Lover, Bohemia and Paradise
It is that time of the year when the shop and café windows are adorned with pink and red, and crazed lovers dash to buy Valentine’s Day cards on which to write their enigmatic messages to the object of their desires and passion. Some no doubt hoping that it might add a mystery and perhaps kindle a new romance. The enchantment of the occasion is certainly evident in Wiltshire, and never more so than in a village named Lover, which lies within the county’s southern most boundary. Lover has to be the jewel in the crown of romantic places, and it is made especially charming at this time of year.
Of course the excitement of Valentine’s Day is not completely lost on Mr P. and myself, it is just that, well, we agreed some time ago that our togetherness had transcended beyond the commercial need for buying cards, etc. For us the 14th Februarys happily come and go as so many days do. However, this year we felt we had to see what the fuss was about at Lover and when we noticed on the map that there were nearby areas named Bohemia and Paradise we definitely felt it would make for an intriguing walk.
I have often thought that Valentine’s Day would be better suited if it were later in the year. The warmer spring days being more romantic than the tail end of winter. If only the pesky Romans had stayed their hand of execution of the poor saint until, at least, the daffodils were out, that would have been perfect. Of course there are other saints days that occur later in the spring. Patrick in March or perhaps Dymphna in May both could have been possibilities, but I suppose asking someone to be your “Patrick“ or “Dymphna” would not have quite the same ring to it as “Will you be my Valentine”. So Valentine and February it is and with it the cold wintery weather.
The day of our visit to Lover did have a cold start. We had seen white, frosty fields lined with dark hedges along the way, giving the vistas a romantic checkerboard sense of dreamy wintriness. Although glad of the extra layers we had donned before leaving the house, the portents were good for the walk to these wondrous sounding places.
We decided that it would be best to start the walk in Downton where the parking is relatively easy and there were a number of shops and eateries for later. Leaving the centre of Downton we made our way east along the high street and over the River Avon. The river was still high, and I wondered how flooded it must have been during the recent heavy rains. As we walked, steam was rising from the river giving romantic scenes fitting for the motive of the visit. The library window was strung with hearts, and a sign offering a blind date with a book caught my eye and intrigued me. Imagine borrowing a wrapped book and taking it home to reveal your choice. I assume that they would all be romantic novels and hopefully not the Reader’s Digest Book of DIY.
Moving on we turned right onto Moot Lane passing Moot House and the motte and bailey opposite, the latter giving the name to the lane and the house and being a long past location for the parish to meet and discuss various laws and politics. Who knows, the expression a moot point might have had its origin here. Further along we turned left at a sign for the Avon Valley Path stating that Christchurch was twenty five and one half miles away. I enquired of Mr. P if we should deviate from our original resolve and head for the sea. His expression was sufficient to know that the much shorter route to Lover and eventually Paradise was a preferable option, and besides if being on route to Paradise wasn’t enough, lunch at the Borough Café beckoned on our return.
Heading out of the village and on past a blue house, we found ourselves in open countryside. The frost was melting leaving a rather slippery muddy surface. The views were far reaching. To our right, beyond a lone tree, a large red brick building could be spotted. This was the Elizabethan manor of Breamore House, situated just over the border in Hampshire. To our left and slightly behind us were views of Downton, Clearbury and in the far distance the omnipresent spire of Salisbury Cathedral.
Although a little tricky underfoot we soon found ourselves entering a hedge lined path, where at one place the ivy covered boughs met overhead. Again romantic symbolism in my mind I found it somewhat reminiscent of a garlanded church gate. I think I mentioned it to Mr P. but he was too far behind or perhaps wasn’t listening, although maybe he did smile. Soon we found ourselves in the village of Woodfalls its undulating road taking us past a number of multiple styles of houses including at the dip of one hill the curiously named bungalow of “High Point”. Maybe the upward hill in front of us was an optical illusion or perhaps the bungalow belonged to someone with a sense of humour.
By the time we reached the brow of the hill, we knew that we were getting close to our first destination of Lover. We merely had to cross the main road and head through the interesting oasis of trees know as Tinney’s Firs and we would be there. At this point Mr P’s interest in the village of Lover increased. An unusual name he thought. I explained that it was pronounced Lover as in Dover, not Lover as in, well, lover. Oh, he thought and then in a sense of entrepreneurism he remarked that if that was the case they could celebrate two occasions. Valentines Day as Lover and perhaps remove the L temporarily for couples celebrating splitting up. Let’s just say I did not answer him.
