I broke my left wrist just over a year ago. I skidded on scree on the Dorset Coast Path and put my hands down to break the fall. Snap! Only minutes before, Rollo and I had been discussing the merits of buying walking poles like the ones wielded by walkers we had passed that day.
We have our walking poles now but we have only just managed to book time to resume where we left off. We have been partly constrained by a) the fact that our next stretch takes us over the Army Ranges at Lulworth and access to this land is restricted at times other than weekends and the summer holiday period, and b) we are set on walking the route in its correct sequence.
I’ve driven to East Chaldon to stay overnight. By the time Rollo and I are ready for delivery to Kimmeridge the following morning it is 10 o’clock. Terry is driving us to the cliff top and on the way we pick up two hitch-hikers who are going to walk the same stretch. And by the time Rollo and I have got our act together and are posing by the signpost ready for the off, this couple has already reached the first crest as you start to leave the wide sweep of cliff top that arcs round Kimmeridge Bay.
As we trek round towards the lower slope of Tyneham Cap we can look back and see Broad Bench and Long Ebb rock platforms slightly exposed by the tide. We probably take a wrong turn here because the track we choose takes us very close indeed to the cliff edge, but the yellow posts which mark out the coast path were not clearly placed. We’ve actually avoided a short steep climb but there is more to come……
The track along Gad Cliff is easy, with views of the village of Tyneham to our right, and we soon come to a steep descent into Worbarrow Bay, passing a pretty bay (Pondfield) east of the headland known as Worbarrow Tout. I eat one of my hard-boiled eggs with a white bread roll. (I am getting over a minor gastric upset so walking on a minimal plain diet). Rollo tucks into her “delicious” smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber roll.
Climbing out of Worbarrow Bay means the first of two killer ascents. But first we have a short discourse over a large toadstool which might be a Horse Mushroom or a Yellowstainer. We have bitten off – not the mushroom but the hill – and it is a long hard chew to struggle to the top. Fortunately it is not hot, though windy, but it is tiring work for us both. Once at the top we draw breath in Flowers Barrow and enjoy the views north to Lulworth Castle. A large blue marquee is still visible, a remnant of Camp Bestival which took place at the weekend.
We make our way along the cliff and reach Halcombe Vale which will take us down to the small beach at Arish Mell. It is worth stopping to enjoy the views across Bindon Range. Lulworth Camp lies at the western edge of the army land. It is tough on the leg calves as you descend to Arish Mell; sadly we cannot explore this small beach because the army restrict access at all times. There is a small slipway and Terry tells us later that the army uses this beach for joint exercises with the American military.
Now we have a slog ahead of us. Rollo is not even sure she wants to take the coastal climb up to Bindon Hill. There is a slightly inland option to Lulworth Cove which, for coastal walkers, probably ‘counts’. But I point to a place on the lower slopes and suggest we get to this point and review our options.
We never have this debate but each retreat into ourselves, draw on inner resources and, not wishing to sound too much of a drama queen but sounding like one anyway, we battle to the top. I flop down in a grassy knoll, strip some layers off and eat my second egg and roll. I was not so blinkered that I had not noticed a clump of dainty harebells, like so many dancing fairies, on the track as I reached the summit. I go back to capture this image.
The coast path now traces the Chalk scarp as it arcs south towards Mupe Bay. There is a steep, treacherous clamber down a track, partially stepped. But the steps are more hindrance than help as many of them are falling away. A descent ought to be lighter on the legs but it is steep and unstable underfoot. Oh to be like the kids who, earlier, had dashed past us on the track down to Worbarrow, like so many young mountain goats.
Once on the flat we have reached Mupe Bay which is a sheltered embayment facing east. On the descent we had wonderful views of the beach with its classic beach cusps. The strip of limestone ledges which projects eastwards at the southern margin must add to the shelter. The water is so clear you can sea the cloak of brown Fucus seaweed fronds afloat on the tide. This would be a great little rock platform to work on a low spring tide.
As we start the final stretch Rollo notices a large mushroom in the long grass. It is a fine Parasol Mushroom although a bit beyond its sell-by date. The path now takes us due west across more or less even ground for another kilometre. I truly sense the meaning of being on one’s ‘last legs’. I have said to Rollo that the stretch we have walked today is one that I would not walk again for pleasure. The book of words states that the 7-mile tract from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove is the most demanding section of all. ‘All the hills are extremely steep and the path is often narrow and difficult to negotiate. It is a remote and very beautiful area and limited access has created a natural haven for nature.’
Yes, all of the above. It is a walk that should have lasted about 4 hours and we have taken 6 to complete it. The view of Lulworth Cove from the cliff top is welcome but we still need to trudge through the shingle of the horseshoe cove. There are plenty of folk about; late afternoon strollers, families who have spent beach-time here.
There is just a short walk up the narrow lane from the foreshore to the carpark where Terry is waiting for us. I think he is a bit shocked to see me in such a wilted condition. But I’ve been short on fuel, short on sleep and worst of all, caffeine-deprived all day! After a pot of coffee, a bath and later a curry, I’m sorted.