Tag Archives: West Bay

Quirky Dorset – Part 16

18 May

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

OK, so I lied yesterday 🙂 ! I’ve decided that I will continue this series a little longer, and today we visit a real icon of Dorset and something that is almost unique. This is an amazing feature that stretches for 18 miles along the coast and one that is mysterious and that has some quirky features. This is the Chesil Beach.

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach from West Cliff above Chiswell

Chesil Beach, also known as Chesil Bank, stretches 18 miles from Chiswell at its south eastern end to West Bay at its north western end……..although some would say that it doesn’t actually end there, since the beach continues beyond that point. It takes its name from the old English word for shingle because this is a shingle beach, and a shingle beach of the finest order. It is between 150 and 200 meters wide and between 12-14 meters high, with that height increasing towards the south east, and it is said to comprise some 180 billion pebbles.

It is described as a Tombolo, that is a narrow strip of land that is formed by the tide to join an island, in this case the Isle of Portland, to the mainland. Some would disagree with that description, stating that this is more of a giant sandbank or Barrier Beach because it runs predominantly parallel to the coast rather than perpendicular to it. Either way, this is the largest such feature in the UK, and one of the largest in the world.

Fleet View

Chesil Beach and The Fleet from Abbotsbury Castle

Chesil is thought to have its foundations way back at the end of the last ice age when the previously dry English Channel was flooded by melting ice. The gradually rising water level washed sediment towards the land forming a sandbank which increased in height as it moved landwards, eventually rising above sea level, trapping seawater behind it. This trapped water became known as The Fleet, a now brackish lagoon. The ‘sandbank’ was then further increased in size by stones and rock being washed over from the crumbling cliffs along the west shore of Lyme Bay, with these being driven over the top of the sand and silt to create a pebbled shoreline.

One of the interesting features of Chesil Beach is that the size of the pebbles varies along its length, being fist sized at Chiswell but reducing gradually to pea size at West Bay. There are various theories put forward to explain this phenomenon, one being that the predominant tides coming from the southwest hit Portland and then effectively bounce back westward again along the shoreline gradually reducing the size of the pebbles by attrition. Another suggests that in fact the southwesterly winds and tides wash the pebbles eastwards along the shore and that the larger pebbles simply move quicker and override the smaller ones that then get left behind.

Whichever of these theories is correct, it is said that fishermen or smugglers landing on Chesil Beach at night could tell exactly where they were simply by the size of the pebbles.



The bank is not smooth as it appears from a distance but is in fact ‘shelved’ by the action of the sea and weather as you can see in the picture above. The shingle is multi-coloured because of the different types of stone. For centuries, although the shingle beach itself was being eroded, it was being replenished by more debris washing across from the west. However, erosion all along this coast has caused some headlands to become more prominent, effectively blocking this resupply chain. In addition, human interaction has also had an effect since gravel extraction used to take place here.

Interestingly, whist lateral movement has virtually ceased, the shingle bank is still very gradually moving inland and a rate of 15 cm per annum has been suggested at the Portland end. It is probable that some distant day it will either be breached, or it will join the mainland. In fact there have already been occasions when the sea has breached Chesil, notably in 1824 when much of Fleet village was destroyed.


Stormy Seas off Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach is a truly amazing place and usually there are many fishermen, especially in the more western parts where it can be reached without too much walking. Swimming, however, is a dangerous occupation all along its length because of the steeply sloping shingle and very strong undertow. The shingle actually continues to drop steeply to some 18 meters below sea level at 300 meters out to sea!

In any event, because this is a conservation area, access is extremely restricted in parts, with no access being permitted at all along great lengths during the nesting season, or along the landward shoreline at any time at any time of year.

The Fleet shoreline

Chesil Beach and the Fleet Viewed from the Mainland Shore

The Chesil Beach is a wild and special place that has inspired novels! It is certainly a place that inspires me and one of my ambitions is to walk along its length simply because it is there, and because not many people will have done it. Well, trudging along 18 miles of shingle is not easy, especially when there is an easier path along the mainland shore. Whether I will achieve it or not, time alone will tell 🙂 !

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.

