When is Dorset actually Hampshire?

Beach huts on Mudeford Spit near the Dorset/Hampshire border. Photo credit: Ian Woolcock, Getty Imag

Beach huts on Mudeford Spit near the Dorset/Hampshire border. Photo credit: Ian Woolcock, Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Confusion reigns on the county’s eastern border

“So, we’re part of East Dorset District Council but we’re actually in Hampshire.”

Uh-oh. There’s a glitch in the Matrix, I appear to have unwittingly wandered across county boundaries and into enemy territory. For one final time, I’ve allowed myself to be directed to a randomly generated postcode in search of untold stories from Dorset, but standing here, just down the road from Avon Castle, have I ventured too far?

Amanda, who lives here with Bill, her Cook Islander husband certainly thinks so, and with their massive Rhodesian Ridgeback, Leo, sniffing around my ankles - actually to be anatomically correct he’s probably sniffing around my midriff - I’m not in the mood to argue.

But I’m sure I’m right. I checked the Ordnance Survey maps online before I got in the car and I’m pretty confident the River Avon, which is a good half a mile south east of here, is where the signs “Here Be Dragons” mark the dangerous crossing into Hampshire.

Next door, I get a different take on matters from Norman. The 85-year-old is busy clearing out the bungalow he has called home for the last 18 years. Norman thinks this is Dorset, but the postal address says Hampshire because the nearest sorting office is the other side of the river in Ringwood. Either way, suffice to say in this triangle of land - sandwiched between the A338, A31 and River Avon - I’m in border country.

That’s not to say that it’s not a beautiful part of the county. Amanda complains about the road noise, she says it’s particularly bad because cars slow as they turn off the A31 and then speed up on the A338; but she admits that she’s the only family member who hasn’t tuned it out.

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Norman loves it here, as does Marilyn, his wife of four years, but she doesn’t like how remote it can feel at night, which is why they’re selling up and moving to her place down the road in Southbourne.

Norman and Marilyn’s story is a sweet one. With the front door open in the winter sunshine and hours of packing up a life clearly ahead of him, Norman pauses to tell me of their chance meeting. The keen amateur ballroom dancer was at a class six years ago when fate put him together with a dance partner he really clicked with – Marilyn.

Though they don’t dance any more, due to joint issues, it’s another example of the best things I’ve learned from this year exploring the county. People are friendly and interesting, and we should make more time to talk.

I know that initially this sounded like a daft mission, randomly selecting a postcode and then pitching up to strike up a conversation with strangers in the streets or even knocking on a front door or two to find out more about the area, but I have not once been disappointed. I have met some really fascinating people and I’ve enjoyed just chatting with them. In fact I intend to take that attitude into the New Year!

Contact steveharris@bbc.co.uk

Twitter: @steveharrisdj

Steve Harris presents Breakfast in Dorset weekdays 6.30 - 9am on BBC Radio Solent on 103.8fm and DAB Digital Radio