Lulworth Cove To Wykes Regis Dorset
It’s the 3rd May 18 and after an unprecedented lay-in at the stunning Lulworth Cove Inn, it’s finally time to get started, with Barry Plant, on today’s walking adventure. The sun is shining and this walk promises to be one that lives long in the memory. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door just along the coast, are the jewels in Dorset’s fine crown and not to be missed if visiting the area. Lulworth Cove, a World Heritage Site, is visited by over 500,000 visitors yearly and is considered to be one of the finest landform sites in the world. The scallop shaped Cove was formed some 10,000 years ago by the sea breaking through a comparatively thin layer of hard Portland Stone that runs parallel to the shoreline. Once through, the action of the waves (wave diffraction) allowed much softer clays to be eroded more rapidly and extensively. when a straight wave hits a barrier with a hole in it, the resulting wave pattern on the other side is semi-circular. The curved waves radiate out from the Cove entrance showing very clearly how Lulworth got its shape.
West Lulworth is a a traditional Dorset fishing village with thatched cottages and former coastguard houses dating back over 400 years. It is steeped in history and used to be a smugglers haunt. The Castle Inn is one of the oldest pubs in dorset, dating from the 16th century. Being the closest village to Lulworth Cove, it is hugely popular with visitors due to the unspoilt beaches, fantastic walking opportunities, geological interests and several small stores selling ice cream, hot food, coffee and traditional Dorset cream teas.
The stunning Stair Hole, less than half a mile west of Lulworth Cove, is an infant cove, which suggests what Lulworth Cove would have looked like a few hundred thousand years ago. The sea has made a gap in the Portland and Purbeck limestone here, as well as a small arch. The sea has made its way through to the Wealden clays and begun eroding them. The clay shows obvious signs of slumping, and is eroding very rapidly. Stair Hole shows one of the best examples of limestone folding (the Lulworth Crumple) in the world, caused by movements in the Earth’s crust (tectonics) millions of years ago. Folding can also be seen at nearby Durdle Door and at Lulworth cove itself.
Leaving Lulworth behind us we must climb Hambury Tout Hill, at its summit is a Bell Barrow thought to have been constructed sometime between 1500 and 1100 BC and is some three metres high and 22 metres in diameter. Bell barrows are the most striking of burial mounds and also the most rare: there are thought to be no more than 250 bell barrows nationally, with most of them being in Wessex. Nearby is a bowl barrow, from around the same time or maybe a little earlier, both are scheduled ancient monuments. This large 450ft chalk hill is the first test of the day and has us digging deep gasping for air as we walk.
At the summit of Hambury Tout it is an easy walk along the path above the beautiful St Oswald’s Bay. The far reaching views out toward Weymouth and Portland are just breathtaking on a sunny day like today.
Within minutes we arrive at the spectacular 200ft Durdle Door possibly one of the most amazing coastal views in Dorset and Britain alike. Durdle, meaning Drill in old English, describes the wave action which has left us this stunning natural limestone sea arch. We need no excuses to drop down the steep steps from the cliff above to Durdle Beach for a closer look at this magnificent gem. Having visited the site now and once on a previous occasion, I can promise you this will not be my last visit to this area. For me this really is a bit of heaven or what I imagine heaven should look like.
After our climb back up the cliff from Durdle Door beach, it’s time to take on the roller coaster cliff walk up and over Swyre Head to Bat’s Head. This part of the walk is testing in the heat, but we stop on Bat’s Head to chat to a group of young aircrew from British Airways doing a sponsored walk for charity and to take a small breather. From here we pass through the Warren, drop into the valley, before climbing the final hump of the day, which dips into the edge of Middle Bottom and then ascends to the old coastguard cottages at White Nothe.
