YESTERDAY was a much shorter walk of only eight miles, into which I managed pack a heady mixture of pain, fear, nausea, exhaustion and sheep.
I knew from the outset that I had limited time for the walk. Kimmeridge Bay has no public transport whatsoever, which meant catching a train to Wareham and then a taxi to Kimmeridge. I asked the taxi driver for an estimate of the cost before we set off and, very reasonable chap that he was, he turned off the meter when it turned out to be more.
The Cackling Cabbie
I arrived in Kimmeridge Bay at about half past eleven and looked ahead to where I was planning to walk. I had planned to finish in either Lulworth or Osmington Mills, depending on how good the going was, but when I mentioned this the taxi driver laughed.
‘Will you be needing a taxi from Lulworth then later?’ he asked. He pointed westwards from Kimmeridge Bay car park just before he sped off. ‘Enjoy your hills,’ he said.
It May Explode and Kill You
The land between Kimmeridge and Lulworth belongs to the Ministry of Defence, which uses it as a live firing range and so access is usually restricted. Fortunately, in addition to most weekends, the MOD sees fit to open the range throughout August and walkers are welcome so long as they stick to the path.
Signs warning you to stay between the yellow posts are everywhere, along with warnings not to pick anything up in case “it may explode and kill you.” Looking at the sheep and cows that dotted the hills of the range, I couldn’t help but wonder how many they lose every year.
Onwards and Upwards
At first the path climbed gently up from the bay but massive cliffs loomed up ahead:
The climb up towards Tyneham Cap slowly shifted from gentle to strenuous but proved not to be not too debilitating. I made my way briskly along the top of the cliff, taking in the view:
I also looked along the coast to check if there were any more serious ups and downs:
It was at about this point that I was given a choice. I could either continue to follow the cliff edge round until it dropped down into Worbarrow Bay, or I could take a detour inland and head to the bay by describing two sides of a triangle. I chose the latter and with good reason.
To my right, nestling in the valley, was the ruined, deserted village of Tyneham. Originally a pretty – not to mention rural and remote – Dorset village, it was compulsorily purchased by the MOD during the Second World War, with the general presumption being that it would be returned to the villagers after the war had ended. The MOD never gave it back.
Most of the buildings are now just walls, with the roofs having long since fallen in and the Elizabethan manor house was knocked down in the 1960s. The remnant buildings bear poignant signs inside showing how they once looked and giving the name of the family that lived there. The village school has been restored as an exhibition, as has a local dairy farm. St Mary’s Church remains intact.
When the 252 inhabitants of the parish of Tyneham departed, one pinned a note to the door of St Mary’s, which read:
Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
Looking around the village was a slightly eerie experience and I soon pressed on down the road to Worbarrow Bay, which runs alongside Tyneham Gwyle. Gwyle (pronounced ‘goyle’) is an old Dorset word for a wooded area at the bottom of a valley, which this indeed was. It was pretty pleasant and I ambled along, knowing that I had lost a good hour thanks to my visit to Tyneham.
The road soon came to Worbarrow Bay and the angular promontory of Worbarrow Tout. ‘That’s high and steep,’ I foolishly thought, ‘I’m glad I don’t have to climb it.’
I sat and rested briefly by the beach, and regarded Flower’s Barrow with growing alarm — from that angle, I could see that its apparently gentle rise only reached so far. Towards the top, it angled sharply, becoming not far off forty-five degrees. And there were no steps, except for the very slight ledges left by the feet of other walkers. It was not going to be fun.
There were a number of concrete anti-tank blocks on the beach, plus the rusting remains of an Allan Williams Turret – a kind of metal cupola over a foxhole designed for rapid fortification in WW2. I prevaricated by looking at them while I gathered my willpower.
Having psyched myself for the struggle, I marched up the hill but was out of breath before I even reached the steep bit. Resolutely, I pressed on but I knew I wasn’t going to make it in one go.
In the end, I had to stop twice for breath, perched on an incline a hundred metres up (the top is about 160m) and feeling less than secure. I’ve said before that I have a poor head for heights and between the elevation and the angle I wasn’t entirely happy. But, even so, I forced myself up to the top then collapsed on a handy bench, slightly nauseous from exertion. I may be unfit, but if I keep doing this kind of thing it must surely make a difference.
Atop Flower’s Barrow is an Iron Age hill fort, defiantly occupying the highest ground its ancient builders cold find. The path led me past it and along Flower’s Barrow Ridge, where I had to pick my step with care on account of a great many cowpats.
Rumination on the Ridge
‘My God,’ I thought, ‘Do the cows have no fear, to stand up here pooing in this precarious place?’ I then reconsidered. Given the voluminous quantity of manure, it was just possible that actually the cows were very scared indeed. Add in the recurring threat of tank and artillery fire and I could start to empathise. I wouldn’t want any loud noise to make me jump while I was up there.
Moments later I met the cows in question and, actually, I don’t think they’re scared of anything. They posed a problem though, as one was blocking the path and there was absolutely no way I was stepping off it. I looked at her, she looked at me. Then, slowly, she shuffled to one side, flicking me with her tail as I passed as though I were nothing more than an annoying fly. I may have buzzed quietly to myself as I continued on my way…
On the far side of Flower’s Barrow lay Arish Mell, a small beach fenced off and used only by the army, who have run a road down it into the sea.
Some building contractors were working in the road as I approached but my attention was now fixed in horror on the route up Bindon Hill.
My fear of heights is a funny thing, it refuses to show any sort of consistency. Some days I’ll be fine where I expect to be terrified. On others, I’ll be freaked out by situations I’d normally not mind. Climbing the steps of Bindon Hill, I began to feel nervous, all too aware of a steep drop away on three sides.
On reaching the top, it didn’t feel any less precarious, although at least there was now no drop behind me. The sea was mostly hidden by the hill still rising on my right, while on my left it was steep enough to fall down, rather than onto the hill, should I happen to stumble.
Along the Ridge
I spotted a number of rusting tanks (used for gunnery practice) from my vantage point but decided not to take a picture because I was now – and I freely admit it – feeling genuinely afraid. If I had stopped to take a picture I’m not sure I’d have started moving again. I did mention I’m not good with heights, right?
I followed the ridge, trying not to think about it, until I reached a stile that led to a wider, fenced path. This slight change in environs took away all the fear and I ambled along contentedly for a while.
Not long thereafter, I was faced with a choice – to drop down the seaward side of the hill and follow the coast or to remain atop the ridge. I looked in the direction of the coast path arrow but could see no way down. I stepped closer to what appeared to be the edge.
‘Ah,’ I thought, espying the top of a flight of even more vertiginous steps. ‘no thank you, I shall continue up here.’
Sticking to my chosen route, I passed sheep, a radar station and three ponies before making a comfortably sedate descent into West Lulworth and a street of stone cottages with thatched roofs.
I availed myself of the village store to buy water before heading down to Lulworth Cove.
Lulworth Cove was busy. Really, really busy. Over a leisurely ice cream, I considered my options: Stop at Lulworth or press on to Osmington despite being badly behind schedule?
I pressed on…
St Oswald’s Bay
A paved, stepped and madly busy path led over Hambury Tout to St Oswald’s Bay and, beyond that, Durdle Door.
The path onwards from Durdle Door was much narrower and less maintained, and pretty close to the edge of the unfenced cliff. These things in themselves would have been fine but a glance ahead was particularly offputting, revealing as it did the steep-sided height of Swyre Head rising from the valley of Scratchy Bottom. My legs were having none of it.
This time: 8 miles
Total since Gravesend: 388 miles