What a fantastic week! The Jurassic Coast treated me well and I was lucky to have so many wonderful views (except at Lulworth Cove) as I walked through time.
This week seems to have been the annual British heatwave. It has been very hot, beautifully sunny and stiflingly calm. I have had to manage myself more carefully this week but it’s been worth it. The sea in Dorset has been warm.
As ever, staying with friends made things a lot easier. Washing machines are such a great invention.
I finally finished walking the South West Coast Path this week, 11 weeks after I started. I have really enjoyed “following the acorn” and think I’ll miss it. Considering it’s only a small part of my whole trip, I was surprised at the sense of accomplishment I felt upon finishing.
It had been a cold night; the first one for several weeks where I had to zip my sleeping bag right up. That meant the tent was soaking wet in the morning but it didn’t take long to dry. Getting up early meant I avoided the queues for the portaloos, which was a good start.
Time for a cup of tea and a bacon and egg bap while I waited for my tent to dry and the mist to lift. I was looking forward to seeing friends, washing my clothes, a bed and finishing the SW Coast Path. For some reason finishing this path feels like a big achievement. Perhaps it’s because I met so many people doing bits of it on the way around?
I set off for St Aldhelm’s Head, which has a funny little 800 year-old chapel near the Lookout Station. It was a beautiful spot and there was a strong tidal race. I popped into the Lookout Station to get a weather forecast: sunshine and showers.
There was a WW2 memorial to vital radar research that was secretly conducted here 1940-42.
It was a lovely walk along the cliffs to Anvil Point and Durlston Head.
The cliffs here often have flat ledges and there was one in particular I was looking for: Dancing Ledge. I had been here before and there was a small tidal pool hewn out of the rock. These cliffs are a favourite place for coasteering and, sure enough, Dancing Ledge had lots of people about, which always puts me off going for a dip. The tide was high anyway and the pool half covered by the sea. It is a lovely place.
There are lots of sea-side caves on these cliffs and, just before Dancing Ledge, I had passed Winspit and Seacombe. Both were small, stream-filled valleys and there were a couple of tents pitched on the cliff ledges. I supposed the occupants had been to the Square and Compass last night and were free camping for the sheer hell of it (wilfully ignoring the ‘no camping’ signs).
I rounded Anvil Point, past the lighthouse, and into Durlston Country Park. It is a shame you can no longer go in the Tilly Whim Caves; old limestone quarries dug into the Durlston cliffs. They looked impressive.
Also impressive, and odd, was the large globe that had been given a position of importance, just below the small and silly-looking Durlston Castle.
There was another strong tidal race at Durlston Head and the path turned North, curving around Durlston Bay, to Peveril Point and Swanage.
Swanage was packed with people and I was hungry. I found a fairly empty Italian restaurant and stopped for a very nice pizza and coffee. I was due to meet Andrea at 1pm to walk the next part so I made the most of my break.
I found Andrea, dumped my bag in Steve’s car, and we set off around Swanage Bay. It was great to catch up with Andy after a long time, even if she did bring the rain with her (there was a slight drizzle going on but not enough to need waterproofs – anyway mine were now in Steve’s car!).
We had lots to chat about as we headed out of Swanage and climbed up Ballard Down.
We met Karen, Andrea’s mum, at the top of the Down and the 3 of us walked to Old Harry, at the Foreland Point. From here we should have had commanding views of Poole Harbour and Poole Bay, but unfortunately the mizzle put paid to that. Old Harry’s Rocks looked good though.
We walked down into Studland. Studland beach was another site of D-Day practice. This one had the distinction of having Fort Henry observation post built by the Canadians so that Churchill et al could watch the live firing practice in relative safety. This was also where the amphibious tanks were tested; they were not successful as 27 of 29 sank off Omaha Beach.
The tide was in and Studland Beach had been reduced to a thin line of sand, every bit of which was filled with people. Andrea and Steve have a beach hut so we met up with the rest of the family and there was time for tea and biscuits.
At the end of the afternoon Steve, Max, Amelie and I set off along the beach, walking the last 2 miles of the SW Coast Path to South Haven Point. It was nice to have company for the last section. I was amazed how pleased I felt at completing this particular path; it had been my favourite long walk. We reached the small entrance to Poole Harbour, opposite Sandbanks, and posed for photos next to the signs. I was quite elated at my achievement.
This time I didn’t need to catch the ferry as Andrea picked us up in the car and we went home for a celebration BBQ. It had been a lovely day.
