Two days walking ahead of me and although the weather report says rain, it’s not looking too murky when I leave my B&B and head down to Swanage sea front. The sea is quite rough and after a couple of minutes watching the waves break over the sea wall I head up to Peveril Point and Durlston Country Park.
I am now officially on the South West Coast Path and pretty soggy it is too after weeks of rain.
On the way up the hill I stop to take in the view across the harbour – in the photo you can just about make out Old Harry where we walked in the heat of last summer.Following the sign to Durlston Castle I walk through some damp woodland, fine rain falling, thin sodden tree trunks twist their way upwards, glistening in the winter sun.
As the ground slopes down I find myself walking through an aisle of huge slabs of engraved Purbeck limestone – a timeline of the creation of our world, I feel small and insignificant with my 59 years (soon to be 60!)
There is poetry too, although this one from our Poet Laureate leaves me a little perplexed.
Around the back is a massive stone globe, surrounded by stone plaques – more poetry, religious observations, and facts about the natural word. One of the plaques which I imagine is more recent is an attempt to defeat graffiti by inviting the onlooker to scratch their name.
I walk back round to the entrance and sprint through the front door pre-empting an excited flock of Italian teenagers with no peripheral vision. Clutching a plastic cheese sandwich I make for the door and hurry away up the path towards Anvil Point and its podgy little lighthouse.
Despite warnings from the owner of the B&B the path is not too muddy and the sun has now come out – I feel the joy of walking with the sea beside me, after such a long winter hibernation. Soon however my happiness turns to frustration as the path narrows and becomes muddier and muddier. With bated breath I hop from one promising tuft of grass to another scratching my hands on the gorse and bramble, praying that I won’t sink above my bootline.
Suddenly, the path comes to an end in front of a new wire fence and there is no friendly stile. A little despondent I look to the right and my eye catches a scramble pattern up the slope – others have been here before and the beaten vegetation bears witness! I crawl up the incline clutching at branches of gorse to haul me up and there’s the path again overlooking the mighty swell and dark wet rocks of Dancing Ledge.
Dancing Ledge is so called because at certain stages of the tide when the waves wash over the horizontal surface, the surface undulations cause the water to bob about making the ledge appear to dance. There was once a swimming pool gouged out of the ledge and used by the local schools.
The path is easier now and not having to study each footfall I fall into that comforting mindless reverie which is one of the loveliest things about walking in a beautiful place in the sunshine. In this dreamy state I turn the corner only to be met with the shocking sight of a dead cow! Its limbs stretch stiffly out in all directions, its gaping red mouth seems to bleed into the mud – there is a rope around its hind leg almost as if it’s been dragged….but why into the middle of the path? I feel sick suddenly and take a few hurried photographs.
Not long after I arrive at a place called Winspit, a disused quarry – there are caves, ruined buildings and dire warnings not to venture too deep.
I think about my sweaty cheese sandwich but decide to wait til I get to St. Aldhelms. On the way I see my first primrose of the year.
After a few more battles with mud I eventually reach the chapel at St. Aldhelm which is disappointingly locked.
I wander off towards the coastguard station and down to the rather beautiful memorial to radar research during the Second World War. Wondering whether it’s disrespectful or not I perch on it and eat my loyal sandwich under the watchful eye of the grey bearded coastguard.
Feeling slightly weary I walk on, faced with quite a steep descent and an even steeper ascent up some wooden steps on the other side – those who had warned me about the south west coast path had not been exaggerating.
Puffing and panting I make the top onto the narrow path overlooking Chapmans Pool, a stunning cove, very difficult to access unless you sail in and drop anchor. There are a few fishermens’ huts on the shore accessed by a winding private track. Skirting the pool I hear a low whoosh close by as a large model plane sweeps down into the cove and up again, skimming the edge of the cliff in front of me – down in a dell a middle aged man (aren’t they always?) fiddles excitedly with the remote control. I stand and watch the graceful movements of the plane and there are soon more – two men struggle up the steep incline, each carrying an aeroplane.
From now on I am a little unsure of the path as there are many different routes to Kingston where I will be staying the night. I have to do the next leg parallel to the coast but inland, as the path between here and Kimmeridge is closed due to slippage. Following directions from one of the men I walk along the ridge, past what must be a tribute to Andy Goldsworthy. I then dip down into a valley, through some more mud and up the other side where a wide path turns into a track and then a road. Coming out by a large church there’s another first – snowdrops. Supper in the local pub is Dorset bangers and mash washed down with a pint of Jurassic – heaven!
Distance: 10 miles