Our third ferry of the trip was a small, narrow affair over the River Teign to Shaldon this morning. It claims to be the oldest passenger ferry still running in Britain, tracing itself back to at least 1296. On foot on the other side we had decent climbs to look back over Teignmouth and towards Torbay. Then more fun transportation as we hitched ride on the Oddocombe Cliff Railway that scoots up and down the incline: relatively modern, dated from a mere 1926.
Lunch at Babbacombe with views across the bay. Thence to Torquay via its touristic throng, new, snazzy footbridge, and the London Eye clone, and then through a somewhat more greyed, sagging-looking Paignton. Our 19+ mile day ended with turning the corner east at the bottom of the big sweep towards Brixham, spying the Dartmouth steam train coming around the corner before Churston.
A visit to the otter sanctuary in Buckfastleigh on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon. Sammy, the large British river otter who was rescued including being hand-fed and nursed at home by keeper Tim) after suffering from the after effects of being caught up in an oil spill (apparently has a long tradition of throwing a ‘tantrum’ when he realises that the day’s peanut treat ration has been exhausted.
We got to interact up close and personal with rescued and rehabilitated Asian, Canadian and British river otters, including hand feeding with peanuts, raw hamburger, and whole and filleted fish. River otters all have surprisingly contrasting personality traits: some shy, some show offs, some gentle and sweet, some headbutters. Top mammals.
Another long, varied day. Drenched a few times by southwestern showers. Almost 22 miles in total on the weary feet.
Started early in glorious bright and cool up and over the red sandstone cliffs around Sidmouth, then down to, around, and over the River Otter into Budleigh Salterton for brunch. (Sadly no Mr. Figgis’ Fudgery spotted.) A long gradual decent through the older chunks of the Jurassic Coast to Exmouth and our second ferry of the trip over to Starcross, dodging the sandbanks, and then to meet Angela and Bob (thanks for the beverages & lift!) in the Atmospheric Railway.
A few way-marking and route-finding issues from there through Dawlish Warren and Dawlish. Bovines with attitude around here n’all.
Thence to the long seawall into Teignmouth, which announces itself subtlely coming from the northeast …
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.
Towards the southeastern corner of the coast of the inland Salton Sea to the east of Anza-Borrego State Park in Imperial County, California, lies a volcanic seam that feeds a geothermal power station not far outside of the desert town of Calipatria.
On the corner of two dirt roads just south of that station a little of the geologic energy escapes through the concrete-like substrate of a barren ‘field’, known as the Mud Pots. Bubbling just under the surface, hot liquid mud laps up to form sculptured mounds and chimneys to create a bizarre mini-landscape of unique hills and depressions.
As one gets close to the active holes in the ground, the air is hot and sulphurous. The ground gurgles and bubbles with interesting sonic quality: varied and weirdly anthropogenic depending on where one stands and listens.
Having hiked a good chunk of the lower half of the Croton Aqueduct trail from Yonkers to Tarrytown a few weeks back, yesterday we returned to pick up the path where we left it and continue further north to Croton-on-Hudson. The route, somewhat fragmented in terms of actual trail, takes one up via Sleepy Hollow, through an uninspiring part of Ossining (maybe all of Ossining is uninspiring?), and then northeast and away from the Hudson River up the southwestern side of the Croton River to the impressive New Croton Reservoir Dam and Croton Gorge Park.
At the northern end, there is actually more path than indicated on online maps, allowing fewer miles along busy roads than expected. Hitting some turns and road crossing needs diligence, however, with trail marking somewhat wanting in places.
The reservoir at the end of the trail was first created by damming the Croton River in the mid 1800s, and Croton Lake, as it was first named, was the first out-of-city drinking water course for NYC. The dam itself was completed in the early 1900s, then the tallest dam in the world: a good 600 m plus in total. Water from here now only supplies a relatively small percentage of NYC’s potable source.
