Bride Valley Songs

Thirty years of my life in

Burton Bradstock

Burton Bradstock in the Bride Valley in West Dorset has been my family home for the past thirty years.

We moved as I took on the headship of the village primary school in 1990.

My career and interests have since taken me well beyond the village and valley.

Barbara and I are now set to move to the Cotswolds, to be nearer children and grandchildren.

I've mapped our time in the Bride Valley in words and songs I have written or adapted from the verse of local poet, Douglas Northover.

Get in touch, email

Artwork by Grace Crabtree

"Before beginning the artwork, I took photographs and made drawings from life and from imagination, weaving together ideas gleaned from Douglas Northover’s poetry and David’s lyrics, my own connection to the landscape, and the folklore of the area. The paintings take different geographical locations – Chesil Beach, Arch Bridge, Southover Lane, and Freshwater Beach – along the journey of the river from source to mouth."

"I created four paintings which each relate to a different song, working in an illustrative style to help bring a sense of narrative to them. I began thinking about a history compressed in layers, like the geological landforms of the valley and coastline – a deep history, embedded in stone and sediment. Each artwork is a visual representation of past stories and voices of the valley, from the viewpoint of somebody living here now."

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Blog 10

‘Do you recall when we were young, with all the world ablaze?'

The first line of ‘Childhood Odyssey’ Douglas Northover’s poem highlights the potential that all young people could have to shine. The job of the parent, educator and wider society is to blow on the glowing embers of childhood, to feed the youthful flame with oxygen...


It is 1998 and the UK & Irish Governments sign the Good Friday agreement.

The Human Rights Act is passed into UK law (Huzzah) and there are early signs from the new Labour government that they’ll invest seriously in children and families (3 Huzzah’s)


Bride Valley News January 1998


Five, maybe six years ago, I drove Len Starkey, Head of Burton Bradstock School in the 1950’s and 1960’s to a meeting of the Dorset NAHT in Bournemouth. On the way Len told me how back in 1970 he had blazed a trail for West Dorset when he jumped on a ‘Steam Packet’ at Poole and headed to Cherbourg with the intention of finding a small Normandy town with which to link the school. It was an inspirational story and his journey did far more than link two schools. It linked Bridport with St. Vaast La Hougue, a twinning that thrives today.


Up until a few years ago a group of Bridport children regularly visited St. Vaast, but sadly the visits were halted.

We teach French at Burton from top Infants through the Juniors, and I always strive to enable children to see a purpose in their learning. What could be better than a visit to France in order to engage some hapless locals in our ‘Dorset’ French!


Through Sue Linford, my Chairman of Governors and fluent French speaker, I contacted the primary School in St. Vaast and they were enthusiastic to forge links. All of the older children sent video greetings in French to the school and plans moved forward for a visit.


We go in July, and while there we will be putting on a joint production of ‘Burton’s Fear’, the village legend we wrote earlier this year. The French children are writing an ending to the play in French and we will rehearse and perform the finished play to town folk. We will also perform a concert of Dorset songs, including the ‘Vale of the Bride’.


Bonne Annee


Bride Vally News June 1998


With a month to go before our OFSTED Inspection I thought this would be an opportune moment for me to let you know how preparations are going at the OK Corral. Excuse me a moment while I heave myself from my chair, whisk round the school and check on the troops. Back in a jiff...........

Er nothing out of the ordinary (surely a contradiction in terms at Burton) appears to be happening! No staff are staring, ashen-faced at mountains of paperwork. No last-minute policies are being conjured out of their over-worked brains. No sound of scraping furniture as desks are re-arranged into rows to suit the post-Woodhead world. No staff thumbing hungrily through back copies of the Daily Mail or Sunday Times for last minute instructions on how to teach spelling, grammar and discipline!!! Aaarrrgh! Aren’t they taking this inspection seriously? Don’t they realise that my job is on the line here?


No, of course not. This school, in common with the vast majority of the country, already uses a batch of internal and external monitoring systems to offer a snapshot of where the school is, and to inform managers on areas that require development. We view the coming OFSTED as a useful addition to this process and we will not be laying on a circus to attempt to please our masters conjuring up the latest fad.


June sees us bid farewell to Rex Trevett with a special concert at which his various school groups will entertain parents and children. Rex has taught recorder and run a school ensemble band here for the last 2 years and is finally retiring from school teaching this summer. He has been an inspiration to a generation of local musicians and we have been privileged to benefit from his vast experience.


David Powell June 1998


It is 2021 and I clamp my eye again to my trusty hindsight telescope. These two entries from 1998 are worthy of being connected as I observe the systematic uncoupling by our government of state education from the Arts.


