palace, once the beloved retreat of kings, which is now the domain of llamas.

The large beech tree marking the entrance to Clarendon Forest.

Parking in Pitton we first headed to the Clarendon Way, this takes you up out of the village. As you walk views start to appear on both sides of the path. To the left and behind, the steep cliff that cradles one side of Pitton is quite noticeable, as is the swathe of land that forms a natural expanse leading to the relatively recent Clarendon House in Clarendon Park. The house was built in the early 1700s for Edward Hyde the first Earl of Clarendon. The family were politicians and wealthy from the slave trade, a common theme to the origins of the grand houses of Wiltshire. As we walked, I considered this for a moment and wondered what the countryside would be like if vast estates didn’t exist and the Acts of Enclosure hadn’t happened. I am minded of the distress these Acts of Enclosure caused a distant cousin of mine, John Clare. He struggled with the concept of no longer being able to roam freely and wrote about it most elegantly in his sonnet "Trespass". Of course, being born well over a century after John Clare wrote his poetry, the signs of private lands and estate ownership are so familiar to me that I have not overly questioned it. I walk only the footpaths, etc. that are available to me, and I would not expect anyone to walk across my garden without permission, but I do find it a shame that land ownership has been established at the cost of large and small freedoms for so many.

The sunlight calling me into the forest.

Putting these thoughts aside, we soon came across the vast beech tree that marks the entry to Clarendon Forest. “Forest” is a now somewhat grandiose title for the stretch of woodland that lies between Pitton and Salisbury. Like the local Bentley and Hound Woods these areas are now islands of trees that were once all joined together with those of the New Forest and had been a choice location for prime hunting of the Saxon and later Norman kings. Indeed, the place names of Pitton and Hound Wood give away their early origins with Pitton being named after the Anglo Saxon word for hawker, indicating that the nobles housed their hunting hawks in this location and Hound Wood being the place where the wolf hounds were kept.

As we continued to walk we found ourselves skirting an area of densely planted conifer trees. The low morning sunlight lighting up the thin trunks in their straight plantation lines, so giving view to a distant glow in the wood and a sensation of being called hither into the dense thicket. Time and time again I was distracted to look into the forest towards where the sun was dancing and now in a dichotomy of thought I was glad that the notion of trespass was preventing me from heading towards the light and perhaps, as in the fairy tales, to be lost forever in this place.

Further along we came into a clearing with a few farm buildings and a mixture of farm machinery scattered about. Initially, we were slightly confused as to the route to take until we noticed a staked finger post marking the way straight across the farm track and past a building to a path leading back up towards the wooded area. This area being on higher ground started to show evidence of the impact of the recent high winds. Twigs, leaves and various woodland debris adorned the path as we walked giving the impression of garlands strewn in front of returning heroes and dignitaries or perhaps confetti at weddings. There was something joyous about walking through these scattered “offerings”, but I was mindful of the savagery of the wind that tore these living parts from the trees.