Tag Archives: Purbeck

But Who is Old Harry?

12 Aug

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

In my last post, we paid a visit to St Lucas’ Leap, an interestingly named gap off Handfast Point in Purbeck. If you missed it there is a link here. Since we are on the subject of the Old Harry Rocks area, I thought we would continue our visit but this time by another possibly hazardous route so that we can get a slightly different viewpoint.

Chinooks over Old Harry Rocks

Chinooks Fly Over Handfast Point and Old Harry Rocks

In my last post we approached Old Harry via the cliff top path but today, we are approaching via the shoreline from Studland Beach. The first thing to say is that in order to take this route, you need to have a knowledge of the tides and to be very aware of the tide times as the headland is normally being lapped by waves. To get out to the base of Old Harry Rocks the tide needs to be out, and not only that but it needs to be a very low spring tide, nothing else will do because with some low tides, you would still need to paddle or swim to reach the point.

Naturally, once you reach the point, you still need to maintain an awareness of the tide because it is all too easy to get engrossed in taking pictures only to find that the tide has crept in behind you and you are stranded. Care is needed on the walk out too, because the shoreline is littered with very slippery seaweed, and it is nearly a mile from the beach to the base of Old Harry.

But despite the hazards, it is a walk that is so well worth doing as you will see the famous Old Harry up close, a view not experienced by many.

Just to give the global view first, in the picture at the top of this post, you see from left to right (ignoring the Chinooks 🙂 , of which more later), Old Harry and his wife, the two large chunks of No Man’s Land, the gap known as St Lucas’ Leap that featured in my previous post, Handfast Point and to the right, Ballard Down.

Old Harry and Wife

Old Harry and the Remains of His Wife

The reason for the numerous stacks is simply the action of the sea; this is an ever changing place. No Man’s Land has already divided into two, and as you can see, there are holes appearing in both parts. These holes will grow as erosion takes its toll and eventually there will be more and smaller stacks. Old Harry, on the left in the picture above, still stands but his wife, on his right, crumbled into the sea in 1896 and she is now a shadow of her former self. Eventually these two will both disappear, to be replaced by a new Harry and wife as No Mans Land erodes further.

Through the Arch

The Haystack and The Pinnacle

These are not the only stacks along this part of the coast. There are two more just a short ‘walk’ away if you dare risk trying to reach them 🙂 ! The first of these is known as the Turf Rickrock or Haystack, the other more pointed stack is known as The Pinnacle. It is fairly obvious where their names come from. The same can’t be said of Old Harry though!

Old Harry at Sunset

Old Harry and No Man’s Land

There are various tales of how Harry got his name, and several legends around how he came into being. Some say that he is named after the devil himself who fell asleep on the headland, others say that he is named after a notorious Dorset pirate called Harry Paye, whose vessel is said to have lay in wait for merchant ships, hiding behind the stacks. Yet another tale is that he is in fact a ninth century viking called Earl Harold who drowned in the area and subsequently turned into a pillar of rock.

However it got its name, Old Harry Rocks is an absolute icon of this area and a lovely spot to visit. It is certainly popular with locals and visitors alike.

Below the Cliffs

A Glimpse of The Haystack Through One of the Headlands

The massive white cliffs are full of caves that have become ‘tunnels’, almost as if some giant creature has burrowed through and come out the other side. In between the various headlands, small coves have been formed with normally unreachable beaches. This feature is nowhere more obvious than along the cliffs as we make our way back towards Studland Beach. This is like a corrugated coastline created by the sea.

And make our way back we must as the sun is setting, the light is fading and the tide is coming in again. As the saying goes, ‘Time and tide wait for no man’, and that is never more evident than here and now.

The Way Back

The Way Back – a Corrugated Coast

But what of those Chinooks? Well this is a regular training area for the military so these helicopters, looking like weird giant insects, often fly out on exercises, sometimes filled with troops, sometimes landing on Ballard Down, sometimes picking up boats off the sea. They might disturb the peace of this area at times but they are awesome to watch.

Any visit to the foot of Old Harry Rocks is by necessity short so time spent there needs to be measured in terms of quality not quantity. It will likely be time that you will spend on your own as not many make the trip on foot. This for me makes it a special place.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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Turning the Clock Back!

15 Jun

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

This week, there was a turning back of the clock…….by some 45 years! I was a part of it 45 years ago, and I was a part of it this week, and what a great day it was. You see, something that was abandoned as being not needed all that time ago is now back in place because people wanted it so! What is it? It is a branch line railway that closed way back in 1972 but this week was reopened. But that is not all of the story.

