If anyone has read my previous reviews, they will know that my family and I are trying to complete the SWCP and at this stage we were only 37 miles away from the end, Poole in Dorset. My son, one of my grandsons and I decided to go down for a few days and then my son’s partner was going to join us for the weekend. We set off for a smooth 3 hour drive and instead of going straight to our accommodation we headed straight to Osmington Mills, parked the car and got a bus back to Weymouth. (This was where we finished the walk on our last trip). The South of England has been having record temperatures this month and Dorset was no different. Luckily the bus was one of those coastal open top buses and that made us feel like we were just holiday makers and not about to start another gruelling hot sticky walk!
WEYMOUTH TO OSMINGTON MILLS
At Weymouth we followed the sea wall. The beaches were packed and we stopped to buy an icecream (again, pretending we were just holiday makers!) We then walked past the RSPB lagoons and Jordan Hill (where there are the remains of a Roman Temple) and reached Overcombe Corner and then Bowleaze Cove. Along the route were a lot of camp sites (REAL campsites where people were pitching their own tents and for one nanosecond I thought “that looks like fun”, then I saw the shower block and the toilets and remembered that type of holiday was not for me!) The Path then went up a road parallel to the coast in the fields inland and south of the Riviera Hotel (which looked very grand but is now deserted). The cliffs have been eroding here with spectacular speed and there was a small detour off the Path. As we passed the PGL Outdoor Adventure Site the Path went back to the cliff top but then inwards to the top of the fields. We had a clear view of the Osmington White Horse cut into the hillside. It is a depiction of George III riding on it and was cut into the hill to commemorate his many visits to the area at the end of the 18th century. We were then at Osmington Mills and we had started our walk with a 4.8 miles trek. We then picked up our car and drove to our rented house in Wareham. This tiny little house was right by Wareham station and from my window I could see the trains rushing past. We also had the noise of the bell on the level crossing going every time a train came through! At first we thought this was an irritating car alarm going off regularly but then realised it was the level crossing warning system. Amazingly after a couple of days we hardly noticed it any more!
OSMINGTON MILLS TO LULWORTH COVE:
Another really hot day! We got the bus from Wareham station to Osmington Mills this morning. (It seems John Constable, the painter had his honeymoon here. A picture of Bowleaze Cove hangs in the National Gallery). We started off from The Smugglers Inn which was the headquarters of the famous smuggler Pierre La Tour, known locally as French Peter. The Path headed up the hill and then continues along the cliff top for another 1.5 miles. We passed Ringstead, a small modern settlement and nearby is the the site of the deserted mediaeval village of Ringstead. Local legend says French pirates burnt it to the the ground, killed all the men and carried off all the women and children but it’s demise could also be down to The Black Plague or just poor economy. In the correct conditions (and our guide book didn’t tell us what those conditions might be!) remains of the cottages and streets can still be seen. Unfortunately we saw nothing! After Ringstead (the modern one) which has a nice pebbly beach and rock pools, the Path passes through an area of thicket. We emerged on to a lawn beside Burning Cliff (so called because it ignited spontaneously in the 19th century and became a popular tourist attraction). The Path then headed East to the landward side of the Chapel of St Catherine. The Path is a pleasant cliff top walk for the next 3 miles and the cliff top breeze was very welcome! At White Nothe (one of the highest cliffs along the Dorset coast) you have great views of Weymouth and the Isle of Portland. There is a very precipitous path down to the beach but we kept to the SWCP. The Path keeps to the cliff edge and we saw, to the East, Bat’s Head (a triangular cliff jutting out of the sea with a narrow cave going through it). Beyond that is Durdle Door. This perfect limestone archway is undoubtably one of the most well known and most photographed points of the whole SWCP. (Durdle Door is saxon for “through” and “door” referring to the hole through the archway). Our guide book told us to look out for the Lulworth Skipper ( a golden brown butterfly discovered near here in 1832) and I do believe we saw quite a few of them which I was very thrilled about! The Path became very up and down at this point and the heat made it particularly strenuous. In one of the down sections was Scratchy Bottom which made my grandson laugh! After descending and ascending quite steep parts of the Path, Lulworth Cove came into view. It is a beautiful horseshow shaped bay and was, on this hot day, quite crowded. By now I was hobbling along, my grandson was leaping around like a mountain goat and my son was plodding along in his usual way. One thing that I was getting very annoyed about was that benches along this route are very few and far between! At the top of each ascent I was ready for a sit down but no, not a bench in sight! Lulworth Cove was our finishing point today and I was very very glad to get there. We had done 6 miles today and my feet had made a mental and physical note of each step! Not wanting to go out again once we finally got back to the house, we had frozen pizzas for dinner!
