A day walk on the Dorset coast in early spring
As winter turns to spring, sometimes you get a nagging feeling that you just want to go for a proper walk. Somewhere beautiful, somewhere with a few ups and downs. Just as birds are driven to build nests, come spring, you just have to strap on your boots, zip up your coat and set off. It’s a time to rejoice in longer daylight hours, warmer temperatures and signs that the countryside is waking up after its long winter slumber.
When reading about the walks that HF Holidays runs in Dorset, I had recently discovered that there is an interesting abandoned village – Tyneham – not far from the coast path. So heading for Kimmeridge Bay and the South West Coast Path was the obvious choice of destination – especially as the weather forecast told of strong winds – perfect for adding extra drama to a coastal walk.
Driving over the Purbeck hills I got that childhood thrill of getting my first glimpse of the sea. With the sun still quite low in the sky but shining brightly, the ‘white horses’ on the waves were a beautiful sight. Getting the car door open against the wind was a challenge only over-come by getting out the other side. A tight-fitting hat was a necessity for the avoidance of instant birds-nest hair and sunglasses to protect from both sun and the strong on-shore winds. Appropriately kitted out, I set off to the sound of waves rolling incessantly to the shore. I headed west along the path towards Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay with gulls wheeling past at head height being buffeted by sudden gusts of wind. What a joy to be out walking in the bracing air.
Not far from Kimmeridge is the ‘nodding donkey’ which has been pumping oil from the shale below since 1959. Its existence is a reminder of the area’s world-renowned complex geology – a land formed in the Jurassic period when it was the bed of a tropical sea. Geology buffs flock here to go fossil hunting, to see the exposed rock strata and the folds and faults at Stair Hole next to Lulworth Cove. HF Holidays runs a special geology-focused trip here to uncover the area’s fascinating geological history.
A short climb up a grassy slope (made more challenging by the wind!) rewards with views down to Hobarrow and Brandy bays before the route heads inland a little to skirt round an area where the former route has slipped down towards the sea. This is a very active section of coast with much erosion and land slippage, especially during the winter months.
Stopping for a quick snack, I was passed by a group of HF Holidays’ guests who were on a long weekend, doing the walk from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove. Like most people I met that day, they had broad smiles on their faces; there is something exhilarating about walking on the coast in high winds!
Walking along the top of Gad Cliff there are beautiful views towards the cliffs which form the side of Worbarrow Bay and in the other direction, up to the Purbeck hills. At this time of year the slopes are dotted with patches of golden yellow – the gorse coming into bloom. From here it was time to head inland towards Tyneham village – commandeered by the military in 1943 during the Second World War. The villagers had just 28 days’ notice to pack their belongings and leave so that the army could use the streets and buildings as a training ground. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the villagers were never to return.
Today, the village is open to visitors most weekends. The post office and the cottages that were once houses are all in ruins but the church and refurbished school are fully intact. The school’s only classroom has been recreated to look as it would have done in its 1920s heyday, complete with a cane on the teacher’s desk and examples of children’s work. Information boards in the cottages tell you a little about the families who once lived here; photos of the former residents are an eerie reminder that these were real people in a close-knit community who were forced to leave their homes.
After exploring the village and admiring the swathes of daffodil heads nodding in the wind, it was time to head back to the coast. A short, flat stretch of path leads to Worbarrow Bay – a sweeping bay with soaring cliffs on its west side. After watching some seals bobbing in the waves, I met the HF group again for the last time. While they had been dropped off at Kimmeridge in the morning to do a linear walk, I had to turn around and re-trace my steps back to the car, missing out on the exhilarating climb that was up next for the HF group.
Wind mostly behind me, I was propelled along for much of the route. At Kimmeridge Bay a detour down to the beach allowed me to witness a small waterfall whose cascade was blowing more upwards than falling downwards and to watch the windsurfers scudding across the water.
From here it is a short walk up to Clavell Tower, an interesting wedding cake-like building which can be seen for miles around. Built on the headland in 1830 as an observatory and folly, the four-storey building eventually became in real danger of falling down the cliff as erosion nibbled the land away. In 2006 an ambitious project to move the tower commenced. The entire structure was carefully dismantled and re-built some 26 metres further inland. It is now let out as a holiday home and is said to be one of the UK’s most popular.
Feeling suitably windswept and having fully stretched legs which had largely been mothballed over winter, it was time to head home and reflect on a wonderful day of walking in the early spring sunshine.
By Louisa Richardson, HF marketing team
Inspired? Choose your HF Holiday on the Dorset Coast
View the route our guests took