The Girl on the Downs: A Middle-Aged Mystery


This elation was short-lived as we shifted, with well-oiled precision courtesy of the Jaguar auto box, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I wanted to see again the Jurassic Coast and specifically some of the contorted and twisted rock formations for which this area of Dorset is justly proud. Thinking that bank holiday would be largely over by the Tuesday we set off for Durdle Door only to find, horror of horrors, that huge swathes of the cliffs had been commandeered by the locals and turned into expensive (£3 for 2 hours) and precipitous parking places. This was indeed the very nadir of the trip, for spilling out of the adjacent people-carrier of indeterminate vintage was a genetically-impoverished family whose sole reason for existence appeared to be to subject everyone else to a prolonged visual and audio assault. The visual took the form of body tattoos, string vests and extreme ugliness, the audio being a succession of guttural commands shouted at each other without apparent effect, amid a constant barrage of what I assumed to be “garage music” on an ancient boom-box, jammed on arrival into the cliff-top turf. Here they seemed to settle themselves down with great contentedness, opting for the three square metres of available parking space as the day’s primary geographical objective.

Our eyes widening with horror, we stumbled through at least a thousand parked cars in the direction of the coast, stopping only briefly to breathe the fetid air of the nearby Fossil Shoppe, before abandoning our attempt to see real coastal ones in the face of an unbroken mile-long chain of ‘pilgrims’ on a similar quest. Our return to the car was achieved at a faster pace than someone who had partaken of a dodgy plate of local seafood, and the only achievement of our exit (apart from mutual relief) was that the tree-dwelling family next door now had double the parking space at their disposal.

So, thus far one triumph and one disaster, and all that AP and I knew was that we had to get away from that peculiarly acrid smell of human sweat and confusion behind us, and embrace the (hopefully empty) wastes of the Purbeck Hills. “Ah,” said AP, “I know just the place, a folly on the downs, and there will be no one there at all because no one knows about it!” Sounds like bliss. Let’s give it a go.

The Purbeck Hills afford a 360-degree panorama from Portland Bill to St. Aldheim’s Head and the best view is from a high road closed by the MOD for much of the year so they can shoot their pop guns at each other. Our goal, en route to the folly, was Tyneham Village, abandoned decades ago for defence purposes, the inhabitants being promised an early return. Like most governmental edicts, this promise never materialised, and by all accounts it is an eerie and haunted place. However, with our usual luck, on the last day on which we were allowed to actually visit before the bombs started to fall once again, the MOD had seen fit to close it prematurely. But even as people were being turned back from Tyneham by a faceless official in the default luminous yellow gilet, we realised that this road closure may in fact keep people away from our other goal, the folly on the hill.

So cautiously we drive, entirely alone, to the highest point of the Purbeck Hills, there to drink in this glorious panorama of English countryside and bomb craters mingled with tank tracks. Then our ‘peace at last’ is suddenly and rudely shattered by the spraying of gravel as another vehicle grinds to a halt alongside us. Two figures emerge. Moving determinedly and swiftly, they head towards the lane leading to the hidden folly. Annoyed at this rude interruption of our middle-aged contemplative silence, we set off – if not exactly in pursuit – then certainly in the same direction. And by now another interest has caught both AP’s and my attention, for the female half of the disappearing duo is an extremely attractive young woman in, at most, her very early twenties.

Our stride increases, but so does theirs. She, blond and elegantly tall, wears a short, semi-translucent floral skirt. (At this point what he looks like or is indeed wearing, is neither here nor there.) As she strides ahead, the downy wind eases the skirt from her upper thighs, showing them to be tanned all the way up, and of the same quality as the (admittedly slightly older) Fiona Bruce. (I had occasion to meet and photograph Fiona at a recent Antiques Road Show, after she had just been voted the ‘Best Bottom in Show-business’. Well, amen to that I say. This girl had the same musculature as Fiona – what I would call, if you forgive the expression, ‘top quality stock’.) There is an urgency about their progress up, across and along the downs, this young couple, an urgency which both AP and I are silently and separately speculating upon.

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1 Comment

  1. Simply delightful. I have a million things to do this morning for the end of Fashion Month but I couldn’t resist reading your article. Please never stop writing.

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