Culpepper's Dish
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Culpepper's Dish

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Deep Inside Culpepper's DishA sinkhole in the southern part of England, 110 miles west-southwest of London

Culpepper's Dish in Fiction

In the novel, The Return of the Native*, author Thomas Hardy  places his character Mrs. Wildeve at the lonely and desolate Culpepper's Dish to collect holly branches for a wreath.

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Culpepper's Dish according to Travel Books

From Portrait of Dorset
By Robert Hale, 1966

Trees and Blue Bells"The strange sands under these heaths (of East Dorset) are sometimes capable of flowing like the material in an hour glass. I have seen minor excavations tap running sand, which has flowed along with the stream covering the neighboring meadows in inches of barren white sand which has buried the grass.

"Similar, but underground, movement of sand has produced deep conical pits in the heath ....

"Previously mention was made of running sand which could cause soil subsidence. The western heaths at Puddletown, Affpuddle and Turnerspiddle have many conical pits, some of which are so deep that full-sized trees, growing in the bottom, do not reach the level of surrounding land.

Dark Steep Slope"The most famous is Culpeppers Dish by the roadside on Briantspuddle Heath. This deep pit, similar to a volcanic cone, is alleged to be named after Culpepper [Nicholas Culpeper], the famous herbalist. With its tree in the middle it represented, presumably, a vast pestle and mortar.

"Local legends attribute the pits to the devil; learned men of Victorian days had theories of temples from prehistoric times. Two of the difficulties of explaining them in terms of human activity are the absence of banks of spoil, and the fact that there is no sign of any sort of track from the bottom to the top.

Green and Blues"We have circular pits in chalk fields of similar depth but there is always a winding path up which donkeys with panniers brought the chalk to spread it over the fields. The heath pits are perfectly conical. Without much doubt their formation is natural, although it is possible for those who like mysteries to consider visitors from outer space... I think they are due to an underground stream tapping a layer of running sand. The subsidence is very much the shape of an eddy of running water, and when sand flows it behaves very like moving water."

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From Affpuddle
by Joan Brocklebank (1968)

Nearby Pigs"The heathlands of the parish were, until mid-nineteenth century a most important part of the economy, infiltrating into every department of life. Geologically, they belong in the same category as the wide stretch of the New Forest and the pine woods of Bournemouth and Poole, being a long arm extended westwards from those regions.

The road along the heath passes Culpepers Dish, that astonishing, huge hole in the ground, which now of necessity is to have red sparklers along its curve to warn motorists not to plunge into its depths. Opposite the Dish there is to be a water-reservoir for the Atomic Station, now in the ugly process of being built."

Culpepper Connections! Publisher's Note: Winfrith nuclear power station (as it came to be called) has come and gone, and is in mothballs. It's now an industrial estate - mostly R&D outfits. The pigs pictured at the above right were found near the dish.

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According to the British Ordnance Survey Map 194:

Yellow Iris"Briantspuddle: 9m E of Dorchester.  (Dorchester is due N of Weymouth on the coast, which, in turn, is W of the Isle of Wight.)

Old-world village consisting of dumpy white-walled thatched cottages set in an idyllic rural landscape beside the lazy River Piddle... Note the strange hole known locally as Cull-peppers Dish. This deep, tree-filled pit is a splendid example of what geologists term a swallow hole, and is caused by subsidence in the chalk below the gravel subsoil."

Blue Bells"This walk over country much loved by T.E. Lawrence in the closing years of his life, gives a variety of scenery -- woodland, field and heathland and pleasant riverside views. In spring there are bluebells (pictured at right) and anemones, followed by wild rhododendrons and, in late summer, the heather is in flower everywhere. The gradients are easy but there is some difficult walking on the edge of Bovington’s tank training area and later over rough ground which may be boggy. The best view point is from the car park, looking south over descending woods to high ground beyond..."

T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia)’s cottage is to the southeast of Culpeppers Dish and his grave site is to the southwest.

* Synopsis of The Return of the Native, from its Publisher, Viking Pen:
[The] novel sets in opposition two of Thomas Hardy's most unforgettable creations: his heroine, the sensuous, free-spirited Eustacia Vye, and the solemn, majestic stretch of upland in Dorsetshire he called Egdon Heath. The famous opening reveals the haunting power of that dark, forbidding moon where proud Eustacia fervently awaits a clandestine meeting with her lover, Damon Wildeve. But Eustacia's dreams of escape are not to be realized--neither Wildeve nor the retuming native Clym Yeobright can bring her salvation. Injured by forces beyond their control, Hardy's characters struggle vainly in the net of destiny.  In the end, only the face of the lonely heath remains untouched by fate in this masterpiece of tragic passion, a tale that perfectly epitomizes the author's own unique and melancholy genius. (The book is available by on-line order at

(Thomas Hardy was also the author of Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure; and Far from the Madding Crowd.)

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Lewis WilliamsSources

The above texts and map were provided by Brenda Culpepper, Chip Culpepper and Cathy Griffin. The photographs and current information about the area were provided courtesy of Lewis Williams (pictured at the right), of Poole, Dorsetshire. He provided Culpepper Connections! with an impressive audio-video slide show, of his bicycle trip to Briantspuddle and hike down into the Dish.

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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