The line in question was the Purbeck line that ran from the mainline station at Wareham through to the Dorset coastal town of Swanage. It operated until 1972 and I remember traveling that line as a child and teenager, but the powers that be decided that it didn’t pay and they closed the line. In the short space of just 7 weeks in 1972, despite protests from local people, most of the track was torn up in what now seems a gross act of vandalism. But fortunately some people had a vision to restore the line and this week they achieved a massive goal. What took 7 weeks to destroy has taken 45 years to rebuild!

But that is still not the whole story of this blog. You see, I thought I’d like to be part of this historic day and I came up with a plan to get to Wareham Station, by train of course 🙂 , and catch the first train of the new service to Swanage. Then I would spend the day walking. But you know that expression, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men…..’

Wareham Quay

Wareham Quay

I arrived at Wareham Station only to find that the first two trains were already fully booked out to staff and volunteers! So I put into place Plan B, which actually I didn’t have prior to that moment, and decided to walk the 15 miles from Wareham to Swanage and then catch the last train back. At least that way, I would still be part of that first day, if not the first train 🙂 ! Oh, but just to make sure, I phoned ahead and pre-booked my seat!

So, I set out on a beautifully sunny day, walking through Wareham initially to reach the quay beside the River Frome. This is a great start to any walk because the first mile or so follows the river, with lovely dappled light spreading across the path and boats and swans bobbing on the water.

On the Riverside Path

The Path Beside the River Frome

As with a lot of walks, my route did involve some country lanes but I enjoy walking these at this time of the year because there is so much to see in the hedgerows, and anyway, the lanes soon gave way to open heathland. I knew that the railway crossed the heath and I wondered if I would reach the line before ‘my’ train went through but, Murphy’s Law, the train went through literally minutes before I crossed the line. I heard the throaty diesel but I couldn’t see it.

From town, to riverside, to country lane, to open heath, and now to woodlands, dense and ancient with ponds and rivulets. Birdsong accompanied me as I walked and I could hear, but not see, deer rustling through the trees. It was delightfully shady and cool under that overhead canopy on this warm day.

Dappled Woodland

Dappled Light and Cool Air in the Woodlands

Eventually, my route brought me out into the open again as Corfe Castle, standing proud on its hilltop, came into view across the valley. You can see why it was built at that particular point at a break in the Purbeck ridge that stretches out both sides of the castle. And in the dip to the left of the castle, I could see the railway line that would be my way back……if I made it in time to catch the last train!

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

I continued straight through Corfe and climbed up the hill the other side to reach the top of the Purbeck Hills that stretch for miles in both directions. The hills are not really that high but the climb up is long and slow, and I sat down part way for lunch. Skylarks were singing their hearts out overhead, and the views were just awesome. What could be better. These hills are special to me as I ‘cut my walking teeth’ on them when I was a child, and I have walked them ever since.

On the Purbeck Ridge

On the Purbeck Ridge

Much of the rest of my walk was along this lofty ridge, along mostly grassy paths, and as the afternoon drew on, I reached the point where I could look down and see Swanage below me. At this point, I knew I had about an hour to get down off the hills, walk along the seafront and through the town to reach the station. With the still glorious weather, it seemed a shame to be ending my walk and I was tempted to just keep on walking into the evening, but the draw of the train on this memorable day was too strong.

Now I have to say at this point that I am not a steam buff nor a railway geek, I just enjoy train travel, and enjoy revisiting our past heritage.

Swanage

Swanage Comes into View

I joined the Dorset Coast Path, and dropped down off the hilltop into the town and made it to the station with 20 minutes to spare. The platform was crowded, the train was waiting and of course, the BBC were there filming. This was an occasion!

So how did this project reach this landmark after the devastation that was left in 1972? Well, that very same year, the Swanage Railway Society was formed, and those involved ‘had a dream’! In practical terms, it all started 4 years later when the group were granted a one year lease over the, by then, near derelict Swanage Railway Station. A few hundred yards of track were laid and by August 1979, diesel trains were running along it, followed the next year by steam. Little by little the track was extended until in 2002, exactly 30 years to the day after its closure, a temporary connection was made again with the main line.

There was still more to do however because a regular service could not be introduced due to essential signalling work being required. Finally this was carried out in 2014 along with other upgrading work to bring the line up to the required standard to make it permanent. All this work, at the cost of millions of pounds, was completed last year.