On the hillside of the Warren we pass these rather large Fairy Rings. They are dark green circles, arcs, or rings of thick, fast-growing grass that develop anytime from spring, through the heat of summer and until the first hard frost in the Autumn. These rings are most commonly between 2 and 15 feet in diameter, although they may be larger or smaller. Sometimes Mushrooms or puffballs may appear under wet conditions in the same ring pattern and in some cases, a ring of brown or dead grass may appear. They are caused by many different soil-inhabiting fungi of the class Basidiomycetes. Fairy ring fungi do not attack grass directly, but break down organic matter in the soil. As a result, nitrogen is released which the grass uses, causing it to grow and develop a contrasting green ring. The fairy rings are truly a natural process that can add some character to an area of grassland or lawn.
Also in the Warren we find two further concrete pinnacles known as sea marks, already mentioned in previous blog posts these beacons line up as navigation markers to point the way along the main shipping channel into Portland Harbour.
At White Nothe (meaning White Nose) we take a detour from the path to visit the small headland for a short break. Below a Zig Zag path up the cliff is believed to be one of the locations alluded to as a smuggler’s path in the British children’s book Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner. It is possible to walk to the base of White Nothe along the shore from Ringstead Bay, but it is cut off at high tide, so much care should be taken. At the top of the Smugglers path there is a protruding nose shape coming out of the white cliff giving the name to the area. The views out to Portland and down below across Ringstead Bay are just spectacular.
Behind this wonderful gate produced by Old Kiln Forge of Farnham, Surrey is White Nothe Coastguard Cottages. I was interested to read on another well written blog that the White Nothe coastguard cottages are made up of a three story house, being that of the captain and six cottages housing his men. At one time, with wives and children, there were 44 people living in this short row of cottages. Today they are in private ownership and unmodernised. They have no road access and the only way to reach them is along a muddy farm track, They have no mains electricity (with power coming from a LPG powered generator and a car battery charged by solar panels), for lighting it’s gas, oil lamps or candles, they have no mains gas (except by LPG bottle which they have to go and collect), there is no running water (only rain water which is captured off the roofs and stored in underground tanks, which then needs to be pumped up to the header tank for use, heating is by log burners which feeds a small number of radiators, there is no telephone or Internet and no mains drainage (just a septic tank). However recently one of the small cottages has come up for sale at £275,000 and it states in need of thorough modernisation, that is no understatement, but what a stunning position on the spectacular Dorset coastline
After the walk from Lulworth our thoughts now turn to refreshments and the famous Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mill. During our walk around Ringstead Bay we met a lovely couple from Wales and within a few minutes two had become four, all heading for the pub. Being no good with names, I do remember Geta, but sadly not her husband’s. It’s funny how I always remember the ladies name and if they do read this post please contact me so I can put that right.
There has been an inn on the site of the current pub since the 13th century. Originally called The Crown, then The Picnic before being aptly named The Smugglers Inn, the pub can boast authentic connections to the smuggling trade. Quiet areas along the south coast saw a dramatic rise in smuggling after the Gin Act of 1751, one of several punitive taxes imposed by the government to fund war in Europe. Situated away from the main village of Osmington, down a winding lane which ends at the cliff, it is scarcely surprising that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Osmington Mills, nestled in a valley away from curious eyes, was once the home of the leader of one of the most notorious gangs of smugglers in the area, the Charles gang, and reputedly provided shelter for the famous French smuggler Pierre Latour, known locally as French Peter. During the 1820s Emmanuel Charles, landlord of the Crown Inn as the Smugglers was then named, was reputedly the leader of an extremely ruthless gang of family members who mercilessly set about officers of the newly formed coastguard, although the spirit he smuggled was described as ‘so raw and unpalatable as to be totally unfit for consumption’. Like most places along this section of coastline you should always pop along to the Smugglers for a short break when visiting this area. Now part of the Hall and Woodhouse group, owners of the Badger brewery founded in 1777 by Charles Hall at Blandford Forum Dorset, you will not be disappointed. My only gripe with the Smugglers and other Badger Inns is that I wish I could find their best ale in my opinion, ‘Hopping Hare’ on tap, a firm favourite of mine.