It was a misty morning so I took my time as everything was soaked. The campsite cafe was open for breakfast from 9am so I waited for scrambled eggs on toast and a coffee before packing up.
I finally got going at 10.30 and the sea mist still hadn’t cleared. On the walk to Lulworth Cove I passed lots of people heading for the beach at Durdle Door and none of us could see further than a few metres ahead. That was enough to see the damage that the huge volume of tourists is doing to the environment around here.
Lulworth Cove was pretty and busy. I popped into the heritage centre to read about how the Cove demonstrates all the Jurassic Coast rocks in one sweep. Unfortunately I couldn’t see it as the whole place was shrouded in mist. I didn’t hang around, just long enough to buy a sandwich for my lunch.
I had timed my walk to arrive at Lulworth on a weekend so that the Ranges would be open to walk through. I gave this extra attention because I had tried to walk this section of coast once before and the Ranges had been closed, which necessitates a 13 mile diversion inland. I had a minor panic when I saw a red flag, but I think it was left flying to designate that the Fossil Forest was closed due to landslips.
The Lulworth Ranges are well worth walking through. They have those folded up cliffs and, unfortunately, the path goes straight up and over them all. It was hard, hard work walking up and down in the heat.
There are 3 bays within the ranges: Mupe, Arish Mell and Worbarrow. They are all along one long sweep of bay between Mupe Rocks and Worbarrow Trout.
Worbarrow Bay is the one that the public go to when the ranges are open and I thought it looked lovely; beautiful sand and clear blue sea contrasted against the chalky cliff.
Worbarrow was once a thriving fishing community and coastguard station. It was Evacuated in 1943 for D-Day troop training and the villagers never returned.
The walk up and down Flower’s Barrow (once an Iron Age fort) to get to the Bay was worth it as the 360 degree views were amazing. Inland I could see Lulworth Castle and way beyond, as well as up and down the coast.
Another climb up onto Gad Cliff and then I was walking on the edge, looking down into the valley containing Tyneham abandoned village, hidden amongst the trees. I had been recommended that this was a good place to visit, but I saved it for another day and carried on.
Another very steep downhill to Kimmeridge Bay and my first live sighting of an oil well. BP’s Kimmeridge Wellsite has been producing oil continuously since 1969; it currently produces 80 barrels a day.
Kimmeridge Bay was interesting as the chalk cliffs had disappeared and left rocks containing a thick sequence of Kimmeridge Clay, which made the water muddy-looking. It was still busy with people because there were extensive ledges that were exposed at low tide and it looked like this gave rise to some good rockpools.
Uphill again. Overlooking the Bay was Clavell Tower, built in 1830 as a folly and an observatory. The tower has been moved further inland from its original site to protect it from the coastal erosion.
Looking over the edge of the cliff I could see Kimmeridge Ledges, flat lengths of rock/clay sticking out into the sea.
Eventually I reached Chapman’s Pool and headed inland, up a short valley, to the camping field on the edge of Worth Matravers. I was lucky because the campsite had only opened the previous day. It was very basic, just a farmer’s field with a few portaloos and portashowers. There was only 1 water point where one had to wash hands post toilet, collect drinking water and wash any pots and pans. Slightly chaotic!
The farmer’s wife and daughters had set up a small stall offering tea and cake (I had some of that on arrival), burgers in the evening (I had one of them) and breakfast baps in the morning (something to look forward to).
I had my first ever portashower (not recommended on a hot day) and headed out to the pub. The Square and Compass is a well known, and very popular, ale house. The queue stretched outside the door and it took me 15 minutes to get served. This was because the pub is so old fashioned that it does not have a bar – local beer and cider is drained from barrels and served through a hatch. Food is on offer: meat or vegetable pasties only. It was a very quirky place. I sat inside a small room next to the fossil museum that the pub has set up and chatted to a man who was sea kayaking around the area. This is a very popular sport around the Isle of Purbeck. There was some live music in another room but it was too difficult to move anywhere so I stayed put. A fascinating place.
After a lovely sleep and a bit of breakfast I left Geoff’s house and walked into Dorchester town centre to catch a bus to Weymouth. It was all remarkably easy and I was walking past Lodmoor Country Park by 10am.
Weymouth Bay was very calm and the beach didn’t look as busy today, although I was at the far end where it is shingle.