BBC at Swanage Railway

BBC South Today Filming

It just seems amazing that what took just 7 weeks to destroy, has taken 45 years to re-instate, and it is thanks to the tenacity of an increasing group of volunteers. It is thanks to them that I was able to board the train on Tuesday for my first journey to Wareham since I was a young man.

On the Swanage Railway

On the Newly Restored Swanage Branch Line

At this stage the trains are being pulled by diesel engines, double ended because there is nowhere for the engines to turn at Wareham. The current service is part of a two year trial which hopefully will be extended to make this a permanent feature of Purbeck again.

At Wareham Station

The Last Train of the Day Leaves Wareham

What a memorable day. It hadn’t worked out exactly as I planned but nevertheless, I had an amazing walk, taking in a whole variety of different terrains, and been part of a historic day in the Isle of Purbeck.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

Theme for the Week – Dorset Hills with a View Part 5

8 Apr

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

For the fifth ‘Hill with a View’ this week, we are coming back to the Purbecks, in fact to the highest point in the Purbecks, and some fabulous views to go with it. Today, we feature Swyre Head……but have a care, there are two!

Swyre Head

Across the Encombe Valley

Swyre Head Viewed from Houns Tout

Swyre Head stands at 208 meters (682 feet) above sea level at its highest point, and its highest point is on the top of the Bronze Age bowl barrow that sits atop it. This barrow is some 25 meters in diameter and has been modified to flatten the top. A large square stone slab surmounts this suggesting that it was once used as a windmill mound. It is thought that these modifications might have been made by Lord Eldon who owned Encombe House in the valley below back in the 19th century.

Swyre Head stands some half a mile inland of the coast path, not far from the village of Kingston. There is a second headland bearing the same name 11 miles to the west. In the picture above, our Swyre Head is the headland to the right which slopes steeply down to the cliff top.

Swyre Head View

The View Towards Kimmeridge and Mupe

The views from this hill are just fantastic, stretching to Kimmeridge Bay and beyond that to Mupe Bay in the west. To the east, there are equally spectacular views across the Encombe valley to St Aldhelm’s Head. This beautiful bowl shaped valley with its old manor house sitting at the bottom was once owned by Lord Eldon and changed hands just a few years ago for a sum nearing £25M.

The Encombe Valley,

The Encombe Valley

One of the strange things about Swyre Head is that it was once a Marilyn (a hill with a prominence of at least 150 meters), having been promoted in 1999, but it was demoted again from that list in June 2015. Clearly the hill hasn’t changed so I can only assume that more modern measuring techniques have changed its perceived prominence, which is now quoted as 148.3 meters.  The headland is therefore now a Sub-Marilyn, a category of hills aimed at those falling just below Marilyn status. It is of course also a HuMP and a TuMP!

Heaven's Gate

Heaven’s Gate

Whilst we are on the subject of hill classifications incidentally, we have this week only covered a fraction of the categories that exist. In the UK there are Munros, Murdos, Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds, Furths, Hewitts, Nuttalls, Wainwrights, Birketts, Marilyns, Simms, Deweys, Hardys, HuMPs, TuMPs, Sub-Marilyns, Sub-HuMPs, etc etc….. The list goes on! I said at the beginning of the week that it was complicated 🙂 !

Walking west from Swyre Head brings you to a gate bearing the name ‘Heaven’s Gate’. As you stand on this headland on a beautiful day such as this, with those views, and with the sound of skylarks singing and sheep bleating, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were indeed in heaven. It seems appropriate to end this week’s theme on this point.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Theme for the Week – Dorset Hills with a View Part 3

5 Apr

– – – EXPLORING THE COUNTRYSIDE AND LANES OF DORSET – – –

So, this week, we are considering iconic Dorset hills, hills that have amazing views and which just seem to typify Dorset. And today’s fits the bill well, and has a strange name to boot! This is Nine Barrow Down.

Nine Barrow Down

On Nine Barrow Down

Nine Barrow Down with Swanage in the Distance

Nine Barrow Down rises to 199 meters (653 feet) and is part of the Purbeck chalk ridge that stretches some 15 miles from Old Harry Rocks in the east to Lulworth Cove in the west. This ridge itself is part of a much larger system of chalk downlands that stretches across Southern England. Nine Barrow Down sits part way along the ridge with flatter land on either side giving spectacular views all along its length.

Walking the Purbeck Ridge

The View Across Poole Harbour

These views stretch all across Poole Harbour to the north, and across the Purbeck valley to the Dorset coast in the south. In the picture below, you can see the Purbeck Ridge stretching away into the distance.

