Day 27 West Bay to Seaton 25 August 2013

Coast Walk – West Bay to Seaton.

 

Today was probably the most physically demanding I have done so far, although not the longest.  We had a fairly leisurely breakfast then took a taxi back to the coast at West Bay.  I could see the very tricky final steep slope from yesterday.   The weather was very overcast and threatening.  Fortunately Tom had a spare cagoul in the car which he has lent me for the rest of the week.  Hopefully it won’t be needed, and, in fact, although it threatened a few times there was no rain all day. The path crosses the harbour then immediately begins to climb up towards the cliff top, before dropping  right back down to the sea at Eype Mouth.  From Eype, the path appears to go straight up from the beach, but after a minute of scrambling up a bit of landslip we were waved back by a passer-by who pointed out the very insignificantly marked diversion.   Regular landslips make the coast path a bit of a moving feast.   There is a steady climb out of Eype to Thorncombe Beacon – a long pull with a grassy saddle down and up again about half way.  The view was excellent, we could just see back to Portland Bill where I started yesterday.   Off the beacon there is a moderate slope down, then up again to the highest peak on the South Coast – Gold Cap.  It is not a hard climb, but relentless.IMG_4411  On the way down we were treated to the sight of a kestrel.   Down again into Charmouth, where there is quite a long diversion round the back of the town, along the old high street – again full of  interesting houses from different periods.  This street boasted a property where not only Charles II stayed (we are still on the Monarch Way, as well as the coast Path) but also Katharine of Aragon on her arrival from Spain in 1501.  The path climbs through a patch of woodland before arriving at the golf course at Lyme Regis.  We nipped across the greens between balls and then dropped down into Lyme.  I can only assume that the rest of the country was completely deserted today as everyone was in Lyme.  The sun had come out and it was a warm afternoon.  There were mums, dads, grandparents, sons, daughters, dogs, nieces, nephews, cousins and aunties traipsing round, eating ice-creams and poring over the fossil and mineral collections in many of the shops.  Tom is interested in minerals so we went into a few shops and he purchased some specimens.  I was amazed at some of the fossils – tiny, delicate outlines like Raphael drawings, tens or even 100s of millions of years old.  All of the little boys were delighted with the various bits of dinosaurs.

Lyme for me is famous for the scene in Persuasion, where Louisa Musgrave is knocked out on the Cobb and Anne Eliot, my favourite Austen heroine, has the pain of seeing the lover she broke up with 8 years before apparently in love with the IMG_4420said Louisa.

Out of Lyme, I crossed into a new county – Devon is now before me.  The path goes into an area called the Undercliff created by a massive landslide in 1839. Conveniently whilst the President of the Geological Society was staying there – coincidence, I am sure.  The land slide took away about 6 miles of cliff, which is now grown over into what is almost a tropical rain forest  It is thickly grown over drops and chasms between the boulders.  It is important to stick to the path as the area is still very friable.  There are ferns and creepers all around, and occasionally a glimpse of cliff with  a few where one can see out to sea, but for the better part of 6 miles the path is completely under the canopy of trees and undergrowth.  We heard owls calling, and even a peregrine. IMG_4432 By the end it seemed a little oppressive, and being quite hard going, I was glad when we reached the top of the headland.  We walked through a couple of oat fields and dropped down into Seaton.  A gruelling day, but fantastically varied.  18 miles.

We had an excellent pub meal in the Winston, then I said goodbye to Tom for a day by myself before Bridget and Angela join me.

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Day 26 Ferrybridge to Bridport 24 August 2013

IMG_4369I left Ferrybridge just before 8.30am.  The morning was chilly – I had barely gone a hundred yards when I had to stop to put on another layer – and the sky was exceedingly black.  Not a pretty sight for someone with no waterproof.  However, I was lucky. A few spots of rain fell, then the clouds began to drift inland ahead of a stiff south west wind that continued most of the day, contriving to make the morning both chilly and humid.  I contemplated walking along Chesil beach itself but concluded that it is just too hard.  Shingle is very difficult to walk on even for a few hundred yards and the beach in nearly 20 miles with no way of changing your mind if it gets too tough.  The Coast Path runs parallel to the beach, along the inside of the Fleet Lagoon, a site of special scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty and with various other accolades.  Attempts to drain it in the 18th century were thwarted by the incursion of salt water over the Chesil spit.  Apparently, Chesil Beach is moving inland at the rate of 5m per century.  Strictly speaking, it is a Tombolo as it joins two pieces of land (thanks, Chris!)