If you want something to grow, you shine a light on it. In the 1990’s OfSTED & government increasingly directed their spotlight on the ‘Core’ subjects of English, Maths & Science. Clearly worthy learning for all children, but in doing so the Arts and other subjects were forced into the darker corners of the classroom and school, only kept illuminated by passionate professionals determined to provide a rich and balanced learning diet.


We strove to achieve this at good old Burton Bradstock School. In focusing on the 3 R’s OfSTED made no attempt to explore or celebrate the positive and broad learning experienced in all good schools. We boarded the ship to Cherbourg in 1998 and took the play we’d written to the town of St Vaast. All children grew in self-esteem and confidence on the visit, putting their conversational French to practical use, performing the play written by them to a French audience and enjoying the Breton folk dancing offered back to us by our hosts. We were joined at the performance by the then Mayor of Bridport, David Tett and a Civic party, so continued to strengthen the cultural and social links between our towns and communities originally forged by Len Starkey.


Len died in 1996. He had served with the RAF in the war and moved to Burton Bradstock in 1952 with his wife, Betty when he became head of the village school. They lived in Magnolia House almost opposite the school. Len retired in 1976 but I kept in touch with him, drawing him back into school life, like many other villagers ,to strengthen the partnership between village and school.


And, you know what, I can’t complete this blog without mentioning Rex Trevett, a Bridport barber and musician who went on to be employed at Colfox School where he set up the school’s Big Band. Like ripples from a pond his enthusiasm and dedicated leadership rippled out across the town. He was a fine example of a professional who ignored OfSTED and let light flood in to the expressive arts, transforming the lives of children across the town.


And so, back to ‘Childhood Odyssey’ a poem in which Douglas reminisces on his imaginative young self, conjuring worlds up from his valley playground. The song here performed by me, Emma, Simon and Rosi an iteration of the Bride Valley Band in 2011.

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Blog 9

It is 1997. The Labour Party win the General Election and settle into government that will last for thirteen years.

The last bastion of the British Empire crumbles as the UK transfers sovereignty of Hong Kong and there is a tragic end to a dream as Princess Diana dies in Paris.

We say hello to Marcus Rashford and Maisie (Arya Stark) Williams.

Thomas the Tank Engine blows a mournful blast as Rev W.V. Audrey departs this earthly station.


Bride Valley News September 1997


Through the shimmering heat haze dancing on the golden salt-sparkling sands, I pick out the distant white line of surf and the deep, deep blue of the inviting ocean. Occasional waves of excited voices, giggles, shouting and splashing drift over to me, born on gentle warm breezes. I reluctantly struggle to a sitting position on my lounger, sip my cold Daiquiri and shield my eyes from the sun’s glare bouncing off the clean and empty white sheet of paper in front of me.


Groan! How can I turn my thoughts to school while absorbing the rays, prostrate on a Biarritz beach? Vague ideas flitter through my mind and I snatch one at random, turning and examining it like an insect caught in a predator’s grip SCHOOL LEAGUE TABLES! I nibble at it and spit it out in disgust – no controversy at this time of year! Another thought skitters helplessly towards my hungry mind, tries to flee but in turn is snatched and examined. CLASSROOM SIZES! Don't panic dear reader I won’t impose that on you either.


I realise that, by the time you read this on September 1st I shall be back in school preparing for a new term and this thought brings me to my feet, spilling my drink and making me shriek as if I'd had a bucket of cold water dumped on me. Plans, ideas, concerns, OFSTED, new children, new parents, playground duty, staff meetings. These thoughts tumble out of the sky like a black cloud and swarm down on me. I run down the beach screaming and batting away at the sky like a demented lunatic and, with relief plunge gratefully into the deep blue sea.


“Hi Dad! Wondered when you’d finally get so hot that you had to join us”, number 2 child burbles enthusiastically as she playfully pushes my head under water. I grin, splash her and out of the corner of my eye notice a sheet of clean, white paper floating gently past me out to sea. Honestly some people are so careless with their rubbish!


Bride Valley News December 1997


Internet, Modem, Intranet, 512K pipeline burst Cache...if the above words fill you with horror, dread, puzzlement or have you calling for a plumber, I am sure you are not on your own. Welcome to the brave new world of ICT (information and Communications Technology). Schools have a duty to reach forward, imagining the world into which 5 to 11 year old children will be stepping into at 18+. It is complacent just to take your references for teaching by glancing in the rear-view mirror.