All day the views back to Weymouth and Portland were fantastic. It was another gloriously sunny, still and hot day, perfect for sweating. The first great view was from the top of Furzy Cliff, where I left Weymouth and headed over the cliff to Bowleaze Cove.
The next expansive views were from Redcliff Point. The farmer was readying several of his fields for camping, they were mown and had wooden huts, each containing a composting toilet, randomly scattered about the place. There was also a row of solar showers. It was all quite neat and simple really.
I passed a PGL centre just before Osmington Mills and watched some kids doing a bungee jump. It looked fun.
Osmington Mills is nestled into a tiny valley and I stopped for lunch at The Smugglers Inn, a thatched pub by the stream. I took a long break from the heat, sitting inside as I usually do.
The next section was up and over the white, chalky, Jurassic cliffs that are so visible from across Weymouth Bay. From the top of White Nothe the views were incredible. There was a small, smugglers’ path heading over the edge to the undercliff but I didn’t take it.
I counted 3 ups and downs, along The Warren. They were incredibly steep and it was tricky to avoid slipping on the chalk. Thank goodness for poles.
It was so beautiful: the green grass, the white cliffs and the clear blue sea. I stood and watched 4 kestrels hunting in the grassy bowl next to me. Yet again I felt incredibly lucky to be doing this.
As I reached the top of Swyre Head, the famous Durdle Door came into view.
It was another steep down and up to get to the top of the cliff above Durdle Door and all the way along I was looking down on a lovely beach, bookended by Durdle Door and Bat’s Head. It struck me that Butter Rock stack represented the future of Durdle Door and Bat’s Head must be what it was like many years ago.
I was hot and sweaty and the water looked cool and inviting. So I hurried on up the last cliff, through the car park and into the campsite. They were full but, like all good campsites, they still take hikers (I had phoned ahead to check). I pitched quickly, rinsed my sweaty clothes out, and headed back down to Durdle Door.
At 6pm the beach was still busy but there weren’t many in the sea. I went straight in. The tide was coming in so there was plenty of water around the archway and I wanted to swim through it. I was a bit apprehensive as I hadn’t seen anyone else do it and I couldn’t see if there were rocks under the water or any sort of current. I decided to go for it. The swell was bigger and the choppier through the arch but it was fine, and it was lovely lying on my back looking up at the arch. This is the life!
The campsite had a bar and cafe so it was easy for me to get some dinner and charge my phone. It was a very noisy campsite: the rooks finally settled in the trees sometime after 10pm, the people stopped yelling about 2am and then the owl started hooting. I didn’t get much sleep.
After breakfast, Geoff kindly gave me a lift into the Isle of Portland. It was another scorching day, perfect for great views.
I started my walk in Chiswell, an ancient fishing village at the most southerly point of Chesil Beach. The Beach forms a tombolo that links the Isle of Portland with the mainland.
Chiswell is at sea level and has suffered at the hands of the sea. The Great Storm of November 1824 destroyed 80 houses and killed 30 people. I climbed out of Chiswell up onto West Cliff, at the top of West Weares. The views were amazing and all of a sudden I was in Tout Quarry.
Portland is famous for Portland Stone, used to build lots of magnificent buildings, the ones I was thinking of being in London. Tout Quarry is disused but open to walk through and, since 1983, has become a bit of a sculpture park. There were over 60 ‘hidden’ sculptures to find and if I’d spent all day there I wouldn’t have found them all! What a fantastic place.
No health and safety here! I spent a happy hour clambering over rocks and getting lost in gullies looking for sculptures.
Having seen a few Anthony Gormley sculptures on my travels I determined to find his “falling man” in the quarry.
When I finally tore myself away from Tout Quarry and carried on to Portland Bill I was bemused to note that despite being one big quarry, Portland houses were not made of the local stone. In fact much of the housing seemed to be cheap, ugly 1960s apartment blocks. It must have been ex-military housing.
Portland Bill was magnificent. I was loving the cliffs and the stone; it seemed to naturally come in big blocks and looked grand.
I remembered the lighthouse from a trip here as a child, and watching some youths tombstoning off Pulpit Rock. I also recalled my dad suggesting that I gave it a go, but I didn’t have a wetsuit and my mother wouldn’t have let me jump in my trainers and get them wet so I remained a spectator that day.
There were footholds dug into Pulpit Rock and a danger notice next to them. Although there were lots of people about, no one was dating to climb up the rock…except me. What a brilliant picnic spot, slightly detached from the madding crowd. I sat with my legs dangling over the edge and ate my lunch (a Cornish pasty brought back from Falmouth yesterday just for me – thanks Kath). I shall never grow up.
