FRIDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2017
The weather is scheduled to turn. The last three days of our walk are all predicted to have heavy showers, with the first front due to arrive at 9am. As we haul our packs downstairs, the rain arrives. By the time we get outside, the rain and the wind are competing in fierceness. During the quarter of a mile walk from Wyke Regis back to the coastal path, we are walking headlong into both of them.
I am beginning to think that I don’t have enough resolve to battle like this for seven or eight hours when we turn left onto the Coastal Path and both wind and rain are instantly behind us; suddenly, the challenge ahead seems more manageable, although keeping the rain out of my eyes means that my view narrows to the back of Catherine’s waterproof trousers, framed by the dripping edge of my hood.
Missing Coastal Path signs mean we walk the two miles into Weymouth largely along the Rodwell Trail cycle way, sharing the flat route with cyclists and local dog walkers. The seafront is signposted at the end of the trail, taking us past a clock to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, rows of terraced B&Bs decorated with bunting, beached pedallos named after local landmarks and dignitaries and curious beach huts that have neither back nor sides. A short climb over a grassy hill takes us along to Fantasy Island with its abandoned rides forlorn beneath the leaden skies and the faded Art Deco ambitions of the Waterside Holiday Park and Spa.
The low cliffs hang dark in front of us, but as we continue along the four miles to Osmington Mills the rain ceases, much earlier than expected. We had promised ourselves a stop-off in the pub in Osmington to have some respite from the rain, but it proves unnecessary. However, the thatched Smugglers Inn looks so inviting we decide to stop anyway. We calculate from the 100 or so tables in the tiered gardens to the front that the pub is very popular; if so, it is popularity that is well justified. The welcome is warm, the interior as delightful as the exterior – also decorated with verses on the walls, but with additional finishes such as a rusting cannon – and the carrot cake and coffee delicious. We take our wet packs and coats off and collapse in deep sofas for an hour.
By the time we climb back out of Osmington, the temperature is rising; combined with our wet clothes we become humid and uncomfortable, so we change out of our waterproof trousers and into our normal walking trousers, lower legs removed to make shorts. Picking up the pace in shorts and shirt sleeves, we marvel that the day is turning out much better than anticipated. Although we have a couple more brief showers and grey skies for the rest of the day, every half hour without rain comes as a blessing, given the forecast, and we feel pretty blessed.
Beyond Osmington the terrain starts to get tougher – a shock after the easy walking around Fleet Lagoon and the Island of Portland. For the first time since Lyme Regis we need two walking sticks each, the cliffs rising and falling without respite. After a few climbs we are rewarded with two of the iconic landmarks of the Dorset coast: Bat’s Head lies immediately ahead of us, with Durdle Door visible a couple of miles away. We choose to have a late lunch by Bat’s Head before continuing to Durdle Door.
Very few people venture the extra hour to Bat’s Head, so we enjoy our lunch in complete tranquillity; by the time we get to Durdle Door there are dozens of tourists. It’s a beautiful and inspiring sight – it’s easy to see why it attracts visitors from around the world, including Bollywood fans who come to pay homage to the backdrop that features in many of their favourite films. As we make the steep descent on the stone-lined track into Lulworth, the size of the car park gives an indication of how many visitors there are in peak season.
Our B&B is up the hill in West Lulworth. It means an extra half mile walk, but the picture-postcard perfection of the village makes me glad of the detour. It’s an English rural idyll that is too delightful to miss; manicured thatches hunker down on golden stone cottages in patchwork gardens still punctuated by flashes of colour. Our B&B is the idiosyncratic Tewkesbury Cottage – wonky stairs, low ceilings, sloping walls. The bathrooms are shared, but there is a choice of a shower or a bath. When I peel off my sock to reveal that the hint of a blister on one of my toes has become a swollen mass that has doubled the size of the toe, I opt for a bath.
Our landlady tells us that the pub one minute up the road has “Ok food, but it’s only pub food” and that we’ll get more choice if we walk back down to the smarter hotels in the Cove. Our muscles are seizing up, so we opt for trying our luck up the road. We are rewarded with one of the best fish pies ever – with huge chunks of fish and a delicious sauce – and a long conversation with the Australian barmaid about the Camino de Santiago, which she completed with her sister, even though she “hates walking”. Taking more than 5 weeks, I make a note of it as a challenge for when I have retired.
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