If you find yourself traveling to the south of England this year and are looking for hot spot to get your photography juices flowing, then I cannot recommend visiting this part of the country enough! In the deepest darkest parts of Dorset there are heritage sights and monuments spread across all the local towns surrounded by country side’s and famous landmarks, rich in old English history with stories desperately screaming to be told!
In my last blog I talked about Wimborne Minster and how it gives me inspiration on the days that I lack creativity, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about one of my other favorite places close to Wimborne town (6 miles outside to be precise) that also keeps me captivated and coming back for more; with my camera in tow.
Situated on the outskirts of Wimborne, nestled on an old English heritage site are the beautiful ruins of Knowlton church. This mysterious hollow has become a popular paranormal tourist attraction, often described as one of Dorset’s most haunted locations, with tales of death and disease ploughing through villages during the 15th century. It has been said the inhabitants would carry their dying relatives to the church hoping to be spared or at least gain redemption in the eyes of the lord, but unfortunately few escaped the clutches of the black plague and instead the church became a beacon for tragedy.
Standing in the belly of this ruination it is hard not to feel the despair and sorrow radiate from the stone ashlar and flint brickwork that remains intact. Even more so when you stroll a few yards behind the church to the wishing tree which is believed to be an opening to the ‘other side’. Handwritten messages tied with ribbons hang from every branch, varying from prayers for sick loved one to notes for the deceased and it can be chilling reading them, but it also provides a space and moment for reflection. It really is quite a sight.
There is also a deep fabricated ditch that surrounds this fascinating building, made with stone taken from the henge that once stood in its place and it is said to of been built to keep the spirits in rather than the intruders out. Over the years there have been multiple documented sightings of a kneeling nun who wails in prayer at the nape of the tower with the sound of a horseman galloping through the surrounding rings being heard. Personally, I have never witnessed these sightings for myself, but I find the stories to be kind of cool. I have visited the church many times day and night I have to say there is an eerie feeling that hits me as soon as I push open the gate to the rings and the closer I get to the church the stronger the feeling of not being alone is. Still, it does not stop me visiting, and whilst taking photographs I often wonder if my camera will ever capture something dwelling behind the paranormal veil that surrounds the place.
Now the church is more than just a building with a ghost story and if the supernatural theme does not resonate with you then perhaps the impressive and unusual architecture will. There are some conflicts of opinion surrounding the history of it, what we do know however, is the chancel and nave of the building dates back to the 12th century where the foundations were built within the earthworks of a Bronze age Neolithic fort. With additions and alterations of the structure being added during the 15th and 18th century. It really is a wonderful place to take a stroll no matter the weather and explore the grounds whilst taking in and appreciating the grandeur and workmanship of an original piece of English construction.
The tower of the church is the most well-preserved part of the whole structure and it’s here that most paranormal reports are documented. If you take your time exploring the place it is not difficult to see why there has been so many different speculations as to the original intent of the landmark. On the eastern side of the church, you can see some stonework protruding from the rubble suggesting the possibility that there once stood a chapel, used for Christian worship; however, many, if not most, still believe the reason it was built in the middle of a church circle surrounded by 178 ringed ditches (often associated with burial sites) is because of the pagan roots and because of this belief that it is still used today by groups and covens to perform pagan rituals.
Only a few parish churches stand in ruins, and even less still occupy sites associated with prehistoric rituals, thus it is hard to ignore the possibility that there was once an attempt to overthrow or Christianize a pagan ceremonial site. If we think back to the wishing tree that I mentioned earlier, this conflict can be recognized once more with yew trees playing a big symbolic part in both religions emphasizing a connection between the two so boldly at this Knowlton site.
Knowlton church and the Earthworks is certainly high up there on my list of recommendations of places to visit and to photograph if you happen to be visiting this part of the country. Providing so many opportunities to play around with compositions. I want to create haunting portraits, and this is something I plan to do in the future, but today I used it’s stunning and poetic landscape to capture these images. The Dorset countryside always supplying the perfect backdrop, no matter the weather. I could talk for hours about all the reasons you should visit this incredibly special place and even longer about all the stories told over the years, but it is a place you really must visit yourself as it is so widely open to interpretation. If you are just looking to get lost for a few hours and take a real step back in time then look no further.
As you will be able to see from my photos it was damp and dreary on the day of my last visit, but this coincided with the atmosphere, something that changes here as often as the weather. On this occasion all photos were taken on my Canon EOS R6 with 5mm Lens but next time I’m going to experiment with a variety of lenses and get creative. I’d also love to do a nighttime shoot and capture a blanket of stars, perhaps above the structure; I’ll hold off on that idea till the summer though.
Thank you for reading and I hope you do find an excuse to visit this spectacular place or maybe you have visited before and have a ghost story of your own to share! If so let me know in the comments.