The sea looked incredibly blue and inviting, although I didn’t go in. I did see a man wearing a wetsuit and fins get out carrying an enormous crab in a net bag. He’d clearly been for a swim to catch his dinner. The water was fairly calm today, although there is a tidal race around Portland Bill and I watched several yachts being thrown all over the place until they moved away from it.
Rounding Portland Bill meant leaving Lyme Bay behind and looking ahead towards Lulworth and the Isle of Purbeck.
It was an equally lovely walk up the East side of Portland, up and down the cliffs to Church Ope Cove. More quarries.
I walked along the base of the East Weare cliffs, below Portland’s HM Young Offender Institution.
The path then scaled the cliff and passed The Verne Citadel, a medium security prison. Perhaps this is why I didn’t see the usual posh houses on the beautiful coastline of Portland?
The Verne Citadel looked impregnable. It was originally built in 1847 (by convicts) to house the convicts building Portland Harbour and its 3 forts, then became a fort to house troops and now is a prison. A fellow onlooker remarked to me that prisoners have it a lot easier these days. The original convicts hewed out 5.7 million tonnes of Portland Stone to built the Breakwater, forts and citadel.
I walked back down to Castletown and Chiswell via The Merchant’s Incline, originally a horse-drawn railway to transport the quarried stone. It was steep!
Geoff came and collected me again and I spent a 2nd blissful night in a bed. This was particularly kind of Geoff as he was working nights so left me to enjoy crashing on his sofa eating his homemade curry. Another absolutely excellent day.
It was very windy during the night and I was glad that I was tucked behind a big hedge. It was a fairly dull start to the day but that didn’t last long and soon the sun was bright, the sky was blue and it was another scorcher. Unfortunately the wind died down so that made it feel hotter.
It was lovely walking through the Fleet Lagoon Nature Reserve, with great views of Chesil Bank. I was struck by the large numbers of butterflies, of several species; more than I had noticed elsewhere.
Chesil Beach is one of the finest storm beaches in the world; formed over 6000 years ago by rising sea levels. It is 18 miles long, rises up to 15m high in places, and is made up of 100 million tonnes of pebbles. It is amazing to walk alongside (it would be energy-sapping to walk along it) and to see how it changes. The pebbles grow in size from pea-sized in the West to potato-sized in the East. Apparently, on a foggy day, local fishermen (and smugglers) can tell whereabouts they are on Chesil Beach just by the size of the stones.
I walked past a couple of Army camps on the edge of Weymouth and found out later that the town had been the main base for Anzac troops convalescing during WW1.
After an exposed walk in the heat, with no refreshment stops, I made it to Wyke Regis and Ferrybridge, the tip of Weymouth. I was hungry.
I crossed the road heading across the tombolo to the Isle of Portland, that would be tomorrow’s walk. Instead I turned North East and walked along the edge of Portland Harbour towards Weymouth sea front.
Right at the tip was a housing estate built on the site of the demolished Whitehead’s Torpedo Factory. Torpedoes were built here, and tested in the harbour, between 1891 and 1969.
Portland Harbour was a Victorian engineering project that took 23 years to complete by 1872. Back then it was one of the largest man-made harbours in the world and Europe’s finest deep-water port. Naturally it needed protecting and so 3 forts were built: one in Weymouth (Nothe Fort), one on Portland, and one on the Breakwater. These forts were part of the 74 Lord Palmerston forts built all along the South coast, from Milford Haven to Harwich, to protect us against the threat of a French invasion. (Every day more jigsaw pieces are added to the picture in my head.)
I thought the harbour looked impressive. I stopped for an ice cream at Sandsfoot Castle, built under the orders of King Henry VIII to protect shipping in the ‘Portland Roads’. Thus confirming that Portland Harbour has been important for a long time.
I was still hungry. I saw a sign for a cafe at Nothe Castle (rhymes with clothe) and made a beeline. After some refreshment I took the opportunity to look around the fort and I’m glad I did. It had some excellent displays and was a great little museum. Being a fort, it was of course well placed to afford some of the best views. How lucky that the sky had turned so blue to make the views all the way from the Isle of Portland to the Isle of Purbeck even more spectacular. I stayed for a while to enjoy them.
I like to catch a ferry and there was a rowing boat ferry across the River Wey from Nothe Fort Gardens to the old harbour. I hadn’t been ferried by a rowing boat since Suffolk! This one cost me £1.
