All this storied beauty is without the scope of this book but within the greater Wessex that came to the King who is the really representative hero of his countrymen. The genius of the West Saxon became for a time, and to a certain extent through force of circumstance, a jealous and rather narrow insularity, without wide views and generous ideals, but to this people may be ascribed some of the higher traits that go to redeem our race. That their original rough virtues were polished and refined by their beautiful environment in the land that became their heritage few can doubt. That their gradual absorption and amalgamation with the other races who fought them for the possession of this “dear, dear land” has resulted in the evolution of a people with a great and wonderful destiny is manifest to the world, and is a factor in the future of mankind at which we can but dimly guess.
[Illustration: The Dorset coast—Mupe bay.]
The scenery of Inner Wessex is as varied as the materials that go to make it up, from the bare rolling chalk downs of Salisbury Plain to the abrupt and imposing hills around the Vale of Blackmore. To most who travel in search of the picturesque and the beautiful, the Dorset coast and the country immediately in the rear, will make the greatest appeal. The line of undulating cliffs, often towering in bold, impressive shapes, that commences almost as soon as Dorset is entered and continues without a dull mile to the eastern extremity of Weymouth, is to some minds the finest stretch of England’s shore outside Cornwall, a county that depends entirely on its coast line for its claim to beauty. To some eyes, indeed, the exquisite and varied colouring of the Dorset cliffs is more satisfying than that of the dour and dark rocks of Tintagel and the Land’s End. And if Wessex cannot boast the sustained grandeur of the stern face that England turns to the Atlantic waves, the romantic arch of Durdle Door, the majestic hill-cliff that rises above the green cleft of Arish Mel, and the sombre precipices of St. Aldhelm’s, with the smiling loveliness of the Wessex lanes and hamlets behind them, will be sufficient recompense.
Hampshire has been given the character of having the least interesting shore of all the southern counties. This is a matter of individual taste. The surf that beats on the sands from Bournemouth to Southampton Water washes the very edge of the “Great Wood.” Again, the long pebble wall of the Chesil Bank and the barrier “fleets” of middle Wessex are a real sanctuary of the wild. This is almost the longest stretch in England without bathing machine or bungalow. Remote and little visited also is the exquisite sea country that begins at the strange little settlement of Bridport Quay and ends in Devonshire. To the writer’s mind there is nothing more lovely in seaward England than the scenery around Golden Cap, that glorious hill that rises near little old “Chiddick,” and no sea town to equal Lyme, standing at the gate of Devon and incomparably more interesting and unspoilt than any Devon coast town.