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Archive for the ‘Dorset’ Category

As I pack away the tent for the last time this week the sun is out, there is birdsong on the air and it seems I have awoken to the perfect day, pure and incorruptible. How I would come to rue these foolish sentiments as dark deeds sullied the hours to come…

Senseless Death

I’m driving to the start of today’s walk and already it is going wrong as a catalogue of misery plagues Swanage in my wake. I’m barely out of the town when an elderly pigeon hops across the road in front of me. Surely it will fly away as I near. The view from my rear mirror tells another story.

Injured Bystander

Reeling from this act of madness I am no more than 50 yards on when an elderly lady takes a tumble on the pavement. Her family pick her up and dust her off but the omens are portentous. Have I angered the local deity?

I drive oh-so-carefully to the start of my walk, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel lest more suicidal wildlife attempts to dash underneath my new Hankook 205/55 R16’s. Shell Bay is a sand peninsula that forms the lower half of the “jaw” around Poole Harbour – the largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney. This land spit extends about 3 miles out and consists of unspoilt sandy beach, dunes and small lakes.

Shameless Nudity

Hiking gear adorned I set off down the beach back towards Swanage. The perfect sand is whipped up by 30mph gusts that create an ankle high dust storm. I imagine a martian storm must look something like this when viewed from space. The English channel laps at my feet and today it is teeming with activity with pleasure craft, sailing boats and jet skis weaving their way around a cross channel ferry destined for Poole.

Shell Bay

Shell Bay

A solitary figure approaches. As it nears I realise it is a man. He is naked! Resisting the urge to vomit I consider my options. Two people passing on an otherwise empty endless beach. You can’t just ignore each other. What is the protocol in this situation? A manly nod avoiding eye contact suffices. Signage further on confirms that I have just left a section of nudist beach.

A nudist beach?

A nudist beach?

Today is not the day for nudity but dressed appropriately it’s turning out to be a very rewarding walk and different to anything of the miles previously covered this week.

The seemingly endless beach ahead looks as if it has been transplanted from Australia or any number of other more exotic locations. You can sometimes forget the scenery we have on our own doorstep. There is the matter of the weather however. I wonder what this area is like when the sun is ablaze and the wind at bay.

Miles of sand

Miles of sand

Eventually the beach comes to at end at the rocky headland of Studland. The sand dunes here are home to a variety of specific plant life I have no names for these species but here’s some of the shoreline colour on display…

Colour in the dunes

Colour in the dunes

…not to mention the sun bleached seaweed – an important part of the local ecosystem.

A carpet of seaweed

A carpet of seaweed

My attempt to take a shortcut back onto the coastal path is only half successful – ie: I only got my left foot wet.

Wet & Dry

Wet & Dry

Boozy Celeb Loses It In Public

Before I started the drive down south I surfed a few walks and printed them out and todays walk is one from the list. It tells me I must take a minor detour inland from the path to visit a delightful ivy-strewn pub, the Bankes Arms in Studland. Do click on the link and take a look – there is an interesting history and it would make a fantastic place to stay for a weekend with the beach nearby and some great Purbeck Brewery beers on offer.

It’s busy at the bar with a heaving queue of tourists waiting to place lunchtime food orders. The bar staff are doing their best but it is no help when one mouthy southerner who looks a little bit like Karl Howman from brushstrokes starts to complain about the wait. Some of these so called celebs are happy to take the licence fee payers money but give them a drink and their doppelgangers want special treatment. It makes me sick.

...still angry about Emile Heskey...

...still angry about Emile Heskey...

I’m deep in thought about something. But what?

The walk resumes up past the Fort Henry wartime observation bunker. It was built as part of a top secret operation that saw Studland Bay used by allied forces to practice for the D-Day landings. This massive exercise using live ammunition involved a great many ships, men and vehicles, including a number of tanks that sank in the exercise and remain beneath the waves. A number of soldiers died in the course of these simulations and a memorial stone laid in 2004 remembers these young men.

The main draw for many visitors to this headland soon comes into view. The stacks and arches of “Old Harry” are a major landmark in these parts and apparently the mainland used to be joined to the Isle Of Wight via this headland although you can barely see the IoW today.

Old Harry

Old Harry

The path winds back down into Swanage from the north and there’s a good view despite the sub-optimal visibility.