On exiting Tinney’s Firs we turned left and after a few paces we were in the village of Lover itself, with Bohemia appearing on the map to be the first area of the village and the adjoining fields to the right.
I have to say that the whole of the village had gone to town on the romantic theme. Red hearts appeared everywhere. They were hanging on bushes, dangling from gates and trees. Even a robin was getting in on the act. His red upside down heart on his breast matching perfectly with those on the tree beneath him. Some residents had mixed up the theme a little by adorning each slat of their picket fence with red roses. There is no doubt that the inhabitants are proud of the name of their hamlet and enjoyed bedecking the place in romantic reference for this one week in the year. Getting into the occasion Mr P. and I stopped for a selfie either side of the sign for Lover and quickly moved on.
At the centre of the village, we found the pop-up post office and Lover’s Darling Café. Curious, we went in and we were surprised at how busy the café was (although the patrons were not necessarily all ardent young lovers). We stood for a moment looking at the delicious cakes that were on sale. My resolve to do something about the Christmas excesses began to wane. So we moved away quickly before the temptation grew too great. This then took us to the “pop up” Post Office where a lovely but very hopeful lady was ready to sell us Valentine Cards. Feeling somewhat self-conscious with there being no other reason for us to be there, other than to snoop, our only option was to buy a card. Sparing our blushes, we were banished to a corner (away from prying eyes) to write the card and then it would be posted with the now famous Lover stamps on it. The only trouble was, who were we going to post it to? Our desire to be beyond the need of sending cards to each other now left us with a dilemma, whoever got this one would almost certainly have to buy the other one a card. I would certainly expect it if I sent it to Mr P., but Mr P had bought the card! Suddenly in a flash of inspiration, we decided to send it to each other as a memory for both of us of our visit and of course to get the precious Lover stamps on the envelope. Feeling happy with ourselves we posted the card, hurried past the cakes and went on our way.
The romantic theme continued through the rest of the village with businesses, the church of St Mary and even the village signs all having hearts of various sizes attached to them. We stopped by the church briefly, its terracotta coloured statue of Mary appearing as a stark contrast to the yellow brick of the building. Sadly, the church door appeared to be locked so our visit was brief.
On leaving the church we continued out of the village and headed along the road into Redlynch. This village is somewhat strung out, and again we were struck by the different styles of buildings including a terrace of brick houses with slate roofs which curiously ended in a pebble dashed thatch cottage. Opposite these was a bungalow again with a grand title, this one was called Camelot its name resplendent in colourful mosaics. Just beyond ‘Camelot’ we noticed a shrine that was rather reminiscent of those seen in Japan. However, this one was dedicated to the heroic dead and included reference to Sergeant Major Graham Barker who was killed in the Regent’s Park bombing in 1982, a sad time.
Moving on we now headed over the crossroads, past the Kings Head pub and finally we were on the road to Paradise. In this case Paradise was the name of a copse that forms part of the Down House Estate. It appears to have earthworks associated with it but so far I have not been able to ascertain any more information about these. As we walked past, we saw signs telling us to keep out. Here it seems that Paradise is not attainable as it remains private property.
Our quest for Lover, Bohemia and Paradise now over, all that remained for us to do was to complete the circuit around Barford Down and then back to Downton. This was a lovely part of the walk, once again the views were far reaching. We did pass a curious pair of boots by the side of the footpath. They did not seem abandoned, but there was no sign of the owner. It was a mystery. Perhaps the owner had given up wearing them finding it too greasy on the chalky mud. It was indeed slippy, and we made our way carefully along the wetter areas of the footpaths.
Further along we were passed by a couple of horse riders and having said hello and letting them pass, we noticed that the horses too were also having some difficulty on the muddy slopes slipping their way back to Downton. We followed them in a similar fashion.
Once back in Downton, we kicked off our walking boots and headed to the café for lunch. As we munched our paninis and sipped our soup, we wondered when our special Valentine’s Day Card would arrive from Lover.
We are satisfied that we did not fall into the big company commercial trap as the card we bought was designed by the children of the Lover and Redlynch Pre-school. The money raised from the card will help the school. We were glad in some small way to help the community of such a romantically named village.