Just after leaving Osmington Mill the foreshore here is subject to massive historical mudslides. Osmington Mill sits on soft sediment which soaks up rain meaning that it is an area particularly prone to mudslides and cliff falls. Erosion reveals exciting features and fossils that have not been seen for millions of years, however the prevailing weather conditions during 2012 and 2013 have exacerbated conditions making this an area to be explored carefully.
The White horse of Osmington. Just below the South Dorset Ridgeway path, up on the Hill aptly named White Horse Hill, is the figure of King George III riding his horse. This wonderful hill figure cut into the limestone can be seen for miles around. The king was a regular visitor to Weymouth and made it ‘his first resort’. The figure is 280 feet (85 m) long and 323 feet (98 m) high. In 2012 a huge restoration project by the Dorset County Council Rangers and involving more than 200 volunteers, was carried out ahead of the 2012 Olympics. It was subsequently given the royal seal of approval by Princess Anne who commended “the sheer hard work” put into the project.
The stunning distinctive, white-and-blue art deco Riviera Hotel at Bowleaze Cove Weymouth. This Grade II listed Spanish-style 1940s building was formerly a Pontins. In November 2009 the hotel was sold for a reported £3.5 million to Saudi Arabian investors and has undergone a £4 million refit. Bowleaze Cove and Furzy Cliff mark the start of Weymouth Bay.
The two tier beach chalets at Greenhill Beach on the Esplanade Weymouth. This lovely historical building with its viewing platform on the top is another seaside gem and in need of some improvement.
The beach at Weymouth is a popular destination for sea bathing, and was frequented by King George III during times of illness. The king made bathing fashionable there after he was advised to take the waters after his first bout of porphyria. The beach is very wide and gently sloping, with golden sand and shallow waters normally with small waves. The sand on the beach at Weymouth was voted the best for making sandcastles in Britain and it is considered to be one of the top ten best beach destinations in Europe.
The remains of Weymouth Quay railway station now disused. The terminus of the Weymouth Harbour Tramway was built in 1865 and operated a regular service until September 1987. It was the terminus and starting point for boat trains to and from London Waterloo, linking to the ferry services with the train actually running though the streets of the town.
After the regular boat trains were ended, the station was still occasionally used for special services, the last being a Pathfinder Tours charter on 2 May 1999. The track and station are no longer used at all, although they are still part of the rail network. The station buildings were used as offices for Condor Ferries which operated a ferry service to the Channel Islands. However, with the purchase of its new ferry in 2015, Condor ceased to serve the port of Weymouth.
The line was designated “Out of Use (temporary)” for a period of two years by Network Rail on 15 January 2007 and again on 1 April 2009. Closure of the branch has been proposed by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council who are proposing to acquire the trackbed. Thankfully in July 2014, it was reported that the sale of the line did not proceed and a campaign started to reopen the tram route claiming it would help with tourism and reduce car usage in the town. I do hope sense prevails and this can be done, because my memories of trains running to the quayside would definitely return another piece of charm to this delightful town.
Weymouth originated as a settlement on a constricted site to the south and west of Weymouth Harbour, an outlying part of Wyke Regis. The town developed from the mid 12th century onwards, but was not noted until the 13th century. By 1252 it was established as a seaport and became a chartered borough. Melcombe Regis developed separately on the peninsula to the north of the harbour; it was mentioned as a licensed wool port in 1310. Melcombe Regis is thought to be the first port at which the Black Death came into England in June 1348, possibly either aboard a spice ship or an army ship. In their early history Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were rivals for trade and industry, but the towns were united in an Act of Parliament in 1571 to form a double borough. Both towns have become known as Weymouth, despite Melcombe Regis being the main centre.
