Good Friday – 25th March 2016
While I cannot speak for the whole of the UK; down here in the south-west, we were fortunate to have one beautiful day of weather on Good Friday, whilst the rest of the long weekend was spoilt with storms of high wind and heavy rain.
This was an opportunity I took for an extensive coastal walk. For the first time since July, I would join the South West Coast Path in Dorset.
For each of the previous two years, I’ve spent a long weekend down in this part of the world; camping for two nights, a day of coastal walking and another at a National Trust property. With personal circumstances changing and money likely to be ‘less available‘ over the summer, I didn’t want to miss out on my ‘annual’ coastal walk here, which only encouraged me to head down there sooner.
I also liked the idea of an early-spring/late-winter walk along the Jurassic Coast. One month earlier may’ve been too soon. Four-and-a-half weeks later and there could’ve been twice as many ramblers following the coast.
It was a good two-hour drive down from my home in North Somerset. I’d planned to get up slightly earlier than usual, to leave around 6am and arrive somewhere between 8am and 8.30… In reality, I left my flat closer to 7.15, purchase fuel along the way (paying in the kiosk and not at the pump, might I add) and I arrived, via my SatNav, a little after 9.30.
Worth Matravers was my destination; a few miles south of Corfe Castle. There’s a signposted pay-and-display car park near the heart of the village (I think it’s £2 per day) but I chose to drive a little bit further west and park, for free, at Renscombe Farm.
Heading back in towards the village to begin my walk and join the SWCP, close to where I started last year, on a walk that took me to Old Harry Rocks near Studland; I found myself growing increasingly desperate for a wee. I’d thought about doing it on the wall in the car park and, as I crossed one field towards a farmyard, with a line of houses looking down at me from the left; I certainly began to wish as though I had tried.
I was looking to join the coast path at Seacombe. In July, I started at Winspit to continue east, meaning I would briefly overlap my steps on this route. But I could strongly remember admiring the path that following a valley between hills, leading down towards the sea.
Before nearing the water, I would have to find and follow the path, which first led me down to the bottom of the valley and then, steeply up the other side. Climbing a hill whilst almost physically bursting for a wee is not the kind of experience I would recommend. There were dog walkers at the top of the hill… Half of me want to unzip and unload at the foot of the valley, while the other side of my brain argued that I should simply wet myself and get it over with… ‘The warm weather would soon dry me off‘…
That resulted in a stalemate, where upon reaching the hilltop, I waited for others to walk on before climbing a stone wall to pee on the other side. This also offered privacy from the houses I had left behind.
From here, I went a bit wayward; disregarding my map to follow my eyes, which were solely focused on the bright blue water… I found a kissing gate alright and this led me somewhat close to the coast but apparently without a footpath. Was I walked on open access land? As the questions began to mount, I returned to my map, only to learn that I should’ve followed the direction as indicated beyond the wall I had previously chosen to relieve myself upon.
Everything began to feel better from here. I was leaving civilisation behind; the sea was almost within reach and my bladder had been emptied. I wouldn’t meet another walker until a pair of ramblers descended a series of steps towards me as I met with the coastal path at Seacombe Bottom.
There it was, with the waves crashing some way beneath me:
Suddenly, that two-hour drive after being awoken by my bladder at 2am; it all seemed worth it.
Continuing west from here and I found my way to Winspit, the point at which I joined the SWCP in July:
I’d noticed these caves then but, as I was heading in the opposite direction, I decided not to investigate any further.
Here, the South West Coast Path skirts up and around the top of the cliffs, which are also frequented by rock climbers. This site was once a quarry, according to what I’ve been reading.
You can walk beneath the cliffs and around each of the excavated areas. It must be a refreshing space in the heigh of summer although, do not be surprised if the occasional drip hits you.
Most of the ‘entrances’ here are lead to a dead-end. But, near the south-western corner of the former quarry, there’s one that allows you to walk through and on to another section of coast (albeit, away from the footpath).
I’d already spent a good twenty-minutes here, exploring the area. As it was getting on for 10.30, I considered stopping for a cup of tea and some snacks as I continued to watch the waves…
But I had hoped to stop for lunch, on time, at Kimmeridge Bay and, from merely glancing at my map, I knew that it was still quite far away.
