It was a cold but beautifully sunny and clear winter’s day when I set out on this wonderful walk! I left the car at the top of one Purbeck ridge and to the accompaniment of birdsong, I immediately dropped down the side of the hill heading for a second Purbeck ridge. I had hardly started the walk when I was greeted by the spectacular view below and I just had to stop and gaze!
The view goes straight down the valley across the distant, deserted village of Tyneham and on to the coast at Worbarrow Bay. The reason Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay have been deserted by the inhabitants is because the military took over the whole area to create a firing range in 1943 – but that’s a story for another day!
Dropping down to the country lane, I followed the road for a time. This is no hardship as it is a quiet road and the countryside is beautifully picturesque. Plus of course, there is no mud 🙂 ! Passing the tiny hamlet of Steeple with its church, manor house and small cluster of cottages, I continued up the other side of the valley towards Kimmeridge. This hill, in the picture below, goes by the somewhat dubious name of the Devil’s Staircase – in fact on this day, with the shadows of trees being thrown across the road, it did look like a staircase! It was a name that was to contrast strongly with another strange name that I would come across later!
Reaching the top of the ridge, I looked down into the village of Kimmeridge where the unusual presence of a crane told me that construction of the new museum and visitor’s centre was underway. My route today didn’t lie in that direction so I left that scene and climbed again higher along what I call the inland coast path.
The inland coast path is the path that runs parallel to the coast and with sea views but is in reality slightly inland of the coast path proper. I like to walk this path because it gives an alternative view of this beautiful Dorset coastline. Looking down one side, I had amazing views across Kimmeridge Bay with Clavell Tower standing proud on its headland (and the sheep standing proud on theirs)……
…..and down the other side, an equally impressive view across the valley towards Corfe Castle with Poole Harbour beyond that – and of course more sheep!
On such a clear day as this, those views were particularly special! The path was flat and easy to walk with a traditional dry stone wall atop the steep slope down to the coast. It reminded me of a poem I wrote whilst walking some time ago:
THE DRYSTONE WALLER
One on one on one on one,
The drystone waller’s day’s begun,
Stone on stone on stone on stone,
Lots to do ere he goes home.
A solid build as ‘fits his trade,
Every stone securely laid,
Sweating brow and breaking back,
Another stone goes on the rack.
Perfect symmetry, line on line,
Locked together, looking fine,
From random stones, different shapes,
A cohesive whole he creates.
The master’s hand the holding glue,
Nothing more, forever new,
Come wind come rain ’twill strongly stand,
And remain a part of this ancient land.
These scattered stones have become a wall,
So solid, dependable, standing tall,
For years to come ere he’s gone home,
An epitaph to a job well done.
Just a little further along the path, I passed a gate with the name ‘Heaven’s Gate’ inscribed on it – with those breathtaking views, it could easily be the gate to heaven! Why it bears that name, I am not sure but I certainly prefer this to the devil’s staircase I climbed up earlier!
It seems strange to think that this area which is so quiet and peaceful now was once fairly densely populated. Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age remains have been found, indicating that people have lived here for over 6,000 years although now, the nearest habitations are just a farm or two.
There is one particularly visible Bronze Age barrow that stands at the tip of Swyre Head. Rounding this headland brings even more views, this time across the beautiful ‘bowl’ that is the Encombe Valley. I say ‘bowl’ because that is what it resembles as it is surrounded by a curving ridge apart from a small portion that opens out to the sea. In the distance is St Aldhelm’s Head jutting out into the channel like the head of a serpent.
Sitting in the ‘bowl’ is Encombe House, one of a number of old Purbeck Mansions. This privately owned mansion could have been yours a few years ago for the princely sum of £25M! Beyond the house is a series of lakes that drain into the sea at Freshwater Steps. For a long time it puzzled me where this water came from since the Encombe Valley has no rivers so I made some enquiries and I was told that the water supply comes from a neighbouring valley, with the water being diverted via underground channels that run through the hillside. Apparently, some lucky person has the job of walking through the tunnels once a year to make sure they are clear of obstruction! Of course the valley itself does hold some water of its own due to its bowl shape and springs.
Skirting round the top of the valley, my route took me out onto the ridge top road which I needed to follow for a mile or so. Again this is no hardship as the views across to the castle in the valley are again grand. Here, water running off the hillside has created a tiny stream and as I walk, I wonder how deep that would be if you were able to walk this route in hundreds of years time. It could be a ravine – such is the power of water! I often think strange things when I am walking 🙂 !
My normal route when I walk from here would be across the common to reach Corfe Castle but today I decided to follow a track that leads through a farm in the valley. It is always great to try new routes, especially when you come across old ruins like those below! This huge waterwheel is part of old farm workings and once drove farm machinery in the attached barn. The water still pours on despite the wheel itself having died, frozen with corrosion!
On a technical note, what I found interesting is that the water falls from the tank you see in the picture below in order to drive the wheel, although there is in fact no visible entry point for the water into that tank. It seems that the water runs down underground channels beneath my feet and then rises inside that tank only to drop again immediately into the wheel. The millpond itself is at a higher level up the hillside which of course, remembering my school science lessons, is essential for this system to work.
Feeling quite pleased with myself for having solved the riddle of how the water got there, I continued on my way, with the castle getting ever closer.
Just as I reached the edge of the village of Corfe, I bumped into a man standing by his very old car. As I owned a 40 year old MGB myself until recently, I was particularly interested to hear his story. His car was a MGPB dating from 1935 so it was twice as old as my own and yet was in superb condition. He had just repainted the wire wheels and wanted a picture of himself with the car – I duly obliged. We chatted for some time about our respective cars and he told me that he had been a spitfire mechanic during the war and that they used to make model spitfires out of metal during their down times – he had one attached to the radiator cap.
As he drove away into the low afternoon sun, I grabbed another quick shot. Had I sepia toned it, you could easily think it had been taken 80 years ago.
I always enjoy walking through Corfe, especially in the late afternoon when it is quieter. As I left to cross the field, the low sun picked out the church tower beautifully as it stood almost like a guardian of the village.
The true guardian of the village was of course the castle itself and that too was picked out by the last rays of sunlight. This once magnificent castle, built in Norman times, was ruined in the 17th century, not during a battle but after the battle had been won. It had been one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds and had been under Parliamentarian siege for some time but defended gallantly by Lady Bankes and her garrison. One of her men betrayed her however and let in Parliamentarian troops disguised as Royalists. The castle was thus attacked both from outside and inside and the day was lost. To prevent it ever being used again, it was deliberately blown up although fortunately for us, it had been built too well to be destroyed completely.
With the sun disappearing below the horizon, and several miles still to walk, I left the castle behind and once more climbed up onto the ridge that had been my starting point. In the coldness of the night and with the fading light, I made my way along the ridge top path with the distant twinkling lights across Poole Harbour and to the accompaniment of owls hooting in the valley below. Wonderful and eerie shapes appeared silhouetted against the ever darkening sky.
It became increasingly difficult to see my way along the sometimes uneven path but despite this, it was a delightful end to the day. I love walking in the dark! That may seem strange but there is always a lovely atmosphere and an air of mystery at this time of the day, and I had the ridge top all to myself!
What an amazing day this has been, cold maybe, but such clarity of light and such awesome views. I hope you have enjoyed walking it with me!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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