AFTER 26 years of serving the parish of Alderholt vicar Philip ‘Pip’ Martin is moving on to pastures new.

He started at St James’ Church as a “fresh faced” 32-year-old in November 1990. The village was the first parish he had served as a vicar after being ordained in 1984.

Prior to becoming a vicar he served as a curate in Yorkshire in the midst of the 1984 miners' strike followed by his second curacy in Oxfordshire.

Rev Martin says it was a difficult decision but the time was right to leave. He hopes he will be able to help the community in his new parish in Poole.

''It is going to be a big change, from rural Alderholt to busy Branksome," he says. "I will be very sad to leave a village and church I love deeply, but I hope to take the lessons I have learned here and apply them in a very different place. In a way I will still be a country vicar because my focus will always be on meeting people, whether or not they attend the church. People are amazing."

But he admits it is "very unusual" for a vicar to have stayed in a parish so long and when he initially came he was told there would be no point in adding his name to the notice board as he was probably not going to be staying that long as many of his predecessors stayed for a few years before moving on.

"Alderholt is a wonderful community. It has got a big variety of people,” he added.

"I am grateful to the community here and hope I have been able to contribute my bit. I've gained a huge amount and it has been a privilege to be vicar."

He praised the "remarkable things" that have been done in the village like the ReCreate Festival and more.

As well as being the village’s vicar he also played for Alderholt’s football and cricket teams, and has been chairman of Governors at St James’ First Primary School.

He also played a key role in establishing the St James' Festival, with the tradition starting during his first year in the village. This year’s, which takes place next weekend, will be his last.

During his time in the village he has also supported the development of the ReCreate Festival which has seen bands like B*Witched, S Club and more perform in the Alderholt. He has also helped organise concerts at the church bringing some top musicians and singers to the village.

He has also seen some special moments in the village for example the surprise visit from the “Easter Bunny” who leaves chocolate eggs on residents’ doorsteps.

"If I knew anything my lips would be sealed," he jokes.

He has also developed links with churches and communities in Ecuador, which he hopes to continue in the future.

Rev Martin added: "I've felt really privileged to have that opportunity to pray with people, minister to people from young to old, across the community."

His last service is on Tuesday, July 25.

"The church is financially stable now which it wasn't when I came. The church building is in good order and improved over the years, and most of all there is a good mixture of older and younger people in church - there's a very healthy balance,” he said.

"I hope to take some things I have learned here with me, I've learned to be a vicar here."