Our luck ran out with the perfect sunny English weather, but were at least fortunate to walk through the rain under the dense canopy cover of The Undercliff trees just west of Lyme Regis rather than open clifftops this morning: slippery and muddy underfoot, but less drenched from above. We took a look at the famous Cobb pier before departing; features iconically in John Fowles’ French Lietenant’s Woman (recommended). The Undercliff is dense and verdant, and thorougly alive. We disturbed a browsing red deer along the way, and were serenaded by avian life. Thus into Devon and out of Dorset.
We climbed down and then up and then down again to pass through Seaton (grey, rusty, depressed-looking) and the boozily-named Beer (lively, quaint, much more alive), before heading inland to visit the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. Marred a little by more rain, we of course saw many rescued donkeys, some posing cutely, some nuzzling, some bellyaching.
The cliffs turned reddish with sandstone around our destination, Sidmouth. Our hotel sits just beyond a ford: a liquid road crossing indicative of this rural part of England.
Our last two days we’ve mixed things up gaitwise by jogging a few miles early doors and walking the rest of the day. Have now traversed the entirety of the 18-mile Chesil Bank/Beach: the pebbly strand that runs from Portland northwest to West Bay in Dorset. Our route took us inland a few times, through a mini firing range (closed, thankfully), along the banks of The Fleet, the long lagoon that separates the beach from the land proper, and via bovine and ovine populated fields, plus a few ankle-taxing sections on the pebbles themselves.
Stopped off in Abbotsbury before continuing the following morning: a village that’s been around for a good few hundred years. The Abbey itself hung around for 500 years or so before being mostly erased by good old Henry VIII and his thugs-with-anti-papal-hammers. A few stone remnants still stand.
Today’s route took us along the roller-coaster of hills from West Bay to Seatown to Charmouth to Lyme Regis. Golden Cap providing the highest vistas looking back to the Isle of Portland and ahead to the Exmouth area. Carly enjoyed her first Calippo experience on Path.
Ended the day in Lyme Regis after a long final couple of miles on tarmac. My old childhood holiday stomping grounds.
A very different day walking from the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills via narrow, wooded paths, through large, busy, holiday-weekend-packed campsites, and around the outskirts of Weymouth. Thence plunged into the craziness of the town proper and its classic English seaside resortness. Bodies packed on both the narrow streets, the promenade, and the uncomfortable-looking pebbly beaches.
We crossed over to the Isle of Portland with Chesil Beach to our right – the famous multi-mile long pebble beach that runs for much of southwest Dorset’s coast. The pebbles sequentially and gradually alter in size from fat fist sized this end to marble peas at t’other due to erosion and deposition changes over time south to north.
Called into a tiny community space, the Chiswell Walled Garden, before heading to Fortuneswell. Carly unimpressed with local eating options.
Our Saturday started in the peaceful village of Kimmeridge and the top notch Kimmeridge Farm B&B: highly recommended. Woke to a wildlife and livestock serenade:
A tough 16-mile Day 3 with many long, steep, precipitous ascents and descents through the Lulworth Ranges, a military practice area open at certain times and through certain weekends over the year. We’d timed our arrival to ensure we had access. The views are stunning along the way: bright white, chalky cliffs, blue-green water, jagged outcrops.
A tad of a shock to hit big, busy crowds at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, and yet more steep climbs towards the White Nothe and Ringstead.
Another glorious bright day for our second on the Path through the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Rejoining the trail we took a brief diversion around Winspit Quarry with its cavernous human-made caves, propped up with stumps of uncut rock. Dramatically set within the cliffs south of Worth Matravers.
The Path took us due west out along St. Alban’s Head. Popped in to chat with the two volunteers scanning the sea and coastline from the Coastguard Lookout who let us ogle a pod of 20 or so common dolphins fishing in the shallows just off of the promontory. Turning the corner north, a precipitously steep climb down and then back up again at Emmett’s Hill was our first significant test of the knees and quads.
Taking what we thought was a short detour down to the beach of Chapman’s Pool turned out to be an ‘adventure’ through brambles, stinging nettles and thistles along a very narrow winding, little-trod path. The beach itself was gravelly, populated by many kelp flies, and the water wasn’t the warmest to swim in, but did cool the hill climbing limbs.
Glorious views from then on along the clifftops towards Lulworth, Weymouth, and the Isle of Portland. All in our immediate future over the next couple of days.
As we turned inland at Kimmeridge Bay, we met a dementoid equine:
A glorious southern English morning to greet our first day on the SWC Path: bright, crisp and cool. We crossed from Sandbanks, a chunk of land to the south of Poole, on a clunking chain ferry to the start/finish line, marked by its snazzy sculpture.
The first couple of miles were along Studland Beach by the dunes, and then up through stumpy woods.
Friendly, characterful, snarfling, and surprisingly-woolly pigs were met en route.
The Isle of Purbeck, and Studland in particular, were pretty active during WWII. There are pillboxes and concrete shelters here and there, and D-Day practice sites along the coast. Exercise Smash used live ammunition and wasn’t for the faint-hearted it sounds like. We passed by and took a look in Fort Henry, one of the largest observation posts used.
At the end of The Foreland due east from Studland are Harry’s Rocks. Bright white, chalky stumps that stick out like giant chunks of green-topped cheese. Eroded arches and precipitous drops below. Even this far east the sea water is clear, clean, and a pleasing blue-green.
We stopped for lunch at Swanage, a busy, bustling seaside resort. Then to Durlston Head to swing a hard right west above the cliffs and old mining areas, before heading inland to the little village of (the excellently-named) Worth Matravers. 15+ miles in all.
A rotund and somewhat territorial dairy cow, which butted a tad alarmingly, was encountered a little too close along the way:
We are currently resided in Poole, Dorset. Not the sexiest of oceanside towns, to be honest, but a ferry early doors and the start of Walking Proper along the Path tomorrow will provide plenty of vistas and coastal luverlieness shortly.
A visit this afternoon to the Courtyard Tea Rooms, a 16th-century building squirreled away off of the High Street in the historic Old Town. An inaugural scone consumed in their quaint, mini open space.
A wander to the northwest of town and statuesque stretching.
Then, later, a pint of excellently malty Hedge Hop at the very-green Poole Arms on the Quay. Can’t deny that it’s pleasing to be back in the land of English ale.
Consider us carbohydrated for the first leg of the trail.