Vista over Swanage Bay

Vista over Swanage Bay

Public Drug Menace

Back at sea level I walk along the sea front to find there are a lot more people out than when I left. There’s a man paddlesurfing (ie: stood on a board vertically with a paddle) to great effect. Some young people are stood watching and I’m shocked to smell narcotics on the air. What to do? There is no bobby in sight and I can’t perform a citizens arrest against 4 of them – a scuffle might break out. There’s only one thing for it. I resolve to write a letter to the Daily Mail on my return home.

They walk on water in Swanage

They walk on water in Swanage

Fraudulent Intent

Feeling understandably fragile after the day’s series of shocking events I might be forgiven for thinking that my ordeal was over but one more sickening episode plays itself out as I board the open top bus back to Shell Bay where I parked the car. A retired couple attempt to use an invalid bus pass in order to secure their passage to Bournemouth. The driver is alive to this act of fraud and a long drawn out dispute about the validity of the pass results in the driver ringing the local authority for advice. This plucky young driver is correct in his beliefs and the shamed criminals are forced to offer payment for their journey. I say – well done bus driver!

Death, injury, naked indecentness, vulgar celebrities, street drugs and fraud. Needless to say I can’t wait to leave this wretched place and be free of its destructive influences.

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The MET office lied again. By the time I’m repitched at a Swanage campsite (this one thankfully has grass instead of stone) the threat of rain has departed. There’s another 10 mile walk I had in mind but is it too late to embark at 3pm? Nah.

My ambivalence stems from the knowledge that today’s jaunt will be less challenging than Mondays affair, but also there is a pub I am gagging to visit. The coastal trail winds south out of Swanage with the climb rewarded by views over the bay.

Swanage Bay

Swanage Bay

The walk is never challenging but never dull. The path hugs the cliff tops passing a dolphin observation hut (no – I didn’t see any) a functioning lighthouse and a succession of old quarries sliced angularly into the shoreline. I wonder how many old buildings I have walked past might have been hewn of stone cut from these quarries 200 years ago.

One of many quarries

One of many quarries

A wonderfully engaging couple from Kansas share a few travel stories with me. They want to point out that they live in an enlightened university town – an enclave of academia surrounded by the all-pervasive bible belt the area is better known for. Next stop London and then onto Venice, Florence and Rome. Americans suffer a tenuous reputation at times but whenever I have met them they have been courteous, knowledgeable folk. On the news we mostly tend to hear about the Sarah Palin types who fail to see beyond their own back yard.

Purbeck coast path

Purbeck coast path

As the coastal leg of my circular walk nears its end my stride pattern matches that of a fellow walker. It turns out that Steven is a fascinating guy. He has come over from Germany to visit his retired father who lives in Bournemouth and now has a couple of weeks to walk the coast according to whatever schedule he feels like. He has booked lodgings in the village of Worth Matravers and I’m also headed that way. His walk started at Poole this morning so he has a good 8 mile start on me and is lugging the world on his back but seems not to feel it.

The much anticipated Square And Compass Pub exceeds my expectations. This old timber beamed inn reeks of history but there is nobody inside because the quirky beer garden affords beautiful views across the countryside to the sea. I choose ale and a home made pasty (that’s their only concession to food) and Steven opts for one of the many ciders.

Square And Compass pub

Square And Compass pub

Over the course of our conversation I learn that Steven lives in one of my favourite cities – Berlin – on the central Friedrichstraße nonetheless. He bids farewell but not before handing me his business card and offering me a roof next time I visit the city.

Coastal trail

Coastal trail

The sun is in descent over the ripening fields and their stone enclosures. The effect is simply inspiring and I only wish I had the skill/equipment to truly capture the spirit of this moment on my camera. (Note: my new blog header was snapped shortly after I left the pub).

Sunset over Purbeck

Sunset over Purbeck

It’s an easy flat 4 mile jaunt across the fields along the ancient Priests Way back to my campsite and in the middle of nowhere I stumble across a few people with some serious photographic kit. What are they doing here I nosily enquire. It’s a Sebastian Faulks photo shoot for a forthcoming BBC2 feature. I know of him – he occupies a good tranche of the top 100 books in Waterstones – but I have never read any of his stuff and don’t recognise him.

Road to nowhere?

Road to nowhere?

I think I’m almost home when I find myself in potentially dangerous situation. Cows are streaming out of one field, along my path and into the next field. There are hundreds of them and I can’t wait forever so I slot myself into the queue a respectful distance behind Ermintrude in front of me. All is well until a bottleneck ahead causes the procession to stall and then Daisy behind becomes a little distressed and starts to moo. This spooks Ermintrude who tries to stare me out. I’m trapped.

