Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Up, up and away

Having walked a good bit of today’s stage before and loved it (it was one of things that made me decide to walk the rest of the Coast Path) I was really looking forward to the rematch: but also slightly nervous. I remembered the 10 mile walk from Lulworth Cove to Houns-tout Cliff being pretty tough and today, due to an absence of intermediate campsites, we were aiming to do nearly twice that, carrying all our gear. From campsite to campsite would be about 19 miles, with over 1,300 metres of ascent: equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in the British Isles) but about twice as far.

This was a walk that took no prisoners. From the first descent to Stair Hole from our campsite above Durdle Door, the roller-coaster chalk cliff line got progressively higher and steeper with each hill we climbed. But the views were worth the effort. The path up out of Arish Mell was the steepest of them all, but gave the most spectacular view back over the cliffs above Mupe Bay.

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The white chalk cliffs soon gave way to orangey-brown mud and sandstone, and then – thankfully! – to lower grey cliffs of Kimmeridge Clay, thin limestone ‘ledges’ radiating out from them into the sea. We passed the UK’s oldest continually producing oil well at Kimmeridge Bay and stopped for lunch and a welcome sit-down beside Clavell Tower, a 19th century folly and observatory about to fall into the sea until the Landmark Trust moved it back 25 metres to safety.

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The last challenge of the day was Houns-tout Cliff: not as steep as the hills this morning, but still tough for my tired legs. Fortunately I had the gorgeous view of Chapman’s Pool to take my mind off the protesting screams of my quads as I tottered down the other side.

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And with that, the worst was over: for the day, but also for my Coast Path walk. From our camp for the night above Dancing Ledge to the end of the Coast Path at South Haven Point is just more 12 miles of easy level walking. I can’t quite believe that I’ve come so far, or that the end is so close. Poole is, quite literally, just around the corner.

With its incredible variety of scenery and interest, its challenges and rewards, and not least the perfect summer weather, today has been one of my absolute favourite days. The route was as tough as I remembered it, but despite having my gear this time I found it easier. I guess 600 miles of walking has made me fitter! After all the wet, exhausting, demoralising moments when I wished it could all be over, after such a great day I don’t wan’t it to end. Ironically.

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Halt!

My walk came to an abrupt halt today at the command of the Army. A mile or two on from our campsite the Coast Path enters the Lulworth Ranges. The home of the Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School, they apparently had their own use for the firing ranges today.

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According to my guidebook “The ranges cover some of the best coast in Dorset and it is a great shame to miss it.” We therefore resigned ourselves to yet another day off but while we settled back to relax and enjoy it the Army were clearly hard at work. We ate breakfast to the sound of distant gunfire, the tanks making an altogether more intimidating noise than the rifles we’d heard from the Royal Marines Ranges at Straight Point.

It made a pleasant change to have a day off where it wasn’t pouring with rain. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who thought so. The upside of the terrible weather has been the deserted campsites. But the combination of an improved forecast and the start of the school holidays bought other tourists out in force. By the end of the afternoon our quiet pitch under the trees had become a melĂ©e of tents, cars, dogs, barbecues and children.

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We escaped the chaos and walked down into Lulworth Cove for dinner. Full of good steak and mellowed by a glass of red wine the sunset over Durdle Door was the perfect end to the evening.

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If only little Jacob next door could be persuaded to stop larking about – and periodically yelling – I could get some sleep…