– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
For our theme this week, I thought we would come back to ‘Quirky Dorset’ and feature a few more things in my lovely county that are perhaps a little bit ‘off the wall’ 🙂 ! And this is one of my favourites – it is The Smugglers’ Path.
The Smugglers’ Path, White Nothe
I love walking this path…..if you can call it a path! It runs from the top of the White Nothe (aka White Nose) headland down to the rocky seashore some 170 meters (550 feet) below. The path is steep, very steep, and it zig zags its way down the cliff face with amazing views all across Ringstead Bay to the west. Below, there are just rocks which may be covered if the tide is high.
This is a breathtaking walk in more ways than one! The views are breathtaking, the steepness is breathtaking if you are not good with heights, and if you are climbing up, it definitely takes your breath away 🙂 ! Whether this path was actually used by smugglers or not seems unclear but the fact that a row of coastguard cottages was built at the top in the early 1900’s would seem to suggest that it was. Of course, the whole of the Dorset coast was used by smugglers to bring their contraband ashore under cover of darkness. With its wild remoteness, White Nothe would have been ideal for this practice!
This path, and its past, was immortalised by J Meade Falkner in his book ‘Moonfleet’ as it was the inspiration for Elzevir Block’s escape from the Excise men, accompanied by a very young John Trenchard. I have reproduced a short passage below.
‘Forgive me, lad,’ he said, ‘if I have spoke too roughly. There is yet another way that we may try; and if thou hadst but two whole legs, I would have tried it, but now ’tis little short of madness. And yet, if thou fear’st not, I will still try it. Just at the end of this flat ledge, farthest from where the bridle-path leads down, but not a hundred yards from where we stand, there is a sheep-track leading up the cliff. It starts where the under-cliff dies back again into the chalk face, and climbs by slants and elbow-turns up to the top. The shepherds call it the Zigzag, and even sheep lose their footing on it; and of men I never heard but one had climbed it, and that was lander Jordan, when the Excise was on his heels, half a century back. But he that tries it stakes all on head and foot, and a wounded bird like thee may not dare that flight. Yet, if thou art content to hang thy life upon a hair, I will carry thee some way; and where there is no room to carry, thou must down on hands and knees and trail thy foot.’
(From Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner – as young John Trenchard and Elzevir Block flee from the Excise Men)
The description by J Meade Falkner was perhaps a little exaggerated, but nevertheless, this path can still be scary to walk if the weather is stormy with the wind taking you off balance and the wet making the steep path slippery. But it is a path that I love for its sheer quirkiness…..and perhaps for the feeling that you are somehow following in the footsteps of some ancient smugglers! It is definitely not to be missed if you are walking this part of the Dorset coast!
Thanks for stopping by.
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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