Daisy. Probably.

Daisy. Probably.

Rambler found trampled – business card suggests German tourist” is the headline that comes to mind. It takes a little bovine negotiation to ensure my safe escape from this corridor of uncertainty. I return unscathed and resolve to eat more beef.

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Sub Lyme

No walk Tuesday –my body refused to do hills. Evidently Monday’s journey was too much too soon. Here are some photos of Lyme Regis instead, a wonderful Devonian seaside town that I’m surprised to discover is in a different county to my campsite up the hill in Uplyme (Dorset).

Lyme has a long departed history as an international harbour thanks in large to its protective sea wall. Today the promenade is serenaded by colourful beach huts that will presumably flower open in a couple of weeks when the school holidays begin.

Beach huts

Beach huts

For now the threat of rain is ever present and mist shrouds the hills that were so clear yesterday.

Lingering mist

Lingering mist

The Lyme Cob protects the harbour and it seems an entirely natural part of the landscape.

Lyme Cob

Lyme Cob

Most of the vessels here are for leisure and there are no fishing boats to be seen today.

Boats in a row

Boats in a row

It’s hard to imagine the resort packed to the gills with sun seekers on such an overcast day but there remains an evocative quality of light which presumably goes some way to explaining the number of art galleries in the town.

Lyme Promenade

Lyme Promenade

Up until now the days highlight had been an intense and moreish fish soup at the Bay Café and Restaurant but a chance left hand turn down an innocuous road blows that away when I stumble across the heavenly Town Mill Bakery. It’s one of those brilliantly simple concepts that plants a big smile on your face and has you questioning why there isn’t something similar back home.

Bread of Heaven

Bread of Heaven

The bakery is based in a open barn style space with plenty of natural light. In the back half you can see the baking going on. Then there’s a long wooden counter lined with fresh breads, buns, scones, etc. You grab a wooden board, pile on whatever you want, optionally request a fresh coffee and find a place at one of the three long trestle tables to east. You can cut as many slices of bread as you like and (optionally) toast them for £2 and there are huge bowls of butter and jam on the tables that your neighbours will pass if requested.

Coffee and toast

Coffee and toast

I go back for more toast and could quite happily spend the rest of the day there eating toast, drinking coffee and reading. The experience is informal and relaxing. When you leave you tell somebody what you had they just trust you and take the money.

Pottering

Pottering

A stones throw away I found a refurbished water mill complex with art galleries, a pottery and a (sadly closed) microbrewery.

During my ramblings the Mist has turned to mizzle and onto haze and I head beyond The Cob onto Monmouth beach in search of the fossils that have made this section of the Jurassic Coast world famous. I’m not disappointed – there are plenty of rocks infused with 200 million year old critters. You can judge the size of the shell below by my size 10 foot alongside it.

Whopping great shell

Whopping great shell

I can’t help feeling that if I were standing here around the time this thing was alive I would rapidly become afternoon tea for something with large teeth and scales. On a related point I popped my head into a couple of fossil shops and was disappointed to find many of the fossilised shells, fish and teeth for sale had been dug up anywhere in the world except the local area.

Monmouth beach flora

Monmouth beach flora

That’s a taste of Lyme for you anyway. There’s a lot here and much more history to unravel if you have the time. Holiday season is probably best avoided but I may return one off-peak weekend when I fancy a change.

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Over the last month I set about writing a daily World Cup journal. On Sunday (world cup final day) I drove south to Dorset to spend a week walking and not blogging. After one day I find myself writing this blog entry and contemplating a week that may hold no further walking due to weather forcasts that suggest I should build an ark. So much for intentions.

I chose Dorset because I wanted to walk by the sea in an area I didn’t know. The wonderful South West coastal path extends out of Cornwall and through Devon into Dorset. Yesterday I arrived in Lyme Regis, donned my suspiciously clean walking boots and headed east.

This region is renown for coastal erosion and so it was no great surprise to discover a fairly major diversion inland for the first leg of my walk from Lyme over a links golf course into Charmouth.

Time for tee

Time for tee

It always happens when I walk past golf courses. I’m hopelessly attracted to them. It’s the perfect trimmed grass on the greens and the tee-off areas. It’s the uniform fairways. It’s the pristine paths. It’s the hand painted yardage boards. It’s also the fact that I’m sweating in the sun after a major hill climb with much more severe to come when I could be hitting a ball around with gay abandon. Truth is, I haven’t swung a club in anger for over ten years and last time I did, well, it made me angry.

