I had been looking forward to this day for some time – the start of my 4 day backpack along the Dorset and Devon Coast Path……with some TDR variations 🙂 ! Oh I know I have walked the route many times but each one is special and different, and this was to be no exception. And I was starting with a lighter pack after a bit of ruthless thinning out of my packing list. This time my pack weighed 25 pounds and although it could be improved still further, it was 10 pounds lighter than my Dales High Way walk earlier in the year.
The day started as usual with a train ride to Weymouth, followed by breakfast on the sea front before a short ferry trip to cross the harbour entrance. The reason for starting in Weymouth, aside from the availability of breakfast 🙂 , is that it avoids the problem of having to get round the Lulworth Firing Range where footpaths are closed during the week.
The ferry trip always makes a special start to the walk somehow, I guess because it is something different and perhaps a little quirky as I doubt there are many rowboat ferries still in existence. It always makes me think about Chris De Burgh’s song ‘Don’t Pay the Ferryman’ but I did – in fact I paid him double, it was worth that much just for the enjoyment of being rowed across. Of course you can walk to the bridge a mile or so upstream but this was much more fun 🙂 !
Within a couple of miles of reaching the far shore, I passed two castles, the first was Nothe Fort, built in the 19th century to protect the Portland Harbour entrance, and then the even older Sandsfoot Castle, built in 1542 by Henry VIII as part of the coastal defences. The two castles are very different, the former being one of the best preserved of its type in the country and the latter being just ruins, albeit ruins with a beautiful garden…….and a tea kiosk – I resisted the urge to stop as it was much too early in the walk!
The first few miles followed the Rodwell Trail, a disused railway line that once connected Weymouth to the Isle of Portland. Surfaced and wheelchair friendly, the trailway which runs beside the sea is a great facility and demonstrates what can be done with these old railway lines.
It very quickly took me to Ferry Bridge, which marks the starting point of the bridge/causeway that now connects the one time island of Portland to the mainland – prior to 1839, a ferry was used to reach the island, hence the name Ferry Bridge. I didn’t stop but just crossed straight over the road as I was anxious to leave civilisation behind.
I joined the path that runs beside The Fleet, and very soon felt that I was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by countryside and wildlife. The vegetation was yellow after such a dry summer but it was nonetheless beautiful for that.
The Fleet is a brackish lagoon and a conservation area of international importance. It is some 13km long with the sea entering at its south eastern end which means that at its north western extremity it is much less salty. My route would follow the lagoon for most of its length, the path diverting inland around 4km before its end in order to preserve it for wildlife, and its world famous swannery.
Across the other side of The Fleet runs the equally world famous Chesil Beach and it is this that protects the lagoon from the open sea. At least, it has and does protect it apart from one day in 1824 when a mighty storm breached the shingle bank and washed several miles inland, demolishing most of the Fleet village church and some of the cottages which surrounded it. The remains of the church still stand just off the coast path and I paid a visit as I always do when walking this path. This time though bees had taken up residence so the church was closed. Fleet church was immortalised by J Meade Faulkner in his book, ‘Moonfleet’, a great schoolboy story about smuggling in Dorset.
This is such a lovely path to walk as it weaves in and out of various bays along The Fleet, with lots of wildlife to see. I passed an area planted with sunflowers – you can always see where their name comes from. The fields around were yellow too, with stubble, the corn having been already harvested.
Eventually though I had to leave the lagoon and climb up onto the inland ridge that runs all the way to Abbotsbury. As I approached that lovely village, I could see the remote St Catherine’s Chapel on its hilltop, and beyond that, the ridge that would take me to my stopping point for the night.
Dropping off the ridge, I walked through the village with its delightful church, ruined abbey and famous tithe barn. I had hoped to find the cafe open for a cup of tea but sadly I was too late so I just had to settle for topping up my water bottles.
Walking on, I climbed up again onto the ridge further inland again and I stopped to take in the scene below me. The church stood proud but the tithe barn stood out impressively too, and beyond was the open sea and the tip of Portland that I had passed earlier in the day.
This inland ridge was a fabulous place to walk on this fantastic day. The views all the way along were just breathtaking, the sun was warm, well hot actually, and the air was still, in fact it was the perfect day to walk this perfect path. What could be better! I had some emails to send and some phone calls to make so for a time the ridge top became my office, an office with an amazing view from the ‘window’ 🙂 !
Part way along the ridge, I passed Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort which has the same amazing views. In its day, this was the front line defence against invasion, although when the Romans invaded in AD43, it was in fact quickly taken and subsequently occupied by them. These days, erosion and shrubbery have taken their toll on these once fine ramparts.
I continued along the ridge before dropping off the inland side to reach Puncknowle which is on the southern slopes of the Bride Valley. As I entered the village thinking about dinner, I spotted a fish and chip van so I stopped to eat sat on a seat in the village centre watching the sun set as villagers passed with a ‘hello’. Ah, chips out of paper, a great, if not healthy, meal after a day’s walking.
Having refuelled, I made my way to my campsite to set up my tent and shower before sitting outside as the last light of the day faded.
It had been 19 miles of great walking and as I climbed into my sleeping bag that night, I was looking forward to another great day and another 19 miles tomorrow.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
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