Olly Writes

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Dorset Coastal Walk – Winspit to Old Harry Rocks (Part 1)

Saturday 18th July 2015

It’s now been more than a week since my most recent trip down to Dorset. As the weather has changed quite significantly, I thought it might be a good time to begin retracing my most latest steps along the South West Coast Path.

In this, Part 1; I follow the SWCP from Winspit east to Durlston Head, which is close to the halfway mark on my walk.

This year, I decided to leave my car at the camp site in Harman’s Cross so, ahead of reaching the sea, I had to hike for a good three-miles southwards before reaching the coastline. It was close to 9.10 by the time I left the camp site, after almost forgetting to top up my hydration bladder and spare water bottle.

Having wandered out and along the lane around twelve-hours earlier, I knew that it was going to be an uphill climb from the word go. Along the way, you could spot Corfe Castle from a distance [above] and then, just right of the rooftop in the photo below, you can just make out a couple of white caravans with a large green shed to the right – that’s the Harman’s Cross Campsite where I decided to pitch for the weekend.

Reaching the top of Haycrafts Lane and its T-junction, a runner crossed my path before I’d be venturing on to my first section of green land for the day’s walk. Based on my experiences elsewhere in Dorset from twelve-months ago, I was concerned that I might again have to force my way through depths of long grass…

But to my delight, a clear passage led the line through every gate and stile.

Although these sheep, for some reason, gave me a rather unpleasant look.

Closing in on the village of Worth Matravers, I got my first sighting of the clear blue sea beyond the Jurassic coastline. There was no other rock or land-formation for as far as my eyes could see.

At the heart of this village, lies a stone sculpture which I’ve since learned is titled The Egg.

There was no plaque that I could see and it doesn’t even appear to be designated on an OS map (compared to something else I discovered towards the very end of this walk).

In my passing, it seemed like a nice little village. There wasn’t an awful lot going and I felt the impression that does not change throughout a working week.

I took a chance on an unsigned left-turn beside a row of houses and it turned out to be the way I had hoped to walk. This route would see me descend gradually in to the depth of the valley, Winspit Bottom.

This was the official start point of my coastal walk. It had taken me slightly under one-hour to reach Winspit.

As I began to climb an unexpectedly steep set of steps in an easterly direction, I could turn back, catch my breath and also a glimpse of what appeared to be a cave-like opening in the eastern face of West Man. There was a temptation to turn back, take a look and then return to this point… But with a good fifteen-miles still to walk, I reminded myself that it would still be there for another day.

With my heartbeat returning to a more acceptable pace, the coastline ahead began to grow in front of my eyes:

There were no strenuous hills or vertical sections ahead, or at least, as far as I could see. That was a good feeling compared to the succession of severe ups-and-downs between Lulworth Cove and Ringstead Bay this time last year.

I don’t think I’d passed any other walkers along the coast path at this point, although I did greet two couples who were on the way up, as I was making my descent in to Winspit.

My greatest obstacle so far was this flock of sheep, tightly wrapped around the metal kissing gate I needed to pass through. Unlike cows though, you only have to look at one for it to run away, taking the rest of its empire in tow.

In case you haven’t walked the South West Coast Path before; you may find it reassuring to know that the path is regularly waymarked with stone slabs like the one you can see above. Following a coastal path isn’t too difficult when you can see the water but a Completionist may need to be aware of the ‘danger’ where other footpaths run parallel and within close proximity.

Beyond Seacombe Cliff, I passed a hollow beneath me that had attracted a couple of day-trippers.

A little further along and I arrived at Dancing Ledge – a popular site for tourists and enthusiasts alike, which apparently earned its name through the false effect of where the wavers appear to make the lower ledge ‘dance‘ amongst the beautiful water. Apparently, this is the site of a former quarry.

A group of people, dressed in wetsuits, crossed my path from the northerly direction of Langton Matravers.

From further up the hill ahead, I could see them making their way in to the water to join another group. But without canoes, kayaks or any form of transportation, it was hard to know exactly what they were doing… Snorkelling? I didn’t see any snorkels or oxygen tanks.

That was after braving my way past this herd of cattle.

Although one began to closely follow a pair of women in the family ahead of me, the rest did not seem at all bothered. I guess the attraction and popularity of the SWCP has made them feel more accustomed to others crossing their land.

Before the Cocker Spaniel jumped in to the trough filled with water, neither of these two cows were thirsty, I swear!

I was contemplating a brief rest and a snack of my own at this point, having already made good progress. It looked as though I would be arriving in Swanage about lunchtime. But with a long distance still to cover, I didn’t want to risk over-doing it as this stage, with so many unknown steps still to come.

I overtook one family and a few others before passing these mile indicator posts. Someone, somewhere, recently raised the question of why these are still in use, giving the luxury of GPS technology we now have available. Not to mention the fact that a nautical mile is different to one-mile that you might travel by foot or by car.

