Dorset - Along the River Piddle
From its source to the sea the River Piddle is only just over 20 miles but as we all know size isn't everything. The name immediately makes up for any lack of mileage. If the locals had spent a fortune on an advertising agency to think up a name for their little stream they could not have hit on a more memorable or more controversial one. You might forget the Stour or the Frome but once you've had an initial giggle over this bit of rusticity it sticks forever.
The name actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word pidelle, which means boggy or marshy ground. Two of the areas, which supply the initial water for the river are Soggy Wood and Rake's Bottom and these names seem to follow the theme very nicely.
A few years ago you could buy bottles of Piddle Water in the shops in the valley but this is no longer available. Probably something to with health and safety I suspect. However, you can buy a pint of Piddle beer. We visited the brewery during filming and tried one of the brews. I also supped a pint by the river at the Piddle Inn in Piddlethrenthide and this I can definitely recommend. The Piddle valley is very peaceful and well endowed with pleasant hostelries but it also has its dramatic side. The old army camp at Piddlehinton was the starting point for many thousands of soldiers during the D Day campaign and afterwards. One of the most tragic incidents of the war involved American troops from the camp. They were torpedoed off Calais and over 800 died. I talk to the Alan Perry who has planted a beech tree for every man who was killed in this horrific incident.
When the river bears left the village names change from Piddle to Puddle and the water sets of east towards Poole Harbour. It was in this lovely green, lush landscape that the Tolpuddle Martyrs eventually made their stand against poverty and starvation wages. Every year there is a huge and very colourful rally in the village to commemorate their struggle and their eventual release.
Devils Brook joins the mainstream and we go through more idyllic Puddles until we reach a hamlet, which rejoices in the name of Shiterton. This puts the Piddles into perspective but it doesn't live up to its title and its well worth a wander down the one street of beautiful thatched cottages.
Bere Regis, as the name suggests, has many royal connections. King John, for instance, visited on many occasions to hunt in the forest around. Then on to the Trigon estate with its water wheel, eel trap and weir complete with a special run for the salmon that used to swim up the river to spawn not so many years ago.
With the Piddle flowing to the north of Wareham and the Frome to the south King Alfred realised that the town was in an ideal defensive position. He filled in the gaps with huge ramparts, which are still in place. You can spend a very pleasant hour just wandering around them, gazing out over the water meadows and watching the Piddle pootle to Poole Harbour.