The summer holidays had started; Weymouth Beach was packed. There were people everywhere, many burning in the hot sun. The green sea looked cooling but I couldn’t face the crowds so I carried on walking along the promenade, dodging the tourists.
I was intrigued to see the Royal Navy holding a beach rugby tournament; a good way to draw in spectators.
King George III spent 14 summers in Weymouth, helping to establish it as a holiday destination from the late 18th Century. The town’s affection for the King was evident. I admired his bathing machine sat in the middle of a roundabout.
I had arranged to meet up with my next-door-neighbour, Grace, as she often works in Weymouth. So, once I reached Lodmoor Country Park, I turned around and walked back along the promenade to the harbour and the Ship Inn.
After a lovely catch-up with Grace (and the chance to rid myself of a few old maps) I was collected by Geoff and driven to his house in Dorchester. It was great to see Geoff and Kath, enjoy a BBQ, do my laundry and sleep in a bed.
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.
This morning was misty and wet. I took my time getting up as I knew the mist would burn off and the pub didn’t start serving breakfast until 9am. Sure enough, by 8.30 the mist had cleared and the sun was out so I packed away dry.
A hot and sunny day was forecast so I had a good breakfast, accompanied by lots of water, in order to set me up, slathered myself in sun cream and wore my hat. At the top of the hill out of Axmouth there were warning signs that the 7 mile route to Lyme Regis was a hard 3.5-4 hour walk and there was no escape from the cliff path once on it. I pressed on.
What a great day for a walk through trees. I couldn’t have planned it better. The walk wasn’t really hard, no severe climbs, just undulating through the Axmouth-Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. There were no real views as I was shrouded by trees (lots of maple and ash) but it was nice in the shade and to think that I was walking through an area (the Undercliffs) created by many landslips.
One such landslip was the Great Landslip of Christmas Eve 1839. Rainwater had soaked into the permeable Cretaceous rocks and they came away from the slippery clay underneath them and slipped into the sea. A great chasm opened up behind the landslip block, creating Goat Island. This whole area had been farmed so, the following year, the villagers ceremonially harvested the turnips and wheat on Goat Island. The landslip became very famous; it was visited by Queen Victoria and had a piece of music composed to celebrate it. I walked through what is now wild grassland in wonder.
After only just over 2 hours of walking I reached Dorset and the town of Lyme Regis. I emerged from the trees by The Cobb, the harbour area made famous by Du Maurier’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It was baking hot on the promenade and the beach was full. I was suspicious that one end of the beach was sand and the rest (as well as all the other beaches around here) was pebbles. I suspected the sand had been imported.
I stopped at a nice looking sandwich shop to get some lunch and ate it quickly as there was no shade anywhere.
I took the Church Cliff walk, essentially a concrete flood defence, around from the beach. At the end of it the coast path climbs up the cliff but I decided the tide was out far enough for me to get to Charmouth along the beach/rocks at the base of the cliff.
It was easier going than I expected and I passed several fossil hunters, getting stuck into the grey mud left behind by recent landslips.
I passed through Charmouth, stopping only to buy a 2nd bottle of isotonic drink from the cafe. It was very hot. This is a fossil hunter’s Mecca, with a museum and regular guided walks.
I was confused; my 2016 map indicated I could climb straight up the cliff in front of me but the signs suggested a diversion. It wasn’t clear and I knew this area had recently had major landslips so I sought advice and decided to take the diversion. Unfortunately this wasn’t clear either so I asked a local. I admit to being slightly distracted when the man I asked moved his bag and revealed a very small pair of running shorts that didn’t cover very much. I don’t think it was deliberate, just a terrible choice of clothing. He was taking so long to process my question that another man decided to answer instead and he eventually walked away. The 2nd man proceeded to tell me I couldn’t walk in the direction I wanted because the sea was behind him (it blatantly wasn’t). He made no sense and so I just thanked him and walked on. Bring back Devon and its belligerent ferrymen!
I found my own way out of Charmouth, fairly quickly. It was a long slog up Stonebarrow Hill, down to St Gabriel’s Mouth and then up 191m to the top of Golden Cap. The views were stunning.
I descended a mile into Seatown, where I was hoping to camp. I had been trying to call the campsite all day but no luck. Unfortunately it was one of those big holiday parks staffed by people who are banned from thinking for themselves or using common sense. The lady at reception could only do what the computer said. The computer said I could camp if I paid her £34. I declined. (The going rate for a hiker is £7-10.) I was informed I could come back next week and camp in the enormous, empty field but I didn’t wait to hear the price for that.
