Ashmore, Dorset, UK

 

Discover the quaint village of Dorset on Walking holidays in the UK with High Point Holidays

Ashmore is a small village situated 700 feet (210 m) above sea level on Cranborne Chase, five miles (8 km) south east of Shaftesbury and is a lovely place to visit on the final day of our self guided walking holiday in southern England: Wonders of Wessex Walk. This independent walking tour passes through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty between the historic cathedral city of Salisbury and the Saxon hill-top town of Shaftesbury. You will also get the opportunity to visit this village on our self-guided walking holiday Hart of the Cranborne Chase.

Ashmore is the highest village in Dorset. It consists of a church and 83 old stone cottages and farms, many with thatched roofs. The parish church of St. Nicholas was rebuilt and dedicated in 1874, though its chancel arch dates from the 13th century. The 2nd highest village in Dorset is Evershot, which can be visited on our Heart of Hardy's Dorset walking holiday.

The village of Ashmore is situated on chalk rock which is permeable and therefore dry, and the village is built around a clay-lined dew pond which provided water before pipes were installed. This pond or "mere" is what gave the village its original name of "Ashmere.” The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Aisemere’ derived from the Old English ‘aesc and ‘mere’ meaning “pool where the ash trees grow.”

For hilltop settlers, a major problem was that of water supply as the chalk drained the water away. In order to preserve water, the hilltop settlers dug holes in the chalk and lined them with clay. These ‘Dew Ponds’ provided water for livestock grazing on the hills and Ashmore village pond is one of the few that remain today. This fact along with its quaint thached cottages makes it a real joy to walk through on our independent walking holidays.

The pond is seldom dry even in the hottest season, however, there have been rare occurrences when the pond has dried out completely. Edward William Watson, in his 1859 publication "Ashmore, Co. Dorset: a history of the parish with index to the registers, 1651 to 1820" writes : “The great pond, from which the village takes its name, (for Ashmore is a corruption of Ashmere, little more than three hundred years old ; Ashmeer occurs in a will of 1698) sixteen feet deep opposite the Rectory, has nothing to equal it among the chalk downs of the neighbourhood, nor indeed in all the down country of Wiltshire and Dorset. In all probability, however it may have been enlarged, its beginnings are natural; it must be a swallow-hole, like those in the Yorkshire limestone. It rarely fails, though it is only fed by rain water. Perhaps, on an average, it is dry once in twenty years; and then the villagers, by ancient custom, hold a feast. Cakes are baked, and eaten round the margin and in the bed of the pond; and the farmers haul out the hundreds of cart-loads of mud which have accumulated on the bottom, and lay them on their land. By a curious coincidence, the pond happened to dry, and the feast was held, in 1887, the Jubilee Year."

In 1956, this old custom was revived by Peter Swann, as a folk dance festival called the 'Filly Loo'. With the cooperation of the Ashmore Folk Dance Club and guests from other villages in Dorset and Wiltshire the festival has been traditionally held on the Friday evening nearest Midsummer's Day.

There is a torch lit procession with six antlered deer-men and four other costumed characters: a Maid Marion, a bowman, a hobbyhorse and a fool. The celebration finishes with the torches in the ground around the pond and everyone joins hands around the pond.

The origin of the name, ‘Filly Loo’, is unknown. Some suggest that it is name after the one of the original instigators of the festival, a Louis Rideout, known as ‘Filbert Louis’. While others suggest it was originally held to celebrate the end of the cultivated hazelnut harvest in Ashmore. ‘Filbert’ being another name for hazelnut is derived from the name of St. Philibert, a Frankish abbot whose commemorative feast day falls on August 22, the date by which hazelnuts were supposed to start ripening.

By a strange coincidence, the relics of Saint Philibert were moved from Heriou to Tournus in 875 and the beautiful Romanesque church and  abbey at Tournus was named after him. High Point Holidays runs an independent walking holiday in France which starts and finishes at Tournus and explores the amazing early medieval architecture and vines of the French southern Burgundy: Romanesque Burgundy - The Monk's Trail.