The flow of water has quite the roar:
One can walk right across the top of the dam, and having done so, we hiked down the other side of the Croton River on quiet, suburban streets to the Croton-Harmon MetroNorth station. Just over 17 miles total from Tarrytown station.
One benefit of Manhattan life, and the situation of the island, is that within the hour, one can transition to a relatively non-urban setting. A close and easy means of achieving this is to hop over the George-Washington Bridge, via the south-facing foot and bike path, and head north on the west side of the Hudson River through the Palisades.
The Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey includes a cumulatively fat mileage of trails primarily running north-south, but including intriguing (and often steep) linking paths that take you east-west between the clifftops and the river’s shore.
Hence, you can create your own custom loop to and from the bridge entrance depending on how far you want to walk and how much climbing your pins do or don’t fancy. We recently did the very same, heading north along the tops and looping to the river and back, utilizing the Long, Shore and Carpenter’s Trails. Waterfalls (audio below), landslips, interesting building remnants, ornamental gardens, circling raptors, etc. abound.
Re-reading Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent recently reminded me of my own, on-a-whim visit to the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States in early June, 2013. In an attempt to stay off interstate highways as much as possible to see a bit more of the country while driving east from Denver, CO (vaguely) towards NYC, I took US-36 across northern Kansas; a long, two-day, straight route through very gently-rolling hills, grassy agricultural fields, and very little else. Northern Kansas is very wide and mainly empty.
On Day One soon after crossing the state line, I stopped off at a few rather sad, grim, empty small towns in a vain attempt to find palatable coffee. I recall St. Francis in particular being desolate, beaten-up and largely devoid of human activity (and available coffee, palatable or otherwise). The few people I did see out and about were largely very large. Passing through the superbly-named Bird City I did indulge in taking a quick detour to ogle at the family-named post office, convenience store, city signs, city hall, etc.
I spent the night in a violent rain storm in the town of Norton. Less of a town really, more just one main road with a couple of gas stations, a dollar store, and a Dairy Queen. I think I dined that evening at a gas station Subway. Living the high life. The next morning I drove a further 75 miles east to the tiny conurbation of Lebanon where I took a 90 degree left turn north on route 283 and then another hard left to head back westward. The Geographic Center of the US lies at the end of a narrow road through flat agricultural fields with nothing in view, no buildings or landscape features or animals or people, for a couple of miles. Arriving there you are confronted with a small, highly-manicured park with a flag pole, a tiny white chapel, a park bench and a picnic shelter. The chapel is apparently relatively new due having been rebuilt after a speeding, semi-conscious farmer nodded off one afternoon in 2008, failed to notice the T-junction, and drove straight into and through the original.
How one goes about determining exactly where the centre of a huge and irregularly-shaped country like the US is, I am not completely sure. Someone did as early as 1918 however, and this isolated patch of Kansas lawn has since been deemed the location to plonk that particular marker down. Should one want to visit a more modern interpretation of the centre of the nation, one has to travel much farther north to a similarly exciting locale, Belle Forch on the western end of South Dakota just north of Deadwood. That particular interpretation of what constitutes The Middle takes into consideration Hawaii and Alaska, but somewhat creatively treats the Pacific Ocean, British Columbia and the Yukon as if they do not exist, and conceptually digs up Alaska and Hawaii, drags them over land and water, and sticks them to Washington state and southern California respectively. I suppose one would have to float a flag somewhere in the sea off the coast of California otherwise.
There is really not an awful lot to see at the monument in northern Kansas and it’s kind of pointless really, but the day I visited was a glorious one. I wandered as far as I could within the confines of the park in a warm, gentle breeze, under a clear, deep-blue sky, surrounded by twittering birds (sound snippet below). Somewhat predictably, I had the place to myself for as long as I wanted. As much as the sign showing distances from here to Seattle, Miami, San Diego, Bar Harbor etc. was distracting to look at for a minute or two, that wasn’t all that long to be honest, so I retraced my steps and continued eastwards towards Kansas City.