The walk was fairly uneventful.  Lots of people with a variety of dogs, and far too many cows.  I had to walk through a number of fields where the blighters seem to take delight in hanging about near the exit stile.  In one field I was edging gently past some bullocks to cross a ditch when one came up behind me with a ring in his nose with spikes on – more like a knuckle duster than an ordinary nose ring.  I beat a hasty retreat and had to walk around the edge of two fields to get round.  Several more fields with a variety of bovines, but none as threatening.  One where a cow was standing directly in front of the stile – fortunately it was next to a gate so I hopped briskly over.  I can be surprisingly nimble in these circumstances!

The path wound past Moonfleet Manor, and I was rather excited to see it marked on the map as a hotel.  Moonfleet, by J Meade Falkner was one of my favourite books as a child and I was keen to see the manor which features in it.  Unfortunately, it was surrounded by a very dilapidated wall with the entrance nowhere near the path.  I didn’t want to persevere as it had a rather sinister and uninviting air.

I reached the Swannery at Abbotsbury at lunchtime.  I didn’t go in, but it looks worth a visit on another occasion.   It seems there has been a swannery here since the 11th or 12th Century, under the auspices of the Benedictine Abbey.  Several hundred pairs of Mute Swans nest here each year.    IMG_4388IMG_4379

The path then continued to hug the shore past West Bexington and Burton Bradstock, with a couple of very steep up and downs towards the end that rather took the wind out of my sails, before ending in West Bay, where I diverted inland to Bridport – a good mile extra.  I am sitting in the hotel waiting for my friend Tom to arrive, to walk with me tomorrow.  Just under 21 miles in total.

We had a rather posh pub meal at the Bull in Bridport – excellent Venison burger.  The hotel is nice, but rather expensive.  My room is so tiny I have to climb over my bag to get into bed, but our host is a pleasant chap and shared a nightcap with us in the little bar, telling us about the all of the arts events in Bridport.  Bridport is an interesting place, lots of different church denominations and a real mix of architectural styles.  The route down to West Bay, up which I walked is the Monarch’s Way, reputedly the route Charles II took after the Battle of Worcester to escape to France.  Above one of the high street inns is a sign saying he stayed in Bridport on 23rd September 1651.

Setting off from Weymouth

I’m sitting in the Ferrybridge Inn at Wyke Regis, overlooking Chesil Beach.  It’s a very humid evening and I am hoping that the positive weather forecast I saw yesterday is true, as I realise that I have forgotten to bring my waterproof!  Can Britain give me eight dry days on the trot?IMG_4351

Coming down by train, it was fun to travel through some of the stations where I have begun and ended walks – Brockenhurst, Branksome and Wareham being three.  As the train crossed Poole harbour I remembered the chain ferry and a great day with Jane.

The pub is shabby but clean, and obviously popular as I have been warned there will be an hour’s wait for food.  I should have eaten in Weymouth when I got off the train, but that looked pretty busy too.  No problem waiting really as I sip my merlot and pore over my maps. Next to me a very nice couple are explaining to their daughter, who appears to be about six, the different fossils and remains of creatures that can be found on the Jurassic coast.  At present they are discussing a giant centipede, six feet in length!

It’s morning now, and I am waiting to have breakfast before setting off. I do wish guest houses could serve breakfast earlier. It is seldom available before 8am but it would be so much nicer to be able to set off before that, as walking in the early morning is nicer than any other time of day.  From my bedroom window, I can see across to Portland Bill and down onto Chesil Beach.  Apparently, the pebbles are so distinctive on Chesil Beach that an expert can tell exactly from which of the 18 miles of its length it comes.   I have seen some early boats heading out on what promises to be a glorious day.

Plans…

Looking forward to getting started on Saturday morning.  I have been newly inspired by reading about a chap who took six months off to walk the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  As I commuted into London this morning, I was dreaming of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  However, closer to home, I have high hopes of the weather and can hardly wait to be on the beautiful Jurassic coast again.