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



On the Wild Side – The Dorset Coast Path Day 2

4 Aug

I woke the next morning at 4.30am as the first light appeared in the sky and immediately leapt out of my sleeping bag, eager to start my day – it seems so much easier when camping than when at home in a soft bed. Half an hour later the sky turned a delightful shade of pink, red and orange as the sun broke through. The sheep on the hillside were already eating breakfast and there was a beautiful stillness. The scene before me was mesmerising and I captured it as best I could, wishing I had my tripod with me!

Abbotsbury Sunrise

5am – Sunrise over Abbotsbury

I had a quick breakfast of cereal bars and tea watching the ever lightening sky and listening to the sheep and cows that surrounded me. I was still alone on my hilltop although the village below me was starting to stir.

I packed up my things – well there wasn’t much to pack really – and before leaving I went into the chapel again. The doves were also stirring for the day, and one conveniently posed for me in the east window. I think that picture with the dove in silhouette was a fitting picture on which to end my stay at that amazing place of peace and pilgrimage and I bade my farewell.

St Catherine's Chapel

The Interior of St Catherine’s Chapel



Making my way across the hilltop, I dropped down the other side towards the coast path again, looking out across the Fleet with its swannery and the Chesil Bank that provides its  protective south bank. The day was already warm despite the clouds that had now gathered. It was to become even warmer later despite the earlier forecast of cooler weather!

The Fleet and Chesil Beach

The Fleet and Chesil Beach

Reaching the Coast

Joining the Coast Path

It was barely 6am and there was no-one else around apart from a few fishermen farther along Chesil Beach. From a distance, I could see them reeling in fish so it looked like it had been a successful night. The skies cleared once more and the early sun threw long shadows across the deserted beach. There was a lovely stillness in the air and it was wonderful to be out walking so early in the day.

Beach Walk

Early Morning Shadows

Along the Beach

Looking Back

On the Beach

Shingle and Surf

The first few miles of the day were hard going because they were either on hard but broken tarmac, or worse still, on shingle as the path follows the edge of the shingle beach. It was like constantly walking uphill and it was a relief when at last the path turned slightly inland to skirt along the edge of a nature reserve. Ahh, solid ground underfoot!

It was at this point that two walkers passed me – the first contact with humanity today. They waved a cheery good morning and continued on their way but we would meet again later in the day.

Solid Ground

Walking on Solid Ground

Gradually the day became busier! This was in part because the morning was drawing on but also because I was now entering a more ‘touristy’ section of the walk, with a number of towns, beaches and caravan parks. The first of these was Burton Bradstock, a popular beach with a caravan park just further along the coast.

Burton Bradstock

Burton Bradstock

It is at the caravan park that the River Bride enters the sea on its somewhat serpentine route. The river is not wide……but it is wide enough to need a footbridge to cross it, and that footbridge is half a mile inland. So at this point, my route detoured inland along one side of the river to reach the bridge, and then followed the other side back again.


The Serpentine River Bride

Generally though the walking along this section was not difficult as the headlands are not majorly high. That would all change later but for now, I could enjoy great views without too much effort.

On Burton Cliff

On Burton Cliff

There is one particularly interesting feature here though, and that is the Bridport Golf Club. Now I’m not a golfer but the hole in the picture below must be a challenge especially on a day when a stiff sea breeze is blowing. The tee off point is on the headland beside where I am stood and the hole is in the valley some 150 feet below! That must be difficult to gauge!

What Hole?

A Hole in One?

In terms of climbing, this was the first challenge of the day as I dropped down to almost sea level and climbed again up the other side. I stopped at the top to catch my breath….although it was of course in the guise of taking a photo. There are benefits to being a photographer 🙂 ! The view back was clear all the way to Portland, the ‘island’ that juts out into the sea.

An Awesome Coastline

Awesome Views

I arrived in a very busy West Bay in time for brunch – cheeseburger and tea which I ate sat along the harbourside. It always seems somewhat incongruous being in such a busy, tourist hot spot after walking along some remote coastal parts and it was only afterwards that I realised I didn’t take a single photograph there.

Having replenished my food and water supplies, I moved swiftly on, keen to be out on the wild coast again. I knew that the afternoon would be far more challenging than the morning with much higher headlands and steep climbs to negotiate, and the day was hotting up too! This was very quickly evidenced by the number of paragliders that habituate this part of the coast.



Even on the lower headlands I often found myself looking down on them rather than up, as they swooped from almost sea level to soar over my head. I was entering Broadchurch land (for those of you who watched that series on television) and I dropped down into Eype Mouth. Ahead of me I could dee my first major climb up over Thornecombe Beacon!

