There is mud and there is MUD and the hallmark of today’s walk is the latter……..but more on that later. I get up early, determined to do the second day despite the throbbing toe – grit, determination or plain stupidity? Who knows, but 8.30 am I am standing taking photographs again of the ferry bridge to Portland before turning west along a clearly signposted path to Abbotsbury – 10 and half miles it says – my toe winces.
The path winds upwards past Chesil Beach holiday village where two men are sitting talking about their sciatica and out into open fields. At this point the MUD appears ……at first just a few puddles and then it turns nasty. Stuck contemplating my next move, perched on one leg on a semi-firm clod, my support pole slowly sinking into what can only be called a bog, I nearly jump out of my skin when a woman walks briskly past from behind me on the other side of the barbed wire fence, where the ground looks firm and safe. She stops and smiles knowingly. “Going far?” she asks. “How on earth did you get over there?” I gasp and when she points I see way behind me a dip in the fence. She is a local woman and knows to her cost what happens to the path after a period of rain – she is also heading for Abbotsbury. She walks purposefully on and I’m left to contemplate how to get back to where I can also reach the promised land. I manage it and stride off across the field hoping there is somewhere at the other end where I can get back to the path without encountering wild horses or frisky cows – but that’s another story.
On my left across the Fleet lagoon is the great desert of Chesil Beach – a unique spit of shingle, eighteen miles long between the lagoon and the Channel. It is also the location for Ian Mckewans book on the tragic frustrations of pre-liberation courtship in Britain. Apparently, he took a few pebbles to sit on his desk when he wrote the book and was threatened with a £2000 fine by conservationists and the local council – he should have kept quiet about it.
Anyway, there are not many signs of life on Chesil Beach – some fishing shacks, a military presence but what really catches my eye is the line of beautiful oyster shape depressions in the shingle….here is one.
The path winds around the bank of the lagoon then up through some woodland where the MUD raises its ugly head again. I am so glad I have a walking pole to negotiate my way through- even so it is painfully slow. Reaching the top of an incline I come to a kissing gate and spread out before me is a rash of caravans and holiday homes, a real eyesore but hey……..
I walk down and past the site following the edges of muddy bays and then come to a sign warning of military activity – the red flag is not flying so I am not diverted inland.
After a while I see signs of habitation and the hamlet of East Fleet comes into view – a little way inland. There is a wooden bench facing the water at the top of the road leading to the village and I sink gratefully into it to eat an apple and rest my toe. Ten minutes later I heave myself up and walk on, up a long grassy slope with a sandy path to my right, reserved for horses – I see none.
Approaching Gore Cove I see a cluster of grand buildings surrounding what looks like the square turret of a castle. I pass a family having a picnic on the shore and ask them if there is anywhere to get a cup of tea – Moonfleet Manor they say, pointing to what appears to be a hotel. Feeling slightly too aware of my extremely muddy boots and trousers I tip-toe through the entrance, over the Persian carpets, through the dining room, all crystal glass and silver and out to the back courtyard where people are sitting having tea and scones – I am relieved to see that some of them look like me.
I stop and drink tea in the sunshine and on the way out take a photograph of the lounge.
This now becomes a field walk and field walks can be very pleasant if there weren’t any cows. I am normally not scared of cows and walking past a herd on the other side of an electric fence is no problem! Having to walk through a field of cows and frisky bullocks however is a completely different matter. I sit on top of the stile watching the herd trundle off to the other side of the field – they’re gone, I can’t see them, I jump into the field. Halfway across I round a corner and there they are – all staring at me, the bullocks revving up for a skip to my end of the field. I am ashamed to say I run, praying my ankle doesn’t give out on the hillocky ground, not back to the gate but over a barbed wire fence where I stop and dare to look around. They are all trotting and gambolling (yes it’s not just lambs that do this) towards me and I cannot go anywhere – there is a wide muddy stream behind my back. All of a sudden they change direction, it’s not me they’re interested in, I breathe a sigh of relief, jump back over the fence and run for the next stile. Pesky critters!
The path now climbs up through more fields and more cows but these are much more docile and hardly look up when I walk past them. I come to a lovely stone stile which reminds me of the even prettier ones on the South Wales Coast Path – bits of which I have already walked.
On the outskirts of Abbotsbury I walk past a sign for a Swannery – I wonder what it is but I have no time to investigate as I need to get the next of the very few buses back to Weymouth.
The road into the village is overlooked by St. Catherines Chapel – standing alone on the top of a bare hill.
The village itself is picture perfect, thatched cottages of lovely golden stone, a tithe barn, a parish church, subtropical gardens, a hall, a castle and a traditional pub (which unfortunately is closed).
I sit on the wall opposite the pub and wait for the bus back to Weymouth. I somehow feel I will not be walking tomorrow, my toe is hurting too much.