LULWORTH COVE – KIMMERIDGE BAY
We had arranged to meet a local taxi driver at Kimmeridge Bay this morning at a certain time so we spent most of the early morning trying to get my grandson to get up and shower in time! At Kimmeridge Bay there is a toll road that you have to pay £6 for but this includes a day’s parking so we were happy to pay this. Our taxi driver was a lady called Angie (07545776716) and I would highly recommend her if you need a taxi in that area. Very chatty and very helpful she helped us work out some difficult routes where there is no bus route. Angie dropped us back at Lulworth Cove so we could start our days walking. Today was another up and down stretch and it was very isolated, we passed no shops or villages. It was 6.1 miles but it felt double that. There were spectacular views and every time we crested a high ascent there was another beautiful cove below us. BUT NO BENCHES111 After the beautiful Lulworth Cove was Stair Hole where the sea is washing away the limestone to form another cove and you can see the Lullworth Crumple (extraordinary folds of rock). The Path then goes through the Lulworth Ranges and this cannot be used when the Range is in use. Luckily it was not being used this day and this meant we didn’t have to make the 13 mile detour that would have been necessary if it was closed! We kept seeing signs telling us to keep to the path as they use live ammunition and if we touch anything it could explode! In fact parts of the route looked like a tank graveyard. Many rusty tanks and cannons were visible from the Path. We also saw Lulworth Castle in the distance. We passed through the Fossil Forest (a site of special scientific Interest) and Mupe Rocks. We then ascended (yet again) to the top of Bindon Hill. Next was Arish Mell, a small shingle beach with chalk cliffs (there is no access to the beach here as it has not been cleared of explosives). Another sharp rise to Flowers Barrow then an even sharper descent to Worbarrow Bay (which was a small fishing settlement until 1943). The beach here was very pretty and peaceful.
We then came to a sign to Tyneham. This village was requisitioned by the army in 1943 and the villagers never returned. Part of it has now been restored but we really couldn’t face the 2 mile detour so we just carried onwards. We passed Gold Down and Gad Cliff. Stunning views all the time. It was such a hot day we had all run out of drinking water when we arrived at Kimmeridge Bay so the sight of the food/drink stalls there were very welcome. We were so hot, we got our swimsuits from the car and went in for a swim! Despite the rocks and seaweed it felt glorious and revived us all. Kimmeridge Bay isn’t the most picturesque bay but, at that point, we all thought it was wonderful! As we headed back to our house a deer ran across the road in front of us! In all my 72 years I have seen all those “Beware for Deers” signs but this was the first time I have actually seen one bound across the road!
