Tuesday 19 July 2016
Eype Mouth to West Fleet
West Fleet Camping Park
The wind got up during the night and woke me up. Just before 6am the sun hit my tent and so I got up. Everything was dry and it was forecast to be a scorcher so I packed up and was away before 7. I felt bad that, after my issue with the Seatown campsite, I didn’t pay for night at Eype House – the reception didn’t open until 9 o’clock and I couldn’t wait that long.
There was no one around so all I could hear was the wind as I climbed up and down West, East and Burton Cliffs; all small but incredibly steep. It was so beautiful, and already very hot.
I passed through West Bay, which had a distinctly 1960s look about it. This seaside extension of Bridport was not the prettiest place, lots of concrete. The harbour and piers were built in the 1860s and were blamed for the gradual loss of the shingle beach. However, current thinking is that the beach is disappearing because there’s no replacement shingle; apparently we need another Ice Age and then the subsequent thaw for that to happen.
I saw a team of people building a raft and so went over to inspect it. They were undertaking a test run in preparation for the raft race up the River Brit in just over a week. Had I been staying in the area they wanted to recruit me as they were short of crew.
I arrived at Southover, the Burton Bradstock beach, before 9am. There looked to be a nice cafe here; however, it didn’t open until 10 so I walked a mile detour to the nearby petrol station to buy something for breakfast. All this beautiful scenery and I breakfasted on a corned beef baguette and Jaffa cakes sat on a garage forecourt. Oh well, at least I was in the shade.
One last cliff before I reached the flat of Cogden Beach, which at some point turned into Chesil Beach. To begin with the path skirted the shingle bank and I could have been in Suffolk as I admired the sea kale and other plants growing on the shingle.
There were a couple of reed-filled meres on my left but I think they had dried up as I came across a pile of dead fish. Apparently there hasn’t been much rain here this year. I was told that the micro-climate around Chesil Beach means it is particularly warm, so I chose the worst day to walk it: the hottest day of the year!
Too many times the path ended up on the shingle and that made the walking very tough. I think I prefer hills!
Finally the path turned inland to Abbotsbury and I got a great view of St Catherine’s Chapel atop the hill before the town.
In spite of the wind, the sunshine and heat was brutal and I was wilting. I was pleased with how I managed my day though because I started early and arrived at Abbotsbury at midday, pub opening time. I went straight into the Ilchester Arms and had 2.5 hours off. I drank 3 pints (of water and OJ and lemonade), ate a big lunch with salty fries, and cooled down enough to re-slather myself in suncream.
Abbotsbury is a picture postcard town that reminded me of the Cotswolds; all stone and thatch. Chatting to the pub manager I learned that 90% of the town is owned by one lady (apparently her family sold 10% to avoid having to pay for upkeep of the roads). She is a descendent of Mr Strangway, who “got rid of” the monks during the dissolution and thus was rewarded with all their land by King Henry VIII.
Orcus, a steward of King Canute, founded a Benedictine Monastery in Abbotsbury in 1044. St Catherine’s Chapel was built in the 14th Century. The Abbey did not escape the dissolution, but the Chapel did because of its situation on the hill, being a landmark and a seamark as well as a great lookout.
King Henry VIII liked to eat swans and they were provided by the Abbotsbury Swannery. The swannery is a great tourist attraction and still has about 1000 swans (an eighth of what it used to have). I did not pay to go in.
I really liked Abbotsbury, with all its history and the amazing views from St Catherine’s Chapel. I could see Chesil Beach stretching for 8 miles to Portland, forming a barrier between the brackish water of The Fleet and the salty sea.
I had a couple of hours still to walk, a bit further inland of The Fleet, to reach my campsite. It was hot going and I arrived just after 5pm. The campsite had a clubhouse so I ate there and relaxed over another pint of water (chased down with a beer). It had been a wonderful day.