My final challenge before my #50Challenges – Day 5

FRIDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2017

2017-09-08 12.13.20.jpgThe 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.

2017-09-08 11.05.35

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.

2017-09-08 14.20.35The 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.

2017-09-08 16.51.03

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.

2017-09-08 17.17.47Very 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.

2017-09-08 17.37.23Our 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.

To find out more and to get involved, visit 50challenges.org

 

Copyright – Content and photographs – 50 Challenges Limited

My final challenge before my #50Challenges – Day 4

THURSDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER 2017

2017-09-07 11.03.17.jpg

I am not optimistic about the Island of Portland.   Its flat cliffs have looked grey and uninspiring rising ahead of us as we neared Wyke Regis, and the Ordnance Survey map shows denser population around (largely abandoned) quarries.  But to complete the South West Coastal Path in its entirety, we have to navigate its circumference.  I fear it is one of the very rare sections of the SWCP that I won’t particularly enjoy.

The first hour is absorbed by trekking back down to the Coastal Path and then east to the end of Chesil Bank to Ferrybridge, which is followed by a long, straight road – the one route on and off the island.  The only remarkable element of this stretch is the dawning realisation of the vastness of Portland Harbour; it’s no wonder it provided the venue for the sailing events of the 2012 Olympics.

2017-09-07 12.36.37

We follow the guide book’s advice to walk clockwise round the island, so that – for a change – the sea is on our left.  This takes us through the modernised Ocean Quay, past Henry VIII’s Portland Castle and up around the outskirts of the forbidding Verne Prison, built in the 19th century as an army barracks against French pretensions.  The path is unpromising as it passes tall wire fences protecting quarries for the famous white Portland stone, but a steep descent brings the sea back into view while also bringing the cliffs into imposing perspective.

2017-09-07 12.19.31A gentle, consistent climb takes us to the remains of Rufus Castle, with a fabulous spiralling sculpture in the ground, and the delightful Church Ope Cove.  A short climb puts us back on the cliff tops for an easy trek to the southernmost tip, Portland Bill.  The wind picks up considerably as we near the headland, as do the currents; the water is noticeably choppier as it meets in front of the lighthouses.2017-09-07 12.31.29

After a cup of tea, we resume the easy cliff-top walk, past the houses of Southwell and Weston and more quarries until we come to a forbidding path diversion notice.  On reading the detail though, it says that the path is to be closed for 15 days from the date of the notice – two years ago.  We decide it is therefore safe and plough on.  We make the same decision over the next closed section, only to discover the path come to an abrupt end where some of the cliffs have been chiselled away.  We follow tracks made by other walkers who have clearly made the same mistake as us, and clamber over rocks looking for a shortcut back to the diversion.  Catherine thinks she has found it when I point to an ornate rock carving below us, that looks like a formal Elizabethan garden oddly transplanted among the rough boulders all around.  We are intrigued and perplexed by it, when a passing couple explain that we have stumbled into a sculpture park in a disused quarry.  We explore some of the other sculptures as we weave our way out of the park to pick up the coastal path towards Chiswell and back towards Ferrybridge, with the impressive sweep of Chesil Beach arcing before us.

2017-09-07 14.11.50By the time we have walked back to our B&B in Wyke Regis, we have clocked up 14 or so miles – 14 miles that I thought would be tedious ones to tick off, rather than enjoy.  The Island of Portland has surprised me – in a good way; it has more variety and native beauty than the Ordnance Survey map suggests.

2017-09-07 16.20.35

We round off a surprisingly enjoyable day with dinner at the Crab House Café, a restaurant with a reputation that has spread far beyond this corner of Dorset.  As I am allergic to shellfish, I had dismissed it, but Catherine’s husband has looked up the menu and messaged to say that they have fish dishes without shellfish.  I am glad he persevered in persuading us to eat there; all I can say is, if you are in the area, make sure you book a table, because you are unlikely to get in if you don’t – and you will be missing out.

To find out more and to get involved, visit 50challenges.org

 

Copyright – Content and photographs – 50 Challenges Limited

My final challenge before my #50Challenges – Day 3

WEDNESDAY 6TH SEPTEMBER 2017

2017-09-06 12.00.42The walk East from West Bexington is one of the few stretches of the South West Coastal Path that is largely inland.  Although the first 2.5 miles are along the back of Chesil Bank, for conservation reasons at the start of Fleet Lagoon walkers are directed inland around the outskirts of Abbotsbury.

The countryside is beautiful – England’s green and pleasant at its best – but it seems strange not to hear the rhythmic crashing of waves which has accompanied us for nearly 500 miles.

Descending to the banks of Fleet Lagoon provides some compensation; it’s a vital nature conservation site that has its own beauty, dominated by the relentless shingle hill of Chesil Beach along the 29km of its southern edge.

2017-09-06 18.50.42.jpg

It’s a noticeably hotter day and a couple of miles short of our destination we finish the last of our drinks; we didn’t expect to run out of fluids in September.  However, we only have an hour’s more walking and – hugging the coast of the Lagoon – it is all flat.  We arrive at our B&B a quarter of a mile from the Path in Wyke Regis feeling positively spritely compared to the state in which we have sometimes finished our walks; 14 miles on the flat feels like a saunter in the park compared to some of the terrain we have covered.

2017-09-06-17-59-03.jpgA plaque in the hall reveals that our hosts at Swallows Rest are winners of Channel 4’s Four In A Bed; the fresh meringues on arrival and fresh cake in our bedroom are one of the many winning touches that we enjoy during our two nights being looked after by Jane and Keith.

To find out more and to get involved, visit 50challenges.org

 

Copyright – Content and photographs – 50 Challenges Limited