KIMMERIDGE BAY TO WINSPIT VALLEY:
This morning we went through the normal “hurrying the grandson along” routine and set off to park the car in Worth Matravers where we met chatty Angie for a second time. She took us to Kimmeridge Bay where we had finished yesterday (actually this beach has fossils and the rock formations here make it very popular with geologists worldwide). We headed up the first hill to Clavel Tower. Built as a folly in the 19th century and later used as a coastguard lookout, it is now a holiday home owned by the Landmark Trust. The next part of the walk was very pleasant, straight along the cliff tops for 2 miles. I was lulled into a false sense of security as I had hoped it was like this for the rest of the walk but that was not to be! We started heading down by Freshwater Steps and came into the Gwyle (the local name for a small valley) and then the Path rose steeply to Houns-tout cliff. An exhausting climb (and I have blisters now!). At least there was a bench at the top where we could have our sandwiches and admire the incredible view. Because of cliff erosion there is a diversion here into the valley and through sheep fields. The detour signs sent us past Hill Bottom Cottage, over a bridge with a dried up stream below it and through a bridle gate. The we ascended Emmet’s hill (Emmet is dialect for ant but this was no mere ant hill!). Another pleasant cliff top walk followed until we came to a very steep set of steps and then almost immediately up again! Absolutely exhausting and we were all out of water again. At the top of the hill we saw a Coast Watch station and we visited this to chat to the Coast Watchers and for a small donation they let us have a bottle of water each! This was right by St Aldhelm’s Chapel and we made a brief visit here. It was so cool inside! St Aldhelm was a Saxon Bishop of Sherbourne and the name is sometimes called St Albans probably because the modern tongue finds St Aldhelms difficult to pronounce. The Chapel is obviously still used at certain times as it was well maintained inside. There is also a memorial to the radar research that took place here during WWII. Rehydrated we carried on and were soon at Winspit Valley. Winspit is a small group of stone quarries last worked during WWII. We left the Path here and headed 1.75 miles into Worth Matravers where we had left the car. We did 7 miles today and my feet were blistered and now my knees were hurting. It is amazing how the hot weather makes everything worse! That night my son’s partner joined us eventually (she had to abandon one train on the way down from London because the rails were over heating!) and we had a chinese takeaway.
WINSPIT VALLEY TO SWANAGE:
Pauline, my son’s partner, was not as keen as us to walk in the heat so this morning she drove us to Winspit Valley and then her and my grandson headed off to amuse themselves. (The glee on my grandson’s face when he found out he didn’t have to walk today was quite funny!) Scott and I headed off and the walk was not too hard today. We had a fairly sharp incline up the cliff but then it was mainly along the side of the cliffs. We passed behind the quarries to Seacombe. From the back of the ledges at Seacombe Cliff the Path leads to Headbury Quarry. From the cliffs we looked down and saw one of the cannons from the ship, the Halsewell. This ship was on it’s way to India in 1786 when it was caught in a violent storm and destroyed. 166 people died. Further along the cliff we came to Dancing Ledge. It is a rocky outcrop with a small swimming pool cut into the rock by quarrymen at the beginning oof the 20th century. (No one is sure why it is called Dancing Ledge but some say it is because it is the size of a dance floor). There were lots of birds along this route and amazing amount of butterflies!) As we walked through the fields we could clearly see the patterns made by the mediaeval strip lynchets. We passed Durlston County Park and then saw Anvil Point Lighthouse just ahead of us. The Path then goes very close to the cliff and is not a rough country track anymore but a tarmac path as it leads to Durlston Castle. This was a folly built by Mr Burt, a Swanage man who brought lots of mementos down from London. We spotted some bollards and a clock tower and he also built an emormous limestone globe. The Castle is now a visitor centre. We met Pauline and Andre (my grandson) here and they joined us for the last part of todays walk. It was actually a lovely last two miles (made more pleasant by the fact that I took my walking boots off and wore sandals for this section! Oh, how pleased my blisters were to breathe fresh air!). The Path was like a promenade with spectacular views of the Isle of Wight then we came out on the (scorched) lawns of Peveril Point. We sat here by the Coast Watch station then walked to the other side of the pier into Swanage itself. It looks like a nice little seaside town and was heaving with people. Pauline and I sat watching the swimmers and paddle boarders whilst my son and grandson walked back to Durlston Castle to get the car. 6.6 miles today and the end of our walk for now.
We had very much hoped to finish the SWCP this trip but because of the heat and the arduous up and down sections we are 7 miles short of the finish. We are now going to arrange one last trip down to Dorset to get us to Poole and the finishing line. Hopefully the whole family will come with us on that trip, so watch this space!
We had another morning in Dorset before heading home and so we took a trip to the nearby Corfe Castle which was a lovely end to the trip. Lots for kids to do and the ruins of the castle, perched on its hill, are very impressive to see. One final ice cream in the gardens and then we headed back to London.