A Walk Through Bell Flower Plot

Shortly before Christmas 2018 we set out on a family expedition from Symondsbury, walking up Shute's Lane to Quarry Cross and from there following the track to the northwest. In places the going was very muddy, the conditions underfoot not being helped by the tracks left by motocross riders, but everyone admired the soft walls of Shute's Lane which are adorned by carvings and graffiti, including the very striking face shown to the right. Did this inspire Geoffrey Household or was it inspired by Rogue Male? It appears to be too recent to have been seen by Household, perhaps it was the work of one of his many admirers.

Passing the side track towards Axen Farm we continued towards Bell Flower Plot, about 1,200m northwest of Quarry Cross. Here the path descends through a tree-lined gully for about 250m at the bottom of which is a gate to North End Farm on the left and a hedgerow leading to a corner of Doctor's Copse on the right. In the very muddy conditions the 10o slope through Bell Flower Plot was quite tricky to traverse and at this point most of our party opted to return to Symondsbury via the track to Axen Farm and Broadoak Road. Two of us pressed on.

Figure 4: Rock Face in Shute's Lane

Rock Face in Shute's Lane

Figure 5: Bell Flower Plot

Bell Flower Plot

Figure 6: Burrow

Burrow

In the winter bare branches arch over the relatively little-used path through Bell Flower Plot; in a summer evening it must be a dappled and mysterious tunnel flanked by lush vegetation and ferns. The banks on either side are soft, with burrows among the tree roots. Geoffrey Household describes the location of the Rogue's lair as follows:

The deep sandstone cutting, its hedges grown together across the top, is still there; anyone who wishes can dive under the sentinel thorns at the entrance and push his way through and come out in a cross hedge that runs along the foot of the hills. But who would wish? Where there is light, the nettles grow as high as a man's shoulder; where there is not, the lane is choked by dead wood. The interior of the double hedge is of no conceivable use to the two farmers whose boundary fence it is, and nobody but an adventurous child would want to explore it.
..... I cut steps up the western bank and up the inner side of a young elm; it had a top-heavy branch hanging low over the hedge and within reach of the ground on the farther side.
However, it must be admitted that the banks in Bell Flower Plot are rarely more that a couple of metres high, not really sufficient for a man-sized burrow suitable for a human rogue male.

From the bottom of Bell Flower Plot the path continues along the hedgerow separating two fields before entering another tree-lined section leading uphill towards Denhay Cross. Here the conditions underfoot deteriotated sufficiently to prevent us from reaching the next junction and we gave up the quest, returning to Symondsbury for a pint and a delicious and much appreciated lunch at the Ilchester Arms.

Figure 7: Bell Flower Plot and its immediate surroundings

Bell Flower Plot and its immediate surroundings
[Google Earth image with superimposed labels]

Conclusions

Bell Flower Plot meets the main topographical requirements but the banks flanking the track through it are really not high enough to make it entirely convincing as the site of the Rogue Male's lair. Shute's Lane - up to 6m deep in places - and some stretches of Hell Lane have higher banks but, to my mind, are in the wrong place. The most likely explanation is that the lair's location is an imaginative amalgam of Bell Flower Plot's location with a deep holloway such as Shute's Lane or Broadoak Road in much the same way that Arthur Ransome's lake and its surroundings in Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale combine aspects of Windermere, Coniston Water and the adjacent Lakeland fells.

[Quotations are from Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, Orion, London 2104, ISBN 978-1-4091-5583-6]
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This document and illustrations are © Chris Newall 2019. They are not for sale or general publication.

Author : Chris Newall
Last update : 2nd January 2019