Saturday, 18 September 2010

South West Coast Path Day 49 Lyme Regis - West Bay

Looking Back to Lyme Regis
After my fantastic day walking around to Wembury I was excited about completing the other half of my intended weekend’s walking around the coast from Portwrinkle.  Imagine my disappointment then when I awoke to find absolutely rubbish weather confronting me from my hotel room.  Before I had left for the weekend the weather forecaster had promised that Sunday would be the better of the weekend days but obviously the picture had changed somewhat since I left!  At this early hour the weather threatened to get better so initially I thought I’d chance it by having a brief walk around the Hoe to get a feel for how it might go.  I was heartened when the sun started peeking through so I decided to chance it.  Imagine how I felt then when I crossed into Cornwall and the heavens opened and the deluge started!
Parasol Mushroom

Realising that this was most likely a lost cause I turned around and started heading back.  The forecast was a bit more favourable further east and so I headed towards Lyme Regis to pick up where I had left off on the Jurassic Coast in February.  Luckily the rain stopped just outside Exeter and although the air was heavy with moisture it did at least look as if it would be good enough for walking with some form of view. 

I parked up in the long stay car park in Lyme Regis (a bargain £1 for all day) and due to the vagaries of the X53 timetable I decided to walk first and get the bus back.  Although it was only 1045 I noted that there was a bus at 1603 and although only a ten mile walk, the terrain looked rather more challenging than the 10 miles would otherwise have suggested.  I erred on the side of caution, knowing that if I were to get the bus at that time I would at least return home at a reasonable time and wouldn’t have to break my neck trying to make an earlier bus.
Charmouth Beach

The path out of Lyme Regis across the cliff tops has long since been a casualty of the many landslips that this coastline has suffered.  Although it has been a number of years since the fatal damage occurred, no suitable path has been put in place yet, other than a lengthy diversion inland across a golf course and along a busy road.  I had seen this in the guide book and groaned, but the reality was more pleasant than I expected (perhaps hardened by my previous day’s encounter with Cattedown!).  Initially I climbed to the top of the hill that so many large vehicles labour their way up (felt a bit like a large vehicle myself as it happens!).  This afforded a great view across Lyme Regis although no further due to the moisture in the air.  At the top of the hill I dived across the golf course, which was doing brisk business in spite of the weather.  I had to be careful to make sure I dodged across between shots, but in that regard I was lucky as most of the golfers seemed to be on holes that didn’t affect the footpath.
Charmouth Bay

Ahead of me and beyond the next village of Charmouth, the coastline loomed through the murky conditions.  The highest point on the entire south coast lies on this stretch of footpath, the lump of a hill called Golden Cap.  This hill almost mocked me through the mist and I knew that I would have to descend from my position to sea level in Charmouth before heading back up to the top of the 630 feet hill.  I descended down through the village, now mercifully by-passed and largely devoid of the traffic that blights its close neighbour Lyme Regis.  I eventually got down to the sea front, which was quite busy despite some very blustery conditions.  I took advantage of the cafĂ© on the seafront, grabbing an early lunch to gather enough strength for the coast ahead.  The weather showed signs of brightening up in Charmouth, with some breaks in the cloud and I hoped that this might help me with my progress.  The wind was behind me at least, which was a start!

The beach at Charmouth was thronged with fossil hunters and fishermen, all hoping that the conditions had helped their particular activities.  Charmouth is possibly a better location for collecting fossils than Lyme Regis, a fact that appears to have gained in popularity in recent years.  I bucked the trend by heading towards the cliff tops, a route not many others were taking.  The reason why soon became clear when I noticed a number of signs advising that this path was closed too.  However, it seemed as if earlier walkers had come to my rescue as the landslip that had caused the problem had been by-passed by many others who had encroached on to the adjacent field.  Being a farmer’s field rather than a golf course no doubt helped immeasurably! 
Looking Ahead to Golden Cap

This particular peak is known as Stonebarrow Hill and although it was a relatively stiff climb, the view from the top served only to highlight that this was only a foretaste of the bigger Golden Cap, about two miles further on.  By now I had been joined by a number of other walkers making for a busy trail in spite of the weather.  The view behind me across Charmouth was the last I would see of the place as I headed ever eastwards.  I was thankful that the wind was behind me as when I turned to take one last look I got quite a blast of cold air!
Golden Cap View

Between Stonebarrow Hill and Golden Gap the countryside was annoyingly rolling.  It meant that I had a hard time getting momentum as the downhill sections were sufficiently steep that I had to watch my footing and the uphill sections made me a bit hot and bothered, on account of the humidity.  Yet despite these frustrations it felt really good to get out for a second day running.  This is something I miss terribly, for it is difficult to get into your stride on day walks however regular they are.  Walking on consecutive days allows you to really get into the mood of walking and keep stretching those muscles over an extended period.
Golden Cap View

I eventually arrived at the bottom of Golden Cap and by now I had dispensed with my fleece as I had become accustomed to the wind and felt pretty warm.  I took the climb slowly and steadily and realised as I was climbing that it wasn’t actually that bad at all.  I did stop a couple of times to admire the view behind me, but also the remains of St Gabriels Church, which was once at the heart of a village known as Stanton St Gabriel.  The village was abandoned a couple of centuries ago when erosion put paid to the coaching road and a new turnpike (now the A35) opened inland.  People left the village for more accessible and connected places, leaving the church to its own devices.  It distracted me as I puffed and blowed my way up the hill.  When I reached the zig-zag path near to the top of the hill I decided to take a seat and enjoy the view for a couple of minutes.  It was definitely a help to get to the top, but when I did the wind was really strong and so I thought I would put my fleece back on, only to discover that it had been left behind on the seat!  Cursing I made my way back down to retrieve it so I could then continue on my way.  It was extra effort I could have done without!
Maize Field