Passing through a kissing gate, the fence to my right soon gave way to a grass ledge leading down to a vertical drop… I decided to rest here for a little bit; allowing the others to catch up and carry on ahead as I completed this selfie in no more than two attempts.

After ten-minutes (and, realising I still couldn’t get a phone signal), I set off in order to regain my lead at the head of the crowd. Along the way, I passed this former lighthouse at Anvil Point; close to what must be the most southern-easterly point along the entire 630 miles of the South West Coast Path.

In spite of its appearance, this is slightly less residential that another former-lighthouse up in Burnham-on-Sea. Nobody lives here although, I did read that you can apparently rent the cottage for a weekend – at a staggering cost of over £400 a night?!

Then, I came across the Tilly Whim Caves.

Access is strictly forbidden at this time, due to safety concerns.

From here, I could look out across the sea to the vague glimpse of white cliffs, many miles across the water…

My instinctive reaction was to regard it as a portion of the French coast… I’ve no idea whether the north-western coast of France is lined with limestone cliffs but I quickly realised that I was being overly optimistic. Thinking practically for a moment, these could not have been the White Cliffs of Dover, either. I decided this feature must also continue much, much further along the Jurassic Coast than I had anticipated.

On the approach to Durlston Head, I noticed a dry-stone wall that had been repaired quite recently. I wonder if that was anything to do with the crashing waves that destroyed the steps down to Durdle Door last year?

From here, at the right time of year, you can spot dolphins in the water, along with many more common forms of wildlife. You’d probably need your binoculars and my visit was during the ‘off-peak’ season in any case.

On my way inland briefly to explore the castle, I spotted what is detailed on the OS map as The Globe and, according to the internet, also goes by the title of Great Globe.

Made from local Portland Stone; plaques around the site depict some rather brain-suqeezing facts about our true place in the universe.

More of these can be found upon the walls that define the folly of Durlston Head Castle.

Within the castle’s gardens, I discovered a quite modern series of sculptures:

Titled ‘The Pity of War’ and created by John Bartholemew; each head remembers and represents the local lives lost in past wars.

Me, I just think they’re a little bit too creepy!

From here, I could begin to make out the bay of Swanage:

It was close to the halfway point on my nineteen-mile walk and so, I’m going to end Part 1 here, with the promise of the remainder to come quite soon in Part 2.

Thank you for reading!

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6 responses to “Dorset Coastal Walk – Winspit to Old Harry Rocks (Part 1)

  1. jcombe 29/07/2015 at 23:45

    A stretch of coast I know well, looks like you had a good day for it, too. You can go into the caves at Winspit I think (near the start). The white cliffs you could see are I think those at Worbarrow Bay further west (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncombe/19443929664 for a photo of it). Not sure if you got any further west, but Chapmans Pool, just west of Winspit is a favourite of mine.

    • Olly Parry-Jones 01/08/2015 at 13:25

      Thanks, Jon and thanks for the photo. Had I been able to drive down and set my tent up a few hours earlier, my plan was to do a shorter walk that took in Kimmeridge and Chapman’s Pool on the even of this big walk. I may still drive down there for a day out this year but I know it will still be there for my likely return in 2016. 🙂

  2. Ruth Livingstone 30/07/2015 at 16:49

    19 miles seems a challenging distance. Lovely reliving this section of the SWCP, even if your walk is in the reverse direction of mine. I remember heading west from Swanage and the tremendous feeling of excitement (mixed with fear) as I set off. I felt I was heading into a great untamed landscape. Good blog post.

    • Olly Parry-Jones 01/08/2015 at 13:23

      Thanks, Ruth. I would’ve preferred to have set a limit of 15 miles but I really didn’t fancy getting the train back when I could walk along the Purbecks! 🙂 Having completed this walk, I can say I believe you walked in the best direction; leaving civilisation at the start to fully appreciate the coastline to come. Maybe it shows in my writing but I did find it difficult approaching over-crowded Swanage after several miles of white cliffs and blue sea with nothing beyond.

  3. stever 31/07/2015 at 15:10

    Hi, Thanks for the recent like. Your blog is really good, plenty of photos which are excellent. I am walking the SWCP started at Minehead doing a week at at time so it will take a while but our group have now rounded Lands End. Hope to do some more later this year. Keep up the good work!

    • Olly Parry-Jones 01/08/2015 at 13:20

      Thank you for taking a look at my blog. I’ve just posted Part 2 to the walk I did, in case you haven’t subscribed. That sounds like a good way to do it. I often wonder how others can afford to take the month or so to walk the entire route in one go. Not to mention the commitment to leave ‘life’ behind for so long. Sounds like you’re group is making great progress!

I welcome your thoughts.

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