Broadchurch Land

Eype Mouth with Thornecombe Beacon Beyond

The day was by now extremely muggy with very little breeze to give any relief and I drank copious amounts of water as I made my way up the steep climb. The views were awesome and as I looked west I could see my next, even bigger, challenge in the shape of Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast.

From Thorncombe Beacon

From Thornecombe Beacon to Golden Cap

Before that climb though I had to drop down to sea level to reach Seatown, another popular beach with a nearby caravan site. For once I was happy about that though because I knew there was a shop there and that would be my last opportunity to replenish my supplies until tomorrow.

Climbing up out of Seatown I stopped to look back across Thornecombe Beacon.

Climbing Golden Cap

Climbing Golden Cap

The view from the top of Golden Cap makes all the hard work worth while and I dropped my pack and just sat drinking it in. For a time I had the place to myself although that rarely lasts long as many walkers pass that way, sometimes arriving from easier inland routes. I didn’t yet know where I would spend the night but it occurred to me that right there would be good. The day was still too young though so I continued on my way.

Golden Cap View

The View East from Golden Cap

Dropping down off the headland, I detoured slightly inland to walk through the almost deserted medieval hamlet of Stanton St Gabriel with its derelict church, dedicated to St Gabriel, and few remaining cottages. This was once a thriving fishing and farming community but making a living was hard and gradually people were lured away to the larger town of Bridport where there were mills and rope works. It became a smuggling area where contraband was stored and now provides holiday homes, even the old manor house being divided into flats.

I just find these villages so fascinating and I stood wondering what life, and the people, were like when it was in its heyday. If only Apple could add time machines to their phones so that we could at will go back and stand observing life then.

St Gabriel's Church

St Gabriel’s Church

Stanton St Gabriel

The Old Manor House, Stanton St Gabriel

I was woken from my reverie by the first drop of rain! And in many ways, it was welcome rain to cool me from the warmth of the day. I continued on my way knowing that there were no higher climbs to come although this part of the coast is still a switchback of ups and downs. Behind me Golden Cap gradually faded further into the distance.

Golden Cap from the West

Looking Back to Golden Cap

The day was drawing on and I started looking for somewhere to stop for the night. Nothing suitable materialised though until I summited the last headland before Charmouth which was flat and grassy. Here I would spend the night. There was even a seat there for me!

I sat alone in my ‘bedroom’ eating the food I had carried and brewed a cup of tea thinking that I would be able to sit and read for a time before settling down for the night…..but that wasn’t to be! First of all four people arrived carrying picnic chairs and settled on the cliff top. Then over the next hour others arrived until I was sat on my headland with a hundred or more people – it turned out that the Red Arrows, the RAF aerobatic team, were giving a display that evening as part of the RNLI celebrations in Lyme Regis across the bay from me. So I spent the evening chatting to various people and enjoying a display that I had known nothing about 🙂 !

Two of the people I chatted to were the two walkers I had passed at the beginning of the day. They told me that they were walking to Land’s End to raise money for charity. They had started as a trio but the third member had taken a tumble and broken his ankle so the two were continuing alone. I bade them good luck and they continued on their way.


Red Arrows

The Red Arrows Display

After the display had finished, people gradually drifted away and ultimately I had my lofty bed place to myself again. Almost as if I had given a cue, it was at that point that the clouds parted again and I was treated to the most amazing late light display that bettered even the Red Arrows. The sun slanted across the top of the headland where I would sleep, picking out the brightly coloured heather on the cliff edge.


Stonebarrow  with Golden Cap in the Distance

Stonebarrow Sunset

Stonebarrow Sunset

The sun soon dropped below the horizon and as the light faded, I set up my bed for the night. With the clouds still lingering and the recent rain, I decided to set up my tarp in case it rained in the night.

Stonebarrow Sunset

The End of Another Perfect Day

In the darkness, the lights of Charmouth and Lyme Regis twinkled below me. I would be passing through both of those places tomorrow but for tonight, I was content to be once more sleeping right in the midst of nature. What better place is there to sleep? I drifted off to the gentle sound of distant waves below me.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have enjoyed walking with me again today and that you will join me for another great day tomorrow.

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 welcomed.

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