Timidly, and with grateful thanks to Burton Bradstock Parish Council and school PTA for financial assistance, the school has just networked all of its computers and will shortly be going on to the Internet. Networking effectively means joining them all together so that the least powerful computers become as powerful as the Server. The Server is connected to the Internet and through Networking can feed Internet information to all other computers. To ‘protect’ all children from the less savoury elements of the Internet we have an ‘Intranet’ system that allows teachers to select information that they want children to search through. You will be able to see all of this in action in the Spring – when we hold an Open Evening. I am also arranging for Burton parishioners to have access to the Internet when the school is not using it. More news about this shortly. Let me leave you this month with a quote by Eric Hoffer that helped me make the decision to Network the school:

‘In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’.


Two entries from 1997, here that I can neatly tie together with a brief anecdote of how us Powells’ booked a holiday in the mid 90’s.

The BIG bonus for my job was the long summer break. I’d be in school for a week at the start of the holiday completing all bureaucracy and record keeping, and a week at the end booting the school up. This left up to a month to travel abroad as cheaply as we could afford. We had an old caravan we used to hitch to the Cavalier…Sorted!

In June, Mrs P would unfold a map of France, identify a destination, clearly in this case Biarritz and plot a route with overnight stopovers. I’d give these scribbled addresses to Sue, a school governor who would translate our request for bookings into legible French, then hot-foot it to the school fax machine to whizz them off over the channel.

A few days later, Magic! Jean would be tearing off the confirmation muttering quietly about appropriate use of school resources. Not being massively techy, I was in awe of this. My request atomised, sent through the stratosphere and emerging in the office of a campsite!!

These reminiscences jog my memory of how technology has changed over the years I’d been teaching. The big revolution in the 70’s was moving from Banda to Roneo duplicating. I well remember feeling spaced out as I soaked Banda spirit onto the absorbent roller before placing the ‘Master’ on the drum of a Banda machine and hand cranking it to run off copies of worksheets for children. The cleaner electric Roneo came along followed in the late 80’s by huge photocopiers that whirred away in staffroom and office.

And now…in 2021…Well, as Headteacher I kept up with tech innovation (and astutely employed those more capable than me). I was also not afraid to reach out to young experts, once bringing 6th formers into my school in my final headship to train staff on social media and smartphones. I learned, as we all had to, how to manage the info flood as my email inbox filled & overflowed, threatening my evenings & weekends. Our school system is also learning over time how to manage the temptation to print forests of paperwork for children & colleagues, slowly embracing the opportunities presented by tablet and projections to reduce the environmental impact. And so, if you’ve stayed the course, you read my blog on screen, not in print!

Anyway, one more holiday anecdote from the BVN. I skip forward to 2000 for this…


Bride Valley News September 2000


You’ll be reading this in August, in holiday mode hopefully, so a holiday anecdote that I cleverly weave into a current educational story sounds like it may be on the menu.


 A few years ago Barbara and I took the girls to the Dordogne for a holiday. Those of you lucky enough to have visited this lovely area will know that a highlight is to hire a canoe at one town and drift gently downstream, passing limestone grottoes and striking castles as you let your hand trail soothingly in the cool river water blah...blah...


Arriving at Beynac we saw such a base and resolved to let the girls enjoy this idyllic journey. My eye was, however, caught by a sign that proclaimed that you could hire the canoes for half price providing you returned them to Beynac. Never one to look a bargain in the bouche I persuaded my increasingly sceptical family to go for it, using the time-honoured technique of bribery with ice creams.


As the owner pushed us off from a little jetty on the riverbank I waved back at him. He smiled back, sadly I thought, as he stuffed the wad of francs in his pocket and wished us ‘Bon Voyage’. We were in two canoes and Barbara and I put our heads down and leant into the paddles as we headed upstream. We resolved to paddle upstream for half an hour then let the current waft us back to Beynac.


Twenty minutes later, my arms bulging with effort against the river current and sweat dripping off my nose, I called across to Barbara offering words of encouragement. She had turned a strange shade of red and seemed to look straight through me. Uh oh, I thought, I hope the journey back to Beynac makes it all worthwhile. I then realised it wasn’t me she was looking at. Swivelling my head around to follow her slightly manic gaze I found myself looking unbelievably at the owner standing on the jetty, still smiling sadly. He shrugged his shoulders and I am sure I caught the strains of ‘The Marseillaise’ being whistled softly as he strolled casually away.


A quick tie in with education...easy! I sit here surrounded by mountains of bureaucratic bumf, paddling against the current of Government initiatives and yet I am being driven forward by the ice cream of challenged and happy children and enormous wages. Do I progress up the river of life? I do believe so or I wouldn’t do the job that I do...would I?


This week’s song is my musical interpretation of Douglas Northover’s poem, ‘Along The Beach.’

Douglas muses on the cycle of life as he wanders ‘Along The Beach’


Coming up…

1998 and the school prepares for its second OfSTED. We follow in the footsteps of a local trail-blazing Headteacher…

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