Down a Purbeck Valley

The View to the South

So, why the unusual name of Nine Barrow Down? Well it has been given that name simply because there are said to be nine barrows, or burial mounds, along the ridge. These are mainly Bronze Age round barrows together with one Neolithic long barrow. The number is something that I have never been able to prove because whilst some barrows are obvious, others, due to erosion, are not. In fact I have read that there were probably double that number although it is possible that there were just the nine on the ridge top with the others being elsewhere on the downs.

The Barrows

Nine Barrow Down

One of the problems with this ancient barrow cemetery is that riders, both bike and horse, and walkers will often follow a route over the top of the barrows, causing even more erosion. In an effort to prevent this, some wattle fencing was erected for a time. This was intended to keep people to the footpath but I am not sure it worked terribly well.

The gold of evening

Evening on the Downs

In addition to the barrows, this ridge is also a great place to spot wildlife. There are butterflies aplenty, with species such as Adonis Blue and Common Blue inhabiting this area, and of course the ever present skylarks which for me just typify summer.

Common Blue

Common Blue

Nine Barrow Down, and in fact the whole Purbeck Ridge, has a very special place in my heart as I have walked it all my life since I was a young child. It is just a beautiful place with miles of great walking, many grassy ‘bare foot’ paths, and fantastic views. Because the paths are generally smooth, it is a place where you can walk and take in the views at the same time without fear of losing your footing, and that is always welcome.

So where does Nine Barrow Down fit in with the hill classifications that we have talked about in previous posts? Well it is actually a Marilyn, which is defined as a mountain or hill having a prominence of at least 150 meters (492 feet) regardless of its overall height. The reason for the name Marilyn is simply a pun on the famous Munro’s of Scotland. The latter all have an overall height of 914 meters (3,000 feet) so lots of Munro’s will also be Marilyns, making them Marilyn Munro’s!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until tomorrow,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of two ridges, the devil and heaven, amazing views, and an old mill but no stream!

15 Apr

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!

Creech View

Down the valley to Worbarrow Bay

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!

A Purbeck Valley

The Devil’s Staircase

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.

Kimmeridge

Kimmeridge

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)……

Above Kimmeridge Bay

Across Kimmeridge and the Bay

…..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!

The Corfe Valley and Poole Harbour

Corfe Castle and Poole Harbour

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.

Kimmeridge and the Dorset Coast

Kimmeridge Bay and the drystone wall

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.

Heaven's Gate

Heaven’s Gate

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.

Across the Encombe Valley

The Encumber Valley and St Aldhelm’s Head

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.

Encombe House

Encombe House

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 🙂 !

Castle View

Corfe Castle across the ‘stream’

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.

Water Wheel
Cascade

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.

Corfe Castle Across the Common

Corfe Castle

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.

Driving into the Sun

On the Road

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.

Corfe Village

Corfe village and church

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.

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle in the evening sun

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of a new henge, priests and quarrymen, sunsets and spray, and a ledge that dances!

13 Feb

It was another of those rare crisp, cold, clear, Winter days and there was bright sunshine as I parked up near the recently erected landmark, Woodhenge, at Worth Matravers.

This monument was put up on a whim by the landlord of the local pub who had cut down a huge tree but local planners ordered it to be taken down as no planning permission had been granted. In the end, they relented and agreed that it could stay for a few months but such was the level of public support for the monument which has very quickly become a local attraction that planners have now extended this for a further two years. So Woodhenge stays……for the time being at least.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Starting out on my walk, I immediately passed the pub itself, the quirky Square and Compass, probably one of the best pubs in Purbeck, in fact in the whole of Dorset! It started life as a pair of cottages but was converted to an alehouse in the 18th century and specialises in pasties and cider.  It also has one of the smallest bars you are likely to see, just a hatch in the corridor!  It has an amazing beer garden with views down the valley to the sea and there is nothing better than to sit on a rock seat on a summer evening with drink in hand watching the sun go down.

But this was too early in the day for a drink so I passed swiftly by.

The Square and Compass

The Square and Compass

Making my way out of the village along the road, I passed something else that I always think is quirky – a bus stop which is just 2 feet high! It always strikes me as funny – was it designed for short people? 🙂

I soon turned off the road and crossed fields, passing a farm drive that I seem to photograph with monotonous regularity – I couldn’t resist another shot with the bright sunlight picking out the straight track against the heavy cloud backdrop. It always reminds me of the album cover on the Best of the Eagles CD – well I always did have a good imagination!

Straight!

