‘Home, home on the range’…..the MOD Artillery Firing Range that is 🙂 ! This week I made the most of the school holidays to walk the Lulworth Firing Range paths – these are normally closed to the public apart from some weekends and holidays, Christmas/New Year being one of them, so I made the most of it. It didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped in that the weather didn’t perform as forecasted, and my ankle didn’t perform as hoped either, but I didn’t care, I was out on the coast path again! In fact, the weather probably helped in many ways because on more sunny days, these walks can be very popular.
I set off on a very cloudy morning with the temperature barely above freezing, and I walked along a two mile stretch of the Purbeck Ridge, passing above the distinctive headland of Worbarrow Tout and the nearby ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham – the village was commandeered by the military during WW2. A little momentary brightness lit up the sea around the Tout, creating a beautiful atmosphere.
I soon reached the end of the ridge and the ancient hill fort of Flower’s Barrow with beautiful views inland to Lulworth Castle which again was momentarily spotlit by the sun. The view illustrates why the hill fort was built there with the coast dropping away sharply all around apart from the ridge on which I was walking. The fort is only around two thirds of its former size since the remainder has long since disappeared into the sea. Today it seemed remote and barren……right up my street 🙂 !
From Flower’s Barrow there is a steep descent to the beautiful, but inaccessible, bay of Arish Mell. There are two reasons that the beach is not accessible to the public, one is the potential problem of unexploded shells, but the other is that this secluded bay contains the outlet of a 6 mile long pipeline from the UKAEA Research Establishment at Winfrith.
From the late 1950’s, Winfrith was a major research base in the development of atomic energy and its waste was poured out into the sea at this little bay, with the pipeline being carried some 2 miles out to sea. The site is no longer working, the research base itself having been partially decommissioned, but this has not yet reached the pipeline itself which is still regularly monitored. The heathland at Winfrith, some 6 miles inland, is targeted to be restored back to nature by 2023, but whether this lovely bay will ever be free of its toxic past is not known.
Having climbed up again to the ridge on the other side of Arish Mell, I bumped into a fellow walker and we stood chatting for some time. He was a local man and he advised me that the decommissioning team that had numbered 200 had now been reduced to just 12 people because of a shortage of money, so whether the work will be completed as promised, I do not know. I believe that fishing is still banned from the area which speaks for itself.
If anyone is interested in the laying of the pipeline, there is an old cine film online here. It really is worth a watch.
I continued along the ridge top with a chill breeze blowing from the north-east and eventually reached the delightful Lulworth Cove, a breakfast bowl shaped bay whose entrance is protected by headlands on each side. This cove is just outside the western extremity of the firing range and provides a safe haven for boats although there were only one or two small vessels there on this day.
Having walked out along the inland ridge, I proposed to make the return journey along the coast path, so I dropped down to the south to reach the coast itself. One of the well known features of this part of the coast is the Fossil Forest, a rocky ledge that was once a dense forest. Circles of rock mark where trees once stood. Unfortunately I could only view this from the top because the path down has been blocked off as being unsafe.
I continued eastwards to reach Mupe Bay and Mupe Rocks. The line of tilted rocks stretched out into the bay and in fact once reached right across to Worbarrow Tout that we saw earlier. Because of its remoteness, Mupe Bay is a delightful place to explore, and a series of steps provides access to the beach, with its infamous Smugglers’ Cave which I have blogged about previously here.
Above the beach is a conveniently placed picnic table which was at least partially sheltered by the hillside so I made the most of the opportunity to sit awhile with a hot cup of Bovril to warm me. The view across the bay with Flower’s Barrow and Worbarrow is wonderful and I could happily have sat there till dark but the day was getting even colder so I needed to move on.
Not that it took long to warm up as the climb back up to the ridge top is extremely steep, and of course, I was not on the ridge top for long before I had to drop right down to sea level again at Arish Mell, only to climb up again back to the heights of Flower’s Barrow – there is only the one path across this section. At this point, I had intended to continue along the coast path by dropping down to Worbarrow Bay but the light was fading fast and my ankle was giving me a lot of pain. I opted therefore to just retrace my steps back along the ridge to my starting point.
Along the way, I passed four deer who gazed at me for a short time before disappearing into the gloom. I know deer are a familiar sight but it still gives me a thrill when I see some, especially in the fading light with the backdrop of the sea.
There was no sunset, and no balmy evening, but I really enjoyed those last couple of miles as I walked into the freezing darkness. By the time I reached my stopping point, blackness had descended.
The day might not have worked out as hoped, particularly because I could not complete my intended walk, but I had still covered 10 miles and it had been brilliant. I decided that I would return the next day to complete the part of the range walks that I had missed……and I had a cunning plan that I hoped would help my sickly ankle. But that is a story for next time 🙂 !
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler
If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@– comments and feedback are always welcomed.
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