Continuing west along the coast path, I look down to see the ruins of what I first assumed was the chapel, as I arrived at St. Aldhelm’s Head.
Straight ahead, you can see the white radar station, with the actual chapel off to the right. I’m still unsure of what these four stones are in the foreground.
There was also this monument, which has been standing since 2001.
Then, I came to a deeply inviting bench where, at 11am, I decided to stop, rest and eat something, for ten-minutes or so. An older woman promptly sat down next to me. We didn’t exchange anything more than a ‘hello’ and later a ‘goodbye’ but I was curious to know more about her own experience of the coastline. I just didn’t have the confidence.
Behind us, a large group had gathered around a selfie stick, pointed up towards the Heavens.
At the time, I’d not given any thought to exploring the chapel. I guess there’s always a next time. I think that’s also the woman you can see, continuing her walk after we said our goodbyes.
These views were stunning and I could look forward to walking several miles further along this coastline, even if Kimmeridge (and my lunch stop) remained so very far away. But while the coast appeared to level out ahead; more immediately, I would have to contend with a classic coastal walking challenge:
Less-experienced folk will often regard walking downhill as being comparatively easier than climbing up something of the same gradient…
Taking two careful steps for each and every tread, I found my left-hand reaching for a handrail that did not exist, as my right arm repeatedly drove my walking pole in to the turf. By the time I reached the bottom, my knees were a little sore and I felt ‘off-balance’… Now, I would have to climb up to the far side of the cliffs!
I think I only stopped a couple of times, on the way to the top of Emmetts Hill, where the view to the westward grew ever more desirable:
Down beneath and, at the same time, ahead of me, I could also now see Chapman’s Pool:
On a shorter walk and less-adventurous excursion, I might’ve descended down the slopes (there are two paths) to experience Lulworth Cove’s lesser-known cousin. As Jon Combe once wrote on his blog; this space doesn’t seem to receive as many visitors or as much attention as those a little further west. It even looks like there may be sand here, where Durdle Door and co. and lined with pebbles.
A table with two benches had been built in memory of Royal Marines who gave their lives between 1944 and 1990:
Every so often, following the stone wall that continues north along West Hill, there was a plaque with words inscribed:
I’ve no idea what they were in reference to. Does anyone else know?
I’d been walking somewhere between two an three hours… I’d covered so much and yet, I was only a few hundred metres from the car park I started at!
From here, the South West Coast Path heads down to a quiet road (strangely) returning to the coast. Looking at an OS map, you could cut out this detour by dropping down to Chapman’s Pool and then climbing up the other side although, I’ve no experience of those paths myself. But following the SWCP either way, you’re soon faced with another gruelling ascent:
So soon after those “vertical” steps, my calves were beginning to feel as though they might just burst. I was beginning to feel highly unprepared for this adventure but I wasn’t about to blame it on driving or travel top. Stopping four or five times along the way, I soon made it to the top.
From here, I could admire Houns-tout Cliff and beyond.
Several miles coastal walking lay ahead. For now, at least; the route would begin to level out.
By now, I was growing hungry, with my legs becoming increasingly tired.
There was a beauty about this stretch that I would find hard to appreciate. Perhaps it was the sudden increase of coastal walkers heading past me (I wanted to warn them all about the cliffs soon to follow). This was the point of the walk at which I decided to add sun cream to my face, when my left-hand was already red.
Ultimately, I was growing in hunger and unable to find that perfect lunch stop, ahead of the previously-intended bay… Every one of the best spots was already taken.
Someone once told me that the Kimmeridge Ledges were as white as the chalk cliffs of those I’ve walked in each of the previous two years… Maybe I just happened to be walking by in the wrong season, as all I saw beneath me was grey.
Somewhere between Clavell’s Hard and an area location as Cuddle. “One more hill“, I kept repeating to myself, “…and then I will stop for lunch…” But with each ascent, I would only find a filled vacancy or, insufficient room to sit clear and away from the path.
13.30 approached and went and I continued along this path far and beyond 14.00
Up ahead, it looked as though Kimmeridge Bay was just around the corner. But I’ll continue from here in Part 2, where I’ll soon begin to turn inland.
Thanks for reading.