The Straight Way

The track I was following is known as The Priests Way and it was bounded on both sides by dry stone walls. It intrigues me how the style of these walls varies – on one side of me the stones were laid flat and on the other side they sloped diagonally. Either way, I think the way these walls stand up using nothing but gravity is testament to the skills of the men who built them. It is a classic example of making use of extremely local materials since they were originally built with stones cleared from the fields when preparing the ground for agriculture. Isn’t that just perfect!

Dry Stone WallDry Stone Wall

The Priests Way is a track that links the village of Worth Matravers to its larger cousin on the coast, Swanage. It takes its name from the fact that back as far as the 15th century, the priest who oversaw congregations in both localities would ride the route regularly to visit his parishioners or lead services. As you walk the trail which runs along the top of the ridge, you could just imagine raising your cap as the priest passed by, or passing the time of day with him on the road.

This is now a good route to walk at this time of year after so much rain because thanks to funding from Natural England the path has been improved and resurfaced. The dry and firm footing is welcome and frees you up to look around you as you no longer have to watch every step.

The Priest's Way

The Priests Way Sign

Part way along the track, I passed a hollow in the ground, but this is clearly no ordinary hollow as the sides are supported by dry stone walling. It is overgrown now but at one time this would have been a watering point for livestock using the route.

Drinking Place?

One of the things this area is noted for is its Purbeck and Portland Stone that has been quarried extensively for many years. Most of the quarries have ceased their operations long since but there are still some that continue to work the stone. The path passes by one such quarry and I stopped to watch the heavy machinery doing tasks that were once performed laboriously by many men with simple tools. How times change!

A Working Quarry

This track really is a delightful route to walk, indeed it is one of my regular walks. The track winds its way towards Swanage with the distant sea becoming ever closer, and with beautiful views across the valley towards the Purbeck Hills.

The Priest's Way

The Priests Way

It passes by a lime kiln, reminding me of another of those ancient occupations, the making of quicklime to spread on the land to reduce acidity, or to make a whitewash for buildings. It could even be used as a disinfectant for cow stalls. These were in their heyday when land was being prepared for agricultural purposes and many farms had kilns of their own, manufacturing quicklime right where it was needed.  These days of course it is manufactured by much more efficient methods but it is good to see these ancient relics being preserved for future generations.

The Lime Kiln

A Lime Kiln Beside the Track

On the Priet's Way

The Priests Way with the Purbeck Hills Beyond

Nearing the end of The Priests Way, I stopped for elevenses overlooking the town of Swanage. This is such a lovely view and it is always a good place to sit. Not only that, but you get serenaded at the same time as behind me stands a metal gatepost with holes in it and when the wind is in the right direction, it plays the gatepost like a flute 🙂 !  I remember the day I first heard this eerie sound – it took me a while to work out where it was coming from.

Swanage

Swanage

I dropped down into Swanage which I always think is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ town. People either love it or hate it! I really like it and always enjoy wandering through the streets passing some interesting sights like the old and derelict Pier Head Cafe on the sea front. The building was actually erected as a temporary mess hall in the late 1940’s and has had various uses since then, until it was declared unsafe some 50 years later. It is now awaiting redevelopment and arguably has become even more iconic since its closure thanks to the murals that you see below.

The murals were painted by two local artists as part of Purbeck Arts Week in 2007 and are really effective. One thing I particularly like is that the Swanage version of Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawk’ has a Simpsons version hanging on the wall in the background 🙂 !

Pier Head Cafe and Tea GardenPier Head Cafe and Tea Garden

Leaving Swanage, I climbed up the down at the southern end of the town and continued on my way. But not before stopping to look back at the town below.

Swanage

Leaving Swanage

For many years, the route from here has meant walking along the road before joining the coast path again. This is because the coast path was closed due to landslides. Recently, however, the coast path itself has been reopened so it is possible to take a much improved route.

The Undercliff

The Undercliff Walk

Even now though, the route through the trees and across the foreshore is very muddy and I wonder how long it will be before the route is closed again. However, I made it through ok and continued round the coast below Durlston Castle, looking back to Peverill Point across the bay, with Old Harry Rocks in the distance.

Peverill Point and Old Harry Rocks

Peverill Point and Old Harry Rocks

Durlston Castle was never actually a true castle, being built as a restaurant to cater for visitors to the Durlston Estate in the late 19th century. It is now a visitor’s centre for what has become a country park. My route took me below the castle and round the headland to Anvil Point where ahead of me I could see the lighthouse standing proud above the rugged coast. The lighthouse was built in 1881 and is now fully automated, the lighthouse keeper’s accommodation being turned into holiday lets. It must be a great place to stay……provided the foghorn doesn’t go off of course!