I have a good mixture of walking with friends and by myself – and even have the promise of a rock’n’roll night in Newton Abbot – just in case I am not tired enough.  Because of the logistics of finding accommodation on the south coast at this time of year (including Dartmouth Regatta week) I am going to have to do some pretty long stretches, so hope I can make it.

I have bought new boots – the old ones are wearing on the soles and not giving enough grip – disappointing as they are very comfortable. IMG_4347 I have gone away from the nubuck Salomon boots I have had for the last three pairs and am going for traditional hard leather, made from a single piece of leather, so that there is no stitching, and thus nowhere for water to seep in.   The theory is that they mould to the foot, although after having paid for them I have been informed that the soles wear out long before the leather softens that much!  I wore them in last week in Norfolk and they were very comfortable, but I am taking the old ones just in case. IMG_4349

I shall be taking the train down to Weymouth tomorrow, and spending the first night at the north end of Portland Bill.

Day 25 – 21 July 2013 Weymouth & Portland

After the delights of yesterday, today was distinctly less picturesque and was also rather frustrating as the South West Coast Path as marked on the map bears no resemblance to the marked path on the ground.  I spent a good deal of time trying to find my way and having to back track as I reached dead ends. I met a fellow walker who informed me that the council has changed the route significantly – at least I haven’t lost all map reading skills overnight!IMG_4265

I drove to Weymouth and parked behind the station – there were already hundreds of people out, preparing for a day at the beach – children, prams, dogs, buckets and spades, beer coolers, parasols, towels, grandmas and bats and balls all crowding their way to the front.  The town beach is beautifully sandy, unlike the shingly north end, but I resisted the temptation to paddle immediately and instead made for the old harbour.  I crossed the harbour in a little rowing boat that plies back and forth for a pound – another form of transport ticked off! IMG_4273 On the south side of the harbour are the rather attractive Nothe gardens, planted in a semi-tropical style, with South African and Australian plants, overlooking the enclosed harbour.

Weymouth has a fascinating history – in its early days it held a wool staple, until that was transferred to Poole after French marauding.  It was created as a Borough in 1571 combined of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, the latter (the modern town centre) apparently being the place where the Black Death first arrived in Britain in 1348.  Subsequently, Sir Christopher Wren was its MP, and it became a hot tourist town after King George III began to patronise it.  For Jane Austen fans, it is the town where Jane Fairfax was rescued from certain death (according to Miss Bates) by Mr Dixon grabbing her sash when she nearly fell out of a boat.  The town remained an important naval base and saw the testing of the bouncing bombs in the last war.

The path continues to the tip of the mainland, and the Isle of Portland lies ahead – I was in two minds as to whether Portland counts as the coast, but decided, since it is firmly anchored by the north end of the 18 mile long Chesil beach that it should be included.  Crossing the 1.5 miles of causeway onto the island beside a busy road was very dull.  IMG_4279The path then winds (in fact, though not on the map) through the National Sailing Academy – interesting as this is where the Olympic boating events were held last year – to Portland Castle, another of Henry VIII’s castles. I am amazed at the number of fortifications he built – Deal, Dover, Portsmouth, Sandsfoot, Portland etc., largely funded by the wealth bagged from the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Prior to the Reformation, the peasants paid the Monks to protect them from hell, and after the Reformation, they paid the King to protect them from the French – no doubt both causes have merit!

Eventually, there is a steep climb up to the cliffs, then along, past another battery and along the boundary fence of HM Young Offenders Institution.  I suppose there are worse places to be banged up than overlooking the Channel.

On the east side of the island where the cliffs are steep with a lower, rocky plateau, covered with valerian, are lots of areas where people were practising climbing – the porous limestone was covered with ropes and pulleys and little swinging figures. IMG_4301

The path is uneventful round to the light house at Portland Bill, where I had a delightful Dorset cream tea. IMG_4306 Rounding the headland, I carried on along the West side in the afternoon sunshine – with fabulous views of Chesil Beach. IMG_4316 I arrived back in Weymouth around six and went for a delicious paddle to cool my tired feet.  The water was warm but felt strangely thick – presumably from the chalk which seemed to be in the water, being deposited on the sand as a gloopy white mass. I also received my first donation for Guide Dogs for the Blind – £6.30.  Very pleasing.