Water has often been believed to be a passageway for ghosts and spirits to enter the physical world.  A common name associated to holy wells and springs is 'Lady Well', as wells once dedicated to pagan goddesses and their priestesses were rededicated and turned into to holy shrine the Virgin Mary under Christianity. Many customs exist for offerings to be thrown into water.  Wishing wells and springs with healing properties derive from this belief and are often venerated around Midsummer. Such water sources are often connected with sightings of a White Lady, a ghostly figure, perhaps of the displaced water spirit or goddess.  Hence ‘Filly Loo’ may be a corruption of the French ‘La Fille de l'Eau’, which means ‘Maiden of the Water.’ Close to Ashmore village there was once a well with an ash tree growing above it, called Washers Pit. Two stories are connected with it, one telling of a White Lady who haunts the well and the nearby road, and the other recounting how the cook from the big house had a prophetic dream and rode out to this spot, coming in time to save a lady dressed in white who was hanging from the ash tree. This story is recounted by Edward William Watson, in his 1859 publication "Ashmore, Co. Dorset: a history of the parish with index to the registers, 1651 to 1820"

"Though Robert Barber, the High Sheriff of 1670, made his home at Tollard, his son returned to Ashmore, which the family regarded as their chief seat. In Ashmore Church, in a vault under the chancel, almost all of them are buried. Soon after the place was purchased, the manor house must have been built. About half of it is now standing. Formerly a wing ran at right angles to the main building on the north-west side, and the south-east end was flanked by two octagonal towers, though there seems some doubt whether both of these were ever completed. There was another octagonal tower, or large stone summer-house, in the comer of the gardens nearest to the church; and on the down, now ploughed, overhanging Washer's Pit, a building of the same kind called Barber's Folly, from which the field and down are still named.

With the hollow below the Folly, where the road to Fontmel crosses the bottom, a legend is connected, well known in Ashmore, into which the name of the Barbers has been introduced, though the story must be far older than their time. It runs that a Squire Barber, or perhaps his daughter, for the tale is variously told, was warned in a dream on three successive nights, or else three times on the same night, that some one was in distress at Washer's Pit. The person warned woke the  household, and asked for a volunteer to go down to the place. No one would venture, except the cook. Her master gave her his best hunter for the ride, and she went forth to find a lady in white hanging by her hair from an ash tree over the well, now closed, at Washer's Pit. She released the victim, and carried her back on the horse to Ashmore (One version relates that she was pusued, but blew her hom and leaped the horse over Spinney's Gate, a feat which her pursuers could not perform).

For her courage she was rewarded with the little holding called Mullens', after her name. But the Mullens family had been settled in Ashmore long before the Barbers; and another version tells that the daughter of the house, and not the cook, went on the quest. What became of the rescued lady, who she and her assailants were, is not recorded. And it is only fair to state that Dr. Chisholm, the younger, was in the habit of telling the story as of one of the servants at the manor farm being nearly murdered at this spot, and a fellow-servant being warned in a dream to help her. Perhaps Dr. Chisholm had rationalised the story; he told it as of his own or his father's time.

Connected with the same ground as this legend and that about the barrow at Folly Hanging Gate, is another of a woman in white, who has been seen and felt brushing by them, within the last fifty years, by travellers between Spinney's Pond and Washer's Pit. I have heard it connected with the barrow, but the true form of that story is the Gappergennies; and the affair at Washer's Pit ended too happily to generate a ghost. This must be some third and independent legend. It is curious that in a parish full, as Ashmore is, of dark and lonely places, no other neighbourhood than these few yards on the road to Fontmel should have its story."

More local stories can be found in the walking notes of our unique self guided walking holidays through the downs and valleys of the Cranborne Chase on the Dorset / Wiltshire border of England.

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ashmore pond in dorset walking holidays

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Gold Hill Shaftesbury Dorset where independent walking holiday finishes