Below the lighthouse is the ledge of what was once Tilly Whim Caves. These were originally coastal quarries dating from the 18th century but when quarrying ceased, they were converted to a tourist attraction. From 1887 to 1976 they drew many visitors to the area until a rock fall forced their closure. Now they are home to bats so their usefulness continues, just in a different guise.

Anvil Point

Anvil Point and Tilly Whim Caves

Leaving Anvil Point behind, I entered a stretch of coast that I knew would not be easy to walk. This is ‘muddy mile’, well, several miles actually and in the wet season it is always muddy! I slipped and slid my way along the coast passing spiders’ nests in the shrubbery to the side.  Often there are sightings of dolphins, peregrines and many other creatures along this stretch of coast, as well as rare plants.

Spider's Nest

Spider’s Nest

Along this part of the coast also, there are two sets of ‘mile markers’, posts erected on the cliff top which can be used by ships to test their speed and performance. When viewed from the sea, these indicate a measured mile.

Mile Markers

Mile Markers

This is a delightful part of the Dorset coast, laden with old and disused quarry workings and normally some lovely grassy paths – when they haven’t been churned up into mud. The views are spectacular and there is much to explore.

The QuarriesThe Quarries

I couldn’t resist taking some cloudscape shots on this glorious day.

Along the Dorset CoastClouds

One of the smallest quarries is Whiteware Quarry in the picture below. I love to visit this quarry which is partially hidden away. Its diminutive size intrigues me and it is high above the sea, creating a very exposed feeling. The ledge is a great place to just sit and watch the waves crashing onto the rocks 30 metres below.

Whiteware Quarry

Whiteware Quarry

In total contrast to the Whiteware, the next quarry one of the largest. This is Dancing Ledge, a popular playground of climbers, coasteering groups, walkers and so on. So much so that the National Trust has recently announced that it will be restricting the numbers of commercial groups in order to reduce damage to the area.

There are various theories as to where the name Dancing Ledge came from. Some say that it is because the waves seem to dance across the lower ledge, others say that it takes its name from the fact that the ledge is the same size as a ballroom dance floor.  Either way, it is a very appropriate name and a beautiful place to while away a few hours.

It is well know for its amazing wildlife, including a colony of puffins, and for its swimming pool, visible in the picture below. This pool was blasted out of the rock in the early 1900’s so that the children from the local preparatory schools had somewhere safe to swim as the sea itself is far too treacherous. The schools have all now closed but the pool is still used by others and it is a great place to cool off during a hot summer’s walk.  But not on this chilly winter’s day!

Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge

The light was now fading fast but I climbed down to the lower ledge to capture some beautiful crepuscular rays and some great crashing waves. The evening was beautifully atmospheric and it was quite special having the place all to myself and watching the light fade. I could have happily sat and watched the sun disappear but I had further to walk so after some while, I climbed back up to the coast path.

On Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge

As I made my way towards the next quarry, I looked back the way I’d come, with Anvil Point in the far distance and some subtle pink tones appearing in the sky, the clouds reflecting the light from the setting sun.

Looking Back to Anvil Point

The Way I’d Come

The last quarry of the day was to be Seacombe and with the sun disappearing, I climbed up to the ridge above to capture the sunset over the old wartime gun post that once guarded this part of the coast from the enemy. This is an Alan Williams Turret, designed to be operated by one man with a machine gun or anti-tank gun. This rusting hulk is a happy reminder that peace reign’s in our land although it is also a reminder that sadly this is not true for many parts of this world we live in.

I stood looking at this scene with a mix of emotions!

Seacombe

Seacombe Quarry

Finally I left the coast behind and with the sound of the waves gradually fading into the distance I made my way up the valley, once again tramping through mud, to reach Worth Matravers. I stopped to capture the last vestige of light across the duck pond that sits on the green in the heart of this picture perfect and unspoilt village. The ducks had long since gone to roost leaving the water like a mirror to reflect the sky, church and cottages, many of which are now second homes. This is another village that has to a large degree lost its working heart but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Worth Matravers

Worth Matravers

I made my way back to my starting point and to Woodhenge, now silhouetted against a beautiful late night sky. This was my starting point and it made a fitting end to a glorious day’s walking!

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Thanks for joining me on this walk.  I hope you have enjoyed the sights and sounds of this wonderful part of Dorset.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

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