After a walking around the harbour and out toward Nothe Fort, I immediately recognised this building as a World War II searchlight bunker. I had previously seen one of these on my Brook to Shalfleet Isle of Wight Pt.3 post. The large metal doors would have been opened to reveal a huge searchlight with just enough room to squeeze around the light. Inside there was a series of what looked like coiled springs with a large switch and dials erected against the wall just inside the right hand side. These were called Busbars and as the electrical current passed through them they hummed and gave off heat which was appreciated on cold winter nights by the troops stationed there. Their responsibilities was to open the steel shutters and ensure that the searchlight was ready for maximum use. This was achieved by maintaining a clean reflector mirror, adjusting and changing the positive and negative carbon electrodes and ensuring the right angle is achieved to form the arc of light. Records show that the troops felt that the searchlight’s beam was so strong and intense that it appeared as though you could have walked along the shaft of light. The large doors would have been held open by metal loops on the outside wall of the bunker in the second picture, now long gone due to rusting away in the salty sea air.
Stone Pier or South Pier was constructed in the 18th century at the entrance of Weymouth Harbour and was far shorter than the existing structure. Originally loose stones forming a breakwater it continued out from the pier for a further 370 feet. A buoy was placed at the seaward end as the breakwater was covered at times of high tide. The Great Storms of 1824 caused much damage to the pier, resulting in a rebuild. Later in 1876, work was completed on a 250 feet extension to the pier along the breakwater below, which provided greater protection to Weymouth Pier opposite and vessels using the harbour. The pier was extended again in the 1910s, with a lovely tower resembling a bandstand erected on the end to accommodate a navigational light. Reinforcement works were undertaken in the 1980s following storm damage. A popular place for sea anglers we had to mind our steps, because of the fishing rods while visiting the tower and I have to say as a keen angler, I was rather envious not be sitting there fishing with them.
Rowing at the entrance to Weymouth Harbour and the relatively modern Weymouth Pier opposite.
Nothe Fort is situated at the end of the Nothe Peninsula, which juts eastwards from the town of Weymouth, and Weymouth Harbour, into the sea to the north of ex-military Portland Harbour. This coastal defence was built between 1860 and 1872 by 26 Company of the Royal Engineers to protect Portland’s harbour, which was then becoming an important Royal Naval base. Shaped like the letter D, the fort’s guns covered the approaches to both Portland and Weymouth harbours. The design included bomb-proof casemates for cannons arranged around the circular sides, and deep magazines beneath the straight, landward side. The fort played an important role in World War II, when the harbour was used as base by the British and American navies. In 1956 the fort was abandoned, and in 1961 it was purchased by the local council. It is now a museum. The fort remains one of the best-preserved forts of its kind in the country.
In 2007, the award-winning fort was subject of a survey carried out by The National Lottery, who discovered that the fort was voted one of the spookiest locations in the UK; noting that staff members sometimes refuse to visit certain areas by themselves.
As mentioned earlier Sandsfoot Castle, also known historically as Weymouth Castle, is an artillery fort constructed by Henry VIII in 1542 at a cost of £3,887. The castle was built to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire, and defended the Weymouth Bay anchorage. The stone castle had an octagonal gun platform, linked to a residential Blockhouse. By the early 18th century, Sandsfoot lay in ruins, its stonework taken for use in local building projects and the clay cliffs on which the castle had been built had always been unstable and subject to erosion. The castle’s gun platform began to collapse into the sea and, by the 1950s, had been entirely destroyed. The ruins were closed to visitors on safety grounds, although civic gardens were planted alongside it in 1951. Repairs were undertaken between 2009 and 2012 at a total cost of £217,800, enabling the site to be reopened to the public. Historic England considers Sandsfoot to be “one of the most substantial examples” of the 16th-century blockhouses to survive in England. It is also the point that we say goodbye to the foreshore and head slightly inland for our B&B in Wyke Regis. It’s been a very long day and it’s time for something to eat and an early night,