Fortunately it was only 3 miles to Eype (pronounced eep). Unfortunately it involved another big climb and descent of Thorncombe Beacon.
I arrived at the campsite just before 6pm. I found a pitch overlooking the sea and then walked down for that dip I’d been longing for all day. Absolute bliss.
I still managed to wash my clothes through and walk up the hill into the village to the Smuggler’s Bar in the local hotel, where I had a nice dinner. (No budgies in this smuggler!) Who needs Seatown anyway?
For the first time in a while my tent (and the ground) was bone dry. This made for easy packing up and I was able to eat my leftover sandwiches and cake for breakfast and set off well before 9am.
Weston Combe was my first serious descent and ascent. I stopped here to look at the Weston Plats, a small plateau of land tucked into the cliffs, created where Upper Greenstone rocks meet Mercia Mudstone. This sheltered, sunny patch of land had been cultivated into profitable market gardens up until the 1960s; Dunscombe potatoes were highly sought after. This cottage industry declined from the 1930s when cheap imports became available. The cliff is totally overgrown now but there are still relics of machinery and the odd linhay (a shed for storing tools and harvested crops) visible.
It was very hot as I climbed the 162m up the other side of Weston Combe. There was no wind, even at the top, to ease the closeness and the sweating. There were a few shacks embedded in the cliff side in places, looking like linhays that had been converted into simple holiday homes.
The view across Lyme Bay was lovely as I made my way along Coxe’s Cliff to Berry Camp Fort, an Iron Age settlement, and then down to Branscombe Mouth.
Branscombe village looked nice, tucked in a valley surrounded by woods. Branscombe Mouth was quite busy with holidaymakers. There were lots of people on little pebble beach and in the (thatched cottage) cafe. I crossed the stream and carried on up the cliff the other side.
The Hooken Landslide of 1790 left a great chasm (Under Hooken) between the main cliff and a smaller one made up of a few rock pinnacles. The chalk and sandstone rocks now visible are from the Cretaceous Period (45-100 million years old). The chasm is filled with greenery and the path follows the edge, so you walk under the great, white, chalky cliffs (not red). It really is quite spectacular.
I could hear a peregrine falcon calling loudly on the cliffs above me. I kept looking and eventually I saw one swoop past a couple of times quite slowly. It must have been the parent encouraging its offspring because then I saw another one appear from the cliffs somewhere and the calling stopped.
From Beer Head I had commanding views all around Lyme Bay, from Berry Head near Brixham to Portland Bill. Stunning.
I had wanted an ice cream in Beer as my childhood memory of the place was of the biggest whippy ice cream I have ever eaten (it recall it was as big as my head!). There wasn’t an ice cream shack anymore, instead there were 3 cafes on the beach, as well as boats, tractors, beach huts and lots of people. I settled on a bacon and egg sandwich and a cup of tea to keep me going.
Beer seemed really well-kept and vibrant. There was live music outside the pub, a small heritage centre, lots of flowers everywhere. A charming, and busy, place tucked into the cliff where you can’t see it.
Beer is a proud community, with stories of its heritage plastered on boards about the place. I liked the fact that in the last 40 years, 25 people from Beer have sailed or rowed in small boats across the Atlantic Ocean. That must be a record number from such a small community.
I discovered that Beer luggers, a type of old fishing boat, are still raced in the bay and that Honiton Lace originated in Beer. Undeed, a lady from Beer made the lace for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress and lace-making was taught to girls in Beer primary school until the 1970s.
Eventually I left Beer and climbed over the cliff to Seaton. Due to a landslide the cliff path was closed; however, the tide was out enough for me to walk along the beach from Seaton Hole.
At the Seaton Hole geological fault line, the white, chalky, Cretaceous cliffs visibly met with red, sandstone, Triassic cliffs. It was quite a sight.
Seaton looked a bit old and tired as I walked along its promenade. I had decided not to carry on any further as the next stop was Lyme Regis, over 7 miles away. That was too far in the heat. At the far end of Seaton I crossed the River Axe and then walked along it to Axmouth. The campsite was right next to the river, and a pub with good wifi. Unbelievably, I also had 3G phone reception; I can only conclude that I must be nearing Dorset.
I went to sleep listening to the oyster catchers in the estuary. Bliss.