I slept well enough that night to miss the dawn. As I emerged from my sleeping bag the red sun hung low in the east, warming the frosted fields.
Breakfast was a frugal affair eaten under a tree. I packed, then made my way back across the Ring. The previous night I had set up the tent in darkness, on a bramble-covered slope, so I wasn't best pleased to discover that the ground on the other side was grassy and level. Hey ho...
The view from the ramparts was wide and lonely. To my left the land sloped to the Stour, then rose in ridge after ridge until it merged with the winter sky. I knew from the map that somewhere out there were towns and villages; but of the comforts of civilization there was little to be seen. The woods and hills seemed bereft of existence.
Badbury Ring is set on the edge of the downs, guarding the river Stour. I descended a gentle slope and followed the lane down to Shapwick. As I walked the compacted chalk became clay; churned by cattle to a rich mud.
Beyond the village is the Stour Valley Way. It's a trail I've thought about, but never with enthusiasm. I'm not fond of valleys, especially ones with slow-flowing rivers. I read somewhere that these produce positive ions; which, contrary to their name, have a depressing effect on mind and body. Near rapids and waterfalls there is a greater concentration of negative ions, boosting the metabolism and creating a sense of well-being.
There may be something in this. I've walked sections of the Thames in the past, as well as some of the Midland canals, and have frequently felt tired and disheartened; whereas on rivers such as the Test and the Wye I never had a problem. All things considered I'm in no hurry to tackle the sluggish Stour!
That morning the keen air set me striding briskly enough. The path lay through meadows, along the line of the river; until it reached the bridge over to Spetisbury. Cranbourne Chase was gone. Ahead lay the Dorset chalk.