Another lost ball

Another lost ball

Onward past the hackers, through the car park full of BMW cabriolets and into charming Charmouth. There’s a market today and I’m in a pottering mood so in I potter. It’s beguilingly familiar with clothes stalls, Asian businessmen selling everything from chisels to batteries plus the ubiquitous meat man selling pork by the pound to people who didn’t know they wanted it but were drawn in by his sales patter. You could be anywhere if it wasn’t for the west country accent.

I have resolved to be healthy this week as I am patently unfit and overfed by my normal standards. The gorgeous lemon drizzle cake that foist itself upon me is dealt with rapidly as if to minimise the window of guilt and my stride up a gruelling steep ancient byway is more urgent than it might otherwise have been.

The view from the top reveals ahead the highest point on the South Coast – Golden Cap. You can see where the name came from…

I have an admission to make and hopefully my hardened walker parents aren’t reading this or I will be in for some stick. My preparation for this walk has not involved the acquisition of a map. Look – it’s a coastal walk. If I get wet I’ve gone too far south. The only real issue here is that I don’t know exactly how far I’m walking or what elevations I should expect to encounter.

Golden Cap ahoy

Golden Cap ahoy

Fortunately the coastal path is well signposted as expected, even when land slippage has resulted in detours inland. Like all the best summits Golden Cap cons you into thinking it is closer and lower than you think. It’s no big deal in the scheme of things, certainly nothing compared to last years Lake District jaunts, but for my first walk in six months on a hot day the climb takes a bit out of me.

Purple Reign

Purple Reign

Luckily there are myriad reasons to break the ascent. Wild flowers carpet the hillside and the coastal views demand my attention in either direction.

Eastward Ho

Eastward Ho

The superior altitude of Golden Cap provides a perspective on the landscape not immediately apparent from lower down. It’s not just the bays either – the farmland to the north is compelling in its own way. The rolling hills have been worked for time immemorial although any sense of permanence is an illusion – coastal erosion means these fields are living on borrowed time.

I had better speed up then. The descent is steep but clean and smooth. There is no scree, no boulders, just soft smooth turf that makes walking a pleasure. There is a welcome cooling breeze but the landscape tells me this tranquility is not the norm…

Windswept tree

Windswept tree

From the highest point down to sea level at imaginatively named Seatown. There isn’t much here other than a shingle beach and a fine old pub but conveniently those are the only two things I crave for right now. A pint of something local and delicious allows time for me to air my abused feet and read another chapter of the travel writers booked I picked up from my own pub last week for 20p. I’m not a prolific reader but I like to read about places I am travelling to, or in this case places other people are travelling to. I may appear to be sat outside a Dorset pub but I am in fact sitting on an Italian commuter train engrossed in social contrivances as witnessed by the author.

Every hiker knows that feeling after the lunchtime pub stop when the stiff limbs are called upon to scale the next hill. The next peak is a shadow of Golden Cap but doesn’t feel it. The view back east provides some reward at least.

View East

View East

My destination is West Bay and now it is visible ahead, prodding out beyond the cliffs, actual distance unknown.

View to West Bay

View to West Bay

As the path descends gently into West Bay I come across a bench (thankfully nobody died to get this one erected) and I consume the nectarine I purchased back in Lyme. I often ponder the improbable journeys undertaken by fruit. Somebody grows a plant in southern Europe or South America, the goods are harvested, shipped to Northern Europe, distributed regionally by lorry and bought by locals (or visitors like me). It seems reasonable to expect the purchaser to take said item of fruit home and fulfil its anticipated destiny, but further fruit miles may be incurred as in today’s coastal relocation. I have been known to ferry fruit to and from work for several days before consigning it to my compost bin in a state of decay. If reports are to be believed the British public compound their under-consumption of fruit by chucking a quarter of it away uneaten. All in all it amounts to a contrived voyage that may or may not conclude digestively.

I blame my dalliance with fruit miles on the boredom one has to deal with when awaiting a bus in a place that has less attraction than the time available demands. West Bay centres around a modest marina of sorts. There’s a couple of cafes, a pub and a few fish and chip stalls for the tourists but that’s about it. My bus back to Lyme Regis runs every two hours and with 75 minutes to wait I read my travel book in a bus shelter with a cup of coffee as the rain arrives. I’m tired, achy and just want to get back.

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