At the top of Golden Cap I paused for a few minutes to catch my breath and admire the view.  Unfortunately I suspect that the day did not do it justice, for the air was heavy with moisture and visibility wasn’t great.  I vowed that I would come back on a much better day to enjoy the full extent of the view.  After a few minutes I couldn’t deal with the wind any longer and as a couple of other walkers had stationed themselves behind the only shelter (the trig point at the top) I descended into Seatown, the next settlement on the coast.  I had a surprising entry into the hamlet, with a seemingly endless walk through a field of maize.  Now grown to its full height it was a slightly surreal and unnerving experience – I kept thinking of Cary Grant in North by Northwest!

Little more than a small cluster of houses with a large holiday park attached, Seatown was a pleasant enough place with a popular looking pub and shop for its modest size.  The beach was a lot less busy than further west at Charmouth, probably as a result of the remoteness of this place, which can only be accessed via a narrow country lane from Chideock.  The few souls that were here were mostly fishermen and their line of tents stationed at intervals along the beach made me smile.  It was as though they had all agreed on their ‘pitch’ and the unwritten code was to be a certain distance from each other.

I groaned when I saw the path ahead, for it was uphill once again this time to Doghouse Hill and then Thorncombe Beacon.  The first part of the hill wasn’t too bad but as I went over the first summit I saw a very stiff climb ahead, much steeper than anything yet attempted today and my heart dropped.  A short way up the hill I passed a couple that had taken an extended rest to build up enough energy to make it to the top.  We passed the time of day and swapped notes about our respective walks, something I don’t normally do much of (walking is a way for me to absorb myself in my surroundings and I normally find other people somewhat of a distraction to that).  However, I found myself in an unusually sociable mood and stood chatting with them for quite awhile.
Thorncombe Beacon

Eventually I plodded on and got to the top of Thorncombe Beacon, with its beacon still in place at the top.  I assume that this was a recent addition, but the original beacon would no doubt have been one of those alit to warn the country of the Armada some four hundred years ago.  At the top of the beacon I got a rather similar view to that of Golden Cap, a murky view of the coast for about four miles but hinting at so much more.  This was the last of the big hills today, but I could see  a couple more smaller ones ahead of me before I would finally reach West Bay so I knew my work wasn’t quite done for the day.
Last Leg

The descent down Thorncombe Beacon was pretty steep and I took it very slowly, being concerned about twisting my ankle on the loose surface.  I finally had the coast path to myself for the next mile or so, having shared it with a surprising number of walkers throughout the day.  I descended into Eype Mouth, an even smaller settlement than Seatown that basically consisted of a caravan park and not much more.  The ‘mouth’ of the Eype like so many other rivers in these parts is actually lost in the shingle bank that continues all the way along this section of coast.  The path crossed the Eype and by now I was anxious to get to West Bay and the promise of a cup of tea and some cake really fired me up for the last mile over West Cliff.  At the top of the hill there were lots of earthworks that looked as if they might be mining or quarrying activity.  Perhaps on another day I might have looked more closely but today I was intent on my refreshment stop.  I did smile though when I saw a more recent addition to the scene, some lost trouser legs from some hapless walker’s zipped trousers.  I wondered whether he was sitting at home somewhere scratching his head wondering where he had left them!
Lost Trouser Leg

West Bay is an odd sort of a place – not quite port and not quite holiday resort, just a mixture of both.  The port itself was full of small boats and the air was filled with the smell of fried food from all the various eating places lining the docksides.  There were hundreds of people milling about enjoying their Sunday afternoon and browsing the various shops and cafes that were on offer.  For me though I had a little over an hour before my bus was due and there was only one place I wanted to go – the former West Bay Station, which once brought tourists to this part of the Dorset Coast but has been closed since the mid 1970s.  A few years ago it was finally renovated and now operates as a tea house, with some repute I heard.  I eventually found it on the eastern side of town and was delighted to see how well the old place had been restored.  A piece of track is even included outside to give a better idea of how it looked when operating.  I am pleased to say the tea and cake were superb too, my Victoria Sponge was moist and tasted lovely and fresh.  It was a welcome end to the walk and I may have to engineer the next section so that I can come back!  The building is full of interesting pictures of how the line would once have looked – there is also some online at . 
West Bay

There were plenty of people waiting for the bus back to Lyme Regis and while we waited there was a further surprise when the church congregation of the local Methodist church decided to have their service out on the grass in front of the church so passers by could join in if they so wished.  Sadly not many did, although the churchgoers did their best with their singing!  For me though it was a 50 minute bus journey back to Lyme Regis to collect my car and head home after a successful weekend’s walking.  Although today’s section was 50% shorter than yesterday’s it was much harder going today because of the conditions and terrain.  I think this is a section that begs to be walked again one day though, when I can get better views.  I also decided that I wouldn’t walk the next part of the coast unless I could be sure of good visibility.
West Bay Station

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